The castle suite was deathly quiet, sans for the scratch of a pen upon paper. I sat in the far corner of the massive, ornate room, hunched over a wooden writing desk. The leather-bound journal in front of me was battered and worn, but my pen still flowed effortlessly over its pages. For many years years, the journal had been at my side through the most desolate hellholes the Special Forces could drop me in. It held my greatest triumphs, my bitterest defeats, and my darkest secrets. Hell, if Internal Affairs knew I had it, they’d burn me at the stake, given the amount of classified information in it. But, I valued the simple peace writing brought me, and it was one of the few things that helped me truly relax. I could have easily kept a holo-journal, of course, which would have been far easier to store and carry. But the smell of old paper and the scratch of a fountain pen helped ground my thoughts, something a holo-journal could never do. The act of writing had to be personal, at least for me.
Outside, the early morning sun was steadily rising, marking the start of my second day in Equestria. Despite everything that had happened the previous day, I was able to get a decent night’s sleep, surprisingly enough. And let me tell you, that did wonders towards helping me cope with my current situation. A small part of my brain still thought concepts of magic and talking ponies was…surreal, but compared to yesterday, it wasn’t reeling around in shock and denial. Writing down everything in my journal also helped steady my thoughts, and my latest entry was already five pages long.
However, despite what you may think, I wasn’t exactly…trusting of Princess Celestia. Not yet, at least. See, in my line of work, trust is a rare commodity. Which is to say, it hardly even existed. My own trust only extended to my fellow Special Forces comrades and my superiors. I’m not a paranoid bastard, by any means, but I was cautious. I only accepted Celestia’s plea because I had no other options, and I needed her help, just as she needed mine. I didn’t think she was going to stab me in the back…but I’ve been wrong before.
Of course, I was certain Celestia knew I still had my doubts about her. She’d extended an olive branch, of a sort, when she returned my utility belt after our meeting, complete with my pistol and other items. In addition, she was also letting me stay in Canterlot Castle’s massive suite, which was, admittedly, pretty damn impressive. The living room alone was as big as a courtyard, complete with a marble fountain right in the middle. The domed ceilings were inlaid with gold filigree, the bathroom shower was bigger than my apartment, and the bed could easily hold several people. It even had a small study, but I didn’t bother trying to decipher the strange glyphs ponies wrote in.
With a sigh, I finished writing in my journal and shut it, laying aside my pen. I leaned back in my chair, staring up at the ceiling of the suite. I wasn’t wearing my armor, at the moment, which made sitting much more comfortable. Instead, the various different parts of the suit were laid out on a wooden table nearby, where I’d spent a good portion of the evening making some basic repairs. My current clothing consisted of my black jumpsuit, my boots, and the grey, lightweight under-armor that I wore beneath my plates. Without the thick armor encompassing me, I looked far less imposing, though my muscles were still visible beneath the jumpsuit.
A knock on the suite’s doors broke me from my reverie. I rose from my seat, popping my neck was I walked towards the door. Princess Celestia told me to expect a visitor this morning, though she didn’t specify who. I was hoping it was a butler or something bringing me breakfast (since I didn’t have a clue where the kitchen was), but my dreams were dashed when I opened the door and saw a lavender unicorn standing outside. The symbol on her flank (which Celestia told me were ‘cutie marks’) depicted a six-pointed purple star surrounded by several bursts of light. Her mane and tail were purple, with streaks of pink through the middle. A bag of paper, quills, and inkwells hovered next to her, held in a sparkling field of purple light, the tip of her horn glowing with the same color. Her wide, expressive eyes looked up at me with an almost tangible fascination, and while they didn’t hold fear, she certainly looked nervous.
“If this is a staring contest,” I said, after a few moments of awkward silence, “then we’re going to be here all morning.” My words snapped her out her trance-like state, and she blushed brightly. It was quite adorable, really, and I couldn’t help but chuckle at the sight.
I’m sorry!” she said hurriedly, quickly glancing away, “I’ve just…never seen a human before. I wasn’t expecting you to be so tall, or…handsome.” She muttered the last word, but I still caught it, and I raised a questioning eyebrow at her. She froze like a deer in headlights, her face practically blazing red.
“You aren’t hitting on me, are you, miss?” I asked nonchalantly. Much to my silent amusement, she stuttered in surprise, trying to say several different things at once and utterly failing.
“I…I…n-no, of course not! I-I didn’t mean to say…,” she sputtered, “Not that you aren’t handsome, y-you really are, I just…I…sorry.” She sighed in resignation and extended her hoof towards me, “I’m Twilight Sparkle.”
“Jack Ventralis. You must be the unicorn Princess Celestia told me about, the other day,” I replied, grasping her hoof gently, “You’re her prized student, if I’m not mistaken. You must be remarkable, indeed, to earn such praise. Please, come in.” I winked at her, causing her to blush to brighten. What can I say? My suaveness and I are good friends. I stepped inside to allow her inside the suite, shutting the door gently behind us.
“I hope I’m not intruding, Mister Ventralis,” Twilight Sparkle said, laying her bag on the suite’s sofa, “When Princess Celestia told me about your arrival in Equestria, I just had to meet you. She was kind enough to send a chariot to pick me up, yesterday evening. I have so many questions I want to ask!” She gave me an embarrassed glance, “If that’s alright with you, of course.” I chuckled as I pulled up a chair and sat down in front of her.
“I don’t mind at all,” I said, resting my elbows on my knees, “Ask me anything you want, Miss Sparkle.” There was no sense in me clamming up and refusing her request. It’s not like EarthGov was going to break down the door and haul me off for treason, after all. Besides, I wasn’t going to start spouting off about the Necromorhps. Equestria was a veritable utopia, from what I could tell, and I wasn’t going to scar the young unicorn by telling her about such horrors. Not that I wanted to recount that particular tale, anytime soon.
“Excellent!” Twilight Sparkle said, using her magic to levitate a quill, an inkwell, and some paper in front of her, “So, to start off, what’s the device on your back? What does it do?” She was talking about my RIG, of course. I furrowed my eyebrows in thought, trying to decide the best way to explain the complex technology to her. It was difficult, since Equestria, from my understanding, was nowhere near the level of technology human’s possessed. Hell, I doubted they even had concepts of such things. It would be like trying to explain sound to a deaf person. Not impossible, per se, just very difficult when the person had no preexisting knowledge of such a thing.
“It’s called a RIG,” I replied, after a few moments, “That stands for ‘Resource Integration Gear’. All humans have one, where I come from. The blue light is an indicator of my current health. If I’m injured, the light will change to either yellow or red, depending on the severity of the wound. It also allows me to view three-dimensional holographic maps, communicate with other people over long distances, or project a navigational beam to follow, just to name a few things.” I gestured towards my armor in the corner, “I’d show you, but I’d need to put my armor on first.”
“Another time, then,” Twilight said, writing furiously on the paper in front of her. I was surprised at how her demeanor changed from excited nervousness (and flustered embarrassment), to unwavering attention, while I talked. Her eyes were intent and focused, like a doctor preforming an operation. “The Princess mentioned you were part of a military organization, something called the ‘Special Forces’. Could you tell me about them?”
Now that was much easier to answer. “Of course,” I said, “The Special Forces are a secretive militant branch of our government, known only to the most high-ranking officials. Only the best soldiers are chosen, and all must undergo a brutal, six-month training regime before they’re even considered for the job. Those that make it become official members of the Special Forces.” I couldn’t keep a hint of pride out of my voice as I spoke, “We undertake the most dangerous missions our superiors can give us. Missions that require our…special talents, to complete. We do everything behind the scenes, but the Special Forces is, and always has been, an essential tool for keeping the peace.”
“Fascinating,” Twilight Sparkle said thoughtfully, jotting down more notes, “Not even the Royal Guard has such rigorous standards, though to be fair, they mostly serve as a ceremonial unit.” She dipped the tip of her quill into some ink, before levitating a fresh piece of paper, “Now, what can you tell me about the human race, Mister Ventralis?”
I raised my eyebrow at that question. Where the Hell was I supposed to start with that sort of question? I silently cursed the lack of coffee in the suite, a sentiment my brain fervently agreed with.
This is going to be a long morning, I thought to myself, giving Twilight a strained smile
There comes a time in the life of every soldier, when he is faced with an impossible situation. A scenario where there is no escape or hope of rescue, when the chances of survival are almost nonexistent. These desperate situations are what make, or break, a soldier of the Special Forces. I’ve survived several such predicaments, in my time…but few of them hold a candle to having a conversation with Twilight Sparkle.
She possessed a thirst for knowledge that I’ve rarely seen before, and her questions became increasingly more elaborate as I tried explaining the human race. She was fascinated with every aspect of our culture and history, even though my knowledge on such things was relatively limited. Old Earth history was never my favorite class in school, and my interests only extended to legendary military conflicts and tactics. Had I known then that I would cross paths with Twilight Sparkle, I certainly would have paid more attention to my teacher.
The young unicorn was particularly interested in Humanity’s exodus from Earth, driven by our desperate need for resources. I told her of the massive Planet Cracker-class starships that roamed the deep sectors of the galaxy, seeking out resource-rich planets to harvest. The dimensions of the massive ships astounded her, and I couldn’t help but agree. I’d toured several of the vessels, and every time, the sheer size of them impressed me. They were monuments to human ingenuity, a testament to our will to survive and prosper. I said as much to Twilight Sparkle, who promptly quoted me. She was practically writing a book as I spoke, much to my amusement.
I shied away from telling her about human wars and conflicts, at least in detail. I didn’t want to her to know just violent and savage we humans could be, or how far we could fall from grace. I’ve seen good men become monsters, and evil men become devils, during my time in the Special Forces. Humanity was capable of doing many things…but that doesn’t mean those things are necessarily good. The darkest shadows lie within the hearts of Men, and that was a cold truth I’ve witnessed hundreds of times.
Twilight Sparkle didn’t need to know that, however. And much to my relief, she didn’t seem particularly keen on learning about such things, despite her curiosity.
As morning passed into early afternoon, the sudden growling of my stomach caused Twilight Sparkle to look up from her increasing stack of notes in surprise. Her eyes widened, and she quickly began packing away her quills and paper, apologizing profusely the whole time. I gave her a bemused look, before glancing down at my stomach and glaring at it sternly. I might have been hungry, but that didn’t give it an excuse to be rude.
“I’m sorry!’ Twilight said quickly, her voice bordering on something akin to panic, “You haven’t even had breakfast yet. I knew I should have brought some muffins with me. How I could I have been so rude?” She rambled on for several moments, stuffing paper and quills into her bag at an ever-quickening pace.
“Twilight,” I said gently, breaking her from her panic-stricken rant, “There’s no need to get flustered. I’m not angry. Trust me; it takes more than an empty stomach to get me riled up.” She stared at me for a few seconds, before blushing slightly and glancing away. I chuckled, standing up to strength my legs as I spoke, “Breakfast, however, sounds heavenly right now. Is there some sort of room service I could contact?”
“Actually,” Twilight Sparkle replied as she zipped her bag shut, “the Princess told me I could take you to Pony Joe’s, if you were hungry. He serves the best doughnuts in Equestria.” She smiled brightly at me, “Consider it my treat, for putting up with my curiosity.”
“That’s very kind of you. How could I possibly say no to doughnuts?” I said, giving her a wink, “Let me get my suit on, and we’ll get going.” I walked over to the table where my armor was laid out, and began the methodical, well-practiced routine of clamping the various plates together. Straps had been rendered long-obsolete, replaced by various kinds of magnets. They were special magnets, of course, designed to withstand anything sort of stress and damage. My armor had more than most, given its design, but it only took me a few minutes to fully suit up. Twilight Sparkle watched me the entire time, eyes rapt with fascination. For a moment, I thought she was going to whip out some more paper and begin taking notes again. She didn’t, thankfully, and before long, we were on our way to Pony Joe’s.
We chatted idly, as Twilight Sparkle led me through the broad marble corridors of Canterlot Castle. It truly was an impressive place, with all the vaulted ceilings, tapestries, and gold filigree. It was like something out of a fairy tale, the sort of castle that children visited in their imagination; where noble knights lived, protecting their princess from the predations of dragons and wicked sorcerers. Hell, if there had been a sword jutting from a stone somewhere nearby, I wouldn’t have been shocked.
“I’m surprised you don’t have any questions for me, Mister Ventralis,” Twilight Sparkle said as we rounded a corner, “Surely Equestria is, well…confusing to you, to put it mildly.”
“It is, indeed,” I replied, glancing down at her, “But, Princess Celestia was kind enough to give me the CliffsNotes on Equestria, yesterday. She told me all about the different kinds of ponies, the concept of cutie marks, Nightmare Moon-the whole shebang.” I chuckled as I recalled the torrent of information Celestia had jammed into my brain that evening, “I admit, it was a lot to take in, but I’ve managed to grasp the basics. Given, I’m still having trouble wrapping my head around a few things, but I'm not stumbling around in the dark, at least.”
Twilight Sparkle nodded in understanding, and the short remainder of our walk passed in silence. Eventually, we found ourselves in a high-ceilinged room, where a dozen or so small chandeliers hung. A long bar sat at one end of the room, in front of which was several tables. A stout earth pony with a yellow coat and apron was tending the bar, where he was in the process of polishing a mug. When he glanced up and saw me, though, he promptly dropped it, his mouth hanging open limply.
“Pony Joe!” Twilight Sparkle exclaimed, smiling brightly as she trotted over to the bar, “It’s good to see you again. This is my friend, Jack Ventralis. He’s the human Princess Celestia made the announcement about.” I gave him a friendly nod, which seemed to shake him from his surprised stupor.
“Oh!” he replied hurriedly, “Sorry ‘bout that, I’ve never seen a human up close. It’s good to meet you, Mister Ventralis. Any friend of Twilight’s is a friend of mine.” He gave her a knowing smile, “Now, what can I get for you two?” Twilight Sparkle set about ordering some doughnuts and coffee, while I crouched down next to one of the tables. I let my thoughts wander as I looked about the room, before realizing that Twilight Sparkle had called me her ‘friend’, while greeting Pony Joe.
Now, I’m not sure about you, but I found that simple statement to be rather…strange. I’d only known her for a few hours, after all. But in that short span of time, she’d gone from nervously curious, to completely at ease in my presence. For most humans, when they meet a new person, that sort of connection takes weeks to establish, perhaps months, and depends on many varying factors. And yet, Twilight Sparkle already considered me one of her friends, despite the fact that she’d only just met me that morning.
Foolish, whispered a shadowy nook of my mind, She is foolish to trust so blindly. Trust must be earned, not given.
Things are different here, Jack, the logical part of my brain reminded me, You have given her no reason to distrust you. To her, you are kind man, and not someone to be suspicious of.
Princess Celestia had told me that friendship was a powerful thing, in Equestria. Love, tolerance, and harmony were bound tightly by the ties of friendship between ponies. Unconditional love and trust was a common place here…but I could not say the same for Humanity. They were far too many petty and wicked people for the ideals of Equestria to ever take root, no matter how many my superiors ordered me to put down.
This place is a utopia, whispered those dark thoughts again, You don’t belong in it. No human does.
“Jack?” Twilight Sparkle said, pulling my mind back to the present. She was standing across from me, her eyes genuinely concerned, “Are you alright?” I mentally berated myself for letting my mind wander like that. Who was I to question Twilight Sparkle’s decision to trust me? No harm would come from it, after all, and I did feel rather…humbled, that she considered me her friend.
“Sorry,” I said, smiling apologetically, “my thoughts were talking a stroll without me.” I began sipping my coffee, the heavenly drink making my brain practically sing with joy. “This coffee is incredible. If I come over the table and hug you, don’t be alarmed.” Twilight Sparkle giggled, taking a bite from the sprinkle-topped doughnut in front of her.
I asked a few questions about her friend’s and interests, while I ate. I almost regretted it, since she immediately began giving me a detailed analysis on her various different studies, her life in Ponyville, and her five best friends. I merely smiled and nodded as she spoke, her intelligence continuing to impress me. Honestly, I’ve met scientists who weren’t as smart as Twilight Sparkle was. I didn’t know whether to be amused or slightly depressed, at that thought. I eventually showed her a few functions of my RIG, projecting some basic maps of The Sprawl I’d been given prior to my deployment. Her reaction was like a kid walking into a toy store; utterly excited and fascinated with the amazing things she saw. I chuckled as she put her hoof through the image, causing it to shimmer and distort. She began barraging me with questions on how it worked, and I did my best to answer them. I wasn’t an engineer, however, and I could only give her a basic understanding of my RIG’s tech.
It only took us an hour to finish up our doughnuts and drink our coffee. By that time, a familiar faced trotted into Pony Joe’s: General Titus. He was clad in his armor, sans his helmet, and promptly made his way over to our table when he spotted us. I rose to my feet, greeting him with a nod and a casual salute. His face was looking slightly better, though it still bore a few stiches.
“Lieutenant,” he said, returning my nod, “I have some news from Princess Celestia. She would have delivered it herself, but the Royal Court has her tied up, I’m afraid.” He gestured back towards the door of Pony Joe’s, “I’m to escort you to Ponyville, as soon as you’re ready. She believes the other human will make another attempt at kidnapping Miss Sparkle here, or one of her friends. If he does, you’ll be in a prime position to intercept and stop him.”
“She isn’t worried about another assassination attempt?” I replied, raising a questioning eyebrow, “If the other human is willing to try kidnapping again, then I doubt he’ll think twice about gunning for the Princess a second time.” The General nodded in agreement, and for a brief second, I saw annoyance flash across his face. I was surprised to see that, honestly. The General hadn’t struck me as the type of soldier to be easily annoyed by his superiors. Well, superior, in his case.
“I told her the much the same thing,” he said, sighing in exasperation, “But the Princess can be rather…stubborn, when, it comes to matters of personal protection.” He sighed again, shaking in resignation, “Orders are orders, however, and I must obey them. I have a chariot ready to take Miss Sparkle and you to Ponyville. Say the word, and we can depart.”
I glanced at Twilight Sparkle, who gave me a determined nod. “Alright, then,” I said, smiling slightly, “Let’s get to it, General.”
Ponyville, huh? I thought to myself as General Titus led us from Pony Joe’s, That doesn’t sound so bad, really.
Sometimes, I hated being wrong.
Author’s Note: Writing this chapter made me want to strangle a goat. Honestly. I didn’t want to bore you guys to death with all the exposition and dialogue, necessary as it was. Nor did I want to confuse anyone who hasn’t played ‘Dead Space’, when talking about Jack’s RIG and whatnot. I tried to keep the boring stuff to a minimum, while giving a few glances into Jack’s mind in the second half. While this story won’t go anywhere near Dark or Sad territory, I’ll certainly be touching on the less….savory aspects of Jack’s time in the Special Forces. A guy like him certainly has stories to tell, and not all of them are necessarily epic war ballads of heroism and valor.
Chapter Four is definitely going to have action in it to offset the slower pace of this chapter, so don’t worry. I’ll also be putting Jack’s equipment to use (i.e. his suit’s thrusters and stasis module), so don’t think I’ve forgotten about it. You can expect Chapter Four in two or three weeks, depending on how busy I am.
Also, for those who haven’t read my blog posts on FIMFiction, I’m in the market for a few pre-readers. If you’re interested in becoming one, send me a private message.
Here’s hoping you don’t find this chapter to be a boring snore-fest. Cheers!