Si-Lin Vas Rah ran desperately through the ruined streets of what used to be downtown London. The Quarian dove over a low wall, quickly pressed her back against it, and groaned at the hopelessness of her situation. She had lost her squad, was down to her last thermal clip, and for some reason she couldn't get her bloody shields to recharge. She felt naked with nothing but her environmental suit left to protect her, but she couldn't give up now.
"I just had to insist on being on the ground," she complained to herself, barely audible amidst the gunfire and explosions. She drew her Black Widow sniper rifle from her back. An upgrade of the M-98 Widow Anti-Material rifle, the Black Widow wasn't quite as powerful but it retained the originals ability to pierce up to half an inch of nearly any known material while maintaining lethal velocity and boasted a three round clip to boot. It could also take your arm off if you were stupid enough to fire it without training or reinforced plating in your suit. Lucky for her, she had both.
"Cloak," Si-Lin said. Immediately the air shimmered around her and she watched herself disappear. "At least that still works." She thought aloud. She spun around, bringing the rifle up to her shoulder and bracing herself on the wall. She took in the scene in a split second.
The Reaper forces had been hot on her heels. Three Marauders and two Husks were closing in on her position. Si-Lin took a deep breath and brought the scope to her eye. As she did micro-processors in her suit began pumping Adrenaline through her system, honing her senses, causing the world around her to slow. She lined up her first shot and squeezed the trigger. The rifle slammed into Si-Lin' shoulder but she didn't falter. Through the scope Si-Lin could see that she had been on target and lined up her second victim. Another deafening blast, another dead Marauder. Si-Lin lined up the last and fired. The last of the Marauders fell, dead, to the ground. And they said Quarians made bad snipers because of the helmets. As she pulled away from the scope she felt a ripple of energy pass over her that told her the cloak was gone.
Now there were only the Husks to deal with. One was charging straight at her. Si-Lin had just enough time to replace the Black Widow on her back before the Husk was just on the other side of the wall, right where she wanted it. She grabbed the cyberneticly twisted abomination by the throat, yanked it over the wall, and slammed it on the ground with surprising force. Quarians may have been a little fragile with their easily compromised immune systems but they were far from weak. With her other hand she drew up her Omni-Blade and brought it down on the husk with full force. The Husk went limp, one down. In the chaos she had lost track of the other. She began to scan her surroundings when it jumped her from behind. Si-Lin resisted the urge to panic, instead falling backwards to the ground stunning the Husk. She then flipped over and plunged her blade into it.
Si-Lin took the momentary calm to gather her thoughts, but the calm didn't last. A horrible shriek split the air. "Oh Keelah… please no…" Si-Lin frantically tried to find the source. Her stomach dropped. "Banshee…" Si-Lin's brain was screaming at her to run but her feet stayed rooted to the ground. She had no ammo, no backup, and no escape. The air around the Banshee pulsed blue and in an instant it had materialized two feet away from her.
Purely on instinct, Si-Lin finally turned away and attempted to run but as she did she felt the Banshee's elongated fingers close around her helmet. Despite herself she couldn't help but wonder how the spindly fingers were strong enough to hold her. She felt herself being lifted off the ground. The Banshee turned her until they were face to face, well face to visor. The Banshee’s cold, dead eyes sent waves of pure terror through Si-Lin’s entire body. The Banshee drew its other arm back. Si-Lin knew what was coming. She closed her eyes.
Her last conscious thought was regret that she had let the Reapers beat her. Then came the terrible pain of the Banshee's arm, warped into a blade by its biotic power, piercing Si-Lin's stomach. She felt the arm being pulled out, felt herself fall to the ground, and then there was nothing.
I cursed loudly at the “Mission Failed” screen that was clearly mocking me.
“What the heck just happened?” My friend Mack’s voice came through my headset.
“My control disconnected for no bloody reason and by the time it came back on the Banshee had me.” I explained.
“Well that sucks,” Mack replied.
“Tell me about it.” I glanced up at the clock. “Hey, the girl that’s gonna be boarding with me will be here soon. I gotta clean the place up a bit.”
“I can’t believe your roommate is a pony.”
“Yeah, neither can I.”
“So remind me again how it isn’t weird that a man with a girlfriend is sharing a room with another chick.”
“One: We’re not dating right now, she wanted a break. Two: It’s not like we're sharing a bed. She has her own room. Three: She’s a pony.”
“And that makes it less weird because-....”
“Is that the best you can come up with? I thought you were a writer.”
“How about we continue this later?” I asked brushing off the usual banter.
“Indeed.” He replied and went offline. I took off my headset and pressed the home button on my X-Box 360 control. I pulled up the music player and tapped into a playlist on my laptop.
“Ah the wonders of wireless internet routers,” I mused aloud as harmonic bliss accompanied by that kind of bass that massages your very soul filled the room. I looked around at the cans and plastic wrappers that littered the room and was mildly surprised. I had only been here a week and already the den/kitchen was a disaster area.
The layout of the apartment was simple. Two bedrooms, one bath, a small utility room with a washer and drier, the den and kitchen were the same room and it was a pretty decent size. And as an added plus, it was on the fourth floor so it had a nice view. I really had scored with this one. As I finished taking care of all the trash there was a knock on the door.
“It’s open!” I yelled, turning the music down a bit. I turned and watched as the door opened and a white unicorn with a neon blue mane and tail and two bridged eighth notes on her flank stepped in, closing the door behind her with a kick.
“You must be Nick.” She said.
“Yep, and that makes you Vinyl Scratch.” I replied.
“DJ Pon-3 at your service,” she said with a grin.
“Well, welcome to our home away from home.”
“Not bad,” She nodded, taking in the room. “Bigger than my flat back home.” She lifted her saddle bags from her back with her magic and sat them on the table before sprawling out on the couch.
“Is that all your stuff?” I asked. Grabbing my 360 control and settling in my recliner.
“Nah, just the essentials,” She replied, “The rest is in the mail.”
“Gotcha,” I started booting up my game again.
“So what is this?” Vinyl asked.
“Mass Effect 3,” I replied and went into a brief explanation of the series. While I talked I started up a multiplayer round by myself just to kill a bit of time. “So what are you studying?” I asked changing the subject before I went into a thirty minute rant on the history of this fictional universe which I knew way to well.
“Music engineering. This place has some pretty sick technology that could really help my mixes. What about you?”
“Creative writing for entertainment. If everything goes as planned I’ll hopefully be writing stories for video games.”
“Sounds cool,” She replied. I checked my phone.
“It’s getting about dinner time, wanna put in a movie and order a pizza?”
“I could go for a cheese and daisy, sure.”
“Uhh, I don’t think Pizza Hut does daisies.”
“Right,” Vinyl said with a small laugh, “That’s gonna take some getting used to. Just cheese is fine.”
“Alright,” This semester is going to be interesting…
“Sweet Celestia’s pearly white flank, did you see his head explode?!”
“Yes Vinyl,” I sighed, “I’m the one who shot him.” It was the next morning and I was killing time with video games as usual, Resident Evil 4 in this case. I have to admit, I was a bit worried I’d end up freaking out Vinyl with some of the more disturbing stuff but she took it all in stride. Turns out Equestria isn’t the sheltered haven I figured it for, which was admittedly a bit shallow but what was I supposed to think when the best description I got of the place was “It's a world full of colorful, talking, magic ponies?”
“Who comes up with this stuff?” She asked.
“Someone with an imagination much more twisted than mine,” I replied
“Said the aspiring writer.”
“Ouch, low blow.” We both laughed, although my laughter was cut short by an extremely annoyed villager with a chainsaw.
“Buck, betcha that hurt,” Vinyl said.
“Not even Leon's fabulous hair could save him,” I added. “Chainsaws are persistent like that.” This earned another round of laughter from Vinyl. Across the room, my phone began blaring “One Inch Punch” signaling an incoming call. I hoisted myself up and grabbed it from the counter. It was Jared, one of my few High School friends I still kept in touch with. He was a MP with the Navy, which is to say he was a glorified security guard.
“Hey!” I said, answering the call.
“Hey man, how ya doin?” He replied.
“Not bad, just settled in at my new flat.”
“You seem up-beat, all things considered.”
“You mean me and Bailey? We’re just on a break.” He didn’t respond right away.
“When’s the last time you checked her Facebook?”
“I don’t stalk her, besides she threw a hissy fit when I got upset about her telling me she wanted a break through a text message at four in the morning and blocked me… Why?”
“Well… It says here, she’s dating another guy.” My stomach dropped clean through the floor.
“Dude, I would not screw with you on this, I swear.”
“Yeah I… Thanks for telling me, I owe you.” My natural failsafe was kicking in: shut down all emotions and don’t shoot the messenger.
“You ok? Is there something-” I cut him off.
“No I’m not ok but there’s nothing you can do… I gotta go. Good hearing from you. You should call more.”
“Phones work both ways you know.” I actually laughed, although it sounded bitter.
“You’re the one with the crazy hours bro.”
“Good point. I’ll check back in tomorrow about the same time.”
“Thanks, talk to you then.”
“Peace,” then we hung up. I turned around to find Vinyl staring at me with huge magenta eyes, her shades pushed up on her forehead.
“Everything ok?” She asked hesitantly.
“Nope,” I replied flatly and moved to the fridge to grab a coke. “I just found out through a friend that my girlfriend, sorry EX-girlfriend, has left me for another man after five years of dating.” I popped the tab and drained it in one go.
“Oh… Uh,” she started.
“No, you don’t have to say anything just,” I paused for a moment, “I’m gonna grab a shower and sort my head out then we’re heading to campus to pick our up books and stuff.”
“Ignore the problem and hope it goes away?”
“For now, just so I can function.” I stepped into the bathroom and turned on the shower. I stripped down and double checked the water temperature before stepping in.
All at once my emotions hit me square in the chest and standing there, in the embrace of the cascading water, I fell to pieces. My head swam at the suddenness of the news. My blood boiled at her betrayal. She had told me she was coming back to me. She had told me there was no one else. She had broken my heart. She had been my first love, my first kiss, my first lover, just as I had been hers. And now she was gone.
At some point in my spiraling decent into madness I had ended up curled into a fetal position on the floor of the shower. When I realized where I’d ended up I reached out and killed the hot water, letting the shock of the cold bring me back to my senses. The effect was nearly instantaneous. Every muscle in my body retracted before self-preservation sent me into convulsions. Unfortunately my face also involuntarily scrunched up effectively blinding me so I couldn’t find the other valve to shut the cold water off. I pulled the shower door open and half crawled, half rolled out from under the frigid streams and onto the bathroom floor.
“G-g-god I’m p-p-p-pathetic.” I stuttered to myself, still shivering. As I gathered myself Vinyl knocked on the door.
“You ok in there?” She asked through the door.
“Yeah, I’m fine. I just… dropped something, that’s all.” The answer must have satisfied her because she didn’t respond. I dried myself and threw the towel across the floor before donning my robe and emerging from the bathroom. “How long was I in there?”
“Bout an hour,” Vinyl replied.
“Damn,” I muttered, “I’ll get dressed.” One plain t-shirt and pair of jean shorts later I returned to the den to find Vinyl sitting on the sofa with her saddlebags on.
“Ready?” She asked. I grabbed my phone from the counter and slid my sandals on before nodding to her.
Our flat was just up the road from the campus so it only took about five minutes to reach the bookstore. I noticed Vinyl caught a few odd glances on the way but it didn’t seem to bother her, in fact, I think she may have enjoyed the attention. For the first time in my life the system had worked to my advantage and our books were waiting for us. After we picked them up we decided to grab lunch.
We found a small local café just outside of campus. After placing out orders, Vinyl surprised me yet again.
“All right, talk to me.” She said.
“Vinyl, you don’t have to-” I started, but she cut me off.
“I know I don’t have to, but you need to talk.”
“Look, I have a bad habit of emotionally dumping on anyone who sits still long enough. I’m not doing that to you. If you wanna help me, then just be a friend and help me forget her for now.”
“You can’t just avoid it forever you know.”
“Yeah, but right now I need to focus on school. She broke my heart, but she won’t ruin my life.”
“Atta boy,” She grinned. I couldn’t help but laugh.
“I don’t get you.” I said.
“How can you? You don’t know me.” She still had that grin.
“That’s what I don’t get. Why are you so insistent on helping me?”
“Maybe it’s because I have to live with you?”
“Come on, be straight with me.” Her grin fell into a sincere smile.
“It’s your eyes.” She said simply. “They remind me of hers.”
“Octavia, the day we met, she was hurting as well. Not for the same reasons mind you, but the pain was there.”
“I take it she means a lot to you.”
“Oh yeah, but that’s a story for another time, the grub’s here!” Sure enough the waitress was headed our way.
This semester really is going to be interesting.
My head was pounding as the bass blaring from my headphones tore through my skull, but it was a blissful kind of pain.
When Vinyl and I arrived home from our outing we found that her stuff had arrived. After lugging it upstairs, a daunting task made easy with her magic, she started unpacking and I sunk into my chair to brood a bit.
The easiest way for me to clear my mind is to bombard it with music, the particular selection depends on the occasion; in this case bass heavy electronic music, perfect for an assault on the senses. As I sat there, I let the beats and melodies paint pulsing images in my mind. Swirls of color and waves of sound enveloped my senses until the music was tangible. Reality melted away and my thoughts slowed down just long enough for me to knit together what was left of my sanity.
And then my iPod betrayed me by randomly playing Owl City.
“Fucking Vanilla Twilight,” I groaned, pushing my headphones down to hang on my neck.
“Oh good, you’re not dead,” Vinyl called from across the room. “I was just about to throw something at ya to make sure. So what’s Vanilla Twilight?”
“A song that sucked a lot less a month ago,” I replied, sitting up. "How's the unpacking coming?"
"I finished ages ago, I've just been mulling around for the last half hour waiting to see if you were gonna snap out of your funk today or if I was going to have to make my own entertainment."
"I really need to stop zoning out like that." I said. She laughed.
"Hey, wanna help me out with something?"
"Sure, why not."
“Great, hold out your claws.” She demanded walking over to me.
“Umm, they’re called hands.” I replied.
“Hands, claws, same thing, just hold ‘em out.” I did as I was told. Vinyl’s horn lit up and the soft glow of her magic enveloped my hands.
“So what are we doing exactly?” I asked.
“Your world practically revolves around those things, and since I don’t have any I’ll need to improvise a bit.”
“This isn’t like some kinda foreplay is it?”
“Nah… Well not in this context anyway.” I raised an eyebrow at her response, but she ignored me. “Unicorns don’t just use magic. We feel it, which can make for some interesting applications. It’s like an extra leg but infinitely more useful.”
“This is all fascinating, but what does it have to do with the magic gloves?”
“I’m getting there. Since we feel our magic, we subconsciously develop habits.”
“So, magical muscle memory?”
“Exactly. I want to get used to how hands work and feel before I start replicating them.”
"So what do you want me to do?" I asked turning my hands over and examining them.
"Whatever you usually do."
"Games it is then." I said, rising from my chair. Instead of firing up my 360, I turned to my Wii and popped in Metroid Prime: Trilogy.
"How many of these things do you have?" Vinyl asked.
"Quite a few," I laughed. "So tell me, who's Octavia?"
"She's a cellist, and a very close friend of mine."
"Nope, my turn. Who's your ex?"
"Well played." I sighed, pulling up Metroid Prime 2: Echoes from the main menu. "Alright, her name is Bailey. I've known her all my life but we didn't start dating until high school. So are you and Octavia a thing or what?" I asked as the game finished loading and put me in control.
"That’s a bit complicated," Vinyl said, shifting a bit. "She lives in the capital, Canterlot. I recently moved in with her but when I did the nobles stopped hiring her for their garden parties."
"So you left."
"It's not that simple." She said softly.
"When is it ever?" I replied. When she didn't answer I continued. "Bailey ran too. Joined the Navy and left everything behind but me, or so I thought. I guess-" My voice broke. I cleared my throat and tried again. "I guess she got tired of waiting." Again, Vinyl stayed silent. I let the silence stand as I navigated my way through the murky depths of the underwater temple in the Torvus Bog. It was a good ten minutes before she spoke again.
"Why did she run?"
"Because I wasn't enough reason for her to stay." I said, noting I sounded a little bitter. "I couldn't provide for her the way I wanted, and she couldn't see any way out of the little dead end town we were raised in except to run. She settled for a job she didn't want in the military and took the earliest ship date to boot camp that they would give her. Damn near killed me to watch her go, but I wasn't going to tie her down. For two months we talked through letters. I wrote her every day. And once a week on Thursday I'd get a letter from her. Sometimes it was a few lines, sometimes a few pages, but it was always just enough to get by."
"Then it came time for her to graduate. I drove fourteen hours, nearly a thousand miles just to see her. She was so happy. Free of her broken home, free of her dead end life, free of me. Even if we didn't realize it at the time. We only had a few hours together before I had to go. I gave her my class ring, and she promised to bring it back. It was our vow that she would stay safe and I'd be waiting. This was just five months ago."
"I expected things to be hard, I expected struggles, but I never saw this coming. I never thought she'd give up on me. I never thought-" I had to pause the game as the tears came again. Silence fell once more as they streamed down my face. With a shuddering breath I managed to pull myself together. "Now she's halfway around the world and I'm left here to try and start over." I turned to Vinyl. "Why did you run?"
She didn't answer. Without looking at me she slid her hooves to the floor and walked to her room. I felt her magic dissipate from my hands as she shut the door behind her.
"Fair enough," I mumbled returning to my game. She'd talk when she was ready. Until then, I had more than enough to occupy my mind.