A/N: If this seems too long, or distracting from the main plot, bear with me. I've got to start off the "pony" element for this story. It basically explains how Pinkie got into this mess. So I hope you guys understand!
So many stars. There are SOOOOO many! You can't even see them as clear as they are at night. Princess Luna is nice and all, but....wow. I can't even count how many there are! There's one, two, three, kumquat, twenty-seven-
I wonder if I could touch one of them? Maybe if I can, I'll get to throw a party on one!
I'll be the first mare to throw a party on a sun! Ooooooh, I wonder if I'll get to bring my friends?
"Pinkie, get away from there!" A mint-green blur knocked Pinkie Pie out of her trance and dragged her away from the wide platform.
"Oh hey Lyra! What are you doing here?" Pinkie innocently asked.
"Pinkie, you know FULL well, why we're here! Because of THAT!" The unicorn pointed at the leviathan platform supporting an arching gate (which was giving an eerie image of an empty night filled with stars, and even stranger, a lone planetary sphere.) with an urgent hoof. "It's dangerously unstable on that platform right now! At ANY moment, the event horizon in the MIRoR could collapse and leave behind a vacuum that could implode half of Equestria. Even one little touch currently applied without the any sort of magical shielding could make the whole laboratory go, well, to put things in your terms, KABLOOOEY!"
Lyra nervously added, "Pinkie? You want to go KABLOOEY?"
"Ok, ok fine. I won't go near it anymore. Cross my heart and hope to-"
Lyra blocked Pinkie's usual recited spiel with a forceful hoof.
"Pinkie," Lyra sighed and began to push Pinkie away from the massive contraption, towards the security bulkhead which Pinkie had somehow compromised. "Just do your job. You're suppose to be on the lookout for anything wierd with your Pinkie Senses, remember?"
"B-b-but, the view in that wierd portal thingamajig is SO amazing! Is that REALLY how the other side of the universe is? Are there REALLY aliens over there?"
Lyra's anger subsided for a moment as she pulled Pinkie's tail through the safety bulkhead and towards the way to Observation Center. She said, "I know, Pinkie. Imagine what we'll find out there! The Princesses are going to be pleased at the discovery of non-magical intelligent beings that have far exceeded our own. They even made giant ships that can travel into outer space and fly faster than light! It's incredible that they've even colonized other worlds!
"How can you travel faster than light? And is it REALLY how outer space looks like? And if there is outer space, is there an inside space, too? And if-" Pinkie's mouth was obstructed by Lyra's hoof again. Lyra's annoyance returned.
Why didn't we just hire that Freemane stallion instead? Sure, Pinkie is one of the Elemants of Harmony, but nothing says "we have a better Laboratory than you do" than a fresh-off-the-block intern with a nice, shiny degree from Manehattan Institute of Technology. Oh well. Too late to regret funding investment now.
Lyra, once in front of the door of the observation center filled with eager scientists awaiting a debriefing from their formerly considered delusional scientific colleague (Hah! Eat it! Humans DO exist!), whispered with a voice laced with both excitement for progress, and fearful consideration of what Pinkie might do to hinder aforementioned progress, "Pinkie, remember your promise! Please, don't do anything silly during my speech."
The pink earth mare snapped into attention and gave a salute, "You can count on me!"
But as soon as Lyra entered the doorway, Pinkie Pie collapsed on the floor with laughter. It's a physical impossibility for Pinkie Pie to stay serious for more than a split second, even if her life depended on it....
0700 hours Canterlot Time
The whispering and mumbles among the small crowd settled down once Lyra stumbled in the dark, as all the windows were closed off from outside light by shutters and the lights were switched off inside the room, to an improvised podium with a microphone next to a projector on a stand.
"Hello? Can everypony here me? Excellent, let us begin." She activated the projector with her magic and continued with her speech. A light penetrated the darkened room, and soon flashed a single image onto the screen next to Lyra of a outline of a bipedial creature.
"Let's start off with our basic history. Ever since the dawn of time, Princess Celestia and Luna have fended off chaotic Discord and maintained a form of order in our world. They are able to harness the sheer power of the sun, moon, and stars, yet they could never seem to extend their powers beyond our planet. As you've all learned in the most basic of education, the one-of-a-kind leylines that course through this planet's atmosphere and tectonic plates are essential to how we've evolved and developed magic and how the Royal Sister have come to have such power. Beyond, however, the Sisters were not able to extend their influence, thus leaving the rest of the universe under the care of Discord."
Lyra paused for a breath and continued, "Thousands of years later, after Nightmare Moon and Discord's second capture, the Princesses decided to give us a very generous research grant in order to open up lines of communication to the "outside". I'm sure all of you agree that it is not our way to ignore the suffering of an entire universe, while we live in bliss. So, with the MIRoR (Mass Intelligence Resonance for Receptiveness) Project, we've been able to collect information with basic, yet forcefully prolonged, analysis spells that rebound back to MIRoR. And what MIRoR found was astounding. A sentient species."
She clicked the next image, an image of a planet. "In the alien's most common langauge, something pronounced "English", which has a syntax disturbingly similar to Equestrian, this planet is called 'Earth'."
Few chuckles echoed in the room.
"Yes. Not the most ingenious of names, but at least they gave it one (unlike us). This is the most populated of all the other planets they inhabit. And yes, they HAVE colonized other planets."
The projector clicked onto the next image of a gigantic construct in orbit around a different planet. Unlike 'Earth' the celestial object had a misty, sunset orange surface and multiple consecutive rings bound around the planet. The construct contained massive skyscrapers and ports extending from the urban monstrosity, and was surrounded by smaller machines leaving behind a blazing trail of pure white.
"This isn't science fiction, people. According to reports, this 'city' is named Titan Station, one of the earliest artificially-constructed satellites around planetary orbit meant for their species' inhabitance. Those objects around it are ships. Not your average sailboats, but a kilometer long, 10 billion ton metal vessels that are capable of traveling in a speed faster than light, which is probably the reason why these creatures have been able to colonize worlds light-years away from their planet of origin."
Lyra gave a satisfactory grin of what was to come. "And the name of these aliens? Humans. Yes, they ARE real. I'm not going to go off on a tirade how I was right all these years, that's not what I'm here to do. MIRoR was not only designed for information gathering, but also teleportation."
She gestured to a figure in the dark that waved back, and said, "That is Doctor Hooves. He has the most current experience with the teleportation scientific field, and has given his expertise to help build MIRoR. And he gladly volunteered to lead the first team into MIRoR's arch. He'll explain to you all everything there is to MIRoR, from its power source to how its going to locate our target teleportation zone. But in the meantime, our guests are waiting on the other side."
0815 hours Canterlot Time
"Are you sure about this?" Lyra questioned on the intercom. She was watching in anticipation of the scene below.
Dr. Whooves responded, "Of course I am. I'm a doctor, you know. The mere fact that I'm down here...."
"Fine. No turning back now," Lyra admitted. "Beginning the sequence. It's show time."
The light's dimmed as the MIRoR began its start-up procedure. The lab's magical/electrical mainframe was having trouble keeping up with the power demand.
And soon, Lyra saw the familiar image of the star-embedded space in the MIRoR arch. The target vessel for teleportation was predicted to be available in a few moments.
Doctor Whooves, across from the portal arch, said, "Alright. As soon as one of their ships is readying for a light-speed jump, MIRoR tugs in some of the energy signature of the ship and BAM! We get teleported towards the signature as the magical ebb and flow rebounds across space and time. After we arrive and decideto take our leave, we'll power an exit portal with their fusion-powered engines onboard. Easy enough to understand so-"
Lyra couldn't hear the rest of the Doctor's speech, as a hyperactive voice rang out next to her and echoed in the room, "TWITCHY TWITCH!"
Lyra began to look around for the source of the noise, but expecting the randomness of Pinkie Pie, she stopped herself....until Pinkie popped into view on the MIRoR platform. It looked like she was trying to stop Doctor Whooves from entering the arch.
Lyra screamed thorough the intercom as she watched, "Pinkie Pie! Get out of there!"
"But I got a doozy this time, I swear! I think that whatever is outside that thingamajig, is something really wierd!"
During Pinkie Pie's response, the image of an endless night sky inside the arch of MIRoR started to distort and quiver. The agitated portrait of alien stars from an unfamiliar portion of the universe inside the arch seemed to blur and swirl slowly into the center, leaving pure trails of light circling around the once pristine blackness of space. The event horizon contained within MIRoR's arch began to shrink as the intensity of the light in the portal visibly became brighter in cohesion.
Doctor Whooves urged the pink pony in front of him, "Miss Pie, I strongly suggest that you move away from MIRoR's range of effect. You are in direct exposure of it's magical pull."
Pinkie Pie reassured, "Don't worry. The author won't let anything bad happen to me, or else his readers will start to post really mean comments about him. And they'll send him pictures through the mail of his dog after they baked it in an oven, and impaled effegies of him on fire. And maybe even some racial slurs!"
"But it's totally fine! See?" Pinkie pointed a playful hoof at the pinprick of light now formed within the MIRoR.
Doctor Whooves struggled to get her away from the arch, but she dodged his every move.
He warned, "Pinkie, this isn't a game. MIRoR is currently in its final preparational stages. If you don't move, you'll end up teleported to whatever you're trying to warn us about."
"I did what now? I don't remember saying anything bad was gonna happen."
"Wait, what? You said you got a doozy!"
"When did that happen?"
"You... GRRRR. Just get away before-"
The Doctor was too late. Behind Pinkie Pie, the pinprick of light in MIRoR had exponentially exploded. The resulting waves mushroomed and engulfed everything in range, including Pinkie Pie. Doctor Whooves, thanks to Pinkie Pie's early warning, was a safe enough distance away from the tempest of light and billowing ripples of magic. As abruptly as it occurred, the engulfing blast absorbed any object it found in contact with back into MIRoR's portal, teleporting them to who knows where.
The event only lasted for a split-second, and considering the massive outward eruption from the portal arch, it was a bit anticlimatic. Not only was the event theatrically disappointing, but the power mainframe for the lab blew out from the sudden surge of magical energy, leaving the MIRoR itself, all computers, sensors, and lights in the underground levels of the laboratory non-functional and as useless as paper weights, and Pinkie Pie was nowhere to be seen.
The Doctor cried out, "Lyra! Get Princess Celestia! We might a problem in our hooves."
Charybdis colony world, 2505, 3 years before end of Resource War and Aegis VII incident.
Location: 89th floor of Timson Tools Corporation building.
Damn, door's locked.
The RIG-clad soldier stealthily checked the entrance of an evacuated conference room that would serve fairly well as a observation point, brushing his gloved hands along the nooks and crannies of the door in order to make certain that it wasn't booby-trapped.
Old dogs can learn new tricks, but it doesn't mean they won't remember earlier ones, either.
He got up until he was head-level with the door panel, and pulled back the interface pad, revealing the circuitry beneath. He twiddled around with the wiring and the magnetic locking system until he found the emergency fail-safes in the hydraulics of the doorway's mechanics. He faked a power systems shutdown by tearing some wires responsible for the hydraulics and driving them into the electromagnetic micro-coils that surrounded the power conduit in the interface's circuitry, leaving the rest of the work to the building AI in charge of safety protocols to automatically open the entrance in order to "evacuate" the "inhabitants" of the room.
He rushed in and used his Kinesis to roughly throw the conference table and numerous luxury appliances into a pile in a lonely corner. He set the modified Seeker rifle slung behind his back onto the now-empty flooring in the direction of the CEC skyscraper, which was giving off the faintest of reflections through the modestly-sized windows currently taking the place of an entire wall in the conference room.
He opened up a communique in his RIG to the commanding officer of the USM Reqiuem above Charybdis's orbit.
"Requiem, this is callsign Falcon." He lay prone onto the floor, ejected the bipod and the stock monopod from the Seeker rifle's body to stabilize the rifle, and started to allow the ORACLE program in his RIG to uplink with the Seeker rifle.
"Awaiting further orders."
"Let's cut the bullshit, Marine. We'll have to abandon SOPs for now. The target already is capable of disconnecting his RIG interface from Charybdis's network, so we'll have to assume that he already triangulated on your location through the comm relays on Reqiuem and already hacked into your RIG ID. Sorry for not briefing you before we dropped you off, but time is short and I don't have time for the formalities. Now...." There was a pause, as the officer was probably side-swiped a look at the soldier's service record. "...Gunnery Sergeant Ahn, according to your record, you're an Electronics Warfare Engineer. And a damn good one. And the situation we're in requires more of a refined method that our best snipers can't provide."
As the marine scoped in onto the 67 floor and third window to the right of the sdjacent skyscraper(exactly as Intel specified), the Requiem CO uploaded a EarthGov Security profile picture of a graying Caucasian male in around mid-age and multiple logs of information onto his RIG.
"This is Robert Grayson. Worked as a Net Systems Technician in CEC for 23 years. Wife and kids died a month back from an orbital barrage in the rebellious provinces of Charybdis while he was out of system. The man cracked, and as of today at 0350 hours, he hijacked the CEC Charybdis skyscraper's security systems and is currently holding the Condcordance Extraction Corporation's Board of Directors, who were on a business trip here, hostage. He already announced a statement threatening EarthGov to remove their presence on this planet. I'm sure you're quite familiar with one of hostages."
Another photo blinked up on the soldier's RIG of a young, curly-haired brunette with fathomless sapphire eyes and a smartly-tied bun. He knew her name before her profile loaded onto his RIG. It was Diane Mercer, the Junior Undersecretary of the CEC Board. And she was three-months pregnant with a girl.
Wait a minute. How do I know all this about a complete stranger? Pretty sure I'm not a fucking stalker.
And did he just say that I knew her? Never seen her in my life. Curious...
"But that's besides the point. At the rate that the Resource Wars are continuing, the human race will consume all its resources in a matter of months, even with the colony mining operations. I have both the CEC Management back on Earth and the brass on separate lines up here screaming at me to save the Board at all costs. EarthGov and the CEC are in cahoots with a secret construction of a ship they've just started to mention called Project Ishimura. The CEC are creating a new class of ships called Planet-crackers, which they claim will solve humanity's mineral resource problem with a few mining operations on planets considered uninhabitable. If the Board dies, all CEC's credibility will flop and the funding for the Planet-crackers will be pulled out from under them by investors. Humanity will be left to rot in its own shit. EarthGov doesn't want that to happen."
The Gunnery Sergeant found his target. The man wandered into his visual range near the CEC building room's window.
"I have visual on Grayson and some of the Board members. He appears to have a device around his neck..."
He tagged and uploaded the RIG signatures of the prone CEC Board and of Grayson.
Requiem reported in, "The target designed a monitoring apparatus that'll track any drastic increase or decrease in vital signs. Remember when I said that he hijacked the building? He also linked the device to the generators below the CEC skyscraper compound, and it will start a melt down sequence that will wipe out a quarter of the urban sprawl if the damn thing around his neck senses that his heart is flat-lining, meaning we can't breach the compound in case he triggers the melt down himself."
Sergeant Ahn watched Grayson look behind himself, and impatiently scream at and drag out a member of the hostages towards the window.
Oblivious, the CO above orbit continued, "That's where you come in. The modified Seeker Rifle has a targeting supercomputer, or ORACLE, integrated into the scoping system, that relays information from and to your RIG. You're pretty familiar with ORACLE, seeing as you collaborated on its prototype couple weeks ago. It's barrel has been replaced to allow for a different cartridge to be used, like the EMP slug currently chambered in the Seeker Rifle. ORACLE will lock on to the target and automatically calculate any variable it encounters, and the EMP round guided by ORACLE, once it penetrates the the detonation collar on Grayson, will both disable his RIG and disconnect his spinal cord from the resulting hydrostatic shock. I've gotten a 'go' signal from EarthGov, so as soon as the oppurtunity presents itself...."
"...take the shot?" Ahn answered.
"Take the shot. No matter what. As long as the majority of the Board survives this, humanity won't go extinct. Am I clear?"
"Crystal, sir," Ahn responded. He tried to push all of his fears of what might happened to her.
But a tiny pessimistic voice of doubt lingered.
What if it meant she had to die?
Wait. What? Why should I worry myself about collateral damage? But I can't get rid of this feeling that I met her before...
Grayson returned to the window clutching a woman by her neck, and held an activated industrial plasma saw to her midsection. Ahn began to assign ORACLE's tracking system onto Grayson's RIG signal.
Damn. It's her.
The Requiem called in, "Patching through a transmission incoming from Grayson's RIG. Hold on a moment..."
After what seemed like an eternity, the Marine heard through his helmet speaker what supposedly was Grayson's haggard voice:
"To all the EarthGov terratorialist bastards still on this planet. Let us just die in peace. You took my wife and kids away from me, and if you don't withdraw from this planet, I'll take your precious resource solution away from EarthGov. I've got nothing to live for anymore. Humanity deserves to die in the ditch it dug up by itself. If you don't give in to my demands, I'll start to carve into this pretty little thing right here, like I will for the rest."
He turned his head towards his captive. She, even with dried trails of tears and mascara, was still entirely recognizeable. She was mouthing something......"Junebug"
Fuck....she knows me. And by a pet name. Calm down, it could just be a coincidence.
But how the fuck shouldn't I know her, if she knows me already?
"I'll give you 24 hours to-"
Grayson rambled on as Ahn recieved a transmission directly from the Requiem CO.
"According to Marine units on the ground, you should have perfect visual on the target. Execute on my mark..."
Ahn placed his index finger firmly on the two-step trigger of the Seeker Rifle.
Ahn looked into Mercer's eyes. She looked back.
I'm not a Unitologist, but please God if you're REALLY out there....
....Keep her safe.
The NCO squeezed the trigger, and a loud crack echoed dully throughout the city. As his shoulder calmly accepted the recoil, he saw a millisecond later a small cloud of pink and red puff behind Grayson.
Grayson's head, disconnected from its neck, rolled onto the floor and fell off from the now-windowless balcony onto the sprawl below. The body it left behind jerked a little, and to the Gunnery Sergeant's horror, the insignificant jerk of a muscle turned into a sudden muscle spasm that charged the plasma saw into the captive's chest.
At first, faint smoke eminated from the wound, but as the saw burned further and further into Mercer's body, chunks of burnt bone fragments and dark, purple deoxygenated blood spurted out of her shoulder and bosom. From the fractured windows of the room, her scream penetrated the heart of the city. The screaming began to stopper as gravity pushed the embedded plasma saw down, and the additional weight and agony disoriented the poor woman into taking a panicked step towards the shattered windows, which gave way to her weight, and tumbled down to the Charybdis urban sprawl beneath her.
Ahn looked away and withdrew himself from the Seeker Rifle's scope. Ahn got up from his prone position onto his hands and knees, and then onto his feet. He stumbled and grasped around for any physical support.
Amongst the pool of radio traffic in Ahn's helmet, Reqiuem screeched in, "Sergeant, what the hell is going on down here? We're getting reports of a civilian getting slaughtered up on-"
The Marine returned, "Mission.....accomplished. Hostages secure. Congrats, sir. We all get to live to fight another glorious day."
He suddenly wrenched off his helmet and threw it onto the marble flooring. He sank down and breathed out a sob.
He whispered harshly to none other than himself, "What the fuck did I just do? She fucking looked at me in the eyes. And what did I do? I killed her. But why in the hell should I be upset about this? I saw plenty of people die before."
"Why can't I just shake this off?!"
He remembered after a few moments of recollection her last words. It was Junebug. Why do I feel like I've heard that before? Why can't I fucking remember?
The memory brutally fresh, he replayed it over and over again in his mind until her could actually hear her call out:
Whether he actually heard it, or he was starting to drift didn't matter. He was slowly becoming disturbed at the fact that his vision was distorting, as if he was viewing everything through a cheaply-produced holo-cam that streaked the imaging with static whenever the smallest hint of illumination was captured by its lense. He remembered that the two suns that Charybdis orbited were setting, but the light outside was now unbearingly blaring, as if an old 20th century lighthouse had its signal light directed right into the room.
He heard the voice again. The static and increasing luminescence was giving him a migraine, and forced to wince, the Sergeant closed his eyes.
The second he opened them, A bloody figure blinked into existence in front of him, with unearthly glows emanating from her eyes and mouth, and pale, icy skin that made it...her...look like her body had prolonged exposure to the zero-degree, harsh environment of space. The corpse-like female, as quick as lightning, clutched the NCO's neck with a death grip and opened her mouth with a ghoulish howl.
Her features were too much like Mercer's to be ignored.
Shit. This didn't happen. Nothing like this happened. What the fuck is going on?
Her screaming outburst was as if it was played from a damaged audio file,
"You killed me! You killed my child! MAKE US WHOLE!!!!!!"
His tormented vision stuttered and blacked out. With a sharp gasp of breath, he opened his eyes.
USM Valor. Present day, 2508.
Shockpoint jump towards Aegis VII system. 0740 hours Shockpoint Time.
Hyperventilating, he immediately rose up. He wasn't on Charybdis anymore. He was lounging in a chair, adjacent to what he now recognized as the ship's Psychiatrist. Ahn gave a salute as soon as he noted the silver bars of a naval Lieutenant on his fatigues.
The LT warily looked at him, "Steady there. I think we might have to cut short our hypnosis session. I'm sure you were told this before, but this will have to be our last examination. But mind letting me ask you a couple of questions?"
"Excellent. Gunnery Sergeant Ahn Joon....umm, which one is your first name? Sorry, I like to start off with a first-name basis. Makes things easier to handle for patients."
"It's Joon, sir."
"Ah-ha! That makes more sense. Never could get foreign names right," the psychiatrist explained. "Now then, when did these dreams, memory black outs, and/or hallucinations start occurring?"
Joon seemed to stare absentmindedly past the psychiatrist. The Lieutenant noted something was bothering him, or maybe was having a hallucination concurrently with his session.
"A couple of days ago, sir."
"Alright then. Roughly the same time as the others. Do you still have them?"
The Marine continued to stare at the crucified body of the same mysterious woman in his vision on the room wall, sultrily repeating, "Make us whole". His eyes watering, he blinked, and she disappeared.
He recovered himself, "Yes, sir."
"Do they look familiar to you in any way?"
"I see a woman. Brown hair, blue eyes. Familiar, but I can't seem to identify her exactly."
The Lieutenant said, scrolling on a tablet with a window open that was the Marine's crew service record, "Really? Because in your personal information, there seems to be a similar-". The psychiatrist stopped himself and spoke again,
"Never mind. It won't help you until you start treatment at a mental hospital. Alright then, final question: You requested a ship-board transfer for Valor's Ship Systems Techinician position 48 hours after the Charybdis incident. Was your decision linked in anyway to the events before it?"
The Marine didn't answer.
"Sorry, Gunnery Sergeant. Must have been a personal question," the Lieutenant murmured. His impassive facial expression started to soften.
"Look Marine, I'm afraid that I'm going have to declare you mentally unfit for duty."
Joon looked up. "You're Section 8-ing me?"
"I don't have a choice. You now how many cases of paranoia and dementia similar to your's I've gotten this past week? 45, including you. Must be the G-sickness and Shockpoint radiation getting to you guys. Too many jumps, so little rest. This is getting to the point where I had to inform Cadigan about this....pandemic. I'm truly sorry," The naval psychiatrist replied gently.
"You'll be fine. I've seen plenty of Marines and Station or Planetary Security come out of the meat grinder more screw-loose than you are now, and still end up back in service after therapy and treatment." The psychiatrist grasped Joon's shoulder firmly. "But I'm afraid I'm going to have to put ya into stasis. Valor got a distress signal from the Aegis system while you were out. Suspicious, right? Not even the most insane person in this galaxy would go there. Bet you 5 credits it's the Unitologist funny handshake again. So we can't drop you off anytime soon at the nearest planetary base for a refuel and crew exchange. It's not an option anymore."
Joon blankly stared and nodded few seconds later in grudging agreement. He hated the cryo-stasis process with a passion, but the sooner he got himself looked at, the better. "Fine."
The Lieutenant graciously shook his hand, "Thanks for making this easy on yourself, Gunny. And me, especially. Got 12 more cases to check through today before we reach Aegis VII. Wish ya the best of luck."
USM Valor. 2508.
Aegis VII system. 0830 hours Normal Time
Stasis Bay C
"Did you hear?" The lonely Petty Officer asked. Couldn't catch his name. His RIG tag says its Buhari, or something. Crap, the friggin condensation is starting to cover my RIG screen. Getting harder to read.
"Something mighty fishy is going on below in the hanger. Lost contact with everybody in there as soon as we got one of Ishimura's escape pods onboard. Complete radio silence. No comms from the Marine unit we sent down there, too. Some freaky-ass shit, right?"
Joon answered, looking up from his RIG holo-screen, "Sure as hell sounds like it. You sure you don't need an extra hand?" He would have done anything to escape the cramped confines of a stasis tube.
"Nah, Gunny. Enjoy yourself when you start getting handled by them Navy nurses in padded rooms. Perks to becoming completely psycho."
Joon, his voice dripping with sarcasm, retorted, "Jeez, your making me feel SO much better. Do you think I'll still get put on a murder charge if I strangle you while I'm clinically insane? I think its one of those perks you mentioned about not being able to control myself in fits of madness..."
"Damn, Guns. Ease up on the insults," The Petty Officer said. "Just here as an technician."
He gestured at his Marine escorts that they didn't need to stay during the stasis process. Buhari closed the "casket". The nickname for stasis tubes, popularly used by Navy techies, originated with the early prototypes of stasis tubes in the 23rd century that ended tearing apart the subjects and half of the laboratory containing them with subatomic black holes. The project staff attempted to project a space-time bubble that slowed every individual particle inside its field, but ended up exciting the particles inside with such instability that the bodies inside simply disappeared. Overall, a pretty lax name for such a dark past.
Mist started to creep up and cover the "casket's" clear tubing with even more condensation, signs that the stasis generators were functional, expelling H2O emissions, blah blah blah, when shouting started emerge from out of the room, specifically from the direction Joon recognized with his limited vision where the Marine escorts exited the room from.
Blood-curdling screams and gruff yells increased in frequency, until pregnent silence hung about.
Even the occasional "Get 'em off of me!" had stopped.
Joon exclaimed from inside the stasis tube, "Yo, Buhari. What the hell's going on?"
"No idea. I'll stop the stasis sequence to see what's going on," Petty Officer Buhari replied, as he frantically tapped on his control interface. "Whatever's happening, shit probably escalated from-GAHHHHHH!"
A monstrosity of mishapen flesh and bone impaled Buhari from the shadows. The clear casing of Joon's stasis unit fogged up, making the blood splatters and rabid, unintelligible screaming the only visual and audible evidence of what was occurring. And, to Joon, it was far from normal.
"Buhari!" Joon hit the plexiglass casing repeatedly. "Answer me! You alright?!"
All he got in response was deep moaning and silence lasting several, nerve-racking seconds.
Out of nowhere, bony limbs thrashed on the stasis tube's clear casing, cracking and eventually breaking through the damage-resistant plexiglass. A disfigured human head burst through the now-useless shards that had temporarily shielded Joon, and roared into his face. Bloody spittle and decaying matter rained onto Joon's countenance.
Joon lashed out, striking the nightmarish creature below the jaw, and broke through the weakened plexiglass casing, landing onto the deck. He scrambled away from the creature, and his eyes searching for a discarded weapon, entered the blood-stained room where the escorts met their demise. He salvaged a Pulse Rifle off of the gore-splattered deck, and turned to face the creature of misshapen flesh and bone.
Joon fired a short burst at its center of mass. The sizable amount of fire that would have shredded a dinner plate-sized hole in a normal human being was simply shrugged off by the monster. A stray round blew off half of its head, but the creature continued to charge at him. Joon could only watch through his peripheral vision the ammo counter draining precariously to zero as the creature, now legless, still was intent on continuing the onslaught. As its arms were shot off, and as Joon's Pulse Rifle ejected its last shell casing, the monster finally stopped and drowned in a pile of its own shattered limbs and ruptured organs.
The Gunnery Sergeant edged away from the monster's corpse. He put enough rounds in the thing to stop a truck, and it still wouldn't stop until its appendages were disconnected from its body.
Note to self. Aim for the limbs
He approached the Stasis Bay's exit, but he was denied passage. The exit bulkhead left him trapped in the bay.
Joon remembered EDF's Naval standard procedure for removal of mentally-ill crew. Normally, their RIGs were restricted access into and out of all compartments unless accompanied by certified crewmen and bank accounts were frozen, with funds only available until they started treatment at a mental asylum.
Joon heard grisly rustling in the vents above him. Fuck that. I ain't staying here.
The only way he would be able to escape would be with the RIG tag to scan the bulkhead with...
He looked at the many corpses with their RIGs intact and a combat knife strapped onto an amputated thigh.
The Sergeant walked cautiously to one of the bodies, and solemnly collected the name of the Marine's body he would have to defile to escape.
Jenkins...Sorry, for this bro.
Joon unseathed the combat knife and thrusted it between the corpse's shoulder blade, starting the grisly process of severing the nerve/titanium wiring-infused connections between the spinal cord and a combat RIG.
But you would have done the same exact thing...
USM Valor. 2508.
Aegis VII system. 0910 hours Normal Time
Habitability Deck 5A
Amongst the crew deck's flickering lighting, a spark sizzled through the air, followed by three more. The sparks grew in intensity, and their mysterious origin revealed itself when a ball of energy grew among the sparks and eventual arms of streaking electricity.
From the ball popped into existence a pink equine, and as she plopped onto the empty deck, the ball behind her collapsed and shrank into oblivion.
Pinkie Pie dusted herself off, mind racing with questions. Where am i? (Gasp) I'm on an alien ship, aren't I? Oh my Celestia! I'm going to throw a big, huge, super-stupendous party for them! What were they called? Humans? And why is their ship so drab? Its just gray, white, and blue. No pink ANYWHERE!
She hopped about, undisturbed by the emptyness of the halls or the haunting silence. She came across sore stick-out amongst the sea of metal grey and luminescent blue. It was a poster written in Equestrian with what Pinkie Pie assumed to be a robot printed on it.
The poster had some sort of thick red liquid splashed on some of the corners, but Pinkie Pie concluded that one of the aliens must have splashed on some cherrichanga sauce during a food fight or something.
That robot seems way too similar to the image Lyra showed us back in the lab. The robot has hands and fingers like a monkey's and it's standing up on only two legs, just like Lyra said they would. It must be one of the Humans! But where is everypony?
With a rough tug, Pinkie yanked off the poster with a hoof and wandered off, trying to discover any new friends she could make.
USM Valor. 2508.
Aegis VII system. 0910 hours Normal Time
Outside Stasis Bay C
Outside the beshodden entrance of the stasis bay were numerous bodies, blood stains, and hundreds of shell casings, ranging in designation from Divet slugs to Seeker rounds. The bulkhead of the entrance, glowing with a faint red outline and holo-projecting the words "LOCKED", dramatically parted. The hydraulic vents near the door expelled a red cloud, which expressed much about how many and what inhabitants were in the ventilation ducts polluting the air with blood, gore particles, and who-knows-what.
The left bulkhead jammed on a severed arm, and repeatedly crushed it into the nook of its sliding mechanism. Out walked an individual, wearing nothing other than boots, BDU combat pants, and an olive-drab shirt, stenciled in Ahn, Joon. In his BDU pants, his pocket bulged with a full capacity Pulse Rifle magazine, and he readied a freshly-reloaded Pulse Rifle as he walked into the hallways. In his left hand, in conjunction with handling the handguard of his Pulse Rifle was a bloodied pRIG (or personal RIG), its electronics and wiring frayed roughly where they would normally have to be fused into the human spine in surgery.
He kept a wary eye towards any open vents, and turned onto a path. He wasn't going to survive any of this with just his fatigues, boots, and a pair of skivvies. He needed his Marine-standard issue RIG. And guns....lots of them.
The vid-screens that surrounded him along the pathway blared out an emergency broadcast, and alongside a siren, the broadcast looped:
"This is Commander Cadigan! We have hostiles on board! This is NOT a drill! Hostiles are alien, repeat, ALIEN and extremely dangerous! All personnel have weapons ready and fire at will!"
He would have to report to Cadigan eventually. Ol' Cadigan was always the "man with the plan".
But Joon drifted off towards a direction that would lead to the Habitability Deck. He needed to get something personal from his locker. Joon vaguely thought, Gotta honor the dead and their promises somehow.
He quickly surveyed the dynamic shadows as he hurried towards his destination. He heard faint voices behind him, although no one alive was anywhere near him. Among the fugue was a female voice that clung in his mind, infiltrating its emotions and thoughts until it was entrenched into his conscience. Whispering in his ear of what he had done to her....
The voices followed him where ever he went, and they became distinct enough to hear what they were saying, or better yet, singing. The words of a Unitologist hymn that he hadn't heard since his childhood echoed through the halls, and among the echoes, a female, betrayed and left to decay alone.
USM Valor. 2508.
Aegis VII system. 0937 hours Normal Time
Habitability Deck 5A
"Hey, Vargas! How much closer?"
"70 meters 'til we reach the RV point. Hang tight. Just keep on sprinting."
PFC Vargas looked behind her shoulder, making sure her remaining squad member, Restrepo, was keeping up.
"Just like Basic, huh?" she huffed and gave a small grin.
Restrepo grimaced, struggling to continue the pace while blurting out a response, "Yup, except without the crawl tunnels full of pig shit and the 70 kilo packs. Shit, I can't keep this up, Vargas."
"You gotta. Just a few more moments, and we'll get to see some of our own again. Not a bunch of space-zombies. Honest-to-God Marines and the Navy POG-WOGs!" she chuckled. Restrepo wheezed out a laugh.
Crap. I should have ordered him to leave the Detonator behind. It's weighing him down, meaning it's going to slow down both of us.
Vargas reduced to a fraction of her speed as they reached an intersection on the deck, and directed, "Ok, we take a right at this hallway, and we take a detour through Valor's Plaza. When we reach Cadigan's safe zone, we'll give a toast to Koji and Sorens, ok? Least we can do for 'em. Then some chow and sleep. "
Restrepo stopped beside her and said, "Fine by me. But sleep is gonna be hard to come by aft-
A pink blur of a creature flew up behind his leg, and unbeknown to him, tapped the side of his knee joint, yelling in a high-pitch tone, "TAG! YOU'RE IT!"
Restrepo nearly jumped out of his skin and sprayed a drawn-out burst from his Pulse Rifle behind him. The pink....thing, noting his panicked body language and the light emerging from his curious shoulder-aimed cannon, flung herself into another passageway away from Restrepo and the wake of expended plasma rounds that impacted the walls near her.
"What the hell were you firing at?!" Vargas asked, looking up from a map of Valor's schematics on her RIG.
"No idea. I'm going after it-"
She gripped his shoulder pauldron and reminded urgently, "We don't have time for this. We still have Necros trailing us. They know where we fucking are now, and they'll be dragging their rotting asses over here like moths to a flame."
"If we keep this up, we'll never make it to the RV point in time!" Vargas shouted, and in her anger, she carelessly wandered directly below an engineering vent shaft.
"Get your ass back in gear, Restrepo. We still got-"
Vargas never got to finish the sentence. The venting collapsed over her, and a humanoid tackled her to the ground. Restrepo rapidly brandished his firearm to help his friend, but five more of the creatures fell out of the venting and started to menacingly step towards Restrepo.
These were "Necros" he had never seen before. Unlike their more majorly-populated kin with long serrated extensions of bone and tendon sprouting out of their shoulders and back, these were taller and their exposed skull and rib cage revealed a more grotesque anatomy. Though they weren't visibly armed with any modified human limbs (besides their long, spindly fingers), their empty eye sockets and cavernous mouths were starting to creep Restrepo out.
He fired in short, controlled bursts, but one of Necromorphs jerked towards him immediately. It drove its fingers into the tendons of Restrepo's arm, and tugged the Pulse Rifle out from his arms. They others quickly grasped his head and neck as they ripped off his helmet.
Restrepo, his face naked to the cruel temperatures and rot-hinted breath of the Necromorphs, started to kick and punch and scream and act in anyway to attempt to escape from their steely grip. But Restrepo couldn't scream anymore when they managed to force open his mouth by dislocating his jaw.
As he struggled to free himself and find relief to his pain, he found himself mesmerized by their empty eyes. They were the last thing he would be able to see until they all began to vomit into his exposed face and mouth, quickly melting away his facial features and skull. The Necromorphs no longer heard Restrepo's whimpers of agony when they spit their acidic digestive bile down his esophagus and started to devour his melted flesh.
Amidst their orgy of massacre among the bodies of the two Marines, the pink creature from before approached the mortiferous and blood thirsty pack of Necromorphs.
"Hey! That's not very nice!" the four-hooved pink animal shrilly exclaimed.
One of the necrotic nightmares spat a projectile of its bile at Pinkie. Her quick reflexes weren't fast enough to enable her to escape the room without some bile splashing onto parts of her right fore-hoof. Despite the tingling of the acid on her limb, Pinkie Pie ran down an uninhabited hallway away from the Necromorphs, who chased after her roaring and moaning for others to join their hunt of a member of the living.
Pinkie Pie, finally realizing her grim situation, turned around the corner and tripped as she started to lose feeling and could no longer be able to move her injured hoof. She tumbled down the hall and collided with an emerging figure from a deck compartment.
It was one of the robot-like humans. And, with it's bright, sapphire-blue "eyes" projecting through the dim lighting, it had directed its weapon at the forehead of the injured pony.
USM Valor. 2508.
Aegis VII system. 0928 hours Normal Time
Habitability Deck 5A
11 minutes before....
Joon closed the compartment door behind him and locked it silently. He surveyed the area for any of the things. The bastards loved to sneak up on you.
Joon swiftly ran through the area to double-check for any potential threats, or survivors. Both relieved and doleful to find himself alone, he jogged solemnly up to his locker and used his personal combination. His locker door popped open with an audible hiss, and revealed the only two earthly possessions he had inside: A single PDA and a rugged, beaten package wrapped in faded paper. Joon could have probably sold the scraps of wrapping paper for a couple million credits as an antique (after all, EarthGov and its colony worlds scoured every inch of the galaxy for every tree and weed they could compress into paper a few years back before the Resource Wars. Eventually, the only organic life that would ever exist after urbanization on a planet would be the human and domesticated animal population), but what was inside was far too precious to let go of.
Joon reached for the PDA and didn't dare power it on. His natural impulse to activate the PDA mystified him, and the little voice inside his head not to drove his curiosity even more. The little voice reasoned that whatever was on that PDA.....was far too painful to see. Joon tossed the dreaded piece of circuitry and plastic onto a bench, and set his eyes back on the packaged item inside the locker. He grasped the soft, wrinkled material on the package and carefully peeled the paper off.
The paper was valuable, but what really matters is in the inside.
Joon dropped the plain, brown wrapping paper on the locker room floor, and set the precious item onto his palm.
It was the orderly, folded mass of a shemagh. Patterned on were plaid-stripes of white and thin, intricate traces of black. Electric blue dashes streaked across the fabric, making the pattern all the more breath-taking. On the folded triangle of cloth was a wrinkled note with weathered, old-fashioned writing wrapped around a metallic object.
Hey, my little puppy! It's Mom again. I know that you're 14 already, but heck, you'll always be that chubby little boy that could never stop smiling! My deployment in the Marines is getting extended. Some riots over resource supplies are starting to happen in the Outer Rim. Don't fret about me, I'll be safe. Nobody ever gets killed nowadays in the armed forces. That was the past.
Don't watch the news for a while. It might get ugly over there, but it's nothing I can't handle. Puppy, I'm starting to worry. I'm starting to forget why I'm out here, and not taking care of you with your Dad. The politicians keep lying and the truth is always stretched to its limits. But everytime I get a letter from you or a vid-com from home, you always remind me what I'm fighting for.
I'll be back home for Christmas, okay? I promise! But in case I'm not, I'll include this gift in here. It was sort of my good-luck charm the past couple of months. Never got hurt with it on, even during that time that I stepped on a tripware. I got blown sky-high, but I landed without a scratch!
It's called a shemagh, and it was standard kit during some of the Earth-bound wars in the 21st century, especially the ones that took place the Arabic desert provinces. Wrap it around your neck or head, and it'll protect your skin from getting major sunburn. But since Marines are mainly space-bound now, it's usually just worn for some available gauze or as a fashion statement by civvies. This one was my grandad's, and my family passed it on through the generations to anyone in the family that decided to serve in the military. Hope you like it buddy!
Don't get into fights, and accept everybody for who they are. And yes, be nice to the Unitologists at your school. It's unkind to ridicule someone because of their beliefs, scientific reasoning or not.
-Love, Mom <3
Give Dad a hug for me! And never forget to smile! Girls dig it!
Included with the note was a set of RIG tags detailing:
Ahn, Shane Sinclair
Blood Type B+
No religious preference.
RIG TAG 01576-98342-SA
Along with the RIG tags, which were more for decoration than function as the RIG automatically emits a "casualty" report back to the nearest EarthGov ship or base when the user flatlines, was an official notice titled "WE REGRET TO INFORM YOU".
Sorry, Mom. Dad didn't take the news too well. I kept in touch with his rehab doctors and it turns out they worked out most of the kinks with his glitter-stim addiction. They even told me the medical board is considering giving him is license back.
Rest easy, Mom. I always try to smile ever now and then, but it's never the same without you.
Joon grabbed the PDA, letter, and shemagh and headed towards the store armory. He stopped a couple of meters in front of it, and careful not to step withing scanning range, Joon pulled out a blood-stained pRIG unit from his thigh pouch and shoved it near the identification optical scanners of the armory.
A holographic panel instantly popped up with a message:
Welcome back to the STORE, L. Jenkins....
The side panels of the armory unit slid open and revealed suit and weapons choices.
Joon selected the standard "Advanced-Soldier RIG", and gave a short snort as he waited for the armory to prepare for suit fitting. Advanced my ass. Security forces get better suits than we do. They're not even the ones that get shot at while boarding ships hijacked by pirate militias.
When the armory gave a "ready" signal, Joon dropped his belongings onto the floor and stepped in to the readily-prepared "tailor's hell" suiting chamber, waiting for it to all end. Whoever designed the software for suiting mechanical functions always seemed to make the impact-plating really crimp on some important parts of the male anatomy.
After the uncomfortable experience, and a couple of deep-breathing exercises, Joon emerged out of the armory in full gear:
He attached an optional RIG pack to the magnetic locks embedded into the back of the armor. Normally EDF Marines and Sailors used the magnetic plates to carry spare ammunition and weapons, but Joon had a feeling that he would need the extra baggage space. He dropped in the pack the temporarily discarded PDA and letter, but collected the shemagh with his hand. He adorned it accordingly around his neck, leaving the helmet exposed, but neck covered.
Gonna need all the luck I can carry.
He turned around as the armory rearranged itself to be ready for supply distribution. Joon entered the firearms menu and selected extra magazines for his Pulse Rifle and 2 concussive grenades. He paused in his selection as he saw the option for a Seeker Rifle.
He didn't know why he struggled to select it. The more firepower that he had, the better his odds of survival were going to be. But he felt....strange.
Despite the mysterious anxiety building up in his chest, he forced himself to press the Seeker Rifle option and slug cartridges for ammunition.
His magazines, cartridge clips, and the Seeker rolled out of the armory's compartment, and as Joon collected them, he stopped to grasp the Seeker Rifle.
Joon viewed the rugged carbon-fiber/titanium weave alloy that consisted of the rifle's externals, and noted the scope flush into the upper handguard. He inserted a clip of 5 shells into the magwell, and racked the bolt.
The firearm felt....strange. As if it was alive with a history....a past.
"They say a murderer always remembers the weapon they used in their crimes. I see you're no exception."
Joon looked up to find the maiden figure of his hallucinations. His tormentor. The source of his misery.
"Fuck off," Joon replied.
"I have a name you know. Diane Mercer? Anne? Ring any bells? You don't know? Of course you don't. You've been lying to yourself this whole entire time," sighed the apparition. "I don't even expect you to care-"
"I don't care. GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY HEAD!" Joon screamed.
Anne scoffed, "Hah. What, did you think that I want to be here? Do you honestly think that I'm doing this out of my own volition? No, you little fool, I'm here because you want me to be!"
Joon felt his heart beat faster and faster, a sudden migraine was splitting his head, and he clasped his gloves onto his helmet. He tried to force his eyes closed, but his body was making an unconscious effort to keep them open, as if his body, now completely out of his control, was forcing him to watch the static and torrent of light in his hallucination.
"Who-grrrrrh-are you?" Joon cried out through the pain.
Anne gave a sadistic smile and coldly chuckled, "Me? I'm a reminder of all your sins, all your pleasure, and all your guilt. You thought that you could forget about me that easily? Just a little mental re-adjustment to make the bad feelings go away? WELL YOU'RE WRONG!"
Her smile disappeared and her hands, with the force that felt as heavy as Joon's new-found guilt, grasped his windpipe and roughly charged into Joon into the wall. A loud "CLANG" echoed throughout the room as metal met metal, and Joon's choking broke the silence that normally carried throughout the personnel locker room.
"You know why I'm here? You want to know why I'm doing this? Because of you! You never wanted to forget! You never forgave yourself of what happened to me! To my child! You were responsible for me! For her! But you betrayed us, Joon! All of your commitments, all of your empty promises killed us!"
Joon felt her grip around his neck becoming tighter and tighter. White dots began to fill his vision.
"You wanted ever since to forget about me. But here's the thing. You REALLY wanna know why you will never, ever stop seeing me?" Her voice dropped to a sinister whisper. "Because you never wanted to let go of me, you selfish bastard. Even now you don't. And you wanna know how to make this stop, how to atone for what you did? Make us whole. And never separate us again."
She let go suddenly, leaving Joon to crash down onto the deck floor. While on all fours, he gasped for air, sucking in every breath as if it was his last.
After a few minutes, Joon steadied himself on his knees and got up. He scrambled for his Seeker Rifle, and see if the noise resulting from his "moment" attracted anything unwelcome.
Thankfully, he didn't see her return. He returned to the armory, and decided to spend the rest of the late Marine's credit account on Power Nodes.
After he accommodated the Pulse Rifle and Seeker Rifle with as many Power Node upgrades he could possibly modify with on the nearby BENCH, Joon purchased 3 med-packs and some MREs.
He stood away from the armory, and fully tooled up, Joon exited the locker room, keeping a wary eye out for "Anne" or whatever she really is, an eye on his suit's new database contents, and for some stray....Necromorphs?
That's what their called? RIG databases update every few seconds, so it must be true. Better keep Identification Mode on. Too much craziness around here to let self-stupidity run rampant.
The Gunnery Sergeant heard gunshots and blood-chilling screams of pain. Automatically heading towards that source, hoping to met with some survivors, Joon sprinted down the hallway, unfazed by the scene of mental instability that had just occured. However, as soon as he turned the corner, something very pink zipped right into him.
Joon got knocked down, but he quickly recovered. He shouldered his fully-upgraded Seeker Rifle and aimed the targeting laser directly at the forehead of the thing's face. And holy shit, was it scared.
The pink creature was so frightened, in fact, it had kicked one of its....hooves right at Joon's groin.
Joon collapsed onto the deck, again. The plating blocked most of the blow, but the ache was still there. As he struggled to get back up, the pink creature ran off, tripping over its wounded limb several times, and....crying?
Wait...it ran away? From me? I doubt it. That thing had me in the palm of its...hooves, I think. RIG database couldn't identify it, so yeah. Definitely equine. Or just another motherfucking hallucination. You would think that it didn't have ENOUGH pink on its body.
Joon followed the trail of blood, walking slightly bow-legged nearer and nearer to the origin of the crying. The flickering lights above, as he continued down a passage way, revealed the pink horse/pony trapped at a dead end. Its frantic, wide eyes were brimmed with tears and it was muttering something in a quivering tone, making only a portion audible to Joon.
"Learn to face your fears....Make them disappear....Giggle at the ghosty.....Guffaw at the grossly....Crack up at the creepy...."
Each verse of its "sob" was interrupted by a sob. Poor little bugger. Should I help it, or-
No. It isn't real. Just a figment of my damn imagination. Just another crazy that can't be helped.
Joon began to turn and walk away, but he felt his gut instinct to help the poor thing.
But hallucinations don't bleed...and it doesn't look like it was running away from any human at first. That wound looks like its been burned through.
That's when the pink alien squeaked, "Please don't kill me."
That crossed the line. I'm going to help that thing even if it kills m-
Joon was interrupted as a fluid projectile of some sort flew down the hall and hit his back. Hearing the audible hissing of acid, Joon turned around to meet his assailant. Or assailants.
His RIG Identification Mode pinpointed IFF tags in his HUD. Apparantly, some Marines gave them the nickname "Pukers." Which was extremely literal and to the point, as Joon soon saw why when three more projectile of bile hit his chest plating consecutively.
Joon tried his best to shield his equipment from the acid, and drew his Seeker Rifle. The Power Nodes increased the hydrostatic shock, tumble, plasma intensity, and cartridge velocity of the Seeker shells, and were well-worth the investment, as the Pukers, and some accompanying Slashers, were dropping dead from 1-2 shots to the body or head.
As the Seeker Rifle clacked empty, Joon drew his Pulse Rifle as he concurrently slung his Seeker Rifle around his back. He finished off the Necromorphs (or Necros, as the database would refer them as sometimes), with a few, controlled bursts, and turned to the pink equine.
She froze, left in the company of a seemingly unstoppable being; A monster that triumphed above the other nightmares. And she didn't fare too well in friendly communications in past experiences with humans, vividly remembering how the human "Res-strehp-o" almost killed her.
She repeated in a whisper, "Don't kill me...."
The human, with a metallic skin, glowing blue eyes, and a disembodied voice aimed its weapon at her, resolute in his purpose. It fumbled with something from its utility pouch, but drew it out in a flash. It was a cylinder, also with blue lights emerging from its openings, and painted on one side a Red Cross. The human tapped the Red Cross on the container and pointed at her.
It responded in a surprisingly soothing voice, "Don't worry. I'm going to try to heal your wound. Heck, I can't even believe we speak the same language. Hold tight. This might sting a little."
Out from the container, Joon gripped a tab that flung out, attached to it a rolled strip of gauze. He then applied a base solution to her wound, and sprayed on some anti-biotic and medi-foam. He firmly pressed on a compress, and rolled the gauze around the hoof. In a few seconds, he had successfully treated the wound and managed to place and organize every medical supply into the cylinder, which had stenciled on its body: Medical Pack.
The pony watched in mesmerizing amazement at the speed of the procedure and the gradual feeling she was beginning to regain in her hoof.
All of a sudden, the pony hugged Joon's neck with a gargantuan amount of force.
"Thank you." Joon felt the sobbing coming back, as her body gave off tiny heaves.
Joon was slightly taken back and reluctantly replied,
"Not a problem, sweetheart. Let's get you home. Wherever it is..."
"Are you quite done now?"
The pink creature/horse sponged off some stray tears with Joon's shemagh and blew her snout into the fabric.
She replied, pulling out an empty cardboard box with floral patterns and labeled "Kleenhoof Tissues"
out from her mane.
"Sorry, (sniff) I ran out."
"It's...fine. What's your name?" Joon asked.
"Bleep bop boop beep!"
"I'm speaking in robot! Aren't you one?"
"Didn't we already establish that we both speak the same language? And I'm not a robot. What I'm wearing is a set of Resource Integration Gear, or a RIG. It's just a sealed suit with some plating on it. So, what's your name?"
"Pinkie Pie. You?"
"Gunnery Sergeant Ahn Joon-Kyung. Second Battalion, First Marines of the EDF Nav-
She continued to stare at him without any change in facial expression.
"I lost you haven't I?"
"Joon's fine. Are you able to walk?"
Pinkie adamently stood and took a step forward, but she fell as soon as she placed pressure on the injured hoof.
Joon picked her up. She was fairly light for a creature a third of his size, as her curly mane made up half of her mass.
He hefted her over his shoulder and unlatched and opened the RIG pack behind his shoulders onto the floor.
"Here. Let me just get some crap out."
He tossed out miscellaneous objects, like a Gruber Mark VII "survival" knife, a flashlight, some spare ion batteries, a compressed sleeping bag, and the MREs. He filched some candy bars from the MREs, but other than that, with all the carnage he had seen, Joon was going to stay off some food for a while. Especially meat. Even though the "meat" served on any respectable ship was just a mixture of artificially-modified amino acids with some grinded mushrooms. Cattle, swine, and poultry are endangered and on the verge of genetic collapse after all, with the sudden bottleneck of GMO populations and humanity's rapid consumption rate. And Joon figured that Pinkie might be a little alienated by him eating meat, as equines were herbivorous.
Joon waved a candy bar at Pinkie Pie's face, "You want one? I'm not sure whether horses are supposed to-"
Her hooves swiped the chocolate from his hands and she quickly consumed it. Her expression brightened tremendously.
Joon tossed the rest of the bars in his pack and cradled Pinkie Pie in a crook of his arm. He wrapped a thermal blanket around her shoulders and proceeded to place her in the RIG pack, where she was still able to expose her head and forehooves outside, but leaving her center of mass, and major organ systems protected by the RIG pack, which was composed of the same alloy used in impact plating, except thicker.
Oh the irony. The stuff we carry is more protected than ourselves.
He latched the RIG pack between where his shoulder blades would be, and checked with Pinkie,
"Yeah! Thanks for the chocolate! It made my day SO much better!"
"I have respect for anybody that can stomach anything that EarthGov puts in those MREs. Especially the dessert portion..."
"Those candy bars weren't suppose to expire until 120 years from now. They were chemically designed to withstand 372 degrees Kelvin without melting or spoiling in their package. Heck I don't even think they put chocolate in the chocolate bars anymore. And are you even suppose to eat chocolate? I know for a fact that the stuff is poisonous for some animal species where I'm from."
"I eat it all the time! I even work at a bakery. Can't have a party without chocolate or candy! That's my special talent ya know!"
Joon shifted his shoulders to compensate for the extra weight, and started a jog with his Seeker Rifle at the ready.
He asked, "What's your special talent?"
"Partying!" Pinkie pulled herself partially to reveal the pictogram on her flank. "What do you think this was then?"
"It's my cutie mark. It signifies everypony's special talent! Mine's partying and making everypony joyful and smile!"
Joon scrunched up his face behind his helmet in a confused look. He was starting to really doubt his analysis that Pinkie Pie wasn't an hallucination.
"Nice to see you have such an innocent view of things," he stated.
"You know it! What's your talent, friend?"
Joon returned, "I don't think I have one. I've had service in the Marines, though."
"So, are you a Royal Guard, then? You're carrying around a weapon, so you MUST be one!"
"Sort of. You don't have any military or police forces back on you home?"
Pinkie shook her head. "No."
"Well, Marines are like your Royal Guards, except we don't guard royalty. We specialize in zero-gravity and naval environments on ships like the one we're on right now."
"You mean on space-boats?" Pinkie Pie grinned.
Joon almost shared the smile. Almost. Her innocence was quite adorable.
"Yes, Pinkie. Space boats. I gotta admit, you almost made me crack a grin that time. Nobody could ever do that before."
She gasped, "You didn't smile? But I make ALL my friends smile! Smile means happiness!"
"Well, maybe I'm not as optimistic as you, Pinkie."
She hopped out of the RIG pack and onto Joon's helmet.
"But smiling makes everything better! Just gotta pull this thing off!"
Pinkie frantically attempted to take off the protective gear on Joon's head.
"NO! I would be a bad friend if I didn't make you smile!"
"Pinkie, this isn't the time and place for this! Get off!"
Their struggle was interrupted by muffled bangs and yelling. Joon noted that him and Pinkie were especially close to Valor's Plaza, which his RIG informed him was a rendevous point for a designated safe zone.
"Pinkie, get back in the RIG pack. I think I just found some people who'll help us."
USM Valor. 2508.
Aegis VII system. 1054 hours Normal Time
This....was a bad idea.
Joon didn't complain. He met with a couple of survivors heading to the safe zone. But nobody told him that the RV was going to be this crowded with Necros.
He heard a shout over the fighting in his helmet comm, "Barricade's down! All military personnel retreat to the Safe Zone! Repeat, retreat to the Safe Zone!"
Joon looked down. He was dragging a wounded sailor-no wait....a dead sailor back into cover. The poor fellow's RIG displayed a red, glowing light, indicating death or near-death.
Joon exclaimed under his breath, "Aw shit."
He let go of the body, and fired his rifle at the oncoming horde. Joon turned around, and saw an image that brought about panic.
The emergency quarentine bulkheads were lowering down on all exits and entrances, including the escape route. And by the look of things, everybody had already left the plaza. Everyone alive, anyway.
Joon ran to the nearest closed gating, and knocked his fist on the quarentine bulkheads.
"Hey. HEY! Open the fucking door!"
A muffle behind the door shouted, "Shit, that's a no-go, man. Once the door's close, nobody goes in, and nobody comes out. Commander Cadigan's orders. I'm so sorry for this, but it's either you or us, I'm afraid. And I'm sure that Cadigan would rather choose the majority of his crew over a psychotic maniac and a technicolor freak."
Pinkie Pie shouted at the disembodied voice, "Hey.....don't call my friend a technicolored freak!"
Really, Pinkie? Really?
"Pinkie, calm down. I'll find us a way in."
Joon shot off a few Seeker rounds at some stirring shadows near some of the urban debris, and stared a short while at the destroyed stores, and upturned benches. Just....great
To break the near-silence projected from the Plaza, Joon recieved an incoming comm message from his RIG.
"This is Commander Cadigan of the USM Valor. Am I reaching any survivors?"
Joon responded to the message, "This is Gunnery Sergeant Ahn Joon, 2/1. I read you, sir."
There was a pause in the transmission.
"Ah, Sergeant. You've come a LONG way from your assigned position below decks. Specifically, the Stasis Bay. I'm currently reading that you're Section 8 and were prepped for cryo-stasis."
"Sir, the situation permitted I leave. I have a....civilian with me. She's lost."
There was another pause. Cadigan was taking his sweet time.
"Understood. I'll have an alternate route plotted to your Waypoint. I want an explanation when you reach the designated area. Especially with your current mental condition."
As the comm link closed, Pinkie asked, as she heard the entire comversation through the RIG's speakers, "Joon, are you ok?"
"Just dandy. Why?"
"He said you were a Section 8. What is it?"
Joon grunted, "It's...nothing you need to worry about. Let's follow the Waypoint shall we?"
USM Valor. 2508.
Aegis VII system. 1123 hours Normal Time
Pinkie watched as Joon cautiously approached the roaring room. Deafening noise emerged from below the platform he approached, sighting monstrous teeth, crushers, and incinerator machinery.
"Joon, is this normal?!" Pinkie screamed through the noise.
"Define normal!" Joon responded above the din.
"As in whether this is the right place?!"
Joon turned his head slightly, "How should I know? I've always trusted Cadigan before, so unless he got dementia like some of the crew did, I doubt he would lie about something like this."
All of a sudden the machinery slowed and in a few moments, they had stopped completely. The incinerators no longer sprouted flames from their depths. A strange silence empregnated the entire facility.
Joon raised Cadigan's RIG comm, "Sir, I'm here. Awaiting further orders."
Cadigan responded ominously, "Just wait, Marine. You'll know what to do when the time comes."
The transmission was dropped immediately.
Joon hissed, "Commander, what the hell are you playing at?"
Pinkie said, "Ooooh, I bet he's playing the trumpet right now! I can't wait to join him! I play a mean tuba back at home!"
Descending from the platform down the ramp, Joon was about to answer when a menacing groan echoed through the facility. Joon looked around, and from a high railing above him, a titanic mass of necrotic flesh dropped onto the facility floor.
You have GOT to be kidding me
A small pop-up appeared on Joon's HUD, labeling the very large Necromorph as a "Brute".
"Fittingly named, I suppose." Joon murmured under his breath. He began to sprint in the direction opposite of the Brute. Every now and then, Joon would turn and fire his Pulse Rifle, but the Brute was unaffected by such measily attempts.
Gotta think of something. Come on, Joon. There must be something here to use to your advantage! You didn't come this far to just die outright!
As if some celestial being had answered his prayers, the machinary around him started up again. But Joon barely noticed their boot-up sequence. What he really was worried about was the approaching incline, leading to an incinerator, complete with crushing teeth and all.
Beyond the incline was a maintenance ladder on the other side of the giant space between the platform path he was running on and the continuation of the path beyond the disposal area.
A rushed idea passed through Joon's mind.
"Pinkie, hold on, and don't let go until I say so!"
"I'm going to do something that is completely stupid, but it might let us escape. Ready?"
Pinkie gave an immediate smile, "Only when you are!"
"I hope this works then."
On the edge of the incline, Joon activated his RIG thrusters meant for zero-gravity travel. He leapt up and the thrusters were able give a little more push than he normally would. Adrenaline flooded Joon's system, and he was able to see everything frame by frame.
Come on. Make it. MAKE IT!
He almost didn't. As he successfully made it to the other side, his hand grasped on to the maintainance ladder and his grip slipped on the bars, but regained their grip on the lower bars of the life-saving ladder.
Joon shouted behind him and used his remaining arm not clasping the metal bars of the ladder to form an offensive gesture with his middle finger,
"Hah! 똥을 먹고, you friggin-"
Joon's victory was short-lived however, as he saw the Brute increasing its speed to make the jump also.
"Shit shit shit shit shit shit," Joon blurted. He urged his stray arm to grip onto the ladder, and struggled to get up to the other side of the path.
Just as he managed to clear his legs from the edge, the Brute's forelimbs crashed onto the other side of the passage, leaving it to cling on in the classic "cliffhanger" position.
Joon fired his Pulse Rifle at the Brute's head until the rifle clicked dry. The rounds only angered the Brute even more, and it roared in retaliation as it was slowly climbing up.
Joon primed one of two of his concussive grenades and chucked it in the Brute's exposed mouth.
He proceeded to sprint away from the grenade's potential range before it detonated.
With a muffled boom, the a portion of the Brute's head disappeared in a shower of gore. But the damn thing was still struggling to climb over the edge from its jump.
Joon presented to the Brute's face the business end of a Seeker Rifle. And he fired rapidly until its clip emptied its 5 shells.
The Brute, overwhelmed with its torment, lessened its grip on the edge of the precipice leading to the disposal incinerator, ad proceeded to fall into the incinerator's maw. The Brute's body was methodically crushed by the opening and closing metal teeth of the incinerator and was slowly fed into the thermite-fueled depths.
Walking away from the shrieking roars, Joon and Pinkie continued on the passage.
Joon forced his aching legs, burning from lactic acid build-up, to keep a steady pace as he attempted to raise Cadigan again on a comm transmission.
"Commander Cadigan, this is Sergeant Ahn Joon, please respond. Your Waypoint led me to the Disposal compartment of the ship, but I have no available intel on where to go next. Sir, respond! This is urgent!"
Joon kept on raising a comm link until his communication link finally made it through.
"Sergeant, you're to be applauded for your survivability! I didn't think you would be able to make it!"
"Commander Cadigan, I mean no disrespect, but what the hell do you mean by tha-"
"Never mind, it doesn't matter. Gunnery Sergeant, along the walling are some ventilation shafts. They'll lead you through a maze of venting, but I'll upload another Waypoint to your RIG that will give you directions for the nearest tram station. The tram should safely guide you to the safe zone past the quarantine zone. We clear?"
Joon paused for a moment, but finally responded, "Crystal, sir!"
"Good! I will wait for you on the bridge for a personal debriefing. Cadigan out."
Joon finished the conversation, and looked at Pinkie Pie.
"Pinkie, do you think I'm doing the right thing? Cadigan isn't acting like himself. He's usually never this vague in his instructions."
Pinkie Pie grinned wider, as she already had a smile, and spoke gently, "Do what you think is right! I trust you!"
"Well I certainly don't feel like I deserve that trust."
"We're friends aren't we? Friends trust eachother, right?"
Pinkie Pie beamed and raised her hooves into the air, "See? Now let's go see that Cadigan guy!"
Another chapter guys. Enjoy. Also this goes quite well with the tone I'm trying to build, and I recommend listening to it while you read:
USM Valor. 2508.
Aegis VII system. 1147 hours Normal Time
Vent Panel above Central Tram Station
Joon, feeling like he had repeated himself with the same doubting question over and over again, said once more,
"Pinkie, you ready?"
Pinkie Pie replied, "Whenever you are. But didn't you say that we were going to have a plan?"
"Errrr....I decided to take an approach from your book. You know what they say about the best laid plans...."
Pinkie Pie, unfamiliar with the saying, asked, "Well, what DID they say?"
"That they don't work. Just...Let's just get on a train, ok?"
Joon donkey-kicked the vent grating below them and dropped down into the darkness.
He activate the flashlight on his Pulse Rifle, only to find himself surrounded by Necromorphs.
"Yeah?" Pinkie Pie quietly answered in a shaking whisper. For all her blind innocence, even she knows when the shit hit the fan.
"Stay inside the RIG pack, seal the compartment, and close your eyes. Don't open them until I say so."
Joon readied his weapon against the already groaning and charging horde.
"This is going to get ugly."
USM Valor. 2508.
Aegis VII system. 1201 hours Normal Time
Onboard Tram 46D
Joon lept for the tram's entrance, and forced the doors shut. Limbs and serrated blades shoved themselves through the closing doors, but Joon shot them off with the furious barrage from his nearly-depleted Pulse Rifle.
His back to the closed doors, his relief was torn asunder by a sudden chorus of screams inside the tram.
Inside the compartment were humanoid creatures with bones barely clinging together by strips of flesh, split faces, and glowing pustule sac integrated into its left arms. They were led by a group of Slashers that entered the compartment as well. His RIG database identifying the majority of the group as "Exploders", Joon decided it wise to give them a wide berth into the next compartment before he fired upon them.
He unlatched the breach of his Pulse Rifle, ejected the near-empty mag, and slapped in a fresh one. His last.
Joon, as one of the Exploders were charging him, shot a 2-round burst at one of the sacs, catalyzing an explosive chain reaction on the train compartment that threw him on his ass.
Sometimes, those things just make everything way too easy
As he heard further screeching in the compartments from where the Necromorphs emerged from, Joon recovered himself quickly and headed off towards the front compartment. Joon, conserving his ammunition with short 3-round bursts at Necromorph limbs, pushed forward on his rampage. And when his Pulse Rifle clacked empty on his only magazine, he surpressed the Necromorphs chasing behind him with the Pulse Rifle's secondary fire feature, it's grenade launcher.
He swapped weapons for his Seeker Rifle, and let loose, inflicting damage to Necromorphs both coming in from the front, and struggling to catch up to him from behind. The only pause he gave to firing was to reload and disengage the tram compartments behind him to prevent anymore Necromorphs from following him.
He automatically passed into the next compartment, and the compartment after that, laying down fire until he reached the front compartment, which thankfully had no windows for Necromorphs to enter from, unlike the sections of the tram he left behind. With a finality, Joon weakly stomped on the clasps of the tram, melting them with his boot jets. Fueled by nothing more than the caloric intake of a meal he had eaten more than 13 hours ago and 2 hours of sleep, he watched with fluttering eyelids the last compartment slow down and be left behind in the tunnels.
He slammed close the conductor's compartment door and slumped down onto the floor.
He tiredly sputtered, "Pinkie....Pinkie. It's safe for the time being. You can come out now. Hey you there?"
Joon detached his RIG pack and unbuckled the clasp. Inside was a peacefully sleeping Pinkie Pie, one of her hooves twitching adorably as she entered the REM stage of her sleeping pattern. Inside her ears were a type of inner-ear speaker that became extensively disused in the 22nd century which Joon vaguely remembered to be called "earbuds". Attached to the earbud cord was a white rectangular device with an emblem of a bitten fruit on its back, and a primitive LED screen on the front that displayed Pinkie's song choice.
Joon decided to leave her to sleep, and lay his head on the compartment's walls. He set his Seeker Rifle on the knees of his spread out legs, and began to listen to the rhythmic rumble of the tram. The lullaby took over his senses and began to influence his eyelids to close.
No. Just a few more hours, and then you can get some rest when we reach Cadigan. All kinds of shit could fall on your lap if you go to sleep right now. You have to protect her.
At the thought of Pinkie Pie, Joon urged his eyelids to pitch open. But the attempt was useless, as he was already nodding off. Each time he recovered, his head began to lower until he checked himself again. The endless cycle of keeping one's head up as it constantly nods down was interjected by a voice.
"You really think trusting Cadigan is a good idea?"
Joon muttered, "Better than trusting you."
"Oh please. You know something isn't right about him. He's hiding something."
Anne gazed at Pinkie Pie, and snivelled, "So, found a replacement for me, have you?"
"Stop lying. You always were an obvious one. You always hated being alone....," she crooned.
"She's only under my care until she gets back home. Jealous much? You are dead after all."
"Ah. Starting to remember I see. My efforts weren't in vain to save your insignificant conscience from hiding the truth from you"
"Some of the memory blackouts are getting clearer. And you know what? I'm glad that I forgot about you. You're not even real. I've been dealing with all the shit you piled up on my plate for the past couple of days, but now I'm used to it. Don't expect any emotional reaction from me or a mental breakdown where I start tearing up. Not like last time. Not like Charybdis."
Joon hissed back at her, "I'm sorry that you had to die. But enough is enough. The more I see of my past.....our past...the more I start to regret how much time I felt guilty for something that I only indirectly caused. It's time to move on, Anne. For both of us. With no regrets."
The hallucination glowered at Joon with a demeanor that could have frozen solid entire gas planets.
"We'll see who will die first with the most regrets, then. A bipolar alien equine that looks like something from children's animation, or a psychotic butcher that doesn't even know what's real anymore."
With a flash of light lasting a nanosecond, Anne disappeared.
Joon rested his head on the wall again, utterly exhausted. He released the seal and pulled off the gloves/gauntlets of his RIG, revealing his exposed hands, pale white from lack of sun exposure popularly afflicted by constant RIG use.
On his left hand, as if he noticed for the first time in his life, Joon inspected the band of silver on his ring finger. He roughly tugged it off, and flung the ring onto the floor.
He recited, "Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living. Sorry Diane, but hopefully the real you will understand. You always told me you hated rings. And to be honest...."
Joon carefully proceeded to retrieve a medkit from inside his RIG pack without waking Pinkie, and got a sleep-stim from the kit. He proceeded to lift down the RIG's suiting around his neck and inject the stim into his jugular artery.
"....I always hated them too."
He tossed the empty hypodermic needle at the same spot where the ring was and shouldered his Seeker Rifle.
Joon decided that sleep could wait. Insomnia wasn't going to be fun to deal with, especially now.
Alright guys. Got my shit back together. Updates will be infrequent, but hell, they'll be higher in quality. My past chapters were utter shit, so I expect the future chapters (don't have that many left to do for this story before the end) to be better in almost every aspect (action, description, Pinkie's character, and the tragedy. Oh the tragedy!) SO without further adieu.....
Canterlot Caves System. 1831 hours Equestria Time
The ominous cavern howled as the wind picked up inside, casting aside dust and and sand across the entrance and the two ponies in front of it: A pure white alicorn, rainbow mane flowing along with the invisible celestial winds, and a brown-coat pegasus, whose guidance would have to stop at the entrance.
"Princess, isn't this a bit risky? There are other alternatives," the pegasus whispered.
"I thought you would have a little more initiative than this, my good Doctor, especially after everything you've already experienced," Celestia teased. "But I will accept no alternative choice. This is the quickest solution."
Her resolve clear, Doctor Whooves provided no protest.
The goddess questioned, "Will you do me a favor? Don't tell anypony what has and will happen here, even to the Elements or even Luna." She levitated the six pieces of magical jewelery, each engraved with their own colored symbol, so-called the "Elements of Harmony".
"Yes Princess, but would you need assistance in anyway? This was indirectly my fault that Pinkie is....gone," the Doctor uneasily offered.
"No thank you. I have used the Elements by myself before against Nightmare Moon, and I can do so again to Discord."
"But what if he doesn't comply?"
The Princess darkly added, with her horn glowing in the outline of a hazardous flames, "I have other means. Believe me when I say that I will do everything in my power to ensure the wellbeing of my subjects."
And with that being her final words, she entered the darkness of the caves, with the Doctor bravely stepping into the dark with her.
Each step brought them further into the cave, hoofsteps echoing through the cylindrical hell louder and louder with each approaching step. After what seemed like an eternity, the Princess had reached her destination.
The light from Celestia's horn revealed a statue of a dragonequus, shrieking for all eternity. Celestia bit her lower chop, hoping that all went according to plan.
The Elements of Harmony levitating around her eminated a pulsing glow, secreting into the air a wide gamut of colored magic. Celestia willed the magical energies now surrounding her and the Doctor towards the statue, melting the stone off the figure's head with a white-hot intensity.
Through the cavern echoed what were supposedly the last words of the victimized dragonequus.
"Gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh- Wait, I'm free?"
Celestia's stated with a disgusted frown, "No, Discord. Only your mouth and arm is, and if you wish to live any further, you will do as I say."
"Oh, Celly is that you? How delightful to see you again after you...well, turned me into stone with your precious Elements. But I'm not one to hold a grudge! Unlike SOMEPONIES!"
Discord cleared his throat, "Sorry. Can't blame me for having just a little resentment. So, what are you here for? Have you finally seen the truth that Chaos is King? I always knew that you would come crawling ba-"
"No, you monster. I'm here because one of my subjects is trapped in a part of the universe YOU were responsible for," Celestia snarled.
"Whoa, easy there. I have to say, I'm really liking the new dark side of you, Celly. Really complements you. Ah, it reminds me of when we both fir-"
"Discord! If you do not comply right this instant, lunar banishment will seem like a cake walk compared to what I will do to you!" threatened the Solar Princess, her horn glowing with a furious flame that was starting to vaporize the stalactites above them.
"OK, fine. Blame me for wanting a little fun after being turned into a bird crap-covered statue, yet again."
Under the Princess's careful watch that the dragonequus had not freed his right paw, responsible for conjuring, Discord's left griffon claw for duplicity, both in physical and magical nature, snapped, summoning a vortex of magic that formed into a clear mirror of images, through the viewpoint of a certain somepony's eyes that were jumping open, as if from a bad dream.....
USM Valor. 2508.
Aegis VII system. 1345 hours Normal Time
Onboard Tram 46D
As if shocked with an electric current, Pinkie Pie's entire body leapt out of the RIG pack, despite her injured hoof, and landed on Joon's face.
He screamed, "SONUVA-"
"Sorry. I haven't gotten nightmares in such a long time. Oooh, do you know why its so dark in here?"
"Contingency procedures. Shutting off unnecessary lighting saves power. Crap, I forgot, you don't wear a RIG so you can't see thermals. Here," The marine's outline dragged something off his back.
"This should help." Joon detached the flashlight on his paper-weight of a Pulse Rifle and activated it on the tram floor, filling the compartment with light.
Pinkie was now able to see the disorder onboard the tram. There was a PDA here, syringes there, trash and flimsi maps of train routes evrywhere. And a shaking Joon next to her, in the worst condition she ever saw him in.
She thought that the nightmares she had were pretty horrible, but something was wrong with Joon. He could hardly hold his arms up without twitching and his weapon was therefore shaking uncontrollably.
"Are you ok? Why are you shaking? Are you cold?" Pinkie had quietly asked.
"I'm fine. I overdosed a little on sleep-stims. Heh, how weak am I? Haven't worked in a active combat role in 3 years, but I can't even keep awake for a couple of hours."
She gave Joon a worried look.
Not that face. Just smile Pinkie, like ya always done...
Joon nonchalantly dropped the Seeker Rifle onto the floor, and tried to keep his arms steady.
He said, "Look I'll be fine. I just need to get some sleep. Drugs will filter out of my system pretty soon. So...you look like you haven't slept right."
"Woke up from nightmares," Pinkie simply added.
"My mom always told me that nightmares are easier to handle once you tell someone about them. She always said to face your fears because that's the only way that you'll make 'em go away. So....I'm someone I guess. Or somepony. Whatever you prefer. It'll get me through this easier."
"What? Are you crazy?"
Joon returned, "Don't make me answer that."
"I'll keep watch. You look like you haven't slept in days, so you can count on me!" Pinkie asserted.
Joon hesitated. "You sure?"
"But wake me up if something happens, alright?"
Joon gathered the Seeker Rifle and cradled it like a security blanket. To Pinkie, it was a silly quirk,as he acted as if it was a personal memento that reminded him of something or somepony. But she pushed her thoughts aside. He had taken care of her so far.
Surprisingly, when she trotted up to him and nuzzled her head on his thigh, he almost jerked away. Pinkie Pie noted that humans had far wider personal boundaries than ponies had. He must have mistaken it as inappropriate, not affectionate. She climbed into his lap and rested her head on his chest like a small child would.
Joon objected, "I'm guessing that you're not gonna give me some breathing space?"
Her smile returned, "Nope! You sound really upset sometimes, so I wanted to cuddle you. Cuddling makes everything better."
She got a closer look at his helmet and saw that Joon was staring in her direction longer than usual.
With an awkward tone, Joon acknowledged Pinkie's....eccentricities, "Ok. Thanks for the thought anyway. I have to say that it's working a little. Wanna tell me about your dreams now?"
He had to give props to Pinkie Pie. She dove right in, though displaying some indecisiveness.
"Well....it was about me and my friends back in Equestria-"
"Equestria? Is that what planet you're from?"
"It's what my country was called. We don't have a name for our planet, silly! So anyway, my friends and I walked into Sugarcube Corner, it's a bakery where I work, and we ran out of flour! They all looked so happy that I came back home, that I decided to through a party! You can't have a party without cupcakes, and you can't have cupcakes without flour! All of a sudden, bags of flour burst through the windows and doors and inside was a bunch of red and green yucky stuff..."
Oh God...I really hope that she isn't going to start talking about the Pukers.
"And then the flour bags ganged up around us and started to pour the yucky stuff down our mouth and throats and....and....my friends became one of them," Pinkie Pie added rather quietly. Joon couldn't see the front of her head, but he didn't need to see her tears to see that she was very distressed.
"I hope they're alright without me."
Joon reassured with a hugging arms, "They're fine. You'll be back home pretty soon and- Wait, how exactly do we get you back? Aren't you from another universe or something?
"One of the smartypants ponies at the lab told me that we created a portal to different parts of the universe, and that to return back, they go to the space-boat's engine thingy and get power from it."
Joon said, "Don't worry. We'll find a way."
She didn't respond. The moment got rather morbid too fast. Joon decided to change the topic.
"How are your friends?"
Pinkie Pie turned her head almost all the way around, much to Joon's shock, and grinned again, "They're the best! And you should know, you're one of them, aren't you?"
"Heh. Yeah, they seem rather nice," The marine sighed satisfactorally. See? You're smiling again, Pinkie.
Pinkie Pie asked Joon, "What about your friends?"
"Besides yourself, I don't really have any. Lost contact with them over the years, and I had my family to watch out for."
Joon motioned to Pinkie Pie to the the PDA on the floor. "Can you grab that for me? I need to show you something."
She eagerly hopped up and retrieved the device, and returned to his lap with it.
As Joon activated the PDA, he scanned through its contents. Strange. I avoided looking through this like the plague back at the lockers.
Joon slided into view a picture, which included what Pinkie Pie assumed were humans. Personally they looked like hairless primates to her with their bodies and faces partially shaven, but she ignored the fact by how they smiled and the happiness captured by the photo.
"Here's my mum and dad. My two sisters and that's me." Joon pointed to the youngest of the bunch. "I was thirteen when we took the portrait. Before my mom was deployed again. Before she died."
Joon brushed through a couple of photos, most of family and friends in the snow, or in the urban sprawl on some planet. He finally reached a video frozen on a frame, which held an image of a coffin being cremated in a ritualistic fashion.
"My dad became a wreak after she died. Last I heard he was a rehab center getting treated for a glitter-stim addiction, a drug that rots you from the inside, but makes you feel like you're floating on cotton-candy clouds on the outside. And no, not the GOOD kind of cotton candy," Joon said, as he saw Pinkie's hoof raise up sharply to signal a question.
"My sister's got jobs in EarthGov, our homeworld's main government, and I, much against my mother's wishes, joined up in the Marines. Just like she did."
He flicked through the next couple of pictures, which were strangely all corrupted, except for one video.
He now knew the reason why he avoided even touching the PDA at the first place.
"Pinkie? Do you ever get the feeling that you feel like you're hiding something from yourself, but it's something that you really should know."
"I'm getting that feeling right now. And this is the most recent video that I've taken for a long time. Pinkie I have to tell you something."
"When you found me, I wasn't exactly the most mentally-healthy person to get to know. I keep forgetting certain things a few days ago, when we shipped out into this star system. I'm starting to remember things again, but I'm worried that maybe it wouldn't the best idea to look at this."
Pinkie Pie responded, "Remember what you told me just now? You gotta face your fears!"
He couldn't argue with her smile.
Joon pressed the play function tab on the PDA rather slowly, and watched it with hesitation.
The video was a conversation vid-com recording, and it was dated nearly 5-6 years ago. That could only mean one thing.
I....I'm starting to remember...
On one side of the screen was a face. His face. It still had a youthful shine to it, unlike it does with his own now.
"Anne? Anne, you there?"
Another face popped up on the other half of the screen. And Joon's gut flipped when he saw it to be the spitting image of his tormentor in his visions.
She peevly answered, "Joon, do you know what the friggin time is?" Her cam shifted to a chrono on a office desk.
"4 in the morning....and the planet I'm on has a 64 hour rotational time."
The Joon on the vid conference pleaded, "I know, babe. But this is really important. Bear with me for a minute."
"Fine. What do you want?"
"I've been thinking....about 'us'."
Anne gritted her teeth, "Finally! It's been like what, 6 days since you last called me? That's how fucking commited you are?"
"I know and I'm sorry! I'm really, really sorry. I've been thinking lately and I just wanted to get this....done with. Before I don't get a chance to. I'm getting deployed again. I'm cleared for a full year of duty."
"What? What are you trying to say? You're leaving me?" Anne roughly screeched.
"NO! Far from it. The exact opposite actually." The vid-Joon grabbed the recording device in one hand and got down on his knees. With his other available hand, he grasped a package and tore off the plastic casing. He tossed the flimsy case onto the floor, and placed the object inside the package in front of the camera. It was a small halo of silver, and to Pinkie, it was very similar to how horn-rings were shaped.
"I just wanted to tell you that I cherish everything that you've done for me over the years, even if you do get a little involved with your work."
"So do you, Junebug. Wait...Christ you're not-"
"I am. Diane Phillipa Mercer, will you marry me? I know, I know. This isn't exactly the most romantic thing I could think o-"
"Get that stuffing out of your ears! I said yes!"
"So you're not pissed off....?"
Anne admitted, "Oh, you're still going to get your ass beat when you come back home, but you didn't have to get me a ring...I've always hated jewelery."
Joon joked, "Sorry, babe. I lost the reciept for this thing. I don't think I can return it used, especially since I spent half a year's salary for this."
Sensing another ass-chewing inbound, vid-Joon hurriedly blurted, "Listen I gotta go! Got stuff to do, and I needed to get into stasis about an hour ago. Love ya, Anne."
"Love you too. And you better hope that the wedding will cost more than you spent on that ring, or else."
Vid-Joon smiled, "Oh my aching wallet."
The recorded conversation cut off and the video ended just as quick.
Pinkie Pie abruptly shouted at Joon, "You never told me you were such a stud!"
Joon weakly laughed, hoping that he could mask his surprise at what he just watched.
"Yeah. I never knew I was THAT much of a romantic."
"So how is she? Is she still around....Juuuuuunebug? Teehee!" Pinkie giggled at his potential embaressment.
Joon froze. Should I tell her? That I see her, screaming at me that I killed her? No, Pinkie'll get scared off. She'll never make it out there.
"Yeah. You could say that," Joon choked, quietly accepting his own half-lie.
Abruptly, the tram stopped without warning. Joon's head collided with a nearby pole, and Pinkie flew out of his grasp and barrel-rolled down the pathway and onto the floor.
His hands to his head, Joon could barely hear Pinkie excitedly shouting, "WHEEEEE! Let's do that again! Well, I guess that means were here!"
"No, that was the emergency brake system kicking in. Something's wrong. Only someone in charge of this boat can-"
As Joon crawled around to gather his gear and hastily reattached his RIG pack, and placed Pinkie in it, he recieved in incoming video communication call from Cadigan's RIG.
"Speak of the devil."
Joon accepted the call and started the conversation, "Commander? Sir, what's going on? The tram is stopping and-"
"I'm afraid this is the end of the road, Marine."
"I'm afraid you don't understand. The mere fact that you're running around rampant on this ship is a serious risk in this operation!"
"Clarify sir, please! I thought our original mission was to rescue USG Ishimura's crew before it was rescinded for our own survival!"
"You don't know why we were really here? I guess I can tell you since I pretty much guaranteed your death anyway. We were here for a Marker, an honest-to-God retrieval for a Marker. We found one, Sergeant, down on Aegis VII, and EarthGov wants to claim it for research on its....properties."
"You have got to be- You're saying that you knew this all along? That every death onboard was because of you? All so a bunch of Unis at EarthGov and the CEC can get hard-ons over a fucking piece of rock?"
Cadigan replied, "Necessary losses, Gunny."
No, this isn't the same Cadigan I once knew. This isn't the former CO of the Reqiuem. It's a completely different person.
"And you, Gunny? You're one of them. The reason why a number of the crew members, including you, had complete mental breakdowns? Because the Marker knew we were coming, Joon. They knew we were coming to take it away!"
"You're fucking insane, Cadigan! Forget the command structure! Do you realize what's going to happen if you bring it back? If you expose it to the people back home?"
"I could care less, Gunny. Orders are orders. I thought you would understand, why this was necessary..."
Joon could hear an incoming tram arriving behind them. And he judged by the air suddenly exploding out of the tunnel, that the tram's velocity was at a collision speed.
Cadigan continued, "But now I see that you would rather listen to your conscience, than listen to orders! Heheheheeh. AHAHAHHAHAHHAHAHAA!" Cadigan abruptly stoppered his insanity to say, "Goodbye, Sergeant. You'll only impede me if I hadn't killed you. And this would be the second time I've tried. You certainly proved your mettle against that Brute in the Disposal Deck. But I don't that you'll be able to escape this. Cadigan out."
Pinkie Pie asked in a slow, perturbed manner, clearly adding the pet name of Joon into her vocabulary (much to Joon's displeasure), "Junebug, what's going on?"
"I have no clue. Crap that tram is getting closer and closer. And I can't open the door. Cadigan locked us in."
He glanced at Pinkie Pie, "Pinkie, stay in the RIG pack. It'll keep you safe during the collision."
"What about you?"
The screams of a distant tram getting nerve-rackingly closer, Joon managed to get out, "Oh me? I'll be fine. I've survive worse."
"Ooooh, it seems they're in quite a jam."
Celestia, watching the scene in horror, strangled out, "Quiet, Discord. Am I able to send through a spell through this portal?"
Celestia held back her anger in his vague responses and summoned all her power to send througha teleportation spell through the portal, and a little something for Pinkie.
A way to get home.
USM Valor. 2508.
Aegis VII system. 1345 hours Normal Time
Location unknown. RIG Ship-link disconnected
Along the empty deck hall was a spark. An insignificant spark, common amongst the millions already sprouting from the ruined conduits along the walls, all except for its longevity. Floating through the air ondeck fuming with decay and blood, the small glowing sprite split into two entities, one that grew into a flat disk that vomited out metallic debris amongst the bodies on deck, and the other a continuity of its original form.
Wandering off, the small spark continued to float about as its spawned portal spewed what seemed like a wreckage on the deck. The debris exiting the portal evolved in size from specks of dust to chunks of scorched titanium as large as human beings, which were also abundant on the deck for comparison. For a few more moments, nothing exited the portal, but the abrupt appearance of a single body had broken the mere seconds of stagnant silence. With the final body's exit, the portal closed onto itself into oblivion, and the aforementioned spark waited.
The reinforced backpack attached to the portaled body popped open, and Pinkie stretched herself in her surroundings.
"Junebug, you didn't tell me you could use magic!"
The body groaned, "I can't. I thought you got us out of the tram. And what magic? Magic doesn't exist!"
The pink pony smiled, "Nope! And magic's real! We just poofed out into nowhere. You can't explain that!"
"Well then, I owe one helluva drink to whoever got us out."
Then a soothing voice that Pinkie had learned to revere and trust from birth had originated from the floating spark,
"Nice to see you safe, Pinkie. And no, thank you. I do not drink strong alcoholic beverages."
Upon hearing the familiar voice, Pinkie pounced up and screamed, "Princess Celestia! What happened to you? You're all tiny and small and cute and glowy and-"
"I'm sorry, Pinkie Pie, but I only a few more moments to pass this message through. Discord's portal is starting to magically weaken the Adjutor Equus I've sent. Doctor Whooves advised me to teleport you both closer to what he decided to designate as the Engine Room. That's where I'll meet you both, as it's the only place that I can gather enough energy from the machinery to teleport us back to Equestria. And as for you, human, I commend you for your actions to protect Pinkie Pie, but I assure you neither your technology or will can stop me from finding you if you let anything happen to her. Farewell....."
The sprite then disintegrated into a fine dust that disappeared into the air of the deck.
"Was that small thing your ruler. I've seen and heard crazier stuff, but still...." Joon asked.
"No, silly filly! She's really tall, almost as tall as you! She did something to herself in a way that I have absolutely NO idea how, like usual, and I just nod like this anyway," Pinkie shook her head up and down. "...and I just go with it!"
"You have quite a life back in...what was it? Equestria? Not exactly a place I would like to go to with the royalty threatening me and all, but it must be quite lively over there," Joon commented, dusting himself, and finally noticing that his suit was inactive.
Obliviously, Pinkie Pie answered, "Yup! Back in Ponyville, you meet all sorts of ponies! But personally..."
Pinkie Pie looked around as if someone was eavesdropping, and continued quietly, "...I think some of them think I'm annoying....and talkative."
Joon stopped giving his RIG a look-over, admitting a silent acceptance of his current state, and looked at Pinkie pointedly.
He carefully watched his wording, "No, why would they say that?"
"I don't know," Pinkie shrugged matter-of-factly.
"Well, then. I think I might take a little trip there after all. Gonna have a few words with everybody over there that think you're annoying."
"Don't do that! That's mean- Wait. You said you'd come, even though you said you wouldn't? YAY! I get to show you to all my friends and I'll get to see you everyday and then you'll get into a fight with the Princesses after something you did to protect one of us inadvertantly causes a town brawl and then you'll help us fight off ultimate, near-invincible evil beings and-"
"Whoa there, Sparky! Watch the conjunctions! I said I might," Joon responded. "Anyway, we gotta get to the bridge and have a nice chat with a certain Commander before we get down to Engineering. I can't access any decks with my....uh...present status. But....I'd like to find out more about this Equestria. Can you tell me about it while I reboot my RIG. I think some of the magic, or whatever it was, in that teleportation spell-thing that your Princess cast disrupted the electronics in my suit."
As the marine retrieved his Seeker Rifle from the debris, took out his PDA from his pack, and proceeded to connect a RIG support bus wire from the PDA to his RIG's port, Pinkie blurted out everything she knew about her home.
"Well, at Ponyville there are houses with thatched roofs..."
"Yeah," Joon blankly replied. His faceplate reflected the hundreds of lines of code displayed on his PDA.
Pinkie continued, starting to count off her home town's attractions with an increasing amount of pink hooves that were appearing out of nowhere, "And market vendors, bakeries, my friend Twilight is in charge of a library, my other friends Fluttershy has a cottage where she takes care of animals, Applejack runs a farm, Rarity owns a dress shop, but she always says that it's a boutique or something like that. Rainbow Dash is in charge of the weather service-"
Joon asked without looking up, "Oh so your friend predicts the weather?"
"No, Dashie creates the weather. She has to get rid of clouds and everything!"
"Uh-huh, yeah. Keep on going. I'm listening."
"And the majority of Equestria is covered by the Everfree Forest, which has all the monsters and scary trees living in it-"
"Oh God, what I would give to see a tree nowadays."
"You don't have any trees?"
"No, we razed them all down for fuel, resources, and urban/industrial development. Though I have heard of biological reserves existing on a couple of planetary stations....." he trailed off.
"Ok, done," Joon announced as he entered a start-up sequence coding from the PDA to the suit. The RIG's natural blue light appeared in the back of his spinal section and the "eyes" of his helmet. He stared at the pony in front of him standing and trotting around in a circle with all four hooves planted on the deck.
"Would you look at that? You can walk again. I'm guessing that wound healed up alright?"
"I guess so!"
"Do you want me to be your personal camel again, or-"
"It's fine!" Pinkie laughed, not even knowing what a camel was.
Joon opened up Valor's schematics to discover their location, and said, "Alright then, I guess we can.....Pinkie, remind me to thank your Princess very, very much for me."
Joon, with Pinkie following him, jogged down the passageway, ignoring the debris and astounding number of human corpses on the deck, and reached an open entrance revealing a large, accessible compartment of the ship where navigational and communication stations lay empty and surrounded the room.
"She just teleported us directly near the bridge deck," Joon breathed with a hint of disbelief.
"And according to my RIG, Cadigan should be around here. But where is everyone? Hello! Hello? Anyone alive-"
The bridge security bulkheads behind Pinkie and Joon shut behind them and locked with a thud. As artificial gravity shut off, the air recycling system began to vent the atmosphere inside the bridge. To counter this, Joon magnetized his boots and dropped onto the deck, dragging Pinkie Pie to the floor also, and his RIG automatically switched his oxygen supply to his reserve tank.
But, wait. The atmos vented. Pinkie isn't going to be able to breath. Oh shit, what am I-
To his surprise, or lack of, Pinkie pulled out what looked to be a SCUBA tank and a breathing apparatus from her mane and placed the apparatus on her snout, giving Joon a temporary emotion of relief.
Joon commented, "Pinkie, has anyone told you that you're amazing?"
Pinkie giggled, "I know! Teehee!"
Joon's RIG then recieved an incoming transmission from Cadigan RIG. Feeling a need for vengeance overcome his present emotion of relief, Joon answered the request for a video communication within an instant.
Cadigan's voice rang out in Joon's helmet speakers, "You are a very hard man to kill. You know that? But this is only delaying the inevitable, Gunnery Sergeant. You will NOT disrupt my operation! You hear me? I'm going to watch you die this time from oxygen deprivation. No more quick and easy routes! If I want to get something done, I guess I'll have to do it my fucking self. This means watching you slowly choke in your own carbon dioxide and waste, and how sweet it'll be when I finally watch you croak and rot! And the Marker? It will finally be within our grasp without any of your interference."
On the other side of the transmission, Joon could hear the burstfire of Pulse Rifles and Divets and distant blood-chilling screams.
"Doesn't sound like your having much of an easy time. Have you even boarded the Ishimura yet?"
"I don't need criticisms from a dead man. And especially not from a man who killed his own wife and unborn child."
Joon responded, "What?"
"You don't remember? How yeah, you probably don't, you psychotic invalid! They say that in times of trauma, we modify our memories. You, apparantly, are not above this. You think I'm lying? Well, dead man, get ready to be proved wrong!"
A side video opened and shared the screen with the current holo-vid of Cadigan. Joon recognized it with a hazy memory as a recording from an ORACLE scope system. And he especially recognized the mission recording when he heard the exact same conversation he had 3 years ago, and when he noticed the same faces he once saw float behind a reticle. But everything after that point, Joon could not compare to his own memory, as what happened on the recording was the absolute opposite of what Joon peceived on that fateful day.
The insurgent (Joon remembered his name to have been Grey...Grayson?) was holding Anne behind the heated blades of a plasma saw. The recording device in the ORACLE system confirmed a lock on Grayson's RIG signature. As Joon was given the order to fire, Anne attempted to escape from the insurgent's grasp, resulting in Grayson tugging her to the center of his body mass, right in the way of the targeted Seeker round.
In the recording, the ORACLE prototype attempted to compensate for the sudden movement and obstruction of the target, but Joon had already pulled the trigger, and the Seeker round was forced to continue on its originally-targeted and incorrect trajectory, through both Anne and Grayson. Their bodies both tumbled down into the urban sprawl of Charybdis. Far from what Joon percieved had occured.
The recording ended with a concluding screen of static.
No...none of that happened. I didn't kill her. Grayson was successfully neutralized. Damn it, I did NOT shoot her....didn't I?
Joon uttered, "That didn't happen. You tampered and modified the footage. I didn't kill her! Or her child!"
"Oh, then you're saying that the few dozen witness reports and morgue autopsies were just lies too? Or the fact that I watched you make the fucking shot! I was on the Reqiuem, in command of that fucking mission! You're saying that I lied to you? You lied to yourself, asshole! You fucking killed your wife! You fucking killed your unborn child! And the Marker? It's just manipulating you with hallucinations of her!"
Cadigan chuckled satisfactorily, "And do you know what YOU admitted on your post-incident report? That Grayson's body had a fucking muscle spasm. That his arm pushed the plasma saw into Diane Mercer. That you had nothing to do with her death. Au contrair, you had everything to do with it. And you know what we were going to do to you while you were in stasis? You weren't going to a mental asylum. Oh no, EarthGov especially wanted to see what made you tick. They wanted to take apart your brain. They wanted to see how you managed everything the Marker threw at you, how you stayed the most sane of all the patients. And rightly so. But too late now. You'll just be another casualty. Now you know why an end to your miserable existence will benefit EarthGov and the rest of the universe. See you in hell, Gunny."
The vid-conference ended with the following appearing projected by Joon's RIG.
Ignoring the rapid ticking of his oxygen counter, Joon collapsed sluggishly on the bridge deck to his knees.
Pinkie Pie, as Joon could see something change in her eyes when she looked at him, started to step towards Joon hesitantly.
"Don't call me that. In fact, don't even talk to me at all. I don't deserve any sympathy," the marine responded with a hollow, emotionless voice.
"Is it true what he said? Are you really....crazy?" Pinkie asked with fear and uncertainty clinging heavily to her tone.
"How should I know? You know when I mentioned that I was considered Section 8, but I didn't bother to tell you what it meant?"
"It means that I'm mentally unfit for duty. Hallucinations, memory blackouts, the whole sha-bang. I see her Pinkie. Anne. And she always reminded me that something was up. That something was wrong. That what I did was wrong. And you know what? She was right."
Joon unslung his Seeker Rifle and slammed the butt down onto the deck. He then retrieved his PDA and his last concussion grenade and directed both of them to Pinkie Pie.
"I think it will be better for the both of us if you take these, and leave me behind. Prime the grenade, and destroy some of the venting around here. You'll be able to escape and the PDA has a built-in navigational Waypoint that will guide you to Engineering."
Pinkie looked at the two objects held out towards her for a few seconds, and looked back at Joon.
"But...what about you?"
"Oh me? Gonna do something that'll ease my conscience for quite a while."
Joon cocked the bolt on his Seeker Rifle and loaded in a Seeker Shell into the chamber. He placed the barrel towards the area in front of his helmet, where his eyes would be located on his face, and positioned the Seeker Rifle so he would be able to grip the trigger with his thumb and the rifle would be targeted for a clean headshot directed at his own helmet. Joon made certain that even with his present cranial protection, the Seeker Shell would be able to penetrate his helmet.
"Go. Now. You're better off without me. I can't keep this up Pinkie," Joon gritted thorough his teeth, his voice shaking.
"Damn it, I can't live with myself anymore! Not with everything that I'VE done! Everyone I've met ends up dead because of me. And I can't let that happen to you. So, go. You'll be home soon. And as for me, I'll be able to see her again. Not some shitty disillusionment, but her...the real her. And hopefully...." Joon hiccuped and didn't bother to wipe his eyes. He wouldn't have been able to with his helmet on anyway. "....she'll forgive me."
He looked at the immobile Pinkie, and heaved out, "Why am I still seeing you here?"
"I'm not leaving you here. I would be a bad friend if I did," Pinkie worriedly added.
"You wouldn't be leaving me if there's nothing to leave behind, right? Just another body to add to the furnishing of this God-forsaken ship..."
"Don't! If you do this, it won't solve anything! Granny Pie always told me that you have to face your fears rather than run away from them! When I was a little filly and-"
"I don't think singing is going to solve anything either."
"Sure it will!"
"Pinkie just leave! This isn't going to be my proudest moment."
Joon couldn't take it anymore. His patience and emotional threshold was wearing thin as he finally shouted, "I told you to leave, you fucking demented horse! I want out, and I actually have the decency to let you have a fair warning before I blow my brains out across the bulkhead! Don't you understand?! I...NEED...TO DO THIS!"
He gave a wet sob and dropped the rifle. Joon covered his faceplate with his gloved hands. Through his weary, blurred vision, he viewed on his HUD that he only had around two minutes left before his reserve oxygen depletes.
Pinkie, seemingly oblivious to the insult as she knew (somewhat) that her friend was distressed, hooked a hoof around Joon's neck, and tried to comfort him, "You know, us ponies say that the best of times always come after the worst of them. That's why I always try to smile and laugh when times get tough. You always know that something good will come out of it. And this...." She gestured to the rifle and everything on the bridge (including some of the twitching bodies).
"...It's just all just part of those bad times."
Joon choked, "A bit optimistic here aren't we?"
"Why not? You can't get any lower than you already are!" Pinkie brightly answered.
"Gee. Thanks. Now hand me back my Seeker Rifle."
"What about all the humans on the space-boat-thingy? And what this Holy Crayon-"
"Marker. Now how about that rifle?"
Pinkie ignored his request, "Yeah, that thing. How can you think only about yourself when this is hurting other ponies, errr people. What if it ends up hurting others on other planets...and other space-boat-thingies! That's not very nice of you."
Joon paused. He couldn't believe that her logic actually made sense. It just needed a rough shove to get it through his thick skull.
"You know, how come you tend to say the most reasonable advice whenever the craziest things happen? You're usually a lot more random than this."
Pinkie replied, "I blame my brain for it. Ya hear that, brain? I'm gonna get up there and rustle your jimmies if you don't start acting like normal!"
"And there we go," sighed the Gunnery Sergeant again. "I suppose you're never gonna let this go are you?"
Pinkie Pie repeated with a cheerful laugh, "Nope!"
Joon hissed, "Fuck it. Getting too old for this. You know that I'm going to end up regretting this later, right?"
"Yup," Pinkie Pie rasped through her SCUBA respirator. How IS she talking through that thing anyway? Never mind. I have a feeling that the more I question things, the more confused I'm going to get.
"Service with a smile. Heh, I'm never gonna get that these days, so I better stick around, won't I?"
"Nuh huh. I'm not gonna let this go that easily! I want something in exchange!"
Joon got up and lifted an eyebrow, "Yeah, I'm not taking my RIG off. Wanna see what 3 years on a ship does to your figure?"
"Not that! Although...."
"You have to promise me that you'll come to Equestria with me. What you need are some the most friendliest-ical-tastic friends that you could possibly have, and I have plenty of 'em! Princess Celestia and all the others will be so happy to meet you! That, and you need to quit being so mopey!" Pinkie exclaimed with delight.
Joon began to edge out, "Pinkie....."
Sensing a rejection to her proposal, Pinkie busted out the big guns...the puppy-dog eyes.
Joon sighed. "I can only promise one of those. Being depressed is part of my charming charisma. I can't simply just stop doing it," he joked.
"Pffff. Whatever you say, Junebug!"
Pinkie ignored his protests and said, "Now repeat after me: Cross my heart, and hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye!" She ended her spiel with a hoof to the eye socket.
Joon copied her wording and actions, and just had to ask, "What's this for? And please don't do that eye thing again. It's kinda creepy."
"It's for a Pinkie Promise! And nopony EVER breaks a Pinkie Promise!" she emphasized.
"Fine. But you have to do something for me, too. Two things actually."
"What is it best friend-o-buddy-o-mine?"
"First, personal space." In response, Pinkie Pie stepped away an exact centimeter from Joon.
Why do I have a feeling that the one centimeter she gave me is the only thing that I should really expect from her?
"Second, whatever happens from here on out, follow my directions to the letter-"
"But I don't have to follow them to the number right?"
"....and the number."
Joon continued in a whisper, "And do exactly as I say. Things are going to get a little...hectic. Cadigan probably thinks that I'm getting suicidal-"
"Which you were!"
"Shhhhhh! Never bring that up again. Ever. That was a low point for me and I never want to get back to it."
"But you didn't say that I needed to do a third thing."
"Well, you do now. If I start acting like that again, kick me in the groin. Hard. Like you did when you first met me."
Joon quickly retrieved his Seeker Rifle and wandered around on the bridge deck, looking under and over displays for something. After some searching, Joon found and activated a thick, short pedestal embedded near the navigational station.
Feeling every rapid tick from his oxygen counter prick his ears, Joon hurriedly removed the paneling and plunged his fingers through the wiring. Delving into the side of the pedestal, Pinkie Pie watched Joon tear out a box, contained within it were electrically-surged, spinning disks.
"What are you doing?" Pinkie Pie inquisitively asked.
"AIs in the past used to only run on the basic Three Laws of Robotics. Though, over the years, we found out that any sort of artificial intelligence was going to need a lot more than three basic behavioral mandates to keep humans safe from....certain anomalies. So we had to make entire disk drives for AIs, especially ones in charge of military naval crafts like Valor, that contain hundreds of millions of algorithms that forces robotic and conceptual AIs to act a certain manner and do certain things in specific situations. Right now, I'm removing the quarantine safety protocols that the Ship Safety AI is in charge of.....manually."
A verbal retaliation from the now-malfunctioning Ship Safety AI escaped through its speakers with an increasingly low-pitched tone.
"I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't let you do that."
Joon growled, "My name's not Dave."
He brandished his Seeker Rifle and fired the entirety of his clip into the containment housal unit, effectively destroying the AI beyond repair.
With the AI's housing as useful as ballast on a space-worthy ship, literally, oxygen began to vent into the bridge and the safety bulkheads slided open to reveal the now-usable exit. Out from the halls echoed a furious torrent of noise of what was occuring in the lower decks, and pressured coolant rushing through the pipes embedded in the walling. And by the shouts of surprise, Joon decided that whatever was happening to the remaining crew members was quite dreadful.
Joon recieved a signal from his RIG that questioned whether he would like to answer a vid-transmission from Cadigan, to which he immediately authorized.
Abruptly, Cadigan's roars polluted the bridge, "What did you do? What the fuck did you do? The safety bulkheads just opened by themselves and they won't close. You disabled the safety systems haven't you? You bastard. You killed us all!"
"Better us than everyone back home. Get it through your deluded mind that the Marker isn't all it's cracked up to be," Joon reasoned. "I'm coming for you, Cadigan, if the Necros don't get to you first."
"Good luck finding me then. And hopefully you'll get to meet up with the rest of your insane patient-mates down there. Cadigan out."
As Joon's RIG dropped the transmission, he looked to Pinkie Pie.
"Come on, Pinkie. Let's end this. I gotta get you home."
Hey guys. Gonna have to skip to a more dramatic portion of the story to build up the intensity. Enjoy!
USM Valor. 2508.
Aegis VII system. 1355 hours Normal Time
Crew Deck. Medical Checkpoint.
"How was I supposed to know that they didn't like confetti?"
"Pinkie, you fired a carnival cannon point blank in someone's face at an armed checkpoint!" Joon shouted above the sibilance of rounds flying past his head.
"They looked grumpy! Especially when they saw you! Being the mood-killer you are, I was only trying to cheer them up! Ooooh! Is that a shiny bit I see? Today must be my lucky day!" Pinkie ducked as a stray round flew past where her head would have been.
She got back up and innocently chided, "Awww. This isn't a bit. Only a 10 million credit chip. Whatever THAT is. Worthless." She threw the plastic human monetary unit over her shoulder and ran towards Joon to catch up to him.
He slid behind a column of rubble and wildly fired his Seeker Rifle above cover, hoping that his returning fire would distract the former crew from firing at the arriving Pinkie Pie. Speaking of the Valor's crew, Joon was hearing an awful amount of footsteps on the other side of the rubble.
Joon looked behind him. There was no pony there. I swear she was right behind me.
Pinkie Pie tapped his shoulder.....upside down, "Here I am!"
"Christ! Don't scare me like that. Nearly shot-."
A human in a crewman's jumpsuit hurdled over the cover, swinging about what looked- scratch that- what was a Plasma Cutter. A miner's solution to all problems: Welding, slicing through meters of rock with precision, and even hunting down varmint infestations in mining settlements and caves. Harmful on the weakest power node setting, deadly accurate with power node upgrades in all the right places. Not taking any chances, Joon sidestepped to avoid any fire from the crewman, and quickly drove a knee, the force multiplied by his combat RIG, into the man's groin. He then proceeded to reach for the arm holding the plasma cutter, twist the wrist past its breaking point, and caved in one of his knees in one fluid motion. Wrestling the Plasma Cutter out the man's grasp, Joon held the man's neck in a half-nelson and forced the man to walk, barely, in front of him as a "meat-shield". The pair strided into the open, though Joon had to drag forcefully his make-shift hostage the entire way, with Pinkie hopping behind them. Joon noted the location of each of his former comrades, and if push came to shove, he'd be able to dispatch them quickly. The "hostage" was stuttering pleas of mercy, telling Joon that his crewmates would "Fire anyway, man. They've changed. Not a fucking smackering of humanity left in 'em" and was shaking from the agony that his wounds supplied.
"I'm running out of patience. Let me see Cadigan. Now. I don't want to hurt anybody. We're all in the same boat here...literally."
The man seemingly in charge of the checkpoint, considering the way he held himself with authority, shouted, "Got a digital blacklist of who to shoot-on-sight, and you're one of them. Commander's orders. Now...surrender and we'll make your death quick and painless. And that hostage won't help your case. We'll carry our orders nevertheless."
Joon only blinked, "Just know this. Fire at me, and I'll fire back. I've lived through enough of the Resource Wars to know how to kill our own, even after all this."
The hostage pleaded further, "No, please! Let me go! I don't want to die!"
The leader of the checkpoint personnel stated without a hint of compassion, "Very well. Open fire!" The men under his command directed a wave of Pulse Rifle splinter rounds at the hostage "meat-shield" and Joon himself. Blood splattered on Joon's RIG as the hostage had his insides and jumpsuit torn away by the bullets mushrooming into his body and eventually having his cranium pummeled away from the torrent of fire until nothing but a bloody stump of his neck remained. Joon unceremoniously dropped the body and returned to his previous location of cover.
Unsurprisingly, he already found Pinkie Pie there....wielding a SWS Motorized Pulse Rifle, it's fully-retractable stock wielded precariously over her shoulder.
"Pinkie, put that down! You're not certified to handle that weapon!"
"But I'm helping! See?"
She let off a burst, and surprised by the kicking recoil, she let go of the weapon's grip with her hooves, resulting in the impact of the butt of the rifle's stock flying into Joon's face. He grasped an upper portion of his head in anguish and fell on all fours.
"MY FUCKING EYE!"
"I'm so sorry! Wait....you have an eye?"
On the flooring, Joon viewed from his other non-swollen eyeball the rounds fired off by Pinkie ricocheting off the deck walls. As cartoon-like as her personality and physical nature, the bullets flew and bounced into every obstacle in and around the checkpoint, until some of them finally made a definitive hit on a series of Stasis containment tanks meant for use in medical Urgent Care units. The elements within the stasis tanks, now exposed to the surrounding atmosphere, violently heaved their effects in a large radius, nearly freezing the motion of everything in the deck level.
After what seemed like an eternity, the ship (at least on the level the skirmish was taking place on) knew peace and quiet. A little too quiet to the liking of a certain pink equine. Swimming through the catalyzed stasis field, Pinkie Pie dolphin-undulated through the field until she reached a statue-like Joon. Biting his shemagh, she dragged him through the field until they reached the boundary of the stasis field's limits.
Joon landed on the deck, continuing his interrupted action for a moment, and directing a bewildered stare at Pinkie.
Pinkie Pie apologized, "I'm sorry for....that." She pointed at the frozen "wonderland" that Joon would have called his gravesite just a few moments ago.
"Why should you say sorry?"
"You saved our lives. That doesn't exactly require an apology." Joon shakingly got up. He never really got used to the tingly "sleeping limb" sensation/after-effect of Stasis exposure.
"But what about that eye?"
"I've had black eyes before. And I'd take a bruised organ over what would have happened if we stayed over there," Joon gestured sloppily at the stasis field.
"But what are we going to do now? It's not like any more oppurtunities are just going to fall into our hooves, you know!" Pinkie inquired with her hooves held out wonderously. She closed her eyes as she shook her head.
At that moment, a few intact stasis tanks flung themselves through the slowed-down effects of the Stasis field's epicenter, and landed into Pinkie's open hooves. Joon watched in silent amazement as the tanks stacked on eachother perfectly and Pinkie's seemingly oblivious expression as the scene unfolded about her.
Pinkie Pie sighed, "I have no clue what to do next." She dropped her hooves, along with the neat stack of medical stasis tanks.
Joon looked down at the pile of medical stasis refills, and up at Pinkie, and down at ths pile again. Maybe he expected too much of her to make the connection.
Joon slowly mused, "Oh, I think I might have an idea."
USM Valor. 2508.
Aegis VII system. 1355 hours Normal Time
Outside Commander F. Cadigan's Private Quarters.
"Hey Greer, stay awake."
"Yeah, Corporal, like I can actually sleep after all this shit happened," Greer yawned. "And I didn't even close my eyes."
"I know a tired sailor when I see- What the hell?"
"What?" Greer asked.
A disproportionate mass floated down the hall. To Greer's tired eyes, it seemed to be a trio of Stasis tanks wrapped around with duct tape attached to a balloon decaled with cartoonish face that had a rather hypnotizing gaze. It took a couple of seconds for both Marines to realize that there was a concussion grenade taped on the Stasis tanks. Without a pin.
"Oh shi-," The Corporal was about to swear, but the resulting explosion froze his expression and body, as well as Greer's.
A lone figure followed by a pink equine raced down the hall and passed the near-motionless bodies, still affected by the applied stasis field. They quickly entered the room that the two crewmen were ordered to guard, and behind them, they locked the door.
Joon turned with a 211-V Plasma Cutter at the ready, which he had policed from the....scenes of massacre.... in the bottom levels on the way to their present location, and aimed the targeting laser at the back of an almost-expectant Cadigan.
"Commander Cadigan, by Maritime Law Article 54-69, I declare you mentally unfit for leadership and command of the USM Valor. I hereby place you under arrest and relieve you of duty. Do I need to repeat your rights?"
Cadigan was silent as he revolved around to face Joon and his affectionate pink friend.
To Pinkie's partial shock, Cadigan appeared not himself. His face and arms were carved with Unitologist scripture in a scraggly manner to suggest that they were self-inflicted. Joon was less surprised, as he expected Cadigan's appearence to be concurrent with his mental status, which had not faired well according to the announcements over the Valor's PA system that he had made while Joon made his way towards Cadigan's quarters.
Two words to describe those announcements: Completely disturbing.
Ignoring the Marine's rebellious order, Cadigan calmly stated, "This is the end game, Gunny. Don't treat it like anything else."
Joon threatened again, "Do I need to repeat your rights, sir?
Cadigan sighed, "No, you don't, Sergeant. Heh, I can't believe your arresting me. I've tried to kill you, what? Two, three times already? And yet you still persist in keeping me alive."
Cadigan unholstered his Divet service pistol and held it at his side.
"Don't worry. This isn't meant for you. It's for me! Hehehehehehahahahhahahhhahhahaha! I'm going to burn in damnation for what I've done. But, you? The Relic has plans for you! You managed to survive this far because of it. The Marker...has no use for me anymore. It only needs my ship. If it needs a Shockpoint Drive so badly, then-"
Suddenly, Cadigan stopped, and looked at Joon again as if he had just arrived. Cadigan broke into a frenzied fervor, "It's time for you to do your duty, Marine."
He continued, Joon slowly backing away as Cadigan advanced forward. "They're telling me to make it whole. To make it whole! I have no idea what's letting on about, but I can't let it. It won't let me fight it's influence. If only...yes, yes, excellent idea!"
Joon, worried a few moments ago how far Cadigan was really gone, self-confirmed his beliefs.
Cadigan officially just embarked on the Crazy Train; next destination, Complete Lunacy.
Pinkie whispered, "Is he talking to himself?", to which Joon shrugged in response.
"Cadigan, get a hold of yourself!"
Cadigan struggled out in his moment of lucidity, "It....won't let me. I've tried to...destroy it. I sent Captain Renner with a team of Sappers down to Engineering....to detonate the fusion reactors. It would have stranded us, but it also would have sent us in a collision trajectory with the Ishimura. Hopefully, it would have left the Necros without a Marker to control them, and if the Marker wasn't damaged by the crash...well, at least they won't have any transportation out-of-system. Renner managed to set up some auto-turrets down in Engineering to cover them while he got his boys to place some charges on the reactors, but the necrotic freaks managed to disrupt power to the auto-turrets. Renner's boys didn't stand a chance."
Joon asked, "Are the charges secure?"
"Yes. I managed to route a secondary source of power to the auto-turrets, but by the time they were online again, Renner's squad couldn't be helped. His lot was slaughtered." For a moment, Cadigan's mouth quivered into a slight smile, but the grin disappeared, his face masterfully returning to its calm, resolute state.
Cadigan urged, "And this is where you come in. You gotta help me. You managed to stay alive, but every other person I thought would be completely reliable is dead. The Marker knew of our plans of retrieval, plans to separate it from ever being Whole again. If it gets a hold of me....I'm fucked. I've failed it. Whatever it has in plans for me, it'll be worse than whatever ol' hellfire and brimstone can ever supply. You have to find the detonation device. Last I've seen of it, Renner had it on his body. The charges are originally supposed to run on a timer, so you'll have time for an escape route hopefully before the ship crashes into the Ishimura. Even if you don't want to help me, do this for the people back home. This....this has gone too far. The Unis' experiment has evolved into...something far more than expected."
Cadigan loftily placed the Divet to his right temple before Joon could raise anymore questions.
"Cadigan, sir! Drop the weapon!", Joon commanded. "What did you say about the Uni's? That this is all-"
He grimly smiled, "I only wish I could tell you, Sergeant. But I need to pass on the torch, so to say. The Marker will be watching closely. But you know what? Fuck the Marker. Do what has to be done, Gunny. Like always."
Cadigan added, in the form of his final, last words, "Oh, and Gunny? I'm sorry. Make it Whole again."
Realizing Cadigan was too far gone, Joon turned to Pinkie Pie and shouted, "Pinkie, cover your eyes!"
The loud discharge of a firearm flooded the room, accompanied soon by the gunshots and shouting from outside the room. Damn, exit route's gonna be tricky.
Joon stood in front of the gore-splattered interior of the room, shielding Pinkie from the sight.
"Pinkie, it's okay to look now."
Joon then started to cautiously stride towards the disorganized mountain of datapads, Neo-Altmanist tomes, and torn food packaging encircling what was once Cadigan's desk and the flooring. Among the pile of garbage, and the puddles of blood that must have been the aftermath of Cadigan's self-carving sessions, Joon picked up one of the text data pads that caught his eye, as it was the only one not completely covered in what Joon noted to be....some sort of bodily fluid.
Carefully keeping Pinkie Pie's eyes blocked with her hooves and urging her gently to look away as they approached Cadigan's body, Joon skimmed through the latest message on Cadigan's text log.
EYES ONLY - PRIORITY BLACK
FROM: CHIEF OF STAFF, EARTH DEFENSE
ATTN: COMMANDER CADIGAN, F.
OPERATION WHITE LIGHT
THEATER: AEGIS SYSTEM, PLANET PENDING
OBJECTIVE: DEEP CLEANSE
CEC vessel USG Ishimura in breach of
government order. They are believed to have
recovered Marker 3A. Special Ops has
confirmed the system but has been unable
to provide the planet location.
Special Ops advises caution. If Marker 3A
has been recovered, infection by a lethal
organism is a credible threat.
Shockpoint to Aegis system, move to
position out of local scope range and await
signal from Ishimura to confirm location
The marine tossed the datapad into the interior of the room. That bastard knew this whole time, and he told no one.
If he told the crew, would we've gotten into this mess? No.
Would have their been mutiny? Of course. Mutiny is like rum in the navy. They're traditional past times.
But it wouldn't have hurt to at least arm the crew, or place the hanger in a quarantine.
Yeah, Cadigan. The greatest strategies are the ones that never have contigency plans. Completely....fucking....logical.
She uncovered her hooves from her eyes, and questioned, "W-what happened?"
"Let's just say that Cadigan won't be bothering us for a long time."
"Did he go on a lunch break? Is that why you're covering everything in front of me? Because he might have gotten a super-delicious looking sandwich from Serbway that would have made me really jealous?!"
Joon stared curiously at Pinkie. She had already seen one human attempt suicide before, but was she really naive enough to brush off another attempt as something COMPLETELY different?
Shit. Gonna have to lie...again. Don't even know why I try though.
I've read classified text that would have probably gotten me hung without a military tribunal. Even with dementia, I'm probably the only sane person in this whole damn ship. And I attempted to arrest my ship's skipper right before he blew his brains out.
Is it too early to retire? Like, forever?
Joon chuckled sadly, "Yeah, Pinkie. Now let's go. Cadigan wants to be left in peace....for his lunch break."
USM Valor. 2508.
Aegis VII system. 1421 hours Normal Time
Joon hit the ground as soon as he vaulted over the barricade Renner's squad had set up. He checked over the cover to view the Necromorphs chasing behind him cut up by the firepower off the auto-turrets. A distant cacophony of screeches and a series of wet, concussive pops signaled the end of a couple of trailing Exploders that Joon hoped would never reach the auto-turrets. With their current condition after their previous interaction with Necromophs, duct tape and thermal grease were all that were keeping the auto-turrets from falling apart.
And the pounding from across the deck wasn't easing Joon's present stress level. Friggin Brutes...
"Don't get out of the RIG pack just yet, Pinkie. I need to do something first."
Joon authorized a system reboot of the auto-turret systems. Not a complete reboot, but only a revision for the target-recognition system. He validated all RIG users and four-legged non-RIG wearing equines-like creatures to be tagged as "friendly".
Shit, the closest thing for a recognition image for Pinkie was a dog. Meh, close enough
Joon was about to look over cover to check up on the status of the auto-turrets, but ended up slipping on the disembodied hand. He face-planted into the deck floor, which actually was quite soft....and eerily wet.
The marine got up on his knees and confirmed his suspicions. Cadigan was definitely not lying about the team of sappers he sent down to Engineering. Joon was looking at one of the members after all, who wasn't quite as whole and "non-eviscerated" as a normal human being should be.
Confirming the presence of Renner's team's remains, Joon scavenged some ammunition and salvaged plasma cartridges for his modified Plasma Cutter.
Heh. Whatever redneck that had the time and money to improvise a directed energy weapon from a mining tool, I gotta say....I take back all those mining colony inbreeding jokes I've said over the years. Even the one about the Blonde, the Furry, and Unitologist preacher.
Joon had even found some cartridges for a half-empty Detonator, a virtual mine-launcher. Oh, the pain he used to cause with these during his old traffic interdiction days. And he was racking up his streak of luck, for among the ravaged bodies behind the barricade was a strange rectangular object, flush with a plastic safety switch and an activation latch. The det control.
Pinkie Pie burst out of Joon's pack and vibrated down onto the deck.
"I t-t-t-t-h-h-i-n-k I'm-m-m-m g-g-g-e-t-t-t-t-t-i-n-g a-n-n-n-n-o-t-h-e-r-r-r d-o-o-o-o-o-o-z-y!"
"Pinkie, what are you doing?" Joon ducked down and tried to keep Pinkie Pie still. With one hand he started to keep Pinkie Pie from having what Joon assumed was an epilepsy attack, and with the other, he scrambled for the detonation control. He checked the device for a status on the charges laid by Renner's team while fumbling in a retrieved med-pack for a shot of eslicarbazepine for Pinkie Pie. As if a heavenly crack of shining rays had shone upon his shit day....week, the charges were confirmed to be fully operational.
"My Pinkie Sense is tingling! This happened before when I got WHOOSHED over here!" Pinkie exclaimed with a dramatic raising of both her hooves.
Pinkie denied, "Not 'whooshed'. WHOOSHED! That's what it sounded like when I was traveling through the portal-thingamajig! Huh. My Pinkie Senses stopped. Do you think that-"
Pinkie couldn't finish her train of thought, as an immaculate disk of light swirled into existence, blinding both Joon and....well, Pinkie pulled out a pair of sunshades from nowhere, so count only Joon as part of the visually disabled temporarily.
And out from the vortex of swirling energies, two figures hopped out, One of them, a multi-chromatic maned alicorn, and the other a pegasus stallion appearing smartly dressed and professional, despite only wearing a single green tie.
Both of them, Pinkie was quite jubilant to see again.
"Princess, relax! That dimension was only inhabited by dinosaurs-"
The Princess interrupted, "That were trying to CONSUME us!"
"That was a complete anomaly. Will not happen again, I assure you, your Highness! And it appears we are here this time! See, no dinosaurs!"
"Or cheese furniture stores managed by killer statues?" The Princess accused.
"Nor any dairy-themed multi-dimensional Ikeas run by Weeping Angels in sight. Just a normal, ordinary-"
An unnatural roar echoed from the end of the vast, metal-composed passage amongst the havoc, a morbid scent of blood, and the massive hum of the fusion-powered engines.
"-titanic metal deathtrap. See? Nothing to worry about," affirmed the Doctor.
Princess Celestia spotted a pink earth pony behind a collapsible barricade embedded onto the deck floor with the creature she had previously viewed through her temporary form as a sprite/Adjutor Equus encantation.
The human cried out, "Pinkie, that's her...I think! Run! I'll be right behind you!"
Pinkie Pie started to protest, "But-"
"No 'buts'! Remember what I said about following what I say to the letter? Would you really break a promise?"
"Good. Now go! I can hear that thing charging towards us. I'll catch up!"
As the distant image of Pinkie Pie began to reach a closer and closer distance, Celestia looked back and forth between Pinkie and the human. And whatever was arriving on the scene, it was definitely agitated.
The human swore, as Celestia believed it had caught an image of the gargantuous monster arriving.
"Ah, shit! Brute!" The human brandished its weapon and fired at the incoming mismatched mass of necrotic flesh and bone.
"Come on, Tiny! Show me the color of your guts!"
The Brute had knocked a few of the auto-turrets, as if they were mere annoyances, leaving a defensive gap for a group of Necromorphs to enter, most of them Exploders.
Noting the evident "kamikaze-wave" tactic, Joon switched weapons to his Detonator, deciding to save the majority of the auto-turrets first. He launched a mine, and waited for one of the chemically-charged Exploders to cross the mine's sensors, leading to a volatile chain reaction of organic explosives. Joon then focused on the Brute, who was also intent with a maddening delight of ripping apart his prey, as Joon did for its kin.
Joon's eyesight shifted about, sleep deprivation finally taking its toll, and he failed to react quick enough to the Brute's rushing speed. The Necromorph knocked Joon onto the deck floor maliciously, and barely dodging in time the full blow, Joon felt the Brute's bludgeon-like bladed forelimb brush against his ribs. The limb penetrated the impact plating of Joon's RIG and had violently trudged on the side of Joon's chest, though his previous dodge had prevented everything left of his sternum from becoming crushed into a bloody pulp.
"GAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!" the human hollered. Celestia winced at the image, and had mere seconds to force her expression to change from one of horror, to another of plastered happiness when Pinkie Pie reached Celestia's protective reach.
She could only hope that Pinkie didn't turn her head back . Celestia wished dearly to help, but she resolved unconsciously, with a heavy heart, that she would rather watch an alien creature suffer, than allow her subject to be in harm's way again.
The Brute slowly raised its freakishly disproportional limb from Joon's side, preparing for a finishing blow...or not.
Last time Joon checked, "quick" and "painless" weren't in the Necromorph vocabulary. If they even have a vocabulary.
Through all the torment, he still managed to cling onto the Detonator in his right hand, and the det control in his left, but his left arm could barely lift from the ground before Joon could feel the sickening pain of his torn muscles struggling to pull on eachother with no avail. The marine tried his right arm, and raggedly took aim at the herds of Exploders charging at the auto-turrets with his Detonator.
Hope this takes care of most of 'em. Celestia's here, so the turrets shouldn't be too much of a defensive priority if I have a ride out. That, or I die from what I'm going to do. So win-win....I guess?
Joon exhaled, "Yo, fatty." Damn, even talking hurts. Must have some broken ribs, too.
The Brute froze in its movements. Hopefully it had a basic understanding of English derogatory terms.
"Have fun burning the calories off from this."
Wondering why the puny human piece of filth had fired away from the Brute, the creature turned to view the launched mine activate among the mass of Exploders behind it, the group having ventured far closer to the Brute and its prey since it last observed them. The Brute realized, the moment that the mine's sensor was tripped, that the proximity and sheer aggregation of the Exploders would certainly result in its demise...and the fragmented end of everything in a 50 yard radius.
Joon hissed a chuckle, and rolled over on all fours. He staggered onto his feet in order to attempt his escape, and dropped the Detonator behind him.
He felt unbelievable pain. He was covered in blood. But the bludgeoning aftershock and pillowing shrouds of sharapnel and bone fragments behind him that pushed his body forward away from the scene, was pure bliss.
Joon wanted to leave everything that happened behind him. The Necromorphs. The visions.
He reveled in the fact that he would escape from all of them, whether as discarded bloody chunks across the bulkheads, a stranded body in the cold, loneliness of space, or as a refugee under Pinkie's friendship.
Any of them were, at the present, welcome.
Landing back into cold, hard reality, quite literally however, his body was tossed on the deck with a thud.
And he felt every moment of it.
"Pinkie Pie, I have gathered enough energy for the trip back," Celestia whispered, a thin ring of magical excess expelling from the deck around them. "We can't stay here much longer."
Pinkie uneasily shuffled her hooves, saying, "But, what about him? He could have made it out of the explosion."
Celestia carefully placed her words, "I'm afraid...we cannot wait for the alien. Us three are the only ones who break the silence of this place."
"We have to! I promised him-"
"Pinkie Pie, do you doubt my decision? Have you thought that his sacrifice would be in vain if we all perished?" Celestia snapped.
Pinkie Pie sadly added, "Princess....you've changed."
"All of this is for you, Pinkie Pie. I do what I have to do for the safety of all my subjects," Celestia quickly responded. The current environment was leeching away what little patience and optimistic perseverance she had.
She regretted every moment of what she had to do, but the lives of her little ponies depended on it.
Doctor Whooves edged between the pair, "Errr...not to break this up, but I don't think we should count our eggs before they have metaphorically hatched."
The Doctor pointed a hoof at the blood fog curtaining the majority of the deck, and a ragged outline. At first Celestia would have thought it to be a member of one of the rotting, mutated alien life forms. The stuff that nightmares were composed of. But as she diverted some of her energy to direct a magical beam at the creature, the outline cleared into one of a whole human being, albeit with some limping and with the fingers of its foreign limb grasping a strange rectangular apparatus, which the being desperately tried to hide something behind the device on his body. Whatever the human was blocking the view of with the device, blood was weakly stemming from behind the human's fisted appendage. Occasionally he turned to fire a ray of energy from his strange weapon, covering his retreat, through the chemical residue/blood-composed mist.
The human was different when she last saw him in the distance. His facial features were new. He looked as his ancestors had, with a brutally short mane and an almost hairless face. Celestia realized that whatever the human once wore around its head, a protective helmet of some sort, was gone. Something that looked distinctively like it, however, hung attached on his belt, circuits and interior exposed with portions of its outer casing absent or melted.
Pinkie Pie suddenly jerked her vision towards the figure, shouting with bewilderment, "Junebug? Is that you?"
The figure joked, "I certainly hope so. And I was just beginning to run out of cliches to say."
"It is you!" She jumped up meter or two and almost threw him off with a quick hug.
Joon winced, "Ah. Careful there. Sorry, I'm late. Hopefully that stunt bought you some time?"
The Princess couldn't look at the human's...eyes. They were almost disturbingly similar to a pony's. They had a Chopanese almond-shaped flair, complete with a somewhat common, but humbling sienna brown iris. With those details, including the numerous bruising, laceration, and burn injuries on his countenance, made her sense a fluctuating candle-flame of guilt ignite deep in her chest.
Celestia thought during her self-insight of shame, This was the thanks he was going to get? Abandonment on this Faust-forsaken construct? No. This creature is as much of a pony than Pinkie or I.
Joon, ignoring the Sun Goddess's inability to look at him straight at the face, asked, "All set?"
Celestia looked up, and ominously added, "I have misjudged you, human. You seem not to have the same corruption as the Old Ones."
He inquired, "Wait, you knew of us befo-"
"Save your questions. I will gladly answer them when he arrive back in Equestria, which I will grant you asylum to. I cannot repay you for what you've done for Pinkie. But I have neither the time nor concentration to quiet your curiosity."
Joon hesitantly mused, "Well....you can get us out of here, right?"
"Yes. The teleportation spell is ready."
"Then consider everything forgiven," he light-heartedly winced. Celestia was about to direct a healing incantation at his wound, but Joon shook his head.
"Don't waste your time. The suit's sealing foam should have gotten into my wounds, so I'll be able to stop my ribs from puncturing a lung until we get to your world."
Joon turned and walked backwards slowly into the magical field surrounding the three ponies, aiming the improvised Plasma Cutter towards the hazy disaster he left behind.
"Well, here goes nothing." He raised the detonation control, clicked off the safeties, and activated the pressure switch.
"Huh? What the..... Something's wrong," Joon worriedly confided.
"The dets should have confirmed a timed detonation signal by now. Did he...." He trailed off, his words choked by a thought.
"Cadigan. The bastard must've lied about the timers."
Pinkie raised her voice, "Joon, what's wrong?"
"I can't believe I trusted that prick. He left out the little detail that the timers are fucked up," Joon cursed, starting to reformat the detonation control, tapping away on a small holographic touch pad, which the control projected with a folded projector tablet within its structure. To this, the Doctor mumbled an amazed "Wow, a fully functional hologram!"
Joon continued, "It says in the coding that there's a malfunction in the timed signal unit, or a TSU, on the explosives. The TSU reciever is damaged, so the only way that the dets will start an engine meltdown is if...."
He stopped and looked down at Pinkie's eyes. She knew what was coming.
Pinkie Pie whispered out, "No...."
Joon slowly leveled himself to her height, and on his knees, he replied, though with some hesitation, "Pinkie, I...I have to stay."
"You can't! You were going to come with us and-"
"I need to do this, Pinkie. If we don't disable Valor's engines, or crash this God-forasken ship into Ishimura, do you know what's going to happen? The Necromorphs will find a way to get out of system. I know it. They'll kill people, Pinkie. And eventually they'll find your planet. Let me tell you this: I can't let that happen."
Rapid footsteps echoed from the other side of the Engine Room's various passageways and machinary. Joon decided to make this quick.
"Here," Joon began and pulled off the blood-stained shemagh off of his neck, and began to adorn it around Pinkie's neck. "This was past down by my family, as sort of as a lucky charm. It's a cultural relic itself, and it kind of reminds us of our roots. I managed not to get myself killed all of this time, so it works...."
Joon noted his wounds, ".....most of the time."
"So here. I'm not going to be needing it where I'm going, so I might as well give it to someone who will need it. And who knows? Maybe a little of its luck will rub off on you," he weakly smiled.
Joon embraced her and kissed Pinkie Pie gently on the top of her forehead.
"You've done something for me that no one could possibly have ever done. You made me smile. You made me laugh. You've been a true friend, and I'm not going to let you get hurt because of me. You have to go, Pinkie."
She blubbered, "You...you Pinkie Promised. Nopony breaks a Pinkie Promise. It's the fastest way to lose a friend."
"I hope you can understand the technicality that I'm not a pony."
Joon chuckled morosely with a guilty grin, "I think I found a loophole. Plus, you'll find I'm pretty bad at keeping promises."
Her face of betrayal was too much to bear. She was standing half a meter away, but she was still able to tear out his heart-strings. He couldn't leave her like this.
"Don't worry. I'll be right behind you. Like always. I'm sure your Princess would come back for a second trip."
He rose up and stepped out of the magical field. The blood fog was finally starting to lift, revealing mishapen figures beyond it. Twitching about.
Pinkie Pie, confused at this contradiction of Joon's words and actions, squeaked, "B-b-but, what are you-"
Joon gestured to Celestia, "You told me that you would never be able to repay me. Well, you can with two things. One, keep Pinkie Pie safe. Leave as soon as possible."
"It's my duty to," responded the Sun Goddess.
"Second," Joon began. He started to walk off. "Never come back. Ever."
Pinke Pie roared, "Wait! You lied to me! You don't ever-"
Joon walked out of the magical radius of effect, the magical field behind him now humming and blocking out Pinkie Pie's cries with a sonic hum. The field began to solidify, apparant by Pinkie's restrained attempts to follow Joon.
The first step was the hardest, seeing imaginary scenes of a melancholy Pinkie Pie affected by his selfish actions. He began to wonder if this course of action was unnecessary, and whether it was going to make a difference for all the ones he cared for. The second was slightly less intimidating. All doubt was banished.
Ever step was easier and easier to handle, as he couldn't feel anything any longer. His conscience was certain, though not clear. And, at least in his mind, Joon was at last alone.
Alone to face his fears.
He turned, clutching the det control with a death grip in his left hand, numbed by his body's attempt to maintain its application of natural pain killers, and raising the Plasma Cutter with the other. The veil of blood mist began to lift and clear away amongst the debris and vast mechanical viscera of the compartment, revealing his opponents.
What, do these things come in assorted colors, too?
Figures burst through the veil, wisps of clinging to them. They had the usual set of characteristics of a Slasher, except...they were quite off. They're moving as if their bodies, encased in military RIG, was in a complete, violent seizure. Twitching almost. Their bodies giving off a faint fluid-like glow of marine blue, which usually meant a puncture leak in the Stasis unit of a RIG.
And there were many of them heading towards Joon at a surprisingly rapid velocity.
Joon reached into one of his pouches for an extra Plasma Energy cartridge, barely held in place with his fingers while wielding a det control in the same hand, and strained to place his hands similar in the Harries technique, but instead with the non-firearm wielding hand on top of the Plasma Cutter. Struggling to move forward, both from the stinging, raw pain of his wound and the emotional tugging of leaving Pinkie, he blasted directed plasma energy consecutively down range. With every shot and footstep, severed limbs fell in the distance, the wet sound of gore splattering on the cold, metallic deck slowly replacing the Necromorphs' screeching.
The Plasma Cutter hissed empty, prompting Joon to eject the spent cartridge, and rapidly placing in a fresh one with his maintained hand position. The continuous volley of fire interrupted themselves with brief periods of reloading, which left Joon feeling less and less weight in his munitions pouches. And to add insult to literal injury, some of the twitching Necros were getting awfully close. Their trajectory was becoming too close for Joon's comfort, and their unpredictable spurts of movement wasn't easing Joon's worry.
Mid-way through a plasma cartridge, the focusing mechanism on the Plasma Cutter froze, forcing plasma about to be directed violently into directed bolts to ooze from the weapon's chamber. The vents exerted a vapor that bent the light and images in front of Joon with their condensation, followed by the scent of ionized ozone that invaded Joon's sense of smell.
Tossing the overheating mining tool with much reluctance, Joon switched to his Pulse Rifle, with only a single magazine of Pulse rounds loaded into it's breech, and fired for effect. With the "Twitchers" now close enough for Joon to see their empty eyes, for the first time in a while, Joon began to panic. The overwhelming number of Necromorphs tugged at a primordial instinct, to see so many scurrying towards him with almost no end. His discomfort grew as the Pulse Rifle clacked empty, and the wave of undead bodies continuing their path towards him, and eventually their equine prey.
Joon, now relieved of the weight of most of his munitions, Pinkie Pie, and two of his weapons, he drew his Seeker Rifle, musing at Fate's decision to make him wield the weapon that he would have least wanted in the hands of his corpse after his death. Joon, the thoughts of Pinkie Pie in his mind tempting him to return back, turned to look whether she was still safe.
The momentary withdrawal of fire, however, left Joon vulnerable. Watching a golden oppurtunity unfold before them, the Twitchers rushed forward with an inhuman speed, and compensated for their losses. Joon couldn't react fast enough, and Pinkie Pie could only watch in horror at what was to occur.
A random limb sliced into Joon's leg, and impaled him onto the deck. Another had quickly punctured his RIG, and passed through his lower abdomen. It occured to quickly that Joon was in shock for a few moments until the pain started to creep its way up. Joon felt his heartbeat drum in his ears as he slowly tried to breath through the trickle of agony, but his frayed nerves overpowered his senses, causing him to decry out in pain. The searing sensation of razor-edged restructured bone stabbing and sawing into his flesh nearly overwhelmed him past his threshold of agony, as the view of his surroundings began to darken and light began to streak across his vision. But one thing kept him going, it fueled him with an excess of perserverance and strength that kept him from entering unconsciousness.
Her. Celestia's teleportation field was flickering, along with their image of existance. Joon decided that Celestia was ready to go, along with Pinkie Pie.
Joon raised his fist, the one clutching raggedly the det control and flicked off the safety function. He quickly proceeded to order the detonation of the charges when a single deceptively frail hand gripped his wrist and tugged at his fingers with an impossible strength.
"Leaving so soon? I thought that you liked it here, since you get to see me every once in a while."
Joon half-strained/half-screamed, "Get away from me! You're not her!"
He tried to tug his hand away, but her grip was firm, and they started to singulate their pressure on the fingers given the task for activating the pressure switch on the detonation device. Joon could feel the phalanges of his middle and index finger start to bend outward from the palm.
"Don't even think about pressing on that switch. You'll only get yourself hurt," the hallucination of Anne sweetly dissuaded, her voice dripping with malicious intention. She twisted the fingers of Joon's left hand, and relishing his cries, she snapped them back, tearing the skin connecting the two fingers to the palm and disconnecting them from their socket.
"You've done your part. Cadigan's did his, though I have to admit....his behavioral tangent was quite comedic to watch. And as for you...." she continued, lifting his head up.
"You've led us to this moment, and now...."
Joon weakly stared behind her, to the globe of magical energy that the surrounding Necromorphs could not pierce. He tried to banish away all thought of his guilt. What he left Pinkie Pie was not her salvation, but if Celestia hadn't protected her with a shielding spell, he would have killed her. But it didn't matter. He hinted the outline of Pinkie's eyes, an audience to his execution, before the field simply disappeared, including its inhabitants.
"...time to make you a part of us" Anne simply put. Her red eyes glowed with an intensity as she started to walk away. All of a sudden a bat-like creature latched onto Joon's head. He struggled, but the the serrated blades impaed through his body pushed themselves further in, and Joon stopped himself before the momentum of his movement could have caused anymore internal damage.
A bony, narrow stinger popped up in Joon's vision. Taut with pent up energy, the creature clawing into his neck was prepared to introduce Joon to the rest of its bretheren.
Well at least...Pinkie didn't have to see this.
The stinger rammed down into Joon's skull, and by sheer coincidence, missed. The stinger instead plunged into his eye socket, and released its infant spore parasite into his brain.
Joon no longer felt his tremendous torment and his injuries. In fact he no longer showed any life signs at all, except for a few twitches.
But he wasn't exactly dead either.
"So....this is how it feels like to be dead."
Joon mused in the thought as he walked on a bright empty plain. And the fact that he was bare naked didn't bother him one bit. His present location made him forget about everything he left behind, and he didn't want to go back. Why should he return to a universe among the mortals, among the foolish, among the suffering?
But he wasn't alone. Faint shadows of human outlines existed in the celestial plains. Millions of them, their thoughts littering the empty environment with their noise pollution. And among them was a blue light, something that Joon just....knew. He had never seen something like it in his life, but he somehow had knowledge of it. And how, despite everything he had seen on Valor, he didn't need to know what it's exact identity was to feel....peaceful and safe. He knew that it would do no harm and its mere presence would ease his conscience. Clinging towards the aura of comfort seizing him, he took a step towards it as soon as he noticed its faint shimmer, and as he did, the infinite number of souls that had found residence in the clear plains faded away.
The blue light resonated closer to Joon, revealing a feminine human to be basking in the glorious hue. She appeared before him in the most familiar of forms. The one that he would have found himself the most comfortable around.
"Anne?" Joon questioned.
As if a multitude of voices, the figure answered back, "Diane Mercer is only the one of many. She is us, and we constitute her. Among us are the innocent, the merciful, the courageous, and the ideal. They have been chosen as you have been, Joon. The Old Ones....and the New. We accept them all."
"Wait, wait, wait. Who are the Old Ones? I feel like I heard them before, but..." Joon, for the first time he arrived in, well, Heaven, focused on his past life to experience in his memory what he deemed important to remember, but the environment's sensation of euphoria clouded his thoughts. He didn't want to remember. Why should he repent for things if he was already dead?
"...I can't remember."
"We, the Old Ones, are the humans before you. Ever since our creation, we have eluded the Universe's tendency for entrophy, and we have maintained such a peace with our Equine brothers and sisters, our Creations and our Teachers. In exchange for their teachings of magic, we educated them in return...of emotion. Of acceptance and love. And most importantly....friendship. But our mutual alliance was not eternal. Such a barrier against Chaos was not forever. Many had been corrupted, and had sought substenance through consumption and cruelty. Too many....too many had gone," the being reminisced with a downward glower.
But the being continued nevertheless, "So we had created the Marker. We had told the Equines to cast a Veil around their world. None would pass, none would escape. We told the Dual Matriarchs to maintain such a shield against Corruption and to never let down their guard. We knew their curiosity of the the outside would both pique and terrify them, but it was our desperate hope that such Darkness of the Universe would die off from consuming itself. The Marker, in your colloquial terms, was our life raft. It was our only hope against our own brothers and sisters. We would become one, so no other being would be able to harm us. One cannot bring violence and chaos upon another if he is alone."
"So...this is the Marker?" Joon asked.
"Indeed. But there are many levels to its structure. More than, concurrent with your knowledge, Heaven and Hell. And to be exact there are nearly 25 decillion different plains of existence in the Marker. This is only one of them, to clarify."
"And what would this level be?"
"...A purgatory of such, Limbo. Your culture has distinctly differentiated between the two ideals, but their essential concept is the same. It is a waiting room for what lies beyond."
"So...I'm really dead?"
She/It smiled, "That is the real question isn't it? Are we truly dead in the afterlife, if our souls are intertwined together then?"
"Uhhhh, I feel like that was rhetorical..."
"You are quite observant. Now-"
"But, back to the question. Am I really dead? Why the hell should I be in a waiting room if I've already been selected?"
The being gazed at him with curiosity, brushing away his bluntness. "Are you happy here? Have you experienced solace?"
"Yes, more than I've ever felt in years. Before....you, I mean her. Sorry you look a lot like Anne, and..." Joon drifted off, his eyes approaching the small object cradled in the being's arms. But it was no simple object. The small infant, covered in a blanket, silently cooed when it saw his face. It's father's face.
"Yes, she had joined us along with her mother. If you make Us whole, then you will enjoy their company for all of eternity. Now, are you happy here? Accept us, and care no more about mortality."
"What?" the being gasped.
"I'm honored, I really am. But I have a feeling that..." Joon looked again longingly at the small child. Can't I...just hold her? Just once? "...there's more than one option."
"You cannot return back. Corruption has consumed all of the human race. You have seen the effects of their own Marker, a ...thing of hubris that is against everything that we have stood for."
Suddenly, the figure of the being no longer glowed with a bluish aura, and reverted to a voice Joon would have died for to hear again.
This time, in Anne's voice, it pleaded, "Don't you wish to see me again. Us again? We miss you, and all you have to do is-"
"I can't do that!"
Joon stammered, "Everytime I look at you and the infant, I'm reminded of what I done. Even though this place is Limbo or whatever the hell it really is, I feel...not anxious. So imagine what sort of paradise Heaven would be. I....I don't deserve any of it. I don't deserve you!"
"I've forgiven you...We've forgiven you. Your child wishes to see you, embrace you."
"I...I left something behind. Something I needed to do."
"Whatever task you were given, forget it. Corruption would only tempt you, bait you!"
"But what about the Equines? What about Pinkie? I...can't....leave them to die while I'm enjoying literal paradise!"
Joon raked his hands through his hair. He sighed out, "I'm still alive aren't I?"
"Answer me, Diane!"
"...Yes. Barely. Corruption only takes mere moments to destroy the individual, the soul."
"I'm sorry. I really am. I think it would be better if you and the child about me. You both are better off without me," Joon slowly backed away. The atmosphere above started to echo heavenly cracks as parts of the sky were starting to dissolve away.
"You're brave, you know that? Stupid...but brave. I can't stop you. I know I can't. But just to make sure, you know that if you don't accept this oppurtunity...there are no second chances? You won't be able to come back."
"I won't be able to live with myself....or exist with myself if I don't do this. I'm sorry."
"Nothing to forgive if you didn't do anything wrong."
"But can I ask you something? Since, you know, there is a like a trillion of you in there."
Anne smiled, "Anything."
"Why did the Old Ones create Equines in the first place? They already had to power to create an entire species of intelligenct beings, so why need magic?"
"We once were...a rather pessimistic bunch. Equines are unnaturally cheery, as they were designed to be. No person ever deserves to be alone in such an empty Universe. And you've experienced why, also."
"Her. Pinkie Pie, I mean. She got you through what no human alone could have survived both physically and mentally. She kept you alive. She made you laugh. And Laughter is the most bravest thing that a being can do in a less-than-fortunate situation. It's a rebelliousness that pierces the most powerful of slience and oppression."
The world was crumbling apart, and right before Joon disappeared into wisps along with it, he said to himself while becoming enveloped in pure light,
Joon gasped for breath as his vision cleared. He was no longer in the world of warm, Elysian pleasure. Instead, it appeared he was impaled onto a cold metal floor, and missing quite a few digits. And an eye. He strangely did not feel pain from his wounds, though. Only a curious ache within his chest and skull, as if something was rearranging themselves inside his body, waiting for an oppurtunity to rip themselves out. The Necromorphs around him were confused. How could a human revive from death without resurrection nor indoctrination.
In the midst of their bewilderment, and his discomfort, Joon raised a ragged, bloodied hand. Two fingers were missing, so Joon could only squeeze down on the pressure switch of the det control in his grip with his pinkie and ring finger.
Joon could hardly breath. He felt as if his head was about to explode, as if there was something growing inside his body. But he banished aside such useless sensations. He no longer could feel, touch, taste, nor smell.
The last thing he would be able to see was a magnesium-white light of a fusion reactor implosion.
And his last thought? That his pinkie had saved him and every living being in the universe.
Three weeks later
"Pinkie! Open the door! I must say, we are quite worried about you! Pinkie?!"
"Rarity, leave her alone. Maybe she's sleeping."
"Twilight, I cannot stand by idle while one of our dear friends is in despairing recluse!"
"We all want her to go back to the regular Pinkie. Just give it time," Applejack wisely advised.
Twilight shouted through the door, "If you're in there Pinkie, Mrs. Cake put your meal outside the door. You can talk to us anytime. Just....please come out, ok?"
Five mares walked down the stairs of the SugarCube Corner's second floor, and paced below in the bakery.
Rainbow Dash asked out loud, "Why's she so down? Nopony's talking about what happened over there! Doesn't she remember anything?"
Fluttershy whispered, "Maybe she doesn't want to talk about it-"
"But we're her friends! She should be able to talk to us about everything!"
Twilight defensively returned, "Rainbow, leave it be. Whatever happened to Pinkie when she was teleported....she just needs time to deal with it."
Good. They're gone. Now, back to work.
Pinkie Pie reached her hooves in a tin tub of soap water, scrubbing a long cloth of white, black, and blue striped crisscrossing across the fabric. She hoped that it's original color would reveal themselves, but the blood, bile, and chemicals from everything it had survived through were too embedded in the cloth to be removed. Pinkie got most of them off, but it left the shemagh in a lightish-red hue with pronounced strips of electric blue, something that she imagined would offend Rarity to her basic psychological core. Pinkie Pie sadly smiled. That would be a silly venture....for another day.
She slumped towards a mane-dryer to dry the shemagh, which it did quite quickly. Pinkie looked at a mirror, and adorned herself with the shemagh around her neck, just like Joon had.
It complemented her eyes and her coat color well, thought she would rather place it for safe keeping in a closet or under her bed then expose it to the outside world. It was....all she had left of a friend.
Pinkie Pie swiped off her neck the shemagh with a sluggish hoof and hopped onto her bed with as little amount of energy as possible. Next to her bedside was a discarded carton that emblazoned "Discord's 99.8% Pure Chocolate Milk", which Pinkie had recently purchased when she discovered that Discord was freed for helping somehow with her rescue attempt. He was doing quite well, last she heard that he was creating his own brand of processed food, joke merchandise, and...his own autobiography (with pop-ups). But what was more important was a dented, cracked, and ruined helmet of carbon-fiber alloy and titanium next to it. The helmet wouldn't fit an Equine head, but Celestia said that it violently ejected through the MIRoR portal when she attempted to go back to where the ship that Joon called "Valor" was last located before the portal malfunctioned, again.
Where the helmet, in place of a human's eyes, would normally glow blue, the light/camera mechanism was cracked, and had shut down once it had disconnected with its power source, the main body of the RIG. The damage it encountered on its perilous battle aboard Valor was still there, a testament of what it's user had experienced and perished for.
She promised herself that she wouldn't get teary, but she just couldn't take any more grief for the day. She lay her head on a pillow, and lifted the helmet up to her face. It was an image she was once so scared of, so horrified to greet. But it became a symbol of something that meant everything to her. A friend.
She curled up around the helmet and closed her eyes. Right before her mind drifted away, she comtemplated for a while.
Maybe...maybe I should get out and talk to the Ol' Gang again? Joon would have wanted it. He said he wanted to meet them. So I guess tomorrow, I'll just have to meet them for him.
Pinkie Pie then quietly snored, her conscious mind arresting to a slow stop. In reality, she knew that she would never be able to see him again. But in her dreams....she dreamt of him. She dreamt that he would smile, and laugh, and dance in the tall grass. That he would be happy and endearing, and that she would be happy, too.
This was just a trough on a hill right? Sooner or later...
...you get to reach the top again.
Ponyville barely had any wind. The weather patrols took care of that easily, and the only turbulance that Equestria had was from the flutter of wings from passing pegasi or griffins. But the breath of a permanent spring wind blew along the curves of the open window on the second floor of Sugarcube Corner, almost alien in nature.
They were accompanied with whispers that sang as the wind met friction when they passed by obtrusive objects and buildings:
There are those that bequeath your name
And those that wish it dead in dirt
Don't ground your hoof into the gravel
You'll only get yourself hurt
But Heaven Found
Isn't always Paradise Lost
Keep your face always towards the sunshine
And shadows will fall behind you
For an eternal summer that will not fade
Prevent it from
The helmet's visual diodes lit up, struggling to emit a dying red light symbolizing either the near-death status of the user or its disconnection from the user's RIG. The audio system rebooted while emiting an automated message:
"Main RIG online. Life signs active. User in trackable vicinity...."
And the message continued, waiting for the arrival, or rather awakening, of its proper audience.
Well, this has been quite a journey. This started off as a side project, something that I felt would get down-voted like crazy.
But, to my surprise, it didn't.
I would first like to thank myself everyone that had kept up with this story. It started off a little rough, but I'm glad that people actually enjoyed this.
Second, I would like to thank the inspirations that persuaded me to start writing about Dead Space with their stories, I have a jar of dirt (who I'm totally jelly for getting more viewers than me though he has only uploaded one, single chapter and got featured, while I just completed the story) and AvatarOfShadow. Your stories were my inspiration, so thank you!
Third, If you guys have any questions, ask below.
And...that's it. I'm thinking of doing a collab with other peeps and ponies, but I guess I'll put My Little Behemoth back on the "Priority List", though I'm pretty sure that you guys don't want to read it anymore.
Oh well. Life goes on!