“Hello?! Hello! Does anyone copy? Command! Do you copy?!” a frantic, if slightly static-y voice calls out.
Jackson wakes up at the sound of someone’s voice in his radio and light streaming in through the cave entrance with the newly risen sun. But when it is not immediately repeated, the Sergeant decides he’s just hearing things, closing his eyes to go back to sleep.
“Can anyone hear me? This is attack chopper Delta-Two-Six, please respond! I need assistance here dammit!”
Startled awake again, Jackson, fumbles for his radio and answers the call…
“This is Sergeant Paul Jackson, USMC. I read you loud and clear, over!” Jackson replies to the person on the other line, happy and relieved to hear a new voice, but wondering why his Lieutenant hasn’t returned yet.
“Oh thank god! Listen, I need help… I’m a Cobra CPG [Copilot/Gunner] from the second attack squadron, got caught in the blast and must have been flung a long way! We’ve crashed in some forest, just came to and I need medical assistance. My pilot is unconscious and in bad shape, we need evac!” The copilot coughs a few times as he explains further that was in fact nearly nine miles from ground zero when the bomb went off scouting for a suspected Rebel outpost near the edge of a Russian forest, but the shock wave had still been strong enough to toss his old gunship around like a rag doll.
Despite the distress call, Jackson takes heart, hoping from the downed gunner’s report that if at least one friendly is around, there might be others and they might yet together find some answers as to where they are and how they got there. “Okay, I’m coming to get you! Just hold on!” he calls back into the radio, pulling his gear together.
“Wait… only you? Aren’t you going to call for search and rescue?” The confused and audibly woozy pilot asks.
Jackson hesitates slightly before answering. “Trust me… no one except me is coming to get you, now state your position.”
“Uh… I don’t know…” the pilot apologetically says, explaining his GPS is down and he’s got no electronic indication as to his location, forcing the sergeant to try and home in on the radio signal, which his EMP-resistant comm gear indicates as being somewhere north of his position. “Delta two-six, are there any landmarks you can give me as a bearing, over?”
The pilot looks at his compass and then squints weakly into the morning light. “I’m, uh… somewhere towards the north end of the forest! There’s… some sort of mountain just northeast of me, over!” he was finally able to discern, wondering why the woods looked nothing like the deserts of southern Iraq he’d been over before. There certainly weren’t any mountains in the area, either!
“North end, mountain to the northeast…” Jackson recites. “Okay, hang on… I’m coming for ya!”
With that, Jackson picks up his rifle and knife then sets out, just grateful his radio isn’t satellite-dependent, or he might have never heard the stricken pilot’s call…
He had just stepped outside when he hears a familiar sound right behind him, reminding him of his guest. “Mister… Jackson…?” the yellow pony with pink hair calls out tentatively.
“Fluttershy! Good morning… did you have a nice sleep?” Jackson asks the young mare as she rubs her eyes with her hoof. She focuses on him with some difficulty, but nods to the marine sergeant as a sign of ‘yes’.
“That’s great. Listen… I need you stay here while I go and get someone, okay?” he kneels down before her.
Looking equal parts interested and alarmed, the mare gathers herself and then asks a question in a very quiet voice, speaking so softly Jackson couldn’t make out what she was saying. Not understanding, he moves closer and asks her to repeat herself.
She gathers herself again. “C-can I… come with you?” he’s finally able to make out.
“What? No! No, you can’t…!” He shakes his head sharply. “You said it yourself, Fluttershy—it’s too dangerous out there for you to leave this cave!” the sergeant tells her gently, intending to leave her behind for her own safety. But the bashful pegasus keeps insisting she come along.
Gentle persuasion failing, he tries logic. “Fluttershy… you’re injured, and can still barely walk. You have to stay,” Jackson tries to reason with her.
But for being so shy, the mare is surprisingly consistent. “I have wings… so I won’t have to walk. Besides, you don’t know the forest well, like I do. You helped me, and a friend of yourself is in trouble. I want to help you!” she says in a stronger voice, as if rediscovering her convictions.
That gives Jackson some pause. It’s true, he doesn’t know the forest but she does, and as he thinks about it, he decides she would actually be safer with him than alone in the cave where forest creatures could corner her.
His decision made, he nods. “Okay, you can come, but stick close! And if there’s trouble, you stay behind me, okay?” he waits for her nod before moving out. Jackson really doesn’t want to endanger her but what can he do? The yellow mare flaps her wings and floats to him smiling, leaving him marveling that she actually can fly as they go on the rescue mission.
As they walk, Jackson briefs Fluttershy on what they were about to do and how they are going to get out if any trouble comes along.
“Listen carefully Fluttershy, Were going to help some of my kind out in trouble. There’s a downed chopper pilot somewhere northeast of here and we need to help him. It sounded like he and his copilot were wounded, so we better move fast, understand?”
Though a bit confused at what Jackson just said, Fluttershy agrees… and obeys Jackson’s request for her to fly up over the treeline, heading northeast to find any signs of smoke or fire.
True to her new friend’s instructions, as soon as she cleared the treetops she could see a plume of smoke near the base of the mountain, coming from what she could only describe as a very large, strange and misshapen bird. She goes back down and tells Jackson of the strange sight near the edge of the forest, leading him to the crash site.
By the time they arrive they find the pilot waiting for them, having pulled himself free of the wreckage and trying to tend the injuries of the copilot, who was carried out by the pilot and sitting with him under a tree.
The sergeant went up and offers his hand to the visibly battered Cobra pilot. “I’m Sergeant Paul Jackson of the USMC 1st Force Recon, What’s your I.D?”
He shook his hand somewhat weakly. “I’m Corporal John Hanks and this is Major Andrew Wallace of the 2nd Attack Squadron,” he introduces himself and his commander in turn.
“Is he still breathing?” the sergeant motions down at the stricken pilot.
“Yes sir, he is… but I think he’s lost a lot of blood, and I’m not in great shape either,” he grimaces. “We need to get him evaced to a base… is there one near here?”
Jackson hesitates again. “I’m afraid not, Corporal.”
The copilot looks up at him in confusion. “You said that before. But why not~” John’s voice trails off as he looks at Jackson’s side where he beholds… the most outlandish but beautiful hallucination he’s ever seen; a bright-yellow winged pony with pink hair and large teal eyes.
“Um… sir… I may be seeing things…” John points to his right with a shaky hand, right at Fluttershy, who is staring at him with a mixture of compassion and worry.
The sergeant glances back at her and grins. “You’re not hallucinating, Corporal. She’s real…”
“Hello. I’m Fluttershy,” the strange pony-like creature speaks and hovers closer, sending his already reeling mind spinning further in circles—a winged equine is flying and speaking to him! “Um… are you okay?” she asks in deep concern.
John goes pale at the realization that that what he’s seeing is real; even the Sergeant is talking to it! “I, uh…” he barely stammers, suddenly wondering if he’s dreaming or dead.
Jackson reads his mind, having already experienced the same reaction. “You’re not insane, Corporal. She’s there. I can’t explain it, but she’s real.” Turning away from the stunned pilot, Jackson addressed the yellow mare. “Fluttershy, do you still know where your house is?” Jackson asks the mare, who nods.
“Oh, y-yes… it’s just over this hill and little walk after that,” she promises, offering to lead them there and treat their wounds herself, claiming she’s an animal caretaker and knows first-aid.
Jackson nods, then turns back to the dazed pilot and snaps him out of it by shaking him in his flight suit.
“Look, I know it’s crazy, and I don’t get it either. But wherever we are, if you don’t want the Major to die I suggest you carry him now and come with us. I’ll explain everything on the way, now MOVE!” he gave the lower ranked NCO a shove that indicated he was running out of patience, and his pilot out of time.
The copilot snaps back into reality and numbly carries the Major as they follow the brightly-colored Pegasus mare to her home. The cobra copilot is hurt but perseveres; he hasn’t survived Marine basic and several months of combat culminating in a nuke strike to buckle under the weight of his pilot.
While they walk, taking frequent breaks for the copilot to rest, Jackson thinks about their predicament. Never mind how he and Vasquez had originally arrived, how did additional people keep ending up here? He also still isn’t entirely convinced this isn’t some dream or elaborate trick played by the Russian rebels—was it possible they also been hit by some hallucinogenic gas attack in addition to the nuke? But for now, hallucinations or no, he decides he might as well play along.
They walked for half an hour as the weakened pilot struggles to carry the Major and were left lagging behind.
“Sergeant! Can you take over? I can’t carry him anymore!” John, who was completely worn out, stops and puts the major’s dead weight down, taking a second to catch his breath.
Jackson shook his head sharply. “We don’t dare stop now, corporal—you don’t want to see what’s lurking in this forest, trust me,” he answers, but agrees to the swap. He slings the major over his shoulder, passing his M4A1 to the corporal and letting him take point. All Marines are trained first and foremost as a rifleman, after all, so he knows the copilot can handle it.
As they continue on, following Fluttershy who flies a little ways ahead, John talks about her with Jackson…
“So, she’s what, a Pegasus? I thought they were Greek mythology?” John asked, still staring in wonder at her brightly-colored flying form.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought. Until we met her.”
“Yes, Me and Lt. Vasquez.”
Upon saying his name Jackson was caught short, realizing in all the hurry, his sudden rousting and desire to rescue the downed pilots, he had completely forgot about the L-T.
“Shit, I forgot he hadn’t returned yet! Didn’t even leave him a note! Goddamn it I knew I was forgetting something!” Jackson lurches forward and continues to walk.
Let’s bring him to her house first… Then we’ll go~” Before he could even continues Fluttershy screams as a monstrous creature jumps out and roars.
“What the fuck is that?! Is that a lion?!” John asks frantically Jackson, leveling his borrowed rifle as the sergeant hastily put the major down and drew his sidearm, some part of his mind noting the big leonine-like beast also had bat wings and a scorpion tail.
“That’s not a lion… That’s a Manticore!” Fluttershy corrected them, then to their shock, flew up and interposed herself between it and their weapons. “No! don’t hurt it! You don’t have to…” she promised. “Just let me…” she got on the ground and began to approach it cautiously.
Jackson and the corporal couldn’t believe what they were seeing. “Fluttershy! Get out of the way!” he told her but she shook her head and took flight again, planting herself in front of the monstrous creature.
“It’s all right… there, there…” she calls to the beast, and to the human duo’s shock, the beast seems to focus on her instead of the two marines. It dwarfs her in size, and yet she’s completely unafraid, in marked contrast to her earlier shyness. “Oh! But you shouldn’t be going around scaring other ponies like that,” she tells it like she’s addressing a young child or a pet. “I can tell you got up all grumpy this morning because of all the noise and strange creatures around. But it’s okay… just sleep now…” she all but coos to it, and as the pair watch the lion-like creature fall to its knees, its eyes fluttering.
“Hush now, quiet now it’s time to sleep you sleepyhead…” they just made out her singing as the beast’s head lolls once and it finally curls up on its side, rumbling happily as Fluttershy rubs its belly.
“Okay… we can go now…” she turns back to them, satisfied.
“Uh… right… a newly-stunned Jackson acknowledges, lowering his weapon, in disbelief at what he’s just witnessed but eternally glad for it—he didn’t even want to think about what would have happened if they tried to shoot the large beast, for as much punishment as it might have been able to take… or dish out. “You go ahead with her, Corporal. I still have to find the L-T.” He gives the Major back to John, trading him for his rifle and giving the Corporal his sidearm.
“S-sir?” he says, a little shakily. “I d-don’t know if I can…”
“It’s not much further,” she promises them. “The exit to the forest is up ahead, and my cottage is just beyond it. We’ll be there soon.”
“In that case… I’ll get him there, then I’m setting back out again,” the Sergeant decides. Within a minute, they reach the exit, and just as she said, her cottage is in sight, just fifty yards past the forest perimeter.
Once they get inside—there are many small-to-midsized animals there, though most take one look at the strange creatures and immediately hide, exception one white bunny who gives them suspicious looks—Jackson lays the Major out on a couch that Fluttershy points him too, accepts some fruit and a refill on his canteen, then immediately sets out again.
“Just stay with her… hopefully you’ll be safe there. I’ll catch up as soon as I can…” he tells Corporal Hanks, giving him his sidearm and magazines just in case. He then plunges back into the forest despite Fluttershy’s protestations, overcoming them by telling her that she can best help him by taking care of his friends.
I’m coming, L-T… he silently promises as he reaches the forest entrance again. Just hold on…