“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 pilot from the second attack squadron, got caught in the blast and must have been flung a long way! I’ve crashed in some forest, just came to and I need serious assistance. My co-pilot is unconscious and in bad shape, we need evac!” The pilot 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, deciding from the downed pilot’s report that he and the L-T were likely in the same Russian forest and if so, they might still get out of this crazy place! Then again, that still doesn’t make sense… he immediately realizes, knowing that he and Vasquez crashed in the city not the forest...
Questions for later, he decides. “Okay, I’m coming to get you hold on!” He calls back, pulling his gear together.
“Wait… only you? Aren't you going to get back up? 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 evergreen forests of Russia he’d been over before. He didn’t remember any mountains, 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 of his radio wasn’t satellite-dependent, or he might 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.
“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.
He shakes his head sharply. “No you can’t... you said it yourself; 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.
“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--she would actually be safer with him than alone in the cave where any forest creature 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 her to hurt herself but what can he do? The yellow mare flaps her wings and floats to him smiling, leaving him marveling that she can actually 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... A downed Cobra Pilot is somewhere in 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 thick 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, right in 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. We need to get him evaced to a base.. is there one near here?”
Jackson hesitates again. “I’m afraid not, Corporal.”
The copilot looked 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, sending his already reeling mind spinning further in circles. “Um… are you okay?” she asks in deep concern.
John went pale at the realization that that what he’s seeing is real; even the Sergeant is talking to it!
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, saying 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 where ever 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.
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 does sling the major over his shoulder, passing his M4A1 to the corporal and letting him take point. All marines are trained first and foremost as 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.
“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 screamed as a lion-like creature jumps out.
“What the heck is that?! Is that a lion?!” John frantically asked Jackson, leveling his borrowed rifle as the sergeant hastily put the major down and drew his sidearm.
“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,
Jackson took out his M16A4 Assault Rifle and fires at the beast.. The bullets went through but barely did any damage, He continues to fire putting every single bullet in his rifle through the beast. When he was about to reload, The Manticore lunges up and pounced at him knocking his rifle off his hands, He tried to bring out his Beretta but it was stuck in his holster. The Manticore lifts his paw and was about to claw Jackson when the pilot threw a grenade to the Manticore’s mouth, Jackson crawled out of the way before the head of the Manticore blows up. As chunks of brain and flesh fell down on top of Jackson, the pilot helped him up. Jackson was covered in blood and brain bits, but thankful to be alive.
“Hey! Where did you get a grenade? You’re a pilot I thought you’re not supposed to bring a grenade?”
Jackson knew he committed a violation of Air Force Rules. But in reality he didn't mind, he just wanted to know why.
“For emergency purposes, sir” He said while looking through his eyes.
“Emergency, huh? Damn, right using it on an emergency” He said Picking up the major again.
“You go ahead Corporal. I still have to find someone” He gives the Major back to John and went to pick up his rifle.
“Here, take it. You know how to use it don't you?” Jackson hands his Rifle to John, and gladly took it...
“Just follow her... I’ll catch up as soon as I can” John nods as Jackson went off towards the forest…