“Didn’t you try talking to him?!” Celestia queried as the two princesses trotted up the front steps of the large black monolith that served as the dungeon.
“I did try! But he seems to be having a bit of a breakdown and I don’t think he’s listening to me. I barely convinced Aegis not to sic the guards on him… At least not until we get back.”
“He didn’t get out, did he?” Celestia asked, dread coloring her tone.
Luna let out an exhausted sigh. “Not yet, no. But he’s certainly giving it his best attempt.”
Several sharp ringing noises echoed between the walls and intensified as they approached. They rounded a corner and found thirty guards stacked on both sides of the cell door, awaiting the order to enter. The soldier pony’s faces bore hardened resolve, but Celestia could easily see the fear in the guards' eyes. They knew full well that at any moment they may have to charge in and subdue the intimidating creature. The furious din resounded from the cell; it sounded like a hammer smacking a steel anvil. Each strike was accompanied by a bright flash of white light, clearly visible through an open metal window in the door. The racket was muffled yet still loud enough to make Celestia’s ears hurt. Each crack rang out at intervals of a few seconds, pausing occasionally for a moment before resuming relentlessly.
The Commander spotted the two new arrivals and trotted over to them.
“What happened?” Celestia shouted over the noise.
The Commander shook his head. “We were doing what you told us. We were arranging for him to stay here tonight. At first he just sat there and watched us, but then… he just started…laughing like a madcolt, and started trying to break down that barrier.” He shook his head again. “He’s lost it, your highness. We tried to talk him down but…” He swung out his forelegs, defeated. “He wouldn’t listen to Princess Luna, He won’t listen to us. I would like permission to send in the guards and have him restrained before he hurts somepony.”
“No! Don’t send any more guards in. If you rush him he’s just going to assume he’s under attack and he could become violent again.”
“Become violent? Princess, he’s violent now!”
“I can talk him down. He’s just scared. He’s also probably in shock. Just open the door and I can get him back under control.”
“Yeah, I can get him under control too…with some chains and a heavy sedative. Plus MY option doesn’t involve tossing our Princesses in a cell with a rabid animal.”
“He isn’t an animal, Commander. Inside, he’s just like you or me. He has hopes and fears, and he definitely isn’t rabid.”
Celestia walked over and peered through the small window. The alien was too preoccupied smashing a steel chair against the barrier to notice. Each blow sharply cracked with a bright flash. Celestia turned to Aegis with a slightly annoyed look. “Who gave him the chair?”
“It’s a chair! I didn’t think he’d try and use it as a weapon!” the Commander defended.
“I think, for future reference, we need to assume that anything we put in his hooves, he’s going to try to use as a weapon. But I have to agree with Aegis, I didn’t foresee the chair thing becoming a problem,” Luna piped up.
Celestia rubbed the side of her head with a hoof, attempting he alleviate the inevitable headache growing behind her eyes. She took a deep breath. “Alright, I’m going in.”
The commander begrudgingly began to open the cell door as Celestia contemplated how best to console a distressed trans-dimensional being. No ideas came to mind.
Luna trotted up to Celestia’s side and waited expectantly. Celestia looked down at her sister, amused. “Coming?”
“Indeed! This is a grand opportunity to study distress levels and possibly help us understand his emotional responses.”
The door began its slow inward glide. The ringing paused. When the gap was big enough, Celestia slid inside, followed closely by Luna. The creature lowered his chair and took a look at the new arrivals. He had shed his camouflaged outer blouse in favor of the olive drab t-shirt beneath it. The shirt was dotted with bloodstains and its fabric was torn in several places, presumably from shattered glass. His eyes flicked from Celestia and Luna to the door. Luna followed his gaze and quickly moved to block the exit. The creature merely chuckled, shook his head, hefted the chair behind his head and swung it into the barrier.
Luna raised a wing to shield her eyes from the flare of light, but the steel pang still made her ears hurt.
“Shane,” Celestia began tentatively. “Are you alright?”
He stopped in mid swing, lowered the chair and pointed a finger at Celestia. “I think I figured it out!” He said excitedly.
“That’s wonderful. How about you set down the chair, and tell me exactly what it is you’ve figured out.”
He let the chair fall. It landed with a thud against the padded floor. “Everything! This explains everything!” His lips curved into a desperate grin.
“Do share.” Celestia said trying to maintain a calm tone.
He threw his arms out to either side. “I’m dead!” he stated as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. “I’ve been dead this whole time! It all makes sense.”
“That makes…no sense… at all.” Luna corrected.
“It does! I’m dead… and this is hell.” He looked around the room distastefully.
Celestia tried not to take the analogy personally.
“Major Doran, you aren’t dead.”
“Nope. Dead. I’m in hell. God is pissed off because I never went to church…also probably because of that whole…war thing,” he said, somewhat to himself.
“Yes, and now I’m in hell, and for some reason my punishment is to be eternally tormented by childhood fantasy creatures...you are all the manifestation of some repressed childhood memories that probably have everything to do with my mother.”
Luna raised her head toward Celestia and whispered in her ear, “I think Aegis was right, he may have lost it.”
“He’s in denial, he’ll snap out of it,” Celestia assured her. “You aren’t dead, Major. We spent a lot of time ensuring that.”
“I have to be.” He let out a sad, humorless chuckle. “There’s no other way it could be this fucked up.”
“I know this isn’t easy for you, but you can’t run from this. You are very much alive, and you know it. It might not be what you wanted, but this is how it turned out.” Shane stopped and stared into Celestia’s eyes, a pained look on his face. “I’m sorry, Shane. I truly am, but you were given a second chance. Fate, destiny, dumb luck, call it what you will-”
“No! I can’t be alive. This can’t be real!” His voice grew more and more desperate as he tried frantically to deny the truth.
“It IS real, Major Doran, accept it!”
“No No No No! I can’t let this happen!!” He began to pace, eyes wide in panic.
“It HAS happened. I know this is tough to swallow but this is real and you know that. We are running low on time, Major. I can not protect you forever. I may be sympathetic to your situation but trust me there are those of us that won’t be. I can help you.”
He gave no inclination of having paid any attention to what she was saying. He was pacing the perimeter or the cell, looking for any means of escape, frantically scouring the walls with his eyes. His pacing only seemed to heighten his anxiety. “I want out,” he stated plainly. “I have to get out!” His tone shifted to desperate panic.
“Calm down, Shane. Listen to me, you can’t-”
“NO! I’m done! I wanna go home!” He bent down and picked up the chair. He reared it back and smashed it into the barrier in front of him.
“Shane! Stop!” Celestia commanded in an unnaturally loud voice. “You need to calm down!”
He ignored her and continued smashing the steel piece of furniture into the glowing wall. A razor thin crack sheared through the wall. Each additional blow spread it further. Shane saw this and began to beat into the wall with renewed vigor.
“Shane you can’t just leave!”
“Watch me,” he seethed. “I’m SICK of this SHIT! I. WANT. TO. GO . HOME!” He punctuated each word with a blow to the barrier, which was now spider webbed with cracks and pulsating violently.
With the barrier on the verge of collapse, Celestia spread her wings and readied herself. If force was all he could understand, so be it.
He raised the chair back one more time, intending to deliver the final strike...
“STOP!” A new voice echoed in the tiny room, a voice that rarely raised above a whisper. Celestia had to turn to see it for herself, to confirm the voice’s owner. A small yellow pegasus stood in the doorway, eyes wide and wings spread.
Alarm sounded in Celestia’s head. She was about to protest the little ponies presence. But Luna tapped Celestia on the side. Celestia looked to her little sister, who was busy watching the creature with a small smile on her face. Celestia followed her gaze to the alien.
His chair was stopped mid-swing and he stood frozen in place, staring intently at Fluttershy with a mixture of fascination and terror. Celestia flicked back and forth between Fluttershy and the alien. It took her a moment to realize what exactly was going on. She remembered Twilight Sparkle mentioning this strange phenomenon in a few of her letters. They called it The Stare. Brutal mental dominance was an odd talent for such a shy, innocent young girl; Celestia had never seen a power like it. This was the first time she witnessed its use first hoof.
Fluttershy focused, unblinking with a determination in her gaze dangerously out of character for the demure pegasus. “Put it down,” she ordered. Celestia eagerly turned back to see if he would comply.
The muscles in his arms shook slightly, and his one eye twitched, but his fingers slowly uncurled from around the back of the chair and it fell to the floor with a soft thud.
“Good,” Fluttershy continued, a satisfied flavor in her voice, “have a seat.”
He didn’t respond to this demand as easily. He continued to stand, muscles twitching. His head turned, trying desperately to break eye contact. But no matter which way he held his head he couldn’t seem to sever her line of sight. He struggled, jaws clenched and sweat beading his forehead. Fluttershy noted his attempts to rebuff the effects of her stare. She stormed past the doorway, into the room and directly up to edge of the cracked, glowing wall. Her eyes nearly doubled in size as she bore the full brunt of her control upon him.
“Sit,” she repeated.
This time he obeyed without hesitation, falling back onto his rear with his two legs spread out into a V in front of him. He was sweating profusely and the veins in his neck and arms stood in relief against his skin.
Fascinated, Celestia and Luna watched the mental exchange, amazed at the ease with which the mouse had commanded the lion. Celestia was astonished. This creature had resisted some of the most complex and powerful magic known to ponydom, and here he was, brought to heel by the sheer willpower of a small pegasus.
“Good, boy,” Fluttershy praised. Celestia thought she saw the corners of his mouth lift ever so slightly into confused smile. Celestia let the pegasus control the alien for a few moments longer than she probably should have. She was grateful for the brief respite. It gave her the precious seconds she needed to collect her thoughts. She also hated to admit she felt a dark satisfaction from the sight. Aside from the delicious irony, she now had a definitive weapon to use against the thing should he choose to misbehave again. There was still the question of exactly how Fluttershy was able to get past the guards in the first place, but that could be addressed later.
Fluttershy hovered over the clearly petrified alien and exerted a level of dominance over the creature that caused Celestia to actually feel bad for him for a moment, and judging by the veins bulging in his neck and the random twitching of muscles, she needed to stop Fluttershy’s stare before she caused him permanent damage. Not that Fluttershy would ever intentionally bring harm to any living creature, but it was impossible to predict what manner of effect the stare could be having on its alien psyche.
“Luna,” she started.
“I’m on it,” her sister replied, anticipating the request. Luna stepped forward and her horn glowed softly. Fluttershy was wrapped in a shimmering blue cloud of magic and with an inaudible “eeep,” she was whisked out of the room. The Night Princess followed the floating pony and shut the door behind her, sealing Celestia inside. Celestia wasn’t concerned, if she so desired she could merely rip the door from its frame.
The moment Fluttershy was out of sight he sucked in air, filling his lungs as if he had been holding his breath the entire time. He scooted away from the door as fast as his legs could push, until he hit the back wall of the room. He tried to push himself through the wall, all the while gasping for air. He rubbed at his eyes vigorously, attempting to scrub out Fluttershy’s influence. Once his more violent convulsions ceased, he contented himself by hugging his legs close to his chest and resting his chin on his knees, and blinking excessively.
“Are you going to be alright?” Celestia started, slightly concerned.
He didn’t respond. He merely focused on blinking and twitching his eyes.
“Shane?” she began again, taking a tentative step forward. He started, surprised, as if he forgot all about Celestia.
“I’m sorry about that, but you left me little choice.” Celestia pretended the coincidence of Fluttershy’s sudden arrival was intentional; sometimes maintaining the illusion of control was just as important as actually having it. If she could convince the beast that she had the ability to use Fluttershy against him at any moment she might be able to discourage any further misbehavior.
He finally spoke through gritted teeth, squeezing his head between his hands. “What the fuck did you do?! It... I couldn’t…think.”
“They call it The Stare.”
He ran his hands through his short mane, a few times, before sucking in a large breath of air. “This IS real…isn’t it?” he asked sadly, finally looking up to Celestia for an answer. He calmed down as the reality of his situation sank in.
Celestia felt a pang of genuine pity. For all the trouble he had caused her, given the sheer magnitude of his predicament, one could hardly expect him to accept it without conflict. “I’m afraid so.” She answered, as sympathetically as she could.
He took a moment before speaking again, before he said tersely, “That sucks,” as if the words summed up the entire situation.
“I’m sorry,” was all she could think to say. She wondered where Luna had wandered off to after disarming Fluttershy. It was not like her to miss out on a rare opportunity such as this.
“Why me?!” he posed, shaking his head, trying desperately to refute Celestia’s words. “Why should I have to live?! Why did they all die and I didn’t?! Any one of them deserves life more than me!” Celestia didn’t have an answer. “If this is real it… how can it be? …It doesn’t make sense.”
“Any of this,” he slashed a hand through the air. “How is it possible that I’m here? This shouldn’t be…doable.”
“You are referring to the fact that you are now occupying a new universe?”
“Yes. I mean… there are like… rules...rules which cannot be broken, ever. Conservation of Matter for example. ‘Matter can not be created or destroyed.’ Does that even apply in this place?” He gestured to the world in general.
Celestia nodded. “Of course.”
“And that rule is impossible to break, yes?”
“Then how were we able to leave our universe? How did all that stuff; the ship, the equipment, ourselves, leave the closed system that is, our universe?”
“I fail to see how the rule has been broken in this scenario.”
He stared at her with a blank expression, disappointed that she had not caught on to his implication. “We removed matter from our universe.”
“So we broke the rule.”
“The rule forbids destroying or creating matter. You did neither of those things. You simply moved matter from one spot to another.”
“But we took it out of our universe.”
Celestia tried to think of a way to explain. “Think of it like two rivers. One river is ‘your’ universe, the other, is mine.” He was a bit perplexed by the sudden analogy, but waited patiently for her to continue. “If I were to pluck a pebble from the bed of your river, and toss it into my river, do you think that because I removed matter from one river and added it to another, realities will cease to exist?”
“But for this to be possible both ‘rivers’ would have to be a part of the same system. They would have to both need to be….like…”
“…smaller parts to a larger whole.” Celestia finished for him.
“Yes. But they aren’t. Our universe has closed boundaries that nothing enters or leaves.”
“For a species so advanced your vision is still quite narrow.”
“This has been our understanding for about two hundred thousand years. Excuse me Princess if I’m having a little trouble letting go!” he replied hotly.
Celestia noted the number with interest, adding the age of his species to the very tiny library of information she had on the creature. “Try not to think of it in terms of boundaries and limits, but try instead thinking in terms of ‘what is’ and ‘what is not.'” His only response was a blank, slightly annoyed, stare. “Widen your stance, expand your vision. Existence does not end within the confines of any one reality. Your transition was but a drop in an infinite ocean. You have not left in the traditional sense, merely relocated yourselves. Nothing you, or anypony else, can do will ever halt the inexorable flow of time. Yes, your presence here has and will continue to change the flow and direction of this ‘river’ but you will never stop it.”
“How can you know this? How can anyone know that?”
“I know it, because I am connected to this world in ways no others are. I can not explain it more than that. You will have to accept that on faith.” He sarcastically snorted. As if faith was the last thing he would be giving to Celestia. She continued anyway. “You know it, because you are here speaking to me now. You are the living proof that negates the structure you so desperately cling to. Why do you deny the truth when it presents itself?”
“I don’t know,” He rubbed his face with his hands in a tired fashion, “I’m not an astrophysicist.”
“What are you?”
He looked up at her, wearing an amused smile, as if it had become a game to see how long it would take her to finally ask. “I’m a lot of things.”
“Are you any one thing more than the others?”
“Yes, but given our current standing I’ll assume you aren’t interested some of the more subtle formalities of my person.” Celestia was amused by his sudden shift to eloquence but allowed him to continue without comment. “What do you want to know?”
“How about your species.”
“Human. ‘Homo Sapiens Sapiens’ if you wanna get fancy.”
“Where are you from?”
“Personally? Kentucky. But that probably doesn’t mean much to you, so suffice to say I’m from a little blue planet not all that different from this one.”
“How did you end up here?”
“Mostly, I don’t know. What I do know is classified.”
Celestia was scarcely satisfied with the answer, “I think this is hardly the time for secrets, Major Doran. We deserve to know what exactly we are dealing with.”
“I agree. But I still can’t reveal mission critical information to a foreign government.”
“I’m just trying to do what is best for both of us.”
“What was ‘best’ would have been letting me die with my men and ending it there,” he retorted bitterly.
“Shane …I’m sorry for your losses, I truly am. And believe me this is not how I wanted this to go. But we did the best we could with the time we were given, and we will do our best to help you, but we need your cooperation here. You need to let us help you. We are not your enemies.”
He looked up at Celestia suspiciously, attempting to figure what she was all about. “Alright, what do you want?
Celestia was slightly taken aback. “What do you mean?”
“No one just wants to help. What do you want out of this? You’re going to offer to help get me home, and then conveniently make a few demands, yes? So what do you want? Weapons? Tech? I imagine you’ve already seized the ship and all my shit. So what else do you want from me?”
The direction he was taking the conversation was disturbing Celestia. He had severe trust issues, and whether that was due to his nature as a species or it was an acquired behavior was impossible to tell. It seemed that the more she spoke to him, the more questions she accrued. “Why is that so difficult for you to believe?”
He didn’t have an answer; in fact, Celestia’s challenge seemed to have stopped him in his tracks, confusing him on a primal level. Celestia noticed his confusion and took note of it with interest.
Rather than answer Celestia, he stood up and went over to a cot that one of the guards brought in before his outburst. The cot was too small for him, but it was the best they could find on such short notice. He picked up the cluster of silver necklaces that rested on top of the green canvass. Shane stared at the collection of silver tags, with defeated look in his eyes. “I shouldn’t be here. I shouldn’t even be alive.” He paused and withdrew slightly. “You know what the fucked up, ironic truth is?” It was obviously a rhetorical question, so Celestia waited silently for him to continue. “It was my job to keep them safe.”
“You feel guilty for having survived?” She had anticipated this as a possibility. Although, before today, she wasn’t even sure he experienced emotions the way ponies did. A subtle nod was his only reply. “Was this incident caused by some fault of yours?” Celestia was trying to be gentle with her words, but she needed to know.
He locked her bright pink eyes with his marble blue ones. “No.”
“Then know that there was nothing you could have done. Nopony could have expected to survive that, it is foolish to think otherwise. I doubt the knowledge will bring you any happiness, but if what you say is true then I hope you understand that this outcome was unavoidable. It was a tragic accident, but it was an accident you could do nothing to prevent.” He put on the same expressionless mask she knew concealed any emotion he might be feeling. “Mourn their loss, honor their memories, but do not fault yourself for their deaths. It is a terrible trap to fall into, one that all too often ensnares those burdened with the sorrows of survival.”
He was quiet for a small span as he studied Celestia, once again reforming his concept of the Princess. “Who did you lose?”
After a brief instant of surprise Celestia gave him a sad smile. She wondered if she had really been so obvious with her speech, or if this creature was also painfully familiar with the heartaches of loss. “I’ve had the misfortune of outliving many friends.” Her voice remained calm, but she felt sad nostalgia. Yet she resisted the urge to reminisce on things lost. She found long ago that living the past was a terrible habit to fall into, one not easily broken.
“I’m sorry.” He said, surprising Celestia slightly. Sympathy was a new trick for him.
“The curse of longevity, I’m afraid,” she said, smiling sadly. After a moment’s indecision, his own lips cracked into a small shadow of a smile.
She could tell he yearned to press her for an explanation but, to his credit, he held his tongue. Celestia was happy to have finally established a dialogue with the creature. Even if the topic was rather grim, at least she had her hoof in the door, metaphorically speaking.
Although now that she was openly conversing, she found she couldn’t really think of anything to say. And so the silence grew. He didn’t seem to mind the quiet. He was obviously lost in his own thoughts.
“What happens now?” He finally elected to breach the stillness.
Celestia took a deep breath before answering. “Well, that depends a great deal upon you.”
“I hate to disagree with you, but I don’t seem to be in the best of bargaining positions to begin calling shots. As far as I’m concerned, it’s your move, Princess.”
“And therein, lies our problem,” she began to slowly pace back and forth along the barrier’s cracked surface. His head swiveled on his shoulders, following her movements with practiced precision. “I’m afraid I can’t ‘make a move’ without knowing for certain that you are, in no way, a threat to any of my subjects.”
“And you think that I am,” he said, in what Celestia would have sworn was pleased tone.
Celestia chose her words with care, “I do not believe that is your intent. However, you must understand that your mere presence here, if not managed delicately, could prove disastrous. Ideally, I would like to move you out of the dungeon and placed under our protective care.”
“Implying I’m the one that needs protecting.” he said with an amused grin. “You seem to be placing an unusual amount of faith in my continued...pacific...attitude. How do you know you can trust me on my word alone?”
“Can’t I?” she posed with a wry smile.
“Fraid’ I can’t answer that for you. Whom you decide to trust is a choice for you alone to make.”
“But that choice will affect us both.”
“True, but at the end of the day, you’re the one with the guards and the guns, which means you call the shots.”
“We can work together to try and get you home, Major. I would like to help you, but you’re going to have to meet me half way. This is not my decision alone. This is a bridge we both must cross. Your commitment to duty is admirable, but you must understand that, as the only surviving member of your species, the responsibility of action falls to you.”
He was silent for a long moment. Celestia soon feared he wasn’t going to answer. But he relented and said, “Alright, Princess. This is what I can do.” He mustered as diplomatic a voice as he could. “In hopes of furthering mutually beneficial goals, I will hereby temporarily cease all unprovoked hostile actions on behalf of myself, and these United States Marine Corps, with the Sovereign State of….”
“…Equestria, until an official agreement can be reached on an armistice.”
“Wonderful.” Celestia beamed. She neglected to point out that they were never technically at war, and that he was technically more of a refugee than a foreign diplomat. But it was an enormous leap in progress. “And you will agree to be placed under our protective care?” She wondered if she was pressing her luck.
“Do I have a choice?”
“Then I guess I do,” he deadpanned, his face looking like he’d bitten something unpleasant.
Celestia’s smile widened. It was less than she hoped for, but more than she expected. She was however disappointed Luna had missed out on the historic moment.
“So…Seeing as we’ve reached the political equivalent of ‘I’ll stop if you stop’ what happens now?” He asked, sounding very cynical about the arrangement.
“Now, it is very late. I have matters that must be attended to. Rest, Major Doran. You have had a busy day, and tomorrow will certainly be busier still. We shall do our best to accommodate your needs. I will leave you in peace for a few hours. Try and sleep, if you can.” Celestia turned toward the door. She tapped on it with her forehoof, and the mechanisms that held it shut audibly moved out of place as it was opened from the outside. She looked back over her shoulder. “Oh… and, Shane?”
He lifted his head to meet her gaze but didn’t respond.
Celestia reached back with her rear leg and tapped the barrier with her golden shod hoof. With that final hit, the cracks in the transparent wall finally won over and the wall shattered in a brilliant display of golden sparks, which fell to the floor and dissipated seemingly into thin air. “Welcome to Equestria.”