Chapter V: A Place to Die
Since the attack, we started sending anypony not willing to fight straight to Equestria. It halted the transformation process, but the only humans awaiting transformation were the leaders and the soldiers. We could only send five ponies in 24 hours at first, but we found a way to cool down the chip to stretch it to six. Celestia had her hooves full with all the new citizens coming in at random into the castle, but she still managed to send a visual message to us.
“Good day, humans and ponies,” The message had said, Celestia watching in real time as we gathered, “I am happy to say that your inclusion into our world is turning out very successful, and I cannot wait to meet the rest of you. My faithful student, Twilight, has told me all about the bravery and sacrifice you have all displayed in the past few weeks. I am sorry to hear of the loss of one of your people, but I rest confident in saying I know she’s in a better place.”
The crowd had gone silent even when Celestia stopped talking. She looked out over the group as they stared at her in amazement. She ended her speech with, “Equestria could use more brave ponies. I look forward to meeting you all. Good luck, my subjects.”
The cloud that her image was portrayed on turned to water and soaked into the ground. Moments later, Mindshot stepped up, gave me a high hoof, and stepped into the pod.
I went on a walk around the inside of the compound with Fluttershy. She had been acting weird a week before the attack, but now she was acting even weirder. Today’s curse was mood swings. Her current mood is joyful, but I knew it wouldn’t last much longer since ten minutes ago it was anger—which was also very weird for her since she’s rarely ever angry, and now she’s angry every other hour. She snuggled up against me.
“I can’t wait to get back to Ponyville,” Fluttershy said with a twinkle in her eye, “With all the time we’ve spent here, the lilies should be sprouting! It will look so beautiful, don’t you think?”
“Of course, sweetie,” I tried to give a warm smile, “And everypony home will welcome us with open hooves. Especially Sapph.”
“Yeah,” Her smile slowly disappeared, and I sensed a mood swing.
“You okay, hun?”
“I think I’m gonna go home and rest my head,” She slowly walked away, her tail dragging on the ground.
I shook my head and continued my walk. About ten meters later, I heard shouting and hushed voices after the shouts. I walked closer to the sounds, but I couldn’t pinpoint the exact location.
“Listen, we’re just not comfortable with it anymore,” A familiar voice said, “Ever since Enigma got here, you’ve gotten stranger and stranger. It’s time to take a break.”
I stepped closer to the sound—which I now knew was emitting from Stellis’ home. I cringed when my over-sensitive ears picked up the sound of Stellis yelling, “Fuck you! That fucker ruined everything!”
I peered in the door to find the five leaders confronting Stellis. The eldest, who had underwent his transformation a couple days before the attack, was the one speaking, “C’mon, Simon. We both know that’s not true. He’s helping us. Please…Just hand over your guns. We won’t ask again.”
“You have no authority here anymore, Dick,” Stellis put his gun to the pony’s head, causing four more to point at him. He dropped his gun to the floor a few seconds later, “I see how it is… I see how it is…”
“I’m sorry, boss,” the youngest said, “Even Mindshot agreed you need some recovery time.”
“Where is the fuck,” Stellis screamed, stabbing my eardrums once again, “I’ll show that bitch who needs recovery time!”
One of the middle-aged leaders pushed Stellis into a chair, “He left this morning because he knew you would say that. You’re scaring people, Simon. Why don’t you play some golf this afternoon? Work off a bit of that stress. Try to recover.”
Stellis slumped in his chair and refused to speak. I stepped away and shook my head to clear it. Stellis was normally an angry person, but this is ridiculous. What did I do to him?
When I got about fifteen meters away, the group left Stellis’ home without him. The eldest spotted me and approached me with a huge smile on his face, “Enigma, my friend, how are you?”
“Hey, Doc,” I gave a fake smile back, “Fluttershy’s still acting weird, but I’m doing well otherwise. What about you? How’s getting used to that new body?”
“Oh, it’s great to be young again,” Doc laughed, “Even if it is as a different species.”
“Glad you like it.”
“Oh, and your wife,” He nudged me, “I remember my wife was the same a few times in her life. I’m sure her strange behavior will be gone by the end of the week.”
“And what makes you so sure,” I asked with a laugh.
Doc laughed with me, “I’m old, remember? I know these things.”
We walked a few more minutes making idle chit-chat. We came to a stop in front of my house and Doc asked while he fanned himself, “Hey, mind if I come in for a few minutes to say hi to the wife and the rest of the ponyfolk?”
“Of course not! Come on in,” I opened the door and froze in place at the sight in front of me.
Every wall was covered in black markings. Words were written everywhere—some were crossed out while others were circled, squared, or underlined. Fluttershy flew this way and that with a charcoal marker in her hoof writing more words, crossing them out, or marking them. Velvet sat on Barry’s back, and they watched with Twilight as Pinkie followed Fluttershy around the room as she doodled the random words.
“Come on, Flutters, you’re gonna tire yourself out. That’s not good for you OR him!”
Fluttershy wiped away sweat on her forehead, “I’ve almost got it, Pinkie. I can feel it!”
Pinkie spotted me and ran to me, “Shade! Thank Celestia you’re here!”
“What’s going on,” Doc and I said simultaneously.
Fluttershy answered, “These words keep running around in my head. They’re all wrong! I have to find the right one!”
“Flutters, please,” Pinkie pleaded, but Twilight interrupted.
“It’s just a phase,” She explained, “Sure, it’s a bit sooner than expected, but she’ll find the words or tire herself out. No harm done in the end.”
“Well, what’s she doin’,” Doc asked the question on my mind.
“That’s it,” Fluttershy exclaimed and plopped herself on the ground. I walked up and sat next to her. She pointed to the last phrase she wrote. It read “Lyric Agate.”
Doc looked at Twilight questioningly as Pinkie came to sit on the other side of Fluttershy. Twilight smiled awkwardly and answered Doc’s question, “She’s Naming.”
I tucked Fluttershy in and kissed her on the forehead. When I leaned back, she was fast asleep. I smiled and stepped out, slowly closing the door. I tried to step quietly back into the main room where Doc awaited.
“Sorry about that, Doc,” I said with a nervous laugh.
“Oh, don’t worry about it,” He waved his hoof at me, “Ms. Sparkle here was just about to tell me what Naming was.”
Twilight smiled at me, “I don’t believe I told you either. Might want to listen up. Naming is when a pregnant mother starts getting nervous and hearing or seeing words popping up in her head. She’ll go crazy for a few moments and start writing them down everywhere, like you saw here. When they find the name that just seems right to them, they can finally rest. Normally in Equestria we have better ways to help them through it.”
“So that’s why she’s been acting weird lately,” I asked, “Because she needed to find a name for the baby?”
“Nope,” Twilight looked nervous, “Mood swings and irritability are very common around five months. Honestly, Naming should not have come ‘til around nine and a half months.”
“But she’s only two months,” I said, concerned.
“I know,” Twilight rubbed her neck nervously, “And Celestia is being really quiet.”
Doc gave a look of confusion, “Nine and a half months?”
Twilight looked back with a blank look, “Uh… I don’t know what the human gestation period is, but for Equines it’s eleven months.”
Doc nodded in understanding, “So if Fluttershy starts getting chubby before… three or four months… should we be concerned?”
Barry spoke up this time, “Very. The weight gain should not show visibly until five or six months.”
“You’re scaring me, guys,” I said.
Twilight shivered and Barry scooted a little closer, “Sorry. Perhaps another topic until we have actual answers?”
Doc took up on the topic change immediately, “We relieved Stellis from duty. We removed all strong alcohol from his home and took away any guns he owned.”
“I caught a bit of that,” I said, “Got really good ears, y’know.”
Doc nodded, “I understand, and I’m very sorry to have to do that, but we’re taking charge now. He’s gonna be under light supervision until he calms down enough to be put through the process.”
“He’s gonna have a hard time,” Twilight said and shivered again, “Alcohol is nowhere near as powerful in Equestria.”
“Y’don’t have to tell ME twice,” Pinkie said with a pained expression. Last month she had tried hard vodka the search party found. She passed out after just one shot and Twilight spent the next four hours trying to purge the poison from her body.
“We’re just not build as liver-tough as humans,” Twilight said.
“Especially not with hundred-proof vodka,” I said with a Russian accent. Doc chuckled, but the rest stared at me with blank expressions, “Nevermind.”
“You know,” Twilight said to get the attention off of me, “Maybe I should go back to college and get my medical degree with as often as everypony needs my medical assistance.”
Velvet hopped off of Barry’s back and nudged Twilight, “Twilight, can we go practice the levitation spell again? I think I might get it down before we leave!”
Twilight shivered again and nodded, “Sure thing. Let’s go outside and practice on rocks.”
Twilight and Velvet left the room and Pinkie hopped up saying that she wanted to check on Fluttershy again. Barry stared at Doc and me for a few moments. I heard a faint click of the bedroom door shutting and Barry spoke, “So Doc. Stallion to stallion. What’s the real situation?”
Doc raised his eyes a bit, “Well you’re a hard guy to fool.”
“How big of a threat is he really?”
“He’s done a lot of crazy things in the past. We took his guns when we heard that he’s started threatening the lives of some of us,” Doc said, “Hell, just today he’s threatened me, Enigma here several times, Twilight once, our entire engineering team, and—“
Doc stopped himself and narrowed his eyes at the floor. Barry waited a few seconds and urged him on, “And…?”
Doc looked up at me, “Please remember he’s ill, Enigma.”
I raised an inquisitive eye at him and repeated Barry, “And…?”
He sighed, “Fluttershy and your kid.”
Pinkie sat next to me in the room. We watched Fluttershy quietly like guard dogs as she continued to thrash about in her sleep. Pinkie wrung cool water out of a rag and put it on Fluttershy’s forehead to try to control her fever. Her condition was not fatal, of course, but she was not the most comfortable. When her sweating stopped, she turned her back to us and her breathing steadied into a deep rhythm.
“I can trust you,” I said quietly, “Right, Pinkie?”
She glanced at me and back at Fluttershy, “You want me to be a bodyguard whenever you’re gone?”
“Actually I was going to tell you what’s really going on without making anypony else worry,” I said, “It’s a bit more complicated than what Doc told us before. I just need to vent.”
“Go right ahead,” She pat my shoulder, “I’m a good listener, and I can keep quiet better than anypony. Except Fluttershy.”
I smiled briefly before I let the dam burst, “Stellis has gone more than mad. He’s been threatening lives of other ponies and humans so much so that Doc felt it right to take away his weapons and alcohol.”
“And you’re concerned because you’re one of those he’s threatened?”
“No,” I noticed Fluttershy shivering, so I set a blanket over her, “I’m concerned because Fluttershy and our kids are, and even sober Stellis is batshit crazy.”
Pinkie nodded, “But with his gun thingies taken away and your massive size, I’m sure he won’t try it.”
“Thanks, Pink,” I said, watching Fluttershy with my mind wandering elsewhere, “But you don’t know Stellis. Stellis was like family to me. I know him inside and out… or at least I used to…
“When he’s angry, he’ll do very crazy things. He beat down a gunner with a baseball bat when I took a bullet to the shin. He took four bullets that day, but that didn’t stop him. He held a woman over a skyscraper roof when she slapped his kid. He’s always been crazy. I’m afraid these aren’t threats… more like promises.”
Pinkie sat quietly for a few moments. I glanced over at her. She had her brow furrowed in concentration. She spoke slowly, “Maybe… Maybe I’ve been around Discord too much, but… It would be the smartest move to take down the strongest first… And maybe you’re taking your own strength for granted.”
I thought about it. It made sense, but it didn’t make me feel better. Pinkie continued, “I love Flutters and all. She’s my best friend and she’s like a sister to me, but she’s not very strong.”
“But sometimes,” I said quietly, “I think she’s stronger than I am.”
Pinkie scooted closer and laid her head on my shoulder, “Did I ever tell you the story of how she saved my life?”
“You’re always full of stories,” I said with a smile, “Even more than Twilight.”
“Well I wouldn’t go that far,” Pinkie laughed, but she forced herself to stop for fear of waking Fluttershy, “Really, though, she did. Remember that story I told you before about…”
She paused as if not wanting to say his name, “Yeah, I remember.”
She put her head back on my shoulder, “See, after he died, I was a nervous wreck. I couldn’t sleep, I refused to eat, and I could barely hold a conversation. I always smiled before that just like I smile now, but after he fell out of that basket…after I pushed him…the guilt kept trying to kill me. I planned a trip to Canterlot and said, ‘Pinkamena, if you can’t get over this by the time your trip comes, you can always quit.’ Canterlot has the tallest heights in all Equestria.”
I sat and listened to her story. She told it without any emotion—probably in order to tell the story without having to stop to calm herself, “It was lucky that Fluttershy planned a visit with her uncle on the same day. We saw each other at the train station, and she asked me what I was going to Canterlot for. She was the first friend I made as a kid after getting off that cursed rock farm, so I couldn’t just ignore her. I told her I was just going to see the sights, so she offered to let her and her uncle—which, if you didn’t know, is Barry—her and Barry show me around. I couldn’t refuse that adorable little face. We talked ab—“
She stopped suddenly as Fluttershy rolled herself over facing us. Her eyes were still closed, so Pinkie continued, “We talked about random topics all the way up to Canterlot. Town gossip, work—even about a filly she had a crush on. Don’t worry though, she moved to Maretreal many seasons before you came to Equestria. Anyway, she introduced me to Barry and they showed me the sights. I won’t go into detail on that, because I’m sure it’ll bore you to sleep. It was really fun and Fluttershy was a lot more active than I normally saw her. It was a side of her I didn’t know existed. She put a smile on my face for the first time in…I don’t know how long.
“But that night my pain returned. Barry got us both a room in the castle for the night. I wandered out in the middle of the night and went over to the garden. The edge of the garden leads down a mountain. I just sat there trying to gather the guts to just…jump…but then I heard Fluttershy land next to me. She just sat there and said how beautiful the moon looked that night. I didn’t say anything, but I knew I couldn’t jump with her sitting there. I couldn’t do that to her, so I decided to wait for her to leave. We talked for a little bit, but before she left to go to bed she said something I will never forget. She said, ‘I had a lot of fun with you today Pinkie. We should do this again sometime.’ When I agreed she said, ‘You’re my best friend, Pinkie. I love you. Just remember that.’”
Pinkie sniffed and I looked down to see her wipe her eyes. She had taken her head off my shoulder halfway through the story, “After she said that I couldn’t do it. A couple months later Twilight came to Ponyville. Twilight’s the one that drew us all together as one big happy family. We were friends before, but she brought us closer. That’s when I started getting a lot better.”
I reached out my forehoof and pulled her into a side-hug, “She sees everything.”
“I’ll die before I let anything happen to her,” Pinkie said, “That was the point of my story, I think.”
“I wonder what she sees when she looks at Stellis,” I said, watching her irregular breaths.
“She doesn’t want you to know because she knows how close you two are,” Pinkie said, “I’m sure she’ll be okay with me telling you now. She tried explaining to me how she does this, but she doesn’t even know. She says she doesn’t trust him. She said he’s been getting darker and darker since we got here.”
“Maybe she could just Stare him down,” I joked.
“You know about the Stare,” Pinkie asked, “She rarely uses that around other ponies.”
I noticed Fluttershy twitch, “Well, I know a lot of weird facts about Equestria and its inhabitants. Doesn’t change my view of them.”
Pinkie stretched and her normal smile was back on her face, “All that story telling made me hungry. I’ll go fix up something for everypony while you watch over Flutters.”
She trotted out of the room humming. I got up and closed the door and sat back in my spot. I watched Fluttershy for a few more moments, and I got up and sat down closer to her and whispered, “I know you’re awake.”
Her mouth lifted into a smile, but she kept her eyes closed. I kissed her on the side of her head, “Silly filly.”
“Just as I thought,” Pinkie said and fake swatted Twilight with the thermometer, “You have a fever.”
“I’m fine, Pinkie,” Twilight said, but she collapsed when she stood.
Pinkie glared at her, “Do I have to tell Luna about this?”
Twilight sighed, “Fine, fine…”
Barry nodded at us, “I’ll take care of her, but I’d prefer to do this without magic. Don’t worry.”
Fluttershy stepped over to her and kissed her on the cheek, “Get better soon.”
Barry shooed us out. Fluttershy climbed on my back. I became her escort because she was becoming too weak to fly especially with the cut portions we had to deal with. Fluttershy was allowed three meals a day, but it wasn’t enough for a pregnant mare, so we cut the amount of calories she burned. Doc waited in the living room, “Ah, you’re back. Velvet let me in.”
Velvet bowed quickly and trotted towards Twilight’s room. Fluttershy laid her head on top of mine, “Hi, Doc. How’re you?”
“Oh, I’m well, Mrs. Fluttershy,” He took off his hat and placed it over his chest, “I see that you’re better than yesterday.”
I shifted my weight to my left hooves. Fluttershy had gained quite a bit of weight recently, but I pretended not to notice, “So Doc, what d’ya need, my friend.”
“Well, y’see, the raiding party that just came back this morning came back with an extra chip thingermajig,” He said while replacing his hat, “The one to the machine. The engineers want to get your input before they make any changes.”
“Well, if they have a working chip we can double output,” I said as we all headed towards the door. I felt a twinge of excitement. We may be able to get out of here sooner! I could see Sapphire again sooner. We could get Fluttershy some real medical attention. My heart pounded more with anticipation.
Eddy met us halfway and started talking immediately, “Yo, Enigma. Good news. We found another working XK chip. Same model, same year, same everything. Only thing is this one came straight out of the packaging. Brand fuckin’ new, bro. If we get your go, we can swap these babies out after every transformation to double everything. We can be completely done by the end of the month—maybe two or three days into next month.”
“Where’s the chip,” I said, trying to contain my enthusiasm, “I want to be a hundred and ten percent sure before we do this. Plus we’ll need another test subject.”
“Hey, man, I’m next on the list, I’ll test the bitch out,” He smiled triumphantly. We reached the control station just inside the center building, and Eddy opened a large box. He pulled out a slick, black, card-like object and showed it to me, “Look. Same. Fucking. Thing. This is fucking sweet. I’ve never been more excited.”
I pat him on the back, almost losing balance in the process. Fluttershy slipped off my back with an apology. I kissed her on the forehead and turned back to Eddy, “So who’s next on the list besides you?”
Eddy raised a finger and turned to grab a clipboard, “Sergeant Major Stephen Harvey Jr. of Alpha Company Marines. I’m right after him.”
“Great, get one of your runners to grab him,” I said and walked outside, “It’s muggy as hell in here, man.”
“I know, the machines run then cool down,” Eddy pointed in a direction for his runner and he took off, “But hey, can I talk to you in private a second, bro?”
I nodded at Pinkie. She saluted as I walked off with Eddy, “What’s up?”
“Hey, man, your wife don’t look all too good,” He said with a concerned expression.
“I know she’s not,” I said, “That’s why this new chip is a great thing right about now.”
He scratched the back of his neck, “Yeah, man, but I heard from Doc there that she was preggo. I grew up on a farm, so I raised horses. If she wasn’t pregs before coming here, then your time clocks are all screwie. My guess is that the rift between our dimensions is causing your kid to grow at three times the speed. It may not harm the kid, but I’m concerned for your wife. Horses need those eleven months just as much as the foal.”
“You’re not making me feel better in the least, Eddy,” I said, my annoyance level rising.
“No, no, that’s not what I’m getting to,” Eddy said as he put his hands up in surrender, “Let me finish. She’s gonna have to go home the same way she came here because of the DNA fuck up in her system with that kid in there. Either that or she’ll have to birth the kid here. I’ve helped with so many foal births I’m scarred for life. If you want me to go through the process last in order to help out just in case, I’ll be glad to. For all you’ve done, I feel it’s the least I can do.”
I looked back over to Fluttershy. She was joking with Doc and Pinkie, “Y’know, Eddy. You’re a cool kid.”
Eddy smiled and kicked dirt, “Well thanks, bro.”
I patted him on the back, “Clean up that vocabulary of yours and you’ll have the mares swarming you in Equestria.”
“Hey, man,” He looked around, “Bro to bro. I prefer stallions.”
I nudged him and he took a step back, “No shame in that, my friend. Plenty to choose from back home.”
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Pinkie jolt as if she was just struck by lightning. Eddy gave me a weird look to show that said he saw it too. We walked towards her and she did it again. She looked everywhere with a cautious expression. She started talking and I strained to hear, wishing I hadn’t walked so far away, “Whenever June was on the prowl this happened.”
I started running towards them. Pinkies eyes grew wide and she screamed, “SHADE!”
I saw a figure with a piece of metal held offensively in their hand. I opened my wings and slammed the assailant to the ground a meter away. I looked over my shoulder to see Pinkie and Doc using themselves as shields for Fluttershy. I fully spread my wings and lowered my head as I walked towards the assailant. He struggled to get up and his dizzy grip couldn’t keep hold of the knife.
“Come on Simon,” I said, “It’s not worth it.”
Stellis laughed. He stood and stumbled backwards a step and wielded his knife hand-to-hand combat style, “It’s worth it to me, you son of a bitch!”
He lunched at me with the intent to stab. I side stepped and kicked him with my hind leg to send him sprawling again, “You’re drunk, man. Where the fuck did you get the liquor?”
He turned to me with gritted teeth, “That’s not your business! Fucking die already!”
He lunged at me again, so I jumped into the air just out of reach. Doc and Pinkie had already hustled Fluttershy inside and were probably barricading the door just in case. I glided and landed a couple meters away, “What have I done to you, Simon. We’re best frie—“
“NO we are NOT,” He spat, “You are nothing but a MENACE! You ruined EVERY fucking thing in my life! I lost everything because of you… My home… My wife… My fucking kids… And now you take my people!—“ He threw his hands in the air and gave a sarcastic laugh, “What else do I have to lose?”
“Simon, we both know that’s not true,” I said, folding my wings, “You told me that Luci wa—“
“Yes, she walked into a fucking landmine,” He gripped his knife tighter, “Before we got separated, you said if anything bad happens, meet up at Doctor Yuiro’s. The landmine was on his FUCKING driveway! That fucking sniper was RIGHT in his window! Yuiro was in on it. He knew you’d come to him, and they wanted us. He knew I didn’t trust that crooked smile, but I trusted you. I trusted you!”
“I had no control over that,” I said, the guilt pushing on my lungs making it hard to breathe, “How was I supposed to know Yuiro wou—“
But he wasn’t finished, “Oh and Raymie? I bet you’re wondering about him, too. That kid was a fucking genius. Too stupid to realize he was in danger. ‘Hey, Dad, it’s Isabelle! Look, it’s Isabelle!’”
I stared at him in guilt and horror as he re-enacted the event, “Then swoosh, right in the throat. He thought that monster was your kid. Oh, God, how I wish it was.”
The guilt turned to pain and anger. I stared him down. He had tears running down his face, but his expression didn’t match. It was of pure hate, “Then you trot your deformed ass in here and take my people. Gain their trust and turned them against me! Oh old Stellis is crazy, a drunk, a fucking psychopath!”
“Stellis, I never—“
“You did,” He took a step forward, “And it’s about time you paid for it.”
He sprinted at me, catching me off guard. He swung his knife and I jumped back, but not far enough. His knife nicked my right shoulder. I flew up in the air again.
“Come on, ya fucking pussy,” He yelled at me, “Fight me like a man! Show me how much man you got left!”
“Sniper team Charlie and Bravo in position,” I heard from above me, “Ready to make a shot if needed.”
“Don’t you dare do it,” I yelled to the sniper above me, “Let me handle this!”
I flew down and knocked Stellis over as I landed, “If you want a brawl, you’re gonna get a brawl.”
Stellis stood up and licked the sand off his lips and flipped his knife to point upwards, “’Bout time.”
He swiped his blade at me several times forcing me to back step. When I found an opening in his drunken swings, I stood on my back legs to push him forward, but he rolled to the side and jammed the knife into my side. I gritted my teeth to keep from making a sound, knowing the snipers would take any chance they could if it seemed like I was losing. He went for another jab closer to the heart, but I jumped over him and buck-kicked him with both hooves. He did several summersaults and landed on his feet, but he coughed up blood when he turned back to me. He charged me yet again. I spread my wings like a jet and waited. When he got within slashing distance, I dashed forward and clotheslined him. He rolled over onto his hands and knees, but I put my hoof on his back and pushed him back down. I held him there until he quit struggling.
“Throw the knife over there and I’ll let you up,” I said pushing harder on his back, making him cry out in pain. He must have had broken ribs. He chucked the knife a meter and a half away, and I let up the pressure and let him stand. The pain in my shoulder and side throbbed, but I kept my best poker face and helped him to his feet.
He looked at me with a confused look, “Maybe they were right… Maybe I do need help…”
“You haven’t lost everything,” I said, setting my hoof on his shoulder apologetically, “You can make a new life in Equestria. Maybe you can take Captain rank in one of our police agencies when you get better.”
He put one of his hands on his hip where I had buck-kicked him and the other on my good shoulder, “I’d like that… or maybe I won’t.”
I heard a click, a bang, and a thud. My face was covered in something, but I couldn’t quite tell what. I looked down at the headless body at my feet. My eyes trailed upwards at the glint of a sniper rifle hanging over the edge of the building I stood in front of. I looked back down and an unspeakable rage flowed through me. I flew up the three story building and landed in front of the Ranger sergeant that had fired the shot. I shoved my hoof against his chest and pinned him to the edge of the building, his head hanging off the edge.
“I told you not to fire!”
The Ranger didn’t try to fight me. He held his hands out in surrender and his face was near panic, “I’m sorry, sir, I—“
“Oh you will be sorry!”
“Sir,” He yelled as I put pressure on his chest. He struggled under my hoof for another breath, “Look at the body again… Just one more time and you’ll see what I did.”
I glared at him as he struggled for breath after breath. I Gripped his vest and tossed him on the roof. He brushed himself off and stood up cautiously, but he made no move for his sidearm at his hip. I hopped off the building and walked over to the headless body. I saw a glint, and the rage that flooded my veins turned to ice. In his hand he held a switchblade. I stared down at the body of what used to be my best friend.
It must have been an hour before they finally forced me to go home.
Nopony talked to me or even stepped within two meters of me. Not even Fluttershy.
I sat alone staring in the mirror. The blood and brain matter still clung to my fur, dried now. The water ran in the washbin as I stared.
Whatever I had left of this world was gone. And I didn’t even get a reason why.
With Twilight sick and Barry storing his magic in case she got worse, Fluttershy was left to tend to my wounds. She used a heated needle to sew the wounds closed and then wrapped me in gauze to stop any excess bleeding. She didn’t say a word to me and didn’t even look me in the eye. I tried looking at her, but she always moved her head just such that her mane covered her face.
“I have a feeling you’re disappointed in me again,” I said.
“I’m not,” She said, “I just don’t want to say the wrong thing.”
She finished sewing up my shoulder and went to work on my side, “You’re lucky he didn’t hit anything important.”
“I don’t feel so lucky,” I felt my leg falling asleep, but I fought the urge to move.
She sighed, “This is just what I mean.”
I looked over to her. She didn’t look annoyed or disappointed. She looked more sad than anything. She told me to breathe with my chest so it didn’t conflict with the stitches, so I changed my breathing and said, “Don’t worry about saying the wrong thing. Just say whatever’s on your mind.”
She finished her sewing and quickly tied the knot and started walking towards the door with the medical kit. I stood up and felt pins and needles fill my leg, but I stopped her before she got to the door, “Please?”
She let out a breath, “Stellis was deranged. Equestria couldn’t fix that. We’d have to put him in a home, but that’s no life to live. I know how it feels to lose somepony you love, but… well, as your engineer buddy said ‘Shit happens.’ We can’t change the past, so we might as well not dwell on it. I still miss my brother, but I know he would want me to live my life, so I don’t dwell on that anymore.”
I sat down. Her words stung, but I felt a ring of truth in them. It felt odd coming from the nicest pony in Equestria. She continued, “Ever since we met, life has turned into a giant emotional rollercoaster. We’ll all be happy one minute, and then some stupid thing happens and everything goes to Hades. We haven’t been married a season and already life has cracked a whip at us to test our devotion.”
I felt my heart sink. What was she saying? Was this her way of saying “it’s not working out?” My voice cracked when I spoke, “I’m sorry.”
Sensing my despair, Fluttershy leaned in and kissed me, “I love you, Shade. Don’t get me wrong. You three are the greatest ponies in my life. I’m glad we’re still together. Look at all that’s happened, especially to you and Sapph before coming to Equestria. Don’t dwell on this. Be thankful. We’re all worried about you. We love you… Just remember that.”
She walked out of the room and left me with my thoughts.
The nicest pony in Equestria just told me to get over it.
Twilight was up and about two days later. Her first order of business was to seal up and heal my wounds. Barry had worn himself out by staying up two nights in a row keeping Twilight’s temperature below meltdown point, so he was in bed sleeping it off.
Something about Fluttershy’s cruel-yet-sympathetic speech actually helped me. I was able to keep my mind focused on other things. Stellis’ cremation was done last night, but his ashes were scattered across the wasteland instead of being held in a jar. Velvet said she would do the same with her mother’s ashes before she left for Equestria.
The whole camp seemed on edge ever since Stellis’ death—well, even more so than usual. One man in particular, a young man by the name of Ytri Hynd, seemed especially on edge. Doc tried to confront him about it, but Ytri yelled at him for treating him the same way he did Stellis before his death. Fluttershy said he was a loner, but he wouldn’t cause anypony any harm. We all took her word for it, but we kept our eyes open since nopony knew anything about him.
Eddy came over around noon to check on Fluttershy. He promised to do daily check-ups to make sure she was doing alright.
“So, how are you doing today, Mrs. Fluttershy,” He asked, setting his bag on the floor.
“I’m doing well, Eddy,” Fluttershy smiled, “Thanks.”
He took a stethoscope he borrowed from the camp’s physician and placed the silver circle on her ribs, “Okay, just breathe normally… Okay, deep breaths… good.”
He moved the stethoscope to the side of her belly, “Wow, he’s a lively little fellow today.”
“I know,” Fluttershy said, her face a slight shade of red, “I want him to calm down, but at the same time I’m glad he’s doing well.”
“Well, you’re lucky that your belly isn’t as noticeable as humans are when they’re pregnant,” Eddy joked then checked her gums and her teeth and sat back, “Hmm… Your gums look a little less healthy today than a couple days ago—probably from malnutrition. I want you to have four rations a day now. We have plenty to last us now that we’re sending so many away every day. And Shade, I expect you to go to three meals a day. Your muscle mass is starting to deteriorate.”
“Figured I just needed to exercise more,” I said.
“You do nothing but with all your running about,” Eddy said, “Three meals, no buts.”
He had Fluttershy sit down and he checked her hooves. He tapped them with his finger and inspected the front and bottoms of them. After that he said, “Hooves are good, but if you ever feel any excess pressure on them, make sure to get off them as soon as possible. Have Enigma borrow his back for a little while.”
He lifted up his bag and headed towards the door, “That’s all. I may have to do a couple more tests tomorrow, but for now that’s it. Enigma, can I see you outside?”
I kissed Fluttershy on my way out the door. Eddy leaned up against the wall. I spoke first, “You’ve been talking weird, Eddy.”
“Well, I thought about what you said. I’ve been watching what I say. Become a more respectable pony,” He took off his baseball cap and inspected it, “That’s kinda what I wanted to talk to you about.”
“And what’s that?”
“The only reason I went to school to be an engineer is ‘cause my papa made me,” He put his hat back on, “I hate it. I’m likin’ this job helping out your wife, but…”
“But I dunno, man,” He went back into his normal accent, “Y’think I could go to school to be a doctor back in Equestria? I always wanted to be a vet, but if I’m workin’ with ponies, it’s pretty much the same, right, man?”
I put my hoof on his shoulder and gave him a smile, “You have hundreds of seasons ahead of you, my friend. I wouldn’t be surprised if you walked out of that machine with your cutie mark already on ya.”
“Ya really mean that?”
“Yep,” I said, “But first we gotta get outta here. I’ll be in Equestria shortly after you get there, so you can come back with us to Ponyville. We have a really nice Medical College there. Fluttershy might even offer to be your tutor!”
He dropped his medical bag and threw his arms around me in a surprise hug, “You a good guy, Enigma. Thanks a bunch, man.”
He stepped away and apologized, and he jogged off to give the medical bag back to Dr. Trundl.
Twilight and Pinkie showed up in the house a few minutes later. Twilight seemed excited, “Hey, Enigma. We found another way to cool the chips off, so we can almost double our output!”
“That sounds fantastic,” I said, “How’d you do it?”
“No idea,” She still smiled, “But it’s wonderful news. We can be back in Equestria by the end of next week!”
“Can you show me?”
“Yes, of course,” Twilight bounced, “I brought Pinkie to look after Fluttershy for you.”
“I’m okay,” Fluttershy tried to object, but Pinkie shushed her and pushed Twilight and me out the door.
Twilight led me to the new home of the machine—the center of camp. There were a few more machines attached to it as well and a set of curtains right in front of the pod. A man dressed in Ranger fatigues removed his hat and set his sniper down. He started untying his boots when I realized who he was.
I excused myself from Twilight and approached the man, “Sergeant Major, can I have a word with you?”
The man looked at me and back to his boots, “As long as you don’t mind this. I got an eta five minutes to go to this pony land of yours. They said they’d do the transformation and the teleporting all in one shot for me and the rest of my squadron.”
I watched him untie his boots for a moment longer, “I just wanted to apologize for what I did. I don’t know what went through my mind at that time.”
He slipped off his second boot and looked up at me. He stood and came almost eye-to-eye, “For a detective, you sure don’t got very good eyes.”
“I’m sorry,” I said.
He reached out and set his hand on my shoulder, “It’s all good. I understand how hard it is to lose someone close. Sure he went nuts, but it hurts all the same. When I heard my brother’s boat went down in the Pacific, I went berserk. Killed a ton of them sons o’ bitches. Two bullets in the gut didn’t stop me.”
I bowed my head in thanks, “I hope you enjoy our world, Sergeant.”
He stepped back and saluted, “Sir!”
“Ninety seconds Sergeant Major,” The engineer said, “Get a move on.”
He stepped into the curtains and I went back to Twilight. She explained the cooling systems, telling me that they were now using water cooling systems. I tried to pay attention, but every few seconds a glare caught my eye just right and blinded my right eye. I decided to turn and investigate the eyeball assailant, but all I saw was a man from the search party with his face covered by a bandana cleaning his rifle. A cross necklace was wrapped around the barrel of the rifle. The pendant turned again and blinded me for the umpteenth time.
I turned back to Twilight as she explained the final bit of the cooling system, “And that’s pretty much all there is to it. Increases our capacities by seven a day.”
“Not bad, Twilight, not bad,” I said, “You should brag to Luna about that!”
“Oh, trust me, she’ll hear all about our adventures when we ge—“
“In the name of God! Go back to hell from wince you came, demon!”
I turned towards the shouting and noticed the man with the cross now held his rifle trained on Twilight. Without a second thought, I jumped in front of her just as the man pulled the trigger. My eyes were closed tight. Did he miss?
Suddenly a burning sensation filled my chest. I opened my eyes to see several men had tackled the guy that fired the shot. I looked over to Twilight with a smile, but she looked at my side with a horrified look on her face, “Shade… Oh my gosh! Help! Somepony help!”
I looked back to my side and found what the burning sensation was. My ribs were bleeding. Looking at the wound now, I felt the burning sensation increase, and the blood tickled my skin as it slid slowly down and finally dropped off into the sand. I looked back up at Twilight. My legs went numb and I collapsed on the ground. She continued to yell my name and several humans came over to try to stop the bleeding. I closed my eyes for a moment and opened them. The place was brighter and the voices were different.
“Shade, I swear, if you die on me, I’ll never forgive you!”
I closed my eyes again for a moment and opened them. Another voice spoke, but it barely made sense, “The slug splintered into several…”
I closed my eyes again, “We’re losing him! Clear!”
I felt a jolt of pain in my chest, worse than the burning.
And then everything went black.
“I’m here for you,” A voice echoed in the darkness, “I just wish you’d wake up.”
“I am awake,” I tried to say, but I couldn’t even tell whose voice it was.
“That’s okay if you can’t… Maybe tomorrow…”