Ponyville was quaint.
It's thatched roof cottages and little businesses gave it a distinctively homely feel, making one feel warm in the chest and in the nose as the scent of several dozen individual baked goods wafted by. No matter where the bakery might be, the smell hung over the village like a blanket, and clung in one's nostrils for hours on end.
The market was bustling, stalls packed with incredibly fresh produce; some fruits and vegetables sitting merely meters away from where they were picked the same morning. Other ponies, each one sporting their own individual wheel of colours, were chatting and shopping away. Their backs were packed, and their mouths were running.
There was a surprising amount of screaming at the giant robot waltzing through their town. That amount being none.
Kody couldn't lie, he was surprised when everypony else just seemed to accept that he was there. Whether or not it was the 'all-clear' signal that the purple one had given, or that they were just generally nice guys, he didn't know.
He'd been escorted towards the village from the field by the group of six mares who had flooded to him when he had landed. The journey had taken a good twenty minutes, and he had to beg them to stop prodding with questions until later, but the benefit of having a huge walking titan was that he could get free piggybacks.
Lumbering, heavily armed piggybacks.
He sat casually atop the titan's hull, his legs open and his elbows resting on his knees. He wasn't speaking to anyone; FX just knew to 'follow the purple one' because she seemed important. He seemed to remember her mentioning the word "Princess" beforehand, so it was better to be safe than sorry.
'This world is definitely a break from the IMC.' he thought, scratching what little of his neck was visible through the gap between his suit and his helmet.. 'Horses are better than being yelled at by Briggs again.'
He took another moment to look around, taking in the charming scenery and observing some of the locals. They were definitely curious, judging by the vacant stares and dropped jaws that seemed to be following him. He noticed, somewhere along the street, a group of considerably smaller ponies kicking about a ball. Or at least, they were, until they caught sight of him. Assuming them to be children, he smiled and waved. Despite the fact the smile was completely futile due to the mass of fabric and metal obscuring his face from view, he could tell the wave was a good idea when a particular three gave tentative waves in response.
"You a good fella' with foals?" he heard the southern voice below him say. He could hear the smile in her voice, and then see it when he turned to face the farm-mare. "I saw you wavin' at my sister and her friends."
"If you mean children, then I don't know." Steele responded, shaking his head and shrugging. "I haven't had an actual conversation with a child in a good few years. War isn't the place for children."
"Eh, you'll be fine." she laughed. "They like almost anypony. It's probably your giant robot that'll get them interested."
"You think?" Kody responded sarcastically, with a laugh. He gave FX a sharp, strong punch to the hull. "I think any kid would be interested in this thing."
FX quickly jerked forwards, throwing the pilot into the air. His reactions failed him, unable to jumpjet out of the incredibly short freefall, before a steel hand caught him and placed him rather unceremoniously on the dusty soil track. When he scrambled to his feet and dusted himself off, he could distinctively hear muted giggles from the group infront of them.
"You're obviously strong enough to walk if you want to pick a fist-fight with a titan, Pilot." FX lectured him, unfortunately unable to display amusement in her tone. She pointed towards Kody, and then towards the path. "Get moving."
"Ugh." Kody scoffed, shaking his head and placing a hand on his holster as he began to walk. "Bitch."
"I'm-" Twilight choked through a chuckle, taking a deep breath.. "I'm still in awe that your kind created completely sentient machines."
"Completely asshole machines." Kody grumbled, sneaking another quick look back at his titan. He could've sworn it would have winked if it could.
"Would you mind if I had a look at it when we get back to my castle?" the princess asked, evidently trying to mask her excitement but failing miserably. "This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. We've never dreamed of something like this."
"We have golems, right?" Rainbow Dash interrupted, a small frown on her face. "Aren't they practically the same?"
"Not at all. Golem's are magical creatures." Twilight began, turning to walk backwards so she could face them and talk as she led the group. "This is a sentient, electronical machine. Big difference."
Rainbow nodded, but just how much the explanation had sunk in would have been unclear if it weren't for the attempted sneaky eye-roll that she somehow pulled off. Twilight looked slightly uncertain for a second, before shooting Kody another glance.
"It...is electrical, right?" she inquired, quirking a brow. "You don't have magic, right?"
"Pretty much electrical." Kody answered, fighting back a sigh. He knew the questions would start eventually. "Fusion."
"Right. Fusion." she nodded, turning away. It was only when he noticed her slightly falter in a step that she spun back around with wide eyes. "Nuclear fusion? Are you serious?"
"That's what I just said." he mumbled, under the sound of six pairs of hooves and a lumbering steel beast. "Yes, fusion. There's a reactor in the hull."
"My goodness! We've only just had our nation's top scientists even begin to hypothesise about nuclear fusion!" she squealed, somehow managing to clap her two front hooves together whilst using her wings to keep herself upright as she walked. "And your kind has mastered it! Oh, this is going to be some great studying! I need to prepare my equipment!"
Kody blinked, staring blankly ahead as the princess spun around and started to move a little quicker, her excited cackling somehow reaching his ears over the town's bustle. He cautiously sidled up close to the white mare with the impressive purple hairstyle, giving her a gentle tap on the shoulder to get her attention.
"How big of a hole did I just get myself into?" he mumbled, hoping she would hear him. Her ears twitched as she turned her head slightly, only revealing the side of her eye as she peered at him.
"I'd say..." she whispered in response, a gentle giggle dancing from her mouth. "Definitely a pretty deep one."
Kody couldn't lie; the crystal formed castle that he now stood in was pretty impressive. He couldn't help but gaze down the long glistening corridors in awe, and a small part of him that was buried deep in his mind was hoping that FX wasn't damaging the floors.
They were led through the winding labyrinth of the castle fairly quickly, considering that the princess at the front of their group lived there. He learned as they had approached the castle that Pinkie Pie, the pink pony that had managed to give him tinnitus by merely speaking, had dissapeared. No one else seemed to question it, so he figured he shouldn't either. Instead opting to just follow silently, he figured there was plenty he could ask later. He'd been introduced to each individual pony on the way. Applejack was a farmer, specifically for apples. Pinkie Pie, a baker, working at the same bakery that coated the entire village in the smell of fresh cake and frosting. Fluttershy, who hadn't said a single word since he emerged from FX the first time, was an animal caretaker as her job. The animals here obviously had to be better mannered than the Flyers back in the frontier.
The one he'd punched in the face at first contact was named Rainbow Dash, and was supposedly the fastest flyer in the country. He didn't know if that was true or not; it had been said in a particularly boastful way, but by shit did his ribs still hurt.
He was also still confused to see the dressmaker, Rarity, giving him dirty glances whenever he edged into her peripheral vision. It eluded him what it was about, but it didn't seem to be directed at him as much as it was what he was wearing. Perhaps she was just a germophobe, but it wasn't too important at the current time.
Before long, they emerged through a large doorway into an even larger chamber, furnished with nothing but a sparkling table and seven chairs; six full size 'thrones' and a smaller beside one particular chair. The table was topped with some kind of three-dimensional map and each chair was decorated with a particular insignia. It took him a moment to notice, but he soon clocked on that each individual insignia was actually the unique marks that each pony before him sported on their flanks. It piqued his curiosity, interested as to why such a room was dedicated to the group.
They stopped rather suddenly, the pilot almost continuing to move forwards. He wouldn't have stopped if it weren't for FX blocking his feet and nearly making him fall over.
"We're here." Twilight stated, the natural acoustics in the room causing her voice to be layered with a slight echo and crystalline shimmer. "I'm afraid we have to wait for Princess Celestia and Luna. Spike has told them, they're on their way."
'More princesses?' Kody contemplated, intrigued. 'Just how big is the royal family here?'
Shrugging to himself, he walked over to FX and gave her cockpit a few quick taps. Stepping away, the cockpit split open with it's signature hiss. Clambering inside, he flipped himself over and fell into the chair, stretching out his legs and bracing himself with a foot against the inner wall of the cockpit whilst his other leg dangled freely over the edge.
"It also doubles as a walking chair." Rainbow Dash laughed, shaking her head in disbelief and moving to sit in her own marked throne. "What I'd do for one of those."
Rarity nodded in agreement, doing the same and settling into the stone seat. How those things were comfortable, he'd never know.
"One would think the war never existed." Effect stated, her robotic voice creating an odd distortion throughout the room. "It is strange to feel at peace."
"You're a robot, Effy. Try not to think about it too much." Kody responded, his arms behind his head as he relaxed. "You'll short something."
"I will hurt you, Pilot Steele." FX threatened, reaching a hand into the cockpit and prodding him with an extended finger, which he just shoved away effortlessly with a limp hand.
"You two have a unique relationship for being soldiers." Twilight noted, looking on in genuine interest. "Not to mention one of you is a robot."
"Artificial Intelligence is made to develop. We make rules so they can break them." Kody answered, patting the side of the cockpit affectionately. "I might have only been with Effy for a few months, but I was the one to break her in. She's the way she is because of me."
"God save you all." FX interjected, making a gesture of exasperation. Kody gave the inner layer of the cockpit a gentle slap.
"Come on, I'm not that bad." he grinned, sighing. It felt good to be able to relax for once. He finally felt like he could be himself, instead of a soldier in a helmet.
"Doesn't matter what you are." Applejack smiled, her eyes understanding. "Nice to see that even aliens and robots can be friends."
"So I'm an alien now?" Kody laughed, resting a hand on his stomach as it heaved with his chuckles. His laughter intensified ever so slightly when he saw the mare blush and apologise under her breath, removing her hat and holding it to her chest. Reaching up, he pulled on a latch and unsealed his helmet, tugging at it and wincing as the material dragged past his skin. With one last sharp yank, he pulled it free of his hair, which fell messily over his face. His face contorted in disgust; it was considerably sweaty and dirty from being in that helmet for god knows how long without being washed. Regardless, he dragged his hand over it and pulled it backwards, blindly pushing his helmet out and trying to catch it on it's dedicated hook. Eventually, it found it's mark, allowing him to let go of the helmet and fall backwards once again. He rubbed some more of the sweat off of his forehead, before rubbing a textured glove across his face. The strange rubber mesh reminded him that he could infact feel through his face, something that he hadn't actually felt in a good few weeks. The helmet had stayed on for that long, and it felt almost silly to think about it now.
Before he could speak, he saw the farm mare holding a hoof out expectantly towards Rainbow Dash, who quickly forked over a small pouch. The telltale jingle told him that it must've been full of coins.
"You were holding bets?" he spoke, the corner of his mouth quirked upwards in a grin.
"She thought you were a robot as well." Applejack nodded. "I didn't tell her that I saw skin on your neck."
He laughed, running his hand through his hair again. It honestly felt disgusting on his scalp, but there wasn't a lot he could do about it at the moment. Business came first, and appearing in a world and being spoken to by the supposed royal family could most definitely be classed as a little more than run-of-the-mill business.
"What is that mark by your eye?" Rarity asked, taking a step forwards. "It looks remarkable. Is it your cutie mark?"
"Cute-the-what-now?" Kody butchered the words, before looking at her in confusion.
"Cutie mark." she continued, not seeming annoyed at having to explain. She pointed at the insignia on her flank. "It's a mark that appears on our bodies when we find our particular talent. For example, Applejack's is an apple because she is talented at farming the same thing."
"Oh." Kody understood, nodding in response. "Unfortunately, no. It's just a tattoo. It matches one my mother had."
"A...tattoo?" Twilight commented, intrigued. "I've heard of those, though only from the slums in Manehattan."
"Oh, those ghastly things." the alabaster unicorn shivered, before recovering and inspecting Kody's widowbird tattoo. "While yours looks rather good, the technique is barbaric."
"It's kinda' painful, yeah." he answered, placing a hand gently on his tattoo, and recalling the day he had it done. "Worth it, though."
"Why a widowbird?"
Kody was surprised to hear Fluttershy speak, if only because she'd been completely silent for the entire trip thus far. He leaned back in his chair, the material squeaking quietly under his weight.
"Not sure. It was just what my mother had." he explained, the memory holding some emotional weight in his mind. "I think she chose it because of it's name. She was widowed when my father was killed, I guess."
"Oh." the pegasus shrank, seemingly embarrassed to have asked. "I'm sorry."
"It's fine. Military was in the family; I'd already coped with losing half of my close relatives." Kody waved it off, grunting. "Being a soldier, it's not like he was there often to be a dad. Mom felt it, but I didn't."
From outside the room, a muffled pop and the sounds of clanking metal on crystal drew everyone's attention. Twilight's ears perked up, prompting her to bound over towards the door.
"They're here!" she chirped, placing a hoof on the door. "Kody, allow me to introduce you to the two most influential ponies on this entire country."
She drew the door open dramatically, revealing two newcomers standing just behind the slab of wood. The left one was slightly shorter, mostly a very dark shade of blue and had a long, flowing mane that to the naked eye looked like a swirling mass of starstuff, opening a window into deep space. Dressed in cold blue metal garments, this one had an entirely black flank adorned with a white crescent moon, leading to a tail with identical etherial qualities to the mane. Through the dark exterior lay warm turquoise eyes that held a past of pain yet a present of joy.
The other, to the right, was a complete contrast. Bright white fur, and a shifting mane of blues, pinks and greens. Golden jewelry adorned it's chest, and a vibrant sun sat upon it's flank. Behind her purple eyes lay knowledge, kindness and a motherly warmth, alongside a firey yet tamed limitless power.
"The royal sisters, Princess Luna, and Princess Celestia!" Twilight declared, gesturing towards them. As if on cue, both princesses before him bowed their heads simultaneously. Sliding from the titan cockpit, he placed a hand on his chest and bowed gently, before raising and standing still as they approached him.
"Greetings, outsider." Princess Luna spoke, her voice carrying a particular old english accent without the burdenous vocabulary. She smiled warmly during her approach, leaning her head down in respect once more. "I trust you have been treated well?"
"Probably a couple of broken ribs, but it's all cleared up." Kody answered, his voice strong. "Everything has been fine."
"It is an absolute honor to have a creature from so far away in our country." Princess Celestia continued, looking towards her sister with her own smile. "I extend our warmest welcomes."
"Thank you." Kody nodded, feeling a little confused.
"I extend the same to you, as well." Celestia repeated, turning to FX and looking up at the titan. "I apologise, but I lose sense when I look at you. You have no life force."
"I am a machine." FX spoke, standing at attention and saluting. "I was intended for use by my pilot in dangerous situations and armed conflict."
"Ah, so you are a warrior of sorts!" Luna exclaimed, catching notice of the one leg-holstered weapon that Kody had not left inside the titan, his Wingman revolver. "Might I ask your name?"
"Kody Steele." the pilot recited with practiced perfection. The princess before him nodded her head and smiled after he spoke, taking a step back.
"Now." Celestia began, stepping before Kody and meeting his eyes. "I understand you came here completely without choice, am I correct?"
Kody swallowed. "That is correct. A technical malfunction brought me here."
"I understand. I'm sorry you were torn from what you knew." she spoke sympathetically, although with a small glint in her eye. "Yet if I am to believe correctly, you have escaped an immense conflict on your home planet. You don't really feel upset, do you?"
Steele blinked in response, looking over at Twilight Sparkle for a split second before returning his gaze to the princess before him. "Not really."
Celestia took a quick glance backwards to her sister, who did nothing but give her a quick wink. Acknowledging it, the mare turned back to the creature before her.
"I would like to offer you a place to rest and recover, Mister Steele." Celestia spoke, her voice calm yet strong with intention. "To give you a chance to eat and clean, before more permanent accomodations are put into place for you. I'll be frank, you smell of blood and sweat."
Kody nodded, unable to make any form of noise but an amused scoff, completely understanding that her words were one-hundred percent true. He smelled like shit; he'd admitted it himself ealier. "Thank you."
"Think nothing of it. Please allow us to make your stay here as comfortable as it can possibly be." she answered immediately, almost defensively. "You were brought here by accident; the least we can do is make you welcome."
She stepped backwards to be besides her sister once more, before both bowed their heads quickly once again. Kody did the same out of respect, which seemed to bring a smile to their faces.
"We shall return later today." Luna spoke, turning to Twilight. "Take care of our guest."
Twilight gave a curt nod in response, and almost immediately, a great flash of golden light blinded everybody present. As soon as they regained their vision, the princesses were gone. Nothing remained in their place but a small wisp of smoke that floated to the top of the room and dissipated as it spread across the ceiling.
Kody stared after it for a few quiet seconds, before lifting up his arm and giving himself a tentative sniff. It took all of his effort to not visually react, instead holding in his discomfort and lowering his arm again.
"So, uh." he turned to Twilight, a hint of a grin on his face. "Any chance I could get a shower?"
The princess almost immediately nodded, pointing towards a door in the corner of the room. "Through there, third door on your left."
The pilot left the room briskly, shutting the door behind him. Almost immediately, Rarity gagged and shook her head.
"Phenomenal how I didn't notice the smell until it was mentioned." she sputtered. "I need to get him in some clean clothes as soon as possible."
"Oh my god, Rarity." Rainbow sighed, dropping her head into a hoof and closing her eyes in disbelief.
"What?" the fashionista exclaimed, appearing offended and pressing a hoof to her chest. "Would you want to stay in your flight suit for months?"
Rainbow didn't bother to reply, only rolling her eyes and walking over to her seat at the table. Twilight looked after her for a second, before turning to Rarity, whom had just stuck her tongue out in playful retribution.
"I'm sure he'd appreciate it, Rarity." she smiled, now looking towards the door that Kody had left through. "Clean clothes would probably be a godsend."
"How am I going to get his measurements, though?" Rarity mumbled, tapping on the floor a couple times in thought. "I'm not going near that suit, that's for sure."
"I have his measurements." the titan spoke, her amplified voice making everypony jump yet again. "That information is in his medical files."
Rarity found herself surprised, and her open jaw slowly morphed itself into a smile. A smile with slightly too much intention behind it.
Twilight laughed, turning away and moving towards the map.
"Don't surprise him too hard." she chuckled, leaving the designer behind to brainstorm.
This was heaven. Physical heaven in a slightly too-small glass cage that he had to almost squat in, but still heaven.
Kody couldn't determine how long it had been since he'd seen a shower. A proper one. The extent of washing on the James McAllan was a small chamber that blasted you for five seconds maximum with scented vapor. That was it. It wasn't cleansing, it was supposed to make you smell like not-shit for a few days.
At this point, he was glad to be able to relax. He did have to wrestle with the knobs for five minutes to work out how it functioned, but that didn't matter anymore. Kneeling in the shower, he absorbed the long-lost feeling of steady streams of water landing on his shoulders. His hair was heavy and saturated, clinging to his skin. The floor was deceivingly clean; the shit that had come off of him was truly something to behold, but now he felt refreshed. As if he were born anew.
He'd already looked for a razor. He didn't find one. He didn't really expect to, considering just who owned the place, but the so called 'five-o-clock shadow was now becoming a straight up beard. There had once been a time where his facial hair had been impressive, several inches deep and truly deserving of the recognition as a beard. But the military changed that.
Maybe he should let it grow back? He always felt better with it, even if it did make eating a hassle.
He also hadn't been sure of which soaps to use, but the generic-looking branded ones on a shelf seemed to do the job with their 'generic brand soap scent'. He didn't want to smell like flowers, or whatever strange concoction these ponies might think of.
Shampoo. This one was tricky. After rooting through the various scents and colours, he finally found a simple apple-scented bottle. It was incredibly satisfying to work the mixture into his hair. It was such a nostalgic feeling it was almost orgasmic, but he managed to contain his intense excitement over generic horse-brand Garnier products and instead mentally recite an old tune from his childhood.
Before long, he found himself standing outside of the shower, significantly dryer than before, he found himself with a small dilemma.
His clothes were most definitely not clean. And there was no chance in hell that he'd put his fresh, squeaky clean new body into those.
Shrugging, he grabbed a towel off of the rack and wrapped it around his waist, making sure the fabric was at least past his knees. Picking the suit up in two fingers and holding it as far away from him as possible, he unlocked the door and left the room. Hopefully they'd understand.
Pushing the door, Kody stepped into the large map room once more, looking over the ponies in confusion.
Apparently, at some point during his shower, the white unicorn had obtained a full set of machinery for working with fabrics. She seemed to be working at an insane pace, as the rest of the ponies all stood around, passing things to her the instant she needed them or holding particular things that already seemed to be finished.
The pilot walked over to FX, tossing his dirty suit over her knee, before stepping towards the ponies, whom were only just beginning to notice his presence.
"Oh, Kody!" Twilight chirped, taking a quick glance at the towel around his waist. "Sorry that we didn't think of that at first. But, hey, we did now!"
He quirked a brow, looking at what the designer was creating. It took him a minute to interpret the folded fabric, but it looked definitely like a shirt. A human shirt. Next to them, on the table, a pair of jeans, and some other pairs of pants in different materials. He could have sworn there were some socks in there.
It bewildered him.
"Wh-How?" he asked, genuinely confused. "You didn't even, like, measure me."
"I provided them with the necessary information to create you a new set of clothes." FX responded, looking down at him. "I also took the liberty of telling them what kind of casual clothes human's wear. We did not bring any casual wear."
Kody stood still for a second, before nodding, looking back towards the working equines. "So the suit?"
"We'll wash it." Twilight grinned, before faltering a little. "Uh, by 'washing', we mean magically scouring the thing so it's flawless and clean."
"It is pretty bad." Kody responded, a hint of a smile on his face as he stepped away from the garment in question. "How much longer do I have to bear this breeze?"
FX lowered an arm, placing her hand directly infront of him and extending an index finger. Resting atop it was another pair of jeans and what appeared to be a pair of black boxer shorts.
"You will have a shirt soon." the titan answered, as the pilot gratefully took the items of clothing. "It is astonishing how quickly work can be done with this magic of theirs."
Stepping behind of his titan to change, he sighed in relief as he felt himself now wearing expertly crafted clothes. Dressed in something that was a lot less tight and restrictive than the pilot jump suit, his skin could finally breathe and he could move his legs freely. They were warm too, almost surprisingly warm for what appeared to be a simple pair of jeans.
He threw the towel over his suit; both were either dirty or wet, so it made sense for them to both head in the same direction. He rubbed an exposed arm out of reflex; his significantly warmer lower body making it feel as if his torso was cold.
"You clean up pretty well for a soldier." Rainbow Dash commented, walking around him in a wide circle. "You don't have many scars or anything, either."
Looking at his most prominent scar, a long thin one stretching across his forearm, he nodded in agreement. He remembered how he got it, and it wasn't too impressive. An IMC pilot had just managed to get lucky and hit his forearm with their weapon, but they didn't do much more after that.
"I'm afraid I don't have any crazy stories." he spoke, shaking his head. "Never really did anything spectacular."
"You fight in a giant robot." the pegasus deadpanned, staring him dead in the eye. "And you say you dont have any crazy stories."
"When everyone else has giant robots, the novelty wears off pretty quickly." Kody retorted, having a black shirt thrust into his chest. he grabbed it, flipping it around and slipping it onto his body. It was a fairly snug fit, matching his measurements almost perfectly, defining most of the shapes on his torso. "The titan's seem more like generic soldiers than we humans do, half the time."
"A war fought with machines." Twilight mused, shaking her head. "I can't even fathom that. I'm struggling to even believe you're here, still."
"Me too." Kody spoke, taking another moment to look around the room.
It was still difficult to believe he was here. So far away from all the conflict, and so far away from everything he'd ever known. The glisten of the crystal walls and the feeling of the cold floor on his uncovered feet, alongside the still faint pain in his chest from where he'd been floored earlier. It all reminded him that he was here, and it was all so very real.
He reached out and placed a hand on FX's leg, spreading his palm out against an almost painfully cold steel plate. He leaned into it slightly, propping himself up against his companion, as he watched the bustling ponies infront of him seem to work with intense fervor at creating him something he hadn't even asked for.
As much as it was still definitely present in his mind that the situation he was in was completely unfathomable to him; an alternate galaxy full of talking, magical equines, he still felt at peace. Like he could finally relax.