“Coffee is gross,” said Retcon, placing the mug back on the table.
Lemony was laughing to herself. “It does kind of grow on you. But yeah, it is.”
The pegasus pointed to one of the vats of fluid, a warm, welcoming colour. “Is this drinkable?”
“Yes, that’s orange juice. Would you like some?”
“Yes.” She watched as Lemony placed a glass underneath the vat, and pulled a lever at the bottom, causing a small flow of the orange liquid to pour into the glass.
“Here you are.” She passed the glass over with a hoof. “So, you’ll be with me for the rest of the day, is there anything in particular you’d like to do today?”
It’s sweet, Retcon though as she sipped the orange juice. Better than the coffee. “I’m not being sent back to the room?”
Lemony looked puzzled. “Well, no. I mean, not unless you want to go back?”
Solitude, or answers. I wonder which. “I would like to go outside.”
“Of course! We can go whenever you’re ready.”
Retcon knocked back the entire glass of juice, wiping her muzzle with a fetlock afterwards. “I’m ready.” She noticed Lemony was giving her a funny look. “What?”
“Heh, nothing. You sure you don’t want to eat anything else?”
After a moment’s thought, Retcon grabbed another pear and ate it, faster than perhaps she should’ve. “Okay, let’s go.”
“Sure thing!” Lemony opened the door with a hoof, the pegasus following behind.
“What are you then, my guard?”
“Hah! Oh, no, I’m more like your chaperone.”
Retcon noticed they were going back down the same corridor as before, away from the larger space she’d seen from a distance. “Why was my door locked?”
Lemony gave her a sympathetic look. “I’m sorry about that, truly. Thing is, we didn’t know what you would be like when you woke up, how the memory loss might have affected you. And, well… some sensitive stuff goes on in the Institute.”
“When you two talk about this Institute, it always sounds like you’re being vague on purpose.”
“Hmm. I suppose I am.” She shot Retcon an apologetic look. “I hope you don’t take it personally.”
“Not personally, no,” Retcon responded. “It’s just, I’m putting a lot of trust in you.” You could be lying to me and I would never know.
Lemony nodded. “I understand. Thank you,” she added quietly.
Turning a corner, they came to a door, leading outside to the courtyard garden that Retcon could see from her window. It was a wide-open space with a lawn circled by a brick path, dotted with all sorts of flowers and bushes at the edges. Near the centre of the courtyard was a tall podium, carved with flowing patterns from a block of white rock. It looked as if it were designed to hold something atop it. Several trees were spread around the area. The whole courtyard was enclosed by the dark walls of the building, circling around the entire courtyard. Were it not for the azure sky above, she may have thought she were still inside.
On a whim, while looking around, she tried to spot the window of her bedroom, knowing it would likely be impossible to distinguish. While she couldn’t identify any details inside any of the rooms on account of the glare from the sky on the windows, she noticed that maybe a half dozen or so windows had bars set into them, just behind the glass.
Lemony trotted happily past her. “This is the garden. I come here to read, or to get away from it all, or to scream if I’ve had a stressful day.” She took a deep lungful of air. “It’s nice out here, don’t you think?”
Better than being inside. “It’s nice. I thought we’d be leaving the building, though?”
Lemony waved a hoof dismissively. “There’s not much to see out the front door. This place is a lot… tidier. Come on, do you like flowers? I’ve been growing some azaleas down here.”
“I think I’m going to go for a fly,” said Retcon, her wings fluttering.
After a moment, Lemony nodded, smiling. “Sure, don’t go too far!”
Retcon took up a stance on the lawn, spread her wings, and…
Wait, how exactly do I fly?
I’m a pegasus. Right? I have wings, I’m built to fly, I know that. But…
She sighed. “Lemony, how do I fly?”
Lemony looked up from a patch of pink flowers. “Huh? What?”
“I don’t really… remember how to fly…” the pegasus mumbled, feeling her face flush.
“Oh, uhh, I don’t really know either.” She wagged her forelegs, “just try flapping your wings! It’s like a muscle memory thing, I’m sure you’ll figure it out!”
Frowning, Retcon looked back at her wings, pushing them up and down experimentally. Even moving them gently, the downdraught was enough to make her feel off balance. There were strong muscles in them, but they felt heavy, strangely so. She had been comfortable holding them against her back for most of them time; suddenly trying to fly with them seemed daunting. It’s like if she had never stood up since she had awoken with no memory, and then suddenly expected herself to run.
But it didn’t hurt to try.
…Well it could hurt if I crash.
Was that how I ended up like this?
Maybe I should take it slowly.
First, she rotated the muscles in her wings, feeling how far she could move them in each direction. Then, she tried moving them slowly up and down. Slowly, she started to increase the force with each flap, making her feel slightly giddy as her feathers caught the wind, and her hooves started to feel lighter. With one flap, she very nearly fell over forwards before gravity caught her and she regained balance.
Then, she began to hover. She started pushing just enough force into her wings that she took off from the ground and hovered in place. Twisting slightly, she found that she had started to tilt forward, and the ground began to slowly roll past her. Twisting again, she started to move to her right, and then to her left.
And then, something took over.
She flapped her wings harder and harder, climbing in altitude as she gained confidence, feeling as though flight was starting to come more readily. She felt something encouraging coming from Lemony, perhaps a shout of praise, and it warmed her. She started to fly back and forth, gaining familiarity with her control, then circling the outside of the courtyard. Looping around the circumference of the space, she gradually climbed higher and higher, keeping an eye on Lemony down below with each pass.
Without warning, she shot upwards, over the walls of the building, pumping her wings as hard as she could…
…only to be met with an unending sea of trees.
Beyond the flat roof of the Institute was woodland, stretching far off into the distance in every direction. The forest seemed to begin right as the building ended, as if the whole complex had been dropped into a clearing.
Retcon couldn’t see a single sign of civilisation beyond the structure beneath her.
She had planned to escape. Or rather, calling it a plan would give it too much credit; she had seen an opportunity and seized it, hoping she could dart away before she could be stopped. Beyond that, she wasn’t sure what she would have done, but she had assumed that there would have been somewhere she could escape to. Looking around her, there were no landmarks, no indication that anything outside of her glorified prison could be a better option.
Wilderness, as far as the eye could see.
Grinding her teeth, she turned back to the courtyard and dropped, slowing her descent by flapping and circling. As she came close to the ground, she saw Lemony waiting, with what looked like a gentle grin on her face.
“Told you it’s tidier in here,” she said as Retcon touched down.
Retcon was too bewildered to scowl. “Okay, I’m going to assume that’s not normal,” she stated, gesturing upward.
Lemony put a hoof to her muzzle as she tried to stem a giggle. “I’m sorry, that’s rude of me. You’d be right, ponies don’t normally build deep in the Everfree. Yet here we are!”
I guess that’s the name of this land. “Why are we in the middle of a forest? I couldn’t see anything! It can’t be just us out here?”
“Not planning on leaving, are we?” asked Lemony, sounding more amused than concerned. “The Institute is the only building for miles and miles around, and the Everfree is not a safe place to be in. At least, not outside the premises. There are all sorts of nasty things out there.”
Retcon’s eye narrowed. “Why? To keep ponies in?”
“No,” Lemony replied gently. “To keep ponies out.”
The unicorn nodded. “Like I said, we handle sensitive information here. We wouldn’t want anyone stumbling inside and, well, getting hurt.”
Retcon rubbed her face in frustration. “Alright, what exactly do you mean by ‘sensitive information’?”
Lemony chewed the inside of her cheek. “There’s many kinds of wild magic out in the world; spells cast long ago, unknown magical creatures, or plantlife, artefacts, curses, hexes, seals, chaotic magic, even things we’ve probably never discovered. If nopony knows what it is, it goes through us.”
“…And I’m here because I ‘hit my head’?” Retcon pointedly tapped at the side of her skull. “Why couldn’t normal healers deal with it? Why am I instead locked up in a secret facility in the middle of nowhere?”
Lemony’s ears folded back as Retcon’s voice got louder. “Total memory loss is an extremely rare thing, but it is something we’ve dealt with before. That’s the only reason you’re here. And you’re not ‘locked up’. You’re out here with me.”
Retcon fell silent, going over everything she had experienced since she could remember. The ponies had been friendly and marginally forthcoming, she had been given food and the opportunity to fly, but there were so many things that didn’t add up. The remoteness of the place, the bars, the locks, the evasiveness. And the fact that she had no memory.
After a moment, she shot Lemony a glare. “You do realise how all this looks from where I’m standing?”
Lemony was looking at the floor, a shadow over her face. “It could look worse…” she muttered.
The unicorn blinked. Then her expression softened. Sympathy. “I understand. I do. I know what you’re feeling. But I don’t know what there is, if there even is anything that I could say or do to get you to trust me.”
“She that would keep a secret must keep it secret that she hath a secret to keep,” Retcon stated, frowning.
“Uh, where did you hear that?”
…That’s a good question. “What are you keeping from me?”
Lemony frowned, turning her head away, her ears held back. She took a deep breath, then looked Retcon in the eye. “Tell you what, I probably shouldn’t be doing this, but I’ll give you a tour of the place if you like. Show you what kind of stuff we do.” She scuffed the dirt with a forehoof. “And… I’ll see if I can get you your file to read.”
“…My file?” Information on who I am?
She nodded. “Don’t expect much though. We genuinely don’t know all that much about you, and you know most of that already.”
“I think I would like that,” Retcon said absently, nodding.
A shadow of that warm smile crept back onto Lemony’s face. “Thanks for giving me a chance.”
“Um, sure,” said the pegasus, feeling unsure.
It’s not as if it’s much of a choice, she thought. If I play along and act nice, that might play to my benefit. More trust, more information, more freedoms, and if your claims are genuine, I don’t want to have alienated the only friendly pony I know.
But if this is all a ruse, it really doesn’t matter how I act either way. Maybe I should withhold judgement, and just deal with now.
Retcon rubbed the back of her neck. “Look, I’m… sorry I’ve been abrasive. It’s just, I’m new to all this talking, and I don’t really know what I’m doing. Or much of anything, really. But I should have been… I mean…”
There was a strong sensation coming from the unicorn. She glanced up, wondering if Lemony’s eyes had always been that shiny.
Suddenly, Retcon found herself the victim of an unexpected hugging. She froze in place, eyes wide in surprise. I wasn’t briefed on this contingency!
She heard Lemony’s voice somewhere in her mane, “Hey, you’re doing great.” The hug was mercifully swiftly terminated, but she still felt warm inside. “For somepony who started at zero yesterday, you’re already doing really well. We’ll have you acting like a pony in no time!”
“Uhh, that was nice,” Retcon said, feeling stupid.
Lemony snort-laughed at that.