Out of Touch

by ToixStory

Neon Night - III

I stepped out into the cold night lit by neon lights reflecting on the puddles forming on the sidewalk. As I watched Golden slide the door shut, a part of me wanted to run back inside and stay with them forever, even though I knew I couldn’t. I sighed and walked down the narrow street lined with small houses identical to Golden’s.

Tall buildings leered over me and the district, their glass eyes keeping a close watch on the city’s poor. I could see how living in a place like this long enough could start to have effects on a pony.

I stumbled around aimlessly for a little bit, not really caring which way I was going. I walked down side roads and big avenues and under the wooden overhangs of shops lit up in the night and defiant to the downpour that fell around them.

My mind wandered for a bit. It seemed stable for the moment, but I didn’t know when it would crash next. I had no way of getting to Charm and Mr. White or even Cloaked Dagger. I was stuck and without anywhere to go.

I sighed and leaned under a sign advertising some ethnic restaurant. Above me, airships flew through the night, casting down beams of light from platforms beneath them. I looked up at them for a moment, then waved off the thought of capturing one. Where would I go? How would I find Cloaked Dagger?

Despite myself, I laughed a little. It hadn’t been about finding Cloaked Dagger for quite some time now. It had been more about me on a big invincibility ego trip, then getting my flank kicked, going insane, and then getting picked up off the street by strangers way nicer to me than anypony had any right to be.

But maybe that could be why I would fight, really. Not fight for Cloaked Dagger or for Charm or Twilight or even myself, but for those who couldn’t. The ponies like Golden who were caught in a system that drove ponies to hurt those below them. I wasn’t sure if it was me or Twilight talking anymore, but I didn’t care.

I looked like a hero, so I was going to be that hero. If I brought harm to myself, well, what did it matter? I was stranded here without a clear idea of how to get back to Twilight or even Journey’s End, and Charm, for all I knew, was just gone. I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. It was the best of times and the worst of times.

With that foolhardy determination, I ran out into the middle of the street under one of the blimps. It had a police crest plastered on the side of the balloon and was sweeping the searchlight lazily across the district.

Gathering as much magic as I could, I let forth a massive blast from my horn that sailed straight up, pierced through the crowds, and continued toward the heavens. It was a single, massive beam of violet let that could be seen throughout the entire city. Just as planned.

Sure enough, the searchlight of that blimp and a half dozen others were soon focused on me as they drew closer. The wailing of sirens approached my position as the inhabitants of the district scattered away from me.

Within minutes, I was surrounded by at least twenty police cars and ponies armed to the teeth and pointing their weapons at my head. It appeared they had learned from their previous lessons, and some had those cables like from the office ready to throw at me in case I tried anything funny.

One of them chatted into a radio, “We found her. The subject is under control and ready to be brought in.”

I couldn’t hear the reply, but a dozen police officers swarmed around me and grabbed from all sides before slapping cuffs onto both sets of legs and some sort of band onto my horn. Maybe that would have affected a normal pony’s magic, but I could feel mine still throb beneath it. I let them have their fun, though.

Soon, they shoved me into the back of a large white van and roared off toward what I hoped would be the final confrontation with whoever had been so gung ho on hunting me down. I smiled to myself. One way or another, this was going to end.

*        *        *

I was bound and tied as we drove to whatever building housed the seedier parts of the government. They locked some sort of device over my horn that dulled my magic senses, though not completely as I assumed they had intended, and put a blindfold on. They spoke in whispers and seemed only to talk about taking me to see their mysterious boss.

The van stopped and I could feel us rising. Some sort of massive elevator, I supposed. It’s not like anypony was going to tell me otherwise. Though I kept quiet, my heart was thumping in my chest like a jackhammer.

My mind kept playing back to the incident in Dagger’s office and those horrible cables that made every fiber of my being ache in pain. I knew I would be confronting the pony who set them up and who, no doubt, was not afraid of using them again.

I wanted to run, but it was far too late for that.

The rising stopped and a loud humming filled the interior of the van. Then the door opened and I was bodily hauled out and dropped on the floor. I could hear the air whistle around the room, so it was some sort of massive structure. Figures, for somepony with this much of an ego.

“Welcome Tinker,” a high-pitched voice called, “or, what remains of the pony once named Tinker.”

I struggled against my binding, but it was for naught. I couldn’t move or see anything going on. “What do you want?” I yelled.

He laughed, a shrill and annoying sound. “You, of course. Why else would I bring you here and go through the trouble of kidnapping all of your friends?” He paused for a second. “Oh, right. Take her blindfold off!”

One of the guards tore the blindfold off and the light briefly blinded me. When my sight came back, I realized I was standing on the edge of a concave room that sloped down to a small platform at the top of circular steps. They glowed and pulsed in some sort of field and kept Charm, Mr. White, and Dagger trapped.

Sitting on top of the white metal platform, beneath the pyramidal roof that extended up into darkness, was a pony of purest white. He was small, just larger than a colt, but his bright red eyes bore down on me above a small snear.

“Impressive, no?” he called from his platform at the bottom of the artificial crater. “I built it because I could. And it. Is. Wonderful!”

“You built this so ponies could look down on you?” I called, then received a smack from one of the guards.

The director pony just snorted. “Ponies have been looking down on me my whole life,” he said. “It makes them underestimate me. It’s why I refuse to take the position of director, instead choosing Lieutenant. It’s a Prench word, meaning in place of or holding position. Beneath. And look where I am now.”

I could have sworn that the little pygmy wanted me to actually look around the room. With big metal walls in orange gothic lighting, it might have looked impressive to some cranky interior designer, but to me I didn’t care.

I stepped forward as much as I could in my bindings. “Okay, so what?” I asked. “Why did you drag me here? To gloat? If so, great, can I go home now?”

Lieutenant said nothing, but held up a small object in his hooves. I had to strain to see it, but when I did my heart stopped. There, at the end of string wrapped around his hooves, was a small crystal. But not just any crystal. Charm’s crystal. The very charm that gave him his name.

And it was glowing.

“You like?” he said. “It is a very rare, very magic crystal from the Empire itself. It can hold enough condensed magic to power a star. And do you know what I filled it with?” He smirked. “I filled it with you. All that magic that was drained from you in that office is in here now.”

I tilted my head. “So you just made a crystal that glows purple?” To my knowledge, the crystal had never done anything for Charm except give him a cutie mark. Perhaps Lieutenant had made a mistake for once.

Unfortunately, that was not the case. No sooner had I finished speaking than Lieutenant pointed the crystal at one of his guards. It pulsed for a moment and the guard disappeared in a puff of ash and a lingering scream.

My stomach jumped. Charm had never used that setting before.

“Very glow-y indeed,” Lieutenant said. “In addition to fun tricks, your magic is rumored to give immortality. After all, you have popped up in history for longer than we have kept records.”

I coughed. “So that’s all this is? A bid for immortality?”

“It is not just immortality,” Lieutenant cried. “Look at me. Who would think I could succeed as much as I have? But the one thing I have never had is time. Time! Time to do everything I have ever wanted in the world.” He took a tentative step toward me on the platform and winced. “I am far older than I look, and ponies like me don’t live long. But not anymore.”

“Okay, but you have my juice already,” I said, “so why not just let us go? You’ve wasted agents to catch us and now you’ve got your immortality. Just leave us alone.”

Above me, wires snapped down and impacted into the floor, held there by small hooks. Before I could run, they surrounded me like a cage. I was trapped. I could feel a scream welling up inside of myself and I had to fight it down.

The top of the platform Lieutenant was on rose and separated itself from the stairs. It hovered up above the captives and floated until he was just a few feet in front of me. He was grinning.

“I’m afraid what we got you the first time was just a . . . sample,” he said. “The amount you gave me would extend my life fifty, perhaps a hundred years, but I have much more planned. Much more.”

A lever extend through the floor of the platform and Lieutenant placed his hoof on it. “I apologize that we did not get to meet each other sooner, Miss Tinker,” he said, “but perhaps it is better this way. The draining process is not very pretty.”

He pulled the lever down, the cables lit with their magic, and I lost myself as my vision went white and my body shook in agony.

*        *        *

The white didn’t fade, but my vision eventually cleared until I found myself standing on a featureless plain that stretched forever. No horizon, no bend, no curve . . . just straight emptiness. So I was here again. Since when had my life gotten so repetitive?

I blinked. No, it wasn’t empty, and something like mirages were clearing in front of me. Fuzzy shapes that materialized into three figures sitting on the ground. I ran toward them.

However, it seemed like no matter how quickly I ran toward them, I could not reach them. They remained forever on the horizon until I finally quit running and threw up my hooves in confusion.

Then, when I looked back down again, the figures were right in front of me. I let out a startled yelp and scrambled backwards.

On the ground in front of me were three figures of . . . me. Not exactly me, though. Well, one of them was for the most part, but not all of them.

In the middle was the one who most looked like me: seagreen mane pulled back in a ponytail with violet eyes and a cutie mark of a wrench crossed over a blowtorch. For some reason, though, her coat was green as compared to my own silver.

The other two were familiar as well. To the left of “me” was Twilight with her cape and tattoo and everything, but somehow she had my height and eyes. More disturbing, to the right was what could best be described as a cross of me and Discord; mismatched limbs and all.

The trio didn’t talk or say a word; only stared up at me in what I assumed was anticipation. For what, I didn’t know.

“Yes, you do.”

I whirled around to see the first figure that didn’t look like me: Charm, looking like he had when I had left.

“You know exactly where you are and why you’re here,” he said.

“This is my mind, I guess,” I said. “But . . . I don’t know why I’m here. Besides dying, I mean.”

He sat on the ground and looked up at me. “Well yes, you’re dying, but there are a million places your mind could have gone and it chose this one. Why?”

I shrugged. “I don’t even know anymore. The past weeks have been so much . . .”

“Six days,” Charm said. “You’ve been gone six days. Not even a week.”

“Seriously?” I screeched. All the things I had gone through . . . but he was right. Celestia, it hadn’t been an entire week yet. If I had been normal, it would only have been next Thursday.

Charm nodded, his rusty red hair swaying with him. “You’ve done a lot in those six days, Tinker. More than most ponies do in their lifetimes. But it seems to have fractured your mind, as you can see. Heck, I’m nothing more than you speaking to yourself.”

“Okay, me,” I said, charging forward and trying not to think of how insane I sounded, “what do I think I should do?”

Charm shrugged. “You haven’t exactly been thinking about that for a while, have you?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Think about it: Since you threw yourself on that bomb, it’s like you’ve been trying to be Twilight. But you’re not and right now you’re having your life drained away and then the Lieutenant will kill the rest. In fact, since you met her, you’ve been trying to be more like her. When’s the last time you, you know, tinkered with something?”

I bowed my head. “Why would I want to be me, though? Twilight’s a hero . . . I just get in the way. By being her, I solved my problems.”

“No, when you acted like her you created more problems. You can be a hero, but you’ll have to be Tinker first. There's a hero inside of you somewhere; you just have find her.”

“But how do I do that?” I asked.

“First,” Charm said, pointing at my purple coat and horn, “you have to get rid of Twilight.”

“I don’t know how—”

Charm rushed forward and our lips met. Sure, technically I was making out with myself in Charm form, but I didn’t care. It was wonderful.

I leaned into him and it was like the whole weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders for the first time since coming to Manehattan.

When I looked again, though, he was gone. The versions of myself had disappeared as well, but most starting of all was myself. I looked down at myself and I was Tinker again, though now with a green coat under my white overshirt and black vest. If that’s what it cost then I wasn’t going to complain.

The white world faded from view and I opened my eyes.

*        *        *

Outside, I was still the same, though still surrounded by the cables. I could see the magical energy flowing out of them and into the crystal that Lieutenant held. It sparkled and glowed until the entire room seemed to grow dark save its purple light.

And yet, though the cables were drawing energy from me, I felt no pain. When I looked down, I could see why. Like paint peeling off a wall, the purple coat from Twilight was coming off, starting off at the bottoms of my hooves and moving up.

It continued on its way as Lieutenant watched in confusion. He was yelling, but I couldn’t hear what he said.

Beneath it, the mint green coat from the other “me” replaced Twilight’s color. I smiled a little when I saw it. Even if it wasn’t the original, it was me. When I looked back, it was my cutie mark and my seagreen tail.

The essence of Twilight climbed up until it came to a point on the top of my faux-horn. It pulsed and swelled into a bright ball of light.

I could finally hear what Lieutenant was screaming: “What are you doing?”

A smile made its way onto my face and I leaned against the cables, which bent under my weight. “If you want Twilight so badly,” I said, “then you can have her!”

I reared back and threw my head, sending the ball of light soaring out and into the cables. They flexed and burst from the weight of the magic. The magic flow from them grew and shot out toward Lieutenant, who threw up his hooves in a vain attempt to protect himself.

The magic went right through and into the crystal. For a second there was silence, then the Lieutenant burst into a cloud of gas and drifted away while the crystal floated to the ground.

I walked over, picked it up, and held it up to my face. It was such a simple, yet precious thing. I kicked away the ash that was the remains of Lieutenant or whatever he had been.

It had been pretty anticlimactic, in the end. Yet another sick freak just wanting more power. But it wasn't about him, I supposed; it was against myself that I had fought the real fight.

“Thanks for nothing,” I mumbled to his remains.

It was at that time that I realized what had happened by getting rid of Twilight’s magic. What had really happened.

I felt myself being tugged by the hooves of time as they ached to take me away and back to wherever Twilight was. I fought it as I stumbled over to where Charm and the rest lay in a daze.

They looked up at me and started to speak, but I cut them off.

“I don’t have much time,” I told Charm, taking him by the shoulders. I shoved the crystal into his hooves. “But I trust you . . . use this and it will take you anywhere. One day, someday, you’ll find me again. I promise.”

He opened his mouth, but I held my hoof over it and smiled. “Save it.”

There was a popping sound and the universe disappeared as I was flung through time once more. It almost felt good to be back. Almost.

*        *        *

I found Twilight again on a grassy knoll on the thinning edges of a forest beneath a great blue sky dotted by puffy white clouds. Wind ran down from the mountains behind and rolled over the waves of tall grass on the plain in front of her. It may have been Equestria or an alien world, but I didn’t care.

I walked up next to her and sat down to watch the sea of grass as it rose and fell beneath the bright sun. We didn’t say anything. She scooted next to me and let me rest against her.

I was back.