Chapter 3: Questions
In a secluded corner of Canterlot Castle, a part that was rarely visited by the the staff and almost never by civilians, a dark rusty coated unicorn with electric blue hair sat behind a desk, scribbling words out onto a piece of parchment with a magically animated quill. He was wearing a shadowy digital patterned uniform over his coat, on patches of hide that were visible, the faint lines of scars accumulated during a rough life could be seen. On his uniform, he wore a patch that featured a phoenix with the letters RSTG embroidered in gold over it.
The room the stallion sat in had only one window that looked out over the lowlands. On the wall opposite, and old cuckoo clock was secured, the turning of it's gears and clicking of it's inner workings providing soft background noise. It was soothing and helped him concentrate, something he welcomed after accepting the responsibilities of his current job. It had been almost two years now, almost two to the day since he had accepted his appointment to this posting. He had big shoes to fill too. He was only the second officer to ever hold the position.
Sometimes he thought back to the day. The day they had lost the first one. They day his land was saved from a ruthless invasion, but at a great cost. Sometimes he thought back to the days before that one. When he was with his old team, doing his nation's work, hooves on. Not stuck behind a desk like was now.
His nostalgia for the old days was interrupted by a soft knock at the door.
"Come in." The stallion at the desk said casually.
The door swung open and a charcoal coated pegasus with bright green eyes and a steely mane walked in. His left wing was folded to his side awkwardly, as if still affected by an old injury. The dark stallion came forward to the desk and sat himself down at one of the two seats in front of it. The unicorn looked up and was delighted to see an old friend.
"Flash! How are you doing? It's been a long time."
"Yeah, been pretty busy, especially with all the trouble some of the tribes are causing. How's your desk job, Sparks?"
"Not bad. A little boring, but it has to be done. Honestly, I had no idea how much paperwork this organization could generate."
"Yeah, for all the secrets you'd think Princess Luna would want less of it." The pegasus chuckled.
"Ha ha, yeah..."
"How's your little foal doing?"
"Great! He's already tinkering with machines, just like his parents. What's going on with you and Pinkie, still going steady?"
"Yup, things are good. She worries a lot though. I can't help but feeling a little guilt about what it does to her. Heh, she goes out of her way to through a party for me every time I come back home. But I'm afraid of what it might do to her when I don't come back." Flash said with a dour tone.
"Well, hopefully it won't ever come to that. It's been a couple of years now and the treaties are still intact. Your patrols couldn't be easier."
"That's actually why I'm here. We hit a slight snag on the last one." Flash told his old friend, voice becoming serious.
"What is it?" Sparks asked, worry welling up in his eyes as he picked up on Flash's change of demeanor.
"Up north, we found a dead member of the Renegade Tribes. Fresh kill, messy yet clean at the same time. We found the the thing that caused it. Took it prisoner."
"Is that all?" Sparks said with some relief, "Just turn it in to its tribe and call it a day."
"That's the thing, it wasn't killed by its own kind. It's a human."
Sparks' eyes went wide with shock and he leaned over his desk, closer to his friend, "Are you sure!?"
"Absolutely positive. We have it in lock up, the vault."
Sparks got up and put his paper and quills away. Then he used his magic to levitate a pistol belt from where it hung by the door, belting it around himself, checking that the firearm holstered there was snug in its place. Flash got up to join Sparks as he walked out of his office.
"Has Princess Luna been informed?" The unicorn inquired of the pegasus.
"I sent a runner just before I came to tell you."
The two stallions walked together at a brisk pace, almost a trot, down the long corridor that led to Sparks' office. On either side, it was lined with beautifully crafted stained glass windows, much like the wing that housed the Elements of Harmony. Only instead of featuring the deeds of a certain group of ponies from a small town in Equestria, these depicted scenes of a great battle that took place not too long ago, lit from behind by the dimming sun of late afternoon. It showed images of ponies and griffons alike locked in a vicious battle with strange two legged monsters.
Most fought amongst each other on the ground, eternally locked in a violent struggle with hoof and sword. Still others exchanged volleys of arrows and bolts. One window showed a small fleet of tiny airships attacking and harassing a ship of much greater size. There was one window, at the end of the hall, that had the most curious picture of all.
It showed a faceless two legged figure, armed with strange weapons. It stood side-by-side with with a group of ponies and even one of the monsters from the other windows. All wore matching uniforms and armor. They even had the same insignia emblazoned on each of their shoulders. They were shown pushing back the brutal hordes of invaders, working together to bring peace and protect those they cared for.
As they passed this last panel, Sparks and Flash viewed it longingly, their eyes lingering for a brief moment before continuing on in their task. The two stallions left the passageway and went down some stairs to the main corridor of the palace. The hall was busy with staff and servants, preparing for the change of guard that was soon to take place. Much of this went unobserved by the two, their minds lay on more important matters.
After walking some distance, they finally came upon an innocent and unassuming stair that led downwards into the depths of the palace. To most, it would look like any other boring stair case, laced with a few cobwebs and almost eternally dusty, but that was its ruse. If one were to descend the stair, like the two stallions now, they would find themselves at a large iron bound door, two stories high and guarded steadfastly by the best the nation had to offer.
The guards at the door stiffened and became wary as the two other ponies approached. However, all Sparks had to do was simply step forward and show himself. The guards, recognizing the rank and status of the stallion standing before them, immediately snapped to attention and rendered a salute, allowing them both to pass through the now opening doors.
Flash and Sparks entered and found themselves in Celestia's secret underground vault. An enormous hidden room sequestered in the bowels of Canterlot. Its primary purpose was to house the myriad trinkets and artifacts from other worlds that sometimes slip through the folds of reality and found their way into theirs. Most were harmless and posed no threat to the denizens of Equestria, but some, some were quite dangerous.
Now, it was also used as a sort of armory, and brig, for Equestria's secretive special forces. Through the side rooms and galleries of the clandestine vault was a small passageway that didn't appear to be much. But upon following it, one would find themselves in a long hallway, its walls on either side hosting thick wooden doors with heavy locks on them. It was here that Equestria's most dangerous criminals, those that sought to bring terrible harm to the county's populace, were kept under lock and key.
At the moment, almost all of these rooms were empty. A couple were occupied, members of the Renegade Tribe that had attacked villages and pillaged homes. Here they would be questioned, all the facts gathered, before being released to their own kind to be tried in the ways of their kin. Other than that, this corner of the vault was quite empty. Save for one room, ensconced far in the back, where none might disturb it. At it's door, a special guard stood, members of the RSTG the patches on the front of their uniforms feature a knife crossed with a wrench. Embroidered above the image was the title; The Fixers.
"Has he been any trouble?" Flash asked the two members of his team.
"Some, sir." Replied a silver white unicorn with a light blonde mane, "He's broken out of his restraints three separate times, we have him suspended and restrained magically now, sir."
"Broken from his restraints?" Sparks asked quizzically, "How badly is he freaking out about us?"
"He doesn't know." Flash answered.
"He doesn't know?"
"I thought it would be best. When we captured him, he seemed to think that we were also human. To be honest, visibility at the time was extremely poor. When we knocked him out, we black bagged him and set him up in here. As far as he knows, he's still back on his own world." The pegasus explained.
"This is troubling. I don't want a human here freaking out about his situation."
"There's one other thing..." Flash started, "When we searched his uniform, we found this," he produced a uniform top that had a patch with the image of an eagle carrying a trident and flintlock pistol in its claws, "and this."
From a pocket on his uniform, Flash pulled out a photograph. Sparks took it with his magic and studied it. At first, it seemed just like a random photo, but with humans instead of ponies, there were five of them at a beach somewhere. But as he looked closer, an expression of astonishment sprung to the unicorn's face.
"Is that... James!?" Sparks asked with shock, eyes going wide.
"Sure is. And that bigger one next to him, with the dark skin? That's the one we have locked up right now."
"You remember any of the old stories he used to tell? About his old team?"
"Lieutenant Commander Flash, Commander Sparks, what is all this ruckus about a human being found?"
The two stallions turned and suddenly found themselves face to face with Princess Luna.
"Ma'am," Sparks started, giving her a short salute, "Lieutenant Commander Flash and his team captured a human during their patrol in the Frozen North." He reported to her.
"I see. Do you know the location and manner in which he arrived?" She inquired.
"We have the location marked on a map," Flash chimed in, "but we are still unaware as to the way he got here."
"Very well. I shall have Ms. Sparkle informed and dispatched to the site in the morning. Commander Sparks, I expect you to assign her an escort."
"Yes ma'am. There's also something else you should know, ma'am." Sparks added.
"What is it?"
"This human, it seems knew James at some point in time."
"How so?" Luna asked expectantly.
"He's wearing the same unit patches James did when he first arrived. That, plus he had this in his possession." Sparks showed her the photo.
"Hm... interesting. Have any of you attempted to speak with our guest?" Luna asked.
"Negative." Flash said.
"Then let us begin now, perhaps we can learn more. Open the door."
The darkened hood was stuffy and scratchy. It had been who knows how long he had been wearing it. He couldn't see any light out of it to be able to tell. On top of that, he had no idea where he was. Jackson knew that after being rendered unconscious by the strange blast of energy, he had been transported to some other location, but to where or how far away he had gone, he had no clue. He had tried escaping three times now, but each time he had been recaptured an restrained again. After the third time, instead of putting on a different style of shackles, he found himself floating weirdly, like he was in some sort of suspension tank, only he couldn't move his arms or legs. In addition, the same peculiar tingling feeling from before teased his body, only this time there was no pain.
The sound of the door latch unlocking reached Jackson's ears and caused his body to tense up. Then came the painfully annoying sound of the door swinging slowly open on squeaky and neglected hinges. Then another thing happened that had been baffling him for some time. Rather than the foot steps he had expected to hear, the sound of hooves on a stone floor echoed throughout the room. As best as he could guess, he was being held captive in some kind of stable.
"Hello human, we wish to speak with you." Came a voice from his front.
The voice sounded feminine and young, but also with a tone of experience and wisdom, like the speaker was very old.
"Hey, I don't know what about, I don't really know anything." Jackson replied calmly, "Especially with this rag you got pulled over my head."
"Our apologies on that, but we found it necessary."
"Uh-huh, sure, whatever. How about lettin' me go now, I got shit to do."
"I'm afraid we can't do that just yet, we need to know more about you first."
"Well that's a problem. There ain't really shit to know about me." Jackson chuckled.
"The items we found in your possession say otherwise. Where are you from?"
"Everywhere." Jackson answered in defiance.
"Please try to be cooperative, we mean you no harm."
"Yeah, I've heard that before. Right before I got my fingers smashed with a hammer. C'mon, this is some really amateur shit."
"I assure you, we will not bring harm to you."
"Yeah, then let me go then."
"In due time. First, we wish to learn your intent."
"Intent? What kind of mind game bullshit is this? Is this some kind of test or something, did Bellis change the rules again? I'll tell you what, though, you ain't gettin' nothin' outta me." Jackson said without seriousness. The whole thing was starting to come off like a joke to him.
"Maybe this might change your mind." Came another voice from his left, this time male, "Would you by any chance know James?"
"James? I know a lot of James', it ain't all that rare a name. You might as well ask me if I know a guy named Bob!"
"Kaughn. His name is James Kaughn."
Jackson's heart nearly stopped. The drop of that name caused a shock to his system, but now he was angry.
"Ok, ok. This is starting to go to far now. I'm done with this little game or whatever this is." Jackson said, his temper rising.
"I assure you, this is no game." Said the female voice.
"You know what? Take this fucking mask off, I wanna see responsible for this shit." Jackson said with ire.
"Are you sure?" Asked the female voice.
"Yes, I'm fucking sure!"
The hood that was over Jackson's face lifted and floated away, enshrouded in a dark blue aura. Standing on the ground in front of him, or rather below him as he was suspended at least five feet in the air, were five ponies. On each side of the stood a unicorn and a regular looking pony, the unicorn's horn was glowing a dull red. Jackson looked down and saw all of his body, save his head, was covered in the same dull red aura, additionally, he was stripped of his cold weather gear, all of his equipment and his uniform top. Directly before him stood three more ponies.
One was a dark charcoal gray with two wings on it's back, one hung at an awkward angle on its side. The second was a rusty red with an electric blue mane, a horn protruded from its forehead. The third had both wings and a horn. Its coat was a midnight blue while its mane looked like a night sky be speckled with stars and seemed to flow in a non-existant wind. In addition, the third one stood about a head taller than the rest. Except for the large pony, four of them were wearing matching uniforms of dark digital camouflage.
Then the one in the middle spoke with the same feminine voice Jackson had just been conversing with, "Please do not be alarmed, we mean no harm and only wish to speak with you."
"What the fuck is this Mr. Ed shit? Nix, is this your idea of a prank, did you do this?" Jackson shouted at the walls around him. "I swear, Nix, if this is your doing, I'm gonna kick your ass when I get down from here!"
"There is no 'Nix' here," the cosmically maned one continued, "I am Princess Luna, these here are a few of my subordinates."
"'Princess Luna, right." Jackson scoffed.
"I ask that you take this seriously." Luna said sternly.
"Yeah, yeah, take off the freaky horse costume, lady, then I'll take this seriously."
Luna didn't answer this time, instead staying silent. For a moment, Luna and Jackson stared each other down, neither yielding to the other. Then, Luna backed away and exited the room, Sparks and Flash following behind her and closing the door. Once outside, Luna reared up and kicked the wall in anger.
"Ugh! He is so stubborn! And that last comment, just... Ugh!" She huffed, kicking the wall again. "Are you absolutely sure that human in there was a friend of James?" She asked Sparks.
"If that photo is anything to go by, they knew each other well enough to hang out together. Don't take anything he says to personally either, ma'am. I'm not sure he's completely aware of the situation he's in."
"Hmmm. I must speak with my sister. Continue to interrogate him and lessen his restraints if he calms down." Luna ordered.