Chapter 45: The Impact On Oneself
Armored up, sidearm on his hip, Jackson pored over the maps in the hangar. Mayfield was with him, studying the terrain marked on their target, or what little they could. The area they were heading for was largely unexplored and unknown. It was a rocky and barren land far to the northwest, most of it was made of deep ravines and craggy mountains. On the whole, a discouraging place.
As far as they knew, that was where they needed to go. The only thing now was how they were going to get there. Jackson mulled over this, wondering if he could learn to fly one of the airships. It couldn't be that much harder than a helicopter.
He looked up at the sounds of hooves echoing on the cold concrete floor. It was Aria and to his discomfort, a very angry Dash. "Sorry ladies." He called out to them, "We're a little busy right now."
"I know." Aria said in a huff. "I figured out what happened, I want to go get my ship back."
Jackson perked up, he knew she was a pilot. "Sparks ok with this?"
"No, but that hasn't stopped me before."
"Me either." Dash stated as she walked up to the crates the two humans were using as a table. "James better be ok or I'm gonna beat the tar outta him."
"Whoa, hold on." Jackson said, moving to intercept the two. "This ain't gonna be no walk in the park. We're pretty much heading to this thing's home. Aria, you know the risks and we need someone to get us there, so I'll take that, but Dash..." he paused, figuring how to put it nicely, "If he knew I brought you along and put you in danger, he'll beat the tar outta me."
"It's not like I'm giving you the option." She said defiantly. "I'm a freakin' pegasus! I'll just fly along side."
"You really wanna do this? You know this will be nothin' but trouble."
"Try me." Dash narrowed her eyes.
Jackson ran a hand down his face and sighed, "Ah, shit." He squeezed his eyes shut and pinched his nose. "Alright, look." He raised his eyes back to her again. "I'll let you tag along, but under one condition. You stay with the ship. That way you'll be close to the action, one of the first to see Kaughn when we get him back, but you'll stay far enough out of danger. Deal?"
Rainbow Dash thought about it. Ran it through her head a few times, then nodded. "Deal."
"Good." Jackson walked back to the maps with a sigh of relief.
"You sure that's a good idea?" Mayfield whispered. "No offense to Master James, but he may very well be borderline sociopathic when we snatch him, given the current track record."
"I know, but you heard her. She's just going to come anyway and I'd rather her be where she's got some kind of safety."
"This where the party is?" All heads turned towards the hangar's entrance. "I heard you were going on a trip and didn't invite me, talk about rude!" Redflare announced as he walked in.
"Yeah because this doesn't need more bodies to get hurt." Jackson replied not unkindly. "Sorry, but this doesn't concern you."
"You're right." Redflare said cockily. "It concerns all of us." He continued in, closely followed by Cray, Iron, Swift Paws and even Kai. All were outfitted in their full battle dress. Even in his outdated armor, Kai looked particularly intimidating, especially with the gargantuan greatsword resting on his back.
"No, I can't let you all get involved in this." Jackson countered. "My brother caused this problem, it's my responsibility."
Kai approached slowly and placed his sharp claws on Jackson's shoulder, "I had the honor of fighting in the Battle of the Western Coast years ago, protecting his hunt-mates and winning glory for my clan. It would be dishonorable were I not to extend my services to you, brother of far-sight and silent-hunter. My blade is yours."
"You gave me purpose and accepted me when others would turn me away." Swift contributed. "You are my pack and my alpha. Where you hunt, I shall also."
Redflare was the next to speak up, "When everypony else just wrote me off as another kid with anger issues, you counseled me and showed me a new way of looking at things, even if it was a bit harsh. I owe you."
"To my parents, and anypony else for that matter, I was just useless geek that belonged in a lab." Cray said. "But you showed me my potential. That anypony can do anything if you try hard enough."
Jackson was a bit overwhelmed by all this. Sure, people in his position made an impact in the lives of those they led, but he didn't think it would be this much. He looked at Iron, silent throughout the whole little heart-to-heart they all had, "What about you, man? You just kind of happened to get stuck with me after we met in that town."
"Honestly?" Iron took a deep breath. "I just think you're an ok guy."
Jackson let out a nervous chuckle, "All right, I guess I'll give you that."
"This is all very touching and everything, nut we're trying to plan an extremely dangerous assault here!" Mayfield said from the make-shift table.
"He's right." Jackson said. "If you're all gonna do this with me, we need to plan this out right. None of this is gonna be easy and like all things we do, most likely lethal."
"Ah, about that." Cray said with a spark in his eye. "Iron, show him what we brought."
Iron walked over to the crates and unburdened himself of the large pack he had been carrying on his back. Cray opened it up and removed a tall stack of strange looking rings of various sizes, placing them on top of the crates. He smiled as he presented his little gift.
Jackson took a look and thought he recognized them, "Are those... are those the things they strapped on me and detonated an explosive device near me to test out? How did you get those?"
"Who do you think helped design them?" Cray slyly replied. "I've worked some of the bugs out, but they're still not perfect. They should help incase we encounter the old weaponry they developed. From reports on the place, this might be the case."
"Fuckin' A!" Mayfield said, already excitedly grabbing to try on the attachments. "I always wanted to try out some kind of power armor! Honestly, I would have preferred the walking tank kind, but this'll have to do."
"There's enough for everypony and I had time to adjust them to all your individual sizes. Make sure you get the right ones." Cray told them. He waited a moment while they gathered their armor augmentations and started putting them on. "Remember, while these will protect against most kinds of magical energy, kinetic is still lethal, so keep your heads down."
"Don't I know it." Jackson muttered.
Jackson and Mayfield filled the others in on the brief, going over the maps especially closely with Aria so she could get a feel for the area. After the quick crash course, they collected their gear and headed out onto the tarmac. As they walked towards one of the airships, still talking amongst themselves, there was a commotion at the gates.
Several of the guards were yelling as a large wheeled vehicle tore through and pulled out onto the tarmac. Jackson and Mayfield instantly recognized it for what it was, though it seems a few things had been added to it. Daisy came rolling across the pavement sporting repaired armor and a little higher lift to it. Most impressive of all was probably the small artillery piece that was now mounted on the top hatch.
Everyone paused as it pulled up, tires screeching a little as it came to a stop. The doors popped open and out hopped Quick Fix, Flash, Sylver, Sumner and a recruit. "Oh, no. No no no!" Jackson said as he walked up to them. "It's dangerous enough with my team comin', but you guys gotta stay. Especially you, Q. No offense, but you don't have the necessary training and experience. And where the hell you get that old M2?"
"Oh, I'm not going with you guys. I was asked to loan you Daisy here." She said with a smile.
"Yeah, after an awful lot of negotiating." Flash said as he stepped forward. Behind him, the rest of his team was breaking out gear and getting ready. "We're gonna follow you guys in and crew it. Give you guys a little ground support, I hear the high winds are terrible for flying there. I doubt even Aria would be much help there. No offense." He added, glancing at the mare.
"We got a recruit that got rolled out of the flight program who says he should still be alright to fly. He was a great help to Sparks, I'm told."
"Which one?" Aria asked, quickly trotting over. She looked over at the fighting vehicle and spotted the unicorn. "Star, really?"
"He a problem?"
"Eh, he flies ok. But just ok, make sure your all strapped in before asking him to land."
"I still said no." Jackson protested. "I can't allow you to take this risk."
"Well we're going anyway." Flash calmly replied. "James is my friend too. I'm gonna help get him back, so deal with it." Turning to Aria, he said, "We'll follow behind you in another airship with 'Daisy' underslung."
"Sounds like a plan."
"So you're gonna do this anyway, huh?" Jackson said to Flash.
"Yup. Approval came from Princess Celestia herself, so learn to live with it." Flash said as he trotted away back to his team.
Jackson rubbed his bald head and thought about how he could at least use this. It wasn't in the plan and he didn't want to put anyone else in danger. "Well, shit." He said, turning back to his own team. "Looks like we got more comin' to the party," he shouted, "everybody mount up! Let's do this!"
He had been traveling for hours now. Tired and hungry, James took a cold meal as he sat looking down from the clouds at the vast barren and rolling hills spread out before him. He sat calmly on the edge of the cabin, feet dangling out the side door. There, in the rapidly dwindling sunlight, was where his enemy hid.
Even with that knowledge, everything seemed so peaceful and clear up in the sky. His thoughts drifted as he watched the canvas of the horizon shift in color and tone, deepening from a refreshing cyan blue to a cheerful orange and finally to an angry red as it chased the sun. Absent mindedly, his hand found the pendant he still wore around his neck and fingered it as he gazed out over the harsh environment.
James wondered if he'd made the right decision, leaving them all behind, especially Dash. He asked himself if he could have just returned to the forest and resumed the peace he'd found there. Surely, some one else could complete the task, he'd trained some of them, and they in turn trained more, some of the best fighters he knew.
Then something pulsed up from within him, something dark and full of rage. New images flashed in his mind, of death and pain. He saw some of his friends faces, along with them a truly horrid feeling of pleasure that had form all its own. He'd felt it before, long ago, but not nearly as strong as it had been and it scared him. It scared him to think he had this for so long, so close was he to those he loved.
Sensing the feelings rising up, he did what he usually did. With sheer force of will, James crushed them, bludgeoning them down back into the deep, dark, Stygian recesses of his being from whence they came. He could feel them, still there, but diminished. Though he now had the familiar sensation of detachment.
He still wasn't what he used to be. The images of pain and gore were still there, but he no longer cared for them. They didn't affect him as they should be. That, most of all, caused a twinge of discomfort inside him.
A distraction ripped him from his thoughts, an alarm. He got up quickly and jumped to the cockpit where a steady rhythmic tone was blaring a warning at him. James searched the instrument panel and found an indicator that blinked in synchronization with the alarm. He cursed as he saw the charge for the engine was running out, and quickly too. Already, he could feel the craft start to dip, beginning its own fast approach to the ground below.
Mentally kicking himself for overlooking something so important, James ran back into the cabin and started grabbing his gear. He threw a parachute on, along with his rifle and ammo pouches. He tossed the rest into a drop-bag with its own parachute and tossed it out, pulling the pilot chute out as he did so.
The airship was starting to lose altitude at an alarming rate now, he didn't have much time left. He had to act fast as the deck beneath him tilted. Leaping to the trunk under the fold-down seats, he strapped the last parachute to its exterior, taking a second to ensure it was on there tightly enough. Then with a quick silent prayer that he had packed enough padding into the trunk along with the item he took, he shoved it out the side door, following it out into the open arms of the sky.
Getting his bearings, James saw that he was a bit closer to the ground than he would have liked as it rushed up to meet him. He spotted the open canopy of the drop-bag and made a note of where he thought it was going to land. Then as the Clipper fell along side him, James pulled the chute attached to the trunk.
The chute deployed, but then something went terribly wrong. The lines connected to the canopy twisted up, sending the trunk into a spin and slamming it painfully into James' chest. James tumbled away from the force of the impact, arms flailing as he tried to right himself. The pendant he wore, whipping around in the air, began to lift from around his neck.
The sight of it terrified him. Out of everything he had, he felt that to be the most valuable. His current peril forgotten for the moment, James grabbed for it as it slipped from around his neck. He caught it just as it was about to fling itself far from his body, but his momentary crisis cost him.
The rocky ground came up at him like an old abominable friend, come to do him harm. Reflexes kicked in and he tossed the pilot chute out, but too late. He was jerked up with a whumpf as the main chute deployed, but he was too close to the ground.
James flared the canopy and angled the chute towards a jagged slope in a last ditch effort to soften his landing. He hit the dirt like a sack of potatoes, bouncing down the slope as the harness snapped and sent him away with nothing to stop him. James winced as he felt his side crunch in a particularly bad bounce and pain blossomed from his ribs.
As he reached the bottom of the slope, in the shadow of a small ridge, he finally, blessedly, rolled to a stop. He lay there for a moment, getting a feel for the damage he had endured. His side hurt like hell, might be a few broken ribs. Aside from some cuts and maybe a gash or two, his arms were fine, but as he moved his left leg, he felt a lance of pain shoot up from behind his knee.
He tried again and found that the limb wouldn't unfold from its position right. Gingerly sitting up, he reached over and felt around. One of his ligaments seemed to be out of place. It hadn't detached or torn, but if he wasn't careful, he could easily do it.
Gritting his teeth, James put both hands around his knee and, using his thumbs, carefully moved the ligament back into position. It was extremely painful, but with a final pop that was felt rather than heard, it snapped back into place with a rush of relief. Slowly, he moved it, testing the range of motion. There was still a small twinge of pain from the distressed body part, but it was bearable.
With a grunt, James got up, sucking in air painfully as he agitated his side. He went over his body and checked his equipment. He still had most of his ammo and his sidearm was still there. Hardy as it was, his rifle was mostly just scuffed up and had some nicks in it, but the sight was busted. The lenses were cracked and shattered, the top mashed in where he thought he must have landed on it.
He sighed inwardly, it was a good optic. James slid it off and flipped up the iron sights. He would have to hope that everything in the drop-bag made it or that he could salvage something from the airship. He had just completed that last thought when the Clipper came screaming low overhead.
It smacked into the ridge, throwing up a shower of rocks, dirt and dust, trailing it as it went careening into the ravine. It smashed into the bottom, rolling and flipping until it finally came to a halt. James looked down at its new twisted form below.
It was totally scrapped. Most of the aircraft had flattened in on itself. That that hadn't, had been flung clear and wide into a sizable debris field. Aria was going to be pissed, James thought.
James lumbered up the slope heading for the top of the ridge. Something tickled the side of his face and when he checked, his hand came away sticky with blood. Now he was sure he had a gash up there and now, a possible concussion. He was only just out the gate in his mad adventure and already he was in bad shape.
At the top of the ridge, he scanned the area and thankfully spotted the parachutes of the drop-bag and the trunk not far off from each other. That at least had gone well enough. Willing away what pain he could, James started forward to the drop-bag.
He may be injured and doubtful of himself, but the fire still burned inside. The architect of his pain was close at hand, he could feel it, almost sense it. He had work to do before the night was out.