With a groan and several blinks of your eyes, you find yourself almost ready to fall off the side of the mountain courtesy of a loose grip. Tightening your hand around the rocky handhold, you sigh in exertion and continue up, determined to live.
The pain in your hands goes unnoticed by now, even though they’re little more than raw slabs of meat from the relentless trip. Your back, however…
A flare of pain makes you almost lose your grip again.
Your back could be doing better…
Pus drips from the rancid laceration every time you bend too far one way, making the situation that much more unpleasant. There’s no doubt about the state of that infection now. You’re pulled from your thoughts when you realize that you’re standing upright at the top of the mountain, hardly a hundred yards from an open gate to the now much larger looking castle.
Your comlink beeps within your head again and displays another message.
[Elapsed time since beginning of last neural disruption: 28 minutes]
Hardly a second later it seems, you’re at the front of the white marble gates. This isn’t good…
Had you been more lucid at the time, you might have remarked on the rather magnificent gold-trimmed white marble walls of the enormous palace. It’s like something out of an epic. You stop for a few short moments to survey what lies in front of you in a moment of clarity.
Numerous oddly proportioned equines like the one you saw flying through the air earlier are standing in a semicircle just beyond the threshold of the large, stone gate. Near the center of the formation are two in particular that stand out, even among their unusual company. It’s too far for you to make out exact details with your foggy mind and dulled senses, but one is coated in white while the other is black, or at least a dark blue.
What are all of them doing here? Are they perhaps expecting you? Why would dressed up equines of all things be lined up outside of an archaic gate? It’s absurd. Even to your mixed up mind this makes little sense. Looking down at your feet, the conundrum tries to run itself through your head only to find no purchase.
“But,” you mutter quietly to yourself, so quiet that even you can hardly pick up your own words, “why else would they be here?”
Of course, there could be multitudes of reasons, but none of them are readily apparent to you. Looking back up, you see that they still haven’t budged in inch. That must mean they’re definitely waiting for something.
You sigh and stretch your arms, wincing when the fetid line across your back burns and begins to ooze again. You’re out of options and running out of time. Oh well, no time like the present. Not so comforting thoughts in mind, you force your exhausted and battered body to move forward despite every pain receptor in it protesting.
All the equines beyond the gate stiffen as you start moving again. It’s not helping that your footsteps sound sharp and thunderous in the absence of other sounds.
The cool shade that the gatehouse provides as you pass it does little to soothe your abused body. It’s yet another reminder. Despite all the time you had spent outside, you’ve yet to contract any sort of sunburn or any other UV damage. The little fact seems far more impressive to your addled self. In fact, you almost stop think it over. You forget it a second later, however.
You clear the large gatehouse and look around at the creatures in attendance.
They all regard you with expressions you have trouble placing. Some with wariness, while others seem to radiate…fear? Most look like the first flying one you saw earlier, with only the barest imperfections and differences to tell them apart.
Others stand out, all of them having bright coat colors, a horn, and cloaks covering most of their forms. They stand a distance behind the ones in the shiny, golden armor.
Lastly, the ones in the center are undoubtedly the most unique. Both are noticeably taller than their peers and possess commanding airs. The white one in particular is just tall enough to look you in the eye. In addition, they both have a set of wings and a long spiraled horn. The manes and tails of both are caught in a breeze that seems to only meet them.
But what truly draws your attention is how they both possess tiaras.
The most common place to find such jewelry back home was in the form of painted plastic that would sit upon a child’s head. Used often by little girls to help set a role in games of pretend. The headpiece implied that the owner was somehow in a leadership position.
These two don’t look like they want to play any games…
You give your head a minute shake. This… This is looking too real to be a fever-induced hallucination. That wormhole generator didn’t actually blast you to an inhabited alien world, did it?
With your luck, it did. And you have no idea to how to go about first contact or anything of the like.
The difficulties of being a clone…
You bite back a gasp when your knees, shaking with exhaustion, almost give out and force you to stop. Just standing in place is becoming a struggle. Never before had you been driven so thoroughly, even by Frontier.
That’s saying something…
You’re so focused on remaining upright, that you almost miss the white and blue pair slowly trotting up to you. If it weren’t for the sharp sound of their hooves on the ground, then you definitely wouldn’t have paid attention.
Both stop just outside arm-reach, watching you carefully. Oddly, the blue one seems to be…smiling? Is it perhaps trying to intimidate you by baring its teeth? With both of them so close, it gives your hazy mind a slightly better chance to analyze them.
The white one is tall enough to stare you in the eye with its amethyst-colored orbs. Blue is about a head shorter than its counterpart, coming up to your chest. Both seem almost delicate, with their long necks and thin legs. The subtle but telltale lines across their bodies tell you otherwise, that under the soft frames is lean and whip-cord muscle. Their eyes sparkle with wisdom and age. It’s the sort of sheen that can only come from facing great obstacles and insurmountable odds.
A few of the elder lab workers back at Frontier had such a look, but never did they have the intensity of the alien eyes staring you down. Honestly, you’re not sure if all of the lab workers put together would equal even one of these equines.
The same eyes of the white one scan over you, picking you part with the accuracy of a surgeon with a scalpel. It’s a chore to not fidget in discomfort.
Blue simply seems too delighted in something—seeing you, perhaps?--to mimic the larger equine’s scrutiny.
Without warning, Blue makes a quiet noise in a decidedly feminine voice towards White, prompting you to look at her in surprise.
White replies to the slightly smaller equine in a deeper, but still feminine-sounding voice. The noise she uses sounds like a cross between a short whinny and a light humming. Odd, to say the least.
Blue quickly replies with a narrow-eyed expression and a short, rolling call.
Looking over, White finally takes her intense eyes away from you and to her companion before beginning what you feel is going to be a long-winded retort.
Are they perhaps arguing over something? Maybe they are siblings and squabbles are nothing new to them. The thought that these horse-like creatures would do something so… human makes you fight back a smile and fail.
Both whip their heads back around, ears pointed forward when you let out a slightly painful chuckle. Normally, you wouldn’t do what you’re about to do next. But… it’s polite. Right?
You raise a hand, pausing when all of the armored equines tense and lower themselves, then slowly extend a single finger a point to your chest.
The pair’s eyes widen, both exchanging looks of eerily human surprise and hushed, garbled words.
And they keep talking.
And…your limited patience reaches its limit.
“Anonymous,” you repeat with a bit more force, getting their attention before you point to each of them in turn.
Their eyes meet once more.
White brings a hoof up to her neck and quietly clears her throat. After that, she recites some elegant word in her language with a poke on her chest, just above her gold breastplate.
You let a small smile come to your face. Maybe this will work out after all?
Blue then takes a step closer with her face painted in… excitement…? then lets out a sharp, loud cry that almost deafens you while jabbing herself in the same place as her counterpart.
...And it also deafens everyone around, you observe with a wince, as the entire group mirrors your pained expression.
Blue looks around, her ears flattening as White gently chides the small equ…in...es… Why… why do you feel so sluggish all of a sudden?...No.
At the worst possible time, black begins to bleed into the edges of your vision as your ears begin to ring.
You stifle a cry as your back burns with a vengeance, angrily flaring in pain and almost forcing you to your knees. You need to stay up. Not now, you can’t fall. No weakness here. They might react to it.
Both White and Blue turn to empty road behind them and beckon you to follow.
Come on, Anon. You can do this. Was your head always so hot? This stone is cobble? How old? Maybe yo—
Gritting your teeth, you pick up one foot slowly and laboriously. Why is this so hard!? This should not be this hard. Setting the foot down, you wobble to and fro and do the last thing you could ever want to do in front of the equines.
You fall to one knee and let out a pathetic, painful groan.
Everything after is a blur. Panicked voices and the clamor of hooves on stone ring in your ears as of they came from underwater.
Vaguely, you realize that one of the cloaked equines is trying to help you up. For a moment, everything goes black as the imaginary din of crashing water drowns out any and all other sounds. Your sight comes back, and when it does, you find that you’re leaning against White, who is helping you walk. Her concerned face and amethyst eyes looking into yours is the first thing you see. For whatever reason, her expression reminds you of something you can’t place. It’s some fond, nostalgic thing that seems to escape your memory at the moment.
Right there, you decide that you like White.
Everything blurs back into a whirl of color and sensation for what feels like years. Nothing makes sense and nothing is certain. White-hot pain flares across your back, making you cry out and return to lucidity for a scant moment.
You feel soft cloth on your now bare stomach while your diseased back is left to the open, stinging air. Are you on a bed of some sort? It feels like the left side of your head is on the side of a pillow…
The rushing of hard hooves on linoleum and wisps of frenzied voices sends a shock of fear down your spine. Where are you? What are the equines planning on doing with you?
You force your eyes open, just in time to see an equine with a horn and a white lab coat in front of you.
What you also see is a medley of surgical instruments floating in midair.
Fog settles back over your mind and clouds your judgment. Not a second later, you try to rise with a panicked fervor and a slur of curses flying from your mouth.
Gasps rang out from around you, probably from other of the animalistic aliens. Unfortunately for you, they had the sense to bind your limbs to the hospital bed.
No matter how hard you struggle, the leather bindings around your wrists and ankles refuse to budge. You struggle so hard that the bed begins to rock.
A handful of equines come flooding into the room. Some with lab coats, while others have armor.
The armored ones beeline for you amid the frantic chatter of the ones in lab coats. You twist and writhe as hard as possible as they close in, ignoring the agony such actions have on your battered body.
They pile on to you and pin you to the hospital bed, stopping your escape attempt cold. They grunt in exertion as you try fruitlessly to free yourself once more. The distinct sound of a valve turning makes you stop struggling and turn your gaze to the lab coat sporting team, who have an oddly shaped plastic mask connected to a metal canister with a hose.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out just what is within the cylinder of metal.
No! This is not how you’re going to end! Someone! Something! Help!
“No no no no no!” you scream, as if the mantra would somehow help you. Tragically, it doesn’t seem to do any-
Time seems to slow around you without warning as the color from everything in your sight drains, leaving everything a curious monotone. Then, something clicks. Not that you can hear, but something… within you?
[Physical limiter overridden. Technicians advised to exercise caution with unit #0451]
That’s your comlink chip!
Unbelievable strength floods your limbs and the weariness of your fever lifts once more. It’s almost indescribable. The sheer power you have! Was this always there? You don’t question it any further as you push yourself up with such force that it easily breaks the grip of the armored aliens, who fall to the floor was startled cries. With a titanic tug, whatever was around your left wrist breaks, letting you move your arm freely.
You bring it over to your right wrist to free it even faster, only to stop when your whole body begins to shake and feel feeble once more.
No matter what you may think, your body can take no more as you flop back down to the bed. The last thing you see is a shaking, lab-coat equine pressing the plastic mask to your mouth.
…And that’s everything that led up to now.
You stare at the pure white ceiling of the equine hospital, the primitive heart monitor next to you droning tirelessly as you think back to everything that has happened in the last day. When you woke up sometime after that, you almost panicked again. That is, until you realize that you woke up at all. What’s more, you woke up missing the bindings around your limbs. It’s as if they expected you to not immediately freak out upon awakening. No doubt that if they wanted to hurt you, they would’ve done so while you were unconscious.
Considering that they went out of their way to treat you, it wasn’t totally unreasonable to humor them. You really wish that they wouldn’t have shredded your clothes, though. At least they had the decency to cover your nude self with a blanket and stack your things on a chair next to the bed.
Said things are your canisters of nanomachines, the beacon, the lighter, and the plastic flask. Apparently they didn’t bother keeping the wire.
Reaching over, you make to pick up one of the nanomachine canisters, only for an invisible force to stop your bandaged hand from entering the perimeter of the chair.
Startled, you pull your hand back and look it over, thankfully finding no damage beyond what was already there.
Curious, you try again, only to encounter an invisible barrier as smooth as glass. Running your hand over the barrier reveals that it’s in the shape of a box. The guards by the door watch you closely, but make no move to stop you.
Most likely, it’s a force field, leading you to believe that the equines can harness shaped energy constructs.
How interesting… humans perfected such technology only a decade ago, if you recall correctly. How long have these little aliens been able to do such things?
You stop feeling the invisible cube in favor of launching a connection to the nanomachines, only for a response to come from… the room over?
Warming up your chip, you fire a handful of ping requests to the microscopic machines from your comlink chip, only for a response to come through the wall adjacent to yours like last time.
Another inspection of the chair reveals the canisters sitting there, but you’re still getting a response from the beyond the wall. Despite that, your connectivity to them doesn’t seem hindered much. A flicker of thought later, a portion of your chip is back to relentlessly assaulting the password-protected goop next to you, but at the same time not next to you. You must be getting close to cracking that damn password by now.
…The rest of the situation isn’t making sense, so you abandon the heavy thoughts with a despondent huff… for now
Looking at the chair makes you hold back a snort. It’s the same size that a human one would be. Who took the time to make such a thing when it isn’t even proportioned correctly?
Speaking of time, how long were you out?
As if hearing your thoughts, the back of your head tingles with the prompt and displays the time for you in the corner of your vision.
’19:00’. A number of hours.
With a grunt, you turn in your size too-small bed to lie on your side, noting that the burning of your back is now just a mild sting. No doubt thanks to the equine doctors...
You hesitate. The power the doctors used was definitely biological in nature, unless they have some advanced bio-mechanical implants that you can’t detect. Just implications of such are unpleasant…
You look over to the pair of spear-holding guards and the sealed door between them. The one on the right possesses a horn similar to the doctors. With a tingle of your ComLink, a basic ping command flies through the air to the gold-sporting equine, only for no reply to come back.
The guard does blink and flick one of its ears as what seems like bewilderment crosses its stoic face for only a second.
You send out another ping, this time as a broadcast, sending the digital request out as an invisible wave.
Both of them blink and look at each other in confusion, before they both turn their eyes sharply to you.
If you weren’t used to dealing with glares from the Frontier Laboratory staff, then you probably would have flinched under the pair of stares.
Well, maybe if they weren’t three and a half-feet tall horses.
After a minute long staring contest with no winner in sight, both of the gold-sporting guards lose interest in continuing, letting you turn over and feign sleep. You wait a few minutes so that they would not expect anything, before sending another ping out from the back of your head.
In the almost total silence of the room, faint muttering in the incomprehensible equine language reaches your ears, telling you that they both felt the signal you sent out.
Another oddity to chalk up to these curious aliens. They can sense wireless signals but not interpret them? That’s certainly something you’ll want to investigate. Not for any reason in particular, but rather to satisfy your own curiosity. After all, the rescue beacon is going to activate in a few days. After that, you probably won’t get another chance to interact with the equines.
Equines… that’s such a stale word to describe the robust creatures. Calling them aliens doesn't work either. It sounds rather rude once you think of it. What were miniaturized horses called again? Ponies?
The thought makes you smile to yourself. They obviously have their own functioning society, so calling them ponies like the animal pets seems demeaning. Yet, it’s hard to think of a word that matches better.
A knock at the sealed door startles you into sitting up, where you watch one guard turn and press a hoof into a latch you don’t catch sight of while the other eyes you warily.
With a brief hiss, the door swings open to reveal one of the horned doctors. Hovering in a corona of energy matching the one of its horn is a plastic tray piled high with all sorts of food, half of which you’ve never seen in real life.
Although the apparent zero point field should be the first thing to hold your attention, something else gets in the way.
It’s at that moment you realize you haven’t eaten in days. Like it can read your mind, your stomach lets out an echoing growl, making the ponies jump and look at you with the varying degrees of alarm. All you can do look away as your cheeks heat up with embarrassment.
Then, you hear a short, relieved-sounding laugh as the doctor takes a few hesitant steps closer and offers the tray to you.
You smile. Something tells you that the next few days will be more enjoyable than you thought.
Just a few doors down in a closed office, things are going a little less smoothly.
“Director, please! I am not some little filly who needs to be looked after.”
“I know, Princess. But we still do not know exactly what we are up against. I urge you to hold off this meeting!”
Celestia lets out an uncharacteristic huff at the unreasonable doctor in front of her. Of all the ponies who had to slow this operation down, it had to be the Infirmary Director.
The middle-aged, gray coated unicorn doctor would simply not have any of her arguments. For the last ten minutes he and Celestia had been going back and forth with no apparent end.
“Princess,” begins the doctor with an air of finality, “I could not in good conscience let you see the subject yet. Especially when we have no sure, or even reliable data that points towards trouble being at its minimum. We can’t even communicate with him! Not to mention we still need to keep him under watch to make sure his infection does not resurface and that no other complications arise.”
The unicorn levitates a photo up from his desk and practically shoves it into the princess’ face.
“See right here? Princess, he not only got out of his restraints, but he DESTROYED a piece of the bed doing so. Our hospital beds are made out of steel!”
Indeed, the photo shows a leather restraint cuff along with mangled metal that was once part of the bed hanging from it. It was pulled off with sheer force.
…But the subject was also far too weak to resist anything afterward. Such incredible strength must have a price, after all. Not only that, the alien traveler had been awake for several hours without so much as causing a single disruption. It’s something that the unicorn in front of her apparently fails to realize.
Celestia hides just how much the argument was getting to her behind a practiced mask of impassiveness. As much as she didn’t want to admit it, the stallion’s points are poking holes in her optimism. She doesn’t expect the stallion to understand. After all, he didn’t carry the poor creature for almost a mile as it unconsciously clung to him for support.
And his eyes. The doctor never looked the alien traveler in his small, but so expressive eyes. Windows to the soul, they are.
But surely there must be a way to keep the overly cautious ponies in this operation satisfied while still moving forward.
The alicorn takes a deep breath and turns her attention back to the steadfast doctor.
“Very well,” she says, making the stallion blink in surprise. “I do understand your position and concerns. As such, I must ask for your recommendation on how to proceed. We should not dawdle on a matter as sensitive as this.”
Of course, Celestia already had several ideas on how to get past this situation, but a second opinion never hurt anypony.
The doctor shuffles his hooves nervously, obviously not expecting to be put on the spot so suddenly.
“Well, I, er…” he flounders, “First, I suppose we should, um…”
“Confirm that our guest is no longer ill?” Celestia questions with a faint smile.
“Of course, of course,” the stallions says distractedly. “We could run a few of the blood samples we got from him through some tests. Even as an alien, any diseases, both foreign and domestic, along with anything detrimental to his physiology, should show clearly.”
“Then maybe we should…” he pauses again.
“Find an effective course of communication?” Celestia helpfully ‘suggests’ again.
“Yes! Considering that he seems to possess the same range of senses that the average pony does, we should be able to find a common medium for communication.” The doctor pauses once more to think. “I am no xenobiologist, but images and base sounds should be sufficient until we can come to a common language.”
“And then?” Celestia pushes one last time.
"Then we should be all clear for contact."
The sun deity smiles a smile as bright as her namesake. “Excellent! I’m thrilled that you agree with me. I’ll be arranging everything now. Unt-“
Celestia stops as the door to the office unexpectedly swings open on creaking hinges.
“Tia! One moment!”
Both Celestia and the Director look to the open doorway, where a frazzled Princess Luna stands.
“Luna?” Celestia asks, raising an eyebrow at her sisters disheveled appearance. “Where in the world have you been? I hope you do realize that now is certainly not the time to be napping.”
The moon alicorn lets out a decidedly un-princess like snort. “Hardly,” she retorts dryly. “As for where I was, I busied myself looking into a few… things.”
Celestia levels her sister with an unamused stare.
“You shouldn’t contort your face in such a way, sister. It might freeze like that.”
“Erm, Your Majesties?” questions the director, losing his nerve in the presence of both the diarchs. One he could handle, but both are pushing it. “The matter at hoof?”
Luna looks past her sister’s bulk to the stallion, who looks like he wants to shy away. ”Oh, you were discussing our guest? Please continue, I am capable of waiting,” she says.
“We were just finishing up, actually,” Celestia coolly replies. “We were discussing our guest’s health and just how we should go about attempting to communicate.”
Luna’s eyes widen the slightest bit. “Were you now? Well, perhaps my effort WAS in vain after all.”
Celestia raises an eyebrow as the director takes the initiative and asks: “What exactly do you mean, Your Highness?”
The indigo alicorn seems to mull her answer about in her head for a moment. “Along with my bit of personal business, I took the liberty of scouring the library for something to give us a hoofhold our communication problem. Do you remember that old translation spell, sister?”
Now it’s the elder alicorn’s turn to think. She looks at the tiled floor of the office as the old memories resurface. “I do. We haven’t had to use it for almost ninety years, since Equestrian became the world’s primary language.” Celestia looks back up to her sister, who is looking away. “Do you believe we could utilize it here?”
Luna bites her lip when both her sister and the doctor looked to her expectantly. Inwardly, she’s cursing herself for showing her nervousness.
“Yes, well. About that…”