Gearbox was a happy pony.
He loved his life, he liked fixing things. He thought one of the greatest callings of his life was when he got his cutie mark. He looked at it on his dun flank, three gears intermeshed with each other, like a clockwork. He wore it proudly when he went to and from his little shop in Ponyville.
He wasn’t rich, he wasn’t in the upper crust of society, but what he did made him serene. He could fix almost anything, sometimes it took a while for him to puzzle it out, but in the end he got it. From clocks, to stoves, to newfangled items that just came out. Everypony knew, take it to Gearbox and he’d fix it like new.
His little shop sat on a corner near the Town Hall, one of the intersections around that led out from it in a wheel. He had a sign, right outside by the door, “Gearbox the Fixer”. Fixer, not repairpony, not handypony, but ‘fixer’. When he fixed something it was always like new. His unicorn magic helped alot too, holding tiny parts in place when it was a watch, to moving things when it was large like a stove.
The little shop was warm, it was comfortable, and it was a mess. He loved it. Tools and parts scattered everywhere, no counter, just a work bench he sat at all day. Ponies would come in, chat a while and drop off what they needed fixed, and so it went. He never charged much, he was content with a bit or two here and there. When little foals came in with tearful eyes and a broken toy, he made sure it got done that day.
All in all he thought, he had a pretty good life.
He was sitting in the local pub, enjoying that years cider, straight from Sweet Apple Acres. His friends were giving him a hard time about not finding a special somepony yet, pointing out pretty mares and nudging him slightly. Gearbox had to admit some of the ones they pointed out were quite pretty, but he was okay. He dated a few, had fun, just enjoyed life.
One of his best friends, Tinker, had just cracked a joke when he blurted out something even strange for him.
“Holy shit Crew yer a fucking riot!”
He laughed until he saw everypony had gone a bit quiet, looking at him oddly. He returned the stares, asking “What?”
Tinker cleared his throat, “That was weird even for you Gears..”
Gearbox blinked a bit, not really understanding, “I’m sorry Tink, what’d I say?”
Tinker looked around at their friends, leaning in and whispering, “You said, ‘Holy shit Crew yer a fucking riot.’.. What does that mean?”
Gearbox blushed, he never used vulgar terms, and some of what was repeated even he didn’t understand. “I..I’m sorry Tinker.. I don’t know.” He looked down at his hooves, thinking he’d had a bit too much cider maybe.
Tinker nudged his shoulder with a hoof, “That’s okay Gears, maybe the cider made us all a bit off eh?” He chuckled, the circle of friends joining in as the bantering continued. Gears was a good pony and everyone knew it, so he said something weird, big deal.
But it bothered Gearbox, he never said anything like that. He was a polite pony, and always took exception to those who talked rudely to others. He vowed not to drink too much again, maybe that was it.
He took leave of his friends, telling them that maybe he’d had a bit too much and needed sleep. They cheerfully saw him off and went back inside, leaving him to his thoughts as he wound his way home.
He started awake in his bed, coat and mane dampened with sweat as he looked around a bit confused. Dreams of fire and thunder slipped away as consciousness took him in it’s firm grasp. He slipped out of his bed, stumbling on hooves as he tried to wake up. His body didn’t feel right, he slammed into a wall trying to walk to the bathroom. His coordination was way, way off and he couldn’t understand why, he never had these problems before.
Splay legged, he stood against the wall, leaning hard as he shook his head, sweat flew off his mane as he tried to get himself back. What in Celestia’s name is wrong with me? Taking deep breaths, he concentrated on his magic, trying to get a handle on his predicament, maybe helping him reach the bathroom for a warm shower.
The power came in fits and spurts, confusing him even more. Usually it was a smooth flow, taking no effort at all! His clumsy attempts reminded him of when he was a foal trying his first spell. Long seconds and then it came, pulsing around his hooves, getting him back upright. He sighed, shaking his head once again as he went into the shower to start a new day.
Walking along the street later, his thoughts were turned inward when he came to his shop. For the first time in his life, something bothered him, he couldn’t quite put a hoof on it.
Opening the door, he looked around the workshop seeing the mess there and sighing happily. He was where he wanted to be now, where he needed to be. He got to work, Mayor Mare’s clock needed fixing and he was just the pony to do it.
His day went by quickly, as they all did. He was lost in his own world, of gears and pins, needles and clock faces. Tiny screws that went just so, polishing the antique gears of a pocket-watch so they gleamed. Little foals coming in as usual with a broken toy or two, him dropping what he was doing to fix them right as rain again. The smiles on their faces enough as he waved away any offer from the parents to pay.
Today however, he closed early. Unusual for him, but he wanted to go see the doctor, maybe see if something was physically wrong.
The doctor however, after a checkup, declared him quite fit, nothing he could see, or scan with his spells. It was puzzling when Gearbox told him of the outburst, his lack of coordination, his dreams. He advised maybe a bit more sleep and laying off anything hard to drink for a while, was the best he could do. Gearbox nodded agreement, maybe he was working a bit too hard.
He took the next day off, which surprised alot of ponies. They were so used to seeing Gearbox in his shop, it was like a statue in the town center getting up and walking off, it was highly unusual.
Gearbox of course knew that, but he figured one day off wasn’t going to hurt, and it had been a long while since he did something like this. So he decided to treat himself with a day of shopping and maybe a visit to a restaurant.
The shopping went well, he found himself a new scarf for Winter Wrap Up, something warm and comfortable. He ended up at an al fresco restaurant, waiting patiently for the salad he ordered, sipping a bit of white wine. He rarely treated himself, but he figured why not, a special day deserved something special to eat.
The waiter nodded and smiled as he set the bowl on his table, the salad crisp and fresh, slathered in dressing and cheeses, little vegetables dotted here and there, it made Gearbox’s mouth water.
He had set his wine down, picking the fork up with a spell and about to dig in when he saw a shadow from the corner of his eye.
He flicked his head around and blinked, it was a sunny day mid-afternoon, why would he...?
Shaking his head he dug back into his meal, crunching the tomatoes and cucumbers with a feeling of satisfaction. Sipping a bit more wine he suddenly started shaking, his whole body quivered, the fork dropping from his spell as it sputtered out. The glass shattering on the ground as he lost control
He planted his hooves on the table, looking around in despair, what was wrong, what was wrong? Gearbox’s eyes rolled around, searching for the problem, other diners starting to eye him now as he went into panic mode.
He broke out into a cold sweat, his heartbeat racing as he saw shadows darting here and there, never quite coming into focus, always out of reach. His ears pinned back as the cracking reached into them, the sounds loud and sharp. His stomach did flip-flops, almost making him retch onto the tiled eating place. He had to get away!
Taking a step, he stumbled, face first into the hard floor, tipping his table over. The wait ponies were alarmed now, seeing him cover his head and screaming out loud, “DOWN DOWN!”
The emergency crew found him almost comatose, loading him up and hustling off to the hospital as he shook and cried on the stretcher. His whole body taut as a wire, his mind someplace else as he cried out things they didn’t understand.
Princess Luna stared into her sky, placing each star just so, and making sure it twinkled brightly among the so many others she put in place. This was her time, her night that she loved so well.
She was disturbed though, the ether was ringing with the sounds of anguish, cries for help. She could not pinpoint it and it was making her worry. She was the Dream Walker, the one who calmed ponies fears in the night, and she could do nothing to help.
Putting the last luminous pinpoint in place, she retreated to her study, telling her assistants she would take no petitions tonight.
It bothered her, an itch left unscratched, the bit of fluff on a wing. She did not like distractions and so retreated into her personal library. Taking down a book of ancient spells, she resolved to find out what was causing such emotional turmoil and wipe it from the face of Equestria.
Her face took on a look of seriousness that frightened even her guards as they left her alone.
Bright light pierced his eyes, an icepick of luminosity that made him flinch as he opened them to take in his surroundings. He blinked his watering eyes to clear them and looked around, seeing a quiet nurse taking a few notes.
He cleared his throat to get her attention.
“Oh! Gearbox! We were so worried!” Her head had snapped around like a gun turret when she heard the sound, moving close to his bedside. Reaching out a hoof, she pushed his mane out of his face, a warm smile gracing her elegant face, “Are you feeling better? Any aches? Pains?”
He thought a moment, his body felt drained and worn out. “Just...tired..”
She nodded, lifting a glass of water to have him take a few sips. Cool and refreshing, it slipped down his throat, hitting the empty stomach like a bomb. It immediately cramped up, making him double over.
The Nurse dropped the glass aside, holding him around the neck with her fore legs, “It’s okay, you had a bad seizure, your stomach is empty now, give it a second.”
He nodded, resting against her chest as he took deep breaths. The comforting sounds the Nurse made helping him relax, to let the water rehydrate him. Tears flowed freely as he leaned against her, “What’s happening to me, what’s going on?”
She calmed him, using a hoof to caress the strained face, “We’ll find out, the doctors are working on it now. We’ll find out whats wrong, I promise Gearbox, I promise.”
She held the poor stallion as he cried himself to sleep, his breath hitching as he breathed deeply, slipping into the dreamscapes. The soporific she had put in the water taking his fears away, she hoped, to put him into a dreamless slumber.
But it was not to be.
He was standing on a hillside, fires raging in the dark, he could barely see as shadows flickered from one place to the other. He cried out and ducked behind a tree as he saw flashes of bright light, explosions that made him duck and shiver. Covering his head with his hooves he cried out to the thundering night for help, anypony, please. No pony was coming, he had nopony to help him, he was all alone.
The dream shattered into a million shards of light, hurling him screaming into the darkness.
He awoke once more, screaming into the room, nurses and medics holding him to his bed as he yelled his throat raw. Terrifying sights and sounds pounded his senses, he didn’t see them, only the blood and fear in his mind.
The doctor was screaming for help, calling the Unicorn medics to spell him, put him out, do SOMETHING! They were trying everything they knew, he would not go under, he fought them every step of the way.
Doctor Stoutheart had no choice, he flinched as he reared back and hit Gearbox with a solid hoof to the head, knocking him clean out. The Unicorn medics took over, placing calmative spells on him, restraining him in place.
The nurses stared at the doctor, he was looking at his own hoof. He was there to heal, not hurt, how in Celestia’s name had it come to this? He looked down at the unconscious pony, the drawn face, the heaving chest.
He swallowed a lump in his throat, he knew Gearbox, he was one of the kindest ponies around for Celestia’s sake!
And I hit him.
He turned to a nurse at the door, “Call the Canterlot Medical College. I don’t care what we have to do, get a specialist down here immediately. If you have to take it to the Princesses themselves fine, just get SOMEPONY down here that can help him! Use my name, use whatever you need to, just get somepony!”
He reached out to touch Gearbox’s face, stroking the wet cheek, “I’m so sorry Gearbox, I’m so sorry.”
The day was full of nurses and staff communicating with Canterlot, trying to find a specialist for Gearbox. They plead, they begged, but nopony had any clue what to do. Everyone in Canterlot was shuffling them off to somepony else, as if they would know. It was the same excuse over and over, “We don’t know.”
Doctor Stoutheart was at his wits end, Gearbox was wasting away, he wouldn’t eat or drink. It had been three days so far and nothing from Canterlot. They wouldn’t send anypony, they wouldn’t answer any letters, nothing. It was if the Royal College just blew the Ponyville doctors off. “More important cases you see..”
What rubbish, what were doctors if not to help and heal. He slammed a clipboard down on a table, I get my hooves on those smug self-important plots, they’re going to need healing alright!
He hammered a hoof on the table next to the clipboard, fuming in his impotence. He could not for the life of him, figure out what was going on!
He threw his hooves up and just screamed into the air, “SUN AND MOON!”
A smooth voice caught his attention, making his head whip around so fast he almost broke his own neck, “You should watch your blood pressure doctor.”
Princess Luna was weary, but she finally had the spell she needed. Staying awake for two days, she sought out and searched the ether for the cry, feeling it get worse and worse.
Her power reached and stretched, going to its limits as she singled it down to one town, Ponyville. Closing her eyes, she leapt into the dreamworld, zeroing in on the tortured soul
Breaking the barrier between the real and imagined, she exited into a world gone mad. Fire rained down from the skies, flashes of light, explosions of color overwhelmed even her, who had withstood the worst of the world.
Her eyes narrowed as she saw shadows flickering just out of sight, cries of terror, screams of pain and anguish. It lay across her like a weighted bag, it struck deep into her heart as it strained to find the one poor pony.
He was huddled behind a tree, trying to dig himself into the rocky dirt as the dream thundered around him. Gearbox was crying for help, crying for anypony to come get him. The look in his eyes was sheer terror, taking the breath from Luna as she reached him, her horn lighting up as she put her full weight behind a spell to calm this nightmare of a world.
It failed! Never before in her long life had a spell failed to calm fears, take away the wrong. Luna was taken aback, her body and mind outraged! How dare this dream, this fear refuse to serve the Princess of Dreams!
Gathering her power she thrust it forward like a spear, tearing the scene, pinning it down, slashing the shadows away! If you shall not obey, then I shall banish you to the depths!
Luna was enraged as never before, this terror was resisting her power, her might and skill as she fought. It would not retreat, it would not cower in submission, it would not call for mercy. It threw aside all she had and more!
She looked back one last time, seeing the poor pony cowering behind the tree, reaching out to her for help. And she could do nothing, she was helpless before this whirlwind of madness. Her heart broke, it shattered as she stepped back into the waking world, gasping for breath as the cool night air rushed into her lungs.
Her personal guard stepped up to help her but was waved away. “Get my sister, we have a problem.”
“Your Highnesses!” Dr Stoutheart bowed low as she filled the doorway, her sister by her side. Luna looked fierce and troubled, Celestia as always calm, serene.
“No need for that Doctor, we understand you have a patient needing help?”
He lifted himself up, fidgeting a bit under the royal gaze, “We..we do your Highness, we’ve been trying to call for help but nopony will answer our letters or messages at the Royal College.”
Luna spoke up then, her voice filled with menace as she stepped forward, “We know Doctor, and trust us, this shall be looked in to. Thou hast my word.”
Celestia smiled at her sister, “Calmly sister, calmly, all shall be taken care of.”
“Oh it shall be.”
Doctor Stoutheart couldn’t help but shiver a little at the pure menace in the Night Princesses’ words. He looked downward for a moment, then remembered why he was so angry, “Please your Highnesses, can you help Gearbox?”
The pure white Alicorn smiled, “I believe we can. Let us proceed to his room.”
The three made an odd group, heading quickly to Gearbox’s room where he lay sweating and turning in the bed.
Luna went to his side immediately, “I have seen inside the dreams of this one, truly they are terrible and beyond comprehension sister, he is so scared. I have looked into the fires of Tartarus itself inside him. His soul is fighting for it’s life” She leaned down, planting a soft kiss on the stallion’s cheek. “I could do nothing, and I am sorry my pony.”
Celestia smiled once more, her horn lighting the small room with a golden glow as she stepped closer, “Let us see what we can do then.”
Doctor Stoutheart retreated out of the way, watching everything.
The slim muzzle leaned down to one of Gearbox’s ears, “Come back to us my little pony, no more fears.”
His eyes shot open, rolling in their sockets as he screamed again, yanking against the restraints.
Celestia smiled benevolently and increased her magic. “Who are you?”
Dr. Stoutheart spoke up, “But your Highness, that’s Gearbox.”
One elegant hoof brought him to silence, “Let me be Doctor, I am sorry.” She turned back to the stallion, “Who are you?”
His voice, scratchy after three days with no water, croaked an answer, “I...I’m...Gearbox..”
“I am not talking to Gearbox, who are you?”
“I’m...I’m...Gear..” The voice went silent, then came back a bit stronger, more clear. “I’m James...James Martinez.”
“Where are you James?”
“I’m in Afghanistan..Kandahar Province.. We...we just jumped near a village..”
“Who are you James?”
“I’m a soldier..I..I’m fighting in a war.. It’s my fifth tour...”
“What happened James?”
“We..” The voice became stronger now, a bit different sounding from Gearbox’s soft tones. “We were to rescue villagers from the Taliban..they..they were killing them..”
“Go on, it’s fine, tell us the story.” The doctor watched in shock as Celestia brought out the story from Gearbox. Not understanding half of it, but he could see and feel the anguish.
The Princess of the Night stood close to the bed, helping her sister with the spell they had discussed on the way here. Her horn blazing with power, throwing the room into shadows with the light.
“We had snuck up that night..in..intending to rescue the villagers. We got hit, badly.. Half my squad was down, we were screaming for help, there were no air assets available..” Gearbox’s body sobbed loudly, tears rolling down the dun cheeks.
“They were killing the children! Oh god they were shooting them!”
The serene voice intruded again, her magic softly lighting the stallion’s face, “It’s fine James, you’re fine, tell us.”
“Crew got hit, he was my buddy. He went down hard. We fought our way into the buildings, getting the children and women out.. We were so scared. They had heavy machineguns on the ridge, they were raking us. The children and women went ahead, we stood while they escaped.. The sergeant got blasted..” He sobbed again, hooves covering his eyes as his body contorted in agony.
“Go on James, it is fine.”
“We ran into the hills, screaming for evac, no one would come get us! We...I..I was so scared. My friends were dying, and we fought, oh god did we fight!” Gearbox’s body heaved with his crying now, letting loose tears that flowed like water.
“I..I was carrying this little girl. We were shooting back, using everything we had, screaming over the radios for evac..and..and this brave motherfucker in a Chinook came for us.. He took such heavy fire, lowering the ramp for us to get on.. We ran, we ran so fast..”
Celestia nodded, her eyes brimming with tears, one crystal diamond fell on the bedside as she listened.
“They were getting on the chopper, what was left of us right behind. I tossed the little girl to the crew chief and turned..turned to make sure my buddies were coming. I fell down.. it..lord it hurt so much..” Gearbox grabbed his chest, doubling in pain on the bed, his body shaking.
“There..was so much blood.. It hurt..so very much.. I was laying on the ramp as the chopper took off.. I..couldn’t feel anything..” The voice paused as Gearbox’s body relaxed on the bed. “I saw the little girl.. and then it went dark..”
Gearbox’s eyes closed again, as if remembering a dream. “I could see a warm light. So warm like the sun on your face on a summer day. It felt so good.. I heard a voice saying ‘It’s time to rest..”
The stallion cried his heart out, “I’m so tired. So very tired.”
Celestia leaned down to talk to the sobbing pony, “It’s alright James, you can rest.”
His eyes popped open as he looked, not Gearbox, but James, looked at Celestia, “It was YOUR voice, it was you!”
The alabaster Alicorn smiled warmly at him.
“Is...is this heaven?”
“It is many things to my little ponies.”
The pony’s head nodded, “I’m really tired.”
“What would you do James?
The ragged voice spoke again, tears making runnels down his face, “I’m happy here, please don’t make me go away.”
“You are here my pony, and here you will stay, I promise. You are not James anymore, you are Gearbox, the fixer of things broken. Let your soul forget.” The warmth and love in that voice was pure and uncompromising as she planted a soft kiss on the stallions’ cheek. The gleaming horn touched his face as sleep overtook Gearbox, his body relaxing for the first time in days, a look of peace coming over his face.
Her voice cut through the silence, whispering out loud, “Come back to me my little pony, come back Gearbox.”
The stallions eyes opened slowly, flinching a bit at the light as he looked around. His voice cracked as he saw the Princesses standing there, “Ohmygosh!”
Luna smiled at him, “Stay still, thou hast a hard time, but you are recovered now and all is well. Soon you will remember it naught but as a bad dream which shall fade as all things do.”
Gearbox nodded as he took in the room and the Royalty there, the doctor with a concerned look on his face in the corner. “What..what happened?”
Celestia leaned down to plant one more soft, velvet kiss on the stallion’s cheek, “You were hurt, and now you must heal.” Celestia turned and nodded to the doctor, raising one slim hoof to her lips with another smile. He returned the nod, and would take what had happened to his grave.
The two Royal figures left the room, with a wave to Gearbox as he and the Doctor stared a bit stupidly at each other.
A dun stallion opened his shop right on time, humming to himself as he prepared for the day.
Gearbox was a happy pony.