• Published 20th Sep 2013
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Onto the Pony Planet - Admiral Biscuit

Dale finds himself hospitalized in Equestria after defending Lyra from the Coast Guard. Worse--he's not the only person there.

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Chapter 1: Recovery

Onto the Pony Planet
Chapter 1: Recovery
Admiral Biscuit

Lyra turned her head as she heard the room’s door click open. Nurse Redheart had already left. Dale had dragged a chair over to the window and was looking outside with a frown. She couldn’t really blame him. Had their positions been reversed, she’d probably want to do some meditating. It might be harder for him with more ponies in the room, she thought. She’d grown used to meditating in the small rock garden out behind the house she shared with Bon Bon—a habit learned from her maestro—but sometimes even that was too noisy, and she retreated to a hill outside Ponyville. Maybe she could lead Dale there, once the doctor said he was healthy enough to leave the hospital.

When the mare stepped into the room, Lyra sighed. She’d known this was coming, but she’d hoped she could have put it off for a little bit. It didn’t sit right with her to have this meeting in Dale’s hospital room, where he should have been recuperating from his injuries.

“Lyra! I was so worried about you!” Bon Bon threw her hooves around Lyra’s neck, yanking the unicorn into a tight embrace. “You didn’t come back last night, and there were all kind of guards flying around. At first, everypony thought that it was just part of the training exercise we’d heard about, but then a rumor got started that there were monsters coming out of the Everfree.”

She loosened her grip before continuing. “I didn’t think it was monsters from the Everfree, of course, because I knew you were doing that long-distance teleportation spell for Princess Celestia at the reservoir, but nopony would listen to me, especially after Lily started panicking, and then Daisy got into it too. Somepony noticed that none of the Element Bearers were at their homes, either.

“I heard that unicorns had been shooting up flares, and I remembered what you’d said, so I took everything off the stove and shut the dampers, then grabbed my saddlebags and galloped out of town. Towards Whitetail Woods. But as I was running down the trail, I got even more scared.” She lowered her head. “So I went back home. I thought I’d be safer inside than alone in the woods.”

Lyra chuckled, then gently nuzzled Bon Bon’s neck. “It’s okay, Bons. I understand.”

“The mayor had called an assembly, and she’d said that there weren’t any monsters and everything was fine but some ponies had gotten hurt during the training exercise. Oh, I should have known. I should have come last night. I’m so sorry.” Bon Bon stuck her muzzle into her saddlebags. “I made you some of your favorite candy yesterday,” she muttered around a bag. “I knew if I made them you’d come back to eat them.”

She set the bag on the sole unoccupied chair and let Lyra open it with her magic. While she was occupied with the chocolate, Bon Bon turned towards Dale. “Is that—”

“Mm-hm,” Lyra muttered through a mouthful of cherry cordial. “His name’s Dale. The doctor said he got burned when he jumped into the spell.”

“He doesn’t look like much,” Bon Bon said dubiously. “Is that a bed sheet he’s wearing?”

Lyra swallowed before answering. “It is. He’s probably cold—his kind doesn’t have much fur. Judging by the drawing in the book he gave me during our first meeting, that’s normal for his type. He was wearing clothes each time we met, too. Very well-made clothes.” She eyed another cordial. “You should go introduce yourself.”

“I don’t know.” Bon Bon looked at him thoughtfully. “I’m not sure I really want to. . . .”

“He saved my life on the beach,” Lyra said. “We came out of his camp, and there were two stallions that came up to him. One of them said something, and he just threw my saddlebags at the first one and knocked the second one over and then told me to run. I almost made it, but the mare cast a spell that paralyzed me.” She shuddered at the memory: her legs had stopped working, and then the spell had failed. “But he was charging at her . . . he must have done something, because I got back. I lost almost all of my magic, and I got a strange burn on my side from the mare’s wand, but I made it back.”

“You didn’t say it was going to be dangerous,” Bon Bon protested. “You told me it was safe.”

“It was supposed to be,” Lyra replied. “I don’t know what went wrong.” She picked up another cordial.

“You’re not going back.” It was a statement, not a question.

The cordial hovered in front of Lyra’s face. “Probably not. I don’t think Princess Celestia would allow it. Not after how the last meeting ended.” She sighed regretfully. “It’s too bad. I’d have liked to see some more of his civilization. The things he had in his camp—they were beyond anything ponies can make. I can only imagine how fantastic his home must be.”

Bon Bon looked at him dubiously. He certainly didn’t look like much now. Finally, she moved closer, but kept out of reach of his arms. She circled him warily, watching for any threatening behavior. He just sat there, unmoving. Finally, she moved in close and took an experimental sniff of his knee, since it was the closest thing to her muzzle.

She backed up a step and half-closed her eyes, analyzing his scent. It was like nothing she’d smelled before. It wasn’t unpleasant, but it was different. She critically examined Dale, since he didn’t seem to be doing anything other than staring out the window. Finally, she looked up at his face and nickered softly.

Dale gave no indication that he’d heard her. His eyes continued to stare off into the distance.

Dale sat hunched over in the uncomfortable wooden chair. Occasionally, he’d rub his hand across his gauze-wrapped head, but mostly he stayed still. His eyes were open, staring through the window, but he was no longer seeing what lay below. He feared that any further observations of their village might push him down the slippery slope of insanity.

Instead, he simply pondered what he had seen. He thought back to the pictures in the book Lyra had given him. He’d wondered about the lack of electrical cords . . . yet, the lamp by his bed and the heart monitor didn’t have cords. They must not have drawn them in the book because their appliances didn’t use them. While the lack of telephone poles didn’t absolutely confirm this hypothesis—power lines could be underground, after all—it was a strong hint in favor of it. Besides, he’d seen nothing in the hospital room which resembled an electrical outlet at all.

Nevertheless, they had appliances which seemed to run on electricity, or some equivalent to it. Since he’d gotten a tingle when he unintentionally stuck his fingers inside the heart monitor, it implied that the power came from the air, somehow and was focused in the appliance. Tesla had proposed that such a thing was possible, but had never built a functional prototype. On the other hand, it was hard to argue with the proof on the table beside him. However they did it, it worked.

He’d already dismissed the architecture as a clue. He wasn’t close enough to determine what the buildings were actually made out of, and styles came and went, anyway. There had been a time when it had been in fashion to build houses like these in America—although Americans usually omitted the lifting beam on the top floor and the thatched roof. In his own neighborhood, homes ran the gamut from turn-of-the-century to the dreadful futuristic abomination on the corner that someone had built a couple of years ago after a long legal battle with the city zoning commission. Maybe the ponies liked medieval architecture; maybe the melted-looking building was their modernistic eyesore. Maybe it was an edgy modern-art museum. If they had art.

They certainly liked flowers. Every home seemed to have window boxes or small planters around it. He was fairly sure he saw a pale white pony with a maroon mane eating out of one, but it was quite hard to tell without his glasses. Based on his observations so far, most ponies manipulated a lot of things by mouth, which really made sense given their lack of fingers. Weeding a flowerbox and grazing might not actually be dissimilar activities, now that he thought about it. And Lyra had given him a sandwich with flowers on it yesterday when they’d shared lunch in his camp. Her lunch at their first meeting had had a flower sandwich, too.

The fact was that his observations were necessarily limited. He couldn’t see well enough to be sure of what was happening in the town. What he needed to do was get some clothes and get out of here. Maybe it would make more sense when he was closer to it. If he could touch the buildings and look through the windows, maybe he’d get a better sense of them . . . but he couldn’t do it alone. He knew in his heart that if he stepped out into their weird little market and a cow addressed him . . . he’d be running back to his hospital room, gibbering like a madman. He just wasn’t ready for that yet. But he and Lyra could go around town together. . . .

Unless they didn’t want him to. Maybe they were keeping him a secret. Maybe the ponies in the market didn’t even know he was here. Would they panic if they saw him?

“Heya, Twilight! Heya, Spike!” Pinkie pronked over to the pair. “Are you going to the hospital to see the . . . um . . . the new not-ponies?”

“Huh?” Twilight looked up from her scroll in surprise. Once again, Pinkie had somehow managed to sneak up on her. “Oh, yes.”

“Okie-dokie.” She started to bounce off, but Twilight grabbed her tail.

“Pinkie, we need to talk.”

Pinkie stopped bouncing and turned around to face the unicorn. “I didn’t throw a party,” she said defensively. “I wanted to, but I didn’t. Redheart yelled at me when I sang to the Cake’s foals in the hospital, ‘cause hospitals are supposed to be quiet places like libraries where ponies can rest and read Daring Do and get better so they can come out of the hospital and then they can have their you-got-better party. I’m going to go make invitations now but I'm not sure if I should make two separate ones, ‘cause I don’t know if they’ll both get out of the hospital at the same time or not, and of course I’ll have to host a welcome-to-Ponyville party, but maybe that could be combined with the you-got-better party, I’m not really sure. I’ll have to leave the date blank, but that’s okay, I’ll make them for a time when nopony has other things to do, maybe a small soiree or shindig or even a hootenanny and we can probably use the Apple’s barn unless AJ’s still mad about all my clones knocking it down before it was even put all the way up.”

Twilight let out a long-suffering sigh. “That’s not what this is about. Don’t move; I’ll be right back.”

Pinkie rolled her eyes but stayed rooted to her spot as Twilight teleported away. A moment later she was back, this time floating a crayon-written note in front of her. “Sharing food is—” she began.

“The bestest way to make new friends!” Pinkie finished. “Ooh, did I get it right?”

“Yes, that’s what this note says. It smells like a frosted cupcake. I see frosting on the corner of the note, as if it were pinned to a cupcake once. Can you explain?”

“I put the note on a cupcake so Lyra could give it to her new friend.” Pinkie sniffed. “I guess it fell off the cupcake. I don’t know how that could have happened; I put the toothpick all the way through the note.”

"Pinkie, what were you thinking?”

“I was thinking . . . that sharing food is the bestest way to make new friends.” She looked uncertainly at Twilight. “When you first came to Ponyville, we had a big party at the library, remember? There was all sorts of food . . . but you were upstairs, you weren’t having fun at all.”

Twilight moved up and pressed her muzzle against the hyper bakers’. “How did you know it can eat our food?”


“How do you know that the creature can eat our food?” Twilight stamped a hoof. “What gives you . . . the right to decide to bake it a cupcake without knowing what it can eat? What if it’s allergic to wheat? Or sugar? What if it can’t eat grains without being sick? Did you put sprinkles on it?”

“Yes?” Pinkie flattened her ears and stepped back. “Ru-ruby sprinkles. Maybe a teensy-bit of emeralds, too.”

“You could have killed it!” Twilight yelled.

“There were pictures of cupcake tins in the book, Twilight. What do you use them for if not cupcakes? And muffins, of course.”

Twilight snorted. “But you don’t know what they were made out of. If that’s something that it even eats. You can’t just jump to conclusions like that. Didn’t you learn anything from the fiasco with the Marzipan Mascarpone Meringue Madness about jumping to conclusions? You need careful study. You need to analyze its food! Wait. If you’re not throwing a party . . . why are you here?”

“Are you going to stop being shouty meany pants?”

Twilight blushed. Maybe she was being a little too harsh. “I’m all done.” She hugged the baker tightly. “I’m sorry, Pinkie. I was worried. I found the note, and I was worried that you’d done something really bad.”

“I made fish fillets for them. I thought the hospital kitchen wouldn’t think of it, but I saw in the book that there were boning knives and filleting knives and why would you have them if you weren’t cooking meat, because they were just like the set I got in the mail after I ordered a set of knives and pots and pans so I could cook for Gilda if she ever came back, or—”

Twilight jerked her head up in alarm. “I’ll just have to go to the kitchen and tell them not to serve them to the creatures.”

“It’s too late,” Pinkie said morosely, dropping on her rump. “I gave them to Nurse Redheart an hour ago. She was about to serve them breakfast.”

“Oh horse apples. I know one emergency emetic spell, but it’s not very pleasant.” She bit her lip. “I wonder if Dr. Stable knows any? There might be a chance, if he does it quickly, that there won’t be any harm.”

“It won’t matter,” Pinkie said.

“Why not?”

“Do you really think they can’t eat our food?”

“Well, I don’t know.” Twilight shifted into a more comfortable stance. “There’s lots of plants that can make ponies sick, and of course we know what they look like and smell like, so we don’t eat them by mistake. We can’t eat some things that ruminants can, and they can’t eat some things that we do. So, it makes sense—like Winter Rye suggested in one of his books—that a completely alien species could be unable to digest pony food at all.”

“I—” Pinkie swallowed hard. “I’d better start preparing then. I suppose the mayor will let us use the town hall for the ceremony.”

“Pinkie!” Twilight stomped. “What did I just get done telling you? No parties, no cakes, no cookies, no punch, no pony food. PERIOD.”

She shook her head sadly. “It’s not for them. If your hypotheosis is correct, they’ve only got a little time left, and then—” she dug a hoof in the dirt “—bam!”

“Bam?” Twilight looked at Pinkie, who had begun humming a mournful tune. “I—what do you even mean by . . . oh.” Unbidden, her head turned to the neatly-manicured cemetery beside the hospital. Her mind was already imagining two new markers. “Horse apples.”

Bon Bon left the hospital room after wrangling a promise from Lyra to come home for lunch. The unicorn sat back on the chair and turned her attention back to Dale, who had been fixed in his awkward position on the chair for nearly an hour. His few movements had been slowing until they stopped entirely. If it hadn’t been for the slow rise and fall of his chest, Lyra might have thought he had died. She knew that sometimes a pony would freeze when threatened, but she had never heard of one slowly grinding to a halt as Dale had. A couple of times, she’d approached him, once nuzzling him in the side, but he made no sign that he’d noticed. Speaking to him had not worked, either—she’d even stood in front of him, but his focus never shifted.

It was as if he was being paralyzed by a cockatrice—a very slow-acting paralysis, to be sure, but the eventual ending would be the same. If she looked at him just right, he could be made of marble—the white bandages that covered most of his flesh, and the diaphanous bed sheet that was draped across him, so much like a funeral shroud. It had once been the fashion to bury high-level unicorns in great marble sarcophagi with a carving in the lid of them at rest; if she were to tip him out of the chair and stretch him out along the floor, he would look much the same. And she was very afraid that if she did push him out of the chair, he would make no effort to resist her.

The only reassuring sign was the heart monitor. While the tempo had slowed, the trace still looked the same as it had all night. Lyra found her gaze drawn to the instrument more and more frequently. She wanted to call for the nurse, but Redheart knew even less about the patient than she did.

Finally, she could take it no more. The town clock had chimed off another quarter hour, and Dale hadn’t moved at all, aside from an occasional blink. She was going to get some kind of help, whether it be from the nurse, the doctor, or even Zecora. Lyra couldn’t just leave him sitting here without trying something. It was almost like something had broken in his mind.

She took two steps towards the door and then stopped. Although she had no clear recollection of the event, she had been controlled by Queen Chrysalis once, and it had turned her into little more than a zombie pony, only able to do her puppeteer’s bidding. What if some kind of magic was affecting Dale the same way? Maybe Twilight would be able to help. She’d figured out how to beat the changeling drones, after all, and mental illnesses usually required a unicorn to fix—if they could be fixed.

She looked at him sadly. What if it was already too late? Worse—what if her hesitation had caused it to be too late? She’d never forgive herself if there had been something that she could have done that was left undone.

Lyra was in the hallway when the screaming started. Instantly, her ears flattened and her fur stood on end. Unbidden, her horn lit, ready to fight off whatever threat was present. A loud crash echoed through the hallway, and a moment later she saw Nurse Redheart backpedaling out of a hospital room with a bloody muzzle, immediately followed by a lamp. It disintegrated against the wall in a cloud of plaster dust, its light failing when the base shattered and the wires shorted together.

She fought down the urge to bolt for home, reminding herself once again that it was her duty to run into these situations. Before she could move, thought, she was rudely pushed aside by a wraith.

It glided down the hallway silently, its shroud billowing around behind it. For an instant, it felt as if somepony had replaced all the blood in her body with ice water, and she came within an heartbeat of screaming herself. Her salvation was the realization that the wraith was Dale, charging down the hall with his nearly silent footfalls. A vast relief came over her. Dale had saved her on the beach, and he was ready to do it again.

She watched in awe as he approached the doorway, jerking to the side to avoid a heart monitor which briefly embedded itself into the plaster before disintegrating on the tiles of the hallway floor. He held his position, carefully observing the room where worrisome splintering noises were emanating. Nurse Redheart, meanwhile, retreated further down the hall, dithering between her patient and the safety that would come with more ponies.

Lyra galloped down the hallway towards the room. While Dale had taken charge the first time she had been threatened, there was no reason she should let him this time. After all, he was in Equestria now, and it was her duty to keep him safe, whatever it took. Her magical reserves were still low after the attack on the beach, but at the very least she could toss up a shield to buy them both some time to assess the situation. She knew that Ironhoof and his soldiers were still in town, and it wouldn’t be too long before they got on scene. Another loud crash spurred her on.

“I’d prefer to give laudanum,” Nurse Redheart protested as Dr. Goodall drew out a syringe of morphine. “She could drink a little, and tell us if she was feeling better. You’re just guessing at the dosage.”

“I know,” Goodall replied, her words muffled by the syringe in her mouth. “But there’s just too many hurdles to jump. She doesn’t speak Equus, and for all we know her culture hasn’t even invented modern medicine. To explain the concept of ‘feeling better’ would take time we don’t have—not if we want to have a hope of saving her hand.

“She’s just like the animals I see in the clinic.” The vet’s eyes went distant with memory. “They’re injured and scared, and sometimes they bite and claw, trying to defend themselves. They don’t really have a concept of the future—not like ponies do. All I can do is give them their medicine and wait for it to work. Maybe if you stay by her head and let her keep her eyes focused on you, I can give her the injection without her noticing.”

“I could put her breakfast in front of her,” Redheart said. “I suppose that might distract her, too. She’s probably hungry. If the stallion’s any indication—he finished everything on his plate.” She looked dubiously at the syringe. “Isn’t that an awfully large dose?”

“She’s more than twice as tall as a pony, so she probably weighs at least twice as much. Twenty drams is a good place to start. I guess we’ll have to just observe and see if it’s taking effect. I hope it does; Zecora’s supposed to be here soon with a potion which might fix her hand. Dr. Stable and I discussed her case all night. Both of them seem not only resistant to magic, but strong spells seem to hurt them somehow. In the stallion’s case, his injuries don’t seem too life-threatening, so we can move slowly. But the mare—her hand is badly burned. If Zecora’s potion doesn’t work, the doctor and I will have to amputate.”

Kate woke up to a painful tingling sensation in her right hand and the smell of maple syrup and fried fish. Before she had even opened her eyes, the tingling turned to pain and she snapped her eyes open, thinking for a moment that she’d somehow been sleeping in a way that put her hand to sleep. A millisecond later, unfamiliar sensations and a general feeling of wrongness began to flood her cobwebby brain. Her panties were missing, her shirt felt too rough, and she couldn’t remember what she’d done the night before.

Opening her eyes to get an idea where she was turned out to be a grave mistake. For a moment, she expected to find someone next to her; a few nights out on the town had ultimately resulted in a similar loss of memory and lack of clothing. While the unfamiliar room wasn’t a total shock, the fact that there were two small ponies studying her was. One of them had an empty syringe in its mouth. She screamed loud enough to wake the dead and grabbed the first weapon at hand, which happened to be the breakfast tray.

Her left-handed swing was pathetic, but sufficient. She scattered food and juice all over her sheets, and got one of them square in the nose. Both of them jumped back, but not far enough for comfort. She took a second swing at the closest one, knocking its hat off and causing it to hastily back towards the door.

She frisbeed the now-empty tray at it, catching it square across the throat and speeding its retreat. Curiously, it kept its freaky eyes on her even as it was backing away, almost as if it were expecting this kind of resistance. A stupid purple lamp made another fine weapon; she watched it tumble through the doorway and shatter against the wall as the injured pony ducked for cover.

Kate glanced around to see where the second one had gone. Rather than retreat for the safety of whatever lay beyond the door as the first had done, it had run to the far side of the room, where it was hiding behind a barricade of chairs. She sailed a flat table in its direction, knocking over one chair and eliciting a startled whinny from the pony. It was making odd noises, and seemed to be watching her with an almost human interest, although it was hard to be certain since it was still crouched behind the remaining chair.

She glanced back towards the door where the first creature appeared to be rallying. The table beside her bed yielded another weapon; a wooden box with a few dials across the bottom and a small green screen. She grabbed it and waved it threateningly towards the door which kept the pony at bay. Still, it seemed to be looking for an opening to return to the room. A scraping noise caught Kate’s ear; the second one was pushing the chair in front of it to provide cover, briefly peeking its head around the edge to watch her reaction. She suddenly realized that they were trying to flank her, and there was nothing she could do about it. Not here in her bed, anyway.

She lobbed the wood box at the doorway, to give her a couple more seconds to strengthen her position. The chair began sliding as soon as she committed to her move, reminding her uncomfortably of a baseball player stealing second. Of course, she wasn’t held to the same rules of conduct as a pitcher.

Kate jumped out of bed, yanking the sheets after her. They weren’t much of a weapon, but she could tangle one of the ponies up in it and hit it until it fell unconscious if she had to. As weird as they looked, they probably weren’t smarter than any other animal. If she showed dominance, they’d probably back off.

With that thought in mind, she threw the sheet over her right arm and grabbed the bedside table with her left. It was heavier than she’d expected—whoever had built the thing hadn’t skimped on the wood.

Fear lent her strength, and she smashed it against the footboard of the bed, splintering one of the legs off. Now she had a club, and she was going to make use of it.

She took one quick look out the window, but the angle of the scenery told her she wasn’t on the ground floor, so that was out as an escape. It was through the main doorway or nothing. The one behind the chair had stayed in its position after her latest barrage, and the last she’d seen of the one she’d wounded had put it to the left of the doorway.

Kate backed away from her bed, carefully keeping clear of splinters of table. She held her injured right hand slightly behind her back, feeling for the wall: with her back to it, she’d limit the ways in which these weird ponies could come at her.

She followed the wall around, keeping a wary eye on the doorway and the hiding one. Obviously, her weapon had given her an advantage, since it was no longer advancing. If she’d had her gun, she could have really shown them something, but that was wherever the rest of her clothes had gone. Still, she intended to find it, and the next one of these things that came at her was really going to be sorry. The Coast Guard might not have spent as much time on firearms training as the Army and Marines did, but she was still a damn good shot. Good enough to make these weird ponies leave her alone, anyway.

Nearly at the door, Kate slowed down. While it was hard to imagine that these ponies were smart enough to call for reinforcements, it would be foolish to assume that there weren’t more in the hallway. She’d have to risk sticking her head out for a moment, and that would give the hiding one time to move, if it wanted to risk it. She might not get a chance to swing at it, especially if her attention was occupied by more of them in the hallway. She couldn’t throw her table-leg at it, because that would leave her unarmed. She could probably fake it out, though.

One step short of freedom, she faked a toss. The pony behind the chair jerked back, just as she’d planned, and she glanced back at the doorway just in time to see a toga-ed man rushing her. She’d been expecting another little pony, but her reflexes quickly compensated, bringing the table-leg up from its low position as she pivoted instinctively.

Had she had a moment for reflection, her next act might have been slightly more civilized. However, she’d so far had a really bad day, and flashbacks to what might have been on the beach weren’t so easily overlooked. Without actually thinking through the potential outcomes of her action, she swung the table leg as if she were trying to knock his head into the outfield. It was a one-handed swing, but nevertheless it was to be a killing blow, struck in pure terror-fueled self-defense.

Dale never saw it coming.

• • •

Lyra was a step behind Dale as he entered the hospital room. While he rushed in without properly assessing the situation, Lyra’s training belatedly kicked in. She’d already learned that these creatures—Dale and the she-Dale—could move surprisingly fast, and jump to violence at the drop of a hoof. If she hadn’t spent so much time with him, she’d have been frightened, but now it was just another characteristic of their kind. She was confident that conversation and friendship would ultimately prove to be the solution to whatever was going through the mare’s mind, but she wasn’t foalish enough to believe that making contact with a hug was going to solve the immediate problem. She’d seen the fright in Nurse Redheart’s eyes and the blood on her muzzle. The wreckage of the heart monitor and lamp were poignant reminders of the injured creature’s violent overreaction.

Her side still hurt, too, and the memory of the temporary paralysis was not far from her mind, either. Whatever this mare was capable of, she clearly could wield enough power to lay a grandmaster flat, and Lyra wasn’t going to make the mistake of underestimating her again.

She was one step behind Dale, ready to duel, and it was a good thing. Just as Dale had leapt to action on the beach with no warning of his intention, the mare was noiselessly swinging a table-leg at Dale’s head. While Lyra was more accustomed to magical attacks, there were competing unicorns who got physical. An attack on the horn could force an early end to a match, and it was something that Lyra knew how to defend against. She instinctively threw a half-shield up to protect Dale, while also grasping the cudgel with her telekenesis and deflecting it upwards. A novice would have tried to stop its movement, but redirection of energy was much more efficient than stopping the same energy. The shield was a hopefully unnecessary precaution, since it went both ways—Dale bounced off and fell on his back as the weapon sailed harmlessly over his head.

Unwilling to risk a direct attack against the mare, Lyra yanked the mattress off the bed while also tugging the weapon towards the wall. The mare stared at the unicorn wide-eyed for a moment before being blindsided by the soaring mattress, which pinned her to the wall before she could even manage to arrange a token defense.

The telekinesis spell took more effort than she would have liked, and Lyra could feel herself weakening. She would have already conceded if she were duelling, but this was life-or-death. She’d keep up her pressure until the the mare fell—or she did.

Lyra could feel the creature’s struggles against the mattress; strength against magic. She was surprised that the mare hadn’t tried to cast a spell—there were dozens that would effectively negate the threat. Still, she wasn’t going to bemoan her good fortune. As Dale picked himself up off the floor, Lyra felt the creature’s struggles get weaker. She lightened her hold on the mattress—it was in nopony’s interest to cause permanent injury to the alien mare. Finally, she pulled the mattress back, letting it fall to the ground. She kept her eye on the mare, watching for her reaction. It was not what she’d expected.

• • •

Dale stood outside the room watching. His mind was running at a furious pace, trying to figure out the best way to defuse the situation. He’d realized that the attacks were probably coming from the bed, and had jumped to the logical conclusion that the room was arranged the same way his had been. It was not an unreasonable thought; the institutional mind tends to think the same way all across the vast reaches of the universe.

It was hard to imagine what was going on in there, but judging by the very human scream that had brought him to this point, he assumed that he was dealing with a frightened woman, and if she was as out of her league as he felt, he thought he might be uniquely qualified to help calm things down.

There certainly could have been other contact missions taking place; maybe when they’d pulled up stakes they’d grabbed every one of their interpreters. It stood to reason that they might have been smart enough to not put all their eggs in one basket; for all he knew, the building he now found himself in could be filled with other people. At his very best, he figured he was only average when it came to learning a new language—and that was if they’d picked humans randomly. Maybe that was why the delay after he’d first encountered them—maybe they needed time to find other, more promising recruits.

For a second the possible irony of a fluent linguist who didn’t speak English crossed his mind. Wouldn’t that be my luck? He couldn’t judge too much about her from his vantage point. She was wearing a hospital gown much like his own, although hers went to mid-thigh, unlike the one they’d put him in. She, too, was covered in bandages, although she still had her hair. He watched as she turned and began to draw back to throw the splintery club she was holding, and he saw his chance.

I can grab her when she tosses the stick, maybe talk to her and calm her down a little bit. If she’s as disoriented as— but that thought was rudely interrupted when he crashed into a shimmering golden barrier and dropped to the ground. His chest stung for an instant—like he’d accidentally walked into an electric fence—but the sensation was quickly forgotten as he watched the mattress fly off the bed and slam into the wall.

He looked around the hospital room as he got back to his feet, admiring the wreckage. A fan of food was spread out across the floor, interspersed with broken glass and ceramic. The footboard of the bed had suffered mightily under the onslaught of the side-table, which was scattered across the floor beside the bed. To his left, one chair was overturned, while a second had a pony wearing a shirt crouched behind it.

He saw no one else in the room, which led him to the inescapable conclusion that the girl was currently behind the mattress. It was hard to fathom how it could have flown over there, but he’d already estimated that if Lyra could move around marbles with her mind-controlled tractor beam, there was nothing to prevent her from tossing about larger objects. While the implications were terrifying, he took a vague bit of satisfaction in knowing that he’d guessed correctly. At the very least, she could pin a woman to the wall with a mattress, and he doubted he’d be able to put up significantly more resistance.

It did make him wonder why the unknown pony hadn’t mounted a more spirited defence. She—an assumption based on her similarity to Lyra and the nurse—was just now moving around the chair, casting a wary eye on the mattress.

Her appearance deepened Dale’s confusion about what was going on around here. Unlike all the others he’d seen so far, she was wearing what on a human would have been a button-down shirt, complete with cuffs. In the breast pocket was a traditional mercury thermometer. Her coat was a mustard-yellow color, while her mane and tail were two shades of blue. The former was pulled back in a ponytail, while the latter was wrapped at the base. She was unclothed from the waist down, which revealed her tattoo—a triangle of a stylized dog, cat, and bird.

It was obvious enough what the nurse’s role was, but she was a mystery. Perhaps she’d been working with the occupant of the room, but that didn’t explain the attack. He hadn’t heard any conversation between them, so either they weren’t talking yet, or the situation had escalated past that point.

He heard a soft thump behind him, and turned to see the mattress lying on the ground. Its placement was quite fortuitous, because a moment later the blonde girl collapsed onto it.

• • •

When the green pony ran into the room, Kate’s rational mind finally gave up. Whatever was happening was a horrible nightmare. There was no other explanation. Her weapon had somehow missed its target—she’d felt it jerk upwards as a stabbing pain rushed down her arm.

Before she could even draw in another breath, something slammed her into the wall, eliciting an unpleasant feeling of something loose inside her chest. At the same time, an unfamiliar tingling sensation made her muscles start to twitch, rendering any further resistance futile. Her battered mind tried to make sense of the new stimuli all screaming for attention before it finally gave up completely. She’d completely left panic behind, to be replaced with a dull, uncaring acceptance. Whatever was happening was no longer something she could control, so the best thing to do was to ride it out. It didn’t matter.

As the mattress fell away, she found she didn’t have the strength to stand any more, but it really wasn’t important. It was so much easier to surrender to gravity.

Kate felt like she was observing something from a strange movie. She felt no more fear as the small equines galloped towards her recumbent form. They seemed to be yelling at each other, which was quite strange. One of them had a thin trail of blood running down her muzzle, ruining her beautiful white coat. It was a shame, and Kate wondered how that had happened. Everything seemed so hard to remember. She had fallen on a mattress, but why?

“What’s your name?”

Kate turned her head slowly. There was a man leaning over her. His face went in and out of focus, but she really couldn’t make out any details anyway, since he was all wrapped up in gauze.

“Rorschach?” She gently reached a hand out for him, seeing it move slowly through a smoky mist. “Did you lose your hat?” With some amount of effort, she moved her focus off his face, seeing for the first time that he was wearing a white robe. “You’re . . . you died, didn’t you? Ozymandias killed you.” She pointed a finger at him accusingly.

“What’s your name?” He leaned closer and grabbed her hand in his own.

“Ozymandias, king of kings.” She giggled. “Look upon my works ye mighty, and despair.”

He shook his head sadly. “Tell me your name!”

She giggled again. “Rorschach . . . don’t.”

“Please, tell me.”

Kate squeezed his hand tightly. It was very comforting. It was warm—hot, almost. She thought she could feel the pulse below the soft gauze palms. Just like her own. They were both made of gauze. Was she wearing a white robe, too? Her head weighed a million pounds, so she couldn’t lift it to see. She experimentally touched her clothes, but could feel nothing. Her hand was wrapped up in something. Now when did that happen? She took a deep breath—she wanted to tell him. He was an angel, he must have been. But the words were stolen from her mouth by a paroxysm of coughing.

She looked at his hand in wonder as small red flowers bloomed on his gauzy skin. They were on hers, too. Beautiful red rubies. “I . . . my . . . “ He was dimming, somehow. Getting less vital. Farther away. The corners of the room were growing darker and darker and it seemed to take more effort to focus on his face.

“She’s bleeding,” he roared into the darkness. “Can’t somebody do something about it?”

“Don’t yell, Rorschach,” she rebuked, squeezing his hand weakly. “It’s not nice.”

“I wouldn’t yell at you,” he whispered. “You just need to hold on, everything will be okay.” He smiled reassuringly.

“I’m not scared,” Kate said with wonder. “You’ll—” A sudden image flashed through her mind. Cortez was yelling at her—no, yelling for her. It was on a beach, she was on a beach. “Tell Cortez I . . . tell him . . . if he says it’s his fault, I forgive him. He did—” She coughed again. “Rorschach, I—”

“Shh.” He held a finger to his lips. “Don’t you worry about a thing. It’s all taken care of. Just—keep your hand in mine, okay?”

“I can’t,” she confessed. The muscles in her hand had failed her utterly; she felt her grip loosen. His expression suddenly changed to one of—was it alarm? It was too hard to think of these things, especially since he’d started to give off a golden glow.

• • •

For a moment after Kate’s initial collapse, the hospital room was a silent tableaux. Dale was looking down at her in wonder, Lyra was watching her with a curious look, no longer certain if she was a threat or not.

Then the moment passed and the room became a flurry of activity.

Dale looked down at the injured woman. Her eyes were strangely unfocused, like she’d just gone into some mental fugue state. He’d felt the same way right before she started screaming, so he could sympathise.

Guessing that the mustard-colored pony who’d gingerly abandoned her makeshift fort had been working with the girl—just like Lyra had been with him—he asked the girl’s name.

He was met with a confused look.

Right, Dale. They don’t speak English. “Is Dale,” he said, tapping his chest. “Is Lyra.” He pointed to the unicorn. “Is?” He pointed to the girl.

She still looked confused. She trotted over and gave the woman a cursory inspection before turning to Lyra and rapidly speaking, occasionally pointing a hoof at him or at her. A wet cough from the girl caused her to snap her attention around, and she laid her head on the girl’s chest, listening with her eyes half-closed. She stayed that way for a moment before carefully moving her front hoof over the girl’s chest. The white nurse had returned, too, and was looking thoughtfully at the girl, shifting around on her hooves as if she didn’t quite know what to do.

Is she a doctor? She was wearing a lab coat. Maybe the nurses had red crosses on their hips and doctors had . . . three pets? If he was guessing right, her tattoo was of a dog, cat, and bird. Was it some sort of odd symbolism, their equivalent to a caduceus? They were all smiling.

Dale shook his head. Those mysteries were for another day. He reached down to the girl, taking her left hand into his own. Maybe some human contact would snap her out of it. “What’s your name?”

“Rorschach,” she replied dreamily. Dale stiffened. That name sounded familiar, although he didn’t know why. He’d heard it before, somewhere. It must have been her last name, although why she’d give that was beyond him. Or was Rory the diminutive of Rorschach? Parents were giving children odd names these days. But when she asked him about his hat, he knew she was seeing someone else; it wasn’t her name.

He asked her again, and her reply was more nonsense. He kept asking. Maybe if he could address her by name, he could pull her out of whatever dream world she was in.

He hardly noticed as another unicorn galloped into the room. This one wore a lab coat, and even had a collar and tie underneath. It glanced at the girl and then began conversing with the mustard pony.

Dale reached down and grabbed her hand. She was making less and less sense. Did they have her doped up on all sorts of weird pain-killers? One of her hands was wrapped in a thick bandage—and her arms were wrapped, too. So was her face, but she still had her hair, which seemed blatantly unfair.

Some of the gauze had come loose on her hand, he noticed. Maybe when she was throwing stuff around the room. He could see pale pink nail polish on two of her fingernails, where they’d cut through the bandage. It was such an odd detail to pick out of the chaos in the room, but it jabbed at his memory.

Something must have gone wrong with their transporter, he decided. At least we didn’t wind up fused together or something. But he could worry about that later. Right now, keeping her talking was the most important thing.

Suddenly she started coughing blood. He winced as it splattered on his hand and arm. A cold dread began to grip him—what if she were dying? He could only imagine that the doctors were working frantically to save her life.

He risked a glance at them, and they were still arguing. There was not a single machine in the room except another one of those stupid wooden heart monitors that the nurse was fiddling with.

Dale screamed at them then. He was beginning to wonder if he’d been led into a false sense of security by Lyra. Maybe they were really monsters. Maybe they didn’t give a damn if she lived or died. Lyra’s emotion had felt genuine, but he might have been ascribing too much to the hug and the tears. They were aliens, after all. In hospital dramas, there was always the crash cart . . . here there was nothing. Still . . . the nurse hadn’t used any instruments on him—none that he’d seen anyway.

“Don’t yell,” the girl said weakly, and it stuck him like a knife. After this was all over, he’d deal with the ponies. He’d have a nice long talk with Lyra, and they’d figure it out.

He looked at the fading light in her eyes. He felt her grip begin to weaken. He could hear the ponies talking, but he ignored them. Whatever happened, he hoped she would know that he’d held on. He’d stayed by her side.

The blue-maned one pointed to him and said something to Lyra. She shook her head and touched a hoof to her horn. The other horned pony in a lab coat joined in on the conversation. Meanwhile, the nurse with the bloody muzzle pulled a strip of gauze off the girl’s wrist and stuck it to her hoof somehow. With a practiced ease, she unwrapped the bandage over the girl’s hand, finally revealing something that reminded him of an overdone steak. He felt the bile rising in his throat, and had to turn his head away.

He concentrated on the girl’s face. She looked . . . peaceful. As soon as she’d stopped talking, she’d stopped coughing, which was an improvement. He watched as the nurse tugged the left side of the girl’s johnny open, and whistled in surprise at the giant bruise just under her armpit. Even through the lifejacket, he thought. I hit her harder than I meant to. No wonder my shoulder’s messed up.

As she had with him, the nurse placed her hoof in the center of the bruise, holding it there for a moment. He half-expected to see the bruise face away, but of course it didn’t. He suddenly realized he was looking at an unconscious woman’s breasts and his face reddened. Was he a lecherous old man for looking? Or was he doing his duty? What if she asked him what they’d done if—when—she woke? Could he say he’d looked away and didn’t know? What would he want her to do if their positions were reversed? He might spot something they wouldn’t—or was that just an excuse to keep staring? Being suddenly thrust into a strange culture had been bad enough; now they were violating his own cultural taboos—not out of malice, but just plain ignorance. He sighed, watching as the nurse laid her head on the girl’s chest, flattening an ear between her breasts to listen for a heartbeat.

He looked back at her right hand, where the male doctor and female doctor were working intently. They’d stripped back some of the bandage on her arm, and the female doctor was gently touching her forehoof to the girl’s fingers, while the male doctor studied an x-ray, occasionally talking to the female.

A new voice caught his attention. It, too, sounded female, but had a strange lyrical lilt to it—almost as if the owner were reading a poem or something. He almost dropped the girl’s hand when the pony attached to the voice walked into the room: she was wearing a brown cloak with a hood covering her head. Gold jewelry adorned her leg and neck, and she was even wearing golden earrings. If that wasn’t odd enough, she was a carrying a small corked bottle in her mouth, and she was striped like a zebra.

Enter the witch doctor, Dale thought.

Author's Note:

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Author's Notes