• Published 12th Jun 2014
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A Time in the Sand - AppleJared



Big Macintosh gets drafted to the service of protecting his country. He makes it home alive.

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One Last Shot

The sun is about to set as I find my way out from the brush. I've had to sit down for three hours and wait for this. My ass is sore to say the least. The jungle I'm in is so thick that no folks live over here. The tall jungle ceiling keeps some of the sun away if you position yourself just right, but the humidity does its work. It would be the perfect place for a picnic, if it weren't for the bugs. Thinking about it, I wipe off another layer of mosquitoes from my body. Maybe the occasional monster as well as a changeling hive or two keeps the ponies away in addition to the bugs. Since no one comes out this far, the military decided to make an airstrip here. There's no road to it, so whoever gets picked up has to hump it all the way out here until his ride arrives.

I hear a whine. I think it's one of those weird jungle animals until I see a plane in the sky. The plane takes down on the runway and goes completely off pavement to the smoke I laid down. He's early; I already like this guy. The craft stops and stairs pop out of the side of the plane. I jump in.

The plane I am on carries a maximum of ten occupants. That being said, there is only the pilot and myself on board. I take a seat in the back but the pilot motions me to the cockpit. He tells me to shut the door behind me and to sit down in the co-pilot seat. I've never been in the cockpit before and while I keep a straight face, my inner colt is smiling from ear to ear. Somehow, I get the feeling that the pilot knows how I feel anyways.

He chatters something to "Control" several times back and fourth and flips all kinds of switches whilst doing so. They're using some kind of lingo similar to what we used in the army, but I'm guess it's more aerial related than fighting related. He gets cleared for take off and starts down toward the runway again. As he slowly eases the large acceleration lever forward, the engines begin their loud howl. We get onto the runway and he straightens the craft out.

He looks at me and says, "Strap in, she takes off fast."

He slams the acceleration all the way forward and boy he wasn't kidding. I had more G's hit me than when I got my first officer's check. He tilts the plane up to about 40 degrees and we leave the ground. We finish take off and he immediately goes to conversation.

"You Macintosh Apple?" he asks while keeping his eyes forward.

"Last time I checked, I was."

His smirk lets me know he's decent, and the silver bar on his collar tells me that I outrank him. "Good," he says. "This might have been an awkward flight if you weren't."

I need to haze him. I plaster on feign disgust. "It's been a couple of seconds and you haven't called me sir yet. Any reason, Lieutenant?"

He looks at me for the first time. "Yeah, I'm not really into the 'sir' business." He's trying to act confident but I can see some sweat.

I give him a surprise smile. "Good; me neither."

"Well," he says as he rubs his head. "You guys are way easier to deal with than regular army. Of course to be fair, I have no idea who you are or what you guys do." He gives me a spare look. "Seems like whatever you are, they sure breed strong. Never seen a normal sized pony wearing all that black and Luna's mark on their shoulder."

"It's hard to describe what we do and how we work," I tell him. "What I do is a bit more... 'individualized' than anything I did in regular army."

"I hear ya there. When they offered me a spot on aviation I took that shit up. No way I was going to be a grunt for another tour. As hard as flying one of these can be, it's easier than seeing your friend get blown up."

We both took a minute or two of silence after that. I know exactly how he feels. He knows that I know, too.

I ask him, "Son, you regret joining the military?"

After a thoughtful pause he says, "You're not the first to ask." He takes a few gulps of his coffee then focuses back on the flying. "When I first got my plane, spec-ops just like you would ask me the same question. Back then I was younger and I hadn't done this much. I was happy to have a job that wasn't dead end, or boring as hell. This work is exciting, just ask my mom. She worries every day!"

We both have a chuckle. Thinking about it, Maw would be worried sick if she were still around. Then again, I always have AJ to worry over me. That made me chuckle too.

"But I did miss out on a ton," he continues. "I don't think I'll ever have my own foal. In fact, I'll be happy to just find the mare for me. I've done this so long now I doubt I could do anything else without going nuts. I joined up when I was young because I wanted to be Equestria's hero. Later I would find out that you can't just use the "hero" thing as a punchline when you actually are one. I never thought being the hero would cost me this much."

He pauses again. "I love my plane, and I love flying. Some day I'll fly civilian craft for a regular job. Flying military let me have that opportunity that my poor background wouldn't allow otherwise. So no, I don't regret joining up."

He looks at me and says, "I regret staying in this long."

Plane rides are great because I get to sit down and think to myself without having to worry about an objective. I can think about what I'll do when I get back to base, or what plane I want to ride next. Maybe I'll put in for another location.

Maybe I'll think about home again.

BEEEEEP

A red light turns on and I unbuckle the seat belt. I get up and open the side hatch on the small stealth aircraft. The outside replaces a nice hum in the craft with the deafening noise of high speed wind. The temperature drops significantly as we are very high in the air.

Lieutenant yells out, "One mike until jump!"

I take a look at the clock on the plane. We've been flying for two hours. Time... flies... I suppose.

I take a look outside. Above cloud level there is a beautiful scene of black space mixed with moon and stars. The purity of vision up here is breathtaking. Most of the stars shine a pure white, while some distant others seem to be more red and blue. Sometimes you can see shooting stars flying in space. In fact, there's two of 'em flying right next to each other.

The moon can be clearly seen with all of its glory. If one is to look close enough, shades can be seen where giant craters are. Some unicorns talk about going to the moon sometime in the future. I think it's a bunch of hogwash, but that might be the Earth pony in me. Plus, Luna said she wouldn't set hoof onto the place again. I sure wouldn't blame her.

Below me is a view of clouds and a dark blue hue of night on the ground. Sleepy towns mixed in with forests can be seen. On occasion a farming field can be seen. It reminds me of home. My sisters used to watch the night sky sometimes. Boy I wish they could see what I see right now.

Lieutenant yells out, "Ten seconds! Good luck Mac!"

At this altitude I'll fall for approximately three mikes and depending on how much the wind cooperates I should land within 25 yards of the target.

5..4..3...2......

1.

Green light, and I jump into the black.

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The dark clouds outside at this time of day can only mean rain. The wind means there will be a storm soon.

I have to be at the park in fifteen minutes; I'll be there in five. My apartment is messy and yet I don't remember it getting that way. Bah, I'll clean it afterwards. Rent is due soon so I'll need to go by the bank as well. Sandy wanted me to pick up some the hay fries from that restaurant next to the post office. I wish I had time for it.

I step outside the building and foals are running inside to escape the impending rain. I make way towards the park. It's been a while since I was at the park.

A drop.

Another drop.

A pause. I know what is about it happen.



I gave up everything.

I met a Lt. Colonel not too long ago who was the greatest musician I’ve ever heard. He played every instrument I’ve ever seen and some I've never even seen before. But somewhere between the dirt and mud and the bullets and the sand and the death, he lost whatever music with inside of him. I saw him pick up a violin after we got back and it was like he had never touched one before. Almost like the violin refused...

I haven’t planted an apple tree 17 years. 17 years. That much was never in my contract. I haven’t seen my family in at least five years. I doubt they would even recognize me. I think about them every day. I wonder what they look like now; how much they have changed? I’m worried of how they think of me. I came into the war looking for honor and now and just looking for a way out of this hell.

I get angry, frustrated a lot more than I used to. I want to put the blame on someone, someone other than me. I want to say that this is someone else’s fault. I want to act like I didn’t sign up for this three times in a row... But I did. I guess I thought that the more years I put into it, the more separated I could be afterwards, but such thought was folly. I guess what I’m trying to say is that, I signed up for the lifestyle but not the life. I never could have imagined what this would do to me nor could I have imagined that something so honorable could be so awful at times.

So I made my decision. I’m going to do one last mission, one more battle. This will be my one last shot. After this, I go home. After this I want to see my sisters, and to see Granny’s grave, and I’m going to become an apple farmer again.

I see one of them coming. He's young and built. High school hoofball player... maybe. Hat on his head with a team logo on the front. He fits right in with the crowd. Dammit, they get 'em so young now. He walks in my direction. We make eye contact, and he reaches for something in his saddlebag.

He's taking too long getting whatever it is. There's so many folks around right now... that couldn't be a gun could it? It would turn into mass panic if he shot me. What have I done wrong?? Why are they getting rid of me NOW!?

He lays down a package on the park bench and casually walks away. I go sit on the bench and open up the package. Inside are two sets of co-ordinances, one for pickup and one for drop off. There is something at the bottom. I tear a flap of cardboard paper from the bottom to reveal a Celestial necklace. I've seen this necklace before.

I make my way toward the meeting. This is the last time I'll do this. In a way, I'll almost miss it. In all others, I really won't.

The city gate stays open 24/7 now. In older times, they would close it after 9pm to protect the city against cross-county thieves as well as to enforce a decent bedtime for minors. Now the city never sleeps and business, legal and not, goes on at late hours of the night. When I see him, he'll ask if we're legal or not. I'll have to tell him the truth.

Full on rain hits my back as I stand next to the gate. What cloud water hits above my neck falls off of my muzzle. My mane is soaked and dripping with water. Minutes ago, it was sweat. The gate reminds me of the factory. I pull out the necklace. I wear it now so I won't forget about his sacrifice. So I won't forget about what has to be done to set things right.

Approximately 150 yards away, I see him coming. To the untrained, he's wearing a large raincoat. But even from 150 I can tell he's got at least two pistols on him with some extra room for a sawed-off. Former Lt. Colonel Brass was never one for tomfoolery, and he was always prepared for battle. He sees me and gives a head nod. I return the gesture.

Upon getting close enough to whisper he stares at the necklace for a bit a gives me a smirk. "Nice Jewelry. Did the missus give it to you?"

I groan a bit, but not loud enough for him to hear it. "I don't have a missus, sir."

He groans with a bit more volume. "Quit calling me sir, Mac. You have the higher rank since they busted me for slapping that coward. Plus, neither of us are doing army work anymore."

This is close enough for army work to me. Seems like the same thing. "Does that soldier still have the hoofmark on his face?" I ask him.

He chuckles a bit. He's not apologetic about his actions in the least bit, regardless of whatever speech he had to give afterwards. "I sure as hell hope so. Battle fatigue is something ass-buddies made up to go home early. No room for that in my army... or at least what was my army."

"I doubt even Princess Luna could let that slide. It's just bad PR, Brass."

"I don't give a damn, Mac. War isn't won by those puke after seeing blood." He looks up at me, and we start walking away from the city gates away from a setting sun. His smile tells me what he's about to say, but I let him say it anyways. "War is won by stallions who can take a few bullets and keep shooting. War is won by those who give up everything for their country. War is won by stallions like you. Dammit Mac, I wish my son was more like you."

"I doubt you would want that," I think out loud.

We walk a couple hundred yards in silence.

Then he looks up again. "Mac, you think we're on the good side tonight?"

The question is burrowed into my mind. It's been there since I signed up for the army. I have to tell him the truth.

"I don't know."

His jaw clenches shut, then relaxes. "Smacking that soldier up just had to be done, but after some of the things I got away with I know I deserved getting busted. Still, that doesn't mean I had to receive punishment gracefully. They made me apologize for the smack, and I got so mad afterwards I quit the army. 32 years of service and they drop me down to a 2nd Lieutenant because I disciplined a soldier. Next thing I know, I'm waking up to batponies kidnapping me and taking me to the Royal Canterlot Castle. They take the blindfold off and I'm in Princess Luna's chambers. It was like a dream come true until I realized our Princess wasn't in the mood for what I was hoping for. It got a little better when she assigned me to do this type of work. But... but there's been assignments where it just didn't feel right."

I debated on giving my two-cents, but I didn't feel talkative. Brass didn't wait for me to give an answer.

"Mac, do you regret serving your country?" he asks with an eyebrow raised.

"I don't regret serving my country. I regret doing it three times. Four if you count now." I have a question to ask, and he's the only one that could give me a straight answer. "Brass?" His head shoots up. He knows what kind of question he's about to get.

"Are we bad folks for doin' this type of work? I mean, we both done things in the army... and you know none of what we do now is on the books... am I not right for doing this?"

He gives it a moment to ponder. His brain works and his face scrunches for an acceptable answer, then it relaxes into a bland, emotionless expression. "At the end of the day... who fucking cares?"

We're approaching our drop off. We stop outside as we see a building far beyond the beaten path. I guess I wasn't paying attention whilst we were talking but we got pretty far into this wooded area. It's getting dark outside, and the thick vegetation offers plenty of cover. Truck tracks run toward what looks to be a two-story half-barn. Up ahead there is a single truck outside, but no one is in it. Lights are on inside the place but no movement is going on. We both find a large brush area to sit behind. We have to wait until it is completely dark outside. We try to get comfy, as we'll be waiting for at least an hour.

I cut the silence. "Brass, this is my last mission."

His eyes beg to differ, as they look disgusted before he says a word. "Mac, you're joking."

"No I'm not, Brass. It took four tours for me to realize that I'm still an apple farmer. I haven't seen my sisters in five years but they're still back home and I sure as hell miss 'em. I've messed up by not being there for them in the past, but I'm going to make it up to them by coming home as soon as we're done here."

Brass wants to disapprove. "Our most high Luna wouldn't take to that too well, Mac."

"Respectfully, Luna can take a one-way to the moon for all I care."

Brass gives a chuckle. He knows how stubborn I am, and he knows I don't play around with the military. It's a done deal once I make up my mind. I got a funny feeling he's at the same place I am. I don't think he'll be in this business too much longer after I leave. I can see him living in a shack down south next to a beach, being AWOL the whole time. Sippin' on some drink I can't pronounce and flirtin' with a gal I can't understand.

Yep, that sounds like Brass.

A couple of the most indecisive seconds roll on by until he reaches out to shake my hoof.

"You're the best this nation's ever had Mac. Best of luck for whatever you do."

"Thanks, Brass."

As the time approached for us to enter the building and get the package, I slowly got up out from cover. Brass pulled me back down.

"Mac," he said. "If we make it out of here, I'm buying you all the drinks you can hold down."

"Well," I whispered. "I'll pay you back."

I reach into my saddlebag and feel no money in it. "I'm a little short on bits right now, though. Do you take apples?"

Author's Note:

This is technically the end of the story. However, there might be an epilogue chapter coming soon. *hint hint*