• Published 2nd May 2012
  • 5,107 Views, 250 Comments

Homebound - Retsamoreh



A space military captain, who believes that Equestria resides on the legendary, long-lost planet of Earth, attempts to save Twilight and her friends from an incoming invasion that threatens both Equestria and the galaxy while keeping them all sane.

  • ...
15
 250
 5,107

(I) Jonesy

(LOCATION: Canterlot, Equestria. Earth, Sol.
(OWNER: C. Q. Jones.
(TIMEFRAME: Error.
(BEGIN)

`Initializing Process...`

It was a volunteer mission. Hundreds had.

He wasn't one of them.

They had walked down the academy halls, peering at the names engraved on the dorm doors, looking down at their datapads every once in awhile, and always with their chins held high. The rest of the cadets had no idea what was going on, other than that one lucky student was going to be chosen for something. They gathered the cadets into the mess hall, made them sit down, and then they read a lengthy speech about honor, glory, and other things taken directly from their pile of stock speeches.

They never let their chins drop. By the time they got to their reason for being there, most of the cadets were either half asleep or angry their time was being wasted. His name was called, and it was announced he'd be joining eight of the best cadets in Wing space on a top secret mission. While the rest had volunteered and had been hand-picked by the Admirals, he was chosen randomly. As an example that no matter the circumstances, any cadet could handle himself, not just the ones with high grades. He would have half a year to train for it. He had his head shoved into a toilet in the women's bathroom after he left the hall.

He was Jones, apparently the best the Cadet Academy on Alteria-Cra had to offer.

He was also on almost mythical Terra, being catered to by a silly number of pony servants who, he thought, should be considered a biological weapon of adorableness. The other cadets at the academy could suck it. The only possible problem was that half of what the ponies ate were full of sugar, and the other half wasn't meat. When they'd gone to bed, they'd had a dessert cupcake, and when they'd woken up they'd had breakfast muffins; Jones honestly couldn't tell the difference in calorie or sugar count for either of them. That was why one of the first things Commander Boyo had ordered them to do, was laps around the gardens.

In the rain.

“OhGodthisisawful,” Jones sputtered in a poor attempt to exhale. His lower limbs, which resembled the very wires that filled the Homebound, flailed out from under him, and he still pushed himself to catch up with the hulking mass that was the other cadet. Yez, a perfect example of the wide-set, grey-skinned Irdan species, sent the smallest bits of mud scattering. Mainly into Jones’ face. “Howmanymorelaps?” he asked the towering brute next to him in another exasperated breath.

“One,” Yez grunted. The pencil-thin cadet looked his companion up and down, frowning when he realized his counterpart was only jogging. He would’ve shuddered, if he wasn’t already. Two? He could do two. He’d be a mushy bit of whimpering flesh by then, but he could do it.

“Cheer up, lad!” a boisterous voice behind him announced, another set of spinning limbs appearing next to him. These ones were red, and had a handsome, chiseled face hidden under a slick mass of hair that Jones felt would look just as handsome as the rest of the body if it were dry, combed, and styled. Somehow, this cadet’s uniform had dodged every pellet of mud and dirtied drop of rain. The wing and diamond symbol gleaming each time lightning flashed in the distance. Under it was an unfamiliar symbol, but it was one that Jones had come to recognize. The name was on the tip of his tongue. “I... hff, I don’t think we had time to introduce ourselves. I spent my time with Roland and Dylan during most of the training sessions. Name’s... hff, Maar’n Kell. Yours?”

Right, then. He was a Kell. Figures they’d buy one of their relatives a spot on an illustrious mission like this one. The Kell family insignia, which Maar’n bore on his uniform, was immaculate, and seemed to light up far brighter under the lightning strikes than the Wing pin did. It was anything but realistic, because on the inside, that family symbol was as scarred and twisted as the extended family that proudly wore it.

“C... Q... Jones....” He brought his hand up, moving some of the light brown hair from his eyes.

“Ha! That’s right! Can’t believe I forgot your name. I... hff, remember you. Hff. You were the one that the Admirals chose randomly. You think you’ll ever... hff, regret coming along? Ha! Hff, that was a rhetorical question, my friend. We’re on Earth. How could you regret that?” The Draxian laughed, effortlessly gliding along the mud spattered path.

“I am Cadet Yez N’ham. Pleasure to make second meeting with Kell. We met first during training,” the cadet to Jones’ left grunted, his voice obscured by the rain and thunder.

“Well met. You were our heavy weapons... expert, right?” Kell asked, leaning forward to see past Jones. The latter gladly obliged by slowing his pace.

“Indeed. You are sniper.”

“Pilot, actually. Melee expert off to the side, but melee doesn’t really matter in ship, hff, to ship combat.”

“I... aahh... incorrect!” Jones blurted out, memories of his long hours in the academy surfacing like a half forgotten dream. “There are plenty of... harrfff... scenarios where you’dhavetousemeleecombat... hff!”

“I s’pose you’re right, but it don’t matter now, does it?” laughed Maar’n, slapping a hand to Jones’ back. The young adult lurched, his muddied boots searching for purchase on the slick ground. “And what about you, Jonesy? We didn’t see much of you during training, always slinking in the back of the room. What’s your job?”

“Soldier,” Jones huffed out immediately.

“Hah. We’re all soldiers! No, hff, really... your job?”

“Just a grunt... I kill things,” Jones said, his voice dying down to a whisper.

~=V=~

“I really think walking around without even a sidearm is a bit, er, stupid. I mean, we do have our melee training, but how are we supposed to fight back against one of those unicorns if they go psychic on us? Err, sir.” Maar’n said, hit boots sounding akin to the pitter pattering of the rain outside.

“We agreed to it. And it’s not psychic, here. It’s magic,” Commander Boyo corrected, several steps in front of the line of cadets.

“No offense, sir, but I’m calling it what I was taught to call it. I could care less what the ponies say it is, because magic doesn’t exist. You’re really going to let a civilization that hasn’t even discovered how to split the atom dictate how we do things? This isn’t even their planet-” Maar’n head jerked back, Boyo’s furious face suddenly inches from his own. The commander’s nose scrunched up, and he jabbed a pointed finger in the draxian’s chest. Maar’n was almost a foot taller than his superior, and he melted under the weight of that finger; Boyo was a thousand meters tall. His voice echoed around the empty Canterlotian halls like so many nails being driven into an iron coffin.

“Don’t you ever even whisper those words again or so help me I’ll give you a dishonorable discharge and leave you stranded straight in Empirium space. You got that, cadet? I’m like Jackson, and I accept it when a lower rank is trying to be helpful, but I will never, EVER tolerate one of the men under my command telling me what to do. When lunch is done, you’re dismissed to your room, and I don’t want to see you tomorrow.” His growling voice faded, and thunder sounded off in the distance.

“I- y-y-yes sir,” Maar’n stammered, eyes widening with each inch he backed up. He stopped right in front of Yez, and with the speed of a scared cat, zipped behind the irdan, like he would shield him from their superior’s wrath. Yez snorted, and continued on.

“Speaking of not being seen. Where’s the teryn, ah, what’s-his-name? Haven’t seen him since this morning’s run. Jones?”

“Dunno, sir,” the spindly cadet said from a million miles away, his eyes completely glued on to the windows. Even under the grey clouds of a thunderstorm, the city of Canterlot never stopped amazing him. Such simple, yet elegant architecture that managed to look like it was meant to look pretty rather than be sturdy. Yet there it was, sitting on the side of a mountain like an eagle watching over its kingdom below. It had been doing so for hundreds of years, according to Commander Boyo’s short briefing on the Fate.

“What, he’s our stealth guy, right? Recon or something? Feh. He better knock it off. The last thing I want is for these Equestrians to think is that we’re here to stab them with a knife from the dark. Lunch is in twenty minutes, boys, so you better get hungry. After that, I’m meeting with the princesses to write up an introduction speech. First impressions matter a whole bunch when it comes to the public, so you won’t be seeing me again ‘til dinner, or even tomorrow. So... I don’t know, go goof off. Just don’t be fools, got it?”

“Yessir,” four said as one. Jones ripped his gaze from the window, turning just far enough to catch a glimpse of a fourth cadet stepping behind them as silent as a whispered nothing. The animalistic face of the teryn winked, and Jones forced down a shudder as he turned to face the window once more. Every other second his view would be interrupted by an immaculate piece of the wall, or the jerking to attention they did out of habit every time an errant guard or servant passed by.

When it didn’t feel like it was pressing down on you, Jones considered, while looking up at the chandelier-spotted ceiling, Canterlot managed to make you feel like an ant scurrying about, like you were in the shadow of some great giant that only looked down on you in adoration. He had seen Celestia and Luna, sure, but only for the fleeting moments when they had first arrived. After that, a group of servants had whisked them away to their guest rooms; it seemed like Canterlot had an infinite amount of those things stored up in its maze-like design. Jones wondered why they didn’t just bother living out in the hedge maze since these was so little difference between the two.

“I was serious, you know,” Art muttered, his voice falling flat against the walls. Every stare was immediately aimed at him, and if it were any harder from Maar’n, it would’ve burned a hole through his neck.

“About them... and Earth?” Jones asked, his voice nearly refusing to come out of his lips. He looked at the other three cadets, and swallowed a rock that had formed in his throat.

“Correct. The fact is, while this might’ve once been the home of humanity, and the origin place for the galaxy, we no longer own it. Whatever catastrophe ended the humans, brought about the ponies, and I something tells me they didn’t take the planet by force. For all we know, the ponies actually descended from humans just like we all did.”

Maar’n snorted.

“I’ll be kindly ignoring that, cadet. Like I was saying, there’s no evidence that the Equestrians killed the humans. Keep in mind that they’re not the only species on the planet, either. Now if you’ll excuse me....” The commander trailed off, staring at a blinking red light coming off of his datapad. “Right. Something’s bugging up the communications device I put out near the gardens. I’ll meet you four at lunch,” he announced, turning around to peer down the mile-long stretch of hallway they’d already crossed. A look of sheer horror touched his face for half a moment, and then he jogged off.

“You know, considering that Celestia lady claims to move the frigg’n sun, and, you know, we actually saw that get done, I highly doubt that the ponies had nothing to do with the human’s demise. This planet is rightfully ours, and until I get stranded in Empirium space or they prove me wrong, I’m gonna keep on thinking that,” Maar’n huffed as soon as Art was out of earshot.

“I don’t see the logic behind that, sorry,” Jones said, keeping his eyes on the window.

“Eh, you’ll see it soon enough, kid. You’ve got the smarts to figure it out. I mean, seriously? An immortal god-princess that moves the sun? Doesn’t that seem a bit fishy? For all we know, she’s the one who went around killing humanity back when all of this started. Nobody, and I mean nobody could ever even really be that benevolent. She’s hiding something. I know it.”

“Perhaps,” the teryn behind us started up, his voice worming his way into their ears like snakes, “Celestia and her sister merely wish to lull us into a false sense of security, so then she may strike out and destroy the galaxy once more. She will harvest our souls to power herself and keep her eternal youth. But then again, we should not be sitting here, telling ghost stories like children. Shame.”

“I think he is right,” Yez said, turning to face the slinky cadet. “What is even your name?”

“I am known as A’rlan Vesol!os. Forgive me for being so... sneaky. It’s in the job description.”

“You’re recon, right?” Jones asked, eyes lighting up as lightning flashed behind the windows.

“Indeed. Master marksman, hacker, and acrobat.”

“Sounds like a good job to have,” Maar’n grunted, trying to trace Jones’ gaze from over his shoulder. They were right over the gardens now, and could faintly see the rolling green hills outlined by the thunderstorm’s bouts of lightning. He could just barely make out the odd structure that was the wiry frame of the communications “nest”, as Lilian had called it. Their commander hadn’t made it there yet, it seemed. Something about that felt off. Wrong.

“You have no idea, friend,” A’rlan chuckled.

~=V=~

“Communications are fixed. Not like it matters, since I doubt Jackson’s even at Omega by now,” Artzian said, looking down to accept a napkin from a servant. “Thank you.”

“What was wrong with it?” Jones asked, peering up from his salad. He’d been staring into it the entire time, at least until Maar’n had made a comment about eating like a horse. The other three cadets were chatting up a storm. Talking about how training was like on all the different planets, what they thought was going to happen during the mission before they’d entered the anomaly. The rounds.

“I think some lightning must’ve hit it, overloaded the power for a few seconds. Set the whole thing off like something was trying to hack the system. Just a couple of kicks and a reboot fixed it. Oh, you guys see that, apparently, they control the weather here?”

“Yea. It is pretty crazy, sir. I asked one of the guards about it, Shiny Armor or something, and he said that all ponies have innate magic. Earth ponies have it sort of bottled up, pegasus ponies use it to fly, and unicorns have their horns to control the stuff. Mind you, I’m not saying it’s magic, since magic doesn’t exist, but whatever,” Maar’n said through a mouthful of lettuce and vegetables. Jones stared up at him, silently noting the strange change in attitude.

“So... um, Commander Boyo?” Jones started, tapping his fingers against the table with sudden fever. All eyes turned towards him, and he felt himself lucky that the interloping group was allowed its own eating quarters and that there weren’t any more ponies to stare at him. “Ehe, urm, did you have a chance to talk to one of the Princesses about the anomaly yet? I, uh, figured that might be sort of important-”

“Jones, trust me,” Art said, one side of his mouth curling into a foxlike smile, “I know what I’m doing. Big, sensitive things like the anomaly can wait for the moment. Right now we’re still getting our bearings, and we still haven’t even announced our presence to the public yet. Relax a bit, then we’ll get to the serious stuff.”

“Whatever you say, sir,” Jones muttered, looking back down into his salad.

“Hey, chin up, champ.” Maar’n spat out a bit of lettuce, swallowing before his cheeks could get any redder. “We’re still on Earth, and nobody is shooting at us and we’re probably not going to get shot at, so there’s no reason to be so down about it, eh?

“I guess not,” Jones said, looking down again. His bowl was empty, and before he could register what that meant, it was encased in a silver glow and taken away. He looked up, and noticed that various unicorn servants were taking the plates and bowls from everyone. Maar’n propped his elbows on the table, and Art coughed for everyone’s attention.

“And, now. Princess Celestia and Luna will be with us in a moment, along with Captain Shining Armor, to conduct a brief meeting on the subject of the Wing military occupying Equestria. We’ll just be tossing around ideas for a bit, so if you feel you have something to contribute, feel free. After that, I’ll be meeting with the princesses to discuss how we’re going to introduce us to the public. Any qu-” He stopping, folding his arms as the door burst open. Luna flowed into the room like liquid moonlight, radiating power and mystique. She was flanked by the steely step of the Captain, his powerful aura matching the symbol on his butt.

“Please forgive my sister for not attending. Somepony must’ve spotted your ship leaving, and she has been doing her best to stop him from leaking it to the press early. Hmph. Shall we begin?” the princess announced, striding over to the other end of the small table with practiced grace. Armor followed, sitting down opposite the Commander. Something that could only be described as a wooden throne was summoned, its intricate carvings glinting in the sunlight, and Artzian dusted his hands on his uniform while Luna took her seat.

“Now, just to make sure we all know each other’s names. This is Cadet C. Q. Jones, special tactics trainee. Cadet Yez Nham, demolitions and vehicle trainee. Cadet A’rlan Se!Vos, reconnaissance, stealth, and tech guru. Lastly, but not least, Cadet Maar’n Kell, piloting expert and melee specialist. As for you four, you know who Princess Luna is, and right there is the Captain of the Royal Guard, Shining Armor.”

Wordless, silent greetings were given, and it was as if someone had flicked and invisible switch. The room descended into an oppressive silence, clearing like a slow moving fog when the princess opened her mouth to speak.

“Jackson mentioned to my sister that the Wing would set up defenses around Equestria. I want to know what that entails. I do not wish my subjects to be fearful of an unknown military presence taking up residence in Equestria. Furthermore, I must say we will not tolerate any military bases to be within a certain distance from a populated, civilian area. Is that clear?”

“Crystal, ma’am. Actually, we don’t plan on having that many military installments on the ground. Our best tactic is not to let them set foot on the planet. Stop ‘em where it counts: space. So we’ll probably set up one or two starbases - those are like bases that float in space - devoted entirely to defense, maybe a couple of smaller ones for research and civ’ purposes. There would constant fleet presence orbiting the planet. That wouldn’t be a problem... right?”

“I see no problem with a fleet presence, so as long as it does not cause problems for us. I... do not know enough about these ‘star bases’ to object to them. Anyhow, on the subject of fleets, it was agreed that you would be donating your technology to us, so that we may use it to our own ends and betterment. We all realize there is a very large gap to fill concerning your technology and ours. What of our own ships, our own defenses, or even the small things that would affect everyday life?” she asked. Commander Boyo looked down, tapping the table a few more times before raising his eyebrows.

“Well, we’ll be giving you any technology you need that isn’t explicitly Wing-guarded technology, and I’m sure Jackson will be donating a good bit of KaidenTech to the cause. Err, that’s his tech company. It’ll probably be a few weeks before we can think of making Equestrian ships, and a month to start production. As for defenses, we’ll be giving you the technology to produce your own, and ours will probably be completely entrenched in three months tops. I have a feeling Jackson will be asking the admirals to assign the Liberty Fleet to the planetary defense force, and, uh. That’s it. A full Equestrian fleet could be finished in a year or so, if you commissioned a Wing shipyard to make them offworld. But... gosh, your military is going to need to go through rigorous training to fly them, and your engineers and scientists are going to have to study them for years onward. We can give you the information you need to pilot them, but training is a whole different ballgame. I... suppose we could start working on some sort of training program. Flying a ship is, at its core, really easy and pilot-friendly, it’s just understanding it that boggles minds... Erm, right. I digress. You’ll get your technology, and you’ll be able to defend yourselves on your own in no-time.”

“Good. My sister and I agreed that when that time comes, we will not eject the Wing from Equestrian space, and you will be able to continue your operations on and around our planet. What of colonies, perhaps? Our population isn’t big enough for it to be necessary, but many ponies will want to go into the galaxy and to other worlds. Should we start small, in our own system? Would that involve terraforming?” Luna asked, leaning over the table ever so slightly. Shining Armor’s eyes bulged, and he and Artzian gulped in tandem.

“Um, terraforming,” the Commander muttered, sinking into his chair, “you sure do know a lot about how space works.... How much information did Jackson give you, again? I don’t remember any detailed packets in the First Contact Kit aboard the Homebound-”

“A lot, Commander. He told my sister everything we needed to know about how to get started, and he left you here to oversee its completion. If this is a problem, I’m sure you will be able to take it up with him once you secure long-range communications.”

“I. Um. That’s not...” Art blinked hard, rubbing his temples with his thumb and forefinger. Jones looked around, seeing similar reactions of discomfort from the other cadets.

Then he wasn’t looking at the table through pained eyes, he was softly smiling up at Luna with the rest of the cadets and their commander bearing similar expressions, and suddenly looking away in embarrassment. Like they’d been caught stealing cookies. Art clapped his hands with a dreadful note of finality. “Ha! Sorry about that. Just sort of dozed off. Hard to get used to the different sleeping patterns every time you visit a new planet. So, information packet? Good. I’m glad to know Jackson gave you that. Takes a lot of pressure off of me. Right... where was I? Oh, right, colonies. Terraforming costs a lot of money and resources, so until it’s necessary, I don’t recommend...”

Artzian’s voice trailed off into mindless gabber, and Jones’ let his mind wander. Something in the air smelled sickeningly sweet. He looked down, and blinked in surprise.

Why was he gripping the table’s edge?

~=V=~

“Death... will take... those who fight alone,” Jones hummed, spinning the model ship in his fingers. The miniature wasn’t much, just a present from the family wishing him good luck on his first mission. It was an almost ancient Retribution class Wing ship, one of the first the group ever built. It was nothing more than a pile of scrap metal compared to technology now, but back in the day, when the Wing was nothing more than a roaming band of mercenaries looking for a home, it was the height of technological advancement. Most of the other parts of the galaxy had yet to build even their first ship; a few were almost on the edge of such a discovery.

It wasn’t a pretty, good looking legend, but it was a legend nonetheless.

He didn’t even like spaceships.

“But, united we can break... a fate once set in stone,” he whispered, returning the trinket to a pants pocket. Below him laid all of Canterlot, spread out like an invitation to bliss. The clouds had long departed, leaving the city in the orange haze of the evening. Commander Boyo still hadn’t returned with news on the first-contact mission, and they hadn’t seen a hair of him or the princesses since lunch. They’d had salads, at least.

“That’s a pretty song. A tad too melancholy if you ask me, though,” a boyish voice said behind him. Jones didn’t bother to turn around; he knew who the voice belonged to. Despite the silly name, Jones figured that Shining Armor definitely deserved the title of Captain of the Guard.

He was also married to a princess. That had to count for something.

“Heh. I didn’t write it. I just hear it a lot,” Jones said, leaning back in his chair. There was a soft clopping of hooves, and the captain right right next to him, looking out at the same Canterlot as he was. The sun glinted off one of the roofs, forcing his eyes into a squint. “You’re right, though. It isn’t very happy. Anything you needed, Captain, err, Prince, whatever?”

“Just Shining Armor will do. No need for titles while we’re both off-duty. And I did have a few questions, actually, concerning the Wing. Celestia told me my little sister is out there, learning as much as she can, but I’m just curious.”

“Hah. I’m not an expert on the Wing, you know. I’m just a grunt.”

“I was too, once.”

“I... point taken, I guess. The Wing is... big, I know that, but it’s still small compared to everyone else. We’re sort of the underdog when it comes to the big picture. Uh. Anything specific you wanted to know?” Jones leaned back, looking up at the whispery clouds dancing above. Shining mirrored his movements, and chuckled.

“No, no. Keep going. Why did you join the Wing?”

“Well, uh, hm. My uncle was in it, back in during what we call the Golden Reign, which wasn’t as much fun as you’d think. Came back with a ton of amazing stories. I guess I looked at the bigger picture and I saw what the Wing was. We’re the single oldest organized galactic force; we flew the stars before anyone else. I wanted to be a part of it, so I took a ship as soon as I could and ended up in the Academy on Alteria-Cra. Six months of hard training and here I am, my first mission. I... I guess it’s humbling, being a part of all of this. That’s why I do it, to serve people and make their lives better. To protect them, if need be.” Jones took a gulp of air, and glanced over to Shining with an agonizing slowness. “H-how was that?”

“Not bad,” Shining said without missing a beat. “Could use some more work on the delivery, but a good foundation is what keeps anything afloat. No matter how many special trinkets you have, if you lack a solid table, they’ll all fall flat. Even if it’s a plain table that doesn’t know how special it is, it’ll work.”

Jones chuckled, not a trace of mirth in it, and held his face in his hands, rubbing at his temples in discomfort. “What... hnng... if the table was poorly crafted? I....” He trailed off, eyes edging towards the orange horizon beyond the balcony. “Wait a minute,” Jones whispered, turning to face Shining, “did you just...?” His voice caught in his throat, and his eyes flickered around the area where he could’ve sworn Shining was just a moment before. “How did?” the cadet muttered, rising to his feet as his muscles tensed up. He looked into the lavish room behind him. Nothing. Nothing but the forever settling dust in the last flickering rays of sunlight, desperate for their half a second in the light before they were once more whisked into darkness. Each undoubtedly thinking they were more important than the rest.

“I don’t-”

Beept!

His head jerked down to his wrist-mounted datapad, the thin screen flickering to live on its own. “What the?”

Beept!

“Oh, oh crap. Ohcrapohcrapohcrap,” Jones stuttered, his free hand zipping to his head and scrunching up his messy brown hair in a futile attempt to console himself, but that only made him squeeze tighter. “A probe in range...? What? Why is- is- is it sending to my datapad? Ummm...” He tapped his fingers against his side, looking into the room like it might give an answer. “Uh, Maar’n! Yez! Valeran, whatever the hell your name was?! Anyone there?”

There was a scuffling of boots and groans of annoyance, and a door opened up to reveal the tired faces of the grey Irdan and red Draxian. Maar’n sneered, and Yez bore a look of complete apathy. “What is it?” the former barked.

“One of the probes from the Homebound is transmitting to my datapad!” Jones called, and both expressions were promptly wiped off the face of the planet and replaced with looks of mild interest, and for the Irdan, apathetic interest.

“Give it here,” Maar’n ordered, yanking at Jones’ arm. He leaned in, eyes narrowing as a bit of text appeared. “Congrats, kid, you’re not insane. Probe 1A from the Homebound looks like it made it through the anomaly, now just give it here-” He twisted the arm around to get a better look at it, and Jones let out an inhuman sound.

“GNYRRAAH! What the hell?!”

“Quit your whini-” Maar’n stopped short when Yez leaned in, placing one placid, giant hand over Maar’n’s. “Really? Fine,” the cadet muttered, letting Jones’ limp arm fall back into place. Yez nodded, stepping back into place and wearing a serene smile.

“I’m not as- rrrrg, flexible as you are,” Jones hissed, trying to hold up his seemingly worthless arm with his other hand, peering to get a good look. “Now if you’ll please be quiet and stop jerking me around like your toy, I’ll read the message....” He trailed off, leaving an awkward silence in place, interrupted by short blips from the datapad.

“Well?”

“Shut up, it’s having a hard time connecting. Stupid thing isn’t giving all of the message.”

“Of course it is. Where’s that worthless furball when you need him? Here, let me see it ag-”

“No!” Jones waved a hand in front of Maar’n face, backing up into the balcony railing. The sun was just starting to dip over the horizon, and a chilling wind ripped throughout Canterlot’s towers. “It’s... here. ‘Sorry to interrupt whatever you’re... uh, disconnected, but all the cadets are now officially promoted to ensign and... uh, here, gimme a second....” Jones muttered, continuing to fiddle with the holographic screen. “Almost got it, I think.”

“You hear that, though? We just got promoted!” Maar’n exclaimed, wrapping a joyous arm around Yez and wearing an uncharacteristic smile.”

“You should all really pay more attention, don’t you think? I’ve been eavesdropping for quite some time,” a slippery voice from the room said. A’rlan walked into view, a few spots of mud speckled across half of his otherwise pristine uniform. He wiped his brow and stepped behind Maar’n. “A promotion? Good news, indeed. What of the... rest of the message?”

“It’s fading fast. Ugh! Why did they have to do the message acceptance this way? It’s so frigg’n inefficient. Might be my outdated ‘pad, but whatever.” Jones took a deep breath, eyes scanning over the last bit of the message. “Ahem. New information suggests... is a spy... one of the cadets you have... on Equestria. And now I’ve lost it. Frigg’n stupid system. I-... uh, guys?” Jones’ eyes widened, and each cadet looked up, only then noticing they had formed a circle. Each one seemed to lick their lips, trying to gauge the emotions of the other.

“I think,” Maar’n began, swallowing and looking between Yez and Jones, “um, did that message just say...?”

“I believe it just did, my friends,” A’rlan whispered. Jones tapped his throat, hoping his voice would still work if he wanted to use it. The chill that had taken hold of their balcony seemed to grip them only tighter with each second, and the last moments of the sunrise disappeared. Equestria was plunged into darkness. C. Q. Jones exhaled, and said the thing everyone knew the other was thinking.

“One of us is a spy.”

~=V=~