• 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.

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(12) One Foot Forward

-20-8-5 13-1-3-8-9-14-5 UNKNOWN ENTRY DATE.

-4-5-19-3-5-14-4-19 21-16-15-14 PLAYBACK ERROR.

-20-8-5 1-18-18-15-7-1-14-20 FILE CORRUPTION.

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“And... why do you wish to join the Wing?”

“I... uh.”

“No need to be shy, lad. If there isn’t much of a reason, we’ll still let you in, what with the need of members and all. We’re fighting a rogue group called the Swarm, and we could use all of the pilots we can get... and... you’re a medical assistant?”

“Yes sir. Enough experience to become a full-time medic in the Wing. I checked.”

“According to these papers, that’s an understatement. There’s a spot open on the ESS Legacy: the head medical officer. Think you can handle that?”

“Yes sir. I know I can. But... uh, where do you think we’ll be stationed, most often?”

“Well, the Legacy is one of our best ships, so there’s no telling what fantastic excitement we’ll be facing. I captain it, as you know, and I also run Starbase Omega.”

“That’s where we are.”

“Obviously, haha! You don’t speak much Basic Galactic, do you?”

“No sir. Only started a year ago and sometimes I still have to check my audio translator to make sure it’s working.”

“Oh that’s fine. We get plenty non-Basic speakers, and they all learn in time. Now, just sign here, here, and grab a uniform in one of the lockers to your left. I... there, you got it. That jacket looks good on you, too, heh. You’ll fit in with the others well. Let me just... do you happen to have a middle name? Sometimes the papers... hah, you know?”

“No sir. It’s just Jackson Amber.”

~=V=~

-Location not provided.

-Time not provided.

I’ve never really contemplated failure.

Perhaps I have, but I never let it destroy me. It was just sort of there, constantly nagging at the back of my mind like an annoying kid kicking the back of my chair and refusing to stop until I leaned back and crushed him for a few moments with it. I’d go so far as to say that I like to look on the bright side of things, and because of that, I never actually fail. Only those who believe they can fail actually stand a chance at it.

Thud.

I always win, you see...

Thud.

I’m here when so many others aren’t. Did they survive the many hardships I’ve endured? No, and that’s why I’m here and they’re not. They’re dead or scattered, and I stand above them in all aspects. I’ve let people down, and I’ve done things below expectations, but with my mindset centered on eliminating the possibility of failure, I have never failed. Not once. I win, and only I win. I could even go so far and say that it’s all a game where I win every time. It’s rigged. But I...

BOOM. RVVRRRRRRRROOOOOOOOOOOOOM.

I’m not so sure of that right now.














I wish they were here.


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-Aboard Starbase Omega, the Omega System.

-Twelve hours after arrival.

-Mess hall.

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“And the reason behind this, Lt. Willum?” I asked, pulling an increasingly long strand of confetti from my hair. The rest of my body was not so lucky, and before the thin pink paper had wafted down to the floor I was tearing off another two from my shoulder. All around me were the various sounds of what could only be a party, and I had fatefully walked in right as they showered the room in confetti and congratulations.

“Oh, no sir, it wasn’t me. Well, I agreed to it and that’s about it, heh! But it was our pink friend here that suggested we have a little get-together! Ain’t that right, Pinksters?” the blonde man answered, turning around to wave at a pony who was doing some sort of dance upon the table. I didn’t see any players, but I could’ve sworn I’d heard faint music in the background.

And why did I suddenly feel a bit like dancing and singing?

“Pinkie,” I grumbled, feeling the corners of my mouth automatically curl downwards.

“Yupperooni, that’s my name! Don’t wear it out,” Pinkie Pie announced, bouncing in front of me in a way that physics shouldn’t have allowed. “Whatcha need, Cappy? Wait! First, isn’t this party just splendifferiffic!? I made that word up just now, and I think it’s one of my new favorite words! Last week my favorite word was snarf, but that’s only for words I make up! Oooh, and you know what? You kept your Pinkie Promise! Yay for you! I made cake and everything!”

“Pinkie,” I said, feeling needless eyes turning to watch our encounter.

“There are a toooooooon of actual words that are my favorite, too! Like kumkwat! Do you have kumkwats in space? ‘Cause I think that would be pretty swell! Space kumkwats, hurrah! Do you have farms in space? I’d love to work on a farm in space-”

Long have I had a horrible habit of shutting out voices, letting them die off into nothing more than a static for the back of my head. Normally, it’s not something I mean to do, and someone will be yelling at me for a few minutes before I realize that the ship is under attack and I’m needed at the bridge, but here? Well. Yes. I shut Pinkie out on purpose. Anyone with a lick of sense would. With that in mind, I looked to Twilight, because she seemed to have some sense in her.

“Is she...?”

“Yes,” Twilight deadpanned, looking down at her gold and white cake, “always, and we can never get her to stop.”

“Right,” I started, trying to scoot away from the Pink Menace to talk to Twilight in case, you know, Pinkie decided that she had to be right in my ear for me to pay attention. A few of the other ponies and Spike were looking between me and her, eyes twitching. How often did Pinkie do this? I felt special, sort of. “So the party?”

“Oh, right,” Twilight said, lowering her magic-encased cake down to its plate. “It was more of a collaboration between Pinkie and the Lieutenant. It’s because... well, he kind of mentioned that you didn’t have any idea what was in the Anomaly, but you sort of thought it might’ve been some huge enemy fleet getting ready to attack you. He called it a suicide mission, so Pinkie said a party would be good because it wasn’t really a suicide mission in the end. Oh! And Willum said something about ‘being the first to find Terra’ but nopony knew what he meant and he kind of looked confused when I asked him about it.”

“Aye, yessir!” Willum interrupted, rudely leaning on my shoulder with his lanky arm. I slapped away the gut-reaction of simply breaking the offensive appendage off and rolled my eyes instead. “And don’t forget a successful First-Contact mission! That’s a first for you, Mister Amber!”

“Willum,” I growled, turning to face the soon-to-be Ensign. His arm flopped uselessly to his side, and we both knew what came next. “Can I speak to you outside for just a moment?” I turned my head to glance at Twilight. “Sorry, Miss Sparkle, but I’ve got to make some last minute preparations. You might want to tell your friends we’re getting ready to leave. As for you, Lt. Willum....” I reached over, snagging my prey by the arm before he had a chance to scamper away.

“Uh, sir?” he asked, taking quick, short steps as I dragged him from the bustling room. “What’s this about? Did you not like the party? I figured you wouldn’t, but I did it anyways because the ponies looked so happy when I told them they could have-”

“No, I’m not happy with the party. I really hate cake - you know that, but you know what?” I hissed, leaning in directly upon my subordinates’ face. He shrunk back, stopping when his shoulders hit the wall.

“What?” he squeaked. I returned to my normal position and sneered.

“I don’t care about the party. If it makes the ponies happy, good. No. I’ve got a problem with you and what you just told them - even if, thankfully, you were completely too stupid to tell them in full.”

“Um.” He shrank further, as if I were still hovering inches from his face.

“What moronic part of you thought it would be a good idea to mention Terra in front of them? How do you think they’d take the news that they’re sitting on a planet that many would believe belongs to them simply because it used to belong to the humans? They’d think we’re only out to get them!”

“Oh, good, I thought it was going to be something worse... I, uh. I’m sorry, sir. I’m gonna make sure none of the other crew members mention Terra to them from now on, even though that might not be too long since you’re about to leave ‘n all. Um.” My gaze had hardened, and it felt like the air between our eyes spontaneously combusted.

“You’re a Human Variant, right?”

“Human-V an’ proud sir. You are too-”

“What Variant?”

“Sorry?”

“Subspecies. Variant. Species. Race. Whatever the sodding hell you want to call it. What are you?”

“Gantan, sir. From Alteria-Cra,” Willum sniffed, and only then did I realize that I had gone right back to floating above him like a vulture, with only a little less than a foot between my face and his. He sniffed again, turning his head to look away from mine, and I felt my legs take me backward.

“I’m sorry,” I muttered, taking another awkward step back. “I should’n’t’ve done that. It’s just, the party...”

“I know about the party.” Willum swallowed, looking down at a speck of dust that had suddenly become vitally important to him. “I guess it was pretty mean of me to let them have it with you around. I don’t know much about it, but I overheard one of the veterans talking about it.”

“I-” Swallowing, I risked a glance at the still shut door. There were still voices, and there was still that static in the back of my head. Nobody had listened in. “It’s alright. I need to get over it anyways. It’s been over two years. What about the Homebound? It’s ready for us to leave, right?”

“Um, yessir. Cleaned up, restocked with what we can spare, and refueled. Replaced the power cells, too, since they were looking a bit used. And the communications systems! Hoo boy, those were really bad. Nearly completely fried from power-overload. It’s in tip-top shape and ready to leave on your orders, sir,” he said, regaining his composure remarkably fast. I wiped the idea of demoting him from my mind, and started the trip over to the party door.

“Oh, sir!” he called, closing the distance between us in a heartbeat. He reached into his jacket pocket, revealing a small black, box-like device.

“Here’s the false voicebox you asked for. Dunno why the girl doesn’t just rip the stuff out and get a biomender to fix it, she’s got too pretty a face to have that ugly thing sticking out of her neck. Should I go tell the other crew members that we’re ready to start transporting back to the Homebound?”

“Yea, sure,” I muttered, rolling the black box in my palm. It fit perfectly, and made a little clanking noise when it collided with my silver ring. Gripping it tight, I peeked back in the mess hall. “Oi! Any and all Homebound crewmembers, get out ‘ere stat. As for the rest of you, ponies included, just start cleaning up, alright?” There were hushed curses and moans of complaint from quite a few people (and ponies) in the room, but like a slumbering giant awakening from a long nap, the crew assembled in the open hallway.

“We leaving?” Lillian asked as soon as the door had shut, stepping to her spot in the hallway with total accuracy. I raised an eyebrow, and she scoffed. “Thought so. This old place always gave me the willies, being so far out from Wing space. Party was nice, though.”

“Yea,” I said through gritted teeth, “the party was great.” I took a deep, controlled breath, washing a few unneeded memories from my mind, and opened them to see the world so much clearer. “While you party animals were goofing about and enjoying some free-time, I’ve actually gotten work done.” They shifted, giving each other odd looks as each one slowly fell into the stiff position a soldier should carry when on duty. “A Wolf Carrier-Class and two Kaiden Frigates are on their way to Omega in response to the High-Alert being spread to the fleets. I called them in, even though they’re from the Defense Fleet. While you were sleeping, I oversaw the evacuations of the scientists to our hidden bunker on Treda - the only planet in this system, as you know. As for us, we’re heading straight for Gantoris where I can oversee the Liberty Fleet movements and get my orders directly from the CoA, and that’s where the pony ambassadors will be safest. Any questions?”

“Ah, yes. I do have one,” Aran said, lifting up one clawed hand, blinking, and sheepishly lowering it. I nodded, and she continued. “If E and whatever force he’s managed to scrounge up this time attacks, will we and the Homebound get a chance to see some action? I know we’re new, and I’m fine staying on the defensive with you if that happens, but I’d like to know.”

“I sure hope we get to see some action. I’d love to watch as a few of their cruisers go up in flames. Heard it’s a beautiful thing,” Lillian said, one corner of her mouth lifting into a sly smile.

“We’ll be on the defensive. With the ponies, I’m not taking any chances, and it’s not like E will stand much of a chance against us,” I said, pausing to take a breath and smack myself with a metaphorical hammer. What was I doing, lying to my own soldiers in saying the enemy wouldn’t stand a chance? Our defenses were weak as it was, and a full on assault would send us scrambling even on high alert. “If worst comes to worst, and it won’t, I’ll pull us all out to Han Wavel so I can direct the Liberty Fleet to defend there. It’s full of civilians and I know the Defense Fleet can handle Gantoris.”

“Yea, it’s full of civvies,” Lillian said, crossing her arms, “but not just any civvies, right? We all know Han Wavel is full of -”

“Shut up, Ensign, or I’ll make sure you never see a firefight and come out alive,” I hissed, biting my lip afterward. I hadn’t gotten a lot of sleep. That was it. I’d spent all night talking into that recorder or taking a break to oversee the evacuations. I got cranky when I didn’t get my sleep.

“Yessir. Listen, can we just go?”

“Right. Fine. You all can get situated on the Homebound. Willum should be waiting in the hangar,” I said, rolling my eyes as they sauntered past me. “Ap bap bap!” I yelled, spinning to grab two very specific people before they could get through my grasp. Roland and Dylan, and I could finally see Dylan’s face.

Funny. I thought Willum had said she had a pretty face. To me it just looked scarred and worn. To my knowledge, it wasn’t like the blue-skinned ur’luks were allergic to biomenders, so what was her deal? Other than that, like most of her kind, she had sleek black hair that was as dark as the night, and she wore it a lot like someone I used to know; a raised ponytail. It was a familiar sight, and I hated it.

“Ensign Dylan?” I asked, looking her square in the eyes. She blinked, and I took that glorious half-second to glance down. Where her throat was, right in the middle of her neck, was a padded, plastic area that the voice box would fit into. Took a deep breath, and opened the palm of my hand to her.

Seeing her smile in that hair was nice, but it didn’t compare to the original.

“Oh, that’s pretty swag, Captain, sir,” Roland muttered, eyes wide. Dylan nodded slowly, and leaned her head back to expose her neck. With a frantic hand movement, she pointed at the voicebox slot.

“Uh, right. Then. Don’t see why you can’t put it in yourself,” I muttered, fumbling with the artificial plastic thing to try and align it just right. These kinds of things were finicky, and even more so when you were dealing with older tech like voiceboxes. For a split second, life was in slow motion, and my hands crept through the air like it was invisible molasses. I’d done this before. A few times, actually.

And then it was in, and Dylan took a step back. Roland stepped over to my side, smiling a big, stupid grin. “Well go on, bro, say something!”

“ThAnK-” Dylan stopped short, swallowing. Thin, fragile fingers reached up to fiddle with the box, and her smile grew a bit wider. “ThAnK YoU CAp- Errrfffgf. Ahem. Test. Testing.... Thank you, Captain. This means a lot. Not having the option to talk is boring.” She turned to Roland, her face falling back into neutrality and gazing over him as if for the first time. “And as for you, Ensign Roland.”

Roland grinned.

“Thanks for letting him know about the box, bro,” she said, her voice now completely unrecognizable from a robot’s. Why didn’t TACT talk like that? Oh. Right. I was lazy when I had him programmed. The blue woman grinned, and some invisible trigger was pulled, because they immediately balled up their fists and pounded them together mid-air.

“Right,” I said, making sure to wipe my voice clean of emotion, even if I couldn’t wipe the amused smile from my face, “and I want you two to be on the Fate when the ponies and I leave for the Homebound. I have a few more things I want to talk about, but it can wait for the ride there.”

“Yessir, we’ll head out to the hangar and wait for you there,” Dylan said, catching Roland’s eye and stepping out. I waited, taking deep, slow breaths until the faint echoes of their boots hitting the ground finally faded away. I stared at the spot where they were, the dull grey floor boring into my eyes and mind. The lights felt brighter than normal.

“Only two years,” I muttered, making my way to the mess hall entrance with the speed of a snail. Pushing it aside, I peeked in. The party was finally winding down, and they had already removed that horrible cake. One of the crewmembers was sweeping up the confetti. “Hey,” I called, blinking when I barely whispered it. I took a deep breath, and frowned. “Oi! Anyone in here from Equestria, get out in the hall. I’ve got one or two things to say and then we’re leaving, got it? Good.” I stepped back, watching as a trickle of equine shapes filtered out of the door and into the hall. They stood at attention like soldiers, almost.

There were bags under Applejack’s eyes, and my frown only fell deeper, because the harder I looked, I could see more and more signs of fatigue from the ponies. Rarity’s eyes were unfocused, Twilight’s mane didn’t seem as pristine as it did, and Dash was walking instead of flying. How late had they stayed up last night? At least they’d get over their jet lag by Gantoris.

“Alright. It’s been a fun stay, here, but we need to get to Gantoris as quick as possible,” I started, narrowing my eyes. Something felt like it had been shoved in my ears. Some sort of cotton plug. “We’re going to stop at the Aedinia system to pick up two friends of mine - Admirals - and only because that’s between us and Gantoris. After that, the fun activities can finally start, and I know you’re all getting tired of just being shipped around like this. Don’t worry. Anyways, as soon as we get on the Homebound, I want you all to get some rest. The time difference is really showing... uh, right. Go meet Roland and Dylan at the hangar.” I swallowed, and before they could silently trot off I raised my hand. “Fluttershy, Applejack, Spike, Twilight. Stay. I need to talk to you four.”

“Oookay,” Twilight said, raising an eyebrow. Spike blinked tiredly, standing beside the unicorn.

“Whatcha need, sugarcube?” Applejack asked, adjusting her hat with one free hoof.

Fluttershy just hid behind them.

“I just... well, I wanted to talk is all. You three, out all your friends, left the most behind. Applejack, you ran a farm and had a family, Twilight, you were... well, you had a lot going for you, and Fluttershy... uh, I heard you were some kind of animal caretaker? Did you run a shelter, compound, or something?”

“Oh, no, I just took care of the little critters of Ponyville.”

I blinked.

“Oh-kay then,” I muttered, looking from the pegasus to the farmer. “I just wanted to make sure you’re not feeling homesick or anything. Leaving your life behind to go out and explore the stars... well, it digs at some people. I’ve felt it, Willum’s felt it, and everyone on the Homebound has felt it at some point, but we all help each other get through it. So are you feeling alright, Miss Applejack?”

“Well, ah....” She trailed off, her muzzle scrunching up in thought, sifting through memories and thoughts to form her feelings into words. I knew that look. I’d worn it once. “I guess I know my family’s safe, and I’m safe, so there’s nothing ‘ta worry about. The Princess said she’d have a couple Royal Guard fellas help out at the farm if Big Mac needs it, and Applebloom don’t need me holding her hoof through life. They’re happy, I’m happy, and I’ll be back with them in time. No use frett’n over it, I think.”

“Wise words,” I said before her mouth could even shut. Whatever she thought, all that mattered was she wouldn’t be complaining during the trip. “And you, Miss Fluttershy?”

“Um... please just call me Fluttershy, and I’m fine.” I took a long, controlled deep breath, and resisted the urge to purposefully let my eyes twitch.

“Very well. And - uh, what are you doing?” I asked, turning to look at Twilight. She was levitating - something I would definitely need to get used to seeing - a scroll, wrapped up in a shining red ribbon. Spike grabbed it from the air, and looked at me like I had turtles coming out of my ears.

“I’m just sending a letter to Princess Celestia. She asked for reports on what I think on the Galaxy, and even though I have nothing substantial to write about on that subject, I still wanted to let her know how we’re doing. Spike, go ahead and send the letter.”

“How do I plan on sending a paper letter while we’re out in space?” I asked, interrupted by a loud, rude belching sound. I glared at Spike, only to have my eyes widen of their own accord. A bout of green flame erupted from his mouth like a snake, wrapping itself around the scroll and hungrily disintegrating it. The particles seemed to fizzle, and I’m not sure if it was just my imagination, but I could’ve sworn I saw an ethereal, ghost-like green haze float off in a miasma. I blinked, and the whole thing was over.

“I... what?” I sputtered, mouth working and no other sounds coming out.

“What, you’ve never seen a low-level transportation spell? I could do these since I was a baby!” Spike said, puffing his chest out in a poor attempt to look manly. I stopped preventing my eye from twitching, and the little thing just had at it like a fat man on free junk food day.

“How did you do that?” I managed to say after a few awkward, heavy seconds.

“Magic, duh,” Spike replied, Twilight’s mouth already half open.

“Right,” I muttered, trying to raise myself to full height and grab what I could from the broken pile of glass that was my understanding of world physics, “magic, duh.”

~=V=~

When I’d gotten to the hangar, I had decided to accompany the regular crew to the Homebound. It was aboard the thin, pencil-like shuttlecraft that represented the ancient technology we used to use. I wasn’t even sure if I could fly it if the pilot had offered, the controls were so outdated, but there was a time when I was the best the Wing had to offer. I could fly circles around capital ships in one of these, in my prime, and there I was, strapped into a seat and trying to remember what buttons the pilot was pushing to make us accelerate.

Evo, Lilian, Roland, and Dylan were all with me. The former two because they were the most essential crew members - the engineer and the pilot, and the latter because I needed to talk to them. So I sent Lilian to Evo, knowing full well the cockpit could sit three, and chose a chair right in front of the two soldiers. I recalled what I’d seen when I’d looked over their volunteer applications.

Roland Everson, good marksman, sticks to cover, bad under pressure.

Dylan Dylan, worse aim than Roland, prefers open battlegrounds, better under pressure.

I had chosen them to balance each other out, I said to myself. I even had them manipulated in the training sessions six months prior to the actual mission. My prediction was correct; they filled each other’s weaknesses and became a well oiled machine in tough situations. Roland fed off of her level head in the battlefield, and Dylan seemed to value her life more. Artzian told me, that, at least. I was off doing more important things during those six months, and couldn’t be bothered. Nevertheless I needed them to act well together. Because I had chosen them, based purely on text files, for one job.

They were supposed to die.

That was their purpose.

I had chosen it.

Me.

I sat in the shuttle, tapping my fingers against my knee and looking over at two souls who I had picked from a sea of souls wanting me to pick them, and I had picked them - at the time, faceless files containing only words - for the purpose of merely existing to get shot so I didn’t have to. Artzian had asked me, completely in jest, if that was my plan for bringing them along on the Fate’s first descent, and I had replied falsely. Yet here they were, blissfully unaware that their commanding officer had planned their deaths, and currently sat in front of them feeling utterly and completely stupid for even contemplating it. Was it because, now, I had finally seen their faces and heard their voices? Was it because they were suddenly something more than names on a file report?

Those were my thoughts as we zipped away from Starbase Omega, and only until we were almost back on the Homebound did I bother saying anything. Even then, what I said was stupid.

“So why did you join the Wing, Roland? Dylan?”

“What?” Dylan asked, Roland’s mouth already half open to reply with the same word.

“I asked, why did you join the Wing? It’s not an easy choice, what with recent events,” I said, leaning back in my seat. Something in the back of my head, a memory, stirred, and I fought off the urge to let it claw its way back to the surface. Whatever it was, it needed to stay down with the rest of the horrible, disgusting things in that dark pit of my mind. Roland coughed, Dylan blinked.

“I...” Roland started, eyes shifting to look at Dylan. The ur’luk huffed at his pleading look, and rolled her eyes.

“I do not know about him, but I joined because at the time, you were at war with the Empirium. They murdered my brother, and I wanted revenge. By the time I had traversed the Neutral Zones and gotten to an academy, the war was over and it was too late. I was committed, and I know that each and every moment I stay in the Wing is another moment I can make a tyrant pay - to take revenge on those who have lost their own to the monsters of this galaxy. That is why I am here,” she said, arid conviction heating the space between us like a nuclear explosion. My eyes rose, and I caught her gaze. Deep, dark green eyes pierced my own, and I felt something pinch in me. It was an accusing green. I’d felt it before.

One would think a year and a half would be enough to get over rumors like that.

“I’m not a traitor,” I hissed, biting my lip.

“I never said you were,” she retorted, “but I know the stories. I read up on the news while it was all happening. Permission to speak frankly?”

“Granted,” I said, my voice far off and dim to my own ears.

“You could’ve done so much more with the opportunity that came up. But instead you came limping back like a beaten dog, begging the Wing to-”

“Denied,” I whispered, stopping her words mid-air. Her mouth hung open, words ready to fling themselves at me like useless bullets. Drips of energy waiting to be spent on reminding me of what could’ve been a disaster - what could’ve been a failure. Roland shuddered, and my eyes jerked to him. He, in his newfound shyness, would be the perfect target to exact my revenge upon. “And why did you join the Wing, Roland?” I asked with such venom that the ensign jerked back as if a spider had landed on his arm. Perhaps one had.

“I-I-I-”

“No need to be shy, lad. If there isn’t much of a reason, then it’s all right and good. Where did you come from, though? What’s your home planet?”

“I-... I, uh.”

“Roland is from Veldan II, from the Veldan system,” Dylan said hurriedly, seeing the face of her friend turn redder with each passing second. Her eyes lost her accusing glint, and almost shimmered with apologies as she silently asked of my mercy. “I hail from the Hurg’rah system.”

“Very well, I suppose that’s all I wanted to know. We’ll speak more on the Homebound,” I said, nodding at her with my own eyes. Our silent conversation over, she looked at the floor and sighed. No one can say I lack mercy.

“I... sir?” Roland started, one hand tapping incessantly at his knee. I looked up to meet his eyes, and found myself looking at the top of his head instead. He stared at the floor, and I could see that his brown hair was brought back into a braid, slipping into the back of his uniform when it got too long. He took a deep breath, and I hunched over to look at the ground too. As the seconds passed, I felt the anger melt away like a boiling hot icecube dripping all around me. It no longer felt like my own breath was filtered, and I exhaled. “Sir, what happened with the Empirium?” he asked, and from across the row I heard Dylan gulp.

“They tried to bribe me,” I muttered, ears perking up as the sound echoed around the cabin. It felt like the cliffside was crumbling under me. “I accepted it,” I breathed.

“There is a ‘but’ though,” Dylan added, her words cutting my own to ribbons.

“Right. They bribed me to join their side - to don their uniform, and I did. I spent days wandering their bases and fortresses, getting as much intel as I could on their infrastructure. It worked, for a time,” I said, taking a moment to swallow a choke, “but they figured me out too fast, locked me out before I could do any real damage. I think it was another one of the First Recon that figured it out and leaked it to them. But I... I came back when it happened. Barely escaped with my life. Took... a lot of effort to convince the Admirals I wasn’t some sort of double agent. They knew me, though. I’d never turn traitor. Ever.”

“The First Recon?” Dylan asked, leaning back in her seat. I glanced up to look at her curious eyes, and then let my eyes fall again. “I never heard anything about them during the war.”

“They were sort of top-secret,” I said to the floor, “we were a hyper-elite special operations force meant to take on high-risk missions into Empirium territory. We did everything from pose as officers to secretly scour their bases for WMDs. We were the only reason the Wing had any footing in the war. But...”

“Always a but,” Roland whispered.

“The commander - Captain B. D. Stayn; I had only just been reinstated into the Wing at the time and was a Lieutenant, as you both know - he was corrupt. He constantly insisted that the Wing First Recon was separate from the rest of the Wing. In the end, before the Empirium pulled its last cards and the war ended, he actually tried to turn us all against the Wing as his own personal army. It was a... pathetic attempt, really, but then the Empirium stepped in and tried to bribe or extort every single member. Those that were loyal to the Wing had already left, with me staying behind to try and take Stayn out myself. It was a mess...” I trailed off, taking another long breath.

“So it was a coverup then? Now that I think about it, I could’ve sworn I heard the name ‘First Recon’ passed around a few times over conspiracy radio broadcasts, whenever they brought up the war.”

“Yes, it was a coverup,” I said, looking up at Roland. Our eyes locked on to each other.

“I’m not a traitor,” I finished.

~=V=~

“Lillian, how are we?”

“Green across the board, Cappy.”

“Evo?”

“Ready for the jump, sir.”

“TACT, are all our power systems locked for overload prevention?”

“Yes Sir.”

“Path scans, TACT”

“We Are Free To Go And The Travel Line Is Clear, Sir.”

“Evo, punch it in thirty seconds,” I said, scrolling down a list of unimportant things that had appeared on my holo-screen. I sat at the navigation panel, letting Evo do the flying for this. Omega was long behind us, and Willum had already sent us a farewell message that I’d denied opening. It felt good, slamming my thumb on that big red button. I looked behind me, letting my instincts take over. Evo sat stock still in the pilot chair, his own eyes not staying still and his hands buzzing about the controls like hummingbirds.

Jumping, what we were about to perform, was considered to be one of the earliest forms of high-speed space travel available. It was what the Wing used to spread its influence faster than any other faction in the galaxy. Beyond complicated explanations that would take a degree in physics and engineering to understand, it made the engines go much faster than normal for a short amount of time. It was the fastest way to go anywhere in the galaxy, besides outright teleportation, and the balancing act every ship had to perform to use both it and regular high-speed travel meant that Wing ships had to refuel after each jump.

It was complicated.

“Aye, sir,” Evo said, speeding up the process of holo-smashing. I let my gaze wander, and caught the eyes of the ponies. I hadn’t paid much attention to them, recently, I supposed. That would change on Gantoris, and it would only take two jumps to get there.

“And for our guests who don’t know,” I announced, feeling my voice vibrate through my throat as I raised my voice for the ponies, “we’re going to be stopping at Aedinia system, at the planet Parinin to pick up Admiral San Uske and Admiral Patrick Fenway, two of my old friends. From there, we’ll make one more jump to Gantoris and will be free to go planetside. That’s when the fun will begin.”

“Finally! Can’t wait to get out of this cramped tin-can!” Rainbow shouted, perhaps a bit louder than I’d liked. Evo waved at me, the corners of his mouth arching upwards.

“Ten seconds, sir!”

“Right, and girls?” I called, waiting until each eye was on me before I continued. “What we’re about to do can be a bit jarring, but it’s the fastest form of space-travel available to us. It’ll only last a few seconds, but it might feel a bit like the ship is breaking in half and you’re turning inside out. I had Aran prepare some... ah, bag attachments to your seats if you need them. Is that-”

Then what once was, wasn’t, and we were gone.

The bridge was in chaos.

Someone - high pitched and female, was screaming, and as I jerked my head around the shuddering cacophony that suddenly felt like nothing more than a tomb, Evo caught my eye, and shouted something.

“We’re being intercepted!”