• 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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(14) Man On the Ceiling, Pony On the Bed

-Aboard the ESS Homebound K-196
-Ten minutes after I woke up.
-Bridge.
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I hate politics.

I’ve said it before -- I’ll say it a million more times. Old, crotchety men arguing over who’s right never gets the job done. It never fixes anything. It never works. The young men who join up to try and “fix” the politics, repair the mess, only ever get corrupted or ejected due to past mistakes. It was as prevalent on my planet as it was every other planet I’d seen since then. That’s why I joined the Wing. They were free-roamers, mercenaries who got the job done and asked all the right questions and gave all the right answers. They were legendary. At least, that was what I thought until I ended up with an Admiral’s pin on my chest.

Politics ruin everything.

“Remember, crew. Stand straight, line up, and salute until they salute you back!”

I patted down my long jacket sleeves, wincing when I hit the still fresh cuts Aran had dug into them. The dizziness and nausea were gone, replaced by jittering anxiety. I wasn’t afraid of the Admirals -- I was afraid for my crew, and the ponies. There had been no contact between us since the holo-meeting and it was killer, taking the risk that they might let something slip that would screw up all possible relations with the ponies. Like mentioning Earth.

Fins jutting out from a whale-shaped craft didn’t so much spout as they did roar, the light they made filling up the hull of the dropship as it made its way towards us like an ungainly ballet dancer. Behind it, glowing like a maiden, was the safe haven of Parinin. It was a lush planet, and it hadn’t been touched by any of the violence that was so popular everywhere else. For men in the Wing, it was party central, or a place to stick a retirement mansion.

My crew had lined up on one side of the massive Wing insignia, stiff as boards and ready to snap to salute at a moment’s notice. On the opposite end sat the ponies, looking everything from bored to excited. I’d already had TACT warn them that I needed to speak to each of them privately; not a silent tactic, but I had always been more about practicality than fancy manipulation.

“Private dropship of Admirals Uske and Fenway, requesting permission to land,” a voice buzzed in my ear, courtesy of my headset.

“Granted. Welcome to the Homebound, boys,” I answered, pressing my finger against the call button. “The area to land in should be marked in red on your HUD. San isn’t flying, is he?”

“Dear God, no! Haha! Paddy here ripped the controls right out from under me before I could even buckle in!” a second voice chimed in, and I let a smirk grow across my face. “No, no. Paddy’s doing it.”

“Patrick.”

“Whatever!”

“Alright, alright. Amber out,” I said, dropping my hand. I turned to glance at the ponies, each of them staring as the bulky, unruly and completely bulbous shape of the dropship edged closer and closer to the blue veil that marked the entrance to the vacuum of space.

There was a collective gasp when it burst forth like a breaching shark, and floated menacingly over the hangar floor. It wobbled and swayed, a thundering sound tearing throughout the ship. It settled, tittering mid-air like a vase on an unsteady table, right above one of the yellow-rimmed landing pads. I turned to the ponies right as the air hit us, blowing my previously immaculate gelled up ‘do into a mess. “You’re about to meet two of the most powerful people in Wing space, girls!” I yelled over the growing din, “so put on your best smile!”

With an unceremonious thud, the ship dropped perfectly into place. My eye twitched, and I instinctively masked a face-palm to fix my hair. It was still better than San’s landings, and speaking of the devil, the Admiral himself appeared in the side-door to the dropships, his hands on his hips like he’d won the lottery.

“Jackson! Buddy! I love the ship, I really do. She’s charming, amazing! Can I fly her?” he rattled off, raising his arms into an all-encompassing gesture as he walked towards me. A second, masked man exited the ship behind him, and brushed imaginary dust off of his immaculate uniform; San’s was opened down the middle, revealing a white t-shirt beneath.

“No,” I said automatically, letting the errant Admiral wrap his arms around me in possibly the weirdest moment I had ever experienced, “and you’re hugging me, Admiral.”

“I know. You don’t like it, so I’m doing it,” San whispered, jumping back from me and folding his arms like nothing had happened. “And where are these ponies you mentioned? I want to meet them!”

I rolled my eyes, and nodded my head to the nervous collection of crayon-colors off to my right, and couldn’t help but replace my annoyed look with a smirk when he stomped over to them. At once, they all looked up at him, and with the grace of a dying monkey with rabies, he leaned down to face the closest one -- which happened to be Rarity, the poor soul. “And who might you be, my fair... err. Jackson?” He looked my way.

“They’re all female, except the lizard.”

“Girls, eh? Can’t say I’m unfamiliar with those. Anyway, it’s a pleasure to meet you, your grace,” he announced, swooping into an exaggerated bow. The white unicorn tittered, face straining with what was either a forced smile or the attempt not to laugh. “May I ask what your name is?”

“Well,” Rarity started, amping up her obvious fake accent to MACH 10, “it’s a genuine pleasure to meet you as well, Sir Uske. I am Rar-”

“Boop!” San shouted, pressing his index finger on her snout.

“-ri-what?!” she sputtered, practically teleporting back a few feet. She blinked, and amidst the chortles of her comrades, flushed crimson. “I- I-.... That was uncalled for!”

“Psst, Amber!” San called, holding his hand over his mouth in a poor attempt to conceal his words, “these things are boring! Help!”

This time, I didn’t try to conceal my facepalm. “Just... apologize and talk to them for a bit. Tell them the story of how you crashed your ship that one time, meaning all of the times,” I said, watching as his eyes grew wider.

“That’s not fair! I’m an expert pilot!”

“Tell that to the pile of scrap metal that we get back each time you fly a ship, I -- Patrick!” I shouted, jumping back. The masked draxian had managed to sneak up and stand right in front of me, staring lifelessly through his faceplate. “I’ll be right with you, San. Just entertain them a bit.”

“But they’re boring and might give me a heart attack!”

“Hey! Say you’re sorry to Rarity!” Rainbow said, flying straight into San’s face. The admiral recoiled, smiling innocently.

“Eep. I’m sorry, Rarity,” he said hurriedly, his plastic smile growing every second Rainbow glared at him.

“Eh, good enough. Name’s Rainbow Dash, but you can call me Dash.” Rainbow shrugged, offering him a hoof. He let his smile fall down into a more genuine position, and shook it.

“I’m Admiral San Uske, Dash. Best flyer in the galaxy.”

I turned back to talk to Patrick, tuning out the sounds of a growing argument. He huffed, and crossed his arms, and I didn’t look to check if his foot was tapping, but it definitely would’ve completed the image. Nodding, I looked over at the ensigns, who were all looking past me and at the shouting match a few meters away. “Ensigns, stand down and return to your posts. TACT will have instructions for the trip to Gantoris.” I watched as they left, frowning when I saw Roland and Dylan’s disappointed faces.

“I wouldn’t have believed it if they weren’t standing right over there,” Patrick muttered, his voice coming out more gravely as it passed through complicated filters. “I’m not apologizing, though.”

“No need to be, pal,” I said, glancing over his shoulder as the shouting escalated into pointless dares from the two jocks. “I would’ve been just as skeptical as you were.”

San shouted, “Ha! But you have wings, and I fly a complicated piece of machinery that can go faster than sound! One that would takes years for you to even begin to comprehend!”

“Oh yeah? Well have you even done a Sonic Rainboom?”

“I- what? That’s not even a thing!”

“Yeah-huh!”

“Nuh-uh!”

Patrick sighed. “So... Earth. It’s real. You found it.”

“We found it,” I corrected, “and as long as those seven ponies and lizard thing like the Wing, Earth is as good as ours. With the attention and fame we’ll get from that, we’ll be back into shape in no time at all. They... don’t know that, though. They’ve got no idea that they’re sitting on what’s rightfully ours.”

“It’s a shame. They look cuddly. Horned ones get psych powers?” he asked, nodding at Twilight while she forced San and Dash apart with a purple flash of magic.

“Yeah. They’re... incredibly powerful, too. Bigger than anything we’ve ever seen. Their leaders claim to be able to move the system’s star and the planet’s only satellite at will, and with what I saw there, I don’t even doubt it.”

“Heh. You’re not as skeptical as you’d think, Jackson.”

“Yea.... Guess I’m not.”

“You’re going to need to stop that fight, too. Maybe just lock them in separate rooms.”

I chortled. “Yup.”

“JACKSON! HELP ME!” San shouted from somewhere from the ceiling.

“I’ll get ‘im,” Patrick sighed.

~=V=~

“And that’s why we can’t let them know that their planet is the origin of our entire civilization.”

San blinked, staring at me from across the meeting table. There was a moment of silence, crashed by another spurt of mechanical breathing from Fenway.

“Can I hug one, though?”

“No,” I snapped, slapping my palm against the dull, blue tinted glass that made up the entire table, “because you got into a fight with one of them over which one of you was the better flyer. Twenty seconds after you met her!”

“Hey. That’s not my fault, she was insistent that having wings automatically made her the best. I, on the other hand, spent years perfecting my- gurk!” he clutched his gut, where Fenway’s elbow had lodged itself. San’s cheeks bulged, and he rubbed the sore spot when the other Admiral removed his arm. “Okay, okay. Serious mode?”

“Serious mode,” I said, “because it’s already been confirmed that E is out there, he’s dangerous, and he hates our guts. Normally I don’t ask a lot of you two, but when it comes down to it, I need your help with this mission.” Patrick nodded, and I looked expectantly at San.

“Well,” he muttered, rubbing the back of his head, “it depends what kind of help you need. Is it about the ponies? Earth? E?”

“It’s about all three. If E gets word that the ponies are from Earth, he’ll go after them. Earth is a goldmine for him, and he could use it to boost his political popularity. Firstly, the last thing we need is E getting popular, because right now he isn’t. Secondly, if he gets his hands on Earth as it is, he’ll probably wipe out the ponies and anything else on it in the name of his Empire and humanity. Lastly, if he can’t find the anomaly and Earth, he’ll head straight for us to get his hands on the ambassadors. Patrick, you’re head of the intelligence, right? How’s your informant connections?”

“Diminishing by the month,” the masked alien said, leaning on his elbows. “I don’t run on people loyal to the Wing, I run on people disloyal to their own faction. A couple are loyal to us still, sure, but I keep those only in the groups who aren’t out to get us. The LRA, Empirium, and a couple others are the problematic ones. I haven’t got word from any of my men in there. LRA channels are poorly secured, though, so I’m not too worried.”

“And I’m the unofficial ambassador to the Empirium, I know. I’ve been monitoring their chatter for you guys for the past few months and I’ve told you all I know. Nothing about E has surfaced... at least, last I checked. What Clover said was disturbing....” I drummed my fingers on the table, moving my hand up to unconsciously press my hair back. “I trust you know what you’re doing, Fenway. As for you, San... why are you still an Admiral, again?”

“Cause’ I’m awesome,” he said smugly resting his hands behind his head and leaning as far back in the chair as possible.

“Because he took down two Empirium battleships with one squadron of our out-of-date Raptor fighters, Captain, and he’s excellent at boosting troop morale.” Patrick snorted, straightening in his chair. “He is also good at fencing.”

I let my hands fall back into my lap, and studied the sleek surface of the table.

“We can go now, right? If you can unlock the armory for me, I’d like to see what you brought on the trip with you,” Admiral Fenway said. I nodded, and ignored the sound of the sliding door and echoing footsteps. A tanned hand touched my shoulder, and I looked up at the remaining Admiral.

“Yes?” I asked, knowing what would come.

“You’re doing a good job, Jackson. I know you’re itching to pack up, leave the ship, your crew, and the marshmallow ponies to go find E. Just hold it together, right? When it comes down to it, I’ll blow up one of his cruisers just for you. In my personal Raptor.” He chuckled, standing up and dusting himself off.

“I don’t know how you can fly those things, San Uske. They’re terrible,” I said, smiling up at him.

“Ha! Not my personal design. It’s got, like, five cupholders!” he proudly exclaimed, giving a mock salute as he stepped backwards into the hallway. I let loose a gravel-filled chuckle, and sank back down into my seats. At times like this, the bright overhead lights, the thick smell of disinfectant and soap all felt more oppressing than usual.

“TACT?” I called out to the empty room. The AI’s monotone voice replied a second later.

“Yes, Sir?”

“So... I gotta talk to the ponies one-on-one, right? Can’t take them in twos?”

“I Would Recommend Meeting With Them In Pairs. I Have Observed That They Have Strong Emotional Bonds With Each Other And React Better To Stimuli When In The Presence Of Their Close Friends. The Lizard, Spike, May Need To Be Talked With Personally, Though.”

“Gotcha. Any tips?”

“Be Nice To Fluttershy.”

“She’s... uh, the shy one, right?”

“Indeed.”

I pressed my hands down on the desk, pushing myself up. I relished the jabs of pain that spiked all up and down them, reminding me they were real; everything was real. “Who do you think I should start with, and, err, how? I suck at talking, you know that,” I asked, stepping carefully for the door.

“Bluntness For Applejack. Facts For Twilight. Gentleness For Fluttershy. Compassion For Rarity. Bright Side For Pinkie Pie. Perhaps Duty For Rainbow Dash. I Will Leave Spike Up To You,” the ceiling rattled off for me. I stopped just before the door, exactly one foot away.

“Why leave it up to me?”

“To Answer Your Query: You Are Competent Enough To Navigate Him Yourself.”

I grunted, and took the step that would send the door scanning system into an alert. In the blink of an eye, the door slid open, almost like it was never there. The hallway was thankfully empty, and I looked from left to right in one movement. Nothing. Nothing, excluding the steady hum of the engines and wiring, or the overpowering stench of clinical precision.

TACT was probably laughing at me. The jerk.

“I’ll start with...” I muttered to myself, licking my lips during the pause, “hm, pairs. Rarity and Spike. Screw what TACT said about talking to Spike alone. I can handle this on my own. Twilight’ll be by herself. She relies on her friends too much, and I can’t have that. Got it, TACT?”

“Yes Sir.”

With that, I walked off down the hallway, no idea as to what would be in store for the future.

~=V=~

-20-8-5-18-5 1-18-5 DATA FILE CORRUPTION
-14-15 19-8-1-4-5-19 COPYPASTE PROCEDURE FAILURE.
-15-6 7-18-5-25 RESTORING BACKUP. RECORD DATE 7028AD.
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“Sir, if I may present a list of things that have gone on-”

“Cadet.”

“-since you’ve been focusing on the fleet, and setting up the Operations Division. I assume you already know of the invasion of Draxis Fer-”

“Shut up.”

“Yes, A-admiral, sir.”

“I don’t care about Draxis Ferys. We offered them peace and they denied it -- at least that’s what Olander told me. The other admirals are in control of that situation. As we both know, my particular job is to set up communication relays, send out deep space probes, and oversee the thousands of experiments the Wing labs need to get done. That’s not even counting the combat part of the Division.”

“Y-yes, I know sir.”

“Yes, yes. On to status reports. How is the Halo Project going?”

“N-no progress so far, from these reports.”

“Any news from the Voyager team?”

“None, sir. They’re p-presumed dead.”

“Nexus Initiative?”

“The first device e-exploded and they’re starting from scratch, but... t-they said that t-theoretically it should still work.”

“Hmph.... I’ll be honest with you, things aren’t looking good for us here. We haven’t been able to reverse-engineer a single piece of Derelict technology for months, our pool of scientists and engineers are being depleted even though we’re paying them by the bucketloads, the Urella Corporation seems to be doing their best to either sabotage or steal everything we come up with, and the list goes on and on and is just getting bigger by the day. We need to do something.”

“Well, J-jackson, what do you think we should do?”

“I....”

“Sir?”

“Hm... Call up each Project Director, and tell them to meet me at the Alpha Station next week to the day. We need to have a board meeting about an idea I just got. A big idea.”

“Yes s-sir! Right away, sir.”

Woosh.

“This is going to change... everything.”

Click.

“Ensign Ty’tyn, please gather my notes on the Valkyrie Project, and make sure you bring the statement on genetic alteration and construction up as well. I need to double-check something.”

~=V=~

Knocks on my door, resonating throughout my spacious cabin, forced their way into my head and woke me from a nostalgic daze. Writhing worms and burning cities faded from my vision when I opened my eyes, and I looked down at the holographic report in front of me. I didn’t read the words, but I still saw it in my vision like a sting-shaped floater on the eye. It didn’t focus.

When it did, all I caught were the words “shipment report” before slamming my fist on it. Amidst the thok sound from the edge of my datapad hitting the wooden table, the screen disappeared and dissipated back to the hidden electronics the furniture was laced with. For just a moment, my vision swam, and I gripped the edge of my seat like it was the only thing tethering me to reality.

Memories lined themselves up like soldiers, and I inspected them. The last thing that came to mind was walking down the hallway, wondering what I’d say to Twilight.

I had blacked out somewhere, but I didn’t remember where. It was locked away in my mind. Maybe the tell-tale wetness of my jacket sleeves had something to do with it, maybe it didn’t. I didn’t want to take any chances, so while I wasn’t busy dying, I brushed off whatever the liquid was. Smelled like blood.

“TACT?” I called, winced as my voice left my throat like a sandstorm. His signature fungus-shaped symbol appeared on the wall. I didn’t look away from the clear fluid that had stuck to my hands.

“Yes, Sir?”

“Where’s Twilight? I thought I asked for her.”

“She Grew Bored Of Waiting, I Presume. She Queried If She Could Take A Nap While You Were Asleep. I Hope You Don’t Mind A Pony In Your Bed.”

“No,” I grumbled bringing my voice down to a whisper now that I knew I wasn’t alone, “not at all -- I.... Did you just...? Nevermind. Didn’t you not notice I was blacked out, not sleeping?”

“No, Sir. Scanners Showed No Anomalous Activity Or Odd Physical Reactions.”

“Did I... do anything while I was ‘asleep’?”

“You Appeared To Be Drooling.”

Mystery solved. I shrugged, and spun my chair around to face the bed. On top of the silk blue sheets -- my silk blue sheets -- was the peaceful form of Twilight Sparkle, ever dedicated to making other ponies happy. Dedicated to the point where she would potentially wait hours for someone she barely knew to wake up and talk with her. So she waited, and waited, and then fell asleep on my bed; her miniscule equine chest rising and falling ever so slightly with each breath. It was so very peaceful.

It was so very pathetic.

“TACT...” I whispered, taking a step back from her sleeping form. “TACT, can you make a connection with Vir Domus? Connection code is oh-oh-five-delta-nine.”

“Establishing Connection,” the AI said, and I turned to face the wall panel. TACT’s insignia flashed red for the briefest of moments, and a newer, more controlled voice came through.

“Hello, Jackson. I’m glad to know the reports were not exaggerated. I assume you’re calling for a reason?”

“You know me too well. I need two doses sent to the panel in my office on Gantoris, you know the one. Ship everything else out immediately, just in case E targets you.”

“Very well, Jackson, but you know how hard it’ll be to get it there.”

“I trust you.”

“I know, Mister Amber. And another thing, the crater is at thirty-percent capacity right now. We need a more permanent solution soon. We need your expertise.”

“I know, I know. I’ve just been busy. Listen, I’ve really got to do something right now, so just hold up a little longer. Just get me those doses and I’ll be fine. I’ll talk to you later. TACT, close connection.”

“Connection closed. Conversation logged and sent to your personal folder, sir.”

“Don’t announce that ever again,” I muttered, “not everyone knows about that folder, and I’d rather they didn’t. It’s taken years for me to gather those audio logs. Longer than I’ve even been in the Wing. Nobody knows now, and I’d rather nobody knew ever.”

“Knew what?” a tired voice asked from behind me. I jerked, and straightened out of reflex. Stupid, stupid, stupid, I thought to myself as I turned my chair around at the speed of a tired snail. Twilight, no longer resting soundly, was looking up from her perch on my bed, her eyes still drooping with grogginess.

“Nothing, Twilight,” I lied, “just some personal matters that involve family. I try to keep them and my work separate.”

Her mouth opened in a wide yawn, and with a couple of blinks the clouds in her eyes were gone; maybe they’d never been there. She looked down, suddenly realizing where she was, and sputtered. “O-oh! Sorry for using your bed, but I’ve just been really tired lately, and you were taking so long to wake up and I didn’t want to wake you, and-”

“Twilight,” I said, smiling a plastic smile and raising one hand to interrupt her. I was lucky the bed and desk were so close together, otherwise I’d have to get up, and at the moment my feet still felt like lead. “It’s perfectly fine. Lots of people get their sleep schedules messed up when they first get on a ship. Some of the engineers even think it has something to do with the artificial gravity, but I think it’s just natural. No sweat.”

“Yeah... no sweat,” Twilight whispered, looking down. I chuckled, and rolled the seat closer. “So, what did you want to talk about?” she suddenly asked, almost immediately perking up.

“Well... yes. I,” I said, biting my lower lip. This was the point of no return. She seemed fine. Had TACT been exaggerating? I couldn’t take the chance if he wasn’t. “Twilight, I wasn’t awake for it, but I was told you and your friends didn’t react very well. I know it was intense, and I know you all were scared, and I know we got out safe, but I need to clear some things up with you. Just so you can... understand why it happened.” I stopped, a cold weight dropping in my chest. Each word I said made her expression drop one emotion lower, and now I could see what was under her mask. Fear. Confusion. Wild, dead eyes that had to watch as two men argued over their fate; a fate that was out of their hands. I’d seen those eyes before, many times.

Never in the mirror, though.

“I... I just don’t know-” she started to whisper.

“It’s alright. It’s just.” I stood up, brushing imaginary dust off of my jacket purely out of habit. With one hand, I tapped at my datapad. The room darkened and the only thing providing light was the device on my wrist. Just as planned, part of the ship under us began humming. I checked, and there was no dizziness. Good. I couldn’t afford to black out during this.

“There’s something you need to see.”

The world turned white.

~=V=~