• 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

(15) Ties

A man’s experiences make the world.

Memories are only our warped perception of the world, and are always biased towards ourselves. Skilled men can even go into their mind and apply small, very minor edits to them, and it could still be very real. A twitching finger, a hand reaching for a sidearm, or even a sly smile caught by the dancing light of an explosion. Each and every detail is in our heads, slowly being lost to time, and if we lose our memories, we lose ourselves. I once told Celestia that learning from history was the only way to stop repeated mistakes in the future, and what’s history but a bunch of memories written down? What about when the most natural thing happens, and you forget?

The simple answer for me is that I don’t. I forget memories, but I ever since my father told me that quote about history repeating itself, I had made it my mission to have the greatest contingency plan possible. It’s taken seventeen years to get it to the point where it is now, and whenever I say the number out loud it still sounds too good to be true. Just in this one quest I have broken more laws than even the vilest slavers or pirates, and I did it for only myself. I did it alone.

Over one hundred and thirty thousand recordings, collected, stolen, and copied from every corner of the galaxy. Every building I’ve ever walked into that has had video surveillance. Every hidden recorder. Every single possible moment. It might not seem like much, but some of the recordings are hours long, and some, seconds. I have over fifty backups hidden in the deepest bunkers, most with automated defenses. In them lies my darkest secrets and greatests achievements. In effect, they are me.

And with them, I will never forget, and I will not be forgotten.

The world was white.

“Julius Kell, your presence is requested in the meeting room,” an airy, robotic voice said to my left.

“Thank you, AIA. Retract yourself for now, but keep monitoring systems online.”

“Yes, Jackson.” The flowing, slim blue figure of a woman disappeared and the terminal slid back into the white walls.

“I petition we remove the AI from the station as soon as this meeting ends,” Admiral Havoc said to my right, rolling his eyes at me. “AI have only been problems for us in the past, and we all know how well Jackson does with AI-”

“Petition denied,” Leader Baron said from down the table. “AIA has proven as a useful resource in the past, and Jackson has taken extensive measures to make sure she is safe for the station. For instance, at the moment she is only allowed control over the intercom and audio-video recording devices.” I sighed, and stared at the aged man for longer than I should have. He paid me no mind -- if I didn’t say what I had to, it wouldn’t matter. Everything would continue.

“Fine, fine. I just don’t like them, you know? We do have bigger things to worry about, at the moment, so anyways. . .”

“We aren’t making any decisions until Julius has assumed his position as the replacement admiral,” Admiral Fenway said, cradling his forehead in his palm. “A Kell as an admiral, hah.”

“Julius has proven he isn’t like them, despite his high-ranking in their syndicate. We know he owes us our loyalty first, and we know he was good friends with Castlor while his father put a price on his head. Nevertheless, with Castlor and Brown dead, he is the only one fitting the requirements and expectations of an admiral. Last names do not matter, here, only firsts,” said Baron.

“He seems like a good guy. . .” Ganymede muttered into the air, resting his chin on his fist like a hero. “But lots of Kells seemed like good guys. . .”

“I for one am still in favor of promoting him to this position. He’s earned it. Does anyone deny it? Havoc? Uske? How about you, Admiral Sparkle?” Clover looked over the others at the table, finally settling on the purple unicorn at my side. She gasped, looking at the table in front of her and finally at the equine-shaped jacket she wore. Her eyes betrayed confusion, but it would pass. She looked up across the table and at the man who would soon lead the Wing, as if she were just realizing where she was.

“Oh! Ummm. . . yes? I have no idea what is going on but I’m sure he does.”

Clover’s face flickered for just the briefest of moments. The doors behind him slid open, and in stepped the tall, handsome, well-shaven figure of the Wing’s newest admiral hopeful. Judging from the remnants of water droplets sitting on his eyebrows, and the shining of his face and hair, we had caught him at a bad time. As one, we opened our mouths, and he beat us to it.

“Before you say anything, condolences will only remind me,” he said flatly.

A few others and myself nodded, and Baron motioned to an empty chair, and Kell wasted no time in planting his buttocks on it and looking more and more uncomfortable with each passing second. Twilight continued to stare in fascination at the sleek room around her. To me, all I saw was white. It burned my eyes.

Baron looked at us all, demanding our immediate attention. Just as always, we looked at him, and Twilight was no exception. “So. . .” he sighed, “we are faced with a dilemma. The Octavian fleet approaches, and has already left two broken planets in its wake. The Tolos Station is likely its next target.” His eyes gazed across the room once more, briefly pausing on Twilight. “Seeing as we currently have absolutely no men stationed there, the Octavians will either decimate it, or. . . depopulate it. No distress reports, yet. We have very few options, none of them particularly savory.” His tired voice faltered, leaving a deathly cold silence to slip in. We shifted.

Ganymede said, “There has to be some reason we did not receive a signal from the cruisers.” Admiral Fenway snorted, and slapped his hand on the table to interrupt.

“Here is what we do know,” he said, “Brown and Castlor went planetside for negotiations. Shortly after, our systems reported static from Brown’s heart signals. Then, shortly after, we lost any and all signals coming from Draxis Ferys. We know Brown is dead, and Castlor cannot help us if he is alive at all.”

“We also lost the Void Bomb. . . thing,” Uske added, frowning, “unless that was actually the source of the mass loss of communication.”

The silence descended once more, and Baron held up his hand. “No more. I know our situation, admirals. I have had this iterated to me one-hundred times since comms went static. I know we lost, I know the Octavians used something to cut off comms, I know we need a new admiral, and I know that we know absolutely nothing besides the fact that our second-in-command, Admiral Brown, has been undoubtedly terminated.”

“I didn’t,” Twilight said, shifting uneasily in her uniform. I immediately suppressed a grin, and leaned forward on the table to face the incredulous glares from the others.

“Twilight here was off overseeing some very important diplomatic duties with Han Wavel, in my stead, during all of this. She’s only just arrived and hasn’t been briefed yet,” I turned back to Twilight, letting the smile appear this time. “You’ve got quite the brain on you, Twilight. You’ll figure it out.”

“Oh. . .” she sank, not expecting that completely arbitrary answer. Why hadn’t she protested, yet? “It’s okay.”

Baron muttered under his breath, just a whisper on the wind, “. . . getting too old for this nonsense.”

“Well let’s get started,” Havoc said, “who is to become the next second-in-command?”

Drew Baron breathed, “Clover will. We discussed this before we deployed Brown.”

“And the admiral to replace Brown?” Fenway asked.

Our leader straightened in his seat, regaining his regal composure. “And there it is, the real question.” In seconds, he deflated, sparing a glance in my direction. I felt it every time, that sense of worry that he wouldn’t simply ask me, he would order me. He put his chin in his hand, and continued staring. I had to answer.

“You know my stance, Drew,” I said slowly. It hurt worse each time. I could never ignore the dying twinkle in his eye each time I said it, or the extra resigned sigh, and the words he grudgingly muttered afterward always sounded like they were accusing rather than resigned. Each and every time, he reconsidered promoting the Kell, just in case he could make the offer to me.

“Yes, yes, you have made it quite clear that you won’t sit in that admiral seat, regardless of the good you could do.”

Julius sputtered, “What, what did I miss?”

“Nothing,” Drew sighed. “It does not matter now. What matters is that every other captain is out of useable range to us, due to some sort of mission or another. You have shown yourself useful in the month-or-so you have been captain, Julius. We will have to trust in that instead of the usual time and experience that we have trusted other admirals for. We would throw you a ceremony or something, but we are short on time. Congratulations, you’re the new admiral.”

As always, the words fell flat and the room was sour. None of us except for Drew liked Brown, but his loss was still jarring. Twilight clapped her hooves and cheered. “Yay! Congratulations, Mr. Kell!” He blinked awkwardly.

Drew rolled his eyes, and continued on. “Now, for our options. We can send the fleet that we have to wait at the Tolos station. Some of the ships have Amber’s armor, but the fleet is hardly larger than the size of the fleet assigned to Brown. We would be counting on the fact that whatever weapon the Octavians used either can only be used once, or requires a long charge-up time. Another option is to try to catch the Octavians off-guard as they are attacking the Tolos station, with the same fleet, but also more civilian casualties would get caught in the crossfire, and a potentially greater strategic advantage if information is not leaked. Our final option is to collect forces here at Maximus, risking the Tolos station, and driving the Draxians to near-extinction. We would lose the confidence, trust, and respect of every Draxian in and out of the Wing, but it would allow more time to prepare for a final effort. It would also provide the home-field advantage of Maximus’s defense arrays. If we fail here, we never had hope anyway.”

“I may point out, sir,” I interrupted, and everyone’s face flickered for far less than a second. “Waiting here at Maximus will allow greater preparation time for us as well, because while we do have my new armor, not all of our ships have been refitted. More time for information gathering on the behemoth of a ship they have, and quite simply, more time to wait for more options to appear. Maximus is our last chance to save the numerous systems who have not yet been touched by E’s gnarled hand. They are all counting on us to be our most prepared. We would lose the respect of the Draxians at large, and if we do choose to wait there we can most likely buy time for them to fully evacuate, but many more lives would be saved than if we waltzed in any less ready.” The information lingered in the air for a moment, and I felt Twilight’s ever-reaching gaze pierce the side of my face.

“You make excellent points, Captain Amber,” the now second-in-command Clover said, wrapping his hands together and frowning at the table. “Unfortunately, that’s all we have thought of at the moment. Are there any other ideas?”

No one, surprisingly not even Twilight, broke the silence. Baron sighed. “Well then, let’s take a vote, as if the situation were a poll. All those in favor of of immediately waiting at the Tolos Station, raise your hands.” Uske slowly raised his hand, his face still stuck in that ugly frown. I always wondered what was going through his mind during the moment he made his decision. Fenway and Havoc followed suit, and Drew nodded, and Julius flickered. ““Now, all in favor of a surprise attack as Tolos station is being invaded, please raise your hands.”

Nobody dared raise a hand.

He sighed, and seemed to sink into his chair. “Right, then. Those in favor of collecting at Maximus for the Ravager’s final strike?” Julius raised his hand, as did Ganymede, and Clover. Three against three. Everything flickered. My eyes burned. Drew briefly clawed at his sunken face, groaning.

“Indecision in crisis,” he grumbled, looking around the table. All eyes seemed to converge on one, quivering, purple-coated point. “Sparkle, break the tie.”

In the back of my head, I grunted; finally, everything was falling into place. I didn’t speak, but words echoed in my head. “You’re pulling me into this sodding mess whether I’m an admiral or not, then. Fine, I’d rather risk the population of the Tolos station than the populations of our entire sector. Judging by that emperor’s previous decisions, he would hardly want to delay striking at our heart. I’m with Ganymede, Clover, and Kell.”

Twilight shuddered, as did the station. “I don’t know. . .” she started, trying to avoid the piercing glares. I reached over to rest a hand on her shoulder, and the uniform jacket flickered as I touched it. She looked up to me with bright, pleading, confused eyes. Had she not figured it out?

“Twilight, concentrate, here. You’ve been given all of the information you need to know, and the decision lies in your hands. Hooves. Your next choice will decide the fate of billions -- trillions, even. That’s a lot of lives, Miss Sparkle. Everything here relies on you, and you alone.”

“I. . .” she shivered, looking at the silently pleading faces across the table. “Can we split the, er, fleet into two groups?”

“We wouldn’t have enough to stand even the slightest chance if we did. I’m sorry.”

“Um. . . could we -- no, that won’t work either. Wow, those really are our only options, aren’t they? What about calling on the aid of allies? We have those, right?”

“At the moment, Twilight, all of our allies are engaged or simply not cooperating. The fleet we are facing is very, very dangerous and they don’t want to get on their bad side. We have the Orglockians, but they’ve only just gotten over a war and are struggling as it is, so we can’t involve them. Nobody else will help us, Twilight. We are alone. Make the decision. Lives are at stake. We can do our best to save the Tolos Station and most likely get ourselves killed and doom all of our systems that are counting on us, or we can use the Tolos Station to buy ourselves time to have a better chance at saving everyone else. Hurry, Twilight.”

“I. . . there has to be a better way. If you would give me a little bit more time to do some research-”

“There isn’t time, Twilight!” I shouted, standing above her and ignoring the sound of my seat sliding into the back wall. “What if I told you the Tolos Station had only a few hours for us to get there before it’s completely destroyed, huh? What if I said that we need your answer in the next ten seconds or else we might not make it in time to start evacuations?” My eyes continued to burn from the whiteness, even though I knew she only saw the cool, light-grey and shining interior of the meeting room.

“I don’t know!”

“Eight seconds!”

“There has to be a way to save everyone!”

“There isn’t! Five seconds!”

“Wait! This doesn’t make sense!”

“Three!”

“Stay! Stay and prepare so we can save as many lives as we can! But that’s not the point, none of this is real!”

A voice resounded in my mind; a voice from the past. “Then it is decided. Call all fleets to Maximus. We will refit as many as possible with Amber’s armor, and wait. Lord help the Draxians.”

The world was white, and now I knew she could finally see it too. Her body, no longer having the flickering uniform draped over it, curled in on itself to shield her eyes from the intense brightness. A thousand invisible weights came off of my back, and I closed my eyes to finally ward off the bright.

Feminine, shaking sounds came from the purple thing next to me. “W-what w-was. . . that?”

“A memory,” I said blandly and taking a few deep breaths to steady myself. “Or a test, depending on how you look at it. Several tests.” I let my muscles loosen up, and sat down next to her as carefully as I could muster. The fine shadows and details of the world were falling apart, being pulled along like one long woven thread. All that was left was the whiteness that dug itself into your eyes like leeches. “What’s important is that you’re alright, Twilight,” I whispered, laying an uncaring hand on her curled up form. I kept my eyes closed. “It was just a moral choice test, and also a rather. . . stupid test to see how your mind would respond to basic virtual reality. You did very well. I’ve never seen anyone deconstruct reality that fast before.”

“W-what?” she stuttered, moving about under my hand. Hopefully her eyes had stopped burning from the shift, and she was sitting up.

“Do you remember where you are? This is important, Twilight. I have to know if you remember.”

“W-we. . . we, um.”

“Keep going. It’ll be right under the surface, like a dream.”

“Well I went to your room like you asked me to, and I was really tired, and you were sleeping. Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry for sleeping in your bed!”

“It’s fine. I’ve had worse in it. Go on.”

“Then you woke me up, and all of a sudden, we were all in that meeting room! What was that about?” I kept my eyes closed as she pressed a hoof to my chest. “Why didn’t you tell me that was going to happen?”

“Because it didn’t. After you woke up, we talked and I explained what I was going to do, and you thought it would be fun, that it would be an educational experience. Right now we’re in the navigation room standing on the holographic pad in a virtual reality simulator. The meeting was based off of an actual event’s visual and audio recordings, and TACT did his best to compensate. We talked about this. Remember.” I kept my eyes closed, and the hoof removed itself.

“I remember.”

“Are you. . . sure I’ll be able to remember? I trust you, Jackson, but this sounds a bit far-fetched. Dream magic is still experimental even in Equestria.”

“I’ve never seen anyone who couldn’t remember, and this isn’t going to be a dream, just like a dream. They run on the same principle that the mind fills in all of the gaps and creates its own reality. That’s what it does in the real world anyways. Now, are you ready?”

“I guess so.”

“I just had TACT repeat the scenario to make the transition to the meeting room a bit more. . . seamless. Otherwise you wouldn’t have reacted the way you did, and the entire operation would’ve been worthless. The memories are coming back now, aren’t they?”

“We’re in the navigation room. On that... black holo-pad or whatever you said it was.”

“Holo-pad is close. We’re sitting on it now, probably staring at the back wall. TACT, bring up a meadow scene from the archives and turn the reality perception up to max. The white gets annoying when it’s on low,” I said to the air, and bird chirps faded into being like ghosts. I sighed, letting the cool morning air flow over me, and reached out to brush my fingers against the grass. “Thank you,” I muttered, without opening my eyes. Something in the back of my head began to tingle, and the labored breathing from Twilight confirmed my suspicions. “Twilight,” I started, blindly turning to where I heard the noise. “Just relax for me. It’s not real, but constantly thinking that will only hurt. Let it go.”

“I’m. . . trying. . .” she grunted.

“Don’t think about it,” I whispered. My eyes fluttered open a miniscule amount, forcing my eyes to dilate against the light. For the moment, the new scenery was just a mess of greens, blues, and bright yellows. In the distance, I could just make out the blurred white lines of towers.

“I think I’ve got it! Wow, Jackson, this place is beautiful!” she exclaimed just as the world came into focus. I froze, staring at the crystal clear picture in front of me. We were sitting on a hill, with pointed, small bush trees behind us, and a flowing valley in front. Red, gold, and blue flowers of a thousand different shapes swayed in the gusts of wind on oceans that seemed to stretch for miles. Hazy, purple mountains jutted up along the horizon, and bright white towers rose from behind them, going up into the cloudy sky and beyond. “You said that you can only recreate real places, so all of this is real? It’s amazing!”

“Real, yeah,” I whispered, my lips numb. Edges of the whiteness began creeping along the edges of my vision. “I was here before, a long time ago,” I said, somehow even quieter than before. I couldn’t feel anything, but I stood up anyways. The place was becoming populated, and I could hear children in the back of my head. Birds chirped. “It was called. . . Valley of the Flower. It was a national park, if my memory serves correct.”

Silence prevailed, and Twilight sat down next to me, glancing at the bright green grass blades. She made a contented noise, and I let my legs fail underneath me. “Um,” she began, fixing her hair with one hoof. “About that. . . meeting. You really had to do that?”

“Yes,” I said, looking anywhere but at the scenery. “I had TACT edit out all of the boring parts, and instead of you, Drew chose me to break the tie. I had to choose between an emotional and a logical decision, and I chose logic. I made the same decision you did.”

“I’m not really sure what the Tolos Station is, but did it. . .?” she stopped, biting her lip and looking at the ground. My frown deepened, and let the air quiet down and silence prevail. She knew she wouldn’t get an answer, and looked back into my eyes. “Do you always have to make decisions like that? I don’t think I’d ever be able to do something like it, even once.”

Mirthless chuckles left my lips, and I crossed my legs. “Not all the time, no. That one was during one of the Wing’s most desperate moments in our history. But sometimes, yes, and it never gets any easier. You constantly doubt yourself, and unless you learn to live with the fact that...” I said, looking out to the towers in the distance, ”. . . that sometimes you just don’t make the right choice. So I try and make decisions that I won’t regret. Then again, wars these days don’t have a lot of soldier casualties unless the fight’s taken to the stars, so we tend to avoid those kinds of fights. War on the ground, though. . . a whole war can be fought there and you’ll lose only twenty lives. Twenty! But sometimes it’s hard to remember, and when you do. . . .” I trailed off, swallowing.

“Does it hurt?” Twilight asked, following my gaze. The towers would be grey to her.

“Someone has to do it,” I muttered, the towers burning my eyes. “Someone has to make all of the hard decisions and I’ve made that sacrifice. That’s why the Wing exists. We do our best to make the hard... military decisions that others can’t, because we’ve been doing it longer. It’s hard, and sometimes it hurts, but I’d rather it be me to take the blame than someone else. I haven’t had to make decisions like that in a long time, though, and for the past year, we’ve had absolutely no problems and no conflicts. The break is... welcoming.”

“Wow,” Twilight whispered, looking up at me. I kept staring at the towers, though, and something in me broke. There was a flash of light. One of the towers shifted, and in seconds, it was crumbling. “You’ve really done a lot, haven’t you? I mean. . I can’t say anything about conflict, because nopony is perfect even in Equestria, but the decisions always seem obvious.”

“Stop it, TACT,” I hissed, eyes glued to the tower. “TACT, are you listening? TACT are you even controlling it anymore? Aran, get TACT back online.” The tower kept falling, and now another one was as well.

“What?” she asked, wide eyes frowning. She turned her head.

“Something is wrong with TACT. There are some things you shouldn’t have to remember. Aran, turn it off!” I shouted. A bright white line burst from the city, headed towards the stars. A tower fell.

The world turned white.

~=V=~