• Published 2nd May 2012
  • 5,086 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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(3) Land of the Horse Things

-Aboard the Fate Dropship 1K-196
-One minute after entering the anomaly.
-Bridge.

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I stared blankly at the castle before me, or rather before the dropship. No, not a castle, nor was it a fortress; it was a palace. It was designed to be the epitome of luxury and class, where rulers could dine and have a lovely spot of tea with a foreign dignitary, or where a line of peasants lined up to request various things from a queen. Of course, the latter depended on how kind the ruler was, and I prepared myself for a tyrant. Always good to be prepared for stuff like that, right?

It was white, mostly. The material appeared to be some kind of marble, even though that was impossible. It was impossible because you just do not make towers or cities or anything like that without sufficiently advanced technology. The towers were bent in impossible shapes, the entire city was an obscene gesture directed at gravity, sitting happily on the side of a mountain like it was. The towers were topped in various shades of gold and purple. I liked the color of gold. The insignia on the side of my ship is gold. Waterfalls cascaded off of the side.

It was pretty ugly, actually. Wondrous to this planet, sure, but I'd certainly seen more appealing things. Hell, I've destroyed nicer things than this place. I mean, to be fair, it was definitely a palace to this planet, so I'd be nice and not say anything once we got there. If this was the best these folks had, they would be going places in the galaxy. It was just a small palace, but I couldn't imagine what a spaceship or a station would look like in that style. Positively gorgeous. Okay, so maybe my thoughts on their supposed capitol were a little rampant, but it was a tense moment.

We drew nearer, and I realized my initial estimation of the size was a tad off. It was about five times bigger than I thought it was. Wow. I blinked stupidly as the dropship circled around, gradually getting nearer to the spiraling towers. Despite its new size, in my mind, it was still small and I had still seen better. My ponderings on how this species would design various types of ships was interrupted when the dropship jolted, and a red light blinked from the ceiling.

"Art," I said calmly, gripping the armrests. "Why are you entering evasive maneuvers? I didn't see them fire anything. What's going on up there?" I asked, the response blaring in my ear. If you’ve ever put your face in a foghorn, you’ll almost know what it was like. I spasmed for just a moment, slamming the volume down as fast as physically possible. Let me tell you, my friends, my instincts are more honed than your average feline predator, the volume button didn’t even stand a chance.

"AARRGG! I, gah! There are... ah dang. I don't know what to call them- THINGS! There are just these THINGS buzzing around the ship. We're going faster than them, I'm doing my best to avoid sucking them in the engines. I don't know if they're like sacred animals or anything. Dang, man. They're too fast to get a good look at, though. I hope you guys can hold on while I bring us down."

"I'll live," I said through bared teeth.. The dropship bounced a few more times, and my head and neck became tired of violently slamming against the headrest. I’d done it before, but the body never gets used to getting nearly blown up. Ever. I continued gazing into my visor, seeing what the dropship saw until I got what I wanted. "Art."

"Yessir?"

"You see that garden area? The one with the maze and - whatarethey - statues?"

"Yessir. Want me to land her there?"

"You betcha," I said, and shifted in my seat. I felt the dropship point it's nose upwards with agonizingly precise slowness, "and turn off the camera feed, please." There was a pause, and the image flickered off, disappearing from the middle of the visor. I glanced up, and the red light stopped glowing, returning the compartment to its normal dull sky blue light. The other cadets seemed fine, both sitting straight with their blank visors staring expectantly at me. Like robots. I never was fond of robots. They were completely unreliable. Technology, imperfect, you say? Hah.

"One more small step for the history books, boys," Art said, eliciting a chuckle from myself. The cadets stayed quiet, and it was obvious they didn't get the joke. It wasn't funny at all, but it certainly brought memories back to my first first-contact mission. One step out the door and I tripped, falling flat on my face right in front of what we later found out was their leader's son. Seconds before, I had uttered those exact words. Textbook stuff, you know?

The craft lurched as it came in contact with the ground, and I waited as the hum of the engines died down. We had chosen one of the more silent dropship crafts available. Big, loud, unknown things tend to scare people, and scared people tend to react poorly, and reacting poorly tends to mean shooting a few missiles. Missiles are bad for my health.

There was a muffled cha-chunk as the craft officially settled down, and the door to the cockpit buzzed open. In walked Art, helmet under one arm, and the other stretched out in a wide arc. He yawned, and wearily placed his helmet on his head, taking a moment to fiddle with the buttons on the side. The cadets and I unhitched ourselves and stretched as well, feeling the stiffness of sitting still for so long drift away. The calm before the storm; maybe storms were good luck in this planet's culture.

My neck tilted at an odd angle, bouncing back with a low crack. I patted my sidearm and turned towards the door. "Mobile TACT. Online."

"Initiating mobile TACT interface. This will take longer to load than a ship based AI and is currently in the last stages of testing. TACT is a product of Kaiden Tech," a recorded female voice said, and I absent-mindedly nodded in confirmation. I glanced over at Art, who grinned as his visor slid across his face.

"Art, you grabbed the mobile scanner for your suit, right?" I asked. He nodded, tapping at a screen hooked onto his wrist’s data-pad. Our suits, or at least these versions, were energy efficient. They came with their own specialized personal shields, which were not very powerful but still incredibly handy, their own intercom system that broadcasted to wearers of the same suit, or wearers of similar suits on the same channel, and they also came with a few other handy doohickies. It had just enough energy to spare for one of several types of attachments to run on. I had obviously chosen TACT, simply because part of me felt bad that the mobile version had sat in my closet for nearly an entire year before this. The tests had never gone past this version. I had asked Art to use a scanner earlier, so we weren't totally blind. I hadn't told the cadets to bring anything specific though. I had hoped they'd be trained enough to decide that on their own.

I looked at the two cadets, and waved a finger between them. "Which ones did you two grab, eh?" I asked. and Dylan instantly slid a small compartment open along the back of his wrist, and pressed a small touchpad. For the briefest of moments, a faint blue glow could be seen around his body. Extended shields. That probably meant Dylan fought a tad erratically. I added that to my mental list of things I knew about my crew, and nodded, turning to Roland.

"VALK, “ he said plainly through my helmet feed, and flashed me the back of his own wrist. Unlike the other simple touch-screens we possessed, his was a bulky cylindrical device, various wires trailing up his arm and into the small battery hooked on his back.

VALKs, or "Valkyries" as they had been nicknamed by a few groups in the galaxy, were literally a lifesaver in a battlefield. Nobody remembers who specifically invented the technology, but we knew it came from the fabled Zukav Technologies of ancient Earth. It was a device shared by everyone. They were expensive and burned energy faster than some of the largest vehicles ever created, but they were supposedly the turning point of all warfare. At a basic level, the VALK is an incredibly advanced AI system that detects danger before it happens. It doesn't rattle off a warning to you or anything, it leaves that up to you. What it does is it makes sure you aren't killable. Not in an invincible way, but...

Well. Basically-basically, it's a personal teleporter. Teleportation has always been wasteful and never practical, but that's exactly what it did. If someone fired a rocket at you, and the AI predicted you wouldn't dodge it in time, it teleported you at the last possible moment in time. Whether it be ten feet away or to a ship in orbit, you got out alright. A little woozy, but all right. The only catch was that you had to set where you wanted to teleport to. Whether this was with a beacon for a group of people or written coordinates for just you, it didn't matter. Personally, I loved the VALKs. My “death” count was a little over eight thousand, so I guess you could see why I liked them.

I nodded at Roland, and stomped to the back door. I was small in comparison, and it wasn't so much a door as it was a closed ramp, but we had chosen a fairly large dropship for our needs. "They surrounded the dropship yet? They usually do it pretty fast," I asked, and I heard Art chuckle dryly.

"Yea. They're pretty controlled, though. My guess is it's their police, maybe military if we're unlucky. Civilians would clump together more, and these guys are in an arrangement."

"Military, I bet. Most law enforcers don't have formations like that. But let's be prepared for the worst. TACT, you there?"

"Yes Sir."

"Can you link to Art's scanner and feed that information to our HUDs? I'd like a map, maybe a heat radar or whatever," I said, and a round circle drew itself on the inside of my visor. Three green dots appeared in close proximity to the middle, and at least twenty grey dots began popping into existence around the outside of what I knew was our ship. Even more grey dots appeared at the rim of the circle, indicating presences outside the map range. I smirked inside the helmet.

"Everybody ready for this?" I asked. Roland looked about ready to dance in place, and Art moved in front of him. "Alright. Art, I want you to the left and a little behind me. You two, I want far to the back and standing just like you are now. If any talking is done, it'll be me or Art, because I want you guys checking for danger. Copy that?" Roland and Dylan nodded, and fell into configuration behind us.

"Alright. Now or never, right? TACT, link with the dropship and open the ramp," I ordered. There was a drawn out hissing sound, and my smirk widened. The air so tense it was like swimming in sludge, and I liked an AI that didn't constantly hit me in the face me with yes-sirs.

Light overwhelmed us as the ramp lowered with its usualy strained whirr, and our visors quickly compensated for the glare. There was an electronic thump as it connected with the grass with a note of underlying finality that I hadn’t expected. I blinked a few times, and then blinked again. The first few times were to get used to the light, which was still bright even with the visor’s automatic compensation, and the last few were because I was dumbfounded by what I saw.

"Hell," Art said.

"What," Roland said.

Dylan remained silent. How original. I’d have to put promote him. Or her. Whatever.

I stared, my mouth half open for almost a full ten seconds that felt a bit more like thirty minutes. Tension levels had gone from a sludgy coating to the kind of heavy armored plating you couldn’t penetrate with an orbital strike. The sun seemed awfully bright and awkward today. Oh, and horse thingies. Horse things everywhere.

"Horse things," I said with about as much emotion as a flat tire. My mind, for once, had completely gone blank. It just couldn't handle it, and I could almost feel my skin dripping as my face melted off from the pressure. That was just a metaphor, of course. Faces don't melt - or at least not often enough.

Don’t have your face melted off, kids.

"Ayup," Art sputtered. By then, I noticed we had been standing there stupidly for almost a full minute, and I put one foot forward, careful not to slide off the ramp and hit my face on the ground. Not like last time.

Most of the horse things, small, roundish little things by the looks of them, were all either stark industrial white or a brownish grey, and all wore empyrean gold armor. Some were holding spear. They all looked like clones, and maybe they were. I couldn't help but think that they looked artificial. So, robot horse things?

They had faces, too. Remarkable faces that greatly resembled most of the faces I'd seen worn by the majority of the galaxy. While not everyone was humanoid like my species, most had faces. The faces always were very different from mine, so this was a nice change in pace. If you'd like, here's a sample of what my brain was thinking during this. All in the span of a second, mind you.

They have faces. Those are good faces. Same expressions, might be robots.

No, one just blinked a little, robots don't blink.

Golden armor. Maybe it's just painted, won't shoot one to check.

Wings and horns. They look pretty useless on such a bulky body. Heavy armor. Wings are worthless. Flying horse things. Haha. Horns? Stabby horns, don’t get near.

There's a purple looking one back there, frowning at us. Different expression. They have different expressions. Frowning appears to be a sign of displeasure or unease. Logically, smiling the opposite and considered friendly.

Same faces. Smile at them.

There was a dark blue horse in the back, and the first thing to note was that her hair was impossible. Literally impossible. Hair doesn't work that way. Maybe she donated her real hair to cancer patients? Ha. I'm hilarious.

Nobody’s ever had space for hair before. I tossed out the idea that these might have no technology. All the spears turned into giant tasers in my mind’s eye, and the armor into personal shields far better than our own battleships could produce. It was terrifying, for lack of a better term.

The second thing was that while it had wings, it also had a horn. I vaguely remembered a bit of ancient Earth lore on the subject. It was something we had discovered on an ancient ship. I think they were called unicarns. I could’ve been wrong. At the same time, I remembered a bit more. Some of the robot-horse-things were pagasus’. Maybe. It was a long time ago, and my memory isn’t what it used to be.

The third was that while it wore little to no armor compared to the white horse things, it had a crown. That set it apart much more than its dark color. Royalty was good to meet early on in a first contact mission. Unless crowns meant something different here. Maybe it was a priest and it was about to obliterate us for treading on the sacred grounds of the sun god. Things became terrifying again.

Before I knew what had happened, our four man group was standing several meters away from the dropship and in the middle of a grassy field. A summer breeze floated across the scene, and I gulped.

"Horse things," I repeated, before mentally shaking myself. "You guys got anything?"

"They're obviously the ones who built this place, even if it looks impossible. Unless they’re servants. Why don't you greet them?" Art asked, and I chuckled.

"Because they're horse things. I doubt they speak Basic Galactic."

"A lot of species did after the re-start, even though most scientists thought that was impossible,” he retorted, and I huffed in response. He was right. Some species just had a remarkably impossible tendency to speak the same language as someone from a completely different planet did. Baffled trillions, and still does. Some suggested that it was due to our link with ancient Earth. From the little we know, Basic Galactic had once been called English.

"You know what? Sure. Let's improvise. The last time we played it by the book, we got run off the planet. Besides, I never break protocol-"

"When have you not broken protocol?"

"-so the least we can do is hope for the best. TACT, lift my visor on three. Onetwothree," I said, and almost instantly the blue tint was replaced by more natural shades as the thick visor lifted to my forehead. The various vital signs and radar that acted as my HUD disappeared with it. I gave a soft, simple smile, hoping I wasn't wrong about smiling be a sign of friendliness. I made sure to direct it at the dark blue horse thing, noting that it only appeared purple through the tint of the visor. First appearances were everything, after all. Unless you happened to land on sacred sun god grounds. Then all bets were off.

It looked slightly taken aback, which was easy to understand. First contact always had that moment where one species looked at another and thought "dang, they're weird looking."

I raised one hand with practiced slowness, spreading my fingers in a customary fashion. I waved, and smiled a tad wider as the creature's mouth hung half open. I took one long, drawn out step forward, and lowered my hand. I totally had this.

"Hello," I greeted in as warm a voice as I could muster. I kept smiling and did my best not to maintain constant eye contact. Some species found it insulting or threatening, and I was also busy observing my surroundings. Like the crazy taser-spears that looked like they could take my head off in a split second. Some part of me regretted not bringing a VALK.

To the left of the dropship was the hedge maze I had seen earlier. Located at intervals were statues depicting the horse things standing in different, mostly heroic positions. Our dropship was nowhere near any of those, and we hadn't appeared to have damaged them on our way down. Good for us, good for them. Good for the sun god.

I turned my attention back to where it should have stayed. Another alien had entered the scene. This one had similar features to the navy blue unicarn thing. I noticed that my previous observations were incorrect; the navy blue horse and the white newcomer both had wings as well as horns. This new white one also had a crown, a golden torc, and a wavy, once more impossible mane that reminded me of a nebula. Or maybe a child’s coloring book.

The blue one took a deep breath, and I instinctively waited for it to use its voice attack and obliterate me. Never underestimate the power of sound-based weapons, my friends. I had faced down quite a few species that could explode your head just by yelling at you. Wasn't about to take that chance here.

Before anyone could be destroyed at the molecular level, the tall white horse thing raised a gold-clad hoof in front of the other, and muttered something. To me, it sounded like what a regular horse would sound like – on the rare occasions I’ve had the pleasure to listen to one. They were in fact an almost extinct species. I’m sure it made sense in whatever language they were using. The blue one looked to me, and then to its comrade. It uttered a huffy, almost sarcastic sounding comment that for some reason or another, made me want to both chuckle and get a face transplant. I didn’t.

Miss Tall-and-White lowered the hoof and turned to face me fully, and I got a good view of its side. Startled, I looked back to the blue one. What I had originally mistook for natural coating on the impossible-haired one was actually a symbol, and it was a simple crescent moon surrounded by, what looked to me, a dark splotch. The image of a blazing sun was on the hindquarters of the second one. Well. That was pretty new, really. We’d never seen something like that before.

Assumptions rushed past my mind, but one in particular was the most prominent. I bet that these two beings were either related in some way, and judging from the symbolism of the sun and moon it was most likely as siblings, or were part of some religious cult that worshipped them as prophets from their sun and lunar deities. Or maybe they had taken a different route and actually were the sun and moon deities. I should probably stop assuming things. Assume too many things and you always end up with some sort of deadly looking weapon pointed at you. Wait a minute, we actually had landed in a religious temple. My mind screamed to abort the mission like a drill sergeant. Or perhaps a drill sergeant who was so scared he was about to wet his pants.

“Sir, watch out! It’s doing something!” Someone screamed in my ear. In my deep thinking I had missed an important detail: The tip of the white one’s horn was giving off a bright light. I could tell from her face of concentration that whatever she was doing relied heavily on focus. A weapon, or perhaps a strange form of attempted communication? The blue umicorn peggersus thing simply stared, and the robot horse things held their ground as well.

I took a defensive step back, one hand resting on the holster of my weapon. “Don’t draw your weapons just yet. That’s an order.” I said calmly, not bothering to look back and check if it was followed. As informal as our relationships were sometimes, the ranks were always made clear on the battlefield. Or in politics. But politics ruin everything.

The glowing stopped, and she – I had gathered from its curved form and general mannerism that it was most likely a female. There was also the voice, which though spoken in a horsish language, certainly sounded feminine. Not really to my surprise, she opened her mouth and spoke. Looks like Art won that round, even though something told me it had to do with the glow-horn.

“Hello, travelers. I do not know what has brought you her, but I look forward to hearing your story.” She said, and it was most definitely a she now, in a calming voice. Almost motherly, even though the mere comparison of my own mother – rest her soul – to a horse was absolutely frightening. I shoved the mental picture out of my head and coughed into a gloved hand, before giving another big grin and taking another step. I made sure to speak slowly, or at least slow enough to sound as friendly as possible.

“Salutations. We are indeed travelers, though we are more explorers, and I cannot wait to speak with you as well. I take it you are some sort of leader?” What I really wanted to ask was “How the hell do you speak Basic?” but we all know how that would have ended. The image of myself impaled on that slender horn was discomforting. I know that particular outcome was very unlikely, but I don’t like the thought of being impaled by anything. I don’t really know why I joined this military in the first place, actually.

I’d been impaled a few times. It’s not exactly a thrilling experience.

“You are correct. My name is Princess Celestia, and this is my sister, Princess Luna.” She nodded at the blue one behind her, who bowed her head in silent greeting.

“We are charmed to make your acquaintance,” she said, and I blinked in surprise. For sisters, they certainly didn’t share the same manner of speaking, or accent. I would have to ask about that, later. But for now, keep up the friendly interloper act.

“And who may I ask, are you – and your friends, of course.” Celestia said, looking back to me. I tapped the side of my helmet twice, fingering at a dial.

“My name is Jackson Amber, Captain of the Intergalactic Wing. Boys?”

“I’m Commander Artzian Boyo. A pleasure, your majesty.” Art said, his own visor sliding up. He took a comical bow, and I felt like smacking him. Or maybe not, actually. The princesses chuckled, and I could see that the guards were slowly backing off. Good.

“Cadet Roland,” the man to my right said, and though I didn’t turn around I could hear his visor slide up. When I did peek, he jabbed a thumb at the other cadet. “And that’s Cadet Dylan... doesn’t talk much.”

I stretched one arm out, sweeping over Art, the cadets, and the dropship. I kept my gaze locked onto Celestia’s. “I’m sorry if we’re intruding on anything. The Galactic Wing strives to make friends of every new planet we stumble upon. If you’re uncomfortable with us being here, we will leave.”

“Nonsense,” Celestia said. “Anypony who knows me would know that, if anything, I love to make new friends. I would be happy to accommodate you if you wish to stay, and you may stay as long as you wish.” I nodded, and glanced back at my companions. They all shared that silent, giddy look, where their faces remained stoic but the joy behind their eyes seemed to flood out. I looked back to see Luna turning around, her wings spread. She faced towards the palace, but glanced at her sister.

“We will make the necessary preparations for our guests,” she said, and to my bafflement, took flight in the direction of the towering white spires. I blinked stupidly, staring at the shrinking figure until Celestia chuckled, drawing my attention back to her. She had stepped closer, and upon further inspection I noticed that she was just above my height, enough so that we could still look each other in the eye without her bending her neck.

“Luna will make sure several guest rooms are fitted, but you may change them to your specific needs, as they were intended for other ponies.”

Ponies. Well that answers that. I resisted chuckling.

She continued, undeterred by my inner exclamation. She did not look anything like a pony. I think horse thing certainly fit her better. “If you wish, you may follow me to the palace. We may discuss future plans during that walk.” I looked back at the dropship “And do not worry about your vehicle, I will make sure the guards do not let anypony near it.”

I clapped my hands together, genuinely beaming up at her. “Thank you for your hospitality, Princess Celestia. I’m glad we stumbled upon your planet.” I turned to face the other three. “Art. You think you can reestablish communications with the Homebound if I lend you TACT? I’m sure we’re not doing the crew any favors, letting them sit up there, bored.”

“Can do, sir. Later, of course. I’d like to get settled in, you know?” he replied, and I nodded in an understanding way. Basically, what I had just asked him was “get ready to call in for reinforcements, I’m scared out of my freaking mind these things might be hostile.” He had replied with “let’s just wait a bit.” At least, that’s what we said on a very basic level.

Military life was like that, and looking back to Celestia, I could tell she was attempting to figure out what I had just said. She looked down at me.

“There are more of you?”

I chuckled, the grin coming back like a horrible infection.

“Yea, of course. You think we flew over ten hun- a really long way in that dinky craft? The Homebound is my ship, currently hiding behind your moon. It’s got a small crew, though, nothing to worry about. It’s a small ship, even. Could probably land easily on the surface of this planet. But that’s getting into too many details, I’ll explain it all later.”

“Very well. I’m sure you have as many questions as I do, and I will do my best to answer yours.” She said, turning her slender frame to point at the palace. Unlike her sister, she did not take flight. Instead, she waited for us to follow.

It was then that I realized that the entire event seemed… awkward. In every possible way, almost. My pants hadn’t fallen off, for sure, but that doesn’t mean anything. I could tell that behind her curious eyes, a thousand questions burned and swirled like a flaming hurricane – and trust me, I’ve seen a flaming hurricane engulfing someone before. Not pretty. I wondered if my own eyes looked the same, because I could tell we both longed to skip this awkward introductory scene and move straight to the meeting tables, or at least the pony version of a meeting table.

I waved to Art and the others, and we followed after her.

“On our way, would you like to discuss the nature of your preferred accommodations?”

“Of course. Maybe later I’ll invite you to join me on my ship.” I offered, being completely sincere. Judging from what I’d seen, none of these ponies knew what space looked like from the inside of a craft. Now, my job was to change that.

~=\/=~