• Published 2nd May 2012
  • 5,084 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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(4) Sound Negotiations

-Canterlot
-Three hours and forty minutes after entering the anomaly
-Royal Gardens

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Our chat was boring, to say the least. Or rather, ironic. One would expect the first conversation you have with a local during these types of missions to be thrilling. That is utter nonsense. The only thrilling conversation I ever had while on a first contact mission involved me bludgeoning a local rioter with the butt of my gun. Maybe that wasn’t something I wanted to dwell on, though; I phased it from my mind. The details of this conversation were simple. So simple that they’re not even worth reciting, so I won’t, or at least not all of it.

The walk to the palace was short.

“And so you… ponies, well, you made all of this by yourselves?”

“Correct.”

“How old is it?”

“The palace was built long before the city. To my memory, construction started over seven hundred years ago. It stands to reason that we operate on a different time-scale, though, so I do not know how long that would be for you.”

I tapped my helmet. “TACT? Have you been measuring the speed of their sun like I asked you to before we got on the dropship?”

“Of Course,” the automated voice said, projected from a small speaker in the back of my helmet. I had changed the output so the ponies, specifically the princess, could hear it. Things like that added to the shock-and-awe factor, and in any diplomatic relationship, the one with the most shock-and-awe points always wins. “In Response To Your Inevitable Question: One Day On This Planet Would Be Almost Twenty Four Hours Galactic Standard Time.” Even though I had removed my visor, leaving myself without any HUD, I flicked my gaze over to Celestia’s incredulous face. She hadn’t heard TACT speak yet. She’d just have to get used to it.

“Excellent. Got that out of the way. I’m glad you’ve taken such good care of your history, Princess Celestia. I’ve seen many people who don’t. Sometimes, they even shun it, and lots of beautiful works of art have been destroyed over the years because of it.”

“That is,” Celestia whispered in what I at least interpreted to be a heartfelt manner, “so very sad. Some on this very world we call home have attempted to do the same. Forgetting history only hurts you. It is good to know that you appreciate it.”

“Yea. I’m a big history buff, at least compared to everyone I know. There was an old saying, more of a warning, really… ‘those who forget their history are apt to repeat it’, I think. There are lots different versions of it, but the meaning stays the same every time. I suppose you have your own form of it, don’t you?”

“We do. Some life lessons must be learned by all kinds, whether pony or... I’m sorry for my rudeness, but what are you?” Her long, swanlike neck swiveled towards me, and her pink eyes bored into me. I don’t know what it was, or how she managed to do it, but those eyes hadn’t stopped unnerving me since we’d arrived. There was too much life behind them, too much age. Too much to be normal, at least.

“To my knowledge, my crew and I are varying species. You aren’t the first we’ve come upon, though definitely the first equine... I’m sorry, yes. Everyone down here is known as Human-V, except for Dylan. He’s a robot.” I swallowed, a vicious grin hopping onto my lips when Celestia jerked her gaze over to the helmeted soldier. “Joking. He just likes the helmet, I think. In particular, I’m Kaidenerian. Bit of a mouthful, I know.”

“Well, Equestria is used to housing non-ponykind within its borders, even though my subjects prefer to stay under my rulership. I- Oh, I’ll be, we’ve been talking for quite a while. We’re here, everyp- everyone. Welcome to Canterlot Castle, Captain Amber, and company.”

The palace wasn’t as white as it was on the outside. It was the kind of washed-out marble you’d expect to see on something so ancient, even if it was plainly obvious that countless servants worked even more hours to keep it clean and sparkling. Some things, like that, didn’t go past my eyes. Looking for black ships against the black of space long taught me the art of paying attention to details when I needed to, and as for Canterlot I could go on for pages describing every little important bit that made it the exquisite masterpiece it was when those large double doors opened. It, in one word, was very regal. We stood in the threshold for a moment, taking baby steps into the great hallway that was the entrance. Various depictions of what appeared to be, at first glance, heroic battles in their history were made into stained glass windows along the hallway, the sun’s rays shone through in bright beams of colored light, bits of dust flitting about in them. The carpet looked soft; I wasn’t about to rub my face against it to check, though.

Luna’s proud form was standing at the end, where the stained glass and marble columns disappeared to reveal various hallways and doors, no doubt leading to other luxurious parts of the castle, palace, or whatever this place really was. Behind her were two large doors similar to the ones at the entrance. These, however, looked to be a little more ornate, and also locked. In the middle of the lock was a simple, round hold. I’m sure nobody would ever be able to replicate that key.

We quickened our pace at that, and the only sound as we cleared the distance between us and the second princess was our heavy footfalls on the carpet, and the soft clunking of our sidearms bouncing against our thighs. The air wasn’t really tense, but I felt an immense amount of respect floating through it. This place had a lot of history in it.

Seven hundred plus years, she said. They must have been at least marginally advanced to built something like this, then. If this place really was ancient Terra, and by now I was having doubts, then it might just place such an advancement at the perfect spot. I would have to inquire, later. After the political garbage.

We stopped in front of Luna, and since I was still mentally jarred by the silly mental image of Celestia inserting her horn into that lock, I said the stupidest thing possible.

“Your hair’s impossible, you know.”

She raised an eyebrow for a moment, and dismissed the comment. Good. I didn’t like her accent anyway. Reminded me too much of a few villains I had fought in the past. They were always pretty uppity, going into long rants about how everyone else was below them, and then normally they’d try to do something stupid like explode the nearest inhabited planet’s star.

“Anyway. We- I have alerted the staff to the presence of our guests, and their rooms are being prepared as we speak.”

Yup. Still hated the accent.

“Thank you, sister. Now.” Celestia turned her neck to look back at me and the others. “Was your trip tiring, or do you think you could chat with us for a while?”

“I’m fine,” I looked back to face my posse. “I’m sure they’re good too. Right? Right. Where shall we discuss our business?”

“Business?” Celestia asked, peering curiously at me. This was it, and those were those darned eyes. I mentally prepped myself for what I was about to ask, full well knowing I wouldn’t even be getting into specifics. I hated this part of the job, but at the same time I just couldn’t get enough of it. That makes sense, right?

“I’m afraid that, despite the fact that we are friendly explorers, we came here for a reason. A business deal, you could say, but it’s much more than that. It will take a while to explain, and I’d rather I had a place to sit. It’s heavy stuff to discuss in the middle of an open hallway, if you know what I mean,” I said, and took a deep breath. There was a long pause, and Celestia turned to her sister for a moment. I held that deep breath, and listened as the last echoes of my voice faded.

“Luna, I will discuss these matters with Captain Amber alone. You may take his companions to your study to learn what you can from them. I think it would be best to hit as many targets at once for this. We will share our findings later.”

“I agree,” Luna said, and looked at Art behind me. “You are Artzian Boyo. You and your subordinates may follow us for a tour.”

“Sure.” Art shrugged, and patted me on the shoulder. “Looks like I got off easy, eh? Best of luck with the proposal. You can never tell how each people will react to it, heh.”

My mirthless chuckle echoed like the sound of dead kittens as Art and the two cadets followed Luna down another winding hallway. They disappeared behind a corner, and I turned to face Celestia. She seemed much taller and menacing now that we were alone, and after the news of my ‘proposal’, I’m sure she felt a bit more wary about me. A small sliver of fear dug itself into the bottom of my stomach, or maybe my liver.

“We will talk in my chambers. Do you have any problem with teleporting?”

“No,” I said, thinking of the VALK. I had used it enough times to become immune to the nauseating effects. “But you don’t have any device on yo-“ I was interrupted by a blinding light, a sudden rush of air, and the feeling of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I wobbled for a moment, then looked at Celestia.

“We are here,” Celestia said, turning to face a fireplace that, upon immediate inspection, had totally not been there before. I took a quick survey of my surroundings. The room was large, for one. We appeared to be at one end of the castle, and a balcony off to my right gave a full view of the landscape below. To my left was that large fireplace, and directly behind me was a majestic bed, covered in symbols similar to the one tattooed on Celestia’s flank. I turned around, and behind me were other various things you’d find in a bedroom. Wardrobe, mirror, the works. All very royal and official looking, if you catch my drift. Wouldn’t be right of me to observe any further, you know?

“Come, sit with me. You may take Luna’s pillow. I’m sure she won’t mind,” Celestia said, and I jerked around to see she was already sitting on one of the large pillows. It was white, just like her, and from what I could see, bore the same mark as the bed and her rear did. The other was the same, but styled to fit Luna’s color and mark. I slowly walked over, and plopped cross-legged down in front of her. The fire sprang to life.

“I’m sure we both have many questions to ask each other, Jackson,” she started, “but first, why don’t you take your helmet off? I can’t imagine it was designed for situations like this.” I nodded, and wordlessly slid my fingers around the edges of the helmet, slowly unlocking it from the rest of my suit. It felt awkward, to say the least. My eyes met hers and locked; this was a test, and I had just failed.

“It wasn’t,” I said plainly, closing the helmet’s visor and setting it on the carpet next to me. I sighed, and took a deep breath. There was a long pause, and the fire seemed happy to crackle over the silence.

“This proposal?”

“May I be blunt about it, Celestia? I hate giving the long and frivolous speech that my superiors always prepare for this situation. In the end, the message is always the same.”

“You may.”

I paused, and looked to the side. A bit of my matted hair fell into my eyes, and I brushed it away with a gloved hand. “I gotta ask a question first. When was the last war, or at least major conflict, your race has had?”

There was a long, awkward pause. I didn’t look to see what Celestia’s expression was, I didn’t want to, and judging from her voice, I didn’t need to.

“Last major conflict? One thousand and one years ago,” she finally said. “Why?”

There was another pause, and I looked up to face Celestia. We were equal in height while standing, but now, when it counted, she seemed to tower over me not unlike the Canterlot palace did when I’d first entered.

“The galaxy can be very, very dangerous and twice as unforgiving. You’re beyond lucky that the Wing found you first. I can name several groups that wouldn’t bother with first contact, Celestia. One moment, you’d all be happy and well, and the next, the surface of your planet would be glass. We, my people, we’re not like that. We never have been, and we hope to never be.”

“I see,” she said simply, her face, which was a political face if I ever saw one, perfectly poised in that one neutral stance that I had dealt with so many times before. Being told your entire species could easily be wiped out couldn’t be a good thing to hear. I would know. I’d been through it before. “This is relevant?”

“Yes, it is. You see, my people…we call ourselves The Wing, sometimes with an Intergalactic in there, and sometimes with with an Elite. We like to think of ourselves as protectors. Bodyguards, almost. For decades, we’ve flown across the galaxy, contacting planets like yours. Lush, valuable planets that others would seek to destroy. Each time we offered our help, to protect them from those that would do them harm until they felt they no longer needed our help… or until our forces could no longer protect them, and if that came to pass, we would still fight to our deaths protecting them. Such events are... luckily, very rare.”

“You are going to ask if you could protect us, from the ‘galaxy’? You are saying that if we deny you, you will simply go on your way and leave us to be destroyed or assimilated by any evildoer that comes our way, and if we accept you then you will always have the threat of abandoning us to this fate?”

Well. She caught on fast.

“The galaxy, overall, is a good place. But you can’t honestly sit there and tell me that every resident of your planet is good, nice, or whathaveyou. We protect those who cannot protect themselves, and in some instances we expect nothing in return. For instance, your planet is too… ah... um, technologically... incapable... of repaying us for our services. At the same time, that makes you extra vulnerable to other factions.”

“I understand, and I think your goal is very noble. I can respect anyone who seeks to protect those unable to protect themselves. Tell me, this technology of yours is not reserved for only your faction, correct? I was curious if... no, I’m sorry, my mind is muddled. Please let me collect my thoughts.”

Yet another pause shifted into the room like a silent snake. I sat uncomfortably in my seat, wishing I had my visor covering my face so I could look away without feeling awkward. Pillows were nice to lay your head on, not sit on, you know. She looked at the fire for a long while. Maybe five, ten minutes. My sense of time might’ve been off. At that point my brain had almost shut itself down, because the very thought of my superiors discovering such a drastic breach in protocol sent shivers down my spine. I had gotten away with a lot over my years in the Wing, but this might be the final straw. Would they shoot me out of an airlock for it?

I hated getting shot out of airlocks.

At long last, Celestia turned to look at me with the solemn eyes of a tired leader. I’d seen them many times before. I’d worn them before. “I cannot speak for the other nations on our planet, but I will certainly think on your offer, but...” I nodded slowly, my heart automatically going just a little bit faster than it should have been. “Is it possible for you to share some of your technology with us, so that we may better defend ourselves? I believe in settling differences peacefully, but I am fully aware that some do not share the same sentiment and that I must make sure my people are safe. My powers only extend so far. If I see results, I will most likely accept your offer fully,”

“It may take at least a month, with varying results, before we can prop- Wait. Wait. Princess, we do actually have a first-contact ‘kit’ on the Homebound, and I know that has some proper technologies in it, in case we needed to trade them. Then there’s all the medical kits, vaccines... whoo, boy, you ponies aren’t especially afraid of needles, right? I, ah, I... digress. I could leave a few of my crew under your care until we can send more ships back, which might take a week or two. I’m sure that by then, we could get your nation its first starship,” I paused, and Celestia opened her mouth to speak. I interrupted her with a raised finger. “And for the record, I also believe in settling matters peacefully, while at the same time staying prepared for the worst. I definitely respect your decision, and I think you’ve done the right thing. I wouldn’t expect anything else from an experienced, well-rounded leader.” I lowered my finger, and waited for her to speak.

“Thank you. You seem like a good person, Jackson, and I am glad it was you who stepped out from that craft.”

“And I’m glad it was you who greeted me.”

“I accept your terms for now, and I foresee a bright relationship between our two peoples. There is something else, though. I am curious to know as much about this galaxy as I can, up close. As we both know, the things you have told me could simply be a lie, and it would be foolish of me to blindly accept your offer. Nevertheless, it appears my subjects and I are in this for the long run, so I will need experience.”

“Well,” I said, my brain going into overdrive. There was no situation for this. If she was suggesting a tour, that might not be such a good idea. Maybe if we brought her sister, or whichever had the lesser duties, but it would paint a target right on our backs. Ambassadors could take forever to handle, though, and I hated politicians like that... wait, ambassadors. As the gears in my mind ground together, a thin smile appeared on my face. “There is an ambassador… program, of sorts. It’s unofficial, but I can take up to nine members of your race with me on my return trip to Wing space. After I leave I could pass the duties of overseeing our alliance to someone else that I trust, perhaps Commander Boyo, and then go on to give them a tour of sorts. I couldn’t ask you to leave your planet for that, though. You’re a leader, and your people need you - and your sister. Especially during the complicated moments in early first-contact.” And I’m going to make sure the Commander has some very good questions up his sleeve concerning why you’re on what should be our planet, Celestia.

She smiled back. It was the sly smile of either a corrupt politician or a mad genius. “I think I know seven of my subjects that would be perfect for that job. You said that the galaxy, despite the good, was still dangerous?”

“Everything from walking down the street to dancing at a party is dangerous if you think about it hard enough, but yes. I can assure you I will put their safety at the top of my priorities.”

“Good. You said it was unofficial. Would your leader, or leaders, be unhappy with the direction you are taking this? I would hate to see your good intentions muddled by politics.”

“Bah, politics ruin everything. Heheh - no nono, I’m sure they’d be fine with it. I’ve been with the Wing longer than even the current leader, and if I had a ticket for how many times they turned to me for advice... well, I’d have a lot of tickets. You shouldn’t fear for me, even though I’ve already broken a ton of rules in the past ten minutes.”

The conversation seemed to jump off a cliff we hadn’t noticed, and we stared at the fire for a while again; it was nice.

“By the way...” I said, looking back to Celestia. My tone was dangerous, thin, and borderline accusatory, but this was important. “Do you realize there is a fairly large anomaly of unknown origins and substance surrounding your sys-“

BANG.

Celestia and I both jerked our heads towards the closed wooden door, the echoes of the familiar sound echoing through the halls. Familiar, and exactly the same sound I didn’t want to hear on this planet. Celestia looked at me. “What was tha-“

BANG BANG BANG.

“Nothing good,” I grumbled, and in one swift movement I launched myself from the pillow with my arms, bobbing a little on the carpet as I regained my footing. Still stumbling, I jogged to the door, pulling at the large pistol at my side. It was a bulky gun, made to look like it could inflict a lot of damage if it shot you, and it was one of those books you could definitely judge by its cover.

The other members of my party had their own sidearms, but mine was of my own design. Officer’s pistol, to be precise. Only Captains, Admirals, and the leader were allowed to carry one. It was Kaiden Tech, my own design, and it was nothing short of a personal cannon. Using it was a privilege, and anyone who did had to be careful.

“Do you expect danger?” Celestia asked, suddenly standing right next to me. I nodded, and kicked down her door. I’m sure she didn’t mind, after all, something dangerous could be happening. I’d pay for it later, if she asked. Alright, alright, I just wanted to kick down her door. Can you blame a guy? I turned to where I thought the sound had come from, Celestia sticking close to my side.

“Which way to the study? Or can you just tele- Ah, of cour-“ I was interrupted by yet another bright light coming from Celestia’s horn. Did these ponies always waste tons of energy on teleportation, or were they just showing off? More importantly, how did she manage it? I’d have to inquire about that later. Plus one shock-and-awe for team Horse Thing.

We appeared in a room that looked exactly like how I’d expect a study to look. I didn’t bother to pay attention to the details other than the obvious. Full bookshelves lined the walls, and tables with various instruments on them, from mathematical to cartographical. Floating through the air, I could just smell the polluted air that a heat sink from Kaiden Tech weaponry expelled. I spun in a tight circle, the bulky pistol lowered to the floor. From the corner of my eye, I could see that another glow had appeared on Celestia’s horn. If she had enough energy in her own body to pull off two teleports, I wouldn’t want to be the enemy under her ire.

I stopped, and set my sights on the open doorway to yet another marble balcony, and rushed over to the threshold with controlled, quick steps, the business end of my weapon pointed at whatever lay beyond.

“And when this little light blinks red, it means it’s overheating, and needs to take at least ten seconds to cool down with the heat sin- oh. Hey, Jackson.”

“Whoa! Don’t shoot, man.”

Dylan just stared, still hiding behind her helmet visor. Or him. Whatever.

Art, the cadets, and Luna were all standing in a semicircle at one end of the balcony. Art was holding his pistol sideways, showing it to Luna while the other two watched. All in all, it looked fairly innocent. The little logical man in me instantly deducted that Art was merely showing the device to Luna, and the noises were merely a demonstration. Nevertheless, the last thing I needed was some idiot spoiling Terra for everyone else.

“Commander Boyo, I would do well to remind you that this is a peace mission. We aren’t here to show the ponies how well we blow things up. Maybe later when we start working together on defenses, but not now.”

“Ah... alright,” Art said, moving to strap the gun to his side. I nodded, and turned to Celestia. She had stopped whatever it was that made her horn glow. She looked down at me, and raised an eyebrow.

“Now, about those ‘ambassadors’ you mentioned, Celestia. When can I expect to see them? I’ve got a tight schedule to keep, and we can only afford so much of a pause. I need to leave within twenty four hours, a day for you, or I won’t be able to leave at all.”

“I have a direct contact with one of them, and even though they’re all in a town some ways away, I’ll make sure they have a direct route to Canterlot on the next train, so they’ll be here in a few hours. They’re very adventurous, and I have no doubt they'll accept if I ask them to go.”

“Good. The galaxy is chock full of adventure. They’ll fit right in.”

“I hope so.”

~=\/=~