• Published 2nd May 2012
  • 5,312 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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(6) Turnout Ponies

-Canterlot, Equestria.

-Eleven hours after first contact.

-Royal Hedge Maze.

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“Well, Celestia?” I asked. We had walked along the Canterlot garden maze to pass the time while everything was being prepared. Mazes and puzzles were some of the many things I liked, and a hedge maze was really just a large maze on hard mode.. It had taken us, even with Celestia’s knowledge of how the maze worked, at least an hour to locate the exit, and I shouldn’t shake the feeling that some malevolent force was causing the walls to move sometimes. We were just at the end, walking out into the gardens, a statue on either side of us. One celebrating an ancient musician, and the other some earth pony hoisting a flag up.

“Hm?” She looked down at me with one eye, raising an eyebrow in a careless gesture. That was another thing I liked about her. She wasn't afraid to show emotion like most politicians were. Most were still in the mindset that they needed a poker-face to get by in life. In fact, they might've been wrong. Celestia's odd motherly appearance - and I say that in completely light terms; I never really knew my mother - seemed to make me want to trust her more, rather than criticize her skills at political manipulations.

But then again, she had quickly accepted my "deal", even before I offered the ambassadors. Something had to be up with that.

“You never told me if your ‘ambassadors’ had accepted their mission to explore the unknown with me, and, uh, also, sorry for leaving you like that. When I saw them for myself, I had the immediate urge to go alert my crew about our approaching situation,” I said, taking a hesitant breath before adding “If you get what I mean by ‘situation’ that is.

“Well a few of them were reluctant, but it was a unanimous decision once they figured out that good friends stick together. They’ll be coming. I’m sure you’ll love them, even if they can sometimes be a little bit excitable. How did your own crew react?”

“Ah, hmm,” I paused as we turned at one of the statues, heading in the direction of the landing zone. I had discussed things with Evo over the communications line Art had set up, and we’d decided that keeping the Homebound in orbit would be the best decision, rather than wasting time landing it on the surface, even if it would get us another shock-and-awe point. The Homebound, being of my design, was made to be able to land on the ground and take off straight into the air. Only a few of my other ships did that because it took up a lot of energy, and energy was money, something the Wing was running short on nowadays.

“Art was a little bit disappointed that I’d be leaving him behind. Being ‘grounded’, as it’s called, is sort of a taboo if you’re one of the officers that sticks to space. We’ve always had the urge to fly, and not just in atmosphere. He’ll get better once the supply ships start coming to give him some more toys. Otherwise, he was, uh, ‘happy’ I’d put him in charge of this whole operation,” I said, even if Art had been a little bit more than ecstatic over the news. Managing the alliance with Terra was a dream come true. “And, uh, for the four others I’m leaving behind, I don’t know. Art’ll keep them in line, and I’ve told them they’re under your command as well. That leaves me with a crew of five, not counting myself. I’ll ask them about their opinions later. What else did your ambassadors think?”

“Most of them can’t wait. I said before, they’re very adventurous ponies. Pinkie Pie especially… you may want to be wary of her.”

“How much did they pack? I mean, the dropship doesn’t have any problems with weight, but it doesn’t have much space on the inside.”

“After you had left the throne room, I figured you didn’t plan on having guests on your ship, so I made sure to tell them to keep it to one bag per pony. Rarity, though… I, forgive me. It’s rude to gossip.”

“Too true,” I said absent-mindedly, looking up at the sky as a device hanging from my ear buzzed. I reached up and tapped a button on the side, and a familiar hum filled my ear. “Art, that you? Over.”

“No sir, this is Cadet Lilian Andres,” replied a female voice. Funny, normally women didn’t join the Wing, and she had the same last name as Evo if my memory served correct. I wonder how I’d ended up with one in my crew, and more importantly, I wanted to know how I hadn’t noticed her in the cadet line-up. I hadn’t personally chosen the crew, at least, so I knew I wasn’t that stupid. “Dropship One-Kay-One-Ninety-Six spotting the marked landing zone. Coming in over your position, over.”

“I have visual. Proceed as usual, and make sure to drop the package off to the side before you land, over,” I said, letting go of the button as the bulbous, light grey shape streaked over us. I looked over to Celestia and flashed a smile. “We were given a small ‘first-contact’ pack, in case of a situation just like this. Nothing major, just something for Art and my four crew members to work off of while they’re stranded here.”

“I don’t mind at all. This is very exciting,” Celestia said, giving me the same smile and a kind of wink that only one smart leader can pass on to another, with a sort of appreciative twinkle in both eye. I can always value a good leader, and she sure as hell fit the bill, horse thing or not. “Twilight and her friends should be waiting at the landing zone with all their stuff. Where are Commander Boyo and the other two?”

I pressed a different button this time, the soft mesh of the mic pressing against my face. “Art, where are you, Roland, and Dylan? Over.”

“We’re at the landing zone with miss Sparkle and her friends, just getting to know them and all. The dropship is landing right now – is it safe to open the ramp that early? Over.”

“Alright. Me and the Princess are on our way. It’s right around the next corner or so. Over.” I said, quickly shutting the device off before turning to stare at Celestia, who hadn’t even spared the conversation a second glance.

“Hm?” She peered curiously at me.

“Oh, I- it’s nothing, you just don’t seem all that surprised by the wonders of technology. Some races just fawn over this stuff. We had a whole religion set up around us after one first-contact mission.”

“We have our own technology, and you’ve already seen our magic, and while our technology isn’t up to par with yours, magic provides many luxuries,” Celestia said, and we both turned around another statue. From here we could see the dropship. The four crewmen I had ordered to come gound-side, each wearing their armor, had hopped out and were gawking around like schoolchildren. I sighed, and silently watched as Art lugged a few of the girls’ bags into the back of the ship with no help from any of them. Just behind the craft was a very large looking metallic crate, which Roland and Dylan were tentatively circling. I could see Twilight, Spike, and their friends forming a half circle a few yards away, staring at the ship with varying expressions of awe, fear, and Pinkie-ness. Celestia had warned me about her. The airlock would definitely be locked.

Celestia had told me about magic, and explained the very basics, like how only those with a unicorn horn could use it, what it could do, etcetera. I’ll be honest, the term “magic” makes me think of witchcraft and demon-summoning right off the bat, but when she explained further, it made sense. I chock it up to it just being magic and generally hard to explain, which might seem odd for a man who placed so much faith in technology, but I’ve seen entire fleets crushed by mere willpower. That’s pretty much magic if you ask me.

You heard me right. There are, as we call them, "psychics" in the galaxy. Luckily for everyone else, they’re pretty rare, but the ones we do get are normally very powerful. I'd had the misfortune to run into a few, mostly on the nasty end of their powers. They could crush entire ships, tear people limb from limb, cause buildings to collapse, and all just by looking at them. When it came to that kind of power, you were either born with it naturally, got it through drug stimulants, or meditated for over half your lifetime. The latter of them had yet to see real results.

So, yes. I believe in magic. Sue me.

“That, uh, reminds me, you said that the translation spell would eventually wear off. What do you plan for me to do do when that happens?” I asked, taking another spare glance at Celestia. She chuckled, and a glowing ring appeared in front of my face. After a moment, I noticed the glow was merely just Celestia encasing it in her magic. That was a shame. Glowy rings were cool.

“I’ve enchanted this ring so that when you wear it, the translation spell is in effect in a large area around you. I’m sure it will not be a problem.”

“Will it work for things like radios, or videos?”

“I never tested it because we’ve never found the need to use it. I suppose you’ll have to find out, and improvise if the results are negative. It had worked on that thing you called TACT, though.”

“Gotcha," I said, and plucked the ring from the air. The glow stopped, and I took a moment to observe it. I rolled the sleek metal between my fingers, eyes narrowing as I leveled it with my face. It appeared to be made of platinum, or silver. There were no indentations or grooves on its surface, and it hugged close to my ring finger when I put it on; a perfect fit. When I lowered my hand and looked up, Celestia was smiling at me. "Thanks for it. You just made my job thirty times easier. Language barriers are a tough hurdle to jump. Pun intended."

"Indeed they are. Tell me, what did our language sound like before the translation spell went into effect? I know we heard yours, and you heard me speak to Luna. I am curious."

"A bunch of whinnies and nickers sounds, high pitched and slightly annoying, nothing I didn’t expect. What'd we sound like? All I said was 'hello'."

"Like some sort of horrible monster attempting to imitate a pleasant tone of voice," Celestia chuckled out. I looked over to the ship, and grinned as well. Art was tapping at a hologram emanating from his wrist, standing in front of the crates. The three had all removed their helmets and stood next to him, probably pestering him with questions. The ship was angled so we couldn't see the inside just yet, but Roland and Dylan appeared to be leading the "ambassadors" up the ramp. For a brief second, I worried we wouldn't be able to fit them in the seat harnesses, but I knew that Art must've thought of something. Spike wouldn't be too much of a problem.

I chuckled, and raised an eyebrow at her. "Monster? You get them often?" I asked. From what I'd seen, Equestria was a very peaceful place. Maybe good for a vacation home.

But no. In that instant, I realized something. Equestria was worth protecting, because it was peaceful. Many of the planets we "protected" had lots of infighting and wars of their own, or were just outright dangerous to live on. Equestria was different, a shining beacon of light in the darkness, perhaps. That fact alone made the planet priceless. It made the people priceless. Definitely worth protecting.

"Of course. Not everything here in Equestria is peaceful, as you’ve so far seen."

Nevermind.

"But most incidents can be solved fairly quickly, and without needless violence."

Nevermind - again. Very good, Celestia. I was beginning to respect her a bit more, now. I mean, I already respected her before, but each time she played her cards right, the levels rose just a little bit. I could tell she was doing the natural thing, making her leadership seem good by telling the truth. The galaxy needed more leaders like that.

"Hey! Commander Boyo!" I called out. We had gotten close enough to the ship that I trusted my voice to carry to Art without using the headset. He raised a hand for a moment, tapped the holo-panel a few more times, and it warped back into his wrist in a flurry of light. He turned to face us, and grinned. "I need a report!" I called again, and he moved to meet us halfway. When he did so, he walked on my left side, with Celestia to my right, and I looked up to face her. "Celestia, you can go give your ambassadors a speech or something? I need to speak with Art. That alright with you?"

"Thank you for the suggestion, Captain. I will do so." She smiled that irresistible motherly smile again, and quickened her pace to pass us while Art and I slowed ours in tandem. It was odd. Normally, leaders didn't like taking "suggestions" that were really just orders, and I knew she knew it was an order. Maybe she was just looking for an excuse to talk with them, or to get away from me. With Celestia taking care of the motivational speech, I turned to face Art.

"You have everything prepared? Spare dorms in the palace? Food choices? When did Luna say they'd make a public announcement?" I asked.

"Yes, yes, and yes. All three are taken care of. We’ve got enough stuff to last for a month on a deserted arctic planet with little to no atmosphere. We'll be fine. And, uh, for the announcement, Luna said they'd make it official within the day, ‘cause they’re not too keen on hiding stuff from their subjects for long. That... well, it really isn’t much time to get any long-term preparations ready, but I sort of understand their reasons. TACT’s already mapping out an area for an orbital base. We haven't discussed any ground operations, though."

"Make sure to do that today or tomorrow. Sometime soon, at least. I don't want any major mining operations unless we’re upgrading Equestria’s, and even after that I want you to import it, and pay. They’ll probably give some hefty discounts, though. We need to be fair and nice, got it?”

"Yessir. Will do. Also, last night, Luna and I began discussing starships. Err, well, she's really interested in them, and I mean practically obsessed, even. She wants to help design Equestria's first."

"Let her. First spaceships are always more for political purposes than anything else, and so as long as she doesn't move to make it some sort of super-weapon I'm fine. Make sure to send me progress reports once the supply ships start coming through. Maybe you’ll figure out how to bypass the anomaly’s communications-breaking barrier.”

"Yessir."

"One more thing, Commander," I said in a grave tone. He looked questionably at me, and I continued. "I want you to confront Luna and Celestia about the anomaly that surrounds their system, and then gently put it that they’re on Terra, and why that’s significant. I have a feeling they know about the anomaly though, and something about that just bugs me. I don’t care when you do it or how, but as long as it’s done. We can’t put it off for long."

"Will do, Captain. Also, I... ah..." I peered curiously at him as he trailed off, one hand rubbing at the back of his neck, "I had a personal question."

"Shoot," I said, and slightly sped up the pace. As much as I loved heart-to-hearts, they were terrible luck, at least from what I’d experienced with them. "I've always got time for my crew, and we've both been in the Wing for a while now. We're friends."

"Alright.” He paused, taking a few seconds to stare off into the sky. "I don't know. Something feels... weird. I feel like we don't belong here, almost. I mean, yea, it’s supposed to be our home, but besides the ponies, haven't you noticed it?"

"Noticed what?" I asked, eyes narrowing.

“Well, I mean, the colors," he said, giving a wide gesture that encompassed most of the gardens in front of us. "Look at them. They're so bright, so vivid. Then look at everywhere else we've been, it's all washed out and grey. Even the forests have been gloomy."

I grinned, and let loose a bout of laughter that might’ve been a tad uncalled for. It was dry, emotionless laughter, more of a bark. When I stopped, he stared at me with pleading eyes. "What?" he asked, questions and fears building up behind his eyes. "What is it?"

"Well, you said 'everywhere else'! Art. If you haven't noticed, most of 'everywhere else' we've been has been a warzone, training field, or disaster area. The time we get off is spent with our families if we've got them, so otherwise we don't really have time for a vacation. Of course it seems bright and cheery. It's normal! Me and you, we’ve been on active duty for, what, years now? Constantly patrolling the borders, aiding our allies, skirmish missions. And then you’ve got me." I pressed a finger to my chest, which had swelled up merely by instinct. “I’ve been doing the exact same stuff as you, then I’m busy drawing up diagrams for half of our ships and guns, managing the Liberty Fleet, and juggling the general duties of a respected high rank. How do you think I feel? I’d love to be in your position, pal. You’ve got it easy.”

"Yea, I guess you have a point... but there's another thing. The ponies themselves. Haven't you noticed anything odd about the way they seem to be? I mean, no wars, really? You can't have such drastic differences with other sentient species on the planet without a large conflict. It's impossible."

"Art. Once again, you're being incredibly close minded. Need I remind you that we've traveled through pocket dimensions, saved the galaxy like... three freak’n times, taken down an enemy thousands of times greater than us, and then other feats that would normally be impossible? They're honestly just another fact of life by now. Why's this eating at you?"

"Because like I said. Something just feels... off. I don't know what, but I don't like it. I-"

"Wait!" I interrupted him with a friendly slap on the back as we arrived at our destination. He jerked to attention, eyes widening in surprise at the sudden gesture. I could hear the muffled voice of Celestia coming from the opening of the ship, and I quickly spun Art to face me with my free hand. I stared at him with all the intensity of a concerned brother, and took one last look around to make sure there were no eavesdroppers. I lowered my voice to a hushed whisper.

"I'll be honest, blunt, and tactless, Smarts,” I hissed, making sure to add Art’s signiture nickname for unneeded emphasis. “I'm getting a bad-juju vibe from all of this too. But then again, I got the same vibes when we allied with the WIC, and that turned out fine in the end. I got the same feeling a lot back when I was left to oversee the Operations Department back in the day, and it was smooth sailing with them until the galactic wars." I paused for a moment, taking a deep, almost shaky breath. "Well, as you can see, just because you have a fear doesn't mean it'll come to pass. Sometimes you just need to accept things for what they are, no matter how much your mind may try to fight it. Right? No goodbyes on the field. I'll see you in a few months." I looked back to the ship, and walked towards it without a moment’s hesitation.

"Right...." I heard Art whisper, followed by the crunch of his boots on the ground that faded away like all things do. I reached the end of the dropship, and made my way around the lowered ramp. There were a few meters of extra space in the back of the craft, space that the designers hadn't placed seats in. Well, I was the designer, so, yea. Filling it were two platforms on either side of the exit doorway, where one could easily stack Kaiden-manufactured crates for easy storage. It was a good thing, because this dropship was meant for long trips, and not just planet-to-ship runs. Consequently it was bit bigger than the dropships most of us were no doubt used to flying in, but I liked the extra leg room. By “most of us” I meant the Wing members, of course.

Not sure why, but I was also letting someone else pilot it. It's a common responsibility, they say, for the captain to pilot his own ship, because only he knows how to handle it. I just, sometimes, don't feel comfortable with letting someone else fly me around in a big hunk of metal. I was from a time when we higher-ups liked to fly our own dropships, fighters, and the like. I guess some things fall out of favor.

I peered around the corner to see that my previous fears had been unfounded, and that all six of the ponies were strapped in tight, with Dylan and Roland on opposite sides at the far end. I don't know how Art actually managed to modify the seats to fit the ponies, especially without a pony with him to measure - or had he really taken one with him, earlier? There were two more seats, one for me and one for Spike. The little dragon was staring curiously at his buckle, trying to strap himself in like the big boy he no doubt wanted to look like. Twilight and her friends weren't paying any attention to him, to his chagrin, they were too busy listening intently to Celestia as she finished her good-luck speech.

"... and though I have my utmost faith in your abilities, Twilight, do your best to listen to Captain Amber should a dangerous situation arise. Remember to observe everything around you, and be safe. If you have any concerns or questions about unfamiliar surroundings or customs, you may simply ask the Captain. I'm sure he will be more than happy to clear things up."

"Eeyup," I interrupted, carelessly tipping to the side to lean on the wall. All heads swiveled to face me, and the two cadets in the back saluted from their seats. I nodded at Celestia. "Sorry for interrupting you, but we're really on borrowed time. I'd hate to get halfway out of the system before running out of energy or fuel. That'd be no fun."

The sun princess smiled, and nodded softly. "I understand, Captain Amber. I will allow you to take your leave now. May your travels be safe.” She turned to give Twilight a sidelong glance as she gracefully walked past me. "I will eagerly be waiting for your reports, my faithful student."

I felt her presence exit the craft, and Roland was saying something to me in a soundless voice, and even that faded into the background. Some part of me wanted to pay attention, but the rest was preoccupied with staring blankly at that word Princess Celestia had used. It poked the word with its fork, tilting its head ever so slightly at the exotic dish. It had been on the plate for quite a while, but everything else had already been consumed, leaving my mind to finally notice the last portion.

Safe.