• Published 22nd May 2012
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Hegira: Option Gamma - Guardian_Gryphon



What would you do for the chance to fly free?

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Chapter 1

Earth Calendar: 2114
Equestrian Calendar: 12 AC

New York City, for all its faults, was still a marvel of engineering and architecture, an incredible accomplishment of urban planning and construction; Home to well over 19 million. In spite of its slums, its smog, and its crime rate, it stood as a glowing beacon of hope surrounded by gray. A testament to the achievements of a united, dying world.

Every Human knew the story of the day the sky went dim.

An experimental procedure intended to instantly cleanse the atmosphere of greenhouses gasses, and restore balance to Earth, had ironically been its final undoing. The scientists responsible could never have known or predicted the horrifying results of their work.

The composition of the atmosphere had been forever blighted. Enough light could penetrate to differentiate between day and night, but little else.

Under the new iron sky no plants, save ferns and kelp, could grow, and those only with artificial stimulation. Species began to die off at an exponential rate. An experiment intended to bring life had instead condemned the planet to lifelessness.
The unthinkable final specter of death. Total planetary extinction within a century.

Lieutenant Isaac Wrenn was not enjoying the city sights. Isaac figured he wouldn’t enjoy the skyline even if he wasn’t submerged hundreds of feet below the east river. He had lost most of his conventional eyesight in a bioplasmic grenade attack.

The VIP who he had saved, an influential Earthgov politician, had set him up for life in gratitude; A high level officer position on the special forces, ocular Direction/Range/Distance sonar implants, and a healthy monthly stipend.

It wasn’t that Wrenn couldn’t see at all, it was that he couldn’t see past two meters. The grenade had left his eyes a stark milky white, a characteristic that seemed to put people off. The ocular implants used sonar to construct a digital bluish hued image of the world beyond two meters and present it to him on top of his organic vision. The implants had their advantages, such as being omni-directional, and so acute at motion detection that a wisp of wind could set them off, but Wrenn hated them.

The bluish tinge of the CG image left no color or enjoyment in the world at large, just digital jagged shapes.
And the headaches had lead to many sleepless nights.

The implants did add to his intimidation factor, which was another plus in his book.

The small blue glowing slits above his eyebrows accentuated the stark void of his eyes, leaving most people under the vague impression that they were facing not a Human being, but a cold calculating machine. Wrenn was as emotional as anyone, but he liked to exploit his 'killer android' impression to get things done. It had a way of cutting through the red tape.

The harsh baritone of his CO echoed off the bulkhead, calling out the start of the terminal pre-mission count.

“Nestor Flight; Departure in ten minutes. All fire-team members on-station in five. Set condition two throughout the ship.”

The UES Indianapolis was a typical Earthgov special forces destroyer; Part submarine and part surface ship, with a sealed hangar for deployment of two VTOLs and an F-A26 Scythe when surface-side.

Wrenn’s job would be riding shotgun with the package all the way to delivery point, everyone else in the squad was just along for the first part of the ride. Once their VTOL dropped them off at a pre-chosen maglev terminal, a government controlled train would pre-empt normal traffic, swing in and pick up the package, and hopefully deliver them downtown to their destination without incident.

The owners of the package had insisted on providing their own guard while it was transported to the ship in London, and likewise insisted on providing their own guard when the package arrived in New York. But they apparently had no love for enclosed spaces underwater, and so allowed the ship to travel without one of them onboard, once they had verified that the package was loaded and the hatches sealed.

Wrenn snapped out of his reverie and fell to checking his gear; One semi-automatic RAC-7 railgun rifle, a spare and much weaker laser based pistol, two EMP grenades and a cluster smoke grenade, KA-BAR combat knife, earpiece, basic energy diffusion vest and gauntlets. Finally he pulled a helmet with a clear plexi-steel half visor from the rack, gave it a good thump, and affixed it to his head.

As he shut the door to his locker, Wrenn gave the embossed ship's emblem a quick pat, born mostly of affection rather than superstition, before turning towards the armory's fore access hatch.

"Sir? We're on-station now."

The Captain leaned in over his helmsman's console, and scanned the officer's readouts, noting the positions of all the surface traffic above as the XO spoke out from her position behind the bridge central holotank.

"Fireteam One reports package is secured, Nestor ready to depart."

The CO nodded, and moved towards the center of the chamber, establishing a strong grip on the railing that ringed the holotank, command, and operations stations as he issued new orders.

"Notify East River traffic control, and New York aviation Center of our temporary navigation restrictions, and transmit sixty second departure warnings to any traffic in the AO. Start the clock."

Accompanied by a soft computerized chirp, one of the main information screens above the shuttered central window bank began to count up from 00:00:01. The red glow of the numerals spilled over onto the holographic projection of the river ahead of the ship, mixing softly with the navigation markers, contact indicators, and pitch lines.

The comms officer spoke quietly into his headset as the Captain fixed his gaze on the central holotank's comprehensive Area of Operations map.

"East River Traffic, Navy DDG 3257, Indianapolis. Priority Alert; Navigation Restrictions are in effect for grid C-11 as of now. Repeat; No-entry red-level restriction is hereby issued on Navy authority for C-11. Acknowledge."

A red translucent cube appeared in the center of the holotank, surrounding the destroyer, and extending all the way out to shore on both sides, a half mile up and down-river, and vertically from the riverbed all the way to 85,000 feet. As he listened for an affirmative from river traffic control, the comms officer continued to transmit.

"New York Center, Navy DDG 3257 Indianapolis. Priority Alert; TFR in effect for grids C-11, C-10, and C-9. Military traffic inbound. Repeat; No-entry red-level Total Flight Restriction is hereby issued on Navy authority for C-11, C-10, and C-9. Acknowledge."

A moment later, the officer turned and nodded to the Captain, as several more red cubes filled in on the holotank.

"Navigation restrictions entered and acknowledged. Traffic is moving to vacate. The AO will be clear in ninety seconds."

The CO nodded, and tightened his grip on the railing.

"Helm; Begin combat breach maneuver. Raise the boat."

The sound of enormous mechanical parts shifting blended together with a soft, but insistent klaxon.

"All hands, standby to breach. Brace, brace, brace."

The UES Indianapolis broke the surface in a cascade of gray-green water, looking like a nightmarish giant shark with its harsh angles and grey dazzle camo pattern hull, a distant but obvious descendant of the fierce Littoral Attack ships that had pioneered the hull configuration.

The instant the vessel was stable enough, two forward doors irised open and the first VTOL slid out into the hazy gray Manhattan morning. As the first craft made its exit, hatches all over the Indianapolis’s hull pulled back and a variety of railguns, missile ports, and Radar antennae bristled forth.

Each weapon revolved swiftly to acquire track on the nearest civilian vessel, aircraft, and drone, ominously following the swiftly backpedaling vehicles until each exited the restricted zone around the Destroyer.

The second VTOL followed the first as soon as there was enough clearance, accompanied by an ear-splitting warning blast from the ship's horn.

Wrenn always wondered how the pilots managed to juggle swapping the flight mode and gliding out of a space only inches bigger than the tips of the vehicles' stubby wings. He didn’t like to dwell on it too long, he had entertained ambitions of becoming a pilot, but with his vision problems he knew no-one was ever going to let him near the controls of a flying machine.

He couldn’t even legally drive, his ‘optical enhancements’ were not street legal in spite of the fact that they qualified him to use a loaded weapon. Irony could, he reflected, be so very bitter sometimes.

The best Wrenn could hope for was a decent service career with some action to break up the boredom.
He had even considered ponification before finding out that one’s species was not guaranteed to have wings, and that most violent thought would be naturally suppressed.

He cradled his RAC fondly. It wasn’t that he particularly liked being Human, but he liked being able to pick a fight over the things that mattered. That was a quality he would never be willing to part with, not even in Equestria.

Equestria. The word was now synonymous with hope. No one, Equestrian or Human, knew how or why the two universes had collided. Some called it luck, some fate, some God.

The collision had changed everything. The bubble of space-time that made up the intersection with Equestria was steadily growing, consuming the local space of Earth and adding considerably to its own in the process. Even the Equestrian Royal Sisters, whose powers themselves were god-like, could neither offer explanation nor put a stop to the expansion. All that anyone knew, was that by the end Earth would be gone, and Equestrian universe would be orders of magnitude larger, the barren wastes of humanity’s home transformed into wild, untamed, uncharted verdant landscapes.

Humans, and any synthetic material of their making, could not survive a trip into the bubble.
Wrenn had once seen a holo-vid of an experimental attempt to pass a monomolecular nano-fiber rod through the barrier. It had instantly and violently dissolved into its most basic atomic components.

Initially the revelation had caused panic. Wrenn could remember, as young man, watching newscasts of the EarthGov debates; 'Should we fire weapons at the barrier?' 'Attempt another quantum wave propagation experiment?' 'Evacuate the planet somehow?'

The first two options had been swiftly ruled out. Wrenn doubted very much that a nuclear strike would have even scratched the barrier, and another quantum experiment was like playing with fire. Begging for disaster.

Then the Equestrians had stepped up and offered a hoof in friendship. As Humanity respected their penchant for peace and unity, they respected humanity’s inventive genius and economic prowess. Both shared a substantial dose of perseverance in common, and the Ponies set to work trying to help humanity in any way they could.

They exported food for the starving masses, offered magical knowledge, and some even emigrated to Earth to help out in any way they could.

They had first tried magic.

The introduction of such a fantastic concept to the world had left Wrenn, like many others, stunned in awe and wonderment. Unfortunately for humanity the magic of Equestria only had limited effects in the space-time of Earth. There was still no realistic way to reclaim the un-arable soil, or repair the sky.

Wrenn figured it wouldn’t have mattered anyhow, even the Royal Sisters couldn’t stop the bubble's expansion, so any land saved would still ultimately be consumed.

It seemed Humanity was doomed to tragically watch as a paradise they could never inhabit swallowed their whole existence.

Then a joint group of Equestrian magicians and Earth scientists made a world shaking announcement; They had devised a solution, and the solution was Conversion.

Programmable nano-particles and Thaumatics working in beautiful scientific harmony. Ponification Serum.

One plastic cup’s worth of the purple goo, colloquially called potion, would turn any human being into a healthy, happy Pony. Instinct for passivity, predilection for friendliness, and all.

The revelation had generated polarizing debate, especially when it was discovered that newfoals would lose much of their capability for strong violence. Some attacked Conversion, accusing the Equestrians of robbing Humanity of their free will. Wrenn could vividly recall the severity of the riots in his home city of Phoenix.

Eventually the masses had been calmed. Newfoals didn’t loose their inventive and expansionist human spirit, a testament to the retention of sentience. Nevertheless, factions of the government still took sides, and new organizations of terrorists had sprung into being advocating both positions.

Some, like the Human Liberation Front, would go to extreme lengths to put an end to Ponification. It had taken a major effort on the part of EarthGov’s now relatively small, but sophisticated military to keep their hands off WMDs for so long.

Others, like the PER, believed that the perceived lack of choice in humanity’s future entitled them to make the choice on behalf of others. It was right in the name; Ponification for Earth’s Rebirth, a credo they took extremely literally. Their entire methodology revolved around forced conversion. The tension and fear created by the possibility of being robbed of one’s choice was not helping to ease Humanity’s transition.

As far as Wrenn was concerned, there shouldn’t be a debate.

One could choose to opt out of ponification, but unless they were already in their mid nineties, or put faith in the Genesist sleeper ship project, they were likely to be forced to make the final choice one day. Convert or die.

Ponies and Humans, and many of the other Equestrian species, had one thing in common; Free will. The choice, in Wrenn’s eyes, was a fraught but ultimately individual issue that should be left to each person to deal with in their own way, and on their own time. Legal Incentives and disincentives were ultimately acceptable in the Lieutenant's mind, as long as everyone still had a choice in the end.

Still, for anyone who wanted to survive the final collapse of Earth’s space-time into Equestria it wasn’t a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’ they would have to convert, as far as Wrenn was concerned.

The thought troubled him, but he supposed that when the time came he would have it all worked out. If his job didn't take him first.

“Sat vision 18, initial vectors received. Nestor-1 has point.” The words brought Wrenn back to reality. The pilot carried on a brief conversation with Central Command and the Indianapolis’s LADAR Operator before signing off and following the first VTOL at a respectable distance.

Both gunships sported quite an array of sophisticated armaments, but their agility was severely hobbled deeper in the city due to the towering mega-skyscrapers that took up most of the space, hence the need to transfer to a maglev.

Whatever Wrenn’s team was carrying was valuable to the Bureau, which meant it was also logically important to the PER and HLF.

Both groups had shown themselves capable of destroying armed government property and overcoming significant risks to get their hands on potion, which was what Wrenn figured was in the yellow and gray 3 foot by 5 foot titanium/carbide strongbox that was ‘the package.’

He had transported potion crates before, but most had been red or purple, designating special hypoallergenic, and traditional potion respectively. 'The Package,' looked like it had an extra set of biometric access denials on the touch panel.

It also lacked any symbols besides the universal bio-hazard sigils, which Wrenn found telling. Most potion crates bore the Earthgov Ministry of Chemical Science stamp, the Royal Equestrian Crest, a shipping number, bar-code, and the symbol for ponification serum.

Wrenn was sitting with the crate to his right. One squad-mate was taking co-pilot seat, the other two manning door guns. Wrenn could recall their names, ranks, call-signs, service numbers, and service records; And he still knew nothing about them.

He had been a fairly social person before the attack that took his eyes, but since his recovery he couldn’t remember the last time he had a truly substantial conversation that wasn’t mission related.

The attack itself was far less to blame than the person behind it. Wrenn banished that line of thought back to its own metaphorical locked crate. Emotions of that sort had no place on a high stakes mission.

He turned his sonar on the hustle and bustle below. The outer fringes of Manhattan still had maneuvering room for the VTOL, but only just. They couldn’t be far from the station.

Below a great many Humans, and some Ponies, went about their daily lives, barely sparing a glance for the vehicles above carrying enough tonnage of armament to wipe out three city blocks in under eight seconds. Resolution 22. It had happened when Wrenn was just entering the military.

The PER had launched a big Christmas Day attack on Trafalgar Square. In the blink of an eye 4,128 people had lost their Humanity, and not all of them came to terms with it well. Earthgov had used the panic to pass ‘22 and give itself the right to deploy the military whenever it wanted, wherever it wanted, and however it wanted.

Nobody had complained, everyone was too afraid of either the PER or HLF, or run of the mill terrorists to argue. Everyone had gotten used to seeing armed troops here and there, with frightening speed, and very little complaint.

A female voice cracked through his earpiece, “Nestor-2, Nestor-1. We’re doing a circle pass on LZ, hang back to be cleared.”

Wrenn felt the not-so-subtle change in direction and speed in his stomach. The pitch of the engines’ whine rose and the VTOL entered the second most dangerous phase of the mission. While hovering they were a barely moving target, and when they moved in to land it would be even worse. They would have no room for evasive action at all.

An attack in the landing zone wouldn’t just kill the squad, it would probably kill half the people on the station platform below, despite the fact that they were behind police cordons.

“Nestor-2, Nestor-1; LZ is clear, proceed with caution. Hand-off team has arrived and will be waiting for you on the concrete. Good luck Wrenn.”

Wrenn tapped his mic, “Thanks, you too. Stay frosty.”

He raised his RAC-7 and checked the magazine. Safety on. Too many civilians present to be twitchy with the rifle. The VTOL touched down with a jarring thud, and almost instantly two large figures darted forward and hefted the crate between them. It took Wrenn a full three seconds to process these newcomers.

Gryphons.

Wrenn had heard stories, mostly rumors, about the other races of Equestria. Out of all the myriad life on that world, Gryphons had held his fascination the most. But so few had visited Earth-Proper that he’d never seen one in person. Just a couple long distance holo-images the press managed to snap.

Meeting one was a top-ten bucket-list item for the lieutenant.

Wrenn dropped from the VTOL and dashed to keep up with the two male Gryphons. One was speckled gray, black, and white, the other was a shade of burnished gold. Both had large rifles at their sides, both had swords, and both wore some kind of steel plate armor that looked almost medieval in concept, but had clearly been upgraded with an energy diffusion matrix. The telltale hexagon pattern in the metal showed when the light caught it right.

“You’re the hand-off team?” Wrenn asked, unable to keep a touch of awe out of his voice.

The speckled Gryphon motioned to himself, “Kephic,” then pointed a single talon at his comrade, “Varan. You’re the soldier who insisted on seeing the crate through?”

Wrenn nodded, “I don’t ever let mission criticals out of my sight, not until the mission is over.”

Kephic nodded, as if he understood all too well. Varan’s face bore a look of resignation, as if he too understood, but considered Wrenn more a liability than a help.

The lieutenant decided that he probably was a liability compared to the two Gryphons. They were large, incredibly strong, and must have in his estimation, insanely good eyesight and better hearing than a human. For speed and reflexes he didn’t know, very few probably did, but Wrenn was willing to bet they made homo sapiens look obsolete on the battlefield.

“Plan?” Wrenn asked, sweeping the crowd with his eyes as Kephic and Varan set the crate down at the platform’s edge.

Kephic had to raise his voice slightly to be heard clearly over the VTOL’s backwash as it took off again, “Varan and I will keep a hold on the package at all times, you provide an extra set of eyes. Nothing more.”

Varan chimed in, “Also, preferably avoid getting yourself killed on our watch.”

As he scanned the crowd Wrenn noted their reactions with interest. The majority had never seen a Gryphon, and a plurality had only vaguely heard of them. The sight of the magnificent creatures in Manhattan was clearly causing a stir.

Wrenn was willing to bet there would be at least a couple hundred videos posted to the internet about it. Practically everyone alive had a next-gen DaTab with built in imager, sat-link, and holo-display.

Maglevs were almost soundless at a distance, but judging by Kephic and Varan’s change of posture, they could hear the train coming. As he predicted, the sound reached Wrenn’s ears several seconds later, and a black two car armored maglev whisked smoothly into the station.

The doors popped open with a hiss and a snap.

The train disgorged several Humans clad in urban combat armor with sub-machine railguns and ConSec emblems on their shoulders. Following them another Gryphon and a Pony.

ConSec was the Conversion Bureau's catchall security, investigation, and Potion defense wing. The newcomer Gryphon was colored mostly in roan tones, and wearing armor exactly like Kephic and Varan. The Pony accompanying him was slate gray, with a black mane and green eyes that offset the Gryphons’ fierce gold ones startlingly.

No introductions were made, the crate was simply hoisted into the armored train car as fast as possible, after which everyone dutifully filed in.

The train's doors snapped shut, and it set off with a low hum. The maglev accelerated far more quickly than the usual passenger train, reaching its top city-safe speed of 130 mph in seconds. Wrenn and the other Humans had to brace themselves, but the Gryphons and Pony didn’t seem to mind.

Wrenn noticed with a start that Kephic and the new Gryphon were now standing on their hind legs, working on the crate’s biometric console. Apparently they could walk and work just as easily in a bipedal configuration as a quadrupedal one. Wrenn was deeply impressed; He wondered just how many hidden benefits such an ambipedal configuration afforded in combat.

After Kephic and the other Gryphon finished verifying that the crate hadn’t been tampered with, they settled down next to the opposite side doors. The ride would be about five minutes long, and then they would be more or less finished.

Wrenn turned to Varan, who was manning a spot by the door closest to him, “So. Done this before?”

Varan nodded curtly, “Repeatedly. Though never with cargo quite this valuable. You?”

Wrenn nodded, “Repeatedly. Though never with cargo quite this mysterious.”

Varan chuckled dryly, “And I wager if you knew what was in there, you would say the cargo was the most valuable you had ever defended.”

Wrenn shook his head, “Nah. At the end of the day its just a crate. I’ve had to escort people out of bad spots before. Civilians are the most valuable cargo.”

Wrenn couldn’t tell if Varan’s expression was curiosity, respect, or a mixture thereof, but at least it wasn’t contempt. The train sped on in uncomfortable silence. The space had not been designed for so many larger-than-Human life forms, much less Gryphons, a Pony, and humans in armor cohabiting with a bulky crate.

Wrenn was about to screw up the social courage to ask the new Gryphon his name, when Kephic dove from across the train and splayed his wings in Wrenn’s face. The lieutenant just had a tenth of a second to notice that all the Gryphons were wearing some kind of armor on the jointing of their wings, before the entire world burst into color, sound, motion, and pain.


Wrenn regained his senses in a heap.

Kephic was now standing over him discharging his large rifle in precise bursts. Wrenn noticed, dully, that each shot was accompanied by a scream, or the sound of shredding metal and fabric.

That begged the question of who he was shooting at, and why, and that brought Wrenn back around like a bucket of cold water.

He began to drag himself to his feet. The blazing wreckage of the Maglev was strewn around him, along with the prone bodies of two of the human ConSec officers. The crate lay between him, Kephic, and Varan who was taking cover behind part of the elevated track that had come down, in what Wrenn was quickly realizing, had been a sizable explosion.

The roan Gryphon seemed busy setting up shop with an enormous Rail-Snipe up on one of the elevated track stanchions that hadn’t given way.

The Pony was nowhere to be seen.

One of the remaining ConSec officers shouted “Contact Rear!” But before he could even finish, an ear-splitting crack rang out from the Gryphon with the Rail-Snipe, and Wrenn just had time to whirl and watch a dark armored figure four blocks away get its head pulped by the hyper-sonic force of the railgun round.

Wrenn remembered his own weapon and checked it for signs of damage. Mercifully Kephic’s quick action had saved not only him, but the rifle.

He raised the RAC and swept his field of view. He spotted a figure dashing between buildings with something suspiciously like a grenade and let off a burst. The figure dropped, and a moment later the area shook with a small thud as the grenade he had primed went off in his lifeless hand.

Wrenn turned back and swept the other side of the street. There were a few panicked civilians milling about, most of the road traffic in the area had been arrested by the falling train tracks, and amongst the chaos dark figures in combat armor darted back and forth squeezing off shots at anyone and anything that wasn’t them.

“Who are these guys?!” Wrenn shouted as he raked a dumpster with cover fire. Varan popped off a single shot and downed the figure that had been hiding behind the green metal cube, “Battle now, queries later!”

Wrenn fell to providing cover fire. The Gryphons almost never missed, their accuracy was simply mind blowing. All Wrenn and the ConSec officers had to do was keep the opposition as harried as possible.

The tide quickly began to turn. Spurts of gunfire got fewer and further between.
Wrenn was almost ready to believe that it was over, until a man in ordinary civilian clothing grabbed a mother and small child who had been taking cover with him, and dragged them out into the middle of the road.

“Stop! Or I blow us all sky high!” he shouted. Wrenn could just make out a deadman’s switch in the man’s right hand.

All activity ceased. Any one of the Gryphons could have shot the man without chance of harming the mother and son, but nobody was close enough to stop the explosives the man was potentially wearing under his coat from annihilating them an instant later.

The man threw down the mother and held the son in a choke-hold with the arm he was using to depress the deadman switch. With his other hand he drew a small pistol. “Here's how it plays out! You give us the crate, and we will walk away without hurting anyone else. Deal?!”

Wrenn glanced at Kephic, and muttered, “Keep him talking.”

The look the speckled Gryphon gave him was probably supposed to root him in his tracks, but Wrenn was too high on adrenaline to care. He started to edge around behind the shattered hulk of the train, out of sight of the bomber, as Kephic spoke.

“No chance human, we won’t hesitate to make sacrifices to protect that box.”

Wrenn winced. The provocative words were not the kind of ‘keep him talking’ he had been referring to, but thankfully the bomber seemed to want very much to live through the ordeal. Wrenn was counting on that.

“No no no featherbrains, *I* make the stipulations, *you* acquiesce, or innocents die.”

Kephic smirked, or at least Wrenn figured the Gryphon was smirking was from his tone.

“What makes you think I care about two members of your species?”

The bomber shuffled as he shouted back. Wrenn was close enough to hear the feverish breathing of the young boy now.

“Because I know your kind has a code. A code of honor. And you won’t let them die.”

Wrenn stood up, speaking as he moved. “He won’t have to.”
He launched himself forward and prayed he was right.

The bomber turned, raising his pistol, and squeezed off a shot. Wrenn was dimly aware of a piercing pain in his shoulder, but he put it aside as he collided with the man, knocking the young boy out of his arms. All that mattered to Wrenn was putting his thumb on the kill switch.

He batted at the man with his right gauntlet, catching him in the face with the sharp edge, and mashed his left hand down over the man’s right with such force he could feel the him wince.

“NOW NOW NOW!” Wrenn vaguely heard himself shout, then from somewhere a muffled crack, and the bomber went limp in his arms. Wrenn barely managed to hang on to consciousness long enough to hand off the deadman switch to the roan Gryphon, and then darkness hit him like a ton of bricks.