• Published 22nd Jul 2012
  • 5,999 Views, 113 Comments

Away From the War; Away From Machines - iDeltaVelocity

An I-950 goes to Equestria, unaware of what has followed him.

  • ...

Ch. 6: "Everfree"

Ch.6: ‘Everfree’

The sun was hanging just on the horizon, preparing to end another day. The once-blue sky was coloured deep orange, painting the white clouds. On the ground, the group of Parker and the CMC were making their way down a dirt road towards the outskirts of Ponyville. The entire walk, Parker kept thinking to himself; the serenity and quietness of the area helped him process his thoughts in this situation.

There was absolutely no way this plan Apple Bloom’d thought of would work. After what unfolded this past week and a half, there would not be a single pony in this entire country who would simply “sit down and talk” with him.

He looked down at the scarlet-maned earth pony. She looked determined as she led the I-950 to wherever she was thinking of. She had no idea how far-fetched her plan sounded. “I really have no idea where you’re thinking of, Apple Bloom, but I highly doubt your method.”

Apple Bloom glanced up at him. “Relax, alright? This plan’ll work.”

“No offense, Apple Bloom, but I agree with Parker. I really think you’re biting off more than you can chew,” said Sweetie Belle.

“At least there’s a chance she won’t attack him,” the earth pony said.

Scootaloo countered: “It’s Fluttershy. She wouldn’t harm a bug, let alone an alien everypony including her thinks is dangerous.”

“That’s the point. We bring Parker to her, he talks her down, and she agrees ta help us get him on everypony’s good side. It’s as easy as one-two-three.”

They eventually reached a cottage in the distance. The pink-maned, yellow pegasus mare—Fluttershy—was busy feeding the critters that had surrounded her. There were a lot more animals that Parker hadn’t seen in his life, the only type being the guard dogs that stood throughout Arcadia, alerting humans in case an Infiltrator unit managed to slip past defenses.

Sweetie Belle called out: “Hey, Fluttershy!”

The pegasus turned to face the CMC fillies, but froze when she saw their new guest alongside them. Letting a shriek in fear, she retreated into her home, multiple clicks sounding from immediately after the door closed shut.

Parker, Scootaloo, and Sweetie Belle looked over at Apple Bloom, who looked back at them. “Ah never said she wouldn’t run.”

They approached the door. Sweetie Belle pressed an ear against the wooden frame, trying to listen out for any noise. Nothing.

“Fluttershy!” Scootaloo knocked on the door. “Are you still in there?”

“Of course she’s still in her house,” Apple Bloom interjected.

Fluttershy suddenly shouted through the door, “Girls, you need to get out of here! He’s out there, just waiting to get us all!”

“But Parker’s not dangerous. We need you ta listen!”

There was no response. Sweetie Belle looked in through the window. “I can’t see anything. She turned off all the lights.”

“We need to get out of here. This plan’s not working,” said Scootaloo, trying to reason with Apple Bloom.

“It’s too late for that now,” said Parker. “She already knows I’m out here. It’s better to go along with the plan while we still can. We have no choice.”

“But how are we supposed to get her out? We can’t even see inside.”

Parker contemplated on what he could use. “Hold on, let me see if I can have a look.” He activated his HUD and switched over to X-Ray vision. He could see the timid pegasus hiding behind a bunch of stuff that’d been piled up in front of the door, near the other end of the living room. “Wow… Ponies know how to build barricades. That’s new.”

“How do you know she’s hiding behind a barricade?” asked Sweetie Belle.

“Instincts.” Parker kneeled down and said to the fillies in a low, monotone voice, “I’m gonna try to lure her out. Watch this.”

He stood. Clearing his throat, the I-950 called to Fluttershy, but in the voice of a familiar pony: “Fluttershy, are you in there?” His new voice had completely mimicked Twilight’s, not missing a pitch. The Crusaders looked on in amazement as he continued, “Parker’s nice, I swear. Could you open the door?”

There wasn’t an immediately response. After a few moments, Fluttershy finally spoke up, “Is that really you, Twilight?”

“Yes, it’s me. Could you please open up?”

A moment of silence passed, before there was finally a response: “Okay, if you say so, Twilight.” The sound of stuff scraping across the floorboard and hooves trotting soon reached their ears.

Scootaloo looked up at Parker. “How did you do that?”

“Natural talent,” said the human.

Clicks were heard again as Fluttershy undid the locks on the door. Once the final lock was off, and the door creaked open a small bit, Parker forced it open and entered, closely followed by the Cutie Mark Crusaders.

Fluttershy backed away, her ears drawn to the sides of her head as she looked up in fear at the human. Parker simply stood there in front of her, returning with his own gaze and his plasma rifle strapped around his shoulder. Multiple thoughts were racing uncontrollably through her mind as to what might happen to her. But an important question escaped her mouth: “What happened to Twilight?”

“She was never here,” was the response she received from Parker.

Apple Bloom slowly approached the trembling pegasus and placed a hoof on her shoulder. “Fluttershy, we need ta talk.”

The CMC explained everything they could to Fluttershy. Initially, the yellow pegasus avoided eye contact from Parker, still afraid of the human and his abilities in combat. After all, with his actions in Sweet Apple Acres—including kidnapping Apple Bloom—and escaping Canterlot despite the amount of Royal Guards, she had a perfect reason to be scared.

Though as the fillies told her more about him, she began to be more open. It seemed that they genuinely trusted the human, not being tricked or forced into any type of deal he might have made with them.

She looked over at Parker. He was looking at the many bird houses that lined the inside of her home. He looked indifferent, like he’d never seen anything like them before. His weapons were laid out on the table as his way of trying to prove that he was friendly. She didn’t believe what he said at first, but now she saw that he was telling the truth.

Turning back to the girls, she listened as they finished explaining. “You understand now, Fluttershy?” said Scootaloo. “Parker’s not that dangerous. He’s nice. And we really need your help in proving that to everypony in town.”

The pegasus contemplated. “I don’t know. This is a really big deal.”

Apple Bloom acknowledged, “We know, we know. But seeing as you’re one of the Elements of Harmony, you’d probably have more of an influence. Ponies would listen more to you than us. So, what do you say?”

“Please, Fluttershy?” asked Sweetie Belle.

The pegasus took some time to think it over. By now Parker had rejoined the group to hear what her answer might have been. Regardless of what she’d already been told, she was still skeptical about the whole thing. There was the off-shoot that, with the Royal Guard patrolling town, getting him in without resistance would be difficult. But there was a lower chance of that happening if she was there to accompany the four of them. Would there?

She looked up to see eager eyes fixed to her, still awaiting her decision. She answered, “Alright…” she sighed lightly, “I’ll help.”

Parker smiled. “Really?”

Fluttershy, albeit reluctantly, nodded. She squeaked when the I-950 suddenly picked her up into a hug, saying “Thank you!” repeatedly, like a hyperactive kid on loads of candy, until the CMC intervened.

“You might wanna calm down a bit, Parker,” said Apple Bloom, directing his attention to the pegasus. “You're kinda make'n her nervous.”

“Right...” Parker set her down, blushing from his sudden outburst. “Sorry. I don't really have much of a grip on my emotions. I’m learning to keep them under control, though. But still... thank a lot.”

Fluttershy stammered, “You’re welcome, I guess.”

An awkward silence passed as they sat, just staring at each other. Scootaloo turned her gaze out the window to the see daylight quickly beginning to fade. “It’s getting late. We should head home.”

“Is it okay if Parker spends the night here?” Apple Bloom asked.

“Don’t worry. We’ll be back tomorrow,” said Sweetie Belle.

Fluttershy was still skeptical, but hesitantly, she nodded. They a nod to each other, determined that this plan would work after all, the fillies departed from the cottage, leaving a nervous Fluttershy alone with the human. She looked at him as he smiled back in her direction.

“Don’t worry,” said Parker. “I’m not gonna hurt you. There’s really nothing to be worried about. I made a deal with the CMC on the way here not to cause any trouble whatsoever. So, you’re safe.”

“It’s not that I’m worried about you being here,” said Fluttershy. She looked out the window before closing the curtains. “It’s the Royal Guard. They patrol here around my home regularly. They might see you.”

Parker shrugged at this. “Well we’ll just have to get lucky and hope there’s a chance they forget. And if they do see me, I’ll have to stop them from alerting the other guards in town.”

Fluttershy gulped at hearing this. “You’re not going to kill them, are you?”

“No, that would cause a lot more trouble. I’ll just have to knock them out, tie them up, and then hide them. And so the same with anyone that comes here.”

“I don’t think that would work.”

Sighing lightly, Parker walked over and took a seat on the couch. “We’ll have to think on something, then, if that happens.” He took a moment to think.

Fluttershy stared at him as he sat with his hands folded in front of him and deep in his thoughts. She opened her mouth, no found no words to say. There was nothing she could say at this moment, even though she wanted to, so she trotted up the stairs, saying good night as she left.

Parker returned the favour, waving to her as she left upstairs. He lay back on the couch, looking up at the ceiling in silence. The floor creaked above him; most likely Fluttershy making her way to bed. He figured it would be time for him to go to sleep, as well.

Parker’s eyes slowly opened, and the only thing he could see in front of him was a white blur. Optic implants immediately cleared his vision, and when they did he found himself being watched by a rabbit. At first, they did not do anything, just staring at each other for a long period of time.

Then, a smile spread across his face, although he was still slightly disoriented from his recent sleep to actually notice.

Hooves clopped against the ground and Fluttershy came downstairs. “Angel, don’t mess with him,” she said, almost in a cautious-like voice. It became apparent to him that she was still a bit frightened by his presence, though not so much since last night.

Parker’s smile grew wider. It was like he was drunk on alcohol, even though it was only for a split second at that moment. “Your name’s Angel,” he said, drowsy and disoriented from his slumber. “I got a friend named Angel back on Arcadia, in my world. Your name reminds me of him.”

“Is he… like you?” Fluttershy asked.

Parker eyed her. “What do you mean ‘like me’?”

The pegasus hid her face in her pink mane, kicking at the floor. “Ya know… your weapons… and equipment?”

“You mean a soldier. Yeah, he is; one of the best I-950s in the Resistance. Would've been dead multiple times if he hadn't been there for me.”

“Oh,” said Fluttershy. Without another word, she began making her way to the door before being stopped by the human: “Where are you going?”

“Outside to feed my animal friends breakfast,” she replied.

“Want me to help?”

“Oh, no, I couldn’t ask—”

“Don’t worry.” Parker stood from the couch and went over to the door. “It’s something called ‘hospitality’, right? I pull my own weight around here since you’re nice enough to let me stay.”

Fluttershy thought it over. It would be nice to have some help around here. “Okay, if you say so.”

“Awesome.” The human opened the door into the outside. Animals were up and about in the sunlight, much more than he’d seen yesterday. Exactly how many pets alone does this one pegasus have? The question would stick with him as one of the many great mysteries of this strange world. “So, what do we do first?”

“Well, the chickens need feeding,” replied Fluttershy, directing his attention to a chicken coop nearest to the cottage. She pointed to a bag of seeds that he’d use to feed to them before going off to tend to the other critters.

The bag wasn’t very heavy. Parker felt as though he was getting the hang of it. It was spreading seeds on the ground, after all. How difficult could that be? Taking care of animals is easy, he thought, spreading the last handful of seeds. “Alright, I’m finished.”

Fluttershy hovered over, her wings keeping propelled slightly in the air, to see his progress. She shook her head. “Oh no, that’s way too much.”

The human looked down at the scattered seeds and back at the pegasus. “Are you kidding? I spread three handfuls. That’s plenty for them to eat, right?”

“It’s a little too much for their delegate tummies. I don’t think they can eat that much.”

Parker deadpanned. Delegate tummies? In Chickens? Really? But then again, remember where you are, Parker. This isn’t exactly the world you’re used to. “You’re the caretaker. You’ve probably been around animals longer than I have.” Hope they don’t end up going hungry. “What’s next on the list?”

With Fluttershy’s help, Parker went around the cottage, tending to the many different animals that inhabited the area. Though he received a couple of bites from ferrets and badgers and nearly got pecked mercilessly by a few birds, through much effort, he managed to get everything done. All the animals were fed.

Thank God. Parker sat on a bench next to a pond. His gaze turned from the animals in the yard to a massive forest Fluttershy’s home sat beside. He figured that was where much of the animals came from, but he couldn’t shake that something seemed eerie about it.

“That’s the Everfree Forest.” Fluttershy landed next to the human. “It’s the scariest, most terrifying place in all of Equestria.”

Parker glanced at her. “And you live next to it because…?”

“Sometimes animals stumble out of the forest—most of them injured—so it’s my job to make sure they’re well again.”

“You must be pulling your hair out trying to take care of all them.”

Fluttershy shook her head. “Not really. Tending to all the little woodland creatures is my special talent. I can communicate with them on a whole other level than any other pony in Equestria. It really comes in handy.”

“I bet it does.”

They sat in relative silence, save for the animals munching on their treats. The human could not recall a time after his defection where he saw things this peaceful for him. Suddenly Fluttershy shot up. She did a quick head-count of the animals already in the yard, right before she became alarmed. One of the animals was missing. “Where’s Mister Quackers?”

Parker looked at her. “Mister Quackers?” He noticed the Cutie Mark Crusaders approaching from down the road. They came up in front of the cottage, surrounding the human.

“Parker, we’ve thought of somepony we can introduce you to,” said Applebloom.

Scootaloo nodded in agreement. “Yeah, we’re gonna take you to see Rainbow Dash.”

Parker crossed his arms, staring down at the orange pegasus filly. “This isn’t because I kept saying that Rainboom-thing was a hoax, right?”

“No, of course not. I’m over that little argument.”

Lie detection… Result: 18% truth…

Parker couldn’t help but smile. “Alright, let’s get going then.” He stood.

Sweetie Belle stopped him. “Not yet. We still have to think of a way to introduce you without causing another problem. Rainbow Dash isn’t exactly one to run away from anything scary or dangerous.”

“So, what you’re saying is she’ll attack me on sight.”

“Pretty much…”

The fillies noticed that Fluttershy seemed frantic, and knowing her, it involved either her anxiety around other ponies, the fact that she still feared of Parker, or her animals, which led Applebloom to ask what was wrong. Her response was that Mister Ducky—a duck usually spending most of his time in the pond—had waddled off. Parker activated his HUD, switched to his scan vision, and the duck’s faded trail of footsteps was revealed. They were leading away from the cottage. “I think I know where he went, but I don’t think you’ll like it.”

Fluttershy cantered up to him. “You do? Where is he?”

Hesitant, Parker lifted his arm and pointed towards the Everfree Forest.

For reasons the human couldn’t understand, he felt right at home within the Everfree Forest as he and the ponies made their way through the dense, jungle-like canopy. His grip was almost tight enough to literally crush the handle of his plasma rifle, and his scan vision provided him the chance to see through the giant leaves and grass for any hostile that might have been stalking him.

With his many cybernetic implants and years of experience in this sort of environment, he was calm with walking out in the open, though he couldn’t say the same for the Cutie Mark Crusaders or Fluttershy—especially, Fluttershy. From what they told him about this place, it being an unnatural forest where the clouds moved on their own, plants grew on their own, and animals took care of themselves (the last part particularly making the yellow pegasus nervous) it looked like they had just seen a ghost.

He looked back at them, seeing their eyes dart left and right for potential dangers. “I’ll tell you four now: I don’t see what’s so wrong about this forest.”

“This place just isn’t natural,” said Sweetie Belle.

Parker shrugged at this. “It doesn’t bother me much. In fact, this place kinda reminds me of home. We don't have magic to regulate our lives.”

“But you haven’t seen what lurks around in these parts,” said Applebloom.

“And if you don’t have magic, then how does your world work?” asked Scootaloo.

Parker answered, “We just let nature—or what’s left of it—run its course. After all, my race has managed to stay alive this long, haven’t we? We don’t have the luxury of being able to physically moving the sun or moon, or manually changing the seasons. I believe that whatever happens in my world happens for a reason.”

A sudden rustling in the leaves bought their attention. Parker aimed his plasma rifle to the noise, but through his scan vision, it was a single fox wandering through the darkness. He lowered his weapon. “False alarm: No danger here.”

The ponies’ tensions eased once they heard that. He turned to face them. “See? What’d I tell you guys? Nothing to—”

A low growl simmered through the air. Parker turned to find a beast had been prowling behind him; looked like a wolf, but in his heightened vision, he saw that it was made entirely of lumber, and had glowing yellow eyes cutting through the shadows. “Could someone tell me what the hell that thing is?”

Sweetie Belle gulped, stammering, “Timberwolf.”

In a flash, the Timberwolf pounced. It quickly swiped its wooden claws, nearly digging into the flesh of the I-950. Parker bashed it in the face with the stock of his weapon, making it reel back in pain, right before aiming and pulling the trigger. Out of echoing sound of plasma fire, the beast lay limp on the ground, three smoldering holes embedded in its ribs. “That was just too easy.”

Fluttershy looked up at the scene. Her heart began to race upon seeing it. “He… He killed it… He really killed it…” The CMC were as disturbed as she was. They had never seen a dead animal before, even a vicious one.

Parker looked down, astonished, as the creature before him. Wow; a wolf that’s made entirely out of wood. This is incredible! But if this is a wolf, then—

Three more Timberwolves suddenly jumped from out of the underbrush, surrounding their new prey; their maulers dripped with tree sap. Just as the human thought: Of course there's a den somewhere nearby. That would've been too easy. “Everyone stay back. I got this.”

The Timberwolves prowled in front of the I-950 and the ponies standing behind him. He aimed his rifle, but before a shot could be fired, Fluttershy trotted past him. This literally left Parker in complete shock, seeing a pony a timid as this one cantering up in front of a pack of vicious wild animals that would rip her to shreds within seconds. “Fluttershy! Don’t!”

Nevertheless, the pegasus, with a deep breath, stood her ground. What happened next would have led Parker to regard this as some sort of prank. Not only was Fluttershy talking to all of them, but she was actually calming them down. One even rolled over onto its back while she rubbed its belly! “I know, precious,” she cooed, the Timberwolf she was petting beginning to shake its hind leg hyperactively. “You’re just an innocent, cuddly wolf, aren’t you?”

Parker was completely speechless at that, feeling his mouth do a series of openings and closings without words. Innocent? One of them tried to use me as a human chew toy! Disgruntled, he lowered his rifle as Fluttershy hovered over; the Timberwolves withdrew and disappeared into the leaves. “Where the hell did that come from?”

“I told you before,” said Fluttershy, “I can communicate with animals unlike anypony else can do.”

“But still, the Timberwolves… I would’ve expected at least one of them to attack when you got closer to them.”

“All animals—even vicious ones—deserve a small jester of kindness. And not…” She averted her gaze towards the dead Timberwolf, “…violence.”

The human failed to respond to that, despite him wanting to. He simply could not find the right words to say that would make the renewed feeling of guilt that’d rounded up inside of him go away. As always, he hated this emotion. It always tied his stomach up in knots, making it seem like he needed to vomit, and he lost his ability to think straight without the unbearable constant reminder of what he’d done flooding his mind.

“Are you okay, Parker?” asked Applebloom. The human nodded.

“Yeah,” he managed out, “It’s okay. I’m fine. Let’s just find the duck and get out of this forest before something else jumps at us.”

Much of their time was spent traversing through the thick canopy. Without his HUD map, he relied on the CMC and Fluttershy to give him guide him through; he would be useful in giving the small contraband protection in case any hostile was to suddenly attack; though it was obvious, if it were an animal, Fluttershy would have it taken care of. He still wondered to himself how this timid pony was capable of talking with any and every living creature she came into contact with. It left him seeking more answers about this world and how it worked.

The silence lingered until Scootaloo broke it: “Hey, Parker; you wanna talk?”

“About what?” the human responded.

The filly tried to think of something she could use to start a conversation. “How old are you?”

“In human years, thirteen; in pony years, I’m around your age.”

“You’re still a child?”

“Chronologically? Yes…”

Applebloom thought of something to keep the conversation going. “You said there was no magic in your world. That everything just happens. How does that even work?”

Parker shrugged. “It just happens. Unlike you four with Equestria, humans are thrown at the mercy of an unpredictable nature each and every day.”

“It’s like a gigantic Everfree Forest,” said Sweetie Belle.

“Sort of…” The human replied, “Except without the entire jungle-like environment in most areas. Like I said, whatever happens in my world happens for a reason.”

The sound of a quack echoed through the air. Parker’s auditory senses could hear it almost as clear as day. “That has to be Mister Quackers,” said Fluttershy. She was growing evermore worried. “Oh, I hope nothing bad happened to him.”

“It’s fine,” said Parker. He scanned the area through the leaves. “I can see him chilling near a pond. Don’t see any predators stalking him, though. We can still go in, get him, and get out without any trouble.”

Applebloom nodded in agreement. “Then what’re we wait’n for? Let’s go—!”

Her mouth was covered by the human. “I said there aren’t any predators around. But I never said they couldn’t hear us. We need to do this quick and quietly. Okay?”

They nodded. Going through the leaves and into the open, they saw the duck—Mister Quackers—drinking from the pond and waddling carelessly in the area. No predators seemed to be in sight, which was a good sign. Fluttershy sighed in relief as she hurriedly zoomed over towards him. “I was so worried about you. You’re not hurt, are you? Are you alright? Please tell me you’re alright!”

She received a quack in response, and afterwards hugged him.

“Isn’t that a touching reunion,” said Parker, his tone hushed as not to alert any hostile. “Now, let’s get—” He noticed a lizard-like tail protruding from under the bushes. What was strange about was that it had razor sharp spikes sticking out. “What the hell is that thing?”

The ponies looked towards what he mentioned, and their faces lost all colour when the tail retreated back into the bush, right before a rooster’s head, which was actually attached to a serpent-like body, rose out into the open. It flared dragon wings, growling, and glared deeply at the group with crimson-red eyes.

Parker raised his plasma rifle in impulse. “I’ll ask again: What the hell is that thing?”

“Cockatrice,” Fluttershy stammered. She and the CMC were slowly backing away.

“Don’t look into its eyes, Parker,” said Sweetie Belle, her own eyes closed. “It can turn you to stone!”

The human did a double-take, and glanced down at the unicorn filly. “Stone? Are you kidding me?”

“Watch out…!”

The Cockatrice charged at Parker the moment he looked back. It stared at him, aiming to turn him into a statue; however, the I-950 reached its hand out in front of him and grabbed its head, covering its eyes with his hand. Now . . . all he had to do was squeeze. Just squeeze his hand and kill the Cockatrice. End the threat right there. They could go home and there would be one less dangerous creature stalking through this godforsaken forest. But then he looked at Fluttershy, who was watching on, and couldn’t help but feel that pang of guilt he felt after he’d killed the Timberwolf. I can’t kill anything in front of her. Can’t kill her trust any more than I already have. God, I hate this emotion so very much.

Instead of going about his instincts—killing all hostiles—he threw the Cockatrice into the bushes. “Get out of here! Retreat! Retreat!” They turned and ran from the area, hoping to get far enough so the serpent/rooster beast couldn’t follow.

Apple Bloom looked back and saw nothing but the vines and leaves that engulfed much of the trail. “Ah think we lost it,” she said, slowing down.

They all came to a stop, catching their breaths. Parker ran his hand across his forehead and wiped from the grime onto his hand. “What sort of twisted place is this? How on Earth do things like these even exist?”

“They’ve existed for thousands of years,” said Scootaloo.

I’ve recently dealt with Skynet trying to mess with the laws of physics, but this tops anything she could possibly achieve. Parker soon managed to catch his breath. “Alright, so does anyone know the way back to Fluttershy’s cottage?”

“Just follow us and we’ll get’cha there,” said Applebloom.

A nod. The human followed until his HUD beamed:

>>Unidentified Hostile…

“It followed us,” he said. The others looked at him. “The thing’s really fast, I see.”

They glanced around for any sign of the Cockatrice, but found nothing. Parker turned in time to see a shadow rising behind Applebloom. There it was. “Behind you…!” He sprinted towards her, just as she was about to turn. The Cockatrice had its eyes glazed, and ready for its next victim.

Parker ran until he was mere inches away, before sliding on the ground, and making a grab for the young earth pony. He wrapped one arm around her, picking her up, used his other hand to shield her eyes from the Cockatrice’s stare.

>>Optical vision: OFF…

The I-950, however, was looking forward at the Cockatrice’s eyes. Scootaloo, Sweetie Belle, and Fluttershy bared witness to the standoff. Parker was keeping Apple Bloom’s eyes shut and staring into the eyes of the beast, but the strangest thing they saw was the fact that the human was suffering no affect from the Cockatrice’s stare.

“Hurry,” Parker said to Apple Bloom, setting her down. “Keep your eyes closed and get over to the others. I got this.” The filly galloped the Crusaders and Fluttershy, who were staring in shock at the scene.

>>Inferred Vision Mode: Active…

When Parker’s vision finally came to, he was greeted with a large red blob—the Cockatrice’s heat signature—on a blue background. He noticed it turn its attention to the fleeing filly and grab its tail before it got far. “Get out of here!” he yelled to the ponies.

They took his word and fled, quickly galloping away from the scene. Parker tossed the Cockatrice into the bushes, giving himself some time to set himself up. He aimed his plasma rifle in every possible direction for the serpent. He could hear it hissing from where it was, just ready to attack. The problem was figuring out where exactly it was going to attack him from.

>>Hostile incoming…

He turned around quick enough to see the Cockatrice pounce at him. He grabbed its neck and held it away from him as it snapped its beak, trying to get a bite out of him. Lucky his heat vision was on; it kept Parker from looking into the serpent’s eyes. He tossed to the ground and aimed his rifle.

The Cockatrice slithered out of the way as Parker fired a barrage of plasma at him. It was difficult to get a clear shot with how it was circling the ground around him. It began to coil around his leg and travel up his body as a last means of attack. Parker quickly grabbed it by its tail and pried it off before it could get far.

It was feisty, though; the serpent still tried to get a couple bites out of him. Instead, he threw it against a tree, hard enough to even knock some of the wind out of it. That seemed to have done it as the Cockatrice began to slither away, with Parker letting off some potshots to scare it. He waited for a while to see if it would try and attack him again, switching between X-ray and thermal visions, but after a few minutes, it became apparent that the serpent was gone.

>>Scanning… No hostiles detected…

He lowered his weapon, sighing in relief now that the Cockatrice had retreated. Now he could focus on getting back to—


“Oh, fuck me…”

The sun was just beginning to set by the time the four had returned to Fluttershy’s cottage. The yellow pegasus set Mister Quackers down, letting the duck waddle back over to his pond. She sighed in relief that her pet was safe and sound. They turned back to the Everfree Forest and noticed a figure staggering out.

It stepped into the sunlight, they saw that it was Parker. He looked much horrible than usual. Claw marks littered his face and uniform, and it looked like he had seen a ghost. His eyes were glazed, staring into space, as he stumbled back and fell against a tree stump.

The CMC hurried to him, a bit worried at what he might have gone through. “Are you all right, Parker?” Scootaloo asked him.

The I-950 looked down at them with a tired expression. “Don’t make me go back in there,” he responded, standing to his feet. He was used to dealing with the unknown back in Alaska, but the Everfree Forest topped anything Skynet threw at him.

Fluttershy approached him. “Thanks for all your help, Parker.”

“So you trust him now?” asked Scootaloo. The yellow pegasus nodded in response.

Parker gave a smile, throwing his fist in the air. “Halle-fucking-lujah!”

“One down, five more to go,” said Applebloom. “Rainbow Dash is next.”

“But we still gotta plan our approach,” said Scootaloo.

Parker dismissed them. “Whatever you three decide to plan, I’m calling this my biggest accomplishment since escaping Canterlot. I just wanna enjoy this.”

Apple Bloom and Parker returned to the clubhouse. Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle were returning to their homes for dinnertime, and it was just about the earth pony filly did the same as well. “Thanks fer save’n me from the Cockatrice,” she said, “And Ah still wanna know how you managed not to get turned ta stone.”

The human was finding some amusement in watching them try to figure out where he originated from, so he decided to keep teasing them. He simply responded with, “…In time.” The filly was frustrated, albeit in a playful way.

“Ah’ll seeya tomorrow, Parker.” Applebloom left, leaving Parker alone in the tree house. After his adventure within the depths of the Everfree Forest, the only thing he wanted to do was sleep and recover.

“You again! What the hay are you do’n back here?” a voice yelled, abruptly waking Parker. It sounded southern—

Wait . . . southern . . .? The human opened his eyes and looked to the doorway, and there she was; Applejack standing there with a deep, almost murderous, glare in her eyes. The next words Parker said were the only things that could sum up his reaction: “Ah, give me a fucking break!”

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