• Published 28th Mar 2018
  • 2,479 Views, 90 Comments

Off The Grid - MajorPaleFace

Commander John Maxon unexpectedly arrives in orbit above Equestria after a 90 year interstellar journey to Proxima Centauri in Cryostasis. John must learn to survive and inspire in an strange new world.

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Ad Victoriam, CM

Goldenrod opened her eyes, she was hurt – badly. A busted rib maybe, that explosion had been too close, she blearily looked around her, her senses felt numbed and she clawed at the cold ground. It was still dark, her eyesight came in and out of focus – just able to make out two shapes, two Thestrals, one against the other.

The noise continued all around them. Howling winds battered her, surging rainwater swelled and pattered the ground, turning it into a morass.

She tried to speak but no words escaped her, only a dry croak. She slowly crawled toward the two others – trembling all the while.

As she reached them, she could make out their faces, the guard on top was trying desperately to clinch a neck wound shut, blood covered him – likely being ejected from the Thestral underneath.

Goldenrod doubled her pathetic pace, leaning over the dying mare she silently aided the male guard in applying first-aid.

“It’s Moonshot, she took a piece of shrapnel to the neck – I can’t close the wound!” The guard, Starchaser, rattled off quickly.

Overhead a fierce battle was being fought, the high-speed winds and harrowing rain making it difficult for her to track. Having a quick look at her surroundings, Goldenrod felt confident they were in no immediate danger.

Goldenrod assessed the patient, Moonshot was a young mare – she had only been in their unit for something like a few months. Her emerald-green eyes were wide open, blood trickled out of her open mouth as she gasped for air that wouldn’t come. The edges around a jagged wound at the front of her neck visible at the sides of Starchaser’s thick, grey hooves as he applied pressure.

“You’re choking her!” Goldenrod exclaimed, her thoughts becoming clearer – she rustled through her medical bag, the rain had soaked everything - hard to be sterile in weather like this, “hold on Moonshot!”

Her poncho was still neatly folded, attached just behind her bat-wings, she used her teeth to rip it off – quickly unfolding it she covered both Moonshot and Starchaser, before diving underneath.

A red gem-light painted a grisly scene, a small gap in Starchaser’s loosening grip sent a spurt of blood over his face and across the inside of the poncho, the smell of copper was strong as the rain pattered loudly against its weather-resistant surface.

Quickly Goldenrod arranged out what she would need, using a pair of sterile tongs she gripped a tamponade and hovered it next to Starchaser’s blood-drenched hooves, “lift them!”

He did so, a wet gurgle escaped Moonshot’s mouth as she hungrily inhaled the rain and copper-laden air. She groaned painfully as the little piece of absorbent material was plugged into her neck-wound.

Next, Goldenrod grabbed her water bladder and with haste, poured it over Starchasers hooves – he immediately rubbed them together, mashing the blood and mud off.

His limbs mostly grime-free, Starchaser wrapped a bandage across her neck, firm but not too tight – Moonshot convulsed and groaned, blood escaped the edges of her mouth and a thick stream of tears had created a little line in the grime along the side of her head. She’d survive for now but would require immediate surgery.

They all panted heavily under the poncho, only Goldenrods head and forelegs covered by it – the rest of her soaked, freezing and mud-plastered. She extracted herself, adjusting her helmet as she again surveyed their surroundings. All clear, still.

She lifted the poncho a fraction, Starchaser speaking before she could, “if we don’t get her back to an operating table, she’s not going to make it!”

“I know – stay here – I’ll be back soon!”

She faintly heard him offer up some unsavoury words as she departed, leaping into the sky – the sharp pain in her ribs now a searing agony as she struggled to gain altitude, all the while buffeted by freezing winds.

After breaking through some dense clouds, she flinched as a bolt of lightning arced across the dark sky, a moment that illuminated the chaotic airspace as hundreds of fliers frantically crashed into one another.

She breathed in desperation, willing her tired wings to carry her higher. The turbulence lashed her already battered body, her armour – snug though it was – rattled, the rain streamed off of her, the added weight making the already frankly strenuous climb that much harder.

Finally, she broke through the cloud-top, the harsh winds and rain ablated, she glided in calmness. A quad of Gryphons immediately formed up around her – likely screening any that rose above the terrible weather.

“Identify!” One of them ordered. She was a lean, large and powerful Gryphoness – she sported an unmarked battle-harness. The ablative armour and myriad of stabbing weapons a testament to her cultures demand for combat.

Her claws were covered in sharp steel, one slice from those would likely decapitate her, she thought it best to comply.

“Guardsmare Goldenrod,” she called in response, “2nd Platoon, 1st Battalion – I’m friendly!”

The Gryphon escort guided her in a roughly circular pattern above the battlespace. In the distance Goldenrod could see several other such perimeter guards, one exploding into action as several Changelings broke through, using the confusion of the storm, quickly they were slain to the last – the bodies being reclaimed by gravity and plummeting back to the ground.

“I need to evacuate one of mine!” A rising wind-pocket jostled her and although Goldenrod struggled to level out, the Gryphons displayed no such difficulty.

The hunter-warrior seemed to perk up at the prospect of battle, “lead the way. Guardsmare Goldenrod!”

Snap-lightning pierces the gloomy cloud-veil, vaguely highlighting their approach. Goldenrod leads, behind and above the four Gryphons are arranged in a line, steadily rising like one side of a spear-tip.

Squinting against the rushing storm, water trails off of her – a band of Changelings whirl ahead, they react to their presence like a hive of hornets, rippling in waves of charcoal as they adjust to defend against her inbound evacuation team.

The Gryphons caw and holler, her blood boils at the impending clash – the Gryphons match her speed, stretching out around her like the five on a dice, she plummets faster still, short-sword and wing-blades drawn for attack.

They reach the enemy at such speed she can barely register their passing, her right blade strikes true – tearing a jagged hole into one, while her sabre buries into another.

They’re attached, like a pair of mating insects, the only penetrating being her blade through this bugs chest. It screeches on still, she extracts her sword and kicks downward, its wings shoot out just as she slices its neck with a winglet. The wind catches only a corpse.

The Gryphons easily break through the blockade of chitin, hearing rather than seeing the acts of violence that continue all around her. The rain is as fierce as ever, freezing cold and painful, Goldenrods eyes seep as she veritably slams into the earth.

Her landing zone had not been selected at random, indeed she had been leading her Gryphon custodians as close to her team-mates as she could, noting their position somewhere between the still-smouldering remains of the beetle artillery pits.

In the shadow cast by a geyser of flame, as another bug siege-beast is destroyed, the five-fighter crew assemble into a loose formation. They advance under her guidance without incident.

Looking skyward briefly, Goldenrod manages to make out the distinguishing features of Thestral battle-formations as they engage alongside their larger Gryphon counterparts, holding the far more numerous Changelings at bay.

Plastered with mud and soaked with water, the semi-covered forms of Moonshot and Starchaser are otherwise as still as she had left them.

Approaching, she calls out, “friendlies!”

The Gryphons immediately form up a static perimeter, eagle-eyes make for ideal look-outs as Goldenrod and the Gryphoness raise the cover of the poncho.

Moonshot isn’t moving, her eyes are shut. Goldenrod looks at Starchaser sadly.

“She’s still alive, thank Celestia – just get us out of this Tartarus-damned place!”

He blanches a little as a large beaked head makes itself known, “your bat-friend is in a bad way.”

“What do you think – can you carry her out?” Goldenrod says, glancing at the far larger female.

Her yellow slit eyes bore into Goldenrods yolkier-coloured own, she doesn’t waver as the predator thinks.

“Yes, you wait.”

She exits the poncho, a gust of wind threatening to uncover her companions bloodied forms. Within moments the Gryphonesses’ voice peaks up, “we are prepared for exfiltration – let us go.”

Goldenrod backs up with Starchaser doing the same, together they retract the plasma-coated rain protector from Moonshot, discarding it. The poncho could stay here, she didn’t feel like taking it with them.

An even-larger Gryphon – a male – strides over, many of his add-on armour plates having been divided between the other three hunter-killers, he has a makeshift harness attached to his underside.

“We shall strap them together and fly her out of here,” the Gryphon explains, using her clawed bird-hands to make a raising gesture.

“Okay – and thank you.” Goldenrod would have smiled if she hadn’t been so exhausted.

They return to watching the exterior as the slumped-over and unconscious form of Moonshot is quickly strapped into the big Gryphons body-carrier.

Before preparing for take-off, two dozen Changelings and a Commando take notice of them from the nearby hillside, hissing and screeching – they advance at speed, heading straight for them.

The Gryphoness turns, “Go! Get out of here – we shall hold them off!”

With that, the three remaining Gryphons explode off the ground with such force that waterlogged mud is sloshed around them. The big Gryphon-turned-body-carrier begins to lift-off with no prompt necessary.

Goldenrod and Starchaser quickly follow-suite. She chances a look at the ground-level engagement, the three bird-lion hybrids doing well – she has to return her focus to making it through the Changeling air-cover.

Less organised this time, single attackers dart for their formation – Moonshot leaps forward and brings down one and then a second. Then a third and a fourth, using their freshly-killed bodies to propel himself onto his next victim. His anger and rage evident, Goldenrod holds back to protect against any that get through.

Thunder rumbles and hurricane-force winds make the ascent extremely-tenuous, a lone straggler makes it through Starchaser’s defence efforts, a powerful swipe from the Gryphon-carrier gouges a trio of claw-marks across its face. It croaks in death, falling downward and out of sight.

Ground fire lights up her world in a haze of brightness, a sustained stream of sickly green energy bolts lance around them. They weave and jostle, attempting to out-luck their anti-air assailant.

As Starchaser drifts back into their wedge formation, a pair of blasts rip holes in one of his skin-stretched wings. He howls as he lists dangerously far behind them, their continuously building speed taking him out of sight.

“Starchaser!” Too late, she calls for him.

The ground-level shooter adjusts their aim to finish off their fledgeling comrade before the attack stops as suddenly as it began.

Wispy dark soup greets her as she once again bursts through the cloud-cover, a thinner atmosphere strains her lungs which scream for oxygen.

Goldenrods enchanted armour allows her a moment's respite as she rests on the cloud-surface. The big Gryphon hovering near to her, she unties Moonshot – immediately the hunter-killer caws once, diving like a lead weight back toward his quad.

Moonshot looks terrible, even in the darkness. Her breathing is shallow and raspy, she trembles slightly – her face screwed up and brow knitted.

Goldenrod takes a few deep breaths, holding the last for a few seconds in an attempt to slow her breathing down. Taking the straps around herself, she releases Moonshot from her armour, shedding as much weight as possible. The armour remains on the cloud, Moonshot sagging just below it without its magical assistance.

Beginning slowly, the yolk-eyed mare adjusts herself, before discarding her own armour just as she takes off – keeping only her water bladder and sabre.

It would be a long, tiring flight – the harsh pain of the dead-weight pulling on her chest made her consider cutting her compatriot loose. Heading East, it would be sunrise she reckoned by the time she arrived at Saddle Pad.

* * *

Gunfire from a burning building surprises John, he reacts by returning fire – aiming just above the flickering muzzle-flash as he dives for the ground. The ageing concrete and nuclear-charred steel of the pre-war, ground floor office block he and his squad inhabit crunches under the weight of his armour.

A pained scream sounds out, continuously echoing in the cramped room – someone hadn’t been as fast as John, multiple automatic fire now whizzed overhead. Their incessant cacophony making hearing anything else, even rational thought, impossible.

* * *

John wakes with a start, his heart hammers and sweat coats him, “fucking nightmares!” He grumbles to himself, indeed they had been getting more frequent.

He throws his woollen cover off of him angrily, turning to stand with haste, forgetting the wounds he has suffered, he grunts and clutched his side, “fucking ribs!”

He groans and huffs, fumbling in the dark – he activates a small oil lamp and studies his tent. He had worked quite tirelessly repairing his powered assault armour the previous day, ending on a filling dinner and brief chit-chat with some of the regular troops.

It had buy-and-large been the same queries asked and answered; What are you? Where are you from? Why are you here? A handful of questions based on humankinds’ dietary requirements and even a blatant accusation about John being a pony-eater.

He’d smiled wolfishly at that and suggested that he’d been thinking about trying some of the local cuisine. Alluding with great mirth that he might just eat the pony responsible for the outlandish claim.

The boorish guard distancing himself from John quickly thereafter. John didn’t particularly care. As the fresh alertness of the dream faded, he rubbed his tired eyes. He swiped a little orange pill-pot off of the ground, dry-swallowing two high-content painkillers and glancing at his Pip-Boy, which lay adjacent.

0332 it read. He rubbed his tired and greasy face, the cold of the room beginning to irritate him more than anything else. He covered himself and falling back to sleep quickly, entered a dreamless sleep.

“Wake up call!” A chipper female voice disturbs him, John feels rough – like a hangover after a three-day bender and an ass-kicking.

He had managed to tangle himself within the bed sheet, the horridly unaccommodating camp-bed making little noises of duress as John rotates to face the new entry.

It’s a white pony, from the voice a female – she wears a thin and intricate looking golden breastplate, a red cross emblazed on the front and a matching one on a little white side-cap.

She turns to face him side-on, noticing the precariously balanced breakfast tray John ignores his still-dulled pain and reaches out to take it.

“Thank you,” he says automatically – unsure of the pony’s intentions. His post-sleep clumsiness makes him shake a little with the weight of the food. Piping hot oats, several fruits, two croissants and a pony-style water bladder, alongside a large pot of black coffee and a small cup of milk, greet his tired eyes.

She remains standing, taking out a little notepad – she begins jotting things down. She’s an earth-type pony. John can’t help but marvel at her usage of tools without hands, balancing the pad in the nook of the pony equivalent to a wrist and using her mouth to make small notes, she speaks with the pen in her mouth.

“How are we feeling today?” Her dull-orange eyes narrow at him studiously.

He begins sipping the coffee, ignoring the milk, “I’m sorry – who are you?”

She smiles a little, but seems irritated with her current assignment, “I’m Major Dahlia, the Battalions field surgeon. I patched you up after you were brought back almost dead.”

She smiled again but this one was a little strained, “do you mind?” She gestured at a little cushion.

“Take a seat, Major.”

Another little smile, this one more natural feeling, “oh, please call me Dahlia.”

She drags a dirty cushion over from the feet of his power armour, she inspects the suit tentatively, before sitting a few paces from John, she smelled of lavender, he noted.

“So – back to my original question,” she restarted the check-up.

John ignored her for a time, shovelling in mouthfuls of searing hot, extra-bland oats. He washed it down with his coffee, the dark caffeinated beverage had steam rising out of his nose as his head tilted back to finish the mug.

He smacked his lips together and made a drawn-out “ah” sound, “delicious.” He dropped the bowl down onto the tray a little rudely.

He felt his eyes glaze over as the images from a firefight, in his mind many years ago, but in reality, possibly hundreds of years had since passed.

“I’m just fine,” he proved this with a smile, small pieces of grain sat snuggly in his teeth – he picked them out with a dirty fingernail.

Dahlia wrote a few things, keeping a blank face but John knew she could tell he wasn’t being truthful. John, try as he might, had surpassed the point of being able to hide his emotional well-being shortly after the crash.

“Are you in any pain?”

“A little, mostly the broken ribs ache – constantly. I get bouts that range from soreness to debilitating pain,” he gestured at his torso and around his abdomen, “depends how low on painkillers I get.”

She nodded, “any bleeding or blood in your stool or urine?”

He hadn’t really checked, he probably had.

“Yeah, I think so. I’m self-medicating to alleviate the radiation damage and speed-up the recovery process. Anti-rads make you pee blood sometimes,” he shrugged nonchalantly.

She nodded almost encouragingly, “I take it you are capable of noticing the signs and difficulties in your recovery process,” she slowed her speech, speaking a little unassured, “given how many scars and internal marking you have – you’ve really been through it.”

Her eyes became sad for a moment as she wrote a few more things, looking up again, “would you mind if I ask you some things about your personal life? How you are feeling otherwise and some things about you?”

He crossed his arms and lent back, slowly chewing a pastry, “sure.”

She cleared her throat, perking up at his agreement, “do you smoke?”

John swallowed, “no.”

She remained perky, making a note at each answer, “do you drink alcohol?”

He kept his face blank. “On occasion.”

Another note, “you’ve been here roughly two weeks, correct?”

“Give or take,” he finished his pastry, beginning to assault the other.

“Okay – before you arrived in Equestria, where did you live?”

John looked up, “I had been living in-field for three years in a part of a place called south-east Asia. Conditions,” he paused and looked around the tent, “similar to this camp, to be honest.

“After that I spent six months at a space academy, learning a lot of stuff about – well – space.”

He smiled and she returned it, waiting for him to continue.

“Then eight months aboard the Anlace, with periods in between state-side to see family and so on. We had a celebration and then we entered cryostasis.”

She nodded, scribbling away – she flipped a page over, “how many were there with you – aboard your,” she made a face, thinking for the right word, “ship?”


“So… thirty-three including you?”


“I’m sorry.”

“It isn’t your fault. You have nothing to apologise for.”

“Do you feel alone?”


“Sorry – do you feel lonely being that, well – you’re the only one of your kind.”

“Not particularly.”

A flash of plasma caused him to see spots, he whirled under it – catching the vast majority of it across his back – his armour boiled away and his skin split and blistered. He rose and continued charging toward the enemy, John knew if he stopped, he’d end up getting vaporised.

“…are you alright?”

He shook his head to clear his mind, “yeah I was just remembering something.”

She lowered the pad and took the pen out of her mouth, “do you want to tell me about it?”

John didn’t like this therapeutic approach.

He sulked but immediately dragged himself out of it, “have you ever seen your friends get killed? Ever held them in your arms as they died?” He could feel the anger entering his voice, “ever felt what it's like to watch your best mates last moments as their eyes lose that spark?” He shook his head and rubbed the stubble he had.

She looked a little rattled but didn’t otherwise say anything.

“I’ve seen so much shit in my life – I’ve killed people, other humans, mutated humans and plenty of in-between.”

He smirked sadly, knowing already this wasn’t something to be proud of.

“I’ve lost friends, family – and for what?”

He gestured around, “I am fucking trapped here and I doubt very much I’ll ever leave. So fine – so fucking be it – I can make a home here, I suppose.”

“But the people I left behind knowingly? The people on that ship – they’re gone. Everyone I’ve ever known is gone,” he sniffed. John never cried, not even now as his mind was flooded with the images of people he’d once known, twisted bodies and the sights and smells in his career as a combat veteran.

Dahlia remained calm, “they may be gone, John,” she leaned forward and placed a hoof on his shoulder, the smell of lavender returning, “but their memory lives on in you.

“My dad used to tell me, a pony’s only truly gone when you stop saying their name. Don’t let the ponies you’ve lost keep you down, let those memories flow – hang on to the good ones, try to make peace with the bad. I think it’s always possible to balance out the things in your head, John. You just need a little guidance and maybe, a friend to talk to.”

At first, he’d wanted to bat her damn leg off, but the more she spoke the calmer he felt. The memories seemed to stop whirling around his head. He breathed in deeply and closed his eyes.

They sat in silence. She was no longer touching him.

Her eyes were so hazel-brown they looked like honey.

“Cassandra Moore,” he said at last.

She smiled cheerfully, “some pony you left behind?”

He looked at his socked feet, “yeah,” smiled, “yeah I left her behind.”

The grave was simple. As were they all. She hadn’t been religious as far as he knew but found comfort in biblical scripture. John opting to carve a final farewell across an older-model power armour chest piece, using it as a grave-marker. Her favourite passage, and his.

“Then I heard the voice of the lord, saying, “whom shall I send? And who will go for us? And I said,” he smiled dolefully, speaking slowly, “Here am I, send me.”

He’d searched high and low for a wreath, or a flower – the battle-blasted landscape offering no-such prize. He had taken a red T-shirt and attempted to fold it into a petal shape, it was crude – but he was satisfied.

He hesitated, holding it in both hands, he kneeled, leaning his forehead against the cold steel marker, he mumbled the words he’d always meant to say. Placing the make-shift flower just below the steel atop freshly displaced earth, he stepped back, saluted, “ad victoriam!”

Walking away had been the hardest thing he’d ever done. Some days, like today – he wished for nothing else than to be in that grave with her.

His eyes watered and he rubbed them, “thank you, Dahlia,” he looked up, “for listening.”

“Anytime, John,” she stood up and wandered toward the exit, “and John?”

He looked up again.

“I know what it’s like, to lose ponies you care about.”

With those words, she departed. Leaving John to replay the last twenty minutes in his head, he refilled his coffee – sipping the lukewarm contents as he realised, a weight had been lifted and he felt so much better for it. He smiled.

“Dahlia you sweetheart.”

Author's Note:

Moonshot and Starchaser complements of Moonlit_Stardust. You're welcome, mwahahahaha

Mercenaries at the bequest of Wiltrose, although suggested sometime ago, I needed the right moment to place them in. Sorry, boo. By the by, you look hawt, ngl.

Proof I'll insert literally anything into this fic, just for a laugh.
I really enjoy writing the scenes with fighting and more recently, with talking. I'm getting better, of that I'm sure. Not to blow my own pipe or anything.

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