• Published 28th Mar 2018
  • 2,677 Views, 101 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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The Butterfly Event


“How bad has it been?” John asked. He’d left his power armour near the mouth of the cave

They had reached the 8th’s position nestled in an abandoned iron mine. The veins of valuable material had been exhausted years ago – when surveys of the surrounding area had revealed saleable gems, and a second boom had struck.

On the approach, he and the Thestral recon element hadn’t run into any trouble. A fact for which John was immensely grateful. They’d stumbled into a worn-out sentry, who had promptly led them back to the 8th’s cave. Doling out their water rations to the near-delirious troops, they had been called upon to help with the abundance of wounded.

John wanted to assess the situation here and so had taken up a short conversation with nurse Bluebell. She was a volunteer – not a guard. Her navy-blue and weary face were framed in a series of mustard-coloured braids.

She had that thousand-yard stare.

“An eighteen-year-old colt is carried into the shock ward, and he looks up at me trustingly asking, ‘How am I doing, nurse?’

“I just kiss his forehead and say, ‘You are doing just fine soldier.’

“He smiles sweetly and says, ‘I was just checking.

“Then he dies.

“We all cry in private. But not in front of the colts.”

“Excuse me,” she said and rushed away from him. Toward a line of cots containing out-of-action guards.

The cave provided some much-needed shelter. It was past midday and the blazing Equestrian sun seemed to be in no hurry to surrender its zenith.

A Thestral approached, he had a slender muzzle underneath a thick helmet. He had the diamond-like mark of a Sergeant, with an arrowhead in the centre.

“First Sergeant Comet, round up any of those that can still fight – including the eight of you. We’re mobilising for an offensive.”

He nodded in stalwart obedience.

“Yes, sir.”

John was the joint-senior officer at the moment – despite not technically being a member of the Equestrian military. The line of succession for the 8th Regiments chain of command was a short one. A half dozen Non-Commissioned Officers, a few junior officers, one missing Major and a Lieutenant Colonel who was half dead on one of these cots, according to Nurse Bluebell.

Their size had been diminished, yet a couple thousand of them were thought to be alive. Spread across the Sierra San-Pony mountain range.

John walked past the cots, he carried a water bladder in one hand and drank occasionally. The wounded were a mess. Many were burned beyond identifying or missing big chunks of themselves.

He stopped at one soldier. Curiously he looked to have aged terribly. His once green coat had become ashen. Large creases had formed in the bald patched of his fur, his mane was likewise grey and shedding.

His eyes were closed and he was barely breathing. The nurse stealthily moved to stand next to John, her head reaching above his waist.

“What happened to him?” John asked.

She looked sadly at the wounded stallion, moving to his head and rubbing a hoof across his ancient-looking hairline.

“He was fed on.” Her eyes became very angry. And sad. As if John had told her that her husband had died at sea.

“We don’t fully understand the process. They essentially drain the life out of a pony, and the pony ages fast until they are killed. Or, in the case of this one – are ‘saved’ part of the way through.

“Only a few instances of Changeling feeding survivors exist – that’s why its paramount for this soldier to be examined further, back in the capitol. Maybe there’s a way to reverse it – or better yet – create some kind of immunity.” She sounded hopeful, but John could tell it was forced hope.

They stood in silence for a moment.

“And what about him?” John had crossed his arms, “surely better to put him out of his misery.”

She looked angry again, “No!” She came around to John to look up at his face. “No more killing – please!”

His features softened. “I’m afraid there is a lot more killing’ needs doing before we can get you – and him – out of here.”

She looked between her front hooves sullenly. “I know.” Her voice was barely above a whisper.


“I’m leading an attack through butterfly ridge. Where’s your commanding officer?”

His gaze was drawn to the primitive-looking catapult array.

John had donned his armour and assembled outside with the remnants of the 8th’s fourth battalion, they were a mixed group, gaining numbers from the survivors of the other virtually wiped-out sub-units.

Major Bleak-Berry was on the way. The trail of a company-sized complement was visible as they crossed the lakebed. A Pegasus messenger had confirmed they’d waited for any combat-capable troops from the first chariot wave. And that Lieutenant McKenna was alive and well – albeit too hot.

“You’re looking at her. Second Lieutenant Herbishire’s the name.”

She was a rather plain-looking unicorn mare. Her battle-armour had a few dents and dings in it but had been kept clean of the grime that plagued everything else.

“I’ve been running these siege-machines all week, keeping the gears greased and the ropes taut. Our only issue has been the supplying of ordinance – but you’ve solved that by dropping them practically right on our heads.” She looked disbelieving.

“Whose dumb idea was that?” She half laughed.

“Mine,” John said. “You needed resupply and we couldn’t possibly carry it to you. I was told they had a way of making the explosives inert, and you had a way of rearming them.” He couldn’t help but let his irritation seep into his tone.

“The carriages were supposed to lose them in the lakebed. And drop the food, water and medical supplies up here. They were under-fire and moving fast. So, a mix-up was almost expected. That’s why we landed before the second wave to clear the hill from the L-Z to here.”

She made a chewing motion, “fair enough. Who are you exactly?”

“I’m Commander John Maxon. Princess Luna sent me.”

“We did ask for reinforcements.” She said.

“I was told you had a Major something-or-other missing. Fill me in.” John asked.

She took a breath, “Major Lumbercombe led five-hundred troops up the pass towards butterfly ridge. He believed if we could take and hold the ridge, we’d have ourselves a strategic victory over the bugs. And could march reinforcements in at our leisure.”

The corners of John's mouth twitched, “and?”

She shrugged, “we received orders to bombard the ridgeline in the prelude to the attack. I had these catapults battering the ridge all morning yesterday. Depleting our ammunition.”

She continued, “we heard the battle – it lasted several hours. When it had finally finished, wounded began to ferry in and we had to assist the medical staff. Finally, an officer came down off the ridge. Out of the five-hundred troops, just about sixty were left.

“It wasn’t just a tactically superior position, but some kind of underground reserve. Thousands of Changelings.” She shook her head. “That any made it back at all is frankly a miracle.”

“What makes you think the Major is missing – and not a casualty with the rest?”

She looked up, “until we see his body. We’re not giving up on him – Major Lumbercombe was a good stallion and well-liked among the unit.”

John understood the respect soldiers could bestow unto their CO’s. He turned to the gathered soldiers, a few hundred of them. They were already marching along the pass towards Butterfly ridge.

“Lieutenant, I want you to organise your siege units. You can fire when ready.”

“Yes, Commander.”

The 8th Mountain Regiment had been swelled with fresh-faced troops; Johns briefing had informed. Nine battalions – a little over 4,500 soldiers and a battery of catapults had been charioted in. They succeeded in taking the route to Las Pegasus, blocking the access from the Changeling force stationed here.

The battle-plan had been for the 8th to get in, establish a small operating zone and break-out across the mountain range.

The bugs had split. Outflanking and trapping the thirsty 8th underneath Butterfly ridge. They had begun to move down the westward mountainside towards Las Pegasus, when John and two companies from both the 1st and 3rd Lunar Guard Battalions had intercepted.

It seemed to kern their besiegement Major Lumbercombe had led a failed assault across the ridge. Wiping out most of the 8th regiment’s stock of soldiers.

The majority of the 500-strong 4th Company presided here. Along with a further one-hundred combat-capable guards from the other eight companies. John also had 150 Thestrals to call upon.

John turned from the mélange of support troops. A platoon-strength group were hauling the explosive cartridges into place. John would flatten the ridge, and have the fourth company conduct the assault while the bombardment was underway.

Such it was that his shock-trooper training demanded.

“First Sergeant Dark Comet, take your scouts up over the pass. Hug the terrain, keep low and avoid detection where possible. Stay in contact with Lieutenant Herbishire. I want you to call-out any juicy targets for her battery to hit. When you’re ready, join the battle.

“Also, Sergeant – dispatch a messenger to Major Bleak-Berry. Inform him of our attack, and request that the remaining Thestrals leap-frog over us toward the enemy. We need to take the ridge and we need to do it quickly. “

“Aye-Aye, sir.”

The ascent wasn’t too difficult. But it was long. At least an hour’s march through a winding, ten-meter-high passage. The breadth was enough for a few dozen ponies to pass side-by-side.

He had overtaken many of the troops, stomping past as they scattered to his bulk and height. The word had been spread that he was going to delegate the control of the battle to the few officers that remained. But if he told them to do anything – to do it.

The pass split – one path leading to a dead-end depression. It would act as their triage site, those that could be saved would be evacuated back toward the camp in the cave. He’d entrusted Nurse Bluebell to handle it – confident in her expertise.

The thump of the Equestrians artillery barrage was constant. The vibrations growing ever stronger as they moved up the second pass towards the ridge.

There was a large divot that spanned left-to-right. John suspecting it had been the drain to a mountainous lake a millennia ago. The Guards had a monomaniacal preparedness for the coming uphill battle.

He had one last ace. His remaining three grenades were nuclear enhanced. Each one would deliver a two-hundred kilogram-equivalent explosion. He had a trio of gold-armoured Pegasi ferry them to high altitude. They would arm them and drop them amongst the biggest clusters of bugs. He’d told them to aim for command groups, artillery and supply or tunnels if there were any.

The attack would commence shortly, once the remaining troops had advanced up through the pass. They arranged around an old basin, the water long since evaporated. They had an old Equestrian position to take and then would follow through into a Changeling-occupied mine.

The catapults continued with their drumbeat. Distant whip-cracks were heralded by screaming bombs as they hurtled groundward. They struck, lighting the horizon in a tantalising iridescent series of vivid flashes that left marks in Johns eyes.

An older Non-Commissioned Officer began leading a platoon forward, John ambled after them to get in front.

He got into cover a moment after a fusillade of energy blasts cut into the platoon following him. Only a few of the guards managing to accompany him into the safety of a rocky overhang.

Blue-green bolts seared holes through the quadrupeds. Singeing organs and cauterising the exit wounds.

About twenty meters across and over the overhang was a crew-served changeling weapon. It was black – somehow both sleek and organic, with a pitted barrel. It fired volleys at a high rate of fire, the bolts cut into the advancing Equestrians and stalled their advance.

As the first wave was cut to ribbons, the remaining guards stayed hunkered down, garrisoned over a berm hiding inside an old stream-bed.

He had two Pegasi, three earth ponies and one unicorn.

“What’s your name, soldier?” Asked John.

“Sergeant First-Class Gold Seed, sir.” The unicorn replied.

He had wide nostrils and bright eyes, his horn was already swirling with copper-red magic and he looked eager for revenge.

“We need to knock out that nest or the rest of your guards won’t survive the race across. Use your shields, Sergeant. The rest of you – we move together, spread out and don’t let them draw a bead on you.” John only wished he had smoke grenades.

They split into two groups. John led the Earth Ponies left, while Sergeant Gold Seed advanced across the right side. The two Pegasi zoomed over the terrain, attempting to draw the enemies fire but they weren’t fooled.

As soon as he rose over the ground, he let off a short burst with his AER, and then ran ten meters left. Avoiding the trips and potholes as the ground around him was immediately set alight by the mounted weapon.

John dived into a small defilade. His vision darkened as the earth around him was blown into chunks. He was lifted, rotated and thrown out of the hole. A near-miss from a short-range Changeling mortar. He lay on his face, dust rained down from a large plume. He heard the bugs chittering and knew they were close.

It was time for John to educate the Changelings on shock-troop battle doctrine. Ordinarily high-explosive and air-burst munitions fired from 155mm howitzers would batter an area. Smoke was deployed thereafter, shielding from view hulking armoured soldiers who would rain down on the survivors like falling rocks.

A wave of Equestrian explosives was launched across the Changeling line. Mostly it suppressed them, whilst killing a few.

A large thumping detonation left an impression in his chest and stomach as one of his nuclear grenades was used. The amber after-shapes of a Pegasi attack run soared skyward, avoiding a few snippets of anti-air fire.

He rose with the assistance of Sergeant Gold Seed. The stallion had placed a shimmering barrier between them and the bug crew. It was still operational, the crew ignoring their impenetrable shield and opting to pin down any guard they could see.

John rushed forward, carbine-in-hand. He cleared the distance, just as the barrel swung in his direction – he shot each of the three bugs. The last sitting in some sort of harness, it’s horn feeding into a small receptacle.

More artillery blasts cut across the landscape, both sides trying to out-do one another. The group of guards with him assembled inside a crater that surrounded the weapon.

A company-sized Changeling counter-attack was launched. A pair of mortar shots preceded it, landing just short of John and the Equestrians.

“Sergeant Gold Seed, you’ve got the gun!” John said.

He wrenched the dead Changeling from its harness, tossing it outside the pit.

“How?!” The guard crouched down next to it, eyeing the gun warily.

“Plug yourself in, son.” John picked him up by the armpits and placed him in the harness, guiding his head to insert his spiralled horn into the receptacle.

The gun whirled around in a jerky manner, nearly knocking John over.

“Hostiles incoming!” A Pegasus from above called out, leading a pair of streamlined bug fliers into a loop.

The naturally contoured weapon moved to face the incoming enemy attack. The remaining ponies gathered just underneath it.

John stood tall, firing at the enemy. The gun began to rattle off blasts, high-velocity energy bolts tore into the advancing wave.

They were thirty bugs wide as a second and third line joined them. They were spaced a few meters apart, staggered and formed of three columns.

To his left and right small teams of the once pinned-down guards took up positions. They were free to operate. Clearing the stragglers and evacuating the wounded. Their movement was composed to the clash of weapons, and tremors from the artillery barrages and the screams and screeches from the clashing militaries.

John reloaded. Checking around, he could see an officer he didn’t recognise. He squatted next to the guard.

“Name?” She had the smaller and less pronounced features he could expect from a female.

“Captain Quickstar. You’re the biped!” More an exclamation than a question.

Ten Changelings approached through a veil of dust. John opened fire, discharging his entire microfusion cell – they all crumpled like embers of ashen paper in a fire.

“Affirmative. You need to organise. There’s a group of Pegasi who will bomb the enemy with a large explosive. When that happens, it’s our cue to move in and secure the summit.”

She looked unsure. “Won’t that get a lot of my stallions killed?”

John shrugged.

“Casualties are inevitable. We can mitigate our loses by attacking all together. We’ll walk the artillery forward as we advance and swoop down on them.”

Behind him the captured Changeling weapon was now being used as an anti-air weapon. Shooting large streams of magic up and across the sun-blazed white-hot sky.

Finally, she said, “I’ll pass the word around.”

There was a pause in the conflict. A moment’s calm across the battlefield. Both the bug siege artillery and the Equestrians catapult-based bombardment ceased almost as if by the same order.

All heads looked up and around, spires of dust and debris rose and fell.

Up high, plummeting from the bright sunlit skyline came a dozen shapes.

Three gold-armoured forms flew in a tight triangle formation. Multiple Changelings hot on an intercept. Small flashes of light chased the Pegasi, who sank even faster.

At the last possible instant, they pulled up sharply. Angling to level-out over the bug build-up. They came three abreast, weaving and jinking to make themselves more difficult to hit. They released their payload, splashing the main bug formation with a pair of Mark II Fusion Charges. The thunderous boom crushed the ground, raising a pillar of dust from which a shockwave sprang forth.

He could feel it in his chest and ears and rushed forward in an instant. He took long, striding steps across the mesa – his approach shifted upwards as he rose across the ridge. To his left and right four-hundred of his Equestrian comrades followed his example and stampeded en-masse.

John joined in their battle cry, the incessant warbling-roar exhilarated him and he drove himself even faster.

The dust sheet had formed a veil, and he burst into it. Multicoloured flashes and rapid coruscating phosphorescence lit up around him. Revealing the silhouettes of many forms.

Magma-coloured projectiles answered back. John fired precisely at where the jagged bodies of Changeling squads tried in vain to hide.

The clash of chitin-on-steel was an unnatural song. The music to which manifested itself as the screams and screeches of both mammal and insect-hybrid. A flash of teal blazed cerulean ethereal flames all around him, immolating Captain Quickstar.

She screamed as her flesh became twisted and her golden armour turned a shiny blueish black as it fused to her body. It was the kind of scream that made your blood run cold, his throat and chest became tight. A scream of hysteria and disbelief.

As she fell and writhed. John knew what he had to do. It was a mercy killing, he would tell himself. Not the first and probably not the last. But he’d never forget her lidless unblinking stare. The message telepathically transmitted.

‘Kill me.’

As the dust settled, prismatic and random flashes were followed by a clap like rolling thunder. A cacophony and feeling from the overlapping explosions that coated the battlespace.

John eliminated a Changeling wave utilising a long burst from his AER. He then pitched a grenade and the blast broke up the centre of the next big group.

As the surviving bugs scattered, he chased them with a series of several short volleys. He reloaded. Stumbling a little with his oversized armoured hands. Once the Microfusion cell clicked into place he held the weapon outward and surveyed the fight.

Equestrian troops were taking heavy losses, and dying by the dozen. Crimson blood soaked the hot sand and rock, flagpoles of the pony’s progress.

Several Changelings from the last wave survived the approach and took cover in a trench. John ambled toward them. The Guards around him kept up. They worked in unison. He would pin-down or kill hostiles as they appeared. The ponies finishing off those that were left, at each interval they suffered a few more casualties.

A rolling wave of artillery blasts cratered the softer ground, reshaping the area ahead. Across the pockmarked terrain lay a natural pass with a pair of hilly patches on either side and backed by a low ridgeline.

The bugs had converted the hills into makeshift bunkers. Each had a long-jagged opening. Cerulean beams lanced out from within. Randomly striking another Equestrian and forcing them to strategize more carefully.

John paused inside a blast crater, watching as pairs and trios of guards took cover inside the surrounding divots.

The few unicorns traded magical shots. Their multi-coloured bolts were aimed at the bunker slits and any counter-attacking shape-shifters. The airspace had become a chaotic struggle. Large dark-armoured ponies flitted across the cloudless sky, dogfighting with the numerically superior Changeling fliers.

A string of percussive blasts forced John to look to his rear. A pair of Thestrals were coming in toward him. They weaved and jinked – attempting to throw off their attackers.

Three insectoid Changeling interceptors were after them.

Spitting emerald fire from their mouths and streaming magical blasts from their jagged horns. The ground soaked up many of the near misses in the form of exploding brittle rock and rapidly fossilized sand.

John spun and fired. Steadying his shoulders and narrowing his stream at the bugs. One ate several shots. The strip of apple-sized holes suctioned its stamina and the creature dropped from the chase.

A few glancing blows impacted hostile number two. It’s final act of defiance being the take-down of one of the bat ponies. The Equestrian shrieked. Her momentum carried her a dozen more meters before she too dropped and tumbled into a dust devil.

He was forced to reload, but events were unfolding fast and he was unable to assist.

The last Thestral made to serpentine on approach. Bleeding his speed and dropping a few meters until he was skimming the ground – wings out wide.

The Changeling was unable to match his velocity and whipped overhead. The Thestral dropped out-of-sight into a crater a few over from his. John aimed his AER and unleashed a torrent of red death.

The luminous projectiles veritably decapitated the bug, it tumbled and rolled as it crashed into the ground. It lay on its side, John fired two shots into its back. The smouldering wounds certainly fatal.

He faced forward again. A dozen Equestrians attempted to advance but were forced into taking shelter as the first five were cut to pieces by a fusillade of teal bolts.

The surviving Thestral belly-crawled into Johns occupied crater. He was a big boy – and a new face. He heaved in the superheated air, sweat doused him but looked to be evaporating as fast as his pores could excrete it.

He was older. Possessing that tough-faced appearance of someone who had always had to graft.

He looked around, “Damn bugs! The only good ones a dead one.”

He noticed he had arrived alone, “Damn. They got my wingmare. Rest in peace, slick.” His voice was gravelly.

He introduced himself, “Staff Sergeant Colter. Thestrals are up top keeping those bastards in check. But if we don’t win on the ground, they’ll be wiped out. “

John agreed. “Affirmative. Those emplacements are preventing us from advancing – we need to knock them out.”

The Sergeant possessed a grim expression that didn’t seem to ever shift.

“Son, I’ve got just the thing. Wait here and be ready to move up.”

John nodded. Unsure of the older Thestrals plan.

He exited the foxhole. Crawling away like an immolated crustacean.

John faced the pass again. The Changelings were using their magic to build up more defences. The ground was carbonised and hardened, shaped into barriers and prepared fighting positions.

The artillery had largely abated on both sides, he guessed those mobile beetle creatures needed to recharge. And Lieutenant Herbishire's battery might have likewise reached depletion.

The bugs were warming up for a counter strike. He could hear them chittering and screeching. Their chitinous hooves were making scratchy clicking sounds as many more of them moved into a position to attack.

John prepared himself. Taking a sip of recycled water and giving his AER a once over. He had a dozen cells that remained at full charge, no grenades or ammo for his L50. He awaited with a grim uncertainty.

Either side of him the gathered ponies from the 8th Mountain Regiment were doing their checks, quickly drinking or eating rations, running small sandstones across their blades or patching wounds.

They were hunkered across several hundred meters. As he understood – a whistle would signal in three sharp notes and their attack would commence.

Suddenly the Changeling commotion halted. It was a tense few breaths before dozens of them poured out from gaps in their barricades.

Spears and small Equestrian explosives were hurled. The initial shape-shifters succumbing to deep stab wounds and discombobulated limbs.

John fired at the main group. They had already swelled into a forty-strong wave. His rifles energy bolts melted through the overlapping bodies. Searing organs and cauterising flesh.

A pair were welded together for an instant as their wounds touched, several follow-up blasts separating them once more.

John reloaded. A neat and well-rehearsed motion that had him shooting again within three seconds.

The remaining Changeling offenders were repulsed and sent running. Three sharp whistle bleats were called and the ponies rushed en-masse, hunting down the survivors.

The bugs were pinned as an aerial Thestral curtain cut off their escape from above. John advanced under fire. Magical teal projectiles sliced through the air and cut up the sand.

He traded shots with an escaping Changeling. As it passed across the mesa his bolts caught up to it and it stiffened as it died.

A sea of gold armoured quadrupeds surged across the sand-blasted mountainside. The plateau levelled out into another basin.

It had been carved into the earth, revealing limestone and slate walls. The Changelings had established a final defensible position from their warren’s exterior, the immediate area bristled with a bug swarm. They surged and swayed, an obsidian sea set against the ivory-coloured landscape.

The Changelings rallied for a desperate counteroffensive, rising back up the passage toward John and the Equestrians as they were once again forced to dig in.

A scrape in the ground contained a pair of ambushing shape-shifters. For the first time – John witnessed them use their camouflage magic to change themselves from black to a washed-out reddish-orange colour. They blended in with the ground and if not for his keen eyesight he may not have spotted them.

They waited. John pretended he had not seen them and they allowed him to pass unmolested as he leapt over an adjacent crevice.

He turned as the first Equestrian – a sturdy-looking mare caught up to him.

He aimed at the scrape and swept energy bolts left-to-right. The first stealthy Changeling screeched as a laser strike pierced it’s the abdomen, the second exploding toward the guardsmare with speed as it’s pale shroud fell.

Her eyes were wide, yet she brought up her weapon and caught the bug in her magic, lifting them and burying her sword into its neck.

Large wingless armoured Changelings came out of small pores across the approach. They gathered to almost a hundred and then charged thirty abreast.

The third Battalion massed precisely at the tip of the attack, clashing with the ground-based combatants with shouts and curses. Steel clashed with chitin, spurts of crimson and teal blood sprayed into the baking air.

A pair of officers directed the push and pull of the meet; sending flanking squads along the edges of the pass, they tossed explosives and short spears while firing arrows.

The skies were a calamity. An entire Thestral air wing was kept from helping with the ground war by twice as many bugs. Some of them were sleek and fast, a kind of interceptor variant. While others were squat and angular – lazily peeling away from the dogfight to strafe the Equestrian lines.

He roadie ran down toward the enemy, fixing his attention on a Changeling breakthrough attempt.

Two bug Commandos pierced through the smaller ponies with ease, an elite shock-team kept a tight barrier around them. John stood tall from his previously crouched running and sprang at the bugs like a cat on an unsuspecting bird.

He fired at them, cutting a few of the lesser bugs down. He swept the frontal Commando aside with a turning hook kick that caught the large bug in the head and sent it back into its fellow.

The second rushed to meet John, a large thin blade held in its telekinesis. As the bug swiped, John leapt back and then again forward – kicking frontally. Its thick head absorbed the blow – it chitin split and already gushing oily blood.

Three subordinates at the stunned Commandos legs were arranged helpfully in a column. John fired into them. As they died screeching the first commando weaved out of the miasma of gore and serpentined low for John’s legs.

He fired his last few shots and the charging Changeling ate them without slowing as it rose with a chitinous sabre.

He held his AER lengthways and deflected a fierce downward strike. The bug made a half turn to bring the weapon back around using the momentum of the first attack.

This John easily ducked under. He crouched and dragged a leg underneath the bug. As it fell John rushed atop it. Having learned from the Blackwater encounter to finish them off quickly.

He head-butted it, his combined weight and servo-assisted strength damaging it. He'd cracked its jaggedly edged head and its head snapped backwards.

John gripped its exposed throat and with the force of an industrial vice he tore out its oesophagus and trachea.

It writhed with its blood-soaked mouth held wide in a soundless scream. John used a short Czech punch and crushed its neck completely. Its head thereafter lolled at an odd angle.

The ponies around him shouted their thunderous war cry as the fierce melee raged on.

“AH HOO!”

“AH HOO!”

“AH HOO!”

Two remaining Changeling underlings advanced unfazed, the final Commando lurking just behind.

John could not reload and so smashed the stock-end of his weapon across the first Changelings head. It’s blade uselessly scratched across his chest armour and became snagged on his recovery handle. A 3mm thick steel bar used for dragging wounded out of the path of harm.

John discarded his depleted rifle and counter-punched. The strength of the blow pitched the hybrid away like a baseball during a home run.

In the next half-second, he had the offending creatures trapped weapon clutched in his hand, lunging forward he stabbed the dagger upwards through the mouth and head of the second smaller bug.

More shouting.

“AH HOO!”

Finally, alone with the Commando, he clashed with it. The equally strong warriors trading devastating blows that hammered dents into both John’s armour and the Super-Changelings sleek exoskeleton.

He was again purely shocked at the damage the thing could take. Having never met a biological creature that could take multiple punches from a power armour equipped fighter.

He ended his assault of short-range jabs with an uppercut that snapped it’s head up.

As he reached for the bugs throat to kill it just like the first it wrapped his arm in a layer of three limbs. The Commando turned and attempted to hip toss him. It growled in frustration as John’s half-ton weight remained firmly rooted.

He turned the move into a hip toss of his own. Pivoting at the waist and using his servo-based strength to effortlessly crush one of its forelegs. Twisting the limb as he pulled and threw the bug over his shoulder.

The Commando did not seem to even notice the destroyed leg and kicked John backwards as it again weaved towards him.

John concluded that it absolutely would not stop unless killed and allowed instantly a modicum of respect.

As it loomed closer, he feinted a lunging attack. Its reaction positioned it perfectly for a spinning kick that brought his alloyed heel across the Commandos face.

It dropped down a little and stumbled across the last meter. It was stunned. He squared his stance and delivered punches limited for its head.

A magic blast attempted to lift him. John struck down in a hammer-fist blow that dissuaded it from using magic again.

A follow-up right hook scrambled the Changelings egg, and it fell backwards. As it writhed across the hot ground John stomped on its face. Crushing its exoskeletal head and mincing its brain.

John breathed a sigh of relief. Another encounter survived, he rearmed and reloaded himself with his Laser Rifle.

The Ponies had made startling progress. The stocky monstrosities that made up the bulk of the Changeling ground complement had been killed in droves. The smaller Equestrian soldiers using squad-based tactics and the trinity of their species’ races to best bugs.

Likewise, the Thestral air wing had cleared the skies and became able to freely harass Changeling fighting positions.

A stream of the bat-ponies glided low and used small magical explosive to carpet bomb a cavernous pit. The overlapping detonation rose into the air. Wiping out a large swathe of the obsidian horrors.

This single act seemed to be the rallying event needed to spur the ponies on the last assault, yet the Changelings fought on. Bitterly clinging to the scorching landscape until the last bug.

Ponies rushed unopposed into the cave system, using incendiary bombs to clear the bunker ports and slay groups of bugs. The aftermath was a pit filled with death on the path for several cave entrances.

It appeared as though every Changeling had succumbed to the battle. The mines had been largely stripped of material, piles of the as of yet transported ore lay at the edges inside the mineshafts.

A pony John did not recognise stood tall upon a podium of dead Changeling bodies to the cheers and whoops of his fellows.

Victory!”

The single word causing the eruption of cheers and calls from the gathered Equestrian army. The valley was filled with the roar of celebratory success over the enemy.

But John knew the war for the pony’s survival had not truly ended.


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