• Published 28th Mar 2018
  • 2,895 Views, 110 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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Broken Steel

The earth under John’s considerable bulk shifted slightly as he did. Once again scanning the opposing treeline looking for hostile positions. John, Lieutenant Midnight and Major Chironax had split the two platoons into three. As he had led his troop across the destitute ruin that once had been the small hamlet of Ponyville, he had paused with the mechanised Thestrals to reconnoitre the area.

Canterlot awaited at the summit of the valley, a pink glimmering bubble. The overlapping air raid sirens echoed eerily, as did the sounds of battle and the screams of the dying.

About four-hundred meters of relatively open ground existed between their position hidden in a drainage ditch at their end of the field next to a little group of trees.

“Guard?” John asked the nearest Thestral.

He acknowledged with a nod.

“Take three and move across the field. If you get eyes on the enemy high-tail it back and update me.”

“And if we don't come back?”

“If you aren’t back in ten minutes I’m pushing onward anyway, we'll find you or we won’t. Good luck, trooper.”

As the fading forms of the new recon element disappeared, after cautiously approaching the opposite hedgerow, his borrowed communication gem emitted an urgent squelching sound.

He said the command before speaking, “Dicere Verum. This is Maxon, I’ve sent four ahead of us and we’ll push up momentarily, over.”

“Sawbuck Red six,” it sounded like the Major. “We just made contact. Large enemy numbers, we’ve got them on the run. Sawbuck White six is looping over to us which means you’ve got to get in the fight.”

He hummed and shouted for the ponies alongside him to gather up and advance, he led them over at a fast jog.

“Remember your call sign Sawbuck Blue six, Red six out.”

Midnight and the Major would combine and press on almost a kilometre to his left. Which meant they were about 15 minutes away from assisting him when the shit hit the fan.

Good thing I don’t need it, he thought.

But Chironax was leading her troops without the invaluable protection of power armour. Brave or stupid, he couldn’t decide.

They reached the end of the field and trampled into another drainage ditch. John wrestled his way through a thicket of brambles and exited into a sloped field of what could have been cotton.

He used a swiping hand signal to push his team over to the left, and although not familiar with US army hand signals they obeyed immediately.

Canterlot was still putting up a fight, casting out long belts of multi-coloured energy that dissuaded or killed the inbound bugs. The after-sounds from the blast-like strikes made his skin itch, and his chest tighten.

Swarms of insectoid Changelings roamed the air and John felt on edge at all times, if they decided to descend over them, they’d be screwed.

The following half an hour was uneventful. Before splitting up at Ponyville, the several ammo runners had diverted to dump what munitions they could. Bombing the rear of the Changelings John was chasing, before heading for base, to begin ferrying the platoons more cells.

On the approach to the end of the cotton field, a pair of Thestrals buzzed them, passing precariously close to the treetops and discharging four satchels as they overshot.

His Thestrals were good, he realised they may have retained more of his memories and combat experience than previously thought. Fluidly covering one another and wordlessly doing what he’d have asked without instruction.

He and another Guard scooped up the ammo bags. Only half full of cells. Depending on the ferocity of the pending engagement they may not be as many as he’d have liked.

His communication gem squelched again and a voice blustered through without warning, “-yone within range, say again we are being overrun! This is Mustang Blue 5 requesting assistance on Tangerine, Apple, Fervent, one dash seven zero, zero!”

John replied, “this is Sawbuck Blue Six. We are standing by, ready to assist. Approaching Canterlot from Ponyville, over.”

“We’re dug in deep like a tick on a diamond dog, Blue Six!” There was silence for a second.

“On bearing 2-1-7, Mustang, out!”

He began drifting on the waypoint his HUD had marked out at the correct bearing, drifting slightly right of Canterlot. Furthering the distance from back up.

On me!” The chaotic sounds of ahead only increased as they passed through another thicket of some kind of fruit tree, ending up at a final drainage dip in the form of a slant in the land. He raced up the slant and over into a major battle.

Dozens of red-plumed guards were desperately fighting off wave after wave of black horrors. The combined air and ground attack kept the equines on their hooves. They weren’t taking it lying down, scores of dead – mostly Changeling – littered the space around their little dugout.

A Thestral within his line – as they’d spaced out to cover more ground – broke into the field and set off hastily. Their comrades followed and John found himself playing catch-up.

He tossed a grenade into a high arc but resisted firing. At this range and speed, he would certainly miss.

The clash was in full swing, and the Changelings were determined to snuff out the surviving stragglers. The rows of silver sabres and glinting gold armour provided a spikey wall for the Changelings to throw themselves into.

A handful at the rear began squatting for take-off but were fired upon and slain by the advancing armoured Equestrians. Ten were cut down before they noticed the rear attack and turned to face them. His grenade landed snugly - and as well placed as possible.

The crack and rumble of the detonation resonated in his chest, he emerged through the dust and aimed.

His shots found the enemy and they fell one-by-one. Mustang didn’t miss the opportunity and seized the means to victory, breaking out and driving the vulnerable shape-shifters into the firing squad that was eating away their rear-most fighters.

Spellcasters amongst the stranded Guards switched from shielding their ground teams to snatching over-bold Changelings from the sky where they were promptly stabbed to death by the vengeful Mustang soldiers. Within two minutes the Equines had been spared from the jaws of the bugs as the final Changelings were put down.

The violent coldness didn’t seem unnecessary to him, the Changelings were beaten and shot down – and then fatally struck with blades or laser shards again just to be certain.

He would have spit but remembered his power armour.

“Blue six?” The sharp-voiced distress-caller asked. She was medium-sized, her mouth parted slightly as she breathed. Deep crimson blood a shade darker than her helmet feathers stained one side of her face and pitted her right eye socket but didn’t appear to be hers.

“Commander Maxon,” he corrected. “You need to see a medic?”

She sniffed in response, “No. Thanks for the assist. Major Opalines dead and so is her staff officer. That puts me in charge.”

“Who are you?” He asked.

“Second Lieutenant Coralie.”

Her guards began tending to their dead and wounded, re-shuffling the bodies to fill out holes in their small perimeter.

“I’m leading a platoon from the Onyx guard and we’re thinking about shoving a stick right up the bugs asses. You in?”

“Definitely.” She turned, “Mudd – get ‘em moving!”

The aforementioned Mudd was a heavy-set stallion without his helmet. He grunted before screaming rather hoarsely, “Mustang – move out!”

Coming across open fields John, his mechanised company of Thestrals and the surviving troops from the Legions VIII group advance steadily.

Signs of battle were evident, but John could only see the dead of the Changeling variety. As they positioned themselves to push up the Canterlot pass, they linked up with his scouts.

He waited for them to speak. The leader, only identifiable due to a slight discolouration from a dent in his cheek, started ticking off his observations.

“It looks like our stallions abandoned their positions early and fell back to more easily defensible battlements.

“Track marks put the enemy in the thousands. Or more. Far too many for us to handle.” Looking up he pointed out the degeneration of the city’s refusal to surrender.

The shimmering pink shield that buffeted many of the Changelings attempts to progress their siege reflected the broken and bursting projectiles downward. Scorching and chipping the cliff upon which the city was perched.

The Equestrians own siege machines continued to thump and thwack, churning out counter-battery fire as fast as they were able.

Impacts from the Equestrian effort to drive back the invaders was evident, a trail of black bodies lay twisted, creating a grisly path for them to follow.

“I’ve still got an ace up my sleeve,” he motioned at the nuclear catapult slung across his shoulders.

“We’ll push up, attack from the rear and try to rally the defenders. Together we shall drive the bastards back!”

Ah-hoo!” They shouted back.

Forward of him where he lay on a grassy bank, awaited the denizens of Hades. Or what looked like it from his brief knowledge of Greek mythology.

The bugs were arrayed around the base of the cliffside that Canterlot rested on, along the right-most side stretched Canterlot pass. At its base, John saw shimmering-gold forms bunched around a set of defence towers. The Equestrians were raining arrows, spells and rocks across the bugs probing units.

“Guard,” he said to the scout-leader, “bring ten troops left and hold until we attack. Don’t rush into my explosions, but that will be the signal.”

“Aye,” the guard said and ambled away.

John was laying prone between a termite mound and a small shrub. The temperature had started to rise again in what was surely the prelude to another miserably scorching day.

He had been planning to co-ordinate with Midnight and Chironax, drifting in and using his platoon and Lieutenant Coralie's to spearhead into the enemy.

His gem squelched, “Sawbuck blue six, sit-rep?” Major Chironax was asking for an update.

“Sawbuck Blue six, we’ve assisted Mustang Blue five and are ready to commence with an assault on the Changelings rear, over.”

“No way Blue six. They’ve prepared an ambush, we barely escaped one on our side. We dealt heavy causalities, yet were forced to withdraw, break.”

There was a pronounced delay.

“Hold position until reinforcements arrive, confirm?”

“Negative red six, I’m proceeding without you. If you hurry over you can get involved. Be advised our assault will draw them away from you and allow you to push on, blue six out.”

“Dicere Verum,” he said the activation phrase again, “you hear that White six?”

Midnight's voice came back, “I’m already inbound, we’ll be with you shortly.”

He stowed the gem and prepared his launcher. Switching to infrared vision he wasn’t able to see any extra Changelings, he switched to thermal and saw slight warm spots below the surface in the terrain between his position and the Changeling assault.

There you are.

He smiled inside his helmet as he marked the positions out on his HUD. Disabling his vision suite, he faced Coralie.

“Half my platoon are on the left side, I’ll lead the other half across this field. Split your troops and cover our rear and around the right flank.”

Her eyes were narrowed as she listened, “you’re the boss, boss.”

Within ten minutes they were in position, helpfully a volley of equestrian artillery projectiles smashed down along the enemy’s rearguard. Shortly after, a flight of Thestrals used the slight shadow of the Equestrian capital as cover to strafe the bug formations with explosives.

They were cut off by camouflaged hostiles that clung to the cliff and killed in fast fashion before they could deploy their payloads.

“Advance!” John hopped into a squat from his position in the dirt, the launcher came up and he set his sights squarely on Canterlot.

The curving arc of the nuke should see it land directly on the Changelings frontal positions, next to the Equestrian defence. Still far enough back from friendly lines that they wouldn’t get showered in the fireball.

He fired. Before the shell had even reached the zenith of its arc, he was lowering it to manipulate his final bomblet into the mechanism.

He fired his second, aiming about halfway down the cliff. He discarded the weapon and began staggering forward.

The first blast came, cracking the ground and shaking his stance. Many of the fighters on both sides struggled with the explosion. Wavering as they met.

His AER slipped into his hands and he weaved around a pit as an armoured bug as large as he burst from the earth.

John easily evaded the swing of its large blade, hopping back and firing a burst into the gap between its helmet and torso armour.

The next atomic explosion was much closer. Ravaging the centre-most mass of black bodies. Cratering the valley floor and sending a plume of corpses and detritus into the air. He carried on. As the similarly hidden and large Changelings burst from the ground like funnel weaving spiders.

These were a new breed of four-legged insectoids, sturdy and strong with a precedent for durability. They had an iridescent metallic coloured abdomen which looked to contain some kind of acid.

One power armoured Thestral was snared by a net of web-like gloop, the soldier remained composed as he began to free himself from the net.

Almost untangled, as John and his extended line of armoured quadrupeds made slight progress through the ambush. The struggling guard was pulled into a pit and had acidic bile spewed all over him.

The substance melted his weapon and his armour bubbled but he fought on, using the jagged remains of his proto-AER to stab a gnarly wound into his attackers’ neck.

John lost sight of the duel as he was thrown down sideways. An explosive blast beat his eardrums, the sound followed by hollow pings from the shrapnel.

Teach me for not paying attention, he thought.

The pits disgorged obsidian beasts. They shrieked and hissed, stampeding toward him and the Thestrals who struggled to ward them off with laser-fire.

Some way off, behind the two ranks of new fighters and over rippling swarms of standard bug soldiers stood an ominous form.

Sleek and serpentine. It stood two and a half meters tall.

Commando!” The word was called on the right-most side where Mustang was taking the brunt of the causalities.

The gold-plated guards attacked over a berm, spearing into the flank of the Changeling shock-troops. A pair of unicorns shielded them from the majority of the bugs magical attacks. Sending out sparks of brilliant fire that both blossomed and consumed.

John hopped up, scrabbling for his weapon – he found himself chest to head with a dozen larger Changelings. He fired from the hip, killing three and wounding four as his cell spat its last shot.

“Reloading!” John cried. Knowing, however, he would not be able to fire in time.

A Thestral in armour almost as black as Changeling flesh descended into the three nearest to him. Familiar wing-blades cut the throats of two in a single deft motion. The third received a double-tap from the Thestrals Laser weapon through the mouth. Cauterising its spine together and killing it.

It afforded him the extra seconds he needed. John stood and fired again, plucking each target from the next little wave from right to left.

Lieutenant Midnight had sickly green gloop across the majority of herself, her war-cry howled hollowly through her helmet speakers, as she all but skipped into the next engagement. Like an overly excited and enthusiastic child on the path for its next piece of candy.

From the air flowed in reinforcements comprised of Midnights and Chironaxs' power armoured platoons. The seemed to glide lazily, rather than dominate the air with their typical ferocity.

Coming easterly and rearwards of Mustangs squabble with overwhelming hostiles, John could make out specks in the air. Within minutes as he advanced alongside the armoured tabby officer, those specks became dark-armoured blobs from the remainder of Onyx Company.

The non-mechanised Onyx troops dove and weaved. Cutting a swath across the Changeling lines. Many of them were shot down in earnest, cascading into bloodied pinwheels as soon as their corpses hit the ground.

John shot a bug across the head and kicked it aside. Two of its friends closed the distance, unintimidated by his violence.

As he blasted the left-most Changeling, his weapon ran dry. Over the heads of the clashing mass of Equids, he noticed the tall form of the Commando had vanished.

His shields erupted around him. Blackened and charred earth and flecks of his steel suit seemed to float around him for an instant before a white heat made his skin sizzle. His weapon was gone, one arm felt sluggish but he could tell it was just servo-motor damage.

The first standard-sized pony-hybrid had survived the fist-sized hole punched through its check. A few millimetres to the right, and it would have been fatal.

The second spun and kicked him in the groin, his suits gyroscope hiccupped and he fell backwards. Both scrabbled on him with short blades, he felt one jab powerfully through his un-plated neck. Stopping just short of his skin yet causing choking pressure.

Under this primal pressure to survive, John clamped his hand around the bug's leg. Crushing and twisting, he threw the hostile off and heard it scream a screech. He sat up jerkily, his armour creating odd grinding noises with each movement.

The next whipped its blade along his cheek, scratching the paint – John backhanded the creatures’ legs out from under it. He scurried onto all-fours and gripped both forelegs of the upside-down fighter. He wrenched the limbs away from each other, killing the thing with a turgid crunch.

The disturbance reached his ears a moment too late, heavy hoof-falls beat a violent path through a pair of power-armoured Thestrals.

He moved to stand on both legs and grappled the Commando. They rolled and flipped with the speed at which it was moving.

John tossed it aside, using a Czech overhand and catching it powerfully in the snout. A moment of back-pedalling and it again rushed for him with unwavering doggedness.

Darting forward aggressively it unleashed bold direct strikes, taking him by surprise with its overwhelming speed.

He used his thick forearm greaves to deflect the blows. Johns gun arm was as a blur, and in a jerky draw almost had his side-arm aimed at the things centre-mass.

Before he could complete the circuit, the Commando matched his movement and used a rear leg to hook the weapon away. As it trembled across the dirt, an obsidian hoof destroyed and denied his use of the shooter.

He felt for his K-bar knife, finding it absent from the recess in his shoulder.

All around thick-bodied hybrids repurposed for warfare, armoured Thestrals sporting modern human military equipment, and regular Shape-shifters and Pony troops fought and clawed over the Canterlot valley for locational supremacy.

The look in the Commandos double-helix eyes was clear. It’s just us.

John felt his teeth. Copper tasting. His throat was dry and his heart pulse excitedly.

He rushed forward as fast as possible, hurling a side-kick and turning the exiting momentum into a high axe-kick. The blows were easily dodged, yet served to drive his opponent back.

The rear of his heel just kissed the bugs shoulder, it leapt forward under him – in a classic movement he’d seen used during Jiu-Jitsu.

He stomped down and his leg seized, the bug ensnared his lower torso in vine-like legs that gripped with vice-like strength.

As John collapsed, he used his elbow to smash at the tip of the leg highest up his abdomen. He spilt green blood on the second blow, bludgeoning the limb four more times and probably rendering it useless in the process.

The Commando adjusted but in that brief three seconds where he fell as a timbering tree, he twisted to land face-down. With the bug half under his shins and quads.

His legs were immobilised, unable to knee the thing in the head he curled his back – dragging his head along the ground toward his feet, in a downward-dog position.

They wrestled. One of John's arms was trapped and they each used opposing force to divert the others striking limb. His right arm clutched the leg he’d savaged, gripping the tip and quite literally squelching the exposed flesh.

It screeched and bucked under his V-hold – attempting to free its leg. John sloppily failed to dodge a pair of hammer-fist-style blows to his head which stunned him.

His eyesight faded slightly, as he was rolled and his arm twisted, he was awarded a strained agony through his semi-conscious body.

He was slipping into unconsciousness and tried to break out by locking the top-side Commando in a hug. He freed his arm and in clenching his servo-assisted hands together he created a viable way to press the bug to death between his chest and forearms.

It wriggled and writhed almost breaking his hold, yet he kept it tight. Squeezing his limbs together he began to hear a slight crunching sound, the Commandos body began to soften.

“Maxon!” Midnight bellowed, “hold still!”

He heard the shot and could smell the ozone after-aroma. The body went completely slack, and he released it. As he slowly stood, Midnight fired a few more times, dissolving its still-twitching head.

She tossed him her laser weapon, it was stubby and had no stock, yet it would deal death as surely as any rifle.

Her wings were just visible through the slits in her armour, wing-blades glinted slightly. She’d attached small blades to each frontal leg – and careened onward without another word.

John recovered and followed her. The fighting was reaching its culminating moment. In which either side could deal defeat to the other.

A short-range bug mortar struck the ground before him, sending Midnight forward and out of sight. He hobbled through the blast, spraying laser-shards at any of the bugs who steered too close.

She was crumpled in a manner whereby he feared her demise. A Changeling darted to her. In a flash she’d taken it down with a blow to the legs, following with a small blade through its eye socket.

He placed his hand under her midsection, raising her. They were surrounded. Legionaries battled it out along a ridge to their right, between them a company-sized armada.

Behind them, power-armoured Thestrals were caught up in intense close-quarters fighting. The combat raged air-ward as well, with Thestral flyers giving it their all for control of the sky.

He had maybe twenty shots in his weapon and no back-up.

He snatched up the freshly killed Changelings chitinous sword and held it out. He and Midnight stood back-to-flank.

Like hounds to a wounded fox, charcoal-coloured shape-shifters harassed them.

John lined up the first one to commit; lopping off its head after feinting in one direction and quickly darting the other.

Come on!” Midnight screamed, the sounds of violence following her warning.

The next pair rushed in, behind them maybe twenty more. He toe-kicked the first back into its brethren, he parried a sword strike with his borrowed blade, quickly shooting the offender twice in the face.

John shot three more times, scoring two kills and a miss. He threw the blade underhandedly. As it became embedded in a Changelings's chest, he leapt into a flying knee and caught another in the head. Retrieving his sword from the falling body, he slammed into another big Changeling.

And so, it would go; he and the Lieutenant battled and wormed around one another like well-choreographed dancers.

Princess Luna scanned the reports from the initial engagements, staggering losses on both sides. Her little ponies couldn’t recover from so many dead so quickly. Her eyes widened, and she composed herself following a deep breath.

An intelligence Colonel, accompanied by a detachment of Royal Guard and a group of well-trained mages from the Canterlot School for Gifted Unicorns, had set up inside the camp upon hearing of her location.

Colonel Black was squared-away in an immaculate set of gold-flecked plate armour. A pair of angled daggers rested in scabbards across her front, and her helmet was laid upon the paper-strewn table.

Princess Luna was an advocate of rapidly shifting the situation on the ground using unorthodox methods.

Despite being a Princess, in matters of military command and allocation, her status took a backseat to that of the top brass.

If she could convince this sharp-looking officer into supporting the humans spearhead into the Changelings flank, they could well win the day. A bold risk-vs-reward scenario.

“The Changelings have been sighted coming from the River Long-Mare. They advanced in standard fashion until they reached the opposite side of the Everfree from Ponyville.”

The Colonel was well-spoken, with a high declamatory voice. Black passed her another form with detailed interception routes that predicted enemy movement.

“So far, they haven’t acted as we would have hoped, and planning as the situation evolves has been difficult.

“Our guards are a large part of what’s failing us. Too many inexperienced soldiers are just melting away as the enemy drives closer to the capital. We’ve set demolition charges in the catacombs of the city, if the palace falls, we won’t let it be lost to enemy hooves.”

Luna was counting on her human acquaintance to hold the field and secure victory. Or at the very least, to stall the enemy.

Luna’s mouth was dry, “we must not let that happen. Canterlot shall be the rallying cry needed for us to win this. Fear not, we have deployed soldiers equipped with advanced technology along with an ally not-of-this-world.”

Colonel Black frowned, “ma’am?”

Luna explained briefly the arrival of the alien. How his interference had been largely the progenitor in halting the enemy thus far.

The Colonel didn’t react, Luna could see the gears turning. Pulling a map from the table, she scoured its crisscrossed patterns.

“Where is he now, Princess?”

“We had tasked them within the Canterlot Valley. Their mission was to locate and assist a company from the Legion. Last seen near Ponyville, heading north toward the city.”

She handed the Colonel the particular update that detailed the last hours' manoeuvres, causing the younger mare to skim through it.

“He’s breaking protocol – and leading the Legion and Onyx remnants for the rear of the enemy. Bold, but decidedly risky.” Black said.

“Do you trust him?” Colonel Black asked.

“Without let or hindrance”

Colonel Black hummed. Her horn sparked a muted amber, leading a little pipe from her breastplate into her mouth. It was lit, and she took several puffs. Exhaling thick white smoke from her nostrils. She chewed on the reed, eyelids lulled in thought.

Finally, she shook her head. “I’m afraid to say that more troops have been spotted entering the field in ever-swelling numbers. There’s just no end to them.”

Luna considered the Anlace, the destructive capabilities as described by John should provide a small release of strain on the Equestrians defending the city.

“Providing we conclude with certainty that assisting the human in the valley will lead to a short respite on the defence of the city. And providing we can ensure the survival of the human – we may be able to turn the tide, Colonel.”

Her eyebrows rose, a crease along her forehead revealing her age. They lowered as her pipe met her lips and she slowly inhaled, and as slowly exhaled. The smoke was foul-smelling, yet Luna did not let it affect her composition.

“Alright Ma’am, I’m convinced. I’ll inform the two battalions I have in reserve to divert into the valley. I just hope you’re right.”

Luna flexed her jaw inside her helmet, “as do we, Colonel. As do we.”

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