• Published 28th Mar 2018
  • 2,679 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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Semper Invicta

For a long time, Canterlot had been the beating heart of Equestrian politics, trade and commerce. A cultural hub for any foreign visitors or dignitaries, its ancient white walls had long withstood the test of time, surviving several natural disasters and a prolonged siege during its early establishment as the region's seat of power.

It was an architectural marvel. Situated near the summit of Equestrias largest mountain top, it had hanging gardens and magical waterfalls that avalanched from its edges.

The entire city was shaped like a large circular platform that had been partially wedged into the mountainside. Its southern edges frayed with tiered pools, where waterfalls were collected and spat into the wind, causing clouds of moisture in the high atmosphere to create constantly shifting rainbows.

Stretched along its western fringe lay several circular platforms, they rose in elevation as they neared the Cliffside. Each one containing sprawling gardens, watercourses and tethers for Equestrian airships – many such balloons hung in low orbit over the golden-domed domiciles that arced in a circle. A praesidium that occupied the western half of the city proper – at its centre was a crescent-moon shaped garden and a small lake.

The eastern side was separated by a wide, artificial stream that had several bridges over it. Which carried not ponies but more water, the entire city was interlaced with streams and rivers. They ran from the mountain into multiple waterfalls that bled from the city. Canterlot’s miasma of rainbows and misty waterfalls gave it the apparition of floating, for which it was nicknamed: the floating city.

East Canterlot proper was less of a circle and more kidney-shaped – having been constructed ad-hoc – to keep up with the growing population and need for more homes. At the city’s perimeter lay a large castellated wall, it had parapets and battlements that had been cleverly disguised, so as to look as tranquil and welcoming as possible.

Both the western and eastern sides of the city stretched more sparsely up the rising mesa, like outstretched tendrils of algae. White-gold Equestrian structures became more spread out and eventually were replaced with green.

Intermingled throughout the city were tall spires that rose into the sky, each having polished gold caps at their peaks. They varied in height from only two stories to a dozen, most of which signified the fortified keeps of the city’s eldest bloodlines.

Perched on Canterlot’s south-western edge lay the royal palace, it had high rising defensive walls around its perimeter, separating it from the rest of the city. The walls were laid out in a circle, a common shape in the city’s architecture – the western quarter being occupied by a large building shaped like a church. It had gold and white spires rising majestically into the air, presiding over the landscape and casting a shadow across the city during its beautiful sunrises.

Purple interlaced with gold slates covered the slanted roof of the church building, while entirely purple or gold coloured its spiralling domed towers. The two largest occupying the very edge of the city, on the palace grounds western-most side. The interior of the palace walls had immaculately kept gardens, almost ten kilometres square.

With a large, high-walled maze in its north-eastern corner, its centre-most point occupied by a large square common ground, where one could sit and ponder the world around. Its fringes dotted with strange looking statues.

Finally, sat in the south-eastern corner, lay a four-story mansion. Its red clay shingled roof offering a nice departure from the hues of golds, purples and white that occupied much of the city.

Outside of the palace walls, suspended in the air, lay a semi-circle bridge – it carried a large stream of water on the city’s exterior, before ferrying it back into the palaces western side.

As the lone sky carriage approached Equestrias dark city limits, the trio of Thestrals arced their wings in practised unison. Effortlessly they guided the carriage down toward a landing pad, located within Canterlot’s palace.

A few errant rays of moonlight allowing them to see their target zone, it was an internal carriage bay, mostly used for more military affairs than political – having less ornate and beautiful construction and one that was designed for a more utilitarian purpose.

Inside, the small amount of turbulence did little to shift John’s large mass. Luna used a wing pressed into the canvas roof to steady herself. The dead bodies stiffly wobbled – no doubt already set in rigour mortis – Starlight offered an occasional moan as the slight bumps caused her injuries to ache.

The landing bay was open, its golden-plated steel doors already yawning open for their expected approach.

The city itself was sparsely illuminated in the darkness – but the interior of the palace was lit up like a Christmas tree. A wide cone of luminescence streaming out to light up the carriage as it glided above the eastern side of Canterlot.

The three Thestrals working as one in silence, levelling out of their descent and slowing as they made ingress into the landing bay, large doors slowly grinding closed behind them.

The carriage thudded once as it landed, several Royal Guard flew up to meet it as an escort, using their pegasi magic to help corral the weight of the shuddering craft.

A half dozen apothecaries –ponies of differing colours trained in medicine and dressed in matching white uniforms, a red cross emblazoned on their backs –rushed to open the carriages makeshift canvas door.

It fluttered open and they all stepped back. With no small amount of surprise and a little fear, as John’s large armoured form thudded down onto the bay’s floor, Starlight cradled gently in his arms.

He walked over to a magically floating stretcher, ignoring the many expressions of amazement, before slowly lowering Starlight onto it. She groaned as he did so, two older looking pony stallions whisking her away with their magic, a nurse trailing behind, scribbling down the shouted descriptions of Starlight’s wounds.

John turned back to the carriage as Luna gracefully stepped out. Her shoulders and head held high and strong, despite her internal difficulty with the weight of her soldier’s deaths.

“Princess Luna!” several ponies announced, ignoring John and bowing before her.

“Please rise,” they did so. “Bring these to the morgue and see that they are properly prepared for burial”.

She levitated the three bodies out of the wagon. The bodies had been hastily covered in canvas sheets, the logo of a sun visible despite the bloodstained material. A single smaller canvas sack was levitated out along with them.

‘A severed head,’ John thought privately.

He had a quick look around him. At the high ceiling and gold laced support beams, three dozen ponies stood around them, many of them the golden variety, with some of the “bat ponies,” he thought, mixed in.

Staring at him with a mix of emotions, curiosity, fear, concern. He wondered objectively why he didn’t feel in such a manner.

John Maxon had spent much of his life fighting genetically altered humans and monsters. He’d led campaigns against tribal factions of humans, extinguished rogue colonies of super mutants and taken part in countless operations where the odds of survival were almost nil.

At the age of seven, after the death of his father, he had travelled with his uncle and a detachment of the brotherhood of steel, to pre-war Europe.

Europe was a continent on Earth that had seen huge amounts of civil strife and conflict. Enter the great war of twenty seventy-seven – a nuclear exchange which had nearly extinguished all life on earth.

Continents were re-shaped, oceans boiled away and mountain ranges vanished into craters hundreds of kilometres across – the entire world had unravelled.

The United States of America had long been the leader on the world stage in a number of areas, notably production, automation and energy.

It was here, in the seat of technological advancement, that the Brotherhood of Steel was founded – John had grown up with the tales of his ancestors; their greatness and prowess – he had always been burdened with the stigma.

Lesser people would fall, but John rose up, quickly proving himself a capable warrior, leader and tactician.

The Brotherhoods ideologies had shifted and evolved toward grander goals than the original tenets of retrieving technology. Although that still remained a core belief, the Brotherhood had worked tirelessly for over a hundred years to uplift humanity – to reunite them as a species under one banner – one of steel.

A Royal Guard with a silver-backed gold rank insignia rushed through a tall door at the far end of the cavernous room. The guard approached them – a unicorn mare with cold, blue eyes – she quickly bowed, before saluting by raising an unarmoured foreleg to her chest.

“Princess Luna, we’ve been expecting you,” she cast an unremorseful glance at the trio of covered bodies, “and Princess Celestia has requested your presence in the drawing room”.

“Very well, we shall go there now.”

Frosted Whip, Dark Goldenrod and Midnight had dismounted from the carriage, now waiting patiently to its side, facing Luna.

“Lieutenant, go with Whip and Goldenrod to the infirmary – and get yourself checked out as well, then get some food and some rest.”

Midnight stepped forward, “Yes, Princess,” she said before smartly saluting and walking towards a smaller door at the hanger’s side. The same one the apothecaries had disappeared through a moment before – Goldenrod and Whip imitating the salute, before following her.

Luna turned her head to look up at John, the dull steel and black eyeslits doing little to help her gauge his emotions.

“We wish for you to accompany us, you must meet with my sister – ‘tis been a long night already – we fear there is much to do before we can relax, Commander.”

John joined step with her, as she started for the large doors at the hanger’s far wall, the officer in tow with several gold-armoured guards keeping pace around them.

He felt he was under a great deal of scrutiny. All eyes bar the Princess’s placed on him, he felt he was fortunate enough not to have been herded into a cell.

“They can damn well try,” he thought darkly.

“Although,” he reasoned, if it would suffice as an act of goodwill on his part, perhaps a cell wasn’t entirely out of the question. So far he didn’t feel that they were threatened by him – just curious.

They walked along winding corridors and ascended up several flights of stairs, none of the ponies seeming to grow tired from the fast pace the blue-eyed officer was setting.

John’s armour gave him an almost unlimited stamina – as he wasn’t so much walking within the suit, but guided it with his motions – it was the equivalent of running at a sprint by only using the energy of a slow walk.

The palace interior was spectacularly decorated. Hundreds of portraits of epic scenery and the princesses posing with long-dead ponies adorned the walls, the walls themselves made from white marble with golden trim.

Everything had been built using an elegant style. The staircases were grand, three power armoured humans could walk side-by-side up them with room to spare. They had spiralling bannisters, bedecked in finely crafted wood. More gold adorned them, with marble panels extending into swooping patterns.

It was the most lavish place John had ever seen. Humanity had come far in the century since the Brotherhoods mission had begun. To fix humanities mistakes, but they had a long way to go before being able to recreate such grand architecture.

Outwardly he could give no indication of his amazement, as they reached a branching corridor. At its end a thick oak door was set – the guards at the front of the formation pivoting, to stand with their backs against the wall.

Two golden-clad ponies that stood in front of the door lit their horns, each door slowly opened – exposing a portal of soothing candlelight, through which lay a long room.

It held two tiers. The second having balconies and railings separating the drop to the level below, the upper portion containing books and tomes, the first stretching out under tables, drawing boards and planning sheets.

A big set of awning windows looked out into the dark world beyond. They spanned from floor to ceiling, John having to crane his neck a little to see the top.

In the middle of the room, a raised table covered in maps and diagrams had several large red cushions arrayed around it – on one of which sat a large, white-winged unicorn – almost double the size of Princess Luna.

Luna led him in, dismissing the guards with a look.

The one they returned indicated they weren’t happy for their rulers to be alone in a room with a hulking armoured biped. The doors quietly thrummed shut behind them, neither looking back as they approached the only other being in the room.

_ _ _

­Princess Celestia had ruled over Equestria for many thousands of years, in her long reign, she had witnessed countless, timeless events. Many of which have fallen victim to the sands of history, her memory is not a perfect one, but she could picture vast swathes of Equestria’s past in a way that no other could.

Celestia inhaled, the mixing smells of books, parchment and ink imbuing her nostrils with a sense of nostalgia. She so enjoyed reading, but even immortal beings couldn’t hope to read everything, although she so desperately wanted to.

So much time had given birth to thousands of tender moments, of happiness and love. But also, of hate, anguish and pain – she had always tried to forget the bad and live for the good, in all her years she had forgotten much, what was it that Luna had once said?

“A mind wants to forget but a heart will always remember,” she said it quietly to herself.

It had taken her a long time to fully appreciate its deeper meaning, she could never allow herself to hate anything – if she did – it would be forever engraved on her heart.

Unfortunately, over her long life she had amassed a large collection of myocardial scarring, some things she just couldn’t bring herself to forget. The downfall of her sister, the death of a loved one, the extinction of a species, she would be the bearer of these lessons to try and prevent such horrors from happening again.

She halted her train of thought, and instead returned her magenta coloured eyes back onto an old tome, placed on the circular table situated in front of her.

It had a peeling brown cover that had been wrapped with aging cord to try and preserve its condition. The image on the front had once been a unicorn radical, coated in silver she remembered.

Using her gold magic, she carefully opened the tome. Slowly turning the first few pages, this had been the personal diary of Starswirl the Bearded and later that of his protégé, Sage.

Starswirl and Sage had devised many of Equestrias earliest theories, the mystery of matter, magical vigour, the theory of relativity and the laws of the physical world. Many of these concepts had been refined over the years, but no single pair had left such a mark on Equestrian society and the greater world.

Starswirl had been ridiculed in his later years for ramblings of other realms, of other worlds and creatures from the heavens – even claiming that he had met some of them.

He and his protégé disappeared without a trace one terrible winter. Many assumed they had died from exposure, few others believing that they had travelled to an alternate dimension or ether-world.

She had been searching everywhere for a possible reference to visitors from outside of their known world, with no result.

Celestia closed the tome after a few minutes of fruitless scanning, the depictions inside becoming evidently more unhinged and abnormal.

The tome floated away from her at high speed, encased in a golden glow, another, equally as old tome replacing it.

This was an old record from the now defunct imperial society of astronomically celestial entities.

‘What a mouthful,’ she thought with a small smile.

The worn pages displayed nearly five hundred years of Equestrian astronomical events, meteor showers, asteroids, comets, solar and eclipses and blood moons. In the last few pages, she could make out the diagrams of the aurora borealis and the Aurora Australis, with comparing notes on the differences between the two as well as theories as to their existence.

She was about to replace the book with another when the sound of hoofsteps started drumming from behind the rooms large doors. She turned to look at the door as they slowly opened on well-oiled hinges.

She tried to hide her surprise. In addition to her younger sister, standing alongside her was a massive armoured creature. It stood on two thick legs, with thick arms connected via bulky shoulder pauldrons to a torso piece. On its head, it wore a bucket-like helmet with black eye slits.

Her natural magical senses could detect radioactive energy being emitted from the creature, not enough to cause harm – but she filed that bit of information away. Nuclear-reactive energy had long been theorized but had been largely circumvented by hydro-mana energy collection, a safer and more proven technology.

They strode toward her, her sister's blue eyes brightening as they looked to Celestia’s own. They stopped a body length away from her and she stood to face them.

“Little sister, I am glad you returned safely. Who is your new companion?” She glanced at the creatures’ eye slits, attempting to look friendly although she felt a little unnerved by its size, the top of its helmet reaching just above Celestia’s horn.

Luna gestured a hoof at the metal behemoth, “This is Commander John Maxon, the first human visitor to our world.”

Luna craned her head to look up at the creature, “Commander, we would like to introduce you to our sister, Princess Celestia.”

Celestia gestured with a golden adorned hoof, “An honour to meet you, commander.”

_ _ _

As John entered what he thought of as the library, he instinctively gazed around the room – satisfied that nothing would ambush him – he focused back on the pony in front of him.

She was tall, slightly shorter than he was. Her long serpentine neck topped off with a head not dissimilar to Princess Lunas, she had bright pink eyes, a long, slender body adorned with a golden collar, in the centre of which rested a purple gemstone.

She had golden shoes that extended up to the bottoms of her legs and a golden tiara which also had a purple gem set into it. Her fur was so immaculately white, flawless with an image of a sun emblazoned on her upper rear leg. Her hair looked like shimmering turquoise water – blowing in a non-existent wind.

The world around him seemed to snap back into focus as she said, “An honour to meet you, commander.”

Her voice was silky, she reminded him of an officer he had once known. Remembering her smooth voice and grey-blonde hair, her soft brown eyes full of life as she looked down at him. He had to stop himself from shaking his head, it had been a long time since he’d seen her and he had tried hard to forget about that particular memory.

He only half listened as Luna recounted the night's events to her white sibling, Celestia’s face deepened in a frown as Luna glazed over the Changeling attack and subsequent death of three of her guards.

“Changelings so far into our borders does not bode well,” Luna said, finishing her recollection.

Before replying, Celestia offered them both a seat – for which Luna quickly took whilst John remained standing.

“You are perfectly safe here, Commander. You can get out of your armour if you wish,” Luna said assuredly. “We have already determined via magical scans that the air inside your suit and the air in our atmosphere are compatible – you can, therefore, stop worrying about your oxygen supply.”

He looked at her, his helmet the only thing to move as he internally considered her offer.

A few tense moments passed while Luna and Celestia simply watched him for a reaction – his armour blossoming open at his neural command.

He stepped out, his armour shutting after his departure from it. Stepping around the armour, he picked out a large cushion to Luna’s right – opposite Princess Celestia, who sat down with a small smile.

They both looked at him intently, their eyes drinking in his appearance. He realised they were now only seeing him for the first time, John could say that he had seen more repulsive and grotesque creatures in his life. The ponies had seemingly interchangeable human qualities to their appearance, most notably the warm emotion in their eyes.

“I agree that Changelings within our borders is a cause for concern,” Celestia began, drawing a look from Luna and John, “do we have any idea what they were after?” she continued.

Luna shook her head, no.

Celestia hummed, “it is a problem we shall ‘work on’, then.” Celestia turned her gaze to John. “Commander, tell us how you came to be here.”

John blinked, deciding how much he should share.

“I was tasked with leading a team on a ten-year mission. The Anlace – my spaceship – was an experimental reconnaissance frigate. It was supposed to be the first human ship capable of travelling faster than the speed of light.”

Both of the royal’s eyes widened at that.

“And you mean to tell us that you managed to achieve such a thing? We thought it impossible.”

He frowned at Luna’s slightly disbelieving expression. “The science behind it is complicated and highlyclassified. But I can tell you it required a lot of power, so much so that the program was canned for several years while a reactor with sufficient energy output was created.

“It took many years of research – starting before I was born – and our best scribes to design and build such a vessel.”

John looked around the book-filled room while he spoke.

His focus shifted from books to the two Princesses, “The reason why isn’t as important as how the Anlace ended up here.” The human's stare seemed to pierce right through them.

He paused before continuing, “We were not counting on meeting an alien species. You’ve been friendly toward me – so I wish to extend an unofficial offer of cooperation between my species and yours.”

He interlaced his fingers together and leaned over the small table.

“In exchange for providing safe refuge for myself and my ship, I can provide assistance in military matters.”

Celestia’s eyes widened slightly, she hadn’t been expecting such a proposal.

“We can confirm his tremendous providence on the battlefield sister, without him, we surely would have fallen or been taken captive,” Luna offered.

John waited for a reply, the short lapse in conversation dragging on as Celestia seemed to stare into his very being.

“Very well John Maxon, as loathe as I am to allow it – my sister will doubtlessly wish to investigate the Changeling presence in the region, your skills would be best used in helping her. I will dispatch some of my best unicorn guards to cast a concealment spell around the area of the crash site in exchange.

“You will have some quarters assigned to you, for now, I want as few ponies as possible to see you – until I am prepared to reveal your existence to the world.”

Celestia’s head moved to face Luna, “Would either of you like to add anything?”

Princess Luna’s face scrunched up in thought, she squinted and looked down – as if the stitching in her bottom-rest had an opinion of its own. Finally, her head rose and her eyes sharpened.

“We require full military supervision of all of your activities before we agree to grant you refugee status.”

John said nothing for a small time before nodding and agreeing, “I accept, after we’re done with the bugs, I’d like to try to contact my people, although I’m not sure if it’s possible.”

“We will certainly do our best,” Luna said solemnly.

Celestia and Luna both smiled before Celestia said, “We are in agreement then, you will aid Princess Luna and her Guards discover the reason for the changeling presence. In exchange, we will conceal your vessel and in time, try to find a way for you to contact your people.”

John nodded once and addressed Princess Luna, “We should begin as soon as possible.”

“We agree,” she looked to Celestia, “We suggest you assign a small unit of your own Royal Guard to accompany us, they could use the practice.”

Celestia smiled warmly at her younger sibling then looked up in lamentation, “You know that I am not so well versed on our Guards military experience – but I hear that the 7th Guard Auxiliary has yet to be deployed. During times of crisis, they are eastern Canterlots go-to unit.”

Luna hummed, “An inexperienced reserve unit could sustain heavy losses if there is to be a battle, sister.”

“I know,” Celestia said, “but how else are they to gain experience?”

“Tis’ True.”

Luna’s gaze turned to meet John’s, “Come along commander, bid my sister farewell and follow us.”

She stood and turned from her pillow, fluffing it with her blue magic, as she walked past John’s armour, she craned her head over her shoulder, “Be well Celestia.”

John also left his pillow and began to enter his suit, “And you sister. Both of you.” Worry lines had etched slightly over her otherwise flawless white face.

John’s armour gave his voice a scratchy canned effect, “It was weird meeting you princess, but pleasant.” John turned to leave, Celestia’s reply meeting his armoured back.

“Likewise, John Maxon”

Author's Note:

Hi readers, the majority of this chapter had been written back in April along with the last - I had been stuck on how to continue past a certain point until finally I just rewrote it.
Chapters shorter than I'd have liked but real life has me busy.
Good day.
- MajorPaleFace

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