• Published 28th Mar 2018
  • 2,674 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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Still In The Dark

A medium summer heat tempered with a gentle breeze, the sensors on John’s power armour gave him a detailed overview of the world outside of it. John hadn’t experienced such a nice day as long as he could remember, the weather back home was still in constant flux due to a nuclear exchange many decades before.
The mud covered terrain John had stomped through during the previous evening had made way for an arider and dust covered locale.

After being escorted to the edge of a flight bay by Princess Luna and a Royal Guard retinue. John had waited while the cold-eyed Royal Guard officer had ordered the hurried assembly of the 7th Guard Auxiliary, a plethora of younger faced, wide-eyed kids from what John could ascertain, they seemed far less sure than their Lunar counterparts.
Starfire, Dark Goldenrod, Frosted Whip and Lieutenant Midnight had formed up alongside the 7th with the rest of their unit, 1st Company Lunar Guard, XIII Corps.

Princess Luna had vowed for their combat prowess due to experience and a hard training regimen. Many had been patroling Equestrias most perilous sectors for two decades, a half dozen ponies for three and two older looking, hard-faced Guards for over 40 years.

John himself was thirty-seven years old and had been training in combat since he was able to walk. His first patrol at the age of six, his first confirmed kill was the same year. He had been fighting as long as he could remember.
As a child John was raised with the other Squires; children of the brotherhood. They were taught language, English literature, maths, history, science and a host of other subjects. Meanwhile, their bodies were trained relentlessly, mile upon mile of marching, running and tabbing. The physical activity went hand in hand with stimulation of the mind.

Eventually, this turned into martial arts and weapons drill, then to weapons maintenance and target practice, culminating in what is known as the hunt. Unblooded Squires take patrols under the watch of Knights and Paladins. They'll have an objective to clear an area of some undesirables – usually raiders or mutants. John had been pushed harder than the other children he remembered, due to his bloodline and the almost fanatical devotion to it.

His grandfather, going back several generations had created the Brotherhood Of Steel and it’s tenets, these had evolved over time to suit a different world, but some of the core beliefs about the preservation of technology and forbidding its use by non-brotherhood members was still prevalent.

Ultimately John had endured and adapted. He had vowed to himself at a young age to be the best that he could be, he had thrived during training and set many records for shooting, unarmed-combat and physical feats, some of which still stood as far as he knew.

After passing “squire school” at the age of 15, recruits would then become an Aspirant. During this period Aspirants would be issued physical enhancements and either begin training as a Knight or as a Scribe. Usually given a choice but sometimes Squires with an aptitude for one branch over the other would be selected to begin training in that field immediately.

For John, despite being almost equally gifted in areas of the mind and body, he had chosen to become a Knight, after two more years of the Aspirant training under a Knight the Aspirant is promoted.

John had led a successful career operating in a strike unit as a Shock Trooper for five years before being promoted to Knight-Sergeant and leading a four-person team. After another year he was invited to attend the OCS (Officer Cadet School) at Fort Benning, Georgia. It took a further year for John to graduate top of his class as a Junior Paladin.

He'd then lead a Company-sized unit he’d created using a mix of Shock Troops and Vertibird Commandos against Super Mutant hollows and Raider gangs nearly as large as the Brotherhood.

John was snapped out of his daydream by a hastily shouted order coming from one of the Lunar Guards, “Atten-Shun!”
The Royal and Lunar Guard formations snapped to attention with the sound of three hundred hooves, spines straight and heads looking forward. They were in two groups of roughly equal size – the Royal Guard equipped in polished-gold plate armour, all of them were white John noted. While the batponies wore chainmail-backed silver and grey plate armour, it seemed less ceremonial and more practical to John.

In the Royal Guard their NCOs had plumed helmets of blue and white while the officers wore gold and white. He could see a multitude of rank insignia, single silver bars, horizontal slashes and silver backed with gold.

“At ease,” Luna said in a commanding tone. John could see the Lunar Guards relax, while the 7th seemed to remain tense.
“You all know of the changeling attack against myself and members of my personal guard,” her steely blue gaze swept up and down. “We have lost good mares and stallions as a result,” she continued, her voice rose in pitch, “were it not for their bravery, we – I may not be alive today.”

“It is the custom of the Lunar Guard to be cremated and for their ashes to be scattered over the edges of the city. Today we shall do it personally – we will honour their memory by continuing the fight against these creatures, as is our duty.”

At her hooves lay a chestnut box not much smaller than a footlocker, she levitated it in her magic and carried it to the edge of the platform. Over which the mists and rainbows rose toward the sky, sunlight shone through creating enchanting patterns on the walls and floor of the flight bay.

Her voice seemed to carry on the wind, a whisper in your ear and a booming shout both at once. “We release you from your vessel, from ashes you came and to ashes, you shall be returned. Glide on the winds of this city! You have served well – and now your spirit is free!”

Luna's magic lifted the box high into the air before scattering a grey cloud of ash into the sky. Millions of granules spreading out and mixing into the mist as they fell away from view.

The same gruff voice from before called the formations to attention once again and was met with the same reply of snapping hooves. “Salute!” he barked causing all of the Guards to raise an armoured leg to their chests.

The procession was short but John saw the raw emotion in the ponies eyes, he more than understood the shared connection that soldiers under fire formed. An unspoken pact of part brotherhood and friendship would bond troopers who’d bled and killed together. John had lost count of the number of men and woman whose funerals he’d attended.

After the Guards had been returned to parade rest, Princess Luna began to address them again.
“As many of you will have heard, last night at approximately two hours past midnight, what seemed at first to be a large meteorite impacted the foal mountain range. Having an interest in astronomical objects, ourselves and a small squad of my personal Guard investigated.”

She swallowed thickly, “We determined that it was not a meteor, but something, unlike anything we have ever encountered.”

She turned to John, “ Commander John Maxon and a team of other members of his species had crash-landed on our world in a terrible accident that resulted in the loss of all crew members save for John.”

The edges of her mouth flicked in what John thought of as remorse or maybe sorrow, “After we made the first contact with him, he assisted us in repelling a large Changeling attack. During which he displayed extreme courage and tenacity, even venturing into a known ambush to assist a stranded recon team led by Lieutenant Midnight.”

Midnight stood in the front row of Lunar Guards, her head remained fixed forward despite receiving a handful of glances from her comrades.

“Of which she was the sole survivor.”

Princess Luna continued, “we do not know the reason for the Changeling attack, however despite their large size it is our opinion that this was simply a reconnaissance unit.

“We have brought you together today for the sole purpose of finding the origin point of these creatures and putting an end to them.

“The 1st Lunar Guards are veterans in combat and recon, which is why you have been selected to lead this operation. The 7th will be coming along for observation and hopefully, to learn from the best,” she allowed a small smile at that.

“As we have already mentioned Commander John Maxon is also highly experienced in combat. He is under our command but if he asks you to do something, do so.” Her tone left little room for argument.

She turned to face John once again, “We shall trust you will not let us down?” Her eyes seemed to flash.

His voice had a distinct nasal and mechanical pitch to it through the speakers of his power armour, “I’ll do my best, ma'am.”

“Very well.” She addressed the older Lunar Guard, "Captain Sharp Wing, have them prepare to disembark."

She approached John as the older Captain grunted orders at the shrivelling 7th and stoic 1st. “Commander, we like to lead from the front, by example – would you accompany us?” She blinked up at him.

John sensed no maleficence, “Not a problem, as long as you don’t mind answering a few questions,” his armoured shoulders hinged up in a half shrug as he stretched his muscles, a stocky laser rifle held in his bulky hands.

Her small smile widened almost imperceptibly before her face became blank and she turned for the flight bay departure ramp.

Effortlessly John joined step with the blue monarch, together they reached the edge of the platform. He surveyed his new environment, rolling hills and bright green grassland blended together with sparse pine trees. Sprinkled around were small towns with what looked to John like pre-war styled houses.

Off to their left in the distance lay a long, slate-grey mountain range. “The Foal mountain range runs east of us toward Fillydelphia, your ship rests about halfway", her head turned to face John, sparkling mane blowing on a gentle breeze.
"We shall board sky carriages destined for the crash site, then search the surrounding treeline and the site of the changeling ambush to try to determine their origin."

“We have supplies to last for a week, three days of searching before we hopefully locate them on the fourth or fifth.” Her dark blue eyes seemed to bore through his armours eyeslits, “any additions you’d like to suggest?”

He didn’t need to think about it. “I’d suggest teaching the 7th things they haven’t any experience in, tracking an enemy for miles and learning the signs of the land is an important skill.”

She hummed in what he thought of an agreement.

“We agree.” He didn’t smile.

After some time in silence save for the rustling and clunking of the guards gearing up, a large sky carriage pulled by four large bat pony stallions alighted with the platform. John couldn’t suppress his surprise at the hovering carriage that seemed to be suspended in the air without any technological aid that he could see.

“Come, Commander, you don’t have fear of heights we hope!”

John, Luna and several Lunar Guards including those who’d fought with him at his ships crash site boarded the carriage, several slightly smaller and less intricate looking carts pulled up to the edge of the platform, most pulled by Royal Guards as the remaining troops boarded.

Within a few minutes, a dozen carriages were flying high in two parallel V formations, toward the Anlace's final resting place.

---------------------------

After a solid fifty minute flight, the flecks of golden sunshine had mingled with the few wispy clouds in the sky. The azure sea overhead showed no signs of rain. It was the perfect weather for flying.

John had flown in many types of aircraft. Large Vertical Take-Off and Landing transports small, fast-attack dropships and had even trained as a pilot in simulation booths.

He had been shot down twice in his life and ever since had been extra wary of his surroundings - spending much of the flight scanning the rolling terrain below and searching far-off treelines in anticipation of anti-aircraft fire. He wasn't sure such technology even existed in this new world, but he didn't want to take the chance.

The Lunar Guards in his carriage also appeared to be watching the ground as well as keeping their eyes facing skyward. Princess Luna had unsheathed both of her longswords and had been sharpening them with a small whetstone before polishing them with a silken cloth.

John had checked his laser weapon by pressing a small release on the left-hand side, the barrel and emitter flicked open on a small hinge allowing John to inspect its internals. The focusing array of red crystals had begun to build up with a slightly charcoal and soot looking substance - taking a small cloth of his own out of his armour he gave it a quick wipe before locking the barrel back in place.

"Princess Luna", John broke the silence, "tell me about these changelings."

She sat at the front of the carriage, her head pivoted on a long blue neck to face John, "Tell us what thou wish to know", she said delicately.

"What are they? Where do they come from? What do they want?" He asked each question in the same nasally tone.

She hummed before facing forward, "Changelings have existed here for as long as we can remember. We believe they were created as minions for a being we call Discord. A powerful magical creature who sowed chaos and ruin throughout the world, my sister and I eventually defeated him in a sort of duel - he was petrified in stone and remains closely guarded in Canterlot."

Johns' eyebrows rose a hairs width under his helmet.

She continued, "they occupy hives and have a sort of "shared consciousness". They feed on the life force of others, using their magic to horrifically deprive one of their energy."

She turned to once again look at John with anger evident in her eyes, "they kill without mercy. They cannot be reasoned with, cannot be bargained with. We have nothing they want except our lives."

Her nose scrunched, "a few years ago they attacked Canterlot - they nearly took our capital." She sighed sadly, "they killed and captured thousands of our little ponies."

Her voice had taken on a harsh, angry tone as she spoke through gritted teeth, "We swore a solemn vow to never let them capture or hurt anypony as long as we still draw breath."

Her eyes looked cold, John had seen people turned heartless before but this was different, more like a mother sacrificing parts of herself to protect her child.

"We will find out where they live and where they breed and we shall destroy them!"

She had finished her last few sentences off so loudly that every pony in the other carriages could hear as well; in response to her rallying cry the Lunar Guard all chanted in union "Ah-hoo!"

She turned to face forward again.

John began to recognize the crash site from the familiar terrain - but the Anlace was nowhere to be seen.

As if she had read his mind Luna answered his unspoken query, "Worry not Commander, members of the Royal Guards 1/6th will have been ordered to cast a concealment spell - effectively rendering your ship invisible."

John remained silent for the last few minutes of the flight, a small landing strip had been marked out and the carriages swooped down onto it one by one. The carriage John was in rattling and juddering as its wheels kissed the earth.

As their transport came to a stop, three guards seemed to appear from thin air a short distance away, they walked slowly toward their carriage as the bat-ponies from within started to disperse. John stood and leapt over the side, landing on the soft ground - his weight causing him to sink a few millimetres.

The other carriages landed and their occupants also started to unload themselves and several crates John hadn't noticed before, food supplies John thought.

Princess Luna and Lieutenant Midnight moved together toward the three ponies, John could make out the red plume of the 1/6th's Captain.

Meanwhile, Captain Sharp Wing had begun shouting orders to form up, he was harrying the Royal Guard - who cowered at his voice, The two dozen crates were piled up neatly near to John, after which the Royal and Lunar Guard moved in columns toward the treeline.

"Over here commander", the Princess beckoned with a silver clad hoof.

Johns laser rifle was held loosely in his armoured hands as he thudded over to join four Guards and a Princess.

The Lieutenant sat on her haunches, the two guards with the Captain were two of the Lieutenants John had seen last night.

"Commander, you remember Captain Stark Wing."

"Commander", Captain Stark Wing said and nodded at John.

"Captain", John returned, with a small nod of his own.

"These are Lieutenants—"

John cut her off, "Lieutenants Seaberry and Hayseed."

Princess Luna returned her outstretched hoof to the ground, "Indeed," she addressed Stark Wing, "Captain, we would like a situation update."

"Certainly if you'll follow me." The three officers turned in unison and began toward what looked like an empty field. John's sensors were picking up something.

After a dozen strides, the three ponies seemed to faze out of view, Princess Luna and Lieutenant Midnight didn't break stride so neither did John. They seemed to pass through some kind of electrical magnetic field, Johns HUD flashed with static for a moment.

John felt it was akin to walking through a shower of Nuka-Cola. Once on the other side, the Anlace appeared before them, its grey hull pitted with scorch marks and dents, the underside of the hull had jagged holes all across its length.
The 1/6th had constructed foxholes in a loose semi-circular perimeter with two Guards per hole, more roamed around in patrols.

"Very good Captain," Luna started, "have you ensured nopony has entered this vessel?" She asked with an appreciative glance at the Anlace.

"Of course Princess, my Guards are curious — but not stupid — and they know their place."

"Very good, Captain. Commander, you mentioned on the flight here that you had a task to complete?" Luna asked.
John only nodded before stomping off toward the Anlace.

Once there he inspected a large pile of debris, the Guards must have collected all of the loose parts of the Anlace's crumbling hull.

John bent at the waist after stowing his laser rifle and scooped up several large pieces of hardened starship armour, lightweight, strong and temperature resistant — composed of titanium, tungsten and trinium, it's a metallurgical wonder to be sure.

He then proceeded toward the Ambush site and a compass marker on his HUD that labelled the location of a radioactive mass. Many of the Guards' heads swivelled to watch him thud toward the outstretch of trees.

Just before the treeline was a large smouldering black pile, it was still smoking — John could easily make out the burned and crispy remains of Changelings. This was a mass grave. John ignored the grisly spectacle and continued toward his objective.

Soon after he reached the ovaloid craft, he glanced up its three-meter height, with another meter buried in the mud. John deposited the scrap metal at his armoured feet and wrapped both arms around the pods middle in a giant bear hug.
His armour hissed and groaned with the strain, eventually, the core began to raise out and back from the hold that the ground had on it. As it fell over John released his grip and stepped back to watch it crash to the forest floor.

He then began to create a shell around the core with the scrap metal, it took several minutes as he welded each one in place, fetching a plasma torch from within a circular capsule still strapped to his hip.
The woods were very different from the night previous, the trees were thick and covered in rough bark. They stretched tall, dust and particles slowly drifted down illuminated by the suns rays which met the forest floor in the places it hadn't been obstructed.

All around birds chirped and tweeted, a dozen meters away and slightly below John's position lay the ambush site - dark stains covered much of the clearing, the ground had been disturbed. Currently, it was the staging area for the 1st Lunar Guards and 7th Guard Auxiliary.

He could see mixed patrols of several Lunar and Royal Guards were heading deeper into the wood, likely trying to locate more Changelings.

John concentrated on welding a complete shell around the defunct lifeboat. He had nearly finished and knew he would have to return with more scrap to complete it when he heard hoof steps approach him from the direction of the crash site.
He stood and whirled around quietly, upon seeing it was Luna with Lieutenant Midnight, he returned to welding.
A large collection of shredded hull crashed down on top of the few pieces he had remaining, he sent a glance at the ponies in question.

Luna offered a small smile while Midnight continued past him, over a small rise and down an embankment to join the rest of the Guards.

"We foresaw thou needing more material." Her voice had returned to its usual cool, smokiness.

"I appreciate it," John didn't turn to face her — instead he reached out with an armoured gauntlet and tugged more twisted hull fragments toward the semi-complete shell, then using his armours weight and servo-assisted strength, he would crush the fragments into shape and weld them on.

After several minutes with Luna silently watching him work, he holstered his plasma torch.

"What happens now?" Asked the blue Princess.

"I'm going to use an explosive to create a large hole and then drag this metal slag into it, then I'm going to bury it forever", he said nonchalantly.

Princess Luna rolled her star-filled eyes, "Thou could request that we do it." her tone failed to hide her slight amusement.

"No offence miss, but you don't look built to dig. But if you want to do it then knock yourself out."

She made a sideways gesture with her head and gave John a queer look before focusing on the casketed pod.
She inhaled deeply before her horn illuminated brightly, dark blue tendrils engulfed the capsule and the ground around it. The magical display causing eerie shadows to dance around them.

The ground seemed to liquify, John took several steps back and ignored his urge to be holding a weapon. The dry dirt churned and became muddy, then took on a consistency much like mousse. The boat started sinking, slowly at first before it finally seemed to plummet out of sight.

As suddenly as it had begun, Luna's horn petered out and the churning mud became dry dirt once more.
Johns' eyebrows had fully risen inside his helmet, he'd seen many wonders in his life but nothing quite like this. He experimentally walked back and forth over the spot.

Princess Luna merely smiled at him from her position a few meters away, "Come along Commander, we should make haste if we are to locate this Changeling menace." Her voice tinged with disgust at the end as she walked past John toward the gathered Guards.

John stared at the spot where the core had been a moment longer, before turning to follow the Princess down toward the ambush site.

Lieutenant Midnight was stood off to one side blankly looking at a mix of red-black and green blood stains, at her hooves lay a Lunar Guard helm. She nudged it with a foreleg, she closed her eyes tightly for a moment. Then suddenly opened them and the sadness and slight vulnerability had vanished, to be replaced with her constant steely glare, which she levelled at John — before displaying a small nod of respect or perhaps gratitude in his direction.

"Form up!" Captain Sharp Wing screamed, much in the same way a bull would bellow.

The Guards all came to attention immediately, even John felt himself involuntarily stand a little straighter.
The Princess gave a head raise as she looked to the ageing stallion, "I've organised search teams using a mix of the 7th Auxiliary and our own Lunar Guard, Ma'am."

"Very well," she sounded pleased, "keep a large pool in reserve, if one of our scouts detect any Changelings we want you to amass at that position. Are we clear Captain?" Her eyes could make most shrink.

Sharp Wing could only grunt out a "Yes ma'am!" in response, years of military servitude and a long marriage had hardened him to a mare's ocular assault.

--------------------

As the last teams of Pegasi and Bat Ponies took off to conduct ariel recon, John thundered over to Lieutenant Midnight. He hadn't noticed in the dark before, but her fur colour was unique looking compared to the others that he'd seen. Most were coloured in greys, blacks and browns whereas the young Lieutenant had a colouration much like a tabby cat, with black stripes travelling across her forehead and disappearing underneath her silver helmet, more stripes ran sideways across her cheeks - her fur was also a little fuller looking.

She watched him approach with yolk-yellow eyes, a rather thick slit of an iris much like that of a cat, expanding slightly as he stopped near her.

"You said before, that during the ambush the Changelings came out of a cave?"

She didn't move, "Yes."

"Where?"

She gestured to her right and slightly behind her into a small pit in the terrain, it was perhaps a meter deep and a few around.

"There", she said tonelessly.

John moved toward it, unslinging his laser weapon in the process. He aimed at the pit, a small rocky entrance making itself known, just large enough to squeeze a couple of ponies through side-by-side.

A radar pulse on his Heads Up Display let him know the long furred Lieutenant had silently joined him.

"Have you scoped it out?" He said angling himself so he could glance both at the pony and the cave entrance.

"No." She said, her face fixated on the hole in the ground.

"Stay behind me then," John said as he began for the hole, he stuck his head and laser occupied arm through the opening and squatted down, he mentally activated a small torch at the end of his outstretched weapon.

It shone down a short tunnel, about six meters long and smooth on either side, it had a sticky gel-like substance coating the walls and ending at what Johns internal sensors registered might be a large cavern.

He pulled himself out slightly, "Hole extends to a cave underground, large enough for that ambush force for sure." He peeked back inside the cave, "we should investigate."

He heard her shuffle close to him, trying to catch a glimpse of her ambushers hiding spot, "I don't think you'll fit in that armour." She tapped a horseshoe on one of his shoulder pauldrons.

"Not to worry," he groaned exaggeratedly as he rose to his full height. Deactivating his torch and stepping back up toward the gathered ponies, he exited from his power armour - drawing the eyes from many of those close to him.
After stepping down he snagged a few microfusion cells from his power armours bandolier and clipped them to a belt on his all-black body suit.

John then unholstered a laser pistol from his armours lower back and turned to leave only to halt once Luna called out to him, "Going for a stroll, Commander?" Her tone the most upbeat he'd heard yet.

John turned to shout back, "Lieutenant Midnight and I are going to investigate a cave, we suspect it held those Changelings", he added, "if that's alright?"

"Very good Commander," the Princess turned to look at the Guards around her, "Frosted Whip, go with him, be careful."

"You bet Princess,"

"Captain," she addressed an older looking Unicorn mare clad in a golden breastplate, a short sword sheathed at her back.

"Yes, ma'am?" The Guards voice was fruity and matched the youthful energy in her eyes.

"Have two of yours go with them." Luna offered the tiniest of smiles before turning to Captain Sharp Wing.

The Royal Guard Captain scanned the two dozen Royal Guard, many of whom had gathered to talk quietly, share a few morsels of food and drink from water bladders.

"Inglewood, Greenbush, look alive! You're with the biped, try not to get yourselves killed!"

Two Guards near the Captain snapped off quick salutes, before stowing their food and drink, gathering weapons and moving hastily toward him.

An unarmoured John, Frosted Whip and the two Royal Guards returned to Lieutenant Midnight, John could see her stance relax a little at the sight of them, she had a sabre drawn and it lowered a degree.

John activated his torch once again, "Les' go." He said as he led the way into the tunnel.

Even out of armour John was a healthy two meters tall, he was broad and built like a weight lifter — his muscles visibly flexing under the rubbery material of his under armour.

The angle of descent wasn't terribly steep and after a minute of tense silence, John emerged into a large cavern. He shone his light all around searching for hostiles as the convoy of ponies fanned out around him with their own sources of illumination, weapons out and ready.

The cave looked strange to John, almost a perfect egg shape with a flat, rocky floor and the same slimy substance that seemed to ooze from the cave walls.

Around the edges on the far side lay several pony-sized pods, John pointed toward them and slowly advanced forward, the ponies in a line spanning from one wall to the other keeping pace.

With his weapon trained on the pods, his group eventually stopped about a meter from them. John swept the light back and forth revealing several beige coloured pods shaped like cartoon beehives, with the same mucus covering them as well as everything else.

"Gross," said one of the Royal Guards, her voice tremulous.

"Quiet!" Said Midnight in a hushed shout.

John crouched down nearer the pods and prodded one with a gloved finger, it was squishy and a trail of slime came away with his finger, "Gross is right, what are these things?" His voice low.

"Eggs?" The other Royal Guard offered.

No one said anything as John hovered his flashlight near the surface of the pod, the light shone through and revealed a pony-shaped something but it wasn't clear to John if it was a changeling or not. He unsheathed a combat knife from his forward leg and began to slice horizontally across the side of the sack.

"What are you doing?!" Midnight said in the same harsh whisper, a little alarmed.

Without answering the pod burst open causing John to hastily take a few steps back. The tear surged out litres of cloudy muck and mucus along with a lime-green Pegasus mare. She lay still for a moment, before struggling and coughing as she vomited up more mucus, the image of a Daisy chain tattooed on her backside flexed as she spasmed and gagged.

Suddenly the cave burst into sound and movement, causing John to whirl around with his laser pistol up. Two dozen dark coloured, buzzing shapes were emerging from hidden recesses in the walls and floor and heading right for Johns group.
"Contact!" John yelled reflexively as he started squeezing off shots into the burry forms. The Lieutenant and Frosted Whip pushed toward them, swords out and cutting a few down. Both Royal Guard remained fixed at Johns side, one of them a unicorn mare — throwing daggers with her magic, the other held a short sword in her mouth and made a move to help the two Bat-Ponies.

Midnight and Whip lashing out with short, powerful jabs and slashes — striking down several between them, the Royal Guard with her sword crudely imitating and getting a single kill of her own, as she ducked under an aerial attack and stabbed upward into the underside of an unfortunate bug-horse.

John estimated he'd killed nearly a dozen and there were only four left now, two had cornered the unicorn Guard who'd backed up toward the other side of the cave wall from John. She darted her last throwing knife at one, managing to catch it in the neck, the other tackling her as she whipped out a small blade.

Johns lapse of attention made him miss one of the remaining Changelings as it flew straight for him at great speed, impacting his abdomen like a bullet fired out of a gun.

The force sent his sidearm scattering to the cave floor, the light casting shadows. John folded up toward the wall behind him, he stumbled over the pony on the floor, she cried out in a mix of pain and fear.

As he landed on his back with the Changeling on top of him he tried to reach his combat knife but the Changeling immediately began trying to bite him. It hissed and screeched at its fang and tooth-filled maw tried to eat Johns' face.

John's hands shot up to hold the assaulting mouth away while his brain scrambled to think of a way to gain the upper hand.
No more than ten seconds had passed with neither brawler making any progress, the Green Mare from before shouted a shrill battle-cry as she slammed a rock down upon the Changelings head.

The impact sent cracks across its scalp and its electric-blue eyes dimmed in Pain, John rolled it from him and toward the pony as she hit the squirming Changeling, again and again, its skull turned to mulch, splattering her with its green blood.

John stood up without the use of his hands and did a combat roll toward his laser pistol. He picked it up and sighted it at the ponies in front of him, Frosted Whip, one Royal Guard and the Lieutenant having just dispatched their last combatants.
The final unicorn mare shouted as her and the last Changeling left alive battled it out, both sported cuts and had both lost their weapons. John didn't hesitate in sighting the black bugs centre mass and squeezing off a shot, a red bolt lashed out a little high, it cut a hole clean through the Changeling just below the neck to stub out against the wall behind it.

The unicorn mare wasted no time in levitating her own blade back up and whisked it across the dying Changelings throat, its death was quick.

John looked at the Lime-coloured mare as she sat staring at her blood-soaked forelegs, "Thanks." He said as he looked over at the Lieutenant, "Help me with these pods."

John quickly walked over to one of the other pods and sliced it open, the ponies around him joining in with a pod of their own. For each pod opened a pony would slide out, giving a similar reaction to the first.

As the cacophony of coughing and retching subsided, a unicorn mare with a light pink coat and long golden hair cried out, "My baby — has anypony seen my baby?!" Her voice wobbled.

As she started, others chimed in with pleas of their own;

"Where am I?" One choked out.

"Who are you?" Another said tearfully.

"Wheres my wife?" Said a stallion in a wheezy voice.

John had seen civilians caught up in acts of atrocities too many times, often more severe than this. At least they were alive, he thought.

He turned to stalk past the Guards who were doing their best to calm and reassure the wayward captives.
"Calm them down and direct them up-top," he said to the Lieutenant, her eyes looked glassy. A head bobble was his only reply, satisfied he returned to the surface to inform the Princess of their find.

* * *

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