• Published 15th Jan 2020
  • 812 Views, 89 Comments

In From The Cold - Cackling Moron



Twilight's prized pupil finds something in space.

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#7

Author's Note:

Kind of really the whole bit everything else was just the protective wrapping for, honestly.

This whole story was just a delivery vector for me to do this.

Jack did come back pretty quickly and pretty sheepishly, too, arriving in time to meet the various groups as they decanted from the shuttle in the morning to get started again.

“Sorry,” he’d said, shuffling up to Nova. “I, uh, panicked. Heh, excited! So, uh, ho-how long you reckon she’ll take to, ah, get here? Roughly?”

Nova explained - patiently - that there would be multiple variables involved but at the outside they were looking at two weeks or more, probably more. Jack was plainly deeply disappointed that the answer wasn’t just ‘She’s here already’ but he put a brave face on it.

“Ah. Right. Space big, yes. I’ve heard this, yes,” he said.

In the meantime his offer to act as local guide still stood, and Nova did indeed make use of it, if only to keep an eye on him.

Not that it turned out to be a whole lot of use. The place not having developed in the conventional way there wasn’t a whole lot to actually look at. He basically just talked them through what he’d done and where he’d done it, and most of what he’d done hadn’t been done with a whole lot of thought behind it beyond this weirdly repeated need he had to ‘keep the place tidy’.

After a while Nova felt it was honestly bordering on the obsessional. It wasn’t even that tidy!

Still, all of it was sufficient to finally convince Nova that it was safe to remove helmets while outside the shuttle, much to the relief of all concerned. If Jack had seemed pleasantly surprised on seeing pony-shaped, spacesuit wearing visitors he was practically beside himself when he saw actual ponies.

“Oh my God you’re as adorable as I remember!” He’d said.

“Please don’t say that,” Nova had replied, through gritted teeth.

“Hey, this is my planet I’ll say what I like. Oh! The horn! I forgot about those! And that bug-pony-thing is colourful!”

And he would point to Crewman Spiracle who, on noticing that the alien was pointing at him, pointed to himself in confusion. Nova had to wave him back to work.

“They’re called Changelings and what are you even talking about? They’ve always looked like that!”

“Really? Wow I missed a lot. Nothing then, just changes is all. Ah, I miss Eggs, she was nice.”

“...what?”

There was a lot of that sort of rambling, context-free nonsense from Jack, even as he continued to help them out with pointers on how the planet worked. Or didn’t work, as it was. It really was the work of one man. A man who could do things like just make trees out of whatever, yes, but only one type of tree and only over and over.

So close, but no cigar. Impressive, but needed work.

In the end it did not take as long for Twilight to arrive on the planet as it had for Nova and her crew to get there, because Twilight came direct, didn’t stop to see the sights and also apparently had really pushed the limits of what the ship she came in could do. Once in-system they sent a message through that they were making their final approach, and then it was just counting the hours.

“Twilight’s coming! She’s coming on a spaceship! Oh this is amazing!” Jack giggled, hopping from foot to foot, eyes on the sky. Nova scowled at him.

“Would you stand still for just two seconds?”

“Sorry, I’m excited!” He said, continuing to hop.

“You know I’m starting to see how you managed to get the Princess mad.”

“Haven’t lost it, great!”

Fairly soon after the ship came into actual view, burning down towards them. Jack actually squealed.

“I’m going to hide behind this bush. Shh!” He said, pointing to a bush that just-so happened to be there. Nova goggled at him.

“Seriously?”

“It’ll be funny! Shh, shh! Don’t tell her anything!”

And off he went, practically skipping.

“Conduit for one of the underpinning forces of the galaxy and he’s hiding behind a bush…” Nova said, shaking her head and returning her attention to the rapidly-approaching spaceship, growing larger and glowing more brightly with every passing second.

The ship landed shortly thereafter. It was eye-wateringly fancy looking, definitely one of the Hegemony’s higher-end pieces, likely fully automated and AI-driven, likely Twilight was the only flesh-and-blood thing aboard.

A ramp unfurled, and out strode Princess Twilight. There was bowing from those few crewmembers present and watching (when they should have been working) and she smiled and nodded greetings and exchanged words with all as was required, making her way in this fashion to Nova, who was stood on her Todd, no-one else really wanting to have much part in this.

“Hello Nova,” Twilight said.

“Hello Princess Twilight,” Nova said, giving her own little bow. She hated doing it and she knew Twilight didn’t really care, but these things were apparently important. Tradition. Whatever.

“Where is he?” Twilight then asked, looking around, not doing a very good job of hiding her nervousness. Again, this was very strange for Nova to see.

“He’s - “ Nova looked around and over to Jack’s hiding spot, then whispering to Twilight. “He’s planning on jumping out at you. He seemed pretty insistent I not spoil the surprise but, uh, it’s kind of too weird for me not to. Sorry.”

Twilight looked over at the hedge just in time to see Jack peeping over the top. Their eyes met and, a split-second later, Jack vaulted up to full height, arms over his head.

“Surprise!” He cheered, getting thoroughly sandbagged. His arms dropped. “Aww, she told you I was going to do it, didn’t she? Boo! Spoilsport! No sense of fun.”

“I...he…” Twilight gawped.

Nova - feeling this wasn’t really something she should be getting in the middle of - quietly but quickly sidled out of the way, just as Jack circled around from behind his hiding spot and hustled on over.

“Hello, Twilight! Long time no see, eh? How’ve you been?” He asked, coming to a half in front of her, hands on his hips.

Twilight stared at him, mouth hanging open again, like it had when she’d seen him on the screen. This left a void in the conversation where a reply should have been, so, swallowing and with brave face fixed firmly, Jack continued:

“Ooh, you got bigger. Looked bigger on that screen but you can never really tell, can you? You’re all tall now! Well, tallish. Kinda Celestia-shaped, actually. Is that an Alicorn thing or what? Heh, Alicorn - look at me! Still remembering the lingo! It’s all coming back to me,” he said.

Twilight just kept staring, not moving a muscle. Jack became concerned and waved a hand in front of her face.

“Twilight? You alright there? Are you freezing up on me? It’s that screen all over again”

Letting out a sob Twilight took everyone present - Jack included - by surprise, lunging forward at speed and colliding with Jack and wrapping legs and wings around him before proceeding to bawl into his shoulder, standing on her hind legs.

So stunned was Jack he was just left standing with his arms sticking out past the wailing pony for a second or so before he snapped into gear and put those arms actually, properly around her. In response Twilight clung tighter and cried louder, though no more clearly.

“Hey whoa slow down a little there,” Jack said, softly as anything, hoiking her up off the ground and holding her better supported, cradling her and sinking to his knees still holding her. It came easily to him, and he did it without thinking.

And given that she was probably about the same size as him he did it without apparent effort, either, but only Nova noticed this, and even then only distantly.

Twilight continued being incoherent, though quieter, whatever she was saying fully muffled and then just tailing off into total silence, broken only by further, increasingly sporadic sobs.

Eventually though she pulled away from him and the very, very damp patch she’d managed to cry into his shirt. Curled in his arms she found Jack smiling down at her, and found that she couldn’t look him in the face.

“I left you behind,” she croaked, eyes red.

Not much use in denying this, Jack felt.

“Well, yeah. But you had to. You didn’t have a choice. I heard.”

“I could have found a way!”

“Eh, maybe. I mean, if anyone could have it would have been you, Twilight, but I really don’t think there was anything you could have done. And trust me, I’ve had the time to think about this. I wasn’t there, but I heard. You were against the clock. If you could have, you would have. You didn’t, so you couldn’t, that’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.”

“B-but I thought you were dead! All t-these years! I - I just left you! I thought I’d left you to die! For so long - for so long I thought - oh Jack!”

More burying her face into him, more sobbing, about as loud as it had been at the start, much to Jack’s obvious distress.

“Hey, hey, hey. It’s fine. I’m okay, aren’t I? Look at me, hale and hearty,” he said, giving her back a rub.

For the first time Twilight actually seemed to look at him properly. The sobs tapered off - but didn’t disappear completely - and she pulled back to get a better view. She blinked, sniffled, all at once confused.

“You’re small again,” she said. Jack pouted and flicked her on the nose, drawing out a small sneeze and what might have been a giggle had she not been still crying and her body not rejected the giggle outright.

“Hey, not small, alright? Averagely sized. And correctly sized,” he said.

“How?”

Jack visibly hesitated.

“There is...let’s get to that later. It’s convoluted. I mean really fucking stupid convoluted. Let’s just take it slow, alright? Let’s have a look around first. Hope you like what I’ve done. I kept the place tidy, just like I told Celestia I would ”

“You...you…” Twilight managed before again burying her face into him - the crook of his neck this time - and just melting into more crying. Not body-wracking sobs, thankfully, but still.

Nova, who had never personally seen Twilight so much as raise her voice in anger and who herself hadn’t even ever considered the possibility of the Princess doing anything close to crying, could only gawp.

“Hey, it’s okay, it’s okay…” Jack said, continuing to rub Twilight’s back, a very distant look in his eye.

It became pretty obvious that he was clinging to her just as much as she was clinging to him.

With some very demonstrative gestures Nova got all those gawking to move on and actually get busy with something, leaving it just Jack, Twilight and her. Nova excused herself because she was the Captain and so she was allowed.

Still kept a respectful distance, though.

“Nova - Nova said that you told her this was…” Twilight said, and though she couldn’t quite bring herself to finish Jack didn’t really need her to.

“Yeah, yeah it is. But don’t think about it. We’ll get onto that. Just hugs for now.”

“Okay,” Twilight said, nursing a small but powerfully genuine smile as she, eyes reddened, just relaxed into the hug, which went on.

And on.

Eventually Twilight’s eyes opened again and met Nova’s. Nova mouthed ‘Is he asleep?’ and Twilight, checking only briefly, shook her head before giving Jack’s face a small nudge with her muzzle.

“Jack, you can let go now,” she said, softly.

“I don’t want to,” he said, readjusting his arms for better and more secure grip.

“Okay. But don’t you want to show me around?” Twilight asked, again softly.

Jack paused and thought about this.

“...you have a point. Alright.”

And he then released her and she got - only slightly wobbly-ly - back onto her hooves, sniffling and dabbing at her eyes. Jack handed her a handkerchief, which he had obviously, and she graciously took it.

“Better?” he asked once she’d blown and dabbed and was more settled.

“Yes, thank you,” she said, handing it back, making sure to have it folded. Jack took it without a trace of concern and tossed it over his shoulder and behind his back, though it didn’t actually seem to land anywhere.

“Great! Then we shall start in this direction!” Jack said before turning and sprinting off at full-tilt. “Don’t wait up, space captain!”

Twilight - who had rather been enjoying the quiet, low-key, unlikely reunion - was suddenly and forcefully reminded of what Jack could be like and was left standing there gormlessly as he ran away. She then snapped out of it.

“Jack, wait!”

He did not wait, and she had to fly after him to keep up.

“Where are we going?” She asked, gliding beside him, flapping occasionally. Jack kept on running, arms pumping, looking as though he’d never been happier.

“Not far!” He said, before somehow speeding up.

Before too long, bodies of water that had been distant became less distant.

He arrived utterly and entirely not out of breath, like he hadn’t been running at all. He stood by the waterside, hands on hips, proud as anything and once Twilight caught up and landed he opened his arms to take in the scenery.

“Lakes! Lakes are cool. I remember lakes. You like my lakes?”

“They’re - you made these?” Twilight asked, looking around.

Nova (in some of her communications prior to Twilight’s arrival) had mentioned something like this but Twilight had just imagined that what it had meant was that Jack had spent some of the intervening years digging a big hole or something, which Twilight could have seen him doing.

Not this.

Jack beamed.

“I made everything!”

Jack went off on a tangent here. Something about how water was pretty easy because water was - speaking broadly - quite common in space and how he’d been lucky enough to snag a comet one time and had been able to use that as a thing to copy off of, and from there he went into another tangent about the difficulties of getting a tree to work because the only examples he could find were buried deep underground and dead. It was about this point that Twilight finally felt the need to interject and cut him off.

“Jack? Jack!”

“-and they just kept dying on me! So- hmm? Ah, sorry, carrying on wasn’t I?

“How? How did you do any of this?”

“Ah, boring technical details. You can ask your girl about those. The little you, the space captain. Uh, Nova, that’s the name, yes. Slipped my mind a second there. She’ll fill you in. It’s not that interesting. She does kind of remind me of you, you know. She doesn’t really have a lot of patience for me, either! Heh. Nice girl.”

“She’s very capable and I’m very proud of her. She’s already told me a little, though with some deliberate gaps, I think. I have some of my own questions,” Twilight said.

“Figured you would.”

“How...are you...here…? When - when we left the sun was - was dying, or going to start dying. And now you’re here around this one? And this is - this is home?”

“Fair question, I guess. Told your girl already. I moved the planet from where it was to here. Seemed as good a place as any.”

Twilight blinked at him. She, like Nova, was expecting the punchline.

“You moved the planet?”

“Ugh, yes. Your girl not mention that part? Guess she figured you might not believe her. Why does everyone sound so surprised? Was hardly going to stay in the dark forever, was I? Oh man was it dark!”

Jack shivered briefly and again got that distant look.

“I never used to mind the dark…”

Before Twilight could press on that Jack snapped back into all-smiles and looked down at her.

“Oh yeah! There was something else I wanted to show you. Didn’t tell any of the others ‘cos I figured they wouldn’t get it. You’ll probably get it. Hopefully, heh. You can tell me if it’s weird or not,” he said.

An ominous way to introduce anything.

“Um, okay,” Twilight said, warily.

“It’s a ways away though, so, uh, hang on. Come here and hold still,” he said, gesturing for her to come in, which she did, and once she was within arm’s reached he grabbed her and pulled her in closer. Twilight went ‘eep’ and then looked up at him, eyebrow quirked.

“Did you just want to hug me again?” She asked.

“No. Well, yes, yes. But it wasn’t intended, honest. Did you not want another?” Jack asked, honestly having not actually considered what he was doing beyond whatever it was he’d had planned.

Twilight smiled to herself and dug into his side.

“It’s nice.”

“Heh, bonus then, But hold on.”

She did, wondering why, and then there followed a split-second of absolute brightness and the blood-freezing, gut-wrenching feeling of being sat on a chair that suddenly tips over backwards and then all that stopped and they were standing somewhere else. The water was gone.

“Yeah, you’re not the only one who can teleport now! Hah! How’d you like that?” Jack said, unwinding his arms from around Twilight who could only stare in shock.

“I - how did you do that?” She asked.

Jack frowned.

“Can’t really explain it, if I’m being honest. Just something. But still. Nice, right?”

“Kind of felt like you were showing off.”

“I was! Did need to be somewhere else though. And here we are!”

He spread his arms again and Twilight looked around. Looked like a lot of rolling, grassy hills stretching down to flatter, more level ground to her. Pleasant, but hardly something you’d go out of your way to show someone, surely?

“What are you showing me?” She asked.

“This. Or those. See those mountains?” Jack said, pointing over behind her. Twilight turned, looked.

“Yes?”

There were indeed two very prominent mountains, not that far away from one another. They stuck out because they weren’t part of a range and didn’t really fit into the otherwise rather flat and rolling plain they sat in the middle of. As though someone had just shoved them there.

There was a reason for this.

“So before we got moving I managed to snag the teeny-tiny sun and the teeny-tiny moon and pull them down. They were, uh, unconventional. Not that I’m an expert. The moon made sense but the sun really didn’t. Still, I got them both down. A lot of them I used for raw materials - didn’t think they’d mind, really - but most of the rest I used to make into those mountains. See? That’s Celestia on the left, that’s Luna on the right. That’s what I called them, too. The mountains, I mean. Original, eh?”

Twilight was speechless. Jack wasn’t sure what to make of her silence.

“You, uh, don’t think they’d mind, do you?”

Twilight continued being speechless, which Jack took as a bad sign.

“Urgh, it was weird, wasn’t it? Knew it was weird. Probably weird I talk to them sometimes, too. Forget I said that. Forget I even showed you! Goddamnit, idiot…” He muttered to himself, grimacing.

“Jack…”

He didn’t need to hear any more confirmation, he could see it now.

“It’s weird, I know. Had been planning on maybe seeing if I could work something out for the others I remembered but I didn’t know what. Glad I didn’t, now, too weird,” he said.

“I - I don’t think they’d mind,” Twilight said. Jack blinked, looked down at her but she was still just staring at the mountains.

“No?” Jack asked.

Twilight swallowed, shook her head.

“No.”

“Oh. Good then,” Jack said.

Awkward silence here. Jack licked his lips.

“B-but listen to me! Carrying on! All about me, eh? What about you! I hear you’re a big-dick cool guy now! Running some sort of, uh, space colony? For all the ponies and dragons and stuff? Part of some Federation or something?” He asked, forcing as much cheerful enthusiasm into what he said as he could manage.

“The Hegemony,” Twilight corrected and Jack snapped his fingers.

“That’s the one! Real sci-fi shit! That’s got to be good, right?”

The reality of being a Hegemony Governor and also a Princess (among several other important personages on the habitat, though those were more involved in local matters than overarching governance) had long-ago become a grinding, monotonous chore and so all of the shine had come off. Most days Twilight didn’t even really notice what it was she was doing anymore.

“It’s...it’s okay. Just life. Problems come, problems are solved. It’s comfortable. It’s nice.”

“That does sound nice.”

Again, awkward silence. Jack was filled with total and complete terror at having made a mistake somewhere and this terror immediately curdled into crippling, paralysing indecision about what he should do next. Thus the silence continued.

Twilight was the one to break it:

“Jack?”

“Hmm?”

“What was it like? Here?” She asked.

“You mean what was it like all on my own, don’t you?”

“...yes.”

Jack swallowed. The both of them were just staring at the mountains now.

“It was…quiet. Dark. Cold,” he said.

“What did you do? Before all this, I mean,” Twilight asked.

“Ah, back before I figured out how to do anything? The early days. Oh I just, you know, wandered around the place a bit whenever I was awake. Well, kind of a big bit, really,” Jack said, waving about a hand to indicate ‘around the place’.

“When you say the place you mean…?”

“The planet? I guess? All over.”

“Did - was there ever anyone else?”

A forlorn hope, but Twilight felt she had to ask.

“Here? Heh, no. The sun went out. Not a really a whole lot to work with for most people,” Jack said.

“So you really were just...alone...for all this time?”

He shrugged.

“Little bit. Certainly didn’t get any visitors. Mean, why would anyone visit a dead planet? I wouldn’t. Suppose that counts as alone.”

Kind of the definition of alone, really.

For Twilight it took a moment for this to sink in for her.

“When you - when you never woke up and we had to leave I always thought you’d - you’d just died. I’m sorry! But now you’re saying you woke up? All alone? That’s worse! That’s worse than you dying! That’s so much worse! I’m so sorry, Jack!”

She was looking at him again, now, and her eyes were brimming with yet more tears. Seeing this felt to Jack oddly like how being stabbed at had felt, all that time ago. He wasn’t a fan. So now was clearly the time for a joke.

“Kind of sounds like you wish I’d died there, Twilight,” he said

“I - I - “ Twilight foundered.

Not the time for a joke. Jack had never been very good at that, he remembered, and that had been back before he’d spent however long with only himself for company. Very quickly he knelt down and put his arms about her neck and, sniffling, Twilight leant into him.

“Hey, shh, sorry, just messing. Sorry. I’ve been on my own for a while - heh - kind of rusty. You go a bit funny when you’ve only got yourself to talk to,” he said. He just felt Twilight nod. He gave her hair a stroke. He’d forgotten how soft it was.

“Course, the ironic thing is, way back when - you know, back when I was home, home home, so a looooong time ago now, hah! - I used to sometimes fantasise about being the only one on the whole planet. A little alone time, yeah? I thought it would be great. Turns out, eh, not so great,” Jack said, still stroking, apparently not understanding when to shut up.

Twilight was willing to help him out, however.

“Jack,” she said. “Shh.”

“Oh, right, sorry.”

The silence that followed this time was not awkward. At some point Twilight sat on her rump the better to hug back, and this position held for some time. Without an audience, neither really felt much need to hurry it along.

When it eventually broke both were a little bleary-eyed and smiling dopily.

Jack cupped her face with both hands and couldn’t help but smile wider.

“It’s you. It’s really you!” He said.

An outlandish and thoroughly ill-fitting thing to say right then, and so something that got a giggle out of Twilight and therefore something that had immense value.

“It’s me alright,” she said.

Jack did not let go of her face or stop looking her in the eye, smiling.

Started out fairly pleasant, but rapidly become a bit unnerving.

“Jack. You’re staring,” Twilight said in the gently-nudging manner she felt was required.

He finally seemed to realise this and blinked, releasing his hold on her face and pushing up to standing.

“Sorry, just hard to believe you’re really here. That anyone’s here. I just…”

Jack winced once, then again. Then he doubled over and collapsed to his hands and knees.

“Jack! Are you alright?” Twilight asked, standing up herself and moving in. Jack held a hand up to forestall her.

“Hang on, hang on. Oh no, oh no…”

“Jack, are you-” Twilight said, getting that far before Jack lunged, practically flinging himself at her hooves, wrapping himself about her legs and immediately starting to bawl:

“Are you real? Tell me you’re real! Tell me I’m not dreaming this again! I’m not? I’m not?! Oh God I missed you! I missed you so much! I missed everyone but especially you! It’s been so quiet! It was so dark! I was so lonely! I was lonely for so long that I stopped noticing! T-then those others arrived and I remembered! I talked to someone who wasn’t me! Oh God it all came back! What’s happened to me?! What did I do wrong?! I was never meant to live this long! I was here all on my own for so long! And you weren’t here and so many times I dreamed you came back and f-fixed me and made everything the way it was but it was always only a dream and it never came true! Oh God!”

And just as soon as he’d started he stopped bawling, knelt back on his haunches, wiped some of the snot from his face.

“Whoo! Sorry about that. Had a moment, heh. Those happen, not sure why. Haven’t had one of those in a long time! Not for a long long time. Won’t happen again, promise - all better now!” He said, grinning wildly.

“Jack, I’m sorry-”

He cut in.

“No no no, you don’t have to be sorry for anything, I’m the sorry one. Normally I’m pretty good, actually. I think I’m just happy to see you. Sorry. I’ll contain myself better.”

“We can talk about it if you-”

He cut in again.

“No, no. No no no no. Not right now, no. No.”

Jack produced another handkerchief out of somewhere uncertain and dabbed at himself, while Twilight, after a moment, settled in and sat down next to him, just resting her head on his shoulder, saying nothing.

“You turn me to fucking jelly, you do. Always did,” Jack said once the handkerchief was gone. Twilight chuckled, briefly, quietly.

“Probably should have mentioned that sooner,” she said.

“Probably, probably,”

The sun was starting to go down. Not near the horizon yet, but heading that way. Given that it had been morning back where they’d left this did seem suggest they’d gone a far distance across the planet.

Jack sighed and put an arm around Twilight.

“I look fine and I tell myself I’m fine and most of the time I act like I’m fine but I think I’m much farther from fine than I’d care to admit. Like a circle. Or a horseshoe that’s a micron off being a circle. Come almost all the way around, almost back to fine, almost but not quite. Maybe. I don’t know. I’m just…”

He trailed off. Then he giggled.

“Heh, horseshoe,” he said. Twilight rolled her eyes.

“Okay look,” Jack said. “I am only going to tell you this, alright? In confidence. Only you. And I’m only telling you because I - because I trust you, okay?”

“Still?” Twilight asked and Jack frowned at her, confused.

“What are you talking about? It hasn’t been that long. Anyway yes, still. Always, always. So I’m just telling you. The others - please don’t tell the others. Please don’t tell anyone. It’s not bad I just...don’t like it.”

“Okay, Jack.”

He sighed, steeling himself,

“This isn’t me,” he said, tapping a finger against his chest. Then looking uncertain. “Well, it is, but it’s not me me. Me - I - the actual Jack, is...kind of everywhere right now.”

“What?”

“You know how I...grew?”

“Yes.”

Her failure to stop that was a sore spot that had lain hidden and dormant for a long, long time. She’d almost forgotten about how hard she’d tried to find a way to help him back then. Almost, but not quite. And now it came back. Her breath hitched.

Jack continued:

“It didn’t stop. It’s stopped now but that’s only because I figured out how to make it stop, and by that time it was…”

He went quiet, and went quiet long enough that Twilight had to prompt him to keep going:

“Was what?”

“‘Too late’ I guess would be the phrase. I kept growing, but I didn’t keep growing in the same way. The same shape. Eventually I couldn’t even get up to walk around anymore because I - well - because I didn’t have legs anymore. Not in the conventional sense. Heh. Kind of made it tricky.”

Twilight couldn’t say anything to this.

“And then I stopped getting up at all because I was just asleep all the time. And I mean all the time, permanently. But occasionally I’d know I was asleep and know what was happening...it was weird. And then...everything else…”

He grimaced, like he’d taken a refreshing gulp of water only to learn - after swallowing - that the glass had actually been full of vinegar.

“Anyway. I’m far, far, far beyond human now is the point. I’m pretty comfortable in saying that. Think I’ve come to terms with it. I’m just something. And I’m - he, Jack, we, me - part of the place now. Grown through the planet. Like roots.”

Jack pointed to the horizon, to a very specific point. He always knew where this place was, no matter where he was in relation to it.

“There’s a big mountain range - that way. Most of me - him’s - under that. Here’s some advice: don’t dig under that range. You wouldn’t like what you find under there. Trust me.”

“Okay, Jack.”

“I sound like I’m not being serious Twilight because I always sound like I’m taking the piss, I know, but I am being deadly serious, please don’t ever look under that mountain. I really don’t want you to see what I ended up as. Please.”

Twilight wasn’t wholly sure where Jack had got the idea that she went poking around under mountains for fun but felt he was probably just being safe. He did, after all, sound like he meant it.

“I won’t,” she said. He groped around for and found her hoof, giving it a squeeze.

“Thank you.”

Finally removing her head from his shoulder Twilight sat up straight again and gave Jack a poke in the side.

“So what’s this - what are you?” She asked.

“This? This body? Thing I - he - made. It’s me again! Ta-dah! But kind of just a copy. Pretty perfect copy but still not the original. He’s - he’s over there somewhere, like I said.”

“What’s....what’s he doing?”

“Right now? Right now he’s asleep. I’m always asleep now. Always and forevermore. But, uh, he - we’re - dreaming, see? Lucid dreaming, like. Sometimes it’s more lucid than others. Those times are pretty great, honestly, get some cool stuff done. Rest of the time, eh, not so much. Vague idea of what’s going on. Just like now. He’s not really doing anything right now. It’s just me now, has been for a while. And the others.”

“Others?”

“Spares. We used to hang out together. I thought it’d be a way of feeling less lonely. Heh, it’s not. Stopped bothering after a while. Poor company. Just one of me these days. Just to keep an eye on things. Walk around. Just doing circuits of the planet, trying to stay ahead of the dark side, if I could. Round and around. One time I said I’d keep count of how many times but, heh, I lost count.”

Jack swallowed, then decided to haul things in a different, more cheerful direction.

“So, uh, your girl mentioned something about this Federation of yours-” he started.

“Hegemony,” Twilight corrected. Seriously how hard was it?

Undaunted - and having promptly forgotten what she’d just corrected - Jack carried on:

“Right, right. Well she said that if you found a planet you could live on that they might, you know, let you move in? Maybe bring some actual plants and stuff with you. Is that - is that true?”

Twilight chewed her lip.

“It’s a possibility,” she said.

Jack’s face split into another grin, a much bigger one than any so far.

“That’s good! That’s good, right? Better than an impossibility, yeah?”

“It wouldn’t be automatic or guaranteed, just reasonably likely. And it wouldn’t be quick either, Jack. There’d be talks probably, feasibility studies, checking the location against existing claims. And even if all that worked there’d still be organising the colonisation. It would take a while.”

“I can wait. Trust me, I can wait.”

“And I would have to leave to get it started and oversee it,” Twilight said.

Obvious, really, but from the thunderstruck look on Jack’s face he plainly hadn’t even considered this until she’d just said it.

“Don’t leave me again!” He wailed, clinging onto her. A second later he realised this was perhaps not a great look and disengaged, shuffling an inch or three away from her. “Oh, sorry, heh, not very manly or mature of me, was it? Ahem, sorry. I quite understand. But you could - could stay for a bit though, right? Just a little bit?” He suggested.

“You could always come back with me?” Twilight counter-suggested.

“Come back?” Jack asked, confused. But then he got it. “Oh, you mean this thing, don’t you? No-can-do I’m afraid. One of these gets too far away from the actual me and they just stop working. Trust me, I tried. I’m basically rooted here. So I’ll just wait. It’s fine. Good at waiting. And besides I’ll have your girl and her crew around, right? Or do they have to go too? Is-is-is-is it j-just going to be me again?”

He’d found her hoof again, both hands this time, squeezing maybe a little tighter than he thought he was, eyes maybe a little wilder than he was aware of.

“Nova will - Nova will probably have to stay a while longer. This place is rather unique, after all, isn’t it? Not many examples of this sort of thing around. That’ll have to be documented. Probably take longer than they initially planned,” Twilight said. Jack blinked at her, working out that this was a not-so-subtle way of suggesting she would perhaps suggest that Nova’s lot linger longer than was strictly necessary.

Jack typically needed these sorts of things spelling out, but this time he got it.

“Oh. Y-yeah. Yeah! Yeah you’re right. Weird anomaly, right? Got be worth a proper look around. Cool, great. Can bother her some more. Until you get back. Yeah?”

“Possibly,” Twilight said, loathe to make promises. It was good enough for Jack.

“Cool, cool. But you don’t have to go right away, right? Not much difference in a day or two, right?”

“A day or two is probably fine, Jack.”

“Great! You got no idea how much grass and how many trees and lakes I am going to show you. You’ll be fucking sick of them after day one but you’ll have to put up with it because seeing me again is just so bloody unlikely,” he said, grinning again, pushing off his knees to his feet and stretching up towards the sky. Twilight also got up again.

“You’ve changed, but in a lot of ways you’ve kind of just become more of how you were. I’m not sure how I feel about that,” she said.

“Well I have a brand to consider, don’t I? And besides, I know you always liked me really,” Jack said, giving her a wink.

“I never pretended I didn’t.”

That took the wind out of Jack’s joshing sails, this sincerity. He fumbled for something flippant and irreverent to say but came up with nothing and had to look away and clear his throat.

“This is going to sound strange - and put it down to my giddiness on seeing you again - but I’m kind of fighting the urge to just smother you in kisses right now. Is that strange?” He asked.

“Little bit.”

“Should probably hold off, right?”

“Might be wise,” Twilight said, fighting the grin threatening to break out. Jack nodded, kicked some dirt.

“Yeah, yeah. Smart. But later, right? At some point?”

“Jack…”

He held his hands up in front of him.

“Right right. Too soon. Too soon after too long. I get it. Come on, Twilight! Stop dawdling! We got a lot of ground to cover! This way!”

And off he went.

And Twilight followed with him.

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