• Published 2nd Jan 2021
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Retcon - Beige Monkfish



A pony with no memory awakens in a strange facility.

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Chapter Fourteen - Catch-Up

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“Where in the world have you been!?” bellowed Shower.

Frowning, Retcon set her drink on the table. “Outside.”

“What were you doing outside?”

“Sleeping.”

Shower gaped. “You slept outside? Why?”

“…Because I was sleepy?”

Shower pressed a forehoof to her face in frustration. “I cannot believe you.”

“I’m not lying,” said Retcon defensively.

“No, that’s not-” she trailed off.

Misty Fly stood several paces behind, looking confused and anxious. Shower was acting angry, but her emotions tasted different. Worry, an awful lot of it, and it was directed right at her.

“I thought you’d left,” muttered Shower.

Retcon sniffed. “So had I.”

“Um,” Misty Fly piped up, “anypony wanna fill me in?”

Shower maintained eye contact for a moment longer, before turning to the other pegasus. “Yeah, plan aborted. Retcon found out.”

Misty Fly tensed up. “Found out?”

“She knows she’s a, y’know, a changeling.”

“Uh, hi.” Retcon halfheartedly waved a hoof at Misty Fly, whose expression had frozen into one of shock, her pupils the size of pinpricks. The sensations Retcon was receiving from her were chaotic and unpleasant.

“Oh,” said Misty Fly absently. Her eyes were locked on to Retcon.

“So yeah, we’re kinda playing it by- Mist, you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

“No, she’s afraid,” stated Retcon.

“And blurting out what other ponies are feeling doesn’t help them feel any better,” scolded Shower.

“Oh, right.” Yeah, the fear spiked for a second there. “Sorry.”

“Don’t mention it…” Misty Fly said under her breath.

“…Okay then.”

“Do you need a minute, Mist?” asked Shower in a gentler tone.

“No, I’m fine! Really, I’m a- I’m just a bit … freaked at the moment.” Misty Fly looked away.

Retcon turned to Shower. “Should I go?”

Shower scowled at her. “You’re not going anywhere, missy. What did you think you were doing sleeping outside?”

“Well I… I didn’t know if I should have left, but… I guess I just needed the space.”

Shower seemed to deflate, pausing for a few seconds before continuing in a softer tone, “Why did you stay?”

Retcon dipped her head. “I... I don’t know. Guess it seemed like I should.”

“Wait,” started Misty Fly, “how long have you known?”

Retcon shrugged. “Yesterday.”

“What happened?”

Retcon blanched, and looked away. That was the last thing she wanted to relive.

“There was... a misunderstanding,” interrupted Shower. She spoke in the same manner as when she talked with Retcon when first they met, Retcon could feel it. “She figured some of it out, and… Sky decided it was best to explain everything.”

“Dang, Sky called it?” Misty Fly chuckled. “Wouldn’t wanna question her maj.”

Shower’s expression didn’t change, but Retcon could tell she was a little amused. “So yeah, figuring out where to go next. I should have collared you when you came through, but somepony went walkabouts last night.” She shot Retcon a short glare. “Pass the message on if anyone else turns up, would ya Mist?”

“So you’re not…” Misty Fly glanced at Retcon, her muddled emotions spiking, churning as she spoke. “…I mean, you’re not thinking of starting again?”

Retcon felt as though she had been doused in ice water.

No.

Shower's expression took on a particularly flinty look, though not aimed at anyone in particular. “No, I don’t think that’s a great idea right now.”

Retcon glanced worriedly between the two of them. “You’re not wiping my brain again.”

“Right, no. Of course. S-sorry,” Misty Fly stammered.

“Still,” Shower began, giving Retcon a serious look. “Where do we go from here?”

“What, I get a say?”

“It’s your life, and your old plan is out the window.”

“Not my plan.” Retcon sniffed. “The changeling’s plan. The changeling is dead now.”

Shower paused, frowning. “Is that how you see it?” she asked, somewhat softly.

Retcon shrugged. “It wasn’t me.”

“Um, but you’re still the same changeling, aren’t you?” asked Misty Fly, sounding confused. “Or is it different when you transform?”

Retcon stiffened. “I… haven’t tried.”

“You haven’t… Seriously? Dude, if I were a changeling, the first thing I’d do is play with transforming. You could look like anyone, how cool would that be!”

Dropping eye contact with Misty Fly, Retcon muttered under her breath, “If I was a pony, I wouldn’t be at risk of losing my face.”

“Huh?”

A spike of concern came from Shower. “What’s that?”

Retcon shook her head. “Just… Nothing.”

Shower regarded her for a moment. Drop it, she thought to herself, I don’t want to talk about it.

“Right,” the pegasus eventually said, though Retcon had a feeling the topic wasn’t over. “So, the reason I was after you; Sky wants a word.”

The mention of the white unicorn set her teeth on edge. “What about?”

“This whole… situation. You know where the ground floor containment cells are, right?” Retcon nodded, and Shower continued, “Her room is at the far end, after the very last cell. Try there.”

“Okay.” Her response was mostly a platitude, she wasn’t exactly thrilled at having to talk with Sky again. She had half a mind not to go, but decided to at least play nice with Shower. Also, despite disliking Sky’s demeanour, she was still somewhat curious.

“Cool, well I better be, y’know,” Misty Fly gestured away with a wing. “Back to work.”

Shower nodded. “What’re you on?”

“Well I was supposed to be on... paperwork today,” she said, giving Retcon a side glance. “I guess that’s off the table?”

So the paper's all over the floor?

Shower had a peculiar look. “Not exactly. Like I say, we’re playing things by ear.”

“Right.” Another brief glance at Retcon. “In that case, I’ll take another look at those reports from the Empire, see if we can find Lem's missing lavastone.” She grinned at them, and waved a wing. “Guess I’ll see you around- Retcon, wasn’t it?”

“Uhh, yeah.” She suddenly felt sick to her stomach.

“Well, later you two!” with that, Misty Fly turned and trotted down one of the hallways.

“That didn’t go well,” muttered Retcon.

“Mmrh...” She took Shower's response as agreement. She kind of preferred when Shower wasn’t wordy.

Steeling herself with a deep breath, she turned toward the pegasus. “Um, how is Lemony?” she asked in an undertone.

Retcon withered under the look she received, but there was no spike of hatred or anger to accompany it. Shower sighed. “She’s alright, nothing that won’t heal. She’s more shook up than anything.”

Oh, that’s a relief. “Shower, I- ... I’m really sorry, what I did... I, just... I’m sorry.”

Shower turned her head away. “Yeah...”

“Um, could you maybe tell her? That, I’m sorry I hurt her.” It felt terrible to say out loud, but she was kind of glad she managed it.

After an uncomfortable pause, Shower nodded lightly. “...Yeah, of course.”

Retcon felt like she could melt into the floor. “Thank you.”

The pegasus sniffed suddenly. “Anyway, Sky. You better go talk to her. And if you wander off again I swear I’ll kick your sorry flank into the middle of next week.”


Retcon was shaken from her thoughts as she came to the great metal doors, inspiring in her a deep-seated discomfort at the notion of what lay behind. Six metal doors, though she only knew of what was contained behind five: the clever manticore, grinning kelpie, the consciousness within the orb, the motionless unicorn, and at the very end, the furious Windigo.

As she passed the fifth door along, she briefly considered opening the viewing hatch and taking a look inside, but on the whole, perhaps she didn’t want to know.

…She wondered briefly if the fifth cell was empty.

Right at the end of the hallway, just after the Windigo’s cell, was an ordinary wooden door she hadn’t paid much mind. The door handle looked worn from use, and the wood could’ve done with a fresh coat of paint. Unlike many of the rooms in the facility, there was no label nor room number on the door. It was just a plain old door.

So this is where Sky’s office is, she surmised. It wasn’t really what she had expected from one with such a commanding personality, hiding down here.

The door suddenly swung open just before she reached it, startling her, and out from behind it appeared Sky, bearing a light resting scowl. “Ah, I did wonder,” said Sky, perhaps to herself. The unicorn then retreated back inside, leaving the door open.

Shifting her weight nervously, Retcon stepped inside.

In a strange way, the room was too tidy to be a mess, but too chaotic to be considered well looked-after. The worn desk was strewn with papers and files and boxes, though there seemed to be some sort of system even if she couldn’t discern it. There was no kind of desk ornamentation other than a small, sprawling stoney structure, as if a rock had tried to grow like a plant. Up against one wall was a collection of large potted plants of different kinds, all spilling over with large green leaves but with no flowers. The wooden floor around the plants was in dire need of a clean. Against the adjacent wall was a bookshelf, containing no more than five books, instead mostly populated by boxes of different sizes. There were no windows in the office, though there was a second door. A storage room, perhaps?

The door clicked softly shut behind her.

“This is a weird place for an office,” noted Retcon, glancing around. She nodded at the hallway, “Next to the windy-thing and all those…”

Sky had retreated behind the desk to a cushion. A meadow-green aura lit up around her horn, and a seemingly random assortment of papers lifted up from the desk and circled around her, each surrounded by the same green aura, a spectacle from which Retcon couldn’t tear her eyes away. The papers coalesced into a pile on the corner of the desk, allowing some of the wood of the desk’s surface to be visible under the clutter.

“The Windigo, yes. I am its warden.” She pushed a mug to one side with a hoof. “You can sit.”

“Um, there aren’t any seats?”

Sky paused, looking at her as if she’d said something silly. “Alright, stand then.”

Feeling decidedly uncomfortable already, Retcon sat herself on the wooden floor in front of the near-side to the desk. She had wanted to ask about the green levitation thing, but felt like she shouldn’t talk first.

“So,” began Sky, “what’s the plan?”

Retcon blinked. “The plan?”

“Yeah. What’s the plan?” she repeated in the exact same intonation.

“Well… I guess I’m getting kinda hungry, so… maybe sort that out first.”

“Okay,” Sky said patiently. “How?”

“…I don’t know.”

The unicorn hummed, like she had expected the answer. “And in the long-term?”

“Um, I’d like to leave.”

“You could leave now.”

“No, I mean in the long-term.”

Sky’s eyes seemed to glint. “Why not leave now?” she asked carefully.

“Well… well because…” There were all sorts of reasons, there was… Well she didn’t want to right now.

Retcon frowned. She… The Institute was the only place she was familiar with, its employees the only people she knew. Plus it was in the middle of nowhere. She couldn’t just leave on a whim, not when she didn’t have a-

A piece of paper was placed on the desk in front of her. Glancing at it, she realised she recognised it; the signed agreement between Sky and the changeling. Concerned, she glanced at the satchel she was wearing.

“No, this is the original,” explained Sky. “You have a copy. This was the plan. Question is…” She leaned forward, crossing her forelimbs over the desk. “What do you want to do about it?”

“…I… Well, the plan was to trick me into thinking I’m a pony, right?” Sky didn’t move to respond, so Retcon continued. “So… I guess it is no good.”

“I wouldn’t say that,” Sky enunciated slowly. “We could certainly get things back on track.”

…You don’t mean- Retcon’s wings flared. “No, there’s no way you’re wiping my brain again!” I just said! What is with these ponies?

Sky quirked an eyebrow, before relenting. “Shower and I discussed the possibility. She was… vehemently of the opinion that such a path would be unadvisable. The repeat use of Compound B67, especially in large doses, can be problematic for the waking mind.”

Retcon let out the breath she was holding. Shower said that?

Sky tapped the paper with a hoof. “So, would you consider our agreement void?”

“…I suppose? Wait, I can just say that, and that’s it?”

“Whether you remember making the agreement or not, this was you. We wanted your co-operation, and this,” she tapped it again, “was your price. We got what we wanted, so this whole arrangement was just the fulfilment of our side of the bargain.” She shrugged. “I keep my promises.”

Retcon frowned, concerned. “Co-operation for what? What did you want from me?”

Sky regarded her seriously. “Information on changelings.”

“What for?”

“Like I said prior, we didn’t know about your kind’s existence until the Wedding Invasion. I think it’s only sensible to get to know one’s natural predators,” the unicorn said calmly.

Retcon’s stomach churned. “I don’t want to be a predator. I don’t- …Ponies are intelligent, it’s horrible…” she trailed of.

Sky shrugged, but said nothing.

“Natural predator to ponies? Is… is that what we are?” Retcon asked, stumbling slightly on the word ‘we’. She still had difficulty relating to the idea of not being a pony.

“Aye. Although of course, not in the traditional sense. Changelings don’t need to kill and eat the flesh. You sap energy from still-living prey without inflicting physical harm. But otherwise, yes; without ponies off of which to feed, a changeling would starve.” Sky’s tone was level as she spoke, though Retcon felt increasingly nauseous.

“How can you be so calm talking about that?” exclaimed Retcon.

Sky snorted. “Because I’d like to see you try.”

Retcon wilted. “Try what?”

The unicorn dropped eye contact, as if she had grown bored. In the lull, Retcon glanced down at her hooves. Is she testing me? Trying to get me to say the right thing?

“...What should I do?” she asked timidly.

Sky raised a brow. “I’m not your Queen. Can’t you think for yourself?”

“Of course I can think for myself,” she groused. “I’m-”

Queen?

Oh right, changeling Queen, Hive Queen or something. Didn’t Shower mention...

...Think for myself...? As opposed to...

Oh...

Was she acting like a changeling?

...Was that a bad thing?

She felt lost, a very familiar feeling at this point. She needed guidance, and if she wouldn’t get it from a pony, perhaps she could get it from a changeling.

Old her. The her that had wanted the mind wipe, to erase her identity, to run away from her own kind and become a pony. To become the her in the here and now.

Could that changeling be trusted?

She drew a deep breath. “If I hadn’t... found out, what would’ve been next?”

Sky leaned back from the desk, almost looking smug. “We would have begun introducing you to the others. You had maybe two weeks of rehabilitation left, after which you would have been removed out from here and our role would come to an end.”

“And you would have set me up with somewhere to live?” Sky didn’t respond, which Retcon took as an affirmative. “Is that all still possible?”

“Sure,” said Sky.

Retcon frowned, a thought nagging at her. ”Sky… What do ponies think of changelings?”

The unicorn’s expression shifted slightly. As usual, her emotions were frustratingly difficult to read, but something about them changed. “It would depend on who you would ask.”

“The average pony. Because, I was talking to Misty Fly, and-“

“You spoke with Misty Fly?” Sky asked suddenly.

Retcon was taken aback. “…Yes?”

Sky huffed. “She can be very punctual.”

Retcon paused, but it appeared Sky had finished talking. “…Well… When I started talking changeling stuff, she started getting… antsy?”

Sky nodded. “I won’t sugar-coat it; ponies are a prey species. Changelings are typically met with revulsion and fear amongst ponies. The Wedding Invasion was a very public event.” Her eyes lost a little of their stony edge. “Ponies are a rather trusting sort, but changelings deal with deception by nature, their business is antithetical to ours. Unmasked changelings have been run out of towns when discovered. If you want my advice, keep your identity to yourself.”

Retcon swallowed. “…O-oh...”

“That’s part of the reason why you wanted the mind wipe,” continued Sky, unperturbed. “It’s easier for one to keep a secret if it is secret even to oneself. You said something similar.”

The notion that ponies didn’t like changelings wasn’t unexpected, but to such an extent? It shook her. Seemingly, the more she learned about changelings, the worse the creatures sounded. Was it even worth it to try living amongst ponies, as if she were one of them?

But, how would anyone know? I didn’t even know until…

“Why are you helping me?” she asked.

Sky tilted her head, frown deepening. “We had a deal.”

“No, but- Why did you even make a deal with a changeling in the first place? Everything you’ve said… It sounds like I’m… the enemy.”

Sky blinked. “…Well…” She took a breath. “…The ones in the Invasion were. … That was Equestria’s introduction to your kind. The Invasion was bad enough, but add on to that the notion of being fed upon by parasites, and ponies aren’t exactly thrilled.” Retcon winced. Sky paused, chewing her cheek. “As for why we helped you; you asked. Had we turned you away, you would have died.” Her tone was the lowest Retcon had heard it. “You were starving, your hive was failing and had all but abandoned you. You had nowhere to turn.” She shrugged lethargically. “So you come to us, your prey. Yes, your enemy. And, you make us an offer; ‘keep me alive, and I’ll tell you anything you want to know’. It’s a hard offer to turn down.”

There was something profoundly terrifying about hearing how close she had come to death, particularly when she didn’t even remember it.

Her throat closed up.

She was an other. An outsider. How could she ever be welcomed into a pony society? How long could she last before the truth came out? The way she reacted when the truth came out…

How could she ever get energy to survive? How could she ever stomach it, feeding off of other living, thinking beings?

A changeling hive... could she track one down? What were other changelings even like? Would she fit in with her own kind, or was that part of her gone now, replaced with the mind of one who would be a pony?

Could she ever belong anywhere?

But then…

Lemony

The pink unicorn had been so kind. More than that, Retcon realised; she had been genuine. Even knowing what Retcon was, what she had been doing…

She coughed into a forelimb. She didn’t need to cough, but her throat was feeling uncomfortably restricted.

“Do you need a minute?” asked Sky, her voice level.

“I… don’t really know what I want,” she replied, exhaling deeply as she did.

Sky hummed shortly. “…You were given a fairly large dose of B67, but only the once. I’m not going to push the issue, but if you wanted, you could have one more shot at a fresh start. This would be your last chance at a clean reset.” Retcon shuddered, but Sky continued unprompted, “I wouldn’t recommend it, but you should know. Option 2; leave. If you so wish, we could take you to a town of your choice and leave you to it. Walk alone, live among ponies, find a new hive, leave Equestria, your call. If you want out, I will acquiesce.

“Option 3….” She reached up and slowly tapped the paper again. “I’m happy to consider this void, but I’m still willing to host you here and set you up with a place to live as per the original agreement. Beyond that, that’s up to you. There are other options, but I can’t tell you which you should take. Your choice.” She got to her hooves. “Sleep on it.”