• Published 2nd Jan 2021
  • 606 Views, 168 Comments

Retcon - Beige Monkfish



A pony with no memory awakens in a strange facility.

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Chapter Nine - Resident

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Retcon yelled in surprise. She span around, search the room for a source of the voice.

The floor, walls and ceiling were made of the same flat stone as the others, with only the huge metal door next to Retcon breaking up the grey. In the dead centre of the room, there was a podium, carved with intricate, flowing patterns from a single block of mottled white rock. Sat atop the podium was a translucent crystalline orb, a deep blue-purple in hue.

Placed not far from the podium, she saw a strange contraption, seemingly the source of the music. A large, curved metal cone stuck out the top, beneath which was a largw black disc, spinning slowly. The music it produced was slow, lilting and melodic, played by a single instrument, the sound of which might have induced in her a sense of wistful melancholy were it not currently drowned by fright.

…I don’t see anyone. Was the voice part of the music?

“…Hello?” she ventured.

After a brief pause; “Hello,” came the sardonic reply, apparently coming from the orb, which had shone from within with a dim pink light in concert with the spoken word.

Retcon blinked. “Uhh, hello.”

“Yes. Hello.” The orb flashed pink again. The voice had an ethereal effect to it, and was delivered in the resigned intonation of someone who wasn’t entirely participating.

Retcon was stumped. She had no idea what to do, how to react; a crystal was speaking to her. She couldn’t leave just yet; Gurney could see her at any moment. She could sit tight and wait for him to leave first, but that would mean staying with the orb until then.

“…What are you?” she asked.

The orb actually chuckled. “You must be new,” it muttered, amused yet lethargic. “Well, surprise!”

“Uhh…” Retcon couldn’t think of a response.

“So who was it? Who else is there?”

“…Just me.”

“Is that so? Hm. Well, I am the consciousness in the crystal, as well you see.”

It’s being friendly, should I keep talking to it? “Do you have a name?” she asked.

The consciousness chuckled lightly. “Ah, that’s classified, isn’t it?” it said in a rhetorical tone.

Oh. Mine isn’t, right? “My name is Retcon.”

“Retcon? Indeed…? You have quite the unusual name.”

“Yeah, I get that,” she said neutrally.

“Quite so.” It paused; the cadence of its voice was at a measured pace without being slow. “How long have you been working with us, Retcon?” it asked.

“Um, I’ve only been here three days.” She frowned. “But, I don’t actually work here.”

“Truly?”

Retcon hesitated. Should she even be talking to this thing? She had been led to believe she was the only intelligent guest in the place, and wasn’t sure what to make of the talking ball.

Maybe I should keep talking. It’s friendly enough, I should play along and keep it friendly. “I’m just staying here for a bit. I have amnesia, I don’t remember who I was or anything. They’ve been looking after me.” That’s true, isn’t it? At least I’m not locked away like the kelpie… or this friendly thing…

“Amnesia?” parroted the consciousness, amused. “Well, that’s nominative determinism for you.”

…Huh?

“Tell me, how did you get your name?”

“I… I named myself. I liked the sound of it.”

“And they let you?” The voice fell silent for a short while, the sound of the soft instrumental music filling the room, before it spoke again in a low, even tone. “You are a fascinating creature, Retcon.”

Retcon’s face flushed, she didn’t have a response.

“My name is Meadowlark,” said the voice quietly. “Or at least, it was. There isn’t much use for it anymore.”

“Oh.” Be polite, right? “Nice to meet you, Meadowlark.”

“Likewise.” It sounded as if the owner of the voice were smiling. “You’re not supposed to be in here, are you Retcon?”

“I… suppose not.”

“Hah, I won’t tell if you don’t. Oh, do you mind stopping the record for me?”

“The what?” Record of what?

“The turntable, it should have a record spinning on it. Do you see it? Just lift the arm up away from the disc.”

“Umm…” Her eyes were drawn to the thing producing the music. There was indeed a small arm positioned on the spinning disc. However, that would mean getting closer to the podium.

“It’s alright, I won’t bite,” the consciousness muttered. “I would need teeth for that.”

Keeping an eye on the strange orb, which up until then hadn’t done anything but glow and talk, Retcon approached the turntable by the podium. She pushed the arm up off of the spinning disc, causing a strange noise to momentarily to replace the music. The turntable ceased emitting sounds, though the disc continued to spin.

“Thank you,” said the voice. Up close, Retcon could see small irregularities in the orb; it wasn’t perfectly spherical, the surface was somewhat uneven causing light to refract strangely through its surface, but neither did it have obvious facets. It reminded her of water in a way, only frozen into a smooth ball. The interior wasn’t uniform either; it was translucent like purple glass, but the distribution and concentration of colour was uneven; slightly more blue in some places, slightly more purple in others, akin to clouds frozen inside. For the most part the colours were so dense that she couldn’t see all the way through to the other side of the sphere.

“So, what’s your story, Retcon? Tell me all.” As the orb spoke, the pink glow appeared to emanate from the very centre, illuminating the clouds of colour around it. It was like looking directly into a dream while fully awake.

She couldn’t see any harm in answering, though she was reluctant to say too much. “Well, like I said, I have amnesia. I woke up three days ago with no memory of anything. I’ve been here ever since.” She shrugged. “That’s really it.”

“No memories. Except language, right?”

“Um, pretty much. I still come across words I don’t know.”

“Indeed?” The consciousness hummed. “How did it happen? The amnesia, I mean.”

“Flight accident. I apparently hit my head.”

“Ouch. That must have hurt.”

“Y-Yeah…” Retcon rubbed her forehead with a hoof delicately. “Must’ve…”

The voice hummed again in a short amorphous melody. “Three days, you’re pretty new,” it said idly, seemingly more so it itself. “I don’t know how long I’ve been here. Sky has the full file. No real sense in counting.” It trailed off.

Retcon glanced over the orb and the podium. “What… are you?”

“Hmm. I suppose, I am a manacrystal. My mind has been sealed inside here for... quite some time.”

“Sealed? How? Can you get out?”

It chuckled, though it sounded a little bitter. “I messed around with things I should not have. A pretty gem comes my way... Of course I’m going to take a closer look. Why would I think it was hexed? And... I don’t know. Maybe there is a way to get me out? I’m not sure if even the ponies here know, the answer was ‘no’ back when I used to ask. But if so, where would I go? Meadowlark's body rotted long ago.”

“So you’re just... You sit here?”

“Mmm-hmm. I have my music though, and Gurney and the others come and talk to me. Oh, don’t touch the orb, Retcon. They think they’ve disabled the hex, but that’s a rule; no contact. Not that I would mind the company in here, of course.”

“Oh. Right.” Retcon took a few steps backwards, suddenly conscious of how close she was.

“Tell me, Retcon, if you don’t mind; what do you look like?”

“You can’t see me?”

“Nope. I can only hear, and I think I once felt motion. Humour me?” it requested.

“Right, okay. Um, I’m a pegasus.” She lifted a foreleg. “My coat is olive green, my mane and tail are forest green and... messy. And my cutie mark is a tree, though I don’t know why.”

“Mmm-hmm. And your eyes?” the voice prompted.

“Um, a sort of gold colour.”

“Thank you,” it said, sounding pleased. “I’ll remember you.”

“...Sure.” She frowned. “How come you’re locked in here? Why don’t you get one of the standard sa- sappent... smart thing rooms?”

The consciousness chuckled heartily. “I’m not locked in here. You’re all locked out there! It’s to stop little ponies from blundering their way in here and getting into trouble. A faultless plan, I’m sure you would personally agree.”

“But I thought... I didn’t know any other smart things were being kept here.”

“Really?” It sounded surprised. “Is that what they told you? Haven’t you seen next-door?”

...Did they ever actually say that? I thought Gurney said only non-smart things get put in these big cells, right? “I guess, maybe not.” A thought flashed in her mind. “The 'kelpie', is that thing smart?”

“You saw the kelpie?” The voice became more serious. “I certainly hope you didn’t go inside its room too?”

“Wha- no!”

“Good. Don’t. Not all things being kept here are as friendly as I. The kelpie is carnivorous; if you went inside, it would eat you.”

Retcon gulped, glad she had chosen this door to hide behind. “R-right. But is it smart?”

“Sapient? Yes, it is.”

Retcon was growing more and more worried. I guess... a cursed orb, it makes sense to keep it away from ponies, and a pony-eating kelpie. Sure. But... I just have amnesia. These are some serious, dangerous things. The Windigo too... Is the lock on my door really just to keep me from finding these things and getting hurt? But, they’re keeping sapient things here, locked away. That’s not right, isn’t it?

At least, they don’t keep ponies here. The kelpie kinda looked like one, but it eats ponies. ...Though, this orb, Meadowlark, does it count?

“Are you... okay with being in this room?” Retcon asked, trying to sound as polite as possible.

The voice sighed. “Not really, but I’m usually not stuck in here.”

Retcon blinked. “Oh?”

“Mmm. Normally I’m allowed out: in the hallways, the meeting room, usually the courtyard.” Retcon briefly recalled seeing a similar podium out the courtyard. “I usually get some decent company that way, as people pass by. But... something happened around two weeks ago that spooked everyone. Don’t ask me, I haven’t a clue. All I know is the majority of the Institute's employees were sent home all at once, and I was put back in here. ...Of course, you’ve only been here three days. It couldn’t possibly have anything to do with you,” the voice sounded as if it were grinning, “could it?”

A distant clank made Retcon jump. Sneaking back to the metal door, she peeked through.

“Hmm? What is it?” asked the voice.

Retcon let out the breath she had been holding as the griffon vanished out of sight. “Gurney. He was in the manticore’s enclosure.”

“Hah, are you hiding from Gurney?” it asked, sounding positively delighted.

The pegasus blanched. “Um, a little bit, I guess.” Am… I’m being silly, aren’t I.

“Why?”

…Good question. “Well… I saw the kelpie, and, I guess I kinda panicked, maybe?” Yeah, this is silly. “I didn’t know… I mean, it looked right at me and waved, and it looked intelligent, and…” She sighed, exasperated. “I don’t know. It made me think that if something that looks like a pony is being kept here against its will, then… Well… my room is a bit nicer than this, but the lock is on the outside.” …But, part of her mind reasoned, Meadowlark was a pony, and it is being kept here…

The consciousness was silent for several long seconds, then, “I’m going to be honest with you, dear Retcon, I don’t know your story, and evidently you don’t either. Maybe you’re here as a guest, maybe you’re a subject of interest like me. I really don’t know. But with a name like that… Well, I can’t go anywhere without being carried by a unicorn’s magic. I can’t do anything except talk and listen.” The tone of its voice had become serious, but it remained measured and even. “I’ve been here for… long enough. Long enough to know that it’s better to play nice with the one who holds the key.”

“Am I in your catalogue?”

Shower’s expression shifted strangely. “No, you’re a pony.”

She glanced over at the unicorn. Lemony was… worried?

Retcon’s blood ran cold.

“I don’t mean to frighten you,” the consciousness continued evenly. “If what you have been told is true, then you’ll be out of here before you know it. The folks here are pleasant, they’ll set you right. But if you are a subject of interest… I don’t know what to say, it really depends on what manner of creature you are, on why you are really here. There’s every chance that, like the kelpie, like me, you’re being kept here for a good reason, even if you don’t like it.”

“But… I’m not a kelpie!” Retcon glanced to the door, still ajar, and lowered her voice. “I don’t eat ponies! I just want to leave, I don’t want to hurt anything!”

“Then hold on to that. Like you say, you have the fancy room, maybe you’ve got a chance. I know the Institute, they don’t keep things here without good reason. But that’s the thing; it means that, if you are a subject of interest…

“…perhaps keeping you here is in everyone’s best interest.”

Retcon backed up against the door. “I-I’m not staying here, they can’t keep me here.”

“Then leave,” said the voice its orb glowing pink. “You have wings, you know where the courtyard is, right? Best of luck. I couldn’t guess which way to fly, though. I haven’t looked at a map since coming here.”

Her heart was pounding in her neck. “…What should I do?” For some reason, the consciousness in the crystal seemed trustworthy, moreso than everyone else she had spoken to so far. “What am I supposed to do?”

The orb paused. “…Keep your head down. They’ve been cordial with you so far? Play along, play nice. You’re a pony, there may well be nothing in it, in which case you’ve got nothing to worry about.”

“Right.” She didn’t feel all that much better.

“Oh, if you do plan on leaving, and you figure out a way to bring me with you, you wouldn’t find me complaining,” the orb said in a jocular tone.

Retcon blinked at the whiplash shift in tone. “S-sure.” How am I supposed to do that? She shook her head. “I really… should go.” Turning, she checked the window, making sure there was no one in the hallway.

“Of course. Do come back some time, it has been a pleasure talking to you. And if you find out what’s been going on these past two weeks, be sure to let me know, won’t you? I’m a little behind on the gossip.”

“O-okay.” The sudden change in topic solemnity left the pegasus at a loss for words. She backed out of the room, gently opening the door. “Bye.”

“Goodbye, Retcon,” the consciousness said tiredly, before falling silent.

Retcon closed the door as softly as she could, glancing up and down the hallway. The door shut with a click, causing her to wince at the sound.

So what do I do then? Just go find Shower and pretend everything is normal? What else can I do? She went over the options in her head. I could say that I’ve spoken to the mind in the orb. What would Shower say? I don’t know what…

Her file came to mind. “…and is to be permitted rights in accordance with behaviour at assignee’s discretion. I guess that means if I’m nice, I get treated better. At least I get free access to the courtyard right now, they don’t think I’d try to fly away. Maybe if I keep doing what they want, it’ll keep that option…

Wait…

“Really?” It sounded surprised. “Is that what they told you? Haven’t you seen next-door?”

Retcon had thought the consciousness was talking about the kelpie…

…but it was surprised when I mentioned it…

“You saw the kelpie?” The voice became more serious.

The hallway seemed like it went on forever.

Retcon felt like she was hurtling down it fast.

Her hooves weren’t moving. So she moved them.

She turned left, to the next metal door down the line.

The door had a hatch. There was a label, but it was hard to read right now.

With a hoof, she slowly slid open the viewing hatch, and looked inside

at the unicorn standing there, stock still

facing her

not moving

vile eyes

red-jewelled amulet around his neck

not even breathing

she wasn’t either

she closed the hatch.

She had seen enough.