• Published 20th Oct 2012
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Out of Touch - ToixStory

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Deference For Darkness - III

The stallion in the white suit approached us on the soft carpet of the Manehattan highrise conference room. The lights were off so it was hard to tell any defining features, but he didn’t look very friendly.

“H-How do you know my name?” I asked, my wits returning.

He turned around and showed off the back of his jacket. There was a dragon on the back, but not just any dragon. A very particular green-and-purple dragon that every schoolfilly knew about. Spike.

“I was sent here at the behest of my boss, Spike the Dragon,” the stallion said. “There were very, ah, specific instructions on how to handle you.”

“Handle me?” I asked, taking a step back. “What are you talking about?”

Charm stepped in front of me and did the best he could to look brave. “Yeah, what are you talking about?”

The stallion sighed and took off his hat to reveal a horn. “I was warned that you would act this way,” he muttered.

“By who?”

“Spike the Dragon, of course.” He coughed. “We’ve known you were coming, Miss Tinker. Or Oakwood, if you prefer.”

I narrowed my eyes. “So what, the government got to your organization too?”

“No, that isn’t—”

“Then what is?” Charm snapped. “Who are you and why are you calling Leda by a different name?”

The stallion looked past Charm and snickered. “You mean he doesn’t know? You haven’t told him?”

“Hey, shut up!” I cried. “He doesn’t need to know!”

Charm turned. “Need to know what?”

“Well, uh . . .”

The stallion sighed and walked toward us, shaking his head. “Look, before this goes any further, let’s just end with the truth.” He leaned close to me and looked me in the eyes. “Tinker, formerly Leda Oakwood, is a female earth pony who is not going to be born for two hundred years on the planet Kaishi in the Wolf 359 system. A system which, at this moment, will not be discovered for three more years.”

“Wha-?” Charm began. He shook his head. “No, no, you’re wrong! You’re just another one of those government agents!”

The stallion in the suit smiled. He nodded his head and began to move toward the wall. “I knew you were going to say that,” he said. “And that me trying to convince you isn’t going to work. So, why don’t you let Miss Oakwood answer me for you?”

He turned around and I opened my mouth to speak, to try to fib my way out of this somehow, but the stallion hushed us and tapped the wall. “No,” he said, “let her tell you fifty-eight years ago.”

His horn glowed and the wallpaper of the conference room tore itself away. Big strips flaked off to reveal a wood paneling underneath. On the wood, written in red paint, was a message. Charm stepped forward for a better look, but when I tried to join him the stallion barred my way.

Instead, I had to watch Charm as his eyes darted over the paint that I couldn’t quite make out. When he started, he had been standing tall, like usual. By the time he finished, though, his head had started to slump like the weight of the world rested on his shoulders.

“Charm?” I called to him. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” he said automatically. As soon as he said it, though, he coughed and jerked his head up. The stallion in the suit nodded and let me approach him.

“Charm, what’s wrong?” I asked.

“Read for yourself,” he whispered, moving away so I could see.

The message was written in red paint using fast, quick strokes. The ways the “t”s were crossed and “i”s dotted, I could tell it was my own. That alone was enough to start my heart racing. It didn’t get better as I read the message:

To Karamat Kai (soon to be known as Charm),

I apologize that I don’t have long to explain. If I do not write this as fast as I can, the memory will fade. But that’s not the point. You, Karamat, have met myself long in the past. You know me by my given name, Leda Oakwood, but my real name is Tinker. You will come to know that name in time because one day, far in the future, you will meet a young filly with that name in a bar on a distant world . . . you will meet me. I’m sure this is confusing, Charm, but it is for me too. You see, I will be transported away from that time and jump through time and space, hoping that the next jump would bring me back home. One of these jumps was here, but the me that’s with you doesn’t know how to get home.

.
.
.

I can’t say everything, but know that I must get home! You must help me in the past find a way home or the future as you will know it will never exist. But to do that . . . you must go now. Go where the stallion in the suit tells you, and do not go back for Cloaked Dagger under any circumstances. Forget about him and don’t look back.

.
.
.

I know this will look bad, but you’ve got to trust me on this. I know you won’t believe any of this is true, so I’ll include a simple little test. The next thing you will say is “I’m fine.”

Oh. I took my time to shake my head. This whole thing was confusing. I had written it alright, but in the future? Well, really, the past, but my future. Ugh, time travel made my head hurt. It was nice to see that I got out of this . . . but how I did that, I didn’t know. And what if I made a mistake? Could time be rewritten?

I decided to try a test. If it could, I promised myself, I would write the answer to that question at the bottom of the message. I closed my eyes. Can I rewrite my own time?

I opened my eyes.

No.

Oh, haha, very funny, me. At least I knew I would be the one writing the messages. I looked up to see that Charm had walked out of the conference room while the stallion in the suit looked on.

I trotted over to where the grey stallion with his roughshod, red mane stood. Even when he was younger, he was still handsome. Not that I had ever let him know that, of course. Now, I really wish I had.

“Charm?” I began.

“My name isn’t Charm!” he snapped. “It’s Karamat, okay? K - a - r - a - m - a - t. I will never be Charm, and I don’t care if that was you who wrote the message or not.”

I swallowed. “What’s gotten you all eaten up like this?”

He snored. “Oh, maybe that I have some cryptic message telling me what I can and can’t do? Just this morning you were a sweet girl I tried to help off the streets and then waited to see if you didn’t die in the hospital. Now you’re some time traveling freak who apparently knows more about me than I do and tells me what to do.”

Freak. The words seemed unreal, coming out of his mouth. Not once had I heard Charm raise his voice to me like that. Maybe he was right . . . maybe he wasn’t Charm. Just Karamat.

I looked away, little droplets beginning to sting the edges of my eyes. I wasn’t quick enough, though, and he saw them.

“Look, I’m sorry, don’t be like that—”

I felt him stop beside me, hesitate a moment, and then awkwardly wrap his hooves around me in a semi-hug. I looked up.

“I know you lost him, but remember we’re all here for you,” Pinkie Pie whispered.

“Ah!” I cried, trying to backpedal away. For a moment, I could tell it was fake. Pinkie started to fade away and Charm took her place . . . but then it came back to Pinkie. My head felt fuzzy and my vision swam.

“No, no, no!” I cried. “Stop it, just stop it!”

I shut my eyes tight. When I opened them, it was back to Charm, but the room was filled with golden magic. It swirled and danced around us, but did not disappear. Instead, it ran itself back toward me and washed over me like high tide. When it was done, I looked down. All four of my legs were now violet.

I realized I was shaking. I tried to take deep breaths to steady myself, but every time I closed my eyes I was afraid that opening them would be to another illusion. And, even then, which one was the illusion?

Charm swallowed. “It’s getting worse,” he said.

I nodded and winced. “Yeah, and at the wrong time, too. I guess, uh, sorry about all this.”

He sighed. “I got myself into this crazy mess in the first place, I guess.” He smiled a little. “I won’t pretend to like everything that’s going on, but it’s nice to have somepony else that has it worse for once.”

I returned the smile. “Gee, thanks.”

The stallion in the white suit coughed. We turned around to face him. The hat was back on his head and he leaned against the doorway. “If you two are done,” he said, “we can get back to business.”

“And what business is that?” Charm asked.

“I didn’t come here on my own venture,” the stallion said. “I came here on the specific request of Spike the Dragon for the sole purpose of bringing the two of you back to Los Celestias.” He leaned closer. “Very specific instructions.”

Charm shook his head. “I can’t do that,” he said. “Not while Cloaked Dagger is still being held by the government.”

“The message from Tinker here told you not to,” the stallion reminded him. “Or would you rather play with fate?”

“It’s better than leaving him to die!”

“Not when doing so would risk the future as you know it.” The stallion grunted, then turned to me. “Tell him, Tinker.”

Charm turned to me as well. “Yeah, Miss Oakwood,” he said. “Tell him that we have to go back for Cloaked.”

I looked from one face to another. Familiar to new. Security to risk. Future to past.

They might have stood there all day if not for a phone ringing in the pocket of the stallion. He reached in and snatched it open before putting it to his ear. His expression changed almost as soon as he did. His eyes widened and his jaw set a hard line. After a moment, he held the phone to me.

“It’s . . . for you,” he said.

I took the little gadget and placed it to my ear. A raspy voice came over it. “Miss Tinker,” it said. “We have waited so long for you to come.”

“Who are you?” I barked. “And how do you know my name?”

“I’m a gatherer of intelligence and, well, I’m a gatherer of intelligence. You see, Miss Tinker, formerly Leda Oakwood, I am responsible for our lovely government’s sector that collects . . . legends. Myths, mostly. Anything that could be true, no matter how improbable.”

“So you found my name.”

“It wasn’t exactly hard. Mentions of you are in every history text, in every library. In truth, it was your partner that was much more difficult to find, but in the end that doesn’t mind. The weakest link, as they say.”

I snorted. “You’ll have a hard time getting to her right now.”

“Oh, I have no doubt,” he said. “But you will do for the moment. We waited a long time for you, Miss Tinker. Had it not been for a bout of incompetency and surprise on our part, we would have taken you in that hospital right then and there.”

“Too bad about that,” I said, “because I’ve escaped your clutches.”

“Really?” He laughed. “Then how do you believe that I managed to call this number? It’s a very secure line, I assure you.”

I whirled around like he was watching me from another corner of the room, but he just chuckled. “Oh, don’t bother looking for me. I can tell you’re stressed enough already.”

The line went dead and I hurled the phone down. “They’re close,” I said. “And probably coming for us right now.”

The stallion in white grunted. “We need to get you out of here,” he said. He reached into his jacket and pulled out a small pistol. “Follow as close as you can behind me until I tell you to get to cover. Once you do, do not leave until I tell you to, understand?”

“How are you going to defend us against as many agents as they’re going to send?” Charm asked. “You’re just one pony.”

He smirked. “Spike wouldn’t have sent me if he didn’t trust me.”

There was a crash far below us and the stallion motioned for us to get next to him. We trotted across the dark office for the elevator. The stallion mashed the button and the doors opened. Before I could tell him that taking it would be suicide, he pressed the emergency stop button inside.

“They won’t be coming up behind us,” he explained.

He burst into the stairwell and Charm and I followed close behind. He grunted. “Going to be a close fight in here.”

We took the stairs three at a time the way down. I could hear voices ringing up from below, but that only spurred me on. If we could reach the landing just a couple floors down, we could have a position to fortify ourselves and maybe hold off their attacks for a little while.

We were almost there when the agents got about halfway to the landing as well. We all looked at each other for a moment before everypony started to shoot at each other.

The stallion in white shoved us behind him, pistol blazing to life. My ears roared and squealed from the sound of all the weapons being fired in such a small environment. It was like somepony had dumped a war zone right on my head.

Charm shook his head. “We can’t move,” he spat. “We’re stuck.”

“Yeah, thanks for the help, genius,” the stallion said, rising to take a few pop shots at the guards trying to rush our position.

He turned to me. “Now would be a great time for some of that magic from earlier.”

“I can’t control it like that,” I said. “It just comes and goes.”

Charm slunk forward. “What if I, uh, put myself in danger? I mean, that seemed to work last time.”

A few bullets snapped over our heads. They smashed into the concrete across from us before I even heard them. I grabbed him by the neck. “You are not doing something crazy as that. Not here, not ever.”

“He better do something fast,” the stallion said, “or we’ll all be dead when I run out of bullets.”

Charm smiled at me. “I’ll be alright,” he said. “I trust you. Besides, you can’t change the future, right?”

He began to raise himself out of cover and in the line of sight for the agents. Time seemed to slow down. That big no at the bottom of the message that had appeared out of thin air. Time could be changed, and if he died . . . I was just as much dead on the filthy streets of Journey’s End.

So I did the only natural thing to do.

I jumped.

I soared through the air, over the stairs and toward the agents. My mind was only tentatively aware of what was happening. They were shooting at me, I was aware of that. Were they hitting me? I didn’t care.

I plowed into them and sent most of them sprawling. I was a blur of movement, acting on an instinct that wasn’t entirely mine. There were flashes of action. A hoof thrown in the air here, a gun batted away there. The stallion in white joined the fight at some point.

It ended.

I slumped to the ground around the bodies of the agents. Unconscious or dead, I didn’t know. My breath came hard and I looked down at myself. I groaned. Glistening bullet holes stared up at me. The more I looked, the more they began to hurt.

Before I could start to worry about them, though. It stopped. I watched as flesh sewed itself together with a little golden spark to reveal brand new flesh and hair. The golden glow didn’t stop there, though. The pain in my chest was replaced by a massive headache that sent me doubling over on the stairs.

When I was done, I reached up and touched my forehead, hoping against hope there wasn’t what I thought it was. My hoof bumped into bone. Yep, I had a horn. Lavender, if I had to guess. I shook my head to clear out the buzzing. It lasted longer this time, and almost faded out to a library somewhere before I fought myself back to reality.

The stallion in white walked up to me, his face grim. “It’s gotten worse,” he said. “We need to leave for Los Celestias at once. Once we’re there, Spike can—”

“Buck that,” I breathed, climbing to my feet. “We’re not going across the country before we find Cloaked Dagger.”

I saw Charm smile, but the stallion didn’t look so happy. “Even your own self told you not to,” he said. “It’s suicide. The only chance you have is to get out of this city as fast as you can.”

I shook my head. “We’re staying. That pony on the phone, whoever he was, managed to track us here within an hour. We can’t just escape from him. He’ll hunt us down before we even get halfway to Los Celestias. If we stay here, we might have a fighting chance.”

“Then what do you propose?”

“We find Cloaked Dagger, and through him we find the pony on the phone. Not just any sort of search, either. I’m tired of us sneaking around so much. All it’s done is make me more like . . . this . . . and get Dagger captured. So no more running, no more hiding, and no more sticking to the shadows. We’re going to attack and get Dagger back.”

The stallion in white took a few steps back and shook his head. “That’s crazy; nopony that’s gone up against this agency has made it out alive. Just what makes you so sure this will work?”

I smiled to Charm. “Because it’s never been done before.”

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