• Published 20th Oct 2012
  • 8,245 Views, 580 Comments

Out of Touch - ToixStory

  • ...
20
 580
 8,245

The Beast Within - II

The next day was a Saturday, but not just any ordinary Saturday. It was the third Saturday of the month, so the inventors of Journey’s End’s underclass were out among the town square to hawk their wares to passersby. Some sold homemade pottery or jewelry or even strange dishes cooked with whatever strange ingredients the ponies could find.

For a few more enterprising young colts and fillies, however, the trade days represented a time that they could sell their newest idea or invention in the hopes of making it to the better areas of the city, or even off this rock. In that sense, I could count myself among them, though I was rapidly approaching the age when applying the word “filly” to myself would bring about looks of concern.

Charm and I arrived early in the morning and headed to our stall in the right corner of the square. The market was set up thus: pre-built stalls were laid out around the edges of the market square, with the foodsellers nearer to the entrance of the square than the inventors.

The prefab structures folded down into large cubes when not in use.Charm helped set ours up in the normal vendor position while I set out my little gadgets and machines.

Some did nothing but spin like a top, while others simply waved about or did silly little tricks. I suppose I could have tried to make something useful, but starting a project like that left me with a headache and the feeling like I was stranded on an island of incompetence among a sea of brilliance.

So instead I settled for making money piecemeal and squirreling away as much as I could in the hope that one day it would be enough for a berth on a ship bound for another world.

Charm had no such ambitions, but never seemed to mind helping out on market days.

We quickly finished setting up the bins and free-standing displays and the sign advertising “children’s amusements.” Charm had come up with the idea five minutes before we opened, so I was shaky on the pitch, but I had nothing better.

Ponies—potential customers in the eyes of the sellers—began to trickle in a few minutes after we had opened, and I sat on an old stool in front of the counter while Charm lounged in the small rear area of the stall, lazily flicking through a magazine.

Customers came and went, but in a pattern that was no different from the other weekends. Our booth drew at most four or five ponies an hour, but only one or two would stay around to look at any of my wares, and even fewer would pay for one. Though the re-branding at least seemed to raise the profits by a little bit, a fact which Charm reminded me of every twenty minutes or so.

For the most part, however, my mind was left to drift in the usual monotony. The path it took, of course, led me back to the previous night at the factory. The mare and her cloak and that strange tattoo . . . the mystery of it all felt like an itch I just couldn’t quite scratch, and it began to drive me mad.

So mad, in fact, that I began to perceive that I could see that same red cloak among the crowd of customers. It bobbed and weaved its way among them, and presumably the mare inside did so as well. I blinked a few times and rubbed my eyes, but found the apparition was still there.

“Hey, Charm?” I asked.

“Yeah?” he said with his nose still pressed into the magazine. It was one of the common periodicals detailing interplanetary politics and trade disputes. I found them dreadfully boring, but he kept a stack of them back at the apartment all for himself.

“Do you, uh . . . do you see a pony in a red cloak out in the crowd?”

Charm got up off his seat with a sigh and walked to the front of the stall. He put one hoof on his brow and scanned the crowd. I watched nervously as he set on the mare in red, but to my great relief he stopped and nodded.

“Yep, I see her,” he said. “Should I not?”

“No, but, um,” I stammered, looking around. “Would you mind watching the stall while I try to get a closer look?”

His eyes narrowed. “Wait, mare in a red cloak . . . is this that same mare from last night?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “But I just feel like I need to find out, you know?”

“No, I don’t,” Charm said. “Are you sure you really want to do this? What if she does turn out to be the mare from last night? You don’t know what she’s capable of.”

I shrugged. “And I never will if I don’t try and investigate at least a little bit. Besides, this is the most exciting thing to happen around here ever. I don’t want to miss this.”

Charm eyed me closely, but eventually gave in with a sigh. “There’s really no convincing you, is there?” he said. “Well, try to be careful at least?”

“I’ll try,” I said with a wink.

Charm just rolled his eyes and went about managing the stall while keeping a careful eye on me.

As for myself, I scampered over the stall counter and disappeared into the mass of ponies that occupied the square’s middle.

Among the pressing bodies and sharp voices, I lost sight of the mare in the cape and had a brief moment of panic while I whirled around, trying to find her. A curse of being short, I supposed.

I finally spotted her over by a table supposedly selling antiques from other worlds. I couldn’t see her face, but she seemed to linger over the stall before continuing on.

Suddenly, a rumble from under the ground shook the square like a ship cast about in a storm. Ponies toppled to the ground amid screams of shock and surprise. I swayed on my hooves, but my smaller stature allowed me to stay upright along with a few others.

The shaking of the ground stopped as abruptly as it had started, and ponies climbed shakily to their hooves while the vendors set their stalls back into shape as if nothing had happened.

Quakes were rare on the colony, and I hadn’t ever heard of one around our area, but it wasn’t major enough to warrant more than a few concerned looks. Everypony had business to attend to, after all.

That is, everypony else but the mare in the cape. She hadn’t fallen over either, and now seemed to be almost testing the air. She began edging her way away from the stalls, and I sought to follow her, keeping to the outskirts of the stalls to avoid becoming lost in the crowd.

The entrance to the square is divided into two main causeways and a smaller road—almost an alley, really—that leads off to the factories and the ship-breaking yard; it’s rarely used on the weekends. The mare, of course, headed in that exact direction.

I found myself leaving the crowds of the square behind, and Charm along with them. I briefly considered letting the mysterious mare go and simply leaving it a mystery that I would one day forget about. However, something in my being cried out ardently for me to continue my pursuit. For one reason or another, the case felt almost personal.

Away from the crowd of ponies to hide my presence, I stuck to shadows of the fabcrete walls of the alley and tailed the mare at a distance that I considered reasonably innocent.

The buildings that abutted the alley street were mostly administrative offices or workplaces for skilled engineers, so they were empty on a Saturday. That left me and the mysterious mare the only ponies in the street.

The mare continued her trek down the alley. Shortly, she began to turn down sidestreets, first to the left, then to the right, and then to the right again. I had to close my distance from her out of fear of losing her trail.

After another left turn, however, I realized I had been lured into a trap.

I turned the corner and came to a halt almost directly in front of the mare. The hood on her cloak was again down, and she stared hard at me with her mismatched eyes.

“You’re following me,” she said tonelessly.

I looked up at her. “Well, not exactly . . .”

Her eyes widened when she heard me speak, and she must have put a voice to my appearance.

“You’re that mare from the factory,” she said.

“That’s me,” I said with a small smile. “My name’s Tinker, by the way.”

“I don’t recall asking.” She sighed and rubbed her tattoo on the side of her face. “Why are you following me, anyway? Didn’t you get the idea to stay away?”

“I’m sorry,” I said, “but I just wanted to know about, well, you. You can’t very well expect to suddenly show up in my company’s building out of nowhere and not expect me to wonder at least where you came from, can you?”

She glared at me.

“I was hoping you would know well enough to keep it to yourself,” she said. “If I told you where I was from, you wouldn’t believe me anyway. Now it would be in your best interest to leave and forget all of this happened.”

The mare in cloak seemed to believe that she had effectively ended the argument, and started to walk away. A glow from her horn sent the hood back up on her head.

“But I want to believe,” I called out to her, the words forming themselves on my lips. “Haven’t you ever been curious about something like this? You can ignore me if you want, but at least give me a good reason.”

She stopped walking away, but didn’t immediately turn around. For a second, I thought I could hear her whispering to herself, but it quickly subsided.

“So you think you’re curious?” she asked.

“I know I am.”

More whispering, which I was sure of that time.

“And you work in that factory, right?”

My heart swelled with the spectre of hope suddenly lighting the alleyway. “Yeah, I do,” I said. “It’s a ship-breaking yard, actually. I know just about every inch of it.”

Finally, the mare turned around to face me again. If I hadn’t known better, I would have said her glowing eye had begun to throb.

“Can you show me where your company’s records are kept?”

“Yes, of course,” I said. I’d been called to the supervisor’s makeshift office enough times to at least have a good guess of where the records were, though I didn’t know their exact location. Not that she needed to know that, however.

The mare walked back to my side and looked down at me, her horn piercing up from her hooded cloak. A whisper of a smile seemed to briefly grace her face.

“Close your eyes and try not to move,” she ordered.

I did as I was told and the tingling I had felt the previous night alighted across my body, though not in the same force. Suddenly, though, I felt weightless and falling through nothing.

* * *

The sensation stopped as soon as it had come, and I felt solid fabcrete beneath my hooves once again. When I cracked open my eyelids, however, I realized that we were back at the ship-breaking yard. A small scattering of ash lay on the floor around us, and a sinking feeling told me that the ash were parts of me that had separated on the journey.

“Lead the way,” the mare told me.

I nodded obligingly and set off down the main row between conveyor belts, which remained in the same shape as I had left them the night previous. The lights were off, but after the first time I managed to trip over a box of scraps somepony had carelessly left out, the mare set her horn glowing and the lights overhead sprung to life.

The supervisor’s office was at the far end of the deconstruction room, so it took some time to walk over there. In the meantime, I sought after answers to my questions.

“So what were you doing at the marketplace?” I said. “It doesn’t really seem like the kind of place a mare like you would hang around.”

“You don’t know me well enough to make that judgement,” she said icily, but then softened up. “Besides, I was acting on a hunch, and it proved to be definitively correct.”

I paused. “Are you talking about the ground shaking?”

“Yes, and now I need to see your company’s records to perhaps shed some light on my suspicions.”

“So you did need me,” I said.

“I’m sure I would have found the records eventually,” she said, “but having you along speeds up the process, and in a situation like this time is essential.”

“And what kind of situation is that?”

“It’s best if you don’t know.”

I might have complained, had we not reached the supervisor’s office by then.

The room was little more than a closet beneath the stairs leading to the second level, but it was more than most of us had. Besides, he was the supervisor to the unskilled workers—barely a step above us himself. One of the reasons why he drank on duty, probably.

I pushed open the door—our company was too cheap for a lock—and went inside.

The place was dominated by only two pieces of furniture: a cheap metal desk and an old liquor cabinet. The desk had been cleaned off for the weekend, meaning that the wastepaper basket was filled to bursting with logs he either hadn’t gotten to or wouldn’t have bothered with anyway.

The mare looked practically mortified at the scene of the room.

“How can he be your supervisor?” she said. “This is the worst organization I’ve ever seen!”

“Our company’s not too big on the details,” I explained.

“Alright, well, just find the records, and quickly.”

The desk had no locks on it either, so it was a simple task to root through its drawers and, good luck willing, find the outgoing records for our yard.

I stepped behind the desk and opened the top drawer. Inside were several flasks of hard alcohol. Nothing too strange, I supposed, so I opened the drawer below that. More alcohol.

The mare was looking at me strangely, so I picked up the pace. Another draw. Alcohol. I checked all of them and they all held the same prize. Sure there were in all kinds of different weapons for the war against sobriety, but none of them were in the shape of company records.

“Is there a problem?” the mare asked.

“Just a, uh, delay,” I said hastily. “It seems he moved his records since I was last here.”

“Moved them to where?”

I closed the open drawers. “That’s what I’ll have to find out.”

I set my hooves on the desk and tried to think. The supervisor rarely strayed far from his office or our disassembly lines, so I had no idea where else he would put the records.

At that moment, I happened to look up in my newfound despair and my eyes alighted on the liquor cabinet across the small room. It was supposedly an antique brought by a captain on one of the colony ships, though almost everypony in the office could tell it was locally-grown wood.

But the more important thing, I realized,what did a pony need a liquor cabinet for when all of his alcohol was in his desk?

I walked over to it and carefully opened the door while the mare in the cloak watched me with a strange sort of interest.

Peeking inside, I saw stacks and stacks of papers piled haphazardly on top of each other. I opened the cabinet doors all the way and grabbed a folder that looked important off the top shelf.

“Is this what you’re looking for?” I said, holding the folder up to her.

She yanked it out of my hoof with a spark of magic and opened it in the air in front of her. Her eyes quickly scanned the contents before gently placing the folder back on its shelf. Her face darkened.

“It’s just as I thought,” she said.

“What, what’s like you think?” I asked.

“Your ship breaking yard has a severe imbalance in its system. Every week, you are processing enough material to fill a cruiser, but only a cargo ship’s-worth is making it out.”

“So?”

“Well, ask yourself: where is all that steel and circuitry going?”

I thought. Come to think of it, I had never actually seen where all the steel we cut apart went after it disappeared off our lines. I’d seen magtrucks in the back parking lots that I had assumed carried our goods throughout the colony, but I’d never actually seen them being loaded.

“Alright,” I said, “you may have a point. But what exactly does all this mean?”

Another quake suddenly erupted beneath our hooves, though it was much smaller than the one in the square. Despite that, it also felt closer . . . more localized.

“Trouble.”

The mare quickly bounded out of the room, and I was stumbling after her as she wove a complicated pattern in the air. She jumped over and around the conveyor belts on a path not toward the exit, but to a door that led down below the disassembly room. How she knew where to go, I wouldn’t venture to guess.

As we moved, more tremors rocked beneath me, slackening in power but growing in frequency. They seemed to have an effect on the mare, as her breathing grew heavy and the tattoo on her body almost seemed to glow. Sweat had begun to gather on her forehead by the time we reached the door, and I feared she might collapse before we could get it open.

That proved to not be a problem, however, as it swung out on its own accord. A large tremble from underneath preceded the reveal of the ponies behind the door.

Stepping through the entryway were two ponies from the line next to mine and Charm’s, while the other was a figure much more surprising.

Real Steel, the stallion who owned the entire ship-breaking yard, stood before us. He didn’t have the most friendly look on his face, however.

“Thought you two would stick your noses where they don’t belong, huh?” he sneered. He turned to two burly line workers. “Grab them!”

The mare’s horn started to spark in what I hoped would be a little working of her magic in protest, but it stopped as her tattoo flashed red and she collapsed to the ground with a groan.

Steel’s enforcers hesitated for a moment, and she took that opportunity to grit her teeth and force her horn to flash, disappearing in a burst of magic.

Unfortunately, I was not included in her escape plan.

“You idiots!” Steel cried. “She’s gotten away!” He sighed and turned to me. “Alright, bring her along . . . it’s time we consulted with the master again.”

I was roughly grabbed by my hooves and dragged with one line worker on either side of me. I didn’t speak up in protest or try to escape; their muscles gave me a good idea of how that fight would end. What I did notice, however, was a strange, silver glow in their eyes.

I was dragged through the doorway and down into the depths of the building.

Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!
Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!