• Published 20th Oct 2012
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Out of Touch - ToixStory

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And The Stars Did Wander Darkling - III

Those words drifted out of the darkness, wrapped around me and refused to let go. The haunting visage in the Captain’s voice, and the threat that came within left me desperately scrabbling against the bulkhead door that felt cold against my back.

I sat there for a few minutes, gasping for breath in the choking darkness as I expected at any moment some sort of horror to bounce out into my view and swallow me whole. Nothing of the sort came about.

Instead, silence grew deeper and deeper into the corridor until it roared in my ears and threatened to drive me mad simply by the sensory deprivation.

Cautiously, I stood up and took a big gulp before taking a step forward. Nothing. The only sound that rang out came from me, and it was little at that. I began to take small steps forward and try to keep myself from wanting to cry out curl into a ball on the deck.

My hoofsteps slowly but surely grew stronger as I made my way down the corridor and deeper into the blackness. Still, nothing came to harm me. I began to even believe that no harm would come to me so long as I didn’t give in to fear.

That was when I heard the sound. A ticking, like metal upon metal. But no . . . not exactly metal upon metal, more like metal upon bone.

I did not know how I would know that sound, but suddenly there was no other explanation. The sound came again: tap, tap, tap. It came like the beating of a drum, or the rhythmic thumping of my heart.

And it was coming toward me.

My breath came in gasps and I tried to run back, told my legs to move, but they refused. I halted in place, desperately crying to myself to run or hide or anything else than wait.

Oh! How I wished I had some sort of weapon . . . a gun or a sword or even one of those plasma cutters from back in the ship-breaking yard. That wasn’t such a ridiculous thought, was it?

Tap, tap, tap.

No movement, no sound, no nothing outside of that tapping. In sync with my heart, my breath, my thinking now. I giggled a little to myself. I hadn’t been gone from Twilight’s side for more than a few minutes and the first thing I hear paralyzes me in fear!

I giggled again, louder this time. Wasn’t that just funny?

Tap, tap, tap.

Closer now. Always closer now. It was right upon me now! Right. There!

“P-Please,” I managed as a last desperate cry to reason against an enemy I could neither see nor feel.

It stopped.

The tapping . . . it ended. The darkness in front of me remained just as impenetrable as before. Just as silent. I let out a slow laugh of relief.

Then the light overhead flickered to life. Just that light, and nothing more, cast its glow into a circle around me. I looked at the bulkhead.

A scar, dug deep into the metal like a bleeding wound that ran along the wall before it stopped. Stopped just next to me. It was fresh.

My heart beat faster and I found myself screaming. Screaming with all my might, surely alerting every horror and evil in the hallway but I did not care. I pressed myself to the floor and wished it to end. End!

It was silent again.. I guess I had got tired of screaming and stopped at some point. I lay on the ground in the circle of light that flooded down from above. My safe haven from everything.

Then my safe haven began to go out. Darkness swallowed me up again and I was lost within it. Drowning again.

Tap, tap, tap.

Another light came to life down the corridor, no more than one hundred feet ahead of me. The tapping grew louder. Go! Now!

I sprinted toward my safety, my salvation. All the while, the tendrils of the black corridor bled into me, covering my eyes and muting my ears. The thump of my hooves on the deck and the tapping that surrounded me on every side was the only thing I knew. The only thing that mattered.

Safe.

I landed with a dull thud within the confines of the lighted area. The tapping stopped and I could breathe again. I looked down at my hooves and saw that I was shaking.

Little rivers of water ran across the sloped deck below me. I checked and found I was crying. So alone in this corridor . . . this corridor that never ended. There was nothing for me to do, nowhere to go: I was hopeless without my little circle of light. My lamp in the darkness that kept the monsters at bay.

An intercom somewhere along the wall sparkled to life and my heart froze in my chest. The Captain’s voice came again in sweet sing-song voice.

“When the blazing sun is gone, when he nothing shines upon . . . Then you show your little light, Tinker, Tinker, all the night.”

I expected the light above me to go out again, but it did not. Instead, the light next to it turned on, and then the one next to that one came to life. The corridor was slowly bathed in fluorescent light that stretched its length.

I very nearly cried out in joy as the darkness was banished from my world and I could once again see. But then I looked up and my heart leapt to my throat.

It was not a pony or a griffin or any fabulous beast of old. Its limbs stretched out to me in their inky darkness as its slime drip, dripped down to my face and my hair and everywhere else. Its eyes . . . Those maddening red eyes that searched for me!

The creature lunged its massive body on top of me, seeking to drown me within its form. I screamed and flailed at it as it came down.

I lost all sensation of what I was doing. My limbs were not my own as I punched and kicked and fought with everything I had to try and remove that unholy presence from me. I fought back.

The abomination made a horrible screeching noise as it moved atop me, but that same noise continued even when it stopped moving under desperate blows. Then I realized that noise was coming from me.

I stopped and looked down at the horror but found . . . nothing. There was no monster, but instead the broken and battered corpses of the crew members. Husks long since gone gray with age; they must have been left behind when the crew fought each other those years ago. But why, then, did they look so fresh?

I shook my head to clear that thought, even as it threatened to dig into my skull and plant itself there. The more I looked in the light, the worse it became. The corridor was not empty, but littered with all that remained of a pointless struggle between the two.

I had to step over what could only be described as a shoulder joint locked halfway within a ribcage to get to the wall and lean against it. But not for rest. Oh no, to reach myself up to the little gray box that somehow seemed brand new in the hallway that clearly showed its age.

“Captain!” I called desperately. “Turn off the lights! P-Please . . . just turn the lights back off!”

“Oh? Can little Tinker handle her truths illuminated in the light?”

I took a step back and shook my head. No, no, that voice . . . the voice that came from the box was no longer the Captain’s sing-song lilt. It was Charm’s. The same voice that he would use when I was late back from the factory or working in my room late at night.

The voice that used to show he cared.

And now, it was tainted with, “I thought you were afraid of the dark?”

“What have you done to me?” I shouted. “You are not Charm!”

The voice that wasn’t Charm laughed. “Really? Because I certainly feel like Charm. But that doesn’t really matter, does it? This isn’t about me, but about you.”

I shook my head. “Just an illusion,” I said to myself. “It’s the crazy Captain . . . that madness they told you about.”

“But is it really madness when it’s been here this whole time? We both know that it isn’t the darkness that you’re actually afraid of . . . after all, we stop fearing the monsters in the dark when we figure out the real ones are inside of us.”

“I’m not going to take this,” I growled at it.

With all the bravado I could muster, I began to tread further down the corridor and away from the squawking box. Not that it matter, though. Another one like it was placed every ten feet.

When Charm’s voice came next, it came from every intercom.

“Oh, Tinker, always so afraid to stand and face your problems,” it said. “Always running away before they can catch up with you.”

“I’m not running away,” I said, “and I’m not afraid of my problems. I’m dealing with them right now.”

The voice laughed. “I do suppose that’s how you deal with things. Does this sound familiar: ‘Tinker, I waited all day! Where have you been?’”

I froze in my tracks. Where before the voice had merely mocked me with Charm’s voice, this time it was a perfect duplicate of those words he had said that night.

“Who are you?” I screamed. “Who are you and how do you know what he said?”

The voice laughed. “Isn’t obvious, Tinker? I’m you.”

“That’s impossible,” I said. “I can’t be in two places at once.”

“Normally, that would be true, but I’m afraid you’ve gone quite insane.” The voice giggled. “Or did you really think you were standing in a corridor lined with gore?”

I was almost afraid to look, but I gave a quick sweep of the hallway that had just moments before been filled with the rotting remains of long-dead ponies.

Nothing. Not even a scratch on the walls or a single bloodstain.

“What is this?” I demanded. “Some kind of joke?”

The voice didn’t respond again, and the intercom remained quiet. Dead.

But that was really the whole situation, wasn’t it? Just a conversation with myself . . . just a fight with myself. The scratches on my hooves were real enough, though.

Real or not, I could be hurt.

The lights began their march again toward blackness around me, like they worked on some demented switch. A crackle and a fizz and a little more light disappeared from my limited world. The pattern continued until once again it was only the fluorescent bulbs above my head that kept my world alive for a few moments more.

That tiny little light that seemed to grow smaller and smaller.

“It’s all in your head, it’s all in your head,” I thought aloud. “None of this can hurt you . . . you’re just going a little crazy. Yeah, that’s all.”

“Are you sure about that?” I said.

But no, that wasn’t me. Or, at least, not me me. I looked outside my little ring of light and I could perceive dark . . . shapes . . . that ringed around it. The shapes materialized into clearer visages, though they were somehow less believable than anything I had seen that day.

Surrounding me on every side was, well, me. But they weren’t perfect copies, however. It was like watching me after a dozen deaths and horrors had been visited upon myself.

Burnt me, shot me, there was a me who looked ill with a plague and a me with bloodshot eyes who couldn’t stop smiling. It was a crowd of every fear I had ever imagined would strike me, brought to life before my very eyes.

I was shaking again.

“What’s the matter?” gouged-eyes me said. “Scared?”

“S-Scared?” I said. “N-Not at all . . . none of you are even close to being real! Why would I be scared of myself?”

I laughed from a dozen scarred mouths. “Why aren’t I scared of myself?” I said in unison. “I am the scariest thing I know, after all. What’s scarier than what I can imagine?”

The image of Charm dissolving into thin air appeared and was gone just as quickly. Even then, I found myself desperately reaching out for it, and feeling another knife digging into a vein when I could only watch him go.

I slumped onto the floor. “Just leave me alone,” I said softly. “Please, just . . . just go. You’re all just this madness taking hold!”

I must have thought that was quite funny, because they all started to giggle. They all took a step forward and the lit area began to shrink.

“Do you really think we’re only showing up now?” said Tinker whose chest cavity was nothing but a gaping hole.

There was me with translucent skin who nodded in agreement and I watched as my bones and muscles made it possible. “That sounds like us, though. Never think of the problem until it’s right in our faces!”

“And always putting the blame on others!” said another of me.

“Must’ve been our parenting.”

“Or maybe we’re just sexually frustrated.”

I, me, we, they kept laughing as they advanced and kept closing the circle. My little arena of solace that shrank and shrank even as I trembled and backed up across the deck.

“Stop!” I shouted. “Just stop! Why are you even doing this?”

“Oh, it isn’t us that’s doing this,” heartless me said. “Turns out, the thing that’s killing you was yourself all along.”

I let out a cry as I fell to the deck while they continued to close up their ranks around me. My fears were closing in and threatening to swallow me up in a sea of my own madness.

They began to chant in a sing-song tone as they moved in: “Up above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky . . . Tinker, Tinker, little star, how we wonder what we are?”

The sound of my own voice from a dozen mouths filled my ears no matter how I tried to keep it out.

And just when the darkness began to descend upon me when once again, a wholly different voice sang out, strong and true: “As your bright and tiny spark, lights the traveler in the dark . . . Though I know not what you are, Tinker, Tinker, little star . . .”

That same poem, and to the same rhythm too . . . but this time without a threat or malice. A crystal voice that calmed the storm and halted the advance of the figures around me.

I looked up to look for the source of the voice and found myself staring at a purple unicorn with darker violet mane. Twilight.

But at the same time, she was not Twilight. She was shorter, and her mane better kept. No scars or tattoos covered her body, and her cape her gone. And those eyes . . . those eyes that sparkled like a thousand tiny stars.

She smiled at me and helped me off the ground. “Are you okay? You look awfully scared.”

“Y-Yeah, well I—”

I looked around and saw that the horror versions of me had retreated back to the edge of the light where they stared at us silently, waiting.

“I’m, uh, I’m scared of them.”

Twilight tilted her head. “Well that’s kind of silly, don’t you think? Who ever heard of a pony scared of herself?”

“No, it’s not like that; those aren’t me.” I sighed. “Those are every fear I’ve felt . . . every regret I’ve had.”

“But that’s nothing to be scared of,” she said. “If they’re already inside of you, then what’s so bad?”

“It’s bad because they are what hurt me.”

She giggled. “That’s not true; not all of those feelings are bad. Most of them aren’t, even.”

I gaped at her. “What are you talking about? It’s these feelings that are tearing me apart . . . that are driving me mad.”

“Really? Does the fear of losing the ones you love drive you crazy?”

“Well, no—”

“And does regretting running away from home make you a worse pony?”

I paused and sat in thought. The dark figures around me seemed to blur out as I considered what she had said. Because that fear and regret was there, in my mind if not in the crowd. But they weren’t bad, were they?

“So what you’re saying is,” I began carefully, “that fear helps me because it makes me remember what hurt me, and that regret keeps me from forgetting how I’ve hurt others?”

Twilight beamed. “I think you hit it right on the head!”

I looked around at all the copies of myself. “Then what am I supposed to do about all of this? How do I make them go away?”

“I’d think you just have to accept them.”

With a few careful steps, I stood in front of one of my horrors, this one the copy with transparent skin. “How do I do that?”

“Isn’t that something only you would know?”

I turned back to the me and looked myself in the eye. Tried to feel something, and at first there was nothing . . . but the longer I looked the more I began to understand. That to face my fears, I’d first have to accept them.

“Afraid to reveal myself to others,” I whispered.

That Tinker smiled and suddenly turned into an exact copy of me—no scars or bruises or anything—before fading to nothing.

I stood in front of the next, the one with an empty chest cavity.

“Afraid of having my heart broken.”

She faded away, too.

Around the circle I went, naming fear after fear and regret after regret. They all faded in their turn and left me feeling a little more confident each time. A little more sure of myself.

Finally, I came to the last in the line, and the worst of them all. It was like somepony had taken Charm and I and fused our bodies together, then stretched them apart until they were only connected by the thinnest strands of skin.

It was also the one I was most sure about.

“I won’t forget you,” I told the Charm side, “and I will find a way back. No matter what I do, no matter where I go, I’ll find my way home someday.”

They both smiled as they too faded, leaving only Twilight and I standing in a now-lit corridor. The lights had never been off, of course.

“You did a good job,” she said.

I smiled. “I think I’m better, now. I can feel them . . . but it’s not a bad feeling.”

“It’s never supposed to be.”

There was a silent pause between us as we stood by each other. The lonely corridor didn’t look so unfriendly now, just empty. That’s all it was, in the end: just a hallway of metal. Nothing scary about that.

“So where did you come from?” I said. “Are you part of that spell Twilight put on me?”

She looked up at me and smirked. “Maybe, but I’d like to think I’m a little more than that. A little more . . . you.”

“Is that a good thing?”

“You tell me.” She winked as she too began to fade, and before long was gone, leaving me once again all by myself. Or, at least, on the outside.

* * *

I eventually found myself at the end of the corridor that opened up back onto the deck right before the bridge. The same huge steel door was still shut, and I spied the elevator that we had taken, what, hours before with the guard ponies.

A quick sweep of the area revealed that I was, in fact, still alone. Which was good for the moment. My mind noted, however, that beyond the door lay a completely insane Captain and I had no Twilight to back me up.

I didn’t have anywhere else to go, however, so I strode up to the door and tapped on it. I’m not sure what I expected, but sure enough the massive blast doors slid open and allowed me a small hole to walk through before closing up again.

That was when the gravity reversed itself.

I fell, screaming, to the ceiling, which was now the ground. A very rough ground, but one I was able to stand on.

I had a moment of sickness before my head was able to adjust to the new directions, as well as my new partner in the room.

The Captain’s black obelisk hung from the ceiling like an evil stalactite, with the Captain itself hanging limply out of it, attached to the interior only by wires. In that state, the Captain no longer quite resembled a pony, but rather an amorphous mass of flesh and wires that looked down at me with dead eyes.

“So you made it here after all,” it said. “I cannot say I’m not surprised. I would have thought you would be the first to go insane.”

“I guess you thought wrong,” I spat.

“Indeed.” A metallic humming emanating from the obelisk filled the air. “So I suppose you were sent here by the ponies in the engineering section. To kill me, yes?”

“You lied to us about them. You were the crazy one, not them.”

What passed for a laugh came from the Captain. “Oh, I assure you, I never lied to you. They are quite insane. But, I suppose, so am I.”

I shook my head. “Why, again, am I supposed to believe you?”

“They told you that we have been adrift for two years, correct?”

“Yeah, they did.”

“Well then, you have your answer,” the Captain said. “Come now, surely you’ve noticed that the wear and tear to this ship couldn’t have happened in only two short years.”

Now that she mentioned it, and I got a closer look at the top of the bridge, the metal didn’t just look used, but old. Very old. And when the crazy pony is right, that’s never a good thing.

“You see, our day of separation was not just two years ago,” the Captain continued, “but twenty. It was back then that the two parties on this ship separated in ideologies of their insanities borne of too long on a ship that had long since gone off course. One group, of course, very literally separated themselves from our ship.”

“Well I’ve been there,” I said. “They didn’t seem very crazy to me. They were even the ones who were able to point out what was going on with me and Tw- er, my friend.”

“Yes, that is the most frightening part, isn’t it? That they can so clearly see the insanity in others, but not in themselves.” Somehow, I could hear the malice enter the Captain’s voice, though neither the tone or pitch changed. “It cost the lives of many who once called this ship their temporary home. It was I after all, who ejected their section of the ship away from my own.”

I stared up at the obelisk. “You know, you don’t sound very insane.”

A chuckle. “Ah, Tinker, the pony so far from home . . . that is the beauty of it all. To you, I appear normal, but from my point of view, ah, well, you’ll see soon enough.”

“Soon enough?”

“Why, you don’t think I called you hear just to speak to you, do you? No, I am so excited to add a couple more ponies to my happy crew. I look more forward to picking the brain of your friend, but you will do for now.”

With that, more wires unwrapped themselves from the obelisk and sped through the air toward me. I tried to back up and run from them, but the Captain simply reversed the gravity and left me falling back down to the deck.

The wires caught me in midair as they wrapped around me. I tried to struggle, but it was really no use. They shoved and plunged their way into my head, into my spine . . . into my brain.

Waves of agony coursed through me and I screamed as I felt the icy-hot presence of the Captain drip into my mind.

“Isn’t that better?” it cooed through our sudden connection. “Just open your eyes and see the world as I do . . .”

I realized I had been clenching my eyes closed and slowly began to open them. Why not? I didn’t feel different, but I had lost anyway. Might as well take a peek.

I’m not sure what I had been expecting, but “nothing” probably hadn’t been on the list. Not a void of nothingness, but literally nothing different than before. At all.

“Um, is everything supposed to look the same?” I said aloud. “Because if so, your view is pretty boring.”

“What?!” the Captain boomed through both my head and out loud. “Do you not see them? The dark ones?”

I could feel its mind pressing further into my own, and suddenly figures did begin to manifest. Black shapes that lined the transparent aluminum windows, completely blocking out the light coming from outside.

None of them resembled me, however. They were all in the shape of the Captain. So many grotesque visages . . . but so familiar that it was almost comforting.

I found myself laughing.

“Really, this is all there is?” I said. “All you see are your fears?”

“Of course!” the Captain screeched. “To be consumed by your fears is to be insane. But when you can see them . . . you are no longer afraid!” It paused. “Why are you still laughing?”

“That’s about the stupidest thing I’ve heard today,” I said. “And here I thought that the Captain would be so wise or some junk like that. Turns out, you’re just so scared of yourself that you’ve spent twenty years justifying it.”

“And I suppose your vision is much better?”

I snorted. “I’ll tell you this, Captain, where you see all those dark shapes, I see nothing. Zip, nada, zero, not a single thing.”

“Explain. I can feel your mind . . . the madness is there. I can see it. How do you not?”

I smiled and allowed myself to relax as best as I could against the cables sticking out of my body.

“I had to accept my fears. Once you do that, things aren’t so bad. Am I crazy? Maybe, but I can at least live with that.”

I could feel the Captain consider what I said, and glow a little brighter, but then settle back to dark as it looked out at its fears. They had moved forward, and were now inside the bridge. I’m not sure the Captain noticed.

“I-I cannot do that,” it said. “There are too many . . .”

The dark figures surrounded the Captain’s platform.

“I don’t understand!” it shouted. “How can you accept them? Fear will always be there, you cannot overcome it!”

Now the dozens of corrupted Captains surrounded the obelisk itself.

“No, you cannot overcome fear,” I said. “Because it isn’t something you’re supposed to overcome in the first place. Accepting it instead of obsessing over it and trying to hide from it is the only way to keep if from consuming you like this.”

The Captain finally looked up and opened its eyes for the first time in its life to behold the dark creatures that had now surrounded the pony itself.

“Huh, guess I failed.”

They fell upon the Captain then, and the wires severed from me and sent me falling to the deck, where I landed hard and lay sprawled on my side.

Right before I had been disconnected . . . for a moment, I had seen and felt and remembered everything the Captain had. The first time being disconnected from the growing pod, the connection he—a male Captain, as he had turned out to be—had felt when placed into the Venture for the first time. The power and the pride.

But then the fear and the loss when they fell off course. The horror as he had felt the insanity welling up inside of him as he endlessly tried to put them back on course to no avail. And how scared he had been when it had spread to the crew and passengers.

I looked with my normal eyes and vision at the obelisk with pity, and the limp body that hung within. Even as his body began to grey, so too did the ship begin to groan and heave. Without its Captain, it did not have much time to live.

Just then, the blast doors at the back of the room buckled and exploded off of their hinges, flying in two directions before crashing into the transparent aluminum around the room. Luckily, the metal held and kept me from being sucked into space.

From out of the smoke strode Twilight, her horn blazing in white light that also flared out from her eyes. Discord was mostly detached from her side, and fire trailed off of his breath.

They looked at the obelisk as if expecting a fight, then back to me.

“What happened here?” Twilight said. “And how did you beat the Captain?”

I looked at the lifeless obelisk. “I didn’t, the Captain . . . he beat himself, in the end. I just helped it along, I guess.”

Discord huffed and drew himself back into Twilight. “Glory hog.”

I kicked at the deck under me. With the Captain gone and my own stuff dealt with, the ship seemed so much more empty and lifeless. Just a big hunk of metal. Judging by Twilight’s condition, she had probably helped clean it up from any of the other crazy guards stalking about.

“So what now?” I said. “Do we just go, like all the other times? Or do we have to just go take care of the ponies on the engineering section?”

Twilight shook her head. “With the Captain’s influence gone, these ponies should be able to help each other. And, well, the way the spell works seems to be more based on me—or you—personally than the situation itself.”

“It’s pretty much arbitrary,” Discord chimed in. “Speaking of which . . .”

My hooves began to glow and sparkle with a white light that soon had consumed my entire vision and left me with that floating feeling again. The last thing I saw was the sun floating serenely out the windows of the Venture, burning as it always had like nothing even happened.

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