• Published 2nd Jan 2013
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Slipping Through A Sideways Door - hornethead



A man accidently follows his friend, who was believed to be dead, to a strange and colorful land mired in conflict.

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A Bit Of Leave

Chapter 10: A Bit Of Leave

The ride back to Canterlot was a lot more upbeat than the ride out. Breeze, Saffron and Frosty sat in a corner, laughing and playing a round of cards. Not far away, Mayfield and Sylver were engaged in a heated discussion about long range ballistics. Jackson sat alone on a bench, staring at a photo he always kept close to his heart. Flash walked over and plopped down next to him. Jackson hastily stuffed the photo back in his breast pocket, but before he did, the pegasus caught a glimpse of it. He thought he saw a little girl in the photo, she had the same skin tone as the large man next to him and was beaming with a smile that was missing the two front teeth.

"Something on your mind?" The pegasus inquired, noticing the strained look on Jackson's face.

"Ah, no, it's nothing." The man quickly replied, wiping his face with his palm.

"Well, ok." Flash said, unconvinced, but unwilling to press the issue.

Jackson seemed to perk up, hiding whatever was paining him inside, "You need anything, boss?"

"Yeah, just wanted to get your thoughts on the Op. You got an idea of what's going on here?"

Jackson slipped into professional mode, "Yeah, you guys seem to have a hell of a problem. I haven't seen anything like this in a long time. Asymmetrical warfare is a bitch to fight. You know what we should have done?"

"What's that?"

"Let the last guy go."

"What, really?" The pegasus asked incredulously.

"Yeah, really. Let him go and track him back to wherever he came from."

"Ha," Flash scoffed, "we tried that. They work in cells. Every time we track one down to their hideaway, all we find is burned papers and broken equipment."

"Sounds like their being run with some experience."

"Yeah, and there's only two individuals I know with that skill set. As far as we know, one is already dead. The other..."

"Kaughn?" Jackson blurted out.

"Yeah, him." Flash said with dejection. "But I don't think it's him. At least I hope not."

"No, no, that doen'st sound like him." Jackson shook his head. "He wouldn't do somethin' like this."

"By Celestia's will. But sometimes... well... he did go a little nuts a few times."

"Heh heh, yeah." Jackson chuckled, trying to lighten the mood. "Sometimes he took what he did a little to close to the heart. Tore him up inside. Some handle it a bit worse than others."

"Don't I know it..."

"So what are we gonna do now?"

"Hm?"

"We heading back to Canterlot?"

"Oh." Flash was taken a little off guard by the sudden change in subject. "We're gonna drop the team off and de-arm and debrief. After that, home."

"Alright, you gettin' some leave." Jackson said happily. "Me and Ma- Scratch gonna just kick it in the barracks then?"

"Nope, you're both coming with me.

"Really? Where's home then?"

"Oh, just a nice small town pretty much away from it all."

==============================================================



After a quick debriefing and turning in their weapons at the armory (though they were allowed to keep their sidearms), it was time to leave. Flash, Jackson and Mayfield walked their way down to the docks where their ride was waiting. Sylver accompanied them, still talking to Mayfield.

"...and I kid you not, Scratch, I swear he arced the bullet around the tree and hit the pumpkin."

"I dunno, there had to have been a right strong gust to pull that kind of shot off. And you don't have to call me that any more, call me Topher."

"Topher, huh? So Scratch was just your-"

"Callsign, yeah. It's not that I didn't trust you guys, it's... well, yeah, I didn't really trust you guys..."

"It's cool, I understand."

"So we're calling you Topher now?" Flash asked over his shoulder.

"Only if it suits you."

"Well, it's better than 'Scratch.' How'd you get that one anyway?"

"Ugh," Mayfield exhaled, "I don't really wanna talk about it..."

"I bet he caught crabs or something." Jackson laughed.

"Yeah, from your mum!"

Jackson only laughed harder, with Flash and Sylver joining in.

"Oh you got jokes, huh? All right, all right, I got you, Imma get you back." Jackson warned.

Soon enough, they made it to the high security dock that held the Clipper Class airships used by the RSTG. The guard at the gate recognized the Lieutenant Commander and waved the group through. Except for a few empty spots, most of the aircraft were there.

"So, what, we're just gonna take one of these?" Mayfield asked.

"Kind of, I called in a favor from a friend. Gonna be a lot faster than the train." Flash told him.

The pegasus led them all past the parked aircraft to a hanger in the back. The two wide bay doors were open, inside was a battered up airship sitting on a low rolling platform. It had old looking armor attached to the outside that appeared to repaired and re-repaired a hundred times over. Sitting on the cabin deck in the open side door was a misty gray unicorn absently reading a book. She looked up from it as the group approached, a grin growing on her mouth. She put the book off to the side and got up to greet them.

"Hey ya Flash, how's it goin'?"

"Going good, how about yourself?"

"Can't complain, just pushed another class of cadets through graduation. We actually had a couple of stallions this time! Whose your friends?" She peeked past the pegasus at the two humans behind him.

"Oh yeah, these are the new arrivals, I'm their handler while they get acquainted here." He stepped aside and motioned them to come forward. "This is Jackson and I guess Topher now. They're humans."

"Humans, really?"

"Yeah, I know. And guys," he said turning to the two men, "this is Aria Myst. She's a personal friend of mine and the head of the Training Department for all our military pilots."

"Nice to meet you both!" She held out a hoof which they both shook. "I haven't seen a human since—"

Flash held up a hoof, stopping her short, "Not now, it's kind of a sensitive issue."

"O...k... Anyway, Lectric coming along with us or just you guys?"

"Na, sorry Aria. He's still pretty busy. But he said he'd be home in a few days."

"Oh, all right." She said sadly with a sigh. "He'd better hurry up though, Flicker's starting to get anxious about when daddy's coming home. Well, pile in everypony!"

Sylver said his goodbye and took off back to the base while the rest climbed into the main compartment and took a seat. While they got comfortable, Aria moved to the cockpit and started up the engine. Outside, a team of ponies hooked a tow bar up to the aircraft and started rolling it out of the hangar and to a landing spot. Once it was in position, the ground crew disengaged the locks holding the airship to the platform and moved away to a safe distance.

Aria completed her checks and and prepared to take off, feeding power to the small, but buoyant balloon that would hold the aircraft aloft. In seconds, the airship began lifting free of the platform, skids now several feet above the deck. Aria kept her aircraft ascending until it was well above the ground and engaged the propeller, using the flaps on the cage to spin it around and face away from the docks to open air. Once clear and in the right direction, she accelerated quickly, thrusting the airship forward on it's journey.

Jackson leaned over to Flash, "How long's the flight?"

"About forty-five minutes, give or take. Might be shorter with that crazy mare at the controls, she's always pushing her ship's limits."

"Hey, I heard that!" Aria shouted from the cockpit.

The weather was mildly warm and Aria flew low so they left the side door open during the flight. Jackson sat by the edge of the deck, watching the landscape below whip past. A winding river threaded its way across the land not far to the northeast. Looking further down, Jackson could see it fed into a large kidney shaped lake by a dense forest before continuing on.

Minutes later, he spotted a large orchard, covering many acres, to the front and only a moment afterwards, it too was rolling by beneath him. He looked down and noticed that nearly the entire orchard was comprised of apple trees of all kinds, which struck him as odd. But then, farmers could grow what they wanted here.

The orchard took a while to scroll by with its size, but once it did, Jackson was treated to an astounding bird's eye view of a perfect little town below. It was about midday and many of its residents were going about their day, giving it the appearance of a large, colorful ant farm. He took it all in as they flew over its center, remembering as many details as he could. Beside him, Flash suddenly materialized.

"Looks great, doesn't it?" He asked the human.

"Yeah, seems like a pretty nice place. We staying here?"

"Well, yes and no. Below us right now is the town of Ponyville."

"Sounds original!" Mayfield shot from the peanut gallery, but Flash ignored him and continued.

"My house is actually some distance away on the other side of the river and by the forest. Nice and quiet."

"Sounds good to me." Jackson said, stretching his arms over his head, "I could definitely use nice and quiet."

"Oh, yeah, I kinda need to warn you about that..."

"About what? You said it was nice and quiet. Is it not?" Mayfield asked mockingly, obviously trying to get on the pegasus' nerves.

Once again, Flash ignored him and resumed talking, "Well, I kinda live there with my marefriend."

"So? Ain't nothin' wrong with that." Jackson said without worry.

"Sometimes she can be... Well, you'll find out."

"Oh no. No no no no! Every time someone says that, it turns out to be bad." Mayfield said while waving his arms in front of his face. "What is it? Is she mean? Kinda bitchy? Psychopathic, into some weird fetishes? C'mon, spill it!"

This finally grated a nerve with the pegasus, "What!? No! She just gets a little hyper sometimes!" Flash shouted at the dark haired human behind him.

"Is that all? Well then I don't see what the big deal is..." Mayfield shrugged.

"You're gonna get the worst of it, buddy." Flash threatened.

"Bring it!"

While the two of them were bickering, Aria had passed over the river and put her aircraft into decent. Up ahead, a medium sized two story house with a nice covered front porch came into view. Aria expertly maneuvered around it and to the back yard where a small field separated the house from the forest. Gingerly, she touched the aircraft down, allowing Jackson to hop out onto the soft grass. Boots on deck, he walked forward to the glass windows of the cockpit and gave them a quick pound, mouthing his thanks for the ride to the unicorn mare inside. She gave a smile and little salute in return.

Flash and Mayfield soon joined him, the airship lifting back into the sky once they were off. They were now looking at the back door of the house with the pegasus happily trotting up to his home. Quickly, Jackson and Mayfield moved to follow.

"Ok," Flash started, "We'll be staying here for a while, or until I get called back to work. There's two empty rooms on the second floor, the bathroom is on the first near my own room, which is off limits. I don't have any spare clothes that would fit you guys, but I can just send your sizes to a seamstress I know in town, until then, you'll have to make do with the uniforms."

They reached the door, but instead of going in, Flash stopped and turned to his two guests with a serious look, "Now, Princess Luna set up a stipend account for the two of you to use while you're here. She gave me the account numbers and passwords to give to you, but, when you do go into town do not, I repeat, do not cause any trouble, clear?"

"Touchy, touchy," Mayfield tsked, "Don't worry mate, we won't shithouse the place."

"Good," Flash said, now turning back to the door and reaching to open it, "Now let's get inside and get some—"

*WHAM* "FLASHY!"

Flash was unable to finish his sentence as the door suddenly flew open and we was knocked backwards onto the ground by a speeding pink blur which them proceeded to peck him all over the face and mouth with kisses.

"Omygosh omygosh, I'msogladyou'reback, you were gone for so long, Imissedyousomuch, but now you're back back back! And you're back just in time, I baked cupcakes, do you want some cupcakes? Ooooohhh! Maybe we should do a party, a welcome back cupcake party! We could throw a party with games and fun and punch and music and friends, we should invite our friends, oh, who're your friends?" She finally finished, eyeing the two humans with interest and a beaming smile.

Mayfield and Jackson slowly glanced at each other, not quite sure what to make of the situation. Meanwhile, Flash extracted himself out from under the energetic mare with a cotton candy mane and dusted himself off. Once presentable, he began introductions.

"Pinkie, these two are a couple of my teammates. Their gonna stay with us for a while, is that all right?"

"Of course, the more the merrier!" She cheerfully exclaimed, "What's their names?"

"This one's Topher and the bigger one is Jackson."

She ran up and started vigorously shaking both their hands, "Great to meet you both! I'm Pinkie!"

Jackson reached out for her extended hoof and gripped the end. Suddenly, her other hoof was on top of his hand and his arm began to vibrate at such an intense rate, he thought it might come off. He let go, but his arm still felt weird, he though all the blood must have been shaken out. While he was rubbing his right hand with his left, Jackson got a chuckle when he then watched the same happen to Mayfield.

"WAIT A SECOND!" Pinkie gasped and abruptly stopped mid shake and focused on her coltfriend, voice for some reason becoming serious, "They're new here, huh?" She asked with a mischievous smile.

"I—"

"Yep!"

Before Flash could even properly respond, the mare dashed back into the house, the clatter of pots and pans following soon after.

Jackson went over to Flash's side, "So... that was—"

"I told you."

"What's she doing now?"

"Probably getting a party together for you guys," he replied non-chalantly, "It's kind of her thing."

"That right?" Mayfield said, now massaging his own arm. "You know, that's not hyper, mate, she's absolutely mental!"

"I know, isn't it great?" Flash said with sincerity.

"I- uh- You know what, to each his own." Mayfield shrugged. "Now I think I heard something about cupcakes?"

==============================================================



Jackson trudged up the stairs in the house to the two bedrooms Flash had mentioned earlier. Down in the kitchen, Pinkie was busy whipping up some kind of concoction of batter while Flash took a shower and Mayfield searched for a beer. At the top of the steps, the large dark skinned man found two doors, one to the left, the other at the right.

The one on the right was closed, but the left one was slightly ajar, so that was where he went. Jackson gently pushed the door further open and stepped inside. The room wasn't much. In a corner under a large angled window sat a wooden desk, complete with drawers. A thick film of dust lay on its surface, as if it hadn't been touched in years. On the opposite side of the room, by the door, there was only a bare twin sized mattress. The wall it rested against had a fist sized hole in it. At least the carpet was clean.

The only other feature was an average sized closet, but it was devoid of any clothing or any other items. Curiously, he strode to the desk and started peeking in the drawers, but they were all empty as well, except for the bottom one in which he found a half full bottle of rum. He opened the cap and sniffed it, but quickly replaced the covering, the drink had gone bad. Jackson kept the bottle in his grip, intending to take it downstairs and toss it out.

This would be his home for a while, at least until he found a way to get back to his own world. It wasn't bad and it could have been a lot worse, he also had a lead on where his long lost friend might have ended up. Counting his blessings in the strange place he had ended up in, Jackson turned and exited the room. He had been through a lot in only a short while, maybe he'd go help Mayfield find that beer.

==============================================================



Commander Sparks marched down the corridor, a satchel hanging over a shoulder. Inside was a stamped folder marked 'Pinnacle.' It was a report on the last operation that the two humans had participated in, one that needed to go out to all the high ranking officers in Equestria's military, including the Princesses. The new information gathered on enemy equipment was alarming and a development the unicorn had been dreading for some time.

Now he had the most difficult job, passing it on to his superiors and briefing them on the report. He took a turn down the palace passageway and came to a large set of double doors, doors he had seen plenty of times in the past. With purpose, he knocked on them strongly. A second later, they swung open enough to let him pass and he entered, the portal immediately snapping shut behind him.

In the room was a low table, lit only by a singular bulb over it which was also the room's only source of illumination as it had no windows or any other entrances. On the side of the table opposite the door, two large ponies sat enthralled in discussion with each other, Sparks' bosses, the Princesses. On an adjacent side, though, was another. A pegasus with a coat so black that he almost seemed to meld with the shadows in the small space.

"Howitzer, it's almost a surprise to see you here, what brings you?"

"Oh, you know Commander, just a little detail of information in your report that could potentially sow panic and fear through the populace in such a way as to cause riots and loss of faith in the government." The black pegasus said casually.

"That's a bummer, sure you don't want to come back and work for us?"

Howitzer sighed, "Sometimes I do miss it. I'm not entirely comfortable hiding in the dark and playing cloak and dagger for Intel, but it's what I'm good at."

"Well, we'll always have a spo—"

"Ahem..." came the soft voice of Luna.

Picking up on the hint, Sparks and Howitzer dropped their conversation and turned all their attention to the table. Sparks opened up his satchel and pulled out the folder he carried, placing it gently on the table with his magic and opening it.

"I apologize, ma'am." He said, separating photos from reports and spreading them out on the table for all of them to see. "Your Majesties, we have a serious problem. It seems that our enemies, the Renegade Tribe, have armed up with modern firearms. This poses a significant threat, tactically." He explained, indicating photos that featured corpses of the attackers at Galloping Hills that held assault rifles in their thick arms.

"How so?" Celestia asked.

"First, it means we need increased and more advanced body armor, not just for our special forces, but for the regular guards as well. Also, it means we need to figure out where they acquired these weapons, are they scavenging them from somewhere or did they somehow construct them?"

"That's where I come in." Howitzer announced. "I'll be applying my skills, gathering information where I can. That is, if it's ok with you, Commander?"

"Of course. There's one other thing, included on page four in the packet. I spoke with Garth about this, as we've never really seen Lotkin use or even pick up a firearm before, even on the battlefield where it was a life or death situation. He found the fact that they are now very disturbing." Sparks continued. "According to him, advanced weaponry like that is strictly forbidden in his culture, a warrior true to his tribe only uses the 'arms of his ancestors.'"

"But didn't he, himself, use firearms when part of your team in the past?" Luna countered.

"Yes, I asked him about that as well. He told me that at that time, he had no tribe. When he defected to us, they cast him out, which forbade him from using the weapons of his tribe."

"So he decided it didn't matter anymore..." Celestia guessed.

"Correct. In addition, he now identifies with us as his tribe, so use of are weapons doesn't necessarily conflict with his ideology."

"What does this mean for the Renegades?"

"That is the other part of my threat assessment. If everything we now know holds true, then this country may be in much bigger danger than we thought. An organization radical enough to twist and warp its beliefs just to cause more pain to its enemy is an even greater threat than the isolated attacks we've been experiencing."

Sparks went silent at this point, having covered everything he thought important. Across the table, the two princesses fell back into heated debate between one another, their tones hushed and urgent. Sparks glanced over at Howitzer, who gave him a small reassuring smile of confidence before returning his focus to the two royal sisters.

Finally, they both stopped and Celestia nodded slowly to Luna. Luna then turned and faced Sparks, looking him directly in the eye, and said, "Commander, do whatever you have to do."

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