• 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 Choice

Chapter 51: A Choice

The sun was shining fiercely now at almost mid day. A man strolled merrily along, whistling softly to himself. With each step of his left foot, a light crack accompanied it as the cane came down, only a thumb and the first two fingers gripping the handle as he walked. What remained of the last two were little more than gnarled stumps, but the man didn't seem to mind.

Mayfield strode along in fresh clean clothes, a nice breeze occasionally playing with his newly washed and trimmed dark hair. He was on his way to the RSTG's hospital wing, by the main building on their palace side Headquarters. Tucked under his right arm was a small box of baked goods he'd picked up especially for a friend.

When he reached the doors of the large white building, he posted himself up on the wall nearby. Leaning against the wall for support, Mayfield carefully rested his cane against it and checked his watch. He was a little bit late, but so was his friend, so he guessed it didn't really matter. He waited a little while longer, the box under his right arm tempting him greatly with its sweet and sugary contents.

As the minutes ticked by, he nearly gave in, what harm could a little nibble do anyway? He was about to open the box when the doors suddenly swished open and the only other human being he knew in the strange jacked-up world he was in came rolling out in a wheel chair being pushed by a grumpy looking earth pony in an orderly's uniform.

Mayfield collected his things and walked himself over with the steady tap tap tap of his cane announcing his approach. "Aye-up. I'll take it from here." He said to the orderly, who just turned and marched back into the hospital, mumbling something. "Oi, what's his deal?" Mayfield asked as he put his cane and the box in Jackson's lap.

"Guess they didn't like me not eating their 'vegetables'."

Mayfield started pushing Jackson away from the hospital and angled towards the entrance to the palace grounds. "You mean that mushed up stuff that tastes like it came from a lawn mower?"

"Might as well have, it is grass." Jackson grumbled. He poked at the box, "What's this?"

"Thought you might want something better than hospital food once they let you go. Few cupcakes and a couple of muffins in there. Had a little row over the muffins with some silly cross-eyed mare in the shop. Strange, really. How's the legs?"

Jackson sighed and opened the box, taking out one of the cupcakes. "They fixed as much as they could, but the doc said my spine took too much damage. He thinks it was the crash that finally did me in."

"Guess I'll have to call you 'Wheels' now." Mayfield chuckled.

"Do it and you're a dead man."

"Whoa, calm down there, mate! Just taking the piss."

"Well, take a piss somewhere else."

They continued in silence for a moment, Mayfield grunting slightly as he pushed Jackson up a small incline with his good leg and onto the palace grounds. Then, "You see the good ol' Lieutenant Commander in there much?"

"Yeah." Jackson replied through a mouthful frosting and cake. He swallowed before continuing, "He's doing better. Still has a lot of Phys Therapy before he can get out, though, got that bum wing on top of the leg."

"At least he's still alive, crazy bugger."

Soon, Mayfield was wheeling Jackson up to a side door in the castle, on their way to what they'd hope would be the only task of a short day. They'd been summoned to appear before the princesses, though for what reason they didn't know. They'd already given their statements and reports on the incident and what had happened in that desolate land, Jackson's while he was still in the hospital.

Most of the damage in the castle had been repaired by now and the percussionist sounds of constructions had again been replaced by the hurried rush of royal aides and the flittering of servants going about their daily duties. It didn't take long for one of them to spot the duo and hurriedly escort them, not to the throne room, but to a separate wing in the palace that held the princesses' secret little meeting room. The aide left them outside the doors for a moment and disappeared inside to announce them to the royal pair.

This left them a spare moment to talk. Jackson started, "How's your hand doing?"

"Fine, really." Mayfield replied, raising his left hand to inspect the clean little stubs where his pinkie and ring fingers used to be. "Sometimes I think I can still feel them. They even itch a little."

"How'd you even manage that, anyway?"

"Stopped a sword with my rifle. The fingers kind of just got in the way. Could've been worse, though."

Jackson rolled his eyes, "And you got on Flash's case about his leg..."

"Yeah, but at least my reaction to imminent death was reasonable."

"Sure man, whatever you say." Jackson deadpanned.

The aide poked his head out the doors, "The Princesses will see you now," and vanished back inside. Mayfield took hold of Jackson's chair again.

"No, let me do it." Jackson pushed Mayfield's hands off the back off his chair and grabbed the wheels. Mayfield just shrugged and held the door open for him.

The princesses were indeed ready and waiting for them, seated behind a table set with a small pot of tea and some biscuits. Jackson and Mayfield stepped forward and took their seats, Jackson merely pushing the one set for him to the side and wheeling himself up. Without prompting, Celestia poured two cups for the two gentlemen and set them down in front of them.

"Oh, I'm deeply sorry Mr. Jackson," Celestia started, "I wasn't entirely aware of the extent of your injuries."

"No, it is my fault, sister." Luna put in apologetically, "I should have notified you of this earlier. Mr. Jackson, is there anything we might do to make you more comfortable?" She offered anxiously.

Jackson just took a sip of his tea, enjoying the cup's warmth in his hands, and waved them off dismissively, "If I can be frank, you can cut the sympathy. I knew what might happen going in, it always might happen in my job. Sometimes worse. I'll deal with it."

"Mm hmm.." Mayfield interrupted, placing his uninjured hand on Jackson's shoulder, "I apologize for my friend, Your Highnesses, I think his meds are making him a little grumpy."

"No they're not!"

Celestia held up a hoof, "It is all right, we understand."

"Well, far be it from me to turn down good hospitality," Mayfield said, helping himself to one of the biscuits, "What might we owe to Your Graces', well, graces?"

Celestia smiled and dipped her head. "To put it quite simply, we'd like to put forth to you both, an offer."

"I'm not much in good fighting condition these days." Jackson bluntly pointed out.

"Oh my goodness, nothing like that!" Celestia assured him.

Luna leaned forward and looked him in the eye, "One of my sister's brightest students contacted with a possible breakthrough in the inter-dimensional quandary that is this strange link between our two worlds."

"I'm not sure I follow," Mayfield said with a scrunching of his brow.

"We believe there is a way to remove you from here and return you to your proper place." Celestia tried to explain.

Mayfield frowned, "I'm sorry, are you trying to get rid of us?"

"They're saying that they can send us back." Jackson said, lifting his head up from his drink. "That they can send us back to our Earth."

"But, of course, entirely of you're own volition." Celestia was quick to add. "You are far more than welcome to remain here, with us."

The two men sat in silence for a moment, the weight of the two princesses' words settling steadily on their shoulders. They could go home. After all the crap they'd been through; falling into this weird alternate existence, discovering the fate of one of their own previously thought lost, coming out busted and broken after a failed rescue attempt of said one. And now, they were being offered a way out.

"Well, it's very tempting, you've got me there." Mayfield said, mulling the prospect over in his mind as he fiddled with the crumbs of his biscuit. "Plus, I do have a lot of unfinished business back home—even more so now, I think, after what I've been through here—not to mention my superiors most likely going mental over my sudden absence." He leaned over and nudged Jackson's shoulder with his elbow, "What do you say, mate, head back over and set things right there?"

Jackson was silent for almost a minute, returning his gaze back into the depths of his cup. Then, "I'm staying."

Mayfield nearly flinched. "You are? But... This isn't about Kaughn again, is it? I know you didn't see a body, you mentioned that plenty before, but you have to—"

"No! No..." Jackson cut him off. "I know what I said. And this is pretty much how he disappeared last time and look how that turned out. But, no... I don't think he'll be returning from that."

"Then for what reason, why? No offense, Your Highnesses, this place is actually very lovely—but Jackson, what about home? It wasn't the best place, but it was home. What about all your friends and family?"

Jackson sucked in a deep breath and let it out just a quickly, "The only friends I had was my team, and three of them are gone now. Can't say much about family. I haven't talked to my brothers or sisters in years now, and Sophia..." his expression fell and he quickly rubbed his face with a hand. "Besides, I don't really look forward to explaining to the Brass how I disappeared off the face of the earth for however long it's been and then suddenly returned out of no where in a shiny new wheelchair."

Mayfield rubbed his chin in ponderment, "Fair enough there, mate. I'm still going, though. You know how the situation was when we left. Plus I can't see Gary getting on well enough without me. My best mate, y'know."

"Very well." Celestia nodded.

"Just one thing if I may, Mr. Mayfield." Luna said, her voice taking on a slightly stern tone. "I do not mean disrespect, but assuming the transition goes as planned and you reconnect with the others of your kind on the other side, what exactly will you tell them? We must think of our own nation's security in this matter."

"Ah, yes." Mayfield sighed. "Well, I doubt they'd be likely to believe me at all, even if I did. But I suppose I just wouldn't say anything. Anything at all. As for the fingers,"
Mayfield said, holding up his injured hand and wiggling the remaining digits, "I'll just chalk that up to frostbite."

"Yeah, but what about me?" Jackson put to him. "They're still gonna ask questions."

Mayfield chuckled, "Simple. Given I re-emerge where we left off, I'll just tell them you succumbed to the cold and I had to leave you behind. You put up a good fight, you really did, but your poor yankee constitution just couldn't handle the frigid
temperatures."

"I see you've already put some thought into this..." Jackson said a bit sourly.

"Perhaps a little..."

"Then I considered it settled." Celestia said. "Gentlecolts—or shall I say, gentlemen—on behalf of our country I sincerely thank you for your assistance in our troubling times. I believe you two have more than earned a period of rest. The Guard Captain will take you where ever you'd like to go."

"Thank you Your Highness." Mayfield said with a quick bow of his head as he and Jackson turned to go.

"No, the gratitude belongs all to you. And Jackson?" Jackson paused before he wheeled himself out of the room. "I truly am sorry for your loss. James was a great man, and however he was affected by recent events, he did much good here. He will be missed by all of us."

Jackson just slowly shook his head. "Yeah, thanks." Then wheeled himself out of the room.

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



"How's that? Go ahead Mr. Jackson, give it a try!" Quick Fix said, poking her head up from behind the wheelchair.

Jackson gripped the little joystick on the left arm of his chair and gave it a little nudge. With a small electric whine, the chair scooted forward some on new heavily treaded wheels, but sputtered and came to a halt. "Well, at least this time it moved. You can call me Darius, by the way."

Quick Fix giggled, "Ok, Darius." She dipped her head back down and fiddled with something underneath him. "Must be the wiring. Either they don't have the proper electrical capacity or some of them are getting crossed somewhere. Or maybe it's the motor?"

Jackson slumped down in his chair, the ravages of boredom clearly evident on his face. They were in Quick Fix's new workshop outside of town, the one that used to be a hangar. She'd been working on modifying his chair so it could travel at speed and over rough terrain without him having to bother with pushing the wheels with his arms. It was something he'd neither asked for nor particularly cared about, but she had insisted.

The grease stained unicorn poked her head back up, "Ok, try it now."

Remaining in his relaxed position, Jackson gave the control another little nudge. The chair jerked forward, but stopped again after a couple feet. In frustration, he pushed the stick forward a little more forcefully. This time the chair shot forward with a squeal of rubber on the smooth concrete floor and nearly sent him crashing into one of the walls.

At the last second, he jerked the joystick to the left, sending the chair—and him in it—toppling onto its side with a loud bang. "Oops, oh my gosh!" Quick Fix galloped over to his side and started pushing him back up-right. "Sorry! I'm so sorry!" She said in a fluster. "It shouldn't have done that! I wonder what it is this time?" She dropped back behind him to inspect the device again.

Jackson brushed some dust off his shoulder with a huff, "I thought you were good at this sort of thing." He said with a hint of doubt.

"Yeah, I'm a mechanical engineer!" She retorted. "What we really need is an electrical one."

"Then how the hell did you build Daisy?"

"I actually had a lot of help on that build." She admitted, using her magic to swap out a few parts. "Your friend, Topher, knew a surprising amount about that stuff."

"You really wouldn't know it..."

"Where's he at, anyway?" Quick Fix asked while ripping out a gear, tossing it, and levitating a box of spare parts over.

"He's gettin' his stuff together." Jackson answered plainly.

"Going on a trip?"

"You could say that."

Quick Fix finished replacing what she felt she needed to and bolted the back cover up again. "There. That should do it!" Carefully this time, Jackson gave the controls a gentle push forward. This time, the chair responded smoothly, allowing him to glide around the shop and do a few laps. "Yay!" Quick Fix clapped her hooves together and smiled proudly. That is, until the shop soon became filled with an odd burning smell and Jackson's chair ground to a halt. "Aw, son of a nag!" She yelled out in frustration, making her way back to the chair's posterior.

"Y'know, it's fine." Jackson said, attempting to wave her away.

"But—"

"We'll try again later," he gave her a placating smile, "doing it manually is better exercise anyhow."

"Well," Quick Fix's ears drooped, clearly disappointed. "If you say so..."

"Trust me, it's ok. I'm getting hungry anyway, how 'bout we go grab some chow?"

"Ok then." She said a little more cheerfully, brightening at the prospect of food. "What did you have in mind?"

"Dunno," Jackson said, wheeling himself up to a grimy window and looked outside at the healthy green grass gently swaying in a breeze. He didn't actually know what he wanted. In truth, he just wanted to get out of there. Maybe head back to the house and take a swig of Kaughn's favorite drink. Only he didn't want to go back to town either. Mostly, he just wanted to spend some time with himself.

His thoughts came to a hold when a new sight entered his field of vision. A certain pegasus with a fluttering multi-colored tail descended from the sky and alighted onto the verdant grass. She glanced around with her rosy irises before settling on the hangar and started trotting over. Jackson started wheeling himself away from the window and headed towards the back of the shop. There was a conversation he really wasn't looking forward to. They hadn't really spoken since the crash.

"Hey, where're ya going?" Quick Fix asked confusedly as he rolled past towards the back room. By the large sliding doors, the pedestrian entrance swung open. The unicorn shifted her attention, "Who is i- oh, hey RD."

"'Sup, Q." The cyan mare said as she trotted in, a dimly glowing stone bouncing around her neck. "I'm looking for Jackson, seen him around?"

"Yeah, been here for a while. Why, something up?"

"Just came to get him, Toph's about to take off."

"I heard, where's he off to?"

"Home." Dash told her.

Quick Fix giggled, "What? He is home."

Dash shook her head, "Nah, I'm not talking about here. He's going back home home."

Quick Fix still looked puzzled, but her features gradually registered realization as she understood what dash was saying. "Oh, his old home. Wait, you mean he's leaving? Like, forever?"

Dash nodded, "Yep, that's why I'm here to get Jackson. So he can say goodbye. You sure he's here?" She said, eyes searching the room.

"Yeah, I'm here." Jackson wheeled himself out, halfway through a heavy sigh. "Sorry, I was... busy."

"Oh. Well, Toph's leaving, if you wanna go."

"Don't worry, I ain't gonna miss this." Jackson replied as he rolled past her, to the door. "Just need to grab something from the house first. He's at the station, right?"

Dash trotted after him to catch up, leaving Quick Fix behind at the shop. "You mean like a present?"

Jackson still had a slightly sour look as he made his way back towards the town. He'd been expecting her to start asking questions about what had happened back in that lonely mountain, about why he'd come back without the person they'd both loved, albeit in their own different ways. But so far, she was just making small talk and it set him on edge. So he decided he would broach the subject himself and just get it out of the way.

"Yeah, you could say that. Listen, Dash," he started, slowing down a little, but not stopping. "About what happened the other week..."

"It's ok."

"No, not really. What happened back there—"

"I said it's fine." She said, cutting him off.

Jackson could now no longer hear the sound of her hooves on the ground. He stopped and turned, expecting her to be hovering a few feet off the ground, but instead she had halted and was just standing there, the piebald mane on her head partially obscuring her face. She looked conflicted. Like she wanted to say something, but for whatever reason, was holding it back.

Cautiously, Jackson approached, "Hey. It might sound weird coming from me, but I know the feeling. When you've lost some one close, that is. Hell, he was like a brother to me."

"I know." She said. "It's just that... well, he wouldn't really want me feeling this way. He warned me about this. But then he went and did what he did and..." she briefly turned and shook her head, fighting back something. "It's just... why? Why would he say all those things and do all that stuff we did together, then shake it off and disappear like he did? We always stuck together. Especially after what happened last time." She finished, ears drooping low.

Jackson thought he understood what was going on now. At least a little. His eye caught the small gemstone dangling around her neck. He remembered Kaughn had worn it pretty much the whole time he'd been here. He never saw his friend take it off, up until the end. He couldn't be sure, but he thought the strange little gem was glowing more than it had before. Sure, it had cast off some odd reflections of it's own the last few times he seen it, like it was glowing, but now it seemed to house a little light source all it's own. He could see it in the shadow of her mane.

He started to reach for it, but stopped. "Hey, mind if I take a look at that?" He asked.

"Huh? Oh, sure." Dash replied dully. With one hoof, she lifted the necklace up off her head and handed it to him.

Jackson accepted it with a thanks and held it in his palm, staring at the small object. He wasn't sure, but it seemed a lot dimmer now than when it had been around Dash's neck. He rotated himself so the sun was to his back and looked at it again in shadow. No, it was definitely dimmer. And he wasn't sure, but he almost believed he could feel it pulsing slightly in his hand, almost in line with his own heartbeat. He made a mental note to ask someone that knew more about these things later, maybe that zebra chick.

The oddness of the seemingly inanimate object still coloring his thoughts, Jackson handed it back to Dash. Without a word, she slipped the cord back around her neck. Jackson was a little surprised when, as the gem bounced against her throat and settled again on her chest, it seemed to pulse and grow bright again.

"I'm sure whatever his reasons," he said, "you were still on his mind until the end."

"And how would you know?" Dash said somewhat disdainfully, striding forward and continuing on to the town. "He seemed the same in Canterlot, but he felt different. And then he went and left without even saying goodbye. Why would he do that?"


"I'm not sure. Yeah, there was something different about him. Something that wasn't there the last time I saw him. But he still cared. Deep down he still cared. It's probably why he left." He reassured her. Then, under his breath so she wouldn't hear; "Selfish bastard." But he didn't feel like he really meant it. Whatever Kaughn was trying to do, he certainly succeeded in doing what he thought was right.

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