Slipping Through A Sideways Door

by hornethead

Chapter 22: Putting Things Together

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Chapter 22: Putting Things Together

A halting shift in the seat Jackson lay across caused him to start awake. He sat up and looked around with bleary eyes, the train had finally stopped. It now sat in the Canterlot station, far from his temporarily adopted home of Ponyville to the south. He'd fallen asleep during the ride up and now he stood and stretched with a yawn, joints satisfyingly popping.

As the conductor opened the doors, the tall human grabbed his luggage and walked out the car with purposeful strides, noticing a faint chill was creeping into the air. Today was an important day for him. Today was the day he would get to interview his potential subordinates, the team Commander Sparks had strangely encouraged him to create. The final list of names he'd sent in earlier had been approved, even though he had included some that were not on any of the papers the unicorn had originally sent him.

Hopefully, he could hash this out soon enough. The sooner he had the individuals he wanted the better. He would have to spend some time with the final assembly of operators to get to know them as a team and gauge the effectiveness of their skill sets as a cohesive unit, an important factor in the team's combat readiness.

It was still early in the morning, so Jackson made quick progress up to the palace so as to not get caught up in the swirling and congested traffic of the morning rush to work that often plagued most large cities. Even as he went with his large overnight bag slung over his back, the early risers of the population were already up and moving about to start the day. Finally, in a little over twenty minutes, he reached the front gates of the regal estate of his business where he presented his identification papers to the guards and was admitted entry.

Before long, he was shown to his private guest quarters where he could stow his belongings, something that he was slightly uncomfortable with as the courtesy was usually reserved for officers in his world. As he systematically packed his extra uniforms and clothing into a set of dresser drawers, he was alerted to a curt knock on his door. In a fluid movement, Jackson paced towards it and swung it open.

"Sir," said an earth stallion of the RSTG, "I hope you're finding your lodging adequate."

Jackson held up a hand and stopped him, "First of all, don't call me 'Sir', I work for a living, call me Chief. And yes, my room is very nice, thank you. Now, what can I help you with?" He put kindly.

"I was just sent to welcome you, Chief, and also to inform you that Princess Luna is waiting for you whenever you're ready."

Jackson dismissed the messenger and finished unpacking his belongings. Dutifully, he went to a mirror and ensured his uniform was in good order upon his person before going to meet the royalty. Sharp dress and military bearing had it's advantages when working with superiors.

After one last check and a few touch ups, he felt ready and left his room. It did'nt take him too long to get where he was going, he had been to the palace enough now that he could find his way without getting lost. He soon came to the room where most of his previous meetings with the dark princess had taken place. When he got there and stepped inside, she was already waiting standing near the table at the center of the room, a stoic expression on her face. Behind him, the doors swung shut on oiled hinges, sealing him inside.

"Anything I can do for you, ma'am? I gotta say, I'm kinda on a tight schedule though." Jackson said.

Her expression didn't change, "Yes, of course, you interviews. I just have but a simple request to make of you before you leave here. After you've concluded your business, naturally."

She had an angle. Jackson hated when people tried to pull angles on him. Never the less, he went along with seeing as she was his superior for the moment, "Ok, what can I do for you?"

"Your people are very skilled, with years of training in war, yes?" Jackson shrugged an affirmative. "I believe you are also somewhat proficient in extracting information from certain individuals as well."

The Statement caught him a little off guard, not what he was expecting, "Well, sure, I've had a little training. Nowhere near a professional though. Ain't really my job. We usually just use it for on site Intel gathering, but if you want info from some one, I suggest you have somebody properly trained for this do it."

"That's why I'm asking you. Our kind has never had the need for such skills before and the only experience any of our own operatives have had was from watching your predecessor when we first captured Garth. Though I guess one couldn't call that an interrogation. More of a fight, really."

The mention of his old friend grabbed at Jackson's interest. He wondered if she knew. Still, he didn't let any emotion on his face betray his thoughts. He would humor her at least. "All right, I'll give it a shot. But I want all the info you got on the detainee, everything. The more we know, the better. I'll have it after I've finished with my work here."

"Thank you."

A short time later, Jackson was on his own in another room in the complex. A classroom for the RSTG he was told. The current Officer in Charge of the building lent it to him to use. Currently, Jackson was sitting at the desk near the center, poring over a stack of papers he'd brought with him. Before him was a lone seat, all the others he'd cleared to the edges of the room. After a moment, there was a knock on the door. His first victim had arrived.

"Enter!" He called out. The door swung in and a rather large stallion trotted inside, larger than most currently in training. Without looking up, Jackson gestured to the chair, "Please, take a seat."

"If you don't mind, sir, I'd prefer to stand." A voice with a ting of something familiar replied.

Jackson glanced up. Dark steely gray eyes met his dark brown ones. He looked back down at his papers. "Fine by me, stand if you like." With one movement of the hand, he extracted the appropriate file pertaining to the individual standing in front of him. "Mr. Iron Defense. I believe we've met before."

"Yes sir, it was in Galloping Hills."

"Yes, I remember. How's your sister?"

The stallion looked a bit caught off guard by un unexpected question. Never the less, he forged ahead without missing a beat. Jackson liked that. "She's doing fine. Right now she's staying with our great aunt in Manehattan."

"Good to hear. By the way, it's Chief, not sir. I work for a living."

"Yes s— Chief."

"All right, back to business. Glad to see you made it into the program. So far your record looks great, but there are still some concerns to address." Iron Defense almost seemed to gulp, but maintained his demeanor. "Your run time on the last team run was below average, along with that of another recruit. Why is that?"

"One of my squad mates hurt his leg in a previous exercise," Iron Defense explained, "instead of going to medical, he did the run with us anyway. A few miles near the end, his leg gave out and I stayed back to help him finish." Iron Defense didn't sound like he was gloating when he said this, it was like it was just a simple fact. An unimportant incident in what would have been an otherwise routine day.

Jackson shuffled his papers before settling on another group. "Okay. Tracking scores are average. CQC's high, that's good. Ooh..." Jackson saw something that piqued his interest. "Looks like you've already done the SERE school portion of your training. The report written by your instructors is almost glowing!"

"I just did what I had to do, Chief." Defense replied modestly.

"Nuh-uh. Says here you were the last to get caught—they must've given you a hard time for that—and even then, after hours of getting stressed and beat, you still managed to organize an escape that resulted in four of your squad mates finding freedom, even though you didn't make it out."

"Chief, wasn't that the point of the exercise?" He looked confused.

"Well, when you make an escape, you're supposed to get out along with your squad mates, but still, very impressive. Most just ride out the pain, you kept fightin' back. That's nice."

"Thank you, Chief."

"All right, I think I got enough for right now, you can go." Jackson said, returning to his papers.

"Is there anything else you need, Chief?"

"No, I'm good, back to training."

After he left, Jackson cycled through a few more of his considerations, from new recruits to old seasoned vets. A lot of them had plenty of skill as operatives, but he wanted a variety, something that could be flexible to almost anything. That's why he was happy to see the next candidate to walk in. As much as Jackson had seen it now, it was still an odd sight to witness a dog walking on two legs, even if it wasn't identically the same as a dog from back home.

Swift Paws quickly covered the distance towards the center of the room, the claws on her feet clacking softly on the hard floor. She sat down without any prompting, her bushy tail sticking out under the back rest. She just sat there and stared at Jackson with her two different colored eyes, ears twitching slightly from time to time as he pulled out her papers.

Jackson cleared his throat, "Good to see you again, Swift Paws. How are you doing?"

"Well enough." She replied in her usual husky voice.

"Training going all right?"

"The use of these new weapons I find interesting, but the rest seems to be. . . lacking."

Jackson shuffled through the reports on his desk, records of the Diamond Dog's achievements and progress so far. It was all very impressive. Her combat scores were high, expert in marksmanship and her decision making skills on the LRC exceptional. What really drew his eye was the SERE report. She'd never been found. All attempts to capture her had failed and even a good number of her squad mates that had been rounded up mysteriously escaped without so much as a sound or a broken lock.

"Your scores are very promising. A lot of potential here."

"Thank you." She didn't smile, but Jackson couldn't help but notice her tail start to wag a little.

"Ok, I think I got what I need, I just want to ask you one question." Swift Paws' head tilted to the side in curiosity. How very dog like, Jackson thought. "Why are you doing this? Taking the Princess' offer to enter this program and put your life on the line for a country that's not yours?" He asked, pushing the papers back into their folder.

Swift Paws took a moment to reply, "Because I have seen what cruel things befell my own race and clan. To allow such things to happen to others simply because of imagined boundaries is as shameful as committing any foul deed."

Jackson found that answer strange, but unique and intriguing. He didn't expect it, but it was a good indication of what he was dealing with. "All right, thank you for your time, you'll be contacted. Dismissed."

As the rest of the interviews went by, picking who he wanted to work with became increasingly difficult. The training program Jackson's former squad mate had established, honed and refined by the Equestrians over the years, had turned out many promising recruits, all with great strengths in varying fields. Finally, after the last candidate was out, Jackson scribbled some notes next to his choices and packed up. Now all he had to do was fulfill his promise to Luna. With a little walking, he found one of Luna's personal guards and got directions to where he needed to go.

Deep in thought as he was walking along down the long and vaulted passageways, he wasn't particularly paying attention as he turned a corner. Because of this, he nearly bowled over three mares walking from the opposite direction. Fortunately, he stopped himself just in time. "Oops, sorry 'bout that, I was lost in my own head."

"It's fine. Oh, hey!"

"Jackson was surprised to see he had bumped right into Twilight. With her was Fluttershy and Rarity. "Hey you guys!" He said happily, "How you doin'?"

"Great. Your business trip going well?" Twilight inquired.

"Oh yeah, got a good amount of work done, I made my money here. Just a few other things I gotta do before I leave though. What about you, what you three doing here?"

"Nothing much. I'm just assisting Princess Celestia with some research of possible alternative applications of the Elements of Harmony and their powers. Fluttershy came along to visit Garth and Rarity-"

"Well of course I couldn't possibly pass on an opportunity to visit Canterlot again!" Rarity interrupted in her posh voice. "Guest in the Royal Palace, the exquisite scenery and you can get fabrics here that you just can't get anywhere else!"

"Err... yeah." Twilight said after.

"Sounds fun." Jackson said with a smile. He looked at his watch, it was getting late. "Shoot, i gotta get going. Take care now."


"Oh, and Fluttershy."

"Oh, uh, y-yes?"

"Say hi to Garth for me."

"Oh, o-okay."

The directions took him deep into the palace and down an old staircase to what looked like an ancient part of the castle. Soon he realized he was now heading to to vault, the very same place he had been briefly imprisoned on his arrival in this strange land of sentient four legged beings.

Now knowing where he had to go exactly, Jackson made his way towards the back of the vault where the cells were. As he neared a heavily guarded door, he was surprised to see not only Luna, but Celestia there as well. Both had very concerned looks on their faces. From behind the cell door, he could hear yelling. Before he reached them, one of their assistants magically thrust as short, but thick, stack of papers to him and he recognized it as the information he had requested earlier. Taking it, he walked up to the princesses. "Madams." He said in greeting as he approached.

"Chief Jackson, glad you could come." Celestia said. "I trust you shall be helping us with our predicament today?"

"I'll do the best I can." He replied, leafing through the pages in his hands. "What's the situation here?"

Luna was the next to speak, "My agents finally arrested him after following a trail of very suspicious activity. He's a pegasus, a resident of Van Hoover. When they found him at his home, they made terrible discovery; a troubling amount of explosives hidden away under his house along with plans to use it. It saddens me deeply that some of our own subjects still seek to do such harm to others in our nation." She said forlornly. "Now we are attempting to reveal exactly who or what allowed him to acquire such destructive power and for what purpose. Howitzer is already inside, attempting to extract the answers we seek."

Jackson walked up to the heavily guarded cell door and slid back a small eye slot set in the door to peer inside. What he saw concerned him some. Howitzer was in there, standing in a corner with a scowl on his face while another member of the Night Guard stood at a table, forelegs up on the surface, screaming down at a somewhat smug looking dark yellow pegasus sat at the other end. Jackson didn't know where they learned their interrogation techniques, but abuse wasn't going to get them any results, that much he knew. He turned to the princesses, "Stop the interrogation."

"Excuse me?" Luna said.

"I said, stop the interrogation, you're doin' it wrong. Screamin' and yellin' ain't gonna do anything but make the situation worse. You're doing more damage than good." Jackson said seriously.

If the princess was offended by his sudden insubordinate tone, she didn't show it. Instead, she simply nodded to one of the guards who then entered the cell and retrieved Howitzer and the other Guardspony. When he emerged, Howitzer had a puzzled expression, "What's going on?" He said. Then he spotted the new arrival. "Oh, Chief Jackson good to see you. What are you doing here?"

"He's here to help." Luna explained in the human's stead. "He has some experience in this situation, if limited."

"Ah, wonderful. We haven't really been making much headway I'm afraid."

"I know."Jackson said. "You're actually kinda screwin' it up."

"So how should we do it, exactly?" Howitzer challenged.

"First, I'm gonna need to study this for a minute." Jackson waved the papers around. "In the meantime, I need you to go get some water and a plate of cookies. Bring them down here and set it on the table."

If Howitzer wasn't entirely confused before, he was now, "Huh?" He looked quizzically to Luna.

"Do as he says." She told him.

Howitzer spoke to one of the guards who promptly rushed off to complete his seemingly meaningless task. While that was taken care of, Jackson took the time to study the papers. On them was info of everything that was the pony locked in the cell; his name, where he's lived, jobs, family members, known friends, even where he went to school as a foal. While he read, Luna appeared behind him, curious.

"Just what are you doing? We already know all that." She asked him.

Without looking away from the papers, Jackson replied, "Yes, but the more we know about him the better. If we pretend like we already know everything and get him comfortable, he'll be more likely to spill. He won't think he's telling us anything that helps, but in reality, he'll be telling us everything we want to know. It's called a mind fuck."

"Hmm... interesting."

"Howitzer, c'mere, you're gonna help me out. Study this material." Jackson called over to the dark coated pegasus.

Together they went over all the information they had on their guest. It was essential they appeared to have almost complete control over his life if they were going to get anything useful out of him. While they did this, the guard returned with a tray laden with a pitcher of water and a plate filled with baked goods from the palace's kitchen and set it on the table in the cell before exiting again and shutting the door behind him.

Suddenly, their little impromptu study session was interrupted by a loud shout from inside the cell, "You're gonna have to do better than this pitiful peace offering to stop us!"

Jackson and Howitzer looked at each other. "What do you think that means?" Howitzer asked.

"It means he's not working alone and we're in for a long night."

Author's Notes:

Sorry this took a bit. Haven't had a lot of time to work on this thanks to certain people in the world deciding to get all uppity.

Next Chapter: Falling In Place Estimated time remaining: 7 Hours, 52 Minutes
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