Despite Stray Shot's best efforts to sleep soundly through the night, the stallion found himself tossing and turning in his sleeping bag. After an hour or so, he growled in frustration. Though his body was tired and he wanted to sleep, he knew it would be impossible to do so by just laying in bed.
"Guess I'll take a stroll..." He mutters to himself in a tired rasp as he pulls himself up out of his sleeping bag. Stray Shot grabbed his little green canvas bag and carefully placed his knife, map, cheap digital watch reading 4am (that no longer fit on his hoof/"wrist"), and flint & steel inside before strapping it over his back like a saddlebag. The pony yawns and rubs his eyes, barely opening the door just enough to see outside.
With one eye peeking out, the Pegasus makes sure that nothing unsavory is going on in the shantytown outside. Satisfied with the relative lack of activity, he confidently steps outside, quietly closing the door behind him. He wondered to himself how far closing the door actually went to prevent a break in, seeing as it wasn't lockable. Then again, Shot was carrying everything he owned on his body already, sans his sleeping bag. The young stallion keeps his head and eyes swiveling about as he trots down the narrow road, looking for any predators, be they wildlife or fellow ponies.
'Hm... guess I could go grab some coffee and breakfast once that place opens.' Stray thought to himself as he headed for the townsquare. He planned on bringing breakfast over to Coca's shack. Remembering how drunk she was last night, he knew she'd have a nasty hangover. He smirks to himself, remembering how rowdy she got the night before at the pub she insisted on dragging you to. He had no doubt that the pancakes and biscuits he'd bring to her would go at long way to nurse the hangover. For now, though, breakfast could wait. It was 4am, after all.
Stray Shot slowly crept his way to the center of town, taking care to go the long route with plenty of concealing cover to stay out of sight. Every once in a while he'd spot a couple of ponies here and there, but they were too wrapped up in their own business to notice the short, stocky stallion sneaking about. He was surprised to see any ponies already up and working, but it was obvious there were already jobs in the town that required workers to be reporting for duty at 4am.
'Sucks for them!' Stray thought to himself as he approached townsquare. He spots the mare that was manning the breakfast counter the morning before. It looked like she was only just now starting to set up shop for the morning, when hundreds of ponies would undoubtedly be flocking to her stand. Shot lifts a foreleg to begin approaching the stand, but his eye is caught by a large, fortified building a block down the road.
The Pegasus about faced and trotted toward it, pulling out his map to confirm what he thought: this was the Stockpile Warehouse the Registrar mare in the Town Hall had mentioned earlier, supposedly full of supplies, weapons, and objects of large monetary value. It was a large concrete warehouse, big and tall enough to easily store the contents of an entire container ship, by Shot's unprofessional estimation, with spotlights dotting the edge of the roof. Stray Shot made sure to keep a respectful distance away, keeping behind bushes, trees, and shrubbery lining the village.
"One, two, three... uh, four." Stray Shot barely whispered to himself, counting the number of guards he could see patrolling the outside perimeter of the building. Frowning to himself in thought, he wondered why there would only be four guards making sure townsponies weren't trying to get into the Stockpile. Sure, there were probably more inside, but it didn't speak well for the strategic value of the place.
If there's anything Shot had learned as a human, however, it's that looks can be deceiving, especially with matters of security. Shot's train of thought is interrupted when he hears what sounds like a cargo bay door opening. The grinding sound of the door raising and electricity running reached his ears, making them flicker as he squinted his eyes, looking for where this door was. Judging by the sound, it sounded like it was coming from the eastern-most side of the building, prompting the small pony to drop to his belly and crawl under the bushes to try to get a better view while also trying to stay out of sight. After a minute of maneuvering himself, Shot settled down into the dirt to watch. The while, clear light cast by the LED bulbs inside was killing his night vision, but while squinting he could get a pretty good view.
The metal door that had raised had to be at least twenty meters across and thirty meters high. What catches his eye, however, is the monstrosity slowly being pulled through the door. Shot's jaw hangs slack as he recognizes the behemoth as a helicopter. He furrows his brow, studying the markings and silhouette. He had to rub his eyes just to make sure he wasn't misinterpreting what he was seeing, but there was no mistaking it. The dragon-fly-looking bubble cockpit, the sky-blue undercarriage, the gatling gun on the front of the cockpit, and the rockets attached to it's sides. This was a Mi-24 gunship. Judging by the markings, it was the export variant.
'What the hell is a Hind D doing here?!' Shot wonders to himself as he watches five large stallions having to pull it into the warehouse. He lays there for several minutes until the aircraft is wheeled into the building and the cargo bay door slowly closes, watching in astonishment and curiosity. Two guards quickly moved into guarding position in front of the door. Although it was hard to see in the pre-dawn morning, Stray could make out the guards' outfits. The two stallions standing guard were wearing unmarked green uniform army shirts with leather, pocketed bandoleers adorning their chests. He could spot fragmentation grenades hanging off their belts, and old, worn-looking AKM rifles with underfolded stocks slung over their shoulders. The light from the warehouse's spotlights glints off the front sight post of their rifles, showing that they were hooded, leading Stray to conclude they were probably Chinese.
'And they said working at a gun shop wouldn't teach me anything useful...' Stray thinks to himself with a cocky smirk.
Stray Shot squints his eyes, looking towards the east. The first rays of dawn were beginning to reach the little village. Concluding that the time window for his little 'recon' mission was closing fast, he decides to continue with his original plan. Methodically and with painstaking care to make as little noise as possible, he raises his rear and plants his hindhooves in the dirt, pulling himself out from under the brush and heading back towards the town-square. The aroma of cooking pancakes mixed with morning dew was almost pleasant enough to make him forget the concerning scene he had just witnessed.
'Beautiful aircraft,' Shot thinks to himself, 'I've *got* to find out the story behind that.'
Although he had only piloted fixed wing aircraft, Shot had always had a soft spot for helicopters and had planned to start working towards his rotor rating. He frowns at the thought of being stuck in Ponytown as a horse forever, unable to continue his human flying career.
As Stray Shot continued trotting back towards the breakfast stand under the pavilion, the soft humming coming from the mare manning the counter broke him from his melancholic brainstorming on how to get home. He clears his throat as he trots up to the counter, giving the mare a polite smile.
"G'mornin', ma'am. Hope you don't mind me bein' your first customer today," he says to the cook.
The purple-coated mare's ears flicker and she looks up from her stove, regarding Shot with an evaluating gaze. "Hmmm, no problem stranger, but I gotta ask, where are you from? I like your accent."
Stray furrows his brow. "Uh, Louisiana. Thanks, I guess. I've never been told I had an accent, heh," he says with a slight smile.
The mare smiles widely. "I knew it! I had an aunt who lived in Baton Rouge!" She says with a giggle, extending a hoof out over the counter as pancake batter sizzles on the stove. "I'm Lilly! Who're you?"
Stray Shot smiles back, meeting her hoof with his own. "I'm Stray Shot. I was born not too far from Baton Rouge."
Lilly's smile grows even wider, thrilled to meet someone who could remember their human past, taking a slight comfort in being able to identify with somepony. "Nice to meet you, Stray Shot! I like you! Gimmie your order and I'll whip it up right quick!" Wagging her tail, Lilly flips her pancakes with her spatula. Stray couldn't help but notice the earth pony's impressive dexterity with her hooves.
Lilly's positive demeanor perked Stray Shot up slightly from his worries of getting home, or maybe it was just the smell of coffee.
"Aw, well thank ya Lilly, it's nice to meet you too!" He responds, his own tail beginning to wag subconsciously behind him. "A cup'a coffee would be great for now, but I really came to get a few pancakes for my friend. She had a lil' too much to drink last night and pancakes'll kick that hangover like nothin' else."
Lilly giggles and flips a few of the pancakes again as she raises an eyebrow at Stray. "Ah yes, I remember seeing you two yesterday morning now. Went to the pub, eh? Sounds like you two must've had a good time last night~." She says in a singsongy voice and poking the stallion's chest with a dainty hoof.
Stray Shot blushes and steps back, furrowing his brow. "H-hey now, we're just friends. I'm only into human women. 'Sides, I just got here yesterday."
Lilly rolls her eyes and smirks. "Give it a white to let the horse homones sink in, and you'll be into mare flank soon enough. Seen most ponies turn that way," the mare chuckles.
Stray Shot's blush only turns a darker shade of red under his coat, but his irritation is evident by the glare he gives the breakfast cook. "Well I'm not 'most ponies'. I'm just here till I can find a way to turn human and go home to my family."
Lilly lightly presses the tip of her hoof against the top of the now golden-brown pancakes to check their softness, though she doesn't take her eyes off Stray. She frowns up at him, tilting her head. "I hate to be the one to tell you, hun... Things aren't gonna change for a while. You might wanna just learn to accept your situation and let go of the past," the normally peppy mare says in a reflective tone. "I was a mom with a husband and two daughters back home... It took me months to get used to this." She continues in a soft, quiet voice, looking up at Stray Shot with a sad gaze for several moments. Sighing, she slides the pancakes onto a tray and begins buttering them.
Stray Shot's glare quickly melts into a sympathetic frown. His ears droop down, and he feels his heart drop to his stomach. Would he end up like this woman? Would he give up and accept life as a pony living in the shantytown of a quarantined pony village, never to see his loved ones again?
"I-I'm sorry, I had no idea..." Stray Shot finally responds in a timid, tender tone, "B-but... You can't give up hope, you have to believe that you'll see them again. I mean, *they* probably want to see *you* still..."
Lilly's eyes appear more and more watery as Stray Shot speaks, and she wipes her eyes with a hoof before sliding the tray of freshly buttered hot pancakes drenched in syrup. "I... I know. Maybe some day." She manages to squeak out while trying to hold back tears. After a few seconds, though, she resumes her composure, smiling warmly. "Thank you. It's refreshing for someone to care. Now, you better get on the road before these get cold. Tell your friend I hope these make her feel better."
Stray Shot smiles back to the mare genuinely, nodding and sliding the tray onto his back. He entends his wings to be level to balance the tray of sweet-smelling hot food. "Thanks, Lilly. I'm sure I'll see you soon." The stallion says before trotting off in the direction of the shantytown. He had a hangover to cure!
Hurrying along so that the pancakes stay hot, Stray Shot doesn't take long to make it back to Coca's Shack. Still balancing the tray, he knocks on the door as quietly as he can, trying to see if his friend was awake but not wanting to wake her up if she was still passed out.
"God damn it!" Her high-pitched voice barks from inside, "You don't have to knock so fuckin' loud!" Coca groans, putting her hooves against her ears, as if it would quell the alcohol-induced headache.
Shot just shakes his head and opens the door, hurrying inside and shutting the door behind him both to keep the morning sun's bright rays from exacerbating the poor mare's headache even more, and because he had already started to notice fellow shanty-dwellers eyeing the delicious meal on his back. He blinks several times to adjust his eyesight to the shack's dark interior, seeing Coca Breeze in the middle of the floor with her sleeping bag pulled over her head. "Good morning to you too, drinky." He responds with a chuckle as he carefully places the tray of fresh pancakes onto the floor next to her.
Coca sniffs a few times as the pleasing aroma of food reaches inside her sleeping bag, and before long her head pokes out, her bedhead mane covering her eyes. "Grrr, stupid girl hair." She grumbles as she uses her hooves to pull the mane from over her bloodshot eyes, which light up at the sight of pancakes. She looks up to see Stray Shot pulling a canteen full of chilled water from his bag and placing it next to her.
"You... you brought me breakfast?" She asks in bewilderment, blinking up at the stallion standing over her as she crawls out of her sleeping bag and sits in front of the tray, sniffing the buttery goodness below her.
Stray Shot sits on his haunches and leans his back against the wall of the cramped shack, shrugging. "D-don't think I like you or anything, b-baka." He responds with a smirk.
Coca laughs, but it quickly turns into a groan as the strain causes her headache to flare.
"Uuugh... I made a fool of myself last night, Shot." She says as she takes a big bite of pancake off the plate. Lacking utensils, the long neck of a pony actually came in handy for eating like a dog. With a mouth full of food, she throws her head back and closes her eyes as she chews, rapt in pure mouthgasmic bliss that immediately begins to take the edge off the head pounding, stomach wrenching hangover.
Reaching into his canvas bag for his map, Stray Shot listened to the cacophony of munching sounds coming from Coca Breeze as he buries his face into his map, looking for any topographical clues that might point out where they were in relation to, hell, *anywhere* else in the world. Unfortunately, the scale of the map wasn't very large and didn't cover a lot of territory, though it was obvious they were in some sort of tempermental forest region. He becomes so enwraped in his study that he doesn't notice Coca stop eating until the sound of soft sobbing reaches his ears. He brings the map down from his face to see Coca Breeze crying over they tray of half-devoured breakfast.
"Woah woah hey, what's wrong here?" Shot awkwardly asks, getting up and moving next to Coca.
"I was an idiot last night, Shot... I remember hitting on a bunch of mares and even a stallion, and then I blacked out."
"I know, but at least you passed out before you ended up in bed with someone. You're a pretty dead weight though, y'know that?" Shot teases with a lopsided grin, trying to make light of it to make Coca feel better.
Coca's crying is interrupted by laughter in between sobs as she looks up from the tray. "A-and you brought me home, and even got me breakfast? You shouldn't hang around a pony like me..." She squeaks out shakily, leaning against Shot and getting his left foreleg wet with tears.
Stray Shot tenses up at the contact at first, but soon relaxes and lets Coca lean against him. "Don't feel too bad, Coca," he consoles in a reassuring tone, "One time, I was so drunk, I passed out in a bathroom at a bar. My brother and friend had to drag me outta there and were holdin' my head up above the toilet all night. Everyone acts a fool at least once."
Coca giggles, picking her head up from leaning against Stray and looking at him curiously. "Really?"
Shot nods, "Mhmm. It's all about moderation. Plus, I have a feelin' that alcohol might have more pronounced effects on our new, smaller bodies."
Coca wipes the tears away from her eyes, taking another bite of the fat pancake stack and talking while she chews. "Y-you're such a nerd... That makes sense, though." Swallowing, she looks the stallion in the eye. "In any case, thank you." She says softly before suddenly enveloping Shot in a big hug.
Shot lets Coca hug him, awkwardly patting her on the back. "I'll send you a bill in the mail."
Coca giggles and punches Shot's shoulder.