Honestly, I was glad we weren't walking. Ruby walked around back and popped the hatch.
“Took you long enough!” A gravely voice said from inside the ship. A figure got up and walked forward to the hatch. She was a ghoul-ed human...Crackshot!
“Sorry Grandma, we ran into some last minute planning problems, had to do some strong arguing to secure the computers we needed.” Brutus said, gesturing to a group of crates that were sitting beside the ship. They had been there when we'd arrived.
“How you doing kiddo?” She asked, looking at CB on my back.
“Better.” The little girl replied without looking up at the ghoul.
“That's good. Wow, a pony...I haven't seen any of you since before the war.” She brushed the top of my head. “Never one with these kinds of colours of course.”
“Long story.” Paul said. “I'm Paul.”
“Oh the tech guy from the war. I look forward to having someone else to talk to about those times. Name's Clarice, but my friend's call me Crackshot.”
“Oh well hello Clarice.” Paul said, taking on what I could only describe as the creepiest voice that he could manage.
“Nice to meet you Crackshot.” Lily said, shaking her hand.
“Alright, you guys wanna actually do some work so we can get out of here?” Brutus asked, shoving a box into Paul's hands, then another into Lily's, a third into Crackshot's and finally grabbing the last one himself. Ruby was already in the ship and I could hear systems coming to life, the blades starting to spin up a moment later. They loaded the crates onto the ship and then took their seats. CB grudgingly slid off my back and got into one of the seats that lined the wall, Paul sat in the cockpit with Ruby, the two of them idly chatting about the ship and it's functions. Lily 'guided' me into the seat beside CB and pulled the harness around me to secure me into the seat properly. CB flopped against my side and groaned. The ship was clearly designed for military use, two rows of 3 seats on either side with an aisle going from hatch to cockpit, the rear half used only for storage. Weapon racks lined the walls as well, most were empty but there were two missile launchers on one side, a flame thrower and Gatling gun sat on the opposite side. It was amazing how much the weapons of the two worlds shared in terms of design.
“Please don't throw up on the pony.” Brutus said, stroking CB's hair and looking at her seriously. She just nodded gently and closed her eyes.
“Alright people, we're heading up.” Ruby called as the hatch closed behind us and the Vertibird rose into the sky. The trip wouldn't be a long one, we were only 45 minutes out from the Collective base, of course 45 minutes in a Vertibird is hours and hours on hoof, so I was glad for the machine. Ruby and Paul were lost in conversation almost the whole time, same with Lily and Brutus. CB just slept against me and Crackshot looked out the window quietly.
“Hey guys, I think we have a problem.” Crackshot said about 30 minutes into the flight. “We got two Vertibirds come up on our six and they're moving to a flanking attack formation!”
“Unidentified Vertibird.” The speakers crackled. “You are in possession of Enclave property, surrender quietly and you will only be sent to prison, resist and we WILL shoot you down.”
“Eat me Eric.” Ruby called over the Comm.
“Ruby? Is that you?” The voice replied. “I thought you were dead.”
“You and the rest of the team left me for dead in a cave, I'm sure you did.” She snapped. “HOLD ON EVERYONE!” She yelled to us. The Vertibird lurched sideways hard as she spun the massive vehicle, opening fire on the approaching ships. One was caught off guard and exploded from the barrage of missiles Ruby loosed on them, the other one though pulled hard to the side and avoided the barrage by inches.
“RUBY STOP!” The voice, Eric, called over the comm.
“STOP?! STOP!? You have the balls to tell ME to stop?!” She had an almost hysterical rage in her voice. “SURE I'LL STOP! JUST LIKE YOU STOPPED!” She fired again, the other Vertibird dropped below the barrage and fired back at us, Ruby managed to dodge most of it but a missile clipped one of our rotors and the engine started whining loudly and we pulled sharply to the side as the ship lost it's balance. Everyone was holding tight to their harness and probably praying silently. CB clung to my side desperately, amazingly putting on a front of trying to keep me calm, though I could see in her eyes she was freaking out hard, she had amazing focus.
“Ruby set down now or you'll crash!” Eric barked at her.
“NO!” I could see the tears running down her face. “I NEVER HAVE TO LISTEN TO YOU AGAIN!” She fired again but she missed completely. Another salvo from the other Vertibird and our wing was blown right off, the ship spinning wildly out of control.
“Shit shit shit shit.” Ruby was smashing at the controls but it was mostly just sparks and whining.
“So much for keeping our cover.” I heard Lily say and I looked up to see her looking at me. I nodded and the two of us threw a magic barrier around the Vertibird, setting it down gently before it could crash.
“The fuck?” Brutus was looking from Lily to me and back, both of us bathing the interior of the ship in magic light.
“Pop the hatch!” Lily yelled, pulling herself out of her chair. She grabbed a rocket launcher off the wall and slid out of the ship, rising into the air above the hatch as her wings reappeared on her back. I was right behind her, deflecting a pair of missiles from the other ship, grabbing them in my magic, sending one smashing into a boulder a few hundred meters away, the other I tried to send back at the Vertibird but it missed and kept going. Lily aimed her rocket launcher and fired, wrapping the projectile in a magic field so that when it struck the Vertibird, and it did strike the Vertibird, it pierced through the ship, then she dropped her magic field and the rocket exploded inside the other ship, blowing it outwards in every direction. I threw up a barrier again and shrapnel from the ship bounced harmlessly away from us and soon silence fell in the area again.
“YES!” Lily laughed, landing on the ground beside me, her wings vanishing again in a flash.
“Pound it!” I grinned, holding a hoof out and she bumped her fist to my hoof. “That was beautiful. I never thought to use a magic barrier to control when a missile detonates.”
“Hey in my line of work you learn some interesting tricks.” She said, floating the rocket launcher back into place on the wall and turning back to the interior of the ship, her hands and eyes still glowing bright green. The blue of my magic was just fading from my horn as I did the same.
The interior of the ship was silent, Brutus, CB, Ruby and Crackshot all sat staring at us in shock, Paul looked relieved but embarrassed.
“Uhh...” I stammered. “Surprise?”.
It was quiet again for a long moment.
“I TOLD YOU ASSHOLES HE COULD TALK!” CB screamed at the other adults, holding her hands up and waiving her middle fingers at the group for some reason.
Ruby looked over at Paul quietly. “Uhh, we can explain everything?” He said, shrugging and smiling stupidly.
So Brutus and Lily set out to walk the distance to the base to bring back a recovery crew to haul the Ruby Star back to the base for repairs. We had talked for a few moments, agreeing to tell them everything, though not mentioning our physical relationships so as to minimize ruining those that might still develop. Shame they had to walk though since Lily and I could have carried the Vertibird back no problem instead of waiting, but we wanted to minimize the damage in that regard too.
“So then the portal destabilized and Venture was pulled through it.” I said, finishing the almost hour long story that brought them up to speed. “When the portal vanished there was Paul in the pit. We hid him away in one of the medical rooms. Once he was revived we put the pieces together about our lives and the two of us set to work fixing the machine to get him home. Lily and I came through the portal to look for Venture since, if Paul survived one way, we assumed Ven survived going back the other way and I feel responsible for him. Since Lily could change into a human form too and retain all her magical power we figured it was best to have her come along too.”
“Wow...” Ruby muttered, looking from me to Paul. “So you two are technically the same person?” She had settled into a seat beside CB and the younger girl was resting against her, having fallen asleep a few minutes into my story, all the events of the day finally catching up with her and putting her out for the count.
“Technically.” Paul and I both said at the same time.
“Wow, that's impressive.” Crackshot laughed. “Uhh one thing though. I have to tell Jack. I can't keep this from him.”
“Who?” I asked, looking to her curiously.
“Jack, my husband.” She said. “I'm not married in your world?”
“No, my version of Crackshot never mentioned a husband that I remember...” I sat for a long moment. “I think maybe he died in the war? I don't know.” I sighed, pressing a hoof to my forehead, struggling to remember if anypony had ever told me about her husband.
“Well all the same, I have to tell him. I trust him. We've been together for 200 years, we don't have any secrets anymore.”
“Uhh, yeah of course.” I said finally, nodding to her. “I would never ask you to lie for me about something so trivial.”
“That's good, because I was telling him either way.” She smirked.
“Yeah I figured as much.” I laughed.
“So, how strong is your magic?” Ruby asked.
“It's average.” I shrugged. “There's all different kinds of magic, I'm good with some, not so good with others. Most of my magical strength is in object manipulation, that comes from working on computers and small electronics for so long, though since coming to the Wasteland I've gotten pretty good at defensive magic too. Making shields, catching and deflecting larger projectiles, like you saw with the missiles earlier.”
“Yeah that was a hell of a trick.” Paul said. “I knew your magic was good, but that was amazing.”
“Thanks.” I said sheepishly.
“And Lily? She's...A Changeling?” Ruby asked.
“Yeah, she's built like a pony, same sort of form, but she can fly AND use magic, and she's more like a giant bug.”
“Gross.” CB muttered. I hadn't realized she'd woken up, but she hadn't budged from against Ruby either so it wasn't really a surprise. “I bet she looks all freaky.”
“Do you think I look freaky?” I asked.
“Well you're a talking pony.” Ruby laughed.
“No you're cute.” CB said. “Like a cartoon character.”
“Uhh, I'll take that as a compliment?” I shrugged. “She looks like me, just black and green instead of blue and yellow.”
“So you think she's cute like you?” Ruby asked. I could feel myself being set up...
“I cannot comment on Lily's cuteness.” I said, trying to put a flat automated sound to my voice. “She is Ruby's cousin and I am not to have any sort of feelings one way or the other.”
“Oh come on, you're not made of stone, surely you have feelings for other ponies.” Crackshot said.
“I do.” I nodded. I floated out the picture of Rosa from my office, the one of me proposing. “This was my fiancee Rosalea. I lost her when I was frozen.” I looked up and saw the same pain pass across Paul's face that I felt in my chest. “I love her now and forever.” I still meant it, even if I was with Ruby now, I'd always have a place in my heart for Rosa.
“Aww that's so sweet.” Ruby said, taking the picture and looking at it curiously. “It's amazing to see the technological parallels between our worlds, but at the same time the amazing differences.” She studied the picture for a few moments before handing it back to me. I took it and tucked it away in my saddlebags again. “I'm sorry I didn't mean to tease you.”
“That's fine, you were faster to apologize for it than my Ruby was, and she insulted me WAY worse.”
“Why what did you Ruby do?”
“Teased me because I used Rosa's voice as a template for my computer systems.”
“Oh, well I'd have done the same in a heartbeat.” She smirked.
“Yeah I know you would have.”
“So wait...you're a REAL unicorn...holy shit.” CB said, as if realizing it for the first time. “That means you really did save me from the slavers!”
“Yes I did.”
“So what happened to that woman that drugged me?”
“She was dealt with...”
“You...you blew her up!” CB said slowly, watching me intently as she struggled to remember. “You stuck her to the ceiling with your magic and put mines on the ground under her, and when she couldn't hold on anymore she fell and blew up.”
“Dude...that's cold.” Ruby said.
“Well I'm very defensive of my...”I trailed off for a moment. “Of my CB...so I guess it just extends to all the CB's I meet.” I shrugged, laughing nervously.
Ruby studied me intently for a moment but just sat back. “Alright fine.”
“Hey guys, incoming rescue party.” Crackshot said, looking up from the window she'd been watching from.
“Alright...and we can't tell anyone else?” CB asked and I nodded.
“If scientists or doctors found out they'd want to study me and Lily and it would probably kill us in the process.”
“Okay, I don't want you to get hurt.” CB said, hugging me close. I shifted to sit beside her and Ruby just as Brutus and Lily returned, walking with a group of engineers who had brought a massive crane to carry the ship back.
“We were just lucky we weren't very far in the air when they attacked.” Brutus was explaining.
“The ship did survive amazingly well. You guys are luck...the fuck is that?” The engineer asked, trailing off when he saw me.
“That's my pack pony.” Paul said. “Yes I'm aware they are extinct, he's an enclave experiment. I have all the files if you're curious to read up on it later.” He added, cutting off any follow up questions.
“Yeah, okay...” The guy nodded, turning back to Brutus. “We'll get her loaded up and drive back as soon as possible.” He said, moving out of the Vertibird.
“Alright people...and ponies...” Brutus said.
“And Changelings.” Lily added coolly and Brutus blushed brightly, which was a bizarre contrast on his pale skin.
“And Changelings...we're walking back to base from here so we need to head out if we wanna get back by nightfall.”
CB groaned and pushed herself to her feet.
“Come on my tired little foal, I'll carry you.” I said. “But don't expect it to be an all the time thing.”
“What's a foal?” CB asked, though she crawled onto my back and wrapped her arms around me happily.
“It's a baby pony.” Ruby answered.
“I'm not a baby.” CB said indignantly, but she didn't make any moves to get off of me either.
“Of course you're not.” Ruby laughed. “It's just like me calling you a kid.”
“Don't much care for that one either.” She replied as we started out of the Vertibird.
“Well aren't you just snapping out the grown up sentences all the sudden.” Crackshot laughed.
“Bite me you zombified pile of scabs.”
“Woah! Harsh.” Paul said.
“Oh that's fine she's gonna wake up one of these days, in the middle of the night, and I'm gonna be standing over her bed with my mouth hanging open and my eye dangling out of it's socket. You always love it when I do that don't you Clara?”
“Don't you dare. I have weapons now, I might shoot you by accident.” She said, shivering a little.
“Pft, I'll move all your weapons first. Most I gotta worry about is your cries of terror.”
“Ladies, ladies, you're both pretty stop squabbling.” Brutus said, looking back at them. “Alright...Grandma you look pretty terrible, I'm not gonna lie.” He smirked.
“Don't you sass me boy or you'll have your grand father to deal with!”
“The last time granddad 'dealt' with me, I was 10. Every time you tell him to 'deal' with me nowadays we go to the bar, have a drink and make fun of you.”
“You do not!” Crackshot said, genuinely questioning him.
“Maybe we do, maybe we don't.”
“Ooo that man...every generation he goes soft when they get old enough to drink. He just misses his war buddies. I'm gonna give him such a whupping...”
“Hey Lily, do you remember Crackshot ever mentioning her husband?” I asked, looking at the Changeling walking beside Brutus, figuring it was safe to talk again now that we were away from the engineers.
“Uhh, I know he's been mentioned in passing at some point. I think he was an Applejack Ranger?”
“A what?” Brutus asked.
“Equestrian version of the Brotherhood of Steel.” Paul said. I looked at him curiously.
“Your Ruby and I were comparing your history with ours before.”
“Oh.” I nodded.
“So who was Applejack?” CB asked.
“Used to be a cereal back in the day.” Crackshot said.
“Yeah that's right, they named their elite fighting force after a children's cereal.” Brutus laughed, getting smacked in the back of the head by the ghoul. I laughed a little, something really were the same in all universes.
“Let me tell you about the Ministry Mares...” I said, the group reorganizing to stand around me so they could all hear it. Even Lily seemed interested in what I had to say. “Well I suppose I should start all the way at the beginning...hopefully it'll save questions down the road.”
“Just tell the story!” CB said in annoyance.
“Alright alright, calm down.” I said, clearing my throat. “I have to go back a ways actually. 1200 years ago, give or take a few years...”
“COME ON!” CB snapped.
“OKAY!” I laughed. “Once upon a time, in the magical land of Equestria, there were two regal sisters who ruled together, and created harmony for all the land. To do this, the eldest used her unicorn powers to raise the sun at dawn; the younger brought out the moon to begin the night. Thus, the two sisters maintained balance for their kingdom and their subjects, all the different types of ponies...”
Footnote: Level up
Perk added: Mighty Telekinesis – You triple the mass that you can levitate with your unicorn magic. As an added bonus you have learned to redirect projectiles, even right back at their original target if you're fast enough.