Back and There Again

by Sun Sage

2. Apples for a Pair

Rarity took a deep breath and let it out in a long, dramatic sigh.  Behind the one who’d opened the door she could see several other humans looking around the edges of the frame.  Most notably she saw the tall, youngest looking one she’d met eyes with before ducking into this room and the older, stocky looking one that had shut her in.  She had to admit, they at least looked less threatening than most of the lab’s staff.  Rather than cold, or outright intimidating, these humans looked surprised, and cautiously curious.  Well, except the one standing farthest from the door, holding a broom like he wanted to bludgeon somepony with it.  He was staring at her like she was that somepony.  He’s clearly the jerkass of the group… but now about their representative…

He was shorter than the others, and fairly thin.  The grey eyes and short, dark brown mane on him reminded Rarity that the humans she’d seen weren’t as colorful as what Twilight had described.  Perhaps it was a regional thing?  She fully intended to compare notes when she got home; there were so many discrepancies.

It was an exercise in futility, but also proper manners, and so Rarity proceeded to introduce herself, holding out a hoof.  If she was going back to the lab, she was doing so as a lady.  Besides, the human standing before her still felt like a unicorn.  He had magic, and it wasn’t crafted like some well designed outfit.  It was as much a part of him as his… well they didn’t have coats, but… focus, Rarity…  “Ahem.  Well!  Hello!  I am Rarity, and it’s… a pleasure to meet you.  This is certainly a lovely store you have, and I do apologize for intruding during closing hours.  I erm… may have sampled the strawberries… extensively, but… oh dear I’m rambling aren’t I, and you don’t understand a word of it, of course.  So…”

For his part, the human had stopped and his eyes had gone even wider as she began speaking.  He had looked back at the others briefly as she rambled on, getting shrugs to match his own clear incomprehension.  He snorted lightly, and had a small smile grace his face as he stepped forward and sat down in front of her, putting them closer to eye level.  Actually he was a bit shorter than her like that.  Was he trying not to intimidate her?  He actually looked a bit amused, as if he knew he was doing something silly.  She felt oddly at ease; she wouldn’t have used the word trust, but she wasn’t afraid.

And then he gently grasped her hoof, shook it, and spoke in return.


“Welp, none of us have any idea what you just said, miss, but you have a nice voice?  It’s a… very musical sounding language?”  She was oddly pretty, as Luke had alluded to.  Her eyes: huge, blue, and almost shockingly human looking, were distracting.  A deep blue, perhaps indigo, mane framed her face elegantly, despite being rather disheveled.  Her nose, or snout, or muzzle... horse terms… struck him as cutely petite and expressive.  He really wasn’t sure what to make of it all, and the alabaster horn, matching her somehow pristine coat, seemed to almost thrum in his mind like gentle strings playing in the distance.

He shook his head, trying to focus.  “Right, introductions.  I’m Aiden.  Ehh, full name Aiden Alexander Windborne, named after my great grandfather.  Don’t know who or what you are exactly or how you got here, but… on behalf of… well I can’t really speak for…” Aiden rubbed the back of his head with his left hand and realized his right was still gently shaking the unicorn’s hoof.  He let go quickly and half turned back to the door.  “This is so weird.  Mark, what do?”

“Hell if I know, man; you’re the alien expert.”

“What?!  I fought big, scary ones with swords and guns and such.  Also explosions.  I mostly did it by dropping garbage on them, and large rocks.  I don’t think that’s the way to go here.”  He looked back at the unicorn to see that the nervous smile she’d had (which looked surprisingly human in its recognizability) had been replaced by amusement.  In fact, her recently released hoof was now in front of her mouth as she failed to stifle a very refined, feminine giggle.

“Oh and now see?  That’s goddamn adorable!  Luke, bring us apples!  We must parley with the unicorn!”

Luke laughed and flicked a mock salute as he left the door.  The unicorn looked between the two and then said something else to Aiden.  He shrugged, shaking his head with an apologetic smile, “I’m sorry, we don’t understand you.  I’m guessing you’re the same?”

The unicorn hummed questioningly.  She then shrugged, with a smile similar to Aiden’s.  It was quite odd to witness.  Her balance on her hind legs was flawless and the gesture seemed entirely natural.  Aiden just stared.  “That’s… too weird.  I mean the facial expressions were one thing, but…”

“Yeah also, horses can’t move their forelegs like that.”

Aiden looked over his shoulder at Luke, who’d returned with a plastic tray holding two apples.  He handed it to Aiden and continued.  “Her legs are a bit too thick around her hooves, and while she doesn’t look overweight, she’s curvy in weird ways and her torso is too small.  I dunno how a proper equine stomach would fit in there.  It’s like someone tried to make a pony look more girly or something.  Luke blinked, and then flushed and stepped back.  “And…. she’s naked.”

Aiden laughed, holding the tray close to his lap, and watching as the unicorn stared at the apples with undisguised want.  “Yeah, so?”

“Aiden, she’s clearly sapient, and naked.  That doesn’t bother you?”

“Not if it doesn’t bother her.”  He held up the tray, and then nearly dropped it.  The familiar feeling from her intensified, coupled with a feeling of power that had been largely dormant.  The thrumming strings Aiden swore he was almost hearing increased to a quiet symphony… and her horn lit with a blue aura while a similar one surrounded an apple and pulled it to her lips.  She took a rather dainty bite, smiled, and gave a nod and appreciative hum to both Aiden and Luke.

The humans, who’d begun to relax before that display, had gone rigid.  She didn’t notice, more interested in her apple.  Aiden did.  “Alright, relax, guys.  It’s just telekinesis; we already knew she could use magic.”

“How strong is she?  You can tell that kind of thing, right?” That was Robert, who hadn’t actually spoken until that point.  Actually, the man rarely spoke at all.  He worked two jobs supporting his family and was generally in zombie mode.  Aiden supposed a unicorn floating apples around could wake a man up.

Aiden picked up the second apple and set the tray aside.  He offered it to the unicorn, but she shook her head and gestured to him.  He grinned and took a bite.  Honeycrisp… good choice, Luke.  After swallowing, he replied to Robert.  “Some Espers can more than others.  My perception on that kind of thing is about at low as you get for First Generation Espers.”

Luke whistled quietly.  “Geez, you’re First Generation.  I thought so when you said Seattle but…”

“Yeah, but it’s not that big a deal.  Look point is I can’t sense much because reasons.  She’s weaker than me, but not by much at all.  She’s also not a fighter, but she’s got excellent control.  There’s like zero wasted energy.  Holding that apple in your hand would take more power than she’s using.  I’m betting it’s a natural talent for her, maybe her whole race.”

For her part, the unicorn kept looking back and forth between them all, clearly a bit annoyed at not having a say in the conversation.  Aiden gave her an apologetic shrug before taking another bite.  She sighed lightly and did the same.

“You should ask someone from Veritech.”

Aiden nearly coughed up his apple before snapping around to stare at Craig.  The man had set the broom aside and had his phone in his hand.  “Their logo is on her bracelet, left leg, right there.”

Her what?  Looking back at her, specifically her left foreleg, Aiden saw it.  “Huh.  How’d I miss that?”

“Probably distracted by the magical unicorn friendship thing you have going here.  Aren’t you supposed to kill aliens?  But this one you can just return.  Pretty easy, right?  She’s obviously government property.  So what you do now is obvious, right?”  Craig sounded like he was heating up for a rant.

“Craig, how could you even see this back there?”

“I was filming this whole thing for a couple minutes now.  I zoomed in.  While you idiots are all ‘oh wow, magic!’ I’m actually doing something.”

Aiden snorted.  They were doing something.  They were engaged in diplomatic… apple eating.  Okay that didn’t even sound better in my head.  But Veritech Labs… Colonel Owens is overseeing that place.  And… he’s a xenophobic nutjob.  How the hell is she even in one piece?  Something’s missing here…  He pointed at the bracelet.  “Hey, can I see that?”  Talking didn’t have much point, but he felt even dumber just pointing and gesturing.

The unicorn hummed questioningly, holding her bracelet clad foreleg up slightly before extending it to him.  He examined it, realizing how he’d missed it.  “This thing has a low level camo field built into it.  You won’t notice it yourself unless you specifically look right at it or for it.  It won’t affect a camera though, so you saw an image and then you knew it was there, breaking the effect for all of us by speaking up.  Hey, nice work, Craig!”  Craig coughed in surprise, and probably disgust.  It sounded like a ‘harumph’ anyway, but Aiden was too busy to look at his reaction.

Specifically, his fingers were glowing with a dim, orange light and the bracelet snapped off of her leg.  She gasped in surprise as it was removed and her eyes were wide as she stared at the broken thing floating between them.  Aiden smashed it completely, destroying the transponder he assumed was inside.  It would be too late; they likely had company incoming.  She’d either escaped the lab, or they’d let her go for whatever reason to track her to… something?  Aiden wasn’t sure.  They couldn’t be tracking him, or rather wouldn’t be.  He’d retired but he wasn’t hidden.  Owens could’ve located him with a phone call.  Was it a trap?  See if the Esper would help an alien escapee?  Was she even an alien, or one of Owens’ cybernetic…

“Geh…”  Aiden slapped himself with both hands and hopped up to his feet.  “Alright we’ve got trouble here.  That bracelet meant she was, or is, in Veritech’s possession.  That lab’s overseer is a one Colonel Jeffrey Owens,”  Craig made a strangled noise as Aiden continued,  “and he’s no one I’d hand anyone over to, least of all a peaceful seeming alien.  The guy’s nuts.  Sooo… Mark, I’m taking the rest of the night off…”


Rarity was astonished.  Things had been progressing well, she thought.  True, they couldn’t speak to one another, but they were all being civil, and she’d gotten more to eat.  The sitting human, whom she was calling Pipsqueak for now after his brown mane and stature, seemed endearingly kind, as did the younger (though much taller) one, officially called Silo for being tall with a hay-colored mane.  The others had spoken up a bit, and even the angry looking one, Sweepy for his clear desire to use that broom, had added something to the conversation.  Rarity admitted to herself that her nicknaming skills were not really on point at this late hour.

She’d started considering ways to communicate her need to leave and meet up with her benefactor when Pipsqueak had gestured to her left hoof, and then removed an item from it with his magic.  Where did that bracelet come from?  That symbol on it was certainly from the lab; Rarity wasn’t likely to forget such a detail.  She’d jokingly considered it the place’s official Cutie Mark, and wondered idly if the rather unpleasant looking man in charge of the place had the same symbol somewhere under his clothing.  She had yet to see an unclad human so she couldn’t be sure if they had Marks or not.  She gasped as Pipsqueak’s magic crushed the bracelet into powder and he slapped himself before jumping quickly to his feet.  Rarity edged back from him as he addressed Bouncer, the one who’d locked her in this room.  He turned back to her, with a placating look on his face and opened his mouth to speak, for what that would be worth.

And then the whole building shook with the force of an explosion.  The muffled sound, like a massive firework detonating outside, drew Rarity’s attention away from the distraction that was Pipsqueak’s aetheric presence.  There were three more presences outside: two were the fabrications, and the third… was this what a pegasus might feel like?  An Earth Pony?  She wasn’t sure, but it wasn’t the same as the guards, or Pipsqueak.  Before she could decide what to do about it, a sound she’d come to recognize began repeating… from Pipsqueak’s pants.


They were all reeling from the explosion, or at least staring out towards it with concern.  It had been fairly far off, but…

“What the hell was that?” Craig demanded, staring at Aiden as though he’d know.

Which was fair… he had a good idea.  “Offhand I’d say it’s Veritech’s people on their way; I felt that even with my senses.  It was a magical energy blast designed to explode, and it was strong.”

“Why are they blowing stuff up outside?”  Mark asked.  “That sounded like it was in the parking lot.”

Aiden shook his head.  “Further away than that, and I don’t know.  Maybe she’s not the only escapee?  Or maybe-” he cut himself off as his phone began ringing.  ...It was almost 3 A.M. and very few people had that number.  That wasn’t to say no one he didn’t know could get it though.  He took it out and stared at it like it would be the next explosion.  The caller ID read ‘unavailable’, naturally.

No help for it… He sighed and took the call.  “Hello?”

A cultured, grave sounding voice answered, “You know… the road to Hell is paved with good intentions…”

Aiden’s eyebrows climbed his skull as his eyes did their dinner plate impression.  “But…” he grinned; he just couldn’t believe this.  “But without them, we wouldn’t need the road.”

On the other end of the line, the voice chuckled dryly.  “Indeed so.  It’s been a long time, my young friend.  Too long.  I trust you’ve been well?”

Aiden laughed.  “Goddammit, Grumman, I know this isn’t a coincidence so skip the small talk.  I know you can’t be working with Owens, so…?”

“Just because you left the service you think you can speak so casually to me, eh?”  General Grumman replied with the same chuckle apparent in his words.  “We’ll be discussing your lack of discipline before I put you back to work.  I have a job for you.  And before you remind me, again, that you’re retired, hear me out fully.  For now though, put me on speaker, if you would.”

“One thing first, sir.  What was that explosion?”

“Ah, you heard that?  My driver is having a discussion with a couple of locals who appear to be lost.  He’s giving them directions on how to get back to their home as we speak.”

“Uh…” Aiden frowned slightly. “...With explosions?”

“He’s the demonstrative sort.”

It clicked.  “Oh no way!  Donny boy’s with you?!  I haven’t seen him in years.”

“Knight Trellis is currently assigned as my attache, yes.  You can catch up later, but for now, speaker please.”

The grin on his face matched a kid at Christmas, and Aiden happily complied.  “Sir, yes, sir!”

General Grumman’s voice came through loud and clear, “Gunnery Sergeant Millen, are you there?”

Mark stood a bit straighter as he stared at the source of the authoritative voice.  “Yes, sir, this is Gunnery Sergeant Millen.  Is that you, General?”

“It is indeed, Gunny Millen.  I’m afraid I need to borrow Knight Lieutenant Windborne for the foreseeable future, along with your new acquaintance.  I sincerely hope she is unharmed?”

“Ahh… so far as we can tell, sir,” Mark replied.

“Excellent, thank you, Gunny.  She will be leaving with young Aiden, and I have a security detachment on the way to make certain no one from Veritech disturbs any of you, and to explain things, at least as much as we know.  Rest assured that the alien before you is no threat to humanity, quite the contrary.  She doesn’t know it yet, I suspect, but her arrival may be the best news we’ve had since the war ended.  All of you have been a part of something historic tonight, and I’ll ask you, for now, to keep it to yourselves.  In due time, I imagine you’ll be able to appreciate it more.”

Shaking his head, Mark laughed wryly, “No one would believe it anyway.”

“Not yet.  But in time, I think that will change.  Mr. Windborne, if you’d come out to the parking lot along with the unicorn-”

“Wait so she’s actually a unicorn?” Aiden interjected.

“...What else would she be?”

“Well, I mean… unicorns are myths, so I was just… I… hmm… I have no follow up here.”

“I will explain everything I’m able to, young man, but we need to get moving.  I’d prefer to lead Veritech’s people away before my team arrives and we end up in a firefight outside your building.  They can shoot at us all they like, especially with you in the vehicle.”

“Right… erm… how do I get her to follow me?  This situation can’t be inspiring trust.”

“Well now… allow me to address that.”  And he began to speak in a language Aiden had recently heard for the first time...


Rarity, who’d been watching the speaking device and their interactions with it, suddenly jolted to full attention, her ears perking toward it sharply as she heard, accented but comprehensible: “I greet you, sister of Ponykind, as a distant friend wishing to meet.  Please, go with the one holding this talisman that projects my voice.  He is a friend as well.  His name is Aiden, and mine is Albert.  Your friend from the lab is with us as well.  We will help you any way we can, in the name of Friendship.”  She took in a sharp breath, and stared shakily at Pipsqueak… no... Aiden.

“...Ae...den?”  She roughly pronounced, holding his wide eyes in her own.  He said something in response and nodded as a smile lit his face.  He held out his hand once again.  She smiled as well, and gestured to herself with her hoof before extending it to him.  “Ra-ri-ty.”

He frowned just slightly, focusing.  “Ra… ...Ra-ra-ty?”

Close enough.  She placed her hoof in his hand, and again they shook.


Aiden was flabbergasted.  “General… what the fu-”

“Language, Mr. Windborne.  Now double time it, you two need to be in this limo right now.”

“Right… right okay.  But you ARE going to explain this… right?”

Grumman laughed.  “Only if you get here in the next sixty seconds.”

“Oh ha ha…” his eyes narrowed as the General started counting.  He gestured to Rarity, and she nodded as he shut off his phone.  “Mark, Luke, everyone... I’ll let you know how it goes.  Craig, sorry but…”

Craig shook his head, looking angry as ever but stepping aside to let them pass.  “No, don’t say anything.  That Owens guy is bad news; I’ve seen crap about him on my news feeds.  Third Generation Esper cyborg army, just no.  Get outta here and take that thing with you before he catches you and makes clones of it or something.”

Aiden blinked.  “Uh… right.”  He clasped Craig’s shoulder for a moment.  “Thanks, man.”

“Don’t touch me.”

Aiden laughed and pulled his hand away.  “Sorry.”  He headed for the door, Rarity right by his side.

Luke called out to them both, “Have fun storming the castle!”  Aiden chuckled as he heard him speak with Mark, “Sooo, rest of the night off?”

“Hell yes, and Grumman’s men are buying the drinks when they get here.  Rob, go hit up the beer aisle and grab whatever everyone wants.”  A cheer went up from the crew.

“Luke’s underage, and we can’t sell alcohol at 3 A.M.”

“Craig, right now, no one cares.”

Aiden laughed as they stepped out into the parking lot and headed towards their rather obvious ride: a stretch hummer limousine.  His own car would be fine here for a few days, and if… whatever was about to happen took longer, arrangements could be made.  As they approached, the rear door opened to reveal a smiling woman of perhaps thirty, wearing glasses and a white coat with a name badge.  Rarity made a sound something like a happy squeal.  Aiden chuckled at the cuteness of it.  He stopped at the door, stepping aside and gesturing to the unicorn.  “After you, my lady.”

Rarity didn’t understand the words, but the gesture was apparently clear enough.  She bowed slightly to Aiden, extending one foreleg as she did so and saying something in her own language, presumably a thank you.  She stepped into the vehicle, Aiden followed, and both took seats across from the woman.

Next to her, of course, sat General Grumman, leaning forward on his cane and wearing a pleasant smile that was quite disarming on his usually sharp face.  “By God, I really would never have believed it a month ago.  A true citizen of Equus, here on Earth.  I owe my dear, departed father an apology.  Corporal, remind me to purchase a decent Cabernet tomorrow.  Something from this town, where she appeared, would be appropriate.”

“Yes, sir.”

Aiden was shaking his head.  “Okay… explanation time… or wait.”  He looked to the driver.  “Don, man, how’ve you been?  Still blowing things up for the betterment of mankind?”

“Naturally.  How goes the grocery business?”

“Steady.  Folks gotta eat, you know?”

“Truth.  Oh, speaking of that… General, we forgot your milk.”