XCOM: Ranger

by Wanderer D

Chapter 45: Past


Chapter 45: Past

By Wanderer D

There was a note inside.

But it wasn't for her, this time. It was sealed on the back with a little sun sticker, but very clearly written on the front, it read "Chrysalis".

Something about it made Sunset's heart ache, and she gulped. She slowly slid the letter into her backpack.

For her part, Jane had gone off to examine the other lockers, leaving Sunset to explore her counterpart's legacy.

There was armor there, and it seemed pretty sturdy. She took it out of the locker and put her at her feet, while she turned around to investigate again. There were a few other things. Deodorant, old toothbrush and paste; a change of clothes… and a picture at the very back. She slid it out, and gasped.

They were much younger here. Probably late teens, in school garbs. And if the goofy grins of both Chrysalis and Sunset weren't enough to hit her where it hurt, the people behind them certainly were. Beyond a familiar, non-destroyed building in the background, a long-bearded man stood behind them all, glancing seriously at the camera. His hands were on the shoulders of two women, who Sunset would recognize anywhere.

On the right, her mane… hair, long, wavy and multi-colored, stood who could only be Celestia, and to her right, dark skinned, reminding her of Laetitia, but with long, long wavy dark blue hair, could only be Luna. They in turn, stood proudly behind young Sunset and Chrysalis, smiling at the camera.

Sunset turned the picture around.

Canterlot High, 2003

There was a small picture book, which she briefly ruffled through. Pictures of Sunset being accepted into the FBI; one of Chrysalis when she had made Lieutenant. Barbecue get-togethers with Celestia, Luna and other people.

Chrysalis next to a lake, looking at the water…

Sunset slowly closed the picture book. She took a breath, and looked with deep regret at the bundle of memories. A small pack of letters were tied together with rubber bands. A few had snapped, dried out with old age, but Sunset didn't open them. They didn't belong to her.

The final picture in the locker was on the door. It was a picture of Sunset, arms intertwined on both sides with Chrysalis and Vahlen. Behind them was a holographic display, with a younger-looking, green-sweatered Bradford, obviously forcing himself to not look at the camera. Other engineers and staff were not that stoic, and she could make out smirks on those that were not looking at the camera, and honest smiles from others.

A little above and behind Bradford, she could see Galahad and a few other soldiers she didn't know, apparently shouting something.

Sunset carefully took them all and slid them with the letter for her Commander. She wondered if Chrysalis had actually known, what seemed fairly obvious to her now. Sunset shook her head. Of course she had known.

After all, the first time Chrysalis had landed eyes on Sunset, despite knowing she was not the Sunset from the past… there had been hope.

Sunset shifted through the locker, picking up a wallet, and throwing it into the backpack, trying to think of something else. It was a little weird that the Commander still looked now as she did back then, but then, that was alien technology for you.

Still, as the last toiletry was moved to the side, and nothing else was revealed, Sunset stepped back, and studied the armor.

It was a, red, thick-looking jumpsuit with with a gold and copper metallic finish to several harnesses and solid metal parts. The chest piece was solid, however. The metallic parts included an attachment for a grappling hook, much like her own, although the model it had attached was of a much lower potency. The chest was adorned on the back of the neck with Sunset's signature sun, and the front right breast with an XCOM badge.

It was clearly designed for additional durability over the basic armor, but focused more on movement. With the other Sunset being a sniper, it made sense that she would be using the grappling hook on that to gain a height advantage.

"Well," she said, turning to Jane, "I found my armor?"

"Ha." Jane smirked, opening Galahad's old locker. "Wow. Such a pervert."

She blinked at the huge collection of magazines. "Sunset… give me your backpack."


"Come on."


Jane slid one magazine out and showed the cover to Sunset.
"Fine. Only two! Alright? Okay, one more, but no more than five."

"Deadwood, this is Shogun," the radio lit up, transmitting the signal to Omiata. "We've found the entrance. Flooding system is active, it'll take some time to trickle down if we want to do this through here."

"Roger that, Shogun, turn it off. Tango has stopped their search into the green. It's been long enough for any agent to be too far away for search parties to find. We'll stay on guard for a bit longer, but I'll send the signal to the Hive."

"Wilco. Shogun out."

Omiata returned to his watch. The forest beneath him stretched far and wide, and it was unlikely that their presence would be detected by ADVENT, but the lack of return transmissions from Jane or Sunset was worrying.

As far as he knew, the base was deserted. The aliens had come in, destroyed everything, ripping things apart and sacked whatever they could from the command center, the workshop and the foundry.
According to Vahlen's report, they hadn't managed to breach into the Lab at all after she had sealed the place and collapsed the hallway leading to it with a series of plasma explosions.

There was something amiss, he could feel it in his bones, but just like the peaceful quiet of the forest around, above and under him, there simply was no sign of anything.

The armor that Jane had donned was very similar to Sunset's, but it was all dark gray, and had more cover on the stomach, but no grappling hook. Other than that, it seemed just a tiny bit heavier, clearly intended for general use rather than specializing in mobility.

The pair looked each other up and down.
"Well, if I ever had my doubts about feeling like I was really part of XCOM…" Sunset grinned.

"Oh, shut it."

Sunset made sure she had secured everything properly in her backpack, then took stock. She and Jane were armored, they had each taken a pair of grenades—unfortunately none of the infamous plasma grenades were to be found—and were as ready as they could be for combat under the circumstances.

They hadn't heard any movement from outside since getting in the room, but the memory of the heavy steps outside the door still haunted them. Whatever had been out there… it was more than likely going to try and kill them.

"I don't suppose you could just talk your way out of the base as you do sometimes with aliens?"

Sunset rolled her eyes. "That only works with ADVENT and some aliens, not all of them."

Jane glanced at her. "You know… I've always wondered. How is it that you can talk to them like that?"

"Well, it helps that Mox and Betos taught me a bit of their language… but I'm not sure why. I don't use any spells, if that's what you're wondering."

Jane raised an eyebrow. "And you don't find it odd?"

"There's a lot of things I found odd when I came here: walking on two legs, wearing clothes, shooting other sapients until they die, talking to aliens. You get used to strange fairly quickly when you used to be half your current size, a quadruped and had a horn."

Jane twitched.

"If you hug me…"
"Don't worry, I have a one-hug-a-day policy."

"Good. Anyway, come on, let's find a way out of this place…" Sunset muttered. "Our mission won't be complete until the package is delivered."

"Yes, ma'am!"

She sighed. The whole system of hydraulics was a mess, and someone had messed around with her latest coding.

Apple Bloom groaned and sat, watching her serve-bot despondently. While some of her work was used in creating the armed versions, she made sure her actual creativity was put into the support units that were sent to attend at hospitals, or to supervise camera controls, etc.

In other words, civilian projects.

Oh, she followed the instructions her superiors gave her. Fix a small error in the arms of the construction mecs, or revise the firing rate for the combat ones. But there was little incentive for her into bettering the weapons that would have been used against her sister if she were still alive.

It sucked to work for ADVENT, regardless of the nice accomodations and secure income. It felt like betrayal, were it not for the other work she did to help others. And now that Scootaloo was slowly turning around, it was a matter of figuring out what to do about Rarity.

It was the only thing keeping them here now. Well… that and Sweetie's side project. That was always a major risk, but anything they could do against ADVENT would be an advantage in the future.

So the combat mecs had a few seconds delay. Or perhaps the latest batch had slightly less favorable insulation against EMPs. Nothing that wouldn't pass the basic testing the products were put through… but just enough to maybe deteriorate a bit after.

"Heh," she chuckled, shaking her head and cracking her knuckles. She dragged herself, seat and all, forward with her legs to the computer and started typing. "I wonder how things are going?"

The robot whirred, and Apple Bloom looked up in confusion. The unit started moving turning one way and another, without commands from her or prompting. She could see lines of code flashing through the screen faster than she could track, then the robot's head turned towards her, and a voice came from the speakers.

"Well, well, well, this is very interesting."

Apple Bloom blinked. "What in tarnation?!"

"Let's see… Apple Bloom, Engineer, Programming expert and saboteur! Who knew?"

"What?" Apple Bloom stammered. "Why, Ah would never…"

"Tut, tut, Miss Bloom. There is no one here but us. I am tracking everyone's movement in this place."

Apple Bloom frowned. "Who are you? You're not one of the standard VI's we installed into the MECs."

"Well, aren't you a smart one? I am Julian. And I am your friend. I helped… your other friend get out of here alive."

"I don't know wha—"

"Please, don't insult my intelligence. Or yours. We are allies, you and I. I have studied your coding. Observed and reviewed your processes. Overlooked your designs. It seems to me, that not only are you a clever human, but also an underused genius. We have much in common."

"Ah'm not sure Ah can trust you."

She almost felt like the robot was smiling at her. Except it had no face. It was a solid block of metal cover and a single camera eye. "I did say you're smart. But right now, you need allies. And I do too. Help me… and we can change this world for the better.

o.0.o End Chapter 45 o.0.o