• Published 2nd May 2013
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Stardust - Arad



Can Twilight earn the trust and friendship of people who are by nature suspicious and hostile to anything that isn't 'human'?

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Decisions

UFO SPOTTED NEAR SUEZ CANAL MET WITH OVERWHELMING RESPONSE BY EGYPTIAN MILITARY; SOURCES REPORT DOZENS OF AIRCRAFT LAUNCHING TO PURSUE UFO WHILE GROUND FORCES SCRAMBLE TO PROTECT ASSETS IN AREA.

TRAGEDY STRIKES IN MIDWEST USA AS BOY SCOUT TROOP OUT ON CAMPING EXPEDITION DOES NOT RETURN AT EXPECTED TIME. SEARCH OF THE WILDERNESS NEARBY REVEALS CAMPSITE FOR THE TROOP BUT NO SIGN OF SCOUT MASTERS OR SCOUTS. NO SIGNS OF FOUL PLAY OR STRUGGLE WERE FOUND, AND THE SEARCH IS ONGOING.

------

08:00, 04/30/2015, STARDUST LABS

Begin Log

The experiment with the captured ‘Thin Man’ specimen did not go as planned but what was revealed may still prove valuable. Twilight’s ability to provide reliable translation without the use of interrogation techniques has uncovered rather strong evidence that there can be no peaceful option with these invaders. It was a vain hope held by some that this conflict might have been resolved once the ability to communicate was established, but the Thin Man’s reaction to our attempts was met with unexpected agitation.

To be specific, the usual behavior of previously acquired and interrogated Thin Men is one of apathy. They stand still and straight and do not move or react to outside stimuli until the interrogation’s invasive phase begins. Struggles are a natural reaction at this point but once the brain is sufficiently disconnected from its locomotive sections this ceases to be a problem.

We were expecting a similar reaction during the translation experiments. At worst what was expected was the calm indifference to the outside world and simply ignoring these attempts. At best we were hoping to open a dialog with it to discuss just what the invaders were after, and perhaps instigate more ‘traditional’ interrogation methods.

What happened could not have been anticipated. Upon attempted conversation, the thin man began to strike the walls of its cell while screaming death threats. After mutilating its hands against the glass it then proceeded to resort to other forms of violence. The specimen expired two hours later due to severe cranial trauma. Twilight was removed from the Containment environment as she was clearly showing signs of distress at witnessing such behavior.

While this is also purely speculation and without enough evidence to be meaningful, Dr Mills reported that his attempts at communicating were completely ignored by the specimen, and it only began to react violently after Twilight spoke. He also indicated that the majority of the specimen’s attention was fixed on her the moment her translation ability was used. The possibilities of this reaction are interesting to consider.

I must admit this does provide some more evidence to the theory that Twilight is not affiliated with the invaders. As observed immediately after capture, her physical traits are completely at odds with anything in the captured specimens of the invaders. Her behavior thus far has been shocking to say the least. She is eager to please, easily embarrassed and has proven a willing well of information regarding most of her abilities as well as her people. If it wasn’t for her appearance, I would think that she was human.

End Log

Moira Vahlen caught herself with the words she had been typing. She had to resist the impulse to scoff as she reviewed what she had written. She is not human. Vahlen repeated the words in her mind like a mantra as she scoured the previous paragraph and removed every reference of Twilight’s name as well as any other identifying pronouns and replaced them with ‘it’. I must remain objective.

She took a brief moment to look up and see the current progress of testing. Dr Ngo and Dr Mills were going through the pile of testing materials left behind by Shen, which thus far had not produced any breakthroughs besides Twilight demonstrating a new ability.

“Coppah!” Twilight chirped as she plucked a large bundle of uninsulated copper wiring from Ngo’s hands.

“Ah, not quite but very close,” Mills said with a smile as he took the apparently non-reactive copper wiring and placed it back in the box. He checked a box on the checklist before turning to Ngo, “Have her try it again.”

“Copper. Cah, per,” the female scientist repeated as she stretched out the word’s syllables.

“Copper…copper!” Twilight repeated, then again with a cheer once she recognized the approval on the doctors' faces. Her smile morphed into curiosity when she noticed Vahlen’s attention on her, and she asked a question in her language to Mills.

“Ah, I’ll ask,” Mills then turned and asked, “Doctor Vahlen, Twilight would like to know if you’ll be taking part in the testing today?”

Moira mentally reprimanded herself for nearly smiling back at Twilight as she replied, “No, I will not. Recent events need to be recorded for the monthly summary. Please forward your results to me once testing is complete.” Twilight clearly recognized the word ‘no’ and her face fell just a bit until the next item was offered to her.

“Titanium. Tie, tay, nee, um.” Ngo sounded the word out for her as she held a small metal wafer out for her to magic into the air.

Twilight successfully sounded the word out and grinned widely at her success, and Moira turned back to her work. She closed the file on the previous night’s events before opening the file describing the unicorn’s abilities.

Begin Log

Twilight has also begun to display an extreme capacity for learning during her stay at the Stardust Labs. In addition to completing a series of universal math problems ranging from basic arithmetic all the way up to complex trigonometry and calculus in the span of a few days and without a calculator, she has gained the capacity to read the English language. After less than a month she’s already reading and writing at a high elementary school level, and I suspect by the end of the week she’ll be more proficient with English than the majority of American high schoolers. Her stated motivation for learning our language is out of consideration for our concerns regarding her magic.

During the initial startup of the Stardust project it was impressed upon Twilight that her magic might be harmful to us until it could be suitably tested, and this was substantially correct. The true reason for that caution was to ensure that the translation was not some form of mind control or tampering. Regardless of the real reason for the restriction, Twilight agreed to our demands and I am told she immediately apologized for not considering our feelings on the matter.

End Log

Again Moira stopped and reviewed her text. Not human, she repeated her mantra again as she went through the text to depersonalize it as she did the previous report. I must remain detached. I cannot let my judgment be compromised.

The trio at the table had moved on to a new test sample, complete with naming of the element (“Soh-dee-um!”) when Vahlen reached into her pocket and produced a personal voice recorder. She absently plugged a pair of earbuds into it and then slipped them into her ears before hitting the play button. Only one audio file existed on the recorder, and it set her in the right frame of mind to finish the reports with the clinical detachment that used to come so naturally to her.

"Hallo, bei Vahlen zuhause. Wer is da?"

“Ich bins, Tante Moira... ist das die kleine Erika, die ich da höre?"

"Tante M! Es ist ewig her seitdem ich das letzte Mal von dir gehört habe! Papa sagt, dass du ganz wichtiges Zeug machst um die Welt zu retten! Ist das echt wahr?"

"Ja, ich denke das ist wahr, mein Liebes. Ist dein Vater zuhause? Ich würde gerne mit ihm sprechen."

"Sicher, dauert nur 'ne Sekunde. Papa! Da ist Tante Moira am Telefon!"

------

08:00, 04/30/2015, MESS HALL

Silence hung over the table that Matt and Lana shared as they both worked half-heartedly on their breakfasts. Lana prodded her pancakes with her fork idly before finally speaking. “Hey, how do you think our short friend is doing?”

“Better, last I heard. Shen had a word with her after we left and managed to calm her down,” Matt answered as he speared a piece of pancake with a fork and swallowed it with hardly any chewing. “I have to say I certainly wasn’t expecting that kind of reaction from our other guest. What kind of guy loses his shit when someone says hello?”

“The kind you triple tap and then kick in the head for good measure?” Came Lana’s deadpan reply.

“I won’t argue with that,” Matt chuckled and nodded as he downed another bite of pancakes. “I suppose it’s good to know in the long run that our other guest was never looking for a peaceful option. And I swear if you make some joke about job security I’ll smack you.”

Lana had a mouthful of pancakes at this point and was about to start speaking before stopping to swallow her food. “Speaking of job security, I suppose congratulations are in order, sergeant. Vahlen gave us the green light to return to active duty, and I hear the doctors gave you the go-ahead also. What I want to know is where my promotion is? I was the one who had to chase down a Chryssalid like the damned police.”

“Perhaps it’s something to do with your rampant misuse of XCOM assets for your pranks?”

“Oi, I thought we were past that, Casanova,” Lana’s smirk turned into a flat glare before switching again to her trademark smirk as she looked behind Matt, “Ah, Zhang! Care to join us?”

“That was my intention, yes,” came the polite reply as the Chinese man pulled out a chair beside Matt and sat. His breakfast was a simple bagel and a glass of water. This raised the eyebrows of the other soldiers at the table. He tore off a bite’s worth of the bagel with his fingers and popped it in his mouth before he finally noticed the amount of attention he had garnered from his neighbors. “Old habits tend to die hard.”

“That’s a rather Spartan breakfast, is that part of your habits too?” Lana asked with an inquisitive look.

Zhang tore off a bit of the bagel and took another bite before replying, “I suppose it is, yes.”

“Speaking of habits, I imagine I’m not the only one who’s curious about your background,” Matt asked as soon as he sensed the opportunity. “I don’t mean who you were working for just before joining us, I meant where you got your original training. Civilians don’t carry soldiers across their backs. Civilians don’t stick to cover until suppressing fire can be provided.”

Zhang’s eyes narrowed as Matt continued his evaluation, before he shrugged. “You are very perceptive, sergeant. What would you like to know?”

The moment Zhang spoke the rank; Matt was already waving his hand. “Ranks are mostly relaxed when we’re not deployed; just call me Matt, or Harris. So—“

“Or Casanova,” Lana added, and she earned a brief glare before Matt returned to the topic at hand.

“So,” Matt repeated to regain the initiative, “Where did you get your training? If you don’t want to share that’s fine. I was in the US Army prior to working at XCOM.” He looked leadingly to Lana, who was in the process of jamming a forkful of pancakes in her mouth.

“Thrr Brr,” She tried to explain but the pancakes provided a sufficient blockade to prevent any understandable words through. She quickly swallowed and tried again, “Seabees. US Navy, attached to the Public Works Department.”

Zhang nodded his understanding but Matt didn’t. “Seabees? How the hell does a navy engineer end up as part of a combat unit fighting aliens?” He asked as he made no attempt to mask his disbelief.

“It happens when that navy engineer is attached to a domestic naval installation that came under attack by the invaders and she defended herself with extreme prejudice. I’m assuming that attracted the attention of XCOM, so here I am.” With her explanation complete, Lana’s eyes turned back to Zhang.

Zhang ate another bite of bagel as he considered his words. “I was a part of my country’s Special Operations Forces running counter-terrorism and anti-piracy operations. My time with them was cut short due to an injury that they felt I couldn’t recover from. I did recover, but by then my spot was filled and I had to find employment… elsewhere.”

“Ah, ha. Say no more,” Lana said, before immediately contradicting herself, “So, any interesting operations while you were with them?”

The question was initially answered with a skeptical look before Zhang finally replied, “I did take part in the anti-piracy operation directed by the UN back in 2008.”

“I remember that! What was that like?”

“Boring,” the immediate answer was rewarded with a snort from Lana, “We have much better luck with surgical strikes when targeting pirates, not sitting on a warship. Would you attack a convoy of ships in your little speedboat when there’s a legitimate warship nearby?”

“That’s true enough, I suppose, though you can’t always account for stupid. Back in the desert we were escorting a supply convoy when suddenly this guy comes out waving an axe like he means business,” Matt started to explain. “But since we’re in trucks and he’s on foot he starts getting left in the dust screaming curses and waving that axe.”

“So what did you do?” Zhang asked as he took another bite.

Matt’s response was to grin. “Nothing. He tripped and fell face first onto the pavement and knocked himself out. Never saw that loon again.” The punch-line got Lana grinning and the ghost of a smile with Zhang. “Seriously though, it would seem a bit more logical to make something like Q-ships and mix them in with the usual pirate bait rather than put all your forces in something the pirates will avoid.”

“You seem to be operating under the misunderstanding that those in command know what they’re doing.” Zhang said as he tore off another bite. “Our presence there was just a publicity stunt in the end. Show the world we care rather than putting troops in position to do actual work.”

“Bleh, politics,” Lana frowned, but before she could continue her watch beeped. So did Matt’s, and surprisingly so did Zhang’s. “Oh nuts, Matt and I gotta get ready for his hot date—“

“Jenkins…”

“—and it sounds like you have plans too, Zhang? I suppose we’ll meet up at the firing range or for lunch?”

“Actually,” Zhang answered thoughtfully as he finished his bagel, “I’ll be joining you. I’ve expressed my desire to serve this organization as best I can, so I’ve volunteered to assist with the Stardust Project. Commander Bradford contacted me with the approval just this morning… what?”

Zhang’s pride in his announcement was lost as he noticed the look that both Matt and Lana now shared.

“What?”

------

08:30, 04/30/2015, CORRIDOR B3F

Shaojie Zhang was never one to doubt himself. The closest he had come thus far had been the discussion he had with Commander Bradford as to his intentions for volunteering. To call that conversation comfortable would be…inaccurate.

The chat he now found himself nominally participating in with Lana and Matt was giving him… pause.

“Are you sure you want to volunteer for this, man? This isn’t the work you’re thinking of, I guarantee it,” Matt explained quickly, and Lana was quick to nod. “Seriously man, no one will think less of you for choosing something else to occupy your time.”

“I hold myself to this standard for a reason. You were willing to continue your volunteer work despite your injury, Matt. What would that make me if I didn’t volunteer for the same while being perfectly healthy?” Zhang asked rhetoricaly.

“Sane?” Lana replied quietly but was silenced when Matt elbowed her in the side. She turned to glare at Matt before she cut him off, “Seriously, he doesn’t have such noble and lofty goals. He’s volunteering because he’s chasing a hot piece of tail at the lab.”

“Jenkins…”

Zhang didn’t respond to that bit of news beyond an almost imperceptible narrowing of the eyes. Americans, always mixing business with… personal pursuits, he thought and he felt his respect for the soldier drop just a notch. “I was under the impression that such socialization was frowned upon,” the Chinese soldier added after choosing his words carefully.

“I’m not volunteering because I’m ‘chasing a hot piece of tail’, and as far as I know there’s no rules on fraternization so long as it doesn’t affect security or the effectiveness of the base and its personnel,” Matt huffed as he glared at Lana.

Lana’s grin became predatory as she latched on to Matt’s statement, “Methinks the lady doth protest too much? And you checked the rulebook beforehand to cover your bases? I think she’s rubbing off on youuuuuu~”

“I read the regulations when I joined XCOM, and there is nothing going on!”

This conversation is ridiculous, was the only conclusion that Zhang could come to, and some form of his displeasure must have been recognizable on his face as Lana was quick to notice.

“Ladies love a man with scars, but they hate it when they scowl, Zhang,” She stated, and it was more difficult than Zhang cared to admit to not scowl further, “I imagine Matt’s thankful. I doubt she’ll be your type so there’s no competition for him to worry about.”

“And you presume to know my preferences?” Zhang asked cooly as he masked his irritation. Lana’s flippancy was novel when they were first introduced but that novelty was starting to wear thin.

“Well, you don’t strike me as the kind that likes them short, hairy and ho—“

“JENKINS!” Matt snapped, “Seriously, what the hell happened to the deal we made yesterday? The one where you agreed to stop this crap?”

“It expired this morning when you brought my pranks up. Seriously, you should be thankful. I never gave my brothers five minutes of peace and I gave you almost an entire day,” Lana grinned impishly. “Seriously, the only way to make me stop now is to admit the inevitable and profess your feelings for her, or I will never stop hounding you about it.”

Matt’s response was to simply facepalm as they turned the corner to the Stardust labs. Both guards framing the doorway gave Zhang a wary look after sparing less than a second of attention on Matt or Lana. The other two soldiers stopped and gave Zhang a serious look that quite contrasted their previous joking tones.

“Okay this is it. Last chance to turn back. What you see in there can’t be unseen, and you absolutely cannot talk about it with anyone who isn’t part of the project. Still want in?” Matt asked seriously, and Zhang looked to Lana to see the serious expression mirrored on her face as well.

“Yes, I am certain.” Zhang nodded, and he drank deeply of the significantly more professional atmosphere that he now found himself in.

“…all right then. Now I do have to warn you. There’s someone in there that isn’t like us. Treat her like you would a little sister –“ Matt started but was interrupted by Lana.

“Or girlfriend, if she really is your type. Matt needs a rival to get himself in gear.” And just like that, the professional atmosphere was gone.

“—and you shouldn’t have any problems.” Matt finished with a flat glare at Lana, who simply ignored it. “So, are you ready?”

Zhang nodded and the trio resumed their walk towards the door. Matt and Lana’s badges were swiped through the card reader without much fanfare, but the guards went the whole nine yards to confirm that the third was authorized to be there. I should be used to such suspicions by now, he thought to himself, though he didn’t dwell on it as the door opened and they entered.

The door opened to reveal a small entry room cordoned off from the next area with a plastic curtain to block easy viewing further into the lab while the door was open. Muffled speech could be heard, though it didn’t become clear until Matt pulled back the curtain and stepped inside.

“Ah-loo-mee-nom!” Came a young and accented feminine voice from further in the lab, and Zhang arched an eyebrow.

That voice is far too young to be a scientist or engineer. Perhaps a civilian? He clenched his teeth as another possibility came to him, Perhaps it’s a child that was exposed to the invaders in such a way that needs to be studied. If so that would be… tragic.

“Good morning, Twilight!” Both Matt and Lana said as they stepped past the plastic curtain. A string of language Zhang had never heard before answered them, which only increased his curiosity. He stepped through the curtain after the other two soldiers… and froze.

The lab he now found himself in was dominated by a large table lined with boxes and odd bits of metal and wiring. Two scientists sat on either side of the table as they opened and emptied the boxes and offered the contents to… something. It sat at the head of the table and was varying shades of purple. Its body was a lighter shade while the hair on top of its head was a much darker color but with a pink highlight running down the middle. Also perched in the middle of her forehead and poking through her hair was a horn the same color as the rest of its body.

“Hallo!” It said in accented English as it waved an arm…leg…limb at him and smiled. Its eyes were purple as well and looked at Zhang with unabashed curiosity. The doctor to its right, a short Korean woman, offered a block of some material to it

“Palladium, Pah-lay-dee-um,” The doctor repeated, and it instantly copied her. The block of Palladium then appeared to float out of that doctor’s hand and hover over to the other doctor, who checked a piece of paper on his clipboard before placing the mineral block into an empty box.

“Twilight, we have a new friend who will be visiting us for a while. His name is Shaojie Zhang,” Matt introduced Zhang to it, but he barely registered the words. “Zhang, this is Twilight Sparkle. She’s… an unaffiliated third party to XCOM’s current conflict. No, she isn’t human. Yes, she’s a unicorn, that’s magic she’s using, and you’ll have to forgive her English. She’s trying very hard.”

The other scientist at the table turned to give Zhang an appraising eye. This one was a man in his late forties with gray hair and a slight grin on his face, “Oh dear, I know that look. You had the same look on your face when you first came here, Matt. He doesn’t believe what he’s seeing. I’m Doctor Joel Mills, and my colleague is Kim Ngo. You just missed Moira Vahlen, she’s the research department lead. You’ll recognize her the moment the temperature in the room drops ten degrees.”

“H-Hallo…” It—no, ‘Twilight Sparkle’ said a little bit less confidently as she seemed to recognize the amount of scrutiny that was now being directed her way and was trying to escape it by crouching low and dropping her horse-like ears.

Of all the things Shaojie Zhang was expecting to find when he volunteered…this was not it.

------

It was taking more and more of Twilight’s willpower not to hide under the table with the degree of attention Shaojie Zhang was levying against her. Why doesn’t he say anything? The look on the newcomer’s face was something between shock and wide-eyed horror, and the longer it went on the more uncomfortable she felt.

“Perhaps you can take a quick break from testing all that junk to try a new card game?” Lana said with a winning grin as she produced her deck of cards, and Twilight thanked her lucky stars for that. “It’s a three person game I would play back home. Since Shaojie hasn’t played it yet and he looks like he needs some time to recover from introductions, how about Twily, Matt and I play the first game, then he can decide if he wants to join us.”

“Good! Yes!” Twilight blurted out in English, happy with any excuse to get the focus off of her. She tapped her telekinesis and straightened up the table in a small tornado of boxes and bits of metal before hopping off her chair.

“Uh, Twilight, what…” Joel started to ask, but Twilight cut him off.

“Oh don’t worry! I reboxed all the samples in the boxes they came from then stacked the ones we’ve already tested near the door while the untested samples are stacked by the table! I’ll go and get things set up!” And another burst of magical power teleported Twilight into her habitat, where she gave the entire room a quick once-over to confirm that everything was neat and in order before she realized her mistake. “Wait…I didn’t speak English to Joel! Bad Twilight! You get in a hurry and you make mistakes!”

Before she could berate herself any further the door opened and her friends walked in, followed by a very stunned-looking Zhang. His eyes swept the room and widened further when he reached her growing wall of art.

Rather than dwell on the newcomer’s actions, Twilight teleported herself into her favorite chair and looked to Lana and dredged up what she could in English. “What is the game?” She managed to ask.

“It’s a game called Traps,” Lana said with a smile, and she deliberately took the seat across from Twilight.

Which means Matt has to sit next to me, the only empty seats are to my left and right. Twilight realized, and Lana’s smile turned into a grin as she no doubt understood that Twilight had come to that exact conclusion. I would so banish you to the moon right now. TO THE MOON.

“Unlike previous games, this is all about speed and reaction time and the rules are simple. We divide the deck into thirds and we each start throwing cards down by going counter-clockwise. You alternate colors, red and black. Suits don’t matter.” Lana explained as she began to shuffle the deck.

Matt took his seat to Twilight’s left before asking, “So, you start with red, then I have to throw down a black card? Then Twilight is red, then you’re black, then I’m red, and so on? Sounds simple enough.”

“Ah, but there’s a catch,” Lana corrected, “If you don’t have the color you need, you have to pick up the stack. If you put down the wrong color, you pick up the stack. If you hesitate too long, you pick up the stack. And here’s the tricky part. If two cards of the same number are dropped in a row, the order of our turns is reversed. So if, say, you throw down a six, then Twily throws down a six, then I throw down any card, I have to pick up the stack because it wasn’t my turn. And if you didn’t catch the two sixes and don’t place a card, you have to pick up the stack. Sounds good?”

“Sounds good!” Twilight agreed, again forcing herself to use English. Her eyes watched the cards as they flew out of Lana’s hands in sequence until all the cards were divided.

“All right…let’s go!”

------

11:30, 04/30/2015, STARDUST LABS

Tap.

Tap.

Tap.

Tap.

Tap.

Tap.

Tap.

“Sonovabitch,” Lana grumbled as she jumped the gun and threw a card down after a pair of twos. She collected her new stack of cards, and play resumed.

Tap.

Tap.

Tap.

Tap.

Tap.

Tap.

Tap.

Tap.

Tap.

“Crap,” This time it was Matt who grumbled due to similar circumstances.

Tap.

Tap.

Tap.

Tap.

Tap.

Tap.

Tap.

“I win!” Twilight cheered as her last card hit the table, leaving a stunned Matt and Lana holding the rest of the deck.

“Well, crap,” Lana said with a huff, “I was hoping to get at least one win out of this but it seems it was not meant to be.” She looked over to Zhang, who had been hovering near the door while observing their game. “Hey Zhang! Want to be cut into a game of Liars Cards? It’ll be fuuuuuun.”

Zhang didn’t immediately answer. During the course of the game of Traps he had slowly walked the length of Twilight’s room to scrutinize every one of her drawings before moving to lurk near the door as he watched the furious card game reach its inevitable conclusion. With Lana, Jenkins and Twilight all looking expectantly towards him, he finally relented and stepped forward. The moment he started moving Lana scrambled over to the other chair beside Twilight, leaving the only vacant spot where she had been. Zhang raised an eyebrow at her sudden seating change but didn’t raise the question. “This ‘Liars Cards’ is the same game we played a couple of days ago, yes?”

“Indeed it is, good sir, and everyone here knows the rules. But I’ll let you in on a secret.” Lana leaned forward and grinned, “Twily cheats.”

“What!? No! No cheating!” Twilight objected in somewhat broken English. It seemed that whenever she consciously attempted to use English the translation spell didn’t make an effort to convert the meaning, which led to some hilarious discussions until the unicorn got fed up and started speaking in her own language and thus resuming translation.

“It’s true, she counts cards,” Matt said with a grin, and Twilight whipped around to give him a pout. “So the secret to winning is to cheat more.”

“I was under the impression that this game was all about cheating and not getting caught,” Zhang said tentatively, and his eyes remained glued to Twilight as though she were some sort of monster that might jump over the table and attempt to eat his face.

“That’s exactly it!” Lana grinned and gave a thumbs-up to Zhang. “It’s not cheating unless you get caught!” Her hands became a blur as she dealt the cards to the four players. “Since this is a conversation game, why don’t we choose an easy topic? What was school like for all of you? Also, one ace,” She dropped a card and looked to Zhang.

“School was…typical. Nothing unusual at all. Two twos,” Zhang said slowly as he dropped a pair of cards on the table.

“One three,” Matt started, though his answer came after a moment’s hesitation at Zhang’s non-answer, “I had the pleasure of growing up in the Midwest, with absolutely nothing to do except get drunk and high and in trouble. When the army recruiters came around he actually smiled and patted me on the back when I told him that I didn’t have a criminal record for alcohol, drugs or grand theft.”

“Grand theft? What’s there to steal in the Midwest?” Lana asked with an arched eyebrow.

“Well, farmers would leave their tractors in the fields a lot of the time, and the troublemakers I grew up with thought it was quite a thrill to steal them,” Matt elaborated, and upon seeing Lana’s screwed-up expression he continued, “Hey, don’t ask me to explain what the meatheads were thinking. It was the Midwest, there was nothing else to do.

“One four!” Twilight declared in English the moment Matt finished. “School is fun! I’m good at school.”

“And what about your school friends?” Matt asked after spotting the pattern of discussion being broken.

The unicorn’s expression became strained just a bit before she added, “Didn’t have school friends. Too much studying to do. I had family, Cadance too. That was enough.”

“Two fives,” Lana dropped the cards on the table to save Twilight from having to discuss that any further. “I was all kinds of trouble in school, though only for my brothers. Had to keep them all in line and out of real trouble. Plus no one bothered me too much because they knew my rowdy mob would tear them to pieces if they caused any trouble to ‘Big Sis’.”

“One six, and I wasn’t aware of your family situation,” Zhang added as he opened up just a bit, “I was an only child so things were rather quiet back home.”

“One seven. I just had a sister to deal with, though she was a lot of trouble. Of course once she started growing up she realized she needed her big brother to scare off unwanted attention. Never had so much fun in my life when I’d come home on leave just to hunt down and give a stern lecture to the boys who wouldn’t take no for an answer,” Matt’s smile became somewhat sanguine; “I can be quite intimidating if I want to be.”

Twilight was in the process of dropping her card when Lana hijacked the conversation, “You mentioned you had a big brother, Twily?” When the unicorn nodded, the female soldier grinned, “So, did you ever need him to chase off any ill-mannered colts who decided to pursue you beyond what was considered socially acceptable?”

“No.” Came the flat reply followed by an equally flat glare from Twilight, though she was blushing slightly. I don’t know where you’re going with this but I don’t like it, the look said.

Too bad! Lana’s smile replied.

“So he had to chase off ill-mannered mares inst—“ And like a switch being flipped, Lana’s words cut off. She kept talking but no further sounds could be heard.

“Thank you, Twily,” Matt said with a theatrically exaggerated sigh while unintentionally using her nickname. “I just wish you were around all the time so you could do that whenever she opens her mouth.”

Twilight’s response was to hide her face behind her cards and wait for Zhang to speak next.

------

13:00, 04/30/2015, STARDUST LABS

Twilight let out a sigh of relief as Matt, Zhang and most importantly Lana left her habitat.

One of these days… straight to the moon, Lana! Twilight thought and her sigh became a huff. Still…

Lana had given Twilight a lot to think about and in between testing Twilight coincidentally had a lot of time to think. Every time Lana talked she poked at those thoughts and made Twilight think even more. It was horribly embarrassing every time but she always felt a little better afterward.

Twilight’s good mood was interrupted when the door opened to reveal Joel walking in with her English language tablet under one arm and a smile on his face. “I’ve got something special for you, Twilight. We were actually waiting until your English proficiency was high enough, and we’ve agreed that now is the perfect time.”

“Oh? What is it? A book? I’m afraid I still need to finish the book Charles gave me.”

“Oh, this is like a book,” Joel said with a smile as he flipped the tablet out from under his arm and turned it on. The familiar image on the tablet’s ‘desktop’ appeared, as well as some new icons that she had never seen before. “We’ve updated the tablet with a limited connection to something we call the ‘internet’. The internet is a place where just about any information can be found.”

Twilight must have betrayed her excitement at the prospect, so Joel smiled and continued, “Don’t get your hopes up too much, as I said there are significant restrictions in place. The internet is a place filled with information but not all information is meant for everyone. If you come across something that tells you it can’t be accessed then I’d recommend you ask one of us about it or move on to another subject. Alright?”

“I suppose that’s understandable,” Twilight agreed after a long moment. “So how do I use it?”

------

WARNING: Access to this file is RESTRICTED to personnel with TOP SECRET clearance or above. Attempts to access this file without authorization will be reviewed and be grounds for TERMINATION AND/OR PROSECUTION. Distribution of this file may only be done with authorization from Cmdr. David Bradford, failure to provide authorization will result in TERMINATION AND/OR PROSECUTION.

Personal Notes: (Dr. Kim Ngo)

The resources provided for Twilight’s language learning program were provided at the behest of Dr Shen in order to placate Twilight, though I admit I was extremely curious as to her capacity for learning a new language from an entirely new world. When it became apparent that her interest in our language was more than just a polite gesture and a serious attempt, further plans were made to accommodate this hunger for knowledge. I pitched the idea of limited internet access for Twilight to Dr Mills and he agreed tentatively, pending Moira’s approval. I was able to pitch the idea successfully to Dr. Vahlen by stating that we might learn more about Twilight based on what she researches when she thinks she isn’t being observed. Using that logic, Vahlen agreed and Twilight was given limited access to the internet. Below is the search history for April 30th.

After consulting with Dr. Hagane, the following criteria were flagged as restricted:

*The harm and slaughter of quadrupeds.
*Depictions of warfare and suffering.
*Social and political issues.
*Detailed explanations of technology.
*Examination of military procedures.
*Religious materials.
*Historical matters that fulfill any of the previous criteria.
*Sex.

The following criteria were flagged as restricted per Dr. Vahlen's request:

*Detailed Maps and Geography of the Earth
*Search attempts to locate the Solar System or other locations in the Milky Way

EDIT:

Just reviewed the surveillance footage of the time she was searching. The last text string was apparently input when she face-planted on the tablet. Can’t say I blame the poor girl.

End Notes


INTERNET SEARCH HISTORY FOR TWILIGHT SPARKLE (04/30/2013)

New Search:

>>Earth Moon
>>Earth Moon Images
>>Earth Moon landings
>> Youtube Video footage of moon landings
>>Bookmarked previous search results
>>Space Race
>>Sputnik
>>Cold War (RESTRICTED TOPIC)

Search Closed

New Search:

>>Earth Star System
>>Solar System
>>Sol
>>Solar System Planets
>>Youtube documentary on Solar System Creation
>>Milky Way
>>Solar System Location in Milky Way
(SEARCH TERMINATED, SUSPICIOUS ACTIVITY)

Search Closed

New Search:

>>Religions
>>Christianity (RESTRICTED TOPIC)
>>Christianity Devil (RESTRICTED TOPIC)
>>Christianity God (RESTRICTED TOPIC)
>>Popular Depictions of the Devil
>>Youtube audio of Charlie Daniels ‘Devil Went Down to Georgia’
>>Deals with the Devil
>>Faust
>>Bookmarked previous search results
>>Bible (RESTRICTED TOPIC)

Search Closed

New Search:

>>Invaders (RESTRICTED TOPIC)
>>Alien Invaders (RESTRICTED TOPIC)

New Search:

>>Music
>>Good Music
>>Youtube audio of Pachelbel’s Canon in D
>>Bookmarked previous search results
>>Youtube audio of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata
>>Bookmarked previous search results
>>Youtube audio of Wagner’s Flight of the Valkyries
>>Bookmarked previous search results
>>Fun music
>>Youtube audio of Super Affection
>>Bookmarked previous search results
>>Music Genres
>>Musical Theater
>>Bookmarked previous search results

Search Closed

New Search:

>>Magic
>>Popular Depictions of Magic
>>Harry Potter (Aborted Search)
>>Magical Creatures
>>Unicorn
>>Pegasus
>>Alicorn
>>Dragon
>>Earth Pony
>>Ponies
>>Horse
>>Horse Breeds
>>Famous Horses

Search Closed

New Search:

(NO SEARCH SUBMITTED, KEY LOG ENABLED)

>>Human Relationships (DELETED)
(5.6 seconds idle)
>>Human Attrac (DELETED)
(7.2 seconds idle)
>>How to (DELETED)
(2 seconds idle)
>>pjIOSDJFodijpVIOSJDPivjpIOSDjvpoisjvpIdjvois (DELETED)

Search Closed

------

23:55, 04/30/2015, SITUATION ROOM

David Bradford paced in front of the monitor as he waited for the Council transmission. He wasn’t a person who was prone to anxiety, but the events of this month would either make or break him. Capturing an intact alien device, capturing a non-hostile alien that isn’t affiliated with the invaders, several successful missions, relatively few casualties… and housing an alien within the base that resulted in a serious security breach with no meaningful breakthroughs to show for it.

Bradford allowed himself a moment of weakness while in the privacy of the Situation Room as he grumbled and pinched the bridge of his nose. What’s the worst that could happen, they could fire me? He thought sarcastically. More likely stuffed in a cell for the duration of the war or a bullet to the head to make things easy.

He stopped his pacing and turned to face the monitor, and it turned on with a hum. The backlit silhouette of the Council Representative slowly came into focus in the same position and posture he was always in: sitting ramrod straight in front of a desk with his hands clasped before him. Bradford knew what he was going to say before the words even left his mouth.

Good evening, Commander,” The Representative started with his instantly recognizable gravelly voice, “The Council has reviewed your performance thus far and they are extremely impressed with your results, and that is not a comment that this Council makes lightly. As such, additional assets and funding are being made available to you. Use them wisely.

“Thank you, sir,” Bradford said graciously, and he waited for the elephant to march into the room.

The Council has also taken extreme interest in the subject of the Stardust Project. Are these reports…accurate?

“Yes sir, they are,” Bradford nodded before continuing, “The subject of the Stardust Project was captured during Operation Hammerhead, and is a willing participant in the testing currently under way in Stardust.”

A long moment of silence passed as the Council Representative read something on his desk. “I also see that despite this willingness to cooperate, no breakthroughs have been made in unraveling the mechanics of its abilities. It also demonstrates new abilities at will despite the research team’s efforts to catalog its every capability with the ‘soft’ approach.”

It took a significant amount of effort for Bradford not to grimace. A blind and deaf man could tell where this conversation is heading. “That is correct, sir. Due to the unprecedented nature of this creature, we felt it best to earn its cooperation with a gentle approach as opposed to our traditional methods. Testing is still ongoing that may lead to a breakthrough on replicating its abilities.”

The Council Representative remained respectfully silent as Bradford explained before he gave his orders, “The Council understands and approves of the actions taken thus far with this subject, but it is also felt that more drastic measures need to be taken. We also agree that this specimen is far too valuable to undergo an interrogation by Doctor Vahlen. A special holding facility has been prepared in the Argentina facility that can resist the amount of force this subject can project, and experts are being acquired to…question this subject more thoroughly while leaving little lasting physical damage.

As always, we will respect your authority in this matter. If you feel the approach and measures currently in place are sufficient, then we will support that decision. If you feel no more meaningful discoveries can be made or discoveries are not apparent in the future, we strongly encourage you take this option.”

“I understand. I will need to consult with the research team for their opinions,” Bradford replied after choosing his words carefully enough not to paint himself into a corner.

Good luck, commander. And remember, we will be watching.”

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