• 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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Lessons

WATERS OF THE NORTH ATLANTIC QUICKLY GAINING REPUTATION RIVALING THE BERMUDA TRIANGLE AS SEVERAL PLANES ENTER THE AREA AND DISAPPEAR WITHOUT A TRACE. WHEN QUESTIONED, NATO SPOKESMEN NEITHER CONFIRMED NOR DENIED THE POSSIBILITY OF ALIEN INVOLVEMENT.

AMATEUR ASTRONOMERS LOSE PUBLIC FACE WHEN REPORTS OF WELL-DOCUMENTED STARS MOVING IN THE SKY COULD NOT BE PROVEN. VIDEO EVIDENCE OF SUCH CELESTIAL MOVEMENT DEBUNKED AS THE WORK OF FAULTY CAMERA LENSES OR HEAT EMISSIONS FROM NEARBY PLANES.

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08:00, 05/15/2015, MESS HALL

I don’t think I’ve ever felt this isolated, Matt mused to himself as he poked at his scrambled eggs while glancing at Lana. One second of eye contact was all he needed to confirm his suspicion that she felt the same. Then again, we were warned.

Since Bradford’s meeting with the Strike team leaders, both Lana and Matt had recieved rather frigid treatment from the other soldiers in varying degrees. The rookies of Strike One were none the wiser, and all welcomed the unexpected return of Jenkins back in the active lineup. Lieutenant Dryzimski had put just a bit of professional distance from the two soldiers even though he had already been aware of most of the earthshaking developments. Similar reactions were apparent with the other team leaders and a corresponding amount of cold shoulder could now be found from anyone outside of Strike One or the Stardust project.

Bradford had told them that these events were going to occur. Both soldiers were too shocked by recent revelations to protest.

I suppose we’ve been taking the world-shattering developments acceptably, though some are coping better than others, Matt thought sourly as he spared a glance towards Zhang, who had also been rather frigid to both Lana and Matt. He’s always been a bit cold and distant but he’s brought things to a new level. All we did was try to explain the possibility that he might have the same ‘gifts’ as the rest of us… A burst of laughter from further down Strike One’s table shook Matt from his troubles, and he turned to see the rest of the team participating in what was becoming something of a new tradition for Strike One.

“So, me and the boys have been playing hide and go seek with the innies through this shanty town, when we think we’ve got them pinned,” Robert Sachs explained as he maneuvered his fork through the maze of hashbrowns on his plate. “Lieutenant gives the order to flush them with grenades and we’d hose them down with bullets. Brilliant idea, right?”

Most of the group nodded, but Jack Finch interjected, “Let me guess, things didn’t go as planned?”

Sachs grinned sincerely though the expression was a bit gruesome when combined with the scars on his jaw and neck, “Bright lad, catching the pattern. Rule number one is that nothing goes as planned. So, like I said, brilliant idea! So brilliant that the innies decided to do the same thing. I pull my pin and step out of cover to toss, and I see one of the bloody terrorists doing the same thing. We eye each other and the most awkward second in the history of TAG came and went.”

“So what then?” Lana asked, eager to be involved in the good mood of the group. She wagged her gloved hands towards the group to motion for them to continue.

“Well, after we stared at each other like FNGs caught with our pants down I tossed my grenade right at him. And the bloody wanker tried to do the same thing to me. Both grenades connected in mid air and dropped between us like a pair of stones. I dove back into cover and that poor clod wasn’t quite fast enough.” Sachs finished his story and was rewarded with knowing grins and a few chuckles.

“I’m sorry but I call bullshit,” Jack said while shaking his head.

“It’s one of the many benefits of old age, son,” Sachs replied with a grin. “You tend to see a lot of unbelievable stuff over the years.”

Matt speared a bite’s worth of his eggs before waving the impaled food at the Australian. “Oh trust me, you’ll see some unbelievable stuff working here. It’s a pity that we’ll probably die of old age before any of it is declassified.”

“I suspect that old age will not be a concern for any of us,” Zhang said as he finished the last bite of his bagel and left the table.

The mood of the table dipped for just a moment before Sachs laughed. It was a raspy thing that somehow managed to inspire smiles as well as sympathetic winces from everyone within earshot. “You say death by old age, I say challenge accepted.”

I should try and talk with Zhang and smooth out whatever is causing him problems. He’s never been this abrasive. Matt thought as he watched the departing soldier’s back. As Zhang disappeared through the door, Dryzimski entered and caught sight of Matt and Lana and made his way to where they sat.

“Matt, Lana, could you both follow me please?” the lieutenant asked as he approached the table. The rest of the table fell silent as all eyes fell on the pair. Dryzimski looked up and gave a reassuring smile to the group. “Don’t worry, kids. Just getting the old gang all together for a chat is all.”

With suspicion sufficiently deflected, the lieutenant looked to the two soldiers in question and they rose to follow without a word. They exited the mess hall and went through a series of corridors and staircases with only silence passing between them. Matt caught Lana’s eye and shook his head when she started to ask a question. Dryzimski stopped at a door, and motioned for the two soldiers to step through.

Several other soldiers were inside the room sitting on chairs along the walls. It’s all the Strike leaders, Matt tamped down on the uneasy feeling that the realization inspired in him. His eyes quickly noted Captain Fujikawa from Strike Six, Captain Jarvis from Strike Eight, as well as a half dozen lieutenants plus Dryzimski. All of them held expressions ranging from glares to suspicion to disinterest. Just as predicted.

The door slid shut and Captain Fujikawa finally broke the silence. “I suspect you realize why we’re meeting like this.”

Matt nodded and as much as he tried he couldn’t force himself to look to Lana. His eyes were locked forward and his posture was ramrod straight. The last time I was in a room like this things didn’t end well.

“We were all at Bradford’s briefing, so we know you’ve been… exposed to the alien—”

“Stop wasting time,” Lieutenant Kato spat while he alternated his glare between Matt and Lana, “What I want to know is how long we’ve been keeping an alien alive and in the base. I sure as hell know that I’m not risking my neck or Strike Seven so some furry freak can live here like we’re a hotel. We’re here to--”

“Thank you for voicing your opinion,” Fujikawa started but Kato simply talked over her.

“—kill every last one of these aliens.”

Thank you, Lieutenant, that will be all,” Fujikawa spat before turning back to the two soldiers in question. “I’ll be blunt. We all had some concerns that were brought up after the briefing with Bradford. We are hoping that you will be able to assist us in laying these concerns to rest.”

“I’m not certain how much we can discuss, captain,” Matt said slowly but his head jerked to the side when Lana stepped forward.

“Ah, I think I see where this is going,” She said in a tone that Matt unfortunately recognized. “You want to know what we know. Well here’s the long and short of it. The alien is just a scared little girl who found herself far away from home. It’s as simple as that.”

Looks went between each of the Strike leaders before Uther of Strike Two scoffed and asked, “You can’t be serious.”

“I certainly am. She wants to help us and I, for one, believe her. Matt does too.”

Matt aborted all attempts to get Lana’s attention as all eyes simultaneously settled on him. “I am forced to agree. She’s just a naive kid who loves books and learning and helping her friends.”

“You cannot be serious!” Weiss shouted. “It is an alien. These things are our enemies because they are trying to kill us all. Do I need to show you the armor camera shots of one of them using the body of a child as a shield to remind you what we’re up against? I’m not sure I can trust someone to watch my back that’s so comfortable around an alien.”

“Is that so?” Lana ground out and this time Matt did turn to look at her. She pulled the glove off her left hand before jerking the zipper open for her jacket. In one fluid motion she tore off her jacket and brought her prosthetic arm forward for all to see. Dryzimski had been aware of the prosthetic but this was the first time the rest of the teams had laid eyes upon it. Some recoiled while others simply stared but the silence was universal for all of them.

“You all see this? This wonder of human engineering? She designed it. If it wasn’t for that alien, I’d be a damned cripple for the rest of my life. You know those ARC grenades you used?” Lana asked while pointing an accusatory metal finger at Weiss, “She helped with those. Your shiny new lance rifles? It was her. Would one of the aliens we’re fighting have helped us with any of that?” A long moment of silence passed while Lana simply glared at the assembled room.

“Thank you, Corporal, for voicing your views,” Fujikawa said diplomatically, and Matt could see Lana clench her jaw to stave off whatever response she was going to spit. “We are simply trying to ascertain the risks of exposing our soldiers to this creature. One five second video clip that might have been chosen specifically to disarm any concern does little to put our minds at ease.” A murmur of assent passed through the assembled leaders though Dryzimski remained silent.

“Commander Bradford described the source of your ‘gifts’ as exposure to the alien, but what exactly does exposure entail?” Captain Jarvis asked slowly, “I’m all for any advantage we can get against the aliens but I don’t know if the troops could be persuaded to participate if such exposure is… uncomfortable.” The last word came after a moment of hesitation and gesturing with his hands to indicate something rather unpleasant.

“Gentlemen,” Matt said after clearing his throat, “I think there’s a way to satisfy your concerns adequately.”

------

10:07, 05/15/2015, STARDUST LAB

This song… Twilight thought as she gave another glance at the tablet that was blaring at her. I love it. Equestrian sciences are aware of a lot of elements but some of these are completely new to me! I hope they don’t mind me taking a bit of a break to take notes on some of the elements that we haven’t yet discovered yet. Though I’ll have to ask Charles about some of these.

Twilight looked back from the tablet to the paperwork in front of her, which included a sketch of the humans 'Periodic Table of Elements', and a corresponding graph of the physical elements that she was aware of from Equestria. She had been able to match about a third of the elements with ones she was familiar with as she continued her research by researching the common usages of each element. A small collection of sketches was also slowly piling up as she recalled each of the materials that she tested at the start of the month in the search for Arcanite.

The pleasant ping of the door bell interrupted her concentration, but after a moment’s consideration she shrugged and pushed away from the desk. I could probably use a break. A quick tap of her tablet paused the music before she called out, “Come in!”

The door opened and Matt stepped through with a smile. “Good morning, Twilight, how are you this morning?”

“I’m fine, but I should be asking you the same!” Twilight replied quickly. “Are things getting any easier for you? And how’s Lana doing? Have the headaches gotten better?”

“I’m adjusting. I just needed time to get used to things, I guess,” Matt nodded before heading towards the table and sitting down. “Lana’s getting better too. I’m pretty sure she’ll be by later today to say hello. What are you up to now?”

“Taking a break! I finished the rough draft for a special project last night so I sent that off to Charles before starting some research on the elements,” Twilight looked the desk and pulled several items over to the guest table with her telekinesis. “I’m familiar with some of them but there are others that I’ve never heard of. I was planning to wait and ask Charles about some of them but now that you’re here could I ask you some questions?”

“Well, I don’t--”

“Great! The material I was able to access was limited to several common elements like carbon and iron but there’s several ones that are completely new to me and I can’t seem to get much information on the others,” Twilight stopped mid-explanation when she saw the doubtful look on Matt’s face. “What?”

“Twilight, let me just stop you right there. Science wasn’t my best subject in school, so I’m afraid you might have to wait for Charles,” Matt said, and he gave a helpless chuckle when Twilight pouted. His humor eventually gave way to a serious expression. “I did have something I wanted to ask you about, though. Well, more like show you.”

“And what would that be?” Twilight asked with an arched eyebrow. Where’s this coming from? He looks worried, she couldn’t help but observe when he pulled out a small coin from one of his pockets. Twilight’s eyes went from the coin to Matt’s face as he held the coin in the flat of his palm. She opened her mouth to ask another question when the coin began to quiver, then rise slowly out of his hand. It hovered uncertainly before dropping back into his palm.

“I can’t get much more than that out of light objects. Apparently I have more control while in combat, as well as other abilities—”

“WHAT?” Twilight nearly screamed as her eyes darted between Matt’s face and the coin. “That’s magic! You never said you could do magic! How are you doing that without a horn for projection? Do you use some kind of focus or an aria? You mentioned other abilities? What else can you do? How do you do it?” The questions came tumbling out in rapid succession as Twilight tried to digest this newest development. Dozens of theories vied for supremacy in her mind like a gigantic battle royale.

“Uh, Twilight?”

Matt’s hesitant question snapped Twilight out of her rampant theorizing. Wait, when did Matt get so close? She asked herself, only to realize in her zeal for answers she had hopped up onto the table was currently looming precariously over Matt. The human had leaned back in the chair in an attempt to buy himself room and was looking decidedly nervous with Twilight being so close and showing no signs of halting her advance.

The snap of teleportation was almost deafening in her ears as she retreated as quickly as she could back to her seat. “Sorry! It’s just so unexpected—wait, what I meant was I didn’t think this was possible! Do you know how you’re doing it? Tell me everything! Is this happening with anyone else?” Again the questions were posed in rapid succession as Twilight tried to not thing about how close the two of them had just been.

“Well, as to how I’m doing it, I really don’t know. I was honestly hoping you might be able to help me out with that. As for others I know of at least two. Lana’s been showing signs of having abilities, and Commander Bradford has as well,” Matt said with a light smile.

“Commander Bradford? As in the ‘Commander’ of this place?” Twilight blurted out quickly, and when Matt nodded her mind again was overrun with questions. When he asked me all those questions earlier, he was really asking about if his friends could use magic! And if Lana has the ability then the headaches she was having are likely due to exertion. As she reviewed the conversation she had with the Commander a disturbing thought came to mind. He asked if I could design a device to block magical abilities. I just assumed they would be used against those things that want to hurt everyone, but what if I was wrong?

“We were hoping that you might be able to show us how to use these abilities more efficiently and there may be others who may join us. So, do you think you can teach us how to use magic?”

All nervousness flew from Twilight and a wide grin spread across her face. “Think I can? I know I can! I’ve been studying it for most of my life so I’m the most qualified to do it! You mentioned there might be others? Do you know how many will be joining us?”

“Not yet, I’m afraid,” Matt shrugged, “It’ll be Lana and me for certain but I won’t know the exact number for a few days. Well, I hate to just drop in and dump all this on you and then leave again, but I’m afraid my schedule is rather tight today. Sorry.”

“Oh, no worries!” Twilight lied just a little, “We all have our parts to play, right?”

------

10:20, 05/15/2015, STARDUST LABS

Matt exited Twilight’s habitat and out of the lab entirely before turning down the corridor to his right. He passed several other personnel in the hallway before ascending a staircase to the briefing rooms in the barracks. Matt didn’t bother knocking as he pushed into the room to reveal the Strike team leaders all clustered around a monitor. His view was blocked but he didn’t have to look to know what it showed. An increasingly familiar song about the periodic table of elements was blaring from its speakers.

“Gentlemen, I trust that your concerns about the nature of our guest have been addressed?” Matt asked the assembled officers, but not a one reacted to the question. The only movement came from Lana, who gave him a nod and thumbs up. “Well then, if there are no other concerns…” Again, no response was apparent as all seemed enraptured with the monitor and what was shown in it. He waited a moment longer before turning and heading back out of the briefing room.

“Have their concerns been addressed?”

Matt had just stepped out of the briefing room before he heard the question, and he nearly jumped out of his skin to see the person asking it was none other than Bradford. “I believe so, sir. Things progressed just as you predicted. I don’t know if this will smooth out all of their problems with this but I think the big ones are out of the way.”

“Very good,” Bradford said as he turned to leave, though he stopped when Matt asked another question.

“Did you really predict this happening, sir?” Matt asked uncertainly, “I mean, did your foresight allow you to see this confrontation between Lana, myself and the Strike leaders?”

“No, it didn’t,” Bradford answered without turning around. “I’ve been in various commands long enough to anticipate how subordinates react in certain situations. I could order them to participate in this program and not give them any reason. I could not answer any of their questions and they would still have followed my orders. But they would have doubts. If I told them exactly what you did, they would worry I was holding something back or only showing what I wanted them to see. I suspect they said as much, right?” Before Matt could agree, Bradford continued, “Good work, Sergeant. I’ll be expecting a report from you once your lessons begin on how to control your gift.”

“Understood, sir.”

------

12:34, 05/15/2015, EA REACTOR

“Status updates, gentlemen,” Shen announced through the public address system in the reactor’s control booth. A half dozen engineers scrambled around one of the reactor cylinders and were busy attaching what appeared to be a large ring around the outer edge of the cylinder’s base. A long moment passed while the engineers continued their frenzied pace before all of them took a step back from the reactor.

One engineer turned to the control booth and tapped his headset. “Installation is complete on cylinder five. Five’s startup is scheduled for approximately fifteen seconds from now.”

“Very good. Testing will begin ten seconds after cylinder startup. Please clear the chamber.”

The engineers complied, and a few joined Shen in the control booth. All showed signs of nervousness as the reactor cylinder in question began to power up. “Ten, nine, eight,” Shen counted down as he reached for a button on the freshly installed console beside the main control kiosk in the control room. “Three, two, one.” The elderly engineer held his breath and pressed the button.

The ring around the reactor cylinder flashed and the glow of energized Elerium vanished instantly. After checking and double checking the readings from his console, Shen allowed himself to grin as he turned to the other engineers. “Congratulations, gentlemen. The test was completely successful. Report to the foundry to assist with fabrication of the other devices. Thanks again for all your hard work.”

The assembled workers nodded and turned to exit the control booth, but they all stepped aside when the door opened to reveal Commander Bradford.

“Charles, I hear you have good news for me,” He stated as much as asked as he stepped into the room, and he didn’t so much as spare a glance to the other engineers as they took the chance to leave.

“Ah, yes,” Shen said with a smile as he indicated towards the reactor on the other side of the viewing glass. “We completed small scale testing on the Rule Breaker project earlier this morning as a proof of concept, and we have just successfully tested a large scale version with the Ea reactor. At the very least, we now have a reliable way of shutting down the reactor that won’t involve the unnecessary loss of Elerium or the lives of engineers.”

“How does it work?” Bradford asked.

“Twilight was very verbose on that subject. The device, when activated, interrupts the collection of energy from the field. Any spellwork currently being channeled is interrupted, and any further attempts to cast spells are negated. Specifically, the device hijacks the energy that is being gathered for the spell and simply returns it to the field unused so long as the device is active.”

“And the wearable versions I requested?”

“Ah, yes,” Shen nodded while looking uncomfortable. He reached under the console and retrieved a suitcase. As he placed the case on the table and opened it, he explained, “These are the current prototypes that are meant to be worn. Activation and deactivation is achieved by depressing the button on the side. The principles are the s—what are you doing?” Shen’s explanation was interrupted when Bradford walked up and slipped one of the watch-like devices around his left wrist. “We haven’t begun testing with living specimens yet!”

Before any further objection could be registered, Bradford tapped the button on the device and let out a long, drawn-out sigh. Shen held his breath and looked from the device to Bradford’s face, and for the first time noticed several signs of fatigue. His face was pale, and bags were showing under his eyes. When his sigh finally reached its end and he reopened his eyes, Shen could see they were bloodshot and drooping.

“Are you all right?”

Bradford focused dully on Shen before replying a moment later. “Fine. I’m fine. Keep up the good work.” Without another word he turned and left the control booth.

------

08:25, 05/20/2015, BARRACKS

“Are you sure about this?” Lana asked with a hint of uncertainty as she stood beside Matt in the commons area of the Barracks. “Perhaps it would be better to introduce them slowly to some of this information rather than dumping it all on them at once?”

“I’m afraid Bradford thinks otherwise, and I’m inclined to agree. It’s best for the ones who are showing signs of the gift to be caught early and trained rather than having them stumble upon it when they might not be prepared for the consequences,” Matt answered quickly. “I suppose we should be thankful the first class is going to be only five, including us. I can barely imagine what it’d be like having to manage dozens of soldiers who aren’t aware of what they’re getting into. Once Vahlen gets the testing equipment done we might have that many.”

“I just hope they play nice, or I might have to take them down to the PT room for some hand-to-hand training instead,” Lana grinned wickedly.

“I don’t think Bradford would appreciate you breaking soldiers before they’ve had a chance to go out and fight, Lana,” Matt said with a chuckle. “Still, I don’t think there will be a problem. Once they get over their initial shock I think they’ll come around. We did. So did Zhang, after a while.”

“Speaking of Zhang, do you know what’s been eating him lately? I haven’t seen him crack a smile in… well, ever, but his scowl is more pronounced. You would think he’d be happier with the possibilities of having superpowers, y’know?” Lana sighed dramatically. “I guess there’s no pleasing some people.”

Matt couldn’t resist a chuckle at the dour man’s expense, though any further conversation was halted when three other soldiers entered the commons and made their way to Matt and Lana. The most noticeable of the pack was a square-jawed and buzz-cut monster of a man with at least six and a half feet of pure muscle. The second was a Hispanic man of average height and build. The third was Captain Fujikawa herself.

Ah, they’re all from Strike Six. Matt realized once he recognized the diminutive captain. “So glad you all could make it,” Matt said affably to the newcomers while motioning for them to follow. “If you’ll follow me to the cargo elevators, we’ll get started. Captain Fujikawa knows a bit about why you’re here, but I expect you two don’t.”

Both of the men shook their heads, so Matt continued, “I don’t know the exact mechanics of it, but both of you have shown the potential for certain extraordinary abilities, and we are now going to speak with an expert who will teach us how to better harness these abilities.” The group went through several corridors before finally stopping at the elevators on the far side of the barracks complex. “I do have to warn you though, what you see during training cannot be discussed with anyone that is not part of this group. So, if you have any doubts or second thoughts, now is the time to back out.”

The elevator door opened and no one showed signs of bowing out, so the sergeant motioned for the group to enter the elevator. Once all the soldiers were inside he entered as well and pushed the button for the surface.

“Who exactly is this ‘expert’? And what abilities are we talking about?” One of the soldiers asked.

“I’m afraid I don’t want to spoil the surprise as to what we’ll be learning, Mister Rodriguez,” Matt said after glancing momentarily at the soldier’s name badge. “The expert is also quite unique. She’s…”

“She’s a little girl that comes up to about your waist,” Lana interrupted with a smile. “She’s also extremely sensitive, so be sure to be on your best behavior.”

“…right, that. She’s very young, and despite her outward appearance she’s just like us on the inside. Please keep that in mind when introductions are made.” Matt finished diplomatically, and he could see out of the corner of his eye that Lana was smiling serenely but her fists were clenching and unclenching in time with her breath.

The next question was asked by the giant, who spoke with a Russian accent whose ID tag said ‘Y Romalov’. “Why do we have this child? From what I understand any survivors we rescue are returned to their countries once they are cleared for it.”

“That question will answer itself shortly,” Matt answered with a smile as the elevator reached the surface. “Before you judge this expert too harshly, I’d like you to keep in mind that this expert has been helping us for almost as long as she’s been here.”

“Oh ye of little faith,” Rodriguez said with a chuckle to try and relieve the growing tension in the elevator. “We might be soldiers, but we’re not monsters. I don’t think anyone here would do anything to bully a kid. It’s not like she’s an alien, right?”

Matt could only grin at the other soldier’s poor choice of words as the elevator doors opened to reveal the mostly empty warehouse. The eyes of the soldiers were immediately drawn to two twenty-foot cargo containers that appeared to be suspended mid-air in fields of purple energy. Two of the soldiers in the elevator car weren’t shocked by the sight, one was forewarned but still surprised, while the last two could only stand and gape.

“You may lower the containers, Twilight,” Vahlen’s voice could be heard from the side. “Total combined weight of the two fully loaded containers was over a hundred tons. Do you not feel any strain?”

Here it comes, Matt thought as the attention of the newcomers whipped to the side to see Doctor Vahlen and Twilight standing to the side.

Twilight smiled energetically though Matt could see some signs of effort as the two containers lowered back down onto the concrete, “Just a bit. Simple lifting isn’t too hard, though as weight increases so does the energy required.”

“Do you know your maximum potential lift weight?” Vahlen asked curiously before her gaze flicked up to catch sight of the soldiers entering the warehouse. “Ah, it seems our guests have arrived. My questions can wait until later.”

“Good morning, Twilight,” Both Matt and Lana said in unison, and they couldn’t help but smile at the synchronicity as well as the smile Twilight returned to them.

“Good morning! I hope you two are ready to learn because I’m really excited about teaching! Though I am a little worried about how I’m supposed to teach you if you don’t have much practice in doing magic already. Most unicorns have a basic grasp of how to form and channel spells before they start to specialize but…oh, I didn’t see your friends there!” Twilight said as she craned her neck around Matt and Lana to catch sight of the three humans that had frozen near the elevator. “Hello! My name is TwilightSparkle…”

Matt glanced back to see the three soldiers frozen near the elevator and he could almost read exactly what was going through their minds. Both Rodriguez and the Russian had their knees slightly bent with their right feet back, and their right hands were grasping at their hips in an attempt to draw side arms that weren’t there. Fujikawa stood ramrod straight and her arms forcefully at her sides, but Matt could see the muscles in her right arm tensing in a subconscious reaction similar to the other two soldiers.

Don’t stop smiling, Twilight. Matt thought as he saw that she recognized the variations of panic that the new humans were displaying, “Ah, yes, I suppose introductions are in order. These are some of our friends that might have the same potential that we do. The first is Captain Yumiko Fujikawa, next is Mister Rodriguez and last is Mister Romalov.”

“Hello!” Twilight tried again in a valiant effort to stay upbeat in the face of the newcomers who were finally realizing just what situation they were now in. “My name is Twilight Sparkle, and I’m here to teach you all about magic. I’ve been studying the subject my entire life and I’m simply thrilled that I have the opportunity to share my expertise with you all! I honestly can’t say what you’ll be able to do after our classes, but I can’t wait to see what happens!”

Twilight’s smile became positively beatific as she finished her speech and took a breath, “Now, Matt has shown me a little bit of what he can do but I don’t know what the rest of you are capable of. Who wants to share first?”

Nearly a minute’s worth of silence passed before one of the newcomers was able to respond.

“What?”

------

11:57, 05/20/2015, WAREHOUSE S2

Well, that went better than expected, Lana thought with a grin as she saw Twilight coaching the humans in exercises that were designed to provide focus for spellcasting.

“You’re doing great so far, Matt!” Twilight encouraged with a smile, “However I think the lack of power is coming from a lack of focus. Not that you’re scatterbrained or anything, you’re just having trouble focusing on drawing and maintaining your power. You also need to unlearn some of your concepts about the world around you. I suspect you’re having trouble visualizing what you want to happen because your brain is telling you it can’t happen. The biggest hurdle in casting a new spell for me has always been altering my concept of what is and isn’t possible.”

“So, basically, you’re saying that there is no spoon?” Lana asked, and her grin grew when Matt face-palmed and Twilight arched an eyebrow.

“Quiet, you,” Matt grumbled, “Come to think of it, why don’t you show off your abilities some more and disappear?”

“Oh I intend to get some mileage out of it once the headaches go away, but not beforehand,” Lana retorted while rubbing her forehead with her right hand. It’s great that we found out how my ability works, but it blows that my head feels like it’s going to explode when I use the ability. She looked down at the segmented metal plates that made up her left hand as she weighed the benefits with the cost. If some headaches are the cost of being whole, then it’s worth it.

“Lana mentioned repeating a phrase to channel her abilities. Perhaps you should think of a similar word or words to repeat. As you repeat the words, think only about the coin lifting out of your palm. Do not think about gravity; you have the capacity to ignore it. Do not think of what can’t be. Think of what you want to happen and it will be,” Twilight’s voice was almost hypnotic as she explained the concepts to Matt, and his breathing slowed. The coin began to rise out of the palm of his hand, followed by a second and a third. All three hovered steadily above his face for over a minute with no signs of stopping.

“That’s great!” Twilight again heaped praise on Matt. “Keep at it, and see if you can lift any more. I just need to go give the others some help.” She gave her best smile before turning toward the Russian who was glaring at the coin in his hand like it had just insulted his mother.

The Russian, who had eventually given his first name as Yuri, hadn’t shown any obvious powers like Lana or Matt yet, much to his and Twilight’s consternation. Vahlen had added fuel to that fire by bringing the little detector device over to show that he was lit up like a light bulb, which meant he had some sort of power.

Both Rodriguez and Fujikawa had shown some promise with telekinesis, but were quickly losing heart after barely being able to levitate more than a single coin. Despite their difficulties, Twilight was there to celebrate every success and was gradually wearing down the suspicion that was clearly apparent after their initial introductions.

Not that there was any doubt about that, Lana thought with a grin. Those smiles of hers are infectious. There really should be a law against being that cute.

“Good job!” Twilight celebrated with one of her sugary sweet smiles and a clop of her hooves. Rodriguez had just managed to lift the quarter for ten straight seconds before it began to wobble and fall.

“Ah, thanks,” The soldier replied before looking away from the uncomfortable amount of praise. “Doesn’t feel like much when we saw you lifting shipping containers that weigh tons.”

“I wasn’t always able to do that. There were times I struggled to lift a single piece of paper, and it took me lots of practice to get even that down!” Twilight encouraged with another one of her winning smiles.

“Hey, Matt!” Lana shouted, “Want to try something new?”

Lana’s shout broke his concentration and the three coins he had been levitating clattered onto the cement. “And what would that be?” He asked suspiciously as he reached down to collect what he dropped.

“Think of it as target practice and reaction time training,” Lana said as she produced her deck of cards and showed it to him. Her grin increased when Matt did nothing but raise an eyebrow in response. She unboxed the cards and shuffled the deck before looking back to Matt. “Are you ready?”

“Fire when ready,” Matt answered, but before he had even finished his response the first card was flying through the air in a tumbling trajectory that would have carried the card over Matt’s right shoulder, if it hadn’t stopped in the air in front of him. “Good job! How many can you stop?” Lana grinned mischievously before hurling a second and third card at him.

Strain began to show on Matt’s face as more and more cards halted in midair. “Stop, Lana. Stop. I said STOP.” The cards shivered in midair and the last one thrown halted before whistling back at Lana. She jerked her head to the side to avoid taking it right in the face but the edge of the card cut the flesh above her cheek bone like a ripe tomato.

“Son of a bitch!” Lana said as she brought her right hand up to cover the cut as she stumbled back, and her eyes briefly traced the card’s trajectory to find it embedded in the side of the shipping container that was behind her. Her alarmed gaze switched back to a now clearly horrified Matt who had all but forgotten about the cards that were now littering the floor around him.

“Jesus! Lana, are you alright?” Matt asked as he quickly stepped forward even as Lana attempted to wave him off. “I didn’t mean for that to happen. Let’s go down to Medical and get that cleaned up.”

Twilight and the other humans had noticed the events as they progressed, and the unicorn had stepped forward the moment Lana had cried out. “It might be best to call it a day for now. Before you all go I want to point out that we got lucky just now,” Twilight locked eyes with each of the humans in the warehouse, and Lana saw a side of her that was entirely new: The stern teacher. “It can be used to do many amazing things, but it can also be misused. Someone who isn’t trained properly, or someone who doesn’t take it seriously might accidentally get themselves or others hurt. So, please be very careful when you’re using your magic in the future.”

“Sorry, Twily. It was dumb of me. Won’t happen again,” Lana apologized sincerely. Damn, I didn’t think a little teasing would have nearly taken my head off.

Matt also appeared equally horrified. “I’ll be more careful too.”

“Good. Respect for magic is probably the most important thing I can teach you at this point. If you don’t know what you can do or you don’t have sufficient control, you might do something that will haunt you for the rest of your life.” Twilight said, and her gaze fell as she finished her warning.

“If we’re done, I’ll head down to medical and see what they can do for me,” Lana winced as she pulled her hand away from her face and saw it drenched with her own blood.

“Ah, before we go, there’s something we need to take with us,” Matt said as he motioned towards the table along the far wall and the suitcase that sat there. He opened it up and scooped its contents up before returning to the group with an uneasy smile. “Twilight’s concerns about safety are valid, and in order to prevent unintentional accidents before we’re able to control our powers, we’ll each be wearing one of these.”

Matt handed an item to each of the humans present while keeping the last for himself. They appeared to be simple wristwatches though a small bit of Elerium could be seen set into the wristbands of each. “The button on the side activates the device and should block spellcasting while active. As I mentioned earlier, this will prevent accidents as well as help with the headaches that are typical of mental exertion. Tap the button on the side to activate it, and then tap it again to deactivate it.”

“Sounds simple enough,” Lana said as she slipped the watch around her right wrist and tapped the button. Immediately the low-grade headache that had been plaguing her for days lessened, and her left arm went dead. “What? Oh come on,” she whined before she realized that without her left hand she couldn’t turn the watch off. “Someone want to lend me a hand? I promise I’ll return it in like-new condition.”

Matt arched an eyebrow before chuckling at her request. Twilight was a bit less hesitant to laugh, at least until the other humans smiled as well. “I take it that the arm and the blocker aren’t compatible, then?”

“Apparently not,” Lana sighed. “I guess I’m going to have to live with the headaches until they go down. They’re better than being a one-armed invalid.”

Matt gingerly tapped the button on her watch, and life was again restored to her left arm. He spared a glance over to the opening elevator doors that revealed Shen and Zhang. “You should go down to Medical. We’ll get Twily back to the lab.”

“I’m sorry you got hurt, Lana,” Twilight apologized while looking sheepish. “I wasn’t paying enough attention and I let something slip by. It won’t happen again.”

Lana was quick to cut her off before she apologized any further. “No, Twily, I did something dumb. I’ll consider this paying the piper for my mistake. I’ll see you later then.”

“Bye!” Twilight said with a hoof wave as Lana and the three members of Strike Six made their way to the elevator.

------

12:20, 05/20/2015, WAREHOUSE S2

Zhang stopped some distance from Twilight and merely waited while Charles continued to walk forward to talk with the unicorn. Works for me, Twilight thought before mentally slapping herself. Bad Twilight, bad! You shouldn’t think so terribly of others.

“Hello, Charles!” The unicorn said with a grin and a hoof wave.

“Good afternoon, Twilight. Matt, how are the suppressors working?” Charles asked while indicating toward the new watch on Matt’s wrist.

Matt gave the new accessory a wary eye before shrugging. “So far so good, I guess. I never got the headaches like Lana had so I can’t really tell if it’s working all that well.”

“We had a bit of an accident but it really drove the point home about safety. I’m not really comfortable with devices that block magic like that but I suppose it’s necessary until proper control can be achieved,” Twilight said.

Matt arched an eyebrow before asking, “Well, I suppose that would make sense. If you lost your magic it’d be like any of us losing our hands. Is that something that happens often back home? Unicorns losing their magic, I mean?”

“No, it isn’t,” Twilight shook her head as she spoke in grave tones. “Magical sealing is something only done in very special circumstances. If a unicorn isn’t capable of controlling their magic and presents a danger to others, then they have their powers suppressed until such time that they can control them. If the unicorn is intentionally and repeatedly harming others with his magic then the same is applied, though the mere threat of such a punishment is enough to dissuade the few criminals we have from repeating.” Twilight fell into step beside Matt and Shen before picking up Zhang and stepping into the recently returned elevator.

“What was the accident that happened, by the way?” Shen asked as the elevator began to descend.

“Oh, I almost took off Lana’s face with a playing card,” Matt explained while rubbing the back of his head. Upon seeing the look on Charles’ face he elaborated, “Telekinesis, I think?”

“Matt’s picking up on how to use his powers very quickly!” Twilight was more than willing to heap praise where it was due. “He’s quite the natural.” It was Matt’s turn this time to grin sheepishly and look away.

Any further conversation was interrupted when the elevator doors slid open to reveal the empty corridor that Twilight was becoming increasingly familiar with. Twilight obediently waited in the elevator as Matt and Charles looked out of the elevator car and down the hallways. They were apparently clear as they both exited the car to ensure their passing would go unnoticed.

Which left Twilight alone with Zhang.

“It must be nice to have such fun with your friends,” Zhang stated coolly, and there was a tone of disapproval in his voice.

“Anything you do with friends can be fun,” Twilight replied quickly, “Even if it’s work; it can be fun with the right people.”

“Even if they’re out risking their lives while you sit safely in here with the power to end any conflict you participate in?”

The words hit Twilight like a physical blow, especially after her recent conversations with Charles on the matter. “I don’t want to stay here! I wanted to go out and help everyone! I even asked Charles if I could go out and keep you all safe when you’re in danger but he explained that it would be a bad idea.”

“You volunteered?” Zhang whispered but Twilight didn’t hear the words.

“I thought I could help, but Charles pointed out that I don’t have the training to be a soldier and I might get someone hurt. I killed someone by accident because I was scared when I first came to Earth. Charles is right; I might be able to protect you all. I might also get everyone hurt, too.”

Zhang was silent and Twilight couldn’t bring herself to look at him by the time Charles and Matt returned. He was quiet for their entire walk back to the Stardust Labs.

------

Zhang watched Matt, Shen and Twilight enter the lab but he did not follow.

A dishonorable display, to simply assume such a thing, Zhang chided himself as he played the conversation back in his head. If one had accused me of cowardice in such a way, I would have struck him.

Zhang looked down at his clenched fist and let the anger bleed out of him. He slowly opened his fist to see his palm with four small cuts in the skin where his finger nails had dug in, then the bones and blood beneath the skin, then the bundles of wires running through the floor—

He blinked and rubbed his temples. I must be imagining things, Zhang thought before turning and marching towards the staircases that led up to the barracks.

------

20:01, 05/20/2015, STARDUST LABS

“I think she’s going to love it,” Matt said as he eyed the DVD in Shen’s hands. “Either that or she’ll spend the entire movie talking about how it doesn’t live up to the source material.”

“I think if we explain the difficulties of movie adaptations, she will forgive any inconsistencies,” The engineer replied. “I checked the book last time we visited; she’s almost finished with Sorcerer’s Stone. If she’s finished by now we could probably watch it now.”

Lana’s grin nearly took in her ears. She had just opened her mouth to speak when she was interrupted.

“STRIKE ONE, ASSEMBLE FOR DEPLOYMENT. STRIKE SIX, ASSEMBLE FOR DEPLOYMENT. ALL STRIKE TEAMS ON STANDBY.”

“Oh come on!” Lana complained before looking to Matt and Shen and grumbled, “Doesn’t it seem like the aliens have the worst timing for these sorts of things?” Both men chuckled at the complaints before heading towards the door. “Shen, buddy, you’d better wait to give that to Twilight until we get back, alright? If I miss out on Twily smiles because you jumped the gun I will be very upset!”

“Go, go. I’ll wait until you get back,” Shen said as the group parted ways.

The two soldiers double-timed it to the armory where they donned their Carapace and Chameleon armor. Lana’s armor in particular was modified to not interfere with her prosthetic, which was bare and uncovered. Their weapons were also new, with Matt picking one of the new lance rifles and an ARC grenade in addition to his ARC thrower while Lana was issued an Excalibur instead of her favored shotgun.

“Do we know what the mission is, Dee?” Lana asked the Lieutenant as she collected a handful of projectiles and power packs for her weapon. “We seem to be going in awfully heavy.”

“Don’t know, Bradford said heavy so heavy we shall go,” Paul replied with an uncertain shrug before securing the last of his gear. “All right, gentlemen. Form up and proceed to briefing.”

Strike One suited action to words with Strike Six immediately behind them. They found Bradford in the briefing room staring at a projection of the north Atlantic with a red triangle icon hovering over Iceland. The moment the doors closed behind the soldiers, Bradford turned around and did something that no one had ever seen him do.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we have located the planet-side base of operations for the invaders. Now we take the fight to them,” Bradford said, and he grinned.

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