• Published 14th Mar 2014
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XCOM: Enemy Advanced - Swordomatic

Humanity has failed, and the Ethereals yet live. Armed with the knowledge of their predecessors, it falls to Equestria to finish the job.

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Chapter Three: Short Breath to Ruminate

XCOM: Enemy Advanced

Short Breath To Ruminate

Location: First Light, Crystal Mountains
Date: 18th Mayfly, 1006 PDE
Time: 14:22:09 (Canterlot Standard Time)

In the under levels of the medical bay, the finest instruments of medical aid were crafted and stored. Combining Zebrican alchemy, Equestrian crystaltech, Minotaur design and Griffon metallurgy, the results were more often than not highly experimental and untested on living subjects of any kind. Within the hibernation chambers, one such example of this technology was up for display, the light emanating from the long cylinder casting long shadows behind the two ponies looking at it.

“So,” Shining Armor sighed, eyes haggard and shoulders slumped. “How’s she doing?”

“She’s in stasis right now,” Fluttershy responded, pointing up at the floating dark orange pegasus, currently suspended in a tube of green fluid. “Her lungs were badly damaged, she has multiple organ failures, and her legs probably need amputation.” The Element of Kindness tensed for a moment, then turned to the Captain, eyes frowned in concern. “Are you okay, Shining?”

“I’m fine. The mission went better this time. We only lost two ponies.” He sighed. ‘Only’ two was still two too many. “She was a good soldier, Fluttershy. Why did it happen to her?”

“Bad things happen to good ponies, sometimes,” Fluttershy said sadly. “At least we managed to save her. We might be able to revive her in the future.”

“But she won’t be fit for ground ops,” Shining frowned. “And while I don’t doubt that she’ll make a good pilot, losing somepony skilled as her is still a hard blow.” The serious impacts it would have on her daily life went unsaid.

“Unless we can put her back together!” Pinkie Pie said cheerily in between the two, just loud enough to shock both the Captain and the Doctor. “We have the technology! Better, stronger, faster! The first bionic pony! And then she’ll be healthy again and kick those meanie aliens in the face!”

“Uhm…” Fluttershy took a step back from her perilously pink pony pal, eyebrow raise in concern. “Okay…?”

Shining Armor shook his head and sighed. “We don’t have the technology, Pinkie. I wish we did. As it stands, the best we can do is keep her alive until we find out how to keep her from asphyxiating in a minute or two.”

"I'm sure Twilight can figure something out," Pinkie offered hopefully.

"Well, I don't doubt that," he said proudly, "But the question isn't 'if', but 'when'. We don't have lot of time."

Fluttershy nodded sadly, and spoke up. "Well, right now I'm just glad to help Lieutenant Firebird. She's... nice. And I'm sure Sgt. Moon is happy that she's alive."

Ah, how could he forget about Black Moon. He sent his regards when Firebird went to visit, but he had not visited him personally yet. There was just so much to do, he lost track of time. Which was still bad, because not only should he have visited one of his best rifleponies, he seemed like a friendly guy. "I'll tell him. He deserves to know from me."

"Oh, I told him already." Pinkie blinked, and blinked again, and then the implications struck her. "Oh, um, whoops? Sorry, Shiny."

The Captain sighed. That mare was so social it hurt. "It's alright, Pinkie, I'll visit him anyway. Maybe even let him come down here to visit."

"That sounds very nice of you, Captain," Fluttershy agreed. "I'm sure he'll appreciate it."

"He'll appreciate new legs and a wing," he grunted. "This is just a stopgap."

"You know, I saw them unloading canisters of orange goo from the Cloudbarges," Pinkie mentioned with a grin.

Shining flopped his ears. "Orange goo?"

"What do you think that is? My bits are on alien snacks. Because all this flying must make them hungry!”

Shining frowned and looked back at Firebird floating in the tube. Orange goo canisters, huh? That might just work. Twiley just had to do her magic on it. And she was the most magical unicorn in all Equestria.

“Good afternoon, everypony.” The heavy canister landed on the table with a noticeable thud, catching the attentions of everypony in the research labs. Their Head Researcher was clearly a lot more determined than usual. “I brought something I think all of you will appreciate.”

“The… one canister, Dr. Sparkle?”

“Custodians are bringing the other canisters in, and I’ve given it the once-over.” Twilight nodded resolutely, and grinned like a madmare. “It’s Meld.”

Dr. Frosty dropped the pen in his mouth, letting it fall open. “Meld. My stars.”

“Alright,” Twilight said, clapping her hooves together, “We all know what it does, but have a short recap: It’s a suspension of billions of nanomachines with both organic and mechanical components, and we can use it to combine different organic materials or assemble mechanical components near-perfectly and with great efficiency or seamlessly integrate organic matter with cybernetic prosthetics. This means no nerve-reattachment, no rejection rate, low chances of infection and a vastly shortened recovery time. So, C-Team, I’m moving you onto Meld. The Probe can wait.”

“Dr. Sparkle,” began Dr. Steeleye, a rare griffon scientist who oddly enough didn’t have an eyepatch. “While we’re thrilled to study the applications of Meld, we feel that we’re making good progress with the probe banks.”

“We can always study the archives later,” Twilight responded. “But the sooner we figure out how to use these nanomachines, the sooner we can get good ponies back into the fight, to say nothing of the potential future applications.”

“If you think so, Dr. Sparkle,” Steeleye replied, allowing himself a small grin. “We’ll figure this out, though it’ll take longer considering we have four races to consider, on top of the three subspecies of pony.”

“Focus on the pegasus genome first, then the griffon one,” Twilight instructed. It seemed logical; Strike Two was consisted entirely of pegasi and griffons, and both Firebird and Black Moon were pegasi. Both were also former Equestrian Special Forces, which meant that the sooner they got back out the better. And with stasis still being rather new technology, there was no telling how long she could last inside. The theory states indefinitely, but theory was theory for a reason.

“We will begin immediately,” Steeleye nodded. “We should have results within two weeks, and working prototypes in three.”

General Blueblood stood in the middle of a room covered in screens, from the ones on the rows of terminals behind him to the giant one that covered the entire wall he currently faced with the two alicorn diarchs in the throne room, expressions even. One could see that even a month after the attack, Princess Celestia had not recovered and was still covered in bandages.

“Princesses,” the General said respectfully, raising a leg in salute. Luna waved him down, and he continued. “Thus far, the missions have been successful. Three UFOs captured, with a minimum of civilians killed and property damaged. As we speak, the labs are studying the artifacts the operatives on the ground have recovered.”

“Excellent work, Blueblood,” Celestia said with a warm smile, “I knew you were up to the task. How are your staff?”

“Professional and respectful of the chain of command, as I like it. Though...” He frowned. “Princess Celestia, why did you let the Bearers into XCOM? They’re civilians. They have no place on the battlefield, let alone one against such a superior foe.”

“They wished to lend their aid to the effort, General,” Celestia responded, “And I know that if the six of them worked together, anything is possible. Perhaps even defeating such a dire threat.”

“However,” Princess Luna continued, “The real reason is because First Light is the safest place against this alien threat. Behind all that stone and metal and your trained operatives, there is no place better to hide the Bearers during this time of crisis. It was fortuitous that they volunteered, and we were able to put them in positions where their talents are best suited.” The Princess of the Night winced slightly, possibly at a memory. “Some we struggled with more than others.”

“So on top of fighting an overwhelming extraterrestrial threat I have to play Guardspony for the six Bearers, thus sending my stress levels higher than ever.” The General sighed. “This is going to do wonders for my complexion, I can tell.”

“Not quite, General,” Celestia said, eyes hardening slightly. “While it is true that they are not trained for the horrors of war, their talents in their fields cannot be denied. Has Twilight Sparkle not been an effective Head of Research? Has Applejack not aided you in handling XCOM’s affairs? Has Fluttershy not been performing to standard in tending to the injured?”

“They have done admirably, I must admit, but...” Blueblood frowned. Arguing against this was hard. “Why in such important positions? Why not a position that appears important, but has no actual impact in the running of XCOM?”

“Because they have potential to be great, General. They only require the experience. The Elements of Harmony will bring out this potential to the fore, and allow them to become exemplary in the ways they should. I know that if you were to give them a chance, they will surprise you. After all,” she grinned deviously, “Have they not been performing up to standard?”

“I suppose everypony deserves a chance,” Blueblood grumbled. “And I have been impressed by Twilight Sparkle and Applejack in their functions. I will grant them a chance.”

“But,” Luna added, “It is paramount that they do not go into the line of fire. The risk posed to their lives is unacceptable.”

“So I’ve gathered, though the only one troubled by this is the Flight Commander.” He sighed in empathy with the young mare’s plight. “She’s far too important to be flying interception missions, even though it is the one thing she wanted to do most after joining XCOM. A feeling I know all too well.”

“A small price to pay for such a great honor. General. You must convince her of this.”

“She understands perfectly. Does not make her any less unhappy.” Eyes narrow, and the General scowls. “I’ve gotten the details from Captain Spitfire. I don’t much like Flight Captain Dust.”

Princess Luna raised an eyebrow. “And you intend to remove her?”

“No. It would be a waste of a good pilot. But I might consider putting the Captain’s life into her hooves. Just as a favor to Colonel Blitz.” The General tilted his head. “Speaking of which, how about the other bases?”

“A base in Herakles should open up by the middle of Junebug,” Celestia replied. “I believe the Golden Bull wishes to name it...” She sighed, and put her face into her bandaged hooves. “He wants to call it Pump Iron. And before you ask, you heard it right.”

“...Well, his muscles didn’t come from nowhere.”

“Sometimes I feel that his brain muscled as well,” Luna sighed. “Of all the things to stay the same, it had to be the bipedal buffoon. But no matter. If it truly troubles you that much, I can arrange the bureaucracy.”

“No need. If the Flight Commander has that much trouble, she can bring it up herself.”

“Keep in mind your position, General. We cannot coddle her, even if we wished to.”

“Indeed.” Blueblood frowned, though his face told it was for a different matter. “How does my son fare?”

“He has been throwing himself into training ever since your ‘death’ was reported,” Celestia said, tone mildly worried. “I think he feels that if he didn’t squander his talents, you wouldn’t be... ‘dead’.”

“I couldn’t care less,” Blueblood spat. “He already squandered his talents on parties and merriment before all this happened. I have no doubt that if he had applied himself he would be in XCOM by my side, but as it stands I could care less about his plight. This is but a phase for him. He will tire and move back into his old lifestyle soon, especially now that my estates in Trottingham would pass onto him.” Blueblood sighed, and seemed to only get angrier. “And now he’s going to wreck my lodgings by the waterfall. I did so like the view. It made me happy on the inside.”

Luna and Celestia could only look at him, completely aghast at his words. “And I thought my sister was hateful,” Luna said flatly.

“I’m right here, Luna,” Celestia grumbled, glaring at Luna with her one exposed eye.

“I know. That’s why I said it. After a thousand years, why was the only holiday in my name the one where ponies scare each other and give me candy to keep me from eating their foals?”

“Oh, you love that holiday.”

“...Perhaps I do,” Luna admitted sheepishly, “But I would love it more if the ponies saw me as a figure to be loved, not feared. It was only last year that they stopped screaming whenever I showed up.”

“Through my efforts as we--” Celestia scowled. “We have gone off-topic. My apologies, General.”

“No, it’s fine. I’ll just be here, grateful that I was an only child. Now,” he said, gaze lowered. “While it is a bit early, I do have a favour to ask...”

Location: First Light, Crystal Mountains
Date: 18th Mayfly, 1006 PDE
Time: 18:42:53 (Canterlot Standard Time)

The Office of Recruitment and Relations was hard at work, discussing matters of transfers and compensation. XCOM was a secret organisation - so secret that everyone who joined either had their deaths staged or are officially missing - but it still needed to have good relations with the governments and organisations of the world.

XCOM was, ultimately, a multinational effort, and to keep it from tearing itself apart it needed a strong, diplomatic staff to facilitate interaction, cover up mistakes and ensure a steady supply of things such as intel, authority, assets and, naturally, personnel. To that end, it was the most diverse of First Light’s already-diverse branches with staff from all over Mundus, including minotaurs, zebras, ponies of all kinds and the odd griffon that preferred the pen to the poleaxe.

Naturally, due to Celestia’s ‘persuasions’, the Element of Generosity ran Recruitment and Relations in First Light. Effectively, for now at least, she was the first and last word on XCOM’s interactions with the outside world. And it was safe to say that, despite her own generous and shrewd demeanour being perfect for the job, she was overwhelmed.

Glasses worn, mane unkempt and brows furrowed, Rarity tackled the latest bit of paperwork when three knocks on the door came. She jumped, straightened her mane by reflex, and cleared her throat. “Come in,” she said politely, forehooves folded.

General Blueblood slided in, the sleeves of his shirt rolled up and leaving much of his forelegs bare. “I hope I’m not intruding, Lady Rarity.”

She chuckled merrily; she did so like that the General referred to her as ‘lady’. Nothing like his son the brute. “Not at all, General. Is there something I can help you with?”

“I need you to send out a few letters to some special friends of mine,” he said evenly, with a soft, tired smile. “I’m sure you’ve heard of the recent mission by now.”

“Indeed,” the lady responded, melancholy seeping into her tone. “What happened with Strike Two was a tragedy. I never knew Lieutenant Firebird well, but she reminded me of Rainbow Dash.” Crass, headstrong, stubborn, with a soft caring center? Why, if she were blue they might be long-lost sisters. Wouldn't that be delightfully dramatic?

“I can see the similarities,” he agreed, and produced four envelopes ensnared in his soft blue aura. “Now, these letters are to be addressed to General Stormcrow, Praetor Jochim, General Ironbeak and Colonel Suwadu.”

Rarity frowned as she received them, and laid them out neatly. “More transfer requests? I’ve already sent the requests, General.” If all went to plan, XCOM would have over sixty operatives by the end of Junebug.

He shook his head. “These aren’t recruitment letters. Not the ones you think, anyway. These individuals are potential commanders themselves. I’m sure that the Council has already shortlisted them, but I know these people.” Blueblood shrugged. “Maybe they’ll listen, maybe not. We’ll see.”

She looked at the letters, eyes narrowed. “You think that your persuasion will convince these ponies--sorry, people joining XCOM is the right choice? Even though they had the same opinion of it that you did?”

“...How did you know that?” Blueblood asked, impressed.

“I’ve read up on the shortlisted,” she winked. “If I am to eventually conference with them, I should at least get to know them. Since I can’t quite invite them out for a spa session, their psychological profiles will have to do.”

“Impressive,” Blueblood smiled, meaning every word. “Well, Director, I’m sure they’ll come around eventually. After all, I did.”

“I’ll take your word for it,” she said with a doubtful smile. The General was being unusually hopeful. On the other hoof, an unlimited budget was very... persuasive. “Now, if that is all General, I really should be getting back to work. Governments to liaison, staff to recruit...” She shuddered. “Compensations to wire.”

He nodded smartly. “As you were, Director.”

Daily Report, 22/5/06 (PDE)
XCOM Science Division

Project: Iron Will
Project Head: Dr. Twilight Sparkle
- Understanding of Alien Metals limited. Our study could potentially take years to understand, replicate and produce this alloy using raw materials present on Mundus, even with Master Thaumaturges and Transmutation Magi around.
- However, from detailed study of the Alloy, we were able to crudely adapt what we have learned into our own technology. Our first development, a multi-layered enchanted crystal lattice weave, was based off elements of its complex molecular structure.
- With this new pattern, the crystal weave was possessed of a tensile strength beyond anything we’ve seen on Mundus, aside from the Princess’ ancient Orichalcum Warplate, the only surviving set from before Discord.
- As we have yet to discern the no-doubt expensive production process behind that, I believe that adapting this new crystal weave pattern into current body armor designs will surely improve survivability on the battlefield.
- Preliminary designs have already been forwarded to Dr. Metal Hands. He and Engineering will take over from there.

Project: Steel Auger
Project Head: Dr. Frosty
- The fragments we have uncovered from what remains of the alien weapons provides a look, however small, into their systems and mechanics. From that, we have only confirmed what we know. It’s better than what we have. Pound for pound, it outstrips everything we have. And it’s plasma. It should not be a viable shotgun, let alone a rifle-ranged weapon.
- However, we have also learned a couple things from the weapon fragments. Studying what remains of the electronics and systems has granted us insight into their methods of projectile acceleration. With some tweaks, we could make it work for bullets and amplify the muzzle velocity of our existing weapons. We could potentially be sitting on an improvement of our existing accelerator chambers by an order of magnitude. Maybe two.
- Preliminary findings and plans have been forwarded to Dr. Metal Hands. Perhaps his ingenuity at Engineering will improve on what Research has discovered. Tentatively, I am expecting improvements in range, accuracy and weight, while reducing wear on the barrel at the same time. Hooves crossed and awaiting progress.
- The fragments possess other secrets. Perhaps it is time to look into the records we have on lasers. Note to self: ask Dr. Sparkle on pursuing this avenue. She might agree and even help. Assistance is very, very useful.

NOTE TO ALL RESEARCH STAFF: In celebration of the success of XCOM thus far, a party has been arranged at the Cafeteria at 2000 Hours. It is a Pinkie Pie Party, so don’t be late! - Dr. Twilight Sparkle

Location: First Light, Crystal Mountains
Date: 24th Mayfly, 1006 PDE
Time: 19:45:03 (Canterlot Standard Time)

The Command Deck was busy with activity, as was standard. Technicians tapped away at consoles, analysing data streams and inspecting reports of suspected alien activity throughout Equestria under the watchful eye of Central Officer Applejack. They knew their jobs well, to her relief; she wasn’t much good with all this technology. That was Big Mac’s thing.

That and math. Big Macintosh was real good at mathematics. Wasn’t one for initiative, though, the way he never opened his trap. She tried to make him talk more, but Big Mac just seemed to like being quiet. Which was fine. Just made it hard to tell what was on his mind, sometimes.

But it was pretty obvious when mares wanted him. Big Mac was considered one of the most eligible bachelors in Ponyville, and for good reasons. Good reasons Applejack will not delve into, because she refuses to puff him up more than absolutely necessary. Also because it was disgusting, and Rarity had given her more than enough details the other day, during Pinkie Pie’s party in the Mess Hall. That party had opened up... many cans of worms.

Though who knew Rainbow Dash had a thing for griffons? It was... what was that word Twilight used? ‘Enlightening’? Yes, enlightening. It was enlightening.

Also creepy. Applejack was very much a traditional pony, and traditional ponies believed that ponies stay with ponies and griffons stay with--

“Central, you might want to see this. We could have a situation.” Applejack snapped out of her thoughts quickly, and cantered over purposefully to a technician's terminal.

“What am Ah lookin’ at, soldier?”

“We have anomalous readings over Fillydelphia, ma’am. Reports of ponies being abducted are being filtered in, too. Varying levels of accuracy, but a couple seem to line up.” The tech removed his headphones and looked up at the Central Officer, hoping for an answer. “How do you call it, Central?”

Applejack squinted and looked closer. Now, she wasn’t a science wizard like Twilight or Big Mac were, but she could see a thing for what it was. And it looked like bad things were happening to Fillydelphia. “Ah’m callin’ it. Tell Flight Commander Dash to prep one of her squadrons up, and get Shinin’ Armor on the line.” She frowned, and pressed her hat against her sweater-clad chest. “We’ve got an Abduction Mission on our hooves, ponies. Let’s get ready.”

XCOM Codex

The field of Cybernetics is still one that is unexplored, though more due to complexity and cost than anything else. Though the means to create prosthetics that are equivalent, if not greater than a comparable organic limb exists, the means to interface with the new limb have been troublesome.

The Neural Harness system has been proposed, allowing the pony to synch up with its new limb, but was refused due to the significant power consumption of a Harness. Other means such as nerve stapling have been mentioned, where the severed nerve endings are manually reattached one by one to the artificial nerve fibres of the pony. However, such a connection is time-consuming and has a high risk of failure due to the sheer precision necessary in the surgical operation, and has been shelved until such a time more advanced surgical tools have been invented.

However, with recent revelations, it may be possible to use Meld as the interface medium between amputee and cybernetic replacement. If the means to do so are discovered, XCOM may yet be able to send soldiers previously deemed unfit for service back into the frontlines, preserving their precious experience against the alien threat. In addition, the other potential uses of Meld open up many new avenues of research...

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