• Published 13th Mar 2014
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Fortitude Amicitia - Arad



The Dusk Guard's first joint operation alongside XCOM turns out to be far more complex than anyone anticipates. (Stardust/Dusk Guard crossover)

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The Inventor and The Captain

Sky Bolt fired as fast as the plasma pistol would allow at the hordes of aliens that were chasing her and Yuri. She had counted at least a dozen Sectoids plus other hulking figures that had begun pursuing the pair as they retreated through the alleyways following Captain Uther’s death. She thanked her lucky stars that the massive toad golem had elected to go stomping elsewhere in the city, though the hordes of lesser aliens were barely a better alternative.

“Bolt, fall back!” Yuri shouted through the radio and she caught a stuttering line of plasma streaking towards the aliens. She made one final shot which incinerated one of the charging Sectoids before she turned and ran to the next bit of cover. She turned and raised her weapon again, but she changed targets when a new one presented itself.

It was shaped like a human, if humans were eight feet of towering muscle and angry yellow eyes. The lower half of its face was an amalgamation of metal machinery while the rest was inflamed and scarred flesh stretched over its skull while massive green armor clashed with its skin tone. Those angry yellow eyes locked onto Sky Bolt and it became a race to see which would get their weapon in line first, the Pegasus or the Muton.

Napadajte!” Yuri shouted, and the Muton’s head snapped back with a spray of blood. Its weapon, which Sky Bolt couldn’t help but compare to the steam stack of a locomotive, spat a massive blob of plasma that connected with the building beside her. A wave of heat and debris from the blast washed over her and she closed her eyes out of reflex as a brick slammed into her helmet.

The next few moments were a blur for Sky Bolt. Her ears rung. Black boots running towards her. The screech of the aliens drawing near. The shattered shards of her helmet’s visor on the ground beside her. The feeling of ascent then the lines of the sidewalk moving before her eyes. The sidewalk turned into tiles and she was slowly lowered to the floor. “We can’t get away without them running us down,” A voice said, and the pegasus was conscious enough to register the steel in the next statement. “I’m going out there. Stay here and stay down, the others will find you. Da svidanya, Sky Bolt.”

No! He’s going to get himself killed! She thought in a panic as she pulled her helmet off and clumsily felt the pouches on her armor. Healing crystal… healing crystal… there! One hoof snapped the crystal in half while the other pressed it against her head. The effect was almost immediate; her vision and thoughts began to clear and she caught sight of Yuri stepping back out onto the street.

The human had lost his rifle at some point, and he had his pistol in his right hand. Volleys of plasma flowed past him like leaves in an autumn wind and yet he continued to walk out into the street. A heat haze began to distort the scene though she caught sight of the cables along Yuri’s left arm beginning to glow. “Vashi poveliteli preduprezhdali Vas ot menya?” He shouted, and he raised his left hand. Every one of the Sectoids that was hiding in cover flew up into the air, and Yuri let out a barking laugh as he placed a single shot into each one. A moment passed before the suspended bodies fell back onto the street and Yuri turned back to the building that Sky Bolt was in.

The human had taken two steps before screaming in pain as his armor cracked and the tip of a blade emerged from his chest. The heat haze behind him flickered and resolved into a black-armored muton with its face hidden behind a featureless helmet that matched the rest of its armor. One of its hands had grabbed Yuri’s shoulder while the other twisted the blade even as it sank into the hilt.

Sky Bolt’s next actions were instinctual. She rose to her feet and charged while activating her speed mod before leaping into the air in a forward roll. As she tumbled through the air one hoof latched on to the weighted wrench in her pouch and let fly mid-spin, and the improvised weapon connected with the faceplate of the Muton at nearly eighty miles per hour. The faceplate shattered as the weapon bounced away and the Muton lost its grip on Yuri as it staggered backwards. The backwards stagger became a completely uncontrolled tumble as Sky Bolt’s flight through the air ended with all four hooves landing on the Muton’s chest. A quartet of plasma pistol shots cracked and melted its armor before a fifth put it down permanently.

“Yuri? Yuri!” Sky Bolt nearly shouted as she rushed over to him. He had fallen onto his side and was feebly trying to grasp the blade that was still embedded in his body. “Don’t touch it! We’ll get you to Dawn and she’ll fix you up just fine! Come on, up you get!” She got under one of his arms and to his credit he tried to get his feet under him but only succeeded in stumbling into the Pegasus. Bolt accepted the extra weight and they began to stumble their way into a nearby alley and out of the street. She spared but a glance at the corpses of the aliens that had chased them before the street fell out of sight.

A wet-sounding cough filled the radio followed by Yuri’s rasping breath. “Pushed myself too hard. My own fault. You should go ahead and meet with the others… I will be fine here.”

“No, no you won’t. That’s why we’re going straight to Dawn,” Sky Bolt commanded with as much authority as she could muster. She caught sight of the building Hunter had described and the pair started shuffling down another alleyway. When silence met her declaration, she raised her voice. “Yuri! Come on, don’t leave me hanging. How about some conversation? Do you have family?”

“My sister Petra, and her kids back home,” Yuri mumbled quietly.

“Nieces and nephews? That sounds like fun!” Bolt tried to keep her voice chipper. Silence was the only response. “My family’s a bit small, just my parents and me. Both of them are Earth Ponies but they’ve always been really supportive of everything I do…” The Pegasus continued to talk as she led them through the gaps in the buildings towards their destination, because if she didn’t she knew the journey would be made in silence.

------

Captain Song kept his eyes on the golem and Roland as they led the way. Both had been completely silent since Sergeant Briand’s death and they maintained their professionalism, though his experienced eyes could see the tension in Roland’s posture and every action he took. The golem was more of a mystery, as it was showing much of the same tension in body language, which seemed to imply that it was more than a simple automaton.

Any further speculation was put aside when the golem held a fist up as they approached an intersection. “The church is just around the corner. I have Eversman’s IFF tag in an office building next door.” The golem’s head turned to look back down the alley at the others. “I’ve tried raising him on the radio, but I’ve gotten no response. He may be injured or dead.”

“Well, crap,” Roland grumbled. “Okay, he’s likely being guarded by the civilians that helped him out of the wreck. I’ll lead, since if any of you do they might open fire out of a misunderstanding. Just… just stay behind Beowulf and we’ll explain things once we get there.” After taking a moment to steel his resolve, Roland rounded the corner of the building and was immediately greeted by a machine gun burst from one of the buildings. He swore and dove behind a crashed vehicle while those that were following halted before entering the street itself.

“XCOM?” Came a shout from the building, which Steel recognized as the crew chief of the Skyranger.

“It’s Roland, you fucking asshole! Check your IFF before you shoot!”

“I don’t have a smart visor, how would I do that?” Eversman shouted back with a healthy dose of snark.

“Oh,” Roland muttered as he smacked his helmet with his palm. “Well hold your fire, we’re coming to you!” After a moment’s hesitation he emerged from cover and began to weave his way through the wreckage with Beowulf close behind.

“Boss, be advised that there is law enforcement and civilians on site, and they are very jumpy,” Hunter summarized through the radio. “Don’t get shot, alright?”

“Keep your helmets on and communication to a minimum. If the humans think we’re golems too they’ll be less hostile,” Steel ordered in a low tone as he picked out at least two police scanning the area with their rifles at the ready. Part of me should feel offended at having to play at such a deception, but Hunter was right. This herd of humans is one scare away from stampeding.

As they approached the structure, Eversman slowly rose from cover with a grin on his face despite the trail of dried blood that originated from a hastily bandaged wound across his scalp. “I gotta say it’s damn good to see you. Where are the others?”

“Captain Thomas Uther and Sergeant Melanie Briand are KIA. Yuri got separated from the group, and he’s with… one of the specialists. One of the other specialists is in the air now,” Roland reported crisply, and the crew chief’s face sank as he realized he was now the ranking XCOM officer in the field.

“Nuts. Well, the civilians were able to locate a wide-range radio, and we’ve been trying to contact the national guaYEOUCH!” Eversman’s situation report devolved into a yelp in pain as Dawn used her telekinetics to pull the soiled improvised bandage off of his head.

“Shush, I’m replacing the bandage with a clean one. It’s also coated with a balm that should prevent infection and help ease the pain a bit,” Dawn said as she suited action to words. The old bandage, which looked like a simple shirt sleeve, was discarded and replaced by a clean white strip that wrapped itself around his wound.

“Eversman, are these the reinforcements you were talking about?” One of the black-armored policemen asked as he rounded the corner to finally meet the group. His eyes gave Roland a once over before his gaze was invariably drawn to the golem and its garish paint job. His attention wasn’t held for long as he quickly caught sight of the Dusk Guard. “What the hell are those?”

“Sorry, top secret. I can tell you they’re the next generation of ULVs, and they’ll likely be replacing the SHIV models we currently use,” Roland intercepted the question by burying the officer in acronyms, abbreviations and other military lingo that turned his suspicion into mind-numbing confusion.

“Boss, I have eyes on Sky Bolt. She’s carrying Yuri through the alleyways about a block east of your position. The human looks really bad…” Hunter reported, and Steel snapped in the direction that the Pegasus had reported.

Steel was loathed to draw attention to himself as Roland continued to confuse the policeman, but one of his Guard was in trouble. “Sergeant, our missing members have been spotted nearby, and they’re wounded.”

“Copy that. Let’s go get them,” Eversman said with a nod, and he moved to join the formation that filtered out of the building and into the block east of the refuge. No aliens were encountered as they finally caught sight of Sky Bolt and Yuri.

The Pegasus’s helmet was gone and blood from a head wound stained the coat around her face but otherwise appeared unwounded. Yuri, however, was completely limp and Sky Bolt struggled to keep his bulk on her back. When she caught sight of her friends coming toward her, she tried to increase her speed but only succeeded in stumbling and nearly losing her cargo in the process.

“Ease him down, gently!” Eversman said quickly as he and Roland moved to pull the human off Sky Bolt’s back, and all eyes locked on to the blade that was still embedded in his torso.

“Bolt, are you alright? BOLT!” Dawn shouted as she approached the Pegasus and scanned her.

The shout shook her out of her stupor and she looked at Dawn. “I’m fine. The healing crystals worked fine. Most of this blood isn’t mine,” Sky Bolt whispered as she looked back at the crimson stain that covered most of her barrel and wings.

With her scan complete and the answer satisfactory, Dawn moved over to Yuri and scanned him before exclaiming, “Sun above, he’s alive! Roland! I need you to undo the straps for his armor’s front and rear plates. If we’re going to extract the blade without killing him, I need to inspect the wounds with my eyes.”

Steel Song kept most of his attention on the alleyway that Sky Bolt had come from, but he did glance occasionally at the operation that was taking place to save the human. Like the Dusk Guard’s armor, the human armor plates covered the most vital areas of their body but the spots that required flexibility were still provided protection by a black body glove that covered every inch of their bodies up to their neckline. Any further analysis was interrupted by a heavy footfall behind him and the click of a human weapon being readied.

“What the fuck is that?” One of the policemen shouted, and Steel turned to see a rifle being leveled at Sky Bolt. “That’s an alien! Why the fuck are you people working with them!?”

Steel slowly moved into the line of fire to shield the Pegasus. “We are not your enemies, officer,” He explained calmly, and he immediately regretted it. The human with the rifle tensed and the barrel of the weapon was now centered on Steel’s face. The other officer had a sidearm drawn but pointed down at the street, though he looked no less afraid.

The police officer and Steel took a step back in surprise as the human golem stepped in between them both. “You should go back to the shelter. This is not your concern.” It stated, and while his view was blocked by the golem’s bulk, Steel could hear the retreating footsteps of both officers heading back to the building.

By the time Steel had turned back to Dawn, she had already extracted the blade and was in the process of channeling a healing spell on Yuri. “We’ll need to move him into the building, I don’t like the chances of enemies interfering with our present location. Where is that lout Nova when I need him?” She growled as her telekinesis picked the unconscious human off the ground and the group headed towards shelter. Their somewhat sedated pace became far more hurried as they heard the sound of rocket launches a few blocks away, followed by a volley of explosions.

“We’ve got to take out that Sectopod before it finds this place,” Roland said as the group made their way into the building. The police were on guard now more than ever, and a small group of civilians huddled together on the far side of the room they now found themselves in. “Beowulf, you think you can take it out?”

“Yes, but I’ll have to get in close,” The golem replied, and it looked down at the massive weapon in its hands and the severed belt feed that dangled from it. “I don’t like the odds of having to plow through the cannon fodder though.”

“Boss, this is Hunter. Nova just contacted me and he has a rather creative plan for taking down that Sectopod.”