• Published 12th May 2014
  • 26,325 Views, 6,506 Comments

Mente Materia - Arad

Twilight’s trip to Earth and friendship with the humans brings new friends and enemies to her peaceful world. With the specter of war hanging over them, Equestria will have to form an alliance like no other to fight the menace from the void.

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06 -- Reunion

"I don't know what effect they have on you, sir, but they give me hope for the future."
-General Peter Van Doorn, speaking at the Goleman Committee.


In the end, Matt had been right: every member of Mente Materia had volunteered (save one), and now he had the unenviable task of determining who would have to stay behind. The few humans who had started to develop magical talents were simply too valuable to risk them all, which led to his current dilemma.

Yuri Romalov stood by the door to the Mente Materia training area with a carefully camouflaged look of disappointment on his face even as Matt straightened out his uniform. "I'd love to take you with, Yuri, but I need someone here that the troops respect who also has the Gift," Matt explained as he tightened his tie. "I know I can trust you to keep things under control while I'm away. Look on the bright side, promotion to lieutenant means a bump in pay."

"I would gladly trade the promotion for a chance to help our friends defend their homes. I would be dead if it weren't for them," Yuri said, and Matt couldn't help but notice that he rubbed his chest as he talked. The subconscious action had started not long after Yuri had been stabbed clean through by a Muton infiltrator and tended to reappear whenever he was worried.

"Shining Armor knows that almost all of us volunteered," Matt explained once he was satisfied that his tie was straight before donning the uniform jacket. Like the uniform David Bradford wore during the now infamous congressional investigation, it was various shades of gray with gold trim around the shoulders and down the arms. The presence of a collared undershirt and tie marked it as an officer's uniform and the slightly out-of-place purple unit patch on his shoulder marked him as a Mente Materia specialist.

Yuri's expression darkened when he heard the phrase 'almost all of us'. "Are you certain you wish to take Victor with you? He may prove to be more of a liability than an asset."

"I'm certain. Victor is the only human capable of teleportation so far, so I'm hoping that taking him there will help hone his skills, either by finding an expert who can teach him more or exposure to whatever magical field there is on their world," Matt answered. It might also help exorcise the demons that plague him. "I appreciate your concern but I doubt he will cause any problems."

Yuri nodded after several moments. "If there's nothing else, I'll see to the men. Good luck, Captain." He stood at attention and snapped a salute.

With his uniform finally arranged to meet Matt's standards, he faced Yuri and returned the gesture. "Good luck, lieutenant. Hold down the fort while we're gone." As Yuri turned to leave, Matt turned back to his desk and the use-worn army softcap that sat there. It was frayed along the edges and faded from hours in the sun, and every time Matt wore the thing he would swear there was sand in his hair despite the fact that he hadn't been deployed to the desert since his time in the United States Army.

When the announcement was made that the soldiers of XCOM were going to get dress uniforms (to the surprise and dismay of many), certain allowances were made for the individual soldiers to retain some artifact from their previous branch of service or country to apply to their new uniform. Most chose a flag patch, others chose old unit patches or accessories from their previous uniforms. For Matt, the only thing he had even considered besides a flag patch was that old rag of a hat. Without the threat of scrutiny from subordinates, he allowed himself a moment to vacillate on the issue before he simply stuffed the hat in the inside pocket of his jacket before turning and heading towards the Kaleidoscope ready rooms with his kit bag under his arm.

The corridors were bustling with activity as Matt slipped through the crowds of engineers moving crates of equipment into the teleporter's main chamber. He eventually made it into the ready room and immediately recognized most of the faces already present. Several Strike teams were all packed together and Matt could easily pick out Robert Sachs giving an admirable impression of a drill sergeant over the noise that so many people in a small space naturally produce.

"You all are the best soldiers that humanity has to offer," Robert stated as he paced through the Strike operators. "We're going over there to kick ass and take names-" a ragged cheer came up from the soldiers but was quickly silenced by a glare from the sergeant, "-but we are also representatives of humanity. So, when we reach the other side, there will be certain rules to follow to ensure we give the proper impression. You will be polite. You will be efficient. You will-"

"Captain Harris?" Major Fujikawa's voice cut through the babble of voices as she approached. Like Matt, she wore XCOM's dress uniform, though hers sported a Japanese flag patch as opposed to Matt's American flag. "Can I have a word?"

The question, as opposed to an order, immediately set Matt on edge. "Sure thing, Major. I've squared things away with Romalov so things will be taken care of here while we're gone. Or did you have some other concerns? I admit it's a bit surreal for me going in as your second in command... "

"I've got nothing but confidence in you, Captain," Fujikawa stated before turning to a vacant spot some distance from the traffic in the room and the idling soldiers. "I've been meaning to ask," she started while dropping her volume to the point where it was just barely audible over the rest of the noise in the chamber, "did anything strike you as odd during the meeting where Captain Armor showed us what happened on his homeworld?"

Just a few years ago, I would think a unicorn showing us memories of an alien attack on another world would have been odd, Matt smothered that line of thought before replaying the events of that briefing in his mind. "Well, the first thing that comes to mind is the scale of the attacks. The first attacks on Earth were lone scout ships with maybe half a dozen total aliens hitting isolated communities. Things quickly escalated around May when we started seeing larger deployments of aliens along with heavier infantry and ship classes. The fact that they attacked Captain Armor's home world with no less than eight ships and dozens of aliens at once certainly doesn't fit our experiences."

Fujikawa nodded. "I was thinking the same thing. What I don't understand is why. The attacks on the Equestrians have all the hallmarks of a decapitation strike. Destroying Cloudsdale neutralizes the largest contingent of Pegasi on their world and gives them more of an edge in air superiority. Killing the royalty would no doubt be a crushing blow to morale even if they didn't move the sun and moon with their minds." The major finished her sentence with a note of incredulity before letting out a sigh and continuing. "The attacks there just make sense. What worries me is the tactics they've been using on Earth."

When Matt caught on to Fujikawa's logic, he had to resist the urge to smack himself on the forehead. "I imagine things would be easier if they used the same strategy in both places. Either the commander of the Earth area of operation is entirely incompetent to lose so many ships and personnel by feeding them to us piecemeal-"

"-or the aliens have a strategy that they are following for attacking Earth that, for whatever reason, requires that they lose those resources, and that strategy is so brilliant that neither Bradford or I can comprehend it," Fujikawa finished. "No offense to our allies, but other than the Princesses and maybe Discord, I can't see them posing a threat to them as much as we do. I could -maybe- see some absurd justification for targeting us, like, 'these barbarians will conquer the stars if they don't kill each other first.' But the ponies? I can't see them being a threat to anyone unless someone picks a fight with them."

"I suppose that raises the question, 'why open up a second front in the war?' They certainly succeeded in drawing Equestrian forces back to defend the homeland but I'm afraid the aliens might be making a big mistake in provoking them," Matt said as he cupped his chin in his right hand while crossing his right arm over his chest. When Fujikawa fixed him with a perplexed look, he added, "You know the saying, 'beware the nice ones'? If it came down to the survival of their world, I think Celestia might bend her 'no kill' rule to hurl a star at the aliens. I imagine any successful invasion would require that she be out of the picture, which lends support to the decapitating strike theory. Maybe they thought she could be brainwashed into submission?"

"That might be the case," Fujikawa said, though any further speculation was interrupted when she caught sight of Shining Armor weaving his way through the crowd. The unicorn was in the dress uniform of his own country, and what few belongings he had brought with him were stowed in saddlebags at his sides. A thickly wrapped and bound bundle rested on his back, though if any of these weights were a burden, he did not show it.

"Major Fujikawa, Captain Harris. I'd like to personally thank you both for everything that you're doing," Shining said before hesitating for just a moment. "I hope I'm not inconveniencing either of you, but I need to have a private word with Captain Harris."

Oh God, here it comes, Matt thought as a slight stab of apprehension struck him. He barely registered Major Fujikawa's polite response and her withdrawal from the conversation as a dozen possible explanations from the honest truth to a flowery lie to escape what would no doubt be the scowling admonitions of a protective older brother. Matt was reasonably confident that he and Shining Armor had built up enough of a rapport where threats of bodily harm wouldn't come into the conversation, but-

"Captain Harris... Matt," Shining started, and the hesitation in his voice completely derailed Matt's train of thought. "The briefing I gave was entirely correct on the situation back home, but there's one detail that I did not mention because it's more personal in nature." Shining closed his eyes and took a steadying breath before continuing. "Twilight was in Canterlot when the attack happened."

Some of the shock Matt felt must have shown on his face, as Shining quickly continued, "She survived the attack, though I do not know her condition. From what the Guard reports say, she assisted in the defense of the capitol but was struck down by the Ethereal commanding the assault. Apparently it... did something to her. She refuses to leave her quarters and bars entry to everyone. The guards state that the only one she asks for is you. As much as it pains me to admit, you share a connection with Twilight that I don't. Whatever the Ethereal did to her, she thinks that only you can help with it. She needs you more than she needs me."

Well, shit, Matt couldn't help but think as Shining Armor finished his explanation. I can't exactly tell him the truth now and expect any trust from him or Twilight in the future. 'So sorry, but that connection is a lie, a prank perpetrated by Jenkins and I was too much of a coward to set the record straight.' Ugh, how did I get into this shit? "I'll do everything I can to help her, Captain. She doesn't deserve any of the hardship she's suffered."

"What exactly happened while she was here?" Shining asked. "When Twilight came home she did her best to try and tell us what happened, but there were times where she would just fall apart and couldn't talk about it anymore. I know that her time here wasn't exactly ideal, but I still don't know what happened to her and I can't help her if I’m in the dark."

"She made some hard decisions to survive, Shining," Matt explained. "I'm afraid I can't explain anything else other than that. Twilight will tell you everything when she's ready. She just has to come to terms with it first. What happened in the capitol likely only made things worse." Shining grimaced at the implications, and it was an expression Matt shared. The survivors from the one fight we won against an Ethereal in the field are still seeing Frank about the nightmares, and it always gives me the chills hearing the radio logs of the Strike team that first encountered the Ethereals in the field.

"Thank you, Matt," Shining said, and he fixed Matt with the evaluating glare that had become so commonplace. The lack of set jaw and narrowed eyes was the only indication that the evaluation had been upped from 'insufficient' to 'tolerable.' "I know I've been rather harsh towards you during my short time here, Matt. I will also admit that it was more for personal reasons than an evaluation of your worth as an ally. I know that you've got a younger sister yourself, so you no doubt understand why I acted that way. It's no excuse though, and I apologize for my behavior."

Way to twist the knife, Shiny. "Thanks. That means a lot to me," Matt stumbled over the words, and judging by Shining's expression he no doubt interpreted the hesitation as gratitude or relief. Quick, change subjects before this gets anymore awkward! "Where are the Clover Leaves? When you first came to Earth you were wearing them, so I was half expecting you to wear them on the trip back."

Shining turned his head and pointed to the bundle on his back with one ear. "They're safely stored for the trip back and they'll likely go back into storage as soon as we arrive. They aren't exactly safe to handle back home, and the only reason I wore them for my first trip to Earth was because we did not exactly know how well received our arrival would be. Your first trip to our home didn't exactly end on a positive note." Shining's gaze fell to the Rule Breaker wristwatch that Matt wore but he said nothing more.

"I suppose that's reasonable," Matt nodded as memories of the dizzying chase through the woods followed by the mad dash to the teleport beacon to escape Luna came to mind. Wait, he said the Clover Leaves aren't safe to handle back home? Why's that? Before Matt could voice his question, a warning klaxon blared in the Kaleidoscope chamber followed by a countdown until activation.

"It looks like our conversation will be cut short," Shining said as he turned to his assigned position on the teleport pad. "I'll see you on the other side."

Matt closed his eyes and took a deep breath to steady himself, and not entirely because of the conversation he just had. Recent conversations aside, the teleportation itself was disorienting to the point of nausea. It wouldn't reflect well on XCOM or humanity as a whole for him to vomit all over-

"Green light from big bro, eh?"

"Jesus Christ, Jenkins!" Matt snapped as he nearly jumped out of his skin at the unexpected statement. He whipped around to find Lana standing at ease nearby with an innocent expression on her face. "How long were you standing there?"

"Oh, around the part where Shiny asked to talk to you privately," Lana said with a smirk, but Matt interrupted her even as her expression began to drop.

"Lana, when we get over there, I don't want to hear one word about Twilight and me. Not one word or so help me I'll make you wear your Navy uniform for the duration, complete with the skirt. You'd be working with Firecracker as a liaison between us and the Equestrians," Matt promised with as much feeling as he could manage while also keeping his voice down.

Lana opened and closed her mouth to try and form a response before settling on, "You are evil." Her expression was a mix of consternation and grudging admiration as she glanced down at her XCOM uniform pants. "Firecracker flirts with anything that has a pulse, you know he'll get the wrong idea. But that's the point, right?" She finished before Matt could confirm just that. "Officer rank has turned you into an evil man, Matt. I remember when I could tease you mercilessly and you would do nothing but pout about it."

"Rank comes with resources, I'm just more capable of exacting my revenge now," Matt grinned, though it faltered as Lana's smile returned.

"So what are you going to do about your special situation once you get over there? You know it will only be a matter of time before the truth comes out."

The thirty-second warning saved Matt from having to answer though the question still lingered. What am I going to do? Neither the Army nor XCOM offered a course in diplomacy while suspected of having romantic intentions on royalty, he pondered as he devoted some thought to just how he would exact his revenge on Lana. By the time Matt looked up, she had resumed her position with the rest of the Mente Materia specialists. Shaojie Zhang continued to perform what Lana had aptly dubbed his 'statue impression' with the only movement being his slow and even breathing. Lana and Jack Finch were next behind him; the former whistling a fast-paced tune while the latter looked increasingly angry at a pocket poker game in his hand. Matt's gaze moved to the last two specialists in his group and he quickly quashed any unease he felt about bringing them.

The first was Annette Durand, a French woman that had been rescued from captivity by XCOM. That situation wasn't exactly unique and rescued civilians were often released to their countries of origin after an examination. Annette's examination, however, flagged her as a potential Mente Materia candidate and she was swept up into the organization. The civilian playing soldier at XCOM, Matt couldn't help but think. If we had the time I'd recommend sending her for formal training.

The last of the Mente Materia specialists didn't exactly 'lurk', as that would imply some form of sinister purpose. Victor merely set himself apart from the group and tried to fade into the background. For a moment, Matt considered speaking with the former pilot to try and boost his morale, but he reconsidered before taking a single step towards him. He'll just ask if he can stay here and I'll tell him no, then we'll be worse off. Matt resisted the impulse to frown at the thought. I probably know better than anyone what he's going through, but I wish he would just assimilate already. As he fell in with his troops, a small lanyard with a curious stone on the end was handed to him.

"This, gentlemen, is your translation pendant!" Robert Sachs boomed from the front of the chamber. "You will keep this on at all times while not on Earth as it will translate your speech into the recognized languages in our new theater of operations. If you lose this pendant, I want you to memorize the following words." Sachs paused before slowly enunciating a sentence in the Equestrian language and couldn't help but notice the odd look that Shining directed at the Australian sergeant for it. "That sentence translates to, 'I'm an idiot and I lost my translator.' Yes, really, that's what it says. I made certain it was word for word. Any questions?"

No questions arose and Sachs assumed his own spot on the teleporter pad. The main pad was tightly packed with the Strike teams standing in neat formation while the secondary chambers were stuffed to the gills with support personnel and all the supplies they would need to operate in the field. Everything from armor and ammunition to solar power cells and off duty uniforms could be found in those crates.

The countdown approached five seconds, and Matt slowly drew in a breath, then huffed it through clenched teeth as the counter reached zero. His ears popped and his vision was filled with lavender light before near total darkness chased away the light. Even as Matt's eyes adjusted to the low light conditions he heard the sounds of his team around him as well as the other Strike teams in attendance trying to hold their last meals (or lack thereof) down.

"Gentlemen," Shining Armor said as he stepped forward and turned back to the humans as they recovered. "Welcome to Canterlot, capital of Equestria." The slightest spark of magic appeared in his horn and the light level went from near total darkness to a dazzling array of colors. Crystalline shapes of every color imaginable lined every surface save for the large plateau on which Matt and the humans now stood and a winding path leading further into the cavern. Even the plateau and the path itself had intricate lines of light running through them in dizzying patterns was vaguely reminiscent of the lights that could be seen under the flooring of the Kaleidoscope chamber. The sheer variety of color was simply mind-boggling. “We are currently in the caverns beneath the city, which is the most secure location under our control…” Any further information that Shining might have offered was lost as Matt tried to fully grasp his surroundings.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph! I don’t know why they’re all these different colors but all these crystals have to at least be partially Elerium if they all lit up like that with just Shining’s little spark, Matt thought as he resisted the urge to swear out loud. Major Fujikawa’s probably the only other human here who understands the significance of this. Could this be why the aliens are taking a different strategy here? Any further speculation was interrupted as the rest of the volunteers finally began to recover from the spectacle of the Equestrian equivalent of the Kaleidoscope chamber.

"All right, chaps, pick up your jaws and shift it. We aren't tourists here to gawk and buy postcards," Sachs ordered, which snapped everyone to attention. There was a brief rustle of movement as the Strike operators adjusted (or picked up) their kit bags while several others turned to help with the larger crates of equipment. A half dozen Earth Ponies that had been loitering near a series of flatbed carts on rails were already attempting to load the humans’ supplies while another pair of Earth Ponies were directing the humans down the path.

"Captain Harris," Major Fujikawa's voice carried over the bustle and she appeared a moment later with Shining Armor in tow. Her approach had been similar to before the teleport but was far more formal. "It seems that the Equestrians were well prepared for our arrival," she said as she indicated towards the bustle of movement behind her. "The Strike teams and support personnel will be taken to their respective areas to set up. We, however, have an appointment with Princess Luna. Captain Armor will take us to her."

"Understood," Matt said as he fell into step behind Fujikawa, and he was perceptive enough to notice the tension in her posture as they walked. We can't exactly discuss the fact that the Equestrians built their capitol on top of the largest concentration of Elerium we've ever imagined while Shining is here, Matt thought, and his expression darkened slightly. Twily couldn't have told them about the tests she did on the stuff or they would have mentioned something before now. I know the orders we were given were 'don't share anything unless they bring it up' but it makes me feel like a damned liar if Twily's people don't understand the significance of this.

Matt continued to mentally rail against his orders as they initially followed the flow of traffic, but they pulled away to a staircase cleverly hidden in the shadow of a stalagmite that was almost devoid of the curious crystals that lit up the chamber. The corridors and winding staircases were distinctly darker than the chamber they had arrived in. More than once Matt looked up as his ears caught some subtle sound of movement but saw nothing but the gloom.

The trek through the tunnels eventually ended at a heavy wooden door. A hoof tap from Shining caused the door to slowly open seemingly of its own accord, and it closed behind them with just as little effort. When Matt didn't register any door locking mechanisms he turned back to see if the door was shut. There was no sign of the door at all, just a dusty portrait of a scowling powder blue Alicorn. Right, magic, was the only explanation Matt could think of as he turned his attention forward again.

A second set of doors opened to reveal a well-lit corridor and several ponies that most likely belonged to the Royal Guard. Gleaming gold armor and brush-head style helmets seemed to be standard issue though the weapons varied and were far more telling of the tension of the situation. Armored gauntlets covered the forelegs of every guard present, and it didn't take more than a passing inspection for Matt to tell that the weapons were not normally part of the guard uniform. Unicorns also carried pairs of sheathed blades at their flanks, and the few Pegasi Matt saw carried what he could only guess was some form of crossbow. It took a great deal of willpower not to look over his shoulder as the first two guards they passed fell into step behind them.

The group proceeded through a few more deserted corridors before finally entering what could only be a war room. A massive table dominated the center of the room with an extensive map of the continent that Equestria was on with small flags and labels for every settlement. Gold markers and Equestrian text appeared to mark the terribly small amount of armed forces they could deploy while red markers and text seemed indicative of alien attacks. Unicorns used their magic to shuffle markers around or add to the notes while an occasional Pegasus darted through a window to drop off a bundle of dispatches before leaving just as quickly. Princess Luna sat at the head of the table, and the room practically froze when she looked up to address the new arrivals.

"Princess Luna, I have returned from the field," Shining Armor said with an air of formality and a bow. "Our allies on Earth have agreed to offer their assistance in our time of need against our mutual enemy. As we speak, the humans are proceeding to their staging area and will be able to deploy within a day. Major Yumiko Fujikawa is leading their expedition, and Captain Matt Harris is her second in command," The unicorn rose and introduced the two humans behind him.

Fujikawa bowed and Matt moved to follow suit but nearly lost his balance and his last meal when a flash of purple light followed by near total darkness robbed him of his vision. He was familiar enough with teleportation at this point to realize what had happened. Matt's eyes quickly adjusted from the teleport flash to the near total darkness of his current setting. Bookshelves lined every wall from the floor to the arched ceiling, and were only broken up by equally massive windows hidden behind thick drapes that blocked most of the light from entering the room.

Any further analysis was interrupted when something came screaming out of the dark to ram into his midsection and refused to let go even as he toppled over. The well trained impulse to defend himself faltered and died just as quickly when he realised who had hit him.

Twilight Sparkle was a mess. Her mane and coat were matted with sweat and lack of care, and what little Matt could see of her face before she buried it in his chest was just as bad. Dried tear trails and bloodshot eyes laced with fear was another indicator as to just what Twilight had gone through so far. "They're dead, Matt! They're all dead and I killed them!" she screamed as she sobbed into his dress jacket and tightened her grip around his midsection.

"It's okay, Twilight, it's okay," Matt said, and he tried not to wince as Twilight's horn dug into his ribs. Shining's earlier conversation came to mind, and the pieces came together in Matt's mind. He raised one hand to pat Twilight on the head. "No one's judging you, Twilight. You did what you had to to survive, we all know that." It's all the deaths that happened on Earth, Matt concluded, and a dull ache not caused by Twilight's horn struck him. She's probably reliving them. The calming attempt did not have the reaction Matt was expecting.

"I shouldn't have survived! The monsters are here for me and now they'll kill all my friends! It's my fault! It's all going to burn! Everypony's going to die because of me!" Twilight shouted before falling to pieces again.

"It's alright, Twilight. I'm here now. Lana and Zhang are too. We're here to help for as long as we can," Matt said calmly. When he tried to rise the grip around his torso tightened and Twilight's wings wrapped around him. With no escape apparent in the near future, all Matt could do was hold Twilight and pat her head. Eventually the screaming became sobbing, and then the sobbing went silent. Twilight's breathing began to deepen and the vice-like grip on his torso finally lessened. Matt didn't know how much time had passed but it became more and more apparent that Twilight was deep asleep and unlikely to wake anytime soon.

Poor girl, she probably hasn't gotten any sleep since the attack, Matt realized, and the thought of what she had gone through grabbed his heart and squeezed. I know Twilight probably needs this, but I can't stay here. Plus this position isn't exactly comfortable, he couldn't help but think. Matt had toppled over near a chair upon which his upper back now rested but the angle left his lower back completely unsupported. With Twilight still loosely clinging to his chest and torso, it was only a matter of time before his back began to ache.

Matt fumbled as best he could on the chair behind him for something that Twilight could cling to instead of him. He eventually found purchase on a pillow or some sort of cushion and brought it into position. Matt took extra care to not wake Twilight as he escaped her grasp and slipped the object in his hand into place. The cushion turned out to be some form of stuffed animal or rag doll, which made the situation seem more tragic. Matt quietly walked toward the door and tried not to think about how much of a heel he was for leaving Twilight in this condition.

Surprisingly, the door slowly opened enough to allow Matt to leave before he even reached it. The clatter of armored hooves filtered through the partially open doorway and as he slipped through he caught sight of a scowling Shining Armor. Lana stood behind him, and any assumption that Lana was going to rib him about what had happened was lost when Matt saw the business-like expression on her face. That, combined with the shouts from the hallways and the sheer number of Equestrians moving around hinted that more than Matt's sudden disappearance had raised an alarm.

"Captain Harris, your presence is requested in the War Room," Shining Armor explained without preamble. "Luna reports that alien ships are inbound."

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