• Published 22nd Nov 2015
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Gunsmoke - Wanderer D

Sunset Shimmer and Desert Mirage... what exactly is the connection?

  • ...

Chapter 02: Experiment


by Wanderer D

Chapter 02: Experiment

"So, what do you think?"

Twilight Sparkle looked away from the computer screen to the girl behind her and shrugged. "The readings are all over the place, Sunset." She then smiled. "But... that's the point of experiments!"

Sunset chuckled and walked over to where her diary rested, open to a pageful of notes. "I see you already sent the information you gathered to Princess Twilight?"

"Yes, I did!" Twilight said, pushing away from her desk and stretching before standing up. "She hasn't replied yet, but I'm sure she'll have some interesting theories about what's happening to you."

"I look forward to finding out just what my magic is doing to the system..." Sunset looked up at the clock.

"Um, I was hoping we could put in a few more hours of data analysis?" Twilight asked, stacking a few printouts together and giving Sunset a hopeful look.

Sunset shook her head. "I'm sorry, I can't, Twi. I promised the girls I'd be there in time for practice today." She grinned at the despondent look in her friend's face. "Doesn't mean that I don't want to help you with it! But we should wait until we see Princess Twilight's theory as well. Then I can help you bridge the magic component into science!"

"For science!" Twilight cheered, pumping up her fist.

Their conversation was cut short when Lemon Zest opened the door to the lab and peeked inside. "Hey, Sparkle! Are you ready for our—oh, hey Sunset."

"Hey, Lemon Zest," Sunset replied, bumping fists with the girl. "Don't worry about me, I was about to leave."

"No worries," Lemon Zest shrugged, leaning on the wall and glancing at all the equipment strewn around. "You two are really into science, aren't you?"

"Science is magic!" Twilight Sparkle stated.

Sunset rolled her eyes and chuckled, picking up her diary and putting it inside her backpack. "Well, let's get back together when we hear back from the Princess." She winked. "I'll leave you girls to do your thing."

Lemon Zest nodded, but just as Sunset was passing next to her she spoke up. "Are you and the Rainbooms participating in the state's music event?"

Sunset paused and nodded.

"Hm." Lemon Zest frowned, chewing her gum. "Well, don't expect me to take it easy on you girls just because we're friends."

Sunset grinned. "I wouldn't expect any different."

Lemon Zest nodded, then stepped forth to grab Twilight's hand. "Good. As for you, Twilight, come on. The others are waiting."

"B-but! Science!"

"Science can wait!" Lemon Zest insisted, dragging Twilight out of the lab. "Besides, I swear your dog has been hitting on Sunny Flare again!"

Sunset Shimmer chuckled, closing the lab door behind her. "See you later, girls!"

"B-bye!" Twilight called out just before she was pulled around a corner.

Sunset made her way out of Crystal Prep, nodding to the few students that had grown used to her presence by now, thanks to her frequent visits and her participation in the Friendship Games. She paused though, and looked around. For some reason she felt like someone was looking at her, but a scan of the crowd revealed nothing unusual, just the regular groups of students and staff.

Shrugging, she stepped out of the building, hurrying to her motorcycle, the feeling still nagging her just a little.

Sunset watched the others discussing the last song among themselves, having chosen to sit down after practice. 'How long before they notice? I've been distant, I'm sure I've smiled a lot less... I haven't even joined them to go out for a couple of weeks and yet... is it respect for my privacy or do they just...' She pulled her knees closer to herself, her finger strumming her guitar as it rested on the floor.

"So have any of you thought how we can make sure not to pony-up when playin' at the State Music Fair?" Applejack asked.

"I'm not sure, darling, but I think we really should figure it out. It would not do to lose because we suddenly grow tails and pony ears."

"Um, maybe we could... not get too excited?" Fluttershy suggested.

"What?! No." Rainbow Dash jumped up from stringing her guitar. "What's the point of competing if we don't give it our all? Right, Sunset?"

The girls all looked at their friend.

"Sunset?" Rainbow Dash repeated. "Earth to Sunset!"

Snapping out of her thoughts, Sunset gaped at the others. "Wh-what?"

"Geez, come on! You can't be bored already!" Rainbow Dash snapped.

"Sorry! I just—"

"Look, just tell us if you have any idea how we can avoid ponying-up for the fair," Rainbow Dash interrupted, crossing her arms.

"Rainbow Dash!" Rarity gasped. "That's no way to talk to your friends!"

"Well, she keeps ignoring us!" Rainbow Dash retorted, although she did glance away and cringe before looking back at Sunset. "We were here to practice, but she barely put her mind to it! This is important!"

"I'm sure she just has a lot of stuff to worry about," Fluttershy said, placing a hand on Rainbow Dash's arm. "We don't need to fight."

"Yeah, well, just because she gets to hang out with the Crystal Prep crew doesn't mean she should ignore us," Rainbow Dash grumbled, pulling her arm away.

"Now, Rainbow Dash, Ah'm sure it's not like that," Applejack spoke up. "Sunset's right here with us, ain't she? She's our friend."

"Come on, Dashie!" Pinkie Pie grinned. "It's not like you're not friends with Indigo Zap!"

"We're friendlies," Rainbow Dash grunted. "Not the same thing."

Pinkie Pie blinked. "What's the difference?"

Rainbow Dash pinched her nose. "Really Pinkie? It's simple. Friends care for each other, we share our problems and know when one of us is in trouble. We all get together and help whoever needs it. Friendlies... just greet each other on the street and hang out sometimes."

Sunset Shimmer felt a pang, but fighting it down, she simply sighed. "Well, it doesn't matter." When the others looked back to her, she shrugged. "I've thought about the pony issue, but I don't think it would be a problem. We are allowed to use special effects in the concert, as long as we're playing and singing live, after all. We can just tell them it's all for show."

"But won't we start shootin' rainbows?" Applejack ventured. "Ah'm all for pretendin' it's nothin', since it's still us doin' the singin', but... Ah don't want to blast the crowd."

"It would be quite a complicated thing to explain," Rarity agreed.

Sunset shook her head. "It's not a battle of the bands where we are fighting against the magic of an evil group of sirens, or a rampaging she-demon for that matter. We should do our best to not pony-up, but regardless of whether we do or not, we're not going to be blasting the crowd with friendship this time. We've managed to occasionally use our powers during practice to do different things, right? We even made a force-field recently when we did that one cover..."

"I don't like holding back," Rainbow Dash interrupted, crossing her arms and looking away. "What's the point of going if we're not going to do our best?"

Counting backwards in her mind to not get annoyed, Sunset nodded. "I'll try and figure out a way to keep the magic under control so we can play at our best without additional fireworks, but if we do pony-up, nothing should happen unless there's some sort of battle."

"Well, let me know when we're practicing again," Fluttershy said, standing up. "I have to get going if I want to make it in time to pick up Angel and read the other bunnies a bedtime story."

"See you later!" Pinkie bounced over to the others. "I baked a bunch of cupcakes this morning! Banana crunch! Who wants some?"

Rarity and Applejack shared a look. "Well, I could do with a latte," Rarity said thoughtfully.

"And Ah finished off my work this mornin'," Applejack said with a nod. "Ah'll take you up on some cupcakes, but you'd better have some apple ones too!"

Rainbow Dash grinned. "Set me up with a milkshake as well and I'm good to go! What about you, Sun—" she stopped. "Where did she go?"

'Figures that she wouldn't pay attention to what she was saying,' Sunset Shimmer thought as stomped her way down the hall. 'What kind of 'friend' does she think she is? I should—' She shook her head, forcing herself to let the vengeful thought go.

Looking around, she found an empty classroom and stepped into the darkened room, pacing back and forth for a moment before sitting down on one of the desks, resting her head in her hands. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Stupid. Don't think that way. You're not that person anymore. You don't use their weaknesses against them."

'Or am I? Maybe the effect of the Elements of Harmony was temporary. Maybe I'm showing my true colors again.

"It doesn't work that way," she argued lamely and sighed.

The silence in the room was comforting, but she still felt a bit empty as she gazed at the blackboard, like there was a weigh pushing on her chest and if she didn't remember to breathe she'd just stop doing so. "Am I actually their friend?" she wondered, "can I even say I am, when I'm not able to get through to them on how I feel?"

Unbidden, she remembered Rainbow Dash's words: 'Friends care for each other, we share our problems and know when one of us is in trouble.'

"But if you never see past the surface, how can you know I'm in trouble?" she muttered. She glanced down at the desk. "If that's true at all... am I even your friend?"

She tapped absently on the desk. All she cares about is that damn competition. It's not like they've needed me before to make the finals. If the Dazzlings hadn't appeared, I wouldn't even be part of the group. All I was, was a crony trying to vie for their friendship by being helpful because that was the only way I could think of—

"I'm reading too much into it." Sunset sighed. After a moment of thought, she pulled out her diary. Princess Twilight hadn't replied yet to the experiments Sunset and Twilight had done in this world, but that didn't matter much at the moment. Drawing a little design of her own cutie mark to indicate a break from the information they had sent over, Sunset debated what to say.

Finally, she just wrote the question that was bugging her.

Dear Princess Twilight,

If someone claims to be your friend, but doesn't care about how you feel and makes you feel like the only reason you're around is to fix problems... are they really your friend?

~Sunset Shimmer

Desert Mirage slowly crawled on her stomach, feeling the loose pieces of concrete scratch against her armor. The city around her provided plenty of cover for the most part, but against this amount of enemies it was only a matter of time before someone spotted her. Unless she was inside a building with no windows, she only had so many ways of moving around without drawing attention to herself.

She smirked when an explosion a couple of blocks away shook the windows of the nearby buildings. It seemed her pursuers had found her mine. 'It's not the first time I've had to deal with a hunting party, boys,' she thought as she took advantage of the moment and pushed up, running towards an upturned school bus. She chuckled. 'You hired me once, too, Surgeon. You should know better than to mess with me.

She didn't know what was the warning sign that gave the sniper away. Maybe it was sunlight reflecting off of the scope, or a sixth sense, but—had she not jumped and rolled to the right when she did—her head would have been blown off her shoulders. "Crap!"

She turned the roll into a running start, going around the corner of the nearest building. If the sniper had spotted her, Surgeon's team would have been informed already. She checked her timer. Still a few minutes to go before her mantle would be able to be activated again. Cursing under her breath, she studied her surroundings. 'Knowing "The Surgeon", he's already mobilized his squadron. I need to take care of that sniper.

Desert Mirage grimaced and started running around the building. "I need to figure out how to get close enough but—" she stopped and swore yet again. The street was a dead end, with a collapsed building in the way. Too high to jump, and even then, she would be within sight of the building where she suspected the sniper to be.

She walked up to the collapsed building. I've got a few more seconds at most... what to do?! the metallic scrape under her boot made her stop, and she looked down.

She smiled.

"We've got all the streets covered now! Keep an eye out, when she makes a run for it, shoot! Don't you dare miss again!"

"Okay, okay!" Reed muttered into the radio. He didn't even know why he had agreed to this. He was relatively new to the game, and now he was here, hunting down one of the most notorious PK'ers in the whole game. "I should've said no. But I had to be ambitious." He chuckled to himself, eyeing the streets through his scope.

He saw movement, but a quick re-positioning only revealed more of his team. They were looking all over the place for Desert Mirage, but there was no sign of her. Had she logged off?

It was then that the street where his squadmates were standing went up in flames. "What the? She's not there!" He swiped around, frantically looking for any sign of Desert Mirage, thinking that she would risk running with that distraction once more, but all he saw was another squad blasted away as soon as they stepped on... a manhole cover?

"The sewers!" he shouted, quickly pulling down to look at the street just in front of his building. He felt his blood run cold when he noticed the manhole in front of it was open.

"Smart boy."

He felt the gun push against the back of his head and gulped. He watched as she took his radio. "Hey, Surgeon," she said into the radio.

There was no answer for a few seconds, then a click and a resigned sigh. "Mirage."

"I found your sniper. You need smarter teammates."

"Tell me about it." Another sigh. "How do you want to do this?"

"I can kill you all, or you can vacate the area," Mirage offered. "But whatever happens, I'm going to have some words with you at the Capital. I know I'm not working for you right now, Surgeon, but this was uncalled for."

A chuckle. "Fine, we're done here. I've got what I needed. I'll meet you at the bar."

The transmission cut.

"Um... it wasn't personal?" Reed tried to keep his voice from shaking.

"Things in this place never are," Desert Mirage said, pulling the trigger.

"I want to say that I didn't feel good pulling the trigger. Gun Gale Online might only be a Virtual MMO, but the technology is just... beyond my dreams. Twilight's experiments aside, there is a freedom here that I can't bring to the real world.

"Here I can be as tough as I want, I can even lash out without really hurting anyone. I can excel at what I do. Use tactics I learned while still in Equestria and from the books I've read. I can mine for information. I can extort, threaten, blackmail and even start a criminal syndicate within reason and as long as people are not threatened in RL. Here, nothing is personal. Nothing escalates past some light frustration.

"So it should be easy to be the best I can be, both as a combatant and as a person. And yet... and yet I pulled the trigger when I could have let the rookie go. They say that your emotions will always display in full when in this game. That if you feel like crying, you can't hold it back like in the real world. How does that translate with anger and frustration? How does that translate with my true personality, if there is such a thing, and if it's being held back by magic?

"Am I liberating myself here, am I just escaping reality, or am I going to have to confront something darker inside me than I ever thought possible?

"I guess only time will tell. Save log."

Author's Note:

Second chapter out! Now, some of you might've noticed that I've added some characters to the character list. This is basically for those following the story as it's published. Obviously by the end of it, the list will be complete and it will be sort of spoilerish for new readers, but we can't do much about it and be fair to the system, can we?

So, yes! This is indeed Gun Gale Online! Well done for those of you that guessed correctly! Although I have to admit Bumblebee Turner's guess was very intriguing. I've never watched that anime, but the gun thing made a lot of sense given how the last chapter was written.

One last thing, I am using my preferred ending from EqG3, which is Twilight returning to Crystal Prep (now with friends!). Besides the fact that I like it, it's also plot relevant, so keep that in mind if you want to protest the decision.

Anyway, don't forget to comment! It feeds my soul!