• Published 25th Jan 2018
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XCOM: Ranger - Wanderer D



Sunset Shimmer escapes Equestria... with unforeseen consequences.

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Chapter 48: Headaches

Ranger

Chapter 48: Headaches

By Wanderer D

"She's been in there for twenty years?!" Sunset walked closer to the giant glass tube, eyes wide. "But… but how?"

Vikass nodded. "The process to heal her with Meld was… very slow. If our Sectoid friends had simply modified her, she would have lost her psychic powers and… back then, they were the only thing preventing us from rejoining the Elder's army.

"As time passed, and our independence grew, it became less necessary to depend on her psychic wave." He stepped aside, resting his hands on the machines.

"Under her guidance, we slowly started creating this place… from time to time she would awaken within there and reach out to us more directly, but she was always aware of where we were and what we were doing."

He turned to look at Annette with a look of utter devotion. "We think, at first, she thought she was dreaming. That we were figments of her imagination, in some bizarre dream invoked on her by someone named John Lance. Apparently, it wasn't the first time he had done that.

"Eventually, she recognized that we were sentient beings, and that we were tied to her. Unlike the… Elders… we didn't have any animosity to her… even though she prompted us to not do certain things, we had much more freedom than ever before.

"When she woke up for the first time, she had seen herself through our eyes so many times, she wasn't surprised by her new appearance. We feared she might lash out, harm herself and us in anger, but through the years watching us, seeing through us… she understood we had changed.

"She guided us more fully, past simple need for survival. She allowed us to dismantle the workshop and to access some other rooms of the base for essential equipment. We had already figured out ways to hunt the wildlife outside the base, and now we were going to be more… self sufficient.

"We dismantled fully one of the destroyed drop-ships, and with that and the equipment from the base, we were able to fix the destroyed cyberdisks, drones and other malfunctioning or abandoned mechanical elements and turn them to… other uses.

"And now we are here… when she felt you approach, she requested your presence," Vikass said, motioning with his hand.

"She's awake right now?!" Sunset asked, turning to look at Annette, who slowly raised her head, but did not open her eyes.

"Sunset Shimmer."

The voice was in their minds, and it echoed as if it was coming from within a long, distance tunnel.

"And… no… you are not her. Your mind feels different. Alien." Annette's eyes opened, revealing slitted eyes, very similar to a viper's. "And you look… different. Younger."

Sunset felt the intrusion attempt. "No! Wait!" She felt the probe, a bit more direct than the earlier brushes, demanding questions. Instinctively Sunset's magic flared against this unexpected intrusion.

Annette's head whipped back, as if she had been punched in the face and reeled, stunned for a moment, raising a slightly scaly hand to softly touch her head as she shook it in surprise.

Sunset herself staggered back. It had been intense, but fortunately, Annette hadn't been trying to force her way into her mind, it had been just an outward probe. "It's bad for others to try and read me."

Still massaging her temple, Annette nodded. "This is true. I cannot read you. I imagine a harder try would give me more than just a headache," she stated. She looked at Jane. "Your thoughts are also hidden… by her." She turned to Sunset.

"I'm not the same Sunset you knew," Sunset said. "But I'm not your enemy. I'm with XCOM."

Annette blinked. She turned to Vikass, but she didn't limit the communication only to the Thin Man; they all heard her. "Others come. It is time."

Vikass looked saddened, if that was possible for a Thin Man. "Are you sure?"

"She said this day would come," Annette projected into their minds. "I heard her… she felt my mind expand… she… just before…"

Oddly enough, Sunset heard a familiar echo… as if music was playing somewhere around them, distant, but recognizable, even if she couldn't immediately place it. She knew this song, but where had she heard it?

By the look of utter confusion in Jane's face, she wasn't the only one that could hear it, although she looked at Sunset in surprise. "Are… you… singing?"

Sunset frowned. She hadn't been singing. She recognized the music, somewhat, but she didn't know the lyrics… but was that her own voice? She tried to listen closer, but the moment Jane had asked, the music was gone, and Annette was focused back on them.

"The Commander is here."

Wolf Team covered the area where the Skyranger slowly hovered down, their weapons trained outwards, their backs to the vehicle.

No ADVENT troops had ventured this deep into the forest and mountains, but there was always the chance of an ambush, and Lt. Oimata "Deadwood" Kiba wasn't going to let that happen under his watch.

Bad enough they had lost two agents who were supposed to not only be injured but also ready for rescue. If anything happened to the crew that was coming in… things wouldn't bode well for XCOM.

Firebrand landed the Skyranger, and the moment the ramp came down, Menace emerged, covering angles as well.

Deadwood had to give it to them. They might not have been from XCOM originally, but their "loaners" as they were called by some, had integrated well together. The Commander and Central might as well have been heading a team of XCOM veterans.

Signaling the others to stay put, Deadwood trotted towards the Commander and Central, stopping to salute. "Ma'am. Sir. We have secured the area. No hostiles have been spotted so far, but we still have absolute silence from the safe house."

"Not as safe as we had anticipated, clearly," Chrysalis muttered. "Come on, we'll go in through the front gate."

The two teams followed the Commander's lead. Carol "Shogun" Wood, Wolf's own ranger, joined the Reaper heading ahead to spot any potential enemies, while the teams marched in a loose column.

"What of ADVENT, Lieutenant?" Central spoke up. "Were there any attempts to follow our agents?"

Deadwood nodded. "We observed some distant reconnaissance teams, but they didn't venture this far. It is my belief that they expected "Bloody Sunset" and the "Quarian" to have been picked up already."

Chrysalis nodded. "Got it. In that case… wait. The Quarian? Really?"

A snort drew their attention towards Central, but he seemed as implacable as ever. They had probably misheard.

"Who gave her that nickname?" Chrysalis asked, unamused.

"I believe it was Colonel Galahad," Central said. "It was either that or "Zulu", but after he overhead Kelly say: "I still have the shotgun", he refused to call her anything else…"

"...and it stuck," Deadwood completed. "I still don't get the reference, but a few of the original XCOM team seemed to find it extremely amusing."

"Children. I am surrounded by children."

The radio fizzled into life. "Commander, I have eyes on our objective," Dragunova said. "I believe you would really like to see this."

Chrysalis shared a look with the others, then they all started trotting to catch up with their forward scouts. The forest density slowly lowered, until they emerged right by the mountain side and onto a small plain overlooking the entrance to their former headquarters.

The mountain and nature had done their jobs in stepping in when humans had left. Part of the entrance had collapsed under tons and tons of rock and gravel. Rain, wind and plants had slowly eroded away human construction until it looked like a huge, gaping cavern.

The heavy metallic doors that would have parted to allow vehicles to land inside and be moved deeper into the mountain had been blasted clean off, and their remains were buried under dirt and mud.

But all of that was secondary to what they found at the entrance. A huge, bipedal robot stood at attention at the entrance, its imposing, heavily armored body at the ready while three glowing red "eyes" studied the area.

"That's… a Sectopod?" Chrysalis asked. She narrowed her eyes. "But what's that on top of it?"

Elena gave her a deadpan look. "That would be Sunset Shimmer, Commander."

When Chrysalis saw Sunset, her knees almost gave out. She looked… exactly like her Sunset. "You… why are you wearing…"

Sunset's face immediately went red. "Um, sorry Commander… it's a long story and—" she cleared her throat. "I'm sorry… I know it's probably insulting but…"

Chrysalis gulped, taking a deep breath. "N-no, I—" She paused collecting her thoughts. "If anything, she would have found it hilarious." She glanced up at the Sectopod, which had meandered away and deactivated in a remote corner of the hangar entrance. "If that's an indication of what you were expecting, it's natural you'd set yourself up with armor."

She looked from Sunset to Jane. "The signal code indicated that one of you was injured."

Sunset and Jane exchanged a look. "I um… performed an emergency blood transfusion with a lot of… unknown factors." Sunset explained. "I'm not sure how but…"

Chryaslis closed her eyes, visibly counting silently as she took deep breaths. "You… I… how, you know. No. I'm not doing this. You both will report to Tygan immediately upon your return to the Avenger. Do you have any idea how dangerous… no. I expect you don't, you bone-headed idiots!"

She paced in front of them. "But fine. You survived. Somehow. Did you complete the mission?"

"Yes," Sunset said, "I obtained the information needed."

"Good," Chrysalis hissed. "Now, assuming you don't have anything else to report—" she gave Sunset a death-glare when her old friend's counterpart smiled uneasily. "What."

Sunset shrugged and smiled, motioning behind them.

Immediately both teams were pointing their weapons and the small crowd of aliens that emerged. And at the front, wearing old XCOM carapace armor like the one Jane was wearing was a familiar face Chrysalis had never expected to see.

"Hello, Commander," a familiar voice echoed in her mind.

Annette Durand looked… as young as before, but different. Her face was pale, and had a hint of silvery-gold scales running down her neck. Her smile gave a brief glimpse of elongated canines, and her eyes seemed to be a mix of human and reptilian attributes. Her fingers ended in sharp claws and she walked with the confidence of a predator among prey.

"We have much to discuss."

Chrysalis slowly dragged her hand down her face. "Sunset."

"Yes, ma'am?"

"Head over to the Avenger, and have Lily bring it over as planned. You and Jane go straight into the lab, you understand?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"And Sunset?"

"Yes, ma'am?"

"If you ever do something like this again, I will personally throw you into that statue repeatedly until it lets you through. Understood?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Go."

Chrysalis watched Sunset and Jane hurry away with the rest of an amused Team Menace, then turned her attention to Annette.

"Just like the original," the former psi-op observed.

Chrysalis shook her head. "I can only take so much." She glanced behind Annette. "So what is this? Another resistance faction?"

Annette chuckled. "Hardly, there's only seven and a few machines," she projected. "Not a faction… yet, but perhaps the beginning of something different." She tilted her head. "I was surprised when you brought… others... XCOM has changed."

Chrysalis sighed. "We needed to. The Reapers, the Templars and the Skirmishers are… unique, and strong."

"Twenty years ago we would have killed the ADVENT soldier on sight." Annette shook her head in amusement. "And that Templar… is interesting."

Chrysalis smirked. "Oh, you don't know half of it. Do you remember your buddy, Geist?"

Annette didn't say anything, but her body language spoke volumes.

Chrysalis grinned. "Why don't we sit down?"

o.0.o End Chapter 48 o.0.o

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