• Published 10th Jan 2018
  • 2,699 Views, 228 Comments

Back and There Again - Sun Sage



A strange gem takes Rarity to a world she almost recognizes. She's going to make it back home no matter what, but she might need some help to do it. And why is it all so familiar?

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17. On Two Fronts, Part Two

The mech spun, speeding up surprisingly, and opened fire. Donovan swore as he dodged to the right, a blast of energy from his aether shield speeding him. The mech’s explosive weaponry was no problem, but he wasn’t sure his shields could handle the heavy plasma fire. For that matter, those were rather large shells it was using for its material cannons...

What part of ‘my turn’ confused you… He flung a burst of energy into the shoulder mounted heavy plasma cannon, only to watch the thing rock backwards as its shielding absorbed the blast. Despite the apparent lack of damage, he grinned. It was spinning again to target him, but…

He jumped, and a backwards explosion from his shield threw him forward, towards the mech. It hadn’t swivelled around fully yet, but in less than a second this was going to look really stupid if he was too slow.

He wasn’t.

A massive explosion cratered the ground, costing the mech its footing and throwing him away from it and, more to the point, out of its tumbling line of sight.

He flung several more blasts into the crater as the thing tried, and failed, to regain its feet. At this rate, he could smash its shields at leisure while keeping it down. Guided missiles fired, but their explosions of heat and force meant nothing to his talent. This was too easy… and he nearly facepalmed for thinking that before several pieces of the mech launched into the air.

“Aerods?!” was all he could exclaim before all of the floating weapons, little more than hovering drone cannons utilizing concentrated aether beams, opened fire.

His shield crumpled until he peppered the ground with numerous explosions, throwing up dust and debris to cover an escape, while another blast threw him away from their kill zone. They tracked him, continuing to fire. He returned the favor, blasting one from the sky in an incinerating burst of magic, but the others got through. He snarled as a beam of energy burned into his lower torso, and another his leg, a third his shoulder. He threw a punch at the ground as he fell, channeling a concussive blast that threw him behind a bit of cover in the form of a massive chunk of granite, leftover from the repurposing of the mountain into their current base.

There was no respite coming, as the Aerods circled his cover, charging for their next shots. He refocused his shield, reinforcing to the utmost at the blasts hit. He could stave off this assault, maybe the next… if he could return fire while they charged…

His cover exploded, throwing him forward in a heap, as the mech finally regained its considerably lighter footing.

It had discarded its shoulder cannons, and its arms and torso were lighter with the launch of the Aerods. Both forearm mounted guns aimed at Donovan, and fired alongside the Aerods.

After the salvo ended, Donovan was on his knees. He knew his shields wouldn’t hold through another volley. He grinned, spitting blood. “I’ll hand it to you… good fight. Too bad it’s over.”

“Hah!” a cruel, feminine voice came through the mech’s speaker system. “Will you beg now? 2nd Gen trash, I have no need of more specimens of your ilk.”

Donovan chuckled. “That’s a real shame, then. Cause there’s another inbound…”

Before the pilot could react, lightning arced between the Aerods, destroying two and sending the third spinning away to bounce off a tree. At almost the same time, Vera seemed to just appear atop the mech. She screamed, slamming both hands down onto its armored frame, channeling electrified aether arcing down through the mech’s form. Its shields held for a moment before their generators overloaded, along with other systems.

And then its fist came up, smashing violently into Vera, sending her flying, and then rolling to a stop, unmoving.

Donovan went cold. He felt Vera’s aether pulse through the Field… felt her lifeforce gutter like a candle inside her broken body. She was clinging to life, but...

He wasn’t conscious of moving, but in less than an eyeblink he stood before the mech, reaching up to touch the leg, above the knee joints. He’d dropped his shield, channeling everything into a final attack.

Its shields were gone as well… he interspersed destructive aether throughout its molecular structure. The resulting detonation, which he sculpted in his talent and aimed away from the compound, was excessive.

The pillar of light in which the mech burned would later be reported visible by satellite.

It made the survival of any part of the damn thing all the more impressive, even if it was just the last Aerod. It opened fire, piercing Donovan’s hastily raised defense to burn again into his torso, before a blast of lightning destroyed it. As he fell to his knees, and caught himself from faceplanting, he looked over to Vera. She smiled at him, laying on her side, and raised a smoking hand in a ‘thumbs up’.

He chuckled. “Knights take bishop…” he muttered, before lying down on the cement for a much needed break. With all the weapons fire and the like, it was quite warm and inviting. He shut his eyes, and drifted off to sleep.

---------------------------------

Lieutenant Zachary Jones would have loved to have helped out with the mech, but his own forces were limited to smaller targets once his drones had been destroyed. Casualties within the compound were over seventy five percent, so reinforcements to help with the pincer that had his remaining two people pinned weren’t likely. The incoming soldiers from the breaching pod were half unaccounted for, but the enemy Esper and mech were down. There were six of them in the garage, but Jones couldn’t do more than keep them from the doors to the compound proper. He would hold, but what he was holding for he wasn’t sure. How long for reinforcements? He had no idea, and it didn’t matter. He’d hold this position, protect the base, as long as it took. He didn’t too much care about the future Grumman wanted. He didn’t not care, it just wasn’t his job. He’d follow orders he trusted. And right now, he’d defend his home base until Grumman told him otherwise. He grinned grimly, firing off a shot at an overeager invader. Five to go.

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Sergeant Lily Vualez made her way quietly through the hallways. She didn’t much care for having no one to watch her back, but desperate times, desperate measures. The two ‘helpers’ from the medical ward were needed elsewhere. She sighed. They could only save three of her people in the control room. The other two were gone before they’d arrived. And now… they were checking on the priority target. Owens had to be secured. They couldn’t let that madman escape. And yet… she couldn’t abandon her lieutenant, either. At least she’d had time to pick up her preferred weapon…

The doors opened into the compound’s massive garage, and Lily took a brief moment to survey the carnage before opening fire. Most of the vehicles had been damaged or destroyed, and Jones’ men had overturned one of the more well armored ones somehow to act as an effective cover. The enemy was in multiple locations around their positions, but three of them were clustered together, clear to the targeting system of Lily’s rifle.

The bullets bounced off the garage ceiling, before each of the three activated its tiny propellent to perfect their aim to their individual targets. Each nanomachine projectile struck true, burrowing through armor and flesh to inject a paralyzing neurotoxin before their microscopic power sources gave out. Lily didn’t think about how much each such bullet cost… she’d had enough of this. Switching options on her weapon, she opened fire on a fourth enemy, and a drilling blast of projected, destructive aether pinned the soldier to the wall after penetrating his cover like it was wet paper. He slid weakly to the floor, leaving a smear of blood behind him. The weapon read twenty percent remaining charge, but she had more options for the final enemy. ...Then said enemy threw his weapon away, putting his hands up and shaking them desperately. “I surrender!”

She flipped another switch, and launched a small, slow moving projectile over his cover. The projectile sailed over his head and let loose an electrical shock that dropped him twitching to the floor.

“I accept.” She muttered darkly, shouldering her weapon.

“Hostiles clear!” Jones shouted over the din of burning vehicles, though his men were within a few feet of him. He stared up at Lily with wide eyes. “...Is that..?”

“Gungnir, Lieutenant," she replied, referring to the weapon. "I call her Gunny.”

Jones gulped visibly, and saluted. To rate being given that weapon… “At the academy, ma’am… my instructor made it clear to me: a lieutenant is there to learn from his sergeants. ...Lesson received.”

Lily chuckled, but shook her head. “The lesson being… even if you just got your ass kicked, win the fight anyway and look badass doing it?”

“Damn right, Sergeant.”

“Damn right, Lieutenant.” Lily grinned, but inside she felt a bit sick. They’d won the day, but they’d definitely taken an ass kicking. Three quarters of their people were at least injured, probably a third of those KIA… and the base was in shambles. For that matter… her eyes went wide.

“Tom, Crow, report!”

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The two of them could be seen as an exercise in how difficult nailing down the line between artificial intelligence and extremely complex interfaces was. Medical drones at one point, their programming had been expanded on, added to, updated, modified, and ultimately left to grow on its own over the years since Hamada and the original developers had worked on them. In addition to programming upgrades that put them right up against that line of ‘are they actually sapient or just too good at faking it?’, their chassis had been heavily modified for increased utility… as well as weaponry. Physically, the two resembled Star Wars astromech droids, though considerably slimmer and with a pair of compact arms each. They’d been given the names Tom, and Crow. And speaking of…

“Tom, Crow, report!”

“Report what? It’s a beautiful day outside…” Tom said.

“Birds are singing…” Crow continued.

“Flowers are blooming…”

“On days like these, kids like you…”

“Stop that!” Lily cut in. “Status report! Is Owens secure?”

“Securely resting in his own urine, ma’am! He may have… the diabetes…” Tom replied.

“He should call Liberty, ma’am.” Crow added.

“He… what? There’s no liberty for him…” Lily said, sounding confused.

“I think she missed the reference, Crow.”

“Damn shame, Tom.”

“Ugh, look, are the last of the enemy troops from the pod accounted for?”

“Oh, yes, ma’am! Transferring my onboard visual scanner recordings to Gungnir’s targeting camera’s display!” Tom said in his campy, slightly hammy voice.

“You’re what? … Oh… oh dear god. You two are cleaning that up.”

“We certainly are, ma’am! And it’s Crow’s turn!”

“Aww, dammit.”

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Vera crawled, or more like dragged herself, across the pavement, which hurt like Hell on her broken ribs. Even a 1st Gen would take a few days off for this… she’d need a week or two, easy. For now… she needed to check on Donovan. His aether was steady, but weak. She wouldn’t know for sure he was okay until she got closer. Just twenty more feet…

A pink aura surrounded her, lifting her gently from the broken, debris strewn concrete. Donovan’s fingers were glowing a similar hue. “Idiot… you have broken… everything, so stop moving around.”

“Shut up, you’re no better off.” she returned, though she was grinning now. She floated over in his telekinetic grip and was placed gently next to him, where he put an arm around her in a comradely hug. “And now you’re bleeding on me.” Despite saying that, she gingerly returned the embrace.

“Yeah well, thanks to you I’m alive to keep bleeding, so it’s your fault. ...Thanks.”

She chuckled, wincing slightly as her ribs protested the blatantly stupid notion of laughing in that moment. She’d never felt better. “I asked Lily out.”

“Nice. What’d she say?”

“Pretty sure it was yes, depending on my performance against the mech.”

“Welp, ya got my blessing.”

“Awesome. And Aiden can date Rarity...”

Donovan snickered. “I can’t even tell whether that’s a joke or not anymore.”

“It definitely isn’t. I’m going to make sure it happens. But my point is we need to set you up now. Espers don’t do well alone...”

“Pfft, I’m not alone, not at all. If anything, you’re the one we’re welcoming back.”

“Yeah…” her smile became distant for a moment. “I’m sorry, Don. I should have been here the whole time.”

“Eh, water under the bridge.”

“No. James Leland was here, I don’t know if you were inside our effective comm range to hear about it. I may have killed him…” she grimaced.

Donovan sighed. “So that’s what you meant by lone Espers… He was always trouble. I remember feeling relieved when he deserted. Shame he didn’t just find a quiet life somewhere.”

“Owens had a way of finding those of us that tried that. If Grumman hadn’t been keeping an eye on Aiden all this time…”

“Speaking of Grumman…” Donovan looked up at the smoking remains of the compound. Fort Friendship, as Rarity had dubbed it, had seen better days. It looked worse than it was, and they could certainly rebuild… but… “Not it!”

Vera blinked, and chuckled. “Yeah… I’m not calling him about this, either.” Her eyes widened. “No, we have to! They could be in danger, too. This was most of what Veritech had left, but maybe not everything… Lily!”

“I hear you, Vera. I’ll contact them immediately.”

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“Sergeant, you’ve all performed admirably under the circumstances. See to the fallen, first and foremost. I’ll handle the media from here, redirect all inquiries to me and just concern yourself with injuries and rebuilding what you can. ...No, Sergeant, don’t worry about that. We're a separate branch but still affiliated; they'll be sending assistance soon. Have Hamada submit me a full report as soon as she can. I’ll contact families… it’s time more people knew just what we were fighting for here.” Grumman said, talking into his headset.

Across the plane, Rarity was wide eyed in astonishment, and Aiden couldn’t blame her. Even he’d felt the massive spike of energy that Donovan had apparently used to destroy a rebuilt Oni Mech. Those things had been few and far between in the war, and had often accounted for many fatalities before their defenses could be worn down. He squeezed the unicorn’s slightly trembling withers, offering a comforting smile. “You okay?”

She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Her shaking lessened as she did. She returned a wan smile. “I will be, darling. I was more startled than anything. It was as if someone blew an airhorn in my ear. And since Pinkie Pie isn’t around, I was completely surprised.”

Valerie offered her a bottle of water. She took it in her magic, and drank slowly. “Thank you,” she said, smiling more strongly as the last of her jitters settled. “How bad was it?”

Valerie had a bleak look, but she shook her head. “Could’ve been much worse. Ultimately it’s a win: we still have Owens in custody, along with every attacker that survived. About half of them didn’t. We lost five: Hallen, Rivers, Rodriguez, Singh, and Thomassen.

Rarity bit her lip as her eyes fell, clouding over as she looked down, all trace of recovering from her shock gone. “...Because of me…”

“No,” Valerie said, lifting her chin gently. “Look at me, Rarity. This is on Owens, every damn bit of it. Even if you’d never come here, this conflict was building. You think Grumman had our base built there in the last few weeks? You knew I was already a plant at Veritech before you showed up. There was always going to be a reckoning for Owens. It’s been a long time coming. And it hurts, losing friends, but every one of them knew what they were fighting for, what they were standing up against. Would be tyrants like him can’t be allowed to do as they please.”

“She’s right, Rarity,” Aiden agreed. “None of this is on you. When we get back there, we’ll do everything we can to help rebuild, and honor those that have gone on ahead.”

At the last words he’d spoken, her lips trembled, and she threw herself at him, sobbing quietly as he held her in a tight embrace. He looked over her shoulder to Valerie, who looked about to cry as well. He wasn’t far behind. He gestured vaguely to her, and she reached out to rub Rarity’s back, providing what comfort she could. Aiden sighed, shuddering slightly.

“Does… does this get easier? I… don’t… I…” Rarity sniffled, “I’m sorry…”

“No, don’t be,” Aiden replied. “It’s nothing to be sorry about. It doesn’t get easier. You delay dealing with it, when you have to… but I hope it never gets easier.”

“I remember those names!” she cried out. “They… they were all, they were there! At the party we had, at dinner, when we met Vera, and… she was… so angry and confused… but it was good, and we were all happy, and things were… oh…” she shook, burying her muzzle in his neck as her voice failed her.

“I know,” he said, tearing up also. “For their sakes, we will be again. For now… no, it’s okay to hurt. Let it out… it’s okay. We’re here for each other. It’s all we can do, now.” Valerie scooted closer, putting her arms around them both as well. Across the cabin, Aaron and Talia looked on through damp eyes. Their hands had clasped one another, though neither seemed conscious of it.

Rarity nodded against Aiden’s shoulder, tightening her embrace around him as she dwelt on faces she’d never see again, smiles that would never come back. She did what she could to etch them in her memory, so they’d stay as long as they could.

The plane continued west. Their destination was close at hand yet all but forgotten, at least for a time.

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