• Published 10th Jan 2018
  • 2,704 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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18. Allies

“Thank you, doctor, your diligence is ever appreciated.” Grumman tapped his phone to end the call and addressed the cabin. “Doctor Hamada successfully protected the Command Crystal as well as the data we’ve thus far extracted from it by transferring it all to her lab during the incursion. Further, she’s stabilized all the injured; barring extreme setbacks in recovery, there will be no more fatalities.” He nodded to Valerie. “She also successfully field tested Gypsy.”

“What’s that?” Aaron asked.

Valerie wore an expression that could have been a grin or a grimace. “A heavy plasma turret with highly advanced targeting circuitry, scavenged from an Oni-koru vessel during the war, alongside the computer cores that became Tom and Crow. It was never used by them against us; apparently none of it had worked in centuries. We rebuilt it…” she sighed. “Moriko, Bradley, and I.”

“Bradley?”

“...Hallen.”

Aaron winced, remembering the names Valerie had listed.

“We walk forward, everyone. The costs were greater than any of us wanted to pay, but this was a win.” Grumman said. “Veritech’s fugitives could have gone anywhere with their weaponry. They could have fled the country and wreacked havoc, or gone to ground and rebuilt, or even gone their separate ways, each pursuing their own criminal ends. Owens wanted a spotlight to one day step into. His people could have left him, slunk into the shadows, and continued creating horrors. His ego, and his obsession with control, prevented them from doing that. It hadn’t been my intention to use him as bait to draw them out, but I’m happy to know that we’ve dealt with them, without any civilian casualties.”

Despite his words, he didn’t look happy. Rarity’s heart went out to him, and Joyeuse, now cradled against her shoulder, sang sadly. He looked tired.

“If you will excuse me… I have letters to write… to families I can never repay. Corporal Martinovich, let me know when we’re landing.”

She nodded. “Yes, sir.”

Rarity leaned against Aiden, who returned the gesture.

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

“Sorry, sir, this area is closed to the public. Renovations.”

“You can’t be serious!” the agitated reporter exclaimed. “That was a nuclear explosion, you can’t just-”

“If it was a nuclear explosion we’d all be dead. It was a controlled, aetheric detonation channeled through a column of controlling energy to funnel it skyward and dissipate it back into the Aether Field. Munitions test, and a successful one at that.” Lily Vualez grinned innocently behind her sunglasses. Jones would pay for this… typical officer ‘delegating’ this sort of work.

She was standing, alongside two statue-like privates, guarding what was left of the gate (which wasn’t much). Naturally it’d taken less than an hour for anyone to arrive, and while military backup had called off local police, fire, and medical assistance, it was just as natural that a journalist had snuck through. Lily could respect that; when it came to stuff like this the public would sort of want to know what the hell was going on. Though… that didn’t mean they had a ‘right’ to classified military information. So… this fellow would be going home more or less empty handed.

He’d say his piece first though. “...Munitions test?” he replied, deadpan as he looked past her at the smoking wreckage both of and around the compound. “You seriously expect anyone to believe that?”

“Nope. I expect you to respect the fact that that’s all I’m authorized to tell you. Have your people contact General Grumman for official disclosure, but don’t expect an immediate reply. As you might have guessed, it’s a busy day around here.”

“...Right. And no comment on the rumor already circulating online that this was a retributive attack by the fugitives from your raid on Veritech?”

“You want me to argue with the internet? How much time do you think I have?”

The reporter cocked an eyebrow. “Well, you are guarding a broken gate…”

“Which is far less futile than your suggestion. Be on your way, civilian. Keep in mind that this is military property. Trespassers may be shot on site. Good day!” She smiled brightly, and assumed her own statue impersonation.

The reporter was sharp, she’d give him that. He immediately realized he’d get no more out of her. “I see… thank you for your time, Sergeant Vualez.”

“Thank you for your hard work, citizen. I look forward to reading your piece on the day’s events,” she replied.

He blinked, having not expected her to say more. He chuckled wryly and shook his head before turning to get back into his car.

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

By the time the plane landed at another private airfield, Rarity had composed herself. She still felt a deep sadness that anyone had died because of her. She knew what Aiden had told her, and logically she knew he was right that she wasn’t at fault, but she couldn’t help how she felt about it. It was all the more reason to keep moving. She owed it to them to see this through. She’d known, in a way ever since Grumman had told them all of humanity and ponykind’s shared history, that this was about more than just getting her home. For perhaps the first time, she truly felt that to be real with every fiber of her being.

“Deep thoughts?” Aiden asked, looking at her with a small smile.

“Hmm. Shoring up my resolve, darling. I’m not used to this sort of thing,” she returned his smile wanly. “I believe I’m due an ‘I told you so…’”

He snorted, gently cradling her head to press against his. “Not even. You’ve weathered all of this with more strength than I ever expected. I’d still rather see you designing than soldiering someday soon…”

She nuzzled against him, sighing softly. “That makes two of us. But I was more referring to your suggestion that this is the part I wouldn’t be able to handle. I think you were right.”

“No, I wasn’t… and we both know it. Right now you feel guilty that you can keep moving, even though you don’t want to. I know that feeling well. We can talk more about it later. We have to catch our next ride.”

It was true. Everyone else had deplaned. She blinked. “Was no one going to say anything?”

He chuckled lightly. “I just did. Hold on a moment.”

For a moment, the world disappeared, replaced by an increasingly familiar stretch of road, distant buildings, and nearby flowers. When it vanished again, they were outside the plane, near the others, along with their bags. Rarity snorted derisively. “Really, darling?”

“Hey, we’re in a hurry, the chopper is waiting on us.”

“The… oh my…” Rarity’s eyes went wide and her ears pinned back as she looked at the vehicle they were transferring to.

Someone had combined a wagon with the big sister of Pinkie’s flying machine. And it was getting loud… Aiden was already holding a telekinetic shield in place against the wind being kicked up… and Rarity was already searching her admittedly limited spell repertoire for something that would lower the noise. She sighed and climbed aboard with the others.

The pilot stared at her, apparently (and reasonably) stunned for a moment, before Grumman tapped the side of his helmet. The pilot turned, only to receive the full force of the General’s glare. He flinched noticeably, and turned back to his controls.

Overall, Rarity hadn’t minded the plane. The pressure change was odd. Since it flew much higher than Cloudsdale that was a new experience for her. It was also loud, and the constant vibration had taken getting used to. But in all it wasn’t bad, especially given how fast it’d taken them thousands of miles. Further, the view from the windows, at least before she’d been drawn away by news of the attack on their base, had been amazing. It was all quite impressive.

She was of a very different mind about this ‘helicopter’ business. Even the noise canceling function of her headset (which apparently Grumman had had Hamada install for this trip without mentioning it to Rarity) did little to ease her discomfort. Aiden sat next to her, massaging the back of one of her ears as it sought shelter against the side of her head. Their eyes met briefly, and the understanding of ‘yeah, I’m not a fan either’ was easy to read on his face. She smiled to let him know she appreciated the gesture, and then went back to hating the helicopter.

Fortunately, it was a short trip to a landing pad atop the building that was their destination. Grumman spoke up before any of them could exit, though Rarity really wanted to. “Now then. Our exposure to employees here should be minimal, but be on guard nonetheless. Valerie, Talia, keep an eye out for anything suspicious. Even if they don’t make a move against us doesn’t mean everything here is aboveboard. Anything likely to bite us, now or later, is something I want to know about. Miss Rarity, eyes and ears open. If you notice any unusual eddies or currents within the Field, anything that gives you a bad feeling, let us know immediately. I expect all of you ready to act on any warnings instantly. Any questions?”

There were none, and so finally they moved out onto the roof. Four men were waiting for them.

The two on the outside of the group were clearly security. They reminded Rarity of high class bouncers. They wore dark suits, dark sunglasses, earpieces, and no nonsense expressions. They didn’t even react to her presence. Neither had any particular concentration in the Field: non-magic users.

The two in the middle were more distinct, and the one coming forward with a welcoming smile was definitely an Esper. He was taller, and perhaps a few years older than Aiden. Short brown hair went well against a tan complexion and brown eyes alight with curiosity. He felt like an Earth Pony… more so than she’d felt any distinction in Donovan or Vera. In fact, a brief image of Doctor Whooves flashed through her mind. She saw a similarity here in this man’s eyes. There was a friendly, civilized intelligence about him, as though he’d have liked nothing more than to regale them with his latest invention. Rarity’s lips curved into a smile. Much like when she’d first met Aiden, she felt an urge towards trust. Speaking of Aiden, he was the first to step forward.

Grinning, he clasped arms with the other man. “Johnathan. It’s been awhile. You look good.”

Johnathan chuckled. “You too, Captain. I have to say, I didn’t expect to see you again under such auspicious circumstances. I thought you wanted the quiet life?”

“It’s Lieutenant now, remember? And I got a few years of it. That was enough. More importantly… introductions. May I present Private Aaron Cooper, Corporal Valerie Martinovich, and Sergeant Talia Henson. Oh, also General Albert Grumman, but I think you knew him already.”

Johnathan grinned, nodding to each in turn. “Yes, we'd met. Good to see you again, sir.” he turned back to Aiden, his grin becoming a smirk as his eyes flicked towards Rarity. “That all?”

“Yep.” Aiden replied with a straight face.

Rarity snorted, stepping forward and bumping him with her flank. “Just because I’m the only one shorter than you doesn’t mean you forgot I’m here… For that matter, I’m not shorter. Don’t make me stand on my hind legs again to remind you…”

Aiden blinked, feigning surprise. “Oh right, the unicorn,” he chuckled, looking at her fondly. “Jokes aside… Johnathan Ferreles. It’s my honor and my pleasure to introduce Earth’s first amicable visitor in fifteen hundred years… well, that I know of. This is Rarity.”

Their host laughed, dropping to a crouch to be eye level with her as he held out a hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, ma’am.”

She placed a hoof in his hand and shook it lightly. “Likewise. Aiden has had good things to say about you. I’m hoping you’ll be able to help me. I need a ride home,” she smiled at him, fluttering her eyelashes just a little.

Johnathan’s eyes went wide, and his face flushed slightly. “Jeez, that’s not even fair. I mean, her language is like singing, and then she throws that at you... Windborne you could’ve warned me.”

“Nah… we really want that ship you’re offering. Unicorn eyelashes are merely the opening salvo. You will comply.”

“They’re just… so blue…”

Aiden snapped his fingers in front of Johnathan’s face. “Focus…”

“Right,” he chuckled sheepishly. “She has a lot of aether, too, Windborne. It’s remarkable. She’s almost on par with you, other than…” he tilted his head a bit, and one of his pupils contracted. Rarity could feel his aether channeling, but there was no feeling of danger about it. “Actually…” he continued, “that flower in her hair feels like your aether, how’s that?”

Aiden looked away, and Rarity frowned up at him slightly. Was something wrong with it?

“Yeah that’s… she plucked that from my inner space, actually.”

“...Huh. I didn’t realize the scenery in there could move.”

“...”

Grumman coughed, clearly deliberately. “Perhaps you’d like to move this off your roof, Knight Captain Ferreles? Further, who is your associate here?”

Johnathan nodded. “Of course, General, you’ll forgive my distraction there. As to my associate, this is Adstrum’s other CEO, Cade Kneargum.”

He gestured to his counterpart in their group. The man in question was tall, taller than Grumman, and had long blond hair tied back at his neck. Rarity thought she saw strands of grey in it but couldn’t tell in the sunlight. His dark blue eyes were calm, even as he matched her gaze. He smiled and, while not as bubbly as Johnathan seemed, there was warmth in his eyes to go with that smile. “Just Cade is fine. It’s a pleasure to meet such auspicious company, as my colleague here has stated. I prefer to let him do the talking… war heroes make good public faces.”

Johnathan chuckled, slapping his co-CEO on the back. “He’s not lying. Genius, and a better administrator than I am, even if he prefers staying out of the spotlight. But right now we’ve got something else to spotlight anyway; let’s show you what we have to offer.”

As they stepped into the building, and then a large elevator headed down, Rarity felt a sense of anticipation. As the elevator doors quickly reopened, that sense increased.

Aiden blinked. “That’s a fast elevator. We’re underground, aren’t we?”

“That we are, Windborne. Wouldn’t do to have something like this where it could be easily spotted…”

As he said that, double doors down the hallway opened, revealing a massive chamber beyond. Within that chamber, surrounded by heavy equipment, was the Oni-koru vessel that Rarity hoped would take her home.

“Ooh…” Aaron said, looking up appreciatively.

Rarity fully agreed. Whereas Veritech’s ship had looked positively decrepit, this vessel was pristine to the point of being shiny. It wasn’t much larger than the helicopter they’d arrived in, but it was definitely sleeker. Rarity’s pupils dilated as she took it in. Even the mottled, smoke grey color of the hull was working for her. Further, the understated, forward-swept wings gave it an appearance like it wanted to leap into the air.

Grumman snorted, stifling a chuckle.

Johnathan stifled nothing, laughing openly. “I thought you might notice…”

Rarity raised a delicate eyebrow. “Notice what? Is something wrong with it?”

“Not at all, Miss Rarity. It’s just that it strongly resembles an oversized version of an old Earth jet. Specifically, a Grumman X-29.” He smiled. “Though I’ve never been directly involved with them, the founder of the developing company is a distant relation of mine.”

Johnathan was nodding, and Cade had a small grin. “We felt it was destiny, once we heard Albert Grumman was looking for a working Oni vessel. Of course, I’d have been happy to help my old CO, but it did help convince Cade… and our other execs.”

Aiden’s eyes narrowed. “So what you’re saying…?”

Johnathan turned to Aiden, and Rarity, with a happy smile. “In exchange for any information you can share about her home world, as well as introductions concerning future commerce with same, should an opportunity arise, we at Adstrum Technologies are pleased to offer this vessel as a gesture of good faith, with hope for a brighter tomorrow.”

Rarity was speechless, but Grumman wasn’t. “Well, Ferreles… you drive a hard bargain. I’ll get you a copy of our text on her world… you’ll find a few surprises. I’ll even include her notes.”

Johnathan frowned. “Wait, there’s a text and her notes?”

Aiden chuckled. “Welcome to the rabbit hole, buddy. Watch your first step.”

Rarity regained her voice. “You’re… you’re giving this to us?!”

Johnathan laughed softly. “That we are. Though, if I’m being honest, I wouldn’t mind you considering it a loan. You can return it once we have travel between our worlds worked out to a more practical level. No rush on that though. Frankly, without power it’s been a useful curiosity but nothing we can’t do without at this point, and so-”

“Thank you so much!” Rarity reared, and hugged him tightly.

“Geh… ahh, you’re welcome, ma’am.” Johnathan replied, going red again.

She dropped back to her hooves, and crossed over to Cade, who held up his hands in a warding gesture while taking a step back. “You’re welcome, Miss Rarity, but I’ll pass on a hug, no offense.”

She gave him a fake pout, “Oh very well,” she said, then smiled, and gave a quick bow. “Thank you, just the same. I’ll never forget this!”

“Nor will we, Rarity. This is an historic moment, and we’re proud to be part of it.”

Johnathan nodded his agreement, fixing his suit jacket and regaining his composure. “Exactly. I was surprised I even needed to argue it to a couple of my more stubborn executives. To call this a unique opportunity would be an understatement.”

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

After a bit of discussion about the vessel, they’d adjourned to an adjacent meeting room. It was rather plain, but included comfortable chairs, coffee makers (which Rarity was officially checked out on now), and a sturdy table complete with charging ports and notetaking necessities. At the head of the table, Cade continued where they’d left off in explaining their generosity.

“We were in complete agreement on the matter, John and I. In the long run, the war with the Oni will have a positive effect on humanity. I firmly believe that, as much because believing the alternative belittles those who died. That said, a chance like this is a gift the universe has given us. We can’t pass it up. Adstrum has always been about furthering the human race in the best way possible. During the war, that meant weapons and materiel to defend against the alien threat. Now, it means doing our part to build a bridge between our world and that of a future friend.” He shrugged lightly. “Of course, this is as far as we go, for now.”

Grumman nodded, “You’re referring to the vessel’s lack of power?”

“Just so, General. The batteries are intact and ready to charge, but we have no way to do so. Johnathan is the only Esper associated with us, and putting out a call for others to experiment with Oni technology doesn’t really go over well with any of us.” Cade shrugged. “We have no interest in Veritech’s dishonest approach. Further, Johnathan can’t charge the batteries fast enough to stay ahead of their natural decay rate… and that’d be even assuming he had nothing better to do with his time than charge batteries and lie in bed recovering.”

Johnathan shrugged apologetically. “Never was the most robust magic user.”

“I wasn’t blaming you; it is what it is… a problem to solve. And I may have a solution.”

“I’ll assume this didn’t just come to you?” Johnathan asked him, looking surprised.

Cade shook his head. “It didn’t, but I needed to see who we were meeting before I put it forth as a possibility. With Aiden Windborne here, as well as General Grumman, it may be possible. You had almost no contact with Paladin Lero Williams, but the same can’t be said of these two men.”

Aiden’s eyes went wide. Rarity turned, ears twitching towards him at his reaction. She remembered hearing that name a couple of times, and was about to ask when Grumman interjected.

“We have no way to find him. He cut ties more completely than any Esper, and I can’t blame him. At the end of the war, he took more flak than anyone for being a potential danger to humanity.”

Johnathan nodded, grimacing. “The First Esper, and the strongest… yeah I remember some of the stories on him after the Spires were destroyed. No one was surprised he went to ground. I never did interact with him directly, other than a couple of ‘yes, sir!’s over the years, but…” he shook his head. “He’s three years younger than me, same as Aiden, but I never felt like anything but a kid next to 1st Gens.” He grinned wryly at Aiden. “You’ll always be ‘Captain’ to me, Windborne.”

“I don’t quite understand though,” Rarity chimed in. “What makes him worth contacting in this case? Couldn’t Aiden and I work together with Donovan and Vera to charge the batteries?”

Cade shrugged lightly. “It’s possible, but problematic. No matter how synchronized your efforts, your aether flows are different. One battery charged by multiple sources becomes unstable. It’s a serious risk, not just to you but to the battery and everything it’s connected to. Aiden may have the second largest aether pool in the world, but-”

“Wat?” Aiden snapped, looking something between surprised and annoyed. “No, I don’t. First off, that’s not really easy to measure since there’s a lot of factors involved. Second off, even averaging out all those, I’m more like tenth. So unless a lot of Espers died and I wasn’t informed…”

Cade blinked. “...My apologies. I must have incorrect information.”

Johnathan shook his head. “No, you don’t. Windborne’s pool is huge; he just can’t use a lot of it. It’s tied up in his pocket dimension.” He looked over to Aiden. “You actually have almost as much aether as Williams at any given point, it’s just that it’s frozen in there. It’s the reason you can’t ‘hear’ as well as the rest of us. All that unusable magic sort of acts like a wind chime for your normal aether flow.”

“Ooh, I like that description,” Rarity said. She grinned at Aiden. “You have wind chimes in your head!”

Aiden rolled his eyes.

Cade cleared his throat. “As I was saying… even if Aiden has a lot of magic, he doesn’t compare to Williams in this case simply because Williams got his power from a Creation Engine. Every cell in his body is imbued with the ability to draw and store aether directly from the Field, extremely rapidly. During the war, that meant he could channel enough to fight even Oni Generals with his bare hands and pure telekinetic force.”

“He tended to punch them really hard… sometimes they exploded,” Aiden added with a nod.

Rarity shuddered lightly, fighting a touch of nausea at that image.

“Just so. He even fought their Grand Marshal to a draw in single combat. Obviously we’ve no need of that, but it also means he’s uniquely suited to charging aether batteries. We never would have sought him out for our own purposes… but this is much bigger than simple experiments now.”

“I can see the merit of the idea, but it still leaves us with the problem of finding him. We can put the word out through various means, but there’s absolutely no way of knowing if he’ll acknowledge or even notice any of them.” Grumman added thoughtfully. “Certainly we’ll do it, but from there-”

“I can ask him.” Aiden muttered, looking at the table, slightly red-faced.

All eyes turned to him immediately. Rarity wondered if Grumman hurt his neck turning that fast.

“Knight Lieutenant?”

“Heh…” Aiden replied, rubbing the back of his neck and grinning sheepishly. “He’s… sort of in my gaming guild.”

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