• 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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22. Observer Effect

Rarity raised an eyebrow at him. “And if it doesn’t go well?”

“We’ll negotiate over a commiserative pitcher of beer.”

Rarity scrunched her muzzle. “First point of negotiation: wine over beer.”

“Provisionally accepted. But only a red; I don’t care for most whites.”

“Done then.”

“See? Easy. We got this.”

Grumman’s door banged open as Aiden stormed in. The General acknowledged him with a glance. “Come right in, Knight Lieutenant,” he waved before looking back to his tablet, and the footage playing on it.

“...’Come right in’?! Are you bucking kidding me?”

“I happen to know the various connotations for that word, Mr. Windborne.”

“Good! Then I’ve already gotten my point across. Explain… that!” Aiden gestured at Grumman’s tablet.

On the screen, the ‘exclusive, insider information’ played on the Morning News program. Specifically, footage taken from a high resolution camera from just a couple days ago… in the room Aiden and Rarity had been sharing. After a long, tense night of worrying over what would come of this new development, they’d awoken to this.

“It would seem your room was bugged,” he said with blatantly false innocence. “Fortunately you’ve been on excellent behavior.”

Aiden shut his eyes and took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. “General…”

“You’re angry with me and you have every right to be,” he replied, cutting Aiden off. “It also seems clear you’re not going to simply explode, so I will explain. Yes, I filmed everything in that room, as a precaution against this very eventuality. If Rarity’s presence on Earth was discovered before we were ready, it could lead to public outcry. I imagine it still will. But… thanks to this ‘exclusive, candid footage’ obtained by the brilliant investigative reporter that infiltrated our ranks-”

Aiden snorted.

“The public now has a clear picture of a harmless, friendly alien among us, including hours of the two of you interacting available on the channel’s webpage. They also have knowledge that said alien is being looked after by a First Gen war hero. All of this thanks to Channel Six’s intrepid journalistic efforts. ...And do note, none of this would be necessary if you’d kept your damned window shut. It’s camouflaged when it’s closed.”

Aiden pinched the bridge of his nose. “So you sold them this footage, which you’d taken without my or Rarity’s permission, along with a bullshit line about them rigging the camera themselves, so that all this would seem like we got caught hiding a friendly alien?”

“Which is entirely true… the ‘caught hiding her’ part at the least. If the public knew I sold this footage they’d be suspicious.”

“Gosh, wonder why.”

“And of course Channel Six agreed because this makes them look better. It’s a white lie, Aiden, one that serves the purpose of diffusing as much suspicion and public panic as possible. People won’t believe information if they think it was handed to them too easily.”

“And I understand that much… and you know I do. We played that sort of game for years during the war. But…”

Grumman sighed. “But I’ve betrayed your trust and yes, young man, I’m very much aware of that fact.”

“It’d be a different matter if this was some reactive thing, but you were recording from the beginning. You set this all up. Even the jokes about us dating… I bet you encouraged them!”

Grumman cocked an eyebrow. “You can blame yourselves for that… or perhaps Private Cooper. I have no interest in playing matchmaker, even in jest. Nor was it necessary. The two of you have gotten along splendidly, and your behavior, as I said, has been excellent. There is little to nothing in that footage that could turn public opinion against either of you without significant twisting. And of course Channel Six won’t do that, or I’ll expose the true source of the footage they claim to have obtained on their own. I even sold them copies of Mr. Callahan’s photos as further evidence of their journalistic skill, but I’ve kept the originals.

“...Who?”

“Your coworker? ...Craig?”

“Oh… that jackass.”

“Indeed. My point is that this is bigger than your privacy, or even hers. ...For that matter I wouldn’t have handed them anything truly compromising. Had the two of you had any… inappropriate moments…”

Aiden rolled his eyes.

“I would not have allowed those images to leave this compound.”

“Gee, thanks.”

“You’re welcome. ...You’re free to be angry over this. It’d be odd if you weren’t. But I also expect you to understand why I did it. Odds were I’d never need any of the footage recorded and could simply delete it. But if anything happened, to either of you, or if she was exposed before we were ready… having it...”

“Yeah, yeah... I get it. I’ll explain it to her, but don’t expect me to sugarcoat this.”

“I’d be disappointed if you did. If hating me brings the two of you closer, all the better. You two matter… I don’t. Going forward, it will be the two of you who protect each other from the worst our two worlds can throw at you. Because as much as I’d like to say the worst is behind us, that isn’t what I believe.”

Aiden sighed, the anger draining out of him. “...You’re too damned good at this, you know that?”

Grumman chuckled, but there was little humor in it. “I’ve a lifetime of manipulating good people into making the right decisions, which doesn’t take that much talent. You’re a better person than I ever could have been, Aiden. Your exposure may be embarrassing, but you’ve nothing to be ashamed of. Either of you, because the same goes for her. If I have to burn your regard for me to make sure everyone sees that before they can jump to foolish conclusions, I’ll do so a thousand times over. My road to Hell-”

“Won’t be walked alone… Albert,” Aiden shook his head, turning around. “But you’re not forgiven just yet. ...And I’m not saluting,” he turned, flicking a wave with two fingers from his temple as he did so. “...Jerk,” he said over his shoulder, a grudging smile clear in his tone.

Grumman swallowed as his lips twitched, keeping his silence until the door shut behind Aiden. He then laughed quietly, trying to ignore the stinging in his eyes. “Far… far better than I ever could have been.”

He unpaused the Channel Six program, letting it drone in the background as he brought up the file he’d been examining before Aiden’s entirely expected interruption. He had a suspicion, or more like several layered upon one another. “I know you’re out there… I won’t let you stop us,” he muttered into the empty room.

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

Aiden plodded back in, looking rueful, and plopped down on the couch next to Rarity. Despite her dark mood, the sight of him in such a state brought a small grin to her lips. “Let me guess, darling. He managed to explain why this dreadful invasion of our privacy has been ‘for our own good’. I’ll go further and guess that he’s even suggested we can hate him for it but it was necessary.”

Aiden glanced sidelong at her, while still hanging his head. “I thought those diamonds on your ass were about inner beauty, not being psychic.”

Rarity rolled her eyes. “So crass. I don’t need to be psychic to understand what I’m seeing in you.”

He snorted a quiet laugh. “But the whole world sees us seeing things in each other, now. Whatever they care to make of it. I wish he’d told us what he was doing…”

She shook her head. “Even if we’d accepted it, we would have acted differently. I’d say it’s rather clear in the video that we’re unaware we were being watched.”

“Makes sense, since we were unaware. ...You’re not wrong though.”

“When you left, I was suddenly more worried about you and Grumman fighting than anything the television was saying,” she said with a grimace. “I’m not happy with him either, but… I’ve had similar experiences, one even at the hooves of my own sister.”

He cocked an eyebrow. “Sweetie Belle filmed you without you knowing?”

“Well, not quite. She invaded my privacy and wrote a newspaper article about it. It was… well one of their many misguided attempts at a Cutie Mark, she and her closest friends. They learned a lesson from it, and all was forgiven. If I could forgive her for that...”

“Grumman doing it as a way of protecting us... I’m not thrilled with it, but… yeah; I’m with you on that.”

She smiled. “I never doubted.”

“So what now?”

“Let the News stew with what it has. We have more important things to do.”

He smiled. “Visiting Donovan and Vera?”

“Precisely, darling. ...After breakfast.”

“Agreed.”

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

The infirmary beds were empty save for the two they’d come to see, and one other. Doctor Hamada had transferred all other patients to a local hospital once they’d been stabilized, but Donovan and Vera were still there, along with James Leland.

Aiden sighed as he looked at his former comrade. His face was covered by bandages as was his right hand. “Will he survive?”

Doctor Hamada, coffee cup ever present, shook her head but not in the negative. “I can’t say. If not for his gift he’d be dead already, but he’s not recovering beyond just lingering in a coma. His injuries may be too severe.”

“I hate to ask, but have you taken any precautions against him teleporting out the moment he starts recovering?”

“This room is equipped with energy shields that can activate faster than his reaction time, sufficient to block his teleportation ability. I doubt it will be necessary, but I hope he’ll prove me wrong.”

“You do?”

Hamada raised an eyebrow. “He’s my patient. I want him to live. After that he can answer for what he’s done.”

Aiden nodded. “You’re right, sorry for implying otherwise.”

“It’s fine… as to the two you came to see…” With that she led them to the other pair of beds. “Knight Trellis has mostly healed. His injuries were from energy weapons, which are easier for you to recover from, as you’re aware.”

“Yeah… give me a laser over a slug… or a spear,” Aiden muttered, shuddering lightly. Rarity brushed her shoulder against his hand; he smiled down at her.

“Yes… as to Knight Elleway, her injuries are more serious: various skeletal fractures, torn muscles, ligaments, and tendons. Despite what she may think, she will be bedridden for another week, at least.”

“Lies… I will rise like a phoenix from my own ashes…” Vera muttered, eyes still shut.

Aiden blinked. “I didn’t know they were awake.”

Hamada took it in stride. “They shouldn’t be. Knight Elleway is burning away her painkillers because she’s an idiot.”

“I resemble that,” Vera grinned lightly, opening one eye. “But I can also alter my nerve impulses enough to not scream every time I move wrong. By the way… right now all moves are wrong.”

“Morphine would help with that.”

“Nah, need to be clear. I had a weird dream. Aiden and Rarity need to know about it. Plus it’s good to see you both.”

“You too, Vera. I’m so sorry you got hurt,” Rarity said, holding herself on the bed’s edge with her forehooves.

“Mm-mm, it’s fine. I got to zap Owens and help blow up the giant enemy robot. It was a good day, so this is like the hangover afterwards. But I’m serious about that dream, so listen up.”

Aiden tilted his head with a raised eyebrow. “Vera… is this like the voices again?”

“Yes, and by the way those are real. I still haven’t sorted it out but-”

“It was a weapon, Vera, it left a psionic scar.”

“No… Aiden, listen. The voices I heard… they aren’t angry or scary or anything. They’re just… there. Waiting for something, in the wind. I hadn’t heard them for a long time, but recently they’re there again. And anyway this is different. It was a woman… or, no… I’m not sure, but I think I was seeing a pony.”

“A pony?” Rarity asked. She gasped. “Was she taller than me, dark with a mane like the night sky, an elegant horn, and gorgeous wings?!”

Aiden blinked, and then grinned. “Sounds like quite the looker… some lover you neglected to mention?”

Rarity snerked, and began laughing. “No no, darling, not at all. That’s Princess Luna… although yes she is quite beautiful. More importantly she’s the guardian of dreams, the Princess of the Night! If anypony could reach into dreams here…”

Vera shook her head, very slowly. “Sorry, but even with everything and I mean… There was a shadow… and stars behind her, and there was wind blowing all around, but… she looked nothing like that. She was distorted, all shadowy but… I think her mane was white, or silver, and her coat was coppery. And she was small, smaller than you. I think there were wings, but definitely no horn on her head. I couldn’t see her eyes at all, just darkness over her face.”

“That’s… quite odd. A pegasus filly is what you’re describing, I think, but that’s impossible.”

Aiden shrugged. “It’s a dream. I’m not saying ‘just a dream’ but it doesn’t have to make perfect sense.”

“There’s more. She spoke. It was really high pitched, like a child’s voice, but also really loud. ...Like a kid with a megaphone. She had me repeat it but it doesn’t make sense to me: “Recon adven; star’s light cannot pierce sideras veil. Riots blade divides the wind. Draw it to open the path, clearing the way to death.”

“...Anyone else hate dream messages?” Aiden muttered.

“I have no idea what any of that means, darling. Twilight has said that Princess Celestia has prophetic dreams that guide her decisions at times, but I have no idea about interpreting them.”

“Whatever she was trying to tell me, I get the feeling she knew I wouldn’t get it. She… honestly? Kind of sounded like a brat. I felt like she was messing with me,” Vera said.

“Hidden alien.”

They all turned to Doctor Hamada. Aiden spoke first. “What’s that?”

“Recon adven… notice it’s different than the rest of the message? It’s also close to Latin for hidden alien or outsider. I think this is a warning. ‘Clearing the way to death?’ A bit ominous.”

“Riot’s blade wouldn’t mean Joyeuse, would it?” Rarity asked.

“I doubt it. You’ve already drawn it several times, and it’s hardly what I’d associate with a riot. If anything it feels calming to me.”

Rarity nodded thoughtfully; she couldn’t argue that. “What about ‘star’s light and sideras veil? The term ‘sideras veil’ seems familiar but I can’t recall where I’ve heard it before…”

Aiden shook his head. “I got nothin’. Star’s light doesn’t pierce much. Despite what poems and such might say about it, it’s pretty dim. ...So! We come across any riotous blades we leave them alone, use something brighter on whatever that veil is… I guess? And beware hidden aliens. Oh hey, you’re not hidden anymore, so we’re good!”

Rarity raised an eyebrow at him, but couldn’t keep a grin from forming. “Bit flippant, darling.”

“Sorry… I really hate dream prophecies. It’ll all make sense too late.”

“Sorry I couldn’t be more help,” Vera mock pouted.

“On the contrary…” Hamada muttered.

They all looked to her as she looked down at her tablet and continued. “This energy fluctuation… a variance in the wave pattern that is normally seen during an Esper’s REM cycle… I’ve seen it before, when Aiden and Rarity were sharing dreams. But do note that it was not from either of them. It is from an outside source that I cannot trace. ...And you saw an Equestrian.”

“I definitely did,” Vera nodded. "And it wasn’t just ponies on the brain from over-reading that book. It was very clear, almost lucent dreaming.”

“Lucid. And how does one ‘almost’ lucid dream?”

“Yeah, that. Because I knew I was dreaming, but I couldn’t act. It was more like ‘You know I’m here and you’re going to listen. She was quite insistent.”

“I’m not sure how or why that could happen,” Rarity said, looking baffled. “If this same source was trying to reach us I don’t recall it.”

“Me, either.”

“But… but you realize what this means?” Rarity’s eyes went wide as she asked the question.

Aiden blinked, “It could mean… Equestria knows where you are and are trying to reach you? But it could also-”

“No no no, that first option is fine with me, darling!”

“But it-”

“Nope.”

“Well I mean-”

“Nooooope!”

Noooope,” Vera mimicked in Equish. “Hah, that sounds adorable. Why is your ‘nope’ adorable?!”

“Observer bias, darling.”

“...Maybe.”

“Hmm…” Aiden hummed in distraction.

“What?” Rarity said, turning back to him, her ears tucking back in irritation. “I’ll hear none of your negativity about someone playing a trick on us with magical dreams.”

“No no, I’m done with that. We don’t know what the warning means but we can keep it in mind. And if your people know you’re here and maybe even that you’re safe that’s great news and I’m happy to hear it. But I was thinking about news, and then observer bias… which Grumman is trying to swing in our favor…” he grinned, offering a hand to the unicorn. “Miss Rarity… would you care to accompany me on a little outing?”

Just like that her ears popped back up. “Ooh… I think I like that look. Where are we going?” She placed her hoof in his hand, returning his grin.

“Time to give the observers something worth observing; I’ll explain on the way.” With that they both vanished.

Vera blinked and then her eyes went wide. “How far from here is Channel Six’s News studio? The one they’re currently broadcasting from about Rarity?”

Hamada cocked an eyebrow. “You’ve been awake all day, haven’t you?”

“Dammit woman, there’s no time! Where is it?”

Hamada sipped her coffee while staring down Vera without changing expression.

Vera twitched. “I’m sorry. Please, Doctor Hamada-”

“Roanoke.” She tapped a few things on her tablet. “132 miles.”

“Hmph, they’ll be there in like 10 minutes…”

“Closer to 12, unless Aiden is really pushing himself, assuming you’re right.”

Vera grinned, and it greatly resembled Aiden’s grin. “Oh, I’m right alright. I worked with him for five years on and off. I know that grin. He didn’t get it often enough, but when he did… it was a good day. Besides… I still hear the chuckling in my head, fading away.”

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

“It’s astonishing to think that this could be-”

Everypony FREEZE!” Aiden yelled as he and Rarity appeared in the studio, right in front of the newscasters’ desk. For a fraction of a second, everyone did, including the woman that had been speaking.

Then there were several screams and shouts of alarm until orange auras surrounded several who attempted to flee or even move. A blue aura may have grabbed a few as well. Silence fell quickly.

“Okay… now… everyone relax-”

Rarity snerked. “Darling, you said everypony.”

“What? No I didn’t, I said everyone.”

“When we first arrived, you said it in Equish.”

“Nonsense. OKAY! We’re going to give an interview!”

“...”

“...You can say stuff now.”

The head anchor recovered first. “You’re really here to-”

“Declare our love to the world!” Rarity said brightly, with the translator only a fraction of a second behind her delivery, and with all the exuberance.

Aiden nodded. “Indeed so! Ever since we met-”

“When he DARINGLY rescued me from the HORRIFIC clutches of Colonel Owens, that MONSTER-”

“It’s been love at first sight!”

“For us both!”

“And so!”

“And so!”

“You’ll all cordially invited to the first Earth interspecies wedding! ...Invitations pending.”

“It’s actually not uncommon on my world, you know.”

“Until then though…”

“SSTTAAYY TTHHEE BBUUCCKK OOUUTT OOFF OOUURR BBUUSSIINNEEESSSS!” They both said in unison. And with that, they vanished again.

The head anchor blinked, tilted her head, and pouted. “But I didn’t get to ask any questions…”

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