• Published 10th Jan 2018
  • 2,564 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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3. Stay Awhile and Listen

Looking around at the interior, Aiden suppressed a whistle. “Pretty swanky ride, General.”

“It makes for a pleasant mobile command center, yes. My long and illustrious career has afforded me a few perks over the years.” Grumman feigned buffing his fingernails on his uniform. “But before we get any further… and speaking of perks…” He reached into a compartment by his seat and removed a pair of devices that resembled smartphones. He placed one next to himself and tapped the screen. A picture of a stylized horseshoe appeared as the small screen lit up. “This will translate our speech into Miss Rarity’s language.” As he said this, words came from the device, and Rarity’s eyes widened as her eyes swiveled to the little translator. Grumman leaned across and placed the second next to her. With a tap, he activated it, showing a silhouette of a human hand. “And this one, as you surely can guess, will translate her speech into English.” He grinned. “For the benefit of those in the vehicle who aren’t fluent in Equish, of course.”

Aiden listened as the Equish translator finished telling Rarity what the General had said. “That’s amazing…” Rarity nodded, wide-eyed, as the device dutifully translated Aiden’s words. “Right, so, everyone speak slowly and clearly, I assume, and don’t talk over each other.”

“Understood, darling.”

Cocking an eyebrow at the white mare, Aiden mouthed ‘darling?’ but didn’t say it aloud. He assumed it was a linguistic idiosyncrasy. Rarity’s translator even sounded a bit like her voice, complete with a rather refined annunciation. ‘Darling’ was somehow a fitting address. He smiled, and nodded to confirm his own understanding before turning to Grumman. He took a deep breath, “Okay… so… How?! When?! Where?!” Rarity nodded once with each question as she too stared holes in Grumman.

For his part, the old officer chuckled. “I suppose you made it in close enough to sixty seconds. Simply put… we’ve had access to the Equish language for around 1500 years. Give or take a few decades.”

“...What.”

“What?!” Rarity piped in.

Grumman was grinning like the Cheshire Cat. “You have no idea how much fun it is to tell this story when proof sits right before me. Sincerely, Miss Rarity, while I regret the circumstances that brought you here, I cannot overstate how wonderful it is to meet one of your people. I lived most of my life believing you were a myth.”

“No, stop. Don’t digress, don’t change the subject. How? Seriously, 1500 years ago Earth was in the Dark Ages, and… okay unicorn myth is… wait older than that, right?”

“Considerably. Whether that’s coincidence or alien influence I can’t say for certain.”

“I… okay but we… humans… have had this Equish language, a language of a sapient race, for 1500 years? Are there other unicorns on Earth?”

Rarity perked up even further, nearly falling forward off her seat. To be fair, it wasn’t really optimized for a pony’s posture.

Grumman shook his head. “To our knowledge, no. We, humans, brought knowledge of the language, and a fair bit about their culture, back with us from Equus, 1500 years ago. And until just a few weeks ago, we had regrettably had no further contact with that world or its people.”

“How the Hell did Dark Ages humans get to another world? And why have I never heard about it?”

“We had no proof. The descendants of those that went, disperse and innumerable as they are today, mostly don’t know. A few families, including my own as it happens, kept a few of the artifacts, mostly tomes, that were returned here and preserved over the ages. But without physical proof they’re no more compelling than story books. An allied world occupied by an alien race friendly to humans, out amongst the stars where we can’t reach? It’s a fine story, but even I never really believed it.” He sighed. “My father always did; he was a man of faith. The war with the Oni-koru vindicated him; they’re also mentioned in the particular tome my family has. And that’s the answer to your first question. Humans were taken from our world, voluntarily, by an ancient race that asked our help in defending Equus from an invasion. I think you know the invaders.”

Aiden’s eyes were wide, completing the stunned look on his face. “So humanity has fought the Onis before. 1500 years ago, on another world… Why didn’t you tell everyone?”

Grumman smiled wanly. “To what end? The tome contains only basic, cultural information. The ancient race, we call them Angels though we never had a true name for them, did not give us technical data beyond what they trained us to use. The tomes were gifts from the Equestrians, to remember them by. In the same way, humanity left gifts behind before returning to Earth. And for the record, the world’s governments were informed of all we knew about the Oni-koru after they appeared, for what little good it did. The general public wasn’t informed since it would accomplish nothing but false hope. No help could be expected, so why bring up ancient history?”

“So they attacked us to… avenge a lost war 1500 years ago? Have they attacked Equus since then?”

“To attacking us… yes and no. From the intelligence we recovered from them during the war we don’t believe they deliberately sought us out. They discovered us through intercepted signals in deep space and took the opportunity. But the Angels had deliberately made sure we were difficult to find. That’s one reason they gave us no technical knowledge when they returned the volunteers to Earth. One random backwater planet in this supercluster wouldn’t be noticed. As to Equus, ask our new friend here.”

Rarity blinked, staring at Aiden with her head tilted to the side a bit. She shrugged and shook her head. “History isn’t my strongest subject, darling, but I think I’d remember reading about that. Events before 1000 years ago are particularly sketchy though, maybe they returned prior to that? Twilight would probably know, but it’s not as though I can ask her right now.”

“Is that another unicorn back where you live, then?”

“Ah, she’s actually an alicorn, though she was born a unicorn, yes.” Seeing Aiden’s blank expression, she elaborated, “an alicorn is a unicorn who has aspects of all three pony tribes, so she now also has wings and greater physical strength than she had as a unicorn, and stronger magic connecting her to the sky and the earth. It’s a fairly recent change, just a few years now… the poor dear’s still getting used to it, some days.” Rarity had a fond smile as she thought endearingly on her friend.

Grumman hummed thoughtfully. “So if I recall… that would make her similar to Celestia… and Luna?”

Rarity inhaled sharply. “You know about the princesses, too?!”

“They became royalty, then? According to the history I have they were both quite instrumental in both Equus’ defense and in securing the world’s safety from reprisal after the primary conflict ended. They weren’t called princesses, but they both had great power. Very few of the enemy survived our combined forces. The Oni-korus’ masters… we may as well call them Demons, were completely routed.”

Aiden ‘hmphed’ thoughtfully. “So the Onis were just agents as well?”

“Indeed so. The Angel and Demon races were ancient and highly advanced, but quite small in number. As such, both worked through the younger races in their conflict. It all ended at Equus. That world had, at the time and perhaps to this day, incredible reserves of Aetheryte crystals. Properly tapped, they can be used to power massive vessels and weapons. The Demons threw everything they had left into possessing the world… and despite causing horrific damage to the system, were decisively beaten in the end.”

Rarity clapped her forehooves together. “Thanks to both our worlds’ combined efforts! Ahh, Rainbow would love this story! Oh, she’s a pegasus friend of mine.”

“Pegasus...es… pegasi?” Aiden ventured, and Rarity nodded. “Got it. Oh, that’s what you meant about other tribes. And the third is… like a super strength pony race?”

“Earth ponies… and yes, they are often known for great physical strength and stamina, compared to the other tribes. That said, Earth ponies are quite diverse; one can never really be sure how an Earth Pony’s magic will manifest. Pinkie Pie being a fine example…” Rarity trailed off and the translator lost track of her mutterings for a moment. “Ah! That reminds me. Why does Aiden feel like a unicorn to me? His magic I mean, when I feel it, I think of unicorns I know back home. Our driver as well, he reminds me, now that I’m closer, of the feeling of a pegasus. And I felt something different from either of those back in the…” her eyes widened. “Oh my goodness, I completely forgot!” She hopped from her seat and went over and practically tackled hugged Valerie, who’d been so quiet Aiden had nearly forgotten she was there. “Thank you! Thank you so much for helping me in that awful laboratory! I don’t know what I would have done without you! Thank you!” Rarity didn’t seem to realize Valerie’s face had gone from red to crimson to closing on purple…

“You’re… welcome…. Air… help…”

Rarity tittered nervously and released her death grip, backing away from her benefactor. “Sorry, darling. I was quite overcome! I should have thanked you immediately but there’s so much going on and,” she took a deep breath, and then exhaled slowly. “Thank you.”

Valerie returned a genuine smile. “You’re quite welcome. It’s lucky I was already there to keep an eye on Colonel Owens. He’s up to some rather shady stuff. I’m not sure what he’ll do now that you’ve escaped. We’ll need a different way to keep an eye on him now, but getting you out safely was worth burning that bridge. Ah, what you felt from his guards, as I think you were about to ask, was crafted, or artificial Aetheric control. Or magical manipulation, if you prefer. They’re colloquially called the 3rd Generation of Espers, because they do have the potential for Aether usage. That said, most aren’t on par with natural Espers. Cybernetic enhancements just aren’t properly capable of amplification of their willpower or the fine control shown by the previous generations… one of each of which we have here with us. Aiden, Donovan? One of you want to explain? I’m... not really a big talker.” Valerie smiled sheepishly.

“Don?” Aiden asked.

“All you, man; I’m driving up here. By the way, no pursuit on the scanners. Either Owens lost us or he’s playing the long game.”

“Likely a little of both,” Grumman muttered. “Under the circumstances he’ll devote the lion’s share of his resources to securing the assets his lab still possesses. He knows we’ve been watching, and he has a number of things he shouldn’t. A problem to deal with a bit later. For now… Aiden? We have about an hour to our destination. If you would explain about Espers for the lady?”

“Oh, right. Well… err… Espers are… well we’re humans who awoke to magic during the Oni-koru invasion. Oni-koru technology uses heavy Aetheric manipulation, and for whatever reason there are a few humans-”

“Specifically humans descended from the Equus volunteers, though not nearly all such awoke as Espers. I didn't, for example.” Grumman supplied.

Aiden’s head jerked towards the General. “You’re kidding… oh hell why am I even suprised?”

Rarity smiled brightly. “So you’re both descendants of those who helped save my world! If you find a way to come visit, I’m sure Princess Celestia would throw a party in your honor.”

“Uh… thanks... but I didn’t do anything.” Aiden replied with a embarrassed grin.

“It’s just an excuse to have a party, darling.”

Aiden chuckled, feeling a little silly. “Right, I knew that. So… where was… right. Okay so the First Generation awoke during the first six months or so of the invasion. What separates us from the Second Generation is that timing and the level of tech that woke us to magic. The Second awoke mostly to armaments and personnel level tech after much more interaction between our two races. Donovan up there is basically a walking, variable yield grenade launcher.” Their driver chuckled and gave a jaunty wave of acknowledgment over his shoulder. For us Firsts, it was bigger, usually stronger stuff. Not to say we’re universally stronger than Second Gens; that’s not always the case. Though… the one called the First Esper awoke to a Creation Engine, a ship’s main drive, as it passed nearby to drop troops near Baltimore. So he’s basically...”

Rarity blinked. “Did… did you say Baltimare, darling?”

Aiden caught the slight difference in pronunciation through the translator. “Uh… no.. Balti-more. It’s a city just a few hours east of here, actually.”

“We have a similarly named city in Equestria.”

“Huh. Actually I get the feeling there’s a fair bit of cultural overlap. Not just cultural, actually. You said I ‘feel’ like a unicorn to your magical senses?”

“Yes, and that’s all the more remarkable because before coming here I’d never really noticed or thought about the differences in how magic felt. It’s like I’d been aware of it my whole life but needed to see it from the outside to put it all together.”

“Hmm. Well, I know what you’re saying, actually. Before I awoke, I had the strongest feelings about some things but I couldn’t understand what I was sensing. I’d get little premonitions and deja vus, as well as times where I could make things happen by wanting them to bad enough. Just little probability stuff, like drawing the right card or rolling a six on a die or something, nothing provable, and I was just a kid so I didn’t think much about it, but…” He shook his head, smiling at Rarity. “When I saw you, it was that strong feeling all over again. ‘Friend’... and I knew. It wasn’t just an Esper thing, either. My coworkers, especially Mark and Luke, saw something about you. Given humanity’s recent experience with aliens, it’s saying something.”

“Friend,” Rarity echoed, smiling. “Yes… I’d say that’s what I felt as well.” She giggled, a surprisingly human, and not surprisingly cute, sound. “Well, after I got over my brief disappointment that you weren’t actually a unicorn, that is.”

Aiden chuckled. “Yeah, I seem to remember a brief look of consternation on your face. Eh, you’re hardly the first alien to be unhappy to see me. Glad we got past it amicably, though.”

“I as well, darling. And since we are getting along so wonderfully, I both hate to and yet must ask… what is it you all plan to do with me?” Rarity’s smile seemed to become a bit forced as she asked a question that had been on her mind through every other bit of information she’d take in during their ride.

The temperature in the vehicle seemed to drop a bit. Aiden stammered, “T-thats… actually a very good… err… General?”

Grumman’s eyes seemed to glint behind his glasses as a toothy grin gave him a slightly feral look. “Heh. So trepidatious, young lady.” His grin widened, and he began chuckling darkly. Rarity’s face seemed to be getting paler, which was impressive given her already alabaster coat. Grumman leaned forward with a loud ‘HAH!’ “Just who the Hell do you think we are? This is a rescue mission. We don’t intend to stop until you’re safely home.”

Rarity let out an explosive breath as Grumman continued chuckling. “You!” she yelled, pointing one hoof at him as he continued to chortle at his own prank. “You had me quite worried there, you know! Ah, But… thank you. I know I need every bit of help to even begin to understand the problem, let alone design a solution.”

“Well, we’re a bit ahead of you there, young lady.” Grumman replied with a nod. “You surely recall the gem whose magic brought you here?” Rarity nodded, and Grumman gestured to Valerie. “Corporal?”

With a grin and a flourish, Valerie removed a fist-sized, forest green gem from a thick pocket of her lab coat.

Rarity gasped, staring at the gem as though it were a live snake.

“No cause for alarm, the gem’s stored aether was nearly completely used getting you here. You also drained both batteries on the ship this particular escape device is linked to.”

After a confused blink, Rarity took her gaze from the trauma inducing gemstone back to General Grumman. “I… what?”

“Valerie, you’re up.”

“Ahh… yes, sir. This gem, erm, Rarity,” Valerie looked away, blushing slightly at having all eyes on her, “Is essentially an escape pod. It allows for the pilot to escape a damaged command vessel. The gem itself is quite rare according to Oni-koru records that we’ve recovered. Only a few remained in their hands during their war with us, and were only possessed by their top generals. The gem can not only store an incredible amount of aether and channel it safely, but it can also hold a massive database for the purposes of navigation via instant teleportation. With the proper interface into its star maps, one could go almost anywhere within our galactic supercluster… once anyway. Charging the crystal with enough aether to go such distances is no small matter.”

“So how’d it bring Rarity here?”

“When she arrived in Veritech labs, she was holding it in her telekinesis. I’m assuming you’d found it recently?”

Rarity nodded. “I dug it up along with several other gems that were not magically infused. I’ve found infused gems before, though they are rare, but nothing like that one. Ahh, I hunt gems for use in my work, in dress designs and the like. I’m a fashion designer, you see.”

Aiden blinked. “You’re naked but you design clothes?”

“Formal occasions call for formal attire, darling. No matter how fabulous a pony’s coat, there are times when greater elegance and beauty are called for. Such times are the driving force of my inspiration, my very will to be!” There was no denying the determined look on her face as she delivered the words like an actress giving a dramatic denouement. Aiden couldn’t keep from grinning at her antics. She almost deflated into a deadpan expression as she looked back at the gem that had hi-jacked her life. “And then that gem decided to drive me here… by force.”

For her part, Valerie looked a bit dazed. Aiden felt a bit of sympathy for her, she was clearly a behind the scenes type who preferred to work quietly. “Ah… yes. So, your erm… your… ah, your magic, yes. When you found the gem and lifted it with telekinesis, you managed to set off its return function. Given how long it's been dormant it's bound to have some instabilities; it's a miracle it worked at all. But clearly it did, and returned you, as its pilot, to the ship it was still linked to after being lost to the Oni-koru on Equus during their war there. The ship was, and still is, in Veritech labs after we captured it during the war here years ago.”

“Damn.” Aiden muttered. “We knew some of their tech had been around awhile but that’s crazy. They really were low on materiel when they found us if they were still using 1500 year old ships.”

Grumman nodded. “Indeed so, and 1500 year old ships missing key components, such as this escape gem. And while the gem is drained now, its database is intact, and that database should include one thing we didn’t have: a precise location for the Planet Equus. Alongside that ship or one like it… we may just be able to put together a ride home for you, Miss Rarity.”

“J-just like that?” Rarity could hardly believe her ears. She’d held firm to her intent to get home no matter what, but she hadn’t believed it would happen so quickly. These humans… she no longer cared a single bit that they didn’t match what Twilight had said. She’d take these new friends any time. “I… don’t know what to say. Thank you!”

Grumman chuckled. “Don’t thank us just yet. The theory is sound but there’s a lot of work to be done. Getting a vessel that can make that trip is no small matter, and none of our recovered war materiel from the Onis has enough power to displace more than a few light years even if we can get them working stably. I doubt Equus happens to be that close. We have several ideas, but there’s still a long road ahead of us…” He nodded to himself, smiling with determination. “Still, the signs along it are clear, and we know which way to go. Don’t thank us yet… but I think that time will come sooner rather than later. Particularly… with the help of one of the last remaining First Generation Espers?” Grumman looked innocently over at Aiden.

...Who snorted derisively. “Riiight, like I can back out after all that?” He shook his head at being trapped by the circumstances… and a pair of enormous, pleading blue eyes too large and luminous to be human… or fair. With a sigh and a smile, he accepted, “Welp, you wanted me back in the game, General. I believe I told you two years ago it would take the right mission… This one feels pretty damn right to me.”

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