• Published 10th Jan 2018
  • 2,685 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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7. Dinner and a Show and Tell

They went to the dining room together. Much like the rest of the base it was more posh than Rarity would have expected. The long table was of a rich mahogany, solidly constructed and covered with a deep red cloth. The floor and walls matched with the darker theme and gave the room a decidedly un-military feel. Several people were already seated, all wearing casual dress clothing. For her part, Rarity had worn a simple but elegant black dress that she’d found amongst her wide ranging options. The basic supplies Donovan had dropped off the previous night had been more than enough to alter the dress for a proper fit. All in all she was glad she’d let Aiden talk her out of the black gloves (not socks, those were for the hind legs, thank you); she might have been overdressed at that point.

Speaking of Aiden, she’d managed to get him into something decent looking, or so she felt, with a bit of cajoling. She’d had enough internet time to know a casual suit versus the sweats he probably would have worn. Not that it was difficult to home in on since clothing styles were surprisingly similar here to back in Equestria, and so a dark grey suit that favored his eyes came together in short order. He pulled it off rather well if she did say so herself.

Grumman greeted them both with a smile. “Miss Rarity, Aiden. Thank you for joining us. To those assembled, we’ll make introductions when everyone’s here, but for now you all know our guest of honor, and her honor guard.” He grinned at Aiden at the last part.

Who chuckled wryly. “Hey, I’m just here for the food.”

“Well, I hope our chef won’t disappoint. The two of you can take your seats at that end of the table there,” as said as he pointed towards the head of the table and the seat directly right of it. “Miss Rarity, if the seat doesn’t work for your stature, we’ll find something else.”

“Oh, I’m sure it’s fine,” she gave Grumman a bright smile and nod by way of thanks. “Oh, and thank you very much, such a gentlecolt!” she grinned up at Aiden, who’d pulled the chair out for her. She hopped nimbly onto it and turned to face the table, all eyes on her as he situated her chair. “Yes, this is lovely, thank you.”

He sat down as well, raising an eyebrow. “Gentle… colt? I’m not sure about the translators sometimes.”

“The software is highly adaptive, and partially based on technology we’ve stolen from the Onis. We supplemented the language data from my family’s heirloom with their linguistic database as well. It’s bound to have a few quirks, but frankly it’s worked better than we could have hoped.” Grumman grinned at Aiden. “It certainly helps that you have chatted up the fair lady so consistently since your first meeting.”

“Oh, yes,” Rarity chimed in with a similar smile. “Not that I’ve minded. Even setting aside my previous accommodations, he’s a fine roommate. He carried me to bed yesterday after we dozed off together on the couch.”

Aiden snerked. “What can I say? Just channeling my inner Kirk.”

Rarity blinked. “Kirk?”

Another person at the table laughed. “Tell her to google Kirk and alien babes. She’ll get the idea.”

Rarity tilted her head at the new speaker. “I… can hear you, you know. So tell me, who is this Kirk?”

Suddenly on the spot, the man’s eyes widened as he looked around for support. Despite a few more people making their way into the room, he found none. “Uh… I thought the translator only picked up the General and Aiden, since… umm… okay yeah I don’t know why I thought that. Wait, it picks up everything? Isn’t that going to be tough when everyone’s here?”

“The software detects when she’s being addressed based on several factors. As I said, adaptive and partially based on advanced alien software,” Grumman replied. “Now then, Private, answer the lady.”

“Uh… yes, sir,” he replied with a sheepish grin. “I’m Private Aaron Cooper, by the way. Uhh… you really can just google it, but Kirk is a fictional character, a ship captain known for… exploring outer space and… getting along with alien ladies.”

Rarity giggled. “‘Getting along with’ he says. I’m a full grown mare, darling; you don’t need foal language. That said…” she looked over at Aiden with a predatory grin, “Getting along with me in that context will require the massage.”

“Only if I get another nuzzle out of it.”

“More than fair.”

Private Cooper looked between them and snorted. “Get a room, damn.”

“We have one.”

“We have one.”

Several people laughed, including Rarity and Aiden, at the simultaneous reply.

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

“And then in comes Princess Luna, fresh as a daisy, with ‘Did I miss anything?’”

Most of the assembled soldiers and technicians laughed, the rest at least had smiles for Rarity’s (probably slightly exaggerated) tale of The Canterlot Siege/Royal wedding.

“You really took on giant bugs by punching them in the face?” This from one of the techs she’d seen that morning, monitoring Aiden’s training. He was grinning, and his tone seemed only mildly disbelieving, more amused.

She fluffed her mane with one hoof. “Certainly, darling. I didn’t have my fabric shears on me.” That got a few more chuckles. “Though I’d hardly call them giant, they were about the same size as us.”

“Yeah well, I’m sorry but if we’re talking bugs that’s way too big. A spider the size of a quarter is too big, thank you.”

Rarity chuckled. “Honestly they look as much like ponies as bugs. I didn’t really mind their appearance… not that it stayed consistent, now that I say that. Anyway my friends were far more impressive. I don’t even want to guess at the internal mechanics of a party cannon, but it was effective even just shooting confetti!”

“I vote we solve all conflicts with fist fights and confetti cannons from now on,” a soldier Rarity hadn’t seen before the dinner added, getting another round of laughs.

It’d been a lovely dinner, Rarity decided. The halibut had indeed been exquisite, as had the salad that preceded it. She’d never had apple cider vinaigrette before, mostly because cider was too highly demanded to make it into anything but a mug back in Ponyville. Still, maybe she could get Applejack to make some for her as a special request.

“Okay so we’ve been watching you eat with telekinesis this whole time. Why use a fork at all?” Aaron asked.

“Well, it’s not quite equivalent of course, but using my magic to lift food directly would be like… eating that cauliflower with your hands.”

“Hey, I’ve done worse.”

“I have no response to that, darling.”

“Didn’t merit one.”

“Miss Rarity, if I could ask… what do you plan to do about your treatment at Veritech labs?”

Rarity blinked in surprise. The woman who’d spoken hadn’t said a word through dinner since introducing herself as Sergeant Lily Vualez. Rarity had gotten an odd vibe off of her, but hadn’t thought much of it at the time. A few of the humans were a little uncomfortable about her at first. It was understandable; she was an alien and their experience there had been less than kind. Most of that seemed to have eroded as the meal progressed, but…

“I’m… sorry. ‘Do about it?’ What would I?” Rarity asked, peering with confusion at Lily as the table went deathly silent.

She was a dark complected woman with long, black hair, but most notable in that moment were her piercing brown eyes. They seemed to almost glow with a golden light in the intensity of her gaze. “If General Grumman is correct, and we’re able to get you home, I’d like to know what retaliation you’ll seek against your captors. What retribution you’ll want for the humiliations you suffered at the hands of humans.”

Rarity inhaled sharply as she realized what she was feeling. That gaze wasn’t just intense… Lily had magic. She hadn’t mentioned being an Esper… but that didn’t matter just then. “Miss Vualez, I have no interest in retribution. No lasting harm was done. And I work in the fashion industry back home. Believe me, I’ve suffered far worse, far more public, humiliations than anything that happened at Veritech. I can assure you that anything I have to say about humanity when I return home will be positive, and focused on the friends who helped me when I was lost and alone.”

Lily’s eyes narrowed, as though she were trying to find something wrong with that. “You just seem too good to be true. Sounds to me like you’re being too generous about what happened. I think you’re covering your real feelings so we’ll help you, and then you’ll turn on us.”

Aiden snorted. “Sounds to me like you’re projecting.”

“No, you’re too trusting! Look at the two of you! You get along like you’ve known each other for years. Windborne, how do you know you’re not being manipulated by her magic?”

Flinching in surprise, Aiden tilted his head to glare at Lily. “That’s a serious accusation.”

Rarity shook her head. “Also preposterous. Even if I had that sort of magic, and I don’t, it’s outside my area of expertise-”

“So you say.”

“You’d be able to see it!”

Lily stopped whatever she’d been about to continue saying. “...What?”

“If there were magic flowing between us, you’d be able to see it. I couldn’t back home, but magic flows very differently here; it’s easy to see.”

“I… I don’t…”

“Uhh, Rarity, Espers can see magic like you’re describing, but normal humans can’t, so she-”

“But, Aiden, she is an Esper. I can see her magic swirling about. It’s like a cloak wrapped tightly around her.”

Aiden jerked back towards Lily as though he’d been slapped. The rest of the table had inched away from her. Grumman had his hand on his cane, and was staring her down.

The General spoke first. “Sergeant Vualez?”

“She’s lying, sir. Like she’s lying to everyone here.” Lily snarled, eyes burning into Rarity. Despite that, she’d gone quite pale.

“No.” Donovan spoke up.

Grumman raised an eyebrow. “Knight Trellis?”

Donovan was glaring at Lily. “I wouldn’t have noticed either, if Rarity hadn’t said something. But you know how it is with illusions. Once you know they’re there… she’s an Esper, sir; I can see it now, too. Windborne wouldn’t notice it, he’s got too much background noise in his head.”

“So many voices, and they all tell me to burn things.” Aiden joked, but his face was deadly serious as he stared at Lily.

Rarity swallowed against a suddenly dry throat. “Ahh… why’s everyone so serious all of a sudden? She hid that she was an Esper and she’s being a bit rude to me, but…”

“She’s a spy, Miss Rarity,” Grumman said, rising slowly from his seat. “There are no Espers that hold normal military ranks. And Lily Vualez is no Esper; I’ve known her for eight years. As such, this isn’t Sergeant Lily Vualez. And so… I would very much like to know where Lily Vualez is, and who you are, young lady. I don’t know what you thought you’d accomplish here, but-”

She started to throw a hand towards him, crackling with energy, before vanishing into a distortion that Rarity had recently become familiar with.

Grumman blinked in surprise. “Excellent reflexes, Knight Lt. Windborne.”

“Thank you, sir, but I’m just batting clean up here. If Rarity and Donovan hadn’t noticed her…” Aiden looked shaken. Rarity gently touched his arm, getting a weak smile from him. His magic was channeling constantly now for some reason, and his focus seemed distant.

“I do appreciate team efforts. Speaking of… Valerie, I want Lily’s room searched. Any clue as to when the impostor took her place. Cooper, Henson, Ferguson, Trellis, search the compound, top to bottom. If Sergeant Vualez is tied up somewhere I want her found and released. If her body is found… either way, notify me at once. The rest of you, dismissed to your stations, high alert. She may have back up out there and I want no one in or out of the compound until further notice!"

A chorus of ‘yes, sir!’s signalled the abrupt end of dinner. Rarity sighed in dismay. “What just happened?”

Grumman looked fearsome as she glanced over at him for answers, and she instinctively scooted over in her chair, closer to Aiden. “Mr. Windborne and I are about to get some answers to that. I assume your guest is enjoying herself?”

Aiden snorted. “I think she threw up. I’ve been tossing her around in there to keep her off balance, a new gate in a new direction every second. I may or may not have bounced her off a few things… just a little.”

“That’s a bit excessive, darling…”

“Oh, not too hard. And beyond insulting you she may have killed one our people here, and I assume she had plans to do more.”

“But why would a spy confront me and draw attention to herself?”

Aiden frowned. It was a good question. “Well… she didn’t know you’d be able to sense her magic. She was hiding it well enough that Donovan didn’t notice her; she clearly has training in doing that. Hiding from me doesn’t mean much. I uhh… don’t actually hear voices, mind you. But my pocket dimension sort of… creates an echo of background noise. It’s not an exact metaphor, but basically it’s like I can’t sense others working with magic because I have an entire factory made of the stuff thrumming away in my head. I have to be very close to sense anything. And speaking of close… I’ve had enough of bouncing her around. Let’s get better acquainted. General, where to for this?”

“Frankly, Mr. Windborne, right here is fine. I don’t know how much of the compound she’s seen already; I have no intention of showing her even one more room. Drop her in the corner there, and hold her. Miss Rarity, you may want to go back to your room. This will likely be unpleasant.”

Rarity shook her head, eyes steely. “I’ll stay, unless you’re insisting. She put herself at risk to verbally attack me. I want to know why.”

Grumman stared at her a moment before nodding. “Very well then. Mr. Windborne?”

“Right.” Rarity felt the distortion again as ‘Lily’ fell from a sudden shadow near the ceiling and stopped just short of the floor, held in the burnt orange glow of Aiden’s telekinesis. She looked much paler now, with blue eyes rather than brown, and a different facial structure. She also looked rather green. Rarity suspected, and the smell from her clothing confirmed, that that was the result of recent and sudden illness rather than normal skin tone.

She turned her head, with difficulty, to look at her captors. “I see you haven’t lost a step, Windborne. I didn’t even have time to change my magic from veil to shield. You owe me a new blouse.”

Aiden was frowning as he looked at her. “...Vera?”

“I’m surprised you can remember, with that thing controlling your head.”

Rarity grimaced. “Perhaps I should leave, after all, if it’ll help her speak more freely.”

Aiden shook his head. “Hell with that. She’s going to talk. Because the Vera Elleway I knew went into a mental institution a year before the war ended, on her own volition. She’s a second generation who can generate electricity. During our attack on the Cardinal Spires she was instrumental in destroying several key defensive points but exposed her mind to some really nasty stuff in the process.” He looked at Vera, who was looking away guiltily. “Which might explain why you’d worry about mind control from an alien. But other than that… what the hell, Vera? We’re not enemies here, talk to us.”

“That remains to be seen, Mr. Windborne. I need to know Lily Vualez’s status before I make that call.” Grumman added in a no-nonsense tone.

“Sergeant Vualez is fine. She’s drugged and sleeping in her room.” Vera muttered, still not looking at them.

“Thank you, Miss Elleway.”

“...You’re welcome, General. I’m not here to hurt any humans.”

“So keep talking,” Aiden said. “Come on, it’s me here. We both served under Paladin Williams during the war, we both went through all kinds of Hell. This subterfuge… what were you trying to accomplish?”

Vera sighed heavily through her nose. “I was in that institution until Colonel Owens came for me there. That was almost three years ago. No one else even came to visit.” She said, glaring at Aiden.

“Um… actually I did. The doctors wouldn’t let me see you. Err… it was just after the war ended though, and just the once… but… umm…” Aiden rubbed the back of his head, looking guilty. “Sorry, it just kind of slipped away from me back then. I wanted to move on from all that, but I shouldn’t have left so many comrades out of my life. I’m sorry, Vera.”

Vera grimaced. “You’re the same sap you always were. Look, I don’t really care about that, I just wanted to guilt you about it because… well you made me puke on myself. I went into that place to get help, and to get away from the war and everything about it. I didn’t want to see anyone. But Colonel Owens convinced me otherwise. If he can really create Espers, a third generation… the rest of us can really, finally, be accepted and just live normal lives. Anyone who wants magic can get it; we won’t have to be ostracized by what we can do. We won’t have to be called on… when the next aliens come here.” She stared at Rarity as she spoke those words.

“...Forgive me, darling, but do I really look like some scary invasion force?”

Vera continued staring, her jaw clenched as though trying to contain her anger. “.......UGH! This is such bullshit! Owens gets the perfect solution dropped into his lap, but no… she’s too cute, so we’re not allowed to use her!”

Grumman snorted. “You’re not allowed to ‘use’ her because she’s a sapient being and we’re better than that. That’s exactly why I oppose Owens to begin with. ‘Anyone can get magic if they want it’... do you honestly think it’ll be that simple? Owens wants a private army; he’s not going to hand out power like that; he’ll use those he gives it to as pawns for said army.”

“That army could protect this world.”

“So can the one we have.”

Aiden cut in. “What I want to know is just how Rarity is the ‘perfect solution’ for him.” Vera just looked at the floor. She was still floating a few inches above it. “Come on, Vera.”

She sighed. “Well, she has natural magic, more a part of her than ours. The Onis were a dead end; they aren’t compatible with us in any helpful way. But her… if we could find a way to remove her magic completely, study it, replicate it… If we removed her horn, drained her blood, maybe-”

Rarity gagged.

“Vera!” Aiden barked, sounding coldly, grimly furious. “You’re talking about basically dissecting a sapient being! What the Hell!?” He was looking at their captive like he didn’t know her.

“I’m talking about an alien, and a deceitful one at that! Our scientists refused to perform the more invasive tests, and their results kept getting botched or disappearing. In three weeks they learned almost nothing we could use! She was affecting their minds! It’s the only explanation!”

“Actually, a lot of that was my own spy.” Grumman added.

Vera blinked as the casual statement took the wind from her sails. “What?”

“You didn’t know? Well, if you weren’t directly involved in the labs you may not have noticed her.” He sighed. “You weren’t, were you? I imagine Owens had better uses for you than lab security. And my aide is well trained. Her public rank is a lie, part of her desire to not draw attention, after all. Her behavior as well, is almost all stagecraft. In fact, she and I are far more manipulative and less honest than Rarity here. As to the rest… I think they realized, with a bit of help from Valerie perhaps, that what they were doing wasn’t right. We cannot allow the war with the Oni-koru to make us less than we are. Fate gave us a gift in bringing a potential ally to us, moreso one that we once knew, long ago. After learning that we aren’t alone in the universe what more could we ask for?”

Vera squeezed her eyes shut. “I…”

Aiden shook his head. “You wanted an easy answer. Just this one sacrifice. It’s not even human, so it’s fine. Doesn’t work that way. You don’t escape demons by becoming one.”

“That’s how we fought them!” Vera choked, looking balefully at him through reddened eyes.

Aiden sighed. “For a time, yes. War is Hell, but we kept walking, even covered in the bloody mud. You know that. As we walked, we learned what we couldn’t be.” He smiled slightly. “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions…”

Vera sniffed. “Without them we wouldn’t need the road. Aiden, my intentions-”

“Were good.” he replied, sadly. “But you let yourself be alone. When Owens came to you, he talked you into merging yours with his. And his aren’t… no matter how he sold them to you.”

She nodded quickly, biting her lips as her jaw quivered. “General Grumman. I surrender myself to your custody. Please do with me as you will. Aiden… I’m sorry. ...Miss Rarity… I...”

Rarity smiled gently as Aiden released Vera, setting her gently on the floor. “That horn comment is going to give me nightmares. If you meet any other unicorns, please don’t threaten them with that.”

Vera winced slightly. “That! How… how are you so… I came here to take you back to Veritech. I had planned to grab you after everyone was winding down from dinner. But you were so… so… human! I couldn’t stand it, everything Owens said about you… I thought you had to be deceiving us. Controlling Aiden, something! You couldn’t be…. This… this…” She let out a long, shuddering breath. “I’m sorry, Rarity.”

“I forgive you, Vera,” she replied with a small smile. Aiden put a comforting hand on her withers.

Grumman nodded as he looked at his phone, which had quietly buzzed a couple times during the exchange. “Sergeant Vualez has indeed been found, exactly where you said she would be. Pending a medical examination to confirm she’s not been harmed, I believe most of this incident can be overlooked. ...Eventually. For now, you will be confined to the punitive quarters in the basement.” He snorted. “And here I thought we’d never have to use them.”

Vera chuckled weakly. “I understand. You and Owens are both running your own little games. I’m going to disappear, aren’t I?”

“I rather doubt it. For now you’ll be enjoying the low end of my hospitality simply because I don’t want Owens snatching you back up. We’ll be accelerating our operations in that regard. When it’s over you’ll be brought up on proper charges and we’ll go from there. I imagine, given your cooperation and circumstances, that things can go fairly painlessly for you. But that’s assuming you behave yourself for awhile. Cool your heels, think about what got you here and how you want to defend your actions to a tribunal. ...I suggest you leave out the part about wanting to carve up a sapient being for parts and spare aether.”

Rarity grimaced. “We could stop mentioning it all together; that would be just lovely.”

Vera nodded, sniffing slightly. “I have a request, General.”

“I’m listening.”

“May I have a copy of the book about her world? I’m going to have a lot of time on my hands and I want to understand how there’s an alien race you feel we can trust. I can see I got lost there… what I was thinking… I just wanted a way to fix it all, but… It was easy to see ‘alien’ and think it was okay to do whatever we needed to do. I… want to understand.”

Grumman smiled. “I think I can arrange that.” His phone buzzed again, and he glanced at it. “Valerie and I have some planning to do. Originally I thought we’d have more time. For Owens to move his Oni ship he’ll need to procure a very large vehicle to haul it. There’s no way he’d be stupid enough or desperate enough to move it under its own power. Or so I’d thought, but after this…”

“No, he won’t just move it. He’ll move it against you.”

Grumman raised an eyebrow. “You can’t be serious.”

“I’m completely serious. He sent me to get Rarity back and planned to attack you with the refurbished Oni vessel. He was going to blame the attack on the new alien threat that arrived onboard via teleportation and took over the ship. He’d regain command by wresting it from the alien’s control, killing her in the process. So the story would go.”

“Hmph. Get public opinion on your side, minimize any backlash, and kill off the new alien without anyone asking for too many details, at least not until you’d accomplished all your goals. Not bad, Colonel… I didn’t give you enough credit.”

“Can we please stop killing me off in this conversation?” Rarity asked plaintively.

The door opened and Aaron Cooper and another whose name escaped Rarity stepped in. Grumman turned to them. “Escort Vera Elleway to the holding cell. Amicably, please. This has been a misunderstanding that we intend to clear up in time. For now, she’s to be detained, not mistreated.”

“I dunno, sir, thanks to her outburst I had a very good Irish coffee go cold on me.”

Grumman snorted. “Follow your orders, private.”

Cooper grinned, and saluted. “Sir, yes, sir! Come along, ma’am. And no magical funny business please… if Aiden has to save our asses and catch you for us, it’ll look bad on my next review.”

Vera actually smiled slightly. “We wouldn’t want that. First though… Miss Rarity?”

Rarity shook her head. “You already apologized, darling.”

“I know, but… I didn’t know what you were. Not really, until dinner tonight. I didn’t want to believe. I told myself whatever I could to…” she sighed, lowering her eyes. Tears hit the floor at her feet. “As a kid… I had a little unicorn doll. My mom bought it for me. It was… I took it everywhere. When I saw you tonight… I thought…” she shook her head. “Grumman says you’re a gift from fate. I thought it was some cosmic joke. The universe having a laugh at me, reminding me what I’d lost. I was wrong. I’m sorry… I’m… I’m sorry.”

Rarity crossed the distance between them, reared up, and put her forelegs around the shocked woman. “It’s all right now. We’re going to make sure of it. All of us. For both our worlds. I know it. Stop hurting yourself, Vera. It’s going to be okay.”

Vera wept openly, throwing her arms around the unicorn.

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