• Published 3rd Sep 2012
  • 43,803 Views, 1,031 Comments

Tiberian Eclipse - Material Defender

Equestria is under threat from a crystal from beyond their world, one which earns them the attention of forces both benevolent and malevolent...

  • ...

Chapter 12: Foundation

“Trixie, huh?” Viers said. “I’m Lieutenant Viers, of the Interstellar Defense Initiative. Did your group attack our convoy believing that there were supplies on it? They’re all carrying construction materials.”

“I had specifically told them to avoid any sort of confrontation,” she said, giving a dour look towards her subordinates as they merely gave her sheepish smiles and shrugs. “So you say that all these caravans were on their way up the hill to... from what it looks like, Winsome Falls?”

“Yes. We’re constructing a base up there...” he said, registering the growths on her body... and the strange discoloration of her eyes. Though his exposure to ponies was limited, he was sure that glowing eyes wasn’t a trait common to them. “You have Tiberium on you. How’d that happen?”

“Er, Tib-what?” she asked.

“The crystal,” he replied, pointing at her horn. “We call it Tiberium where we’re from. I wager you guys must have been living out here in the wild for months now, all among these crystal-spewing trees. How come they haven’t killed you yet?”

Trixie shuffled around on her hooves, frowning at the ground. “I... don’t know. We led a party out of here from Canterlot, barely able to protect ourselves from the creatures around here with what little we carried, though we lost half of our number along the way. We eventually set up our base within a cave not far from Winsome Falls, and have been operating there ever since.

“At first, it was strange... those of us who found growth upon them quickly succumbed to the symptoms and later died, and as much as we would have liked to honor them, their bodies needed to be removed as soon as possible. Later on, though, some of us—myself being among them—found those same growths on our bodies, but no harm came to us.”

Viers couldn’t help but to compare Trixie and her band to the shiners back on Earth... whose physical appearances shared common attributes with the ponies. “And let me guess: then the crystal started growing on your bodies?”

She seemed taken aback, and arched an eyebrow at him. “Yes... how did you know?”

“Just a hunch,” he said. “I also wager that you found the crystal to suddenly have healing properties for you, too?”

“...Yes to that, as well,” Trixie said, narrowing her eyes. “It appears you are well-acquainted with how this crystal works, Lieutenant Viers. Perhaps we can work out an arrangement between us, perhaps an exchange of supplies? You wouldn’t happen to have food, would you?”

“Last I heard, the capital atop that mountain was undergoing supply runs,” he said, gesturing to the foggy profile of the peak in the distance behind him. “Maybe I can convince my superior to send some down here your way. But before I can do that, I need to register you all down here for population count.”

“If you need to assure of all our numbers, then I can take you back to our base,” she said. “But only you and a select few. The rest must stay here.”

“That won’t be a problem,” Viers confirmed. He gave a voiceless recall command to Yankee to fall back in with him, and the soldiers left the convoy to recover itself as they joined him. “I’ll bring my squad with me. The rest of the convoy can stay here and move without us.”

“This will be fine. I trust that you will keep your weapons holstered,” she said, putting her thoughts in the air. “There are foals present at the camp.”

“You have my word,” he said. Trixie smiled and waved a hoof towards him, and trotted up the hill back towards the ponies, Viers and Yankee treading along behind her. “EVA,” he said, closing off external audio. “Could you send a message to the commander? Tell him we’ve found... pony mutants.”

“Shiners,” Alexandra said plainly, not even able to enjoy a second of his time as soon as he’d sat down on a bench in Canterlot’s market square. Masterson lingered nearby, rapt in the interaction of can-tossing between himself and the Cutie Mark Crusaders, made doubly more amusing without any translators to aid him. “Viers found mutants hiding out in the woods? Well, I guess it was only a matter of time...”

Correct. As of this moment, he and Yankee squad are on their way to their home base to take a census, and if need be, relocate them to Camp Greenwood as refugees.” EVA displayed a frozen image of Trixie on his screen, ripped directly from Viers’ suit feed and transparently plastered across his HUD as he kept an observant eye on his surroundings.

“What’s the damage assessment on the convoy and security?” he asked.

Several Titans have sustained superficial damage on the armor plating, while a small number of zone troopers have experienced suit breaches and minor injuries resulting from the firefight that Lieutenant Viers quelled.

He hummed to himself, nodding as the data scrolled by. At this point, he would be a fool to simply write off magic as pure hogwash now, especially since now that it was a known fact that magical bolts could penetrate power suits. But such inherently potent abilities could make them powerful allies for when the Scrin finally appeared. “Interesting. What’s being done about the wounded?”

They are being transported to Providence via the convoy. Medical facilities at base camp are prepared to receive them upon arrival and have Tiberium treatment machinery on standby. In addition, there is a standing request on behalf of the Lieutenant to allocate a relief shipment for the mutant refugees.

“Request granted. I guess I should probably let Celestia know about this...” He looked over to his right and tilted his head upward at the alicorn lounging next to him. “I think I should let you know that some of my men have found a group of ponies hiding out in the forest near Winsome Falls.”

Celestia’s expression remained calm, and all she did was simply nod. “I see. I had thought that the group that left Canterlot fared badly in its travels. It is nice to hear that they have not perished in such languishing conditions as I had thought them to be. Are they well?”

“Rather tentative, but I’d say they are,” he replied. “My soldiers are returning to their camp with them to assess their numbers, and if need be, relocate them to our nearby camp if their living conditions are decidedly not up to ISDI standards. We can’t have them all living in squalor, after all.”

“How kind of you,” she lightly joked. “But how have they survived in the forest for so long? The fauna and flora been turned, so they could not possibly be able to subsist on such sustenance... could they?”

“It depends. From the reports that I’ve been getting, they’ve been mutated, and if they’re barely getting by, they might have to resort to living off of anything they can get their hands... hooves on,” he said. He paused for a moment to let Celestia contemplate their findings, only answering when he noticed her frown. “Strange how their changes mirror our own.”

“Mirror?” she asked, turning to look at him. “I assume humans have experienced this before?”

“Of course. At first, we simply called them mutants, given their newfound resistance of Tiberium, and their usual horrifically altered appearances. The normal people didn’t like them, and naturally feared their contagiousness, so the mutants were kept away, rendered second-class citizens left to fend for their own in the wastes taken by the Tiberium. Despite their ability to heal in the crystal, though, research done by the predecessor of our organization found that the crystal, if left untreated, will eventually kill them, but it takes an extended amount of time to achieve that result.”

Celestia’s frown only creased further into a disturbed grimace. “But you can reverse this, yes?”

Alexandra shook his head, staring up at the humming column of energy stemming up from the shield generator in front of him. “I don’t know. For humans, yes, we can do it, and for ponies, we know that the extent of our medical operations are capable of removing crystals from the body. But to treat mutants... that’s something else entirely. When a being turns into a mutant from exposure to Tiberium, it’s not just their appearance that changes... their body’s very biology is warped, making them stronger and faster. Sometimes the change is irrevocable, and trying to fix it may end up killing them. It’s a risky affair, and hasn’t changed, even on our end of things. Mutants still exist in our day and age, as we really can’t limit their reproduction, but spread-suppression technology has made it so that they can now at least function as contributing members of society.”

“I see...” Celestia stayed silent, watching more foals gather around to play with the strange man in the bright yellow suit. “He’s a rather enthusiastic one, isn’t he?” she asked.

Alexandra glanced at her, and then Masterson, watching as he muttered something loud enough for Alexandra to catch something about football. “Masterson? I guess so, though he was never really much of a military man. He maintains the core of the systems aboard our ship, and can be a bit too fascinated with minor things sometimes, but he’s well-intentioned... and harmless. Mostly.”

“So I noticed. I think him being here will do well to show that your group is not all simply about discipline and military affairs...” She craned her neck towards him and whispered, “Many fear that your arrival is merely the harbinger of your impending conquest. I dearly hope that such a thing isn’t true.”

That elicited a chuckle from him as he merely crossed his arms and reclined further against the bench’s backrest, an addition he found odd to have for ponies, especially with how Celestia sat next to him: stomach against the ground with no use of the backrest. “I think humanity’s period of conquest has long since passed, Princess,” he said. “It’s not obvious to all of your ponies here, but we’ve been fighting a war since long before we showed up here. There’s no need to fear my superiors coming down here to try to oust you all from you land and turn you all into slaves or anything like that.

“In fact, I’d say it’s the opposite: I have more to worry about here than you do. This whole mission was originally supposed to be a routine operation: scout our flanking sectors, locate traces of Tiberium and eliminate it. Simple and direct. But then we found you here: a sapient species that we are obligated by ISDI protocol to assist and protect. This being a routine operation, all information pertaining to our mission is within the public sphere. And when word that we found another, of many, sapient species, reached that sphere, they worked themselves into a storm over it. If I mess this up, they’ll have my head on a platter, so treating you all badly is not in the best interests of anyone that has a stake in this, on your side and mine.”

“That is... reassuring,” Celestia said. The sun hung proudly behind the silhouette of the generator, and Celestia had to release a small smile at its sight, however obfuscated it may have been. “I’m sure this whole ordeal has been taxing for both of us. At the very least, I am pleased that you are taking the steps to ensure the best possible outcome to bridge our two species together. I promise you that we will do all our efforts to return your generosity.”

“That would be fantastic, Your Highness. And I’ll try to keep us all alive so we can get there,” he said, departing from his seat and waving Masterson over to him before turning back to her. “Now, if you don’t mind, I’m sure that we both have some pressing matters to attend to. Providence is going to be complete soon, and I’d like to make sure that I can be there to inspect it when it finishes. Have a nice day, evening, or whatever suits you.”

Celestia gave a dainty nod to Alexandra, acknowledging his departure as Masterson followed him. “So, uh, things are looking pretty good right about now, right?” Masterson asked.

“They’re not bad, if that’s what you’re thinking,” Alexandra replied. “This place is nice, but I feel we’ve overstayed our welcome here. I want you to hit the ground running when the EVA core gets delivered to Providence, you understand?”

“I’m always at my top game, man,” he said. “But, seriously, get this: you know that one unicorn filly back there? She can do all sorts of stuff with magic. I mean, she even managed to lift me a bit, even though it was only a couple of inches off the ground. That’s pretty awesome. Imagine if we had that: hands-free maintenance!”

“If only a kid can do that, then I’m impressed,” Alexandra agreed, strolling down the path that led to the city gates at the end. Strangely enough, despite the congregation at the square, the street was devoid of any bystanders. “I just hope they won’t tamper with the generators while we’re not here.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” Masterson said. “EVA keeps track of that sort of thing with biometrics and credentials, coupled with the generator’s extremely bright red holographic ‘stay back’ lights. If anything crosses the threshold, then you’ll get a warning about it, and the norm is that only anything wearing ISDI equipment with proper clearances can cross without triggering it.”

“Good. Remind me to get the soldiers at the gate on guard duty for it as soon as possible. I don’t like leaving things to chance.” He maintained his calm as Masterson began to segue into some rambling on detection fields used in the Firestorm defense generator, his eyes never leaving the radar on his HUD as they continued down the street.

Though the visual appearance seemed to show that the street was empty... the buildings were not. A single blip trailing across the rooftops might have been just a simple thing to ignore, but Alexandra had been in far too many close calls to write it off as such. Something... or someone was watching them, and whatever it was, it was a floating presence, devoid of life signs and specifically attuned to magical frequencies that EVA had recorded when Celestia had cast her teleportation spell—similar, but not hers. Someone was keeping an eye on him, someone that wasn’t Celestia... and he didn’t like that.

“Twilight? Are you okay?” Wesley asked, waving his mechanical hand in front of Twilight’s eyes.

“Huh? Oh, no, I’m okay...” she said, bringing her mind back to reality as she speedily caught up with the checklist on her clipboard over the recent distribution of supplies. She marked down several more names before returning to her casual pace, checking off names, refugee credentials, and what was given out as she supervised the exchange with Wesley.

“You were zoning out there for a moment,” he noted. Zone troopers manned the tables just inside the front gate, handing out supplies to the line of ponies stretching all the way into downtown Canterlot. “How are things going so far?”

“Oh, well, this list you had me make by ear is a bit unorganized, but I guess it’ll have to do since humans can’t really read Equestrian yet.” Next to each item on her list was a small sketch of the item itself, more for herself since it was very hard to keep track of everything, especially when they were all shipped in unmarked and sealed boxes made out of steel. “Everypony’s been getting the necessities so far, and we’ve handed off about half of what you’ve brought already.”

“Excuse me, Lady Twilight?” Twilight looked over her shoulder to see a squad of Equestrian Royal Guard next to her. “Under orders of Princess Celestia, we’re here to help oversee the supply operation and to ensure nothing goes wrong.”

“A good idea,” Wesley agreed. “I don’t know if we can really do anything here if things get rowdy. You can have them work the security on the lines, and keep a few up here to oversee the crowd.”

“I agree,” she said, nodding at Wesley and looking at the guard. Princess Celestia always seemed to know just who was underneath that helmet in her whole guard, but she had yet to learn. Perhaps it was merely magic. “And who might you be...?” she directed at the squad leader.

“Sergeant Firetrace, ma’am,” he responded.

“Okay, then, Sergeant,” she said. “You can divide up your squad to keep watch. I know it’s a lot of ponies for a group your size, but you’re here to mediate, not enforce. If things get a bit too dicey, then I can request some extra help from the human soldiers here. Is that fine with you?”

“Perfectly fine, ma’am. We’ve been stretched pretty thin as it is, so any extra help is welcome.” He whisked around and sounded off orders as his squad—a unit comprised entirely of pegasi, Twilight noted, which was extremely rare to see during the crisis—and then took up his position next to her, completing her entourage of both human and pony.

Lady Twilight, hmm? How proper,” Wesley said. Unlike the other troopers present near her, Wesley’s visor remained transparent, and she could see a multitude of data flowing by his face, laced with numbers and words she didn’t understand. “So... we have food and basic amenities. Is there anything else that’s needed?”

“Not really,” Twilight said. “The only thing we need at this moment is more space. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be surprised if we start picking up ponies from within the castle and sanctum over the next day or so, and there’s a lot more than those that live in the city. Are these supplies all we’re going to get?”

“Our facilities aboard the ship can handle the load, so I think we can accommodate for increasing numbers if we need to.” His eyes remained inclined towards the holographic screen, but he took the time to pay attention to the sound of clamors as he looked up and frowned. Twilight followed his gaze and witnessed a familiar refined mane making its way through the crowd.

“Out of the way, lessers!” a voice called out. “Prince Blueblood is passing through!”

Twilight could hear a low growl emanate from Firetrace’s throat, and she had to share his sentiments. Blueblood was a thorn in the side of the crisis committee’s efforts, squandering precious supplies and flaunting political power to extort more than that from the less fortunate. Princess Celestia had shut him down hard early on, but they still took every available moment to try to squeeze as much as they could out of the system.

And the saying always went that ‘birds of a feather flock together’, so it was no surprise that Blueblood had managed to procure his own, for lack of respect and a better term, group of thugs. “Alright, you mangy lot, get out of the way!”

Ponies scrambled to clear a path for Blueblood’s group as the prince trotted along behind his lackeys, haughtily holding his head in the air as the public eyed him with disdain. All knew what he was here for, and if they were unlucky, he would get it. Twilight narrowed her eyes as Blueblood neared the front of the tables, but the reaction from the ISDI soldiers there gave her a minor reprieve: they drew their weapons.

What’ll we do with this one, sir?” the zone trooper nearest to Wesley asked, lowering the box he was carrying it to the ground, nudging it away behind him as he drew his chaingun.

“Just wait a minute...” Wesley said. “Let’s see hear what he has to say. Who’s this spectacular role model of society and his merry band of misfits, Twilight?”

“Blueblood,” she said menacingly. “Don’t believe anything he says, especially if he tries to bribe you. I know for a fact that his group doesn’t have a single bit to their name, since it’s all owned by the crown—”

“Relax, Twilight,” he said, gently waving her down. “Besides, I don’t think anything he can put forward can match my pay grade, anyways. But let’s just assume that things go south, he gets hostile, and he might end up more... perforated than he was when he first arrived here. How will that go over with the rest of these folks?”

“No one will be crying, that’s for sure,” she replied bitterly. “He’s a burden, a cheat, and a thief. Given that we all live in such a confined space, practically everypony knows what Blueblood’s done by now, even the little colts and fillies. Why do you ask?”

“Just curious. I think I’ll have to put myself with Commander Alexandra when I say that I’m not a diplomat, either...” He cleared his throat and a small blue light appeared in the bottom left corner of his visor to broadcast to the staff. “Stay on guard,” he said untranslated. “Sources tell me that this whole group’s nothing but trouble. If things go south, let the pony guards try to deal with them first. If they fail... then we get to rassle these guys to the ground.”

Uh, sir... how strong are these guys, exactly?” another trooper inquired.

“Strong enough where you might want to consider covering your codpieces if they try to go for a nut shot, soldier,” he said. “But we have the advantage of maneuverability when it comes to fisticuffs. Looks like they also have a couple of magic users with them, including the leader, so it’s probably for the best that we all spread out if we get into a scuffle.”

“Please, please, gentlecolts,” the lead pony said with his Trottingham accent, trying his best to play it coolly as he leaned against the table. “There is no need to brandish those weapons in this fair city. We are simply here to collect our share of goods for the day... so, um, if you don’t mind, we’d like to collect our share, all of us here.” He gestured to the ponies behind him.

“Right...” the trooper said. “Listen, buddy, how about you and all your friends just go to the back and wait in line like everyone else?”

“What? Absolutely not. We are in dire need of these supplies, I tell you!” A round of disagreeing jeers arose from the crowd, and the stallion scoffed at them. “Please, it’s for the good of the crown. Are you really willing to let Prince Blueblood, great prince of the Equestrian throne just simply walk away empty-hoofed?”

“This whole operation has royal oversight,” the soldier replied, jabbing a thumb at Sergeant Firetrace behind him. “If you have a problem with that, take it up with him.”

“Ah, yes... um, sergeant... do you think you could do us a favor and perhaps give them permission to give us our due?” the stallion asked. Firetrace’s expression remained stone-faced as the guard stared directly into the stallion’s eyes. Murmurs passed through the crowd as some whispers spoke of the guards present to be under the employ of Blueblood, despite Twilight’s presence as a confidant of the throne and an Element of Harmony.

“Unfortunately, Princess Celestia has only granted my squad the clearance to oversee the security for this operation,” Firetrace said. He slowly turned his head left, and looking at Twilight and Wesley. “The authority granted to distribute these supplies is with these two. You will have to talk to them.”

“Alright, alright, we can do that...” The stallion cleared his throat, straightening his stance to gain a better view of them over the bulky trooper’s suit. “Um, excuse me, Lady Sparkle... could you perhaps simply allow us to—”

“No,” Twilight harshly replied. “Get back in line and wait your turn.”

The stallion anxiously looked to Blueblood, awaiting his response as Wesley kneeled next to Twilight. “You think they’ll do it?” he quietly asked her.

“They have to,” she whispered. “They don’t have any other choice.”

“Lady Sparkle!” Blueblood finally spoke. “Please, we honestly do require these supplies. If it pleases you, we could work something out perhaps, something that could work in your—”

No,” Twilight repeated. “If you really want it that badly, then you can get in line. I won’t repeat myself.”

Blueblood’s mask of calm shattered and he frowned at her, stepping forth past his cronies to look her directly in the eye. “But you must understand—”

“There’s nothing to understand, Blueblood. Get in line or I will have you, and you only, escorted back to the castle and your group jailed for obstructing the distribution of relief aid. And I will file a report with the committee over your brazen intrusion here this evening.”

Blueblood paused. Twilight inwardly cheered; she knew that as it was, he was already treading on extremely thin ice with his aunt, and a filed report over such a major event such as this would be sure to have Celestia bearing down upon him in unbridled fury. There was no way a noble such as himself could even think about going any—

“Is that it, then?” he cried out. “You would dare deny Canterlot’s greatest noble the right to his sustenance?! I’ll have you know, I have many ponies working for me across the city! Even if I do not have my way here today, I will regain what I have lost here tenfold! You can simply save face here by giving me what I demand, and I will not bother you any longer.”

“Is he really...?” Twilight said to herself.

“Yep,” Wesley answered, unaware of her self-directed question. “His reasoning is as shaky as it is stupid. He’s completely out of his mind.”

“Is there a problem here?” Commander Alexandra stepped in between them and crossed his arms, no less displeased at the delay. “What’s wrong?” he asked Blueblood.

“We are being denied our supplies!” he said, putting on an act of mock sadness as he fell to the ground and sobbed. “All the staff here have been so discriminating to us! We... we need these supplies to feed our families! Our foals! Please, sir, you must understand us, in these dire times, I know that—”

“Give them the supplies,” Alexandra said.

What?!” Twilight exclaimed, looking up at Alexandra. “Are you insane? We have all these ponies here before them, and you see fit to just—” Wesley put a gentle hand on her back, shaking his head to discourage her continued outbursts. “But I—augh, fine! Just let them take the supplies, then.”

“Good,” Alexandra said. The zone troopers placed the supply boxes atop their tables as the Blueblood’s group greedily put their hooves onto them. “Four boxes. No more, no less. Is that good?”

“That’ll be fine, sir. You must be Commander Alexandra, I see. I thank you very much for your continued service to our people,” Blueblood bowed gracefully before he left, ignoring the sneers and boos from the ponies that they passed on their way out.

“So... any reasoning behind that pleasant show, sir?” Wesley asked.

“Four boxes. Each supply shipment down from the Methuselah has tracking tags for logs that get sent back to Initiative Relief Logistics on it,” Alexandra said, looking down at Twilight. “I spoke with your Princess only a moment ago. If there’s malcontents running around, I don’t think it’s wise to put them in their places just yet... but that doesn’t mean we can’t keep an eye on them, either.”

“I... hadn’t thought of that, actually. Good thinking, sir,” Wesley said. His visor blinked brightly for several moments as a quartet of small green blips darted across his screen. “And like you said, there they are, dragging those things back with them. I’ll keep an eye on the supplies and notify you both when they’ve stopped.”

“Be sure to have Princess Celestia send some eyes their way,” Alexandra said. Masterson stood by him, again stupefied by the sea of ponies rushing in to fill the gap after Blueblood and company had left. “I’d rather not finish off one bad egg to have a dozen more pop up in its place.”

“I see you’ve gotten the shield generator up and working,” Wesley pointed out, gazing above into the shimmering canopy as the dimming daylight accentuated its sheen. “Are you heading down to Providence now?”

Alexandra nodded. “I am. Lieutenant Viers has come across an interesting revelation that requires me to put my full attention towards it. I’m sure the recent discovery is in your interest, as well, so I think I’ll simply part from the both of you with one word: shiners.” He slapped Masterson on the shoulder and left, walking to the gate as he directed the troopers he’d arrived with further into the city.

Twiilght blinked several times, wondering what the word meant. “Doctor Wesley... what’s a shiner?”

Wesley laughed. “I’ll tell you that after we finish up our tasks here. It’s going to be a long day...”

“How large is this cave we’re looking for, exactly?” Viers asked Trixie. Behind the two leaders trailed a small cluster of ponies, all donning various scraps of armor and haphazard melee weaponry as Yankee maintained the rearguard. “We’ve been walking for the better part of an hour already.”

“Relax, lieutenant,” Trixie assured him. “We are getting there. It was with specific intent that we relocated as far as possible from the dens of the mutated wildlife and diamond dogs, as well as providing ourselves some breathing room for our crops.”

“Crops? You maintain agriculture out here?” he asked.

“As much as the land will let us,” she said. The snap of a dried twig underneath her hoof signaled something primal deeper into the forest, and a low howl rose in the distance. “It looks like we are expected.”

“Expected by who?” Viers asked, clutching his cannon apprehensively. Things were going to get incredibly noisy if Trixie was leading them into a trap, though given the earliest confrontations with mutants during the early Earth years, his assumed chance that they would leave unharmed was slim. “What made that noise?”

“That would be the camp’s guardian, an Ursa Minor by the name of Otis,” she replied. “He’s not fully grown yet, but he’s saved our hides on more than one occasion. Oh, an Ursa Minor is exactly what it sounds like, by the way, since I assume you’ve never seen anything like one. It’s literally a giant bear whose material being is comprised of cosmic matter.”

“Yes, I think we’ve run into several of them already before...” he said. “Giant bears... yeah, I think we had to deal with a few down near our base camp.”

“An unfortunate coincidence,” Trixie said crestfallenly. Signs that they were near the camp began to show as the forest began to funnel out, revealing a well-traveled path in its place and the beginnings of outer defense emplacements shaped in the form of entire tree trunks carved into spears, situated so that they were protruding from the ground at an angle. “Otis helped us build these defenses. They’re sturdy enough that they keep the larger monsters at bay, though it has a secondary use for marking our territory for when we begin to expand.”

“Is Otis well-behaved?” Viers asked. A short text notification flickered across his HUD, EVA notifying him that Commander Alexandra was relocating to Camp Greenwood in preparation for his journey to Providence. The timing was excellent: if the mutated ponies had to be relocated, then he would be there to greet them.

“He doesn’t bite, so long as one of us tells him that you aren’t to be harmed. Everypony else in the camp has already made themselves known to him, but he tends to be very aggressive against newcomers,” Trixie said, levitating a pile of timber aside as she cleaned the path of blocking debris.

“How ‘aggressive’ are we talking here?” After passing by numerous defenses, they finally reached the gates of the camp, with wooden walls built taller than Camp Greenwood’s and reinforced with what appeared to be refined pillars of metal. Viers had to admire the skill put into it; a human group in a similar situation would have taken far longer to construct something only as half as grand.

“Well, I suppose we’ll find out, won’t we?” she said, smiling before looking up towards the ramparts of the gatehouse. “It’s Trixie, along with the scavenger group! Open the gates!”

The ponies on duty within obliged, and the gates began to creak open as Viers stared inside. At first, he couldn’t see anything except what seemed to be a twinkling of... stars? Otis’ scowling face burst forth through the tiny passage that the gates provided, and Viers felt his heart skip a beat as the Ursa Minor began to stare him down.

“Um... Otis...” Trixie nervously said. “It’s okay... they’re friends. Here to help us!”

“Can he... even understand you?” Viers slowly asked her.

“He does, or he usually does when we try to talk him down! It’s okay, Otis! They’re not here to hurt us!” she shouted out. Otis’ mood remained concerned, however, and he held his gaze on the command for the longest time as Viers’ body remained tensed, ready to unleash a volley of cannon and rocket fire on a moment’s notice as his jetpacks hummed in preparation of his immediate retreat.

He put a tentative step back as Otis opened his yawning maw, revealing a mouth full of razor-sharp teeth that Viers was sure would have no problems at all gnashing him into gruesome bits of dead human and gnawed armor. He nearly keeled over when Otis roared point-blank at him with enough force to quake the ground, and he would have, had he not already had a foot in place to bolster himself.

“Otis?! Otis! That’s enough!” Trixie shrieked. “Stand down, okay?! They - are - not - here - to - hurt - us!” she continued, screaming the emphasis as Otis suddenly stopped and looked at her, baffled. “Yes! They are friends! We don’t hurt friends, right?!”

The bear’s face frowned for a moment, then alighted in realization, and he soon nodded with a smile as he withdrew back into the camp. His thudding steps grew faint as Trixie let out a sigh of relief, and she shook her head as Viers caught up with her as she entered the camp.

“He looks like a lot of work to take care of,” he said nonchalantly. The tuft of the bear’s head could be seen at the far end of the camp as they passed by several huts with ponies working at preparing food. Foals were promptly shooed away by their elders as Trixie stopped.

“It definitely was,” she said over her shoulder. “We found Otis when he was but a cub, and his mother was nowhere to be seen. It’s strange, these Ursas: they only seem to require eating to survive at a young age, but eventually, their body tapers off and somehow becomes self-sustaining. Some part of me believes that it’s magic, but what can I say? I’m no expert.”

Her attention was redirected as her congregation swelled, and an elderly stallion at the fore spoke up. “Trixie, uh... just who are these newcomers, anyway?” Eyes watched as the scavenger group behind them scattered off and returned to their duties, having no bounty to turn in that day. “Are these the ‘outsiders’ we’ve all been hearing so much about?”

“Indeed they are, my good ponies,” she said. “Allow me to introduce Lieutenant Viers of the... um...”

“Interstellar Defense Initiative,” he answered through his power suit’s external speakers, giving his voice a hazy static tone through the electronics. “With permission given by your leader here, I’ve arrived here to take a census of you all for administrative purposes, and if need be, relocate you all to more proper housing currently under construction nearby.”

“Can we trust these outsiders, Trixie?” the stallion asked her.

“It’s okay, they can be trusted... or at least, I hope so,” Trixie said. “They were in the process of building a base nearby, the camp of which he spoke, and you’ve all heard the news from our scouts about how they’re purging the forest. I’d rather not stay here when they finally catch up to this location.”

They all whispered to each other, several jabbing a cautious hoof towards Viers and Yankee squad and waving Trixie over for private counsel as he took the time to survey their living situation. Though it wasn’t entirely decrepit nor sordid, most of the huts appeared to be made out of whatever plant life had once occupied this acreage, and on the way in he could have sworn he saw what appeared to be meat being prepared in the food hut they had passed on their way in. In conditions like this, he saw, it wasn’t wise to be picky about what you ate.

Sergeant Rosky and the rest of Yankee began to meander about, holstering their weapons on the suits magnetic back locks as they proceeded to show a willing disarmament in front of the ponies, which seemed to calm them down, if only a little. “With all due respect, sir, it’s a nice little place they got here, if a bit dirty,” he said on a closed line. “Are we still on track for relocating them back to Providence?

“We have to,” Viers responded. “SOP means they all have to be in Providence and underneath Citadel shields before the Scrin show up. They won’t make it a single day out here, otherwise, even with their giant guard bear romping about the camp.”

On top of that, sir, I think I saw some meat hanging off of some racks back there in that other hut...” Rosky commented, echoing Viers’ thoughts. “Guess when push comes to shove, you gotta do what you gotta do... but isn’t it a bit dangerous if they’re eating mutated creatures out here?

“Doesn’t really seem like much of a difference given that they’re all mutants already,” he said. “But maybe we can readjust them to their old diets when their supply shipments get handed out. Fresh vegetables and medical treatment ought to have them back to eating normal in no time.”

Medical treatment? I understand where you’re coming from, sir, but last I heard, you could only turn into a mutant, not the other way around...” Rosky said, sitting atop a worn rock distanced from the group and providing him with a clear view of Otis at the end. Trixie uttered a few parting words with her group, waving them away as she looked at Viers.

“While your offer to relocate to the camp is tempting,” she said, “the decision is that we will only agree under one condition: I will go with you to look at them myself. And depending on how things go, I will return and we will decide upon what happens next.”

“Sounds fair,” Viers said. “If you’d like, you can bring along others. It would be helpful if you had a few extra opinions on the housing.”

“My original group shall do,” she said. “I’ll grab them and then we can be on our way.”

Uh, Dagger to Commander Alexandra.

“This is Alexandra. What’s going on, Dagger?” Alexandra asked, bumping shoulders with Masterson as their transport slogged its way up through the hills. Despite the lessening turbulent conditions, rain was still at an all-time high, causing ground shifts and flash floods. Any other choice of terrain and conditions would have been preferable; it was a shame that atmospheric saturation didn’t produce a global Tiberium winter. At least snow could be used as a greater advantage in combat.

The mutants are interested in the housing, but they won’t move until they take a look for themselves. I’m bringing them down to Providence now. Maybe you should introduce yourself to them, sir?

“Don’t see why not,” Alexandra said. The din of construction creeped into earshot, and he looked out the window to see the Citadel shield generator being erected just over the treeline. “I’m almost there myself. How far away are you?”

Very close. Turns out their camp is only a couple of ridges away from Providence, actually.” The static buzzed through as Viers spoke quietly to someone else. “We’ll meet you at the front gate. Dagger out.

“Looks like we get a mutant welcoming party,” Alexandra said. Masterson merely tapped at the window, and then Alexandra’s shoulder to gain his attention, and then pointed out at the small gathering near the still-unfinished walls of Providence. Viers and company were already waiting.

“Well, at least they don’t look too different from the normal ponies,” Masterson said. “Though if there are shiners here, maybe we should probably keep an eye on Providence’s security. I don’t think anyone’s going to be a happy camper if a visceroid comes a-knockin’ on our door.”

“We haven’t seen any concentrations of Tiberium gas here, or at least not in this region.” Alexandra hammered the side of the transport, waving his instruction to the Chariot driver to move to the shoulder of the road as they neared the gate. “Things might be different elsewhere. Orders still stand to purge on sight, no matter the circumstance.”

Viers immediately greeted them as the rear hatch opened, giving them a small wave. “Welcome to Providence, sir. You’re in luck: they’ve just finished hooking up the EVA core into the command bunker.” A pony pushed past his arms and looked into the APC, looking curiously up at Viers, and then at Alexandra. “Oh, and this is Trixie, the leader of the pony mutants.”

“There are a lot more of you outsiders than I thought,” she said. “So much military for a simple cleansing operation?”

Viers and Trixie withdrew to give Alexandra and Masterson space to exit the APC. As they both stepped back out into the acrid Equestrian air again, Alexandra remained mute, taking the time to note the crystallic growth on Trixie’s face and horn. “Greetings, Trixie,” he said. “I’m Commander Alexandra, leader of all the ISDI expeditionary forces sent to this planet. I notice you have a bit crystal growth on you. How long has that been there?”

“As long as I can remember...” she replied. “It was... a long while ago. I haven’t really been up-to-date on the calendar, so I’m afraid I can’t really recall when.” Her eyes drifted across his faceplate and and down his body, and then up to his head again. “You and your companion are smaller than the Lieutenant here.”

“It’s the suits,” Alexandra said. “They need to do more and require more protection, so they’re larger. Mine’s just standard for officer loadouts. In any case, I’ve been told that you want to survey the housing units. Let’s go check them out.”

Engineers darted about, several beginning to place the foundations of turrets and cannons at the gate entrance as they passed by. The empty sockets for the deployment of anti-air batteries sat untouched within the walls as movers carried components for anti-orbital cannons further inside. Zone troopers patrolled the lengths of the walls and Titans stood in checkpoint bays in maintenance as they crossed to the refugee camps.

The blockish hill of the command bunker sat at the highest point of Winsome Falls as the Citadel shield generator rose into the air and finished deploying, fizzling to life as Trixie and her cohorts watched the shield project its defensive canopy above Providence, canceling out the rain and the noise within. “Quite... fascinating,” she said. “Are those... shields?”

“Yes,” Alexandra said. They approached another gate, this one already operational as it collapsed into the ground, revealing rows of generic housing units flanking the road on both sides. “There’s the housing units.” He looked over at a nearby engineer busy cataloguing crates of furnishings. “Engineer, what’s the status on these housing units?”

“We just finished them two hours ago, sir,” he said. “I see you’ve got some of the locals with you. They’re locked at the moment for security purposes, but I can have EVA send the access codes to you.”

“Much obliged,” Alexandra said. EVA’s notification that the access codes had been uploaded to his suit signature popped up on his HUD... along with a secondary notification from the Methuselah stating that advance elements from the Hammerfest had rendezvoused with it. Unsurprisingly, it was a high-speed troop transport with the familiar ‘EF’ callsign of the Inferno Corps. There was no doubt that they’d called first rights to landing ahead of the main force.

The housing units were roughly as large as the barracks back at Camp Greenwood, and had the same amenities to boot. As they walked past the engineer and towards the door, the red light switched to green, and the door opened to reveal an airlock. The interior was a strong white that brought back memories of time to Alexandra spent around operating tables—both around and on them.

“So... pristine,” Trixie said. “Hygienic, certainly, and very... secure?” she ended, as the door closed behind them. The locks shifted into place and a disinfectant spray drizzled over them as she and the other ponies winced. “This spray... stings...”

“Aw, shit, let me get this, Marty,” Masterson said, tapping away at his wrist-mounted PDA for a moment before the spigots closed off. “Forgot the sprays had Tiberium-neutralizing components to it.” The door opened as the color tone remained unchanged, painting the whole hall in surreal vibe that seemed utterly alien, even to the humans.

They broke off right as soon as they entered, and Trixie trotted inside to appraise the cabin. “How many rooms are there?” she asked, poking her head into a dresser before drawing back and sniffing the air. “The air... it’s so clean.”

“Filtering systems keep things as clean as possible,” Alexandra said. “And there are ten rooms per floor, with two total floors, complete with bathrooms at the end of each hall for communal use. Food will be taken at the mess hall and will be open all-day as per refugee protocol.”

“And the windows?” she asked, tapping a hoof against the tiny line of glass above the table. “It seems rather... lacking.”

“For security purposes. We can’t risk having anyone smash them open and causing a containment breach, so they’re made with reinforced glass and have only a minor presentation of the outside.”

“Excellent... and I expect that you are already aware of what ponies eat.” She watched her group trot around the room, poking their hooves inquisitively at the various modular fixtures and basking in the feel of the beds. “And it seems that the others think well of these accommodations. So that solves that problem, then,” she said, settling on top of the chair and bouncing upon it. “One more thing: will there be a place to stay for Otis?”

“Didn’t plan on it, but I’m sure we could work something out,” Alexandra said. “Will he be fine sleeping outside?”

“He prefers it that way, really,” Trixie said. “If there’s a large cave nearby, he can settle into that, but otherwise, it’s best just to have somewhere flat and clean for him to sleep. Oh, and food, of course, he loves his food.”

“Sure. What kind of foods does he eat, anyway?”

“Meat, various fruits and nuts, that sort of thing,” she said. Her horn glowed as she lifted moved the lamp around on its pivot, smiling at its design. “It’s been a long while since I’ve been in such a place like this. Very well, we shall agree to move into these premises, and to bring Otis along with us. Come now, my dear ponies! We have news to bring home!”

Alexandra stepped aside to let the ponies leave as a notification beep pinged in his ears, and he opened his HUD to find himself receiving a video transmission from the Methuselah’s newest arrivals. “Confessor Jeremiah Godric,” Alexandra greeted, smiling at the grizzled veteran’s battle-scarred face and noticing that his acquaintance’s eyepatch had changed yet again. “I should have expected that you and your men were itching to get here as soon as possible.”

Godric chuckled. “It’s Captain Godric, lad, but I guess if ye want to talk like the old days, then, yeah... ‘Confessor’ Godric will do ye jus’ fine. How’re things goin’ on down there? Been lots o’ talk ‘mongst the men ‘bout you findin’ some talkin’ horses down there.

“Ponies, Godric, ponies,” Alexandra corrected.

Bah, same thing. The whole damn press ‘s been up in arms up it, claimin’ all sorts of crazy shit and statin’ that the great ‘n mighty Alexandra is goin’ to fuck things up, yeah. Well, so long as my boys and I still draw breath, there ain’t goin’ to be any shit hittin’ the fan here. The Word of Nod wants to get an interview with ye whenever you’ve got the time, by the way.

“The general stance towards me seems to change every time I end up on the news,” Alexandra joked. “In any case, I have some stuff to attend to, so we’ll talk later. The refugees need a place to stay, and—” He was cut off as sirens began to blare and the room was painted in an oscillating red light.

Warning: this is not a drill,” EVA broadcasted on the base PA system. “Scrin drone ship detected in vicinity. Commander Alexandra, report to the command bunker immediately. Attention all forces: Scrin drone ship detected in vicinity. Security lockdowns engaged.

Aw, fuck, just our luck, innit, boy? Hold onto yer horses—oh, ain’t I a comedian, eh?—and lock down the base. M’boys and I are poddin’ in to give those bastards a good burnin’ in the good ol’ fashioned Nod style.

“A drone ship...” Alexandra said. He pointed a finger out the door at Viers. “Lieutenant! Get these ponies back to their camp and lock it down as soon as possible!”

“What?” Viers shouted. “With no backup?”

“The base isn’t complete yet, but I know that the Scrin aren't going to be interested in the ponies. I want you and Yankee to keep them all safe until this blows over, okay?”

“Yes, sir! How the fuck did they make it past our sensors...?” he wondered aloud. “Yankee, with me! Trixie, we have to get back to your camp right now. Let’s get moving!” They bumped Masterson aside as they charged into the airlock, and after yet another gate control transfer to the front door, were on their way outside.

They must’ve slipped in underneath the sensors, alright,” Godric chimed in. “The Methuselah’s tracked its trajectory in through the atmo. Seems like they’re an advance element... just like us. Don’t worry ‘bout the regulars muckin’ up ‘gainst the dangerous ones... just leave that to us. Time to turn up the heat. See you planetside, Marty. Peace through power.

The last that Alexandra saw of Godric was the Inferno Corps gearing up behind him, calling out prayers and arming themselves with their distinctive flame weaponry before the feed cut off. He chuckled quietly underneath his helmet at that piece of the old world that he’d long since become accustomed to as he grew up.

“Heh... peace through power, old friend.”

Author's Note:

Old world remnants arrive in Equestria to help stop what will be the first of many Scrin incursions.

Burn them all to ashes, then burn the ashes.