• Published 3rd Sep 2012
  • 43,651 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...

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Chapter 2: Trepidation

>Establishing battlefield control, stand by...

The roar of half a dozen Orca dropships screeched through the sky as they weaved their way through ion storm clouds and narrowly missing numerous lightning bolts. Following the landing trajectory planned out by EVA, the entire group managed to avoid catastrophic system failure and pulled through with minor electronic interference.

"Reinforcements have arrived," EVA said to Alexandra. He received a satellite view of the ground as the MCV's local command uplink provided him with a visible but distorted view on the ground.

"Great. MCV, move to this position and deploy. Begin construction of power generators here and here, a refinery here, and barracks and medical station here," Alexandra said, indicating the positions for each building as he named them off. "Notify me when preparations are complete."

"Right away, commander," the MCV pilot responded, immediately deploying on flat ground and proceeding to use what prefabricates the deployment force had come with to construct itself quickly. Construction crew scurried back and forth on their supply movers, ferrying the needed prefabricates to construction sites as engineers hopped around in their zone jumpsuits, assembling them in record times.

"Radar is unavailable, commander," EVA said. "New objectives stand at establishing a current base of operations for our forward ground forces and reclaiming the immediate area from Tiberium incursion."

"Objectives noted, EVA," Alexandra said, receiving a communications ping from Viers. "Dagger, this is the commander. What's going on down there?" More zone troopers and several Titan Mk.5 walkers exited the dropships, taking up a circular defensive position around the MCV as the two power generators went up.

"We have an indigenous lifeform down here, sir. Most likely sentient, and afflicted with Tiberium toxemia. We need the medical station up ASAP so Doctor Wesley can treat her." Viers' face flickered on his transmission display as the volume cut in and out due to storm interference. "It's wearing a hazmat suit, sir."

"Interesting. Guess that means I'll be filing a contact report with CENTCOM, then. How bad is the Tiberium down there, Dagger?"

"Bad enough that we're staring at walls of it wherever we walk, sir. I don't think surgical strikes with the ion cannon is going to cut it this time around. Scrin presence confirmed to be absent, but I don't think it's going to stay that way for long. This world is about six to seven times more important in strategic value than any other planet on the frontlines simply due to Tiberium alone."

Alexandra tapped a few buttons and prepared a general operational report for CENTCOM. "EVA, give me an analysis of the Methuselah's forces against a full-blown Scrin planetary recovery group."

"Affirmative, commander," the AI said. "According to intelligence reports of known Scrin reclamation assault groups for planets of this condition, the Methuselah's forces will be outnumbered seven-to-one. In addition, these forces will most likely be veteran groups cycled out of the frontlines to take back high-value strategic targets, like Reaper, Destroyer, or Annihilator cults."

"Seven-to-one?" Viers said. "I think we’re going to need more soldiers than that..."

“Agreed. I’m going to have to requisition ZOCOM for some reinforcements; this is right down their alley. Dagger, I can’t see anything worth a damn outside of our base perimeter. The Tiberium fog is crazy down there.”

Yes, sir, it’s near-zero visibility down here. We could see some Tiberium glaciers off in the distance, but the fog’s blocking everything else. Refinery is up and running now, though. Crap’s all over the damn ground so expansion’s going to be on hold until we can clear the area.

“Right. And tell the good doctor to report back to me immediately on the status of the indigenous lifeform.”

Roger that, commander. Dagger out.

Alexandra sat back, watching on the green-hazed feed as a small team of staff rushed out of the newly-completed medical center with a quarantine gurney made to transport patients out of Tiberium-inflicted zones. Wesley pointed orders at them as they prepped to move to the medical center.

The engineer standing inside the doorway had only just finished slamming the last panel into place as the bulkhead to his right opened, and he was nearly pushed aside as a group of white-clad staff rushed beside him, nearly catching a faceful of blowtorch as they went by.

“Clear the path, doctor and patient moving through!” Wesley said, now donning a smaller medical suit. He and a number of staff pushed the quarantine gurney, sealed with a metal casing containing the creature they’d found, through the halls of the medical station on their way to the operating center.

They paused in an airlock, letting the decontamination systems run through their processes as the chamber was temporarily locked, scanned, and then purged of any contaminants before moving into the operating center.

“Clear away, opening the case!” an assistant called out. With a hiss, the sealed gurney was opened, revealing the orange pony within. Tiberium growth was clear on her legs and around her slash wounds, and its breathing was strained.

“EVA, prep surgical tools, ion scalpels, and D-grade sonic removal tools. The rest of you, prepare to move patient to table on three. One... two... three...” With a grunt, they shifted the removable pallet on the gurney to the table, finishing the final step needed before the operation. “Status on patient.”

A number of tools were shifted around as bright blue lights zipped and zoomed around her. “Scans read infection of up to fifteen percent of the inner structure, doctor. Toxemia levels are... less than seventeen percent? How long was it exposed?” asked a nurse.

“No idea. It was already like this when we found it, and it was wearing a hazmat suit.” Wesley pulled down a blocky device with a glowing blue panel, positioning it above the legs. With the push of a button, the sonic sound waves from the device immediately shattered the outer growth of Tiberium crusting along its skin. “Probably been like that longer than it took for us to pod-drop down here.”

“Over several minutes? But that’s impossible!” another assistant said. “Direct exposure to Tiberium would kill a normal man in less than three minutes!”

“Well, son, these aren’t humans, are they?” Pulling down a pen-like apparatus, Wesley began to shear away smaller rashes of Tiberium using the device’s high-powered directed ion particles. “Where’s the worst of the damage?”

“Legs and lower back, sir, mostly,” the assistant read off his monitor.

“Fantastic. Carbon-based lifeforms?” Wesley asked, not even pausing in his ballet dance using the ion beams as he cut through the muscle-turned-crystal. He was surprised that the creature didn’t even respond to the heated beams striking its leg, but the nerve endings had most likely been consumed by Tiberium.

“Yes, sir.”

“Chances of using regeneratives on it?” Taking a quick peek at the monitor to his left, the patient’s heart rate was still above normal, or at least above normal for a human.

“Rather high, sir. But our own medical applications have never been fully tested on extraterrestrial lifeforms, and even those we have tested them on are circumstantial at best—”

“Tell me, son, are you fresh out of med school?”

“No, sir.”

“Then as far as I’m concerned, we still have a life to save. Easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, and if we don’t do intensive treatment on it now, then we won’t be able to work fast enough otherwise to save it in time.” He pulled down a thin wiring tool, unceremoniously jabbing it directly into the incision he had created on her side. Activating the tiny nano-processing modules within, he began breaking down the tiberium attacking the flesh, vacuuming out the harmless raw materials into storage units that sat underneath the table.

“Toxemia levels decreasing... Tiberium affliction in the bloodstream is still present, but decreasing.” Multiple auxiliary beams attended to other parts of the leg as Wesley finished off the last of the external protrusions of Tiberium. A good part of the leg was gone, but at least it didn’t require a full amputation. Regeneratives would at least be able to help reclaim all the tissue that was lost.

“Prep sonic pulse and ready filters,” Wesley said. The Tiberium would break off into the bloodstream, spreading to other parts of the body and essentially making it near impossible to permanently remove it. But with sonic technology, early strains of Tiberium could be easily made benign and filtered out using external devices.

“Hold on a moment, sir, I have to...” The assistant checked up and down one of the forward legs, looking for a blood vessel. Shaking his head, he utilized another body scan from the monitors nearby and pinpointed one easy enough to use without causing internal bleeding or damage. “It’s in, sir, dialysis is ready...”

“Activate,” Wesley ordered. The table hummed and then whirred as the sonic pulse ran throughout the entire body of the creature, breaking down the remainder of the particles within the body to be caught by the dialysis systems.

“Heartrate is back to normal, but raw material residue build-up is centered in the lungs. Aside from that, though, it looks like we’re successful, doctor. The patient has been saved.”

Wesley sighed, thankful for his prolonged experience in treating battlefield Tiberium infections. “Notify the commander,” he said, walking out the door. “Keep the patient in the ICU under quarantine, and notify me of any changes in activity. I need a drink.”

“General Hallman on the line, sir.”

“Great,” Alexandra said. “Put him through.”

General George S. Hallman of the ISDI’s Zone Operations Command, and namesake of the Hallman Directive, appeared on the screen, wearing an expression that seemed to be a mixture of both amusement and serious interest. “Commander Martin Alexandra. How strange that out of all commanders that sent to this planet, it happened to be you.

“What can I say, sir?” Alexandra said, holding his hands up in the air. “Trouble has a way of following me around.”

So it would seem. According to what EVA tells me, you’ve found a world absolutely rife with Tiberium growth along with a seemingly strange lack of Scrin forces. You’re here to requisition reinforcements in reclamation efforts, I assume?

Alexandra nodded. “Of course, sir. We have confirmed presence of Tiberium glaciers and other signs of heavy incursion, and it’s going to take more than the Methuselah’s direct strike ion cannon to properly dispose of them.”

I see. I’ll divert the ITC Amaranthine with a full contingent of ZOCOM soldiers and reclamation vehicles to your control, along with Commander Trent Redding of the 305th ZOCOM Command Wing.

Alexandra mentally cursed. He’d worked with Redding before, and found that their methodology for combating the Scrin differed wildly, causing significant problems in cohesion on the battlefield: where Alexandra was a man who liked to think outside of the box, Redding was a commander that was strictly by-the-book and played heavily on conventional strategies.

“Uh... yeah, about that, sir... Redding and I don’t exactly... mesh well when it comes to battlefield command.” The thought of having to work with that robot wearing a human face wasn’t entirely too appealing on a sensitive reclamation operation like this.

You’ll have to deal with it. He’s one of the ISDI’s best, and I know you are, too, and all our other commanders are too busy elsewhere to order a fallback. Make things work, because I already have the Washington’s EVA unit processing all the information, and all outcomes point to Scrin involvement somewhere down the line. I want the planet locked down before they arrive.

“Of course, sir.” Flipping open Redding’s deployment history, he’d only returned from a recent deployment resulting in the resounding success of the defense of the planet Burkhart from Scrin invasion. His apparent strategy was to simply bunker down on the planet’s major cities and blow the Scrin to pieces with superior firepower as they attempted to take ground.

Great. Then expect the Amaranthine to meet up with the Methuselah within a week’s time. Hallman out.

No sooner had the direct channel to Hallman closed did Alexandra receive another incoming transmission from, obviously, Redding himself. Opening it up, he sat back and smirked at the screen. “Hello again, Redding. I guess we’ll be working together for this one...”

So it would seem,” Redding responded. “Should I be expecting more acts of bravado on your part, Alexandra?”

“Only if the Scrin threaten to drop six volleys of artillery fire on your men, Redding. Maybe if you’d actually try doing something different for once, you’d be less predictable and present yourself as less of a target to them.”

And remind me again whose idea it was to fly a retrofitted Kodiak loaded with explosives into a Scrin mothership again?”

“There was no foul on that one. We loaded it up, sent in the fleet to distract, and EVA autopiloted that thing straight into the heart of the Scrin battlefleet like a champ and cut off most of their C-and-C with minimal casualties. By your methodology, we would have thrown half the fleet into the frying pan and the other half into the fire in an attempt to try to poke their shields.”

And they retreated and regrouped, or did you forget that part? If we had held them up, closed the breaks in the line and flanked them properly, we would have been able to destroy their entire fleet and ground forces, also with minimal casualties.”

“Using time we didn’t have, of course. We were already losing, half our armor was gone, the other half trying to hold the LZs for whatever reinforcements we could throw into the mix. The fleet could have won a battle of attrition, maybe, but our ground forces did not have that going for them. Really, if I hadn’t done something about that, they’d be dead men.”

We had reinforcements inbound from the Steel Talons. If we had waited only a while longer, we could have routed them and taken the fleet simultaneously.”

“I don’t like gambling with the lives of my men, and certainly not because you almost cost me Hampton’s life. She was caught out two klicks from the LZ under heavy fire from Scrin artillery. If I hadn’t bombed that mothership and forced a retreat, she and a lot of my men wouldn’t be here right now.”

Oh, God, this again? I thought you’d already gotten over that...

“Hampton is one of my best crawler commanders, and one of the best crawler operators in the entire ISDI, period,” Alexandra said, voice strangely filled with calm given his tendency to become less than approachable whenever it was brought up. “As much as I like my showboating, my loyalty is to my men first, and like hell I was going to lose any more of my men just so the Talons could arrive and clean things up by the book.”

I share your concern, Alexandra. I value my men just as much as yours, but our methods of operating and their concerns are... different.”

Alexandra scoffed. “You got that right. Just make sure you show up on time, and we’ll split coverage of the planet so we don’t end up stepping on each other’s toes. I hope the General has allocated some MARVs to me?”

He has, along with a number of ZOCOM soldiers, which I assume you’ll definitely put to good use. Stay safe, Alexandra, and try not to do anything stupid before I get there.”

“Don’t worry, if the Scrin show up, I’ll take special care to save you some.” With a final begrudging nod to each other, the transmission ended. "So much for working together..."

Celestia stood alone within the marbled hall, dull brown light shining in through the windows, as she stood in front of the magical time-distortion sphere that held the body of Princess Luna within. Although the Princess of the Night was still alive, the damage to her body was severe, and it pained Celestia to see her sister like this, knowing that she could do nothing about it.

“Luna... if only you were here...” she whispered. She received no response save for the magical hum of the translucent glowing bubble in front of her. To actually magically affect the crystals on her body was too dangerous, so Celestia could only slow down time, and try to prolong any chance of saving her for as long as she could.

She stood for a moment, desperately trying to calm her own emotions and taking this moment of reprieve before she returned back to managing this incredible crisis that threatened to swallow everything she cared about. And so far, it was already well on its way to accomplishing that goal.

The sound of hoofsteps approaching from behind her broke her out of her trance, as she turned to see Twilight stopping at the doorway. “Princess...”

“I... it’s... this is terrible... isn’t it, Twilight?” she asked.

Twilight merely nodded slowly, sharing in her mentor’s pain as the floating body of Luna shimmered before her. “Will... will Luna ever wake up?”

Celestia looked at her sister, then Twilight, and then the ground. “I’m not sure, my faithful student...”

“We’ll find a way, I promise you. I... I’ve been taking those breaks that you keep reminding me to take, so I just thought I’d try to speak to you. Somehow, I knew you’d be here.”

“Yes... well... I believe that I’ve...” Celestia composed herself, and walked to the door with Twilight, her golden armor clanking as she joined her student. Though a superfluous decoration, Celestia had taken to wearing her ancient battle armor to give the ponies within the sanctum a sense of security and to keep them calm. It was the most she could do in the face of such adversity. “I’ve spent enough time here. Come, let us go.”

They walked through the halls of the castle in silence, occasionally passing by a pair of patrolling guards. Not soon after, they were approached by a bespectacled unicorn, his brown fur a bit matted and eyes slightly drooping with wear. “Princess, I have the status report that you requested...”

Twilight and Celestia exchanged a look, saddened that the time they’d spent together was so short. “Very well. Tell me everything, Scroll.”

Scroll rearranged his glasses and cleared his throat. “Our food rations are beginning to reach critical levels. Medicine is among one of our most important focuses right now, and we can’t maintain a supply great enough to meet demand. Living conditions are as good as they can get for what we have. And for morale, well... Princess, things are bad.”

Celestia sighed. “I know, Scroll, but what more can we do? We try, and try, and all of our efforts are for naught. Every single solution we’ve tried that Twilight has proposed has been completely ineffective.”

“All of the gardens have already been altered for food production, and still, it’s not enough...” Scroll muttered. “What should we do, Your Majesty?”

“We shall renew our efforts to find a solution to this crisis,” Celestia said. “Come, Twilight. This time, I shall help you look for a solution.” Twilight beamed at her, and for a moment, Celestia felt a smile break out across her face. Yes, with both of them searching, they may eventually come across a solution. Perhaps doubling the efforts may yield results yet...

Applejack could faintly hear the sound of a constant beeping as her ears twitched. Slowly opening her eyes, the first thing she noted was that it was bright. Not a dull green that she couldn’t see through, but white. Pure, crisp, blindingly refreshing white. It was soothing to look at... she hadn’t seen such a bright light since before everything happened, when the sky was blue and Celestia’s sun sat high in the sky.

Then she noticed that she had some sort of strange mask attached to her muzzle. Faintly tapping against it, she was sure that it wasn’t dangerous... it produced some of the cleanest air she’d breathed in months. She quietly laughed to herself, though her mouth was dry; the only thing it was missing now was the scent of trees and apples, and it would be just like back in the old days.

It was nice; she took in a deep breath of air, and it cleared her mind. Then, it hit her: she was somewhere unknown. Opening her eyes and looking around, there was an empty chair in front of her bed. The size indicated that it was made for something roughly larger than her... but who?

“H... hello?” she managed weakly. Her throat was so dry, her voice sounded like rubbing dirt on sandpaper. For a moment, there was no response, and she closed her eyes again for a moment as she felt fatigue washing over her body. Wait a moment...

Applejack immediately pulled the blankets off herself, and saw that her leg was wrapped in a cast. Multiple needles were stuck on various points on her body, and she began to panic. The door opened and some sort of strange bipedal creature—a male, judging by the voice—came in and began saying something incoherent, looking over his shoulder and shouting at another one of his kind at the door.

“H... hello? Can you help me?” she said. She coughed several times, and the figure was quickly at her bedside, and put a hoof—at the very least, it was what she thought was a hoof—against her forehead. When she coughed again and made the gesture for drinking water, the strange being understood; he quickly filled a small cup for her and was about the remove the mask off of her face when the same being from before returned with another one in tow.

The new arrival seemed to have asked what the one giving her the water was doing, making gestures indicating that he was doing as such. There was a pause as they looked at each other for a moment, before she felt the mask being removed from her face, and sweet, sweet water meeting her lips. At that moment in time, that clean water was the most glorious thing she’d ever had.

“Fine, give it the water. But please let me arrive before you do so, okay?” Wesley said. The attendant nodded and proceeded to give the water to the pony-thing, taking special care to avoid spilling any of the liquid.

I still don’t understand why it has apples on its flanks, he thought to himself. All the horses and ponies he’d browsed through on the database were nowhere near as garishly colored, and their apparent manes seem to indicate almost human-like qualities to them, and that didn’t even count out the fact that this creature wore a cowboy hat. It was a mystery, and it was one he was determined to solve.

Walking back into his impromptu office down the hall, he opened up the database on his portable computer again, and pulled out his own PDA. With a quick hookup on a hardwire and a check for authentication, he was in. “EVA, upload a copy of the Lang-Bergmann translation program into my PDA.”

Affirmative, Doctor Wesley. The Translation Matrix Foundation would like to remind you that the program is still incomplete, and translations may be crude at best.”

“With any luck, crude will work just fine,” Wesley said. “Make sure it’s the correct one, not one of the archived versions they keep on hand in the database.”

Yes, Doctor. Initializing the proper version on your PDA.”

The Lang-Bergmann was essentially humanity’s only key to speaking with extraterrestrial races, taking in the spoken word, and based upon a whole variety of variables including tone, pause length, and various other factors beyond Wesley’s scope of knowledge, managed to facilitate very basic communication with other races. It was a marvel of engineering and linguistics genius, but unfortunately was a field of study so esoteric that it was many long years until even a basic version was created.

“EVA, what’s the current accuracy rate of translation?”

According to previous tests, general translation rates produce optimal results, having an eight-seven percent correct translation. Do note, however, that this does not take into account cultural habits, traditions, or mannerisms, and caution is to be urged when dealing with extraterrestrials.”

“Thank you, EVA.” At the least, there were some absolutes he knew about their guest: it drank water and breathed oxygen, it could speak a language, it wore hats and suits, it had strangely human-like hair, and it obviously seemed to know what an apple was, or at least he assumed it was an apple. With any luck, he wouldn’t need to worry about cultural sensitivity if these discoveries proceeded along in a similar fashion.

Program has been successfully uploaded and configured on your PDA, Doctor.”

“Excellent, EVA. Send notification to Commander Alexandra that I’ll be keeping a close eye on our guest.”

Yes, Doctor.”

He looked away, taking an appreciative sip of his still-steaming mug of coffee when he noticed a figure standing in the doorway; it was the attendant. “Something else to report?”

“Yes, sir. Uh... it’s... talking, sir.” The attendant shifted nervously. “I... should I call security?”

“Do it, but keep them in the hallway and out of sight. Harmless as our guest looks, if things go south—which I hope to dear God that it doesn’t—then we’re going to need some muscle.” Wesley finished up the last dregs of the coffee before picking up his PDA and stood up, unruffling his lab coat. “That hazmat suit still in quarantine?”

“Yes, Doctor. The staff examining it have expressed their wonder at it; they say that the style and utility is startlingly similar to the style of hazardous material suits used during the 21st century.”

“It’s clear that we’re obviously dealing with an intelligent species. Let’s not keep it waiting, then. Fetch security and meet me at the room.” The attendant nodded and walked off towards the security checkpoint at the end of the hall, waving at the pair of ISDI rifleman on station as Wesley headed off in the other direction.

The orange creature was sitting upright in bed, cradling the small styrofoam cup in her hooves, when Wesley entered. He smiled at her, taking the seat next to her bed as he straightened out his glasses, and he heard the sound of footsteps as the attendant returned in tow. Catching the sight of the riflemen out in the hallway, he gave a nod to them.

“Sir, we have extra security measures on hand if you need them...” the attendant whispered.

Wesley held up a hand. “I’ll be careful.” Turning back to the creature, who now watched them with expectant green eyes, he activated the translation program on his PDA. “Hello, there... I’m Doctor Wesley. I believe I’m supposed to get you to talk into this thing...” He looked down at his PDA, then realized the in-built microphone wasn’t activated; he quickly flipped the device on via a switch on the side.

The creature opened its mouth, and it—she, as the voice was clearly feminine, at least to human ears—spoke. It was a calm sentence, slow and controlled, and as she finished, she carefully observed them for a reaction.

Wesley sat smiling for a moment, expecting an imminent response from the PDA, but received none. “Um... EVA, how much of a sample do we need in order to achieve translation?”

The program requires that the subject be speaking for at least a quarter to half a minute before an accurate analysis can be compiled.”

“Half a minute sounds like a goddamn miracle,” Wesley said. “So, do you have a name? What are you, exactly?” he asked the pony. “Do you have any family? Friends?” She merely sat back on the bed, eyes darting between Wesley and the attendant.

“I... don’t think she’s very much inclined to talk, sir,” the attendant said.

“I know that,” Wesley shot back. “But we need some way to...” he trailed off. “Get me an apple.”

“Yes, sir, right away, sir.” The attendant quickly left the room and was back with the small red fruit within several minutes. He handed it over to Wesley, who in turn held in front of the creature.

“See this? It’s an apple. I’m sure you know what an apple is, right...?”

The creature smiled as it looked at the apple, then broke out into rapid-fire speech. Almost talking excitedly, pointing at various places on her body, then her cup, then the apple, then the humans themselves, going on for several minutes; amidst her talk, the program beeped when it had completed processing the ample subject sample it received. It was time to begin.

Wesley held up a hand. “Shh...” he said, urging her to stop, which she obliged to. Leaning closer to the PDA, he carefully enunciated his speech. “Greetings... my name is Doctor Wesley. What is your name?”

Holding the PDA forward, it aired the response towards her as her eyes widened and she looked back and forth between the two, eventually settling her eyes on her hat at the foot of the bed. Turning back, she said a short sentence, then paused. The PDA beeped as it processed the response.

The audio was faint at first, and Wesley barely caught any semblance of speech the first time around. “PDA, repeat playback, and make it louder this time.”

Both the attendant and Wesley leaned closer to the PDA, trying to make out the speech. The program must have been repeatedly filtering out and trying to properly translate the speech, because the second response came back much clearer, and much louder.

“...name... is... Applejack.”