A/N: Alright, let's get this thing started, shall we? To everyone who's coming into this after reading RWBY Within, welcome back! To everyone who's stumbling upon this for the first time, hello! If you have the time and/or inclination, I recommend reading XCOM: RWBY Within before this one, as you'll be missing a good deal of context without it. If you want the cliff notes version, here it is: RWBY (and later JNPR) spent the better part of a year on Earth helping XCOM fight off the alien invasion from Enemy Unknown. Now that the war's over and the technology is available to send the two teams back home... well... it's time for them to go back home. That's about it, really.
Players and Pieces
Bradford watched the mayhem unfold before him as people moved left and right throughout the Hyperwave Facility. In the midst of it all, like the eye of a storm, stood Team RWBY. While scientists and engineers moved about the periphery on Vahlen's orders, technicians and prep teams worked to suit up the four huntresses as they readied themselves for XCOM's first live jump through the Hyperwave Relay.
As much as he didn't want to insult them, Bradford's conscience demanded that he ask, "Are you sure you want to go in first?"
"We have operatives ready and willing to make the jump before you just in case the relay opens up somewhere…" Vahlen coughed, "Undesirable."
"Really, doctor? Do you really think so little of us that we're willing to let someone else die in our place over this?"
"Hey, you can't blame Vahlen or the operatives for offering. After all these months of helping us and surviving to get back home, it'd be pretty awful if something stupid happened… like the relay teleports you into a rock or something."
"Meh. We've been in worse situations."
"While it's true that ending up inside a solid object is a… dangerous possibility, I'm pretty sure these pressurized flight suits Vahlen, Shen, and Ruby designed account for every other possibility. Not to mention the fact that Annette has taken us up a mile or two above sea level. The preliminary tests conducted by Vahlen and Shen seem to indicate that the relay's physical input location on Earth is directly linked to its output location on Remnant. If that's the case…"
"Then you should be in for a nice little skydive, correct Blake. But it's also a possibility that the coordinates are not a one-to-one match between Earth and Remnant. What if increasing the Temple Ship's altitude actually causes the portal's z-coordinate to drop on the other side? Or what if the coordinate systems on each side of the relay aren't even aligned at all?"
"I trust our Chief Scientist and Engineer. We're not sending an operative to die on Remnant, Bradford. Final decision."
The Central Officer sighed. He was certain that would be their answer. Even so, Earth owed a great deal to RWBY and JNPR for their critical contributions to the alien war, and Bradford didn't want something as stupid as a scientific miscalculation to lead to a tragic ending to XCOM's relationship with the men and women of Strike Eight. When Ozpin confirmed that he was unable to locate the portal during Shen and Vahlen's preliminary activations, the question of where the portal was actually appearing came up for the first time. If he was in their place, however, Bradford knew his answer wouldn't be any different.
The main power facility onboard the Temple Ship swarmed with activity. Two weeks had passed since Dr. Shen's engineering crews successfully transplanted the Hyperwave Relay from XCOM's old base onto the alien mothership. With the ship's capability to output obscene levels of power compared to anything on Earth, the two doctors agreed that it was likely the only piece of hardware capable of supporting a reverse trip through the relay. So now, two weeks later, Team RWBY was preparing for their maiden voyage back to Remnant.
As Blake had noted, Vahlen and Shen ran a large gamut of probing tests to determine the nature of the 'other side' when they realized that the portal appeared to be mobile. For obvious reasons, Annette couldn't 'park' the Temple Ship inside the old Anthill to test whether the Hyperwave Relay's physical location had an affect on the portal's position. Instead, the scientists build and deployed sensor equipment that would feed information back to the ship after they appeared on Remnant. The rapid acceleration values from these sensors indicated a freefall scenario when the Temple Ship was at high altitudes, but that didn't do much to ease Bradford's conscience.
Vahlen watched attentively as the technicians strapped Team RWBY into their environmental suits, and it reminded Bradford of a mother hen keeping a close eye on her little chickens, "I trust the Kingfisher Suits are comfortable? It's difficult to avoid chafing while maintaining both an airtight seal and a flexible degree of motion, but-"
"They're fine, doctor." Weiss said, cutting off the Chief Scientist as the technician continued to tighten straps and fasten rigging to her slender frame, "I'd rather feel slightly uncomfortable than unprotected."
Vahlen nodded as she watched the technicians step back from the huntresses, "And the wing functions? Let's make sure those are operational before we send you through, especially since we're expecting a high-altitude drop."
The huntresses waited for the technicians to step back before they each tapped a contact point on the left flank of their suits, and a pair of mechanical wings deployed with a quiet click. Vahlen wrote down a few notes on her datapad before stepping forward to perform one final examination on the wings. While Bradford still held some personal reservations and concern for the first 'jump,' he couldn't help but be amused at Vahlen's obvious distress as the fated hour continued to draw closer. She never wore the signs of concern when she sent XCOM operatives out to field test her designs for gene mods, power armor, or plasma weaponry during the war, but now… now she seemed downright terrified at the prospect of something going wrong and the thought that she could have done something different to prevent it.
"I would have liked some more time to fine-tune the webbing," She muttered, "My team still hasn't perfected the process of adapting the alien materials into a high-strength fabric, and the aerodynamics of the mesh-"
"Doctor." Weiss said, a tinge of annoyance coloring her voice now, "We'll be fine. If the wings don't work as intended, we still have the backup chutes for a safe landing."
Vahlen let out a deep sigh, "You're right, as always. I just… I want to make sure you have every tool possible at your disposal for this. There are still a lot of subsystems I want to integrate into the design, to be honest."
"And there will be time for that in the future." Blake commented while she tapped her side once more to retract the suit's wings, "But for now, this should be more than sufficient."
A gentle hand came to rest on Vahlen's shoulder, and she turned to see Dr. Shen smiling at her, "You and I have spent a week with the brightest researchers and engineers to adapt our Archangel technology into these flight suits. All the simulations and preliminary tests fall well within our target parameters, and while we haven't reintegrated the propulsion systems yet, I have full confidence in the success of the suit's first transdimensional test. It's time to let our friends return home."
"And hey, it's not like we're leaving forever." Yang assured the doctor, "At the very least, we need to come back to get Jaune and his merry band and bring them home, right?" She let out a low whistle as she admired how the suit formed around her figure, "Damn, I look good in this…"
"We'll be monitoring your progress with Bradford in Mission Control." Pyrrha said, standing with Jaune and the rest of her team while they watched the activity going on in the center of the room. She giggled when Blake gave Yang a light smack upside the head.
"I know that it would've taken another couple of days for R&D to make four more suits, but I wish we all could've gone together." Ruby said, looking at the smiling faces of her friends from JNPR, "I feel bad that you guys don't get to come on the first jump."
Jaune shook his head, "This is the best option, Ruby. I want to reestablish contact with Remnant as soon as possible, even if that means my team has to wait our turn to use the Hyperwave Relay. Besides, now we can get Vahlen and Shen a lot of important data a week earlier that they can use to improve the suits and the operation of the relay."
Bradford nodded in agreement with Jaune's assessment. While Ruby meant well, Shen and Vahlen had a tremendous amount of tests they wanted to run and data they needed to collect, with top priority devoted to determining the spatial orientation and positioning of the portal. Having the Hyperwave Relay on a mobile ship offered an incredible advantage to XCOM in terms of troop deployment, but only if Vahlen and Annette actually knew how to use it.
"I know, I know." Ruby whined, "Doesn't make me any happier about it."
"We'll do a group jump later, Ruby. I'm confident that Nora will make sure that it happens." Ren said.
"You're goddamn right I will." Nora grinned, "Nothing is gonna get between me and a hot drop with lil' Rubles. Nothing!"
Weiss rolled her eyes, "Let's just move along for now, shall we? I think we're all set for final prep."
"We will if you'll just hold still for one goddamn minute." MacAuley grumbled as he continued to assemble and double-check his work on Weiss's suit.
Junior technicians retrieved the face masks for the Kingfishers and the service teams set to work installing the internal oxygen supply systems and providing a complete environmental seal for the huntresses. After the final clip slotted into place and the engineers powered up the regulator systems, Ruby took a few deep breaths to test the air flow.
"Seems like it's working fine to me." She commented, her voice slightly distorted by the oxygen gear.
"I feel like some sort of badass villain with this face mask getup." Yang mused while she tested out her own oxygen assembly.
Beagle snorted, "Duh, and his name is Bane."
"... I have brought shame upon my family for never introducing you guys to Batman."
"Oh, you think the Hyperwave Relay is your ally?" Jaune asked, looking pointedly at Beagle with his hands over his mouth, "You merely adopted the warp. I was born in it, molded by it. I didn't see the Earth until I was already a man!"
"Jaune… I fuckin' love you, man."
MacAuley cleared his throat to get the attention of the room before announcing, "Jump prep is finished. All technicians are reporting green across the board." He gave Ruby a grin and a thumbs up, "Your team is good to go, Captain."
The sense of excitement and anticipation in the room intensified after MacAuley made his announcement. With RWBY all suited up and ready to go, the only thing left was for Vahlen to push the proverbial (and literal) button. The Chief Scientist had already retreated to a console next to the relay, her eyes scanning the readouts as her fingers flew across the keyboard.
"Power grid is stable… Relay's fluctuations are nominal…" She keyed the ship's intercom and hailed its pilot, "Major Durand, we are all set down here for the jump."
"As are we up here, Doctor." Annette replied cheerfully, "I'm in the network, and ready to protect the ship's functions from any power surges caused by the relay's draw. You're good to go."
Vahlen nodded (mostly for her own benefit, given that Annette couldn't see the motion), and entered a few more keystrokes before looking up at Bradford, "This is it."
The Central Officer gave her an encouraging smile, "This is it."
With a deep breath to steady her nerves, Dr. Vahlen made one final tap on the console to start the activation process. Seconds later, the 7-foot ring hummed to life and began to emanate a faint purple glow. Strands of energy appeared to flow inward from the ring towards the center, as if pulled by some invisible gravity well. For a minute, the room became perfectly silent as all the occupants stared in awe at the strange portal. Vahlen continued to monitor her console for errant readings while Bradford found himself holding his breath. Annette's voice came through the ship's comms, breaking the relay's spell over its observers.
"We felt the psionic flux from the relay up here, Central, but all systems remain stable. I can't see where the connection will drop the jumpers, but I can confirm that the portal is at least safe on our end."
"Understood, Major." Bradford confirmed. He looked at Ruby and her team. His conscience tempted him to once again remind them that they don't have to do this, but he knew that trying to repeat his offer would only be an insult at this point, "Good luck, Eights. We'll see you on the other side."
"Please don't forget to activate your gyros the moment you find yourself on Remnant." Vahlen reminded the team, "It's vital that Dr. Shen and I start understanding the spatial relation between Earth and Remnant as soon as possible."
Ruby saluted the Chief Scientist, "Understood, Doctor." She picked up the little gadget hanging off of the belt of her flight suit just to make sure she remembered how to turn it on, then she faced her team.
"You guys ready?"
The Kingfisher's rebreather concealed her sister's grin, "I was born ready."
"It might be best if you do it with a running start." Vahlen advised, "Just… make sure you're braced for whatever you find on the other side."
With her team at her side, Crescent Rose on her back, and Aureate Mercy on her hip, Ruby gave one final look at everyone in the room.
"Thank you." She whispered, "For everything."
Before her sentimentality could delay things further, Ruby took off towards the portal at a run. She heard the rest of her team fall in behind her as she watched the active gateway get closer and closer. Once Ruby was only a few feet away, she planted her foot down and used the momentum from her sprint to vault into purple maw of the Hyperwave Relay.
The first time she traveled from Remnant to Earth not only happened nine months ago, but took her completely by surprise. So even though Ruby didn't know what to expect from the experience, it still came as a slight shock when the trip through transdimensional space seemed to be over as soon as it had begun. Less than a second after Ruby made herself airborne on the Temple Ship, she found herself continuing to fall as wind whipped past her flight suit. Some corner of Ruby's mind remembered to activate the gyroscope Vahlen had given her team even as she felt herself succumb to the incredible sensation of freefalling miles and miles above the Earth.
No. Remnant. Ruby looked down and, though it was the middle of the night, she saw the bright lights and familiar sprawl of her Kingdom. Sure, the view looked slightly different on account of ships never flying this high, but even if Vale itself didn't have any landmarks that stuck out, the shape of the city lights as they pressed up against Vale's coastline left no doubt in Ruby's mind.
Her helmet's comm crackled, and she heard Weiss's awestruck voice, "Amazing…"
"I'll say," Yang answered. Even Yang lost her usual cocky attitude in the face of such an impressive sight. "I've never seen anything like it."
Ruby couldn't help it, she let out a small giggle. After all this time, fighting through the blood, plasma, and death on Earth, her team finally made it back to Remnant. A second later, Blake giggled as well. That was all it took for the floodgates to finally break and for all four huntresses to succumb to peals of laughter. Plummeting through the air at who-knew-how-many miles per hour, Team RWBY let the relief of finally being home wash over them. No more aliens, no more psionics, no more end-of-the-world wars. It was back to being huntresses and keeping their friends, family, and neighbors safe from the Grimm.
Once she recovered, Ruby took in a deep breath and keyed her mic, "Central? This is Captain Rose, do you copy?"
The rest of her team didn't have to wait very long for a reply. As Bradford's voice came through the comms, they all could hear the cacophony of cheers and applause in the background, "We copy, Ruby. Thank God, you're okay."
"Tell Vahlen that her prediction was right: the portal opened up high in the sky, and we're presently free falling towards the surface of Remnant. Gyros are powered, and we're feeling fantastic."
"That's great news, Captain. Keep us in the loop on any interesting developments."
"Understood. Rose out."
As Ruby and her team continued their freefall, Blake spoke up, "There, by the cliffs. I'm pretty sure that's Beacon."
"So it is…" Ruby said as she too spotted the familiar glow of the tower that stood watch over her school, "Ozpin should be waiting for us by the landing pads. There won't be anyone around at this time of night, so I don't think we'll need to worry about being spotted."
"Time to try out Vahlen's wings, then?" Weiss asked.
"Indeed." Ruby answered before keying her comm once more, "Central, we're deploying the wing system now. We'll keep you appraised of its performance."
Ruby pivoted her body into a gliding position, then tapped her hip and felt the mechanical wings spring into their open state. She immediately felt the wings fill like a pair of sails as they caught the rushing wind and shifted Ruby into a more horizontal trajectory. Yang's giddy laughter over the comms told Ruby that she wasn't the only one enjoying her newfound ability to fly.
"Let's not get too crazy with stunts, Yang." Blake warned, "If something breaks, the darkness won't make it easy for us to help you recover in time."
"But that's what you're here for." Yang whined, "You've got those special eyes that will let you come to my rescue!"
"Blake's right," Weiss added, "We'll have plenty of time to push these wings to their limits. Let's just worry about meeting with the headmaster for now."
"Ugghh, you guys are no fun. No fun at all, I tell you." Despite her complaints, Yang fell back in with her three teammates and the huntresses continued their descent towards the school. Even though they agreed not to get carried away with their newfound ability to fly, Ruby was still plenty impressed with how well the wings worked. Perhaps someone with a more critical eye for aerodynamics would have noticed some deficiencies with Vahlen's technology, but Ruby found herself with no complaints as she watched the docks draw closer and closer.
"Central, we're nearing the rendezvous point. Please convey my congratulations to Vahlen and Shen. The Kingfisher suits performed admirably."
"Will do, Captain. Say hi to Ozpin for me."
The team finished its descent onto the landing pads, flaring their wings upward at the last second to kill their momentum and land neatly on the platform without the messy use of the emergency parachutes. The four huntresses helped each other disconnect their environmental masks so they could pull off the protective headgear and breath the fresh air of Remnant for the first time in months. Just as they spent a moment laughing in the air over Remnant, the girls stopped for the opportunity to savor the idea of not only having their feet back on solid ground, in the familiar territory of Beacon academy.
"Ozpin's waiting for us up ahead." Blake commented, "With Glynda and someone else I don't recognize."
Ruby couldn't make out the welcoming committee just yet, but she trusted Blake's eyes, "Best not to keep them waiting, then."
With their flight suits on and their rebreather masks tucked under one arm, Team RWBY walked off the landing pad and towards the waiting adults. Ruby felt like she was in a scene taken straight from that Top Gun movie that she and her friends watched with Major Vance early in their stay with XCOM. The brave fighters, returning home to a hero's welcome.
As they got closer, Ruby saw the figures Blake reported. Ozpin in the middle, smiling lightly as an even-faced Glynda stood on his right. And to the left was…
"Hey, kiddo." The caped hunter answered, cracking his usual smile, "Welcome home."
A/N: And so it begins. Welcome to the beginning of the sequel to XCOM: RWBY Within, complete with another one of my "10 minutes in MS Paint" cover images. Are you guys ready? 'Cause I'm ready. Let's do this.
As a side note, there's one thing I wanted to mention in my last A/N for RWBY Within, but totally forgot until I noticed a couple of Guest reviews for the chapter. So... Guest reviews. I allow them to be posted because I want anyone and everyone say what they want about my chapters, whether they have an account or not. However, it always pains me to see Guest reviewers include questions in their posts, because there is no way for me to answer them. As a lot of you already know, I'm a fan of answer questions via PM, but that's impossible if you don't sign in to leave the review. I know some writers use post-chapter Authors Notes to address reviews, but I would much prefer to keep that to PMs, especially because it opens up the possibility for a back-and-forth dialogue between us. So if it's at all possible, please please please sign in before reviewing if you have a question that you'd like me to answer. Trust me, I would love to answer them.
Until next time!