“I know lots of other ways to take care of you. Don't worry, you're gonna get better!"
I was adrift in a sea of calm darkness, and the only thing I could perceive through the encompassing nothing was a pair of voices. They seemed to come from all around, both distant and nearby at the same time. I felt my ears swivelling, trying to pinpoint where the voices were coming from. I also found myself trying to remember where I was and what I was doing. I couldn't seem to focus properly, like a fog blanketed the inside of my head.
“How is she?” asked one of the voices. From the sound, it was a mare, probably about my age.
“Better,” replied the other. Another mare, although definitely younger than me. “She's damn lucky though, considering what she went through. Another couple of minutes and she might have beyond any help.”
“How close do you think she was when it hit?” The first voice asked this with a somber tone, as though speaking of something painful.
“Not sure I want to think about it,” admitted the second voice warily. “Based on the amount of radiation she sucked up, it's a wonder she got back up afterwards. That's not even considering the crash afterwards.”
“Speak for yourself,” nickered the older mare. “From what you told me, you probably got as big a dose as she did. Maybe bigger.”
“Then I guess I'm lucky too.”
I finally opened my eyes after listening to the two mares talk back and forth for a few minutes. I was immediately able to tell that I was inside, presumably within the farmhouse I had been heading towards. I raised my head to look around, although my lazy eye slipped downwards and impaired my perception. I felt a mattress beneath my hooves; not soft, but not uncomfortable either. It was at that moment that I realized I had regained the feeling in my forelegs. Moving my good eye to match the downward gaze of my lazy one, I saw that both legs were currently sheathed in medical braces.
“Ah, look who's up.” I glaced sideways, forcing both my eyes to focus on the speaker. It was the younger mare who's voice I had heard while blacked out. She was also the same pale green unicorn that I had encountered on the outskirts of the farm before passing out.
I had a number of questions for the unicorn, many of grave importance. However, the first one that I managed to word coherently was: “Where am I?”
“The Pie Family Rock Farm,” came a response not from the unicorn. I looked to her right, spotting what I presumed to be the older mare whose voice I had heard before. Her coat was a pale, greyish blue and her mane was silvery with splotches of grey. She was a touch portly, but in a maternal sort of way. “I'm Bellamena Marie Pie,” she stated, smiling warmly; “but you can call me Blinkie. Everypony else does.”
I smiled softly at her, then turned my attention back to the unicorn. I was still having trouble forming my thoughts into words, my mind still clouded by what I presumed to be either blood loss, radiation sickness or both. “I'm... not dead?” Perhaps not the best way of putting it, but it got the point across.
“Not quite,” replied the unicorn. “You came awfully close though. Had to use that super restoration potion to put you right after I set and mended your legs, plus another couple regular healing potions after. Not to mention two more packets of RadAway to be safe. Hope you don't mind.”
I shook my head; “That's kinda what they were there for. How much is left? I didn't actually count what I crammed in there.”
“Well...” The unicorn kicked at the floor, looking a bit uncomfortable. She then gestured with a foreleg at the rest of the room.
I had been focusing so hard on the unicorn mare that I hadn't noticed the rest of my surroundings. I glanced away from her, looking around, my lazy eye drifting on its own again. I could see that I was in the sitting room of the farmhouse, but it was presently re-purposed. Two couches and several other mattresses covered the floor, each housing a pony in varying states of injury. Including myself, there were seven ponies in the impromptu clinic. The two laying on couches were covered hoof to head in bandages.
“Please understand, they were all in really bad shape,” explained the unicorn, her auburn mane falling in her face. “Some of them might have died if I didn't take your supplies; I had to! The MoP would kick me out if I didn't at least try to help them.”
I snickered, amused that somepony claiming to work for the Ministy of Peace would be so frantic about the confiscation of much needed medicine. “Those supplies were actually from an MoP shipment I was delivering,” I explained. “They didn't all make it, but at least they got to where they were needed.”
The unicorn stopped flustering and took a deep breath. “Okay, so I guess I don't have to feel bad about taking them.” She nickered at herself, then spoke to me with a somber tone. “Still, everypony here owes you a great deal of thanks. If I hadn't stopped believing in miracles, I would think you were one.”
I nodded firmly, pleased to have set her at ease. Now that I was awake and alert, my concentration was returning. There were a few more things that I had to ask, although I didn't expect I would like the answers. “Please,” I began softly, “tell me what's happened.”
The unicorn mare clenched her teeth. “Zebras,” she spat bitterly. “They launched Megaspell attacks against Equestria yesterday morning.”
I gasped in shock, horrified. Megaspells were... unthinkable! No one would be foalish enough to use one of those; so many people would die. I wanted to protest, to tell her that she must be mistaken. Before I could though, I remembered the explosion that had caused me to crash. That sickly mass of green fire that had consumed all of Cloudsdale, and had burned the pegasus mare behind me to death. I choked, my words catching against a lump in my throat. My eyes burned as fresh tears welled up.
The mare sighed angrily, then continued. “There was almost no warning. So far as I've been able to piece together, they hit Cloudsdale, Manehatten, Fillydelphia and Hoofington before we were able to retaliate. Millions of ponies are dead because of those striped bastards.”
I retched violently, my head swimming again as my mind was unable to properly contemplate the horror that had just been described to me. Millions dead in an instant, and countless more in the aftermath. My mind seized, and I blacked out again.
“...can't really blame her for blacking out,” came the voice of Blinkie Pie, floating through the aether. “That kind of shock on top of injuries like hers...”
“She's coming around again,” interrupted the Ministry of Peace unicorn. I opened my eyes, looking up at her as she stood over me. My right eye rolled downwards, away from her gaze.
My stomach lurched, and I felt bile rise in my throat again. I turned my head away from the unicorn and heaved. A bucket hovered in front of my mouth, held up by a field of magical levitation. For a moment, the odd thought crossed my mind about what there was left in my stomach to expel. I looked back to the unicorn, who smirked at me. I smiled appreciatively as she floated the bucket over to Blinkie, who moved to dispose of the contents.
“You're handling the news about as well as I did,” remarked the unicorn, her expression soft but sad. She looked away from me, in the direction of the city of Manehattan. “I was close enough to Manehattan at the time of the attacks to see the city go up. Got hit with a wall of superheated, irradiated air, much like I suspect you did. At least I had the good fortune to be on the ground.”
The mare looked back to me, tear stains beneath her eyes. “Where are my manners,” she muttered, wiping her face with her hooves, “I completely forgot to introduce myself. Name's May.” She offered me a hoof to shake.
“Ditzy Doo,” I stated simply. I moved a foreleg to take her hoof, but she gasped and withdrew it suddenly.
“Sorry,” May blurted, “force of habit.” She then gestured to my brace bound forelegs; “I put a lot of effort into fixing those legs, so you're going to stay off them until I say different.”
I nodded, tucking my forelegs back underneath me. I then glanced at the other ponies laying in the room. Most of them seemed to be in similar condition to myself, beaten but not broken. However, the two mummified ponies laying on couches were another story. “What about them?” I asked, gesturing to the badly hurt ponies.
May looked like she was about to respond, but she was interrupted by a loud crackle of static bursting from the next room over. She and I both looked to the source of the noise, but from where I was I couldn't see past the wall. My right eye darted around, apparently trying to get a better view for itself.
“Aha!” came a young, chipper voice from the same direction as the static. “Told you I could fix it.”
“Congratulations kid,” came the deadpan tone of an older, more wizened buck. “Now we have plenty of static to pass the time listening to.”
Following the voices, May wandered away from me towards the next room over. Blinkie followed her. Despite May's insistence that I stay off my recently mended legs, I wanted to know what was so fascinating in the other room. Carefully flapping my wings, I lifted myself off of the mattress I had been laying on. Able to move them finally, I pulled my forelegs underneath me so that they wouldn't hit the floor. They were still very achy.
Following behind May and Blinkie, I got a proper view of their cutie marks for the first time. May's was a red cross overlaid by a syringe, while Blinkie Pie's was just a small pile of rocks. The room into which I followed them appeared to be a kitchen. The source of the voices were a pair of bucks. One was a deep green earth pony who looked hardened by the war, with a nasty scar along the side of his face. He was armed with a light assault battle saddle, the protective barding of which hid his cutie mark.
The other buck, a unicorn barely older than a colt, was much less stern looking. He had a tan coat and a light red mane, with a gear and a wrench for his cutie mark. He did not wear any armour, although he did have a small gun holstered at one shoulder. Several small ammo pouches hung along its strap. The rest of his shodding was made almost entirely of pockets, most of which held small precision tools. He also wore a vest with the Stable-Tec logo on the back. A soft, silvery glow around his horn faded as he placed a couple tools he had been using back in their pouches.
The static sound that had drawn me and the other mares into the room in the first place was being emitted by an old radio. From what I gathered, it hadn't been working until just now, and the tan unicorn had been the one responsible for fixing it.
“Well I'll be,” remarked Blinkie Pie. “That old thing hasn't worked in years.”
“I haven't met an appliance yet that I can't jury rig,” stated the colt proudly.
Ignoring his younger companion, the military buck turned to face May. “Well Miss Cure,” he began, “Gizmo got it working, just like he said. Do you really think you'll be able to pick up any communications on it though? It's kinda old.”
“Frankly; no,” replied May. I did a double take, not realizing at first that 'Miss Cure' had been referring to her. “However, with my Pipbuck out of commission, it was the best chance we had of getting any kind of transmission at all.” May held up a foreleg, though not the same one she had offered to shake earlier. It was adorned with an arcano-tech device that looked like a the offspring of a computer terminal and a wristwatch. I had seen such devices before, although the one she wore looked relatively new but for a coating of ash.
The soldier nickered, then cast a glance at the unicorn I now knew to be Gizmo. “How come you couldn't fix that then?”
Gizmo fumed indignantly; “Screw off Raider,” he snapped. “I told you, I need a spell matrix master key to reboot a crashed Pipbuck.”
Curiosity getting the better of me, I interjected. “What exactly are you all trying to accomplish with an old radio?”
Upon hearing my voice, May turned on the spot and raised a hoof in warning. She looked as though she was about to chastise me for being up and around against her wishes. Upon seeing that I was hovering, keeping any weight off of my forelegs like she had asked, she lowered it, grumbling to herself. She turned around and glanced at the radio. Her horn lit up with a soft red light, a matching light forming around the dial of the radio, tuning it.
“Trying to get some idea of what's going on out there,” May replied, fiddling with the radio dials. “I would normally use the radio in my Pipbuck, but it crashed when I got hit by the Megaspell backwash outside Manehattan.” The radio let out various squeals and hisses of static as she adjusted the knobs, trying to find a working signal. “If we're lucky, which seems to be one of my specialities, this thing might be able to pick up any emergency broadcasts being transmitted.”
“Miss Cure,” stated the stallion apparently named Raider, “who is she?”
“New friend,” suggested Gizmo, “or just another patient?”
May stopped fiddling with the radio for a moment, looking back and forth between me and the two bucks. She facehoofed; “Right, I keep forgetting about introductions.” She gestured towards me with her Pipbuck leg. “This is Ditzy Doo. She's the one who stumbled into the field yesterday evening. She's also the source of those healing potions, so you'd best be thankful.”
The older stallion nodded firmly, while the excitable colt smiled appreciatively.
May turned to face me, now gesturing to the other two. “This is Warrant Officer 'Raider' Stronghoof and Gizmo, Stable-Tec junior technician. Met both of them near Shattered Hoof Stockyard. Raider was a warden there, while Gizmo was actually there to fix a broken service elevator in the mine.”
“How come they're here then?” I asked. I knew Shattered Hoof to be a Ministry of Morale re-educational facility (as well as the site of an intense battle, although that ridge was on the other side of the country), and I wondered why one of the wardens would leave the place in light of what happened.
“Got locked out,” said Gizmo simply.
Raider expanded on this; “I was guarding the outer wall of the rockyard when the megaspell hit Manehattan. I left my post to get a better look, moving up to a nearby ridge.” He smirked and cast a glance at May. “She's lucky I did, otherwise I'd have never seen her coming.”
May glowered at Raider, trying to silence him with unspoken thoughts. He paid her no heed and continued; “She was far enough away from the city to avoid getting killed, but she still took a huge hit of radiation. She was staggering around aimlessly along the rails, puking blood. I got to her and force fed her some RadAway and healing potions out of her own supplies.”
“You weren't supposed to talk about that,” fumed May. “I don't sound as cool that way.” I chuckled dryly.
Ignoring her, Raider resumed his speech. “I had originally planned to escort her back to Shattered Hoof, but the place went into lock-down when the communication web crashed.”
“Was there anypony trapped inside?” I asked anxiously.
“No; a record on the main gate terminal stated that all key personnel evacuated shortly before the lock-down,” stated Raider. “Only ones left inside were the undesirables.”
“They're still ponies!” I protested, angry that he would think less of their lives because they had done some misdeeds.
“Don't worry about it,” Raider said, his even tone irritating me. “They've got enough food in there to last a couple days, and plenty of water. As I recall, an inspector also remained behind to look after things. Once things get sorted out, MoM will send some new wardens to deactivate the lock-down and put the facility back in order.”
I sighed, my anger ebbing. What he said had at least sounded reasonable, although I still didn't quite like the idea. “Then what happened?”
“Once May was back on her feet, she was insistent about trying to help anypony she could find. We passed through a town on the way here that had been hit by a conventional Zebra missile. ” Raider pointed into the sitting room clinic. “Those were the survivors we found. We figure everypony else was either evacuated or dead.”
I flinched at the mention of death, remembering again the burnt pegasus corpse. I supposed I would have to get used to talk of it though, considering all that had happened. I caught myself wondering if anypony I was friends with had died, but shoved the thought aside forcibly. I did not want to add weight to my already heavily laden mind. I also didn't want to throw up again, since I was a guest in somepony's home.
“We were really lucky to come across Mrs. Pie's rock farm,” cut in Gizmo. “After half a day of trotting away from Shattered Hoof, we were all in pretty rough shape. We hadn't actually been here all that long when you showed up.”
Blinkie's face went a little red and she gave a hoof wiggle; “Think nothing of it dears; I'm glad to help anypony in need.”
When Gizmo mentioned 'half a day', I realized that I had no idea how much time had passed since the incident. I glanced around the kitchen, looking for some sort of timepiece. It was my lazy eye that fell upon a clock sitting on a shelf above Blinkie's head. It looked as old as the radio, but the soft ticking noise coming from it suggested it still worked properly. According to the clock, it was around one in the afternoon. Well over a day had passed since my crash, but it felt all too surreal.
“So what now?” I asked May.
The Ministry of Peace unicorn had left Gizmo to fiddle with the radio while she went around to her patients, passing out a thin stew that Blinkie had made for us. I had already eaten my portion, and was now assisting May in feeding one of the mummified ponies. Apparently they had been caught in a military recruitment office that had been the target of the missile that hit the town. Both had suffered third degree burns across their whole bodies. They had been stabilized by the healing potions May had taken from me, but were still in painfully poor condition.
“To be honest, I have no idea.” May paused a moment to levitate a spoonful of stew into the mouth of the burned pony. “This was a decent place to rest up, and I'm endlessly thankful to Blinkie, but...” She turned her head away from the patient, whispering into my ear. “I'm afraid these two might not make it without proper treatment. If communications were up I could call for an emergency teleport, but that's not gonna happen.”
“Is there anything else you can do?” I asked. I had no desire to see anypony else die needlessly; too many already had.
“If I could get them to a proper clinic, then maybe.” May cast a glance at the kitchen, where Gizmo could be seen intently adjusting the radio. “Unfortunately, the closest place with a clinic to here is Shattered Hoof, and it's locked down. The town we found them in only had a post office and grocery left standing.” May grumbled to herself, cursing the circumstances we had been forced into. “My other hope was to hear something on the radio that might indicate help is on the way, but that's seeming less and less likely.”
A voice arose from the other room, not belonging to Blinkie, Gizmo or Raider. It was quickly cut off by another yelp of excitement from Gizmo. “Hey May! I got something! I think it's an emergency broadcast.”
May was still in the process of spoon feeding the mummified stallion and said as much. Gizmo nodded in understanding, then turned the volume of the radio to maximum. It was an old radio, and the signal was weak, but we could hear the voice of a mare over the airwaves.
“...st contact with other Manehattan hubs. No word from -bzzt-phia, Canterlot, Clouds-crackle- or Hoofington.” The static of the old radio kept cutting into the broadcast, skewering the message. Gizmo's horn lit up, bathing the radio in its glow. Apparently the spell seemed to help the reception, as the broadcast now continued without interference.
“Once again, this is Lieutenant Colonel Magpie out of the Manehattan Minsitry of Arcane Science Hub. The Emergency Broadcasting System is now transmitting on all active frequencies.” I thought to myself that the number of frequencies still active must not be very many, considering it had taken so long to tune into. The voice on the radio continued; “The defence spells around this facility shielded us from the megaspell detonation, but the rest of the city has gone dark. We have lost all contact with the other Manehattan Ministry hubs. There has been no contact from Phillydelphia, Canterlot, Cloudsdale, Trottingham or Hoofington. If there is anypony else still out there, please contact us as soon as you are able. Any new information will be broadcast as soon as it is available.”
The mare calling out through the MASEBS started over at the beginning of her message, desperately trying to reach anypony else who might still be out there. My heart ached after hearing the broadcast, despite having already been told about the attacks by May. It seemed unlikely that any major Ministry hubs remained to respond. It hurt to think that Magpie might not hear from anypony, stranded in the middle of a megaspell blast zone.
“Not even Canterlot?” remarked May, having finished her spoon feeding. “This is serious.”
“What do you think that means?” I asked, also done feeding the other burn victim.
“Probably that Princess Luna has the city cut off from the outside,” mused May. “It makes sense, considering that the fallout from megaspell attacks of this magnitude will take a long time to settle.”
“You don't think Canterlot was hit do you?” I exclaimed as the horrifying possibility occurred to me.
“Doubtful,” stated May. Despite her uncertainty regarding everything that was going on, her voice carried no hesitation or doubt of that. “Princess Celestia was there too yesterday, so even if the Zebras tried to hit Canterlot, they'd have failed miserably.”
I nodded, at least a little relieved by her confidence. “Hopefully Magpie can reach some other Ministry hubs. I would hate to see Equestria become some barren, lifeless wasteland.”
“Indeed,” agreed May. “Unfortunately,” she grimaced, “that means a little bunch of noponies like us are not going to be a priority. Which means I'm going to have to save them myself.” May beamed with enthusiasm for a moment, then glanced at me with a nervous chuckle. “Any ideas on how I can do that?”
I snickered, amused by May's blend of confidence and conundrum. “Well, you said we need to find a clinic in order to treat them properly. Shattered Hoof is the closest place with any kind of medical facility, but it's not an option. What else is nearby?”
“Not much,” sighed May defeatedly. “This rock farm is kinda in the middle of nowhere...” She looked towards the kitchen, catching a glimpse of the Stable-Tec pony. “Hey Gizmo,” she called, pulling his attention away from the radio, “are there any Stables near here?”
“Um...” he replied, screwing up his face in thought. “Stables Thirty-Two, Thirty-Four and Thirty-Eight are all less than a day's trot from here.” His expression turned stern, more so than I thought possible for the chipper pony. “But I can't allow that. The Omega-Level Threat Protocols would have been enacted when the Megaspells hit. Any and all Stables would be filled and sealed off by now. Even if I did have the means to override the doors, which I don't by the way; too low in the company, I wouldn't. The Stables were meant to protect ponies from exactly what happened out here, and I wouldn't waste that for the sake of a handful of ponies, even if one of them is me.”
I found that I couldn't help but be impressed by Gizmo's words. Despite his young age, he seemed to have a fairly solid sense of responsibility. I caught myself secretly hoping that he would have the chance to grow up into a good adult pony once everything was settled.
“Alright alright,” said May frantically, waving her forelegs in front of her in protest. “I was just asking if it was a possibility.” She let out a defeated sigh; “So, the Stables are out. Once again, I'm open to suggestions.”
Wanting to at least attempt being helpful, I chimed in. “How far are we from Ponyville? It may be a small town, but I never knew Nurse Redheart's clinic to be chintzy with supplies.”
May looked at me skeptically, although Gizmo seemed to seriously contemplate the suggestion. “At a good hard trot, I reckon we could make it to Ponyville in three days, maybe two if we cut back on sleep.”
“You're not serious, are you?” questioned May. “The fact that we don't know what's going on throughout the rest of Equestria aside, those two are in no condition to make that kind of trip. As well, the citizens of Ponyville would probably have taken any medical supplies they had for themselves.”
“Not necessarily,” interjected Gizmo. He elaborated; “Most of the population of Ponyville was slated for a spot in Stable Two. The town is far enough out of the way that they'd have had plenty of time to evacuate. Considering who was assigned as the Overmare of Stable Two, I imagine she even squeezed in a hoofful of ponies more than she was supposed to.”
“Why does nopony ever listen to the medical professional?” demanded May, casting furtive glances between Gizmo and I. “Even if the Ponyville clinic was viable option, it's still no less than two days away. Those two burn victims can't even sit up right now, let alone move around. Gizmo and I had to levitate them all the way here from that blasted town.”
“You say you're a professional?” I enquired, playing a bit to May's sense of self worth.
“Of course,” she said, seemingly pleased to have her ego stroked. “I was in the Ministry of Peace Spell Research department. Got a whole slew of tricks up my mane.” Realizing that I was toying with her a little, she scoffed. “Why?”
“If,” I suggested, pouring in a bit of the mercantile charm I had developed over my time as a courier, “we had a way to move them safely, would you be able to keep them stabilized long enough to reach Ponyville?”
May put a hoof to her chin, contemplating my suggestion. Her resistance seemed to be faltering. Although, that probably had more to do with her concern for the burned ponies than my persuasion attempts. “That might work, but I still don't see how-”
Cutting off the rest of May's Statement, I fluttered into the kitchen where I found Blinkie Pie cleaning up the dishes used in making our lunch. “Do you have any carts big enough for three ponies?”
“I still think this is crazy,” groaned May from atop the large wagon.
At my request, Blinkie had directed us to a large cart laying out by the silo. It was used to transport rocks from the farm to rock breaking compounds, such as Shattered Hoof. It was big enough to hold the two injured ponies, with room left for May to sit and keep them under constant supervision. Raider and I had taken to fitting it with a pair of mattresses to lay the burn victims on, while May helped Blinkie prepare some provisions for the trip. She and Gizmo had then magically floated the patients onto the cart, and May was now laying blankets over them.
“I know it might not be a great idea,” I admitted, slipping myself into one side of the harness in front of the wagon. Raider was already strapped into the other side. “Unfortunately, it's the best we've got right now.”
May sighed, defeated. She knew that our options were limited, and thus far this plan gave the two burned ponies the best chance at surviving. She attempted to regain some of her control of the situation. “Can't you at least let one of the ponies whose legs hadn't been broken pull the cart?”
I said nothing, but flapped my wings provocatively. May groaned.
The setup for our journey had taken a little over an hour, leaving us with plenty of daylight to travel under (allowing for a generous definition of 'daylight'; the sky was still completely closed off by clouds). Gizmo had brought along the old radio, rigging it up with a magical spark battery for power on the go. Blinkie Pie trotted over to us, carrying a few boxes of food and several canteens filled from a nearby well. She distributed them amongst the other ponies travelling on hoof, but then she turned away and began walking back towards the farmhouse.
“Wait,” I called out, stretching a wing in front of the retreating mare. “Aren't you coming with us?”
Blinkie looked at me and shook her head firmly. She then cast a longing glance at the farmhouse. “This war took my husband, two sons and even my two sisters from me,” she said, despair tainting her voice, which up until then had been quite jovial. “This old rock farm is really the only piece of my family I have left. It may be lonely, but I can't just leave it.”
I nodded solemnly, lowering my wing and letting her continue back to the farmhouse. She didn't show it in front of the rest of us, but I imagine she would start crying as soon as she got back inside. I ached for her, although I knew I could never feel what she felt. I had never had a family like that, and both of my parents had passed away before this awful war.
With food and water now in our possession, we were ready to go. I asked Raider to start pulling the cart, after which I would match his pace with a low altitude flight. I was used to flying solo with a wagon enchanted for aerial transportation, so the earthbound cart was a pony of a different colour. Raider had removed and stored his battle saddle in order to equip the harness of the cart. When he started walking, I was able to finally see his cutie mark. A golden, star-shaped lock and a matching key. I couldn't help but wonder what he had been before the war had made him a fighter.
With two or three days of travel looming ahead of us, most of which I would spend hauling the cart alongside Raider, I didn't relish the boredom that would accompany it. I glanced at Raider, looking to strike up conversation, but the stern looking buck didn't not seem like he wanted to talk. I looked back to May, addressing her instead.
“So, how come Raider was calling you 'Miss Cure'?” I asked. I had been curious about her name since hearing Raider call her that, but hadn't had an opportunity to indulge that curiosity yet.
“Oh,” said May. She paused for a moment, as though she was unsure about answering. “My full name is Mayflower Cure,” she said finally. “Cure was the name my family used for a small clinic we ran, and Mayflower is after my grandmother. It's a nice name, but it also makes me sound two generations older. So instead I go by May.”
I snickered, once again amused by the odd, yet good natured mare. Looking away from her, I cast a glance upwards, my eyes met with the sheet of grey clouds that covered the entire Equestrian sky. My lazy eye rolled downwards, but that only showed me that the clouds stretched all the way to the horizon. “How come the pegasi haven't cleared the clouds away yet?”
May shrugged; “You tell me. I'm not exactly up to speed on pegasus weather control policies.”
“It's a smokescreen tactic,” came the firm voice of Raider. “When Cloudsdale was hit, the pegasi branch of the military threw up the cloud ceiling to hide their other settlements. As well, most magically irradiated particles are heavier than air, so it would also protect them from the megaspell fallout.”
“How do you know that?” queried May. I had been about to ask the same thing.
“I don't,” admitted the soldier. “It's just what I would have done in their position. Zebras can't hit what they can't see.”
“But the attacks are over,” I noted, “shouldn't they come down and help?”
“I'd wager they're waiting for confirmation that the threat has indeed passed,” agreed Raider. “Also, they might hold back for fear of the radiation. Not sure how long it'll take to settle, but it won't make a huge difference. It's not like they can stay up there forever.”
The following two days passed in much the same fashion. Raider and I pulled the cart while May tended to the burned ponies as best she could. We slept, but not as much as we should have, valuing haste over rest. We passed the time with conversation, and periodically checked in on the MASEBS to see if Magpie had found any other Ministry hubs still hanging on. Unfortunately, it seemed that the only thing she ever had to report was confirmation of more places that had been destroyed by Zebra attacks. She heard nothing of Canterlot, which lent credence to May's theory that the Princesses had sealed off the city.
Although I hadn't thought of it when I first made the suggestion, there was another reason why Ponyville was the best possible place given the circumstances. The small town was a fair deal closer to the capital that where we had been. As well, it provided an unobstructed view of the cliff side where the capital stood, and would give us a chance to see what circumstances had befallen the city.
Unfortunately, the trip to Ponyville was not without consequence. On the morning of our second day of travel, one of the burned ponies succumbed to the complications of his injuries and passed away. We took the time to give him a proper burial, the least we could do considering, then redoubled our pace towards the small, outlying town. We were hastened by the sheer force of will of May, who did not want to see another of her patients expire.
Throughout the two day trip, there was one thing that struck me as odd more so than anything else: Equestria had gone quiet. In the two whole days of travel, the only other sign of life, beyond the nine of us, had been the voice of Lieutenant Colonel Magpie broadcasting over the MASEBS. With each broadcast she seemed to grow more and more desperate to get a response of any kind. Magpie also seemed to be developing a bad, harsh sounding cough. May suspected she was overworking herself to the point of sickness, as she had rarely left the broadcast in the whole of two days.
We finally arrived in Ponyville in the late afternoon of the second day since departing from the Pie family rock farm. As Gizmo had predicted, it was a ghost town. Not a single pony remained, at least not that we could immediately see. Prioritizing the life of the remaining burn victim, Raider and I pulled the cart right up to Redheart's clinic at my direction. Raider quickly detached himself from the harness and bucked in the locked front door, allowing May to levitate her patient inside.
The four other survivors followed Redheart into the clinic, presumably either to offer some help or rest after the taxing trip. Raider, Gizmo and I however, had other plans. Gizmo set his sights on the Ponyville Stable-Tec outlet. Ponyville did not have a military installation, but it did have an Ironshod Ammo Emporium, which Raider decided to investigate in case of 'trouble'. He didn't expand on what 'trouble' he thought we might encounter out here.
That left me by myself. I might have gone to help one of the others, but there was something I wanted to check first. I flapped my wings, pushing myself into the air so that I could see beyond the various houses and shops that comprised the town. Turning in midair, I eventually caught a glimpse of Canterlot, but was not sure what to make of what I saw. The entire city looked still, and was coated with a blanket of strange pink cloud. Another smokescreen tactic? I would have to inform the others once we met back up.
I set back down on the ground, May no longer seeming to complain about my legs, though they still bore the braces. They felt sturdier at least, and the pain was gone. I made my way over to the Stable-Tec outlet, the door to which had been opened without force. I suspected Gizmo had a key somewhere on his shodding that let him into outlet shops like this one. Entering the store, I found him behind the counter, looking at a terminal. There was a bright smile on his face.
Forgetting about my own news, I approached the counter and asked him: “What's got you so excited?”
“I was right,” he said simply. Without saying anything else, he hit a key on the terminal.
A message recorded on the terminal began to play. It carried the voice of what sounded like a middle-aged buck, who had an accent that suggested he was born and raised in Trottingham.
"This is Pipsqueak, reporting to Stable-Tec main HQ in Manehattan. The Omega-Level Threat Protocols have been received and enacted, as per instructions. Those designated for a spot in Stable Two are now being escorted to the shelter by Overmare Sweetie Belle. Estimated time to complete evacuation: twelve minutes. I will be joining them to serve as the Stable's chief engineer and Pipbuck technician. All other citizens have been advised to evacuate."
The buck let out a sigh on the recording, then continued.
"I don't know if anypony will get this, given what's going on right now, but I just wanted to leave a record that we did it. We saved who we could."
I glanced at Gizmo, a weak smile on my face. “I'm glad,” I said honestly, “at least some ponies were spared this horror.”
Gizmo nodded in agreement. “Plus this is just one Stable. With all of the Stables accounted for, at least a hundred thousand should have been saved.”
That statement stung; millions had died, and that estimated hundred thousand saved was such a small number by comparison. I shook my head, telling myself I should be glad that they were safe, no matter how many of them there were.
Another thought popped into my head, regarding the message on the terminal. “Pipsqueak the Pipbuck technician?” I mused, smirking about how funny that sounded.
“Funny how names work out like that isn't it?” replied Gizmo. “Don't pick on Pip though; he was a senior engineer at Stable-Tec. One of the best. Plus, whether he meant to or not, he left me one of these.” Gizmo's horn glowed, floating up a small, magical precision tool that I could only assume was the one he had mentioned he would need to fix May's Pipbuck.
“Anything else he left behind?” I asked, curious.
“Doesn't look like it,” stated Gizmo, a touch of disappointment in his voice. “I could probably slap together a couple working doodads with the spare parts here, but I'd wager most of the good stuff got taken into the Stable.”
Gizmo began to scrounge around the abandoned shop, pulling together bits and bobs that he deemed salvageable. I left him to it, my experience as a merchant making me feel a little iffy about taking stuff from a shop without paying for it. Then again, he did technically work for the company whose shop he was scavenging. If he figured it would be alright, then I wouldn't be a neighsayer.
Back outside the Stable-Tec outlet, I bumped into Raider again. According to him, the Ironshod emporium had been left completely untouched. That didn't really strike me as odd; what use would there be for guns and bullets in an underground survival shelter? He had left the store untouched, deciding to keep everything stored away in there for the time being.
Together, Raider and I made our way back to Redheart's clinic. Inside, we found May tending to the burn victim. 'Tending' in this case meant forcing one healing potion down his throat after another. The other survivors were inside as well, having taken up the clinic beds to get themselves some much deserved rest. I was feeling a bit tired myself, but I would wait a little longer. I was till hoping to see the burned buck make a recovery. Raider opted to go to sleep, having done a greater share of the pulling work than I had.
I watch May intently for about half an hour, making mental notes about her methodology in case I ever needed to treat somepony myself. Given the situation Equestria was currently being subjected to, I felt that would be all too likely. After forcing no less than eight healing potions down the stallion's throat (I had been right about there being ample supplies here), May proceeded to change his bandages. Once she had the old ones stripped off, I noticed that although the buck was now completely devoid of hair, his skin was slowly but surely mending. Presumably, the same could be said for his interior injuries.
Once his bandages were properly changed, May laid the buck down on the nearest bed. She silently moved away from him, joining me near the clinic door. “He's gonna make it,” she said. Her voice sounded hopeful for the first time since leaving the rock farm.
“I've got some good news too,” I stated, wanting to share in some of that hope. “Gizmo found a recording in the Stable-Tec shop. The Ponyillians got into Stable Two.”
May beamed at this news. “That's wonderful! Too bad we can't join them for risk of contamination,” she nickered.
True that it was disappointing, but we were still alive, and so were they. “Actually, there's one more thing,” I said, gesturing for her to follow me outside.
“Oh?” said May, curiously coming along.
“Yup.” I led May out of the clinic and through Ponyville, explaining my find while taking her to a place she could see for herself. “I got a glimpse of Canterlot while you were tending to that buck. It's still there, and looks to be pretty much intact.”
May's eyes widened in an almost comical fashion. “Really?!” she blurted out. She then galloped out ahead of me, heading for the edge of town to get a glimpse for herself. Not as young or spry as she was, I had to take flight to catch up to her.
I watched as May stepped outside the town, glancing up to the cliff where Canterlot rested. She stopped cold and fell to her haunches. I presumed it was in awe, but when I got closer to her, I noticed that she was silently shuddering. Her mouth hung open, her eyes wide with shock. At first I had hoped it was a joyous shock, but her whispered words killed that hope cruelly.
“Oh no...” Her shuddering grew more violent and her eyes flooded with tears. She looked like she was going to be sick. “Not... Littlehorn...” She said nothing more, collapsing into wretched sobs.
The only thing I knew about Littlehorn was that it had been the sight of Princess Luna's personal magic school. It's inhabitants, mostly young students, had been massacred by Zebras midway through the war. The impact of that event had caused Princess Celestia to abdicate the throne to her younger sister. I could only imagine what kind of horrors it entailed, although May clearly knew a lot more about it than I did.
Trying to comfort her, I crouched down next to May, placing a hoof over her shoulders. She pushed me away forcibly, her sobs uncontrollable. As my leg slid off of her, several chunks of her coat came along with it. A number of strands from her mane fell out at the same instant. I didn't notice at the time, due to my concern for May, but my own coat was beginning to shed as well.
Footnote: Status Update!
Current Status: Advanced Ghoulification.
Status Effect: Exposure to massive amounts of radiation have permanently mutated your body. Exposure to radiation is no longer harmful to you, and radiation saturation in excess of 400 Rad/s will cause your health to regenerate. Your lifespan has been increased dramatically.