He’d been running for so long. He couldn’t even remember when he’d started.
They’d got her. They’d captured Twilight. He was never going to see her again, and not just because he was about to die.
Damn these stubby little legs! Why couldn’t he have been born a pony? Not only would Rarity have been more interested in him, but also he would have been able to run faster!
What the hay was that thing?
It looked like a box. A big blue box. It had windows near the top, underneath a sign reading Police Public Call Box, and there was a sign on one side. His wide, fearful eyes quickly scanned the writing:
for use of
Advice & Assistance
Officer & Cars
Respond To All Calls
PULL TO OPEN
‘Don’t mind if I do,’ he thought. He yanked open the door, jumped into the box and slammed it closed as the gunfire started.
Then he stared. Stared that the massive room somehow contained within the limits of the wooden box, which on the outside was about the same size as a wardrobe, and stared at the brown stallion who had been examining a control panel, and was now staring right back.
“Who are you?” he asked. “What are you doing in my TARDIS?”
The intruder had no idea how to respond, so he passed out from lack of breath instead. As he did so the stallion asked;
“Are you-are you a dragon?!”
“Help me! Stop, we didn’t do anything!”
I looked around the corner and saw two CP ponies savagely beating a mare’s husband, and they were forcing her to watch. The memory of the playground flashed through my head, and I ran up to the officers and walloped them with my new crowbar. One of them pulled a pistol on me, so I bucked him in the face and slammed the business end of the crowbar into his forehead.
It was probably something to do with the Combine, but it took quite a bit of effort to just lift the crowbar, let alone attack with it. They had most likely done something to weaken unicorn magic.
“They’ll be looking for you now,” said the mare as I picked up the CP’s gun. “You’ve gotta run: there’s nothing else you can do here.”
As I slid the gun into a holster thoughtfully built into my HEV suit (and continued running) I was somehow reminded of Rainbow Dash. We hadn’t seen anything of each other for seventeen years now (well for me it could have been seventeen seconds) and I wondered if she was okay. I knew Applejack and Twilight were alright – and Rarity of course, although I’d only caught a couple of glimpses of her – but what about Rainbow, Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy? I made a mental note to ask about the lot of them as soon as I got to the Doctor’s lab.
Also, Lightning Strike hadn’t been kidding when he said I’d need good luck! So far I’d been shot at by Civil Protection, temporarily blinded by floating orb camera flashes more times than I would like to count and, to top it off, almost hit by a train, and I wasn’t sure I’d pulled my foreleg out of the way in time. And it wasn’t even lunchtime yet! I considered that my suit must have some kind of inbuilt magnetism thingy, since only half the bullets were actually hitting me and very few were doing damage. But it wasn’t surprising if this Doctor really was who I thought he was.
And what about Spike? What in smeg’s name had happened to him?
I considered that Trixie would be pretty peeved if she found out about the nanites. Speaking of which, I’d been finding vials of the little guys in nooks all over the place, sometimes with med kits as well. And judging by the things I had seen in Sweet Apple Basement, the nanites weren’t all Twilight had nicked.
Still, I could hardly blame her for wanting to stay alive.
Wait, do you think maybe she did it for me? That she wanted to stay how I’d remember her so that we could pick up where we’d left off when/if I came back?
Gods, I love her so much. Every time I see her I feel like my heart’s going to explode.
The last time I had seen her before that incident, she was recovering from some pretty serious PTSD following abduction and near murder by a psycho alicorn with a twisted sense of sadistic humour. I didn’t know what she’d done to Twilight, nor did I want to find out, but Twilight had almost torn herself and the library apart when her magic went out of control. Smeg, when we pulled her out of that place her horn had been broken off almost completely. She was only just starting to get better when it happened.
And worst of all, it was my fault. All of this was entirely my fault. It was my GLaDOS, my project, and my choice to give it sentience and control over the rift. But then, how was I to know it’d tear a whole in this universe and practically roll out a red carpet for the Combine? That was exactly what Twilight would say. Something like that, anyway.
It was thinking thoughts like these that took my mind off the fact that I was working my way through the slums of a city I had never visited in my life – equine or otherwise – and I was being pursued by the smegging Thought Police. If this was George Orwell’s idea of a dystopian future, I definitely didn’t want in.
Make that almost hit by a train twice. Luckily it had drawn to a halt and I had been able to jump across it like a stepping stone to get to a ladder which had broken in half and was hanging off the wall on the other side of a channel which had been cut into the ground for a railway. I’d just got to the other side when the CP ponies chasing me saw the imaginary target on my HEV suit and started to shoot at it, so I weaved my way through an empty house and heaps of shipping containers to avoid the bullets.
Then I jumped back down and was right in front of a tunnel. I kept jumping across the tracks into alcoves to avoid getting hit – I wanted to try not to shoot too many CP ponies. Not because I didn’t want to kill them; I realised with horror that it was because I would need the bullets for later. I’d barely been in this city for an hour and it was already changing me.
I ran through some maintenance areas around the train tracks and left the tunnel to find four CPs coming up to kill me, and a train thundering up the tracks behind them. Reflexes took me over and I dived through a fence to my right and onto half a catwalk which lead to a locked door.
Averting my eyes did nothing to save me from hearing the sickening crunching of bones as the train thundered over the now lifeless bodies of the CPs. I looked down and saw that the canal below was thankfully rather full of water. I dived in, and almost immediately the suit’s auxiliary power kicked in and started to monitor my oxygen level. When it told me I was about to drown I resurfaced, gasping for air: I wanted to spend as much time as possible under the water so that the CPs wouldn’t see me, and if they did their bullets would be slowed down by the water. Plus, it was washing away some of the blood that had become caked on my suit.
I hadn’t seen a unicorn among them yet, so how the smeg did they pull the triggers on those guns?
I climbed out of the water and onto semi-dry land. There was a shipping container blocking a large tunnel up ahead. There was a ladder on the side, so I climbed up and saw that a hatch in the top was open, so I dropped down inside.
There were two living beings inside (Yes, living beings; I don’t know how else to describe them). One was what I only just recognized as a diamond dog: the jewel crazy, unintelligent canines that had kidnapped Rarity and had been driven insane by her whining – I still laugh, inside at least, when I remember that story – only it was different. It was tall and skinny, and its’ eyes were red and looked as if they were glowing. It stood on its’ hind legs; its’ tail was almost nonexistent and it had no fur, having skin which was a mottled sort of khaki green. It stood with a single glowing claw over a small TV, which I swear was showing the G-Colt before it flickered off.
The other was one of the largest stallions I’d ever seen. Seriously, this guy was huge. His coat was deep red, and his mane was a sort of dirty orange colour. His cutie mark was half an apple. He was wearing a chunky horse collar around his neck.
“What in tarnation?” he said as I dropped in (literally). “Guess those sirens are for you. Good thing you found us, you’re not the first to come this way by a-“
“This is the Haydon Baxter,” said the diamond dog. “The reckoning of the Combine is upon us.”
“You’re Big Macintosh, aren’t you?” I asked. “Applejack’s brother.”
“Eeyup,” said Big Macintosh. “But right now Ah’m just a lookout for the underground railroad. Main station’s right round the corner. They’ll get you on the right path. Meanwhile, let my demon dog friend here give you a boost.”
The diamond dogs’ paw glowed green and my HEV suit suddenly felt a lot more powerful, and it said “That is all we can spare”. Big Macintosh pulled aside a sliding section of the container’s wall and peered cautiously at the world outside.
“You’re gonna wanna be careful,” he said, “we can not be noticed right now. CPs catch you down here, it’ll spell doom for the whole railroad.”
“We serve the same mystery,” said the demon dog.
“Go on,” said Big Macintosh, “git.”
I jumped out of the open container and into an area which was sheltered under a roof which was apparently made of cars. I ducked through a hole underneath a pile, avoided a blazing fire and found myself face to face with a fence. There was a rock blocking what was clearly the only way through, and it was far too heavy to move, but the busted vehicles pressing down on the wood were heavy and the wood itself was straining under the weight.
What I really wanted to do was whip out my crowbar and prise the whole thing apart, but it was pretty strenuous work. I’d have to buck this thing down and hope it didn’t crush me.
Wham! Hey, that was a pretty good hit!
Wham! Alright, so I wasn’t about to clear an entire apple orchard, but at least I was making some headway with this wood.
Wham! The wood gave an agonising creak. I glanced at the fence and saw cracks spreading across the surface of the wood like a disease. I’d give this thing one more good kick and dive out of the way.
Wham! CRUNCH! That was a stupid plan. I didn’t have time to dive out of the way, so I lay on the ground with my hooves over my head and waited for the crashing to stop. When I opened my eyes the fence had been completely obliterated, so I ran under and away before the pile-up could complete its journey to the ground.
I hoped I wouldn’t see any more Civil Protection ponies in the near future. I’d never been very fond of police, even in my home world. My dad had been a cop and he seemed to think he was still at work when he was at home
My brother Jasen had wanted to be a cop, just like Daddy. We’d both gone up to him and told him what we wanted to be when we grew up, and when Jasen uttered those words I had never seen my father so proud. Then I’d said that I wanted to be a bookkeeper. It was a lot more peaceful than police officering.
I’d never seen Dad so disappointed in my whole life.
Smegging blimey, it seemed like forever ago. I was a completely different person back then. More than that, I was a completely different genus.
In all my days of existence, I’ve never felt more comfortable than when I’m around books. I’m a lot like Twilight in that respect. Hell, when we first met, I thought she might have been a parallel version of me – intelligent, strong willed, witty, and cool as a cucumber no matter how serious the situation may be; she’s more like me than I ever was.
Only, she’s so much stronger than me. Right now I could barely lift a crowbar, and from what I’d heard she’d saved the world from eternal night, single-hoofedly lulled a raging Ursa Minor back to sleep, saved her friends and defeated the chaos god that had corrupted them all... I could never hope to be half the pony she was.
I didn’t deserve Twilight. She was everything, and I was a big streak of nothing. I mean, ‘I don’t blame you”; what kind of a catchphrase is that?
This big streak of nothing emerged into a large open area, in the shape of a very large T. There was a tunnel to my left, but it was blocked by another pile of cars and stuff. A walkway ran along the wall ahead and appeared to lead over the heap, but part of it was a raised sheet of aluminium. To my immediate right, smack on the corner, was a large pipe with a metal grate over it.
A stallion I didn’t recognise ran up to the grate and started to slam his hooves on it in a desperate attempt to get it open. He didn’t see me because he was too preoccupied with the CPs who were chasing him down.
“Wait,” he said, “what are you – no, please, don’t shoot!”
Those were his last words. The CPs gunshots echoed through the pipe and the stallion slumped against the grate and slowly slid down to the curved floor. The CPs then moved on to slay the rest of the resistance ponies in the station.
I looked around the corner and saw a raised platform of concrete. On the top were the two CPs and a mounted machine gun. Also, I saw a pipe entrance which presumably led to the same area they’d had investigated.
I examined the area under the platform. If I could teleport under it like I’ve seen Twilight do, then I might just be able to get into that pipe without being seen by the one that was manning the mounted gun. On the other hoof I could run straight out there and get turned into Swiss cheese, which was a thought with all the appeal of curried chocolate (I wouldn’t put it past Pinkie Pie to come up with a foodstuff like that, and she’d most likely enjoy it).
It couldn’t be too hard – apparently it’s a spell Twilight could do in her sleep. I fixed the image of my destination firmly in my head and concentrated. I felt the power growing, welling up inside me like an erupting volcano-
-and when I opened my eyes again I was right underneath the mounted gun, and neither of the CPs had seen me. Celestia be praised, it had worked!
Now I just had to get to that pipe. The reason I hadn’t teleported there in the first place was because I hadn’t known what the inside looked like.
I galloped hell for leather into the pipe and got out of the way just as the bullets started, and I didn’t stop moving until I reached the station the two had been defending. Apparently it hadn’t occurred to them to leave a guard or anything.
Then I froze.
A deep red puddle was slowly spreading across the floor underneath me.
In the adrenaline rush of running from the CPs, I hadn't noticed being shot in my back ankle, and when I looked I saw a gaping hole which was happily pumping blood over my hoof. I most likely hadn’t felt it because of the suit’s automatic morphine administration. For the first time since leaving Sweet Apple Basement, I checked the PFM (Physical Functions Monitor) that was built into my suit.
It was telling me that I had a major laceration in my right hind leg, multiple contusions to the facial and chest region and a fractured foreleg. In short, I had a nasty bullet wound in my back leg, bruises on my chest and face and another broken foreleg. I was also suffering from massive fatigue due to the teleporting spell. And it wasn’t even 3pm: not a bad day.
Not a bad day to die of blood loss, that is.
I was never going to see Twilight again. That was my one and only regret: I was never going to be able to tell her how I really felt about her, how I loved her more than I had ever loved anything or anypony in my entire life. I knew crushes – I’d had a few, been under a few, and never wanted to go there again – and this was definitely not a crush. I loved her with all my heart. And I’d never see her again.
Then I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, a small vial of luminescent green fluid. I telekinetically pulled it over and almost collapsed in relief.
Nanites! Precious nanites! Celestia and Luna bless you, Twilight Sparkle, you magnificent mare, you! She’d nicked my copying spell and used it on the nanites, and I didn’t blame her because it meant I could inject them into my flank like this.
Almost immediately, I felt the freezing microscopic miracle workers doing their job. See, nanites are miniscule robots that can repair a broken finger in ten seconds and a broken spine in less than sixty. They don’t exactly heal: more rebuild and reconstruct any kind of trauma to the body, equine or otherwise. The fluid is to keep them below 0° Celsius, which is the temperature at which they have to be to be dormant. Once they enter the body they activate and start to get to work, and if the dose is large enough then within five minutes even somepony as large as Big Macintosh would be back in working order.
There were also some things which rather looked like asthma puffers which were black and had glowing blue lines on them, but I knew that they were actually batteries. They must have been how the CPs managed to withstand three bullets in the chest and still live; they had HEV suits similar to mine, but obviously a lot less powerful. I hooked them up to the charging unit and let them power me up.
“Station 12, come in! Station 12, do you read?”
I almost jumped out of my skin, but it was only a radio which stood on a table at the far end of the room. I cantered over to it, but before I reached it the mare on the other end had fallen silent.
Then another voice started to talk, this time a stallion.
“This is station 8!” he said. “We heard station 12 go down and out! Surgical strike units are targeting the railway stations! Repeat, Civil Protection is coming down on the stations! We’re already getting refugees from 9 and outlying, looks like-“
Static. Then a mare’s voice.
“Station 8, do you copy? Station 8, are you there? We have confirmed reports of ponyhacks. Repeat, they are filling the underground with ponyhacks!”
I had absolutely no idea what ponyhacks were, but from the tone of that mare’s voice it couldn’t be anything pleasant. There was a ladder on the wall, leading to an open area above: I climbed up and fell silent, having just come up behind the two CPs who were manning the mounted machine gun.
Four shots with my trusty pistol changed that – I had found that two shots to the head were equal to four shots to the body, but I avoided using the pistol as much as possible because it was hard work to lift it.
The mounted gun, however, was a different matter entirely. Endless ammo and plenty of things to shoot; all I needed to do was mentally place myself in a rail shooter and I would be alright. That raised part of the walkway had a barrel of flammable liquid on it – I shot it and the walkway was complete once more.
Now I leg it like this, and I don’t look back. There were a few barrels blocking my way but I easily pushed them over and slid down into the tunnel beyond, narrowly avoiding being devoured by a barnacle which made a snack out of an unlucky crow that hadn’t been looking where it was going. I carefully sidestepped around the drifting feathers and the slowly descending tongue and made my way through the tunnel, lined with stacks of cars and heaps of dirt.
I emerged into yet another large open area, thankfully free of CPs and their devices. However, there was a pair of large gates blocking my way through. I cantered over to them and tried to move one, but it was too heavy.
When I had finally come down from the clouds, I looked around and saw a cream coloured earth pony with a pink and indigo mane sitting in a piece of concrete pipe. I heard approaching CPs above and quickly ran over and out of sight.
“Keep going, friend,” said the mare, and pointed at an open pipe to the right. “That station was raided, but there are still others up ahead. I’m staying here in case any others come through; somepony’s gotta keep the railway alive.”
“Thank you,” I said, and I jumped into the pipe.
You know what? I’m going to fast forward a bit here. I’ve already spun this out for much longer than was really necessary, and I’m sure you don’t want to hear every single detail about my trek through the sewers and how I somehow managed to avoid being destroyed by the CPs, although I had quite a few close calls: one bullet scored my cheek and left a burn, another went right through the tip of my ear, leaving a neat hole which would never heal completely without nanites – those things where pretty hard to find.
Suffice it to say that after almost getting blown up and killed multiple times, I eventually came across a door with a slot in it. I tried to open it, but it was locked. Luckily the slot was opened and I was faced by a stallion.
“Get in here, quick!” he said, and let me into the room beyond. It was piled high with ammunition and nanites, but I wasn’t hurt too badly and didn’t really need them. The guy who’d let me in was a yellow earth pony with a golden mane, a cowboy (cowpony?) hat and a brown leather vest. I guessed that he was related to Applejack in some way, due to the fact that his cutie mark was a single large red apple.
“Civil Protection’s hot on our trail.” Gods, he even had a similar accent. “We’re tearin’ up the railroad, coverin’ our tracks. Looks like you’re gonna be the last one through. Be glad you’re not the colt they’re lookin’ fer – poor guy don’t stand a chance.”
“That’s... reassuring,” I said, but my sarcasm fell on deaf ears. “I swear I met every CP in the smegging city on my way here, and apparently they’re using these things called ponyhacks.”
“Ponyhacks?” the yellow pony exclaimed in alarm. “You’d better scoot before they get here!” He opened a slot on another door over to the left, and closed it just as quickly with a cry of “Oh, horseapples!”
The door was broken down and three ponyhacks buzzed into the room. They were small lumps of machinery which hovered in the air apparently supported by the blades which spun around the body of each of them. The other pony grabbed a handy length of pipe, and I prepared my crowbar.
When I was a kid and living in dimension 1 I’d been on the school cricket team. Hate to brag, but I was the best batsman of the lot of them, mostly because everyone else just messed around. I’ve never seen so many people hit themselves on the head in a single game, and don’t even get me started on the bowlers and fielders.
Apart from the blades, this situation was almost exactly the same. One of them sliced my neck, but it was only a nick and didn’t hurt too much. I whacked it out of existence with my trusty crowbar while the other guy took out another. The third I seized with my telekinesis, intending to slam it into the wall or against the doorframe, but it was tough work just holding it still. I was relieved when the pipe slammed down upon it and fizzing wires were scattered all over the room.
“Thanks for your help,” said the earth pony as I caught my breath.
“You’re welcome,” I said, and he came back with “Look, it ain’t safe here. Take whatever ammo ya need, but then you gotta skedaddle.”
I gratefully reloaded my pistol and grabbed some extra ammo before leaving via the ponyhack’s entrance. I heard the earth pony yell “Good luck out there!” as I left.
I’m gonna fast forward a bit more to the part where I emerged, panting and slightly more shell-shocked than I already was, to an area which set my Geiger counter ticking (I know, I should have said at the start that there were all these extras, but hey – it’s done now). I carefully avoided the obviously irradiated sewage (no easy task) and found myself in a sheltered area with some nanites, ammo and a radio on a table, face to face with a turquoise unicorn with a cyan mane and a lyre for a cutie mark.
“Hey!” she said. “You’re Hex, aren’t you?”
“For a post-apocalyptic world, news sure does spread fast in this place,” I said.
“We got word you were coming,” said the mare, “but you got here at a pretty bad time.”
The radio buzzed and the perfectly rounded words of Rarity started to flow out of the speakers. Tell me, how is it even possible to make ‘desperate’ sound glamorous?
“New TARDIS to station 6, do you read?” she said. “Hex is making his way downriver, so you’re going to have to lend him the airboat and assist him in any way possible. I repeat, Hex has returned and it is imperative that he reaches New TARDIS.”
“Sounds like you better get going,” said the turquoise unicorn.
I nodded and left the station, and as I was crawling under another fence:
“Look out, they’re shelling us!”
A huge missile-like object landed in the soft ground almost right in front of my face. I pulled myself upright and started to examine it when the back opened and a headcrab leapt out, barely missing my face.
I galloped through that place as I had never galloped before. Headcrabs lunged at me, a few newly-zombified ponies tried to make mincemeat of me and my Geiger counter went crazy, but eventually I came to a small sheltered platform right next to what could hesitantly be called the water. The airboat was there – it looked like a cross between a jet ski and a hovercraft – and it was being fuelled up by a white unicorn with a music note for a cutie mark and the craziest blue mane I had ever seen.
“Hey Hex, been hoping you’d show up,” she said as she put down the petrol tank. “Got this airboat all gassed up and ready to go. Gonna be tough dodging CPs out there in the open, but drive hard and you’ll make it. There should be more help at station 7 just up the river – can’t miss it, it’s the red barn. You’d better get going.”
“Thank you,” I said, and I climbed into the airboat.
Revving it up and speeding away from the city, the wind in my mane and the buzz of the airboat beneath and behind me, I felt something I hadn’t felt in a long time, and I never thought I’d feel it again.
I felt... human.