Fallout: Equestria: Wasteland Shuffle
~Bebop n’ Company
Chapter 2: Wasteland Elegy
Sometimes you just have to buck up and keep going. Sometimes you really don’t want to. That’s what I had to explain to the group of hunters I’d kicked off Black Mesa Peak. They were at the base, waiting for us to come back down. Perhaps they had planned for an ambush. It never happened. My E.F.S. picked them out behind a few boulders before they could react, “oh no, you don’t you stupid fucks,” I practically shouted so they could hear me.
“Goddess damn it!” I heard one of them say, “how did he know?” I rolled my eyes and waved Octavia in front of me, motioning for them to come out.
“So, if I recall correctly, I killed the raider in your party you’d picked up a while ago?” I asked as they crawled out from their hiding places. I was going to make sure they didn’t hurt anypony else, and didn’t make any more stupid mistakes again.
Whispers of me reading the leader’s note, “yeah, and maybe thanks are in order,” nickered Rifle, “he was kinda driving us all insane. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to forgive you for practically burning my cutie mark off,” he showed off part of what appeared to be a crosshair, “and making us sit in the rain for hours.”
“You could’ve just–,” I cut myself off, wanting to protest that they could have just gone somewhere else and gotten out of the rain, “never mind,” I shook my head instead. It wasn’t worth arguing about. I wanted to get these ponies out of the way, “look, I wanna tell you guys something. You may not be all that intent on listening to the stallion that got your face and cutie mark burned, but I plan on helping you, believe it or not.” I looked every one of them in the eye. Iridescence kept quiet behind me.
“Mmm, okay,” one whinnied reluctantly and stood at attention, the rest followed suit.
“It might be a bit obvious, but to make sure you know, I made my way out of a stable recently. I’m not completely stupid and without education, however. Cannibalising ponies leads to mental issues later in life, and isn’t good for future customers. I know from your note that you’re avoiding it as much as you can, but now I want you to put the thought of hunting others out of your mind completely. Do that, and we won’t have any problems. Second, don’t give up so easily. Even if you don’t want to, fight for what’s yours. Don’t hesitate next time. Maybe you should ask if they’re friendly before doing that, but y’all are gonna live a nice, long life, free of me blasting holes in you, and from the looks of you, I don’t think ya have any healing potions,” burned face nodded, “We didn’t trash anything up there, and we only took the ammo that ya didn’t need,” I showed off Octavia one more time for effect, “I hope you have a wonderful day.”
They all seemed to think about the brief lesson I’d given them and nodded thoughtfully. That definitely went over more easily than I expected, no lies necessary. Actually, I had expected them to be outright furious and start charging at me the second I was done. Or when I was talking. It may have been the gun, but these ponies seemed to be at least somewhat normal. I would never know.
The white and red mare that was Rifle turned around as if to walk away. And then around again to face me, “thank you. Maybe what you did wasn’t exactly what you should’ve done, but you’re new around here. Well, actually, let me rephrase that: what you did wasn’t perfect, but it was a damn sight better than what a lot of ponies would have done. We let our guard down, and we would most likely be dead if it weren’t for the naivety that comes from stable-dwellers. No offence,” she added quickly, “this was brief, but I want you to know that if you ever find us again and need a bit of help, we’ll do what we can,” she nodded her head and the rest turned around and started back up to gather their things. Or keep watch again. I wasn’t sure just how much they liked that spot.
“Um... wait. Please,” they turned back around. I wanted to repay their not killing Iridescence and I. In retrospect, what I did was really stupid and probably deserved punishment of some sort.
“Yeah?” the limping, green, Crowbar asked, “What is it?”
I levitated out the food I’d taken and smiled as wide as I could. Iridescence laughed. I was only able to imagine how idiotic I must have looked, “I kinda took this when ya ran off... heh...”
Rifle sighed and walked back to retrieve their food, “thanks... I think.” Her words didn’t hold any anger or languish. Only exasperation, “you’re kinda stupid, aren’t you?” she nickered out of the corner of her mouth.
“Yeah, I kinda am,” I grinned and let her take hold of it before going. When I looked back, however, Iridescence wore a face of shock, “what? You saw me take it, it’s not like I pulled this food out of my ass,” I was puzzled by her reaction.
“That was our only food!” she said through gritted teeth. Oh yeah. I hadn’t told her, and she must not have seen it. (How?)
“Um, no it wasn’t. I just wanted to eat that first and save the stable food for later,” I stated clearly and calmly.
The proper expression for the pink pony’s expression changed to dumbfounded, “Since when did we have food? Why didn’t you tell me? I mean, I realize choufleur probably would have given us food before we left, but nopony told me anything, so I just thought she didn’t know how to get it, or hadn’t gotten her hooves on it first. I really thought that that was what we’d be having for dinner!” she was steadily raising her voice, and the hunters had turned back around to see.
I nearly facehoofed and lifted the pack with my eyes closed, sighing as loudly as I could, “you’re a special kind of stupid, aren’t you?” I let her get a good look at the paste based everythings that were inside and released my magic from the flap and let it close, “how could you not have seen that when I let you have my bobby pins?” Maybe the “Blind” part of her name was more accurate than I had previously thought.
“Oh,” she said quietly, and scrunched up her mouth before looking down at the ground, “I just wanted to try something new, was all,” while that statement didn’t sound special at first, I began to consider about what my thoughts actually were on eating it. I hadn’t been curious about the new food, much less really cared. I didn’t think it was special beyond its physical details, but it would be the first time I’d had anything not... pasty. Not even the slightest thought about what it would taste like; if I’d enjoy it, if I wouldn’t like it, or if it was poisonous or rotten. Was the food in 34 really that dull? Maybe it was due to my lack of caring. Being out here though... I started to wonder.
The lead mare rolled her eyes and began her trudge up the slope. I still hoped they wouldn’t notice the entrance. I waved goodbye and started walking in my own direction, not really knowing what I was doing. I stopped, “hey!” I shouted back to Rifle, “where’s the nearest town?” I was going to need to start somewhere.
“A day that-a-way!” she pointed a hoof in the opposite direction I was heading. Well, my confidence was shot.
“Well, buck me, then! Thanks!” I swear, if it won’t be for the good ponies that I’d gotten the impression of existing up here, I’d be dead pretty quickly. Or maybe not. Maybe it’s not that bad up here. It didn’t seem that bad.
“Don’t get yourself killed!” She hollered back, I could sense all of their irritation from here.
“Do what she says... please...” Iridescence commented half heartedly, “I know you’re trying your best, but I think you guys were fighting earlier, weren’t you? Don’t... don’t do that,” she sniffed. Oh dear merciful Celestia, when would it ever stop? Fine, I did, by association put everypony in stable 34 at risk, including Iridescence, but... oh, boy. She was crying.
I rubbed my eyes and whinnied in my most apologetic voice, “Yeah, okay, fine. I won’t do that again unless I have to,” I ran my hooves through my mane, “just stop... stop, stop, stop stop stop. Don’t cry, I’m not dead. You’re not dead. For the love of- if it’s not one thing, it’s another,” it looked like I was out of options at this point, her crying now ceaseless. I embraced her tightly and hoped that would get her to shut up. I hated it. I hated showing affection. Well... in what somepony would call public, anyway.
After several long, painful minutes, she stopped, and before she could manage to give her bit, I reminded her like a little filly, “don’tcryinpublic, Iwillkillyouifyoudothatagain,” well, that last part was my own special touch, but I thought it would be appropriate. She looked hurt, but she could keep going.
I wanted to read something.
The earth wasn’t going to get any drier, the trees on the ground any greener.
“Soooo,” I casually remarked, “what the fuck is that?” A smallish, metallic orb-thing was hovering about two hundred feet ahead of us, silent. Over the past few hours of getting nowhere fast, I’d seen several, all blasting the most pretentious sounding tuba music I’d ever heard. It made me want to strangle foals. This one, however, wasn’t emitting a sound. Dead silent, only a very faint hissing of static.
Now it floated toward us. It looked like a bloated, metallic insect, moving clumsily through the air. And then it stopped. Cliffs jutted up to either side of Iridescence and I: there was only forward and back. We had stopped, curious of this particular anomaly. It then proceeded to speak in a synthetic voice, “I am Watcher, and I will be your guide to the wasteland,” what, “...perhaps that isn’t the right word,” the, “anyway, I am here to explain something to you.”
“Fuck?” Iridescence and I practically ejaculated as we cocked our heads to one side and took a good look at... it.
“Ignoring your spouting of rude comments, I’d like to go on,” he paused, “we meet under better circumstances than many others I’ve encountered. I’d recently just said the very same thing, but I mean it sincerely, this time. First and foremost, I’d like to congratulate you on a job well done! One pony dead, and nothing bad to show for it! Even if it was unintentional, and a one-time deal, I’d very much like you to keep doing what you’re doing and do me a favour. If that makes sense,” it made sense enough for me to realise I was seeing things. (Who watches ponies like that?!) Nopony, that’s who.
After several moments of silence and open mouths from both of us, Mr. Watcher interrupted our feeling of mindless noiselessness, “I take it you either comprehend but are in shock, or don’t and are stupid. In hopes that it is in the context of the prior, I will continue,” he sounded like he knew a lot. Hell, with a name like Watcher, he probably did, “you dispatched the hunters to get what you wanted without causing serious harm,” killing somepony wasn’t serious harm? “I want to ensure that you are able to keep doing this. This may sound hurried, but I don’t have long. I’m going to send you someplace to get supplies and to rest,” the autonomous scratchy voice echoed around us, “I realise I sound obtuse and to-the-point: I need you to do this. You need shelter. Definitely shelter. Wow, actually, I’m meeting you under better conditions than just about any of the others I’ve ever come to know. You practically don’t need anything. You’re already making friends,” he seemed to be rambling, “but I digress, you still need a roof over your head and better weapons. Better armour. Ammo, too. You already have a weapon, and very basic armour, so you’ve got that going for you an-” it went silent. Our previously chatty companion drifted away on a low note. Literally. The tuba was crescendoing.
“So... umm... we still don’t know where to go,” I added, breaking the silence. Our tinny companion didn’t come back, though, “thanks for saying we aren’t capable and just leaving, you’ve been a real help... I hope you break,” given that Watcher could’ve been a joke, I didn’t pay it too much attention, but as we were nearing the end of the canyon, the thing that had been steadily making its way ahead of us popped back to life again.
I stopped abruptly, Iridescence bumping into me seconds later. We waited for the metal insect-thing to get to us first, “I’m so sorry about that. This is literally the first time I’ve rattled off like that,” we heard him clear his throat, “I know you were sent to Sunset City, but you need to go somewhere a bit,” he hesitated, “-closer. There’s a Donut Joe’s up a road outside the mouth of this,” he swivelled around, “–you’re going to come out to it in a second. Just get there. Supplies and shelter,” he cut out again and the same obnoxious music poured from it. I was going to have to find out who broadcasted this crap and strangle him.
As if on cue, Iridescence gave her two bits’ worth on the subject, “how can that music be playing if the world burned out so long ago?” It wasn’t particularly insightful.
“The same reason there’re ponies up here. Stables, if I had to guess; they’re the reason we’re here, anyway,” I tried to answer it as simply as I could. It looked like she wanted a better explanation, but I was saved by seven red bars on my E.F.S: insects that didn’t look too much different from Watcher.
What wasn’t so bad was that they were weak, and fell with one or two well-placed shots from Octavia, Iridescence refusing to use her weapon. What was annoying, however, was that these things shot spiky... what looked like sewage at us. It was awkward at first, and I managed to waste a good two clips of twenty shots on the things, but I calculated their movement patterns and took them out rather quickly. I also felt stupid. This place was so... dry and dead, with the exception of Black Mesa Plateau (loquacious was a word that came to mind.) I felt like I didn’t deserve to know about this. Not that I was too good for it, but rather that this place was too amazing for me to know about. The whole thing was fascinating.
Once we stepped onto the road, I immediately noticed the red and white building to the west. Candy cane, one might even say. Though that wasn’t the only thing out that direction. There was also a colossal billboard just a bit further ahead. Pinkie Pie is watching you forever, huh? Her mane colour was only a bit off from the Donut Joe’s. Just more... pink. Equally faded, though.
I could make out faint pony figures, shadows against the setting sun. They were milling about, not focused on anything. I hoped they’d be reasonable. I checked my E.F.S. They were too far away for it to detect them, but I didn’t rely on a moderately-powerful spell matrix to see things.
“Is there anypony over there?” Iridescence asked, “I can’t tell,” no more than three tenths of a mile and she could only make out... maybe the diner? Couldn’t anypony see them? Or was it just me? Or maybe it was just Iridescence. Yeah. That last thing. It had to be.
“Mm hm, maybe ten or twelve ponies. The most I’ve ever seen at one time in my life, so far. Unless you count school or a wedding back in... 34,” I trailed off toward the end as Iridescence started to look less energetic. Now that I was talking about it, I started thinking about how much ponies really did keep to themselves down there.
“How are you able to see them?” Iridescence surprised me with the question.
“I kind of just, you know, look in their general direction. I can’t really do that so well with books and such,” I replied, uncertain of how accurate that statement was. She seemed to be able to start up a conversation about whatever I was thinking of at the drop of a hat. Some form of precognition, maybe? Just weird.
She humphed and nickered, “everything's just blurry to me. I wish I could see far away,” why didn’t she get glasses in the stable? Her name was starting to look more and more suspicious to me; like a cosmic prank. You don’t name somepony Blind and automatically they can’t see... could you?
“Too many questions!” I blurted. Iridescence turned her head and looked at me as though I was going crazy. In her defence, I probably was.
“Are we going to move any time soon?” my pink companion questioned, “we’ve been standing here a long time and talked about eyesight, and now you’re starting sound like you’re starting to talk like you’re delirious, and-” I had to cut her off.
“Yeah, yeah, we’re going. Just ignore my random shouting,” I grinned and started moving. No sense in idly wasting my time like this.
The horizon I’d been keeping my eyes on had turned a muted orange, making everything in front of it sharply-outlined black beings ahead of us. The dirt had turned the same colour. Iridescence noticed and asked, “is it normal for the ground to be that... weird? I mean, it obviously isn’t bad, otherwise there would be pain or something, but um, Bebop...” she put a hoof on my shoulder, I stopped and turned to her, keeping a patient look on my face, “are you sure those ponies are going to be friendly?” she motioned toward the Donut Joe’s.
There was a silence and wind brushed by my ears. I didn’t know, but apparently we’d need what was in there. One thing was certain now, at about a tenth of a mile away, I could tell that there was a bit more to this place. It was dilapidated, no doubt the work of hundreds of years and insane weather like we’d seen earlier, I’d bet it should look about this... off.
Or maybe not, “I want you to keep your gun at your side, just in case,” I said as I pulled Octavia out from my saddlebags. I was going to need a holster for this thing at the rate I was taking it out and putting it back in. She nodded and floated it out by her side, pointing toward the ground. We were quickly approaching the Donut Joe’s. I was getting anxious, my heart beating faster by the minute. Sweat was beginning to pool on my brow.
When we were about fifty feet from the building, the sun was almost down over the horizon and we were almost in the dark. This is going to be good, “Hey, y’all! We’ve come to g-” a bullet clipped my ear. No warnings, nothing. Now there was shouting and I could feel the blood start to run down my cheek again, “Hey, hey, hey! sto-” they got my pipbuck. It didn’t even dent it, but it sure did clip the radio button and flip on a fast-moving jazz song. Bebop, “last time you stupid-” another bullet went past me and dug into Iridescence’s right foreleg.
I was going to have their heads. Fuck plans, I was going to do this! I’m usually able to tolerate a lot of shit, but hurting innocent...
Iridescence screamed out in pain and I charged them. Bullets were firing all at once now, every last one of them missing. It looked like the darkness coupled with bad weapon care was not working to the advantage.
I’ve been dreamin’,
I’ve been waitin’!
I ran to the entrance. All eyes on me. Good. I opened up S.A.T.S. and got one shot each on both of the nearest ponies. They were wearing patchwork barding like the hunters, but some of it looked more like bondage gear. (What the fuck?) At any rate, it didn’t do them any good, Octavia burned clean holes in it that appeared to meld to their flesh in places. They both screamed but kept fighting. Shit.
n’ having kicks!
I took careful aim and got both of them again, three shots each. I’d hit and both collapsed, one of them from what looked like a heart-attack. (Did I do that?) Yeah, you probably did.
I’d also been standing still too long. Three shots drilled into my back, “Luna-fucking-damn it, that hurts!” I shouted over the gunfire. I was amazed I wasn’t dead. The welder-pony barding was actually good for slowing the what-must-have-been bullets down, I noted. I turned around and saw there was a hole in the roof, three ponies leaning over the edge with pistols of their own.
Perform for crowds of thousands,
They’ll shower us with diamonds!
I gave my most sinister looking glare. Seeing as I didn’t just drop after they shot me, it must have done its job. I took aim and shot one in the face, and he fell through. The other two started to turn and slide off the roof, “oh, no you don’t, you ugly pricks!” I aimed and shot two more times, one hitting a sliding pony, I saw his bar blink from red to white as he hit the ground faster than the other, the shot missing that one.
The wonderbolts will see me...
Right here at the Gala!
Then I heard four gunshots in succession from a distance. The marker for the hostile pony that had slid off blinked out. So she’s not afraid to use it, after all. Four more were at the only door out; I could see from here that the back was boarded up, two hallways leading places I couldn’t get at yet, “but there should be more,” I whispered to myself. They fired at me simultaneously, but I could tell they couldn’t really see in here, it was too dark. The sun had set completely. Every single shot missed me. And then there was a loud, (granted) remote, scream followed by 12 paff, paff, paff’s. Two more lights that had been dancing around my E.F.S. winked out, and one went white. Iridescence was still too far for the pipbuck to detect her.
The other crazed ponies turned their heads to see what happened, “bad move,” their heads flicked back in time for me to go into S.A.T.S. and scorch one in the flank, another right between the eyes. The second I was out, I planted another beam of electricity in the chest of the pony on the far right, wearing a mangled labcoat. He stumbled. Just one more.
I strafed a bit, keeping silent, using to my advantage what little camouflage my coat and barding could provide: enough. He could aim in my general direction, but not get a hit. I made it to the corner left of the door. I knocked a hoof on the wall, and took the one shot I could with S.A.T.S. as he turned to face me. He was ash.
The song went into refrain as the other three looked for me again. All of them bearing the mark of Octavia in one way or another. It hit me that the remaining bit of Octavia’s was Wrath. Even if it wasn’t, it should have been. Regardless, that would be its name from now on. I lined up the three shots as they picked their weapons back up and scrambled. My shots were too slow. Right on the mark, but slow. One shot more and the pony nearest to me collapsed, moaning, a large portion of tire burned into his mane and neck.
The other two both got shots off with their miniature six-shot pistols. One hit. Right in my fucking chest! “I know this isn’t my place, but I wouldn’t shoot you up if you came to mine! Well, actually, I wouldn’t have to. I’d have ponies to do if for me!” I said through clenched teeth.
To fly with those great ponies!
“Hear that? It talked, it talked! Ha ha! It talked!” they ran around the corner and laughed, “let’s kill it!” Celestia’s sake, these ponies were messed up!
I rounded the corner and fired up S.A.T.S. again and targeted one on the right. The other was nowhere to be seen. Well, Luna, looks like you can start crushing my testicles with that moon of yours right about now. The next shot made the pony’s neck bright red and made him cough up blood, fallen and twitching on his side. I did a double take at my work, and somepony took the advantage and bit my flank. Yep. Bit me. Well, actually, he bit my barding and ripped it off, right over my cutie mark. A white symbol often mistaken for something I’d drawn myself.
Shower us with Diamonds!
“Mistake!” I uttered under my breath, and bucked with my left hind leg right into his jaw. It connected in a way that made me shiver. I hated feeling hoof on skin and bone. I could hear his bones crack, and as he was slumping to the ground, choking, a distant shot came dangerously close to me and landed squarely in his back. His light was no longer on my E.F.S.
I looked up and saw that there were three ponies heaped on top of each other about twenty feet away from Iridescence. She had been taking aim from over a hundred feet away, her injured leg hovering over the drying mud. I turned around and made a sweep of the area. It sure was dark.
Right here at the Gaaalaaa! “-And that’s Sapphire Shores with her rendition of ‘At the Gala!’ Up next, a song about our regrets. A common theme in the Equestrian wasteland.”
One, two, three, four markers still there. One still hostile. I reloaded and finished the red bar off, a teal unicorn, putting her out of her misery. Her maniacal, twisted, red bar misery. The other two were unconscious. We would have to figure this out tomorrow, when I could see more than vague outlines. I checked my pipbuck: 20:11. Octavia had its name changed in my inventory to Octavia’s Wrath without me even having to do anything. Still weird how it could do that. I went and collected Iridescence, a crying heap on the ground, back to... oh, god.
This place was horrible. How did I not notice it earlier? Actually, I did remember seeing everything, but not caring. How could I have ignored this? You like it, don’t you? There were what seemed to be mutilated pony organs, and coats of various colours decorating the walls. Skulls and brains hung in nets from the ceiling. “It’s party time!” had been written in fecal matter along the wall. This place was disgusting. Dear Celestia, was it disgusting. I’d come back later. I couldn’t sleep here. Not without losing whatever was left in my stomach. I drug everypony still alive to the back of the Donut Joe’s. There had to be something.
And there it was. A cellar door. Just the faintest of outlines in the abysmal light of night time. My first night in the Equestrian Wasteland. It was shit. Literally and figuratively. I tried the handle. Locked. I recalled Iridescence saying something or other about picking locks, “hey, um, if it’s okay, would you please open this?” I pointed toward the cellar door at the back of the candy cane diner. I was in a hurry to get away from the scenery. It was starting to get cold, too.
She got up and nodded, sniffling. She cries a lot, doesn’t she? I held my pipbuck up, using the torch spell. The bullets that had lodged themselves in me getting gradually more painful by the second. After breaking a bobby pin and a bit of light swearing, Iridescence opened it up and I walked inside, dragging all two of the unconscious ponies with me. I wanted some answers. I kept my torchlight spell up and searched the room. A spark generator. A lightbulb in the ceiling.
I wanted to try something. It was short notice. Very short notice, but all of my determination focused on this one objective. I dropped all of the other ponies and focused all of my energy into the entirety of the generator and gave a bit a force behind it. Nothing. I tried again. Still nothing. One more time... oh(!) still nothing. I gave it one more try, and to my inconceivable delight, it whirred slowly to life and I gave a squee of excitement as the light bulb flickered and started shining. Just as I felt I couldn’t do anything physical any more.
There were three mattresses in one corner, all covered in bones. One pony’s worth, each: a holotape, and what looked like a giant marble wedged between them and the wall. There was also a hooflocker against the adjacent wall, and a stack of (yes!) partly decayed Meeting Ponies magazines and a Big Book of Arcane Sciences on a table in the center directly underneath the sickly glow of the light bulb.
I cleared the bones and put them in one corner and flipped the mattresses over (they were dry- the trap door must have been waterproof.) Iridescence was then told to sleep while I watched everything. I would have to ignore the fact I was once again underground, and read. I would be getting something done tonight. Slacking off isn’t really getting anything done.
First thing’s first, though. Curiosity demanded I rifle through everything. The hooflocker had more ruined books, empty bottles of something called sunrise sarsaparilla, three bottle caps next to them. They looked pretty unique, so I took them for myself. Appropriately, there was a rising sun on the underside of each one. I’d never even considered a company would bother to do something like that before.
After moving from the little locker to the table in the centre, I filed through the decomposing pony speech magazines until I could find the three in best condition. All of them printings I’d never been able to read before! But they would have to wait until after I read this edition of Arcane Sciences: Unabridged.
Now that I looked around the room, the walls and ceiling were covered in a pale yellow light. It felt like a far more confined, darker version of the stable. It was somehow comforting and claustrophobic at the same time. Not welcome, nor unwelcome. I decided to get a better look at the holotape and marble-thing.
I lifted the holotape with my telekinesis and brought it to the centre table. I’d save it for last. I wanted to figure out what this… pearly thing was. It looked kind of milky, and was in the form of a perfect sphere. The second I reached out my magic to grip it, however, I was swept away into complete darkness without any warning prior to what was about to happen.
I awoke. Well, that wasn’t really the right word. Became conscious was probably a far better way of describing it. Immediately, I detected something was amiss. I couldn’t move any part of my body, which wasn’t particularly pleasant; it wasn’t anything I could compare to sex and not feel like I was kidding myself at least. Within the spectrum my peripheral vision, I could discern that I was a white and blue pony. Or at least my forelegs were like that. The room was grey on grey, and I was facing a table in the centre of the room, generator humming away.
It was the same room as I was in just a few moments ago. That was, at the very least, a little bit comforting, and I realised that I was most definitely experiencing what the textbooks from class described as a memory orb. Well, what I had attempted to pick up was an orb, and I was not in my own body, so I was riding(?) my host(?) and from those vague strands of logic, I inductively reasoned that I was now ‘remembering’ whatever had been recorded. Though I had just been in the room, I didn’t see the device the pony used to do this. Maybe it was still in there somewhere. Or maybe you’re over thinking things.
“Come on, come on… don’t stay up there. We need the stuff, but we don’t need to be taking this long!” My host hissed, “get the food and go. Come on, c’mon, c’mon…” I wished I could move my eyes freely, but my physical liberties were greatly limited.
A door creaked, and a dim light poured through an opening from above, leading down the same concrete steps I’d walked down to get here. My host smelled the outside air: toxic, like burning plastic, “Oh thank goddesses,” the blue and white-legged pony I was riding sighed, “quick! Close the door,” thankfully, the pony up the stairs followed the order without Host Pony having to finish… wait. That was a her. Her sentence.
What the glorious fuck? I noticed that in my first day, I’d had a steadily ballooning ‘what the fuck’ list. I wondered how many other ponies could say they’d had the same happen to them after coming out of their respective stables.
I ignored the lack of a penis and saw the red-green earth pony trudging down the stairs, white mane in his eyes, saddlebags at his side, “I got the stuff,” he grunted, reaching the last step. There was what sounded like a muffled explosion in the distance and the single light bulb flickered for a moment before stabilising, “I have food, water, and toiletries for days. The door’s locked, and you brought the beds… sorta. I see you also brought your reading material for the decade,” he paused for a few seconds before adding, “there’s ash up there. It hurts to breath, and the air’s tuned green. I think we lost. Or we tied it up… I just wanted to work here and retire later. Raise a family,” Host Pony patiently allowed him to continue, “I guess that plan’s gone to hell. At least I could save you and…” the earth pony across from me cocked his head, “who’s that?”
My host turned and faced the winged pony already asleep on the mattress closest. I thought it strange, considering there weren’t any pegasus bones there when I was in the room.
Host Pony pointed a hoof at the wrist of the orange-pink-yellow-coloured pegasus, there was a pipbuck on it. A really ugly version of mine: bulkier too. The interface was amber instead of white. Another distant explosion in the background, “she just kind of smacked into your roof and made a fair-sized dent in it this morning. She was awake for a little bit. Really only a filly,” my host explained, the light bulb flickered, the shadow of a stack of magazines cast on the wall, “I think she was supposed to go to 28 or 34. Poor dear, it’s probably already sealed up tight. I promised to let her stay.”
The white mane and green coat pony shuffled toward the beds and nodded thoughtfully, “I suppose we can let her stay. But answer me one thing, why are you wearing that ridiculous thing? It’s not like these are the last moments of our lives. At least, not yet,” the young earth pony seemed at peace with his fate. His words didn’t let on any concern or anxiety. I could relate to him.
“Well,” my host replied, twisting her tongue up in her cheek, “I thought, y’know, maybe I’d forget later, and I’d feel sorry about it. I wanted to make sure we didn’t regret anything,” I had become complacent, no longer caring what I was restricted to doing; I found this conversation unfathomably interesting.
The pony in front of me nodded again. His eyes shifted and said quietly, “the air’s going to seep in. That door won’t keep everything out. I hope you’re prepared for this. The zebras really had it out for us,” he sat down and huffed.
“Everything’s fine. I heard Lyra made it to 34,” (One of the overseers in my stable?) “I know that that stable wasn’t meant for her talent. I heard they didn’t even let her keep her bass. Didn’t let her stay with that Vinyl Scratch pony, either. Heard she was downright heartbroken and had to drag her their. What’s more is that she’s supposed to be the overmare or something. She’s good at keeping a level head, but I’d be surprised if she didn’t take it out on somepony eventually,” Octavia’s Wrath. I wondered what she’d done to get it that name, “she always did make the sweetest music,” the conversation came to an abrupt end.
When I came to, the room hadn’t changed at all. Iridescence had moved little, and the others were still unconscious. Lucky. I could have gotten us both killed if they’d woken up. Which reminded me...
I stuck the comatose ponies in the free corner by the stairs and pulled the hooflocker over to form a triangle with them in the center. It wasn’t much, but better than nothing. Yeah, right. Maybe they’ll trip and give you enough time to fix everything. Idiot. When I did this, however, it revealed dozens of ready-made meal wrappers that must have been intended for military purposes.
Keeping a close eye on them, I pulled out the holotape and sat in the opposite corner on one of the beds. The same female voice I’d spoken(?) with earlier sounded dull and grating on the ancient recording. I was amazed this thing worked, but whoever made holotapes, made holotapes to last.
This will be a journal of my final days here with Sparkle Shine. Day one. She cleared her throat, and a cough resounded somewhere in the room with her. We, or really, I picked up a pegasus today. No names, no explanation. No introduction either. But, well, that may have been due to the fact that she crashed into our diner this morning. Dented it up somethin’ good. She sighed. We have enough food to last us quite a while on account of Shine’s connections to Luna’s army. We couldn’t get to a stable. So here we are. Nice and happy as can be in this basement. Locked up tight, yesiree. If anypony’s hearing this... well... I dunno what to say. Good on you for getting in here?
There was a click between entries.
I guess this is day two, huh? Well. Turns out only half the MRI’s Shine got us had water in ‘em. So we’re doubly fucked, I guess. Luna damnit. She inhaled and held her breath for a few seconds before exhaling loudly. The pegasus woke up at what was, according to her thing on her leg, five thirty in the a.m. Helluva time, considering soon after freaking out on us, she introduced herself as Sunrise. Fit her colours alright. Pretty darling. Just a filly, really. You could hear a young pony’s, “hey! I’m not a filly, I’m a full-grown mare!” in the background and paper being turned a second later. Right now, we’re biding our time reading. I’ve learned enough about how to have conversations with others that I think I could finally talk to a crowd. Or maybe that’s just impending doom talking.
Day four. Paper being turned. A clacking of hooves on cement. An explosion. Sunrise surprised us by flying out there this morning and grabbing six colas from one of the coolers. She looks a bit sick now, but we have something different to drink. Too bad all the water up there’s no good anymore. Wonder how these sodas don’t go bad. Or at least that’s what the filly tells us. Better drink these first and save the water for later. These MRI’s suck.
Day... oh, shit. What is it? Six? Seven? A familiar male voice answered for her, “five,” it’s day five. Okay. Sunrise flew out there this morning and hasn’t come back. A balefire bomb must have went off relatively close. It was so loud. The air’s turning green slowly. We’ll be dying just a bit sooner than expected. A masculine grunt. I think maybe it got that pegasus. A sigh. No one’s reading the magazines, but we got a new one knocking on our door. Dressed up all fancy. Don’t know how he’s kept alive all this time. Looks pretty sick, actually. He brought a big ol’ textbook with him, too. Still hasn’t given a name. I introduced myself and Shine. Oh, and my name’s Seraph. Guess I haven’t introduced myself yet. I’m so forgetful, I don’t know if I’ll remember to do these every day.
A new voice. This is Col. I survived the bombing. I seem to be somewhat immune to the effects of radiation poisoning. I’ve been locked down here with these two very nice ponies for six days. They’re gone now. At least, spiritually. No food left. No water. I’ve made everything as nice and neat down here as possible. The other two threw a fit before dying. He was breathing heavily. It’s pretty hard to breath down here. The air’s got to be poisonous. Umm... that was my introduction. This is my nadir, one might say. I am telling you this because I don’t have anything else to do. I will drink the last sparkle cola, put it back in the single storage space available, put the rest of the trash out of sight, and place the bodies on their beds. He transitioned topics rapidly. I was guarding Lyra on her way to stable 34. I saw her lose her temper and shoot at the stable door. We watched her calm down and put her personal weapon away: Stable-Tec made it clear that the overmare had to have a weapon on her. I was also there to see that there was an overstallion. They wouldn’t let me in. They wouldn’t let anypony else in. We sat there for days, and used up all the supplies in the sky carriage we had parked on the other side of the entrance. It got crushed after a bomb hit on the opposite side. I was the only one in the cave when it happened. The outside walls eroded to the point you could see the metal of the stable. It should be fine. I ran. I ran all day and found this place, the roof caved in, in the main building. I tried the door, and was greeted by two ponies who agreed to shelter me. I was already sick. I didn’t feel it, but I was sick. I’m going to die soon. It’s okay. He coughed for several minutes. It’s okay. The war is over. We’re all dead.
It went on with him laughing and coughing until the storage space ran out and it clicked one final time. It seemed he’d talked himself insane. After listening to the entries, it made me want to check my pipbuck. 02:14. I was getting too tired for this. My eyes were getting heavy. Things had been adequately explained in this short period of time, such as the lack of a pegasus body in here, but it didn’t do anything for my stamina.
I tapped Iridescence lightly on the shoulder and her eyes fluttered open wearing a smile then sprung to life as she blushed luridly, obviously embarrassed. She needed to stop having wet dreams or whatever if she was going to be traveling with me. Foal at heart would be an understatement.
“Can you keep watch without masturbating?” I asked with a grin on my face. The look she displayed could not be expressed with words and I had to practically smack myself to keep from laughing. I could have my moments of immaturity if she could have her hours and days.
I laid down and closed my eyes. Before going to sleep completely, I pressed around on my pipbuck and turned on the radio. A soothing piano melody allowed me to drift off and let everything that had been bothering me become distant. Intangible.
When I awoke, I was greeted by two things. (Again with the twos?) The first was somepony named Sapphire Shores singing about tomorrow. The second was Iridescence’ swearing at what was probably me, “Luna and Celestia damn him, both!” at least she kept it to an angry whisper, “He was bleeding out all night!” or... not, “I guess he’s a lost cause, but damnit I didn’t want to kill anypony! Why couldn’t he just stay alive? Why did I shoot him in the first place?” I kept my eyes closed and listened to her go on about the pony she’d shot after I’d kicked his jaw in. He’d died some time in the night. At least it wasn’t me.
I interrupted her before she could start smashing her head into the wall, “don’t feel too bad, the pony bit me,” I grunted casually while getting to my hooves, trying to defuse the situation, “if ya want to feel any better, you’ll forget it happened. No use crying over spilled cola,” it appeared to calm her down to the point that she wouldn’t make a hole in the wall with any part of her body.
The other pony was beginning to awaken. The one I’d shot in the back had something happen to his brain. He looked around wildly and looked as though he were about to cry. He got off the pile of ponies and stepped over the locker. Iridescence and I watched as he did everything swiftly and without any hesitation. When he looked up and saw us there, the brown and red pony, started bawling, “where am I?! What happened? Why... why, why why why why?” He fell to the ground. I believe I speak for both of us when I say we were shocked by the sudden display of emotion from the once determined killer.
As I got a closer look, I saw that his cutie mark was a candle. The other one had a pony’s head on a spike. The dead one had a rope wrapped around a figure’s neck representing his talent. Unless dripping wax on ponies was his talent, I would say he wasn’t exactly killer material.
It was clear he wasn’t going to be any help almost immediately, “you can go. I don’t know why you’re here and I don’t care. You don’t belong with the other ponies, so you can leave,” Iridescence said exactly what I was thinking and motioned toward the stairs. I checked my pipbuck. 07:27. A cold air met us when the door opened, the terrified earth pony gone; It had been comfortably warm inside and out when we entered last night. It must have cooled over time.
I really didn’t care about that pony. If he was weak enough to suffer a stroke or heart attack from a single shot from OW (how appropriate), I didn’t think he’d be worth our time. I didn’t even give him a second thought besides how somepony like him managed to get with these others and shoot me.
Luna damnit. That reminded me I still had lead in my back. It hurt like a bitch! How I could have ignored it this long was beyond me, and my legs buckled. I probably would have blacked out, too, if it hadn’t been for the rest I’d gotten. Iridescence was immediately at my side. The other pony was starting to wake up. His marker turned red (it had never been out in the first place.) I pulled OW from my saddlebags, tears forming in my eyes, the pain getting to me, and dove into S.A.T.S. to shoot right at his... horn. (Unicorns, I noticed, were not in short supply in this area.) I wasn’t sure what that would do. Nopony ever explained what a physically damaged horn would do. One shot fired and took Iridescence and the other pony by surprise.
The super-heated electricity scorched the purple menace’ horn black and made him faint with a squeak. Hm. I was going to have to remember that. Tears streamed down my cheeks all the while, “I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m not bleeding out, so I’m okay. I think the bullets got wedged in so they simultaneously plugged in the holes they made.” (It would explain why I wasn’t soaked in my own blood.)
“You don’t look good! You really don’t!” Iridescence stressed, “You need something. Wait,” her eyes lit up and she went through my bags until she brought out the half syringe of Med-X. Better than nothing. I clenched my eyes shut and she injected it into my right foreleg. Almost instantly, I felt better. Comfortably numb. I still felt like my back was being pressed on by a deskfull of butter knives, but it was bearable.
I relaxed a bit and stumbled to the hostile pony that was waking up for the second time in as many minutes. Iridescence was speechless as I placed my hoof firmly on his neck, forcing him to breath in the wretched scent of the dead pony beneath him, “don’t make any unwelcome moves. They will be met with unyielding pain and Octavia’s Wrath. Understand?” His Indication Of Being went white and he nodded into his deceased companion, “what were you doing here?” I asked.
A gruff, albeit frightened voice answered, “this was our territory, dig? We’s the Diamond Dogs. Baddest bunch in da wasteland! We own all the Donut Joe’ses this side of Canterlot, we gut any pony who come out this way and show ‘em for all to see. Or, we used to anyway.” his grammar was deplorable. At the very least, he sounded honest.
“Uh-huh. Well do me a favour and go up the stairs and leave, ‘dig?’ Or I’ll do what I did to your friend you’re layin’ on. I’m not joking. I took more bullets in one sitting last night than I ever have in my life, and I’m not happy about it. I know your story, and I understand now, but that doesn’t exactly make what I saw up there any better. I’m just lettin’ you know that you might oughta warn your friends that I’ll make sure to have all their problems go away with the press of a trigger. And don’t confuse what I said for a helpful offer,” I pressed down hard once before letting him scramble to his hooves and run out the door, leaving it open.
The Med-X was already wearing off. I needed something. I motioned for Iridescence to follow me out the hatch that the gang member had left ajar. The moment I reached the surface and a cold breeze brushed my ears, I felt more at ease. One thing I noticed, there was always barely audible gunfire in the distance. I could do this. My legs started shaking, sweat dripping from my face despite the cold.
Iridescence nudged me softly from behind, “you can get up there, can’t you?” she asked tentatively, “you don’t look so good...” I could practically hear her eyes open, “you look like you’re going to pass out!” (I already knew that, thanks.) She’s really with it. She was starting to panic.
“Chill,” my heart rate increasing and my brain struggling to stay focused, “I’m going to find a healing potion and everything will be okay. Everything. Just... be cool,” I deserved to be cock slapped by Celestia’s celestial penis; that was probably the dumbest thing that had ever escaped my lips. I’d have to remember to lynch myself if I lived through this.
The icy breeze nudged me forward, forcing me to crave the indoors again, eating at me through my barding as Iridescence limped patiently at my side while we passed the blood-stained doors leading into the donut chain. Entrails laid out in a decorative potpourri about the tables and chairs. The fryers behind the order counter had been filled with bones and urine. The bones didn’t look like they belonged to ponies, but that didn’t stop Iridescence from going to pieces, “Are those pony bones? Oh no, they are, aren’t they. Why would somepony do this?” she could be a real drama queen if you let her.
After a brief moment of reassurance that it wasn’t, I was positive, as bad as she thought, she simmered down, even if she did look a little sick. It smelled terrible, and it didn’t look much better, but it was evident that these body parts mostly belonged to smaller beings, especially now in the crisp morning light. Beyond the fryers was a small hallway leading to a bathroom and break room.
I almost fell to my knees when I saw the first aid kit in the bathroom. I really did fall to my knees when I tried to get it open with my magic and realised that it was locked (one part relief, one part exhaustion), “just wait there, I’ll do it!” she asserted while I lay helpless in the doorway, resting in a pool of what I could only guess was vomit.
“Chunky yellow goes pretty well with white linoleum,” I gagged and added what little was still in my stomach after saying this: I was a sick pony. The pain coupled with the epiphany that I was sitting in somepony’s previous lunch made me heave. Iridescence inhaled sharply and started working at the box again, determined to find out what was in it. After coughing and turning my nose away from the mess I was situated in, I added, “y’know I may not be the most intelligent pony on the planet, and I’ll bet it’s been said before, but isn’t a locked emergency medical kit kind of the antithesis of a, well... an emergency medical kit?” Iridescence ignored me and kept going until it finally clicked open.
“Somepony had tried breaking it apart first, but these are made better than I thought possible,” she nickered while giving me the contents of the healing receptacle, “I thought they were made of plastic, but the dents from the bullets say otherwise,” she rambled for a minute while I swiftly finished off two of three healing potions (berry punch flavour?), my wounds already closing around the pistol rounds. I made a mental note to get those out later. How anticlimactic.
When my breathing had slowed to a normal rate and Iridescence’ eyes weren’t plates, I inspected the rest of the supplies. We had one healing potion, which I gave to my companion to fix up her leg, a syringe of Med-X, some surgical tape, and two rolls of healing bandages. I kept them all in my saddlebags, Iridescence knowing even less than me about how they worked. Or at least, that’s the impression she made with all of the mystified looks and endless questions she was giving and asking as I sorted through the materials.
She looked and sounded like an idiot.
The air nipped at my nose, blowing in from all the cracks and holes in the room. There was a toilet smashed apart in the corner, and a sink in equally bad condition. Nothing else worth our time in this room. As we made our way to the lounge room, I noticed that it was both the neatest and warmest room, insulated by patches of cardboard along the walls. Makeshift beds of cloth and degenerating newspapers were placed around the furniture that had been shoved into corners. There was a soda and ammunition vending machine to one side.
“Wait, an ammunition vending machine? In a lounge room for chain restaurant workers? What...” I cocked my head, and Iridescence looked them over more closely, pulling out the loose bullet or two hidden in the shadows and underneath the machines and couches, bouncing.
“Never know when you’ll need these, huh?” she was almost jovial as she scampered around the room looking for the odd munitions cartridge, thoughts of me dying apparently far away. She floated them up one at a time in her strangely pale-rainbow magic as she found them, her flank in the air, tail swishing around, “see?” she beamed and showed me bullets of various calibers, one of just about everything, ranging from what I guessed was a .22 to a colossal shell that could probably rip a pony apart simply by being in the general vicinity. (How could anypony miss that thing?)
“Right. I’ll make certain to use that big one as a bomb later,” I joked. She took me seriously and backed up, eyebrows raised. I rolled my eyes and wandered through to the centre of the room.
“Hey, um, there’s one of those ammo boxes behind the chairs over there,” she pointed with her horn, a new and awkward thing for her. While I was doing this, the repeating two dozen or so songs stopped and was replaced with a pleasing, masculine voice. Of course, I stopped to listen.
“Hey, children! Listen up, ‘cause it’s time... for the morning news! That’s right it’s your favourite time of the day. The time when you learn if your favourite town was sacked in a raid or not,” shuffling papers by the microphone, “so first off, our favourite li’l stable dweller’s on her way to do some good things, and has hitched a train! Won’t be long ‘till some actual good is done around here! Second, we got Security makin’ more of her name for herself in the Hoof, and a Reaper by the name o’ Deus is on her tail. Everypony, remember to pray for her in her time of need. She’s gonna need it with all that firepower after her!” DJ-PON3 cleared his throat, “oh, and as a side note, there’s a new pony out there, fresh from ‘is own stable. News is delayed from the SCC and Hoof Feathers area, and this is the first time in a long while anything worth noting’s happened up their, we got ourselves a special report! Listen ta this: the stallion’s got himself a run-in with a band of hunters and raiders in the same day! Now, that’s not too uncommon, as everypony knows, but he took the hunting party by surprise on top of Black Mesa Peak, the one and only spot on the map that isn’t everfree with living trees, said to be the easiest spot to defend in the area: it’s got that nice slope, the trees for cover from above, and there’s a whole one way up! They had the advantage, a whole five ponies, and he took one, and let the others go... can you believe that? When does that happen? Never! That’s when! The rule is that if you’re caught with your tail up, you’re fucked in the Equestrian Wasteland. But he convinced the four remaining ponies to befriend ‘em, too! I wish I could make friends with light conversation!” I was starting to blush, previously only a concept. I was pretty damned sure he was referring to me, but I didn’t deserve... well... any acknowledgement. Well... maybe just a little.
“But if that wasn’t enough, the badass that is The Doctor proceeded to take out a whole diner full of Diamond Dogs. Yeah, yeah, those guys are pussies, and probably the weakest band o’ thugs the wasteland’s ever seen, but he let two, and yes, I mean two live! They sure did scram: word is, the next several diners to the west’ve been warned. Keep your eyes out, and your body covered, Doctor n’ Company (yes, I’m talking to you, little filly,) it gets mighty cold at night out that-a-way. And now, back to Sweetie Belle, singin’ ‘bout the royal wedding she attended when she was just a tot.” How in Equestria... did he know...? How did... Why did...? Who? So many questions. I’d kill for some answers.
By the moonlight,
There will be,
And love sees,
true love can see,
Again, I didn’t feel all that original, but I was pretty sure I didn’t deserve this. Unfortunately I didn’t have anything on the DJ, his broadcast definitely proven to be original, so my personal inquiries would have to wait for a different time. I was, however, starting to get a feel for where I was in the wasteland. Somewhere in the general vicinity of a place called Hoof Feathers, and maybe somewhere called the SCC.
I took one look at the ammo box, saw the lock, and like an idiot, reacted with a shot from OW. I think I sealed the thing permanently shut. At least, there wasn’t going to be any way of opening it without setting off the ammo inside. I gave it to Iridescence who looked appalled at how poorly I’d treated the ammo case. There were some things I would just never understand, “I just don’t know what went wrong,” I offered, giving a pleading smile.
“At least it didn’t explode in his face,” she groaned to herself, “I don’t think this is going to get fixed any time soon. So I wouldn’t count on bringing it along. Good work, Doctor Bebop,” she’d used sarcasm successfully for the first time in quite a while, and made an attempt at a jest with what I’d been dubbed. I never really even considered that my cutie mark stood for anything. It looked more like glyphs, and it only showed up in one textbook we had in the stable. Somepony recognized it, I had started to doubt it and somepony recognized it... and no matter how much it weirded me out, I was thankful, “so how do you think he knew? I never thought you’d be on the news. Well, I was in the news, too, but more importantly, you got a whole two minutes about you on the air! That is so. Awesome!” she was practically giddy. Hadn’t this Watcher fellow mentioned something about better weapons and barding? Truthfully, all that other crap was in such bad condition, I thought that what we were wearing was probably better than anything these ponies had. Their weapons were in such poor condition that it wouldn’t be worth our time to salvage any of it.
I shrugged off what Iridescence was rambling on about and continued about the room. There was a map in the corner with a single circled-multiple-times dot in the far left corner. Salt Cube City. That question got answered quickly. SCC. I hmmed and sat on my haunches, looking at the map. It was so badly outlined that I hadn’t a clue where it was relative to our location. According to the compass rose, it was in the north, and from what I could gather, we were in the north, but not too far. I could tell, even with the aged parchment the map was made on, that the SCC area was covered in what must have been... snow? I’d make that number two on my places-to-see-before-I-die list.
When I looked down from the map, I heard a click and my pipbuck had put the location far north of where we were. Really far. Like, month-away-on-hoof far. If I was sprinting. And didn’t stop to rest. And had some serious motivation. Like Nightmare Moon, “well, I know what I want to do one of these days, but not anytime soon,” I announced to nopony in particular. Actually, with my luck, that place didn’t have snow any more. Or it was a crater. Or I was seeing ash instead of storybook material amazingness.
I needed to figure out how to fix up barding. Or get somepony else to do it.
As we were walking out, I noticed the one– raider, had DJ called it? –With the well-worn scientist outfit. It was double-thick and if it was anything like the ones in the stable, it was resistant to acid and lightly lead-lined. It also made you feel really ‘science-y’ when you wore it. While this had been subject to the environment for years, it was in pretty good condition. At least it wasn’t full of bullet holes. I asked Iridescence if she wanted it first, and she shook her head. I took off the torn welder-pony barding showing my frustrating blue coat. If only this thing had been black. I was beginning to dress to fit my meta-ego.
Then Iridescence did something unexpected. She ripped bits of it off and padded her own barding with it. While it may not have done much, I was fairly certain it would be better than a citizen’s jumpsuit, “common sense,” she smiled. The scientist outfit was a little heavy, but it was warm, and worked doubly as a jacket. I felt sorry for Iridescence, going into the wind with just her stopgap stable barding.
On our way out, in a shelf compartment under the cashier counter, I noticed a cache of the strangest syringes and tablets I’d ever seen. I wasn’t too keen on injecting myself with anything called dash, and buck looked to be a bit overkill, the side-effects listed being somewhere between hazardous and downright lethal. But the mentats caught my eye. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen a tin of those. I’d only ever used them once, and they didn’t taste very good, but I needed to pass that test and... it didn’t end too well. Taking pharmaceuticals to compensate for personal deficiencies wasn’t on my to-do list. Maybe you should be compensating for what you lack.
I stuck them in my bag. Buck in particular ringing up a fair price in whatever currency it had defaulted to. I’d gotten slightly better armor out of this, and a bit of goods to what I surmised I would be using as trade. Ammo, too if you counted the miscellany of munitions Iridescence had collected.
You could hear the wind whistling around the corner and over the rooftop. The sky was cloudy, and I only had one place to go. The ‘Pinky Pie is Watching You Forever’ billboard was casting its shadow across the road in the morning light. Utterly depressing. No wonder the ponies I’d met so far were as... eldritch as they were: like they all had the Med-X blues.
Walkin’ down the highway, my ears had started to freeze and Iridescence was shivering. It was wide open and freezing out there on the road. Just about no way to hide out here. We were the only ones for miles, for what I could see... “Hi there!” a metallic, scratchy voice got me from behind.
I jumped about as high as I was standing up straight, “Celes’cha damnit to hell! Don’t do that, you stupid robot,” I said it as more of a quip, but they both (stared?) at me in silence for a long while before anyone said anything. Turned out that anyone had to be me, “sorry about that, I’m not usually so quick to anger, I’m just on edge after being shot more times than I ever had in my life,” completely true, one had to admit.
“Right,” the steel insect continued, “so I saw what you did back there. You made quick work of them and then let them go. Now I’m not going to lie to you, or keep secrets, so I’ll be outright and admit that I’ve helped a few others, too. You’re not the first. You’re probably not that last. But don’t think you aren’t unique: you are the first to come face-to-face with raiders and let any live out of simple courtesy. You also haven't made any major fuck-ups recently, so congratulations.” That last comment made me think.
“I’m sorry, but do I understand that y’all expect me to screw up somewhere along the line? ‘Cause that’s not somethin’ I plan on doing anytime soon. I almost did back there, but I didn’t, so everything’s good,” I made my case plain and simple. I expected a straight answer.
I didn’t really get one, “it is expected that anypony I ask for help to learn along the way. Some make immeasurable and or innumerable mistakes. I know ponies that have killed millions out of the kindness of their heart and good intentions. I know some that have made small mistakes and made them out to be worse than they were. Regardless, they are better off for them than they were,” he sounded a bit like what I pictured a medicine bull of a buffalo tribe would. They probably didn’t exist any more.
“Thanks for the enthusiasm and all, but we need to get going,” Iridescence voiced for me, “the next town is supposed to be down this road a ways,” thank goddesses she could speak for me sometimes.
“And I’ll let you get right to that in a minute, but there’s one more thing I need to tell you. It’s about virtues,” I was completely confused,
“What’s a virtue? I mean, the definition is ‘a quality considered morally good’ and whatnot, but somethin’s tellin’ me that’s not quite what you’re after,” I made my best guess.
“My, aren’t you perceptive? Yes, what I’m telling you about does involve a personal trait considered morally good, but you need to find... your own. Ever heard of the six elements of harmony?” Watcher was getting in pretty deep.
“Yeah,” Iridescence and I answered simultaneously.
“This has little to do with that,” my eye twitched in irritation.
“What’s this about, then?” My pink companion was starting to turn red with annoyance, whereas my tail was starting to flick from side to side.
“While you may have one of those six special virtues, it is not at all unlikely that yours is different and more complex than just honesty or laughter. Can you imagine finding a pony with either of those out here? Back to my point: I’m savvy to your limited experiences out here, but I’ll bet you’ve already heard about virtues somewhere, and I’ll bet you noticed that it most likely wasn’t one of the six you learned about as colt and...” Watcher paused and swivelled to face Iridescence, “well, you’re still a filly,” he chuckled harshly through the robot without cadence or inflection. He was right about me hearing about them. It wasn’t as though I was completely unknowledgeable about these things.
Iridescence huffed and turned around, unwilling to face the metal bug. I got a good laugh out of it, too, “something like ‘don’t kill those that have helped you,’ it’s like loyalty, or maybe an offshoot of honesty in some cases, but it’s a bit less pure than that. Understand?”
“Sorta,” I replied, glancing back to the sulking pink pony, “so the strongest of virtues are the main 6?” I thought I had it.
“Not necessarily,” damn it, “I don’t have long on account of these spritebots having great technicians monitoring them, but to be clear, you need to find your own virtue so that you can hold onto yourself. It doesn’t sound like a big deal now, but–” he was abruptly cut off and replaced by absurdly patriotic music, heavy on the drum. Too bad I’ll never really know what he was going to say.
As the recently dubbed spritebot drifted away, Iridescence turned back to me, “can we go now? I’m cold,” she walked up to me and nuzzled my neck, something I hadn’t expected.
I coughed and looked away before answering, “sure, let’s keep going,” my scientist coat waving in the wind. By the time we reached any kind of shelter, we would be icicles.
Sometime before dusk, the wind stopped blowing, and it became calm, a faintly lit town could be seen in the distance. The entire rest of the day had been nothing but walking. We had encountered little more than dust and advertisements for sparkle cola along the road. Just as it looked as though we would be sleeping in the open, a dilapidated eatery reared its ugly head on the horizon, originally hidden behind a curtain of sand.
When we entered, there wasn’t much to speak of except radroaches. The only reason I knew what they were was because when we saw them splatter open, it showed the same unpalatable “meat” from two days earlier when we’d encountered the hunters and borrowed half their food.
There wasn’t much inside: every side room had, for all intents and purposes, imploded in upon itself. A previously opened medical supply container had been tossed on the floor, pink butterflies face-up. There were bullet casings laying around, which Iridescence deftly picked up and stored for later. I had no idea what you could do with the leftovers from a bullet. As far as I was concerned, the answer was ‘nothing.’ My partner sure seemed to have it down, though.
When I’d laid out the blanket across a ratty bed roll I found in the corner, I facehoofed, “I forgot the book and magazines. Stupid, stupid, stupid!” I struck myself repeatedly, wishing for reading material. Iridescence stopped me and pushed me toward the bed. She wanted to keep watch first. I agreed and watched the sun set.
The cracked glass offered a fascinating show of orange and red dust motes moving through the air. It was beautiful, and I tried to grab one with my magic, but I could only succeed in getting ahold of a group of them. I just wasn’t good enough. No focus.
I let my eyes drift closed and– hey, why was Iridescence watching me with that smug grin on her face? I stopped caring. It didn’t really matter. I stayed awake for just a bit longer, my eyes kept shut, and heard her approach me. I half expected her to shoot me, or punch me. And I was ready to get back up at the drop of a needle, but nothing happened. Somepony clicked off my radio, singing of melancholy days, and nuzzled my ear before walking away. I was too tired to wonder about anything.
03:03. Iridescence tapped me on the back until I stayed awake, “it’s your turn,” she said wearily, her eyes already closing, collapsing onto the filthy bedroll. It was fine. I would watch everything. I would keep us safe. Always you, isn’t it? Iridescence wouldn’t be getting as much sleep as I did, I guessed. I almost wished she’d let me take watch earlier.
Wind whipped about on the outside, creating a symphony of howls and whistles. The building creaked and moaned. Creepy would have been a simple euphemism. I went through our packs, sorting and rearranging. My OW, her 10mm, plenty of paste food. I squeezed out a bit and ate it. Bland. I took a drink and noted how thirsty I had been. Iridescence had already been in the packs and done the same.
Upon closer inspection, it looked as though my friend had also been taking apart and putting her weapon back together while I had been resting. She had done a sloppy job and her weapon looked as though it might jam the next time it fired; loose bolts and screws galore. At least she was familiarizing herself with something I was certain she’d be using almost every day from now on.
This place was really dull. There wasn’t any way to see other than using the feeble light emanating from my pipbuck. Probably why Iridescence had messed up so badly. When I checked the pipbuck, the condition rating was really low, and worth a minimal amount of money. (Again and again, I have to think HOW DOES IT DO THAT?) A glance around the room and nothing but black and moldy furniture. My pipbuck didn’t read any life other than the dusty pink pony in the corner.
I could see my breath.
This was the coldest I’d ever been, and after incisive meditation I formulated that it was incredibly uncomfortable. I had no idea how to start a fire. I traced the cracks in the floor with the tip of my hoof, my horn, my nose. I felt the boredom could’ve been described as borderline esoteric. Even with my lamp spell, it didn’t light up enough of anything to do much good. It was just obnoxious when shined into my eyes.
I mused to myself for several minutes about what I was supposed to do later. Did I want to go to this town? To the place or person called Hoof Feathers? What did I think about Iridescence, and what did I feel like doing now? There wasn’t anything stopping me from doing what I’d always wanted to, the glyph on my flank telling me, calling to me, directing me. I could help ponies out here that needed it.
I didn’t really know what a cutie mark did, I just knew why it was there. Some ponies didn’t. Iridescence’ was two crossed paintbrushes, a dot forming at the point where they touched. I traced every bit of it with my eyes for a stretch, that is, until I realised that I was staring at her rear the entire time.
I knew why Iridescence’ mark was there, I knew what it (probably) stood for. But then there was mine. I thought I knew what my talent was. I thought I knew what I was good at, what my destiny was. Just a white symbol sitting there on my flank. Taking up space, as it were. What would we do once we got to the town? Tell everypony it was okay to live there? Just head on back to stable 34? Questions. Questions racing through my head. I watched my breath, suspended in the air, dissipate slowly. I stretched, feeling the lead under my skin. I shuddered. Because of the cold or the odd sensation of something that didn’t belong, I wasn’t certain. Maybe both.
I watched Iridescence’ ribs rise and fall with every breath. I thought about the next town. I’d have to ask people there if they could let twelve more ponies stay. If there were ponies as keen on keeping their territory as the Diamond Dogs, I’d bet they wouldn’t let them stay there. Unless maybe... I wasn’t sure. I was just going on hope. I hoped a lot of things would happen.
I listened to my mother’s last recording. A momento?
I flipped on the radio. Big band playing this morning. No news. I found myself thinking about the Stable Dweller and Security figures he’d mentioned. Who were they, what kind of ponies were they? Did they have virtues? Of course they do. Everypony else seems to have one. Except you and Iridescence. Maybe everypony else had a virtue. It was still but but an enigma to me. I didn’t care. I didn’t need anything to keep my mind on track. So arrogant.
I breathed on the fractured glass. I drew my cutie mark and watched it fade. I drew myself and Iridescence, side by side, wandering down the road at what I would forevermore recognize as sunset. A cartoon sun from a child’s book in the background. I daydreamed, desiring a happy life.
The wind stopped suddenly.
I took another bite of the paste. Nearly ice. At some point, I had turned off my radio. A song I’d heard once as a colt played through my mind instead. Its sadness, ironically uplifting. I hummed along, matching the rhythm and pace from what I remembered. It was jazz. I loved jazz.
A bass, xylophone, drums, guitar. I didn’t know how most ponies would play these instruments. I ignored the triviality of it all and started singing it to myself quietly. As it came to a close, the outside was filled with a stunning pink light. It was foggy this morning, but everything glowed rosily in the morning radiance. 07:49.
I couldn’t believe I’d been awake that long. It invoked within me a sadness that I did not know existed. I had not been aware that I could be as melancholy. I was disconsolate, not moving, tears forming in my eyes. My throat hurt, and I wasn’t sick. It was the first time in my life that I was moved by the sheer ineffable existence of everything. I would be tempted to call it an existential crisis if.
I hummed the song over and over until the sun had risen well beyond the ridge. Until Iridescence got up on her own accord. She looked at me, sleep in her eyes, “what are you smiling for?” I didn’t know what to tell her, “you have a nice voice when you’re not using it to be sarcastic and a smartass,” she looked away and got to her hooves.
I grinned and said, “today will be a good day,” I shoved her playfully while she shivered in the frigid dawn air. Frost had formed on the windows. It looked like what formed on drinks if they got cold. Our hooves click-clacked on the floor as we got our things and opened the door. Once agape, our teeth started chattering. I could get used to it, though. As uneventful as yesterday was, I assured myself today would be different. I could get something done worth both of our times.
The cold, wet air hung to my scientist outfit, and dripped from Iridescence’ patchwork barding. Everything about it was beautiful. The town was a grey outline in the distance. Within reach, yet too far away to... to what? Uncertainty plagued my every thought. My partner kept close and turned on my radio for me. An unfamiliar song. Very optimistic and bullish; a foil to my present thoughts.
It ended and as it was fading out, somepony else practically faded in. “...Mmmmmm’ello, Equestrian Wastland! It’s DJ-PON3, bringin’ you the news, no matter how bad it hurts. –heh heh– First thing’s first, children, the little town o’ Sunset’s been havin’ some trouble with the Incendiary Gangers. Apparently, they’ve been housin’ somepony they’re after and they won’t say where he is. Kind-hearted, that town. But that’s what it’s been like for a few days, their current situation is as of yet unknown,” there was a long enough pause that I considered the possibility that the station had gone off air. Iridescence and I kept trotting down the foggy highway, the way stretching forward soundlessly, “don’t think I’ve forgotten about our favourite little saviour, she’s been up to some real good, here recently. Fixed that whole situation down at Old Appleoosa. She’s gotten her hooves on several would-be slaves and is transporting them back to New Appleoosa. Not too sure how well that’s gonna work out, but only time will tell.”
This guy was really easy to listen to, “now we’ve got Security runnin’ errands. Ain’t she a doll, doin’ chores for all sorts o’ ponies that need ‘em done. Last I heard, she was thinkin’ o’ gettin’ some radscorpion poison glands for– get this– a casserole! Whatever stallion can get to her first, consider yourself the luckiest bastard in all of Equestria!” These figures he spoke of, they were what everypony should be, but weren’t, “from now on, I’d also like ta let you know that The Doctor has sparked my interest, and I’ll be checkin’ in on him and his friend on occasion. That is, whenever the signal works over that way. So far, it seems like he’s taken a hiatus. Well, that companion of his is probably keepin’ ‘im busy. She’s cute enough, but has some father issues if that’s what she’s goin’ for. A bit young-lookin’,” I turned to Iridescence and her eyes had widened to the point that that alone was enough to make me laugh. Even this pony I’d never met before was thinking along the same lines. He trailed off and the music started up again. I snickered to myself for the next several minutes before the painter pony said anything. Her cheeks were bright red.
“It’s not funny,” she whimpered. I rolled my eyes.
“It sure-as-Discord is for me,” I smiled and turned to her, mane drooping over her face, dew forming on the tips, “I saw you messed with your gun,” she looked up at me.
“Sor–” I cut her off.
“No. You’re not. That, and curiosity is a good thing. You’re more into those than I am. This thing I have here,” I unsheathed OW and showed her the simplicity of the weapon, blocky, and without an aim sight, “is so easy to use, I don’t even have to think about it. You on the other hoof, have to work your brain a bit harder to use it, even if it’s a only a little bit, it’s still more than me,” I offered. She took it and flipped her frown around.
“You’re so nice to me...” she started and went silent. I raised an eyebrow and turned to her. No reaction, just walking. We kept going. We remained mute for the next hour. We cut paths in the fog at times, and at others, the town was clear enough to make out vague details. (An oxymoron of sorts, yes.) My E.F.S. kept watch over everything. At some point, we reached a small crater. We were just over the ridge of the town now. Inside was a refrigerator. Inside of that was a pile of bones. Upon said bones was a hat. A very nice hat. I wasn’t sure if nopony had touched it out of respect, or legitimately never seen it. The fact that the hat was still on, alone was enough to make me want to take it. It looked... suave. I would have it. Without any permission, I took it and placed it firmly on my head. I now looked like something between an explorer and scientist. The pipbuck labelled it, Suave Adventurer Hat. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The town wasn’t guarded, and was composed of various trailers and ranches, things I’d read about but never seen. Laying around the town were vines that looked a bit like what I’d pictured melons as in miniature. Cracked asphalt and dirt lined the streets. (All two of ‘em.) There was a restaurant at the opposite end of the outskirts of town. As I looked at it more closely, it was situated inside a sort of bowl in the earth. A large wooden sign marked two houses right next to each other. “Docter” and “Mayer.” Apparently, nopony could spell in this town. My obsessive compulsive disorder was kicking in.
Before anything else, I went straight to the signs and... sat there. I didn’t know what to do with dried paint. I hadn’t a clue about where to even start! I asked Iridescence to come over and do... whatever it was that she did. Without even breaking a sweat, she liquified the paint and rearranged the e’s to make o’s. There was no one out to watch. It was cold enough to understand.
I peeked at the windows. From what I could tell, half the houses were inhabited. Good news for the former residents of 34. The main buildings of commerce were most likely the bar; talking could be heard from outside, Iridescence stayed by the window, hunkered down so she could listen in on other pony’s conversations. I didn’t care much for that and let her be. The other was a shop. Closed, “from 8 p.m to whenever I wake up. Maybe 7 a.m. maybe 3 a.m. maybe noon. Depends on how much I was drinking,” it got smaller and smaller on the board until it was scrunched together on one end in red paint. It was closed. 11:20: must’ve had a party.
Only one thing left to do. I sauntered on up to the mayor’s building and knocked three times. The brown-maned and blue pony opened the door. His most defining characteristic was his mustache. It was crazy. There were no other words to describe it, “hello. What can I do ya for?” he sounded perfectly pleased that he had someone to talk to.
“Hi. I’m The Doctor, and that over there,” I pointed to my companion, crouched idiotically under a window, “is my associate.”
Hoofnote: Level up!
Perk: Entomologist: Your close attention to behavioural patterns allows you to deal an extra 50% damage against insects! (How about that?!)