Chapter 15: Arguing with the Neighbors
"It even glows in the dark!"
Lots of it. It didn't look like we were going to find a way out of this damn subway tunnel any time soon, and this way was starting to look like a bust. I didn't want to lead a herd of crippled ponies through this much of the stuff. The radiation had crept up to four rads a second, and that was a lot higher than I was comfortable with, although it was charging my spark battery quickly, and that was a big plus. I downed another RadAway. It was a good thing Stable Four had a reasonable supply of them.
The density of rubble on the floor had increased from the occasional stone or fragment of concrete to a general carpeting of the area, so much so that it was impossible to take a step without sending a small piece clattering away. There was a path of sorts through the middle of the debris, but Lee was walking on that. The fragments of concrete and rock were throwing dozens of sharp shadows, radiating out from us, growing and shrinking in a cyclic fashion, as the light from our Pipgirls rose and fell with each step we took. Eventually, some reflections appeared ahead, indication some sort of obstruction. As we walked closer, I was barely able to make out the form of a subway train. The lack of decent lighting was becoming frustrating.
"Lee, I'm about to start projecting some light from my horn," I announced.
"Your point being?" she replied.
"So don't go bloody shooting me when all of a sudden there is a burst of light you didn't expect!" I responded. There was no point taking chances with Loopy Lee. As far as I was concerned, she was still a stranger, and as such unpredictable. How I wished she would turn back into the Lee I knew and loved: my mother.
My horn flared as I dropped my Cybercorn carbine spells, casting a wide beam ahead of me. I could now see that the roof of the subway had collapsed, cocooning the railway car that protruded from it. Rubble heaped to each side prevented us from going around the subway car, but the door to it was open, suggesting that there may be a way through. In fact, the door wasn't just open; it had been knocked from its hinges and was now forming a convenient ramp. I scrambled across the debris, up the door, and into the car, Lee following behind. I allowed the light from my horn to drop to a much lower level, more appropriate to the enclosed space. The floor below my hooves showed considerable wear, its material worn all the way through to the bare metal below. The worn track extended further into the car, so I followed it. I had to duck and weave a little to get past partially collapsed sections of the car's roof. Lee found it a little more difficult being taller, but it wasn't that hard. The invalid ponies would be able to get past, though wheelchairs such as Lana's might present a problem. Beyond that, the floor of the car itself was distorted, dropping down, forming a ramp. I followed the worn track out the door at the other end and found myself in a cave like tunnel formed of parts of destroyed subway cars, concrete, rocks and rubble. It angled down, then leveled out, a dozen paces ahead.
Pausing, I let my light spell drop. When Lee finished scrambling down beside me, silence fell over us. I could hear noise coming from further ahead, and there was some light, albeit a bit odd in color.
"There's a light source ahead. Maybe we have found our way out of here," I commented.
"I'll check it out," Lee replied as she scrambled down the rubble.
I followed, noticing the rate on my radiation counter shot up as I did. As I slithered to a stop at the bottom of the ramp, I could clearly make out the sickly balefire glow of the area ahead of me, and could see the dozens of zombie ponies just standing there, basking in it. Shit, it was a zombie recharge station, for the lack of a better description. It was a balefire bomb crater of sorts. A bomb must have gone off on the surface above, causing the subway to collapse. Almost immediately, I felt extremely ill. The RAD warning had lit on my E.F.S. again, so I opened the status menu to check my radiation level. What the hell? It was six hundred and thirty something and rising rapidly! And Lee was several paces ahead of me. We were dead if we stayed here even seconds longer, even if the zombies didn't attack.
"Run Lee," I croaked, "Deadly radiation levels."
I immediately turned and staggered back up the ramp of rubble, into the crushed subway car. The nausea was growing by the moment. Even though my eyes were cybernetic, it was becoming hard to see, though that was more of a symptom of imminent death than of the radiation itself. I tried to pull some RadAway from the first aid compartment of my battle saddle, but was unable to get even the simplest magic to work. In desperation, I turned my head back, and pulled the hatch open with my teeth, extracting a pack of RadAway. As I reached the level section of the subway car, my legs went out from under me, sending me sprawling into the car's mangled seats. I put my remaining strength into opening the RadAway and trying to drink some of it. As my consciousness was fading, I felt a strong set of teeth clamp around my barding behind my neck, then something or someone started dragging me away.
Some semblance of consciousness returned long enough for me to try to vomit my guts out. Once I had finished heaving, I lay still, exhausted. Wherever I was, it was dark, so at least I wasn't down with the zombies in that balefire hell. Shit, that was assuming I hadn't gone blind. I tried calling to Lee, but no sound came out of my mouth. If she had been nearby, she would probably have responded to my vomiting by now anyway, so I guessed she wasn't there. I could still hear the ticking of the radiation meter, so I activated my Pipgirl status menu. Ah, I couldn't be blind, after all I could see my Eyes Forward Sparkle. I was just too accustomed to its permanent presence. I selected the radiation menu. It showed how miserable my situation was. Radiation resistance had dropped to almost nothing again, meaning that I needed to take some Rad-X, and my radiation level was in the mid six hundreds and slowly climbing. I had already as many rads again as the last dose of RadAway had removed.
In the distance I heard the distinctive clunks of Lee's gauss rifle as she fired over and over again. So that's where she was. She must be dealing with all of those zombies. I wondered if she was trying to get to me. No. She was firing away from us. Perhaps we were out in the subway tunnel again. If that was the case, it was too bad she had no way to collapse the crushed subway car and seal them all down there. I heard Lee yelling something unintelligible and the horrible zombie gurgling screams. The stupid mare probably needed help. Well, she did need help, but I meant in dealing with the zombies. With some difficulty, I reached back to my first aid compartment and extracted some Rad-X and RadAway. I cracked open the Rad-X first, sucking it up via its integral straw. It made more sense to me to reduce the rate at which I was getting irradiated first. The best option would be to simply not be here. I would have to ask Lee why she went back, assuming she had gone back. Maybe she was shooting zombies coming from the direction of Stable Four. I had totally lost any sense of direction, and my brain was having trouble equating the relationship between my E.F.S. and reality. As soon as I had finished the Rad-X I started on the RadAway. The magic in that potion reduced my radiation level down to the mid five hundreds. Now I was only extremely sick. Moments later I was heaving out the potion all over my forelegs, as my stomach decided it didn't want to hold anything. Shit! I glanced at my radiation levels, expecting them to have jumped back up, but they remained in the mid five hundreds, and my radiation resistance had not dropped. Ah, so the spells in the potion had already done their work in that short time. I guess I was so irradiated, that the magic didn't have to go far to find radiation damage to heal. I reached back to my first aid compartment again, and was somewhat disturbed to find I only had one RadAway left. There was no point in saving it for later though, because I really needed it now, and any immediate improvement in my condition was worth while. I sucked it down, praying that my stomach would hold it until the spells had done their work.
Lee had been further into the balefire den than I had, so I wondered how she was faring. The constant firing from her gauss gun indicated that she was at least up and about. With some effort, I climbed back onto my feet, and looked around. I could see the glow from her Pipgirl, and the flashes her Gauss rifle was throwing up.
"Lee," I croaked, coughing, "Lee, lets get the hell out of here!"
The gauss rifle fired twice more before she replied. "Start walking, I'm behind you!"
"Which way do we have to go?" I managed, my irradiated brain having trouble with the concept of behind when clearly she was ahead of me.
"Walk away from me," she called back, firing again. "I'm shooting these bastards as they exit the subway car."
Okay, so we were out in the subway again. It must have been her that dragged me off as I was passing out. I started away from her, staggering and shuffling as vertigo set in hard. "So why are we so near the subway car still? Oh, because you had to drag me."
"We aren't near it. We're about two hundred paces down the tunnel from there," she replied. "I'm sniping red marks on my E.F.S. Must have shot forty of the bloody things already, though I can't be sure some of them aren't just getting up again."
"So why did you stop here?" I asked continuing my drunken mare's walk along the tracks, tripping, then righting myself again.
"Some of them nearly caught up, so I had to drop you and start shooting. Those ones are now smeared all over the walls. Shoot 'em in the head and they tend to explode. If you only hit soft tissue, it just puts a hole through them, and they get up again. I thought I'd try to deal with the rest since I was already shooting." She paused to fire two more slugs down the tunnel. "I'm getting low on energy cells though. How are you for ammo?"
"Plenty for the Cybercorn Carbine, but it's a pity I'm too sick to fire it. A few rounds left for the shotgun, and a few left for the Sniper rifle, although I'm too sick to use that too. What about you? How are you holding out with the radiation?" I asked
"I don't know. I didn't look," she admitted.
"You what? Are you crazy? You were down in balefire bomb crater longer than I was! Look it up now."
After a few more moments, Lee spoke again. "Wow, Twelve hundred and thirty five and climbing! Impressive!"
I nearly fell flat on my face in surprise. "How aren't you totally dead yet? Shit, don't tell me you are turning into a ghoul... Quick, get some RadAway into you!"
"As far as I can tell, I'm still human, er... pony," Lee responded, her voice sounding exactly like it always did. I could hear her rummaging in her battle saddle's storage compartment. "Ah, here we go. I have five packs. Do you want any?"
"As much as I need some, you need it a lot more. Drink. It. All. Now! And some Rad-X too." I instructed her. "Weren't you sick? Aren't you nauseous?"
"I did lose my lunch a while ago, but other than that I'm feeling fine."
A gurgled scream and some rapidly approaching squishy sounding hoof steps indicated one of the zombies that had evaded Lee's barrage was catching up to us. It wasn't hard to spot either, as it was glowing with the same disgusting light I had seen down in the bomb crater. As Lee was currently busy drinking RadAway, I hit S.A.T.S., rather than risk shooting in my less than healthy state, and targeted the glowing zombie with three successive shots to the head from my saddle mounted combat shotgun, praying that the zombie wouldn't take cover behind Lee before the spell was over. I hit the execute, and went along for the ride as the spell took my body through the required motions. All shots were good, blowing away great chunks of glowing flesh, but it didn't take the zombie down. It stopped, arching its back, its internal glow increasing. Shit, the thing was about to explode, or whatever these things did. The last thing I needed was another bath in radiation. I took rough aim and squeezed off as many shots as I could. The thing's head parted from its shoulders on about my fourth shot, fortunately before it could release its burst of radiation.
I hit the reload spell, and was rather annoyed to find I had an incomplete load of only nine shots left. That would only be good for one zombie, two if I was lucky. Lee trotted past me, getting away from the glowing corpse.
"Have you taken all that RadAway yet?" I asked.
"No. It's hard to trot and hold medication at the same time," she responded. Of all the stupid times for her to insist on being a quadruped, this was it.
"As much as I hate to say it, go bipedal, and hold the stuff in your magic fingers," I said.
"With my gauss rifle mounted on my battle saddle, I can't shoot while standing up," she complained. "There isn't enough movement in the gimbals for me to aim."
"You can't shoot while you are running away either, and that is exactly what we should be doing," I yelled, trying to increase my own somewhat unstable gait. Behind us I could hear more of the zombies had emerged from their den, and were starting to chase us. We had a lot of subway to cover before we reached the stable again. With any luck we would get near it before the zombies caught up with us. We would probably survive two or three catching up with us with our current ammunition levels, but beyond that, it would get ugly, and painful.
After what seemed like an eternity of staggering forward in a world that caused my mind and stomach to churn with every step, I saw a strong light source ahead. We had already reached the section with the operational emergency lights, so it wasn't that. The color and shape of the light source was wrong for one of those nasty glowing zombies too. A dozen more steps forward I noticed that the light source had several shadowy forms behind it, and they were all approaching us. The squishy sounding hoof steps behind us were getting louder, and judging from the noises, there were at least half a dozen of the zombies there.
"Anne, Lee, GET DOWN," a strong male voice commanded.
Saffron. Yay. Getting down was easy, I simply stopped concentrating on running and let gravity deal with the problem. I slid to a stop in an ungainly heap, Lee dropping down next to me with somewhat more finesse. How she was standing up to that amount of radiation poisoning, I didn't know. Moments later there were the thumps and fwooshes of Saffron's grenade launcher. I was buffeted by the blasts, but not harmed. The screeching behind me indicated the zombies had fared somewhat worse. Then a number of ten millimeter submachine guns began firing over our heads, as did a couple of the stun guns taken from the stable's robots. More gurgling screeches resulted, followed by the wonderful silence of a concluded battle.
Several ponies approached us. There was Saffron, of course, and I could make out Lana, Ruby and Violet. Demi practically pounced on me, looking for injuries. It didn't take her long to realize what my problem was, especially as that was why I had sent her back to the stable. Moments later she was practically force feeding me from her own stash of RadAway.
"Let's get them inside," Saffron suggested, lifting me by the barding at the scruff of my neck, and depositing me across his back. I wriggled around a little to get free of his weapons, then tried to relax as he strode back towards the side passage, and Stable Four. The relaxing worked a little better than planned, and I soon passed out.
Waking up on a mattress on the floor of Level Eight of Stable Four, wrapped in the wing of a mutant earth pony was getting to be a habit. I didn't mind the "being wrapped in the wing of a mutant earth pony" part; in fact, I quite liked it. The part that was getting... well... wearing, was the miserable condition I kept getting myself into in the first place.
"Ugh," I managed. "That was a really freaky dream," I said referring to the distorted nightmare my mind had made of the events in the subway.
"Hello Anne, its good to have you awake again," Demi quietly stated. "I get so worried every time you won't wake up for a couple of days."
"Damn, I was out for that long again, was I?"
"Yes. You took way too much radiation this time," she explained.
"It's a good thing I sent you back with Saffron, isn't it?" I said.
"Yes," Demi agreed, "considering it nearly killed a cyborg, what chance would I have had? But then again, maybe I would have mutated and grown a second wing," she joked.
"You are lovely as you are, Demi. Now, is there anything that happened while I was asleep that I don't want to know about?" I asked.
"That's a strange way of putting it, but I don't think so, apart from us all still being trapped down here," she replied. "No one died. My booboo is all healed. Lee is as nutty as ever. No real change."
"What about her radiation? She had enough exposure to start glowing."
"Rusty, Cirrus and Shadow combined their magic to flush all the radiation from both of you, and then healed all of your cell damage. Lee was up and about immediately. In fact, she never really showed much sign of radiation sickness, apart from vomiting. It certainly didn't slow her down. Despite that, she hasn't turned into a ghoul or anything, but she does stink a bit. She really needs a good bath. She's been recharging old energy cells using the equipment down on the lower levels, and reloading all of the spent shotgun cartridges from the supplies the robots were hoarding. She may be nuts, but she sure is skilled," Demi answered.
"This strange version of Lee seems to have better weapons skills than she did when she was in her right mind... or her right mind was in her," I commented. "I'm concerned that she has changed forever. There hasn't been a hint of my mother's personality in so long now. And there is something decidedly odd with her. You saw how the first zombie we encountered thought she was a friend. When she was right down in the balefire crater with them, it didn't worry them. Only after she started shooting at them did they seem to go for her."
"How did they treat you," Demi asked. "Perhaps they were just friendly zombies?"
"They treated me in the exact same way they treated you: as a potential meal on hooves," I responded.
"That is weird," she agreed. "Not that they tried to eat us, that they didn't try to eat her, I mean."
"So, could you tell me what happened after you left us, please," I requested.
"Saffron and I went back to the stable. The door was still open, and a couple of the more curious mares had come out and were looking around in the tunnel. When we returned, we told them what was going on, and they decided that the immediate area was safe enough for their first excursion out of their lifelong prison, despite the gore, guts and zombie corpses that were all over the place. Some of the mares went to the rest area and were exploring it as if it was some new land. If it wasn't for the radiation, I think a few would have wanted to try camping there as a new experience!" Demi told me.
"I can remember leaving my stable, but I had already seen pictures and memory orbs of what it was like outside, so even though it was sort of new to me, it wasn't. I was too busy trying to escape to care about the newness, other than it making me cautious," I said, thinking back to my early days in the wasteland. I had probably passed right over Stable Four several times over the years.
"A few of them were more interested in coming out into the main tunnel to see the station, and to see if you were coming back yet. Lana and Violet were eager to try their wheelchairs in a real-world situation. When we had got back out to the station, and had a short look around the area, we heard Lee firing her gauss rifle a lot, so we figured you had encountered some trouble and started down the subway towards you."
"Thank goodness for that!" Their approach had stopped the zombies from catching up to me when I could barely trot.
"By the time we heard the shotgun, we knew something was wrong. You know what happened next," Demi stated.
"But I lost track after Saffron put me on his back," I countered, wanting her to continue with the story.
"Oh, you were so cute lying there!" Demi giggled.
"Thanks, I think." Who was mothering who these days? I guess her cutie mark, a picture of me, answered that. It was starting to feel like I had adopted a mother rather than a daughter!
"Anyway, once we got you two back into the stable and to the medical ponies, Saffron grilled Lee on what you two had found, then he and the adventurous mares went back down that direction. The mares stopped before the radiation got too great, and set up a defense line. Saffron went right up into the car, and fired some grenades down the length of it and into the crater. Once he had left the car, he lobbed some grenades into it too. When everything had finished exploding, that end of the subway was sealed off. We think the rubble collapsed into the crater, filling it. Whatever happened, the grenades probably killed any zombies down there, if there were any left after Lee shot so many of them. Even if they lived, they wouldn't be able to get out through the rubble that came down when the subway car collapsed. So we are safe from zombies coming down the tunnel from the source of the radiation," Demi said, "and if any others are alive out there, they can't go back down to the crater to heal."
"Did you go down there with them?" I asked.
"Nope. I was too busy looking after you, silly, I have a cutie mark to live up to, after all," Demi giggled. "Seriously, Anne, I was too worried about getting you well again to be off chasing zombies. I only went out with you in the first place because I get so worried when you go out doing something dangerous and I get left behind."
I would feel the same way about Demi going off doing something dangerous too, so that was understandable. My concern for her was why I usually tried to leave her behind in relative safety. Perhaps I should just get used to having her accompany me. Whatever the case, I was hungry, and visiting the fillies' room had a certain appeal. I was about to rise when noticed my leg armor, and thus my prosthetic were missing. I raised my shortened leg before my face.
"Oh," Demi commented, "All of your stuff got stripped off you for decontamination. I've watched you do it enough times to be able to activate the release sequence."
"How? You don't have magic, and aren't hooked into my Pipgirl's virtual display."
"Lee helped me hook my Pipbuck to your Pipgirl. It was easy after that," she explained. "The unicorns could then clean and heal your legs too. They decontaminated all of your gear, and it's on the shelving behind us."
Glancing around, I soon located them, and levitated my right leg prosthetic and my Pipgirl across, and fitted them, wearing my Pipgirl over the prosthetic. My left leg could enjoy some freedom for the moment. Before I could rise, Demi dropped a bowl of yeast extract and a bottle of water in front of me. Now that was a plan. If I had slept for two days, I hadn't eaten in two days. Again. This was getting to be a bad habit!
"I'll be right back!" I commented. "I gotta um... dispose of my last meal first!"
It was not long before I was back on the mattress, feeling somewhat more comfortable. I took a careful lick of the extract Demi had given me. I didn't want too much in my mouth at once because the flavor was fairly overpowering. "So did they explore the subway in the other direction?" I asked.
"They went a little way down it to make sure there weren't any more surprises hiding in alcoves, but that was all. With you out of action, and Lee officially meant to be resting too, all exploring was cancelled. Saffron and some of the mares moved some of the junk from the upper level out into the subway and made themselves a defendable barrier just past the station, while some of the unicorns levitated all the zombie corpses out of the corridor, and dumped them further down the subway we had already cleared, so they couldn't stink up the place any more. I'm told the whole place up there stinks of alcohol at the moment, because they sprayed some of that mixed with water about, to sterilize the area. You should have heard buttermilk complain at having to help! He still thinks he's some sort of prince," Demi laughed.
"How is that going? Buttermilk, I mean."
"Some of the mares still like him, despite him being a butt. A few of them like Rusty. Unbelievably, Shadow had the guts to approach a couple of the quieter mares from this level. I think there will be a new crop of foals next year!" Demi commented, with an embarrassed giggle. "Saffron even had a few advances made to him, but he turned them all down. He really does seem determined to have just one mare."
"Good for him. He's turning out to be quite a nice fellow.'
Plans for exploring more of the tunnels were put on hold for a few days while I recovered. The others weren't willing to proceed without me, both because of my experience and firepower, and that they refused to go to far without their appointed leader. I didn't feel like much of a leader though, which was perhaps why it was working. It was more of a cooperative effort, with my guidance being followed when needed. I certainly had no intention of becoming a replacement Overmare, even if the killer robots had been stopped!
During these days of recovery, I helped Gadget to finish making the wheelchairs, and did other odd jobs when I wasn't napping. I even took the time to play with the foals. That wasn't something I often had the chance to do, so it was both relaxing and fun. The cyborg parts of my body may not get tired, but the organic parts of it sure did, and they were what were ultimately responsible for keeping my brain working, so this break from battling the wasteland was most appreciated, even if it was down in the dimly lit bowels of a decaying stable that had only recently been trying to kill me. Finally Rusty declared me fit enough to get back on with trying to find a way out of the tunnels above, though he did express concern for Lee, despite her apparent state of well being. He told me that something felt wrong about her when he was healing her cells from radiation damage, that there were some parts of her that simply didn't respond to treatment, as if nothing there was damaged in the first place, despite the ridiculously high exposure she had received.
Soon I was dressed up in my Stable Four security barding, with both my fore legs armored, my battle saddle strapped on, and my magazines filled with freshly reloaded shotgun shells, at the cost of some of the stable's huge supply of ten millimeter ammunition. The reloads weren't perfect, but they would be adequate. All the same, we really needed a decent ammunition source. Saffron needed more grenades, and shells for his gatling too. But what we had would have to do. At least Lee had sorted out more ammo for her gauss gun. Getting more slugs was as simple as cutting up more of the linkages from the robots we had destroyed, and the stable still had working recharging equipment for the energy cells. That was one piece of equipment that had been dutifully maintained by the robots. When we ran out of linkages to cut up, l would be able to form her more slugs with no trouble. With metal sculpting skills, forming slugs was easy. Why it had taken me so many years to work that out, I didn't know. Only a few weeks ago, I had been using my Cybercorn carbine to fire salvaged slugs I had collected around the wasteland, as well as bits of rock or any other small hard item I could find. Then again, a few weeks ago, I was following a mare who was actively avoiding conflict.
Once more, Demi and I took the elevator up to the top level, although the general feel was different to the last time. The wonder and enthusiasm were gone, as we all knew what was waiting up there for us. The stable ponies had all taken turns at leaving the stable and exploring the passage to the station, as it was already secured. The rest area had almost become a tourist attraction, and going from some overheard conversations, I could almost imagine them cleaning the area up and repairing it, just so they could holiday in an environment that was different to the stable itself! Apparently, once the corpses of the zombies had been removed from the area, and the bulk of their mess cleaned away, the radiation level there was so low as to not be a problem. They had been busy ponies!
Airflow had been confirmed in the subway tunnels. Smoke from experimental fires drifted away, rather than just filling an area, and that meant there had to be some sort of exit somewhere. Fortunately the prevalent direction of the gentle flow was towards the area Saffron had collapsed, taking the stench of the corpses down there away from the stable. There had to be some vents down there we had not seen. There was still discussion as to whether to risk trying to burn the corpses with thermite, something which could easily be made by grinding up some of the metals used in the destroyed robots, and in the general construction of the stable itself. That sounded too much like planning to stay down here permanently for my liking.
We were going to try finding a way out of here again, this time following the tunnel in the opposite direction. It had already been discovered that the balefire radiation dropped right away to nothing a dozen paces down from the station, which is where the barricade had been set up. The new exploration team was larger than the earlier one. Lana, Violet and Chicory had all volunteered for the duty, their wheelchairs all armed as per Lana's, with both a ten millimeter submachine gun, and a stun gun. Both Lana and Violet had already proved themselves against the zombies. Their fighting spirit had never been in doubt, just their submachine gun handing skills. Hopefully we wouldn't encounter too many stairs, because that was one form of terrain the wheelchairs found difficult to traverse.
A bell announced the elevator's arrival at the top level, the doors sliding open to allow us out. We exited, to find the remainder of the team standing a few paces along the corridor waiting for us.
"Hi Anne," they chorused. "Hi Demi."
"Are well all ready?" I asked.
"Then lets do it!"
Footnote: Maximum Level. Perk: