Chapter 16: Here we go again
"What is it with ponies and holes in the ground?"
So damn many of them! And with luck, one day we might even find a way out of this hell hole. So far I had found three service tunnels and one derelict station with all exits blocked. Of course I had to follow every tunnel that I found in the hope that one of them would lead to the surface. For all the luck I was having finding my way back to the surface, I may as well have been on the moon! Following the main subway tunnel should in theory give a way out, but I had come across dead ended subway tunnels before, either due to them not being finished, or to the stations into which they terminated being decommissioned, and blocked off.
And there was always the good old rock fall, concrete cave-in, or whatever you wanted to call it. And that's pretty much the sort of thing I'd found in these three service tunnels. Of course it wasn't as simple as that either; each tunnel would go a short way then end in a door that had to be unlocked, or a zombie that wanted to eat me, or a set of rusting stairs that led teasingly upwards. Then we would have to go through yet another door, some more twists and turns, and a couple of intersections, requiring exploration in each direction, only to find these deviations merely led to a room filled with decaying machinery, or to a dormitory used by the workers when they were building the subway in the first place, now full of rotten, rodent eaten mattresses, bunks so rusty they would not support a pony's weight, and of course, more zombies.
On occasion we found some radroaches, wonderful, if only because it broke the monotony of having to shoot zombies. After the unsuccessful exploration of the first two service tunnels, we gave up helping the mares in wheelchairs up and down the stairs, as all it did was slow us down, and tire us. Instead, they waited out in the main subway tunnel, and guarded our rears, waiting in vain for us to return with good news. The station had been no better. It had been so damaged we had not even been able to climb the stairs to the next level. The odd click of radiation hinted that it too had been too close to a balefire bomb explosion.
"No luck again?" Lana asked as Demi and I emerged from the latest service tunnel. Lee and Saffron were lagging behind, as they had taken a different route. A yelled conversation between us had confirmed that yet again these tunnels were for servicing essential equipment, not for reaching the surface, so we had headed back to the entrance, rather than wait for them.
"Plenty of luck," I responded to Lana, "just of the wrong kind."
"Ah," Chicory commented. "I'm getting the feeling that life outside the stable has a lot of problems."
"You are only picking up on that now?" Lana retorted.
"What do you mean? We are outside the stable at long last, and life couldn't be better! We get to enjoy the glorious sky now," Chicory said pointing at the tunnel roof, "and rainfall," she pointed at the water dripping from a fractured pipe overhead, "and even the wonderful radiance of the daytime sun." This time she indicated the dim emergency lamps.
"Hmm. Me thinks someone needs some serious re-education," Lana stated with a giggle.
"I do not. I know all about the birds and bees, not that I've ever seen either!" Chicory objected, then turning to address me she continued, "Seriously, Anne, don't be so hard on yourself. We are alive, and we are no longer trapped in the stable. The airflow suggests that there is a way out somewhere, even if we have to do some digging, and failing all else, there is always the way you got into the stable in the first place."
"I don't like our chances of climbing out of there, Chicory," I answered the pale blue mare. "It's a very long drop. How could we even get a rope to the top to give us something to climb? And there is still that concrete slab caught up there. If it dislodged, it would kill anyone below."
Flicking her candy cane pink and white mane out of her eyes, Chicory fixed me in her gaze. "There are more ways to solve the problem. We use that shaft, but not by simply trying to reverse your course. We go up to the top level of the stable, cut a hole in the stable wall, do some digging, blow a hole in the shaft, and we will be so much nearer to the top. We make some sort of platform, and push it through the hole, so we have somewhere to stand. We brace it to the far wall, and make a new floor so no one can fall past it. Then we build a set of stairs or a ladder or something to get out. Once we get the mechanically inclined out, they build a little elevator for those of us who can't climb."
"Bloody brilliant!" I exclaimed. There was hope. I shouldn't underestimate these mares. They had been making do with salvage from a damaged stable for all of their lives. Their jury rigging and re-purposing skills were top notch.
"Finding a way out down here would be easier though, especially if it is as simple as walking out on a relatively level surface or a ramp," Chicory commented, "so let's keep looking."
"Indeed," I agreed, as Lee and Saffron joined us. It would probably take a few weeks to make the new exit for ourselves. I did have some reservations though. I had come across similar circumstances before, years after those trying to escape had died. There would be a length of tunnel hewn out of the rock going a hundred paces or so, before those trying to escape finally ran out of food, or some other tragedy befell them... or they opened up their tunnel into a den of zombies... but we already had that covered. I had found these failed attempts while looking to repair some wiring. I would get into the tunnel through a series of doors the trapped ponies had been unable to open. If I had come along years earlier, the outcome would have been so different. Hey, this time I had come along before the mares had all died! Nonetheless it was too early to be counting this as a success. I could imagine me spending the rest of my life trapped down there, and by that, I wasn't implying I'd die of old age!
We returned to our trek along the rails. Something had been bugging me about this tunnel for a while, and it wasn't until we approached another subway car, sitting abandoned on the line, that I realized what the problem was. Both up and down lines were within this one tunnel, instead of running in two smaller tunnels. Stations were usually a larger cavern, for the lack of a better term, into which the two smaller tunnels opened, passing each side of a central platform which was served by escalators and elevators to the portion of the station building that was on the surface. Instead, on this subway the platform serving the second line had been on the other side of the two sets of rails, linked to the platform on this side by a rather dangerous rail crossing. The engineering and costs of making this oversized tunnel must have been phenomenal.
"That's odd," Saffron suddenly commented, looking about.
"Yes?" I prompted him to continue.
"Seeing that one subway car there made me realize the size of this tunnel, and that the two sets of rails remain perfectly aligned the whole time...."
I nodded. "Yes, I just noticed that too. With the larger radius of this tunnel, it could easily accommodate a much wider, taller train."
"Exactly! I'm thinking that maybe this tunnel was used to transport sensitive equipment. A special train could be made up by linking two sets of flat cars side by side, then large loads could be placed so they straddled them." Saffron said. "Military vehicles, tanks, and so on could be moved in and out of Canterlot without alerting anyone on the surface. Hell, they may have even made special larger trains just for the purpose." He paused, staring at the rails we were walking along. "I think we may be right. Look at the size of the rail stock they have used here. It must be at least twice the weight I've seen used anywhere else."
"Interesting," I agreed. "That would mean that somewhere up that direction..."
"There should be some sort of depot or holding yard," Saffron finished my sentence.
"And logistically, that would be best above ground, perhaps hidden in a warehouse or something, because trying to load things within the tunnel would be difficult."
Saffron nodded. "And when it wasn't being used for its primary purpose, it was disguised as an ordinary suburban line, with passenger trains and all."
"It could also explain why they chose to hide a stable down here too," I suggested.
"Two stables," Lana interrupted.
"What? You know of a second stable?" I asked.
Lana pointed up at a decaying sign high on the wall to our right. As Saffron looked up at it, his head mounted lamp illuminated it, making it so much easier to see. It read "Stable Five 200M".
"I'll be buggered," I muttered. "Actually, I won't be buggered, thank you very much, but one thing I didn't expect to find down here was another stable!"
"The Canterlot dumping grounds. It would make more sense for refugees from Canterlot to be dumped out here, than directly under the city, especially as the city would be, and was the target in a war," Saffron suggested. "And it would make even more sense if the stables weren't programmed to kill the occupants!"
"Not all were," I reminded him.
"Perhaps Stable-Tec didn't expect to get wiped out in the war. Perhaps after gathering data for a number of years, they would have remotely released the residents."
"I wonder if there are any ponies still trapped inside," Lana pondered.
"We have to help them if there are," Chicory stated.
Damn, there went any chance of getting out of this place any time soon. Nonetheless, if there were more ponies trapped down here, setting them free would be the right thing to do. I didn't like the chances of finding any ponies alive there though. The place had probably been abandoned years, decades, or perhaps over a century ago. With all of the nasty experiments Stable-Tec subjected these poor ponies to, surely a closed, functional stable would be the exception, rather than the rule.
"Lee, how are you feeling?" I suddenly asked. It was going to take even longer for us to get back to Stable Lab Four now, and who knew what could happen to Lee in that time. One doctor had x-rayed her head and told me there was some sort of "alien" device in it, "alien" in that it had no place in being inside her head... for a normal biological pony, anyway. I had no matching part in my cyborg head either. A second "doctor", if I could call the medical unicorns from Stable Four that, had said that sections of her didn't respond to their healing powers, as if there was nothing there to heal. Maybe it was already too late for her to return to her old personality. Perhaps she'd had a stroke, and lost that part of her memory permanently, although that didn't explain where this weird second personality, complete with new skills, had come from. And something else I needed to remind myself about was Stable Lab Four itself. Assuming it survived and was still operational, I doubted we would be welcomed back. There was the chance we'd be pounced on, captured, imprisoned, and probably have our memories ripped out again. Perhaps going in, weapons drawn, with Saffron as backup, we might be able to get them to help us at gunpoint, but that would give them the desire to sabotage our efforts, possibly with the same results.
And then there was the rumor that Stable Lab Four had been destroyed. Perhaps we could recover the equipment to help Lee. Possibly we could find the logs of what was done to her, so we could work out what they were up to. Maybe I could even find my way down into those "nonexistent" lower levels to find out what the big secret of Stable Lab Four really was. Probably we would find an impenetrable pile of rubble. Whichever way it went, the likely outcome would be that no help was available for Lee. Although I knew that, I felt like I was making excuses for myself, justifying my failure to get her help so far, justifying yet another delay while we helped others. For a moment, I felt like blaming Saffron for thumping my mother in the first place, but remembered I had killed that Saffron myself. This Saffron was a new pony born of enlightenment.
"Why do you ask? I'm fine." Lee responded.
"Because you aren't fine," I answered. "I want my damn mother back, and you have her body!"
"It's great to be loved," Lee muttered. "I'd like to have my whole damn life back! I want my spaceship. I want my Anne..."
"Well, we didn't take your life," I spat back, "and I've heard enough about the fucking spaceship."
I'd never really thought about what it was like for this version of Lee to be trying to adjust to our life. While she did seem casual about it, complaining only about not getting a chance to shoot, and other minor annoyances, her frustration could be somewhat more intense. Where this personality had come from was a mystery, even if it could be explained by the hardware in Lee's head. Spaceships? Bipedal creatures called humans? These were the sort of things only encountered in story books, or myths. I'd put up with Lee's waking as a human stunt for so many years I could no longer recall if I had ever heard of the species before that. I had vague recollections of bed time stories about them, but those memories could just as easily be false memories created by me speculating on the subject. And there was my oddball name. That had to have come from somewhere. So did my mother have some sort of psychosis where by she believed she was this Lee character from some old bed-time stories her mother had told her? Did her mother name her "Teresa" after some character in these stories? Did Teresa then name me "Anne" after some other character in these same tales? And what about her renaming herself "Lee", the very name the second personality used while claiming no memories of the original personality? Whatever the case, she was one seriously screwed up mare, and the influence of her screwiness had spread to me.
A soft feathery blanket settled around my neck, then tightened into a hug. I looked at the little, white, one winged pony staring at me with large, concerned eyes. I managed to quieten myself, took several deep, slow breaths, and waited for my screaming mind to shut up, which it kindly did.
"Thank you Demi," I quietly said. The others had the good sense to keep their mouths shut.
"Shall we explore the depths of Hell?" Violet asked.
"Optimist!" Lana commented.
"I won't say it couldn't possibly be any worse than Stable Four," Chicory stated, "because I suspect there were stables that were worse."
"Let's just say that neither of the two stables of which I have intimate knowledge were particularly nice places to live," I agreed.
That was when I noticed the first flicker of red on my Eyes Forward Sparkle. "Hostiles," I announced, bringing up the Cybercorn carbine spell. "Check your Pipbucks."
"Yup, lotsa spots," Lana agreed, as she moved away from us, to the left of the tunnel. Chicory and Violet did the same, the three positioning themselves side by side, with a clear view in the direction of the potential problem. The rest of us followed suit, forming a line across the width of the subway. Slowly we advanced, watching as the flickering red dots on out E.F.S. displays became clearer.
"Still not seeing anything," Lana announced.
"Me neither," Saffron admitted.
"Is there another floor above or below us?" I pondered.
"Nope, there's just a pile of crap on the ground between us and them," Lee answered. She had gone bipedal again, the stance giving her the advantage of a higher point of view. "I can see the little buggers. A royal swarm of the bloody things. Radroaches."
"Ah that isn't so bad," I admitted. "I think we can afford to advance a little quicker, but be aware, these oversized bugs really can bite. Demi, Lana, Violet, Chicory, I think you four should deal with this lot. Good practice."
After a few dozen more careful paces, the radroaches became visible even to the shortest of us. A few more paces, and range was optimal for the short range weapons the girls were using. They didn't wait for an invitation, and started shooting. All in all, they did well, even managing to pick off the ones that made a break for it, or charged. Soon there were no more bugs to be seen, and the girls attended to reloading their weapons.
"I wonder how many more of them there are," Demi pondered.
"Eh? That was them all." Lana voiced.
"Nope, I've still got a cluster of red over to the left."
I checked my E.F.S., and could see nothing. Noticing Demi was the rightmost of us, I stepped over to where she was. Immediately, a lot of red spots appeared on my display.
"Shit, she's right," I agreed. "The concrete is blocking the signal. There must be an alcove or tunnel to our left."
"The stable?" Lana asked. "We should be near it by..."
And that was when all hell broke loose as the red spots turned into real enemies. There was some sort of vent high in the curved side of the subway tunnel, and from it a veritable flood of radroaches poured. Gunfire and screams ensued as the wave of the hungry insects flowed over the mares in wheelchairs. It was at times like this that I wished I carried a decent melee weapon, but a pony can carry just so much. So I used what I had, my horn, or more accurately, my magic, grabbing radroaches and pushing them as hard as I could against the wall, crushing them. A burst of bullets whacked into my barding, coming from somewhere in the swarming mass of cockroaches and flailing ponies in front of me.
"Ouch! Stop shooting Lana, Violet, you're shooting us! Chicory!" I yelled. I didn't know if they could hear me or not, or where just blind with panic, because the firing continued. I stomped a radroach that came too close to me, and advanced towards the swarming mass, kicking and stomping at anything with six legs while continuing to throw the roaches away from us with my magic. I stopped concentrating on killing the roaches, instead worrying more about getting them off the mares. Saffron leaped into the cascade beside me, his training and experience immediately evident, reminding me of my earlier thoughts that the Steel Ranger was a melee weapon himself. We would be waist deep in radroach guts by the time this was over.
That was when I heard Loony Lee start blasting with her gauss rifle. Hell! What was she trying to do? Kill us? Yelling, I spun to face her, realizing as I did that she wasn't quite as stupid as I had supposed, because she was aiming so that her shots would do the most damage to the flood of wasteland pests - straight into the large vent in the wall from which they were pouring. Bits of radroach and messy guts were spraying out from the hole each time she fired, propelled by her slugs exploding against the concrete sides of the vent tunnel. The resultant concrete shrapnel was killing multiple bugs with each shot. I could live with that. Demi had pulled back, crouched, and was using her little .22 pistol to pick off any bug that strayed away from, or was thrown off the ponies. Going on her care taking each shot, there was no need for me to worry about her shooting any of us.
Another burst sounded from amid the mass of roaches, this time corresponding with massive pain in my head, and disoriented by the blows, I plunged forward into the path of one of Saffron's mighty kicks. Pain exploded through me as I was sent spinning into the heart of the fight, smashing into the wheelchair bound mares, copping another burst of bullets in my belly as I did. And then the radroaches started to bite; nasty sharp stinging pain bombarding me from every direction as they their teeth took chunks out of my hide. No more. NO MORE. NO MORE! OH SHIT NOT THIS AGAIN. Everything around me exploded, and I felt myself being thrown. I hit the far wall then slid to the floor. I think I must have blacked out for a few moments. When my brain started working again, I could hear groans, and quiet cursing, and a very concerned voice quietly talking in loving tones, but apart from that, silence had fallen. Gone was the chittering of the radroaches. Gone was the sound of fighting. Great, at least some of the ponies had survived my explosive self defense mechanism.
It was darker than I recalled it being. My blast had probably destroyed the emergency lighting too. Whatever the case, it was time to assess the situation. I forced myself to my hooves, feeling the world start to sway immediately I was upright. Struggling to maintain my balance, I eventually achieved stability by standing like a new-born, with my legs splayed. Shit, serious blood loss again. I glanced back at my rear legs, the most exposed part of me, apart from my head, and could see dozens of bite marks, each trickling a small amount of blood. That would explain it. I quickly checked the status page on my PipGirl for an estimation of my current injuries and general well being. Wow. Nine percent. That would explain the explosive release of magic from my horn. I was almost dead. Again. Remembering back to what happened with poor Rosemary, I quickly pulled some healing potions from my battle saddle, and drank them, figuring it would be best for me to heal myself in an attempt to prevent my cybernetics taking over and draining the blood from those I was trying to save. Mummy, when I grow up, I want to be cyber-vampire. I wondered what Killing Joke would do to me, because as I saw it, the worst thing ever had already been inflicted on me, and I hadn't even had to make some stupid remark for it to happen.
The potions soon stopped the trickles of blood, which was good, as I had too many holes in me for the cybernetics to successfully reroute my blood flow. A glance at my status page showed that I was now at fifty two percent. So now I was only half-dead. That was an improvement. Now to attend to the others. I glanced around. I could see a wheelchair without a pony in it. Another wheelchair was upright, but with the pony within sprawled face first on the ground. The third was almost upside down, again with a sprawled, unconscious pony in it. In the low light, and with my vision a bit screwy, it was hard to make out who was who. Behind me, I saw Lee, against the wall, apparently in her default mode of landing, namely upside down. Demi was not immediately visible. Saffron was sitting on the far side of the wheelchairs, carefully holding onto something. He was quietly talking to whatever it was he held. I staggered a few steps towards him, skirting the ponyless wheelchair. Cradled in his forelegs was Lana's body. Celestia, NO. She couldn't be dead. She can't be dead.
Hearing me, Saffron looked up. "What was that?" he asked, looking at me. "Who the hell set off that bloody explosive?"
"Um, sorry, but I think I was the explosive," I admitted. "Sorry. It's an autonomous self defense mechanism. You nearly killed me with that kick, and the radroaches were about to finish the job. Sorry."
"Could you at least avoid nearly killing us all next time you do that?" he pleaded.
"Sorry, I wish I could. I tried, I really tried. It's beyond my control. I was unable to suppress it," I answered, giving my head a shake in an attempt to clear my mind, feeling something flop around as I did.
"Stop!" Saffron practically yelled. "For Celestia's sake, don't shake like that, Anne. You're falling apart. Just lie down and rest. Get some healing potion into you or something."
This was great, just great. Lana dead, the others in who knows what condition, and I was broken again. That would explain my poor vision and why my hearing was a little off in my right ear. Demi. Where was Demi? Forget about lying down. There were wounded here. I could fall apart later.
"I am so sorry about Lana," I choked. "I know you loved her."
Saffron looked up at me again. "I've got some healing potion into her. She's blacked out again though. She's in a very bad way."
"Wait? She's still alive?" I asked, barely daring to hope. I took another couple of steps closer to look. The little that was left of her barding had been unfastened, and pushed aside. A great strip of hide had been torn from her face, and she had dozens, no hundreds of bite marks over her body. Some of those holes looked more like... oh shit, she'd been shot too. While I hadn't shot her myself, this was ultimately my doing. Again I had failed them by leading them into a dangerous situation. We'd been too casual about the dangers of the subway.
"She is alive, just," Saffron confirmed.
"The others?" I asked.
"Haven't looked," he huffed.
I took the pace needed to get to Chicory, who was face down in the muck. I activated the release on her wheelchair, and she slid from it to the floor, where I carefully laid her on her side, clearing the radroach gore from her face. She too had shredded barding, and bullet holes in her side, another victim of the wild firing. Had they all been firing their guns? Had they shot each other... and me? The rising and falling of her chest showed she was still alive, so I pulled out a healing potion, and gently lifted her head. She responded weakly, so I helped her to drink it. That would stave off death for a little while, but we needed more than magic bandages and healing potions to fix this mess.
An explosion of foul language alerted me to Lee reviving. "Damn, that was awkward," she complained as she righted herself. "For a while there I was trapped inside my head, with no access to my body. Who was the idiot with the grenade?"
"Get some healing potion into yourself, you nutter," I responded, "then help the others. Can anyone see Demi?"
"I have not seen her." Saffron responded. Lee just shrugged.
I brought up a light spell with my horn, intending to start looking for Demi, but before I could even take a step, my eyes fell on poor Lana's injuries, and in the brighter light they looked absolutely horrific. The poor girl would be horribly scarred for life for now, unless... "Damn. We desperately need a unicorn with medical skills," I voiced. "Is anyone healthy enough to go back..."
"Excuse me," a quiet male voice interrupted, seemingly coming from nowhere, "but may I be of assistance?"
I looked in the direction I thought the sound had come from. "Who...?" I could barely make out a vaguely pony shaped shadow a few paces from me, despite the light from my horn.
"It's Shadow." the quiet male replied, stepping forward. "I was following your party, but was far back enough not to be caught in the explosion."
I nearly cried in relief. "Please, please, can you put Lana's face back together," I begged.
"I think I had better attend to you first," he replied.
"No. Do Lana. I'll survive as I am. She's still in danger," I insisted, "then check on the other mares. They are pretty bad too. And I have to help Violet and find Demi. You didn't see Demi as you approached, did you?"
"Sorry, no," Shadow responded.
I noticed Lee had moved to help Violet. Good. That freed me to find Demi. Where was she? Was she buried in dead radroach guts? I couldn't see any mound that looked high enough to conceal her. Hell, I couldn't have blown her up could I? No, surely not. Perhaps she had been thrown further along the subway. I started in that direction, looking from side to side as I did. I brought up my E.F.S. in the vain hope that it would indicate her presence, but was rewarded with amber spots corresponding only to those behind me. Turning back for a moment, I confirmed I was missing a spot. That was bad. Surely I couldn't have killed my Demi? A sudden rush of emotion caused me to choke back an unexpected sob. I swung back towards the unexplored section of subway, again feeling whatever it was on my head flopping about.
"Anne, I really think you should wait," Shadow asserted. That was unusually forward for him.
"Why? I have to find Demi," I responded.
Shadow tilted his head, looking at me as if I was clueless. "Because after I put Lana's face back together, I am going to have to do the same for yours."
Footnote: Maximum Level. Perk: