Chapter 2: Aftermath
"If you don't have the caps, why are you wasting my time?"
"Damn it," I cursed. My mother, Lee, had wigged out again. One moment I was telling her we had muffins to eat, and the next she's rambling on about being a human, and wondering why we were wearing pony suits! While this wasn't unusual in itself, this was the first time it had happened while she was awake. Usually it was part of a recurring dream. Where she gets these science fiction ideas from, I really don't know. Sure, having a bullet go through her brain had really messed up her head, but it shouldn't have implanted dreams of being of another species, and an unknown alien one at that! No, dreams wasn't the correct term. False memories? I wondered if it was an implanted memory orb of some kind, and if so, what was it doing in her head?
Lee's departure from the norm brought a prompt end to our impromptu victory party of muffins with Ditzy Doo, the ghoul pegasus. Lee was now wandering around half dazed, and as we were on an elevated platform, that wasn't ideal. I guess her brain was trying to make sense of two sets of images - what she could see, and what she thought she was seeing. Fortunately it seemed the inadequate railing around the little platform in front of Ditzy Doo's shop looked like a railing in both versions of Lee's world, and she turned away when she reached it instead of trying to step into the space beyond, not that the drop from the height of the boxcar floor to the ground was particularly far. Maybe it would knock some sense back into her. Briefly I contemplated giving her a push, but I knew percussive therapy only worked in stories.
"Thank you, Ditzy," I nodded to our host. "It seems I need to get Loopy here to the doctors. Again."
The pegasus nodded, mouthing her thanks in return. There was no point in her actually trying to speak though, as her missing tongue prevented her from forming words. She had lost it to a thug some years ago, who had thought nothing of cutting it out to silence her objections to his behavior. I still struggled with the concept of such cruelty, and how some individuals were so totally selfish they were incapable of understanding the grief their actions caused to others. I had lost a hoof to a similar thug more recently, but by comparison, a hoof was so much easier to replace than a tongue, unless you considered the pencil and paper Ditzy used as a valid replacement. I didn't. If I had met the bastard that had done this to Ditzy, I would have made very sure he understood the sort of grief he infliced on others in a very personal way.
Unfortunately my mother was way too pacifistic, and was inclined to avoid killing as much as possible, and that included not killing scum like raiders and slavers. As I was accompanying her, I was obliged to behave in a like manner. In a way, that was a valid solution, as often as not, raiders caught and killed each other for their pots, judging from the number of raider corpses I had seen strung up in raider's dens over the last fifteen years. None the less I would have preferred a more hoofs-on approach to solving the problem, but in doing so, would I be as bad as the raiders myself?
As for the slaves, on the odd occasion we had intervened, I had found some to be spineless wimps that were quite willing to trade a hard life for the security of somewhere to sleep. Upon opening their cages for them, they complained and refused to move! Recently I had been hearing stories of slaves who were not so lucky - going to what equated to death camps. They were being sent to work in irradiated environments where their life expectancy could be measured in weeks. To those slaves that ran off, embracing their freedom when I had the opportunity to release them, I wished them well. As for those who threw up their hooves and told me they wouldn't have any chance out in the wasteland, I washed my hooves of them. Helping those who refuse to help themselves was a waste of time.
Anyway, I had more pressing matters to attend to, like a crazy mother, for example. "Come on, Loopy," I said to Lee, "let's get you to the doctor to see if he can do anything. And be careful! You are still healing from our last misadventure."
I seriously doubted much could be done for Lee, apart from dosing her up on sedatives, and hoping she slept her delusions off. With much guidance, I led my mother down the ramp from Ditzy Doo's and towards the clinic, our hooves clacking against the salvaged metal of which the ramps were made. I hated these ramps. Negotiating them with only three hooves was hazardous.
"Anne, why are you a three legged pony?" Lee suddenly asked me.
A bemused expression on my face, I looked her in the eyes. "Because some nasty raider blew the fourth one off." I replied.
"I meant why aren't you a girl - a human girl." Lee pushed.
"Then why mention the missing leg?" I answered snidely.
"You are meant to be missing an arm, not a leg," Lee insisted, referring her mental image of her amputee companion.
"I'm missing two arms. Does that make you happy?" I retorted.
"No, no, NO!" Lee seemed to be getting exasperated. I must admit I was already beyond that point.
I knew what arms were. After all, baby dragons had them. I wasn't sure what you'd call them on an adult dragon though. As for these human things Lee referred to, she's drawn one in the sand once while trying to describe what they looked like. I must admit the sand drawing didn't leave me that much wiser!
I continued towards the doctor's place, guiding Lee with gentle pressure against her unwounded shoulder as I went, steering her in the direction I wished her to go. Her other shoulder was still recovering from a serious wound inflicted during our earlier encounter with the Steel Rangers, and I suspected it was that encounter that had sent mother over the edge. She had been hit very hard, throwing her up against a wall. She had probably hit her head. Finally the short trip to the doctor's was over and I steered my mother into his clinic.
The clinic wasn't particularly large, but did have several rooms, some being little more than areas separated from the remainder of the floor space by simple privacy screens. Through the gaps in these privacy screens and the doorway beyond, I could see a little of the yellow hair and orange tail of the heavily bandaged Steel Ranger I had defeated earlier. From what I could see, he was asleep or unconscious. I could see parts of his cutie mark, but was not able to distinguish it from this angle. I briefly entertained the thought of buying him an eye patch to cover the eye my bullet had blinded. His reaction would be interesting.
"Can I help you?" the doctor asked, joining us. "Oh, it's you two again. What now?"
"Mum's gone loopy again," I said, explaining our presence. What a wonderful bedside manner he had.
"Anyone who takes on a Steel Ranger is 'loopy', as you put it." he responded.
"Okay, wise guy. I mean her brain is on the fritz again. She thinks she's a bloody alien," I explained.
"Oh. Something related to her brain injury, I trust?"
"You are the doctor," I responded. "She's probably got a concussion or something. Usually this only happens when she first wakes up."
"Okay. I'll take a look if you have the caps."
I dumped one of our bags of caps on his desk. "Look at her. Treat her if you can. Please."
"Please excuse us," he addressed me, then turning to Lee added, "Madame, if you would please come this way."
I hobbled out the clinic, and down the ramp that led to the rough dirt walkway below. Up ahead I could still see pieces of the Steel Ranger's armor lying about on the ground. I figured I might as well take the opportunity to study the armor more closely, as it was entirely possible we would find ourselves having to defend ourselves against more of them in the future.
Ignoring the blood splashed about the area, I settled myself on the rough ground and began to study the pieces. The blood on the armor itself was easy enough to blow away with my magic. Even dried blood didn't resist, flaking off like old paint. By the time I finished with the parts, they were no doubt cleaner than they had been in a very long time. Carefully studying each piece, I noticed the methodology built into the design to allow for the armor to fit ponies of varying sizes. I imagined there would be some different sizes manufactured for ponies of more extreme measurements, but as I studied it further, I began to suspect the armor was capable of changing its structure to suit a pony of any size, shedding or absorbing more mass as required. I levitated up one of the armored legs Lee and I had removed when we were cracking the pony out of his armor to allow him to be treated. I wondered if I could shrink it down to a size even I could wear, not that I had any intention of trying to put the whole suit of armor on.
Activating my Pipgirl, I had it do a local signal scan. It did not take it long to locate and synchronize with the armored leg. I accessed the maintenance routines, bringing up the sizing parameters, watching with fascination as the armored leg shrank to a size that would fit me, the thickness of the armor increasing as the other dimensions decreased. Perhaps I would try it on - these armored legs would make for cool boots! I loosened its fit again, rolling onto my side to allow me to slip it on - only to realize I was holding the right foreleg of the armor - and my corresponding leg was missing a hoof. That gave me an idea. I slipped my shortened limb into the armor, then adjusted the fit until it was quite snug, getting the armor to form a socket to support my shortened leg. I locked the fetlock joint solid with the hoof positioned in the basic standing position, then scrambled to my feet. A few test steps proved that even on rough ground, this had potential. It was certainly better than having to hop everywhere. The main inconvenience was that the armored leg was a little longer than the my other, bare, leg. I was sure I could adjust it to compensate, but here was a more obvious solution. I quickly located the relevant piece of armor, and synchronized it to my Pipgirl. Holding my leg up, I slipped it on, or tried to, as I discovered my Pipgirl was in the way. How annoying!
After a few moments of contemplation, I accessed the setup routines of the Pipgirl itself, watching as the seamless blue ring expanded in diameter, and dropped from my leg. I stepped out of it, then into it with my armored right leg, levitating the blue ring up to the correct position before readjusting its size to snugly fit the black armor. Now putting the other leg of armor on was no problem! This time I did not adjust it quite so snugly, as there was no need, and set the control spell to simply follow the movements of the leg within, which, of course was what it was designed to do. I tried walking around a little. It felt good. I tried climbing the steel ramps. That was still a little awkward, but far better than hopping. Perhaps with time I could program the spell matrix of the armor to flex the fetlock joint on my crippled leg as needed, depending on the angles of the other joints of my leg. Solving this sort of problem was what I did for a living after all! Hey, even better: maybe I could weave a spell to connect the armor to the nerves in my legs. That wouldn't be too hard, with me being a cyborg and all.
I detached the grenade launcher from the remains of the power armor and slung it across my back. The armor's medical supplies were carefully extracted and added to my own meager supply, though I doubted I would have any use for the war drugs. The healing supplies were what interested me. The grenades also joined them in my saddle bags. After salvaging the chest plate, I gathered up what was left of the armor and walked up the ramp into Absolutely Everything. I figured that if the idiot ranger survived, he wouldn't have much use for what was left of the damaged armor. He could take that of his fallen comrade, and repair that with the chest plate I had salvaged. The rest of this armor was going to help raise funds for Lee's medical expenses.
A few minutes later, I was on my way back to see how my mother was faring. Smashed armor wasn't that valuable, and even I wasn't able to charm Ditzy Doo into parting with more than a token payment for it. I spent a portion of that on buying an eye patch for the ranger. He could either take that as a considerate gesture, or as me rubbing his failure into his face, almost literally. I didn't care. If he pushed the matter aggressively, I'd take up where I'd left off.
I trotted back towards the clinic (Trotted! Yay!) to see if the doctor had managed anything yet. My little experiment with the power armor components hadn't seemed to take long, but I suspected at least an hour, if not two, had passed while I was absorbed in what I was doing. I clanged up the ramp, opening the clinic door, then quietly slipped inside, lest I disturb some delicate operation .
"... Equestria is not a planet," I heard my mother say. "It's actually a very large space ship."
Oh dear, hear we go again.
"It is made of two spheres - the inner on which we live, and the outer, which forms the sky. That is what the sun, moon and stars travel around on," Lee continued.
"Oh, is that so?" I heard the doctor answer. He was humoring her. He looked up when he heard me snort.
"How's the alien going?" I asked. Lee was lying on his examination table. The doctor was examining a largish piece of film on which there was an image that looked very much like the insides of a cyborg's head.
"It is hard for me to say. I'm not a cyborg technician, so really this is just a pretty picture to me," he said as he nodded at the film, "though there definitely is some sort of device inside her brain. Whether that is a standard fitting or not, I have no idea."
"Make a picture of my head too," I suggested.
"Oh, that's a good idea," the doctor responded. Watching his expressions, I wondered if it was a good idea because it would help us, or if it was a good idea because he would get more caps. Moments later he was counting out more caps from the bag of caps I had left there earlier, so the latter may have in fact be the reason!
"Lose your gear," the doctor suggested. After a moment he added, "And since when do you wear power armor boots?"
"Since a few minutes ago. I salvaged them from what was left of Sunshine's armor," I replied nodding in the general direction of the wounded Steel Ranger. I used my magic to unfasten my battle saddle, and levitated it to the ground, then looked down at the armored boots. "Lose them too?" I asked.
"No need. The other crap would have been in the way," he explained as he lead me hrough the clinic to a little metal alcove at the rear. The alcove contained a seat, a shallow plastic box on the left wall, and a small but heavy looking metal box on right. The latter had some sort of shutter on the front that was connected to a series of linkages that left the room through a hole in the wall. He sat me facing the metal box. He then took a wrapped film from a nearby cabinet, and slid it into the plastic box. Using a hoof, he pushed my head hard against the plastic box, and moved it about until it was where he wanted. "Do not move until I tell you," he said. "Do not speak, and when I say 'now' I want you to hold your breath for as long as you can."
He left the alcove, shutting a metal door behind him, effectively trapping me in the box. I wondered how he had managed to get Lee to cooperate in her befuddled state. In the background I could hear her prattling on about spaceship Equestria again. Something about how the original inhabitants had used it to travel to a new world, and how they had put the original inhabitants of that world on the ship when they stole their planet. I wondered how she was coming up with this stuff. It was certainly an expansion on her usual dreams of being human. I wondered exactly what these human creatures looked like. Lee's descriptions and the crude drawing she had made in the sand to show me only gave me their basic form. I'd have to get her a pencil and paper and get her to try again.
"Now!" the doctor's voice demanded my attention. Snapping back to the moment, I stopped breathing, and counted slowly to myself, listening as the Geiger counter in my Pipgirl started ticking. After eleven, he said "All done. you can move again, and breathe again if you want." So the doctor did have a sense of humor.
The door opened, and he shooed me out, retrieving the film from the box. "Wonderful stuff, this magical film," he explained. "I stick it wrapped on one side of a bone, remotely open a little canister of radioactive waste for a few moments, then peel it out of its wrapper, and ta-dah!" He held up the picture of the insides of my head for me to see.
"I don't suppose you supply rad-away as part of the deal?" I asked. He grumbled, before rummaging in the same cabinet that had held the film. He pulled his head out with a pack of rad-away dangling from his teeth. I levitated it from his grip and set about consuming it. "Orange" flavor, it claimed. What was it that flavored medication tasted worse than in its plain form? The doctor retrieved the film and trotted off to compare it with that of my mother.
"Don't you have built in medical systems like the Steel Rangers?" I heard him ask as he went.
"No, we don't," I called after him. "We don't have any access hatches built into our bodies," I added to myself. Hatches would be... messy. When I realized I had no reason to continue to wait where I was, I trotted after him.
"There is a significant difference," he immediately stated when I entered the room. "Your skull contains a brain. Amazing though that may be, it is there in all its natural glory. Your cybernetics appear to interface to it in much the same way as your original body would have, through your nervous system. I can see what appear to be connections in place of your optic and auditory nerves. Other connections are probably to your brain stem."
"And where else would you expect to find my brain?" I asked sarcasm practically dripping from my voice.
"I didn't expect to find one," he replied with equal sarcasm. Wonderful, that sense of humor of his. "On a more serious note, your mother has a notable amount of alien hardware in her head, probably replacing the sections of the brain that were damaged by the bullet."
"Alien, as in out of this world?" I asked, wondering at his choice of words.
"Alien, as in it has no place being in a pony's brain. I have no idea of its origin. These pictures aren't that detailed, and even if they were, I doubt I'd recognize the parts. After all, I am just a small town general practitioner and surgeon. A well-read one, but none the less, just a general practitioner."
"So you are admitting defeat?" I asked.
"There is nothing I can do for her, but monitor her as per any other concussion patent, and hope she recovers on her own. If you really want to get to the bottom of this, I suggest you go back to the ponies who did the modifications for you."
"For us?" I snorted. "To us. Not FOR us. They shot us both for finding out their dirty little secrets, then turned us into mindless soldiers." Ugh. Mindless. A poor choice of words after the doctor's empty head joke.
"Oh. Candi didn't relay that part of the story to me," he responded. "None the less, I doubt there are many places that would have the technology to help you, if indeed there are any. If you want answers, you will need to go back there."
"Great. That's the last place I want to visit. I'm not even sure I can get to it anymore. I heard it had been destroyed," I commented.
"Not my problem," the doctor stated. "Now I suggest you come back tomorrow. Your mother needs rest, and I have other patients to attend."
"Fine," I replied, snatching the mostly emptied bottle cap bag from the doctors desk. As instructed I left the clinic, the door clicking shut behind me. Staring at the darkening sky, I realized the day was over and I had nowhere to sleep. I didn't really think it would be much a of a problem as New Appleloosa was a walled town after all. I could probably sleep in the middle of one of their paths or ramps quite safely. I glanced around, spotting the bar. They would probably have a few beds, but no doubt, would want money. Ah - a common house. That might do the trick. I headed in that direction, clattering up the ramps to the entrance.
Upon opening the door to the common house, I was hit by the somewhat strong odor of unwashed ponies, even though there were not that many ponies in the room. A quick walk around the room soon let me know that each mattress was somewhat fragrant, if I can use that word to describe years of pony sweat, grime and whatever else. Even if I managed to blast the nasties out of a mattress with my magic, I would still be forced to breathe the miasma. I could even use my nasal filters, but then again, I would still be sleeping in this disgusting environment. Bah, the hard ground was gaining appeal by the moment. I slept on it often enough anyway. I abandoned the common house, clattering back down the ramps, angling myself towards Ditzy Doo's Absolutely Everything. The ground under her ramp was looking somewhat inviting at the moment.
I ducked down into the space below Absolutely Everything, selecting a patch of ground that was sheltered enough to be dry, and settled down. Pulling hay cakes and a bottle of clean water from my saddlebags, I enjoyed a filling, if somewhat bland meal before lying down for a good sleep. Before I closed my eyes, I activated the sensor unit I had saved from an old land mine. It would beep if anyone approached, hopefully early enough for me to be able to react before anyone could get the jump on me. I really didn't think it likely here though.
While waiting for sleep I puzzled over the intricacies of the spell matrix I would need to get the armor's hoof to respond as if it were my own. I knew sleep was nearly on me when my brain started trying to include the armored hoof in flower arrangements....
.... beep .... beep .... beep .... I snapped awake at the sound of my proximity alarm. Before my eyes were even open, my brain cycled through possible threats while searching for relevant memories from the day before. After a few moments, a key memory surfaced - my location. I willed myself to calm. The likelihood of a serious threat in this town was low, despite the recent encounter with the Steel Rangers. My location under Absolutely Everything reduced the threat level even further - perhaps to wandering pets or - I opened my eyes - a filly. It was the lavender filly that accompanied Ditzy Doo. What was her name again? Ditzy Doo had introduced her. Silver something. Silver Bell? I hoped I had it right.
"Hello Miss," she started when she realized I was looking at her, "What are you doing under our home?"
"I was sleeping," I stated the obvious.
She tilted her head, causing her blonde mane to shift, revealing a scar on her head in the same location that would be a unicorn's horn. Surely she wasn't a unicorn?
"Yes, I can see you were sleeping, but why were you sleeping here?" she asked.
"It was dry, and was as good a place as any other," I replied.
After a few moments she stated, "I think a bed would be more comfortable."
"Comfort is relative," I told her. "I am used to sleeping on the ground, or on the floor. The ground doesn't smell or feel as bad as a very old mattress. There is no one else's snoring to annoy me. I didn't have to worry about nasty ponies sneaking up on me while I slept. That all makes it comfortable."
The filly stared at me silently for a while. Just when I was thinking the conversation was dead, she piped up again. "Yes, I think I can understand what you mean. Comfort is when you are not near things that make you uncomfortable, and that isn't the same for every pony."
I nodded. I wondered how old she was. At times she seemed quite child like, and others she displayed significant maturity. But then, the wastelands did that to ponies - forced them to grow up too fast. My childhood had been quite pleasant until my bastard father shot me and my mother. And now, as a constant reminder, I was physically trapped in a body that hadn't visibly aged from that fateful day. I was neither mare or foal. The young usually rejected me as an adult, due to by behavior, while the adults dismissed me as a child due to my size. I was converted to a cyborg when I was fifteen. Nineteen years had passed since then.
"Well, Silver Bell, I'd better get up, seeing as how the morning has arrived," I commented. "I have to go and see how my mother is doing."
"Me too," the filly replied. "I meant I have to go see how my new Mommy is doing, not your Mommy."
"Good for you," I responded, beginning my usual get-my-three-legged-ass-off-the-ground routine, only to be reminded of my newly procured prosthetic. "Ooh - four legs!"
"Huh?" the filly asked. "Of course I have four legs. I'm a pony."
"I'm a pony too, but I only have three legs," I explained, "except today I seem to have four."
The filly looked at me like I was mad, or at least arithmetically challenged, then her face lit up. "Oh, it was you with three legs at the fight. I forgot you were missing one. You look normal now."
"Well, thanks," I stated. If 'normal' included walking around with my forelegs encased in Steel Ranger armor, I was set!
As soon as Silver Bell was gone, I returned to my routine, using my magic to groom myself. After that, a quick snack of something that was a couple of centuries past its "best by" date quieted my rumbling stomach. Despite the age, the Sugar Apple Bombs tasted okay. They must have been spectacular back when they were manufactured! I levitated my battle saddle onto my back, fastened it, and walked out from under Absolutely Everything, heading for the doctors. I got a couple of wary glances from the locals, but just gave a friendly nod in return.
Approaching the clinic I could hear a male voice complaining a little. It didn't sound like the doctor. I let myself in, glancing around to see where Lee was, and to find out who was talking. Once past the privacy screen, I could see her lying on a bed in the next room. The doctor was in there, as was the other male. Ha! It must be that Steel Ranger. He had been in there yesterday. I guess he sounded a lot different when healthy to how he had sounded when he was dying of massive injuries.
I walked in, ignoring any desire he may have had for privacy. "Good morning, Sunshine," I addressed him. I had no idea what his name was, but Sunshine fit his rich yellow coat, and vibrant yellow-orange mane and tail.
"Oh, it's the grim reaper," he replied.
"Good morning, doctor," I continued. "How is Loopy today?" I nodded towards my mother's supine form.
"She has no sign of any concussion, and she still thinks she's an alien. You can take her with you."
"Bleah," my mother said, opening her eyes. "I don't think I'm an alien. I know I'm a human. I just don't know why I am in a pony's body."
Sunshine laughed at Lee as the doctor finished unwinding the bandages from his head. That revealed Sunshine's missing eye, reminding me of the item I had bought for him yesterday.
"I hope you have a sense of humor, Sunshine," I commented, levitating the eye patch out of my saddle compartment. I tossed it to him. That was when I saw his cutie mark. It was a classic 'tough guy' portrait of a pony... wearing an eye patch... on the same eye, what's more. I tried to suppress the giggle, but all that did was to make me hiccup, and that made matters worse. In the end I just collapsed on the floor, laughing so hard I had tears running from my eyes. Thankfully, there were no other patients in the clinic. "Sorry, but I..." I managed before the laughing took over again.
Sunshine stared at me for a moment, then looked at his cutie mark, a grin forcing itself onto his face, despite his best efforts. "I never expected it to be literally prophetic," he muttered. "Saffron Fields, though Sunshine works. I've been called it often enough. I guess you aren't so bad after all."
The doctor interrupted. "The lot of you can get out of my clinic now. Saffron Fields, I would appreciate you pay your expenses before you leave." With that, the doctor walked from the room, leaving the three of us to finish our conversation, as we packed.
"You wouldn't know what happened to my power armor, would you?" Saffron asked, looking at my power boots. "Or my money for that matter."
"The armor was trashed," I replied. "Missiles blowing up in their magazine does rather mess things up." I turned and extracted the chest plate from the equipment strapped to my saddle. "Here, I saved you a bit. Maybe you can repair the other suit of armor with that."
"Bah!" Saffron exclaimed, "You only needed to feed the thing some scrap metal for the integral magic to repair the suit."
I giggled. "Whoops. We did pull it apart when we got you out of it, so I don't think its systems were functioning anymore anyway."
Saffron looked at me through a half closed eye. "And those boots wouldn't be from my suit, perchance?"
"Guilty as charged," I responded, "but at least I can walk now. I saved you the grenade launcher too. The rest went to help pay our medical bills, not that it made much difference."
"Your medical bills?" Saffron asked. "Not MY medical bills?"
"You two did a lot of damage to my mother!" I exclaimed. "And she's still broken!"
"Am not," Lee quietly interjected.
Saffron sighed. "True enough. For what it's worth, I did do a lot of thinking about what you said. You were right. We were behaving like raiders. I would say I was sorry, but I don't think mere words are up to the task."
"Perhaps you would care to make up for it in action," I suggested. "It would seem I have to take Loopy back to the last place in Equestria to which I want to go, the stable that made us into cyborgs. You could come with us, and help."
Saffron slowly nodded, inviting me to continue, but not committing himself.
"The offer gets better," I added. "These Pipgirls which you were so interested in procuring were made in the same stable. There are bound to be some that you could scavenge."
"Scavenge? The stable...." Saffron began.
"Was destroyed, or so I have heard. I have not been back to check. For all I know, my info could be incorrect, and I really don't fancy finding that out the hard way," I explained.
"And my money?" Saffron asked.
"Money? Huh?" I asked before I realized what he meant. He wasn't asking for payment. He wanted to know how he was meant to pay the doctor. "I think you will find your bag of caps was rescued at the same time as you were. I'm not sure you would have got treated at all if the doctor wasn't sure of payment. By the time he's finished with you though, you'll be lucky if there is anything left in your coin bag. He's already emptied mine."
"Okaaaay," Saffron said. "That won't leave much for new equipment."
"Perhaps your buddy in the morgue still has his coin bag. We didn't loot him, you know," I suggested.
"I'll have to arrange for his burial anyway, I guess. I really don't fancy doing the paperwork for this encounter." Saffron paused in thought for a few moments. "I think a sabbatical is in order. I accept your offer."
He extended a hoof. I extended one in return - something I had been incapable for some time. "Welcome to the team, Saffron. I'm Anne. Yeah, the most un-pony name in existence. Blame her." I nodded towards my mother. "And she calls herself Lee these days."
Footnote: Maximum Level. Fifteen years of wandering the wastelands does have that effect!