“Goooood morning Neighvada! This is your ever lovely Voto here with the morning announcements! The temperature is a low 102 degrees, with a slight chance of radiation. Don’t count on it staying this nice though kiddies; if you’re going to make a run through the Furnace, run your flank like Nightmare Moon is after it.
In other news, anypony heading down the I-72, don’t. And if you have to, bring guns and protection. The Blood stampede is on the hunt again, and they don’t take prisoners.
Now, for the daily safety tip. Ever hear an old mare spinnin yarns about big lizards that can breathe fire, and possibly fly? And no, they ain’ t dragons...”
For more than a thousand years, ponies knew peace and prosperity. Then the mistakes began to pile up like corpses.. And when the pile overflowed, the world was purged in a blaze of balefire. Equestria, and everything else, burned in the ravages of war. When the radiation faded, ponies crawled out of massive underground safe houses called Stables to begin anew.
The Neighvada desert was spared the worst of the apocalypse, but the sands were not greedy with the punishment. Taint and radiation spread rampant, and only those preserved in the Stables outlasted the hellish storms.
Now, the sands are mixed with the dust of bones, new and old. In a land of dwindling resources, where Celestia’s very spirit beats upon the earth with furious judgement, avarice is all the ponies know. In the Neighvada, caps run thicker than blood. And war... war never changes.
Guess I should start at the beginning... If I’m going to explain any of this...
Whew, this is harder than I thought. The beginning, right. And it wasn’t when I was born, and it wasn’t some point in time that was significant for some reason. There was a hundred different beginnings, and even more endings already. No, not the beginning then. How about...
I’m no good at this... but I need to give my reasons. Maybe when I’m done retelling my story, some one will understand how I came to this choice, and why I’m making it.
My name is Salt Dust, and my life began in the city of Six-foot. A cavernous and cramped world of tunnels and rock. Around a thousand ponies lived in there at any time, not that anypony would be bothered to check that. So yeah, it was huge but so tight that two ponies could barely walk in the same hall together. It was multilayered too, just to add to the fun of being surrounded by rocks. There was actually a running challenge for couples, to see if all their neighbours could hear them rutting.
We were born into these caves, and we’d die in them old mares and stallions. It wasn’t terrible, there was food for all of us to get a meal a day, maybe more if the Stablers were feeling generous. See, Six-foot was connected to this big ol’ thing called “Stable 66”. Shiny steel walls, working lights, a water talisman, and an entire apple orchard. This of course meant that only the highest class of pony was allowed in there. The rich, the entitled, and the Obsidian council. Bunch of lazy mules who refused to even look at the rest of us as we toiled away, trying to keep this city from collapsing on itself.
Me? I was the head repairs pony. I kept this city from becoming worse, nothing more and nothing less. There weren’t many ways to make it better. Everyday since I got my cutie mark, a bolt stuck between two gears, life’s been pretty consistent. Wake up, get annoyed by the other engineers, beat a sputtering piece of gadgetry until it worked, go home, sleep. That was Six-foot, everypony going through their routines because the only other thing was getting drunk. And the drinks tasted like their ingredients, dirt and mushrooms.
“Have you heard about ‘Ekwestria’? Heard it’s supposed to be made of solid diamonds.” one of my lackeys said dreamily. I glowered as I levitated my wrench into a behemoth of a generator.
“You’ve been munching the Loon-shrooms, haven’t you Thyst?” her companion replied flatly. Lazy apprentices were supposed to watch as I fixed this wreck, not chat about imaginary places.
“Not after last time, yuck. But can you imagine it? It’s supposed to have a ceiling so high, you can’t touch it with your hoof. And great golden mushrooms that taste like apples...”
“What does an apple taste like anyway?”
“You’ll be tasting my rear hoof if you both don’t shut it and pay attention!” I finally snapped. The effect was lessened by the inches of metal muffling me, but they quieted. The peace was stolen early though, when my brother burst through the curtain-door.
“Salt! You’ll never guess what I found!” Marble shouted.
“If it’s ear muffs, I will hug you, possibly until you pass out but it will be no less thankful.” I said, pulling my head out and blowing a few strands of grey hair from my face.
Marble chuckled, and I shooed the two young fillies away before he could start talking. Marble was a miner, picking out new cave systems and generally hitting the walls in the hopes something useful came out. I didn’t ask about his job, he didn’t ask about mine. After mom died, we didn’t talk as much but still lived in the same house. I don’t think we could have actually just walked away from each other, being twins tended to make that feel awkward. Most of our actual interaction now took place when he came up with a new adventure for us.
And today would appear to be one of those days. He had ‘found’ some old maps, from a couple of decades ago. There were abandoned tunnels which nopony had finished exploring, and ripe with opportunities for two bored siblings to poke their noses around. It’d take us a little too close to the underbelly, but not close enough for the Bomies to get us.
I agreed, like I always did. Really, what was I going to say, ‘I’m sorry dear brother of mine, but I’m too busy being pissed at a few machines to go with you on exciting and possibly dangerous journeys’? I tried that once, it was incredibly awkward. And I still went along.
Besides, I was the boss, and if I wanted to leave who was going to say no?
As we trotted through the maze of roughly cut tunnels, the flickering glow of magic-lamps faded and was replaced by the luminescent glow-caps. Not the best tasting fungi, but it was a decent if eerie light source.
“If you hate the job so much, then why don’t you leave?” Marble asked. As I said, most of our bonding time was on these little ventures, so he made sure to make the most of it.
I snorted, “If I quit, Six-foot would be starving in a month. I’m the only pony who knows how to keep the machinery working.”
“So the rest of the repair ponies are incompetent, or just plain stupid?”
“They’re not stupid, just no as smart as me.” I said with a smirk.
“And hopefully just a modest.”
“I am the epitome of modesty, I’ll have you know. Why, just yesterday, I... uh, did something humble...” My sarcasm bit the bullet as my creativity failed. Marble snickered ahead of me, taking a right as the tunnel forked.
“You wouldn’t know humble if it bit your horn.” he said.
“Oh is that a challenge?”
“... Yes, I challenge you to get Humble to bite your horn.” Marble was referring to one of the older mares named Humble. She at least lived up to the name, she rarely spoke and even more rarely did something besides get drunk. Getting her to bite my horn would be like Loona’s prophecies being true. We both started laughing at that, the sound echoing weirdly on the uneven walls.
Marble was looking back at me as he rounded the next corner, saying “I can just picture it, that old purple pony nibbling on your horn. Hay, this might prove whether or not you’re into- Oof!”
He stumbled back, looking a bit dazed. “Run into a wall, dust-eyes?” I mocked.
Marble looked up at the split in the tunnel, “I ran into somepony, I think.”
“What, somepony down here? Who else besides us is crazy enough to go exploring?”
“I dunno, I’m just gonna take a look...” Peering down, he froze for a second before slowly turning to face me, his black coat a few shades paler..
“Marble? Who is it?” I asked, leaning in to look myself. Then it stumbled into view.
When I said this would take us close to the underbelly, I had thought ‘close’ was ‘far from the Bomies’. I was proven horribly wrong by the mutated pony before us. Three extra legs dangled from it’s back, flapping wildly while it’s two heads sized us up. I gulped loudly, my hooves feeling like lead.
“Salt...” Marble said in a strained whisper.
“RUN!” he yelled, bolting through the tunnel to the left. I galloped after him, too stunned to do anything but follow. A Bomie, a real more-or-less live Bomie! I had heard Loona tell morbid stories of the unfortunate ponies to be stuck in the underbelly, but I thought it was like her tales of other worlds outside the walls of Six-foot. Regardless of her reliability, I had spent far more time than is healthy wondering about the things, what they’d look like, what I’d do if I found one. Sometimes I’d imagine I was like Groghoof the barbarian, fighting them off with oversized axes. Now was not a time for ripped off comic books though, now was a time for running very fast!
The Bomie moaned loudly and gave chase, following with unnerving accuracy as we weaved through the labyrinth of outer caves. I was barely keeping track of Marble’s grey tail as he swerved around bends. More than once I thought we’d lost it, only to see it a few yards away as we took the next turn.
“Faster Marble! Run faster!!” I screamed, catching too close a glimpse of the things slobbering jaws.
“I”m running as fast as possible!” He shouted back. “When I say jump, jump like your life depends on it, okay?!”
“What’re you talking about?”
There weren't a lot of choices at that point. Marble led me into a large chamber riddled with tunnel entrances, and took one seemingly at random. The green glow was growing steadily stronger as we ran through this passage, Bomie right on my tail. Then Marlbe yelled “Jump!” before doing so himself. I copied his move without thinking, and looked down just in time to see a stream of glowing sludge.
The shock nearly made me miss the other side, and Marble had to yank me up as I dangled off my forelegs over the stream. The Bomie didn’t seem to recognize the danger, and simply galloped over the edge into the stuff. One of it’s heads bobbed up for a second before it was swept away, or possibly dissolved.
“What the hay is that? What the hay was that? Where the hay are we?!” I asked rapid fire, my heart still thudding in my ears.
Marble was pressing a hoof between his eyes, taking long, deep breathes. “I don’t know Salt...”
“What was your plan then, huh?! You had a map, I saw you planning with a map, so tell me map-master, where are we!”
“Calm down? Why would I need to calm down?!” I was pacing in tight little circles now, “It’s not like we’re lost and about to be Bomie lunch, and we can’t even backtrack cause your idea was for us to jump over a stream of-of acid or whatever that stuff is!”
“You’re freaking out, Salt.”
“I am not freaking out! I am constructively criticising your plan!” I was shouting at the top of my lungs by the end of that sentence, but I was too busy being constructive to really notice.
I stopped my pacing and turned to Marble. “That was you, right?” He shook his head. “Oh. I say we start running.” Marble nodded, and we both galloped forwards as fast as our legs could take us.
This time I was in the lead, so when the first Bomie found us I got the pleasure of running face first into it. It’s skin was horrifyingly squishy, and the smell made me choke on my breakfast. Gagging, I backed into Marble before going down the other path. More Bomies followed the first one, and soon disfigured faces were poking out of every other passage.
“No talk! More run!” I shouted back.
“Are you insane!?”
“They’re herding us!”
“They’re... Oh for fucks sake!” This whole thing was seriously grating on my nerves. First we get lost in the middle of who knows where, then we got chased by a Bomie, and now we were being herded like roaches by these mutated things. “What next?!” I screamed, wholeheartedly expecting to find a giant lake of that green slime, and maybe a giant Bomie, icing on the cake and all that.
What I didn’t expect was a solid steel door with a pile of half eaten pony remains in front of it. We both ground to stop, the Bomies having been left behind.
“Well, we aren’t the first.” Marble said, gingerly stepping over the bones.
“That makes me feel soo much better about being eaten by Bomies.” I groaned, trying to keep the imminent death-by-biting despair from my head. One of these skeletons had a Pip-buck on it, hooked into a terminal by the door.
As I tore the device from the chewed bone, Marble eyeing me like I was crazy. I’d probably do the same in his horseshoes. “What’re you doing?” he asked.
“Shh, let me concentrate...” I muttered, floating the Pip-buck in front of me. The pony had been trying to hack the door when the Bomies got them, the process was still half finished. I closed out of that, and opened an interface with the lock mechanism. “If I know machines, and I totally do, all it should take is a little tweak here...” I sent a jolt of magical electricity through the wires. “A twist there...” Another zap. “And a little zing for good luck.” I gave it a final charge of the spell, and the door creaked as it slid open. “Tadah!” I sang triumphantly, and spun to see Marble keeping a pack of Bomies at bay with a pony skull.
“Victory dance later, lets go!” I decided and grabbed my brother by his tail to drag him through the door. I slammed both hooves on the close button as the first of the mutants plodded up to it. The door swung shut surprisingly fast, and gave a nice smack as it hit the lead Bomie.
I stomped in front of the door and stuck my tongue out. “Take that you freaky things! No Salt snacks for you!” One of them rammed the door, and it didn’t even shudder. “What’s that? Sorry, can’t hear you through the big metal door!”
“You think you can hold the victory jeers until we get back to Six-foot?” Marble asked. I sighed and blew one last raspberry at the Bomies locked outside.
“Lead the way.” I told him. We still had no idea were we where, but if I was leading us then we’d somehow get more lost. It’s why I didn’t get his compass cutie mark.
There weren’t any glow-caps in these new tunnels, leaving everything but the edge of the door pitch black. We fumbled around blindly for a few minutes before Marble told me he’d found a switch. With a click, the lights flickered on above us, and we both looked around in confusion.
The walls, floor, and ceiling were made of shiny steel, the lights were actually electrical, and there weren’t even rocks visible. I’d say we had somehow found our way into the Stable, but I really hoped it didn’t have bits of skeleton littered about. We wandered down the hall, seeing a dozen other sealed doors on either side. At the end was a huge door shaped like a gear, which we agreed not to mess with until we had an idea where we were.
I worked at opening the other doors, Marble on ‘close the door as fast as possible’ duty in case the Bomies were outside. Ten of them were bedrooms, a few of those we had to close because of the reek of half rotten bodies. I tried not to linger on those too much, but I was sure the sight of bones lying on a bed with bits of skin dripping off would give me nightmares, right next to the horde of Bomies. They’d probably take turns giving me insomnia.
One door led to a cafeteria, with a few boxes of food in the cupboards. Marble and I had no idea what ‘Dandy colt cakes’ were, and we didn’t trust food that wasn’t made of fungi. The last was a closet full of batteries and plungers.
“Why plungers? I haven’t seen a single toilet in here.” Marble asked. I shrugged and nabbed some of the spark batteries. I knew from experience that nothing beat a good battery when dealing with tech.
We spent some time rummaging through the personal affects in the habitable rooms. Marble found a pistol in one of the rooms, and stared at it with such fascination I thought he’d start kissing the thing. Only the Stable security got guns, and I was guessing this was why Marble had tried out for them so many times.
“How do you think we fire this?”
“I don’t know, try pulling on the back part.” I suggested, not paying attention as I ruffled through a clothes drawer. What did they need clothes for anyways? These weren’t even Stable barding, just some fancy gowns and suits.
“What, this part?” Marble said, and then I lost hearing in my left ear as the pistol went off inches away from it. “Woops...”
“You are so lucky you didn’t shoot me with that.” I grumbled, though it was more of a yell. My ear now filled with a constant squee, I decided that today had been long enough. Marble agreed with the promise that I’d show him just how fun almost getting shot was if he didn’t.
I lay in the bed for a good half hour, tossing about as sleep pointedly ignored me. Every time I closed my eyes, I’d see the twisted and disfigured muzzle of the Bomie as it tried to bite me. When I finally managed to sleep, I woke up instantly from a nightmare of the horde catching Marble and I, and ripping us apart.
I crawled out of my bed and towards Marble’s trying to be sneaky. I was not very light on my hooves apparently, Marble noticed me before I was in hoofs reach of him. “What do you want Salt?” he groaned.
“Uh, well, I just thought you um, might have some trouble sleeping...” I answered lamely. I could feel the unwelcome embarrassed blush, luckily hidden by the darkness.
He rolled over to face me and snickered. “Yeah, I was having some graphic nightmares too.” Marble scooted over and patted the bed. I slid into place, grateful for the company.
“You know what this reminds me of?” I asked. Marble made a questioning groan. “When we were foals, and used to have the same nightmare, so mom would let us sleep next to her.”
Marble sighed wistfully, “And she always sung so we’d stop hitting each other with pillows.”
“How’d that go again? Hmm hmm hm...”
“Hush now, quiet now...” He filled in.
“It’s time to lay your sleepy head.” I continued.
“Hush now, quiet now, it’s time to go to bed.” we sang together, then preformed a synchronized yawn.
Marble chuckled as I curled up next to him. “Think we’ll ever get back to Six-foot?” he asked quietly. I mph’d in response. We stayed silent for a moment, then Marble hugged me lightly. “Good night sis.”