The filly didn't talk.
After I snapped the chain that bound her to the floor, she just stared at me with those big grey eyes of hers. When I moved to leave, she got up and followed, her eyes trained on me but still never speaking. Even as we sneaked our way out of town she followed. Hiding when I hid, moving when I moved, and still as quiet as a mouse. Walking through the darkness, we only had the sound of my radio to keep the silence from engulfing us.
“The Pro-Restriction group that held last night’s protest that turned violent. 'Celestia's Vision' has denounced the events saying that while they oppose the inequine research of the Hizais, violence was just stooping to their level. They also called for what they called, 'an internal investigation' on who in the Galicians ordered the Ponitrons to fire. Once again the Hizai and Galicians have refused to comment. In these times of trouble, let’s not forget how good we in Dise have it. Have you ever felt lonely even with ponies all around? Here's Odyssey telling you what that's like, brought to you by The Moon Casino. Have you been naughty, and need to be punished? Come to The Moon, the best place to be banished.”
“Luna, won’t you cry for me. I'm as lonely as I've ever been...”
Sighing, I stopped. Grey clouds still blanketed the sky, and Celestia had not stopped crying. Still, it had been a long night, and my whole body ached. It'd take half a day to walk to the meeting place, and we weren't scheduled there until the next evening. As the sun peaked over hills I found us a small cave and lay down. “What's your name?”
The filly lay down across from me, never speaking. Her coat was a light pink, so light it could have been white, and her yellow mane and tail was splotched with patches of red that looked like stains. On her left hind leg she still wore the shackle that had chained her to the ground because whenever I tried to take it off she moved away. Her eyes stood out the most though. Children shouldn't look so sad. “Serenity...” Her voice was almost a whisper.
She hated me, I realized at once. Her whole life was probably jumping from one slaver to another, and to her I was just transferring her to another prison. Which was true. I couldn't help wondering who her parents were. Did slavers kill them before taking her? Did they leave her in the wasteland? Did they sell her? I would never know the answer. The wasteland had but little, but it had never lacked for orphans. “I'm Hired Gun.”
Goddess, would she please stop staring at me. I didn't want this... but I was hired for a job, and dammit I had to see it to the end. I mean if Spitshine could eke out a living in their gang, Serenity could. It wouldn't be so bad, right? Funny. I’d thought I was better at lying to myself, but I just couldn't make myself believe it. “Where do you come from?”
Her sad eyes regarded me, before turning her head away. “Dise.”
“Was it nice there?” I tried to smile at her, to reassure her that everything was going to be alright.
I woke up at what I assumed to be noon, though I couldn’t really tell with the sun hidden behind the clouds. I rolled to my feet, smiling as I realized the rain had finally stopped. Ripping off the cover to my metal leg, I trotted over to Serenity poking her with said prosthetic. Groaning, the filly rolled over.
“Get Up.” We had a schedule to meet. “Now.” I punctuated my statement with another poke to the gut.
Finally she opened her eyes, and gasped. “Omigosh!” Jumping to her feet, she walked under me and weaved between my legs as she circled my prosthetic. “A Series 19-B Model Cybernetic Leg with a custom leg extender. I've never seen a working model, wow!” Great, apparently my leg was out-of-date tech. “These were the height of technology back before the war! Some purists say they're still the best for their customization.” Customi-what?
“You like this sort of thing?” She stopped dead in her tracks and turned her head to me. In an instant the jubilation in her eyes fell to a dead gloom. My face does that to fillies. More-so to fillies I am about to sell to a raider band of questionable integrity.
“Yes.” Her eyes fell to the ground.
There was no point pressing the issue. Of course she hated me. For such a cute little thing she managed to hate as well as the best of them. I deserved it.
The road was long, winding and filled with rocks. The only sounds were breathing, hoof-beats, the metal clang of my leg and my radio. The DJ must have been sick, or sleepy, as it was just the same series of maybe a dozen songs playing on repeat. Not bad songs per se, but without his voice to break them up, their repetition got a bit...irritating. Not to mention how much I love that voice of his.
“What’s that?” A small voice said so suddenly I nearly jumped. I spun quickly to see she was staring at a small wooden door chiseled into the side of a sheer cliff. Trotting a bit closer I poked at the door with my metal hoof. It look familiar. I was sure I had seen a door like this before.
I rested my hoof on the door. “A Stable.” I was sure of it. Stable 42 had a door like this that lead to the main stable and its great cog-like barrier. Another stable. Goddess I hated these things. I had only known one in my whole life and it had been where everything that could have gone wrong did. So here stood another, in the middle of what might have been my biggest moral failing, mocking me. Closing my eyes, I could hear Wildfire whisper to me, telling me how wrong I was. I shook my head violently.
Wildfire was dead. And might I remind myself she died doing the right thing, and if I was so eager to join her in the grave following her example would make that happen. Sure as I could spit, running now would just get us killed. Fuck it. I was hired to do a job and, for good or ill, I was going to finish the damn job.
“A stable.” I set my hoof back down. “Let’s go.”
We got to the meeting place a few hours late. The crest of a small hill beset with rocks. Two great hunks of stone were positioned on either side of the hill, each with a sniper trained on me. Maybe he didn't trust me. Across the way came trotting up Silver Bullet, his brown coat as dirty as his soul. Trotting by his side was the mare I knew as 'Bloody Dagger'
“You're late.” Oh good, he can tell the time.
“Whatever.” His face showed the slightest hint of a smile. On his flank I could see his grey chain cutie-mark showing proudly. Stomping for a second, he looked to one of the rocks where a sniper stood, and then to the other. Subtle. Real subtle.
“Where is she?” I side stepped showing off Serenity. My heart wrenched for her, really it did. She was lying on the ground and visibly shaken with her yellow and red-splotched hair covering her eyes; tears fell from beneath her hair splashing onto the dirt. Celestia, what was I doing? Walking behind her I gently touched her shoulder.
“It's time.” From one cell the next. To Serenity's credit she wiped her eyes dry, got up on all fours and trotted slowly to Silver Bullet's side. Her grey eyes were fixed on me though. Begging me.
But a deal was a deal and would be until I got paid. “You never told me.”
“I didn't think it mattered.” he tilted his head quizzically. Beside him, 'Bloody Dagger' just glared at me. Apparently, she had never gotten over me laughing at Spitshine once. Spitshine. Yeah. I'm sure her and Serenity could be friends. “A package is a package; don’t matter how it’s wrapped.”
If I told you that just then I realized he was a slaver, I hope you don't think me any stupider than usual. It all made sense. He’d claimed his group had turned raider, and there was his cutie mark. It looked so much like the chain that bound Serenity to the floor. I should have realized it then. In my mind I imagined Nanny Jane as a middler who was asking too many caps and had to be taken care of.
Or a rival slaver. My mind tried to justify killing Nanny Jane, but in my heart it wasn't justifiable. When I took the job she was just a shop owner, whatever came out after my shot didn't matter. I shook my head. I would have done it again in a heart beat, if only the package was different.
“Caps.” I demanded, and dutifully he threw me a small bag. Catching it in my mouth I shook it lightly, not putting it into my bag before I heard that lovely jingle jangle sound. The price of freedom. The cost of a small pony’s life. I should have asked for more. Nothing was worth this. Becoming a slave.
“We're done here.”
“Wait.” Idiot. I just had to open my big dumb mouth. I didn't even wait until the three had turned away like the cliche; I just blurted it out right away. Stupid. It made it sound like I cared. As if, somehow, this next question actually mattered. “So we're even. I'm free. The job’s over, right?” Oh the laughter in his eyes made me want to tear one out and show it to the other.
“Huh? Oh yeah, of course. You done your job good, Gun. If you’re ever in the area and needing work, I’m sure I can find something for ya.” Like attack a peaceful caravan? Drag screaming foals away from their mothers? Maybe whip a slave or two when I had the free time? Oh yeah, I’d be back.
That look in his eyes. The way he looked back to Serenity but quickly snapped his head back to me. Was he getting nervous? Suspicious? Was he afraid I was going to do something stupid? Really, he didn't know me at all. I did the job for him as Hired Gun, but even she would have balked at the job if it involved filly slaves, but she didn't know. Still, I’d agreed to the job, so I had to complete it. In the future I would ask for more details. I gave him my very best smile, but it didn’t seem to reassure him.
“If I’m ever in the neighbourhood.” I stretched out for a second. “One more question.”
“Go on.” Impatient as always. Just like a stallion.
“What will you do with the filly?”
A brief moment panic washed over his face, “I... might sell her to The Moon. Some clientele will pay extra coin for a filly in their be-” d.
He never got to finish the sentence on account of the bullet that ripped into his head, turned his brain into mush, and exploded out the back. The voice in my head screamed, Survive!
But fuck it, some things are worth dying for.
As the brown corpse of Silver Bullet fell in an heap, I quickly grabbed the grenade I pilfered from Nanny Jane. “Run.” I mouthed to the scared little filly before kicking it across the yard into one of the giant rocks flanking us.
BLAM. BOOM. BLAM.
The snipers fired simultaneously to the sound of my explosion. Fire lanced up my leg as one bullet pierced it. The second I heard bounce harmlessly away. The rock, it seemed, was perilously positioned and the explosion was enough to send it toppling over, the sniper along with it. I would have heard the crunch as the pony was crushed under what used to be his perch if not for the deafening smash the rock made upon landing.
My leg nearly gave out. I could feel the blood run down my leg staining my silver coat a rusted brown. I grit my teeth and kept moving. I didn't have time to feel pain. My eyes met that of the second sniper. I was a quicker shot though, and less than a quarter of a second after biting into my battle saddle I saw a red hole explode through his chest. The pony wobbled, unsure of what happened, and then fell from his perch, landing in a mangled heap. One left.
“Watch out!” Serenity called. Funny, I could have sworn I’d told her to run.
Instead of watching, I dropped my belly to the ground. It was the last thing 'Bloody Dagger' was expecting as she tripped over my body, landing with a deep thud my ringing ears could barely recognize. I got back up on all fours ignoring the pain raging in my leg. There before me was the body of 'Bloody', her knife spinning away from her.
“Don't move.” My gun was pointed at her head. At this range it had turned Silver Bullet's face into soup, a fact I was sure she was aware of.
“Go on, bitch, pull the trigger.” She spat. Pleasant, it also made what I was about to do that much stupider.
“No.” Sighing I backed up, nearly bumping into Serenity who must have been as confused as 'Bloody' there. “You live.”
“What? Are you a fucking retarded fucking cunt or something? Fuck, let me live, and I'll-”
“Nothing. Follow me with any force, and you die.”
“What the fuck! You killed Bullet, you fuck-tard. Only thing what stopped them from tearing Spitshine apart, so if you fucking think-”
“I want you to take Spitshine and run. To one of the villages. Change your name, your Cutie-mark, whatever.”
“You're fucking serious aren't you?” Her eyes narrowed at me, unsure of her own words. “What... what the fuck?”
“I have a soft spot for orphan fillies and broken things. Take your filly and leave. You keep playing raider...” I sighed. This was too much. Why couldn't she just take my offer? It was too generous already without her bitching about every little thing I said. I hate talking with raiders. “... I'll kill you.” We matched glares for a second and then she nodded.
“Serenity, take her weapons.” If she wasn't going to run she could at least make herself useful. Dutifully the little filly untied 'Bloody Dagger's' battle saddle. Motioning for Serenity to keep the battle saddle, it could bring in a pretty penny, she stuffed it into my saddle bags as I turned to 'bloody dagger'. “Take your knife and go.”
My leg collapsed out from under me sending me face first into the dirt. “Fuuf.” I attempted to swear, spitting out dirt. Blood completely soaked my fore-leg and dyed it a rusted brown. In retrospect, I should have bound it up to stop the bleeding before hiking across an endless wasteland of dirt and rocks. Gritting my teeth, I tried to force myself to my feet.
Pain lanced up my leg into my chest.
I flopped back down. Resting it was. I groaned and poked the wound with my metal hoof. More pain lanced through me making me feel nauseous. “It looks infected... ” Serenity stood beside my leg, inspecting it. When her head turned to regard me I couldn't help but notice her eyes no longer had that sad, morose look. Instead, she looked confused, maybe, or tentative. “Why didn'tcha bind it?” Why? Because, my dear, I'm an idiot.
“Had better things to do.” Like saving your life.
“Whaaat? Ya can't be serious! A bullet wound is dangerous... Do you know what an infected wound could do!?” For a little thing, she sure was talkative now. I looked to my metal leg and smiled at her. I was pretty sure I knew the effects of infected wounds, though I doubted this one was nearly as serious. She bent over my leg frowning at the bloody wounds. “So close to the subclavian artery, not good. Gunna have'ta remove the bullet. ” She was ranting and walking around me like she had just ate a whole bowl of sugar.
“Most of the time a bullet ain't dangerous; more dangerous to take'em out, what with the poking around ya gotta do. But from that shot, it could wander and puncture an important artery! Could bleed out inside!”
What? “You know this... how?”
“Humph.” She stopped raises a hoof dramatically to her chest, “I was an apprentice medic with the Watchers before... before... ” The word chocked in her throat, but she shook it off. “There were other fillies and colts when I was taken. Some were wounded, but I helped them... and then... ” her tiny face scrunched up and she kicked at the ground with both hooves.
Groaning, I eased myself to my feet. Pain shot through my body, but I kept to my feet. “In my bag. Pills. Hand me one.” My shoulder burned as Serenity levitated a single small blue pill out. It was chalky and hard to swallow, but as soon as I managed it, the pain in my leg faded to a dull... dullness. Med-X in pill form. It came in injections too, but either way it was insanely useful. It was a shame I could only pilfer a few from Nanny Jane.
“The stable,” I remembered suddenly. We had been walking back the way we had come. I had planned to skip around Bridle Hope on the small dirt road my pipbuck showed that led to the main highway on the other side of a huge mountain that rose in between Bridle Hope and Dise. From there I had hoped to find somepony to take in Serenity, but with my new information I would drop her off with The Watchers in Dise when I went to see them. Doctor Morowynd said he was to take me to see them, so I figured I would go myself and see if there were any caps in it for me. First things first though.
We reached the wooden door in the cliffside just as Celestia's tears began to fall anew. With a single kick of my metal leg the rotten wood turned to splinters. A few more kicks and it was nothing more than a hole. “It wasn't locked.” Serenity said, a sly smile on her face. Rolling my eyes, I continued into the cave. It was dark, almost too dark. I found my metal leg tripping over rocks, nearly sending me sprawling more than once.
The painkillers ran out as we reached the huge cog-like door of the stable. From the looks of it the door had long since been rolled away to the point it looked rusted to the metal floor of the stable. Groaning, I nearly collapsed but held strong. There on the floor in front of the small stairs that led to the sable proper, and beside the door control device I saw a rusted brown blood stain. In my mind it was Wildfire's, the two stables so similar.
“This way.” I limped up the stairs. Three doors, I had been here before. I took the centre one as the lights overhead flickered and waned. Honestly, I was surprised there was power at all, or at least I would have been, if I had been able to think about anything but my leg. Getting shot sucked. It wasn't the first time I got shot, but it was the first time I had taken a high calibre round to bare skin. The wound stank, or maybe that was the Stable.
I froze at the intersection where I once bucked a pony to death.
“Are you okay... ?” A small voice asked. Great, now she was worrying about me. I grunted and kept on, rounding the corner. All the stables were the same, somepony told me once, so I knew where to find the clinic. I walked past the spot where I once stabbed a pony in the head with the hot barrel of my gun.
I shuddered. The whole place just seemed so quiet. The last stable had ponies running, and screaming, and... there was something else I couldn't put my finger on. In this stable, the only sounds was my hushed breath and the whirling of the lights overhead. Creepy.
“Here,” I groaned, pointing to the medic door. Thankfully, it was the same as stable 42, so maybe my adventure there wasn't a complete waste disaster. Of course, if I had never gone to stable 42, I would never be here in stable... stable... “Did you see what stable this is?”
“Stable 123, the door said...” Stable 123. I pushed on the door to the clinic, and it slid open with a reliable whoosh. The white room on the other side looked half a mess. Waste baskets were knocked over, spilling used syringes across the floor, and the huge medical cabinet was lying on its back, completely empty. Of the two examination tables, one was broken in half, but the other was standing upright and only slightly stained. So much for a sterile environment. Everything had been looted multiple times by the looks, well except for a yellow and pink box hanging off the side of a white wall.
I limped to the box poking it. Locked. Great. “I could pick the lock,” Serenity said standing on her hind legs to reach it, “If I had a bobb-”
I placed my metallic hoof back on the ground as the medical box creaked and opened. “Or not...” Serenity was rolling her eyes at me, but I didn't care. Mission accomplished. Lets see. Two healing potions, a rad-x, a bottle of purified water, and some tweezers. Serenity gathered the supplies with magic, sending that stupid burning sensation through my shoulder again. I was never going to get used to that.
“Okay! Lets get started!” She seemed a bit too excited for open surgery. She picked up a stool from the ground and placed it by the examination table, motioning for me to get on. The whole thing creaked under my considerable weight but held firm. Stretching out the offending leg, she peered over it, a grin on her face. “This may sting.”
With a wisp of magic, she poured the water directly into my open wound and got to cleaning it with a rag she apparently kept with her. Gritting my teeth against the pain I nodded at her. She licked her lips in anticipation as she floated the tweezers above my open wounds. I took a deep breath.
It took a few seconds after the tweezers went in for the pain to register. It was nearly blinding. I bit my lip to hold back the pain and very nearly bit right through. The magically powered tweezers dug into my open wound, digging and clawing until she eventually pulled them out holding a bullet shell with an mushroomed tip. “Hollow point.” I said through my teeth. No wonder the wound hurt so much; the bastard hit me with a .308 calibre hollow point round. It was a miracle I didn't bleed out.
“Hollow what?” She was a smart little filly, so I was a bit surprised at that she didn't know that.
“Its a type of bullet. Expands going in... for massive damage.” The little filly seemed to be contemplating that as her grey eyes assessed the damage to my leg above my pipbuck. Cleaning the wound a bit more, she looked around.
“Need bandages. Even with the healing potions it should be bandaged up as well, ya know? Healin' potions are good my master always said, but healin' spells plus some good'ol TLC is even better. Besides I’ve heard stories of them what think they can drink a couple dozen healing potions and be fine, but later die of lead poisoning cause they didn't treat them wounds good 'nough. Healin' potions aren’t magic... well okay they ARE magic, but magic can't solve all your problems.” Says the unicorn to the earth pony.
The static from my pipbuck boomed as Serenity bounded up my leg with bandages I still had from stable 42. The DJ's voice played over the radio, and was as handsome as ever, but lost something with the interference being in the middle of a mountain caused. “This is... Paradise... In the west causing trouble for the NCA... canyon ridge bridge under... NCA say they will stop at nothing...” I growled at the thing and turned the radio off. There was no point if I could barely understand what he was saying.
Finally finished with the bandages, Serenity jumped down off her stool and looked up at me. “There. Now get some rest, you look awful.” I must have. My mane stuck to my forehead with sweat, I felt too light and too heavy at the same time. It had been a long couple days, and that nap earlier really hadn’t been all that satisfying.
”Can’t. Gotta move.”
“No buts, you're sick.”
“Can't leave you here alone.”
“What! Don’t be silly, silly. You've done waaaay more than enough, more than I could have hoped for, so it's my turn. You rest, okay? I can't just let you walk around all sick and injured.” I had done as little as equinely possible, but I was much too fatigued to say so, so I nodded dumbly.
“Fine... just don't wander off.” I closed my eyes, and almost immediately went to sleep.
“T’ain’t nothin’ ‘ere, ah tells ya. T’ain’t nothin’.” My eyes filtered open, the sound of voices drowning out the gentle humming of the lights. “Told'ya they wouldn't be, an 'ere we’s are neck deep in raider territory, an’ ya tellin' me ta look harder.” I didn't recognize the accent or the buck what spoke with it. Groaning, I rolled to my side towards the sounds.
“Keep looking. We go back empty handed, and we won’t have enough to eat,” the second voice said. Another Stallion, but more refined. Probably grew up in the city.
“Ah told'ya t'ain’t nothin’ here. Ya think youse the first what thought ta look dis stable?”
“I thought maybe we'd find something the others picked over-”
“Youse got us trapped in Raider country an-”
“Both of you, shut up!” A mare snapped, her voice a shrill whip. “Well, what do we have here, a filly?” Serenity! Jumping off the bed, I suddenly remembered where I was. “Hey, where you going?” I heard metallic hoof-steps outside my door as Serenity turned and ran, but only half a second as the sound suddenly vanished. “Well, follow her! Sell the filly, and this trip's actually worth something.”
“I t'aint no slaver.”
The door slid open. “No. You're not.” I glowered down at them, standing up straight to show my true height. The mare was a tiny little thing with a comically oversize rifle strapped to her back. She reminded me of Lye, except she was an earth pony with a tear-drop cutie mark.
“What? Who're ya? An' what ya think'a doin'?” The colloquial stallion spoke. His coat and mane were both a deep black, with a desperado hat of similar colouring atop his head. Covering what must have been a horn as my shoulder burned and the shotgun on his back started to glow ever so slightly.
“You're an idiot, filly.” The third spoke. I could barely see his coat with the heavy armoured barding and large helmet he wore, but in between the cracks I thought I saw stripes. “Three against one, you're unarmed and...” his head turned to my bandaged leg, “Injured.”
I stretched back, tensing my muscles, growling a bit. “Don't have to,” I spoke to the mare with the tear drop cutie mark, “I can kill one. Thing is,” I grunted as pain from my leg lanced through my body. It wasn't as bad as before, not nearly. “Y’all don't know which one.” I had seen these types before working at Marefort. Scavengers and traders who had no love for each other, but stuck together out of protection. They'd kill for each other, but not die.
The pure black stallion was the first to back off. Dipping his desperado hat over his eyes, and easing the magic on his shotgun he stepped back. “T'ain’t no way ah'm dyin' for this. T'ain’t no slaver, never have been and I ain't dyin' ta start.”
“Coward,” The armoured stallion said stepping up, “She's just trying to scare you, no way she could kill a one of us. She doesn't have a single fucking weapon on her.”
“True.” The black unicorn replied, “But I seen them augmented freaks 'fore. One stomped my ma's head to mush in one try.” I stomped a pony's head to mush before I ever got my metal leg, but I kept that to myself. “Might be that fancy armour keep ya safe... might be it won’t. She look big 'nough ta bend steel.” Snap chains anyway.
The mare tried a different method. “How much for the filly?” she whinnied.
“Your head.” I said flatly.
“Nothing then.” The tear drop mare looked at me, and then to her two comrades. “We could kill you and take her.”
“I ain't doin' nothin like that.” The black unicorn interjected.
“You could try.” I answered the mare, who was obviously the leader.
“It's not worth it.” The armoured stallion said finally. ”Fillies don't bring as much as colts. Even if we kill this one, no way she goes down without a fight. No matter what we'll be at a loss.” Sure you could just tell yourself that.
“Good. Leave my stable.” The tear drop mare looked ready to argue, but she turned at the stomp of my metal hoof. The huge metal one with stripes under his armour stopped to glare, before vanishing around a corner. Three ponies scared away at only the threat of violence, though laziness may have played a part. I stared down the hall they left for a good minute before remembering.
I didn't bother running the way I assume she went. Instead I strolled casually down the hallway, limping all the way. If I remembered correctly this hallway led down stairs and into the Atrium. From there I could pretty much get anywhere in the Stable. By themselves these massive structures were just metal and concrete and not entirely dangerous. My real concern was her getting stuck somewhere.
As I started down the steps, I couldn't help sense something wrong. Maybe it was the smell of stale air, or the annoying humming of the lights, but it just felt... unnatural. These Stables were built to save ponies lives, but it seemed to me not their spirits. Even when compared to my brown wasteland, these tombs seemed ready made to suck the soul out of any pony what entered. How could ponies live in a place so gray?
“Serenity!,” I called, sounding unnaturally loud as I got to the bottom of the metal steps and into the concrete hallway. Above me hung a dark yellow sign -- ‘Atrium’. Deja Vu again. If I could burn down every stable, I would. Goddess how I hated these places. Instead of heading down the same path I took in stable 42, I veered off to a side room.
The small room looked very much like what I would expect of an office. What a stable needed with an office for I really couldn't say. A tall cabinet had been thrown to the ground, spilling its contents across the ground (An ample supply of wonder glue and blank paper, but nothing really of worth). I hopped over it and made my way to the single desk, with a terminal still glowing.
I poked at the thing with my hoof. I may have jumped back when the damn thing beeped at me. Leaning closer once again, I prepared my fragile heart for beeping. In my defence, I had never seen a working terminal, much less used one. The controls were finicky and undoubtedly made for a Unicorn’s magic, but I did manage to scroll through a list of journal entries. Three of the four were marked in red, so for once in my life, my curiosity got the better of me and I opened them in order.
---Journal Entry Day 360---
Doc says I should use this terminal to write down my feelings and stuff. Says I'm too mopey and should find myself a mare and start a family. Why? I mean, we been here a year, and it looks like we'll for much longer. The hall lights hurt my head, and everything smells. Our government never should have aligned with those Equestrian fools. They provoked the lion, but we're the ponies what get mauled. Isn’t fair. They're the ponies what died, but... Stable-Tec promised that these stable's would save us. They didn't though. No. Equestria Killed us, Stable-Tec built our coffin.
I'm never leaving.
Not sure I would if they offered. I hate this place. I hate the lights, and the floor, and everything. I hate the way the basement leaks when it rains and fills the whole place with the slightest scent of radiation. But I wouldn't leave. I saw the outside world and what it offered. Ponies should stay down here, and just live out their lives. Our race should end for what we did. What those Equestrians made us do.
Nah, we're still procreating. The first foal of the new world was born today. Cute little thing. Born to live and die all in darkness, with the ever-present consequences of their mothers’ and fathers’ failures pressing down on them. With the memory of war and death the only thing they'll ever know. Does that sound fair?
Whatever. Doc doesn't know shit. I'm not moping. Just telling it like it is. World is burnt; our race is buried. We killed the world, and now live in it... does that sound fair?
Well that sounded... bad. I clicked to the next marked entry.
---Journal Entry Day 10925---
Nearly thirty years and I still haven't figured out how to change the Automatic Journal Names. I'm too old for this.
Something big is going to happen soon. I can feel it in my bones. Outside the rains have been going on non-stop for weeks now, and the Over-stallion is worried. Can't say I blame him none. Most of us here remember the war, and most saw the green flames wash over Celestia’s Paradise as we ran. From miles away it was impossible to miss. We saw the world end and now... This talk, I hear it. The kids want to go outside. See the world. But they don't understand. The world is dead. We killed it. The Over-stallion understands this... but public pressure will break him like it broke her.
I'm too old for this. Got nothing much to say but to fill this damn thing with the regrets of an old pony. An old pony who saw the world burn, and now my grandsons and granddaughters plan to prop up it's corpse on strings and make it dance. Seem fair?
The final entry was not dated, and consisted of a single word.
Struck by the words, I turned suddenly to the wall behind me, staring at the splattered rusted grey stain on the wall.
I stepped back. My chest felt tight, and I quickly let out the breath I was holding. It wasn't elegant writing, nothing amazing but it was... real. I know the world ended, but to read the words from a pony who saw it happened, and then he ended himself. Shaking my head I cleared it. History was not helping me find Serenity, or survive. Mysteries were nice, but for later.
I walked out of the room, and back to the hallway. “Serenity!” I called out, my voice dancing through the hallway into the Atrium and echoing back to me. Did all the Stables echo so much? Making my way to the atrium, I found my cell in the same place again. The room was the same as it was in stable 42. A large lower area, though this one looked mussy and strewn with litter and tipped over tables, and an upper balcony which connected to various rooms. All in standard Stable colours, rusted grey, grey, and gray.
Across the gap was the round window leading to the Overma-Stallion's office. If I squinted my eyes I could almost see the mark where my spear struck it before bouncing away. Really? That was not the time for flash backs, I had a filly to find. Shaking the memory out of my head I tried to remember how in the wasteland a pony got into the office. I had run out of one once, and found my way to the surface, but didn’t know how to get there.
Honestly it didn't take me that long. A short limping hike through dark, dingy, and, as the journal had promised, smelly hallways I found the door clearly marked “Overmare's office.” Strange, I was under the impression it was an Over-stallion. No matter! If the lights were still on and humming, then likely all the surveillance cameras were too, and I remembered the wall of monitors from that time I kicked Smooth Tongue out a window. Reaching up I turned the handle.
Locked. Good. That most likely meant nopony had bothered to loot the damn thing. A locked door was not that much of a problem for me, however.
Opening doors with a buck. It was a wonder nopony else ever thought of it, or maybe they’d tried and failed. Few ponies were as large as I, and even fewer were as strong. With my super strength and robotic parts I wondered if I technically qualified as a super hero. Minus the hero. Whatever. Once again, my intelligence chip had brought my mind to new and disturbing places with its 'imagination'.
The room was so similar to the one in 42 it was almost depressing. Though it was notably cleaner and missing the chain that had once bound me to the floor. Everything else, from the wall of monitors to the round desk with a single terminal, was eerily similar. Of course everything about this place was, so it shouldn’t really have come as a surprise. The wall of monitors was off, but there had to be a way to fix that.
I made my way around the desk. Good, the terminal was still working. With a few clicks I got it... and as my pipbuck downloaded files without my consent it started to play something. “Hello! My name is Scootaloo. You probably know me (since I am pretty famous) for my awesome performances at events like last year’s GALLoPS, or maybe just as the founder of Red Racer… Actually you might not. Never did get a foothold into Caledonia...
“It doesn't matter right now. You're the... lucky mare to find herself as the Overmare of Stable 123, and I can't say I envy you. You see we here at Stable-tec have... a philosophy. The worlds turning to shit... I know. But we have to find a way to make it... better. And... fuck... you wont like what comes next.
“You can't stay here. You need to leave. I am asking this of you... when the radiation goes down to liveable levels, leave. Go out and make the world a better place, fix this fucking mess we caused. You aren't Equestrians; you shouldn't get it bad... hopefully... hopefully you can leave in a year. Two. Every Stable was made with an idea in mind...find a way to fix the mistakes. When the other stables come out of hiding... I want there to be a world for them to live in.
“Yeah...I chose a non-Equestrian stable for this reason. Only six stables were made outside of Equestria, and this task I made sure was in one of them. We fucked this world up. We can't fix it. Not yet. Not until we’re ready, and maybe not even then. So when the times comes I am asking you... leave and rebuild the world.
“If you don't want to, then I’m sorry to say I'm not giving you a choice.
“You may have already noticed the basement leaks. It will flood. You may have noticed the smell. The air filter will break down. You may be able to live for ten, twenty years. But eventually you’ll have to leave, or everypony will die. Yeah... I'm a fucking monster. But somepony needs to fix up this mess we caused, and fuck it I'll make sure they do it whether they want to or not.
“Download the coordinates and passwords on the terminal. They'll lead you to help, a start. We have a second chance.
“If it's any consolation, I’m sorry. I never wanted this... get out there and start rebuilding. Soon everypony else will join you. We'll have learned. I'll make them learn. So this will never happen again. May Celestia bless us all.”
The voice faded from the terminal and began to repeat. Well that was certainly... interesting. This Scootaloo pony seemed like a right asshole, but she had a... a good idea? I'm not sure. Whatever it was she thought she was doing, she clearly cared enough about it to chance hundreds of ponies lives on it. It didn't matter. Whoever she was, she was dead. And whatever she wanted didn't happen. The past was over, and she lost.
Flicking through the terminal with some difficulty, I eventually found the 'Security Cam Control Switch' which had been switched to 'off'. With the press of a hoof the whole wall behind me powered up.
Grinning like an idiot to myself, I scanned the screens. Almost a quarter of the screens showed nothing but a murky wet haze. I guess Scootaloo hadn’t been kidding when she said the whole place was going to flood. It didn't take long for me to find a little ball of pink amidst the grey-greyness. The Camera seemed to suggest it was on a lower level, and the room looked deteriorated, but she looked fine. Curious though. I saw her inch out into the centre of the dilapidated room.
The floor cracked. Serenity fell into the murky waters. Trapped.
How did the doctor say to take this damn thing off? Push this button, wait, think about ice cream. Argh, it needed a switch or a button or something. There. With a hiss and a snap, my metal leg clanged to the ground. Taking a step I nearly fell over. Well that's awkward. Looking at my shoulder there was still a sheet of metal and electronics attached where the leg proper could be attached. I hoped it was water proof, but it was worth the risk.
It was a half mad scramble to the lower levels. I quite literally bucked out the window of the Overstallion's office and jumped to the lower Atrium instead of wasting the time and walking the whole damn way around. Luckily, one of the files my pipbuck had downloaded was a Stable Map, allowing me to descend into the dank and mouldy halls without getting lost.
Looking down, I could see the frighteningly dirty water where Serenity had fallen. She was nowhere to be seen though, and if my Pipbuck was right, the level below was just as large as everywhere else. Who knew where the current could have taken her. I steeled myself, taking one last gulp of air, then dropped into the cold water.
I fell below the waves water, flooding my eyes. It was physically painful to wrench them open to look through the murky waves. On my wrist my pipbuck made its click-clicking sound, which I knew couldn't be good. Especially not with all the radiation the water must have had soaked in. I kicked my legs and sucked in air as soon as my muzzle broke the surface. My invisible leg stung, but it wasn't shocking me, so that was good. Diving back under the water, I spotted the nearby doorway.
Only problem was, on the other side the water flowed to the ceiling. When I tried and failed to surface, I panicked. Lashing out, everything became lost in a murky haze. My heart pounded and my face somehow ended up pressed against the floor. My eyes strained to make heads or tails of the water. My entire world became the murky haze around me and nothing else. For a second, even Serenity was forgotten as I struggled with the water. Everything looked green, and I could barely see, but I would be damned if I was going to drown. Shaking my head, I got a sense of the world around me.
Dragging my way across the bottom of the sunken tunnel I ignored the rising urge to... breathe. Looking up I could see... a light. Something. I swam for it. The pressure in my chest burned. Fuck. I need breath. Air. Please be there. My head slammed against the light. No air. I tried to inhale, but water flooded my throat. Burning. Dying. I needed to breathe.
Mercifully, I found a small kink in the ceiling. I surfaced, coughing out water, which burned as much coming out as it did going in. I was here to save Serenity, but how? My pipbuck kept ticking and I hadn't any idea of what to do, and I had breathed enough water that I felt like a fish. Fuck. This was going bad. Looking down, I could see my bandaged foreleg unravel spilling blood into the water. In case it needed to get dirtier. Shivering, I took a deep breath and lowered myself back into the drink. Flooded indeed. No wonder the ponies that lived here left.
I squirmed through the murky wastes and felt... something. A vibration. In the water. I searched around wildly. For a second, something yellow flashed in front of me, in the murky water. It vanished. Wait, it was here, Serenity. Kicking with all the might my three legs could muster, her form slowly came into view. The vibrating was shaking my whole body, but it was fading.
Those sad grey eyes looked at me as I realized her tail was tangled in a fallen chair, holding her down. Her legs were kicking furiously and her horn glowed, but when those eyes fell on me, she stopped, and smiled. I wanted to scream at her to keep fighting, but she had lost. Who knew how long she had been down here, lost and afraid. Her mouth opened involuntarily.
No! Not again!
My fore leg wrapped around her body, and my legs kicked dragging her with me, the chair trailing behind. My shoulder burned, my leg throbbed, and my chest shrieked out in pain from the water I’d breathed. Faintly, I could still hear my pipbuck clicking angrily. I pushed all that away. Pain faded as I saw Serenity, the life fading from her. This was no time to feel pain. Now if only I could find the exit.
I lashed around, looking. My pipbuck clicked and I glared at it... just long enough to see the map. Yes! I was a genius.
As my chest cried out for air, I pushed towards the direction it told.
I had managed to find the stairs. I dragged her up with my mouth, limping along on three legs. Dropping her, I leaned down pressing my mouth to hers. Wildfire had made me practice mouth to mouth resuscitation once. Stopping I put my hoof to her chest and pushed. Nothing. I breathed into her mouth again, tasting metal. Not a good sign. My hoof pressed against her chest, “Breathe.” I grunted. “Breathe, dammit.”
She coughed up water, and breathed.
I collapsed beside her as my pipbuck flashed a warning. It was then that I remembered I didn't know how to swim.
“You... saved me...” I heard Serenity say. We didn't fall asleep there, or rather I didn't, but I did lie there a while, taking stock of my wounds. I hadn't even fought anything this time, and it hurt worse than when the raider attacked my caravan. Groaning, I rolled to face her.
“Yeah?” My throat burned just talking. Who knew water could be so painful?
“Couldn't let you drown.” I coughed a bit. I painfully moved my pipbuck in front of my eyes. Huh. According to this I had 'minor rad poisoning'. I'd seen ponies die of rad poisoning back in Marefort. All of their hair fell out, and they lived in pain, vomiting profusely, and shitting blood before dying. Not a good way to go.
“No...” her voice sounded weak. “Before... you were... gunna sell me. Then you saved me.... Nopony ever saved me. Why?” Well that was a stupid question.
“I did sell you.” For 800 caps, a new gun, and my freedom. A good deal I thought once. “Then, after the deal was done... I killed him.”
“So... you didn't kill him till your deal was done?” Of course not. I made an agreement, and I wasn't about to back out like that. It wasn't the way I ran things. “But still, why did'ya kill 'em? You plannin' to sell me?”
“No. Because he was an ass.” Urgh. I rolled onto my feet, well most of them. “Need to find my leg.” And I hobbled off. Walking with three legs, I should mention, is insanely difficult. I had to rear up and stretch forward, then scoot my back legs up. All while Serenity, sick as she was, managed to giggle at me. Lucky for me, the room Serenity fell from wasn't far away.
I lifted up my dead metal leg in my mouth, impressed with the weight. When it was moving me around it hadn't seemed quite so heavy. Not caring, I quickly slammed the connector into it's port on my arm. And screeched. My whole body convulsed and I dropped to the ground as the nerve endings forcibly connected, crying foul. It had only lasted half a second, but it felt like minutes of my whole body being dropped in boiling water.
Gasping as the connection finished, I could feel my leg move. Why the fuck didn't the doctor warn me about that?
“Are you okay?” Serenity said by the doorway. Grunting and nodding, I hoisted myself to my feet.
“Never felt better.” Nothing like a near death experience to wake you up in the morning. Afternoon. Whatever. Bending over, I grabbed my saddle bag from where I left it, and tossed it over my back. “Get some radaways from my pack.” My shoulder burned with renewed fury as the pink filly took out our medicine. It tasted bitter and made me gag, but it was better than being, you know, poisoned.
We eventually dragged our bodies back up to the infirmity, neither really talking much. Nothing else to say, I guess. When I looked at her eyes, she didn't look sad anymore; instead her grey eyes seemed very nearly happy. Or at least the closest approximation she could get while still keeping that 'sad orphan filly' vibe.
“Wha’s your name.”
“Hired Gun.” I was sure she already knew, but didn't bother protesting. It was much more profitable to collapse to the ground on my bedroll.
“Your real name.”
“Argh.” I smacked my head against the floor. “it IS my real name.”
“Liar.” She giggled lying beside me, her head resting on me. Great, now she was all cuddly. Why can't kids be consistent?
“Where I come from ponies get two names, one when they're born, and another they can choose after they get their cutie mark.” Wildfire was born 'Cakewalk' and changed it as soon as equinely possible, and I always knew my brother as Meadow, but Smooth called him 'Summer Silk'. What a stupid name.
“Oh... Can I change my name when I get my cutie-mark?” She grinned up at me. I have no idea why she was asking my permission; I had just saved her life, twice, but it didn't make me her mother.
So I didn't answer. Instead, I poked at my pipbuck, thanking Luna these things were water proof, until one of the audio files I had managed to download started to play. As it started to play I realized that maybe I should have waited until Serenity wasn't around.
BANG BANG BANG
“Oh Goddess. They're coming. Fuck. Gotta keep a record. They won’t. Fuckers won't know how to delete this. When Stable-Tec comes I want them to know... want them to know I tried. Fuck I did. But... they're afraid. It's been what, eighteen years? Everypony remembers. How could they forget? They saw the world burn, but they don't get it. The leaks are getting worse, and... and ponies are going to get sick soon.
The world outside... it's dead, but not dying. The geiger counters say we can live outside but... they're afraid.”
“Shit. Not much time. They're going to kill me. Fuck, I lived too long. But we need to get out of this place before it kills us. They won’t listen. They're afraid. Scared enough to kill. Why the fuck did Stable-Tec give us so many Celestia-damn guns. Doors breaking, yeah, I'm one dead mare, and they know it. Fuck, I lived too long. I'm trying to save them, and they're too blind.
The recording ended with a crash, and howling wail. I'm not sure what was worse, the fact she was killed for being right, or the fact that those that killed her would create the hell-hole known as the Dise wasteland.
New perk! Intense Training: Level Up Perception by 1.
Skill Note: Speech 25
(A/N: Thanks to Kkat for being awesome and writing such an amazing story, and theBSDude for putting up with my shit writing and making it better.)