• Published 15th Sep 2013
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Fallout Equestria: Roadside Stories - Kervin



In a tole of woe and tragedy, a pony must cope with the harshness of the Wasteland while learning to accept friendship into his heart for the first time.

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The One in the Middle

Fallout: Equestria - Roadside Stories

Chapter Two: The One in the Middle

"Honey, I brought you into this world, I think you know the rest..."

Thirteen.

That was how many of us there were in Kerosene’s company. All ponies. Mostly earth ponies, but a couple of unicorns were there, too. They were a hearty bunch, but Kerosene apparently forgot to mention that it was a family business. His wife and his daughter - both earth ponies, as well - worked with him, too, and very closely, I might add. His daughter, Lightway, especially.

She always seemed to be helping him out and she was always eager to do it. Incredibly eager. But she couldn’t be farther from her father in personality. She was optimistic, still, but I didn’t believe for a second that she was naive. No, naivete didn’t exist very often in the Wasteland. And I highly doubted that Kerosene would have let her daughter become one of the ponies that were naive.

Lightway was only slightly younger than me, so I suspected that Kerosene had her when he was pretty young. Her coat was charcoal black with a splash-green mane that seemed to glow like it was radioactive. On her flank rested a picture of a grenade without its pin, something that made me shudder. It was just one sign of her way of life, one that she hid very well behind her positive attitude.

His wife - who told me to call her Racer; I never did learn her full name - was an older mare, about the same age as Kerosene. She looked just like her daughter, except for her blue mane and that her cutie mark was of a less intimidating (but still very threatening) cache of bullets. She was more like Kerosene; hardened by the Wasteland, but more forgiving, I think. Kinder.

They were an interesting family.

When he introduced me, I could feel the appreciation that Kerosene held for them. A little nudge here, the way his muscles seemed to relax around them. That sort of thing. I could tell that these were ponies that Kerosene loved, and loved him back equally. But more importantly, Kerosene trusted them.

And trust wasn’t easy to find in the Wasteland, after all.

Neither was family.

See, I never knew my parents. Hell, I don’t even know what happened to them. I just became conscious one day; down in the dumps right outside of some settlement. No one raised me. One day, I wasn’t even born yet. And the next, I was running away from raiders and learning to fend for myself.

It wasn’t uncommon out in the Wasteland. I was hardly alone in my predicament. Still… seeing Kerosene, as much of a hardass as he was, smiling and standing together with his family stirred something in me. It wasn’t jealousy. Far from it. It was something warm.

Happiness? Maybe.

It’s not often that I get philosophical about this sort of thing, especially while wandering out in the Wastes. I didn’t really have time for that sort of thing. Too busy keeping myself alive. But it was interesting to contemplate. Very interesting.

It also wasn’t very often that I was even in the presence of other ponies for very long. That just wasn’t me. I’d spent most of my life by myself, and lot of it on the run. Taking odd jobs and looting dead ponies was my entire life. I didn’t have any friends, except for maybe Ditzy Doo. But Ditzy Doo was friends with everypony.

I told myself that the money was why I took the job. But after seeing Kerosene and his family, I might have stayed for a different reason…

You know, aside from the bundle of caps that Kerosene had given me prior to starting the expedition.

*** *** ***

The journey to Tenpony Tower took several days. We were taking a longer route than the one I usually took; mostly for practical purposes. The client wasn’t expecting us to be there for a few days and the safer trading route ended up being better for our purposes. I took that time to try to get to know the other ponies in Kerosene’s entourage. Celestia knows that I’d rather have ponies I knew could handle a gun than some fresh greenhorns who just joined up for the hell of it.

As far as I could tell, Kerosene was extremely wise when he chose who got to be a part of his mercenary company. The other ten ponies seemed battle hardened, threatening, even. Ponies in a full getup of battle saddles and armored plating. Well, I say other ten, but I really mean other nine.

There was one pony in particular that didn’t fit the mold I’d seen with the rest of the ponies. A stable dweller (not the Stable Dweller, of course) by the name of Foolscap. It was a funny name, I had to admit, though I pulled myself back before I could chide her for it.

Her coat was white, with a very subtle tone of copper. Her yellow mane was short, and matched brightly with her equally yellow eyes. She wore the jumpsuit typical of a stable dweller, with a big, yellow imprint of “132” on the back. She had a large terminal-like device on her left foreleg, a PipBuck 3000. It was interesting to see her; it wasn’t all that often that you see a former stable dweller face-to-face.

We walked along the highway, the thirteen of us striking an imposing force as we went along. I didn’t doubt for a second that any raiders that were stupid enough to attack us were going to be swiss cheese before any of them got near us.

I trotted next to Foolscap, striking up a conversation with the mare. I was intrigued enough by her that I decided that learning a bit more about her couldn’t hurt. “So,” I began. “How’d a stable dweller like you end up out here?”

The stable mare next to me nickered, facing me. “Exile.”

Ah. I’d heard stories before of stable dwellers ending up in exile. It seemed a strangely common occurrence for ponies who stayed inside the safety of the Stables. You’d think they’d want to spend their lives in relative comfort, but apparently the Wasteland just keeps calling them out here.

“Exile, eh?” I replied. “Do you mind sharing your story?”

“Not much to tell,” she said, looking down at the ground at her hooves clopping along the concrete road. “Stable One-Thirty-Two was a safe place. Clean. Wonderful. It’s just a shame that getting kicked out is so easy.” She continued looking down at the road, solemn in her expression.

“That so?” I asked.

She nodded. “Stable One-Thirty-Two was a totalitarian masterpiece. It was as if the eyes of Celestia and Luna were always upon us. Sure, we lived in peace and harmony, but that was only because any dissent was quickly shut out. Literally.” She scowled. “Any pony who broke the law was immediately exiled. The Overmare could be a massive pain in the ass, too. She was always breathing down our necks.”

“I see.” I looked Foolscap over. She certainly didn’t seem like a law-breaker, but I got the feeling from the tone of her voice that her exile was more self-imposed than she was letting on. My eyes landed on her cutie mark. A parchment of paper. “What’s your cutie mark stand for?”

Foolscap looked at me, before a small smile entered her face. She chuckled. “It’s a foolscap.”

“Pardon?”

“A foolscap is a type of paper,” she explained. “I’m named after it, and I find that I’m pretty good at writing, so…”

“A writer pony,” I said, a smirk coming on to my face. “How novel.”

Foolscap raised an eyebrow, before she smile widely, recognizing my pun. She extended a hoof. “Roadside, was it?” she asked.

I shook her hoof. “Roadside it is,” I answered. “And I already know you as Foolscap. If you want a quick recap of my life, well I can sum it up in three words. Always fucking running.” I grinned toothily, causing Foolscap to laugh.

“I think we’re going to get along very well, you and I,” Foolscap said.

“Yes,” I agreed. “I think we might.”

What I didn’t say out loud was that I didn’t know if I wanted to get to know the nice unicorn mare. She was pleasant company, for sure, but did I really want to get close to her? I pictured a raider on top of her, shoving a gun down her throat. I shuddered mentally.

That was not something that I wanted to experience. Immediately, I regretted being so nice to Foolscap; I didn’t want to drag myself into a situation that I didn’t want to be in, especially one regarding making friends. Friends were good in tight corners. They were good when you had your back against the wall. But they were dangerous. You get attached. And getting attached was dangerous in the Wasteland.

Warily, I looked over at my revolver in its place in my saddlebag. I remembered what Maroney the griffon had said about it earlier. “If there’s one thing I learned from all that time of selling and buying guns, it’s that people have a tendency to get attached.”

Apparently, that applied to ponies, too.

And I still hadn’t decided on a name.

*** *** ***

I’d had relations in the past. Not romantic, mind you, but I had relations. It was too much of a stretch to ever call any of them friendships. Working with Gawd and staying at Junction R-7 before, I had gotten to know a lot of her Talons. But they were workmates, ponies and griffons that were just sort of there. My relations in New Pegas and Dise were different: contacts, thieves, and the occasional jailer. But none of them were friends.

I was allergic to friends.

I don’t have any sort of excuse for it, either. I’d never had one of those traumatic early life experiences where I saw my family or my close friends gunned down in front of me that led me to shun relations. No, I was just a normal pony living a normal post-apocalyptic life that was smart enough to recognize that making friends was the same as getting you killed.

I admired ponies like Kerosene who used his family as a way to find happiness in life. I enjoyed seeing that. More power to him. But I couldn’t be like him. I was cowardly when faced with these sorts of things. Afraid. I didn’t want to risk my sanity or, worse, my life for the sake of a friend.

I was clueless back then.

*** *** ***

We made an encampment in an abandoned pre-war home. Kerosene decided it was best to camp indoors so that we didn’t attract any attention. We were thirteen strong, however, and I doubted it would be a problem, but Kerosene was smart. He knew what he was doing.

I sat in front of the home’s fireplace, warming myself. The house was in surprisingly good shape, all things considered. The roof was intact, the furniture was still mostly in place, and it only slightly smelled of radroach droppings.

As I continued to warm myself, I heard the clopping of hooves behind me. Turning my head, I saw Lightway walking slowly towards me, a half-smile on her face.

“Mind if I join you?” she asked.

I smiled back at her, though it was a distant smile. “Sure, go ahead.”

She nodded, “Thanks.” Sitting down next to me, she began warming herself as well.

“So,” she began, initiating a conversation that I didn’t know if I wanted to be a part of or not. “Where are you from, Mr. Roadside?”

“Ah, that’s a bit complicated,” I answered, ignoring how formal she was being. “I’m from a lot of places. I guess I’m from this old mining town about a couple miles east of Manehattan. It was called Shaft.”

“Shaft?” Lightway asked, tilting her head slightly. “I’ve memorized all the trade routes from Fillydelphia to Hoofington. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of Shaft.”

“You wouldn’t. It was destroyed by raiders about fifteen or so years ago. Killed everyone.”

“Oh. I’m sorry.”

I looked at her, my eyelids drooping slightly. “It’s okay. I was long gone, by then.” I paused, not sure whether to continue or not. After a second, I decided there was no harm in telling the earth pony mare more. “I left the town when I was just eight years old. I got my cutie mark not long after, when I started following a trade caravan to Friendship City.”

“I see.” I could see her eyes moving to my flank. “A road,” she observed. “What’s it mean?”

I looked back at my flank for a moment. My cutie mark was indeed a picture of a road, but there was something on the end of that road. A rising sun. I shook my head. “Honestly, I don’t know,” I answered truthfully. “I’ve always taken it to mean that I was meant to move from place to place.” I shrugged. “It seems to have worked out fine for me, so far.”

Lightway was quiet for a moment. I took this opportunity to ask her a few things. “So, what’s it like working with your dad?” I asked, poking the hearth to increase the warmth in my hooves.

Lightway smiled genuinely. “His line of work is dangerous. Incredibly, so. It’s death-defying, at times, but I learn to cope with it by helping him. Mother does so, too.”

“You know,” I began, smiling. “You speak a whole lot more eloquently than any other wastelander I’ve seen.”

Lightway giggled, averting her eyes from me slightly. “Father made sure that I didn’t grow up to be stupid. Mother was smart enough to realize that, too. Father taught me how to survive. Mother taught me how to appreciate survival.” I nodded at her.

I looked down at her cutie mark. “A grenade, though?” I asked. “That seems a bit odd for someone with a personality like yours.”

She giggled again. Wow, I could get used to that, I thought. I quickly stamped that thought out, however. There was going to be no benefit to hitting on Kerosene’s daughter. Images of him burning me alive came to mind and I let out an involuntary shudder.

“It’s not a frag grenade,” she explained. “Flashbang. Blinds people. Nonlethal. That’s the important part.”

“Flashbang. Lightway.” I smiled. “Your name’s more appropriate than I thought.”

“So is yours, Mr. Roadside,” she said, winking.

At the time, the conversation had seemed so innocuous. Two ponies of similar ages having a pleasant conversation next to a warm hearth? Yeah, like I was going to turn that down. I may be a survivalist and a believer in that big thing called “Survival of the Fittest,” but even I wasn’t stupid enough to deny a good conversation with an intelligent pony. Unfortunately, that conversation would have dire consequences that I never could have predicted at the time.

Racer approached us. The older mare had a glint in her eye that seemed to make her look younger than she actually was. “Lightway,” she said, smiling to her daughter. “Your father wants to talk to you.”

Lightway nodded, before getting up. She looked at me. “It was nice talking to you,” she said, smiling.

I smiled back. Again. For what must have been the hundredth time during that conversation. “Likewise.”

Lightway trotted away outside the house, where Kerosene and some of the other ponies were guarding the premises. But not before she winked at me for the second time. Oh fuck, I’m going to have weird dreams, now, aren’t I? I cursed myself for this.

What was I thinking? I hated close friends for this very reason. That they’d take over your mind. That they’d be all you could think about and worry about and fight for. Ugh. I swore at the time that these ponies would be the end of me. Why were they being so nice?

I was almost too embroiled in my thoughts to notice Racer looking at me, up and down. But I saw her. Oh great, I thought. Now her mother’s judging me.

“Are you interested in my daughter?”

Well. I told you they were an interesting family. Racer could be as blunt as a hammer, it seemed.

“Uh, what’s the right answer?”

“That depends.”

“Depends?”

“On whether or not you’re a good pony.”

I narrowed my eyes. “If I was a good pony…”

“Then you’d be under my husband and I’s watchful eyes until the day we die.” She held a dark smirk on her face. Damn, this mare was intimidating.

I whinnied, gulping. “And if I weren’t such a good pony?”

The smirk grew larger. “Well, then Kerosene would be one bullet shorter.” She winked as I gulped once more. She began to trot away.

“Good night, wanderer.”

“Um.” It took me a second to answer back. “N-night, ma’am.”

Needless to say, I had a lot of trouble sleeping that night.

*** *** ***

It was daytime when the next interesting thing happened. Noon, I thought, but it was always a little hard to tell with the cloud cover so permanently above us. I was trotting near the front of the herd, with Kerosene right in front of me.

My job at that moment - aside from walking - had been point lookout. Basically, I was to watch out for raiders and call out if or when I saw some. This task was easier said than done, but that was mostly due to my binoculars not exactly being in the best shape.

My vigilance was interrupted by the arrival of a Sprite-Bot, accompanied by its usual reverie of loud music.

It was blaring its music loudly that anypony within a mile could probably hear it. The polka music stopped short, however, when we started to pass by it. I thought it was going to be one of Red Eye’s broadcasts, talking about his usual nonsense. Instead, it halted in front of Kerosene. The entire herd stopped in its tracks.

“Kerosene,” said a static-y voice from the Sprite-Bot.

My eyes widened. There was somepony on the other side of the Sprite-Bot talking to us? And it knew Kerosene? The hell was going on?

“Watcher,” said Kerosene, seriously, narrowing his eyes. “It’s been a long time.”

The Sprite-Bot, or “Watcher,” was silent for a second. “It has,” it finally said. “Too long. I see you’ve got a family now.” Neither Lightway nor Racer said anything.

Kerosene nodded, but said nothing. He looked at the floating robot, the solemn expression on his face again in full force. “You don’t talk to ponies without a good reason, Watcher. What is it?”

“Tenpony Tower is occupied by Red Eye’s forces,” Watcher said. “You do listen to DJ-Pon3, don’t you? You must realize this is probably a trap.”

Oh shit, I thought. I couldn’t believe I had forgotten such an important detail! Tenpony Tower was being threatened by a fucking balefire bomb! How the fuck had I forgotten? Oh shit. Shit! Why the hell was Kerosene walking us into this? And who the hell contracted us?

This must have been a mistake, right?

Behind me, I could hear the murmuring of voices among the company, but none spoke up. Lightway and Racer were particularly quiet.

“I realize that, Watcher,” Kerosene huffed.

What.

I was confused, to say the least.

“Then why are you still going?” Watcher asked, a hint of irritation creeping up in his voice. “There aren’t enough good ponies out in the Wastes, Kerosene. Don’t be just another dead hero.”

Kerosene stiffened ever so slightly, but he held his ground. “I know what I’m doing.”

If Sprite-Bots had eyes, I would’ve bet that Watcher’s narrowed. “You’re up to something.”

Kerosene kept that expression of seriousness on his face. “Maybe. It’s not any of your business, anyway.”

“I hope you really do know what you’re doing, for your sake,” Watcher said, before pausing. The Sprite-Bot turned ever so slightly to Lightway and Racer. “And for their sake.”

“Goodbye, Kerosene.”

“Goodbye, Watcher.”

And just like that, the loud polka music returned to the Sprite-Bot before it floated away, its wings buzzing. The whole company had suddenly stopped dead in its tracks. The fearless and intimidating ponies I had talked to earlier now looked lost and confused. The Bot was a long way away before anypony had the courage to speak up.

To my surprise, it was Foolscap.

“So… what now?” she asked, crossing her forelegs.

Kerosene looked back at her, before facing the rest of the herd. “We keep going.”

The murmuring continued, but once again Lightway and Racer were silent. They had the same solemn looks in their eyes as Kerosene. It made me wonder whether they knew just how dangerous this mission really was.

“What about Red Eye’s forces?” one of the mercenary stallions piped up.

“And the balefire bomb?” another asked.

“What about them?” Kerosene demanded. “We were hired for a job. And I made it very clear when I hired all of you that I do not abandon those in need. Is. That. Clear?” Kerosene turned around and began trotting down the highway, Lightway and Racer in tow.

No more protests were raised. Grudgingly or not, the rest of the company followed Kerosene once more.

*** *** ***

When I was working for Gawd, one of her mantras had always been that she always completed a contract. Now, this didn’t mean that Gawd was stupid. She didn’t just accept contracts willy-nilly. She accepted contracts that she knew she could do and she knew would be worth something. And she’d helped out others before, even without contracts. Just ask the Stable Dweller.

But she never risked her Talons’ lives unnecessarily.

Kerosene, though?

There was something different about him. He wasn’t just some tough-as-nails merc out to do a job just because it paid well. I knew there was a reason that he wasn’t with the Talons anymore. I had a feeling that he had a tendency to do this sort of thing. To risk his life for something not worth it.

For the first time, I realized that I might have been tricked into joining this company.

I realized that Kerosene had lied to me.

Back at Junction R-7, it really didn’t seem like it. Kerosene had struck me as a brutally honest person. Someone who was as blunt as a hammer, just as I had thought of his wife. But I was wrong. Kerosene had lied to me about this.

I was tricked.

Tricked.

I was more angry about it than I had previously assumed I would be. I had thought the money to be good enough to risk anything, but now I wasn’t sure. Red Eye was an overbearing, near omnipresent force in the Equestrian Wasteland. The risk of getting turned into a slave of his and working in Fillydelphia’s slave pits. I shuddered at the thought.

But I was more surprised by the fact that I was just so upset. I’d been tricked in the past. Plenty of times, actually, and for far worse things. Shot, even. Left for dead. Run off. Escaped. Revenge. All things I’d seen.

But I was more upset at Kerosene than I ever was at anypony else. And I knew why. It’s because he struck me as a good pony. More so now, after hearing what Watcher had to say about him. I couldn’t believe that Kerosene, with his family, could have deceived me.

His family…

They were in on it, too, weren’t they?

I was upset. Too upset. I knew I had to confront Kerosene about this. And when we made camp that night, I did just that.

I approached him as he took his usual spot at the perimeter of the group, guarding us all solemnly.

“Why?” I asked.

He turned to me. “Why what?”

“Why did you lie to me? To all of us?”

He sighed, rubbing his tired eyes with a hoof. “Because the more ponies that came, the better.”

I got closer and right in front of him, the upset expression on my face still very plainly visible. “So we can all get ourselves killed?”

He nickered. “No one’s dying.”

Yeah, right. You could shove Red Eye’s hoof up my ass with that.

“I don’t believe that for a second.”

“No one’s dying because I wasn’t technically lying.”

“What?” I asked, my eyes narrowing. “How could you not be lying?”

“Because the job description was and still is accurate,” he said. “Security for somepony in Tenpony Tower, planning to leave it. I may have lied about the details, but that was just so it didn’t seem personal.”

“Personal?” This was getting even more confusing.

“My sister, Roadside. She lives in Tenpony Tower. I have to get her out.”

Family, I reminded myself. Fucking family.

I sighed.

“I’m sorry,” Lightway said, approaching me. She had a sad look in her eyes. “My aunt’s very precious to my uncle. If there was a way to help her in any way…”

“Enough.” Lightway and Kerosene looked at me. “I get it,” I said. “I’m not saying anything else. Let’s just… get this over with so I can get my caps.” I started trotting back to the campfire.

“Thank you,” I could hear Lightway say, but it was barely a whisper.

Those two words would haunt my dreams for years.

I still didn’t know what was to come next.

I never could have expected it.

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