• Published 23rd Feb 2013
  • 3,229 Views, 242 Comments

Fallout Equestria: Second Wind - TinkerChromewire

In this FoE Sidestory, a veteran of war returns to the harsh realities of the wastelands from beyond the grave. Discovering the hardships of New Equestria and its terrors, he seeks to find a place in a world that moved on without him.

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Chapter 12: Touch of Pink

Google Docs Link

"Touch of Pink"

Fill my heart up with sunshine, sunshine

“Pinkie Pie is watching you FOREVER!” Why PNK-3 felt it was necessary to loudly read every bit of graffiti as we passed it escaped me. She said it was either her doing that or playing ‘Eye spy’ with me. I just let her scream out crudely spelled curse words, it was somehow more entertaining and did not involve me having to directly interact with her.

That was the second billboard we’d passed while heading North-West towards the Industrial Park. The first had been repainted with a warning mural that boasted; “Kaniballs eechu dis whey.”

The streets were congested with long dead horseless carriages on either side of the four lane, two way street; skeletons rested in the seats of some, forever frozen in their commute. Long shadows stretched out to join the darkness pooling in the deep recesses of the hollow, broken shells of buildings flanking the street. The darkness was punctuated by the glow of blazing barrels in alleyways, offering only scant light to illuminate a path to follow. Crudely drawn pornography covered every visible surface, including the divide I now straddled as I trotted along, thankful that the Baker Barbarians had left an obvious trail for me to follow; North-West down Spoony street, just follow the burning trash bins!

“And that’s a penis. And another penis. Wow, lotsa dongs. Another dong. That there reads ‘fuk knobtits’.” PNK-3 so helpfully read aloud.

I was hardly distracted by anything else, following the bouncing, bodiless bauble that moved as if it was attached to an invisible springboard. PNK-3 was humming a tune between sporadic blurts as I trailed behind her, or was she following me?

This would be so much easier if I had my compass, or so I thought, remembering that I had forgotten to take my saddlebag off of Frisky before I parted ways with the group. It probably would have done little good, the boot I had planned to scry for was now on my leg, courtesy of the idiot ball--She claimed to have found it while traveling to Big Top Blok, so scrying for it in the first place would have been a moot point.

It was just me and the loud floating bowling ball on a quest to tie up the loose ends. Those loose ends included bringing a warlord to justice and putting a permanent end to Cradle Robber’s scheming. The others hadn’t been in the best of condition to keep going, so I decided to finish the job alone. It had turned out that the old prospector had plenty of healing supplies on him he had no intention of sharing, and that’d be more than enough for them to make it back to Greenvale, or at the very least to Highscore Arcade.

“Are you sure it was a good idea not to bring anyone else?” PNK-3 asked, taking a break from loudly declaring not only our position, but also that we were alone, to everything that could be lurking in the shadows.

“In their condition, it’s best they sit this out. Besides, I have you with me.” I didn’t tell her that I was hoping she’d draw fire first, that might be a little too mean.

“Yup, you sure do! I’ve been waiting ages for you to show up, Captain!” She said cheerfully.

I quirked a brow at her, “But you met me in Greenvale Heights, you didn’t recognize me then?”

“Oh, you’re silly! It’s because you were hardly the Captain, that’s why! When I followed my pre-programmed route North then doubled back. I recovered your booty, you had the second booty, meaning the first booty was yours and you’re the Captain I’ve been waiting for! Even if you are kinda...” The bauble rolled from side to side, giving a soft hiss of static.

“Kinda what?” I probed. All this talk of booty, booty everywhere while PNK-3 rocked erratically back and forth went off into a tangent of static and fitful giggling. “What? What’s so funny?” I demanded.

“Oh, it’s just you’re kind of an ass!” The spritebot mocked, holding back snorting laughter. “I mean that in a good way! One of my best friends was an ass! He was crankier than you, too!”

That actually made me genuinely chuckle; I wasn’t expecting a play on words. “Alright, that was a good one.”

PNK-3 stopped in the air and trembled, another pop of static echoed from her speakers before she swiveled in my direction. “Oh,” She said, “There you are! I’ve been looking all over for you! Do you know how hard it is to pre-program a robot with over a thousand variable actions and responses? You’re not easy-wheezy to predicty-wickty either-weither!”

I was conversing with a half broken, confused piece of machinery. What a waste of time--If it hadn’t saved my life I wouldn’t even bother putting up with it. Might as well get this over with. I stopped as well and looked around. EFS, which I found out actually meant ‘Eyes Forward Sparkle’, was clear of any hostiles and my auto map feature was busy drafting a map of the area. I gave a quick referential glance to the guide to my operating system and tabbed it way from view. PNK-3 had proven herself useful by mentioning I should make use of the User’s Manual, which prior to her mentioning it I had no idea it existed. It was a wonder why Head-Case hadn’t mentioned it, then again, why would he mention it and miss out on prime exposition?

“Alright, let’s cut to the quick,” I said, pulling a skeleton out from a carriage seat and plopping down in his place. I crossed my forelegs over between my rear legs and leaned forward, “It’s story time.” So far I’d gathered that she was programmed to recognize me based off an unlikely Cinderella gambit, meaning she knew about the boots, where they’d be, what would happen, and how. Skeptical, I wondered who under the Troposphere would have such insight--I’d willingly believe in the tooth fairy before gypsy tambourines and fortune telling.

“Oh, story time? Okay, uh...I’ll tell you a good one!” She began, tilting back. “Once upon a time there was a pretty, pretty princess...”

Facepalming, I groaned, raising my voice, “I meant your story, how did the Mechanic know to program you to do all this? What do you want with me? Ulterior motive, me, everypony wants a piece!” My curiosity was waning swiftly. I had at least a half hour’s tread before me to get to the Industrial Park, I just wanted to get back to it quickly, not that I was in a hurry to throw myself at the defenses the Baker Barbarians had set up.

“The Mechanic? They didn’t program me.” She stated matter-of-factly. “And I don’t want a piece, I want you in one piece.”

“Then who did?” I ignored the other part of her statement, she wanted me intact? So did I, no need to elaborate on something we both had an interest in. The ‘why’ wasn’t so much important for me really, I was getting really sick of probing into the ‘why’ and finding something I didn’t like. Ignorance=Bliss. Maybe I should add ignorance to the list? Number seven; ignorance!

“You don’t recognize me?” She sounded hurt. “I mean, I sure don’t look the same since my old body got wrecked. I had to transfer myself into this old spritebot--My old body was so much nicer, I remember being able to eat cookies and cake an--”

I fell out of the wagon and landed on the unicorn skeleton I’d tossed out earlier. I decided its name was Flails after the skeleton whacked at me through an unseen force once I landed on it. We tussled briefly before I popped up, with Flails mounted upon me. “Wait, wait, you used to be a pony?”

The bauble let out a snort, “No, silly! I was always a robot! Wow, your face was just so shocked there for a moment! Hehah! No, I am a Ministry of Morale robot programmed to preserve Cherry Pie...” She paused a moment and shook herself, “{Data corrupt}--{Inaccessible Files}!”

“What was that just now?” I cleaned one of my ears with a finger and stared at her quizzically. Flails opened their mouth wide and leaned drunkenly over my shoulder; perhaps equally confounded?

“What was what? I just told you who programmed me and why.”

“No, you just blurted out mumbo-jumbo, beep-boop bullshit about a pie flavor,” I explained. This futile process was exasperating, and PNK-3 was hopelessly clueless.

She gasped loudly and hovered against my face, “You just said a bad woooord!”

Pushing her away I groaned, resuming my trek into the jaws of certain death. Flails clung to me, rattling with every step I took, and no matter how I bucked or shook I couldn’t peel him off. How could a dead pony be so clingy? “Yeah, this is an exercise in futility. You’re busted and not making any sense...”

“Hey, I saved you, didn’t I?” She blurted, hovering off alongside me. “What’s so hard to understand about preserving Cherry Pie? Pinkie Promise is as a Pinkie Promise does.”

“Yeah, and I’m eternally grateful that I got to survive long enough to have this pointless conversation about pie.” I tugged on my inhibitor collar and received a warning beep from the device. Nevermind that she saved all our collective tuckus, I was still caught up in the boom-noose around my neck with the ticking timer. Forget pie and promises, I had bigger things on my plate.

PNK-3 was unbothered by my sarcastic jabs and took what I said literally. “Who’s your friend?” She asked, referring to the stowaway stuck upon my back.

“Flails. I’ll shake it off...” I said softly, giving a half-assed buck that only achieve in getting the skeleton more tangled with my tattered coat. “You mind helping me get this off?” I asked.

“I’m sure you can handle getting off a boner,” PNK-3 chimed with a giggle.

Then there was silence. For all of five seconds.

“That was a joke about a clo--”

“I know what kind of joke that was supposed to be, PNK-3!” I groaned, it was in really bad taste. How unexpected, a robot having lewd wit.

“Wow, what a tough crowd,” She said to herself. “Yeah, tell me about it,” She answered herself, turning as if she was talking to somepony actually there. This elicited a soft groan from me and a roll of my eyes.

“Luna deliver me a Dirge, death be kinder than this company,” I muttered under my breath. There was no way she could get any more annoying, period. I was wrong.

BLEEP! A gasp from PNK-3; “It’s 11 PM! We’re missing the Witching Hour!”

PNK-3 turned on her internal radio, the garbled static hissed as she switched stations. I heard DJ-Pon3 for a moment, giving a goodnight farewell and best wishes for sweet dreams. That made me scoff. Then, I heard a howl come from the radio speakers, threatening to blow them out.

Awoooooooo--Hello Fishbone County, it’s 11 PM, you know what that means! It’s the Witching Hour, yah got me?” A strong voice forced out with gusto caught my attention, drowning out the subtle beats of old fashioned dubstep in the background. Never thought I’d consider ‘Dubstep’ old fashioned.

“This is your friendly neighborhood DJ Boombark punching the clock, telling you the tocks, and warning you to stay cozy inside. Creeps and freaks wander the streets, I hear them scratchin’ about, even from where I’m at up high. But that’s not the only thing that’s high, dawgs, I got reports of Sky-Flowers, bright and pretty over a settlement in South Quadrant. It might seem pretty, but I advize you to steer clear of that for now--I hear it’s under new management. The corrupted undead toaster management, kids. More news after some mad jams, or jam madly! Same thing!” The radio boomed with that powerful voice, making PNK-3 vibrate before the music started to pick up. It got very loud, very quickly as the beats that was once in the background were now thrust straight into the foreground.

PNK-3 cheered, her voice rattled as she shook and pulsed, she began to head bang, which was just bobbing since all she was was pretty much a floating ball. “This is the best, come on Captain Stitchie, dance with me! What, you got two left thumbs and backwards hooves?” She orbited around my head, spinning as she did. She let out a yelp when I raised my gauntlet in the path of her third pass and caught her firmly.

“Turn that down, Pinkie, you’ll attract business!” I warned, shooting her a menacing glare through the gaps in my digits.

“Oh, sorry! Business is bad, right? It’s not like you run a business, at which point business would be good. In this case you mean bad, since you have nothing to sell and--” She went on loudly for half a minute longer, somehow getting on the topic of ‘pancakes’ somehow from ‘business investment’.

“Just turn the radio down!” I shouted, tossing her away from me and down the street. She bounced once and recovered, whimpering.

“That was super mean,” She whined. The radio clicked off and the bauble somehow looked distressed, her hover was less jubilant and bouncy. “No need to shout, it’s just my favorite radio show,” She told me huffily. “He’s a local late night DJ and he plays great dance music!”

“I don’t care what he plays, I don’t need to be spotted until I can find something to eat--Like those raiders you mentioned taking out.” My system integrity was hovering right around a paltry 20%--That required attention if I was going to throw myself headlong into suicidal situations.

“You mean where I took out the raiders? You’re standing in one now.” She said, floating up to me, a red smeared hand print caked into her face panel.

Funny I hadn’t noticed it before, but I was standing in pony soup! Death no longer lingered in the air, all the dead about were long dead, not as long as the skeletons, but long enough that the giblets no longer steamed. The bodies, or what was left of them, were streaked about in heavy smears, almost as if a giant had thrown them into the surrounding walls and wagons.

“You did this?” I asked, looking around. Half a corpse was dangling from a flickering lamp post for Luna’s sake! By its entrails!

“I think I went a little crazy with the sprinkles,” She admitted.

I did a double take to the left over foodstuff smeared over the pavement and prodded it, then inspected the discarded gear. Useless, all of it, not even the saddlebags were salvageable. “Yeah, maybe less sprinkles next time,” I agreed, purveying the whole scorched area. It looked like a bomb went off; one that exploded twice. Could a bomb explode twice? No, there had to be more than one bomb, the former was a ridiculous thought.

“And less napalm,” She added. “Or hot sauce.”

PNK-3 was now barred from baking at my birthday party, that is, if I could even remember my birthday. “Hey, Pinks, you got some red on your everything.”

“Oh gosh, there’s someone on my face? Ew! Ew!” She began grinding herself against the nearby walls, equally covered in gore, making it all the worse. “Is it off? I can’t see! Oh it’s so gross!”

“Uh, yeah, you got it...” I lied through a snicker, popping a piece of half-cooked raider into my maw. Spicy with a hint of sadness; poetic on the palate. I had problems, I shouldn’t find ponies so tasty. Another message prompt popped up in view, warning me I’d lost more Karma, once again, whatever that was. My integrity improved substantially, at least by 4% from just that. Eating a little more improved my integrity further, but lead to diminishing returns. I couldn’t eat from the same corpse twice, leading me to wander from corpse to corpse like I was at a Las Pegas all-you-can-eat buffet. 65% Integrity on my iSeeU readout, my cosmetic damage still remained, flaps of skin dangling from my carcass. Where was a staple gun when you needed one?

The trail had gone cold now, dead cold. I guessed the raiders had lit the trashcans and dumpsters as they moved along, to light their path. I had followed this path up until I discovered PNK-3’s work. She said she had found ‘one booty’ here. She meant my boot, not raider flank.

“You said my boot landed here?” I mentioned as I approached a small crater where a rather familiar corpse lay in ruin. Slate-grey coat and a messy, blood soaked pink mane that retained a sharp edge despite its unruly state.

“It did,” PNK-3 affirmed. “Caught Meat Pie, no relation, right in the not-so-pearly off-yellows.” She hovered about to my side and nuzzled herself into a dried part of my tattered cloak, brushing herself off. “She was a real baddie, made ponies into cupcakes if you can believe it. Indoctrinated foals using baked bads and trances, though I hear she wasn’t one for evil dances. She cut ponies, not rugs! A very bad party planner too, according to her bounty bulletin!”

How the Buckingham Palace did my boot go from beady-eyed mc-scrawny ass to sailing through the skull of a most hated antagonizer? Maybe it was best to not look a gift horse in the mouth; she was dead, I should be grateful she was dead. It’s not like my boot killed her on its own, though.

Ding! A notification blared next to my ear, startling me into jumping up and falling face first into Meat Pie’s chest cavity. Irritated, I blew a few bubbles in her soup as I looked at the small winged envelope hovering in my vision. It opened automatically, revealing itself to be a copy of Meat Pie’s bounty flier sent to my iSeeU by PNK-3.

Meat Pie
Wanted: Dead
Reward: 1,000 Caps
Wanted for:
Bad Party Planning
Foal Napping
Home Wrecking

Her portrait was not at all flattering, a mad-eyed mare drawn in a distinct style that spoke volumes about her unstable personality. A warning beneath her portrait declared her a ‘Freaker’, a dangerous and adept Pastry Witch, and apparently she also tipped poorly. “Ah, yes, because giving bad tips AND being a murderous foal napper at the same time is just beyond normal larceny,” I thought with a sigh. Did the committee for bad names in Greenvale Heights also write the Bounty Bulletins? Dismissing the scroll, I collected something of Meat Pie’s as proof of her death; if my boot did her in, technically it was my kill.

The most unique thing on her that wasn’t in ruins was an odd knife that smelled crisp like a fresh rainfall, the blade itself hummed softly. It was burned black and had a warped handle, etched into the blade itself was a name; Alice. Strange name for a strange knife. It might sell decently after I collected the bounty. That and I needed a weapon, I left all my gear with Frisky Fritter.

“How about a little warning next time?” I said, licking the blood off my lips; she was sweet and tangy. I took an inconspicuous bite of her remains and netted new Karma loss and regained some system integrity.

“Oops, sorry! I’ll try to be more courteous. You know, since you’re so jumpy and grumpy. Jrumpy!” I heard a faint squeak before PNK-3 shook the rest of the caked on gore off and hovered a short distance away, to the edge of the light cast off by the nearby burning wreckage. “So, where do we go now?”

“I don’t know,” I shrugged, taking a bite of flesh off of Meat Pie’s foreleg. “I was following you, mostly. The trail’s cold as these corpses. I was hoping Head-Case would have been able to trace my boot, but that didn’t work out so well. I was expecting Cradle Robber to make his location obvious so I could find it.”

In retrospect, maybe if I’d left as Head-Case said, I might be hot on the heels of my quarry and one step closer to personal freedom. Maybe staying behind had been a mistake afterall? She had hazel eyes. No. Regrets. Now. Should have run, now we’ll die for sure! Die die. Die die die, die die! -- “For the love of salt-licks,” I thought dourly, “Shut up, brain!”

Scarlet ribbons danced through the air like constricting serpents, belched up from the smoke of the nearby fire. Sparks of consciousness briefly flickered lazily, “So you’ve made your decision? You’ll betray me for what? For them?!” A gunshot sounded, breaking me out of the fitful trance, the ground slammed under my feet and I toppled over, the skeleton finally released its tangled hold.

“Captain, Captain! You fell over! Are you okay?” PNK-3 filled the static peripherals of my vision, the rest was filled with a blank wall of shifting textures.

Off in the distance, far into the center of the city, cresting over all the ruined rooftops and ascending straight into the sky was a great tower of blazing, brilliant white. A double helix spiraling off into eternity, piercing the cloud layer, and continuing even higher. I pushed PNK-3 aside to get a better view at it.

“What’s gotten into you? Hello? PNK-3 to Captain Steelgraft, come in Captain Steelgraft!”

I grabbed and turned her in the direction of the tower, pointing, “No, look! Look at that!”

“Look at what? The wrecks in the distance? You think that’s where the baddies are hiding?”

“No, the tower! The massive tower rising into the sky!” I was trembling and I didn’t know why.

“There’s nothing there...” She insisted.

“No, there is! I can see it!”

“Wait, I think I do see something,” She whispered. “Nnnnn...Nope, false alarm!”

I shook my head and slapped my left temple multiple times, shaking and distorting my vision. The wandering textures vanished and so did the tower, zipping itself into nothingness in a bundle of curving, broken light. I must be seeing things, chalk it up to a hallucination.

How eerie, it felt like I’d seen it before, somewhere in a nightmare long ago. Shaking these cobwebs free, I took notice of an icon on my EFS, a yellow dot had appeared nearby, just beyond a set of toppled sky wagons over a dilapidated store front.

“Okay, am I hallucinating a yellow dot on my EFS right now?” Better safe than sorry, I couldn’t exactly trust my iSeeU afterall.

“Oh, that? Nah, they’ve been following us all sneaky like since we left Big Top!” PNK-3 stated cheerfully. “You’re not that crazy. Yet.”

“Why didn’t you mention there was somebody following us?” I demanded tersely.

“Was I supposed to?” She asked innocently.

If I facepalmed any harder I’d send my horn out the back of my skull. “It’d be nice if you’d mentioned that instead of reading all the graffiti we keep passing!”

“It’s not such a big deal, Grafty! It’s yellow which is mellow, like a good happy fellow! Maybe we should say ‘hi’?” She offered a not-so-bad-idea. But, I had a better idea--One that I thought would be particularly hilarious.

I grabbed a rock, a generous sized one, palmed it. Perfect for what I was going to do with it! I tossed it hard in the general direction of the icon, out into the darkness and shouted; “Fire in the hole!”

THUNK! SQUAWK! A pair of wings beat the sky. I picked a silhouette out against the cloud cover and shouted, “I see you! Might as well land before I find a bigger rock!”

Keena landed in the clearing heavily, sporting a rather sore looking goose egg just over her left brow, “Did you have to throw a rock at me?” The dour bird-horse screeched. I’d actually nailed her? Wow, that was a lucky throw! Lucky for me that my collar didn’t go off from it. It must only detect intentional acts of unprovoked violence.

“Did you have to follow me?” I countered with a question.

“No, but it’s a lot more fun than going back to--” I cut her off by grabbing her beak and holding it shut.

“There’s your answer; No, but it was fun. Now, I’m going to let go of your lil beak and you’re going to tell me why you’re not making sure the others get to Greenvale in one piece.” I was only a little livid, really. It’s not like I hadn’t done anything stupid before.

“Hi, I’m PNK-3! What’s your n--”

“Can it, bowling ball. It’s Keena’s turn to yaplap.” I snapped my fingers and then made a show of impatiently waiting.

Keena rubbed her forehead, looking at everything but me; the walls, the bodies, the ruined gear, PNK-3, the burning barrels. “Did you do all this?” She asked.

“You know I didn’t, you’ve been tailing me since Big Top, now answer my question before I go Celestial on your assbraid.” My grim expression was set in stone, I wanted to hear her explanation now. Immediately.

“I can’t just let you go off alone! You’re hurt and I need to get those kids back; it’s my fault they got taken. Gangrene was right about me, I’m irresponsible.” She explained quickly, keeping eye contact with me. “And I really want to kill that witch.”

‘Hurt’ was a hollow statement. I couldn’t feel a lick but I could see some of my split seams and hanging skin. The flesh of one of my forelegs was inverted inside out, revealing a mechanical interior of blackened metal. Idly, I wondered just how much of me was left equine.

“You’re standing in her,” I pointed out, ever so mirthful to see her expression drop like an airship without a balloon. Keena let out a distraught caw and flapped her wings, turning about to get her rear hooves out of the pony stew.

“She’s dead? That was mine! My kill! Miss Pink stole my kill?” Fire burned in those amber eyes like I’d never seen before, her crest flipping forward as she shot the poor bauble a leer that could melt steel.

“I did that,” I admitted shamelessly, examining my fingertips in the poor light. “She was so easy that my boot did her in without me having to do a thing.”

Now she was caught between two extremes, being angry and trying not to be rude to me. Her flustered state left her unable to form a complete sentence, only inane chirps and half caws in my direction. In lieu of sentences she directed her rifle at me, steam shooting from her nostrils. “You...Y-y...” She chirped again and shook her head, “You kill stealing bastard!”

“Hey, don’t point that at the Captain, he didn’t mean it!” PNK-3 said, getting in Keena’s face. The hippogriff simply batted the ball away with the butt of her rifle and resumed her tantrum.

“She was mine! My nemesis! How am I supposed to beat her now? My honor is tarnished and now I can’t get it back!” Her priorities were all wrong; Keena never ceased to amaze me, but this time it wasn’t a good kind of amazement.

With a roll of my eyes I walked around her and started down the road, “Come on PNK-3, we have ground to cover. Get up.”

Pinks rose up from a small pile of rubble, wobbling woozily, and followed with an “Okie Dokie Lokie!” She also blew a raspberry at Keena, either that or it was just a blur of harsh static shot in the hippogriff’s general direction.

Keena reluctantly slung her weapon and made to follow me, at which point I stopped in my tracks.

“You think you’re coming with me?” I asked a loaded question, sighing at this irritation. “Go back and rejoin the others, Keena.”

“I’m coming with you, no matter what you say, Steelgraft.” She told me stubbornly.

“And that’s why you can’t come,” I shot over my shoulder. “I don’t have time for fledgling whelps.”

I could almost hear the sound of her feathers ruffling, and I definitely heard her beak click in agitation. “Who are you to call me a child?”

“I might not know much, but I know a child when I see one, Keena. If you want to come along so badly, you need to listen to me.” I was cold with my tone, wearing my authority on my cuff. It was my way or no way at all; no compromises. That said, I continued on into the darkness.

“Wait!” Keena sputtered, “I...I apologize. I defer to your guidance!”

Ding! Right answer! Now to put that to the test. Over my flanks I could see her in a bow, head down, russet feathers flattened. Now how to test her? I recalled the skeleton I’d had a tussle with earlier, that bleached white tag along was going to be the perfect test to see how far she’d go to listen.

“You see that unicorn skeleton sprawled against the road divide?” I asked.

Keena gave it a glance, cocking her head, “Yes, what about it?”

“Pick it up and follow me,” I told her boldly.

“Why?” She asked, beak scrunched in disgust.

“Oh, well, guess I’ll be seeing you at Greenvale...” I sing-songed as I stepped into a mocking, jubilant trot.

“Hold on, hold on!” Keena squawked, tossing the skeleton over her back loathsomely. She was soon behind me, eyes stuck to the ground. “Happy now?”

“Now call it a pretty girl and give it a kiss,” I deadpanned. Keena’s sharp gaze tried to bore a hole through my face, a corner of her beak twitched.

“What?” She clicked.

“Uh, CSG, that might be a teensy bit much, I mean, what if it had been a boy? That’d be rude!” PNK-3 tried to make me see reason with laughable logic.

“Yeah, you’re right. Carrying it is good enough,” I relented, slipping off into the darkness ahead, company in tow. Acting as I did, it was still nice to have an extra gun on talon.

Five minutes later Keena and PNK-3 were properly introduced and exchanging brief, if somewhat out-of-place pleasantries. Their positive banter was easy enough to ignore over the trigger tone of me trying to trigger my SATS with every step further into the inky blackness. My iSeeU had a low-light filter setting, which allowed me to see at least thirty paces ahead in the darkness, but I wasn’t taking any chances.

Blip! Blip! Blip! I wasn’t picking up any hostiles yet, otherwise the spell would have fully triggered. My own senses were useless, especially here, I had to be crafty.

“Is there any reason why you’ve tried to trigger your SATS spell 313 times in the span of five minutes?” Head-Case spoke as his holo screen suddenly popped open. The illustrious head in the egg-shaped jar, an egghead if you will, spared not a moment to continue speaking. He must love the sound of his own voice.

“Now,” he continued, “I know I said I’d leave you alone for an unspecified amount of time. I feel that that time has passed.” He gave a circular gesture with his pincer claw and gave a thoughtful nod. “It’s nice to see you finally back on track, but I have a bit of bad news.”

“You couldn’t get the dinner reservations?” I joked humorously. Keena and PNK-3 were deeply engrossed in their own conversation, so I worried very little of them overhearing me talking to myself. Blip! Blip! Blippityblibliblee! Maybe if I triggered SATS fast enough it might drown out this entire conversation, sadly, it didn’t, and I only succeeded in giving myself a headache.

“I must lament my inability to suborn you to reason,” Head-Case droned. “If you had left at an earlier convenience I could have used you as a reference point to track the artifact to its prior location--My sensors are picking up that the mentioned article in on your person.”

“Yeah, PNK-3 found it. It never made it back to their base. I suppose it was taken as a trophy when they thought I died, but they’re all dead. The trail’s cold. You’re not telling me anything I don’t already know.” I told him, really, I expected Head-Case to be more on it than that.

“PNK-3? You mean that insufferable, glitchy junkball? I thought it would have been destroyed by now.” He stated bemusedly, adjusting his glasses with a flicker of his horn’s magic.

“You’re familiar?” I dared to ask.

“Acquainted, unfortunately. It has proven unwittingly helpful in the past; irritation notwithstanding.” He informed me. I could always rely on his love of talking. That told me he was not the one to program PNK-3. Mechanic hadn’t programmed her either, confirming my suspicions of another player I had yet to meet.

“So, is that all you wanted to tell me?” I asked, hoping that was the extent of the ‘bad news’. Never thought I’d be nostalgic for the day when the most exciting news around Canterlot was about water skiing budgies or seals in top hats at the zoo. Rowdy had pestered me for weeks to take him to see the dapper clapper seals in show...

“Oh, no, actually, there’s more. I just thought it imperative to remind you you’ll have to locate the base on your own.” Yep, there was always more, wasn’t there? Annoyed as I was, I tried to find good humor in turning my head to the side to overlap the screen against a graffiti covered wall, imagining that his bowl was filled with crudely drawn caricatures.

“Don’t worry, I’ll find it. I’m counting on Cradle Robber wanting me to find him.”

Giving a groan, Head-Case shook his head disingenuously. “It’s not like that made monster is going to roll out the red carpet and send you a personal invitation,” Head-Case chided before clearing his throat. “As for the bad news? I picked up some chatter. There’s a Roamer somewhere near your location, possibly looking for you. I suggest you hide if you hear it coming.”

“Roamer?” I raised a brow incredulously.

“You remember what tanks are, don’t you Steelgraft?” Head-Case questioned. In true egghead fashion he didn’t wait for me to answer, “If you don’t, you’ll remember soon enough.” The screen closed once he’d finished, clearing my vision.

My perspective on the world shifted, not because of the information rendered by Head-Case but because the ground dropped out from under me. I landed face first in a shallow puddle at the bottom of a large pothole. Note to self; Do not trot and handle a vid-call at the same time.

“Wee!” Thwak! PNK-3 bumped into me after dropping down the hole, splashing mud everywhere. Oh please be mud. She played the sound of a bowling ball striking bowling pins and cheered, “Strike!” With a jubilant giggle. “That was fun!”

“Steelgraft, are you alright?” Keena asked, hovering over the shallow grave with a grim yet worried expression.

With the blankest expression I could muster I looked up to the hippogriff. “Yeah, perfectly fine,” I stated plainly as I scaled the side of the hole. I took the offered talon to pull myself up the edge.

“Thanks for the talon up,” I muttered, staring down at the pavement. To be honest, I was a little embarrassed. My eyes caught a small pebble bouncing on the pavement; the shaking and rattling got more noticeable from there. Keena perked up and tackled me right back into the pothole, crushing a grunt out of my chest.

I tried to protest through the talon clasped hard over my lips and Keena held up her other to shush. Her stained gold and white vestments were further soiled so that not even a shred of white bled through. Oh please be mud; I imagined she was thinking that about now.

The ground rumbled, metal rattled, and rocks danced across the pavement. The air filled with the sound of an engine’s roar. The biggest blip on my EFS’ minimap I had ever seen appeared, it overtook the intersection just ahead and swerved a hard left towards our location.

She had heard it long before I had even picked it up on my EFS. She was the canary in the proverbial mine shaft.

Ripples spread in the pooling mud, rocks slid down the steep banking of the hole, and the sounds got louder. The air filled with a stench of rotting carcasses and unwashed pony, making Keena gag. Shame that griffins didn’t have the ability to vomit or belch the same way as full blooded mammals, which is what Keena looked like she desperately wanted to do. Which would have landed on me. Thank sweet Celestia that birds couldn’t upchuck.

The tumultuous rabble of throttle petered off into the rumbling of an idle engine, mechanical sounds of twisting servos and pistons blanketed the air. PNK-3 was still noisily rolling around in the mud like a happy pig. I buried her speaker first into the muck to silence her.

“Be quiet,” I whispered seriously, to which the only response was fitful burbling. There was silence for a short while, fitful, nerve wracking silence. Then a flurry a hooves, fitful whimpers, and the familiar sound of blades burning at asphalt.

A piercing scream made me jolt up, and I scrambled up the steep slope to peer up at what was going on. I could hardly make out anything other than shapes. One of those shapes was fairly large, and barrel chested. The hard-edged silhouette stood out on stilted legs, several glowing points on the large construct’s body illuminated more of its design. No, that was a different creature, there were two. One of them was a Strider, the other was a larger, heavier construct on wheeled legs driven by a loud combustion engine. Between them was the source of the noise, I could scarcely make it out, even when I was squinting at it. With only the soft telltale glow of their cybernetics I couldn’t make out much detail, even with a low-light filter. They were more than 30 feet out, exceeding my low-light vision range.

“That’s a little filly,” Keena whispered urgently. She dropped the skeleton off her back carefully and unslung her rifle, ready to take aim. I grabbed the barrel and pushed it down, much to her chagrin.

“Too risky,” I breathed out softly.

“We cannot let them harm her,” Keena hissed.

“We’re not going to,” I stated numbly while watching the deadmare units interact. I was picking up fragments of their transmitted data in their rapid conversation. The large one was on a seek and destroy mission, target unspecified, while the Strider was on an escort mission.

One issue; their directives conflicted. Without a specified target the tank-like Roamer had intentions to eradicate any non-ally on its pre-determined route. The Strider sent a warning in return that it could not stray from its mission, standing over the lumped shape of its charge protectively. When the peer-to-peer connection was terminated, the Roamer let loose on the Strider’s skull with a well placed blast of bright magical energy from a heavy gun mounted to its undercarriage. No contest; The Strider went reeling with a shrill hiss into a derelict foodcart.

Split second thinking was necessary; I needed a distraction that wasn’t us that would be more appealing to it than a weaker little filly! Think like them; think! Before Keena does something impulsively stupid, that was MY job.

Keena raised her rifle and fired a shot, glancing off the side of the beast near-harmlessly. The Roamer turned its upper body in a swift jerk, the wheels soon followed, propelling it towards us. It let loose several shots, one hit Keena in the shoulder. She let loose a squawk of pain and pitched herself forward, aligning another shot that pinged off harmlessly.

Now I could properly see its face head-on and it was UGLY in all capital letters. A jawless head was mounted to swing-arm, complete with dangling tongue. He looked familiar, and so did that bullet wound in his forehead; it was Curbstomp!

It was a bit of a weird coincidence that his body vanished in the hospital, wasn’t it? One of the voices in my head chimed in observantly. I bet he just wants to give you a big, warm hug!

As Keena was lining up the next shot I grabbed her by the tail and tugged her into the pothole, making her bullet sail wide and miss. “Hey!” She grunted, “You made me miss!” Not like she would have done much if she hit the bastard anyway!

Fuck dialog, problem solving now; we couldn’t fight that thing and it’d murder us if we got out of the hole. Chase, it needed something to chase! I shot a glance to PNK-3 but quickly dismissed that notion; Keena would never forgive me and neither would Mechanic. That left only one option.

Flails the skeleton had to take one for the team.

I hefted the slack jawed skeletal ungulate as hard as I could into the open back up the road from where we came. The Roamer formerly known as Curbstomp opened fire on the first sign of movement and went right over us, chasing the skeleton that would prove to be very bad at the game tag.

“Move!” I ordered, clambering out of the hole.

Keena took to the air and swooped for the filly, scooping her up. PNK-3 made a bee-line down the road swiftly. As for me? I got blindsided by the somehow still-functioning Strider.

Why would it be attacking me? I was protecting its charge from the Roamer! Then again it was a mindless, evil monster, a deadmare, what did it know or care to know? It would have been so easy to just rip it apart like I’d done so many before it, and I was about to do so remorselessly until it attempted a peer-to-peer connection with me.

Being the moron that I was, I unwittingly accepted the connection. In less than a split second we shared a wealth of information. It, or she, since all Striders were female, was EB-259, a third generation Strider unit nearing the end of its functional life cycle. She had been tasked with motivating the filly to run back to Big Top for an unspecified reason, it made sure no harm came to its charge en-route.

I had no idea how to share information and I really didn’t want to, but it was automatically done without prompt. I was recognized as PP-013, 1st generation Sweeper model with a long expired commander tag.

“Retired Unit Penance--Delay action. Return charge or face termination.” EB-259 messaged.

“I’m saving the girl,” I replied mentally.

“...Understood. This unit is unfit to complete its mission. It shall cover your escape.” EB-259 stated before sending me auditory data from when its mission was assigned. The peer-to-peer connection severed and the Strider pulled away.

Time returned to its normal speed and I galloped after my companions, confused about what had just happened. Behind me the deadmare I just had a one-second conversation with charged the Roamer. I didn’t bother looking back, but the sound of magical energy blazing overhead and the squealing of that Strider left nothing to the imagination.

Like a snowball in a blast furnace, the sickle beast had barely been a blip on the Roamer’s radar. A casual extermination in route to more targets, namely us. With roughly a ten second head-start, the advantage still went to the wheeled behemoth. Fat, treaded wheels ate up distance faster than he probably ate food in life. Sky chariots and carriages launched into the air and crashed through buildings flanking the street while rapid blasts of magical energy heated the air around me. I juked and weaved, keeping a hair’s width ahead of the titan’s ire.

Thunderous explosions belched small mushroom clouds from the wreckage of dilapidated wrecks that caught crossfire. A soft “Tic-tic-tic-tic!” played in my ear and grew louder, birthing a new addition to my HUD’s already cluttered display; a magical radiation detector. Keena weaved in the air and dived to avoid an upward draft of noxious fumes and climbed steeply to avoid bouncing carriage viscera, her rear hooves just skimming asphalt. It was foolish to admire her skill in the middle of a life or death situation, but the way the smoke edged off her wingtips was poetry in motion. The explosions going on everywhere else? That was a perpetual train wreck.

Run, Captain, run! Like the rat you are!” Cradle Robber’s voice cooed through the static filling my mind. “I will reach you wherever you are, wherever you hide!” He must have been someone I beat with a puppy in a past life to warrant such zealous, rabid commitment. Not that I cared about whatever flimsy excuse the psychopath used to justify his frothing lunacy.

“Eeeee, it’s almost like a parade,” PNK-3 shrieked gleefully, ducking and bobbing around the falling carriages with unbelievable ease. A sky wagon landed right in the middle of the divide and she drifted through the broken windows sideways!

I couldn’t circumvent the obstacle as easily, diving through the window on one side and breaking the door open on the other, barely a few paces ahead of certain doom. “I miss when the only thing fast about this guy was his smell,” I yelped out, catching a magical bolt in the flank. “We can’t outrun this!”

“We don’t have to outrun it, just the slowest in our group!” PNK-3 giggled while zipping around backwards effortlessly.

“I’m the slowest in our group!” I fretted. I let out a scream of terror that cut short as something plumbed the depths of my throat. My muscles seized reflexively and I bit down, a tremble running down my horn as I recalled the last time something tasteless had graced my lips. Instead of Key, this time it was the meat of an overripe banana.

“Eat this banana, there’s no time to explain!” PNK-3 ordered. The origins of the curved yellow fruit were forgotten in the panic and the globe of giddiness pulled the empty peel from my face and dropped it in the path of the Roamer’s left wheel.

A piercing screech overtook the sounds of the roaring engine and the Roamer spun out of control. The raised, several ton, armored meat-vehicle caught it’s wheel in a pothole and flipped into a carriage garage with a decidedly rustic Appaloosa motif; ‘Yippee! Lube: Horse drawn horse drawn carriages with every axle change!’

Skidding to a stop, I took a generous few seconds to appreciate such irony. Then, I gloated; “They’ll be changing your tires in Tartarus, you hunk of junk!” Reflectively, I added, “I can’t believe that worked...”

“What,” PNK-3 giggled, “It works in the cartoons! Now come on, before stinky gets free! I know a great hiding place!” I could forgive her the forced banana felatio if only because she saved my ass(what was left of it) for the second time tonight.

PNK-3 lead us away, abandoning the Roamer to spin its wheels and thrash about. A minute would be a generous estimate of our head-start on the behemoth. Once we were off of Spoony Street, heading east, we came upon a monolithic brewery. Large weather worn silos stood out amongst a snaking family of tubes that sheathed into the back lot of the squat building. The perimeter fence around the complex leaned listlessly inward, and we passed many vehicles, including a modest tour bus filled with grinning skeletons and bullet holes. There was a monorail station nearby, the ruined track ended at a massive chasm Westward.

The question of whether or not we’d lay low here for awhile, at least until Curbstomp passed by went unasked as soon as the exhausted Keena touched down hard. She stumbled and nearly dropped her living cargo. There was no other choice but to take sanctuary.

“Daft Draft, the working stallion’s preferred ale” boasted the company’s mascot, a transparent draft stallion made of glass and filled with foaming beer. The caricature smiled proudly from the wall behind the lobby’s desk. Seems like the brewery was a popular tourist trap, enough so that there was a quaint little gift shop just to the left of the main entrance where you could buy little beer keychains and replicas of the mascot, Stern Stein. He looked so much more cheerful in the notary, the figurines were a bit creepy. The advertisements were equally unnerving, one depicted a group of mares licking condensation off of Stern’s body, the ad screamed sex appeal and a forfeit of all inhibitions. “A real stallion’s stallion.

Deep breaths, at least for the living, and PNK-3 for whatever reason, was hyperventilating. ‘Hee-hoo-hee-hoo’! Where did she get that paper bag? No, more importantly, how in the four winds was she inflating and deflating it?!

Seizing one of the couches along the wall, I barricaded the door. Keena gave me a befuddled look, setting the filly down.

“If that thing follows us that won’t stop it!” She squawked.

“I know, that’s why it’s our escape vehicle,” I joked. Gangrene might have laughed at that, but that’s because she had been there when I flew the couch--Keena adopted an expression of passive confusion.

“Don’t worry, that Roamer will never look for us here; he knows not to drink and drive!” PNK-3 squeaked, popping the paper bag to produce a shower of confetti.

“...Could you be stupid somewhere else?” I asked bitterly.

“Not until Noon tomorrow,” The infuriating ball chimed. Wasn’t that the deadline for my three-day holiday?

The ball of trembling lavender furred filly breathed fast little thank-yous to Keena, her body quivering like jelly. Her pelt was mottled with blood and grime, the only part of her remotely clean was the streaks below her eyes. Darting up along her side and over one of her flanks was a deep, painful cut packed with dirt, horribly inflamed. Her frantic little pants turned to inward gulps of panic as she laid eyes on me, a renewed river of tears springing from her emerald orbs.

“Monster! Monster!” The wide eyed filly squealed, seizing a rock and bouncing it off my forehead with a hollow ‘wunk’. The runty brat scampered into the nearby souvenir store where she armed herself with tacky miniatures, keychains, and shot glasses to continue her assault. An icon on my EFS turned blood red, her hostility genuine, born of fear. Technically, the moment she attacked, the little mare unwittingly became a valid target; had I been absolutely morally bankrupt, I’d consider giving her a spanking.

“Uh, yeah,” I was beyond being bothered at this point. I picked up the envelope the filly had discarded. “Hey, you little brat, you dropped this!” Her response was to start throwing bigger things, which was cute, the heavier beer steins and candle-holders didn’t even make it halfway to me given her half-pint size and sickly condition.

“Hey, stop this nonsense, he’s no monster!” Keena barked loudly. Then she winced, holding her side. A faint trail of steam was still rising from her shoulder; she couldn’t put any weight on her talon with that injury.

“Please tell me you have some healing supplies,” I deadpanned. A plushed beer cask squeaked off the side of my head. PNK-3 began to play with it, tossing it back to the filly. A rapid game of catch was played, giving me pause to watch solely because I wondered how PNK-3 picked up the moth-eaten stuffy without limbs or a mouth. Another unsolvable mystery.

“I left those with the group, they needed it more,” Keena admitted sheepishly. “I usually don’t get hit--I feel like a filthy casual.”

Handing off the envelope to Keena, I snorted, “You’ll be a filthy casualty if we don’t find something to fix that. Just go search the store for supplies. I’ll check the front desk.” More things shattered on the floor behind me as I trotted away, it might take a few minutes for the girl to get all that out of her system and I wasn’t patient enough to deal with that right now.

The hippogriff took the envelope from me and entered the store, doing her best to calm the frightened filly. She returned the envelope to her while PNK-3 began to scan the aisles for anything useful. Everything would be okay, all we had to do was lay low until Keena could fly again.

I was planning on using her to scout for Muffin Cake’s base, save some time. Valuable time, considering I still had to kill Muffin Cake and then make the return journey before noon tomorrow or boom. My expiration date was in twelve hours. What was I, milk?

How homey, the lobby was inviting, or it would be if it wasn’t for the unlived look or the hundred year layer of dust covering everything. Large, crooked frames held faded once-colourful paintings up against the faded but still warm sunset yellow walls. There was only one dead body in the entire lobby if you didn’t count the withered potted plants. A lone skeleton sat on the moth eaten couch I set against the double doors, snout still buried in the magazine it held. Meeting Ponies? I took it, since it must have been a good read.

Most of the lobby was dim and dark, a majority of the light was coming from two plain black sconces behind the desk. The large, oppressive black steel desk loomed over the room like a waiting monster, a number ticker over the broken clock eternally read ‘Serving Party C-23’. They had been busy enough to have waiting times. A sign near the desk warned that parties on tour must always remain with their group. Another sign said; “In case of rogue robots, know your paradoxes!” It even listed a few; This Statement is False; New Mission: Refuse this mission; and Does a set of all sets also contain itself?

I was curious how effective that would be against a rogue robot, you’d likely be too ventilated with bullets to finish that phrase if the robot had SATS.

Over the desk was a terminal and what appeared to be the body of the secretary. She looked a bit fresh, if a bit charred and rubbery. Beyond her body was what I was interested in, a metal box mounted in the wall with a familiar three butterfly motif. I remember seeing that in the hospital, every medical box there had the Ministry of Peace’s logo--Looks like the same was true everywhere else.

“Bingo,” I murmured as I made for the medical box. Some things didn’t have to be so hard after all! My eyes traveled from the wall to a mounting in the floor my gauntlet pinged against, the mounting fed a pole into the upper torso of the secretary’s body, and it turns out she didn’t have a lower body to speak of.

“Please stay behind the yellow line,” a cheerful, feminine voice ordered.

Stunned, I did just as I was bade, moving behind the yellow caution line in front of the desk. What I assumed to be a corpse sat upright and arranged her desk. The gaunt, twisted mare was a machine! It may have once looked like a youthful mare with full cheeks, a rosy complexion, and a styled wig to match, but none of those things remained. Its rubber face sagged on its skull, the remains of a golden brown wig sat melted to her dome like crystallized sugar, and there was a massive black handled knife sticking out from one of its eye sockets. Was that a brain under glass in her skull? Yes, yes it was--It had a brain suspended in green gel, similar in appearance to the same gel in Head-Case’s egg-jar.

“What the bilgewater...” I started, jaw agape. “What are you?”

Once the desk’s quills and notary were arranged to its liking, the cyborg rested its cracked forehooves against the terminal keyboard, and smiled with pearly white teeth, “Welcome to the Daft Draft Headquarters, home of the finest brew born from Germaneigh. My name is PAM, Personal Assistant Mechanoid by Solaris Inc. I’m afraid it’s after tour hours and the brewery is closed. You’re currently trespassing. Please show identification or vacate the premises.”

“Identification? Look, I just need that medical box behind you,” I snapped, pointing it out to her. The machine didn’t budge, her melted saccharine expression on me.

“I’m sorry, but the medical box is for emergencies only,” She said cheerfully, not seeming the least bit sorry. “Please show identification.”

What about my situation didn’t qualify as an emergency? Gnashing my teeth, I decided to ignore the irritating machine; no wonder somepony had stabbed the damn thing in the face! I crossed the yellow caution-line and scaled onto the desk, it wasn’t like the piece of junk could stop me from taking what I wanted.

“Stay behind the yellow line,” PAM said with a tone of cheerfulness. “This is your final warning.”

Irritated, I leaned down and bunted noses with the ugly wax museum reject. “Oh, my final warning? Before what?” I mocked. Two panels on the wall behind the desk slid down and two massive auto-turrets filled the hollow, extending their barrels to take aim. Before that, obviously.

“Please move back behind the yellow line and produce identification, you have ten seconds to comply.” PAM was smiling, even as she counted down verbally from ten. Two big ‘buck-off’ turrets were more than enough to get me to back off with my tail tucked.

Identification, did I have any identification? Of course, the ID from the hospital, that might work! I snapped the lanyard off my neck and practically hurled it at the secretary. Picking it up in a levitation field it compared me to the photo ID.

“This isn’t you,” PAM stated dryly. “You have six seconds to vacate the premises.”

Applesauce! I backed up, calling out as I did, “Keena, we need to leave, now!” I about faced right into PNK-3.

“Don’t worry, I got this!” the spritebot said as she went up to the murderous brainbot. A brief blurt of static and an arc of electricity tethered PAM’s head to PNK-3 and the bot began chiming out numbers between PAM’s; “Seven, eighteen, thirty-four, seven-hundred and eighty one!” PNK-3 managed to confuse the machine.

“Seven-hundred eighty...Seven-hundred seventy-nine...” PAM continued from the place that PNK-3 had left her at.

“That was impressive!” I admitted with a nervous laugh. Anything that saved me from bullet ventilation was a good thing in my book. While PAM was caught counting down those numbers, I hopped the counter and proceeded to loot the medical box.

“Is everything alright over there,” Keena called from the souvenir shop. The hippogriff leaned out through the doorway, peering over to the desk with her rifle drawn. “Do we still need to leave?”

“PNK-3 handled it,” I shouted back. “I found some supplies. You find anything?”

“There’s nothing but beer and cheap junk. I’ll keep searching a while longer.” Keena chirped, disappearing back into the store.

“Oh this is nothing, watch this!” PNK-3 annouced and turned to PAM once again. “How could you not recognize me?” The bauble demanded, “Don’t you know who I am?”

PAM stopped her count-down and adopted a curious tilt to her head, her remaining ear folding back. She was likely very expressive when she was in her prime. “--{Voice Recognized}--Oh, Miss Pinkamina, I am so sorry I failed to recognize you!” PAM said with feigned apologetic tones, bowing her head. The turrets retreated back into the wall and the panels hid them from sight.

“Oh, that’s okay! I’m just here visiting with some friends. I know it’s after hours and all but these things happen,” PNK-3 said with a giggle.

“That’s fine, Miss Pinkamina, you’re always welcome at Daft Draft. Is there anything we can do to help you today?” PAM asked the spritebot sweetly. She was so focused on PNK-3 that she didn’t care to notice me, or simply the normal rules didn’t apply to ‘Miss Pinkamina’ and her friends.

PNK-3 hmmed softly, “Steelgraft, you need anything?”

“Yeah,” I grunted, tugging at the medical box, “Could you get her to unlock this?” Sure, I could tear it open but that might damage the contents I needed.

“Oh, PAM, could you open up the medical box for me?” PNK-3 asked her in my stead.

The secretary perked up and swiveled about to face the medical box, ignoring me completely, “Of course I could--But first,” PAM swiveled back, “I need to verify your identity with a retinal scan. Forgive me, but it’s just a minor precaution to log the release of medical supply.”

If I had blood that ran, it would be running cold right now. PNK-3 didn’t get a chance to work in a single word before PAM ran a scan that came up negative; Spritebots didn’t have eyes.

The sconces behind the desk flashed red to the sound of a warning siren, and the turrets emerged from hiding. PAM gave a guttural growl. “Imposter! Striped scum, prepare to be wiped!” She sounded suddenly masculine and very alpha, a veritable hardened trench-fighter. Congratulations PNK-3, you just went from annoying, skipped troublesome, and landed right on detrimental.

Turrets tend to lock onto the nearest threat, priority targeting, and I was the closest target. Turret fire peppered me as I jumped away, avoiding only a few shots of the auto-fire as I scrambled back over the desk. PAM took a swing at me and fired a beam of magical energy from her eye, staring a hole into my cheek; burning pain catered to my nerves, courtesy of Daft Draft!

“Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry!” PNK-3 wailed, her voice lost in the sound of gunfire. ‘Sorry’ wasn’t going to give me back the 15% integrity and half a pretty face!

Quickly, the paradoxes! “This statement is false!” I babbled. The turrets stopped firing, and briefly, PAM looked almost thoughtful, a serene tilt to her head. That lasted all of two seconds before the turrets and PAM unanimously decided to release more vitriol. The. Poster. LIES!

Snatching PAM over the desk, I hoisted the bot up to soak bullets. Sparks and oil geysered out of the faux-pony as she took on a form more reminiscent of swiss cheese, ‘her’ now masculine voice never missed a beat as it continued to spout anti-zebra slurs and threats. “What’s Black, white, and Dead all over? Any filthy Zebra that crosses my path!”--Oh, that was a classic!

Fearing a parting shot from that eye laser, I tore the blade from PAM’s empty socket and installed it into the adjacent port and twisted. The machine seized up and groaned unintelligibly. Freed from its mounting with a ruthless tug, the twitching, bullet soaked body became a projectile that wrecked one of the turrets. I tumbled backwards off the desk as the remaining turret returned fire. If I’d been a normal pony, without a doubt, I’d be dead four times over by now; Rebel Riot had been right, my superpower is getting my ass kicked. Stylishly.

“For your safety, we advise you stay behind the yellow line,” PAM cooed pleasantly.

A sick thought crossed my mind; the reason why you were supposed to stay behind the yellow caution line. The turret couldn’t strike targets too close to the desk. Instead of installing more turrets, the cheap route had been to keep everyone in range of the turret with a stupid yellow caution line. For your safety my flank!

Armed with only two weapons, a knife named Alice or a frag mine I borrowed from Gangrene, I wondered how I could disrupt the turret. The frag mine was out of question, it might not go off or do enough damage. Utilizing SATS to throw the knife wouldn’t work either, my eye was impaired by flashing lights. Quite the quandary! I thought for a while, huddled next to PNK-3 who was still spouting out apologies.

“I’ll make you a big cake, a REALLY big cake for you just please don’t be mad, I really didn’t-mean-to-get-your-face-blown-half-off.-Now-you’ll-hate-me-forever-and-wont-wanna-be-my-friend.-You’ll-leave-me-behind-and-tell-everypony-you-meet-that-I’m-awful--” She paused to take a breath, her words tapering off incomprehensibly.

Just throw PNK-3, my brain so helpfully suggested. I would have done it too, if it wasn’t for that meddling Keena coming to the rescue!

The church-mouse leaned out from the souvenir shop and let loose with her rifle in quick three-round bursts. The turret switched targets to her but didn’t last long enough to let more than two bullets fly. Luckily for her, both shots sailed wide, sinking into the doorframe behind her.

Keena trudged up to me on her rear hooves, she soon dropped down to one talon and slung her rifle, limping the rest of the way. “Wow, you almost look as bad as that old secretary robot,” she chirped observantly.

“Gee, don’t I feel pretty,” I huffed irritably, ignoring PNK-3’s apology to leap back over the desk. The turrets were wrecked and PAM’s brain case had cracked, oozing her sole organ onto the floor. It was organic, technically. I dipped my finger into the jellied think-meat and took a taste (for science) and balked. Regeneration was negligible and it tasted awful! I also did not lose any Karma for eating a roborg’s brain. Roborg was a good term for what PAM had been, a living brain in a robot body. Whoever came up with such an idea was completely insane. I checked her for a key and found it on a lanyard about her neck, thus allowing me to unlock the medical box.

“Finally, medical supplies!” I cheered. Keena would be fit to fly in no time! My smile faded soon once I saw my face in the reflective metal of the lid’s interior. Most of my left cheek was gone, leaving only a single strip of my jowls near the corner of my lips. No way was I ever going to be moviestar material now.

“At least you still have your wonderful, forgiving personality,” PNK-3 noted. She was lucky to be out of range of my grasping hand. My glare alone forced her to retreat behind Keena.

“It’s not so bad,” Keena agreed, if only to dampen my burning anger. “Maybe a doctor could patch you up in Greenvale?”

That actually did make me feel a little better, there was Undertaker, the ghoul doctor who might help me. If push came to shove, there was always Head-Case who seemed to know an unhealthy amount about cyberghouls.

“You’re right,” I admitted, taking a healing potion from the medical cabinet to give to the injured hippogriff. “Here, there’s another one for the filly,” I went back for the other one, my spirits lifted. At least one thing had gone right.

While handing over the second health potion the security door to the left of the front desk burst open. THOOM! Fire consumed the desk and metal chunks went flying, the potion I had been holding shattered and my mood with it. Another rocket struck the desk, delivered by a robotic sentry. Slammed against the wall, disorienting light flickered over my vision.

“Terribly sorry,” It said. “I hope we can still be friends after this.”

Friends?! Why would a robot be programmed to say that? Catty piece of scrap! Where was Keena? PNK-3? I triggered SATS, causing a blur of static to overtake my senses along with pulsing, crippling pain to jab into the back of my socket. Too. Damn. Bright. How about next time you just drive a hot nail into your retina? It’d hurt less.

Blam! Blam! Blam! Pew! Pew! KABOOM!

My vision cleared after a few seconds curled in the fetal position, clutching my face. Smoking wreckage sat in disjointed piles, parts from the desk, its terminal, and the sentry respectively. Soft yellow no more, the wall behind the desk was ruined, except for one part where my outline preserved some paint.

“You know what? Now I am not okay,” I confessed, rubbing my exposed cybernetic eye. I gave the sentry bot a few kicks, sneering. “Nice job, Keena,” I congratulated her, once all my aggression was drained.

The church-bird seemed a bit flustered, her feathers ruffled up as she gave her perked wings a casual preening. “It was a small task for a cleric of my skill,” She bubbled before resting a talon on her kill in big-game-hunter fashion.

“Don’t get cocky, kid,” I told her sternly. Her head-crest fell back and she rolled her eyes.

“I helped,” PNK-3 piped.

“Yes, I saw you shoot it. Not bad for a scrub,” Keena said, patting PNK-3 like one would do a pet dog or a small child that just drew a pretty picture. With a disgusted roll of my eyes I got down to the nitty gritty of our situation.

Injuries other than my own were minor, a few singed feathers on Keena, PNK-3 simply shook the soot off, and the brat had no new injuries to speak of. We had another problem, there was only one healing potion.

Numb. That’s how I felt at the moment; completely numb. Usually it was only physical, but this time it was mental as well. More things on my plate, a dense four-course meal of spoiled reality. I didn’t want to stomach it, I knew it’d just weigh my sanity down into the depths of my bowels. Shame I couldn’t just abdicate these thoughts. 14% integrity, missing part of my face, and suffering from a massive headache. Yet it could be worse--Much worse, so let’s not go flipping out on our friends, Steelgraft, deep breaths, even though you don’t breathe, deep breaths!

Recap De-la Horrriblah;
1.) Curbstomp reanimated as Roamer
2.) Gangrene losing her gang and family
3.) Frisky losing his senses and burrowing into denial
4.) The above happened because Zone Control died saving my sorry ass
5.) The entire settlement of Big Top Blok being reduced to an unlivable corpse forest
6.) Half my face was missing and I’m related to the freaks that did the last five things
7.) Deadmare were loyal to their mission, not to each other--Worrying when applied to me
8.) Standtall thinks I’m from Fillydelphia--Thankyou Gangrene!
9.) Explosive collar that keeps me from slapping the stupid out of people
10.) People back in Greenvale were dying without supplies--Marble and Rugrat were in jail
11.) I still can’t remember Silver Nard’s name properly--Not a big deal

And somehow, somehow it could be worse. It could always be worse, and it was likely going to get worse. Eat it, Steelgraft, come to terms with it. Don’t like it? Then do something. You’ve awoken, take back control--Change the flow. What could one stallion do? Nothing, especially with enough stallions thinking that same exact thing.

“One potion, huh?” I muttered sourly, looking up in the direction of the souvenir shop. The filly in there hadn't come out, likely terrified of the gunfire and me. “How bad is she?”

“Worse than I am,” Keena said softly. “I’ve seen infections like she has before. She needs a doctor.” She offered me the envelope the filly had been carrying, “She told me this was addressed to The Captain, you might want to read it.” It appeared Keena had taken it upon herself to already open it. Bitch.

Inside the envelope was a party invitation written in red ink;
Captain, I hope this finds you well. If you’ve survived this long, then you’ve earned an audience with yours truly. Come to the Robronco Reprocessing Center at 221-Baker Street in the Industrial Park at Midnight. I expect you to be fashionably late.

Yours Truly,

“Use the potion and fly her out of here,” I decided. It was time to part ways for now. I had the address to find my target, but I assumed it would be yet another trap. I had enough problems with PNK-3 following me about, I didn’t need to babysit two kids on top of that; even if one of those kids was decent around a firearm.

“You said I’d get to come with you, I’ve done what you have asked!” Keena argued. She pointed at the robot and the turrets. “You would have died if not for me. You’re a trouble magnet, Steelgraft!”

“You need to keep doing what I say; take care of that filly, Keena.” I wasn’t going to budge on this. “Try to make it back before the party is over. I could use your help for that.”

The hippogriff looked unhappy but agreed, quaffing the potion and leaving to collect the filly. Once I moved the couch out from the doorway, we were ready to part ways. I pushed PNK-3 through the door first to get a good look if the coast was clear; we didn’t need to step out of the building only to get blasted by some wheeled clunker.

“Why do I have to do it?” PNK-3 whimpered.

“Because I’m mad at you,” I replied honestly. Not even I was cruel enough to tell her how expendable I considered her at this point, if the Roamer blasted her to bits? Well, that’d be a few seconds head-start for us to get away. You really don’t think that, my mind chuckled, we both know who the expendable one really is, don’t we? Just shut the hell up! It was Zone~

“Hey, Keena, did you get the kid’s name?” I asked curiously, not that I cared. Actually, a part of me did, maybe? I just wanted to fill the silence with small-talk, the voices were easier to ignore when I was talking to someone else.

“Yes, her name’s Delightful Dirge,” Keena replied. The kid’s ass-marking matched her name; a musical note on a tombstone, how morbid.

“There’s hardly anything delightful about the runt,” I groused moodily. The filly looked at me, trepidation in her eyes. “Quit looking at me like that, I’m not going to eat you.”

“Don’t worry,” PNK-3 whispered to Dirge. “He prefers bananas.”

“Shouldn’t you be outside checking for ass-stench?” I asked, tapping an impatient digit into the tile floor.

Keena stared daggers at me and curled her beak into a deep, solid frown, covering the filly’s ears with a talon. “Language,” She scolded. Oh, silly me, no cursing around Keena, I forgot about that. A simple ‘sorry’ was enough to satisfy her.

“The coast is clear~” the pink globe sing-songed before zooming off to flank-all for what I cared. Keena ignored our exchange, but Dirge found a weak, weary smile somewhere in the robot’s antics.

“I’ll be back as fast as I can, perish the thought you die, Steelgraft.” Keena said, taking flight once she clear the front door. She circled twice and went low over the rooftops, vanishing from sight. Now it was just me and PNK-3. Where was that little ball of aggravation, anyway?

“Captain, in here!” the robot called for me from inside.

Following her voice and leaving my patience behind, I grit my teeth. “This had better be good,” I growled. Down the hall passed the security door the sentry bot had used was PNK-3, bouncing excitedly in place.

Hall of Fame,” bold letters painted intricately on the hallway’s threshold. Along both sides of the hall there were massive portraits of solo and group photos, all of them famous ponies. There was one of Pinkie Pie, leader of the Ministry of Morale throwing a huge party and drinking Daft Draft; another of the Soarin of the Wonderbolts savoring a Daft Draft with a slice of apple pie; and most notably, where PNK-3 was bouncing up and down was a portrait of an aerial combat squad on the deck of an airship. Below the portrait it read; “Delta 401st Drink Daft Draft.

Flickerjack, immortalized in a photo with her crew. A buff pegasus with the tiny wings held his mouth in a loud scream in the background, startling a younger pegasus between a huge minotaur with a wrench and an odd zebra into dropping his beer.

I picked out each of my crew and memories came back sporadically in electric jolts. Lightning Dust, the over ambitious leader of the crew’s flight squad had stated she could be Captain and drunkenly demanded to fly the ship, she crashed it into the docks! I could make out her sandy mane over the helm of the ship with her drunkenly clinging to it, trying to look inconspicuous.

This photo had been taken after that, part of the sky dock was laying across the deck and several of the ship’s crew were laughing, pointing at it. A rose colored mare with a wooden prosthetic leg was busily sweeping up trash, looking very annoyed, staring daggers in the general direction of the Captain, a stern white unicorn with an unkempt red mane and red jacket. He did not participate in any drinking, instead nursing a bottle to a red pegasus stallion that did not like the taste of beer.

My jubilant study came to a halt when my eyes crossed over a dour, black pegasus mare I recognized instantly. She was the one that woke me up from my dream in Necro-net. Someone had stuck a knife into the portrait just under her, pinning a piece of paper in place. A small knife with a black handle, identical to the one in PAM’s face.

“I can’t believe it,” I gasped, snatching the paper.

“Oh don’t worry, there are worse things to be than a sell-out!” PNK-3 giggled. “You could be a deadm--Wait, no, nevermind...” She paused a moment. “You have a great personality?”

“Yeah, yeah, sure, whatever, forgiveness. Not mad.” I muttered while reading the flier. It was an advertisement for the Shadowbolt’s Memorial Museum in Northside, Detrot.

Fight with Honor!

Fly with Dignity!

Kill with Vengeance!

The tenants of the Shadowbolts were there, and I remembered them. It was like connecting the dots; happy memories flooded my mind of my comrades. Reading further , the flier advertised guided tours with state of the art holograms, and a real refurbished airship; the legendary old ship, Flickerjack! “The crew of this fearsome airship gave their livelihoods defending Equestria, now it has been refurbished so that you too may honor the fallen.” -- Immortalized; “The names of every pony to die during the war thusfar has been added to the walls of this great monument, may we never need more room to add more.”

I turned the brochure over, expecting more, wanting more, NEEDING more. The back was weathered and mostly blank, bearing only a cryptic letter written in black ink; “N” N as in Nevermore? If I had my saddlebag I could compare the writings to the journal pages, damnit! I checked the ‘Notary’ tab in my HUD display and cursed under my breath--I had no digital copies of the journal pages, but I did have a digital copy of the museum flier and the party invitation. My cybernetic eye had taken scans. Note to self; Uncover left eye when reading documents. Read in low light locations.

Tonight could not end fast enough--Cradle Robber had become little more than an obstacle to something I wanted. Hurt my friends and dare to stand between me and the chance to see this museum, dare he?! Double-dead-doofus wouldn’t know what hit him! My old airship would be the perfect ticket out of this hell-hole if it was still there.

I smiled as best I could with half a face, laughing contently. Finally, good news!

“Steelgraft, are you feeling okay?” PNK-3 asked, hovering over my shoulder. “You’re uhm, you look kinda mad. Or constipated. Hard to tell with your face being all--”

“I’m smiling, you idiot!” I roared at her, making her roll backwards in the air a few paces. “I’m happy, can’t you tell?” Genuine silence persisted while PNK-3 and I exchanged blank stares.

“No, I can’t tell.” PNK-3 squeaked, “You’re so hard to read! But if that’s a smile then I could get used to it!”

Wordlessly, I walked back down the hall, then I turned around and came back, taking the unwieldy portrait off the wall. “Yeah, I’m taking this,” I said to myself aloud. Who was going to stop me, security?

“Want me to carry that?” PNK-3 offered.

“Uh, yeah, that’d be--” The portrait vanished into thin air with a spark of magical energy. PNK-3 gave a soft, mechanical belch. “Great,” I finished.

“It’s only six pounds, I could carry dozens of those!” She then demonstrated this by imbibing the portrait of Pinkie Pie, Ministry Mare.

“You just vaporized the only picture of my crew!” I cried.

“Don’t be silly, I de-digistructed them! They’re being stored digitally. They’re safe!” She reassured me. “I could give you a demonstration if you’d like.”

“No, that’s f---” BZAP! The portrait of Pinkie Pie appeared above my head and dropped, my head popping through the worn canvas. “--ine.”

“Woops, uh, good thing that wasn’t your portrait, right?” She gave a nervous chuckle, backing away out of reach of my hooves.

“If it had been, I don’t know what I would have done to you.” I told her honestly, popping out of the picture and trotting down the hallway. I was going to get out of this place before another distraction blew a chunk out of me. PNK-3 followed me out the front door, back into the embrace of the wastes. “What time is it?” We didn’t want to be too late for the ass-kicking party--I owed Cradle Robber a lot of heartache; whatever I’d done to him in life would be nothing compared to what I planned to do to him now.

“11:45 PM,” PNK-3 helpfully chimed.

“How far is 221-Baker Street from here?”

“Five miles and a hop!” PNK-3 not-so-conveniently chimed.

“We’re not going to be able to make that on time!” I cursed inwardly for wasting time.

“I wouldn’t be too worried, I’ve got a solution!” The pink ball of random boomed triumphantly.

“What’s your solution?” I dared to ask. It was probably going to be something stupid.

Yakety Sax,” PNK-3 boomed excitedly, she began to play the mentioned tune. It was wholly irritating. I was about to tell her to shut off that racket but a heated blast of magic sailed by, clearing my vocabulary of meaningful words and replacing them with expletives. Curbstomp had been attracted by the music and found us. We fled from the death-rainbow firing doom-tank to the antics of whimsical song, deep into the veil of night and beyond. Celestia. Damnit. PNK-3.

Level UP!
Character Progress Review

The carrot on the string, one way to motivate a character. After beating one’s players upside the head repeatedly it behooves a GM to give them something to long and hope for, to make them peek from the jaded, armored veil(then punish them for dreaming). As for PNK-3? Oddly convenient how she chose that specific brewery to hide out in...