• Published 24th Jan 2015
  • 1,274 Views, 51 Comments

Fallout: Equestria - Empty Quiver - thefurryrailfan


Far away from home and with nothing but the things in their saddlebags, two lifelong friends work for a way back home, but may find more than they expected.

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The Old Wasteland


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“Static Charge? Where are you?” Cross shouted, trotting up the stairs from his shop to the small apartment above it. He pushed open the door to his son’s room, only to find it vacant. A light scuffle came from across the hall, the augmented unicorn catching it and then opening the door to his and Minty’s room. Upon entering, he was greeted by me hanging helplessly from the ceiling, my hooves tied up in magically created ropes. Again. Cross sighed, but couldn’t help but release a little snicker. “Trying to steal Minty’s rifle again?”

I grumbled, swinging back and forth slightly from the ropes. Stupid unicorns with their stupid magic... “I’ll get around the spells someday, I swear it!” Cross chuckled again as his horn lit up, illuminating his graying mane that was slowly starting to match my own silvery one. The ropes disappeared and I fell to the floor with a thud. Oofh, couldn’t you at least lay a pillow down? Ouch... I rubbed my head with a forehoof, standing back up. “Anyways... ah, what’d you need?”

Cross led me back downstairs, levitating some saddlebags out from under his sewing bench. “You know Minty keeps that thing locked up for a reason, I don’t even want to think of what he’d do if it went missing. Not to mention what might happen to you.” Cross opened the saddlebags, folding some robes and coats into each side as he set it on my back. “Here, I’ve got some of the Steel Ranger’s order ready. You're heading there for a sleep-over with Night Strike anyways, might as well make a delivery, right? I swear, it's like they need new robes every day; I know they’ve got a lot of new recruits, but-” Cross was cut short by the door opening, both of us glancing towards it.

Minty stood in the doorway, levitating a box of bagels in the air with a wide smile behind his somewhat foggy glasses. His metal horn had dulled a bit over the years since his adventures with Twintails, his Pip-Buck leg squeaking slightly as he trotted up to the desk. “Morning!” He said cheerfully, slipping the box onto the desk and flipping it open, wiping his glasses clear on the collar of his coat before looking towards myself. “Oh, you’re heading out already?” His expression lowered a little bit as Cross secured the flaps of the saddlebags, trotting around to be alongside the tealish-maned unicorn. My stomach growled as the scent of baked goods wafted into my nose. “Heh, sure you don’t want to stay for breakfast, Sparky?” Minty chuckled as he heard my stomach, a light blush crossing my face. C'mon dad, it's been years since I was a foal...

“Oh, shush.” I grabbed one of the bagels and bit into it, Cross grabbing one of his own as Minty undid his coat and hung it up. The shop had been getting steady business for a long time; it’s somewhat surprising just how few seamstresses there are in the post apocalyptic world. My dad, Minty, used to go scavenging a lot more when I was younger, though that was almost always because his friend Twintails dragged him along. Not to mention, his augmented horn and leg had needed a lot more care lately, so he's stuck to running short deliveries and errands for Cross more often than not.

“Static’s been trying to get at your gun again,” Cross said in between mouthfuls of bread. Minty sighed, a little exasperated as he put a hoof up to his temple. “I still say you should toss it off a cliff.” Minty’s expression quickly changed to one of plain disbelief, but before he could respond, Cross put up a hoof. “Calm down, c'mon, you know I’m kidding. Celestia knows you’re not giving Jolts up for anything less than becoming an Alicorn.”

“I doubt he’d even do it then.” I let off a small laugh as both Minty and Cross smirked, the former giving his eyes a small roll. We ate in silence for a while, my empty belly quieting down as I filled it with another ring of baked dough. I glanced up at the clock, stepping over to the coat hooks and slipping on a thick robe. “If I’m taking those robes to the Rangers at EQUAD, I better head out now so it doesn’t get too late. Don't want to be in Quebuck at night, right?” Minty nodded in agreement, wearing a faint smile as he also slipped a plasma pistol out of his own jacket and into my hooves. The wires and metal shone in pristine condition from his practically religious maintenance habits, myself stowing the pistol as Cross stepped up to me.

“Oh, I almost forgot, Minty and Razorwing finally figured out how to undo the genetic lock on this.” Cross gave a smile as he lifted his Pip-buck-clad foreleg, turning his attention to it. He fiddled with it for a moment before it popped open, resting it on the counter as he rubbed at his leg, continuing. “I doubt I’ll really need this anymore, and it’s not like Minty can loan his.” Minty rolled his eyes again as I tenatively took the old Pip-Buck, securing it to my left foreleg and looking back to Cross with a smile as the HUD flickered into my view. “Stay safe.” I gave my dads a hug before turning and heading out the door, turning up the collar of my cloak to shield my blue coat from the cold.

Trotting down the street towards the western gate of Mooscow, the grand cathedral passed by as I made way through the morning snow. A few ponies waved to me as I passed, though few were milling around with how cold it was outside. I swear, somepony really needs to find a way to actually get the sun back up around here... The sky was full of ominous clouds as always during this time of year, billowing about in the harsh wind. I was soon at the front gate, an older griffin with a few splotches of red on her coat and feathers sitting in a toll booth. “Hey, Bloodbeak!”

She waved and leaned out of the empty window frame, wearing that beaky smile. “Hey, Charge, how’re you doing?” I shrugged a little, tilting my head in a non committal way as a chill wind whistled over the wall. “Yeah, kind of the same. Not much has been going on since the storm season started, nopony's making the trip north with those kind of weather patterns about. Gotta say, been seeing a lot more ghoul traffic through here nowadays, compared to before your dad and his friend made that NEAMO place into a mile-wide crater. You think that place had some sorta ghoul-nip they spread by setting it off?” She let off a small cackle as I gave a roll of my eys in response, shaking my head.

“Not that they’ve told me about, and I’m pretty sure I’ve heard that story at least fifteen times.” Bloodbeak smiled and shrugged, pressing a button that began to slowly open the heavy doors in Mooscow’s metal perimeter, the motors whirring and hinges creaking. A chill wind blasted through the opened slot, the griffin cranking up the heat on a hotplate in her booth, warming her talons above it. “Thanks, say hi to Razorwing for me!” I said as I trotted through the doors with a smile.

“Sure thing!” She pressed the button again, the doors closing up again as I turned back to the west, walking along the old road towards Trotisk. I paused, fiddling with the Pip-Buck for a moment before the radio clicked on, the air filled with the host’s voice. Thank you for letting me fiddle with your fancy personal one, Night Strike...

“Goooood Morning Wasteland! This is your host Bert the Turtle sending a wake-up out to everypony from Steel Creek to Emerald Ridge and all places inbetween, hope you haven’t all turned into pony-cicles yet! The weather isn’t going to be getting any better anytime soon from what Tommy's been telling me. Still, radiation storms have been on the decline for the last few years too, so at least you can freeze knowing that you’ll still be just as fertile when dragons re-conquer the world and thaw you out!” The wind whipped through my mane as I trotted down the road, Bert the Turtle continuing with a bout of laughter.

“Anyways, early morning news time! We’ve heard a few reports about the Steel Rangers trying to scour out what used to be Pripytrot, yanno, that old irradiated warzone. They say the radiation’s gotten better since the reactor was blasted open twenty years ago, but unless you’re already a ghoul or have some sort of death wish, they suggest staying near the edge of town if you need to pass through.” I immediately asked myself what pony would be crazy enough to head into a completely irradiated death trap, only for my mind to quickly respond with thoughts of both my dad and Twintails. Dammit, brain. “Remember, kids, radiation suits are your friend, even if they have been out of style for a few years. Anyway, enough rambling, let’s get you back to the music you’ve been wanting...” There was a moment of silence before the scratch of a needle hitting a record was heard, the song crackling in through the air.

"Somewhere,
Beyond the sea
Somewhere,
Waitin’ for me

My lover stands on golden sands
And watches the ships
That go sailin’~"

I hummed along to the tune as I walked down the road, the remains of two carts coming into view over the mounds of snow on the side. The snow swirled around broken bottles and wood, one of the wheels squeaking as it spun slowly on its axis. With a small smile, I hopped off of the road and crunched through the snow, digging through the carts in search of some un-pilfered cold soda. I tossed a few broken ones aside, sighing as the last few crates turned up only with empty and shattered bottles. Trotting out, I gave a glance back at the faded logos on the carts; Sparkle-Cola and Sunrise Sarsaparilla. Gee, wonder why they're both completely empty, between my dad and Night Strike's family... Giving my head a faint shake and smiling lightly, I began to head back down the road again, the radio still warbling away.

---

It wasn’t long before the ruins of Quebuck came into view over the horizon, some of the larger buildings looking like it wouldn’t take much more than a particularly strong gust of wind to knock them over. I turned off of the road, starting to travel around the city - No way in Tartarus am I heading straight through that ghoul infested blast zone with just a plasma pistol. I kept an eye on the edge of town, watching for any ghouls that might wander past the limits and spot me. Just to be safe, I removed the pistol from my cloak and slipped it between my teeth, searching around for the trigger with my tongue. Ugh, energy weapons were really not designed for non-unicorns...

A large explosion erupted from the city as I was passing through some debris that were once a neighborhood, causing me to jump in surprise, almost stumbling over into the snow-covered road. I stared into the mass of dilapilated buildings, trying to locate the source of the explosion. I couldn’t see anything except a few plumes of smoke and debris rising into the air in a faintly mushroom-shaped cloud, prompting the image of Night Strike coming out of her home with her dad's Balefire Egg Launcher to enter my mind for a second. Stepping a little closer towards the city, I admit I -was- tempted to go in to investigate. I managed to stop myself though, shaking my head as the realization set in. No, no, you don’t need to go and get yourself torn apart by ghouls you idiot. Slightly reluctantly, I turned and began to continue back around towards the road out of the city.

I didn’t have long to continue mulling over whatever had caused the explosion when a bloatsprite appeared from over a small snow bank, hovering for a moment before turning in my direction. It buzzed loudly through the air, as I closed one eye and took a few shots at it. The plasma struck the creature, causing it to squeak in pain before falling to the ground, part of it melting into goo. Ugh… yeah, that’s gross. I slipped Minty’s pistol back into my jacket, averting my eyes from the remains of the bloatsprite. I glanced over my shoulder towards Quebuck again, hoping to spot any hint to the explosion, but, again, nothing but that faint mushroom cloud.

---

The sky was beginning to grow darker as I approached the train car walls of Turnpike, lights inside the town reflecting up into the sky against the snowfall. I yawned profusely as I trotted up to the door of a passenger car acting as the smaller gate, sliding it open and stepping through into the town. Alright, Static, you've been here before, you should know where Night Strike's house is... at least, you did during the day. Guh. Taking a moment to rub at my head to try and get my bearings, a deep, soft voice rang out through the empty town. I looked over towards where it came from, catching the sight of a large, muscular, grey pegasus trotting over to me. “Hey, Static! Nice to see you again, here to see Strikey or just stopping through?” He smiled warmly as he stepped up to me, looking down slightly.

“Hey, Featherweight. Just running another delivery up to EQUAD, decided I ought to stop here for the night.” My stomach growled as I got up to my hooves, causing me to blush a little. “Eheh, suppose I should get something to eat, too.” Featherweight smiled widely as I trotted after him, a few ponies milling about in the small town.

“Well you're always welcome to stay with us, we’ve got plenty of extra beds still.” I followed him to his house, the door creaking on its hinges as it swung open and we headed inside. Slipping my saddlebags onto the floor and slinging my cloak onto the coat rack, the older stallion smiled, fiddling with a heater built into the caboose. “Just make yourself at home.” Featherweight trotted over to an old stove, pulling a pot out of the cupboard and a few chunks of odd meat from the fridge, turning on the stove. In zipped a young green pegasus, hopping up onto the table that I had sat down at.

“Heya, Static! What’re you doing here?” I restated I where I was going and she nodded, a set of magnification goggles on her forehead bobbing along with her. “Minty and Cross want another night alone, eh?” She smirked as I rolled my eyes, letting off a small sigh and turning to look at the Pip-buck. We sat in silence for a while as Featherweight set some stew on to cook, the water bubbling quietly away as he sat down with us.

“Say, where are Twintails and Night Strike, anyways?” It’d been a while since I’d seen him, and who knows how long since I’d seen his and Featherweight’s daughter - I've lost track. Buzzy shrugged, and Featherweight did the same, looking a little more worried compared to his sister. He shook his head a little before standing back up and going to lift the pot of stew off of the stove, pouring it into three bowls.

“He’s out trying to find Night Strike again; she ran out this morning. It’s the third time this week, going off to go scavenge in Quebuck again, or something. Twinny also said something about getting something for that tank of his, and some stuff for Buzzy.” Featherweight let off a sigh as he placed the full bowls in front of us, Buzzy already digging in. “I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, she is Twintails’ daughter as much as mine, heh.” Featherweight set the pot back down, and I began to eat the stew, warming up from the inside out as it slid down my throat. “I just wish she’d be more careful, or at least tell us where she's going. I don’t know what I’d do, if she... she…” Featherweight’s voice drifted off, all three of us sitting in silence for a moment, even Buzzy stopping her eating. The large stallion cleared his throat, rubbing at his eyes with a black hoof. “S-sorry, I just get worried sometimes.” No one spoke for a while, all of us finishing up our dinner before we dropped our bowls in the sink.

I let off a long yawn, realizing just how tired I was, the little clock in the corner of my vision giving me a good idea of just how long I'd been walking for today alone. “Nnh, I’m going to head to bed. Thanks for letting me stay here,” Featherweight nodded, wearing a warm smile and leading me to the guest cars. I closed the door behind me, flopping into the old bed and tugging the covers over myself. I thought back to the explosion I’d heard in Quebuck - my stomach tightened at that… that wasn’t her, was it? I turned over, wrapping the blankets around me, trying to keep myself warm in the cold night as I drifted off to sleep. Oh, Night Strike, please don't have killed yourself...


-----

The streets of Quebuck; a long-irradiated hellhole, struck by a huge balefire warhead mounted on a zebra missile, just one casualty of the war that instantly and lastingly changed the entire landscape of Equestria. Hellhounds, feral ghouls, bears, and bloatsprites run rampant through the fallen buildings and structures, but all of these are no match for the amazing Night Strike, or her completely legally obtained grenade rifle Thumper! Some music wouldn't be amiss - play me in, Bertie!

"-and that's another wonderful segment courtesy of our resident pianist, egghead, and wasteland favorite stallion Tom Neighrer! Heh, and speaking of ghouls, here's a shout-out to all of those lovely old mares and stallions that picked up here to finally make home after the Lightbringer made the wasteland a better place for everyone who didn't require radiation to survive. I ain't shaming that mare - Celestia and Luna know she'd likely strike me down in a heartbeat if I were - the day of Sunshine and Rainbows breathed quite a welcoming breath back into Equestria, and all the stories we've gotten from everypony who's settled in at NEAMO Crater or Emerald Ridge are always looking ahead for a brighter future.

"Anyhow, this ain't a radio talk station - that's what my friend up by Topatow running Roughcoat Radio is for - so let's break out the music! Here's one going out to all those out there looking for a brighter future upstairs when this one gets on for too long, or for those who think that the world today could only have been made because a couple someponies just didn't give a damn - I'll leave that up to your interpretation, heh heh..."

"Sheesh, thought he'd never shut up..." A wide smirk on my face and Thumper on my back, the fresh fallout was stirred underhoof as that cool electric gituar riff played. Oh yeah, now this is music... trotting to the beat, my wings snug against my jacket, a grin found itself on my face as the nasty things in the shadows creeped and lurked about, a faint clicking coming from the metal computer on my foreleg as the fallout fell out again. Oh, I love my life~ "When I die and they lay me to rest, gonna go to the place that's the best - when they lay me down to die, goin' up to the spirit in the sky~"

Showing off some killer dance moves to the few ferals that seemed to be watching me with just as much confusion as want to tear me limb from limb, the mouthpiece for Thumper fit in my mouth easy enough, a shell already loaded. Ooh, this was the best part~ "Prepare y'self, you know't you mush - gotta have a friend in Tia~ Sho y'know at when y'die, she's gonna shet y'up with the shpirit in the shky!~" Alleyway, shadow just moved, ghoulish snarl, twenty meters. Angle up, HE shell in, thump! Oh Tia, I love that recoil... Ehehew, now that's a pile of red that won't be bothering anypony for much longer. That building needed a new door, anyways~ Ooh, I call dibs on that fridge!

Slipping Thumper back in his place, the pile of rubble wasn't much of a pain - wings, duh - and the- huk, ack, bleck, guh, it's like this place hasn't been dusted in years... fair point. Stupid old buildings... well, at least they're good for something. "Hello, sellable centuries-old edibles~ Now, let's see here..." Fancy Buck snack cakes, deviled eggs, a half-leaked thing of cottage cheese... ack, nope, old milk. Okay, scraping THAT out as a loss with some rebar, and... oooh, sweet Tia above, thank you for this. I was getting parched...

"Gimmie that spark, gimmie that spark, gimmie that Spark-le Co-la! Mmm-mmm-mm~" Taking a break to crack open that wonderfully carroty soda, and reload Thumper with another shell, the song had a bit of fun before finishing itself up, the old kitchen being caught with a moment of quiet as the songs switched over. Right, so that's this building's first floor, let's see what's on the second... after finishing that Sparkle-Cola, of course. Oh, love that sweet taste~

Heading over to the stairwell, and partially thankful the alley was on the other side of the building from it, I wore a wide smile as I spread my wings wide, giving them a few strong flaps... and immediately regretting that decision as my lungs and throat got caked in mildly irradiated dust. Fucking fallout... on hoof it is, then. Creak, creak, creak, up the stairs we go. Nice place, really, shame it's part of a radioactive hellhound hole. Two bed, one bath, it's a bit of a fixer-upper but if you don't mind the caps it'd take to fix that wall, clean the place up, and fill the fridge it'd be a quite nice home... for being in Quebuck. What's behind door number one?~

"I... didn't need to see that. Ew." O-ho-kay, so some ponies were still pretty damn frisky when the sirens were going off and Equestria was being balefire broiled. Yeah... okay, yeah, I think I'm good for today. I've got enough to at least buy another grenade or two for Thumper and still come out ahead, glad the feral population is on the decline in the usual scavenging places. Heh, probably thanks in no small part to that forty millimeter pain maker I've got~ Alright, yeah yeah, old stuff. Come on, Hi-fi, I know you've got more good stuff in that Stable, I've seen it myself! Ah... well, that's acceptable. How'd dad put it... 'groovy', I guess. Kinda.

"Please allow me to introduce myself, I'm a mare of wealth and tastes. Been around a long-long year, stole many a mare's soul and faith~" Trotting back to the main road, the radio kept playing along, myself humming in where I remembered the words. Buh, well, I guess I know why Dad likes this music so much, it is damn catchy... ah hell, nopony's around... Well, nopony who'd care, anyways. Or understand the words, for that matter. Which way, which way... ah, let's sell this stuff off in Mooscow, first, THEN make sure Thumper gets back before Dad notices. Gotta get the shells, after all... "I rode a tank, held a general's rank, when Littlehorn raged, and the bodies stank... pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name! Aw yeah, ah what's puzzling you is the, nature of my game..."

The pleasant walk I was having through the snowy city was rather abruptly cut short, unfortulately, as the balefire egg from a seventeen-pounder shell screamed overhead and lodged itself through the wall of a cratered building, turning it into a literally cratered former building. The ringing in my ears subsiding and the shattered glass from the windows falling out and shattering, again, I switched off the radio and slowly turned about, flinching as the side doors swung open and clattered against the outside of the ridiculously long, familiar tank, an old, familiar gold face topped with a mess of greying mane, and wearing an all-too-familiar look of disapproval. Fuck me with a fuel rod... "Oh. Dad. Hi."

"Night Strike. In the TOG. Now."

"But, but Dad-"

"NOW, Night Strike." Fuck... yeah, that's dad. Twintails, one of the two great saviors of the north, destroyers of NEAMO, one unkillable bastard bathed in balefire and able to spit it from his mouth to roast anypony who dares cause trouble... well, that's what people say. All things considered, they aren't far off from the truth with the 'spitting balefire from his mouth' thing. Sliding my busted self into the radio seat, Dad let off a long sigh, holding a forehoof to his head before powering the old thing back up. We trundled along in silence for a few moments, before we moved to more open roads in the city, paths long traveled by the old beast. As I stared keenly at the floor, I braced myself for the torrent, hearing the chair beside me squeak back.

"Strikey... how many times are you going to keep doing this? I know you like the grenade rifle, and nopony lives in Quebuck, but why the hell do you just go off like that? Don't you know how worried myself and Featherweight get?" O...kay, so not screaming and fuming this time. Honestly, I'd prefer him having a meltdown instead... un-bracing myself for that balefire bomb of anger that usually comes, my eyes met his, one of his hooves rested on the radio between us both. Thumper pressed into my back as I adjusted myself, the sound of the TOG's motors pulling us forwards filling the air as an awkward silence fell. That look in his eyes... what was the date today? I knew it was important... somehow... oh yeah, that's right, today was the day that dad first came out into the wasteland, wasn't it? Well, uh... yeah, nope, that explains his mood pretty well. He let off a small sigh, reaching past the metal box between us and wrapping his forelegs around me, holding myself in that position for a second... moment... uh, dad, starting to get a -little- awkward...

"Please, just stop doing this, running off like that. At least tell one of us, for Celestia's sake." He finally let me sit back down, taking his own place in the driver's seat as we looked at each other. Taking the moment to set Thumper down, dad gave his wings a good ruffle and let off a long sigh. "I was heading up to Jumper Cables' factory to get a new rangefinder installed on the TOG's sight, and pick up a few other electronics Buzzy said she needed. I hope whatever you found this time in Quebuck is enough to replace the ammo you spent, you know I'm not made of bottlecaps... just Sparkle-Cola." Him being in a joking mood is good, I like joking dad. Sharing his small chuckle, the soft hum of the TOG and the clatter of the tracks filled the cold air, a cursory glance through the autocannon's sight showing the slight sprawl outside Mooscow off in the far distance.

"Heh, well no wonder I never see you flying, you'd probably burst like a microwaved bloatsprite if you got shook up too much!" Snickering, the glint of a smile on his face melted the atmosphere in the tank further, myself pulling back the sleeve on my jacket to look at the legputer- er, Pip-buck. Let's see now; items, world map, ah, calendar. Huh... I really need to label these event things better. "Uh, Dad? What's happening tomorrow night at EQUAD, again?" Letting off a sigh and shaking his head, the smile stayed on his face as the old pegasus broke into gentle laughter. So I forgot to label it more than 'EQUAD S O', sue me! At least I remembered to ask before winding up looking like a complete idiot.

"Goddess damnit Night Strike, I must've told you at least five times now. You, Static, and Sugar Flare are having a sleep-over, yanno, so you kids can actually spend time together NOT on another 'adventure' likely to get you killed." We slowed - relatively, anyways - as the Mooscow walls and gate approached, dad looking over to myself to watch as I brought my hoof against my forehead again. Of course I managed to forget about the goddess-damned sleep over... being fair, Sugar is one pony I'd like to forget existed. Static's half-sister... gives me the creeps just thinking about it. Dad had another laugh, looking at myself smugly. "At least this'll let myself and Featherweight have a night together without worrying about if we're going to have and come help save you. Remember that time you thought you could scavenge in inner Trotisk?"

"I had that under control! It was going just fine, Static was safe, our saddlebags were loaded, we were heading back out... really, who can anticipate three hellhounds? And a movie theatre's worth of ghouls?" Sitting back with forelegs crossed in a huff, dad gave his head a shake, chuckling to himself. He looked through the viewport, unlatching the interior doors and swinging them out, leaning out the side of the long tank and giving a wave to the old ghoul in the gate shed, and anyone else we'd pass on the way up there. Hey, I'd recognize those glasses...

"Ahoy, Captain! Looking for passage through the harbor?" The ghoul let off a chuckle, trotting out of the small hut and over to the side, tapping a hoof against the metal armor of the tank as it finally came to a full stop. Dad smiled out the door, chuckling softly as the old sailor pegasus reappeared. "Good to see you and the TOG again, Twintails. Going to be stopping for a while?"

"Nah, not today Jingles, just passing through to get the old girl's rangefinder fixed up by Jumper Cables. Have to take Strikey back to EQUAD later anyways, girl's got a sleep-over tomorrow night." Yep, classic dad. Making me want Uncle Nikolai's fancy cloak every time he opens his mouth when company's around... Jingles hit the switch for the automatic doors with a wide smile, the heavy things swinging open easy and letting us through, finally. Dad gave a nod, the tank giving a small lurch as it moved slowly on the wide tracks, starting to at least manage a crawl. "Tell what, we'll be back later today, hopefully, you can give us a few more war stories, eh? Loved the one about that crazy stallion charging in with a broadsword and set of bagpipes."

"Alright, I'll try and remember a good one when you do show, good luck with the TOG. Finicky old thing, but I'd still call it the best thing I'd ever had a chance to test drive. Got a good joke about it, but it's just too long, heh! Take care, catch you next time!" Both the ghoul and dad broke out in light laughter, the snowy square and the impressive cathedral at the far end marking the extent of inner Mooscow, myself taking the chance to climb out of the radio seat and move over to the turret's ladder. I do love the look of this place at this time of year...

"Strikey, you'd better not be touching any of those shells. You know how finicky that replicator-thing Greasy put in is, and I've been roasted in enough balefire for one lifetime." Responding with a sigh and shake of the head - it was only that one time, okay!? - I unlatched the top hatch, letting both doors swing down either side atop the tank and climbing myself up through to the top. Ah, now this is a pretty sight, Mooscow during midmorning. Minute's cathedral off at the far end of the square, the hustle and bustle of the shops and restaurants, the gryphon-shaped shadow coming out of the sun at an alarming speed... oh, not again.

"On your right!" Having just enough time to let off a scream, the feathered mass of female gryphon collided to knock me clean from the turret, us both tumbling and landing in the fresh snow in the square. Ugh... well, least I'm on top this time. Eheheh... "Hiya, Strikey! Been a while since I've seen ya, don't be such a stranger!" Righting ourselves, I let off a weak chuckle, shaking some snow from my mane and wings and looking to the smiling gryphon.

"Yeah, nice seeing you too, Saberclaw. You know you just have to fly alongside to get my attention, right?" Smirking, Saber shook her own head and body free of snow, following up alongside me as I hovered along to the back of the tank. Dad always took this thing slow whenever we were in more populated areas; for a thing that barely does twenty kilometers in an hour on a good day, this meant a comfortable crawl. Setting myself down as we got closer, the gryphon snickered, her short clawblades clattering against the ground with each step.

"I know, but for some reason plowing straight into you is just more fun. I think it's the ways your face screws up when you finally see me coming." Responding to that with an eyeroll and shake of the head, the dull hum of the TOG's turbines filled my ears as we both hopped up onto the long back, settling in for the ride. Saber layed down flat, watching the snow slowly pass by underneath. "So, why you back here, anyways? Twintails stopping by to see Minty naked again?"

"Pff, you wish. Nah, Dad's heading up to the RobronCo place to get something on this thing replaced and a few more things for aunt Buzzy's stuff, then we're going to EQUAD for a sleep-over. Er, me and Static, I mean." The gryphon flipped herself over, looking at me with a faint hint of disappointment which seemed fast to give way to a snicker. Hiding her beak with a claw, she righted herself, my wings idly playing with the airflow over the back of the TOG. Yeah, should've thought telling all of that through better.

"So, sleep-over with Static, right... C'mon, Strikey, I know the way you look at him when you think nobody's watching. I can smell those hormones of yours, yanno~" Saber rested her chin on one claw, the other idly making circles in the thin layer of snow accumulated on the back of the tank. Stupid gryphons with their stupid genes and stupid nose-beaks... "We-ell, if anything happens, I'll try to not tell anyone about how your sweet nectar got on his business. Won't stop me from congradulating you, though~"

Saber wore a wide grin as she hefted herself up into a talon-stand, tossing herself off of the back of the TOG and hovering there for a moment, myself trying to relocate my jaw while staring up at her. "I've gotta go check in with my own parents, see ya! And, heh, have fun at that 'sleep-over', try to not get too knocked up, eh?" With a laugh, the gryphon flew off with a hard flap of her wings, my forehoof finally moving to close my mouth up. Easing myself up onto the turret again, the hatch was easy enough to slide back into, trotting quietly back over to the radio operator's chair. Dad gave a semi-curious glance towards myself, the tracks clattering outside as we picked up a bit of speed. We sat like that for a moment, my own gaze fixed on the infinite. Or, at least the holographic sight's focal point.

"Hey dad, what's the best way to discreetly, uh, well... splatter someone across five counties?"


-----

I awoke to the sound of dishes clattering about in the railcar, my body stiff from the cold night. Brrf... pushing the covers off, I rolled out of bed and rubbed my eyes clear, the sleeping car coming into focus. The door squeaked as I stepped into the main room, Buzzy hovering at the sink and wiping some plates clean. “Morning,” I mumbled as I wandered over to the cupboard, opening it up. “Mind if I grab a bowl of oats?”

The pegasus responded with a smile and shake of her head, and I poured myself a small bowl of oats, sitting down at the table. “Feather’s out running some target practice, he probably won’t be back by the time you leave.” She finished cleaning the dishes and set them back inside one of the cupboards before sitting down across from me. “You’re heading out to the rangers' place, right?” I answered with a nod, and she smirked, chuckling lightly. “Well, try not to run into Flare, if you can. I heard about her... 'advances' on you. Reminds me of the way her mom would come here every now and again asking it Minty's stopped by.” She stuck her tongue out at me as I cringed a bit. Oh, yeah, forgot about her… oh, how did I forget about her? Myself releasing a groan through the mouthful of oats, Buzzy snickered. “Hey, you’re only her, what, third cousin, or something? She’s doing better than her mom did on degrees of separation.”

I took another bite of oats, swallowing them down and trying to shift my mind away from her. “Ah, so, how’s Night Strike been lately? Featherweight sounded pretty worried about her last night.” Buzzy shrugged lightly, resting her head on one hoof and looking out at the clouds to the east.

“Eh, he worries more than he should, asking me. I mean, it'd be nice if she told us where she’s going once in a while, but I don’t exactly see her getting mobbed by ghouls or Hellhounds anytime soon.” Buzzy let off a small chuckle, as I finished up my bowl of oats. I pushed my chair back and went to wash the bowl clean as Buzzy continued. “She’s crazy, but she’s not stupid. Just like her ol' auntie Buzzy...” I set the bowl back in the cupboard before I headed over to the door, slipping on my robe and hitching up my saddlebags.

“I’ll walk you out,” Buzzy wore a smile as she wrapped her own thick coat over herself, winds fitting through the holes in it's back. That's gotta feel weird... We headed out the door, walking through the town towards the train car gate. A few ponies were milling about, their faces buried in their own coats to shield them from the harsh wind and blowing snow. "Catch ya later! Oh, and tell Sweetie I said hi!” I opened the door to the railcar, stepping through, waving goodbye to Buzzy as I did, the short stretch between Turnpike and Trotisk laying ahead and dark stormclouds to the northeast.

My hooves crunched through the packed snow of the road as I began to head towards Trotisk. A large figure being flanked by a few ponies appeared in the distance, revealing themselves to be a caravan Brahmin and two guards as I got closer. Well, worth asking... “Hey, you heading to Trotisk?”

“Yeah, you wanna to tag along?” One asked, rather cheerfully. I nodded and trotted alongside them, the two headed pack beast mooing loudly. “Never hurts to have an extra gun on hoof, what business are you doing there?” We began to trek uphill, the land to the right of the road falling away into a large basin, a small frozen lake lying at the very bottom.

“Just visiting a friend and making some clothing deliveries, usual stuff.” The guard nodded, as we continued onwards through the biting snow. I fiddled with my Pip-Buck, trying to find that CONELRAD radio station again. A song soon crackled in, filling the air with a soft swing.

"I got my shoes shined up
I got my mane slicked down
‘Cause baby I wanna hit the town
Call me – Pennsylmania 6-5000"

---

We walked up to the edge of the city, and I bid the guards farewell as they turned towards a large caravan office. I trotted down the roads, searching for the Plasma Spaz. Alright, it has to be somewhere around here, I've been there at least a few times... I turned a corner and bumped into a zebra wrapped in a jet black cloak. “Oh, sorry, Nikolai! You ok?”

Nikolai took a moment to recover from the collision, but a smile crossed his face as he recognized it was me. “Oh, Static! Ah, don’t worry, I’m fine.” He readjusted himself before starting to head back down the street I’d just come from. We turned another corner, the large Plasma Spaz sign visible in the distance. “How’re you doing?”

“Eh, can't complain much. Figured I’d stop by since I’m heading off to the Rangers' place tonight, anyways.” We paused for a moment and stepped to the side, as a large group of ponies trotted down the road, a couple of them near the front in heavy suits of power armor. I watched as they headed to the edge of town, turning up towards the nearby mountain. “I guess dad wasn’t kidding when he said they’d been getting more recruits lately.”

Nikolai chuckled, watching the group with me. “It’s been crazy. I wouldn’t be surprised if more ponies living here are actually trainees than civilians.” They passed and we crossed, Nikolai opening up the door to the energy weapon shop. “Still, I suppose it’s better they’re annexing us than somepony like raiders, or crazy miliatry robots, or something. I'll take annexation over a megaspell warhead any day...” Hanging back behind him, I looked around at all the weaponry and tech on display, a faint look of awe across my muzzle. Whoo, Nikolai and Greasy really kicked it into high gear with all this! “Greasy, Sugar! Guess who came to visit?” Nikolai shouted as the door swung shut behind us.

I could hear a few hoofsteps from upstairs, before a tarnished red ghoul appeared in the doorway behind the desk, her exposed muscles pulling her lips upwards into a smile. “Hey, Static! Sugar Rush and Flash-Bang are delivering some goods to the rangers in Pripytrot, but they should be back soon.” She trotted around the desk and pulled me into a hug. Squick. “Goodness, I haven’t seen you since you were a little colt! You've gotten so big... oh, come on, I'll make up some cocoa." She smiled, turning about as Nikolai unzipped the underjacket, his cloak neatly folded on his back already.

We headed upstairs, Nikolai and myself both taking off our robes and saddlebags. Greasy sat down on the couch, moving herself over to a coffee table laden with blueprints and various metal and gem components. I sat down beside her, hardly able to make either heads or tails of all the schematics she drew up. “Oh, Nikki, were you able to find that magnetic field generator?” With a small grin, Nikolai presented some large metal cylinder from his saddlebags, trotting back over. She took it from him, examining all the gems set inside the object.

“It’s a bit worn out, but it should work.” Nikolai sat himself on the opposite side of Greasy, likewise leaning voer to look at the shcematics. She fiddled with the object and prepared to connect it to several wires to some sort of modified plasma rifle. As she did though, there was a puff of dark smoke, the acrid stench of ozone filling the air. I coughed as Greasy did her best to wave it away with her wings, Nikolai covering his muzzle. “Well, that didn’t work.”

Greasy set the parts aside, letting off a small sigh. “Oh well, I'm sure I’ll figure it out later. I’ll go make that cocoa for you two.” She stood herself up with a smile, and walked over to the small kitchen, turning on the stove as she filled a pot with water. I glanced around the room, unsure of what to do, when my eyes landed upon the corner set of blueprints for some sort of electric prod.

“Hey, I remember this...” I chuckled lightly, picking the pages up and looking them over. The prints detailed a prod designed to give a lethal electric charge to a close target, while concealed to look like an umbrella. The paper was visibly worn, having been lying underneath several other plans and parts for who knows how long. “Jeez, I would’ve thought you’d have made this by now. Seems simple to do.” Nikolai leaned over my shoulder, looking at the paper. A look of slight confusion crossed his face as he leaned in, and I held it out further for him to see.

“Greasy, didn’t we finish this electric umbrella a while ago?” Greasy glanced over her shoulder as she mixed the warm water with some chocolate powder, pouring it out into mugs on a tray. She trotted back over to us with the cups of cocoa, leaning over the plans on the opposite side of myself. Kay, little crowded...

“Yeah… yeah, I did! Well, sort of, technically...” Greasy said, setting herself back down on the couch. “I built it, but I haven’t sat down and looked it over to fix any bugs. It’s ah, it's probably somewhere in the workshop.” She took a sip from her cup as Nikolai took and rolled up the paper, stowing it in a basket lying beside the couch. My heart sank a little at hearing that; I remembered helping Greasy out with that the last time I’d visited, it being about the only thing she was working on that didn’t leave me in a state of confusion afterwards. There’s no way she’d give it up now in its untested state...

Before I could say anything, we heard a bell ring from downstairs. There were the faint sound of hoofsteps, before Sugar Rush and Flash Bang appeared in the doorway, both wearing smiles. “Hey, Static, I didn’t know you’d be stopping in,” Flash said, tossing her saddlebags on the floor. “Running more errands for Cross Stitch?” I nodded in reply, as Sugar headed to the fridge, grabbing a bottle of Sunrise Sarsaparilla.

I glanced over at the clock hanging on the wall. Oh goddesses, that late already? “Speaking of, I probably should head back out. Sorry I couldn’t stay longer.” Standing myself up and trotting back to my cloak and saddlebags, I slipped them both on, tugging at my jacket where it was under Cross' Pip-buck. Sugar levitated a bottle of soda to me, which I promptly stored in my saddlebags with a smile.

“Don’t worry about it.” Sugar added as she took my old spot on the couch. “Feel free to stop by on the way back, though!” She uncapped the soda, taking a swig as Flash grabbed a Sparkle-Cola of her own, squishing herself onto the crowded couch beside the unicorn mare that looked like Dad. I waved goodbye as I trotted back down the steps, about to head out of the store, when I paused at the entrance to the shop level of the stairs. Greasy said she left the umbrella in the workshop... if I could sneak my way into it…

I glanced down the few remaining stairs to the basement, trying to hear if any of the others were going to head down to the workshop. I carefully began to head downwards, hoping that Sugar hadn’t placed any anti-theft spells on the door. It creaked softly as I swung it open, making me freeze in place, in case they had heard. I slipped into the room as silently as I could manage, leaving the door slightly ajar behind me.

The workshop was in absolute chaos, broken and incomplete weapons lying everywhere, with blueprints and mad scribblings covering the walls. I looked around in the dim light, trying to spot the electrical parasol. I ducked underneath a few workbenches, fiddling with the locks on the safes in hopes of cracking them open... Bah, this is what I get for not paying attention to my dad’s lockpicking advice. As I was about to give up and head out, I noticed a coat rack resting next to the door, surrounded by crumpled up paper and broken parts.

Hanging from one of the hooks was a large umbrella, two thin metal prongs protruding from the tip, and a few wires coiling from underneath the fabric to the handle. As I crept forward, though, I heard the unmistakable sound of hoofsteps coming from upstairs. In a bit of a panic, I jumped into the shadows between two benches, holding my breath. The door creaked open as Greasy stepped in, carrying the magnetic generator Nikolai had picked up. She stepped up to a large table, flipping open a toolbox and rifling through it noisily.

My heart was pounding in my ears as I stepped over some discarded metal, creeping towards the door and the umbrella. Greasy paused for just a moment, before pulling out a wrench and beginning to dismantle the part. I carefully bit into the fabric of the umbrella, realizing it was made of a slightly thick rubber material. I slipped the handle off the coat hook and zipped through the open door, up the steps, through the store, and out into the cold air. Sweet Celestia, what a rush...

I panted, my breath visible in white fluffy clouds as I stuffed the umbrella underneath the strap of my saddlebags. Taking a glance back at the shop, I began to trot down the road, heading towards the Ranger’s base as I collected myself. Ok… ok, you’re out, no one saw you. Well, not that Greasy probably would’ve done anything harsh, but she likely wouldn’t let me keep this if she did catch me. I turned the corner, heading towards the edge of town.

A rusted sign hung at the side of the road, pointing up towards the mountain in the north. ‘Equestrian Aerospace Defense Complex’ it read in peeling letters. I heard few loud roars in the distance, just inside the inner city, myself picking up my pace a bit. Of all the things out here, I certainly didn’t want to be caught by a Hellhound halfway to EQUAD.

As I trotted up the hill, I noticed a disheveled pegasus running up from the valley, carrying a baseball bat in between his teeth. Well, I didn’t need a raider either! I reached down to pull out Minty’s pistol from my coat pocket, only to find it empty of a charge. Goddesses, he didn't give me any cells! I had barely enough time to curse to myself before the Pegasus reached me, taking a haphazard swing with the bat. I ducked and jumped out of the way, reaching behind and pulling the umbrella out from under the strap. Alright, Greasy, don’t fail me now! Pushing off with my back legs, I leapt towards him, twisting my neck to jab the raider with the prongs of the umbrella as I bit down instinctively. As the prods connected, there was a loud zap and the smell of ozone, the raider instantly falling to the ground, limp.

I stared down at him, stowing the umbrella before gently nudging him. He didn’t react, but I could still see his chest slowly rising up and down. Alright, not as lethal as originally intended, but debilitating works for me. I turned and headed back up the hill, soon reaching a checkpoint in the road, a unicorn in power armor stationed by the barricade. “Name and purpose for visit?” he asked, looking down at a small clipboard, a quill hovering above it.

“Static Charge, I’m making a delivery of new robes from Cross Stitch.” The guard jotted it down and punched a button, the barricade over the road rising into the air. I trotted through, the guard lowering the bar behind me. A few soldiers in power armor passed me as I headed up the mountain; a few nodded in acknowledgement, though most ignored me. I soon reached the end of the road and came upon the large metal door that led into EQUAD.

My hoofsteps echoed off the walls of the tunnel as I descended into the complex, the air growing slowly warmer. A large banner of a sword before a few large gears hung on the wall of the large entrance hall I entered, scribes and soldiers alike milling about. I glanced around, faintly wondering if Night Strike had arrived yet or not. I shrugged to myself and walked down the large hall, searching for the quartermaster so I could drop off the robes.

“Static!” A distinctly non-organic voice called out my name, and I turned around in time to be met by a small robotic filly, her green eyes glowing in the slightly dim light. “I had received transmission that you were arriving for a delivery. May I now assist you in completing it?” She beamed as I tried to hide a somewhat nervous smile. Yeah, I don’t think I’ll ever get used to Sweetie Bot...

Without waiting for an answer, she turned and began to lead me down a hallway. I followed her through the twisting metal corridors, stopping in front of a small metal door. Trotting into the room, I found several sets of recon armor and scribe’s robes stacked on shelves. I opened up my saddlebags, beginning to unload them onto a desk in the corner. As I did, I heard somepony’s voice from the hallway, this time a mare's, and definitely not a robot's. Sweetie turned and answered it cheerfully. “I am assisting Static in his delivery, yay!”

I'd just finished stacking the robes before turning, only to be met by… oh, shit. Sugar Flare stood in the doorway, her bright orange mane tied up in a bun. “Static!” She squealed with delight, before promptly tackling me. I struggled, rolling out from underneath her and trying to scramble to my hooves. Unfortunately, I tripped backwards over Sweetie Bot, landing on my back with a painful thud. Sugar stood over me, grinning from ear to ear, a certain look in her eyes reminding me of magic ropes and straight jackets. Before either of us could do anything, thankfully, I heard another voice from the doorway.

“What in the name of Luna is going on here?!”

Good timing, Night Strike...


-----

"Here's to another thousand robots sold, eh? I tell ya Twintails, business has just been booming since those ghouls from down south all migrated. Construction bots, security bots, hell, even companion robots, everypony wants one!" The older earth pony mare let off a small laugh, dad and myself sitting down at a small table in the large RobronCo factory office, three glasses of glowing, fizzy soda set on it. I'll be honest, I would've preferred staying with the tank, but... goddess-damnit, I love Sparkle-Cola as much as my fathers. Well, maybe not -that- much... still love it a lot. Jumper Cables smiled as she trotted back over from the kitchenette, myself and Dad raising our glasses with her and clinking them together.

"Well, it's nice to see at least the first pony we helped out did well for herself. You didn't hear it from me, but I'm pretty sure Minty's still iffy about coming up here - already lost one leg, don't think he can afford to lose another." He let off a chuckle, taking a long drink from the cup, myself greedily downing the rich, radish-flavored radioactive nectar of the goddesses. Oh, sweet, sweet Sparkle-Cola RAD. "Then again, that was almost twenty years ago. You did get all the landmines and what-not cleaned up, right?"

"Oh, trust me, we did. Took twenty robots and four employees getting damaged or hurt, but we made sure the road was clear eventually." Jumper Cables let off a weak chuckle, bringing her glass over to her desk and sitting herself behind it, giving her back a stretch with a yawn. She took to looking through some papers, Dad leaving his empty glass on the table and going over to meet with her - right, rangefinder for the TOG. Well, here's hoping that doesn't take long...

Still idly sipping from my glass of Sparkle-Cola RAD, savoring the sweet sweet strontium-90-infused taste, the hum of an owlbot filled the air behind myself as it hovered over to the table. I watched it curiously for a few moments, seing it's metallic wings fold up and talons walk it over to the empty glass, resting my chin on my foreleg out of bored fascination. Damn weird things these robots, weigh at least fifty kilos apiece but they can still fly on their puny metal wings and levitation talismans. Not to mention the creepy eyes... okay, staring contest with an owlbot, go!

The robot played along with me for a moment, at least, before taking the glass dad was drinking out of up in it's beak and bringing it over to the sink, placing it gently in the basin. Finishing off my glass with a few moments of trying to get the very last of that glowing liquid out, the owlbot set itself back down, staring up at me expectantly. I stared at it for a few moments longer, getting a little chuckle from it as it tracked the empty glass with it's head, before finally giving in and giving it the glass. Well, at least I was a little entertained over this trip. Trotting back over to Dad and Jumper Cables, the look on Dad's face was... uh, how do I put this... bad news that meant good news. Something like that.

"Well, looks like we're going to be staying over in Mooscow, for a night. Eheh, sorry for the short notice, I swore I sent an order in for the rangefinder last week... ah, well, least we'll get to see Minty and Cross Stitch, right?" Dad let off a small chuckle, myself replying with a half-enthusiastic groan. If we run into Saber, and she says -anything-... well, I don't know exactly what I'm going to do without Thumper available, but it's not going to be pretty. I dunno, maybe tell her parents, or something. Bloodbeak and Razorwing probably would love to hear what their darling daughter has been up to. Jumper Cables gave a smile and a small wave of her hoof, finishing off her glass of Sparkle-Cola.

"Oh, don't worry about it. You aren't the first walk-in, and I still owe you for all those scrapped robots, anyhow. I'll have somepony send for you when it's finished tomorrow, you can go down and get your things from it now." The little robotic owl fluttered over to retrieve Jumper Cables' glass as we both gave a wave and trotted over to the elevator at the end of her office. The doors shut with a small clatter, myself still tasting that cool soda faintly on my lips, swallowing what was left down and looking towards Dad.

"So, about the sleep-over tomorrow... can I bring along Thumper? Pleeeease?" Putting on that puppy-dog face and giving the lip a slight quiver, the show kicked off. It was at least worth a try, and I certainly think I can be convincing... sometimes. Dad let off a sigh and gave his head a shake, resting a forehoof against his temple as the elevator descended to the lower floors. "C'mon, you hardly use it now anyways, and you know I can buy ammo for it! What if something happens, what if hellhounds bust through into EQUAD, or the Enclave come back and try to take it over? Or-"

"Or nothing. I'm half convinced that you get yourself into trouble just as an excuse to use that thing, the answer is no, Night Strike. You're not taking the grenade rifle with you." Well, that killed the cute face. Dropping to my back haunches, I took to laying down and moodily hofing at the old carpet of the elevator, feeling it slow to a stop as it reached the basement loading levels. The doors opened with a small clatter, and the older pegasus beside me trotted out, before stopping and letting off another sigh. "Come on, Strikey. I just... I just don't want you throwing yourself into danger so goddess-damned often."

Conceiting defeat - for the moment - I rose back to my hooves, sulking out with head hung low and a pout on my face. The large tank sat before us on the entrance ramp, the doors already opened up and a few ponies milling about it, a workbench nearby containing some electronicy-bits with a disassembled automatic turret drive. Trotting along the side, dad was quick to hover himself in, starting to look through and pull a few things out from the back, duffel bags and ammunition boxes. Sheesh, it's a wonder he was ever able to lug stuff around before he found this thing... sliding the larger bags on, they clinked with the sounds of lots and lots of glass bottles, myself not needing to guess just what might be inside. "Can't go anywhere without at least five gallons of Sparkle-Cola RAD, can you?"

"Oh, you're berating me? I've seen that collection you've got going up in your railcar, don't you give me a lecture on soda consumption, missy~" Listening to dad struggle with sliding on his loaded battle saddle, I couldn't help but let off a little snicker, watching his intermittent flailing from the side doorway. Oof, plucked feathers, that's never fun... oh, and there's Kindness, of course. He was supposed to be able to get through that small top hatch with that thing? Yeah, I ain't buying that one... "Lest I forget that one time I found you in the cooler car. Do you want me to remind you of how much padding I had to have Cross Stitch stuff in that diaper, or for how long you had to wear it until you stopped leaving a glowing trail around?"

"H-hey, I learned my lesson! Goddesses, dad..." For fuck's sake, if this day keeps up my face is going to turn permanently red. Looking around the bay at the other ponies milling about, I took to hiding between the two duffel bags of soda, making myself non-obvious. S-stupid... it was just that one time, I didn't know it actually -did- make your pee glow! So I drank twenty bottles, and felt a bit lightheaded afterwards, at least I was fine! And... okay, the way my voice started sounding after bottle five was also pretty funny, too. Fuck, you spend one night binging on your fathers' not-so-secret soda stash and you have to wear a ridiculous... thing for a week.

"Hey, if you hadn't have drank all that soda in the first place, I wouldn't have asked Cross to make it for you. Besides, you can't tell me that it wasn't at least kind of nice to not have your flanks exposed to the air for once." With a chuckle, the elder pegasus moved over to the door, poking his head out with a grin and making a bit of a clatter as his BEL struck the top of the frame. Regaining himself, dad got himself out of the tank finally, his old saddle loaded with the two automatics and the worn saddlebags. Picking myself up, the garage door opened with a clatter, both of us moving out of the bay and into the frigid wasteland above. He stopped as we neared the edge of the road, a drop-off to a shear cliff face and deep ravine, staring towards the north, and the faint greenish-blue coloration.

"Uh, dad? Getting kinda late, we going to make it back to Mooscow in time?" He lingered for a moment longer, staring off at that town built into the crater, myself slowly moving up alongside him and tapping his shoulder. We both jumped at each other, a certain, odd look in dad's eyes, his mouth wrapped around the bit for his automatic rifles, both of the slender barrels aimed in my direction. There was a moment's pause, before his gaze softened, and he slowly rose back into a standing posture. I myself partially wished that I were wearing that diaper again. Taking a moment to regain himself, dad started down the road to Mooscow, myself glancing back at NEAMO Crater before catching up. Okay then... quiet walks, those are nice, yeah.

---

"Come in, come in! Nice to see you both again, it's been too long." Minty wore a wide smile as dad and myself stepped into the seamster's shop, a half-emptied bottle of Sunrise Sarsaparilla levitated in his magic beside him. Dad let off a chuckle, resting his pipbuck-clad foreleg around Minty's neck, his battle saddle jingling with the weight as I adjusted the two bags of soda bottles on my back. To my surprise, they quickly lost all weight, the tinkling of a magic aura lifting them up and setting them aside, behind the counter. The zipper opened on one, and I watched as a single bottle of Sparkle-Cola RAD levitated out, the teal-maned unicorn letting off a snicker. "Aw, you brought me more firebomb fuel? Darn, I think I just used up my last can of turpentine~"

"Minty, really, I thought you were done with all that stuff. What, is living with Cross Stitch and sniping bloatsprites all day geting boring? Want to relive the old glory days?" Dad gave a chuckle, myself letting off a sigh and moving behind the counter, pulling a second bottle out and opening it up, looking up in time to see the golden pegasus get broadsided by a snowball from... somewhere. Huh. He shook his head clear, myself resting back against a bag of stuffing and downing the glowing soda. Mmm, Strontium 90...

"Yeah, I'm happy to never wind up riding a fridge out of a megaspell explosion again, thanks. Can't exactly afford to lose another limb either, this old thing's barely keeping together." Minty gave his robotic leg a shake, the whine of the motors and grinding gears scratching at my eardrums for a moment, as he gave it a few whacks with his other hoof. WD-40, dude, it might help. The sound of hoofsteps echoing down the stairway behind me drew my attention for the moment, the purplish mane of Cross Stitch poking out as the rest of the other augmented unicorn followed. I took another sip of the glowing bottle of soda, the deep-blue unicorn letting off a snicker.

"I thought we were through with that already, don't tell me you need me to make you another diaper!" The elder stallion let off a laugh, myself coughing up some Sparkle-Cola RAD and setting the bottle aside, wiping my muzzle clear. Fuck's sake... Cross Stitch moved to give Minty a light peck on the cheek, dad taking to explaining the situation as I tried to disappear myself into the floofy stuffing to avoid any more snide remarks. Ack, cotton didn't taste good with Sparkle-Cola... screw it.

"I'm gonna head to the guest room, need to try and forget the last few hours. Bwuh." Opening the bag up a little further, I pulled three more bottles of the glowing soda free from it, stuffing them into the pockets of my jacket. The chuckling from the trio of friends rung in my ears as I made way up the stairs, letting off a light sigh. Well... at least Saber hasn't dropped by, yet. She'd better not...

Opening the door to the guest bedroom, the racks of yet to be finished clothes hung off to the side, the almost stable-quality bed made up neatly and almost drawing myself to it. Mmh, well, I -was- on my hooves for the better part of the day today, and Sparkle-Cola can only do so much for me... giving my head a shake and letting off a sigh, I pulled the thick jacket off, ruffling my feathers and releasing a yawn to the warmed air. Hope dad and his friends aren't going to be too loud later tonight, I wanna sleep. Hovering over it for a moment, my wings yielded with the rest of me, dropping my exhausted self onto the soft pillows and matress. Mmmm... mmh, bit of music too couldn't hurt. What's that old song dad loves so much, he put it on this thing for me before he gave me it... ah, that's it. A gentle melody played, and with my body giving another yawn, blissful sleep encompassed me as the tune played on. Goddesses, that mare's got a nice voice...

"We'll meet again,
Don't know where,
Don't know when,
But I know we'll meet again, some sunny day..."

---

Waking to the sound of the thrum of an arcane reactor powering two electric motors moving long, clattering tracks, a part of me almost instinctively jumped up away from the chair, stumbling in my groggy state and falling against the side doors. "W-wasn't me, that house was already like that when I... uh... huh?" Blinking, the interior of the tank came into beter focus, dad letting off a small chuckle as I slid back into the radio operator's chair. "Uh... did I miss something?"

"Just another one of Jingles' stories, and breakfast. Didn't think you that heavy of a sleeper, at least, not since you were a filly in diapers." He let off a snicker, myself rubbing at my eyes and looking about the long body. Dad smiled lightly, looking towards me over the radio. "Your jacket's over on the cots, along with some proper food. But, ah, if you'd rather have Sparkle-Cola RAD over that stuff Cross Stitch said is supposed to be some kind of healthy drink, well... honestly, I wouldn't be one to blame you. Had to use up two bottles before I could get the taste out, myself..." Letting out a light laugh as dad fake-gagged at that thought, I shuffled over to the stuff, slipping on the smooth jacket and opening up the metal box. Ooh, donuts...

"Mmh, so, what's the plan for today, then. We stopping back home or just heading straight there?" Lazily munching on the fried, glazed pastries, Dad leaned back, looking to the control array below the radio. Hitting a few buttons, a faint beeping filled the air between us, the gold pegasus focusing on the equipment for a moment before looking back through the viewslot. The tank turned - slowly - easing down into a large depression off of the road... were we on a road?

"Straight there, with a detour. Bloodbeak said something about the caravans being harassed by raider groups that tagged along with the ghouls coming up from down south, I got word over to Buzzy and she's going to tell Featherweight as soon as he gets back from Pripytrot. Best guess is they're hanging out somewhere in the Snowdrop test range, or at least on the outskirts." He paused for a moment, looking down at the controls for a moment before turning back to the system array, another blip coming up on it as we pushed forwards. He started to run through turning on the autopilot systems, before glancing up to myself, a few crumbs stuck to my lip. His eyes then looked to the turret and back, a faint smile coming to his face. "You know... I'm pretty sure that new rangefinder needs to have a live test run..." Blinking a few times, it took my waking-up brain a minute to realize just what he was thinking.

"Say no more." Wearing a wide grin, I had a bottle of Sparkle-Cola held in one hoof as I moved up to the gunner's seat, letting off a small giggle as the motors hummed to speed. Oh, there's no feeling quite like having a big, warm gun right by your face. The rangefinder hummed to life, the usual scope replaced by an almost 3D representation of the world outside - whoo, pretty snowy out - with the trajectory projected for both the main gun and coaxial cannon shown on it. Goddess-damn, robot tech is nice... wonder if Jumper Cables could do something with my pip-buck to give me something like that on my EFS. The beeping echoed up from the radio console, myself cracking open the bottle of glowing soda and taking a few gulps. "So, uh, what's that beeping thing, anyways? Do we need more blinker fluid or something?"

"Active Radar Scanning Equipment, it's hooked up to the rangefinder so it can find targets that you can't see with yor eyes. Better than just aiming at red bars and praying." The cannon's mechanism let off a satisfying thunk as it accepted a fresh shell, the talismans levitating a shell up into the turret to be loaded as soon as the first one fired. With these, though, on a soft target, you only need one most of the time... well, two, for rangefinding. With the new sight, though, first shot wonder...

"Guess so... huh, so I can fire this thing without actual line of sight now? Neat..." Seting the bottle down, my eyes settled in the gun's new sight, hooves moving the controls that in turn spun the turret, scanning the area left and right out of habit more than anything. After a few minutes of staring out into white wasteland, a few bluish blobs flashed up far off in the distance, readouts coming across the vision pointing out at least five or six of them through the thick storm. We dipped slightly as the tank found purchase on the lip of a crater it trundled across, the gun taking a moment to return to a firing position. Let's see, 1500 meters, stationary soft target, no radio chatter to confirm friendly, heat sigs... goddesses, how could anypony be that cold and still be alive? Well, they'll be pretty warm in a few moments...

"Target cluster at 1.5 klicks and closing, southwest at 343 degrees, not hanging around near any known places of civilization, I think that's them. Strikey, care to send our unexpected guests a little welcome present?" Wearing a grin that likely matched my dad's own, my hooves steadied the gun, the tank slowing to firing speed as I moved to the trigger. A click sounded as the trigger struck the primer, which ignited the cordite and armed the capped egg, propelling it out of the muzzle of the gun at a kilometer a second. The shell impacted against something hard there, the entire area becoming engulfed in a blinding flash of light, the pony-shaped blobs vanishing from the sight of the rangefinder. Oh, happiness is a warm 76.2mm Royal Equestrian Ordinance 17-pounder anti-tank gun...

"Looks like a confirmed hit, hope we didn't interrupt them too much~" Snickering, I leaned back and picked the soda up again, taking a few healthy gulps as the tank sped back up. The spent casing ejected with a clang, the talismans and circuits recognizing the lack of a gunner's eyes peering through the scope and returning the second shell to the rack, the spent brass case being set in a nearby footlocker as I rested in the gunner's chair. Flkicking a switch, the motors returned the turret to the forward position, Dad tuning the radio over onto CONELRAD as I hefted myself up, opening up the top hatch of the tank and resting back against the rim, letting my wings spread out in the wind. The smell of spent cordite still hung in the air, music coming up from the body - aw, well, it's not one of my songs, but it's Tom Neighrer, so...

"A-long the trail you'll find me lopin'
Where the spaces are wide open,
in the land of the old MWT,

Where the scenery's attractive,
and the air is a-radioactive,
Oh, the wild west is where I wanna be!"

---

"You should have everything you need, packed that for you after we got out of Mooscow. Stay safe, honey." Leaning out the side door of the tank to give me a gentle kiss on my forehead, the gold pegasus smiled, giving me a wave as he and the tank trundled off down the road heading back. Ah, good old EQUAD, home to the ponies sealed in tin cans, and Static's creepy as tartarus half-sister. Speaking of creepy mares, a unicorn adorned in scribes' robes met myself at the entrance to the tunnel, the few rangers standing guard with the heavy anti-air guns standing at attention as she approached with a smile.

"Night Strike, pleasant seeing you again. Static was with Sweetie Bot last I saw him, delivering some robes to the lower levels. Hopefully Sugar's not taken too long to find him, you know how hyper she can get sometimes..." Hyper... well, that's one word you could use to describe it. 'Sexually depraved and intensely creepy' is another. Follwing Nova down the long tunnel to the facility's entrance, it took only a few minutes more to find the storage room courtesy of my legputer's map, and the... odd noises coming from it. Oh, sweet Celestia, no... don't even have the time to sneak Thumper out of the bag dad packed for me. Well, hooves can work too. Picking up the pace, the doorway came into view, and I skidded to a stop just in time to see Static cowering under his half-naked half-sister.

"What in the name of Luna is going on here?!"


-----

I shoved Sugar Flare off of me, hurrying behind Night Strike. Flare pouted a little, before recovering and standing herself back up. “Jeez, you can’t give your sister a hug when you see her?” She said, smiling innocently. Oh, yeah, because that’s all you had in mind. She restacked a few of the robes that she had accidentally knocked over in her excitement, Night Strike glancing over to me, a look of mild disgust on her face.

“Hey, this wasn’t my idea!” I responded, a little exasperated. Night Strike turned and, with a sigh and shake of the head, began to trot back down the hallway, Sweetie, Flare, and myself all following along. We soon made it back to the main hall, only to turn down another corridor. “Hey, I heard some big explosion happen in Quebuck while I was passing by, yesterday. That didn’t happen to've been you again, was it?” I asked Strike, smirking a little. Flare pressed a hoof into the center of a large door, a few parts spinning as it slid apart and allowed us to step through, into a small room filled with a few beds with footlockers at the end of each.

“Uh… yeah, that was me... kinda. Dad came looking for me in the TOG, I was listening to music, and, well... that gun is great for getting somepony's attention, eheh.” She slid the large duffle bag off of her back and flopped onto a bed, the springs squeaking a little as she landed. Likewise, I dropped my mostly empty saddlebags to the floor, the umbrella clattering as it hit the metal, drawing the pegasus' attention. “Hey, where’d you get that?”

“Oh, that...” I tried to think of an excuse. “Ah... Greasy just finished it. Wanted somepony to field test it, make sure it’s working and all.” I picked it up as Sweetie walked towards it with a curious look. Sugar Flare sat on the bed opposite the one I sat on, as Strike passed on a quizzical look, obviously wanting more info on it. “It’s an electric prod, supposed to knock out ponies. Pretty potent.” I placed the umbrella on the footlocker, letting Sweetie lift it up and examine it. “What were you doing in Quebuck, anyway?”

Night Strike shrugged. “Blowing up ghouls, scavenging places, yanno, the usual stuff.” She cracked open a bottle of Sparkle cola from her saddlebags, taking a sip of the glowing soda. “I don’t know why you keep not wanting to come along. The herds are really starting to thin in the usual places.” She snickered a bit before taking another sip, leaning against the footboard. I rolled my eyes in response - pardon me if I prefer living and not being sterilized. “Oh, don’t act like you didn’t have fun the last time we went on an adventure. You got plenty of stuff to sell off to Razorwing, didn’t you?”

“Doesn’t mean I enjoyed getting shot at by multiple turrets at once! And don't get me started on the hellhounds...” I grumbled as Flare absentmindedly bounced her hind legs off the side of the bed, looking up at the roof. I opened up my own saddlebags, pulling out the bottle of soda Sugar Rush had given me. Sweetie, growing bored, placed the umbrella back on the locker and trotted out of the room, following a few scribes as they carried a large amount of advanced weaponry through the halls.

“Hey, it’s not my fault you weren’t able to disable them. 'Oh, don't waste a grenade on the turrets Night Strike, Minty's shown me some things.'” The pegasus chuckled and took another sip, myself grumbling through my own bottle. Finishing off my own bottle and tossing it back into my bag, I let off a yawn, stretching and leaning back. Night Strike dropped her empty bottle on the floor and stretched her wings a bit, yawning as well. “Bwuh, guess it’s later than I thought it was. Dunno how our dads did it, living underground like this for years...” She laid back in bed, pulling the thin covers off of the bed and slipping under. “Mmh, Night, Static.”

I slid into bed as well, fluffing up the pillow a bit as I rolled to face myself towards Strike. Flare trotted over to the wall switch, turning the bulbs down before trotting out and shutting the door behind her. “Goodnight.” I closed my eyes, only to hear the door open again as hoofsteps came up to my bed. “Flare, if you try to sleep with me, I’m going to crack your skull open with that umbrella.” The hoofsteps paused, only to turn around and leave, shutting the door behind her again. This might be a long night…

---

I awoke to Strike tearing open a small pack of Sugar-Frosted Bombs with her teeth, idly starting to chomp them down. Rubbing my eyes as I sat up, Strike spat the empty wrapping into her bag, still munching down the cereal already in her mouth. “Morning,” I said, my back cracking as I twisted it. I dug around in my saddlebags, only to remember that I hadn’t brought any sort of food with me. Strike tossed me another pack of the sweet cereal, pouring more into her mouth.

“Mfornfing” She mumbled around the sugary food. I ripped the packing apart and chomped down on the sparkle shaped cereal. Oh, geesh, I’m going to get kidney failure from this... I swallowed as Strike balled up the package and tossed it in her bags. “They really should have more trashcans around here; I don’t think I’ve seen a single one around.” I nodded as I finished breakfast, the door to the small room opening up.

I turned about, my vision met with an older green stallion in power armor, his face covered by a bushy brown moustache hiding a soft grin. “There you two are! Was wondering when you’d finally wake up.” Strike and I stood up, Fringe immediately turning to leave. “Now, hurry up and grab your stuff. Elder Quazar authorized it, we're going to have some time to fly around.” Fringe left without a word, Strike looking over to me, a little puzzled.

I didn’t look at her, trying to hide my knowing smirk. I simply hitched up my saddlebags and followed Fringe, Night Strike quickly picking up the rear. “Flying around... what’re you talking about?” The pegasus asked, as we wended our way through the hallways. Fringe let off a chuckle, shaking his head and refusing to say anything more. It wasn’t long before we reached a large door at the end of the hallway.

Fringe turned back to me, suddenly much sterner. “Alright, Static, remember what we agreed on. You get three laps around the complex; you try to head off with this thing and Quazar and I will have your heads.” I nodded, Night Strike left even more confused than before. Fringe pressed a switch next to the door, a few gears grinding before the slab of metal slid upwards to reveal the large hangar, a half-dozen ponies running diagnostics on a vertibuck.

I looked over to Strike grinning as she stood, speechless. She looked over to me before giggling maniacally and rushing towards the machine, a few of the engineers jumping out of the way. Fringe and I slowly stepped up to the vertibuck, Strike glancing over all the controls on gauges on the dashboard. I lifted myself up into the cockpit, sitting down in the passenger’s seat as Fringe talked to one of the engineers. “Well?” I grinned at Strike.

She giggled again, fiddling with one of the dials. “Damnit, Static.” Was all she could say, still beaming. There was a loud grinding sound as the large hangar doors began to open above us, the cold wind sweeping through everypony’s manes. Strike was practically bouncing in her seat as she watched the doors open, Fringe hoisting himself up into the cockpit.

“Alright, everything looks like it’s set and ready to go. Let me just run you over some of the basics, again...” He gave us a quick tutorial of how to fly, which buttons did what and what lights meant things were going wrong. “And, are a few parachutes packed in back if everything decides to bugger up on you. Just take it easy, we’d rather not have to fish this thing out of a snow bank, and I don’t think your five hundred caps are going to cover any damages. If either of you are anything like your fathers... Celestia help us.” Fringe looked over to me, causing my smile to falter a little. Okay, Night Strike, please don’t make me regret this.

Fringe hopped out and I slid the doors shut, the interior of the vehicle already feeling warmer. Strike took a deep breath, trying to relax as she pulled one of the levers, a wide grin still on her face. The motors roared to life, the blades of the propellers on either side of us slowly building up speed. I steadied myself in the seat as Strike took hold of the controls, inching the throttle forwards. The vertibuck began to slowly lift into the air, the several ponies gathered around stepping further back, holding clipboards and other various things down, their manes blown back by the wind generated by the craft. Strike pushed the throttle a little further, and soon we had cleared the hangar, hovering steadily above the base.

I glanced down from the window, my stomach dropping a bit as I did. Oookay, only looking forward from now on. We began to slowly drift forwards, Strike taking uncharacteristic caution as we began our first circle of the mountain. “How in the name of Celestia did you convince them to let us do this?” Strike asked, still as giddy as ever. We began to speed up a little as Strike grew more accustomed to the controls, her left hoof firm on the stick.

“I sold off a bunch of stuff we found, and had to sweet talk Quazar up a bit. You’d be surprised how much money you’d save when you’re not buying soda and grenades every day, too.” I stuck my tongue out at her playfully as she rolled her eyes. We rose a little higher into the sky as we flew around, the fans blowing a bit of the snow off the peak of the mountain as we passed by.

As we finished our first lap, though, I heard the clang of metal and the sound of something tumbling to the floor. Both Strike and I glanced over our shoulders to see Sugar Flare laying sprawled on the floor, apparently having stowed herself away in one of the lockers. “Hello!” She said cheerfully, righting herself with a grin. Oh, Celestia, why must you torment me? “So, where’re we going?” She asked as she stood up, stretching and shutting the locker she’d just fallen out of.

“How long were you in there?” I asked, aghast. The sound of her cracking her stiff joints was more of an answer than I needed. Strike gave a quiet whimper, thankfully focusing on not having us crash into the mountain, as I rubbed at my temples a bit. We began to descend, Night Strike slowing the vertibuck down. As she did, Flare zipped up to me and planted a kiss on my lips. Gah! No, no no nonononono, that is majorly NOT okay!

I pushed her back, cringing. “Oh, don’t act like you’re not happy to see me.” I leaned away from her, only to be stopped by the right side door. What is it with your family and creepy fantasies?! As Flare giggled, I glanced over to Strike, who motioned for me to take the controls. I raised an eyebrow, but she'd already begun let go, forcing me to take a firm graspon the hard rubber shaft with one hoof while the other was kept raised defensively. Okay… um… where’d the mountain go?!

I twisted my head to look through all the windows, but all I could see was snow flying about in the air, the robed mare fighting to get her hooves on my own control shaft curiously absent. I began to lower the vertibuck a little more, the ground coming into view a little sooner than I had hoped. As I struggled with the controls, I heard some scuffling behind me, before suddenly listening as the side door slid open. The wind whipped around the cockpit, and I glanced back just in time to see Night Strike shove Flare out of the vertibuck, watching for a moment. “WHAT IS THE MATTER WITH YOU!?” I shouted over the wind, as Strike managed to shut the door.

She hopped into the seat beside me, looking rather smug with herself. “Oh, she’ll be fine; I gave her a parachute and we’re not that far from EQUAD.” I glanced out the side window, barely able to spot a parachute lying crumpled in the snow, Flare’s hind legs sticking out of a bank and kicking wildly. I simply stared out of the window, stunned, feeling as the control shaft moved in my hooves before letting go. “Hey, did you really want to have to deal with her all the way to the SCAB?”

My mind immediately jumped away from Flare, and I turned to stare at Strike. She looked towards me for a moment, before giving her head a shake. “Come on, Static, did you really think I wasn’t going to take advantage of this? I thought you knew me better than that!” The pegasus mare giving a fake pained look, following it with a snicker and looking out of the cockpit glass. I snapped out of my stupor, glancing down at the compass, takinga firm grasp of the controls again. Fighting against Night Strike, I began to turn the vertibuck around, the pegasus giving me a frustrated look. “Hey, we’ll bring it back, calm down!”

I grunted, trying to wrestle the controls back from her. “We’re bringing it back now, Fringe is going to kill me for this!” The vertibuck shook as we fought, dipping and bowing in the air as we both tried to pull teh sticks in two directions at once. Suddenly the whole machine shook violently, tossing Strike and I around in the cockpit, the engines rumbling for a while before they died. I shook my head, spouting off a list of expletives as I found the vertibuck's windshield now half buried in a snowbank. Night Strike likewise crawled from out of her seat onto the tilted floor, looking bruised, but thankfully alive. Oh, she's a dead mare...

I climbed out of the co-pilot's seat, putting a hoof to my head as it ached. “Goddesses... are you okay, at least?” Night Strike nodded, digging around in her duffle bag, which had been tossed into the corner. She produced a small bottle of a faintly glowing red liquid, taking a sip before handing it to me.

“Uughh… good thing my dad's overprotective. And easy to fool...” She chuckled a little as her bruises began to lose their sickly purple color. I took some of the potion, my body’s aches quickly vanishing, tossing the empty bottle back to her as we collected ourselves. I leaned over the controls, trying to turn on the transmission radio, jumping back as a few sparks flew into the air from the system. Well, so much for calling for help.

We lifted our bags onto our backs and slid the door open, a bit of snow falling into the fuselage. I followed Strike out of the crashed vertibuck, looking over the damage. The machine looked intact, but there was no way we’d be able to drag it out of the snow, let alone fix any engine components that might've broke. Strike played with her Pip-Buck, trying to locate where we were. “Hey, good news, Sunrise Castle Air Base should be just over that hill.” Strike pointed northwards, wearing a smile and rolling her jacket back over the pip-buck. I was about to protest when she cut me off. “Hey, at the very least we might find something there we can convince the Rangers to take instead of keeping you locked up with Flare for the next five years, right?”

I grumbled to myself, but followed alongside her. It’s not really like I have much of a choice, anyways… as we made our way to the top of the hill, the base came into view, mostly buried into the side of a large mountain range. My interest piqued a little when I remembered Minty telling me about finding Jolts and Twintails’ BEL here. Well, maybe there’s actually something valuable left... We headed down the opposite side of the hill, slipping occasionally on the hard packed snow. Strike trotted up to a large gate, pulling it open. I glanced over my shoulder nervously, unsure if what I was hearing was just the wind howling or a Hellhound making its way towards us.

I zipped into the building behind Strike, making sure to shut the door behind us. I saw Strike reach into her saddlebags and pull out a large grenade rifle, the metal barrel boasting two fancy ‘T’s and an atom that had been carved in, the word 'Thumper' scratched into the wooden stock. “Do you ever follow any sort of rules?” I asked, dubious that Twintails had let Strike take his rifle. Strike passed along a wide grin.

“Hey, dad has Kindness to keep him occupied, I can... 'borrow' Thumper occasionally, can’t I?” Reaching the main structures, we began to move through the office section, kicking aside debris. “Besides, you can’t really judge, mister ‘Greasy totally gave me this untested umbrella electric prod, no really’.” I could feel my face growing a little hot as Static smirked at me over her shoulder. I pulled the umbrella out from under my saddlebag strap, pulling open a desk drawer and rifling through it.

We made our way slowly through the offices, but found nothing besides a hoofful of caps in the garbage bins. We began to head down a flight of stairs, passing a few 'Restriced Area' signs as we did. I opened the bottom door to reveal several maintenance hallways lined with pipes. As we headed further down into the structure, I heard the sound of metal steps echoing down one of the side hallways. I paused, Strike stopping behind me, a little annoyed before likewise hearing the metallic whirring. I peered around the hallway, spotting a robot slowly walking down it, every now and then stopping to scan the area.

I began to slowly creep up behind it, gripping the umbrella tightly in my teeth. The robot paused, and I stopped in my tracks, hoping it didn’t hear my hoofsteps. It soon began its long walk again, Night Strike watching from the end of the hall with her grenade rifle. Thank you for not doing something stupid this one time... I leapt forward, biting down on the umbrella and connecting the prongs to the robot. The smell of ozone filled the air again as the robot froze, its circuits shorting out before it collapsed to the floor.

Strike trotted up behind me, smiling. “Nice job, sparky. Really living up to your name.” I grinned and stowed the umbrella as we began to head down the hallway again, frequently stopping to check our maps to make sure we weren’t heading in circles. It wasn’t long before we made our way to a small door at the end of the hallway, a sign reading “Valkyrie Project Faculty Only”. Well, if that’s not an invitation for looters, I don’t know what is. I tried to open the door, but it was locked... of course. I grunted a bit, trying to force it open, before the pegasus tapped me on the shoulder. “I got this.” She grinned, stepping back and lifting up Thumper, holding the barrel flush with the bolt. I quickly moved behind her before she braced her stance and bit down on the trigger.

Night Strike squeezed upon the trigger, the recoil from the shell throwing her backwards as the dense slug impacted the handle, destroying it, the door flying open and bouncing back. I chuckled a little as Strike headed through the door, rubbing at my faintly ringing ears. Making an entrance must run in the family... We were greeted by another smaller set of rooms, and a large door at the end of the corridor. I trotted into one of the side rooms, finding several desks covered in paperwork and chalkboards filled with complex equations and designs. I opened up the filing cabinets as Strike checked the room across from mine, finding several papers with similarly complicated designs. Oooh, this should get Quazar off my back.

I began to stuff the files into my saddlebags, trying my best not to wrinkle them in the process. As I was glancing over one of the collection of papers, though, I heard Strike call for me. “Static? I don’t think they’ll be worrying over that Vertibuck anymore…” I leaned into the hallway, seeing Strike sitting on the floor just outside the large doors, staring up at something. I trotted up to meet her, only to feel my stomach drop out, my gaze following hers at what was in the large room.

“Goddesses above…”