• Published 5th Nov 2011
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Fallout Equestria: Heroes - No One



A Fallout Equestria Sidefiction. A lonely guard, inspired by Littlepip, goes to save her brother.

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Chapter 18: So Says The Mirror

So Says The Mirror

“Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”

High Stakes’ shot tore through the air, missing me completely.

Instead, it hit Smooth Tongue dead centre in his chest, making his red eyes go wide in shock. The olive stallion reached for his chest. Blood welled up around his hoof and dripped to the ground. The pool of blood grew as life drained from his eyes. He had lost. He saw it now. Everything he tried to do was for nothing. He thought he could turn my friends against me, but he was dead wrong. When I walked up to him, planted my shotgun on his forehead, and pulled the trigger, he was dead too.

And it couldn't have happened to a nicer stallion. As I was showered by his blood and brain chunks I couldn't help but laugh. Finally. Finally! My greatest enemy paid for all the wrong he did to me. It was just so sweet.

I could have stayed there reveling in the moment forever. It was just so... so sweet.

Until I opened my eyes.

Vague images above me. Voices, I could hear voices.

“She's waking up!”

“It's too soon, she should still be out.”

“She might complicate the surgery.”

“Get the anesthetic. Blackwater wants her alive.”

Alive. I was alive. My heart was beating in my chest I could hear it. Where was I? Ponies moved above me. I could see them. They all had black faces. Blood. I could see so much blood dripping from their heads. Where was I? Why was I alive? I had been shot. In the head. I remember the pain. There was so much. I couldn't escape it. Why did it hurt so much? Somepony shot me. Somepony.

“Looks like it's infected. Dammit, we need her to stop struggling.”

“We should just kill her. They don't really need her, just her pipbuck,” a familiar voice said. “End her suffering. And besides...” My brother. That voice, I knew it. It was my brother. “She's too dangerous alive.” Alive. I was dangerous, but I was dying. I could feel my heartbeat getting weaker. Why did everything hurt so much?

“No, she is to be sold alive. Never let a tool go to waste.”

To waste. I was going to waste. My efforts thrown into the fire of Dise to fuel its hatred and its strife. Nothing I did helped. All I could do was destroy and make things worse.

Something was placed over my muzzle and I started counting backwards like a voice in my ear told me. One hundred civilians killed by my carelessness. Ninety-nine foals without parents. Three towns destroyed because of me. Karkhoof, Timber, and now Bridle Hope. Two friends I had left who didn't betray me. One bullet into my skull.

---

I lay in bed, unable to sleep. The darkness was engulfing and all-encompassing. Far off in the distance, I thought I heard shouts, but I ignored them. Marefort was never quiet, even when it was. Marefort was a cramped sort of living. Ponies piled on top of each other, and crammed as tight as possible in a huge building that loved to echo, and you could imagine how well it worked if you were a light sleeper. It made... interludes with Wildfire difficult, when ponies living below us called for us to quiet down. Not that we had the chance that often anyway with Foundation living with us, but it was awkward when we did have the opportunity.

For some reason, when lying in bed contemplating life, my thoughts turned to sex. Clearly I'm well adjusted. I rolled over trying to put a leg over Wildfire to find her missing. She must have left to take Foundation to the bathroom. She had lived in Marefort for almost a year, but was still afraid to walk around it at night. Not that I could blame her, if you didn't know your way, you'd trip and fall, and while Marefort lacked many things, it did not lack places to fall from.

I hoped she would be back soon. The night was bitterly cold, and her warmth made it easier to bear. I don't know how I ever used to sleep alone. For a second I wondered if Wildfire felt the same way, but I doubted she ever slept alone. No, I didn't mean that in an insulting way, but I knew Wildfire well enough to know that before she found me she was quite... insistent on looking for love. We had more than a few discussions on the subject. Long awkward discussions. It still made me uncomfortable, but we all had our burdens and issues, and so long as I understood hers, I was okay.

There was that sex thing again. My head was the gutter when lying alone in bed. There was another scream from far away. It wasn't playful like the one before.

And it was followed by more, and more.

There was a smell of smoke that made me sit up in my bed and think of a name I shouldn't have known. “Wha...” I murmured, my mind coming off it's half asleep daze. Something was wrong, something was very wrong.

There was a sharp knock on my door. With a groan and a feeling of dread, I rolled onto my hooves and slowly made my way to the door. It was not a long walk, as the house was small, but the knocking got louder, and louder. The feeling of dread did not leave when I got to the door, and was not helped that when I opened the door to look down the barrel of a gun.

“Hello,” a voice said, way too cheerfully. “You're coming with me,” a mare stinking of blood said from the shadows, her face half illuminated by the purple glow around her horn and the rifle.

“Yeah.” I spat at her hooves. “That's going to happen.” A shot blared out in the night, but I had known she was going to shoot and had ducked low before the trigger was pulled. I charged forward and rammed my shoulder into the pony’s neck with the full force of my girth. She gasped as I pushed. There was a brief second when I felt her try to push back, but she wasn't nearly strong enough. With a final grunt I I felt her slip off the edge of the Marefort landing. She shrieked loudly as she fell, but not for long.

I peered down at the darkness but didn't see the body in the blackness. I heard things though. Shouts of pain, cries for help. They came from everywhere and nowhere at once. Actually, as dramatic as that sounded, they definitely came from somewhere. Below me actually. I heard a shout of confusion and a grunt of pain. Whoever these fuckers were, they weren't going to get away with touching my Marefort.

I skidded back to my doorway to the mare’s dropped rifle and picked it up. I wasn't the best with mouth-fired weapons, but it was going to have to do. Back when I had been a little filly, I’d known the best routes around Marefort. I wasn't as agile as I’d been back then, but I still could get around better than anypony I knew when I was in a rush.

Moving quickly to the edge of the walkway I’d thrown the mare from, I dropped off. I grabbed the edge with my fore hooves and swung twice. Letting go mid-swing, I slammed through the window of the house below mine with a crash. Just as I’d thought, there was a strange blood-smelling pony pointing a gun at Marigold. He stopped to watch me with a surprised look as I crashed through. Good.

Before he could point his gun at me, my own was aimed point blank at his head. Even though I sucked at mouth fired weapons, I couldn't miss. His brains painted Marigold’s wall.

“Urgh.” The sight... it was so... ugh. I turned my head to vomit. How could anypony get used to killing? It made my stomach turn. Wiping my mouth, I looked over at the shaking form of Marigold. She was forever my boss, but I hoped she wouldn't be too upset with me breaking her window and painting her wall. “Are you alright?”

“Dammit. I'm so sorry Silver. So sorry.” Why was she apologizing? I broke into her house. “it's all my fault... I never thought.” I let her blabber on as I leaned down to pick up my new gun.

“Here.” I slid over the dead pony’s gun. “Need to save the others.” My voice sounded hoarse even for me. My filly was out there somewhere. I knew Wildfire would never let her come to harm, but I had to be sure. Marigold was going to help me, because somepony had to. “What are you waiting for?”

“This is my fault, I never thought...” Tears streamed down her cheeks. What kind of pony cried that much? It was unbecoming. “They're here because of me. I... I... the Mayor, Wildfire, and I. We... don't you know? We cut ties with the Crimson Hoof, we let go of their protection. And now... and now look. Smooth Tongue warned us, we should have listened.”

“Shut up.” I rolled my eyes and forced the gun into her hooves. “Fight now. Cry later.” The golden maned mare just looked up at me with an unreadable expression. “Get up,” I said, perhaps too harshly. “Get. Up.” I didn't understand what she was talking about. How she’d caused this or whatever. “You caused it. Help me fix it. Take the gun, and let’s go save them.”

“They're probably all dead,” Marigold tried to explain to me. It didn't matter. So long as I was breathing, I would stop whatever was happening.

“Well, I’m not.” I trotted out the door, and hoped she would follow me. I hadn't a clue what was happening, but I knew Wildfire and Foundation were out there, scared and confused. It was time to save them. There was no other option, and I would not take failure for an option.

---

“About time you woke up.”

There were vague memories, things I could not understand. Muffled voices in the back of my mind, and I had been awake before, for a bit. But I could not remember when, or why, or where I was. I was lying down somewhere, as my head pounded and thoughts swirled in my head. Had I always been lying there? Perhaps, and everything else been a dream. Or maybe I was dreaming of being in bed, and when I opened my eyes I would be back in Bridle Hope about to destroy Smooth Tongue. Something touched my shoulder.

My eyes shot open to see a white ceiling with rows of lights that were far too bright high above me. I knew this place, I knew it as soon as I opened my eyes. “Why... why am I here?” Why was I even alive? My head throbbed, and every fibre in my being called out for med-x to make it go away. Things were fuzzy, but I remembered a glint of light from glasses and a sharp pain worse than anything I had experienced.

High Stakes... the memories came flooding back that easily. He’d betrayed me. I should have seen it coming. Smooth Tongue offered him the same thing he’d offered me (when High Stakes was playing captive no doubt), the same thing High Stakes complained House would not offer. Of course he was going to betray me. It was all about the caps, but I was too dense to see the signs. Stupid Silver gets shot by former friends. Nopony is surprised.

Groaning, I blinked my heavy eyes. The white ceiling was still above me. Smooth Tongue should have killed me, but instead I was alive and, for reasons I could not comprehend, was in the 'Reconstruction Center' inside the mountain. I recognized the aesthetic anywhere, and that could only mean that I was currently in the possession of the Steel Rangers. Again. If I got out of this, I swore I was never going to get captured again.

“You piss yourself in your sleep, did you know that?” That was an interesting statement to wake up to. “'Course, you've been out for three days, so I suppose that's natural.” A yellow mare peered over me, her white mane falling into her face. “You don't recognize me, do you?”

“Have I threatened you before?” I asked with a weak smile.

“We met once, a long time ago. It seems my memory is sharper. I am Paladin Blackwater.” Cool story. “I recognized you coming out of Timber and remembered hearing you’d escaped our base so I had a squad follow you.” So Flare wasn't being paranoid when he’d said we were being followed. That was always good news. I needed fewer crazy companions. And ones that didn't betray me.

“So.” I sat up slowly, pain lancing through my entire body. “Why did you... buy me?”

“We didn't buy you, we bought your pipbuck,” she said, as I looked around the facility. It was, shockingly, exactly the same as when I’d left it back when I helped clear out that raider den. The large stacks of wood were lined in rows and all covered by a strange purple glow. And, most noticeably, it was still obnoxiously white and made my eyes cry out in pain from the brightness.

This was just all too much to take. The last thing I remembered was that I was being betrayed and now I was miles away in the hold of a different group. For all I knew, they would kill me if I tried anything at all, and considering what happened the last time I was in Steel Ranger care I doubted they'd hesitate. So what could I do, weak as I was from my coma, but play along and hope I had an opportunity to escape and reunite with my friends later.

“Why.” I said as I watched squads of unarmoured Steel Rangers run drills down the centre aisle, while across from them, pieces of armour were being cleaned and maintained. It was... surprisingly efficient looking. Say what you wanted about Steel Rangers, but they were damned good at what they did, and they made it look good.

“You have a password on it, a password that we need. There was talk of cutting your leg off, but your pet pegasus-”

“Flare!” I sat up as straight as I could, ignoring the pain throbbing through my whole body. My eyes scanned the area again, but I couldn't see them. “How...” He was supposed to have left. I gave him specific orders to leave. Dammit Flare, couldn't he listen to me just this once? I guess our reunion wouldn't be that far away after all.

“After you were sold, he came swooping in, trying to save you.” The yellow mare rubbed her back legs together. “Let me say, your filly is one hell of a shot.” That was Serenity, alright. Good girl. “They lost, obviously, but he made a good point.” That made me very uncomfortable. All of Flare's good points were terrible. “He said, ‘why not use you?’ This centre is well known for danger, and delusion. We send you and your friends in, if you come back you tell us what to avoid, if you don't we go in full force. At best, we know the dangers of the centre before we have to deal with them ourselves; having to deal with them; at worse, we will do what we planned to do all along.”

“And my pipbuck?”

“Has a tracker. How did you think we found you anyway?” Oh, I guess that made sense.

“What... is on my pipbuck exactly?” That seemed to make the mare perk up and grin confidently. I did not like that at all. I didn't like any of this, and my head (not to mention the rest of me) was still killing me. Being in a coma for three days would do that, but if only I had some Med-X I could make it go away.

“A password, like I said. You downloaded it at stable 123 with an audio log according to the stables computers. Luckily, the computers kept a record of the tags of all the pipbucks to connect to them. I don't suppose you know about magical resonance?” I shook my head, and that just made her grin more. “Stand up and follow me.” Reluctantly I did, and noticed for the first time I was surprisingly unshackled (and naked). “You!” she called to a knight we passed, “Go fetch a squire, a unicorn squire.” That didn't make much sense, but I kept walking and wishing I had my saddle bags and inventory with me.

We did not walk far, just to the nearest stack of wood with a glowing magical barrier around it. Stepping up to it she tapped it with a hoof making it ripple and glow, but not budge. “This is a magical barrier. Similar, if you will, to the one that once surrounded Canterlot, but smaller, and not as strong. If we wished it, we could fire rockets at it until the barrier fell, but that would be... troublesome and expensive.”

Just then a small unicorn stallion came running over, huffing from lack of breath. “Y-yes, Paladin Blackwater?” The red stallion was sweating profusely and seemed afraid to look the paladin in the eyes.

“Perform a spell,” She said, watching the glowing barrier.

“W-which one Ma'am?” The yellow ranger gave him a withering glare that could melt glass. The squire shrank down more and cast a simple telekinesis spell that made my shoulder burn.

More importantly it had an interesting effect on the barrier. At the closest point to where the spell was cast the barrier glowed brighter than it should have and seemed to be emitting a strange heat. In a circular pattern outside the glowing hot point the glow slowly faded to its normal state, as the spell did not seem to be affecting more than that singular point.

“You may stop.” Blackwater said. The unicorn did, and shrunk down more. “This is a perfect example of magical resonance. It is well known that every spell, and every unicorn’s magic, has a different wavelength.” I did not know that. “The magical engineers of Caledonia realized magical devices, like a pipbuck, could also produce magical frequencies, but unlike ponies could change their tune to copy a pony's specific wavelength.” So much jargon, my head hurt. More. “They came up with these force fields, along with other triggers, that only react to particular magical frequencies.” She looked over and saw the obvious confusion blanketed on my face. “Think of it... like a magical key. Only one spell can unlock it.”

“I see...” I didn't at all.

With a weary sigh she grabbed my pipbucked hoof and started flipping through the menus faster than I ever could. “Damn thing only works when you're awake.” She muttered until she got to what she wanted, and pressed a button. “This is the password, if you will.” My pipbuck emitted a strange screeching noise and glowed softly, making my shoulder burn with magic. The barrier around the piles of wood reacted immediately and started glowing bright as it did with the other spell, only this time the glow didn't stay in the same place, but grew and grew until the entire barrier was white hot and too bright to look at.

Then it fell to nothing. The stack of wood stood there unimpeded by magic like they were before. “Woah.” I rubbed my eye,a bit dumbfounded. That was just... insanely cool.

It was about then that the realization hit me that I had downloaded this magical thing in Stable 123. Meaning before I ever went to the reconstruction centre the first time. I could have used it on all these supplies and sold them to make a killing, with exactly zero trouble. If only I understood... anything. It would have made my life easier, and been a huge boon to the wastes.

Instead I let the opportunity pass me by, and now it was useless. It was a punch in the gut after an already crappy day.

Not only was I a failure who couldn't even figure out when she was about to betrayed, but I also let the chance of a lifetime pass me by because I couldn't work a device I’d owned for over a year. Add that to my already grandiose list of failures and well... you get the picture.

I scratched an itch on my foreleg as Blackwater grinned at me. “You see now what you have on you.” I nodded slowly. “That password is a catchall for every security terminal in the entire building, and if my hypothesis is correct, it will stop the patrolling robots from attacking you. Of course, to make sure, we are sending you and your friends up first.”

I gave her my hardest glare and hoped my physical weakness wouldn’t give me away. It didn't help that halfway through my glare my leg spasmed and sent me on my ass. “Why them? Let me go alone.” If they were actually here, and it wasn't a bluff, I wanted them as far away from whatever danger was up there as possible. If the mere rumours of this place had Steel Rangers shaking in their armour, I didn't want Serenity there.

“Because. We want you to survive and come back. That password on your wrist is supposed to disable all security features and make the facility open, but I’m not going to risk the lives of my ponies on that word. I need to know what exactly that password does, and what security features are still active. I need you to check at least the first five floors. At least. Making your filly go with you is...” The yellow mare looked thoughtful. “Incentive. A pony will fight twice as hard for their son's or daughter's lives than they would for their own. The pegasus is simply because he annoys us.” That was Flare all right. “There is another incentive for you to search quickly.”

My stomach twisted into a knot. Whatever she was talking about I could feel it was not going to be good, and it made me feel nauseous. As I wiped some sweat from my brow. I saw her take out a small clear plastic bag. That was... less than climactic. Until I saw what was in it.

A vial of Med-X.

As soon as my eyes fell upon that beautiful syringe, I felt myself lurch forward, and the pain throbbing through my legs felt that much worse. Wincing, I was pulled to a stop before I could tackle her as a cramp in my leg made it hard to really do... much of anything. Gritting through my teeth I said, “That's mine.” It had been in my saddle bags, and she’d stolen it. That bitchy thief!

She laughed prettily, but with a hint of malice. “You could try being subtle about it.” I watched as the bag swung back and forth in her mouth when she talked. “You want this, don't you?”

“It's mine,” I corrected. “I want it because it's mine.” And because everything hurt so damn much, and I needed it to make me feel better. Just a quick jab and I could get the relief I needed. Then I could break out of this place, save Serenity and Flare, kill High Stakes (bastard) and go back to House. I just needed that bag.

“Right.” She smirked as the bag swung. “I'm sure that's exactly what it is.” She dropped the bag. My head followed. She was going to break it. Against my better judgement, I dove and grabbed it in my mouth before it could hit the ground. There was a sharp sense of pride on my catch, followed by a sharper sense that I should just inject it and get rid of the pain already. That was, until I heard her laughing again.

Looking up, I saw her red eyes flash with clearly evil thoughts. “What...” I asked slowly, though I think I already knew.

“Even in a coma you'd kicked, cried out, and twitched. After your Pegasus swooped in to be easily captured, he suggested Med-X.” She smirked. “Imagine my surprise when it calmed you down right away.” I knew where this was going. For some reason the bag in my mouth seemed to get a hundred times heavier, as if it was weighing down my very soul. “The last time you were injected was eight hours ago, you already feel the desire don't you? The pain in your legs, the cramping in your gut. You want to cry, but can’t see a reason for it. You want to cry out because it hurts too much, as sweat pours from your brow.”

Oh shit.

“Congratulations, you're an addict. So, for long as you're in our care, that's the last vial you get until you go up into the centre and come back down to tell us what is waiting for us.” There was a devious smile on her lips. “So you better hurry.”

---

Okay. So maybe I really liked Med-X because it helped make my many, many injures feel less... injuryful. But I mean, I couldn't really be addicted. I've seen addicted ponies before and they were always so pathetic. I mean Flare was all but lying in the gutter when I first met him, but I was fit as could be. Hell, before I got knocked into next week I was stomping ponies into oblivion. I mean, sure, I think I’d had a med-x or two then, but I was still able to do it. Addicts couldn't, they were weak....

Or maybe they were just weak when they didn't get their fix. As soon as the Med-X was injected in me, most (not all) of the pain faded, and I felt like I could run a mile uphill. So... maybe I was addicted. How could you be addicted to a medical drug though? Shouldn't they be designed so that wasn't possible? Right? I really wanted to be right. So much had gone wrong, being addicted on top of everything just made it all the worse.

I couldn't counter her argument though. Since that fight where Torr had shattered a few of my ribs, I had been taking Med-X nearly everyday. I mean, my life got a lot more hectic around then, but after a while I had stopped taking them just when I got hurt. Then there was the time I had taken the med-x from Haze's infirmary....

I didn't know. All I knew was that I needed the med-x in me for the moment so I could do what they asked of me. Maybe then we would be allowed to leave, and I could figure all this out. It was just. Like a great weight on my brain that refused to go away.

I had bigger problems to worry about. Like being a captive of the Steel Rangers. Again.

“What happened to Timber?” I asked Paladin Blackwater as she led me slowly through the complex. It was an obvious question with an obvious answer, but I needed a source of rage to drive the confusion from my head.

“We burned it.” The way she said it like it was trivial made my blood boil. “Not at first. We came galloping over the hills and the townsfolk just about pissed themselves. Not a single pony was shot. Well, maybe one. So we rounded them up and put them to questions.” She shot me a knowing glance. “I am not a foal like Curly Fries; when I question ponies, I play for keeps.” I don't think I liked the way this was going. “By the fourth death they started talking, but nothing useful.”

“Then a pony cracked,” I said as we turned a corner around a stack of wood.

“Oh quite right. I believe she was the bartender in town. I wanted to do the mayor first, but we couldn't find him.” She chuckled. Did I mention how much I hated her. Because it was a lot. “So we let the ponies back to their little houses, and then set them all on fire. It was a lovely blaze.” Filled with screaming foals. I could almost picture Post Haste in Timber, running from building to building. “Oh how they screamed.”

“You're sick.”

She didn't even deny it. “I'm strong. The strong survive, while the weak die. It's the way of the universe, and if you tried thinking like that, you'd have more power than you'd know what to do with.” Yes I could survive on my strength alone. I could rule a raider gang destroying all who oppose me, but at what cost? I've already done so much that my soul was irreparable. Anymore and I would stop being... whoever I was.

“Disgusting.”

“Would you rather we just kill you?” She snorted. “I could order it. Or should we torture your filly first?” No... “How do you think we got the bartender to crack? Sure, I could have put anypony to the question, but from my experience there is no way to make a pony talk faster than by hurting their children.” I was going to kill her. Rip her head off and shove it up her ass, burn her corpse. Then, I would find a zebra and get them to bring her back to life, so I could kill her again.

Not now though. As much as it made my muscles twitch and my ears roar thinking of the evil she committed, I couldn't act. Not here in the middle of the Steel Ranger base, not while unarmed and weakened. So I did the only thing I could, and walked beside her, using all of my willpower to push down the urge to stab her in the face. It was really difficult. I couldn't even look at her. Just. Ugh. She managed to jump to number one on my 'needs to fucking die list' ahead of High Stakes, Dragonslayer, and even Smooth Tongue.

Once I got back to Dise, I needed to get that list laminated.

“Does that bother you?” Blackwater's voice dripped with maliciousness and made a shiver run down the length of my spine. I denied her an answer; she already knew it. “I really do not understand why that foal knight had a problem with you.” It might have been because the difference in threat levels between her and Curly Fries was the same as the difference between me and Serenity. There was no contest. “Of course he was already an idiot. Do you know he went gallivanting after you when you got away.”

“Yes.” I grunted my response, hoping it'd please her enough to shut up. “We met at Snake Head. Chased Flare away.”

“He actually caught up!” She stomped her hoof once in appreciation and kept walking. “Shocking. He claimed as much when he came back with his head low. Elder Chunky Soup told everypony that you were not to be followed, and called back the Steel Ranger hit squads. He never expected to find Captain Flare or anypony else on the hit list, it was just to shut ponies up. After the fiasco he didn't want to waste any more resources, so when Curly galloped off with his squad, the Elder was furious.”

My entire memory of the Elder was from a single conversation when he warned me about a darkness under Dise. Or, metaphorically under at least, and let us go. He didn't seem to care if we lived or died. Seeing him furious just seemed odd, and out of place. Still, I wouldn't test his patience.

“Eventually Curly came back with his tail between his legs. The Elder came outside to greet the failure himself.” She nickered. “Then, he took out a knife and jammed it through the eye socket of one of Curly's ponies. It was a warning he claimed, and exiled him. Apparently we get to kill him if he shows up again, now won't that be fun?”

Yes, but I was not about to agree with that bitch.

She kept talking, and just about every time she spoke I had to hold back from tearing her throat out with my teeth. “The Elder told us his plan to take this place. He's been salivating over it for decades now, and finally it was open without one faction or another willing to defend it. Nothing but a town with piss poor defences between us and the wealth of the Caledonian military. Don't know why the NCA choose to run with their tails between their legs. Hell, we took more casualties after we burned the town to the ground than we did taking the damn thing. Damn sniper.”

“What happened to him?” We left Grimer ready to give up his life fighting. It was the least I could do, to find out how he died.

“We killed him, of course.” We turned the corner into a narrow aisle between stacks, and at the end a series of tarps and sheets that looked to be a makeshift tent. “Oh, he put up a valiant fight.” She smirked as we moved towards the tent. “Took two of my ponies down, so we sent a rocket up his ass. Wouldn't you know it, he jumped out of the fireball from the second story. I would have applauded but he threw a live mine at me.” Oh, I liked the thought of that. “So I shot it out of the air and gunned him down like a rat. Good show though, it was enough my Knights thought he deserved a proper funeral, instead of a pyre like the rest of the town.” There was a short pause as we reached the entrance to the tent. “I set him on fire anyway.” She laughed and opened the flap to the tent, “We're here. You have one hour to deal with this shit, then we will come for you. You know what happens if you escape.”

With a growl, I entered the dimly lit tent.

Inside I could see the form of a blue pegasus pacing and back and forth along the far wall as a small, light pink pony stood on his back, looking immensely sad. They didn't even turn to me when I entered, apparently used to being checked up on. “Uh...” I said slowly. “Hello...” The tent flap closed behind me, leaving us alone.

“Momma!” A pink blur zipped through the air and attached itself to my neck with such force I nearly gagged. “We were so worried!” The warmth of her hug melted the anger right off me. “Never ever ever do that again! You almost died!” Slowly I kneeled down so she wouldn't be hanging from my neck, and put a leg around her. “We tried to save you, but they shot at us a lot! Can we shoot them back now?”

“Not now Serenity...,” I said softly. “Soon.” I looked up and over at Flare who sat guiltily staring at me. The fact he looked guilty was not an encouraging sign. I really hoped he didn't know what High Stakes was planning to do, but considering Flare already betrayed me once, I couldn't put it past him.

“Hey Hired, you're looking well.” He placed a hoof awkwardly on the back of his head. “Well, considering you were out for three days on account of a shotgun to the face.” I hadn’t even really thought of that. There had to be scars on my face from it, which was great because I wasn't nearly ugly enough. “We tried to pull off a daring rescue, but it seems I'm useless without an idiot to run ahead of me and soak up all the bullets.”

“Really, Flare?” I shook my head and pushed my greasy mane out of my eyes. “Is this the right time for that?”

“I thought it was funny,” Serenity said from her place buried into my neck.

“See! Serenity has my back.” He grinned for half a second before donning his guilty look. “Did High Stakes really shoot you?” My intelligent response was to stare at him like he had three heads. That seemed to get the point across. “That's a yes then....” He sighed. “That idiot. I can't believe he'd do this to me!”

Wait. Did he say 'me'? But Stakes shot me. I know because I remember his glasses shining when he did it. I noticed Flare catch his slip up and say something under his breath as a slight blush formed on his cheeks. Why would he be blushing...?

“Wait...” He kept blushing, and it hit me. Since those two had met, they’d seemed to be unnaturally close. And... for some reason I could remember vividly them sleeping in the same room multiple times when no one was around. There was that time The Batmare teleported into their hotel room that seemed to make Stakes really annoyed. Flare's insistence that High Stakes was really good on the inside, his knowledge of Stakes’ history that he apparently didn't tell just anypony. The realization flashed in my head as I stared dumbfounded at Flare. “You and him were... you were!” My voiced spiked high before I lowered it. “Really?”

“How much do I owe you Serenity?” What? That wasn't an answer. Stop avoiding the question, Flare!

“Twenty five caps.” Came the giggly reply.

The blue pegasus took out a small sack and tossed it into the waiting telekinetic field of the filly before saying, “We had a bet. Serenity won.” He gave me a weak smile and I could tell he was trying to force his blush away. “I thought it was going to be three months before you found out, Stakes gave it over a year. Serenity was more optimistic.”

Serenity continued her giggle as I slowly realized that everypony knew but me, and I was really dumb. “I figured you'd walk into 'em kissing eventually.” Kissing... right. I rubbed my forehead as the bevy of new information hit me.

“You and him...” I said again. It may have shocked me more than I realized, and all the more because it was so obvious! “We are the gayest little group in the wasteland.”

“Hey!” Serenity squeaked, finally detaching herself from her hug and taking a few steps back, “I don't like mares, they're dumb.” Wait, did that mean she liked colts? I mean, she was around the age that most ponies got their first crush... I swore then and there that any colt who touched Serenity was going to have a chat with Subtlety. “Colts are gross, too. They have cooties and smell funny.”

“They do not,” Flare scoffed, and held his hoof to his chest in mock pain. “Besides, when have you even met a colt your age?”

“Miss Haze has a bunch in her orphanage, stupid.” With a remark like that, I simply had to smile down at Serenity. It was so amusing when she proved Flare wrong, if only because I was so bad at it.

“So, you and High Stakes...” I said slowly, my head still trying to wrap around the fact. Clearly I'm an idiot, if that wasn't already clear. Flare nodded and smirked a little, which was aggravating. The whole time he had been bugging me about being a fillyfooler, he'd actually been cuddling colts on the side. If he'd just have told me, it would have been easier for me to admit that I was... I'm not a fillyfooler. “Flare...” I said slowly, keeping my eyes level with his. “Did you know he was going to?”

“If I did, would I have tried to rescue you from my sworn enemies?” He matched my glare with one that was surprisingly intense. “I swear, you act as though you can't trust me. Just because I spied on you once or twice.”

“And dated the pony who shot me in the face,” I added in my usual helpful manner.

“Right, that too. I mean, that's hardly an excuse not to trust me.” I stared blankly. “Eh, I guess it's good enough, but no, I didn't know he was planning on that. You'd think he'd tell me, but nooooo, he had to go off and be secretive. I wouldn't be surprised if he thought I'd approve or something. Sometimes, that stallion, I swear it...” He rubbed his forehead. “He just don't get it, a crying shame. He had such a nice ass too.”

I felt heat rush to my cheeks. “Flare!”

“Eh, you know you liked it.” He laughed as I felt my face grow hotter, and I shook my head adamantly. This was not subject matter fit for fillies. “No... I didn't know he'd do that. I should have guessed though, it's always been about the caps for him in just about everything. Should have seen it coming, but it's too late now. Guess I'm going to have to smack him next time we meet, and we will meet.”

“If you get to him first.” I growled.

“But Momma, what if he was blackmailed into doing it?” Serenity said. “I mean, maybe they took his daughter and held her hostage and and!” The filly gave me a look of such determination I almost wanted to believe her. She didn't believe it either, but she had to hope.

“He didn't have family,” Flare said, “and I wasn't threatened, so he did it on his own, for his own price. Some smart ponies used to say 'Everypony has their price' but I was really holding out that his would be a little bit higher.” I thought he was already paid for, though. It just never crossed my mind that he would shoot me after already being paid not to. Breaking contracts, what has the world come to? “Enough of that.” Flare waved a hoof. “We can discuss his guilt and punishment when we aren't being held by stupidly evil ponies.”

“I was trying to forget about that.” I said. If anypony was stupidly and sadistically evil it was Blackwater. She was no better than a raider, only with a fancier set of armour and much more support. “So what do we do? You know this place. Right?”

“Of it,” Flare corrected. “The Enclave was based way at the top, and most ponies weren't allowed to venture down to the lower levels, not after the rumours of it being haunted started. Ain't never been in the complex proper, but I'll tell you what I do know.”

There was a pause as he stood up and puffed out his chest.

“Ahem,” he started, “I don't know shit.” Huzzah, helpful as always, Flare. “Well,” he continued in his regular manner, “I'm guessing your pipbuck has a key they need, and I'm pretty sure the Enclave took my DNA and put it into the central system so that might help something, but I wasn't allowed into the dangerous areas. Sorry.”

“It's fine.” I said. It was not really fine because Lucky mentioned deadly robots. If I had my gear it wouldn't be a problem, but Subtlety was a long way away (that poor baby) and the rest of my stuff was confiscated when I was... sold. Did that make me a slave? I guess in a sense I was.

Which made my day so much better.

“Are you okay, Momma?” We needed to talk about that too. “Momma? You don't look well.” Maybe it was the fact I just got out of a coma and may have been addicted. “Momma.” I looked down at Serenity and wiped tears out of my eyes. “Don't worry, we'll get out. Because you're here, and when you're here we always find a way out. So don't be sad. Okay?”

Slowly, I put my hoof on her head and ruffled up her mane. “We'll get out of this. You're right.” The little filly batted at my hoof playfully and backed off to stick her tongue out at me. Yeah, it was going to be alright.

---

The hour was not nearly long enough. I had hoped in vain we'd figure out a way out of this predicament, but we hadn’t even discussed it. We all knew that it was impossible, so we talked about silly things to keep our mind off it. Hell, maybe my worry was for nothing. The facility had been closed for two hundred years, so what was the likelihood of all the killer robots still being active?

Of course, from what I have seen, pre-war Caledonia was very obsessed with having their technology last exactly two hundred years, which was quite helpful. In that it wasn't. At all.

Eventually Blackwater came calling for us with a grin on her face, and flanked by two fully clad Steel Ranger knights. I really didn't now know what Elder Chunky Soup had been thinking when he’d put that bitch in charge. “Are you three done with your love time yet?” she sneered from the tent's door way. “That med-x won't last forever, so you best hurry, Miss Gun.”

Serenity jumped onto my back as I stood up and glared at the bitchy-bitch. “We're coming,” I said with my voice dripping with venom.

“Not like that,” The Paladin said as something flew through the air, landing on my head and hanging there. “Your barding. We have some old Enclave armour from our war with them. Not pretty, but it'll stop him from becoming dust from whatever security systems this place is said to have.” That was good. “The filly gets nothing, so you best be careful, Hired.” I gave her my best glare.

When the Enclave armour arrived Flare looked visibly upset at the quality of it, but dutifully put it on anyway. My barding fit snugly on my body, and it made me feel a bit safer, though I wished I had something for Serenity. If we got back to Dise, getting her proper protection would be my number one priority. As I took a step towards the smirking mare, I felt something in the collar pockets of my barding. Reaching into it I saw a small mouth held device I had nearly forgot about.

“Oh you found it,” Blackwater chuckled. “The spark pulse emitter you stole from our base. Don't try it on us, but it might help you if you get attacked by a killer robot. Consider it a gift, because you aren't getting any guns. And no, you don’t get to keep it when you’re done. Also, if you’re thinking about using it to escape, don’t: everypony knows you have it, and half our guards are equipped with regular barding as a precaution.”

I hated it when ponies read my mind.

After that, we were led out of the camp and 'escorted' through the facility. It was a short, silent walk, and the only thing I could focus on was the door we were getting closer and closer too. Something was behind it, and, for who knows what reason, we were the ones who had to go find out what. Honestly I don't think Blackwater really cared, and just felt like putting me in a horrible position to watch me fail.

Oh, and I would fail.

“Look On The Bright Side, Hired,” Flare said from behind his rusty new Enclave mask. “We’ll Find Out What Wallkirk Was Doing. You Seem To Have Been Focusing On Him Lately, So It’ll Be Like An Adventure.” Oh yes, I did so love adventures. “You'll Be The First Pony To See This Facility In Two Hundred Years Without Being Killed.” As cool as that idea was, it didn't make much sense. If I had the password to unlock this place then the founders of Timber must have had it too, and why wouldn't they have gone exploring? For that matter I couldn't have been the only pony to scavenge stable 123 (and in fact I remember somepony saying it had been picked clean already) so somepony else must have downloaded the password.

Unless it required a pipbuck, but even then. Somepony must have been up there before, but then how come there were no records? I hated mysteries.

“Whatever you say, Flare.” I was too tired to argue. Sure I had slept for three days, but comas really don't count. I guess. If you could even call it a coma. Which I didn't.

We stopped in front of the door, and I finally got a good look at it. It was a simple little metal door with double bolt lock with a broken terminal beside it. With a creak Blackwater opened the door. “Here we are.” On the other side was a staircase. “Go at least five floors up so we can see that password's power. Or else.”

I heard the gentle whirl of my eye when I took my eye patch off and looked at Blackwater. There was a purple box around her, the highest threat level my eye gave. I don't know how it knew, but I was not about to argue. We took a few steps through the door as the door shut behind us.

“So. Any thoughts?” I asked to break the eerie silence.

“Well.” The bug-like eyes on Flare's mask looked up. “We Could Go Up There.”

“I'm with the walking plan.” Serenity said. Turning, I gave her my best 'seriously' look. As if she ever walked anywhere. Using her powers of mind reading Serenity gave me a sheepish smile before sticking her tongue out at me. “I stick by what I said. Mush!” She kicked my flanks and I was off.

We ran, up and up and up. The stair lasted way too long, but I suppose it made sense, given it was in the middle of a mountain.

At the top was a small grey room. On the ceiling, hunks of what were once a turret hung lazily down on a mess of wire. Directly in front of us was a smashed in door with a terminal beside it, and an open doors to either side. I took a few steps forward and listened to the silence. Only it wasn't silent. There was a steady hum of lights above, and deep within the pristine facility I heard the rattling of machinery. There was also a whirring sound right above us. Looking up, I saw a small black ball above us.

“A camera,” Serenity said, standing her forelegs on the back of my head to get a better look. “It's watching us.”

Something red twitched on my EFS. The sound of mechanical maneuvering came closer, and when I peered out the main broken door in front of us I saw the hallway split into a crossroad. Judging by the EFS marking, it was just about to turn the corner and—.

“INTRUDER ALERT! MINOTAUR SYMPATHIZERS WILL BE DEALT DEATH!” A cone shaped robot rolled around the corner. At the top if the cone was a see through section with what looked like eyes on every side, making Serenity 'ooooh' at it. However, when it started shooting gunks of green magical energy at us Serenity screamed and pointed hysterically at the nearby side door. I guess my password didn’t mean dick to these robots.

“Right!” I said diving towards it, a few steps behind Flare. A flash of heat hit my hind leg, making me cringe in pain and wish for med-x. I slid through the door, Serenity in tow, and kicked it shut. “This sucks!” I groaned and looked back at my smoking leg.

I quickly scanned the room as Serenity hopped off my back. Two plain brown desks were lined up on either side of the room, and one had a working terminal. In the centre of the room was a small pile of pink dust with a rifle lying beside it. Somewhere I remembered that magical weapons sometimes reduced ponies into ash... like that. Well ain't that grand.

I pulled the spark pulse emitter from its pocket and pointed my metal hoof at my black-clad friends. “Flare. Grab that desk and barricade the door. Serenity.” The tiny filly grinned up at me, nearly jumping for joy that she had something to do other than be captured and wait for rescue. “See if that computer-y thing controls the robots.” Without another word, she jumped over to it, as Flare flapped his wings and buzzed to the desk.

I turned my head to read the EFS and found the robot was getting shockingly close. It's voice rang through the door, “DO NOT THINK TO HIDE FROM JUSTICE!”

“Do Not Think To Hide From My Cock!” Flare yelled as he slid the desk over. Obviously, I raised an eyebrow at him. “I Don't Think Well Under Pressure!” he said, punctuating with a grunt. That was a good enough reason for a bad joke, so I didn't pressure him, and instead positioned myself beside the barricaded door.

“Serenity, anything?” I asked, huddled down with the spark pulse emitter in my mouth. So far this exploration was going wonderfully.

“Nothing but reports! Something about sending security guards to eastern tunnels because of a mass walk off. Talk of orbs, and stuff I don't understand.” That was hardly helpful. “Sorry, there ain't no nothing about deactivating robots.” She looked a little bit sad.

Something slammed into the door, making it shudder.

“Serenity, hide!” I screamed. The pink filly dutifully zipped behind the remaining desk and stayed there. Flare however was not so smart, and so stood near the door, his scorpion tail swinging back and forth. The door shuddered again and I crouched and watched as it screamed.

“DEFECTORS WILL BE BURNED!” There was a subtle whoosh and fire. The wooden door and desk became kindling. My heart lept into my throat, and I ran backwards as the flames licked at me. A colt was running through the fire screaming. I watched him until the pyres shuddered and snapped and the cone shaped robot burst through, spraying globs of green. “TRAITORS WILL BE SHOT!”

The hulking beast of a robot seemed to target Flare and fired a volley of green bolts at him. The black armoured pegasus was having none of that. Say what you want about that pegasus, but, damn, he was agile (I'm sure High Stakes would agree [This is not the right time for that sort of thinking!]) and quick. I sat watching, dumbfounded, trying to regain my senses from the fire. Why did it always have to be fire?

“Dammit!” A green bolt clipped his wings. Shit, I should be helping. Standing up, I charged the robot. It ignored me. More bolts of green energy flew out at Flare. Something slammed into his helmet just as I jumped. Flare screamed. The full force of my body slammed into the cone shaped thing sending it tilting. There was a crash as it fell over, me on top of it.

“RESISTANCE IS FUTI—.” I slammed the spark pulse emitter into what I figured was it's head. Electricity danced over its body as the thing writhed and shut down.

There was not time to celebrate my victory. I quickly dashed over to Flare who was struggling on the floor. So he was alive, but when I tried to stop him and looked at his mask I saw a blackened hole where his helmet's bug like eye was. “Flare are yo—.”

“Stupid, Broken-Ass Piece Of Shit!” He slammed his hooves to either side of his head and slowly removed his helmet with a hiss. Underneath Flare looked, well, perfectly fine. “You just can't talk in these things!” He threw the helmet into the inferno that was still raging. “I should have brought my quality armour, not this shit.” He looked up to me his pink eyes glimmering. “Way to take your time back there? Looking for some roast pegasus, huh?”

“I...” Shuffled my hooves a little. “The fire. I wasn't expecting...” It felt like my sight glazed over for a second before Flare patted me on the back.

“Yeah yeah, you and your trauma and regrets, I get it.” He smirked and trotted past me, over to Serenity (who at some point had come out of hiding and was perched on the fallen mechanical monster to strip it of its energy weapon and flamer) and looked past her to the fiery remains of the door and desk. “That didn't work at all. Any chance fighting this robot will be enough to please that bitch?” Hey, the password doesn’t work on robots, have fun fighting them. Yeah, that’d work.

“I doubt it.” I said. “She'll want more. Search out a few floors for a way to turn them off at least. If she's not happy then...”

“We get toasted.” Flare laughed. “Well, I'll say this Hired, you always take me to the most interesting places. Perhaps we should get captured by tribals next, then be forced into an active volcano as a sacrifice. It'd be par the course.” That sounded likely actually. Caledonia seemed the sort of country to have a random volcano just to torture me with. And now that I thought it, it was bound to happen. Because everything hated me.

“Or a plant monster. Captured by tribals. Sacrificed to plant-monster-goddess.” Might as well give the universe more options for my impending torture.

“Maybe there’s a giant mechanical god in this facility that wants to feed on our DNA and turn us into robots,” Serenity added, sticking her head out of the robot, her mouth full of wires. “That'd be so cool!” I facehoofed and shook my head at the filly. That would not be cool at all.

“Right.” I sighed. Now that our future entrapment was decided, I had more pressing issues on hand. “Anypony have a fire extinguisher?” I asked, looking at the flames blocking the only entrance.

---

We did, in the end, find a fire extinguisher and extinguish our way out of the room. After picking up the rifle in the middle of the room (it had three shots), Serenity urged us to check out the room across the hall. We did and found one of the terminals locked out with the message: “Safe Bet Security Terminal Access Failed. Please Contact Your Supervisor.” The second had a list of ponies who were allowed special access. Most of the names were redacted. Which, by the way, was really bloody helpful.

So we left that room and walked up to the crossroads. Three different hallways leading three different ways, and I had to wonder whose idea it was to make the complex so confusing. If only I had a map. Oh wait. I stopped and lifted up my pipbuck. This thing was supposed to have maps and stuff.

As we stood there waiting, there was a whirring sound, and something slammed into the ground hard enough to shake the floor. That was a terrible sign. Looking behind us I saw the hallway we came through was suddenly blocked by a large steel wall. Which was not there a second ago. On it there was a sign that said 'If You Are Reading This A Code Yellow Warning Has Been Issued And All Exits Will Be Locked While Security Looks Into The Matter, It Will Be Cleared In 24 Hours, Or Until Security Gives The All Clear. Please Be Calm”

“That makes me calm,” Flare said, smirking at me. “What about you, Hired? Feel calm being trapped here?”

“Positively peaceful.” Trapped here for a day without any med-x. Maybe if I found a bathroom medical kit...

“Stop Where You Are!” We were already stopped so that didn't take much. “What Are You Doing Violating These Hallowed Halls?” the booming voice continued from what I assumed to be hidden speakers. Looking up, I saw another black bubble above us. I just loved being watched.

“Looking for treasure, and riches,” Flare nickered. “What're you doing?”

“Do Not Question Me! We Control This Facility!” the voice boomed. As if I really cared. I just made a mental note to inform Blackwater of the crazy pony. “Intruders Will Be Terminated!” Blips on my EFS started showing up. Quickly turning my head I saw two red dots on the left and one more on my right. None were in front of me (and obviously none behind), and I had to imagine the ones on either side were closing in.

“I don't have time for this.” My newly acquired rifled fired, and its bullet slammed into the black dome shattering it in a shower of sparks and shrapnel. “Let's go.” It was a waste of a bullet, but I was not in the mood to deal with megalomaniacs. The hallway zipped past us as I led my merry crew through the forward passageway where my EFS was reading nothing currently trying to kill me. I don't know what I would’ve without it.

Actually I did know, and the answer was get shot a lot and lose body parts.

The white hallways were unnerving, and the lights above were far too bright for me. It almost felt like they were boring into my skull. How could a place like this still have power? The walls, at least, were not entirely white (a beige off-white actually) and were at least interesting. Pre-war posters. You know stuff like, “If You See A Spy Report Him,” accompanied with a picture of a Minotaur sneaking around with a bandit mask and a brief case. You know, classy stuff.

“Where are we going?” Flare asked.

“Forward,” came my reply. To be honest, I didn't have any idea at all. This place was confusing, and without a map we could wander for hours. Not to mention the plethora of robots following us. Each time I looked up and saw a little black orb looking down at us I wanted to shoot it. However, my rifle only had two shots left and I couldn't waste them.

“Apt. I mean, we're supposed to explore five stories of this place to figure out what dangers your pipbuck can bypass, or access, or whatever. So far we have killer robots and insane ponies on the speakers out of our reach.” Flare shook his head. “And that's on the first floor. The password has some effect apparently, but it ain’t gunna give them a free ride, what else do they need to know?”

“We could go that way,” Serenity said from my back. When I looked back I could see she was pointing at a glowing sign that said 'Cafeteria'. “Might be a floor plan there,” Serenity explained. “Some of the pre-war buildings put maps in places like that so ponies knew where the exits were in case of fire.” It was worth a shot, but from what I had seen this place had only one exit.

For half a second I wondered if maybe it did have another exit. A way out apart from the way we entered. If that was possible then maybe, just maybe, we could get out of Blackwater's grasp. She was a bitch, and I knew in my gut that when we came back she was going to kill us.

“Good thinking,” I said to Serenity and followed the sign.

It was easier this way. It was better to run through the halls of an ancient facility than to think of what happened, of what I’d lost. Of how badly I’d failed my friends, and how I got them into this situation. Part of me wanted to blame High Stakes (and I did) but maybe if I’d listened to him. Or maybe... maybe if I had realized he wasn't trustworthy. If I had thought that maybe Smooth Tongue would try something. If I were a smarter pony. If I hadn't kicked Smooth Tongue out that window and started this whole mess. I had failed, utterly and completely. And running around let me forget it. If only for a moment.

My face still stung from where I had been shot. I had been lucky enough not to die, but I had been too afraid to look in a mirror and see how much it had messed me up. Another blemish, another scar. Like so many before, it was another mark of failure, another sign of my incompetence. Like my leg, and eye, and ear. My failures built up like the damage to my body.

It was too much. I had to think of something else. As we slowly traversed to facility towards the sign of 'cafeteria', I looked at the doors we passed and left un-scavenged. All of them seemed to be storage rooms, and were marked with that they held. One said 'terminals' while another was marked 'wiring', and a third stated, 'electronic handbooks and guides.' You'd think the guides would be first, but I figured I understood the reason. This place was made so ponies could rebuild, or at least that was the facade. So the first few floors would be for inspection, and above that was whatever the facility was really used for.

Megaspells.

At least if Flare could be trusted (so much had happened, and that was up in the air. I wanted to trust him, but sometimes it was difficult). Even still, the very thought of megaspells would leave any gang of Dise watering at the mouth. And they were going to the Steel Rangers. At least with Steel Rangers, chances were they would just hoard the technology, instead if use it like most anypony else in Dise. So that was good. Unless somepony gave Blackwater the big red button.

So, what? I had to stop her from getting whatever tech was in this facility, but how? I was weak from being out for days and, you know, being shot in the face. Not to mention I may or may not have been addicted, and without med-x I wasn't really strong enough to take on the brunt of the Steel Rangers’ forces. So I needed to stop her, and I needed a plan. I was terrible at plans.

“There!” Serenity pointed from my back. Never mind the fact it was hard to see somepony pointing while they were riding me, I still knew what she was pointing at. Above a set of double doors straight ahead of us was the word 'Cafeteria' in bright gold. I guess this was the place. So, I opened the door.

It wasn't a cafeteria -- I realized a second after opening the door -- it was was graveyard. The cafeteria had a mostly open second story, with stairs around the far walls leading to a balcony level, and the entire area was littered with tables and skeletons. There had to be at least a hundred in the large cafeteria, and nearly all were hunched over tables, their faces in food trays (the food must have rotted away), while others were flopped on the floor. It was like everypony had gone to sleep where they were, and then just died.

“Do You See Now You Can't Escape?” the voice boomed across the cafeteria. “You Have No Chance, Make Your Time.”

“Didn't we tell the loud voice ta shut up already?” Serenity hopped off my back to glare at the nearest ceiling camera. “You're a butt!” she yelled at it. “If I had mah pistol I'd shoot ya.” Good girl. Always shoot the loud voices from nowhere. It was the proper thing to do.

“Foals! Feel The Wrath Of My Protectitrons!”

“That's a stupid name!” Serenity countered. She made such a compelling argument I had to agree. “Ack!” Looking up at the balcony I saw two of those rolling, cone-shaped robots. They were shooting at us. I pushed Serenity back with my leg and slid in front of her. A green bolt slammed into my chest.

“Fuck!” The front of my chest was on fire. A section of coat was burned off and it looked like it was melting. It hurt. Dammit, If only I’d had a med-x.

More bolts of green energy were falling towards us. Flare was the smart one and flipped a nearby table. I grabbed Serenity and dove for it. We huddled behind as green energy slammed into it. I could smell burning wood. “So, any plans?” I grunted, holding my chest with my good leg.

“Well.... We have how many shots in that rifle?” Flare said licking his lips. “Because unless you got a full mag and good aim I don't think those things are going down. We can't get close enough to spark'em.” He chuckled. “Great, I'm going to be killed by giant, death-spewing dildos. What a way to go.”

My metal leg hit his head lightly. “Not in front of Serenity. Also, are your jokes getting worse?” For one they didn't even look like dildos... not that I knew what those looked like. At all. “I have two shots. Take one out. If I have good aim.” And even that didn't seem likely. It wasn't a particularly good rifle.

...Is it bad?...

I jolted upright and looked at my companions. Did they hear that too? Their faces looked contemplative. No... it was just me. A word on the wind. I did not like. I hated hearing voices. Closing my eyes I forced the words away. Just going insane. That's all. No big deal.

A burning sensation slammed into my back. Swearing, I pushed away from the sideways table to see a blackened hole where my back was resting. Note to self: tables make terrible cover. Enough of this shit. I had a rifle, time to use it. I reared up and planted my fore hooves in the table for stability. Mouth fired rifle. I hated them, but I was a damn good shot. My first bullet cracked into the coned creatures clear top. The second shattered it in a flurry of electronics. Noticeably the green energy waves had been reduced to one at a time.

“One to go.” My chest burned, and my back was blackened by magical energy. I hated robots. Hate, hate, hated them. The table we were hiding behind wasn't fairing much better then me. One side was blackened, and now it had numerous holes penetrating it. This fight was going well.

“I have an idea.” All eyes turned to Serenity who was crouching low the ground. She didn't look afraid at all. I was so proud of her. “Those things have wheelies, not like hooves. So if we can, like, lure it over to the stairs, and it tries to go down'em.” They'd probably fall in a heap. Aha! That was genius! My daughter was a genius! I mean my... filly was. Oh, whatever. It made this fight much easier without turning into blackened bacon.

“Serenity, I love you.” I told her, earning a high pitched giggle. “But I need you to stay here.” She pouted but nodded. All right Silver. Time to use your totally existent leadership and battle-planning skills. I stood up briefly to get a look at the room but had to duck when a shot of green energy singed my mane. The closest staircase was to our right, and from the look of it, there were enough tables to form a makeshift path so we wouldn't get burned alive. “Flare, you're faster and better protected. Run past, overturn the tables.” They made shitty cover, but I couldn't really bring in better cover so they would have to make do. “I'll follow, and lure it over. If it doesn't bite, I'll charge.

“I like plans when you charge at fire-spewing mechanical monsters.” I pointed my hoof the direction he was to head. With half a chuckle, he zoomed off, flipping tables as he went. Luckily for me they all landed sideways, providing the most cover possible.

“Serenity.” I smiled down at her. “Be good and stay here, okay?” She gave me an unsure nod. It was the best I was going to get. Not wasting another second, I took off.

I had thought of diving from cover to cover, but decided against it. I needed to get from point A to point B as fast as possible. So I took off in a full gallop. The mechanical pain in the flank kept firing the whole time. Green blasts of energy zipped past me. One hit my flank, making me cry out but not slow down. Just had to keep running. I got to the end only a little worse for wear, and slid behind the table Flare had set up beside the staircase.

“Took you long enough.” Flare nickered. “Think I almost died of old age.”

“Your material is getting stale.” He just shrugged as I peeked around the edge of the table. Just like we had expected, the machine was rolling closer to the staircase. “I'm having doubts.”

“About this plan, or your direction in life?”

A green bolt flared towards my face, and I had to duck back behind cover as it left a shallow, blackened hole in the ground.

“Yes.”

Okay, deep breaths. Just needed it to wheel a bit further, then I would pop out and hope it was stupid enough to roll forward. Simple. Assuming the programmer was like me. That is, an idiot. “All right.” It rolled in front of the staircase to get a better shot. Good, exactly as planned. Now I just needed to run into the line of fire, and hope everything didn't suck. “Wish me luck.” Flare just gave me an over exaggerated salute and pushed me into the line of fire.

I stumbled out. There was a pause as I turned my head up at the robot. It, however, didn’t pause at all and unleashed a torrent of green bolts at me. Shit, it wasn't rolling forward. Green blasts flared past me, too fast to dodge. Something hit my good leg, and I fell, smoking and stumbling. Bad, bad idea. It was right there on the edge. Just a little further forward and it'd tip. I swear, if I found the pony that programmed that robot, I would stab them.

I struggled to my hooves, only to drop again when a green bolt slammed into my forehead. Pain raged through my body. I was going to die. Gunned down by a cone with wheels. I guess it was time for plan B.

Charge!

With my usual grace, I stopped caring and started running forward into the blasts. I tore the spark pulse emitter from my pocked mid-stride. Just had to get up the stairs and—. There was a flurry of pink behind the robot. A blast of green fired at the pink blur. Serenity screeched but kept running. She hit the robot, that was already teetering, with all her filly might. There was a slight pause as it thought about tipping over. It fell.

That part of the plan worked well. Rolling cones were not made for going down stairs and it started clanging and tumbling it's way down. Right at me. Welp, this was going to suck. I tried to jump as high as I could as it rolled towards me. But I was running up stairs, and it was difficult! My heart soared as I managed to clear it with my forelegs. However, my hopes were dashed as it slammed into my back legs.

I staggered in midair. My forehooves flailed. Suddenly, I was falling head first. I stuck my metal hoof out. I felt it slam into the ground, sending the shock waves up my shoulder. Right after, my face hit home. There was a stabbing pain through my jaw, followed by a throbbing pain. The stair was cool on my face though, so I just laid there a minute. Closed my eyes and thought of home. Of Wildfire sleeping beside me, curled in my hooves. Of Foundation hiding behind my legs whenever she met somepony new.

“Hired. Hey Hired. Come in, Hired. Robots have been defeated. You can stop napping now.” I, what? My eyes shot open and I saw Flare hovering above me with a disapproving smile. “Oh, so you are awake. Thought the fall put you to bed. Again.” You know what this day needed? Another coma.

Just then I remembered the filly’s scream. “Serenity!” I jumped to my hooves and pushed past the ponderous pegasus and up the stairs. Serenity was sitting on her haunches fussing over a nasty looking burn mark on her side. The wound looked to have burned the coat and scorched the skin, but I don't think it was a direct hit. Serenity didn't seem that concerned about it, but when she poked it, she winced.

“Did'ja see that, momma?!” Her grey eyes filled with excitement as she saw me come limping over. “I totally beat that thing up, it was so awesome. Stupid thing shot at me though,” she huffed, looking at her injured side. “Hey can I ge—.”

“No, you can not get a cybernetic replacement.” She tried her pouty look thing, but that wasn't going to work. “It's not bad enough for a replacement. A healing potion maybe, but that might be a waste.” There was a look of confusion on her face before she slowly realized I was joking with her. Apparently that was unheard of.

“Well I guess if you didn't get one for your face then ah can deal with my battle wound.” She looked down at her 'battle' wound with a proud smile. It wasn't the first time she had gotten hurt in one of my fights, but it was the first fight she got hurt in that wasn’t emotionally upsetting after the fact. So I let her have that moment...

Wait. What about my face?

“What about my face?” I asked, scrunching up my muzzle. I mean, the whole thing was still slightly sore for the whole being-shotgunned thing, but that was mostly gone due to the med-x.

Serenity blinked at me and gave a confused smile. “You... saw your face right?... Right? I mean --” She gulped a little and looked up worriedly at Flare when he came floating down. “Cause it's kinda...” She and Flare shared a concerned look and I felt my heart sink. I don't think I wanted to know.

“Figured Blackwater would want to taunt you a little with a mirror or something. Uh...” His pink eyes darted about, finding what looked like a cafeteria serving station on the wall (might I stop to point out how stupid it was to have the food on the second floor and the seating on the first) with a shiny metal sneeze guard. “Try that, might be reflective.”

Right. Just walk over there and look at myself in the mirror. How bad could that be? I mean, not like they were being really vague about it or anything. Or like I was shot. In the head. Just take a peek, couldn't hurt. Maybe if it was bad I could get face cybernetics like The Laughing Stallion.

...Tell me... what is the nature of a hero?...

Honestly, that question was beginning to drive me mad. Did it even matter? It was just some stupid riddle that was stuck in my head. Pushing it to the back of my mind, I stepped up and looked down at the reflective metal.

Well. That didn't look pleasant. The entire right side of my muzzle (and parts of my neck) was criss crossed with large pink scars that protruded from the surface of my face. Entire sections were missing and replaced with scar tissue. It was almost as if my face had been clawed apart and hastily put back together. The sight of it made my stomach turn. I wanted to take a step back, to look at anything else, but it was... fascinating, in a horrifying way.

“You got lucky, you know,” Flare said from behind me. “Way I heard it, you turned just in time. Any later and the blast would have taken off half your skull. There was some ricochet of course, but nothin' got into your brain pan. So you're lucky...” Lucky. I slowly moved my hoof up to touch the scars. “Some got in your eye too, but the right one... I wasn't there, but apparently it was nasty. Nearly lost you on account of blood loss, and had to stitch you together in short order. Apparently it wasn't easier. Swelling in the scars should go down in time, and it won't look so bad then...” Not look so bad. Yeah. But it looked bad. Like I'd gone five rounds with a Hellhound.

The scars ached and made me wince. It hurt, for some reason. My face had never been beautiful, or pretty, or anything like that, but seeing it like that wracked my gut. I'd lost an eye, an ear and a leg, what was half a face? Another mark, another blemish. Maybe this time I'd learn how to stop getting my stupid head in trouble. It was just... looking at my face was too much. It'd been such a long, frustrating day, and everything had gone wrong. I was weak and lost and betrayed by a pony I had thought I trusted. Part of me just wanted to just lie down and sleep. Let the world pass me by, it didn't need me. I never did anything for it but fuck up.

“Momma? Momma, are you crying?” Great, blubbering over facial scars. Some hero I turned out to be. “Momma?”

“It's nothing.” I wiped the tears from my eyes. It wasn't the scars that hurt, just what they represented. At least I was alive though. How many ponies got shot in the face and survived to be chased by robots days later? “Never mind, let’s g—.”

“Do Not Think I Will Allow You To Escape That Easily!” the booming speaker voice cut me off. That was starting to get on my nerves. “Robopony Robots Are Not Felled That Easily! They Are Equipped With Self Repair Talismans To Repair Critical, Yet Non-Destructive Damage!”

“What, exactly does that mean?” I asked. The green bolt that zipped by my ear a second later answered that question. Turning around I saw the Protectitron that I'd shot in it's 'head' whirl and start moving slowly towards us. “Oh, fuck that.”

I’d had enough of robots. I’d had enough of being shot. And I’d had enough of this stupid, fucking facility. My hooves pumped me forward in a vicious charge. The thing was still right up against the guardrail that marked the end balcony, so when I hit it with my full force, we hit said rail. There was no pause or hesitation. One second, I charged into it so hard my shoulder throbbed, the next we were airborne.

My head slammed into the robot as we crashed into the ground. I felt blood trickle down my face and over my scars. That didn't matter. I sat up and pinned the Protectitron on its side with my massive weight. Not even bothering to take out my spark pulse emitter, I slammed my hoof down on the stupid thing. Then again, and again. I kept smashing it with my hoof until its side was torn asunder in metal and wires.

“Stupid.” My hoof slammed into it again. “Fucking.” My mouth clamped around some wires and I pulled back tearing them out. “Machine!” When I was done, I was standing over a pile of scrap metal and breathing in short raspy breaths. There, it was fucking destroyed. Could I just get this shit over with already?

“Hired...” Flare was beside me. When did he get there? “Are you okay?” No. No I really wasn't. It was just too much. Too fast. I needed to get out of this place. Part of me wanted to run and hide, go back to Dise. Live the rest of my life with Platinum Haze where things made sense. “Hired... you're creeping me out. Seriously...”

...Just talk to me Silver! Let me in! I... I just want to help!...

“I need a drink.” I pushed past Flare and closed my eyes, ignoring the voices in my head. Just needed to get a drink and get my senses back. Everything would be alright.

---

We couldn't find anything to sate my thirst, which was unfortunate. On the bright side, on the other side of the cafeteria bar, under the counter, there were cans of baked beans and a box of BUCKO cereal. Both with the label 'Guaranteed to last two hundred years, or your money back!'. Well, we ate it and didn't die of food poisoning, so I guess we wouldn't have to go to any corporate offices and demand our caps back. We didn't leave right away after eating though, as both Serenity and Flare seemed to think we had to rest. I didn't want to. Vainly, I hoped that maybe we could find a security office, open the entrance again, turn off the robots from there, and leave within a few hours. The longer they insisted we wait, the more I realized that just wasn't possible.

“Why are you fidgeting so much?” Flare raised an eyebrow at me.

“I'm not,” I said as I tapped my forehooves on the table (we had to relieve it of its dead occupants) we were sitting at. “Just waiting.” Tappity tap. Well, with my hooves, it was more like 'tappity smash', but it achieved the same effect. The facility was just getting to me. Not counting the long dead bodies, everything was too clean, too white, and the lights were too bright. Just. Getting into my headspace.

“You need to rest, Hired.” Flare gave me a grim look. I disagreed, I had slept for three days, I needed to get moving. “You look like shit.”

“Yeah, yeah, scars.” I wanted to touch them, to feel the way they marred my skin, but it didn't matter. What was a scar? Just because I had nearly died, and got them from somepony I thought was a friend. It didn't matter. Just another scar.

“I mean, hell, you shouldn't even be here. After what you've been through, you should be resting, not running around this shitty place.” Yeah, I agreed, but so what? We needed to keep going if we wanted to get out. “After everything that happened back at Bridle Hope... it's got to be eating up you up, I mean—.”

My metal hoof cracked into the table. “I'm fine, Flare.” Fine. So what if the Crimson Hoof had taken over the town I tried to save? Who cared that I’d been betrayed and shot in the face? Not me. I was only being stupidly vain because of the scars. It didn't matter, we just needed to move on. The light was just giving me a headache. “Just have to beat them back later.”

“Momma are yo—.”

“Fine.” I stood up abruptly. Sitting there for a second longer would have driven me insane. “Just fine.” My cybernetic eye scanned the area. We were back on the bottom floor, and I remembered there being a door with a terminal up on the second floor balcony beside the serving area. It wasn't much, but it'd get us one floor up. Only had to go up five floors to make Blackwater happy. Then I could go back to Dise and sleep for a year.

They followed me when they saw where I was going. Good, I really didn't want to go on without them. They exchanged worried whispers though. I'm not sure why. I had been through worse. Nearly lost them both with my eye after Karkhoof. This was easy compared to that. So long as I kept moving and didn’t dwell.

The door was just off to the right of the serving area, right beside an entrance to the kitchens. Part of me wanted to go scavenge in there for melee weapons, but at that range my hooves or the spark pulse emitter would do far more damage. So what was the point? Instead, I walked up to the terminal hanging on the wall.

//Input password//

Oh, that was easy. I help up my pipbuck-ed leg and looked down at it to see it was still on the same screen that Blackwater left it on back on the main level of the centre. All it took was a press and it started glowing and screeching and making my shoulder sting again. Just like before.

//Magical Input Recognized//

//Analyzing...//

//Password Accepted//

With that the metal door slid open, opening a new hallway to us. That was... convenient. I suppose having the master key to the whole facility wasn't really a bad thing.

“Must have been annoying putting in the password every time you wanted to get something to eat.” Flare said as we walked through the door. It was a good point, at least until I saw an old boot by the door with strange markings on it. It took me a few seconds to realize it was probably used to prop the door open to avoid the password every time. Because who cares about security?

“Do you know where we’re going, Hired?”

Forward. Because if we kept going forward maybe we would get to where we needed to go. Not that I knew where we were going. “Uh.” I looked around the hallway. Dull and white. I was beginning to think it was designed to drive ponies insane. “No.”

“Oh good.” Flare seemed pleased. “For a second there I thought you finally had a clue.”

I didn't respond except to look over and give him a glare. Dealing with him was just hurting my head, more than it already hurt. We walked for a while in near-silence (except for the humming of lights). Serenity had tried to jump on my back, but quickly jumped back off once she saw the rather large laser wound that might as well have been still smoking.

Twice the “great” voice on the speakers yelled at us, but we ignored him. It was nothing important, just more 'You know not what you do!' and 'Continue at your peril'. The usual shit nopony cared about.

Unlike all the rooms on the first floor, the ones we passed all seemed to be a series of offices. We didn’t really explore that much into them as all the terminals were locked, and it’d take too much work to use my pipbuck on them all for little information they might hold. The offices were all really creepy, too, because each and every one had skeletons still sitting at their desks. Unmoved for centuries.

Even stranger was that as we walked through the halls, I noticed a skeleton lying on the floor clutching a mop. A bucket was beside it (empty). It was as if he just dropped dead in the middle of mopping. Even with radiation, death takes a while, so why not here?

“Turn right,” Serenity said abruptly. We were at yet another crossroads in the facility. “I said right, c'mon.”

“Why?” I asked shortly. Every direction looked the same to me, except for the signs on the doors.

“‘Cause I stole the map from the cafeteria, and it says this way is tha security offices.” Looking down, she did have a map floating out in front of her. I felt her magic before, but just assumed she was carrying Scootaborg. Of course... she never did get her back after she threw her at that pony in Bridle Hope. “There we might find a place to unlock the front door, or turn them robots off or something.” That was a good point. She sure was resourceful.

“Well, lets go.” I offered her a weak smile. Guilt was starting to rise up from the way I had been acting. I did want to apologize for being quiet and broody, but I couldn't think of the words, so I kept walking.

---

The security offices came up surprisingly fast and with very little fanfare. In that the there was a huge sign, a metal cage-like wall, and a locking door just to get into the wing. Of course, locked doors did not trouble me much at all. One buck later and we were inside the wing, looking around. The first thing I noticed was that there were no security cameras. I guess nopony watched the security ponies.

“Whaddya think’s in here?” Serenity asked as she trotted over the nearest door. A simple wooden door that said 'Internal and External Information And Analysis Center.' My guess was information. So I opened the door without another word.

Inside was a shockingly small room with a single desk with a skeleton face down on a broken terminal for decoration. Another pony that just happened to drop dead where it was sitting. You'd think the entire place had been poisoned from the number of casual corpses we found. Two doors flanked either side of the desk. One read 'Observation Chamber' and the other, 'Exterior Information Gathering.'

“Now.” Flare walked over and tapped the second door. “I've never been here before, nor have I ever worked security, but to me, that's a fancy way of saying spying.” Oh, I guess that was a good point. “So I say we start here.” Sure, what could possibly go wrong?

The long skinny room felt a little bit cramped. Two rows of desks lined either wall and they all glowed green with monitors. Most distressing was at the end of the room was three clear pods with three deactivated Protectitrons. I didn't want to be anywhere near those things, but it seemed my companions didn't care and trotted in anyway.

“So.” I walked into the centre of the room. “Looking for door controls. Or floor plans. Details of security systems. Something to appease Blackwater.

... Please... Show me what you found...

“Fuck off, Smooth Tongue!” Before I finished saying it, I realized I had just yelled at a voice in my head. Not going crazy at all. By the looks my friends gave me, I don't think they believed that. “Uh, I mean, then we can get out of here and fuck over Smooth Tongue.” They didn't seem to believe me at all. “Just... go do those things. With the terminals.” They kept staring. “Just do it!”

Serenity huffed a little and ran over to the nearest terminal, while Flare just laughed. He did go do as I asked once I glared at him though. If there was one thing to say for hideous facial scars, they sure put the scare in ponies. I suppose I could have helped out with the computer hacking but... uh. I was bad with technology. Even at my best I could only sometimes get my pipbuck light to work properly. I didn't really want to risk anything.

So, instead, I sat in the middle of the chamber (the floor was really cold) and stared off into space. This place made it hard for me to think right. For some reason, I kept picturing High Stakes lying bloody and beaten at my hooves. It was such a sweet day dream too. I could almost hear his pleas for mercy. Smell his blood pooling around him. It was exciting. I could hardly wait until we met again, so I could teach him not to leave a job half done.

“Hired.” Huh. “Yo, Hired. Damn, you've been spacing out a lot.” Flare wasn't turned to me, but he was waving me over with his wing. “This thing needs a password to get into some deep files. Try your magical pipbuck!” Right. Slowly I rose back to my hooves and trotted over the glowing green screen. My pipbuck was still on the 'super-password' part of the menu so I just pressed activate.

With a flash of lights and the burning of my shoulder, the screen flickered and Flare laughed in victory. With a furious series of taps his pink eyes started scanning, a subtle green glow illuminating his face.

“Anything interesting?” I asked.

“Reports and reports, some crazy shit.” He seemed at least mildly amused. “Whoever was running this facility had spies all over the place.” He tapped the screen. “Reports from ponies placed in the Equestrian Ministry of Morale, Ministry of Image, Stable-Tec itself! Something called the 'OIA' as well, but I'm not sure what that even means.” So?

“Pre-war shit,” I growled. “Who cares?”

“Well. You got somepony making a lot of enemies, means they might design their security to counter these enemies. Get it? Could be useful stuff.” Right. I'm not sure if that made any sense or if Flare was just justifying his curiosity. Chances are it was a little bit of both. “Or even better, look!”

On the grainy green screen was a crudely drawn map. Flare hit a few buttons and the map shifted and rotated rising to another floor. A few more clicks and it moved fast sideways and turned into a map of a large factory. “See the legend in the corner?” Flare said. Sure enough in the corner there was some words written. “Tells me what to type to see what I want to see. Think it comes on every terminal in this place so folk don't get lost.” That would have been useful hours ago. “But look. This place has entire sections for weapons manufacturing. Living quarters spread out across the facility. Hell, we've only been through the administration offices. Look at all this!” Flare’s eyes were wide as he scrolled through the map. “It's just. Shit. I knew it was large ‘cause I was stationed in a base at the top, but this is insane! It was like a city!”

It was... Rather impressive. As he scrolled, newer and newer areas just kept opening up. “How did Wallkirk pay for this?”

“He didn't.” Flare flicked a few more thing bringing up a list. “Look here, the Caledonian military paid for the bunker in case of war, and Stable-Tec paid to have supplies saved for stable 123. Wallkirk owned the mountain, and combined the two to create... whatever the hell this place is.” Flare looked deadly serious. “If the Steel Rangers got complete control of this facility...”

...Then the wasteland would instantly have a new superpower. Even if there weren’t any megaspells here. So we were about to hand the most dangerous fuckers in the wasteland a small city whose entire purpose was manufacturing weapons and storing technology. Fucking lovely. The only thing I could think to do was try and delete the password from my pipbuck. If I could do that, then maybe Blackwater wouldn't be able to get to the more dangerous areas. Some NCA pony mentioned to me once that the robots made scavenging impossible, though I imagine the door also had something to do with that.

“Momma... you might wanna see this,” Serenity said from her terminal across the room.

“Already seen the map,” I said, still watching the map.

“It's about the password.” I turned and ran down to where she was. “Read this.” She pointed at her terminal.

Listen Grinder. I understand you have some trepidations against the magical master key, but understand, it's only for extreme circumstances. What is the likelihood of the world ending anytime soon? Besides, the Stable is only programmed to give out the password five times before it deletes itself. And only onto a pipbuck, and they aren't exactly commonplace. And even if they were, if the pony wearing it gets killed or their pipbuck ripped off, the password deletes itself. Sure, once it's on the pipbuck it can be copied but only once, and the copied password can't be moved or copied itself. Nopony is ever going to use it anyway because we're going to win the war, so stop worrying. See? This is not something we put on without proper precautions.”

“See, I'm thinking thas why them Steel Rangers kept you alive. They must have found out the way it works an' kept you alive so you could transfer it to Blackwater here, ya know?” So she already had a copy of the password and was just fucking with me.

“Great.” There went my plan of deleting the password. Now I had to fucking kill her. Well, assuming I got out alive. Wiping some sweat from my brow, I looked over the email again. “Why did she send us here again?”

“Well,” Flare said from across the room, “to find out the security and tell her what to expect. Though, given what we know, I’m going to bet she knew the security systems and sent us here to kill as many robots as we can before we die. Then she'll probably grab the tapes of it after she cleans the place out to laugh. Don't you love it when ponies fuck with us?”

“It's great.” I groaned.

“Oh, shit.” Huh. My head snapped to Flare who was frantically pressing at buttons as his screen flashed red. “Shitshitshit. That's not good. It locked me out and it might be starting up th—.”

A flash of green energy sped past my face. Serenity started to scream. I pushed her behind me. When I turned, three cone-shaped robots were rolling towards me. Lowering myself, I felt my knees shake. Dammit, I felt so weak. These things were going to roll right through me. Having no other choice, I quickly flanked right, crouched under the nearest desk, and threw it across the skinny room. That should hold them.

As soon as the desk shifted into their path there was a burst of fire. Flames licked at me, and I could smell pieces of mane singing. Fire. Why did it always have to be fire? I took a shaky step back, unable to look away from the flames.

...They say time heals all wounds... but it doesn't fix scars...

Out of the flames of the desk I saw something. At first I didn't believe it, but I know what I saw. From the burning desk a small colt with a hole in it's leg was crawling out. His mane was flames, but he had the brightest blue eyes. When our eyes met, I reached out a hoof to him. I had to pull him out. To save him. I couldn't kill him again. Just a little closer and I could pull him out. It was so simple.

“Hired, you idiot.” Something tugged on my tail. “We run away from fire, not towards it.” Looking back, I saw a blue pegasus tugging at my tail. Flare. Right. How could I forget? “C'mon!” I blinked and turned back to Post Haste... to find him missing. Tears stung my eyes. I was so close. Why did Flare stop me?

“Momma, you're scaring me.”

I shook my head, dislodged the tears, threw Serenity onto my back, and ran the fuck out of that room. Post Haste was dead, but Serenity was alive. Had to keep moving or this place would kill us or drive us crazy. Maybe both. This whole place reminded me of something I couldn't place my hoof on. Whatever, keep running.

Flare slammed the door behind us. Without waiting for Serenity to jump off my back, I ran to one side of the desk in that room and pushed it until it was directly in front of the door, blocking it. It wouldn't hold them for long, but it'd buy us some time.

“This way.” Serenity pointed at the door marked 'Observation Room.' Well, it was as good a choice as any. If we hid near the door we could jump them one by one... hopefully.

We quickly scurried into the room as a robotic voice boomed. “OBSTRUCTION DETECTED! PROBABILITY OF MISSION HINDRANCE: ZERO PERCENT!”

Closing the door, I checked to make sure Serenity was all right before looking around.

It was a large room with a series of semi-circular tables (with many terminals) all arched around the far wall. A wall, I should mention, that was covered from floor to ceiling in monitors. On each monitor was a rotating view of hall ways, factories, and... what the hell was that room? In the centre of the monitors was one three times as large as any other. There was something about it that was enchanting, and it seems Flare and Serenity thought so as well as we all moved closer to get a better look. Even with the threat of death by vaporization I had to see.

The large room in the screen seemed to be in a strange shape, with sixteen different walls, each the same length, making it a strange shape (I could only see half the room, so I guessed). On each of the walls, I could see a number painted, encircled with strange runes. The floor was covered in a mosaic of a white so pure it made the rest of the facility look dirty, and in a pattern so strange and arcane I couldn't make head or tail of it. In the centre of the chamber there was a empty space without tiles, dyed a deep blue. It was just large enough for a pony.

“What the shit?!” Flare gasped.

A pony that wasn't there before appeared. It was pure white like the tiles, and lacking a mane or tail. Something about the pony made my shoulder ache.

The pony flickered.

One second it was lying down. The next it was standing, its back to the camera.

“Is that really... there?” Serenity asked in a hushed tone, as if she was afraid the thing could hear us through the screen. But how could it?

There was a rush of wind. Something creaked.

The pony’s head turned all the way around. It stared into my soul with pits of fire for eyes.

Level Up!:

No New Perks Or Stat Milestones. Lame.

((A/N: This chapter is later, and I do apologize, but sometimes making these things readable takes effort. Ask Menti, Julep, and theBSDude, the humble editors who are awesome and stuff. As well I must thank Kkat for allowing me to mess around in her world.))

((Tired of waiting between chapters? Try these stories: Murky Number 7, Morality of Property, Homecoming, And Best Served Cold. ))

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