"This is completely a rational and reasonable thing to do. Wandering into an indeterminate length of abandoned tunnels in complete darkness. What could possibly go wrong?"
"Atom, are you... scared?"
"Don't be fucking stupid."
I was shitting bricks.
Now that we had a ceiling, we could break out all the lights. I had my head torch, and Sam just set his eyes to beam. It was only going to do us so much good, since even that much light had to disperse somewhere in front of us. Close enough that there was always, at some point ahead, a shadow where the cave twisted out of our vision.
The sound of the screaming tribe ponies outside echoed away into nothing. They stopped, probably, and went to find somewhere more sensible to be. This left us in near silence. The tail end of the storm we'd passed through made the mouth of the tunnel howl like blowing on a giant bottle. Sam's servos whirred and his steps thudded as he walked. Then, a long, low groan echoed up the cave. We all stopped. It carried on for twenty, thirty seconds, before stammering to a halt.
"What was that?" I whispered.
"Remember when you mentioned that something was keeping the lights on?" It sounded really weird when Sam could talk quietly, with the tone of a normal voice, like he'd turned down his volume dial.
"I doubt the lights are the only things that are still on."
"Absolutely and completely logical. This is the best idea."
Rainbow nudged me in the side. "Come on. Let's not hang about." I had no argument there.
Mercifully, some lights were still on deeper in the tunnels. I wasn't entirely sure what function these tunnels served, the outside of the quarry looked open-cast, but what do I know about mineral extraction? Not all the bulbs worked, and the ones near the exit were definitely busted, but there were periodic lights on the support beams. Most of them were lazy and flickering, a few created a pool of light around them, and some sparked occasionally.
Our tunnel joined a wider one with a cart track, after a load of twisting and a general downward slope for maybe fifteen minutes. Following the tracks with our lights, we saw a small cave-in, or at least a pile of rubble, where a couple of carts had derailed and been buried. I thought San Cimarron was never hit - maybe it took some conventional bombing? Who knows.
There was a skeleton sticking out of the rubble, fragments of pelvis and spine indistinguishable from the dust of the rest of the rocks. I scooped up the mining helmet on the skull. A couple of taps on the cart to shake the dust off, and it seemed to spring it into life, too.
"Want a light?" I pointed the light at Rainbow, and he was doing that glare at me when I'm misbehaving. "It's not doing him any good anymore."
"Yeah, alright." He huffed, and took the helmet. Then he bowed his head and murmured. "Deep peace of the quiet earth to you..."
"I think this poor lad's got enough deep peace of the quiet earth for one lifetime, mate."
Rainbow utterly lost his straight face. "Atom!"
"When you're ready, kids." Sam was up on the concrete floor to the side of the tunnel, by a door. Rainbow finished up his prayer quickly, and we followed.
We stepped into a room lined with machines. Drills and hammers littered the floor. The wreckage of a fallen catwalk was strewn across the room, along with a sizeable amount of rubble, making the long end of the room impassable. A big square machine blocked off part of that end of the room, and more than that, it hummed. It made a constant soft buzz, to match the dim orange lights around half of the thing, some of them flashing.
Then the entire room rattled with a horrible, grinding, mechanical growl. I jumped, and then vibrated along the floor in the general direction of away from the loud. Rainbow winced, and Sam... well, you know. It stopped after a few seconds. My ears rang, and when I was rubbing them, it made another spit, just to make me flinch again.
"The fuck was that?"
Sam took a couple of steps towards the rubble. "It's a rock crusher, and it's jammed."
"Are you sure you want to go near that thing? I don't think it's the most stable."
Sam ignored Rainbow's warning, and walked right up to the machine and pulled on one of those big mechanical switches. Most of the lights on it went out, and the buzzing stopped. More than that, all the other lights nearby got a little brighter. "Cave of screams, my ass."
"Makes some sense, don't it? If you could hear this old thing from up top on a quiet night, it'd give anyone the spooks ‘bout this place."
Rainbow frowned. "I'd be inclined to give Jericho a little more credit."
We walked through to the next few rooms - a locker room, a break room and an office. The door from the office back to the tunnels was locked. Sam gently nudged me and Rainbow away from the door. "Allow me." We shrugged, and started poking around the place for anything worth taking with us.
The terminal behind the desk was completely dead, and the safe below had already been plundered. I'd sat down now, so I slumped over the desk and poked at the desk toys. Then I noticed something. It sounded like Sam was walking, sort of - I heard the whir of motors, and the clank of mechanical parts, but I was looking right at him, picking the lock on the door. It couldn't be the computer either.
"Sam, hold still a sec."
"What?" He obliged me anyway. The sound of him working a lockpick was negligible. Still, the sounds of robotic movement continued. It faded slowly.
"Do you hear that?"
He paused. "Must be more mining machinery."
I waited more, and it faded more. "It's moving."
Sam looked up briefly, made a 'hm' kind of sound, and got back to work.
Rainbow returned from the locker room with the spoils of a medical box, and that slightly sad look that told me he found something sentimental in the lockers and got all mopey about it. He also managed to locate a couple of snacks in the break room that were still edible, and tossed a bag of crisps and a bottle of Sparkle Cola at me. The crisps were definitely stale, but I wouldn't say no to a little more fuel in the tank. I had to re-cap the bottle when Sam got the door open, and we moved on with haste.
The amount of wiring and mechanical support structure in the tunnel increased this side of the little waystation we'd been through. There was a junction in the tracks, and then two tracks side by side. We stepped lightly. Sam was doing his level best to keep from making loud banging noises every time his metal legs hit the metal tracks, but it was a bit of a wasted effort. The batteries in Rainbow's mining helmet appeared to be on the way out, and pretty soon the rotting safety lights were doing a better job of lighting the way, so he tossed it.
With a hollow bang, it bounced off some piece of crushed machinery. This briefly sparked some life into it, and two square lights lit up with a synthetic growl, that lifted, changed tone, then dropped again. We all jumped and faced it. Rainbow may have yelped like a kicked puppy. We backed away slowly. I picked up a rock to test it, but Rainbow nudged my hoof down and shook his head. And we'd have to come back this way?
The tracks reached a dead end in what might have been part of a natural cave. A few of the walkways higher up had been hewn out of the rock, and there were some ceiling lights high above. There were more conveyor belts and some stray machinery things, and multiple passages at the other end, two on the ground, two on an upper level. This cave was easily the widest space we'd been in so far.
"I'm starting to remember some of the... some of the way..." Sam looked around. He counted something out, then jumped at an access ladder on the wall. The rungs completely gave way, and all he succeeded in doing was headbutting the wall.
"Do you still remember, or..."
"I'm fine, genius," he snapped. "Throw the second big switch on the upper level there, if you're so smart."
I sighed, and complied. I guess I did have the wings, after all. I hesitated when I heard another one of those distant mechanical growls. I shook it off, and threw the switch. The faster we were through here, the better. I flinched back when a low-pitched, buzzing siren sounded, and a spinning light flashed at the end of the hallway. Once, twice... some pipes further down let out some steam. A third time, and something mechanical went thud.
"Somebody threw one of the flood doors on the way to the lab. No telling when. Come on."
Sam started towards one of the lower floor doors. I dropped down to follow behind Rainbow.
Then something else mechanical went thud. We all stopped moving.
"I don't remember there being a second flood door..." Sam said, after a very long pause. I didn't think it was quite the same noise as the door.
"Then let's not hang about to find out what it was, shall we?"
We carried on to the flood door, not even twenty feet from the junction we'd just been in. It was a great big metal door, almost like a Stable door, only large and square, and with several slices on telescopic pistons that moved it along its track to seal the tunnel. As soon as Sam crossed the track, something lit up ahead. We froze again.
"Plea-plea-plea-plea-please identify yoeurwswulf, thus uz... a..." came the garbled command from a bucket of rust half-trapped under rubble.
Rainbow clutched his chest. "Oh, it's just a Protectipony."
Then the Protectipony's head got caved in by a giant metal claw. The claw burst from higher up in the rubble, and in trying to find purchase on the other side, landed on the Protectipony and crushed it like a tin can.
Sam started running, in the way we had been heading. Past the wall claw thing. "This way!"
"That way?" Rainbow and I were slowly backing up.
Sam skidded to a halt when he noticed we weren't following. "Yes this way, before it digs itself out!"
We looked at each other with a mutual grimace, and then belted it after him. Another load of rocks and dust exploded behind us, with the now-unobstructed buzz of something that sounded like a saw. A saw designed for rocks. With a warped, semi-functional synthetic voice, speakers muffled behind dirt, it called out after us: "Mineral vei-ei-ei-ei- detected. Comme... -traction process." I chanced a look over my shoulders, then wished I didn't. It had knackered all the safety lights around it digging itself out, and it was far away enough that my head torch couldn't shine enough light on it to see it properly. So all I saw were two square yellow lights, emerging from the earth. Fucking hell.
"What is that thing?" Rainbow gasped. Through a metal doorway, then hard right, along the corridor.
"Mining robot. Probably not the only one nearby." Something that sounded like an engine revving echoed from the tunnels, and the buzzing and frazzled statements of intent to mine us for all of our gems got louder a lot faster than I'd have liked. The corridor shook, and all the lights along it flickered, when the bot slammed into the doorway we'd come through.
It stopped in place for a minute, half-lodged in the doorway. Its square lamps were partly obscured, and I only really saw the silhouette of it in the lights behind it. It was like a digger had just ploughed into the door, sending metal debris everywhere. A heavy duty scoop arm pierced the opposite wall, and a circular saw blade hummed as it tried to start a few times, having been forced to stop by the door. We stepped back slowly.
"Minera-ra-rals deliverrrrrrd. Resumin-ing rou-CHKKK-ute."
It seemed to be having a tough time dislodging itself from the wall, but we weren't inclined to help it.
"They're programmed to leave the infrastructure alone."
"Usually." I chuckled, because what else could I do with my heart in my mouth?
We got to the next door, not far along, and barred it shut. At a guess, we were in the reactor facility. Lots of pipes, lots of hazard signs, lots of consoles, not many crushing-looking things.
Rainbow gave Sam a nudge. "'Cave of screams my ass', eh?"
"Okay, yeah. I see where they get it."
I threw myself at the floor. "I need a minute." Rainbow patted me on the head. I grumbled. "Get me my coke." A moment later my bottle appeared in front of me, and I busied myself with that.
Rainbow paced and kicked the floor while he caught his breath. "Sam. You... you knew about those things?"
"I didn't think they-"
"Why didn't you tell us?"
"I didn't think they'd be a problem!" Sam barked. Or at least, that was his tone, his volume seemed pretty fixed. "They're unpredictable little bastards."
I spluttered on my drink. "Little?"
"Most days they're just buckets of rust. Some days they want to mine the iron from your blood. Today was not our day."
I could see the mist from Rainbow's snorting and huffing in the air. Was it really that cold in here? I hadn't noticed. "Well, we're here now. How much further have we got to go?"
"Uhh. It's gotta be a few floors up at least. Where are we, the reactor level? Lemme see..." Sam bopped the side of his head. His eyes went full-beam, overpowering the dim safety lights of the room. Further down the room in the shadows, a skeleton wearing a lab coat hung from a steel cable noose, tied around a support beam above an overturned chair. Rainbow gasped, and began muttering. Sam kept panning his lights around, and found an informational map on the wall. "Alright, we're in the upper levels, administration has a wall knocked through to some of the natural caves that run to the bottom of the lab, and to get there... Oh, you're gonna love this."
Rainbow... I don't think he was capable of words at this point. He had that little micro-grimace someone gets when they're doing their best to keep a polite straight face while underneath they're about to fucking explode. Given this, I responded. "I'm sure it'll be fucking magical."
"We have to pass through the robot depot."
"What'd I tell you?"
Rainbow sighed through his nose, making a long hiss. "What's the layout like?"
"It's like a big loading bay. Opens out onto tunnels on either end, where the bots come in for service. Stairs up from here are on one side, admin's on the other."
"So we have to cross it one way or another."
"And if we get spotted sneaking around, we're buggered."
"And if the door on the other side is locked, we're buggered."
"Not sure why it would be, but I haven't been this way in thirty-five years, so who knows?"
He sighed. The cogs turned audibly in his head. Now that my ears weren't pounding, I could think. "I don't suppose anyone's got any anti-matrix grenades on them?"
"Those would have been handy," Rainbow said.
Sam dipped his headlights to look at us, and squinted with his articulated eyebrow thing. "I don't know why you're looking at me, why would I have any of those? Do you keep vials of anthrax in your bags?" Rainbow and I just looked at each other. "Didn't think so. C'mon, we'll figure something out."
"Well, it's worked so far..."
We shuffled to the stairwell and climbed. They sagged in a lot of places. I wasn't sure if it was rust or fire, or even both, but it made for a treacherous climb. It wasn't so bad for me and Rainbow, we could flap over any particularly wonky bits. Sam, however, kept us going real slow. It was only two floors up and we were easily fifteen minutes on the stairs. The last staircase didn't double back, and the door at the top was broken off. Through it was a corridor with windows on one side, and a door broken off at the end. Beyond that was part of the depot, with a parked robot sitting there. We stayed low and inched into the corridor. We waited. The robot we could see stayed dead. Slowly, we peeked over our cover.
"Well that's new," Sam said.
"I'm guessing it wasn't like that last time you were here?"
The opposite wall of the depot, where admin was, had suffered a collapse. Two floors of offices atop two floors of what looked like repair labs were visible in cross section - this place was tall - with bits of floor and wall and support structure strewn across the depot. A broken 'world's best dad' mug that had even made its way across the depot floor, close enough to read. Sticking out of the pile of rubble nearest the wall was a huge toothed scoop on an articulated arm.
"I thought they were programmed to leave the infrastructure alone."
"They're also programmed not to treat ponies like mineral veins, but that got kinda lost along the way, didn't it?"
We scanned the place for more robots. The bay doors to our right were closed, but to the left they were all the way up. Bright-arse lamps flanked the doors on the outside, showing us the bare rock of the tunnels. There was a crane system on the ceiling, marked by some warning lights on the hook hanging in mid air. A couple of passenger carts and tool carts lay abandoned around the depot, but no other robots. Not that we could see.
I squinted. "Think we could climb the rubble to the top?"
"That's a risky climb at the best of times, and if that thing wakes up, we're pizza."
"What if. What if," I started.
"Oh no." Oh ye of little faith, Rainbow.
"Sam's the only one that needs to do any climbing. We, however, can cheat. That crane still has power. If Sam can hold on to the hook, we can lift him most of the way."
"Or!" Rainbow turned to me, with a hoof raised and waving around. "Flash of inspiration here. Stop me if this is too off-the-wall here. We take the stairs like sensible ponies."
"You mean those stairs over there? That stairwell that's caved in?"
"Oh is it? Bollocks."
We sat and stared at the debris some more.
"I'd be willing to give the crane plan a shot," Sam said. "I mean, if I fall, it's probably going to be the floor that's worse for wear."
I stood up. "That's two out of three. I'll get the crane going, you guys sit tight!"
"Two out of- Atom, that's not how-"
I was already walking to the door. I stopped and turned to Rainbow, shushing him down and pointing at the robot. He bit on his lip and huffed, and I carried on.
I got a running start and jumped from the rubble, flapping a couple of times to catch some air and fly up to the catwalks above. It was a messy landing but I scrambled over the guardrail. I had a guess that the box with the windows was the control room for the crane, so that's where I went. The door was locked. I looked around. Then I had a brainwave. I pulled the spear off my back. Laser spear, huh? Let's see how much protection the wings of life are gonna give me.
I jammed the point in the crack in the door by the handle, and... fumbled along it for controls. I hadn't actually given this thing much inspection until now, and doing it in half-light made that difficult. I felt around for something that felt like it moved on a hinge, and then everything went red for a moment. I yelped, dropped the spear, and jumped back in fright. The pew of laser fire echoed through the depot.
"I'm okay!" I called after it. Because I was, save for being momentarily stunned by the flash. When my vision readjusted, I found the spear still lodged in the door, the area around it blackened and smoking. It took a firm tug to pull it out, but the door opened with it, so that was a success. The console inside still had lights on in it. Double-whammy. Now I just had to get the crane moving. How hard could that be?
The first thing I did was start pressing buttons and pulling levers until something moved. Except for the big emergency stop one, that would cause more problems than it solved. Nothing seemed to be moving, so I looked some more. I found a twisty-switch under the panel, and gave it a twist. A red light turned on, and when I squinted to see what the label said, I noticed it said "live". Well that'd do it.
I quickly found the three levers that did the work. Forward and backward along the depot, along the length of the crane, and up and down. Simple enough to lower the hook to the ground by the rubble. I looked around for an intercom or a tannoy or something. I found something that looked like a grate and pushed the button next to it, but when I said stuff into it, it appeared to be dead. I settled for leaning out the door and shouting down, "All aboard!"
"Atom, didn't you have a go at me a moment ago about making noise?"
"Crane express is leaving the station, please keep your hooves on the cable at all times."
I think I heard Sam ask Rainbow if I was up past my bedtime or something. I think I also heard some rattling and a mechanical hum from somewhere, which I assumed to be the crane. Sam climbed on, and I got back to the controls. I was careful with lifting him, up as high as the crane would go, and then over towards the hole in the wall. Rainbow was doing his best to hover after him.
"I appreciate the concern, technicolor, but you don't want to be under me if I fall." That seemed to shake him off. The crane stopped, and Sam was left swinging. He looked to be leaning into the swing for a jump. Brave robot. Something buzzed, louder than before. I started to get nervous, and set the spear beside the console. "Lower me! I need more swing," Sam called out. I did, and watched from the window. He was nearly to the point of clearing the gap to the top floor of the offices. "Hey, bangs, if you wanna help, mind giving me a push?"
Rainbow, on the floor, squinted. "Did you just call me 'bangs'?" Sam didn't answer. Confused, Rainbow fluttered up, and at the top of the backswing, pushed.
There was a thump behind me. I froze. There was a loud scream of tearing metal, and a low buzz. Slowly, I reached for the spear. I heard a more distant thump, and Rainbow cheering. I looked over to see the hook swinging Sam-less.
Then, sparks filled my vision. A saw tore through the wall behind me, by the door. Shit. That door was the only way out of this control box, and it was already compromised. I backed up on to the console, and bumped against the glass of the window. The only intentional way out...
I grabbed the spear and pointed it at the window. I pulled the trigger. Nothing. Oh for fuck's sake. It must have a power cell that's drained. Which makes sense when you think about it. Power cells... I could just smash the glass, but I don't know if a puny borderline couch potato like me would be able to muster the strength, even with a sharp implement. Thump. Crash. A bunch of ceiling tiles came down behind me as part of the wall bent from, I would guess, being bashed by the scoop arm. Think, Atom, think!
I dug a hoof into my bags. Bits, Trashcan, toy raygun, a paper box of some weighty metal cylinders, some scraps of paper... I yanked out the box. The AA spark batteries from the Caballero Centre! I hadn't lost them in the storm! The low light made it tricky, but I tore open the end of the box. One spilled on to the floor, but I caught the next one and stuffed the box back into the bag. I set it on the console next to some light so I wouldn't lose it, and tried to find where the cells were on the spear. Another thump and a crash made me fumble the spear a bit, as the toothed scoop burst through the wall.
"Yeah, wait your fuckin' turn, mate!" I yelled. I pushed some lever and the spear ejected the spring-loaded cell, bopping me on the forehead. I indulged in a grumble of 'ow fuck', and got to shoving the new battery in and locking it in place. Okay, take two. I turned, and pointed the spear at the window. Rainbow was on the other side, trying to kick the window through and not having much luck. I gestured for him to get out of the way and he backed up, panting. Poor boy was having a flight workout.
I fired. The bolt was orange, and turned the window where it hit into a big glob of glowing molten glass. The rest of the window, however, exploded like a windshield, throwing glass chips all over the depot below. I didn't need to be told to throw on my bags and scramble over the console to get out. I must have kicked a lever on my way out, because the crane had started heading our way. Pumped with adrenaline, swooping around the depot was easy. Around the moving crane and up to where Sam was waiting for us.
"What happened? What was that noise?"
I hit the ground, tucked the spear away and kept running. Rainbow followed suit. "There's a bot on this level and it's cutting through the walls, keep moving!"
Sam followed. "On this level? How?" We sprinted through the offices. Muddy tracks in the carpet, piles of trashed desks, big holes in the wall... Sam "This way!"
"The..." Rainbow gasped. "The tracks?"
"Maybe there's a way up through the caves?" I offered.
"You'd better hope not, because that's gonna make life pretty difficult."
We slowed up a bit once we were beyond the light of the offices. The tunnel narrowed, and then widened out again. Gone was the safety lighting - we were back to my head torch and Sam's eyes for guidance. The air had a bit of a damp smell to it up here. When we slowed, we could hear running water in the distance - and the sound of engines and mechanical thudding.
"These arches used to be narrower," Sam muttered.
"Well when you've got a bunch of robots designed for digging in rock..."
Sam sighed. We crested a ridge in a narrow, and behind was a huge cavern that twisted up and down. Our lamps caught the occasional pile of rusting metal, and in the distance we spotted the two square yellow lights of a robot on some lower level of the cave, disappearing behind stalagmites and then reappearing as it trundled along. But best of all, there was a dim white light at the other end of the cavern, coming from a bend in the cave, not more than a hundred yards away.
"There it is!" Sam yelled. "We can sprint it. Just go."
And we did. We weaved around jagged rocks, and one or two dead robots that gave us a fright when we realised what they were. Sam led, I brought up the rear. The noise of the active robot below made me feel like I was going to keel over from heart failure before we got there. Each obstacle felt like a mountain. The light felt like it was getting dimmer as we approached, even though that was entirely my imagination. A stitch burned in my side. I certainly wasn't feeling cold anymore.
We slowed up at the bend. I clutched my side and coughed as I caught my breath. The dank air was terrible for this. We shuffled in convoy into the light. Two great floodlights hurt my dark-adjusted eyes, and left long shadows on rocks and piles of scrap. Before us was a massive metal wall that blocked off the entirety of this arm of the cave. Two storeys high, easily twenty, thirty yards across.
Then, something near the door made a synthetic squeal. Something visceral made me tense up and duck. Sam, similarly, backed up a couple of steps. Rainbow was so spooked by this sound that he dove behind some scrap. Only a moment later did my conscious mind catch up and place the sound as a laser turret being charged up.
Only, nothing happened.
"Keycard detected," a synthetic voice called out. "Welcome back, Find-It."
The squeal died off. Turrets must have powered down. "Well those are new," Sam said. "Doesn't entirely surprise me though." He gave the scrap that Rainbow was hiding behind a kick. Rainbow flinched and backed up, before shaking himself off. I took a closer look, and found those two square lamps, in between rusted saw blades and hydraulics.
"Fih..." I gasped.
"Finally, I know." Sam sauntered up to the wall and pushed some buttons. The wall hissed and released some steam, then a section near the bottom parted like a door.
"N..." Fuck it. I was too winded. I'd ask about 'Find-It' later.
Sam led us inside. I dawdled, and then I felt myself being lifted from underneath. After a brief scramble for stability, I realised Rainbow was lifting me on to his back. I tolerated this while I caught my breath.
Sam closed the door behind us. The interior was on safety lighting, or at least night-time lighting. I checked the lump of scrap circuits on my foreleg. It was definitely still the middle of the night. Inside was... clean. Not spotless, but a lived-in clean, like a Stable. Still kind of grimy, like there were only so many cleaning supplies to go around, but someone was definitely cleaning it. A few crates lay scattered.
"We're in the sub-basement," Sam said. "Nothing down here except buffer. And turrets." I looked up. Little dots and bars of red light in the dark corners. "Let's keep going."
Somewhere on the stairs, I slid backwards off Rainbow's back. I'd recovered enough to walk by myself. The stairs wound up to a mezzanine, closer to the lights. The grating of the floor rattled as we stepped. Sam pressed his hoof to a pad by the door, and it slid open sluggishly. Another blast door by the looks of it. It took us up a flight of stairs to the basement - I would guess, if this was the sub-basement - a large hall with loads of consoles and pipes and other stuff, and more doors.
"Oh, this takes me back," Sam sighed. "I bet I'm not even gonna recognise the project when I see it."
"The project?" Rainbow and I said, accidentally, at the same time.
Sam chuckled. "I'll let your old man do the talking if he's awake. C'mon. Down the hall, then up again."
I glanced at the signs on the walls as we passed. The newer ones were pretty clearly hoof-written. Hydroponics, water extraction, purification chamber. Or at least I think that's what they said, the writing was rather sloppy. Some of the old, worn signs for things like reactors and testing ranges were still hanging. The stairway at the end split in two and parted, taking two curved paths upwards. Near the top, the walls turned to bare rock, with a doorframe placed in it leading to an atrium.
"Welcome to Los Arabos, kids." It was a giant, near-circular room with two curving staircases around the sides, leading to a balcony near the top. The wall we'd emerged from was all solid rock, save for a vehicle-sized doorframe, blocked up with rubble. A worn seal on the floor had some official-looking wartime Equestria symbology, and the words 'Los Arabos National Laboratory - Victory Through Progress" around the outside. More doors led to more places. The lights were dim. Until they weren't.
"Who's down there?" A voice called from the balcony. Rainbow and I squinted, then looked at each other. That was an oddly familiar accent. "What fuckin' time do you call this, Gadg?"
"Try again," Sam called back.
A face appeared over the balcony. Dark blue, little round glasses, grey mane that went every which way, and a pout that turned into a wrinkled grin. "Find-It? Well stick me bollocks in a vice."
Sam went... almost limp, then thumped his front. "That's a name I haven't heard in years."
"Well no wonder we couldn't find you, lad!" The blue wrinkled fuzzy face hobbled to one of the staircases and started descending. He had a walking stick that made a bang each time it hit the stairs. He was also wearing a bathrobe and slippers. "What have you been calling yourself? And what the fuck is that hat?"
Sam - Find-It? I'm gonna keep calling him Sam because that's how I know him and it's a better name anyway - chuckled. "You're not gonna believe me."
Dressing gown paused a few steps from the bottom, near enough that he could be heard with almost a whisper. "Try me."
"Who are they?" There was another voice on the balcony. A unicorn mare sounded rather less happy to see us.
"I should have started with that. These..." Sam stepped between me and Rainbow. "Are Rainbow Code and Atom Smasher. Gadget's son and daughter, come all the way across the sea looking for him. Ain’t that sweet?"
Captain pyjamas' face lit up again. "I thought there was something familiar about the look of you two!" He stepped down to get a closer look at us. The unicorn on the balcony started down the stairs too. She had a lab coat on, and a clipboard floated after her. Was she still working at this hour? "My goodness. Gadget's pining has been unbearable. Thought we'd never hear the end of it."
I squinted. "Galloway, right?"
"As through and through as you are Mancunian, lassie." He poked me with his walking stick. I laughed.
Rainbow lightly stomped a hoof. "That's what it was. I've been here too long."
"And you! Both of ye sound like I'd cut ye and you'd bleed canal water. I feel like I'm about to be mugged."
Rainbow burst into giggles. I scoffed, then started laughing anyway. "Oh, piss off!" I spotted Sam and the unicorn exchanging a confused glance. "Sorry, I just wasn't expecting to run into a Shetlander in here of all places. Continue?"
Sam rubbed his nose. "This is Trinity, lead botanist..." The unicorn nodded sheepishly. "...and Tube Alloys, mechanical engineer, part time roboticist, and you could say, my dad."
Tube spun his walking stick with a kick. "Evening. Well, morning technically."
"I see where you get the mouth from."
"Now, Findie." Tube Alloys turned to Sam. "You were saying?"
"Right. Uh..." He chuckled, and took his hat off. His antenna sprung like a doorstopper. "I've been hanging out in Isotope City under the name Satellite Sam."
"You didn't even make it further than San Cimarron? How are you still in one piece?"
"Because the Isotopians are paranoid maniacs who think the Steel Rangers are secret government forces coming to mount a coverup and they shoot at them on sight?"
Tube Alloys squinted, went to respond, then failed to. Rainbow cleared his throat. "If you don't mind me asking, where..."
"Ah yes! Ye'll be wanting to find your Paw. Ehhh..." He looked over at Trinity. "Do you want to tell 'em or should I?" My stomach sank. That wasn't a feeling I was expecting, or one I wanted. Rainbow, however, turned fucking white.
"Gadget... went out a number of days ago, into the quarry. He went to look for Fizzle, our chemist, who went to survey the quarry for materials two weeks ago. Routine annual stuff. Except Fizzle didn't come back."
"Gadget volunteered, since he'd be the most nimble. I'd have done it myself, but me gammy leg would have made me as useful out there as a teapot made out of shite."
"The flood doors..." Sam muttered. "There's so many routes in there, we could have easily missed them."
The colour returned to Rainbow's face. "We have to go back."
"Laddie, you just got here, take a breather."
Sam put a hoof on Rainbow. "He’s right. You need rest, we've been on the go since the camp. You've got to be hungry."
Dammit, now that he mentioned it, I was feeling it. "He's got a point. We'll just be easier to catch. Also, I'm fucking starving."
"Okay, fine. We'll take half an hour, an hour. Eat something, drink something. But I don't want to waste time."
Tube nodded, solemnly, and turned to one of the doors on this floor. "I'll put the kettle on."
Rainbow sighed, and sat. I leaned into him, and he leaned back.
"Are you sure you'll be able for it?" Trinity asked.
I smiled. "Are you kidding? We grew up in a Stable. We were made for this."
Sam snorted. I must compliment Tube Alloys on the range of vocalisations he gave Sam. "Says you."
"Might actually be better if you stayed here, Sam, I don't know if that crane is still operational after that bot clobbered the controls. On that note..." I turned to Trinity. "Do you have any anti-matrix grenades?"