I shivered. The clouds dispersed rapidly, but I was still soaked, and so was everyone else that I could see. The side of me facing the sun burned, and the parts in the shadows were freezing. Crumble had the kids wait on the stairs while I checked that the coast was clear. With sullen Rangers picking through debris and put fires out, I figured it was safe, and they formed a convoy. The puppy scampered ahead and nipped at my heels. Well hello to you too, mister. Crumble informed me that he was indeed a mister, and I scooped him up to put on my back, where he was quite happy.
Crumble steered clear of much of the wreckage. She looked for the remains of the mess hall, while trying to avoid the flooding and as much of the death as possible, but there was no avoiding all of it. I, on the other hand, beelined for the terminal building.
The odour of ozone had dissipated from the courtyard, and I was left gagging as the first bodies that went down started to smell, carried on the rising vapour from all over the tarmac as the sun cooked the surface water. It was getting to the hottest part of the day too, and it made every movement slow and sticky, and every breath was suffering. Some scribes went around with sheets and stretchers, taking corpses out of full suits of power armour and ferrying them to the gates. Everywhere I went, someone was sobbing in the distance.
The Enclave had gone to town on the terminal. Saguaro's office was just gone. Most of the ponies who had been inside were now milling around outside, removing armour, tending wounds. Turing Test barked orders at ponies running around. When he spotted me, he stomped towards me. "Atom! Report."
"Report. Tell me what happened."
"Oh. Crumble and the foals are fine." He made a face like I’d removed the giant stick from his arse. "A bit soggy, and we nearly all drowned, but they're in one piece."
"That's... that's some good news, at least. You'll be looking for your brother, I assume?"
No, I'm just here with the mail. "Yeah."
"Down here," I heard a weak burble in his voice. He was lying in a blanket, out of armour. Ivy was busy wrapping some bandages around his stomach, and he had a bloody towel over the top of his face.
I stepped over some discarded weapons and stood over his head. "What did you do to yourself, you ninny?"
He burst out laughing. "Ow."
"Atom!" Ivy scowled.
I shrugged. "He laughed, I'm off the hook."
"This is an interesting definition of 'fine'."
He waved his hoof blindly in my direction, bapping me on the front. "Some of the first floor landed on my head on its way down. It's just a concussion. I'll be on my feet in no time."
"Sugar, I love you but you are not getting up any time soon. You get your rest, okay?"
He frowned. "Hang on, aren't I the one with the first aid training?"
"You're also a stallion, which means you don't know what's good for you."
I nudged his side. "She's got you there."
"Oh, fine." There was a tiny yap from behind my head, and the puppy climbed up the back of it to rest between my ears.
"Oi. Whatcha think you're doing, mate?"
"Who, me?" Rainbow asked.
"Oh, not you, I uh. I found someone here down in the lab." I scooped the puppy off my head and sat down, letting him nose around. He sniffed and licked all along Rainbow's hoof, getting a smile out of him. "He was in a pet carrier floating in the water. Poor thing could have drowned."
Rainbow lifted the towel and looked along his side. The puppy walked up and licked his nose, making him wince. "Funny th... ey, stoppit. Stop! Atom, can you..."
"Only because you have a concussion." I picked the puppy up and tucked him between my legs. "I dunno whose he is. Someone is probably going to be looking for him, or... well, if they're alive they'll be looking for him."
"Actually Atom, uh... he's yours."
I squinted. "What?"
"Or rather, I got him for you. He was meant to be a surprise."
"You got me a puppy? Where? When?" I picked him up and gave him a more careful look over. I was going to have to take care of this thing?
"The other day when you were sick after we came back from Wormwood. I was on patrol and we came across a farm where they were giving them away, and I thought... Y'know who'd like one of those?" He smiled, and I smiled. The stupid sentimental schmuck. "You told that story about... what was it... Snowy? And how attached to him you were, so I thought you might appreciate another dog. And then when I saw them, and I saw this little guy, I knew he was perfect."
The puppy leaned over to lick my nose again, and I let him. I couldn't stop smiling. "You are the sappiest sack of shit that ever lived, and I don't deserve you."
"Of course, I had to put up with the little scamp doin' his business all over the lab while you were gone," Ivy said. "He's your problem now, and I ain't cleanin' up any more doggy doo."
Rainbow chuckled. He got a thump on the hind leg. "We ran out of time before..."
"We?" Ivy stopped bandaging.
"I ran out of time..." She resumed. "Before we had to go to Los Arabos. We were all busy, it was a whole thing. But he's yours now. Think of it as an overdue birthday present or something."
I couldn't help it. I hugged the puppy. He was so small and soft.
"Well, now you have to find a name for the little poop factory," Ivy quipped.
"What do you think, boy?" I said to the puppy. He tilted his head. I made a noise that only he could hear. Ivy rolled her eyes.
"I had an idea. You called the last one Snowy, yeah?"
I nodded. "Yeah."
"And he was a black dog?"
"Black as the ace of spades."
"How about Nevada? It's the Palominian for 'snowy'."
Ivy closed up the medical box and got up to tend to someone else. "You're both morons." No appreciation for irony, honestly.
I mulled it over for a bit, then lifted the puppy again. "How d'you like that? Nevada sound good to you?" I got a bark and a waggy tail. "Yeah? Yeah?" He started trying to sniff me again, and I let him down. "Yeah, that's good."
"He's probably hungry after all that excitement."
"Man, so am I now that I think about it, the last thing we ate was... fuck, it was all the way in Los Arabos."
Rainbow chuckled. "I don't know how you can be hungry with this pong hanging around, but one was gonna beat the other sooner or later. Go see what Crumble's up to."
"Sounds like a plan. C'mon you." I scooped Nevada up and tucked him into my saddlebags, where he happily leaned out the side. I gave him a glare and pointed. "No pooping in there. You hear me? No pooping, or you're walking." He licked my hoof. Close enough.
Prickly Pear pushed past me. I nearly didn't recognise her because she was out of armour. It wasn't even the normal 'stand aside, peasant' push, she was rushing to something. Murmurs circulated in a crowd that began to gather. Turing Test nudged his way through to the middle, where he and Prickly Pear watched a pair of Rangers set down a stretcher. The cloth was red in several places. A scribe followed with a stethoscope around his neck and a weary, anxious look on his face. Prickly Pear sat next to it and pulled back the cloth with a shaking hoof. It was Elder Saguaro, looking as baggy and decrepit as ever.
"I'm... I'm sorry, I've done all I can do. He's gone."
She stared at his lifeless face. I thought he looked kinda goofy, tongue floppin' out and all soggy fur, but that probably didn't occur to her as she clutched his hoof, like if she just hoped hard enough he'd wake up and shoot me.
"Where did he fall?" That was the softest I have ever heard her speak.
The scribe looked intensely uncomfortable. "We found him out in the open on the helipad. There was no ammunition left in his packs."
Turing Test gave a knowing smirk and shook his head. He looked at the floor, then at Saguaro. He put a hoof on Prickly Pear's back. They sat silently for a moment. "Do you want to, or should I?"
She waited to answer, before letting Saguaro's hoof down. "You do it. They like you."
He looked more hurt by that than she did, but he nodded. "Lemme think of something."
He sighed and took a few steps away. Mutters circled. Prickly Pear looked like she was going to shrivel up and turn into a bog body at any moment. Turing Test turned, and the crowd went silent again. He stepped in front of the stretcher and cleared his throat. "Brothers and sisters in steel. Today, our Elder, Saguaro, has fallen in the line of most honourable duty. Today, he, along with our fallen brethren have given themselves in glory so that we may continue our mission." The crowd gave some monosyllabic chant that I couldn't discern from a vague hoot. Turing paused. "Now, there ain't one of us who ain't feeling some kinda loss today. Comrades, colleagues, mentors. Parents. Children. Brothers and sisters, all. Today is... a devastating day for our family." Hearing absolute silence from a crowd like this compelled me to hold my breath. "But we are strong. We are steel. We will adapt and we will be reforged! Today, we honour the heroes we've lost. Tomorrow, we rebuild for our heroes yet to come."
"To Elder Saguaro!" Prickly Pear yelled, hoof in the air. She had the volume, but the poppet looked like she was expecting a rotten tomato in the face. Instead, she got three of those synchronised, unintelligible chants from the crowd, complete with hoof pumps from those that could. After that, Rangers started filtering away, and the scribe who had the bad news went back to his work. Turing Test put his hoof on Prickly Pear's back. She was shaking.
"We'll make an elder out of you yet, darlin'."
I moved on before she had time to start yelling at me. I was supposed to be getting some food.
Many of the base's buildings were rubble. The terminal building consisted of a traffic control tower surrounded by free standing walls. The corrugated roof of the hangar had caved inwards, and smoke still poured from it. The skyline of the opposite side of the courtyard was missing something that I couldn't quite place. Even the perimeter wall was in ruins. As such, I had to follow my nose to the mess hall. This mercifully led me away from the bodies.
The remains of the mess hall had been reconfigured into an open-air barbecue. The roof and two of the walls had been blown away entirely. The sun had burned the moisture off the surfaces, but there were still large puddles in the corners. What tables and chairs could be saved were lined up in what floor space wasn't covered with rubble. Crumble was trying to beat some life into the machine that toasts bread on a conveyor belt, while the hostess trolleys were happy to slowly turn the beans and potatoes to mush, and some camping supplies had been appropriated to keep a big pot of soup boiling.
I caught myself smiling at Crumble kicking the toaster. The kids were chattering to each other, and a few of the Rangers had found their way over. I took another look at the spear. It was bent now, though not too badly, and there were divots in the blade where I'd jammed it into the hinges. Two weeks ago, under the same circumstances, I'd be annoyed at my shit getting dinged. Now, looking at those dents gave me a little warm and fuzzy sense of accomplishment when I remember how they got there. Maybe this is why Rainbow is so damn jolly all the time. Nevada barked and started leaning further out of my bag. "Alright, keep your doggy pants on, you little shit." I tucked the spear away and walked up to the counter.
I cleared my throat and waited for Crumble to notice me. The toaster made a noise and shuddered into life, and then she spotted me. "Atom!"
"Got anything for a growing mutt?" I petted Nevada, and he got really excited.
Crumble grinned. "I can scramble some eggs for him, sure. And what about yourself?"
"Oh, I'm chewing the tables. I will eat anything you put in front of me."
"You got it. Take a seat. Oh, and..." She reached under the counter, and returned with a plastic bottle of lukewarm but clear water. "I know you're probably sick of looking at the stuff, but keep the wheels turning, okay?"
I couldn't help but chuckle. "Fine, yeesh."
I sat on an empty table at the end of the hall furthest the door. I let Nevada out to have a sniff around. He peed in a couple of places, though that was the least of the mess in this place. At least he wasn't doing it in my bags. A couple of minutes later, Crumble came over with a tray and set it down. She put a small plate of scrambled eggs on the floor, and Nevada got stuck in. She put a big plate of fried everything in front of me, and I did the same. Then, she sat down with me.
"This is gonna be the hardest part," she said, in almost a whisper.
"What?" I muffled.
"I'm gonna watch those kids at that table, and one by one, their folks are gonna pick 'em up. Except not all of 'em are getting picked up."
I stopped chewing. "Oh."
"I mean, it won't be the first time, and they won't be on their own. We'll all be here for 'em. But... it's still a darn tragedy, y'know?" I said nothing. "And in some ways... we're all sitting at that table today, waiting for someone to walk through that door."
I frowned. "Surely they'll be like, going around informing next of kin, right?"
Crumble sighed. "They'll try. But with all the fireworks that went on, they might not be able to account for everyone. I tell myself I'll be ready for the waterworks every time, but... it's still a knife in the gut when it happens." I'd stopped eating. Crumble nudged me. "Don't let me get you down, Atom, I just needed someone to listen. Besides, if it weren't for you, well... you know. Little blessings, hm?"
I paused. "Right."
She stood up when the now half-doors swung open, and another group of Rangers filed in. A scribe had a long paper list floating after her. "I should get back to work. Gonna be a busy couple of hours."
I stayed her with a hoof. Something was still on my mind. "If any of those kids is on their own, you will look after them, yeah?"
Crumble looked puzzled for a moment. I've never told her about me. Maybe Rainbow has. Maybe she's slapped him for it. I hope she has. The she nodded earnestly. "Of course." She put a hoof on my shoulder. I let her go, and got back to eating.
Nevada finished before me, and climbed up on the bench for attention and scraps. My appetite had gone, so I pushed the eggs off into his bowl. The doors opened again, and another cohort of Rangers arrived. I might have to move soon to make space. I spotted a straggler at the back, bandages over one eye, one hind leg in a splint. Someone else did too, when a little blue filly at the table squealed and ran over.
Ocean Breeze winced as she took the full force of Seashell's tackle. They talked a bunch, and I was too far away to hear. Seashell pointed over towards me, and I spotted Ocean Breeze break into a smile. It looked like that smile hurt, but she couldn't help it. I waved limply.
Behind them, I saw Ivy leading Rainbow in. He walked slowly, and Ivy grimaced at him the whole time. He was determined to get his own lunch, doctor's orders be damned. Nevada finished the scraps and crawled into my lap. I rubbed his belly and he was a very good boy.
The three of them - four, with Seashell - grouped up and got their food together, and came over to sit down with me.
"Atom!" Ocean Breeze said. "I'm sure you're going to hear this a lot, but... I want to thank you."
"Oh yeah? What'd I do?"
She chuckled. "You know what you did. Thank you for bringing my little girl back to me."
"See? I am rubbing off on you," Rainbow quipped.
I snorted in his direction. "Then it goes both ways, 'cause that's a brag and a half."
He laughed. "I guess I got the raw deal, then."
"At least you're still ticking up there."
"Ponies don't tick," Seashell said at the first moment of quiet she could find. Ocean Breeze grinned and bounced her on her lap.
"It's an expression, honey."
"I don't like expressions. They smell." She fidgeted and pouted.
The doors banged, and one of them lost a chunk. Prickly Pear made her way to the counter. "Ooh, look out," I said. "Here comes trouble."
Ivy looked over her shoulder, and then scoffed. "Oh, leave her alone, she's having a rough day." I opened my mouth to argue, and Rainbow touched my foreleg and shook his head.
Prickly Pear sat at the counter and talked to Crumble. Nobody came in for a bit, so they were undisturbed. I felt a bump on my knees, and heard clapping under the table. Ocean Breeze was also looking down quizzically.
"Seashell, what are you doing?"
"Come here puppy! Puppy come here!"
I sighed and lifted him up. "His name is Nevada." He was getting really excited with all these faces at the table. I let him jump to the floor and start sniffing around.
Seashell wriggled out onto the floor and got to petting. "Hi puppy!" In one ear and out the other.
Shaking my head, I sat up. Upon sitting up, there was a mean pair of eyes looking at me from near the next table over. Prickly Pear was… looking this way? I was starting to get the impression that her face was stuck like that. It was too late to look away too, she must have known I was looking at her looking at me. She inhaled. I braced myself at the table.
Then she nodded, set her food down at her table, and sat down with her back to us. I looked at Rainbow, who looked as baffled as I was. I could see Crumble at the counter shaking her head and smiling.
“What’s up with you two?” Ivy asked.
“Nothing, sweetie,” Rainbow said. He grinned to try and sell it like the amateur liar he is. Ivy raised her brow.
I nudged him. “I’m sure we’ll talk about it later.” Ivy seemed to buy that one.
Nobody came to sit with Prickly Pear for the next five or ten minutes we were there, while we talked about where we were during the battle. Apparently lots of ponies had shit fall on their heads. Maybe they shouldn’t have been going around without helmets so much. Nobody was sure where Lemon Puff had gotten to - I was apparently the last of us to see her. I kept looking over at Prickly Pear every now and then. At some point I think she was just sitting there, having finished her food. I don’t think she had anywhere to be.
Rainbow stretched. “Cripes, it’s fuckin’ hot out here. I think I’m gonna find some shade. Sounds like it’d be good for the ol’ noggin.”
Ivy smirked. “You just want an excuse to go poking around at things.”
He chuckled. “I don’t know why I even try.”
She used magic to tug his head forward a little bit so she could look at the top, then let him go. He swayed, then recovered. "Don't go pushin' yourself now, sugar."
"I'll be fine."
“I’ve been finished my food for like twenty minutes now and some shade sounds really nice actually? So I think I’ll go with you, if you don’t mind.” I scooted along the bench after him. He shrugged and nodded. "C'mon, Nevada!" Nevada perked up when he spotted me coming over.
Seashell managed to pet him one more time before he escaped, and I scooped him up into my bag. "Aww... Momma, can we get a puppy? Please please please please please?" I heard Ocean Breeze groan as we left.
On the way out, Rainbow paused behind Prickly Pear and lifted a hoof. After a hesitant moment, he shook his head and carried on.
"If there's something they don't want when they're done, can I have it?"
We had ventured into the lab, and were carefully picking our way down the stairs to the water level. Water was still draining into it, so it wasn't done rising, but some of the mud was starting to settle at least. A few brave scribes were swimming around, trying to rescue anything that wasn't nailed down.
"I'm sure they can fix it up, it'll be fine. Actually, it'll give the scribes work, right?"
Rainbow glared at me. "Hang on, aren't I supposed to be the upbeat one?"
"I have a puppy. I don't think I'm capable of being in a bad mood." Nevada barked. I caught Rainbow smiling.
We stood on the lowest step above the water. Trickling echoed around the lab.
"But yeah, you're right, all these machines are fucking banjaxed."
He splashed some water with a hoof. "Some of it's probably salvageable. I mean, it's all been bodged together from scrap and spare parts anyway. But this water might actually kill it all if we don't do something about it."
"Is there nowhere for..." I thought about that for a second. "Shit, this is the lowest basement level, isn't it? There's nowhere for the water to go."
He nodded. "By the time it evaporates, we'll have rust, mould, there's already mud getting caked in... Any bright ideas?"
"Drink it? You're always short of water out here."
"It's filthy. Plus, to filter it we'd need to get it out of here first."
"Reverse the flow of the ventilation?"
"The AC's never worked, and it's definitely not working now. Also, it would probably fuck it up."
I scratched my chin. "So if we can't drink it, and we can't pump it out..." I thought back. The Little Boy was still here, up to his knees in water. I climbed the stairs until I was up to cockpit level, took my saddlebags off, and hopped over. I started poking around for the way into the cockpit.
"Atom, what are you doing?"
"Pushing buttons that I don't know what they do." Rainbow made an annoyed noise. The cockpit unlatched, and opened with a slow, hydraulic hiss. "Aha!"
"Please don't break the only tech on base that's not water damaged."
I slipped into the seat. It was an easy fit. Not much room for the hindlegs, and really not designed with wings in mind, but it did fine for poking around. Ivy said the matrices were fine, so I should be able to get the systems up and running by...
"Agh!" It made a mechanical noise. Something moved, and then went back to where it was. I think Rainbow peed a little. The scribes in the water stared. "I'm okay!" And importantly for my purposes, the systems were on. Dials and lit switches sprang to life. At a guess, you had to be a unicorn to pilot this thing, since there were holsters for forelegs to either side of me, and a load of buttons in the middle, which you'd be unable to reach while swinging the arms. Good thing that wasn't what I was trying to do.
Let's see, fuel, fuel... "Is there a manual in the glove box?" I shouted.
"Atom, please, stop pissing about."
I inspected the buttons near the fuel gauge. Dump fuel, no... pump fuel... because there's no way you'll confuse those! Emergency water transf-aha.
"I've got it."
I poked my head out. Rainbow stood leaning over the guard rail, frowning. "Got what?"
"I'm making some educated guesses here, but I think the Little Boy here can electrolyse its onboard water for some extra fuel. If we can get the water from the floor to the body..."
His face lit up. "... the Little Boy will turn into fuel, that's... brilliant! It'll need a lot of juice to process this much water, and I don't know if it can take all of it, and... and, and, it'll probably need some filtration? But it's a damn sight easier than a bucket line! Somebody get... fuck it, I'll grab Ivy, she knows that thing better than anyone, I'll be right back!"
I put my hooves up on the sorta dashboard. You've done it again, Atom.
"Missiles armed, ready to fire," a robotic voice said in the cockpit. The same voice yelled on a loudspeaker outside. "BETTER WIPED THAN STRIPED!" I scrambled to take my hooves off the dash. Fuck. You've done it again, Atom.
After Ivy had eaten my face off for nearly loosing surface to air missiles inside the laboratory, and then grudgingly admitted that my suspicions were correct and gathering a few scribes to cobble together something for it, Rainbow and I went to check out the quarters. The first job was finding them. Remember when I said I thought the skyline was missing something? One of the buildings that had come down the hardest was the quarters. One of the squads had retreated into it, and rather than try and breach it, it seems the Enclave tried to bring it down. It used to be three floors high, and was now a little under one. One and a bit in some places. Some power armoured rangers and unicorn scribes were busy picking through the rubble, and making a good job of it. I overheard whispers that there weren't too many casualties in this building because the squads got out before it came down completely, but they were combing through it anyway to be safe.
I followed Rainbow. He followed an odd path, which I didn't understand until I realised he was trying to trace where the corridors were. He climbed up some chunks of concrete wall, then hopped to another couple of peaks, and looked down.
"It's... it should be here," he said.
He hopped around a depression in the rubble, and shoved his hooves under a slab to lift it. I was expecting him to completely wreck himself trying to lift a big chunk of concrete, but it turns out it was dry wall, and he tossed it away easily, and showered himself in dust while he was at it. He stood over what was the corridor, looking over what was the corridor wall into the room. On his side of the floor, all of the guitars had been smashed into the record cabinet, and from what I could tell, most of them had been snapped in the neck too. Rainbow went white.
"I don't think we needed to come over here to know that this was going to happen."
"Where is it?" He dove into the wreckage hole and kicked the broken body of a guitar across the floor.
"Oh hey, that's my one. Nobody playing it now, I guess," I chuckled.
Rainbow ignored me. He threw bits of guitar and timber over his shoulder as he dug in the remains. He occasionally stopped to carefully lift a few record sleeves out, only to find them sharply bent in the middle, or a video tape with a big split in the case. He'd cringe and put them aside, and keep digging. I looked around behind him. Nevada, being a puppy, looked at everything with unbridled excitement. I spotted their rug, now caked in plaster dust and sitting in a puddle. Their cork board was crushed under some wall. At least they didn't need it anymore. Come to think of it, most of this stuff was Rainbow's. I had my whole life on my back, and I imagined Ivy lived light too. You can take the boy out of the stable, but you can't take the stable out of the boy.
He dropped a packet of spare record needles to the side and got up to dig on the other side of the room. "Shit. Shit shit." I stood aside, and he pulled the footstand of their bed clean off what was left of it. He held it like he didn't know what to do with it, then tossed it away and started heaving lumps of concrete off what must be the bed.
In standing back I tripped on something and stumbled. It was the camera. The flash reflector had a great big dent in it now, and it was split open. I picked it up and half the back plate fell clean off. What it did reveal to me, however, was the completely intact film roll. I bopped it out. "Hey, you might still be able to develop these. Dunno where you're gonna find a darkroom, but you must have been using this camera for something, right?"
I got no answer. Instead Rainbow was giving himself an aneurysm by lifting heavy bits of wall. "Shit. Fuck shit fuck, where did I put it?" I pocketed the film. Somewhere on there was a picture of me and him watching telly.
Nevada hopped out of my bag and started sniffing around. I went to pick him back up, because I was afraid Rainbow would step on him, but he was too quick for me. Rainbow at least saw him and stopped stomping around for a moment. A good thing too, he looked like he was going to have another panic attack. I stepped around him to go pick Nevada up, and I found him sniffing around the side of the bed. I found him sniffing at a thick book wedged between a beam of the bed and some wall. Wait a second. "I think he found your book."
"What?" he blurted out. I pulled Nevada out of the way before he could lick it.
"Maybe there's like, cooking smell off it."
Rainbow took a look, and immediately scrambled to pull it out. It was a clumsy operation of pushing the two things pinning it apart and nosing it out, but he got it. It was a bit dusty and damp around the edges, and the spine had taken some twisting damage, but the interior was intact. After inspecting it, Rainbow sat back on the bit of the bed protruding from the rubble and hugged the book. "Oh, thank Celestia."
I scratched Nevada under the chin. "You a bit of a bloodhound, eh? Maybe some rescue dog in there? Who is an extremely very good boy?" Nevada licked my nose. Rainbow smiled, briefly, then put the book down and returned to the record changer. Nevada turned to try and get to the book again. I tucked him back into the bag. "Nooo, you don't eat priceless family heirlooms. Plus it's all veggie smells, and you won't like 'em." Holy shit, I'm turning into a crazy dog mare or something. This is what puppies do to me.
Minutes passed. For every intact record he managed to pull out, there were a dozen or more broken ones. There was maybe one intact guitar between all the various instrument bits on the floor, and even then it might only have 5 strings. He carefully lifted the whole record player apparatus off, and then chucked it on the floor. I heard him make a noise, and walked over to look over his shoulder.
He picked bits of shattered plastic out of the way to lift up what used to be a violin. It was pretty recognisably violin-shaped, but with three severed strings curled up at the ends, part of the body caved in, and the neck hanging on by splinters, it was safe to say this thing was driftwood. He stared at it, and his wings drooped. I didn't know what to do, so I put a hoof on his back.
"Her name..." he sniffled. "Her name was... her name was Treble Clef." He kept looking at the broken violin. I felt him start to shake. By the time he put it down, he was sobbing into it, crumpled over the destroyed stereo.
I just stood there. I gave him a pat on the back and stayed nearby while he wept. I wanted to slap him around the back of the head and shake him until he came to his senses. I didn't, because he still had bandages around his head. I mean, yeah, it's a crying shame that all of these irreplaceable cultural artifacts had been destroyed, but fucking hell Rainbow, you're acting like you lost a child.
I heard some shouts nearby. When I climbed to a peak of rubble, I saw a bunch of Rangers rushing to one spot.
"There's someone in there!" I heard.
"Don't climb up there in that thing, you'll crush her!" said another.
"How are we going to get to her?"
I jumped down to the room. "Hey, Rainbow, I think they might need some help over there,"
He was, by now, lying face down in the wreckage, blubbering. "I'm so sorry..."
Okay. That was enough. I grabbed him by the wings to pull him upright. He yelped like a kicked puppy, so convincingly that I checked if Nevada was alright to be sure. Then, I stepped in front of him and lifted him by the chin. "Okay, look here, you." He had one of those miserable, mid-crying faces that begged for pity. "You can cry over your mementos another time. Right now we need you in the land of the living."
"Yeah, it's sad. I get that. I am also a petty child who gets irrationally upset when my shit gets broken." He looked like he'd been slapped in the face with words. "There is someone trapped under rubble over there. Go help them, you fucking moron."
I let him go with a little shove. He was still sniffing, but he stood steady. Reluctantly, he nodded, looking at the floor, and then he nodded again firmly. He climbed over the rubble, and over to the commotion.
I waited a moment to catch up. I tidied the broken case up. The box part was badly cracked, but it held together. Maybe there was some saving it. There were enough strings around, certainly. He probably had spare strings stashed in here too. I pushed the violin-shaped wood back to its violin shape and left it there. While I was at it, I straightened up the intact records and put them on top of the stereo. "Equestrian Pie" was on top. I think I'd heard that one on his little makeshift radio station. Now that I think about it, that station is toast now. Of all the songs to survive.
Tidying done, I followed after Rainbow. They'd gone and done all the hard work without me, which was fine, I wouldn't have been much help anyway. Rainbow heaved one last slab away with the help of another similarly-bulky Ranger, and they reached in to help the trapped pony out. She coughed loudly. I scurried over for a better look.
"Okay, give her some space!" he shouted. The small crowd backed up. "Get a doctor! She's bleeding!"
"Rain... Rainb... sir," she burbled.
"You're okay, Lemon. You're gonna be fine." Oh shit, that was Lemon Puff? I hopped around the rubble to get a better look, and sure enough, that was her.
"Is Ocean Breeze okay?"
"She's doing great. We're all okay. Don't you worry."
"Oh... hey, Atom!" she burbled weakly. I didn't know she'd spotted me. I waved uncertainly. "Did you get..." She coughed. "... the lightning rods up?"
I snirked. "Some of them. Mid-storm is a bit late to get 'em up."
She chuckled, and then started coughing a whole lot. Rainbow put a hoof on her chest to steady her. "Easy, easy. Don't exert yourself."
"Oh, it ain't nothin', lemme just..." She hacked and spat to the side. "I'll be kickin' Enclave tail in no time."
A couple of scribes and two Rangers with a stretcher turned up at that point. Rainbow helped her onto it, and they took her away. She waved at us as she was carried off. The crowd dispersed shortly after, most of them going back to searching the rubble. Rainbow sat down where he was and watched the stretcher go. I sat beside him.
"I... I don't know what came over me," he said.
"I know exactly what came over you. It's okay." He looked at me. "You're a sentimental schlub trying to save the soul of a dead world. Everyone else is trying to bodge together guns and shit or just surviving, and you're there putting together this fallout shelter for culture. You're this... rage against the dying of the light. And that's kinda metal."
He smiled, looking at the ground. "Maybe a little hyperbolic. And morbid."
"It's true though, kinda? Like, that's what the violin means. It's what the records and the video tapes and stuff mean. If that shit wasn't important, you wouldn't be crying in a bombed out building over it."
"A week ago I couldn't get you to pay attention to my story about that violin for love nor money."
I chuckled. "It's been an intense week, okay?"
We sat quietly for a few moments. The smell of dead bodies, the trickling of surface water, and the wails of grief from around the courtyard had all gone away, mostly.
"Treble Clef was her name, you said?"
"Yeah," he said, a moment later.
"Who was she? I don't really remember the story."
He took a deep breath. "Well, it was about three weeks after I first joined the Rangers..."