Chapter 5: Brothers In Arms
“Good morning everypony, you’re listening to New Pegasus Radio, and I’m your favourite host, Mister New Pegasus, bringing you the best music in all the Wasteland! You enjoyed that, didn’t you? I surely did. Nothing beats the mesmerizing voice of Sweetie Belle. I wish I could wake up to her sweet melodies, don’t you agree? Well, I have another set of tunes ready for you, after this break! Don’t stop listening!
Let’s go with some news, shall we? It’s been a week since the despicable murder of Sandmound Ferratura, and things are starting to tighten in New Pegasus. Yesterday, the leader of the Ferratura family, old Novalis “Nonno” Ferratura accused Full House of the murder of his grandson. Obviously, it’s a pointless accusation since there is no proof of Full House having even left his casino. However, this reporter has done his homework. I’ve been digging deep into the underground of The Clops, speaking with both Ferratura family members and close affiliates.
According to them, Nonno Ferratura is old, and even if regarded with total respect, they stated that the mental abilities of the capo have been severely hindered over the years, so they don’t give the accusation any worth at all. However, they have told me that the main assumption they follow is that the murder of Sandmound wasn’t personal. It was business. They didn’t point any hooves at anypony, though.
The official response of the Platinum Horseshoe has been a firm denial of the accusation, showing their concern for what happened to the heir and offering their help to the family. On a less formal note, they let slip that Sandmound Ferratura had been seen outside New Pegasus, supposedly in the company of “unwanted” ponies. Rumor has it that young Ferratura was involved in the drug dealing business. The Ferratura family has, however, denied this aspect.
On the other hand, the New Pegasus Police Department has decided to keep silent as the investigation carries on. Chief Investigator Brass Badge hasn’t been seen at his home for days, and the front desk pony of the precinct told New Pegasus Radio that has been working 24/7 since the body was found, so hooves up for our diligent police force!
On to what is happening outside our city. It seems that the NER army has finally crossed the Divide and entered Neighvada territory. According to caravaneers and scrap traders along the Wasteland, the NER army has taken an old outpost along Route 15 to establish their HQ. The New Pegasus City Board has scheduled an emergency meeting to address this issue today at 7 pm. This radio station will keep you well informed of the movements of the Republican Army.
On a side note to this, the NER ambassador has decided to seclude herself inside the embassy building. How should we humble, peace-loving citizens interpret this?
And now that the news are over, let’s return to the music! As I promised, here’s another lovely, heart-warming tune by the one and only Sweetie Belle! Enjoy it as much as I do, and remember, everypony. You’re listening to New Pegasus Radio, and I’m Mister New Pegasus, speaking directly to your souls...”
She was playing with my patience.
Metronome was delaying our meeting day after day. She would simply say her boss had more important matters to attend, matters like having her daily stroll through Trader Plaza, surrounded by her bodyguards. In the meantime, I was sent to my daily, pointless little assignments. One day I was overseeing a trade, the next day I would have to collect a debt from a late payer. The only good thing about it was that I was getting myself some caps, so my economy wasn’t as critical as it became when I headed for the Stable.
Every time I was on the verge of exploding, Rose was there for me. My young new friend knew how I thought, so she could easily talk to me and calm my anger. On the other hand, she was learning quickly about the ways of Freedom Field. In each and every assignment I was given, Rose would follow me into the thick of action. In a matter of days, she got to see both the big picture of the town and the small, nasty details.
I was amazed at Rose’s growth, mentally speaking. She was far more mature than a week ago, when I found her in the ruins outside Freedom Field. When she learned about my situation, and about how I was no good, friendly neighbor, but more of a wannabe mobster; she immediately understood the situation and started asking me of my plans. For me and for her, since our fates were now bound by a tacit pact of mutual assistance. I didn’t want to tell her much, apart from my desire to climb the ladder. She wouldn’t have enough, though.
“Power?” Rose asked. “What’s it good for?”
“What do you mean?” I replied. That question was totally pointless.
“Look at Dee Cleff. She’s powerful, and yet miserable.”
“Miserable? How can you say that?”
“Farsight, have you looked at her? Don’t you see she lives in a gilded cage? She has to be protected all the time. She is looked upon with fear by all the population in Freedom Field. She can’t do anything by herself! She isn’t free! What’s the point in being powerful if you can’t be free?”
The question had its point, I had to admit that. I took a deep breath and started thinking carefully about my answer. In the days we had spent together, I had learned that Rose was a free spirit. She followed me because I had saved her, but she wouldn’t just buy everything I sold. Instead, I began to have the feeling she tried to change me.
“Well...” I started slowly and calmly “Indeed, she’s not as free as you can be. She’s tied to some commitments, to her ideals and to her associates. However, the way I see it, I’m tied as well. I have my assignments, my allegiances... I’m not free, not powerful either. Dee isn’t free, true, but she has the power to choose what she’s tied to. And ultimately, she can break those ties, as long as she faces the consequences. I want that power.”
“What do you want it for, then? To make money? To crush the rest of the ponies with your hoof? I’ve seen what you’ve had to do, and I found it horrible. I don’t blame you, Farsight, I know you do it because you have to. I blame the powerful. I blame Dee.”
“What do I want? I want the freedom I was denied from my very birth. I was born in a Stable, where you’re assigned a job for your life, and you’re expected to do it and shut up. If you raise your voice, you’re kicked in your flank and left out to rot. Out here, I’m not free either. I have to work for any of the gangs if I want to survive. And out in the Wasteland, you’re not free either, since you have to fight to survive. I want the freedom to choose my destiny.”
Rose nodded silently. I hadn’t convinced her, I was pretty sure about that. The best I could ever expect to do was to try to make her see the world through my eyes, to make her understand what drove me forward. This had been one of many discussions to come, there was no doubt about it.
*** *** ***
The day I was expecting had finally come. Metronome had told me to meet with them at noon in the Music Hall, where I would finally be able to explain my plan to them. The night before, I had spent hours rehearsing my speech. I had to be appealing and stern at the same time, both confident and humble, both seductive and logical. This one would be the hardest battle I had fought to the day, and I wouldn’t be facing it from the safety of a cover spot looking through my rifle’s sights.
With almost no hours of sleep and two cups of coffee down my throat to wake me up fully, I dressed my best (and only) suit and combed my mane thoroughly. If there was something I had learned in Freedom Field, it was the importance of a good first impression. If a thug wasn’t imposing at a first glance, nopony would take him seriously, even if he was the deadliest bastard in the Wasteland. In this occasion, I had to transmit security and finesse.
Suit, check. Shower, check. Plan in mind, check. Breath mint, check. I breathed deep and pushed the door leading to the Music Hall, to find myself facing my two employers, Metronome and Dee Cleff. Metronome dressed as usual, always in black and white. This time, she had returned to the checkerboard pattern I had seen the first time. Dee was wearing a black suit, especially tailored for her, as it was a perfect fit. Once again, I found myself comparing the image of Octavia in the background of the stage with the one of the gang leader, and they were really similar.
“You’re done checking Miss Cleff out?” Metronome asked smugly.
“Metronome, please.” Dee interrupted her with a soft, grating voice.
“I’m sorry, Miss Cleff.” I bowed gently. I didn’t want things to go rough from the very beginning. “I was, indeed, admiring the many similarities between Octavia and yourself.”
“It happens all the time.” Dee smiled. Hers was a sincere smile, or she was a perfect actress. “Indeed, I’m the great-great-great-whatever-daughter of the legendary Octavia.”
“Miss Cleff, please!” Metronome interrupted. “We have a schedule to attend.”
“Indeed. I’m sorry, Farsight. Metronome can be a bit harsh sometimes, but she tends to be right most of the times. Tell me. You had a plan you wanted to share with me, didn’t you?”
“Of course, Miss Cleff.” I cleared my throat. “Let me explain my reasons first, though. What drove me into all of this was the dire need of protection this city has. As you might remember, I started my life here as a scavenger-trader. We did meet in Trader Plaza some time ago. I sold you a little trinket, don’t you remember?”
“The RoboDoggy Winona, Miss Cleff.” Metronome added a bit of information.
“Yes, Metronome, I remember. Indeed, you were in the stand next to Sunny Orchard’s Vegetable Emporium.”
“Exactly. Now, the first day of job, I was seriously harassed by an addict. A junkie. A poor sod so high on Dash he couldn’t even link two words. I had a hard time dealing with him, and luckily for me, I suffered no injuries. However, the traders nearby told me that this has become more and more usual over the months. Therefore, I thought there was something to be done about the issue.”
“Yes, it’s a real disgrace.” Dee nodded, her face showing unmasked sadness.
“These being the reason, another thing sparked my curiosity. The junkie dropped a small object that put me on trail, concretely a playing card with the symbol of the Followers of the Shy on it. That led me to suspect an involvement of the Followers in the drug business.”
“You do know the Buckmares have the monopoly on drugs, don’t you?”
“I do. However, the Buckmares don’t have permission to MAKE drugs, do they?”
“No. Drug production is something we ruled out of Freedom Field in our last peace.”
“Well, keep that in mind, since I’ll return to it later. As I said, I set off to investigate the activity of the Buckmares. Since I was a rather unknown pony, I hoped to move unnoticed and eavesdrop something on their business. Luck was good to me, as I saw Saddle Buckmare himself leave the Diamonds and head for a meeting. I followed him to the dark alleys, where I hid in a dumpster. Some time later, I heard a conversation between Golden Swallow and Saddle Buckmare.”
“Did you record it?” Metronome asked. She knew I hadn’t, and she would probably use that fact against me.
“No, I couldn’t. However, before you rule out everything I say, take a minute to hear my story, please.”
“Carry on,” Dee said.
“Goldie and Saddle spoke about the status of their business. Apparently, they have started a joint venture in which Saddle floods Freedom Field with drugs and Goldie provides rehabilitation to the addicts. All for a low price, of course. In order to do that, Goldie demanded a greater production of drugs to Saddle. Therefore, Saddle Buckmare is producing drugs.”
“Which is intolerable.” Dee scowled.
“Indeed. Besides, there are other side effects, like the impoverishment of the population, since more and more ponies are pushed to addiction.”
“And if the population has no money, the trading will stop and our city will wither.” Dee’s reasoning was the one I wanted to point out.
“There was one more thing they mentioned. Saddle Buckmare wants to take you out of the picture, in case you didn’t know already. Then, well, I was caught snooping, and the rest is history.”
“I had that feeling.” Dee scowled again, graciously. “Thanks for all that information. However, all this doesn’t sound like a plan at all.”
“True, true. My plan goes as follows. What I heard let me know that the Coilites were the key to the domination of the City. A three against one scenario was what Saddle was trying to achieve in order to start a conflict, therefore, the first step would be to bring the Coilites to our side. That’s what I started to investigate before Metronome here sent me to find a Water Talisman. Upon my return, I saw that this step had already been taken.”
“It was very reasonable.” Dee smiled. “Metronome didn’t tell me it was your plan altogether.”
“She must have slipped that.” I gave Metronome an ironic smirk. “Not a problem, really. Now, the next step would be to force a negotiation with both our foes. Threaten them with an open conflict they can’t win.”
“You do know that I worked really hard to achieve peace, don’t you?” Dee was giving me a cold glare now. If looks could kill, I’d be lying dead on the floor right now.
“I know, I know.” I tried to give both of them my most convincing smile. “However, I don’t want to end up fighting the Buckmares or the Followers. I realize it would be bad for business. What I suggest is that we remind them of their situation, and tell them that we know about their little scheming. With that no longer a secret, give them two options. One: give in to our demands and stop the drug flow. How? Revoking the monopoly and turning the drug market into a free market. Two: be punished.”
“I fail to understand how a free market will stop the drug dealing.” Dee looked at me coldly, but with a hint of doubt in her face.
“It’s simple. A monopoly sets the price. It can be as low as Saddle Buckmare wants, thus enabling many ponies to buy it. And since he handles all the drugs coming from the Wasteland plus his production, the price of drugs can be really low. Besides, since he’s the only provider, he can lower the quality of the drugs without losing customers. If there was any other dealer offering a better quality material, the addicts would dump Buckmare and head to the other dealer. Besides, more dealers would mean more difficulty to obtain drugs to sell, which would mean higher prices. Eventually, the addict would have to pay more per shot.”
“So, in a nutshell, if there are more dealers, there’ll be less dealing?”
“More or less.”
“Do you think they’ll give in?”
“I don’t know, but I consider it’s worth a try.”
“All right.” Dee meditated for a second. “I’ll think it over. Now go, I have to discuss matters with Metronome.”
I nodded and turned around to leave. I peeked over my shoulder as I walked out of the Music Hall, and saw Dee and Metronome talking in whispers. If I had heard what they were talking about, I would have worried myself sick.
*** *** ***
The very next day to our meeting, Metronome summoned me to the Music Hall. Rose was invited as well. The fact that she wanted Rose to be around made me suspicious. Until then, all the assignments had been delivered only to me, and I was who decided to bring Rose with me. What did she want from the filly?
“So, Farsight, are you ready for another little quest?” Metronome seemed delighted while saying those words. Bad stuff. Metronome had never showed happiness or delight when speaking to me, so I was seeing black clouds in the horizon. In the very deep of my heart, I really wanted to give a smug retort, but my experience had proven me that my big mouth could bring me even more trouble.
“Farsight is ALWAYS ready!” Rose jumped beside me. I hadn’t seen that coming. I knew that Rose appreciated me, but I never thought she’d jump forward so harshly.
“Rosie, I asked him. Be polite and let him answer.” Metronome gave a stern look to Rose.
“Don’t patronize me, Metronome.”
Whoa. Talk about being smug. Rose clearly did not realize the risks she was taking by speaking like that. If she knew, she would be a bit more careful.
“Rose, please.” I scowled. “You should watch your muzzle.”
Rose nodded and stopped bouncing.
“Metronome, I’m ready. What is it this time? Do you need me to find a lost city? Find the long-forgotten Tiara of Celestia? Retrieve Fluttershy’s dead carcass? Because I’m really good when it comes to finding impossible objects.”
Whoops. I had really let myself go this time, and I might face the consequences. Luckily, Metronome took the bravado as the joke and laughed, loosening the tension of the room.
“Yes, you’ve shown your prowess in digging deep into the Wasteland’s past.” Metronome chuckled, which gave me the creeps. “No, it’s nothing like that. I need you to clear a raider camp south of town.”
“A raider camp?” I replied. She was sending me to a certain death. No freaking doubt. “Do you seriously think I can take a whole raider camp by myself?”
“No, I know you can’t. I can’t think of anypony that can. That’s why I’m sending some... somepony with you, to help you out.”
“I can help him!” Rose bounced again.
“I don’t doubt you can, Rosie.” Metronome gave an amused look to the stubborn filly, who responded with a glare of childish hatred. “But this job needs another kind of help, different than the one you can give.”
Metronome stomped the stage floor three times and the door opened. Great sense of timing, indeed. If she wanted to impress anypony, at least she had caught Rose off guard. She looked at Metronome in utter amazement, as if she had pulled out some magic trick.
The door had opened, and a buck was entering the room. Wait a minute, I had seen this fellow before. Slick pinstripe suit, good taste in outfitting. Stone gray coat with a thin pinstripe motif, showing that he was no pony. The moustache and beard were the final proof. The zebra that had just entered the room was no unknown face to me. Mister Black and Mister Blue, back into action.
“Ah, Nadyr, welcome.” Metronome greeted the zebra with familiarity.
“Hullo, sweetie,” the zebra replied. His voice sounded exotic, the tone of her phrases being more a tune than a straight line.
“I-I-It’s a zebra!” Rose screamed, and ran to hide behind the seats.
“Half-zebra, if you please, young lady.” Nadyr didn’t seemed very pleased with Rose stating the obvious.
“Well, well, well. If it isn’t my old partner Mister Black. Half-zebra? How is that possible?” I asked as politely as possible. If he was to be my partner, I had better being careful, since I already knew what he was capable of.
“Pa was a zebra, bro. Ma, on the other hand, was an earth pony. Of course, I never knew Pa. According to what Ma told me, he was one beautiful stranger. Y’know. Suave speaking zebra comes into town, walks into your place asking for a place to stay, since everypony hates him for being a zebra. Ma agrees, and by the time you know it, the slick stranger is tapping Ma’s flank like there’s no tomorrow. And in the morning he’s gone. And some time later I was born. Bad luck zebra traits are dominant. Poor Ma had to leave town in a hurry with me in the saddlebag.”
His story was another proof of the sad and unforgiving place Equestria had turn into. However, he seemed to have taken it with enough philosophy, since he didn’t seem too angry at his unknown father. The only think I didn’t like of Nadyr’s speech was the explicitness of it. There was a filly listening.
“And yes,” he continued, “I was Mister Black. And you were Mister Blue. Mind telling me your name?”
“Farsight, and this filly here is Rose.” I said pointing my hoof at her.
“Great indeed.” Metronome interrupted. “Nadyr here grew to become a nice problem solver.” She smiled at Nadyr. “He’s worked with me a couple of times and I’m very fond of his services.”
“My pleasure, sweetheart.” Nadyr seemed to have kept the suave talking ways of his father.
“So, what is the job exactly about?” I asked, willing to get it over with. I didn’t trust Metronome, and Nadyr wasn’t the best companion either. Well, it was, as long as you didn’t mess with him.
“There is a small village called Nobuck down south from here. It’s about three days away, if you don’t get hindered by beasts and such. The caravaneers have been having issues with a particularly aggressive band of raiders that has set up camp over there. Since those caravaneers are the ones that trade with me, I want you to take out the Raiders there.”
“How many?” I asked.
“I don’t know. The caravaneers couldn’t count them.”
“Can’t tell. Apparently they’re well armed. And definitely dangerous.”
Something was fishy about this job. Nadyr wasn’t asking a single thing, as if the job was totally irrelevant to him, or as if he already knew what it was all about. Either way, I was on a disadvantage. However, it didn’t seem like Metronome would tell me anything else, apart from the location of Nobuck, which was already beeping in my PipBuck.
“Anything more we have to know?” I asked curtly. “No? Good. Everypony, we’re leaving.”
I turned around and headed towards the exit. Rose bounced and followed me almost running. Nadyr, on the other hand, smiled and started strolling behind me. When we all left the building, I slammed the door shut, proving that I wasn’t pleased. At all.
*** *** ***
The first day of our trip towards Nobuck went away without almost any news. Every now and then we had to fend off packs of radroaches or some big, nasty lizards called ‘Gummys’ according to Rose. Every now and then we had to go out guns blazing, but I never saw Nadyr get into combat stance. Not even a single time. What was he here for, anyway? I knew he was capable of fighting, damn straight I knew. Or at least it did look like that when we killed the couriers. Maybe he was nothing but a showoff, somepony that could only shoot a gun if his target was stopped and unarmed? I kept watching the zebra closely as we trod down the Wasteland, while Rose scouted the fields in front of us.
“So, what’s your tale, bro?” Nadyr asked out of the blue. The fact that he entered the personal field so quickly was odd to me. In our last assignment, he hadn’t told me a damn thing.
“Tale?” I replied.
“Tale, yes. Every single pony in the Wasteland has a tale to tell. Maybe before the War lives could be boring, but now every day is a story worth telling. My experience has shown me that. And I told you mine. Now it’s fair trade that you tell me yours.”
He had a point indeed. I guess it meant no harm if I told him about myself. However, I’d have to be careful not to speak about my plans.
“Well, I was born in Stable 188, right below the city of New Pegasus. I would have lived in peace there, but they kicked me out.”
“Did they? That is so fucked up.” Nadyr whistled.
“Yeah. Totally fucked up. However, fucked up or not, the thing is I ended up stray in Freedom Field. They even kicked me off New Pegasus.”
“You tell me. After that, I started to work as a trader and a scavenger. I could have carried on like that, but I started to investigate about the drug deals in town, and some gangsters caught me and were about to kill me, but the Stringers saved my sorry ass. Therefore, I had to start working for them in return.”
“And that’s when we met, ain’t it right?”
“More or less. In the meantime, I started thinking on a way of having my little revenge on the bastards that beat me up. So I asked for a meeting with Dee Cleff. And since Metronome didn’t want me sniffing around, she sent me to find a Water Talisman. Pretty much of a fool’s errand, but I ended up finding an abandoned Stable where a slaughter had taken place. After all the problems, I managed to come back with the gem. Yesterday I had my meeting, and today they’re sending me to hunt raiders with you.”
“Cool story, homie. What about the filly? She yours?” Nadyr seemed interested to know about me. I didn’t know whether to take it as something good or bad, but as long as he asked petty questions like these, I had no problem telling him the truth.
“You mean Rose? She comes with me, follows me since I saved her from some raiders who were about to rape her. Also, she almost killed me in the Stable.”
“Hell!” Nadyr laughed out loud, “she is troublesome indeed!”
I smiled and nodded. I didn’t know why, but even through all the distrust and dread Nadyr inspired me, I was starting to like the slick half-zebra, as he liked to be called. I knew he was a very dangerous bastard, but I enjoyed his boldness. He wasn’t afraid of calling things by their names.
We set up camp in a spark battery recharge station close to the main road. It seemed that before the war, the pegasi operated air chariots powered by spark batteries which could be refilled here. Now, it was nothing but a small rusted building in the middle of the desert. While we were getting ready to sleep, I took a peek at Nadyr’s gear. He only carried a small silenced pistol and a switchblade. A shiver ran down my spine when I realized what was going on. Those weren’t the weapons to fight a gang of raiders. Nadyr wasn’t here to help me take out the raiders, he was here to kill me! However, we had been alone for a lot of time, only the three of us. Why hadn’t he attacked yet?
*** *** ***
Luna be praised. Nadyr snored like an adult Ursa Major. Even if that wasn’t the best setting to get some rest, at least I knew he wouldn’t kill me in his sleep. While I looked at my PipBuck screen and watched the clock count the minutes, realization struck me. Of course he hadn’t attacked me. Rose never got out of our line of sight! He couldn’t kill her. Probably, even if Metronome wanted her to come with me, our striped companion was incapable of taking a harmless filly out. I assumed that her plan was to have Rose and I taken out while investigating the raider camp, mission from which we weren’t expected to return.
I could have killed Nadyr at the spot, but I saw the chance to obtain a powerful ally for my interests, and take one of the Stringers’ best soldiers off their clutches at the same time. If I played my cards well, this mission could be a total success... for me, at least.
The sun raised again and we started our second day of journey through the desert. Once Rose had gained a little distance from us, I trotted close to Nadyr and readied my rifle, in case things went ugly. But before, I’d try to talk my way out of the situation.
“How much will she pay you, Nadyr?” I asked.
“What?” Nadyr was caught off guard. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, bro.”
“Come on, Nadyr, don’t play fool on me. I know Metronome hired you to kill me.”
“No, no, no, bro. You must be confused by the heat or something. Metronome hired me as your partner.”
“What partner brings a silenced small caliber pistol and a switchblade to a raider hunt? Even Rose is packing more heat than you!”
Beat that, buster; I thought. Nadyr didn’t speak, he seemed to be analyzing his possibilities. He saw me on guard, with my rifle ready to shoot, and fully aware of the situation. To be totally honest, I feared that he would pull some zebra trick on me. And he did, up to some point. In an acrobatic movement, Nadyr somersaulted and bucked me with his powerful hind legs, sending me flying to the floor. The force of the impact broke my grasping spell, and the rifle flew away from my area of control. I landed on the dusty tarmac with a painful impact in my back.
I got up as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, Nadyr had taken his silenced pistol from its holster. I had no single minute to lose, or he’d spray my brains on the floor. I galloped forward and rammed him. As he wasn’t ready for impact, he didn’t offer any resistance and fell to the floor. Our legs tangled and I fell headfirst to the floor. Then I started regretting not having trained my hoof-to-hoof combat. Nadyr was quicker to get up, and he pinned me in some sort of martial arts maneuver, pressing his weight on my neck and blocking my throat.
I couldn’t breathe. My heart was pounding ever faster, and a lacerating pain was forming in my chest, as if a ball of spikes had started growing in my lungs. If things didn’t change fast, I’d lose consciousness fast. I tried to roll around, but he had me pinned down. I tried to buck him, but then again, I couldn’t drive force into my hooves. Then I realized that I could grasp things, and I used my magic on something any male pony or zebra would hold dear.
It was a nasty move, I recognize it, but I had to survive. My horn glowed, and Nadyr squeaked. With a leap, he released the pin and let me roll around and gasp for air. However, before I could even raise my head, a hoof slammed against my belly, making me twist in pain. I almost couldn’t see and I breathed with great distress, and Nadyr knew it. He kept aiming for my lungs, trying to knock me out cold by punching all the air out of them.
Every impact felt like falling off a cliff. Nadyr was able to send his hooves right into my soft spots, kicking the air out of my lungs. I tried to block the zebra’s hooves, but I was too slow. I was being pummeled from side to side without any chance of a comeback. I just needed a second of rest to be able to back away from Nadyr’s impact range. However, an expert fighter like my opponent wouldn’t give me that choice. Just to make the point clear, Nadyr somersaulted and bucked me in the face at full strength.
That last kick had thrown me close to my rifle, thank Celestia. My only edge over Nadyr was my magic, so I would have to use it wisely. With almost no time to think, the half-zebra was back on me, stomping against my chest, sending pain through my body. This time, however, I had an ace up my sleeve. Without him noticing, I used my magic on the rifle. Just a second, enough to propel it from the floor and into his head.
The wooden hilt of the rifle rammed against Nadyr’s head, making him stumble and break the pin. Not enough. I fight to get up while I sent the rifle slamming into his head once again. This time the zebra lost balance and fell to the floor. This time was the good time. Before he could react, I had aimed the rifle right at his face, ready to shoot him down.
“Game over, Nadyr!” I gasped.
Nadyr raised his hooves and composed a guilty smile. He was bleeding from some cuts and his slick suit looked less imposing once dirty and ragged. My body hurt like hell, so I supposed I had the same look.
“Okay, bro. You got me. Miss Cleff wants you two dead, both you and the little filly. She thinks you are dangerous for her. So she hired me to take you out, no witnesses. But as long as we keep moving down the road, I couldn’t risk to attract a patrol or a caravaneer. That’s why I haven’t killed you yet. But whatever, now I’m done for. So, you can shoot me now, ‘kay?”
I was seconds away from pulling the trigger and blowing his brains off, but something stopped me. The sound of hooves coming close. The sound of rattling guns, the sound of an army. What the fuck?
“Okay, foals. Enough playing around.” A stallion said sternly. I looked up to see a bunch of armored bucks with their battle saddles menacingly pointed at us. Rose was standing in front of them, with an embarrassed expression on her face. “Now, lay down your guns and start walking here, no funny moves.”
“Rose...” I gasped, still trying to pump oxygen into my lungs. “Did you... bring them... to us?”
“I’m afraid I did that... I’m sorry.” Rose stepped back, worried. “I was scouting ahead and they surprised me. I never saw them coming.”
I left the rifle on the floor and moved to the side, letting Nadyr get up again. The pistol and the switchblade fell on the dirt with a thudding noise. The bucks had already surrounded us, and one of them picked our weapons from the floor and lodged them in his saddlebags. The ones behind us poked us with their heads, forcing us to start a march.
I had seen enough. Indeed, the ponies escorting us weren’t raiders. They moved in formation, their armors new and polished. Their weapons weren’t old makeshift rifles, but powerful saddle-mounted contraptions with double machine guns. Even if they all tried to cover themselves with old, dusty coats, I could see their badges. That emblem wasn’t new for me. The two unicorn heads. Those ponies were NER soldiers!
And if the situation wasn’t hard enough, there was Nadyr. After having realized the zebra wanted to kill me, I hardly couldn’t trust him. I had spared his life where I had all the reasons in the world to kill him, but I wasn’t sure at all about his loyalty. It seemed that he didn’t trust me either. However, our new situation needed a desperate basis of agreement between the two of us. I decided to make a move.
“I have a proposal to make to you, Nadyr. I could use your help.”
Nadyr looked at me with a pissed face. He had been battered around, and now he was captive to the NER thanks to Rose. He had his reasons to be mad at me.
“Tell me.” Even under pressure, he kept being slick.
“We got into this together, and we’ll get out of this together, no matter what we have to do.”
“Give me a good reason.”
“I fucking spared your life.” I clenched my teeth in rage. Was he mocking me or something?
“Like that’s something. Your filly got us into bigger trouble, so you’re responsible after all.”
“And I’m going to get us out of trouble, but I will need your help. I will need you to stick to my version, and I will need you to back me up, should the situation come. What is it you want in return?”
“Come on, smarty pants. Guess.”
“Do you think it’s time for jokes, Nadyr? These guys are serious. Haven’t you noticed that Dee sent us directly to a trap?”
“Whatever. I don’t care, traps are part of my job, and I know my way out of them. You, on the other hand, seem very worried, so I’m going to take a wild guess here and say you have no fucking idea on how you’re getting out of this mess. That’s why you’re asking for help. And I say, give me a reason.”
Crap. I sighed. I was caught in a situation that was starting to kill my patience. I needed Nadyr to get us out of this one, but I had to keep my dignity.
On a second thought, screw dignity.
“All right, Nadyr. What is it that you want?”
“Money. I want money. After all, I’m a mercenary.”
“You want money? That is all? All right, let’s talk about money. We work together and share our earnings. Partners. Associates. Does that sound good to you?”
“Nadyr! I said we share earnings. We happy?”
Nadyr smiled broadly and nodded.
“Yeah. We happy.”
*** *** ***
Heat burnt our backs as we trotted uphill, heading for our destination, with the guns of the NER troopers aimed at our backs. The hill wasn’t too steep, but it took us some effort to arrive to the top, since we hadn’t stopped to rest for the night. We looked along the road, and to our amazement, a massive building on the shape of a green, toothless lizard with big purple eyes looked at us from the other side.
“What the fuck is this thing?” Nadyr stuttered in utter surprise. “Where the fuck are these nutters taking us to, Farsight?”
“Quit swearing around, Nadyr, and keep your voice down. I have no idea either.”
“What is this place?” I asked out loud.
“Shut up. You don’t need to know what this place is.”
I smiled to my inside. Not telling me where we were had only one obvious significance. The NER didn’t want us to know where we were headed. Therefore, our destination had to be some sort of secret NER encampment. However, that didn’t answer my question. Something else did.
*BLEEP!* The PipBuck came alive once again, and I managed to take a peek without causing any suspicions on the troopers that escorted us. The text on the screen was very clear: You have reached Nobuck. Our original destination, and the place where, according to Metronome, some Raiders had established camp. Well, it turned out they weren’t Raiders.
But, what was their business in Nobuck? And why didn’t they openly claim their position?
“Okay, you three!” The voice of the commanding officer echoed in the Wasteland air. “We’re close to our destination, so prepare to be shackled!”
“Shackled?” Nadyr yelled. “How about no?”
“Nadyr, don’t make it any harder.” I held Nadyr close with my hoof. “We don’t know how they’ll take it.”
“You’re a reasonable buck.” The trooper in front of me turned around with a gentle smile on his face and a little gun floating beside him. “Of course, we’re not going to shackle you as is. We don’t want to get hurt in the process. This will make things easier.”
The gun fired silently, and I felt something sting me in the foreleg. I quickly looked to see a small dart lodged in my flesh, and then I felt dizzy. Everything went black in the blink of an eye.
*** *** ***
“Are they awake?” A voice shouted, yet muffled, as if it were far away.
“The zebra is awake, sir. The adult unicorn is still dozing around, it seems.” Another voice responded, far away as well.
“Wake the unicorn. She’ll be here any minute.”
“Right now, sir!”
A blast of water came out of the blue, breaking me out of the trance I was in. I opened the eyes, just to be blinded by the light coming out of a lamp pointed at my face. I closed the eyes again and shook my head. I was shackled to the floor, so I couldn’t move my hooves. The lamp was moved away, so I could open my eyes again and look at the place I was in.
We were in what seemed the room of an old motel. Nadyr was shackled beside me, close to an old dusty bed with a ragged cover on it. The wallpaper had almost lost all its color, and dust floated all around the place. Three heavily armed soldiers wearing NER uniforms watched us. Our saddlebags had been left on the bed, but there was no trace of our weapons. The soldiers had stripped me of the upper half of my armor. At least, my hind legs were covered.
“What were you doing here?” One of the ponies, who seemed to be the leader of the team, spat the question.
“Sightseeing.” Nadyr answered.
“Sightseeing, with guns?” the leader replied, smirking curtly.
“It’s a dangerous neighborhood, officer.” Nadyr smiled back.
“Shut the fuck up, you striped bastard!” One of the soldiers lost his temper, and pointed his rifle towards Nadyr.
“Weapons down, private! Wait until she questions them!”
The soldier obeyed but gave Nadyr a menacing glare. The half-zebra replied with a wink and a kiss, which infuriated the NER soldier even more. The team leader had to issue a curt shout to force his teammate to stand down.
“You harm him, Private Evenstar, and I swear that I’ll make you eat your Cutie Mark!”
Minutes passed as we were waiting for some unknown mare to come question us. Who did they think we were, actually? We were nothing but two Wastelanders that had fallen into a trap, operated by this NER detachment. They wouldn’t obtain much information from us, mostly because we had none to give them.
“Where is Rose?” I asked to the leader.
“The small filly that came with us. Where is she?”
“She’s under custody. Don’t worry, she has suffered no harm. I strictly ordered she should be treated with respect.”
“Thank you.” I liked him. Even if he was holding us captive, he was better than most of the ponies I had come across in the wastes.
The day kept advancing as we waited for our mysterious guest to arrive. I grew ever more impatient as time went by. Nadyr, on the other hand, seemed to have slipped to his inner world, as he was looking nowhere and whistling a tune. Suddenly, the sound of hooves stomping the floor came from the outside. Something was about to happen. The door opened and the team leader shouted.
“Third group, salute!”
The three soldiers martially raised a hoof to their eyebrows, as a green unicorn mare with a green and white mane entered the room slowly. She wore a dark green formal suit with a white blouse inside, and on the flap of her jacket she had pinned a golden insignia of the two unicorn heads. She was some important pony within the NER.
“So, seems like we caught something in our net, doesn’t it?” She smiled dangerously. “Who are you, and what are you doing here?”
“Whoa, whoa, lady!” Nadyr smiled again, trying to look seductive. “How impolite of you, coming into the room where we’re being held and asking our names without even telling us yours...”
One of the soldiers advanced to beat Nadyr up, but the mare lifted a hoof to stop him.
“I like your guts, striped abomination.” She smiled again. “I am Harpsong Heartstrings, Vice-President of the New Equestrian Republic, and I didn’t cross the damn Divide putting my life at risk to be sweet-talked by some underling like you!”
So we were messing with the big fish. This was too dangerous for Nadyr’s loud mouth to handle. Besides, I still didn’t trust him enough to let him put my life in danger. I decided to give a polite reply instead.
“I am Farsight, miss Vice-President. And this one here is my companion Nadyr, a half-zebra. You probably will have met my protegé Rose before.”
I bowed in order to show a bit more of respect, since she struck me like a pompous megalomaniac. I could play with those cards, if things went right.
“What is your business here in Nobuck?” she demanded.
“We come from Freedom Field. We were sent to investigate the activity around town, since we had reports of caravans being attacked close to the area. We didn’t know you were here.”
“Of course you didn’t. You weren’t meant to. That’s why we’ve been scaring caravaneers away from town, to avoid letting the ponies know we made it this far.”
“Hm. Well, now that you’re going to kill us, you could anyway tell us your great plans.”
I smiled. It was a nasty one, but if she was as dimwitted as I thought, she would bite. And she did.
“We want to control the Neighvada territory, isn’t it obvious?” She smirked again, looking at me as if I was plain dumb. “And we will settle in New Pegasus if necessary. However, we can’t make it into the city easily.”
Bingo, baby. I had her right where I wanted to. I was looking for a way to wipe Dee Cleff out, and she gave me the NER.
“I can give you Freedom Field.”
“Yeah, and I’m Princess Celestia herself. Don’t try to play with me, you lousy mobster fuck. You can’t do anything. You can’t even keep your team under control. The striped underling keeps yakking about shit and whatnot and the filly can’t hide properly. So don’t speak to me about controlling towns.”
“But...” I couldn’t even use my wits against her. She was so narrow minded that I couldn’t even fancy talk her. I had been defeated... by a dimwit. I wanted to rip my head off with a facehoof.
“All right. I want these spies executed at once!” Harpsong yelled.
“Now, now, miss Vice-President.” Nadyr started talking softly. “My friend here tends to think a bit out of the box sometimes. Let me explain. We’re mercenaries. We work for caps, so our allegiances are towards the pony with the juiciest pouch. I’m going to take a wild guess here and say that would be you.”
I was starting to see where Nadyr was trying to go. Since Harpsong was so... simple, a simpler approach was the best way out of this situation. And after all the pains Dee and Metronome had put me through, it wasn’t that bad to switch sides.
“Carry on.” Harpsong looked interested.
“Well, it’s true that we were working for the gangs in Freedom Field, but honestly, the pay was crap. And I can count three powerful reasons to drop their contract: one, two, and three.” Nadyr was referring to the rifles pointed at us.
“Now, what my slick companion is saying...” I added with my best smile “is that we owe nothing to the gangs in Freedom Field, and that we would gladly offer our services to the NER, provided you let us live, of course.”
“Look at the goons, begging for their lives!” Harpsong laughed loudly. “And what services can you provide me?”
“We take great pride in our skills as saboteurs.” Nadyr hummed. “Skills that could come in really handy if you want to take Neighvada.”
“Saboteurs? What are your skills?”
“Well, I’m one sneaky bastard, silent and deadly.” Nadyr smiled maliciously. “And my companion here is a crack sniper.”
“What about the filly?”
“She’s a healer. And she can defend herself.” I shivered when I remembered the pain of my knee bursting. For being her first shot, Rose had been very accurate.
“Interesting...” Harpsong mumbled. “We’ll have to test you before letting you in.”
“Of course, ma’am.” Nadyr nodded with a smile.
“Unshackle them and give them their weapons back!” she ordered. “Let’s see what you’re capable of.”
*** *** ***
My test was what I had expected it to be. I was driven to a makeshift firing range in the outskirts of Nobuck. The NER troopers had placed series of targets at different distances. Most of the targets were tin cans, but there were some ponylike contraptions scattered around the field.
“OK.” An NER drill instructor gave me back my rifle. It was unloaded. “Now, the test is simple. We’ll give you five minutes. Load your rifle and show us what you’ve got. And don’t try anything funny, or we’ll mow you down. Understood?”
I nodded, concentrating on the task before me. Five minutes wasn’t that much time, but I had S.A.T.S. on my side to take the hardest shots. After all, this was not that different to the training I had been doing back in Freedom Field. The only minor detail was that my life was on the line.
“Ready?” the drill instructor roared. “GO! GO! GO!”
I took a deep breath and started loading bullets into the rifle. One... two... three... four... five... six... seven... eight... nine... ten. Ready to go. I floated my rifle close and aimed for the nearest targets, a row of cans. Middle distance, steady target. No wind. Easy stuff.
BLAM! BLAM! BLAM!
The cans were hurled off their position by the force of the bullets, and I moved to the ponylike contraption behind. This time, the distance was something I couldn’t disregard. When trying long shots in training, I had discovered that the bullets tended to go a little bit low, so I’d have to aim a bit higher.
Damn it. Too high.
Crap. Too low.
“Four minutes!” he yelled.
Fuck. Still many targets to go. I had to act faster, since I couldn’t activate S.A.T.S. yet. The cooldown time wouldn’t let me fire it again in four minutes.
Headshot! Off to another row of cans. These ones were really, really far. However, I still could see them through my sights, so I could try to shoot them without any aid. Provided I could calibrate the sights properly. At these distances, I would really have loved to have a scope mounted to my gun.
Wide and high. Shit. There was a slight breeze that might be deflecting the bullet. I needed to aim better, quickly!
Two shots, two misses. Now I was starting to get nervous.
“Two minutes remaining!” the instructor yelled. Thank you, Celestia, fucking thank you very fucking much.
The first can flew as it got hit by the bullet. Fuck yeah. I had found the right calibration, but now I had to reload. One... Two... Three... Four... Five...
“One minute left!”
Fuck! Faster! SixSevenEightNineTen! Done! Now what? Oh, yes, the rest of the cans!
BLAM! BLAM! BLAM!
The cans were blasted out of their position. Now I had only one target left, but it was so far away I could barely see it.
Right, time to play my last card. I activated S.A.T.S. and watched the world distort, time slowing close to a stop and space curling itself to show me the target. Another ponylike contraption made out of wood. The accuracy indicator showed a rather discouraging 26 percent of hitting chance, but I had to try it. My life was depending on a bullet.
“Time’s over!” the drill instructor roared. “Private, go check that last target!”
I dropped the rifle, since my nerves didn’t even allow me to keep the grasping spell running. Had I hit the target? Please, Goddesses. Please.
“Target hit, sir!” The voice of the private echoed across the field.
“Well, what do you know?” the instructor turned to me with a smile. “You are, indeed, a crack sniper. The New Equestrian Republic could use the likes of you. Why don’t you just enlist in our Army?”
“Sorry, sir. I have other plans in mind.” I smiled back, but made my point clear.
I saw Nadyr and Rose coming up the road, followed by Harpsong and a bunch of NER troopers. While they were getting close, Harpsong looked at me, then at the instructor, and I saw him nod in the corner of my eye. When they got close, Harpsong extended a hoof to me. I immediately deduced that Nadyr and Rose had passed their tests. With a smile of relief, I shook her hoof.
“Welcome to the NER, gentlemen. It’s good to have you with us!”
*** *** ***
“So, now that we’re all friends, let me ask you something. How did you know we were coming?” I had a hunch about the big lizard building, but I wanted to be sure.
“See that building over there?” Harpsong waved a hoof towards the lizard. “That’s the Gummy building, formerly a Hub for the Ministry of Morale. Now, it’s our main headquarters in the South New Pegasus area. We have a sniper stationed in its mouth. Saw you coming down the road, even before you climbed the hill. Then, your little friend got separated from you two, and we sent a patrol to poach her. It was easy.”
I looked at Rose, who smiled and blushed. Aw, what the hell. I couldn’t blame her.
“Gummy? Ain’t that the name of them nasty lizards?” Nadyr asked.
“Yes.” Rose replied in a teacher-like tone. “Those big lizards are gummies. You have blue gummies, green gummies, fire gummies and golden gummies. The hides of the golden gummies are really expensive! But they’re not easy to hunt...”
“Yeah, they’re some disgusting motherfuckers, but they’re called geckos, honey.” Harpsong nodded. “I remember that a bunch of them scaly bastards laid an ambush to a echelon of scouts. We lost one good pony to some lizards.”
“So why the name?” I asked. “Those gummies, or geckos, look like something that evolved thanks to radiation.”
Harpsong stopped and looked at me with a smirk on her face.
“I might have misjudged you, being a Stable pony and all that. I thought your plans were a bluff, but now that I hear you, I’m starting to realize there are some brains in that head!”
“Glad to hear it, Vice-President.” I bowed. “But you haven’t answered my question.”
“True. Gummy was the pet of the Mare of the Ministry of Morale, Pinkie Pie. A toothless alligator, can you believe it?”
“Better times. Better times.” Nadyr shook his head and shrugged.
“Indeed.” Harpsong nodded.
Without saying anything more, Harpsong turned around and entered the Gummy building through a door in the tail of the alligator. We followed her inside to see what looked like a fully functioning war room. Maps of the area and photographs of given elements, such as the City of New Pegasus or the place where we stood, Nobuck, covered the walls. Beneath them, we could see the remains of some old posters with the face of a mare with a curly mane. The legend in the poster read: ‘PINKIE PIE IS WATCHING YOU... FOREVER!”. A bit too drastic if you asked me. But those were different times. Times of war.
Harpsong trotted up to a table where a map had been nailed to. I neared to see that the map pictured the whole south of the Neighvada Territory, the City of New Pegasus lying in the middle of it. A small NER token stood over the point that represented Nobuck. That was our emplacement. Down to the southwest, a big NER chip with the two unicorn head emblem was stationed close to a mountain pass that exited the map.
“I reckon this is Nobuck.” I pointed a hoof at the small token, then moved it towards the big chip. “What is this exactly?”
“That’s our main emplacement. Divide Pass. The entire 1st Army of the New Equestrian Republic is stationed there.”
“Isn’t it a bit too risky, telling us where you are?” I asked.
“I don’t give a single fuck.” Harpsong boasted. “What’s the biggest army you can build up in this Celestia-forsaken dustbowl? It has nothing to do against our military might!”
She sure was a loudmouth. My experience told me that being so aggressive could cost you a great deal in the Wasteland. Maybe the NER was different, but I couldn’t avoid proving her wrong.
“But you are afraid of something. You don’t deploy an entire army if you don’t want to defend from somepony.”
Harpsong Heartstrings froze. I had mentioned something she didn’t like to hear about, and was trying to figure out a way to come out of the situation in a honorable manner.
“That’s enough chatter. From now on, you’ll work on a need-to-know basis. And that you don’t need to know.” Harpsong’s defensive stance let me know I hadn’t missed my shot. “Even if you seem to be some worthwhile agents, I need to test your skills on real combat.” She returned to the map and pointed to a small village further down the road. “This place is called Pipton. It’s a small village, just a couple of houses and a crossroads, but there is a bunch of prison escapees hidden there. They assaulted a weapons caravan coming from Divide Pass to Nobuck, so now they’ll be well armed, and mean a serious threat to the safety of the NER. I want you to take them out.”
So, we were hunting raiders after all.
*** *** ***
We were hunting raiders, and we were not on our own. Harpsong had had the deference of sending some NER troopers along. Actually, she sent the group of soldiers that had been keeping us captive in the motel until her arrival. Three stallions clad in heavy plate armor, marching at a speedy trot, just as if they were staging a military parade. That was what I called a raider magnet.
“Hey!” I called. “You know that you aren’t inconspicuous, don’t you?”
“You just said?” the leader answered. He had introduced himself as Sergeant Sunlight Forger, a fiery orange colored buck with a very short red and gold mane. He was equipped with a double-barreled machine gun contraption mounted on his back. The technical name to it was “battle saddle”. Yes, why not. It was reasonable.
“I said you’re not caring much about revealing our position. Not the wisest of choices in the Wasteland.” I replied.
“What mister Brightfuck here is saying has a point.” Nadyr added. Why, he didn’t like me all that much, did he? “Out here, you either lay low or get your flanks nailed.”
“You said what, you dickhead?” One of the other two soldiers, an indigo buck with a star on his flank, roared at Nadyr. His rocket launcher battle saddle pointed menacingly at us.
“Private Evenstar!” Forger yelled. “I’ve had enough of your insubordination!”
“Yessir...” Evenstar gulped. All bark and no bite.
“Sergeant, if I might...” The third NER trooper asked, respectfully.
“Speak up, Carrots.”
“I believe Farsight is right, sir. This ain’t no regular war. We’re fighting guerrilla style here, so we should adapt to the terrain.”
Sunlight Forger meditated at the brick-colored buck’s suggestion. Reasonable a pony as he appeared to be, he would probably take it into account.
“Alright, bucks, this is what we’ll do. Gather dust and sand and scrape it all over our armors. We need to hide our NER distinctives.”
“Aye-aye, sir!” Carrots and Evenstar nodded, and all three of them started rolling on the floor and hurling balls of sand at themselves.
“Lookie there,” Nadyr laughed mildly, “don’t they act like little foals?”
“Nadyr, it’d be wise not to piss them off too much.” I gave the half-zebra a stern look, which made him stop grinning and look back at me almost as sternly.
“What’s wrong, Blindsight?” he mocked. “Afraid of the three stooges?”
“The three stooges have enough firepower to turn us into mincemeat!” I roared at Nadyr. “So shut the fuck up and obey!”
“You are asking for another beating.” Nadyr said cuttingly.
“You two! cut it out!” Rose jumped between us. “You’re supposed to cooperate.”
“Yeah, that’s OK.” I smiled at her. “Sorry, Nadyr. Let’s keep things professional between us. I know you don’t like me, and I can’t trust you too much yet, but let’s cut us some slack.” I looked at the troopers. “Okay, guys. That’s enough. Besides, it’s not like infiltration is your way in, is it?” I pointed at the battle saddles.
“Exactly!” Evenstar boasted. “My friends Omaya and Kaboom here don’t like to be silent when they can bring on the noise!” He had given names to the rocket launchers of his battle saddle? What a nutter.
“Keep it down, Evenstar.” Forger said curtly. “We’re already close to Pipton, and we don’t want everypony there to notice us.”
Evenstar stopped talking. Indeed, the small village could be seen in the horizon, and an old billboard close to the road welcomed us to lovely, sunny Pipton, where everypony was welcome. Well, probably not anymore.
*** *** ***
“Evenstar, Carrots, with me. We take the East entrance and drive them westward with our firepower.” Sunlight Forger gave orders to all of us. It felt strange not to be in charge anymore, but it didn’t hurt my pride or anything like that. I understood that it was what it had to be done in order to achieve further goals. “Farsight, you and your team will enter from the North. We need to force them to head for Divide Pass. That, if we don’t wipe them out completely.”
The plan was robust and simple, a nice example of tactical thought. Pipton was a small town built around a t-shaped crossroads, the junction of two roads, one that traversed the town from east to west, heading towards Divide Pass and the main NER base, and the other one that came from the north, that is, from Nobuck. In other words, right where we were now. Most houses were built from wood and sheet metal, since the pre-War buildings were probably hit by some stray missile headed for Las Pegasus that didn’t reach its destination. Time and bandits had done the rest.
Forger’s team was already out of our sight when we headed towards the first buildings of Pipton. My E.F.S. could track the three friendly NER troopers, as long as a great number of hostiles. I could count over twenty. I lifted a hoof to catch Nadyr and Rose’s attention, and drew them closer.
“Hostiles, around twenty of them. Watch out. Rose, I want you to stay on the back and heal us if necessary. Nadyr, infiltration. I don’t want to bring all the attention towards us, but that house over there is a great vantage point to pick targets one by one.” I pointed my hoof towards a three-storey house close to the crossroads. “Do you think we could sneak in there?”
“Sheee-it, bro! That’s piece of cake for this half-zebra!” Nadyr grinned.
“Well let’s get down to business.”
Rose hid herself behind some bushes and readied her small black pistol. Once she was good to go, she nodded and I followed Nadyr through the back alleys of Pipton, towards our chosen spot.
Evenstar’s rocket launcher made clear why he had called it like that. A huge explosion rocked the entire village and chaos followed. Raiders clad on armors made from traffic signals and tyres started to run all around the streets, firing blindly at the NER troopers. On the other hand, Forger’s ponies were deploying a true barrage of fire across Pipton’s main street.
We arrived at the rear door of the house we wanted to enter, and Nadyr picked a bobby pin from his mane. Holding it in his mouth, Nadyr started picking the lock, which opened itself rather quickly, doing a gentle click. The half-zebra led the way, his silenced pistol tightly held in his teeth. I followed him, readying my rifle. On the second floor, a raider was shot dead by Nadyr before he even got to notice that we were behind him. When we climbed to the top floor, we saw a sniper unicorn mare aiming through the window I had chosen as a vantage point. Nadyr was closing on her with his switchblade ready, but he stepped on a creaky plank, giving his position away. The mare turned around swiftly, holding a pistol in her mouth, aimed at the half-zebra.
That’s why I loved hollow rounds. The bullet from my rifle entered right between the eyes of the mare leaving a small hole, but it came out from behind as if a cannonball had blasted her brains open.
“Thanks!” Nadyr sighed, “she almost got me there. Hey! I can see her thoughts from here!”
I didn’t pay attention to Nadyr’s corny joke and walked to the sniper rifle on the window. It was a great rifle indeed, new and shiny, with a powerful scope attached and a bipod on the front side to reduce the recoil. I thought I might as well give it a try.
*** *** ***
There were only eight hostiles left, but they were well entrenched behind a smoking cart and some crates. That was the NER caravan, and if my hunch was correct, it was spellbound to protect it from enemy fire. Because of that, Sunlight Forger’s team had fallen into a stalemate with the remaining raiders. However, the raiders weren’t aware that their sniper had had her brains turned into red goo, and that the new sniper wasn’t friendly but hostile.
“Stand still, you wanker...” I grumbled as I tried to fix the aim of the sniper rifle on the head of one of the raiders, a particularly nasty looking earth pony with no ears.
One shot, one kill. The raider went down like struck by lightning, sprinkling his comrades with a drizzle of his blood. I realized I wasn’t using S.A.T.S. at all! That sniper rifle was a magnificent weapon, very finely tuned. I guess it came from the gun caravan the raiders attacked.
Another raider came into my sights. He was checking where his companion had been hit and where the attack came from, and in order to make a tough shot, he kept moving nervously up and down the cover. I decided to add a bit of technology to the mix by activating my targeting system, and took a deep breath as the world stopped turning. The nervous raider moved sluggishly now, and the sounds came muffled to my ears. I could feel my heartbeat rhythmically pounding my chest, giving me a notion of time. The crosshairs of the scope met the eye of the raider, and I pulled the trigger.
Another hostile down, this time with a funny backward somersault, courtesy of my bullet. The rest of the raiders noticed that somepony was gunning them down from the tall building, so they responded with a kind shower of bullets, which forced me to back away and look for cover. They, however, kept hiding behind the cart, heavily entrenched, so the only progress that had been made was having taken down two more hostiles. Six raiders remained behind the cart, but their bulletproof cover and heavy weaponry let them keep the NER team at bay.
“Damn it!” I stomped the floor with my hoof. “They’re dug in over there, behind the cart. I can’t take them out from here.”
“There is no other spot, bro.” Nadyr shrugged. “Either the heavy weapons ponies do something or we’ll be here for a long time. And when I say long I say balefire-winter long!”
Nadyr was right. The situation in Pipton had ended up in stalemate, unless something was done about it. The only good choice was to return to street level and to play a diversion, hoping to move the raiders out of their cover. However, the chances of achieving that without being gunned down mercilessly were very slim. Unless something totally unexpected happened, we would have to wait to see what happened.
“Hey!” I heard a voice say, down in the streets. “Look what I’ve found!”
No. Please, Celestia, let it be a weapon or a stash of caps, because if it wasn’t that, there was only one thing left to be found around Pipton.
“No! Let me go!”
Fuck. They had Rose! I had to do something, quickly. I gazed nervously to the sides, looking for other vantage points, but there were none. From my position, the cart blocked any possibility of taking the raiders out, and now that they had Rose, I couldn’t risk taking a shot. What should I do?
“Nadyr!” I roared. “They have Rose! Go free her, please!”
“Free her?” Nadyr screamed in anger. “You crazy or what? I ain’t going in against six raiders to free your stepdaughter. I like her, but I would prefer staying alive, thank you very much!”
I wanted to rip Nadyr’s heart out, but I had to admit he was right. Going in solo against the raiders was crazy, but I saw no other way out of it. I started to dismount the bipod. I would have to do things by myself.
“Oh, my, what a sweet filly!” One of the raiders chuckled. “Thank you, Pickaxe! You remembered I like them young!”
“Take your hooves off me!” I heard Rose cry, and my heart squirmed. I needed to do something quick, but the bipod had jammed and I wasn’t going to get it out anytime soon.
“Relax, honey.” The raider coughed. “Or it’ll be more painful. Ooh! Look! She’s still a blank flank!”
Fuck this. I left the rifle on the spot and darted downstairs. Those bastards wouldn’t do anything to Rose as long as I was alive.
“Look! She’s getting angry!” Another raider clapped his hooves, or at least it sounded like that. “I’m shaking!”
“Well you should be.” What the fuck? That was Rose’s voice, but at the same time, it wasn’t. It sounded... distorted, clumsy. As if somepony else was talking by Rose’s mouth.
I reached the street and galloped towards the tumbled cart, readying my rifle for a gunfight. However, something wasn’t going right. The NER troopers saw me hurrying to the cart and followed me without a doubt.
“EEEYAAAAAHHH!!!” The most hideous scream of pain came from behind the cart, and what looked like the bloody guts of a pony flew towards us. I dodged them and kept running until I reached the far end of the cart. Nothing could ready me for what I was about to see.
The asphalt floor was covered in a huge pool of blood, and one of the raiders was floating above it, his chest ripped open and dripping blood and gore. He should be dead, but he kept breathing air into two hideous, blackened lungs. I could see the heart of the Raider pumping frantically in despair. I wanted to throw up, but I was too puzzled to even do that.
On the other end was Rose. No, it wasn’t Rose. It was the evil Rose I had met in the Stable, the one mentally conditioned by the Lavender Fields Experiment. It looked like the sonic conditioning had left a mark on her brain, after all. She was looking at the raider with a crazed face, her eyes contracted into a tiny dot and her smile about to break out of her face. She was keeping him alive with her magic, just to make him suffer. The rest of the raiders were too awestruck to do anything to her.
The NER troopers advanced to take care of the remaining raiders, looking carefully at the murderous filly. However, Rose didn’t pay any attention to them, since she was enjoying her time with the mutilated pony. I couldn’t take it any longer. I breathed deep, trying to ignore the stench of blood in the area, and took a step forward.
“Rose, enough!” I roared.
The filly dropped the agonizing raider, who passed away with a sigh of relief. Then, she slowly turned around and looked at me with the same maniacal glare I had seen in her face when she shot me in the Stable.
“Come on, Farsight.” The filly smiled grimly. “You know my name.”
“Yes.” I gulped. “Lavender.”
“Good.” Lavender spoke softly, enjoying each word. “You’re a smart pony. I knew you’d realize.”
“Thank you.” I adopted the same soft tone. Speak softly, but carry a big stick, as somepony I can’t remember said. “Now tell me, have you taken over her?”
“Maybe. Does that bother you?”
“As long as you’re this reasonable, no. However, it’s not you who I saved. I saved Rose, and I’d like to have Rose by my side.”
“Heh. You really are lousy. I can taste your fear. Are you afraid of my power?”
“Yes. It would be unwise not to.”
“Correct. I like you, Farsight. I owe this body to you. Therefore, I’m willing to do you a little favor. This time, I’ll go to sleep and bring Rose back. But only this time.”
No, that wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted Lavender out, but I realized I wouldn’t be able to simply convince her to disappear. From what I was hearing, it appeared that Lavender was a living pony with her own mind and soul, who had implanted herself in Rose’s body. Perhaps, only perhaps, I could use Lavender for my own devices.
“I’m going to make an offer to you.”
“I don’t want you, and I’m pretty sure Rose doesn’t want you either. But you want to live, and that is reasonable. For now, let’s say we just coexist in peace. When Rose is threatened, you come out and defend yourself, helping Rose in the process. When the danger is over, Rose gets the lead.”
“Why should I accept that?” Lavender’s muzzle curled in disgust.
“I’m offering you a peaceful solution. I like to be reasonable, that’s my only defect. Maybe, and I say maybe, we can manage to ‘port’ you out into another body. In the meantime, let’s just get along. There’ll be more victims to quench your thirst for blood.”
I was silently praying to all the Goddesses while I said that. If she didn’t accept that, there was no chance of getting out alive without shooting Rose down. And I wasn’t confident that I could actually do it.
“Still, why shouldn’t I rip you apart?”
“You owe me your very existence. Let’s keep that in mind. If it wasn’t for me, you’d still be floating in Stable 173. On the other hand, I owe nothing to you. Try anything funny, and I’ll kill you.”
“You won’t dare.”
“Who says I won’t?”
It had been a deliberately bad shot, since I didn’t want to hurt Rose’s body, but I wanted to make my point clear, and I had the feeling that I was starting to understand Lavender’s scale of measure. The stronger and deadlier, the more respect I would get from her. The bullet whizzed past Rose/Lavender’s head, rustling her mane with the flow of air the shot caused, and lodged itself on the dirt floor behind.
“Heh, heh, heh. You’ve got guts, and your soul’s as black as mine. I’ll consider your proposition in my sleep.” Lavender nodded. “We’ll speak again, Farsight... That’s a Pinkie Promise.”
Lavender closed her eyes and her expression changed. The horrid smile disappeared, and when the eyes opened again, it was Rose on the wheel once again.
“What happened?” she asked, puzzled.
“Uh... Your evil twin paid us a visit.” Nadyr said, still a bit scared.
“Oh no... I’m sorry!” Tears started flowing from her eyes.
“It’s OK now...” I hugged her. She hugged me back.
“Well, filly.” Forger had returned to us. “It seems like your brain has a bit of a tangle. You should come with us back to the NER, where we could heal you.”
“Sorry, sergeant. I can’t go anywhere.” Rose replied sternly. “I’ve already got plans in my mind.” She looked at me with a sad smile.
Forger caught the implied message. He trotted up to me and took me aside, in search of a bit more of privacy. When we had gotten far enough from the rest of the crew, he spoke to me in quite a fatherly way.
“You know that filly adores you and has you as a role model, don’t you?” His tone was stern once again.
“I am aware of that. And I can assure you I want her to become a righteous mare, even if I’m not the best example.”
“She is your responsibility.” Forger sighed. “I can’t force you to do anything. You’re not part of my crew, you’re not even part of my country. Still, from a father to a father-figure, please take care of her. I have two children myself, a foal and a filly, back home at Buckarest, and I miss them every single day. If they grow up to be good ponies, then my life will have had purpose. I hope you see it that way as well.”
“Rose will know what’s right. That I promise. But she’ll learn to fend off problems by herself. After all, she lives in the Wasteland, as all of us do. Yet, as long as I can, I’ll watch over her.”
Forger smiled and passed a hoof behind my neck in a sign of appreciation.
“You are a fine buck, Farsight. Even if you’re a mobster or a hoodlum, you’ve showed me honor. And that is more than enough for me.”
Forger turned away and trotted back to the crew. I followed him, thinking about what he had told me right now. Indeed, Rose was my responsibility ever since I saved her from those raiders. And my intentions were justified, even if I had to go through some bad times to achieve my goals. Would Rose see it that way when she looked back at her life?
“That’s right everypony!” Forger had returned to be the leader of a military team. “We return to base! Double time!”
“YES, SIR!” We all responded at once.
*** *** ***
The trip back to Nobuck was a bumpy ride. Evenstar stumbled upon a Cazadorable nest, which immediately sunk us flank-deep into serious trouble. Cazadorables were a particularly dangerous evolution of parasprites, which had developed a really strong and resistant carapace, as well as a dreaded venom that could kill you in a couple of hours. So, after having attracted around six or seven Cazadorables at us, we were in a really tight spot.
That is, until Nadyr started his show. He didn’t seem too worried about the six or seven lethal stingers that buzzed close to his hooves. Calmly, he cocked his gun and started trotting around, rolling over and pirouetting every now and then. The bugs flew around him, throwing furious stings at an elusive black shadow that was starting to drive them berserk.
Suddenly, Nadyr’s pistol emitted a faint blast and a flash, and one of the Cazadorables burst into purplish ichor. Again, another blast sent the second of the bugs down with a gaping hole on its thorax, and the half-zebra backflipped to escape three stings of deadly poison. The NER troopers readied their battle saddles, but I lifted a hoof to stop them. Somehow, I had the feeling that Nadyr had it all under control. I had seen Nadyr in action twice, suffered him once, so I knew what he was capable of.
“Hell yeah, how do you like it, bitches?” Nadyr laughed out loud, and shot twice. Two Cazadorables fell to the floor in a burst of ichor. Only three remained. Any other beast would have decided to save its life, but these bugs had the nasty habit of fighting to the death. Nadyr flipped, caught one of the venomous insects and stomped it against the floor. Then, another two blasts meant the end of this battle.
Nadyr was wiping Cazadorable ichor from his suit as we arrived at him. Rose jumped and hugged him.
“That was the most awesome thing I’ve seen in my life!” she screamed.
“Indeed, that was really impressive.” Forger seemed totally awestruck about the half-zebra’s display of agility. “How did you do that?”
“Well, seems like I inherited more from Pa than an exotic accent and some stripes in my coat.” Nadyr grinned. “Zebra agility, homies.”
“Amazing,” Forger muttered.
Nadyr winked an eye and started strutting away, back into Nobuck.
*** *** ***
“Are they gone?” Vice-President Heartstrings was quite impatient to hear the report.
“All gone, ma’am.” Forger said.
“How about our... guests?” Harpsong looked at us with a scowl on her face.
“Helpful, ma’am. The male unicorn is a worthy sniper, no doubt. About the zebra, he is unorthodox, but I wouldn’t like to find him on the other end of the battlefield. The filly is not somepony you’d like to play with. She has a problem of split personality. A deadly problem.”
“Good, good.” Harpsong nodded and smiled, disregarding what Forger said about Rose. “Sergeant Forger, dismissed.”
Forger saluted and left the room, leaving us three alone with Harpsong. Obviously, we had been forced to leave our weapons before entering the room. I knew the Vice-President of the NER wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, but at least she knew the basics.
“Now,” she opened her forehooves as she sat strangely on a bench. She had managed to sit on her flank, leaving the back upright and her forelegs loose on the air “let’s talk about Freedom Field. I want a full briefing.”
“Don’t you have spies or something?” Rose asked.
“Not yet.” Harpsong gave a smug look to Rose. “You’re the first.”
“Before we lose ourselves,” I started “Freedom Field is controlled by four gangs that are in a tight balance right now. The four, in order of military power, are the following: The Stringers, the Buckmares, the Coilites and the Followers of the Shy.”
“The Stringers are the main gang in Freedom Field, and our current employers. They dominate most of the town, and act as the keepers of peace. They endorse free trade and keep their violent acts hidden. Their leader is Dee Cleff, a sort of Godmother to the population of Freedom Field. They’re dangerous. What scares me the most is that there’s no way of actually measuring their power. They like to keep their cards hidden.”
“I see. Let me handle the power!” Harpsong boasted. “What about the rest?”
“The Buckmares base their economy in guns, drugs, booze and hookers. They’re much more power hungry than the rest, and I know for certain that they’re scheming to take Dee Cleff out of the throne. Then there’s the Coilites, dealers of energy weapons. They have been isolationist for the last years, but they’ve agreed to ally with the Stringers to look for protection. Last but not least, the Followers. These ponies are supposed to be healers and act neutrally, but they got greedy and started a scam to send more addicts back to the Buckmares. Honestly, they’re disgusting, but that’s just an opinion.”
“I see that. So you say they’re set in two big alliances?”
“Great. That’s all I needed to know. Dismissed.”
“But what are we supposed to do?” I asked.
“You’re supposed to obey. You’re NER assets now.” Harpsong gave me a cold glare. “Dismissed.”
*** *** ***
Night fell upon Nobuck while we were moving to our quarters. As we were saboteurs in the NER army, we received no proper gear or armor, apart from a sniper rifle like the one I had handled in Pipton. The buck at the armory told me that Sunlight Forger himself had requisitioned that rifle for me. I told to myself that I should pop by and thank him for it.
We were stationed in the old Nobuck Motel, one room for Rose and one shared between Nadyr and myself. Maybe this was the time to tighten the bonds between my striped companion and me. After all, if we were going to work together from now on, it would be best to get along.
“Hey, Nadyr,” I said “I know we didn’t start with the right hoof... Hell, I just want to apologize for the pain I might have inflicted you, both physical and mental.”
“What’s with the confession?” Nadyr looked at me with a puzzled face.
“It’s not a confession. I think that, if we’re partners now, I think we should set things straight from the very beginning. So, I’m sorry.”
“‘Kay. Apology accepted. Sorry for kicking your ass.”
“Thanks. I accept your apologies too.”
We both laughed softly at the comic situation. Two grizzled mercenaries kindly apologizing for having done their jobs.
“Hey, Nadyr. You asked me about my tale. Let me ask you something... What is your driving force?”
“My driving force?” Nadyr scowled. “Can’t you guess it? Look at me. Look at my coat. These stripes are my driving force! Do you even know how hard it is for a zebra, or even a half-zebra to move around the Wasteland? We’re seen as monsters, as mass murderers, as rapists, as necromancers... I’ve been bucked so hard and so many times my flanks have grown numb. But you know what? I’ve learned that money makes everything different. When somepony’s rich, the rest of the world don’t care about his origins, his race or his state of decomposition. I’ve seen rich ghouls banging picture perfect mares. Can you even imagine it?”
“It sounds disgusting.”
“Fuck! Of course it’s disgusting! That’s why I want to be rich. I want ponies to hate me for being filthy rich, not for being a zebra!”
Now that I had heard his reasons, I understood my companion. He had lived a harsh life, indeed, and he wanted something better. After all, we all did. I was starting to look at him with other eyes, I was starting to trust him.
“Farsight... what about you? Which is your driving force?” he asked.
“Me?” I replied. “I want everything that’s coming to me.”
“And what’s coming to you?”
“The world, Nadyr. And everything in it.” I replied, and lied down. I never slept better.
Note: Reputation Change
New Equestrian Republic: Affiliated. You’ve decided to join forces with these ponies. As long as you keep loyal, they’ll help you out.
END OF ACT I