ACT II: MORNING
Chapter 6: Two Minutes to Midnight
“Hello again, and welcome back to New Pegasus Radio! This is your host speaking, Mister New Pegasus, directly into your souls. Did you enjoy that last one? I’m pretty convinced you did. There is no bass like the one of Vinyl Scratch, or is it? I bet you couldn’t avoid following the rhythm. Come on, don’t be shy, it’s okay to tap your hooves! There will be more after the break.
Good news come from the Wasteland, indeed! The caravan trail that brings life supplies to Freedom Field can now return to its original trail close to the town of Nobuck since the raiders encamped there were wiped out by a group of brave volunteers. I want to see those hooves in the air for them! Seriously, everypony, we here at New Pegasus do not realize the harshness of the outside world, and the hard work the caravaneers do to bring us whatever we need. So cheers to you folks, the next track will be for you!
On to the issue of the last few days... The Ferratura murder, as it’s starting to be called in the streets. What a despicable situation indeed, and the New Pegasus Police Department doesn’t seem to be able to do any advance towards a solution. The latest word in the streets say that the officers wanted to question Full House himself, but the City Board entered before anything was done, and vetoed the order. From the looks of things, this humble reporter is starting to grow suspicious. I don’t like it when politicians start to stick their noses in police work.
Of course, the City Board has entirely denied this statement. The spokespony of the Council, Blurry Visage (what a name for a spokespony, don’t you think?) came forth last evening to say that the City of New Pegasus trusts its Police Force and that it will never interfere in police business. If you believe him, everything’s peaches. However, it doesn’t seem that the murderer will be easily found.
More news concerning the New Equestrian Republic arrived last night. Apparently, a heavy battle took place on the small village of Pipton yesterday. According to the NER Ambassador Merry, the soldiers of the Republic fought a band of raiders that had assaulted a guns shipment some days before. Now the town of Pipton is under NER control. Other sources, such as Wasteland scavengers or couriers confirmed the words of the Ambassador. My question here is the following, though. If the NER has only one base in the Neighvada territory, where was that shipment headed to? Again, I’m afraid that the truth will not be easily uncovered.
On this very matter, the City Board has stated that they have nothing to say about what happens beyond the New Pegasus walls. In other words, they’re giving the NER free hand to take control of all the territory, INCLUDING Freedom Field. I seriously doubt anypony has asked the inhabitants of our neighboring township about whether they’d like to be ruled by the NER or not. My friends, this humble reporter here thinks it can be the source of some serious trouble in the future.
And that’s all the news for now! I have something very special to give to you... It’s really fresh, a little gift from the great DJ Pon3, straight from Manehattan. Everypony, clean your ears and open your minds to the wonderful sound of Velvet Remedy! Remember, you’re listening to your favourite radio station, Radio New Pegasus, and this is your favourite host, Mister New Pegasus, speaking directly into your souls...”
It was the first time I saw day break in the Wasteland.
I had to admit that it was beautiful. Even with the thick black cloud cover above, there was a thin strip of open sky in the horizon that would shift from black to blue with a hint of orange in the middle. If we could only get rid of the clouds...
I had woken up early because something worried me sick. Somepony rather than something. That somepony had two names, Rose and Lavender. Two souls cohabitating a single body. A lovely, righteous, honorable filly, the one I had saved and sworn to protect; or a murderous, psychopathic, deadly mare that had implanted herself in her mind. My fear was that Lavender could end up taking over Rose’s body, but I simply had no idea about what I could do to hinder it.
The fact of being surpassed by a mental challenge made me feel very uncomfortable. I took great pride of my wits, and realizing there were walls I couldn’t climb was painful. With these thoughts in my mind, I headed for breakfast. I chugged my oatmeal while wondering how to tackle the problem. I could go back into Stable 173, on my own of course, in order to search more information. However, I really doubted that Stable-Tec would have stored the documents explaining their experiment where the test subjects could reach them. No, that was out of the question.
I had read something in the Stable once that could be helpful. While hovering over old newspaper articles that had been stored in the Stable Database, I came across one that spoke about a breakthrough in mental medicine. Apparently, the Ministry of Peace had developed a spell that permitted the healer to enter the patient’s mind to try to take care of the problems from the inside. The dangers of that technique were obvious, though. A wrong step inside and you could wreck the patient’s mind irreversibly. That’s why the technique had never been used widely.
There was a third choice. One I didn’t like too much, but that I had to try, since it was the safest, so to speak. I wouldn’t be able to destroy Lavender without destroying Rose in the process. Only Rose could defeat her inner demon. In the meantime, however, she could try to control it. Who knows, maybe Lavender could be a worthy ally, as long as we could keep her on a short leash. It was a very dangerous gamble, but great victories required great risks. A mass murderer like Lavender was like a megaspell. It could be a very powerful weapon if used correctly, or a maelstrom of destruction if used wrong.
“Morning, Farsight!” I heard Rose say.
I looked up and saw my protégé smiling at me from the other side of the table. She had a plate of oatmeal before her. I took a look at my plate, empty for a long while. How long had I been there, lost in my thoughts? She was wearing a rugged, dust-colored cloak over her old Wastelander outfit. The garment was the standard NER camouflage cloak, cut to a filly’s size, and devoid of any Republican insignia. She did look better than before.
“Morning, Rose!” I greeted her with a smile. “How was your sleep?”
“It was great! It’s the first time I sleep in an actual bed!”
“Really? Well, don’t get too used to it... Who knows where we’ll be tomorrow.”
Rose nodded and shrugged, then she started eating. She was aware of our current situation, which made me realize how hard the little filly could be at times. Life in the Wasteland leaves a mark in everypony.
“Rose... I hate to talk about this, but...”
Rose lifted her head from the plate and looked at me in silence. Our eyes met and she immediately knew what I meant. Her muzzle curled in a face of sadness, giving the impression that she was about to cry, but then she nodded.
“You want to talk about Lavender, don’t you?”
“Yes. I was able to speak to her yesterday.”
“Were you? And what did she say?”
“Not much. It’s not what she said, really. It’s more what I was able to deduce from what she said. It seems like she’s a completely independent being living inside you.”
Rose winced, scared at the thought of it. I saw her muzzle shiver, she was about to start crying. I knew she was having a really bad time, but I had to do this, as much as it could hurt. It was funny, though, to see how much I cared about that filly. Right now, I didn’t give a damn about anything else than me... and her.
“Rose...” I walked around the table and embraced her. “What happened when she came out? I need to know.”
“I heard her voice calling. She said she could help me. And I was angry and scared, so I didn’t think... And by the time I could notice, I had no control over my body. I saw everything from behind a red curtain, and heard nothing. I had to watch how I ripped that raider apart...”
Rose started sobbing. I kept her close and patted her back. I knew she loathed herself for what she did, but I needed her to realize that it wasn’t her fault.
“Rose, honey, it’s not you. Keep that in mind. When that happens, it’s not Desert Rose, it’s Lavender. You should not blame yourself for what happened. Instead, I was thinking you might use it to your advantage.”
“What do you mean?” Rose looked at me with big, wet eyes.
“I mean that you could try to summon Lavender when you need her.”
“NO!” Rose shook her head violently. “How can you ask me that?”
I had expected that answer. Rose was so straight, so honor-driven, so willing to do the right thing that I assumed that she would consider using Lavender as a weapon to be a true abomination. However, I wanted her to understand that keeping her evil self under control was the best solution for now.
“Listen to me, Rose. If you don’t control her, she’ll control you. There’s no way you’re going to convince her of peacefully disappearing. We’ll find a way of taking her out. In the meantime, I think it’s best we cooperate.”
“NO! I WON’T!” Rose yelled.
Rose’s screams were drawing the attention of everypony around, so I grabbed her by the cloak and dragged her out of the mess hall and into the open. She was shaking around, trying to free herself from my grasp, and demanding me to let her go. Once we were far from the village, I dropped her on the dusty ground. She got up in a bounce and stared at me defiantly.
“You’re going to summon her, now!” I said curtly.
“NO!” she screamed.
“YES!” I lifted a hoof, menacingly.
“NO, I AM NOT...”
Suddenly, Rose fell silent. Then, I witnessed the change of personality. Her eyes contracted into tiny dots, and her usually soft and warm expression turned into a chilling smile. Lavender had taken control once again. That’s it. I had found what sparked the ‘transformation’.
“I didn’t know you liked me so much.” Lavender smirked.
“Don’t get me wrong, Lavender. I wanted to talk to you about something.”
“Tell me, I’m listening.” Her smile grew bigger. “Don’t abuse my patience, though.”
“We need to cooperate, Rose, you and I. As long as we try to find a way of getting you into another body, you’ll stand by until Rose calls for help, and when the fray’s over, you’ll return to the back row. Understood?” I spoke firmly, not letting myself be overcome by the fear the murderous filly caused in me.
“You know I could just destroy Rose and take over her body, don’t you?”
“Then I’ll shoot you. And I’ll kill you.”
“You won’t dare to shoot Rose.”
“Look at me, Lavender.” I pointed a hoof to my stern, cold-as-ice face. “Do you think I’m bluffing? Does this look like the face of a liar to you? Or don’t you remember that I shot you the last time we met? Don’t try to outsmart me. If you try to do anything funny, I’ll kill you. I swear to Celestia I will. I don’t care if I have to kill Rose in the process.”
For the first time, I saw doubt in Lavender’s eyes. I had impressed her. Then she started laughing in a blood-chilling way.
“Good! I like you more every day! You’re almost as wretched as I am! Fine, we’ll do it your way. But mark my words, if I get the slightest feeling that you’re trying to trick me, I’ll hang you from your guts. Understood?”
“It’s a price I can pay. Now get lost.”
Lavender nodded and closed her eyes. Once again, the filly’s face relaxed and her eyes returned to normal. Rose was back on the lead.
“What happened?” Rose asked.
“She’s accepted to cooperate.”
“So you did it after all.” Rose sighed and gave me a stare of disappointment. “I had hoped you’d be better than that. Seems I had hoped too much.”
She turned around and left me alone, wondering if, after all, I had done the right thing. Rose had the ability to make me feel wrong about what I believed was right. And still, I liked her.
*** *** ***
“Farsight, sir!” a trooper called me. “You’re expected at the Gummy Building!”
“Thanks, private!” I replied.
My first assignment as an NER agent. This could be interesting. If Harpsong had taken my suggestions into account, it would involve the gangs and Freedom Field. The news brought by the caravaneers (which had been properly bribed to “forget” about the NER encampment of Nobuck) talked about a great disturbance in the peace of Freedom Field. As if a change was coming. Everything wasn’t more than a simple rumor, however.
I walked into the Gummy Building. The trooper standing guard directed me to a small room in the top floor of the headquarters, right in one of the massive gator’s eyes. The room itself was small and smelt as if it hadn’t been opened in a very long time. Dust had piled on the floor, where a table had been hastily located.
I found myself looking at a high-ranked trooper of the New Equestrian Republic Army. His armor was full of stars and medals to bravery, sacrifice and combat prowess, and the many scars in his neck revealed that they hadn’t been obtained by means of politics. He had fought his way up the ladder. His coat had the same colour as the dusty floor of the Wasteland, and his mane, cut clean and short, was of a wooden brown. His face, crossed by a scar, displayed a constant smirk of disapproval. He didn’t like me, I didn’t have to be too smart to notice that.
“You must be Harpsong’s new acquisition.” He picked a big cigar from the saddlebag and lit it. If the place wasn’t unwelcoming enough, now I would have to deal with smoke.
“The name’s Farsight. And yes, I’m one of the new NER agents.”
“You’re nothing but a worthless faggot, that’s what you are! I never believed in that agent crap. Our Vice-President is a worthless idiot. Until today, we haven’t achieved a single victory thanks to her. If I was in the lead, I’d have conquered all of Neighvada and Coltorado by now!”
“Do you realize I could tell all of this to her, don’t you?”
“Of course I do, faggot. I’ve told her the same thing a million times, but she just won’t listen. So don’t play smart on me!”
“Yes, sir. Permission to ask, sir.” I realized this fellow was nopony to fool with.
“You haven’t told me your name, sir.”
“Stonetree. Captain Stonetree for you, faggot. I’m Vice-President Heartstrings’ second in command. And now that the formalities are over, let’s get to your mission.”
“The news that come from Freedom Field are worrisome. Apparently, what we expected to happen isn’t going to happen. When you spoke about two distinct alliances formed between the gangs, we assumed they were gearing up for war between them. However, the last news of the caravaneers say they’re planning to meet to discuss a possible alliance.”
“An alliance between all factions, sir?”
“Exactly. All four factions want to form a single block to defend from us. Somehow, they have guessed our plans and they’re going to get ready to resist. I need you to confirm that by being at the meeting. You say you worked for the gangs, didn’t you?”
“Good. Get into that meeting and see what’s cooking. Then return here and brief.”
“Will I have help if things get ugly?”
“No. You’re on your own. Dismissed.”
Well, wasn’t that lovely. I was sent alone into a place where I wouldn’t get a warm welcome. And if things went crashing down, there would be no rescue team for me. I had the feeling that Stonetree was using me as a weapon in his quarrel against Harpsong, but since there was no way of changing that, I’d better be practical and think of ways in and out of a not so friendly Freedom Field.
*** *** ***
The news were right. When I arrived at Freedom Field, I had the feeling that hell had broken loose in town. Ponies worked in hectic activity reinforcing the walls, installing defences, clearing the roads outside the walls from débris... The city was getting ready for a siege, and that didn’t mean good news to me. Inside, the situation was pretty much the same. Civilian ponies prepared barricades, firing positions and supply trenches while the gang soldiers patrolled and gave orders.
The gang soldiers didn’t pay much attention to me, as I was another armed Wastelander that crossed the gates, looking either for protection or for work. However, I knew that I wouldn’t go unnoticed once I got close to any of the gang headquarters. I hadn’t been away that long for the leaders to forget me. With that in mind, I acted as if I hadn’t switched sides. I carelessly trotted into the Music School, where I left my weapons at the entrance counter. Then, I headed into the Music Hall without even knocking.
“Who the... Farsight?” Metronome was caught off guard by my entrance. I enjoyed watching true surprise in her face. Just an instant later, she returned to her usual smug behaviour towards me.
“Hi, Metronome.” I waved. “Mission accomplished.”
“Mission accomplished? Are you out of your mind? Nobuck was an NER encampment, you can’t have cleared it all by yourself!”
So they already knew. It wasn’t that much of a surprise, after all. Now I had to find a convincing lie to have Metronome bite.
“All right, all right, we failed.” I smiled and shrugged. “We had to run for our lives, we spent a couple of days trying to shake the NER off our tails. They backed away when we got close to New Pegasus. It seems they want to keep unnoticed.”
“What about Nadyr and the filly?”
“Nadyr got tagged. Nothing too big, but he had to stay behind to rest while Rose healed him. He told me he’ll lay low for a while, so he won’t be coming back soon. I, on the other hand, decided to come with the news, but it seems you already know.”
“Yes, a caravaneer told us the NER tried to bribe him not to reveal their position. Too bad we pay him more.”
Well, so much for the secrecy of the NER. Never trust a greedy caravaneer. However, it was funny to see how the very same caravaneer sold secrets to both sides. He was a true winner.
“I see. Well, I’m back. Is there anything important going on? Because the city seems very, very stirred.”
“Yes, we have a meeting taking place later. All the gang leaders, and I happen to need a bodyguard in case things get ugly.”
Nooooo. It was too easy. It couldn’t be like that.
“What about LaRoche?” I couldn’t accept that easily, she might suspect something.
“He’s guarding Ampera, you foal. I think you can go. After all, you’re as bad as any other. As long as you keep your mouth shut, everything will be fine.”
“No problem, Metronome. I won’t say a word. I’ll just listen.”
And by the holy Celestia that I would listen. I wouldn’t miss a single word.
*** *** ***
The meeting would take place in the Old Pegasus Fort because it could be considered “neutral territory”, since the Followers didn’t have any actual military power. It seems that Dee had tried to host the meeting, and the same had been Saddle Buckmare’s intention. Of course, nopony was intending to give in, until Ampera forced the conditions of the meeting: Noon, in the Old Pegasus Fort, two bodyguards per gang boss. That’d make a three-on-three game with four sides. More correctly, a three on three on three on one, since the Followers hadn’t wanted to hire any bodyguards.
The Fort was stirred. Ponies wearing the Followers’ emblem rushed from one place to another, moving the precious medical supplies to a safe place, or ensuring that the wounded weren’t close to any possible firing lines, because, after all, nopony knew how this would turn out. As I had supposed, the big table in the center of the patio would serve as our conference hall.
Goldie came bouncing at me, her face showing an ironic smirk. Her copper and gold mane wiggled poofily in front of her eyes.
“Well, if it isn’t Farsight, back from the dead.” Goldie gave me a questioning glare. “I’m really surprised to see you here. Tell me, how did you make it out alive?”
“Glad to see you too, Goldie.” I winked. “Now honestly, do you really want to know? Don’t you think you’ll live better in ignorance?”
“No, I really want to know. I want to martyrize Saddle a little bit tonight, by telling him how useless his goons are.”
“His goons are not all that useless, Goldie. In fact, they did a pretty nice job. It’s just that I’m... irresistible.”
“You talked your way out?” Goldie clenched her teeth. She couldn’t stand my mockery.
“Not really. I used... other assets of my body.” Wink wink, nudge nudge.
“You... oh, Celestia. Note to self. Hire straight goons for questioning.” Goldie turned around and left, mumbling something I couldn’t understand.
Not bad, not bad. They didn’t suspect anything. Besides, I was enjoying myself at the moment. After all, there was no problem in having a little fun before work. It was the first blow of the many I would deliver to Goldie.
I headed to the table, where Dee and Metronome were waiting. On the direct opposite side, Saddle Buckmare was standing defiant in an old, battered hazel colored suit. No, that wasn’t the best choice when your fur is silvery gray. His bodyguards were surprisingly different to each other. The first one was a small stallion, old and weary, clad in a light barding with the Buckmare emblem on it. One of his eyes was covered with a patch and he was smoking an almost worn out cigarette. Even if frail, he gave an impression of true seniority, making him look much more dangerous that it could appear at first sight. The second one was an old acquaintance of mine, a towering griffin that could either rip you apart or smother you in sweet, sweet love. Stuka Talonblade. Then, on the left side, the white-maned leader of the Coilites, Ampera von Ohm, looked at both sides with evident boredom. The Coilites had been driven into this alliance with promises of great benefits, but they weren’t into all the fighting. They wanted peace and profit, that’s all. Ampera was surrounded by two bodyguards, one of them being LaRoche, the tall, dark and ugly stallion that I had met in the Tesla Bar. Completing the square, Goldie stood in front of Ampera, looking at everypony with a rather angry face, which became angrier when her eyes met mine.
An uncomfortable silence filled the air, as all the leaders looked at each other, waiting for some of them to start talking. One could say this was one big game of cards, where each player was examining his opponents’ emotions and stance, looking for traces of weakness or nerves. Finally, after some minutes of tense gazes, Dee Cleff cleared her throat, making the first move. Game on.
“Good morning, everypony.” Dee’s tone was solemn, stern, fitting to the importance of the meeting. “I assume you all know why we’re here.”
“Yes, we do.” Saddle replied curtly. “But that’s not going to stop you from exposing the situation, is it?”
“Mister Buckmare,” Ampera interrupted “if you don’t mind, I’d like to hear the full briefing, please. I want to know what we’re facing.”
“That’s right, Saddle.” Goldie nodded sternly. “There’s no problem in hearing it once again.”
“Hmph. I’ve got better things to do.” Saddle groaned.
“Saddle, please.” Dee gave Saddle the look a mother would give to a conflictive foal. “I’d be very grateful if you respected all the opinions in this table.”
“Don’t mind him.” Goldie waved a hoof. “Carry on, Miss Cleff.”
“Thanks.” Dee nodded thankfully at Goldie. Such manners for being enemies. “As you are aware of, the situation of Freedom Field has become... complicated in the last few months, mostly due to an acronym of three letters. NER. The New Equestrian Republic has set its eyes upon Neighvada, and we’re in the way.”
“In the way?” Ampera asked. “Do they plan to destroy New Pegasus?”
“I don’t think so...” Metronome spoke. “New Pegasus moves a lot of money, most of it in gambling and luxury goods. I think the NER wants to control the city to earn a slice of the cake as taxes. Freedom Field, however...”
“We’re nothing else than a bunch of drug pushers, are we not?” Saddle asked ironically.
“So to speak.” Goldie shrugged.
“Indeed, the New Equestrian Republic’s stance towards us isn’t all that clear.” Dee smiled kindly at both sides. “The NER Ambassador in New Pegasus, Merry Fields, hasn’t said anything clear about the status of Freedom Field. When referring to New Pegasus, she’s clearly stated that it will continue being independent.”
“That’s pretty much saying that they want to assimilate us.” Ampera shook her head. “However, let me ask you one thing. Is that really a bad thing?”
“A bad thing?” Saddle roared. “Do you think the NER will let us carry on like this?”
“Ampera, please, be reasonable.” Goldie smiled at Ampera, trying to soften Saddle’s position. “Saddle is right. As far as we know, the NER is the common do-gooder. They won’t just forgive and forget when they see what we do here for a living. They’ll shut it down, or even worse, they’ll want their share of the earnings.”
“But think about it for a second.” Ampera scowled. “If we fight them, there is the non-neglectable choice of losing. If that ever comes to happen, our businesses will be over and we won’t be here to see how the city develops under NER control. If, on the other hand, we try to negotiate, we might get to keep some of our earnings to ourselves. We might be able to convince them. I say we accept the NER rule under some statute of autonomy, that allows us to keep business as usual.”
“Ampera, I think that the electromagnetic fields in your place have melted your brain. Are you seriously listening to what you’re saying?”
“Yes, I am. I’m proposing a non-violent solution that could benefit us.”
“They won’t bite.” Goldie shrugged and shook her head. “Haven’t you heard their Ambassador on the radio? They’re going for the full cake. We need to fight for ourselves.”
Ampera tried to mutter something, but Dee rose a hoof ordering her to keep silent. It was her time to talk.
“Ampera, please, let me handle this. There is another problem,” Dee continued, “the City Board has left us on our own.”
“Bastards.” Saddle grunted.
“Politicians.” Dee nodded. “So, we’re facing a serious threat and we’re on our own. To add something more to the mix, we just learned from a caravaneer that the NER has secretly established a forward base in the town of Nobuck, which is far closer to New Pegasus than Divide Pass.”
“That’s less than three days.” Goldie’s estimate was good.
“Exactly. That’s why I’ve decided to call this meeting. We need to address the problem in an appropriate way. Our main objective is to retain our privileges, whoever rules over town. Therefore, I support Ampera’s proposal. I say we send an envoy to negotiate with the NER. We should try to obtain a statute of autonomy for Freedom Field, like the one they’ve granted to New Pegasus.”
“You what?” Saddle roared. “That’s absurd, Dee. Why would they give us autonomy?”
“Saddle, what does the NER want?”
“Didn’t they say it already? They want to conquer Neighvada.”
“What for?” Dee asked. I was starting to follow her reasoning, and it was correct. “Neighvada is a dry patch of land, and Freedom Field is even drier. They won’t fight for some land in which they can’t farm or raise animals.”
“What do you mean?”
“Saddle, the NER, even with all the politics and its fancy talking, is nothing more and nothing less than a bunch of ponies under a same banner. They’re not all that different to us, after all. They have needs like you or I do. They need food, water, clothes, guns, ammo, medicine and even booze, hookers and drugs. But over all, they want money. What we could offer is a tax in exchange for protection and autonomy.”
“Taxes? Like the one you’ve imposed for water?” Saddle stomped the floor. “I’m not paying any more taxes! I’ll go out and fight the Republic if necessary!”
“Now, Saddle, shut up!” Goldie raised her voice. “Dee, forgive him. He’s a bit... impulsive, as you and I well know. Now, even if I understand your reasoning, I don’t think they’ll accept that. As I said earlier, I seriously doubt they will simply accept to have gun runners and drug dealers trading around in their territory just for a tax. Didn’t you hear about the attack on Pipton?”
“Yes, a bunch of gun runners that had occupied the abandoned village were wiped out with brutal force, just because they were doing business in NER territory. What makes us different from them?”
Wow, masterful move, Goldie. I had to give her that. It was a blatant lie. The radio, indeed, had told something about our job in Pipton, but the rest was an invention, carefully crafted to alter Dee’s opinion. Even if I knew the truth, I couldn’t say anything or they would suspect me.
“Are you sure that’s the truth?”
“As sure as I can be. One of them managed to escape, wounded. He came to the Fort looking for help, but there was little we could do to save him. He had lost a great amount of blood. However, he told me about Pipton. It matched what the radio had said, so I believed him.”
“And he’s dead now, right?”
“Yes. Dead and buried.”
Dee groaned and looked to the open sky, as if she was expecting the answer to fall from the clouds. I had to admit that Goldie’s gambit had been very smart. A good lie always has bits and pieces of truth in it, just to make it easier to swallow. This one, even if blatant, was covered in actual facts, so Dee had no way of proving it wrong. With this card on the table, Dee and Ampera’s position had become weak. Would they agree to start a war?
“What do you suggest we do, Goldie?” Dee asked. “Are we supposed to fight?”
“Not at all, Dee. That would be fairly unwise. I suggest we use non-violent opposition.”
“It’s easy. We refuse to join the NER, but we resist peacefully.”
“And that’s going to stop them? Goldie, that is pure junk.”
“Dee, think about it for a second. If the NER defeats us, the control of the population will be their job. Now, if we get all fired up and we start a war, they can assume the role of a liberator or a pacifier. On the other hand, if we resist peacefully and they attack, they’ll be clearly assuming the role of an invader. Now, we all know how the population reacts to liberators or pacifiers, and how it reacts to invaders.”
“I get it. They won’t invade us because they don’t want a rebellious population. Good thinking, Goldie. What do you say? Do you like Goldie’s solution?”
Saddle nodded and Ampera did pretty much the same.
“Okay, then it’s settled. We’ll go by the way of the peaceful resistance. However, we’ll have our guns ready, just in case we need them. On to other matters, there is another condition I’m adding to our agreement.”
Saddle was about to say something, but Dee’s expression changed from motherly care to stern determination. She knew who had the lead in this matter, and who would have to give in and shut up. I understood immediately. This was no negotiation, this was an imposition. Have it my way or face my consequences.
“Now, if we want this alliance to succeed, there are some rules of engagement you need to understand. We can’t have drug addicts going berserk or littering the streets as usual. That would bring the NER to our gates, claiming they’re here to ensure the population’s safety. Therefore, I want you to increase the prices of the harder drugs, and make sure to keep a stockpile in case of emergencies. If i hear you’re not following with my command then I’ll revoke your monopoly on drugs, or cut down on your water supply. Understood?”
That was part of my plan all along, but Dee had mutated it to use it to her advantage. She was very, very smart. Now she was forcing the conditions she wanted, and Saddle and Goldie looked like they had taken a beating. Masterful move, I would have never done it better. Too bad Dee was in my way, I really appreciated her ability.
“That’s preposterous!” Goldie roared.”
Dee turned to face Goldie with a commanding glare and the mare squirmed courtly.
“These are my conditions. Take them, and we’ll be happily allied. Reject them, and you’ll be on your own. Against the NER and against me.”
Silence again. Ampera had separated from the table and was discussing something with LaRoche. I knew she would join Dee’s gamble, since I had crafted that alliance myself. Goldie and Saddle looked at each other, obviously disgusted. Their little scheme would be soon over. I was rejoicing inside, even if it wasn’t my doing.
“Urgh. OK.” Saddle nodded grumbling. Goldie nodded in silence.
Metronome passed a piece of paper where the different leaders left a signature. The alliance was signed, and the Buckmare-Follower scam was over. And what was more important to me, I had my information. Now I had to find a way of returning to Nobuck.
“Farsight,” Dee said looking at me, “you’ve met the NER before, haven’t you? I’d like you to be our envoy. Deliver our conditions and bring back their reply.”
I nodded sternly, even if I was smiling inside. Dee had guaranteed my escape plan. The meeting had been dismissed and the partakers were starting to leave. Dee waved and left humming a tune I couldn’t recognize. I trotted past the table towards Saddle and his bodyguards. The old stallion nodded in welcome, and Stuka set her clawed talon gently, almost seductively, on my back. She was glad to see me again. I, on the other hand, couldn’t hide a certain something ticking in my heart. It wasn’t love, but it was a feeling all along.
“Fuck you.” Saddle’s greeting was what I expected it to be. “You’re a lucky bastard. I don’t want to know how you make it out alive, but someday you’ll get your flank nailed.” That was a veiled menace. He hadn’t forgotten about me.
“I’m a lucky buck, that’s all.” I smiled smugly. I knew I had to be careful when handling him, but I couldn’t hide how much I enjoyed seeing him angry because of me.
“Don’t mess with me, Farsight. Or I’ll turn your life into living hell.”
“I’m not messing with you, Mister Buckmare. However, I think my luck is running out. If I could choose, I’d leave town right now.”
“But you can’t choose. That’s why you’re here. I’m heading back to the Diamonds. You two,” he said at his bodyguards, “I want to see you in the casino in half an hour. Understood?”
“Understood, Mister Buckmare.” They nodded.
Buckmare turned around and left hastily. I had sensed his anger, his hate towards me. Minute after minute, it became clearer that I had to leave as soon as possible, or I’d probably find death in a dark alley. And just like Captain Stonetree had kindly let me know, I was on my own on this one. No rescue, no hope.
Stuka and the grizzled soldier came closer, smiling with a relaxed attitude. Apparently, Saddle’s bad mood was something usual, or he was all bark and no bite. However, I doubt they were really aware of the mess I was sunken in. The old stallion moved forward and greeted me.
“Aw shucks. Don’t’cha pay attenshun to ol’ grumpy Saddle. He ain’t nuffin’ but a colt on a fancy suit. Ah’m Snake Eater, by the way, here to help ya!”
Snake Eater offered his hoof. I waved it and found a sturdy, safe hoof. Even if a bit rednecky, Snake Eater was a respectful, good soldier, and I appreciated that.
“I’m Farsight, bodyguard and, what it now seems, expendable piece to Dee Cleff’s organization. Pleased to meet you.”
“Pleasure’s mine. Ah think y’already know my feathered friend, Stuka Talonblade, right?”
I looked at Stuka, unsure about how much of our relationship would be safe to reveal, but was met with a firm hug.
"Ah thought so.” Snake Eater laughed softly. "Ah know how she likes to squeeze ‘em."
Stuka grinned as much as a bird can grin, while predator talons gripped into my coat firmly. Her wings bloomed and she lifted me off the ground.
"Farsight." Stuka pecked my muzzle, and I responded in turn exchanging tongues at high altitude while appreciating the joy of meeting someone that liked being with me again. However my feelings for her were for the weak pony I was back then. I’d desperately clung to any love, and Stuka had supplied. She had my thanks, and some part of me still wanted to keep that.
Wordlessly we clung in the air until she put me back on the ground. Breathless and reaffirming my love for being earthbound once more I chanced to test my voice. "Go-good to see you again."
"I counted the days you were gone.." She whispered in my ears, but Snake Eater coughed loudly to interrupt her.
"Not to be a bother, but boss is waiting for us."
*** *** ***
I had ended up following Snake and Stuka into the Four Little Diamonds instead of leaving town as fast as possible. Something in my mind was beeping, trying to alert me of the dangers I was walking into by setting a hoof in the property of a pony that had sworn to turn my life into hell, but I couldn’t just leave Stuka. She had the ability to silence my mind and make me act according to more primary reasons. This time, we were having lunch in one of the restaurant tables of the dirty casino.
“I’ve missed you, dear.” Stuka smiled lovably while looking into my eyes.
“Me too, Stuka, honey.” I smiled back. “So, how have things been going these days?”
“Oh, nothing too interesting, love. The world is going crazy, and old Saddle is getting grumpier every day. He wanted war, he had prepared himself for war, and now he is forced to keep peace and lose his main income. I think the near future will be tough.”
I had been brewing a cunning idea that involved Stuka, as she was a bodyguard and a trusted one to Saddle Buckmare. There was one way of profiting from that, and that implied having her as my ‘mole’ inside the Buckmare gang. I decided to make my move and propose that plan to her.
“Are you happy?”
“What do you mean, honey?”
“I asked you if you are happy. If you like your job or your boss.”
“Well, I can’t complain...” Stuka doubted. “I have a job with a good pay, and I have a relative safety, which is much more than what many can ask for... But Saddle is a nasty bastard.”
“Then why don’t you come with me?”
“Come with you? And leave Saddle? Do you think he’d let me go?”
“I never said that, honey. I said that you and I can work together. I have my plans, plans that go beyond these gangs, beyond Saddle and his narrow mind. But I need you to help me. With your collaboration, you and I will reach great things...” I narrowed my eyes and purred to her ear while caressing her gently. “... together.”
Stuka shivered in delight while hooting softly. I had her right where I wanted, both mentally and physically. I enjoyed the moment while I saw her smile at me, totally submitted to my will.
“Together...” she cooed. “Yes, together. What do you have in mind, honey?”
“Stuka, dear, I need you to keep doing what you were doing until now, but I also want you to be my eyes and ears. I want you to tell me what Saddle does, what he plans and what he wants or desires. Don’t press him, just pay attention. And if things get risky, forget about it. I want you to be safe, my dear.”
“Don’t worry, honey. I know how to take care of myself.”
“I know that.” I smiled and I kissed her softly.
“Stuka! What the hell does this mean?” A voice roared behind us.
I turned around to see Saddle Buckmare standing right behind us with a face of utter disgust. It was understandable, since he couldn’t stand me and now I was making out with one of his bodyguards. I realized that he could have eavesdropped our conversation, so I had to do something to know if Stuka was in danger.
“This means we’re... together. We met some time ago, before I even knew she worked for you, Mister Buckmare. But, with all due respect, were you spying on us? Because we were talking about private things. Very private.” Wink wink, nudge nudge, just in case he hadn’t noticed.
“Oh, hell, no!” Buckmare winced in disgust. “I don’t give a living fuck about whatever you do in bed. And I don’t care if you’re together, as long as Stuka keeps working for me. However, if you try anything funny, you’ll regret it.”
“There’s no need for loud words, Mister Buckmare. I know what you’re capable of. I won’t mess around, I promise.”
“Good. Now, weren’t you supposed to leave for Nobuck or something?”
“All right, all right, I’m leaving. Just give me some time to say goodbye to Stuka... in private, if you don’t mind.”
Saddle grunted something and turned around, leaving us alone once again. Stuka got close to me and whispered in my ear.
“Why did you tell him about us?”
“If he knows we’re together, he won’t suspect anything if he knows that we meet every now and then. At least, it’ll take him some time to start suspecting.”
“I see... Good move, darling.”
“Thanks, honey. Now, I have to go, or Saddle will get mad. Goodbye.”
I kissed her and left hastily. The sooner I left the city, the safer I’d be.
*** *** ***
Once I had set enough distance between Freedom Field and myself, I slowed down to a gentle trot. There was no reason to burn myself out fleeing from an inexistent enemy. Besides, as long as I kept close to the New Pegasus walls, the wild beasts wouldn’t be a menace. After years of failed attacks, they had learned to avoid the city.
It took me a couple of days to get back to Nobuck. I got to see the Gummy Building a little bit after sunset, so I decided to set up camp and return to base at dawn. After a good night’s sleep, the sound of steps woke me up. Back on my hooves, I opened the eyes to see myself surrounded by NER troopers. Some of them aimed at me with their guns, some of them seemed less worried about my presence there. I looked for a known face in the lot, maybe Sunlight Forger or Evenstar. However, none of them were there.
“State your business in NER territory, stranger!” one of the troopers ordered.
“I’m here... I’m here to report back to Vice-President Heartstrings.” I yawned.
“Ha!” the trooper laughed. “What do you know the Vice-President from?”
“I’m Farsight, agent of the NER, under direct command of the Vice-President!” I roared. “Just take me to her!”
“Shut the fuck up, Wastelander.” The trooper gave me an angry look. “Or I’ll beat the crap out of you and leave your body to the Cazadorables!”
“You will not do that, Pike.” A voice called from behind the lot.
“What? Who?” The trooper called Pike looked around.
Another trooper came from the far side of the road, his battle saddle ready to fire if necessary. I could recognize his orange coat and his face from before. Private Carrots, if I wasn’t mistaken.
“Carrots!” Pike scowled. “You have no authority!”
“I don’t. But this Wastelander is an undercover NER agent, just as he said. Beat him up and you’ll be directing the caravan traffic in the Divide in no time.” Carrots spoke calmly, but there was an obvious menace in his tone.
“What the fuck are you talking about, Carrots? This scum here is nothing but a damn raider who’s come here to find death!”
“Pike, I’m amazed they even let you in the NER army in the first place. If we have to rely on the likes of you to defend our country, we’re going to have a hard time.”
Pike clenched his teeth after hearing Carrots’ words. He was about to pull his gun out when a single shot from Carrots’ battle saddle landed some centimeters away from his hoof.
“Are you out of your fucking mind, Carrots?” Pike yelled. The rest of the troopers had slowly moved from Pike’s side to Carrots’ side, leaving my attacker alone and exposed.
“Private Pike,” Carrots’ voice echoed on the morning wind, “stand down immediately and return to your post. I’ll take care of our guest from this point on.”
Pike mumbled something I could not make out but saluted and moved on. The rest of the troopers hastily returned to their duties, leaving Carrots alone with me. He smiled and threw an apple from his saddlebags to me. I lifted it and dragged it to my mouth, and ate it in two bites. The taste of the apple and the feel of it down my throat made me feel much better. Nothing better than a fresh apple for breakfast.
“Great to see you made it in one piece.” Carrots grinned. He was a well-mannered pony, as it seemed. “And what is more important, which is the situation in Freedom Field?”
I was supposed to report directly to Harpsong, but I guess it would mean no harm to tell him. After all, I supposed that he could ask any caravaneer for the same information.
“Things are bad out there, Carrots. The four gangs have decided to form an alliance against the NER, and are gearing up for war. Freedom Field is getting ready for a very long siege.”
Carrots had been listening to me in silence, then gave me a stern look. He seemed to be meditating the answers he could give me.
“I’ll take you to Vice-President Heartstrings, she’ll be waiting for the report you have to give her. But to be honest, I think we all saw it coming. You did a great work, if that is worth anything to you.”
“Thanks. But somehow I have the feeling that I will have to infiltrate in Freedom Field again.” I smiled faintly and followed Carrots up the hill and towards the Nobuck motel. That was surprising, I thought that we were heading for the Gummy building. Instead, Carrots stopped in front of a door and knocked three times.
“Vice-President! Sorry to bother you, but I have somepony here with very important matters to discuss. It’s urgent, ma’am.”
Somepony grumbled something I could not understand behind the closed door and I heard hoofsteps closing in to us, then the door opened. Harpsong was standing in front of us, her mane rustled and disorderly, dressed in nothing but a frilly white nightgown. She was drinking coffee in a small mug that read “World’s number 1 Vice-President”. I had to refrain from rubbing my eyes. I hadn’t noticed until that very moment how attractive Harpsong could be.
“What is it, private?” Harpsong mumbled. “Can’t you see I’m still half asleep?”
“It’s a top-class emergency, ma’am.”
“Okay, okay. Don’t go all protocolary on me... Farsight?” she noticed me for the first time and almost dropped her coffee. “What is going on?”
“I’m here to report about the situation in Freedom Field. I’ve come directly to you because I don’t trust Captain Stonetree.” I knew there was a little conflict inside the NER, and I had to pick my side. This one was a no-brainer, though.
“Great work, Farsight, I didn’t think you’d make it out alive. After what Stonetree ordered you to do, I never thought you’d be back to report. You’re proving to be a very good agent, and I like it... Hell, I’m starting to like you. Give me a minute to freshen up and I’ll be with you.”
The door slammed shut again. Carrots gave me an amused look.
“Did I hear what I think I heard?” he whistled. “VP Heartstrings likes you? Damn you lucky bastard. She’s the best flank you’ll see in all Neighvada, and all the bucks in camp would like to take her for a ride. Of course, we’re just daydreaming... You’re making me feel jealous!”
I smiled at Carrots’ reaction. “I’ve got other worries right now, Carrots. Besides, I don’t think she meant she liked me that way.”
“Oh, I know her enough to notice that she...”
Carrots got interrupted by the door opening again. Harpsong came out of the room dressed in a fancy green suit with the NER crest on her flap. She had carefully combed her green and white mane and... did I notice a faint scent of perfume on her? Maybe Carrots was right after all.
“Follow me, Farsight.” She started walking towards the Gummy building. I followed her into the old Ministry of Morale Hub, now turned into a field headquarters for the New Equestrian Republic.
The activity inside the building was as frantic as the last time. Several terminals flashed streams of data in quick succession, radio waves filled the air with reports of the different patrols scattered around the Wasteland, and maps of the Neighvada Territory covered the walls and tables of the Republican center of operations.
“Tell me, Farsight.” Harpsong looked at me with a worried expression. “What is the current situation in Freedom Field?”
“Worrisome. Pretty worrisome.” I started walking up and down the room to freshen my muscles. After all, I had been woken up a bit harshly. “I could make it to the meeting between the gangs. All that we had planned has fallen to pieces, since the four gangs have decided to team up against the Republic.”
“Team up against us?” Harpsong looked surprised. “How can they take us as a threat?”
“Seems like the caravaneer you paid to keep silent was paid better in Freedom Field. The gangs know you’re stationed in Nobuck.”
“Fucking caravaneers!” Harpsong roared. “That’s it. No more bribing. The next time we have to deal with them, we’ll speak with a gun pointed towards them.”
Harpsong grumbled something and walked up and down the room as well. I didn’t think that threatening the caravaneers with a gun would keep them silent. After all, the gangsters could threaten them with bigger guns. Or torture. After all, they were the bad guys and the NER were the good guys. At least, that’s what they were meant to be.
“Erm, Harpsong... I don’t think that’ll be useful. They’ll end up talking.”
“Whatever, whatever. Seems like our plan has gone down the drain. What’s the current military power of the gangs?”
So, the Republic had decided to make things the hard way. After all, Stonetree would get his action.
“It’s a force to be reckoned. From what I could see in there, they’re getting ready for a siege. Trenches, supply lines, general feeling of alert... they want to resist. However...”
“They’re not dumb, I’ll give them that. Could you tell me something about their numbers?”
“Not much, really. What I can tell you, though, is that they’re heavily armed. One of the gangs controls the firearms market, so they have a really big stash of guns and ammunition. Even the smallest filly could punch a hole through you if things get ugly. Then, another gang has a massive amount of energy weapons ready, so all your armor will be useless if they get them ready to shoot. Still...” Harpsong was interrupting me every time before I could say the key words.
“Crap. A direct assault is impossible, then. How about long sieges? What’s their supply status?”
“You won’t break them that way either. The City of New Pegasus will force you to keep the supply lines open, since the caravans have to traverse Freedom Field in order to get into New Pegasus. Therefore, you can’t avoid them getting supplies. The only thing is...”
“How about their medical capabilities? Will they be able to sustain a long war?”
“Definitely. They’ve got a lot of medical supplies there, and a great amount of qualified healers as well. The Followers of the Shy are worthy combat medics, I’m sure about that. Just...”
“Damn! DAMN!” Harpsong let out a roar of despair. “How the fuck am I supposed to take these bastards out?”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you from the first place! They aren’t going to wage war in the first place.” I warned. “The gangs decided to resist peacefully to the Republic.”
“That’s it. They won’t join the NER, but they won’t fight you either. If you want the city, you’ll have to go in and take it from them.”
“Not really. In fact, it’s a good plan.”
“How can you say it’s a good plan? We have an army?”
“I know you have an army. However, I also know that you don’t want to have to use the army to keep the population under control, because that would hinder your possible advances.”
“That is basic. We can’t have the whole army worried about suppressing revolts.”
“Well, there’s my point. If you take the city from the gangs while they’re just resisting peacefully, the people will see you as an invader, and will revolt as soon as they have a chance.”
“Oh, yes? And what do you suggest to do?”
“I don’t know, honestly. As long as they’re united in their idea of resisting, there’s not much we can do about it. If their unity started to crumble, however...”
“Of course!” Harpsong’s eyes glittered. “Farsight, I could kiss you right now!”
“Can you? Oh, well, as you wish, my dear.” I smiled gently. I liked where this was going.
*** *** ***
Sadly for me, there was no kissing or hugging. After saying that, Harpsong exploded into a maelstrom of activity, roaring orders via a radio transmitter, calling troopers of all ranks to the meeting room and discussing plans of all kinds. I was feeling rather overwhelmed by her display of eagerness, so I went out for a walk.
The morning breeze was still cold, but I enjoyed it, as it cleared my still numb mind. I wondered what Rose and Nadyr would be doing at the moment. If their missions were as dangerous as mine, they would be tied up in real trouble, and that worried me... a little, in what involved Rose. I still didn’t trust Nadyr all that much, but I knew he was capable of handling himself in combat. Rose, however, hadn’t face a really tough situation before. Maybe if she trusted in Lavender she would make it out alive.
I was stuck in my thoughts when I walked into the training field. The sound of gunshots roared in the morning air. Rapid bursts of fire rippled across the firing range, and I was surprised to see a little filly in a camo cloak firing a small black pistol. Rose’s face was like stone, unwavering after every blast, cold and concentrated. The NER drill instructor watched in silence and nodded. She was starting to show prowess with the pistol, at least at short distance.
I greeted the instructor with a silent nod and watched Rose handle herself with the pistol I had given her when we met. Unlike Nadyr, who showed true enjoyment when handling a gun and delivering blazing death, Rose took shooting as something done out of pure necessity, and tried to show no emotion when doing it. In the deep of my heart, I was pretty sure she was unhappy in the inside.
BANG! BANG! Click!
“That will be enough for today, Rose.” The drill instructor took a step forward and patted Rose on the back. “You’re doing great progress. Just remember to keep the gun steady when you pull the trigger.”
“Want a tip?” I interrupted gently. “Try holding your breath before shooting if you want more precision. I found it helps.”
“Indeed.” The instructor nodded.
“Farsight!” Rose jumped when she turned her head to see me. “You’re back!”
I hugged the little filly. I was very glad of seeing her again in good shape. So far, she was the only pony I cared about, apart from me, of course.
“Where have you been, Rose?”
“Me?” Rose grinned in joy. “I’ve been here in Nobuck, training hard to be able to defend myself without having to resort to Lavender.”
Well, at least now she called things by her name. That meant she was brave enough to face her own reality. She was growing up, and that made me feel better. Wait, was that a tear down my cheek?
“Are you crying, Farsight?” Rose asked, worried.
“It seems so...” I sniffed and smiled. “But don’t worry. It’s nothing bad. I’m just proud of you.”
“Thank you!” Rose smiled too. Then she remembered something and her expression changed to a moody face. “Farsight... I have to speak to you about something... if you don’t mind.”
“Tell me.” Rose wanted to talk about something serious, it seemed. What could it be?
“Could you tell me your plan? Because you have a plan, don’t you?”
I took a deep breath. Rose wasn’t your common filly. She had lived through so much, that she knew her way around ponies. Maybe she wasn’t as bright as me, but she had eyes and a brain behind them.
“My plan... Rose, I think I told you I strive for power. I want to be on top of the ladder, so that nopony can tread on me. Besides, I want to live a good life, a life better than the common junk that is the Wasteland. In any other place it would be a foolish dream, but here in Neighvada there is a paradise waiting for me. I want to enter New Pegasus and work my way up there.”
“And how is the NER going to help you in that?”
“I don’t know, but I want them to be in debt with me, sorry, with us. You’re no foal. You know they’re powerful, and that they’re bound to control this part of the Wasteland sooner or later. Therefore, it’s good to have them on your side. They might not open the doors of New Pegasus for me, but they will do something for me once all this is over.”
“Don’t you know? We’re going to take Freedom Field now.”
“What? What did you do this time, Farsight?” Rose’s tone was that of slight disappointment, with a hint of disbelief.
“I did... nothing. I had offered Dee a plan to defeat the Buckmares, but she twisted it and used it to turn them into their puppets with a swift blow. Then, they learned about the NER in Nobuck and decided to unite against us.”
“What about the population? The poor traders, the civilians?”
“They’re with the gangs. They’re not of our concern, anyway.” I sighed. I knew that Rose wouldn’t like to hear that, but it was how life went after all.
“And that means they’re expendable? Farsight, how can you be so soulless?”
“Soulless? It’s a war, Rose. When the megaspells turned Equestria into a Wasteland, what did you think that happened to the civilians?”
“But you don’t have to do this! You have a choice!”
She was right. I had a choice in this. And I had already made the decision.
“I do have a choice, and I’ve chosen to stand with the NER. However, this is not a war. The gangs have decided to resist peacefully, so the Republic can’t attack them without causing an uprising. Does that make you feel better?”
“Yes... I think so.”
Did she, really? She looked at me with a really sad face, making my soul shiver. Rose was the only one that could actually do that, and that’s why I loved her. She was the little voice that reminded me that there was hope for the righteous in the Wasteland. But I also needed her to realize that she had to have her hooves on the ground, or she would get killed.
“Rose, you’ve got to...”
“Farsight, sir!” A trooper came rushing to us, anguish in her face. “The Vice-President needs you in the Gummy, sir. It’s urgent!”
Crap. So much for my speech. I left Rose in the training grounds and galloped to the Gummy building, where Harpsong was waiting for me with a stern face.
“Ah, Farsight, we were waiting for you. Please, come in.” Her voice was cold and I could notice a hint of anger. Was it because of the alliance between the gangs? “Now that we’re all gathered here, let’s discuss how we’ll tackle things, shall we?”
Stonetree was looking at the town maps deployed on one of the walls. His muzzle curled in disgust, and I heard him whisper something. However, I couldn’t make out anything of what he said. The tone was cutting and dreadful, though. He wasn’t happy at all, and when it came to Stonetree, I had the feeling that I knew what ground his gears.
“What is that non-violent resistance shit?” He roared at me. “Would you mind explaining that nonsense?”
“Captain, please. Don’t lose your temper. Let’s keep this meeting professional.”
“It’s simple, Captain Stonetree.” I used a firm yet warm tone, in order to calm everypony in the room down as I made my explanations. “They won’t surrender, but they won’t fight either. They’ll just stand there watching whatever we do to them.”
“And since when is that a problem?”
“Since you’re not freeing poor slaves or fighting bad raiders. The gangs, even if a little unorthodoxly, care about the population of Freedom Field. In fact, many civilians consider Dee Cleff a guardian angel for Freedom Field, while the labor of the Followers of the Shy attracts both inhabitants and Wastelanders.”
“So, imagine what will happen if you break into their town killing and destroying.” Harpsong had added a hint of irony to her statement.
“The Republic can’t afford an uprising in a conquered territory. That’s totally out of the question, isn’t it?” I asked to Stonetree.
“It is.” Stonetree huffed in anger. “Those hippies. I can’t believe the Republic is going to stand idle to such provocation!”
“The Republic is not going to stand idle, Captain, that would be a mistake. However, I think we must change our approach to our problem with the gangs, don’t you agree with me?”
“Are you suggesting espionage, Miss Vice-President? You know we don’t have any spies in the area.”
“I know, but we have agents, don’t we?”
Stonetree and Harpsong looked at me at the same time. Stonetree’s muzzle curled into a smug smirk, while Harpsong’s face was one of triumph. I realized what they were planning. I was going to be sent back to Freedom Field to try and destabilize things.
“Let me guess,” I said before anypony else talked. “I’m going back to Freedom Field.”
“I’ve always liked your quick thinking, Farsight.”
“Thanks, Harpsong.” I scowled. Somehow, I expected this outcome, but it didn’t mean I liked it. Freedom Field was like a loaded gun, one wrong movement and it would cost you your life.
“What are you planning to do, Vice-President?”
“I’m not planning anything, that’s the good thing about it!” Harpsong clapped. “I’m sending you on your own, Farsight.”
“On my own? What does that come down to?”
“You don’t have to report to us, first and foremost. Officially, you won’t belong to the NER, which means you won’t get paid. Sorry about that.”
Ouch. First one, right in the kisser. What would be the next surprise?
“You’re going in there with one purpose only. By next month, I want that city under my control. I don’t care what you do. You’re totally free as far as the NER is concerned. I don’t give a damn if you get in there and shoot everypony down. As long as I can march into Freedom Field without having to handle a revolt, I would be ready to endorse you as the fucking mayor.”
So this was it. Pretty much what I had supposed in the first place. Since the gangs didn’t want to fight, the NER wouldn’t fight either. Instead, they sent an agent of chaos to stir things up.
“So, I’ve got total freedom of action...” I smiled at the wide arch of possibilities. “You realize this could backfire at you, don’t you?”
“Backfire? That’s a risk I’m willing to assume.” Harpsong smiled. “Besides, you’re smart enough to know who you should support.”
“Of course, of course. I was just playing around.” I shrugged. Harpsong’s reaction had been calm but clear. Cross me and you’ll regret it. “Now, let’s get down to practical issues. You said something about next month?”
“Indeed. I’m giving you a month to get things running. If I don’t see a change in the situation by next month, you’re out of the NER. If you can’t even handle such a task, you’re not worthy of being an NER agent. Same goes to Rose and Nadyr. Since they came along with you, they’ll go with you if you fail. Understood?”
That last condition struck me like lightning. A month to break the gangs’ resistance or I’d lose all what I had been working for? I couldn’t afford that. I had moved across the Wasteland making gambits, sacrificing my position to get higher benefits. But this gambit could return me to the starting line, having lost much in the way. Even too much, maybe.
I felt anguish crawl back into my soul and grasp it tightly. The perspective of returning to the life of a Wastelander, having to struggle for survival, was something I had already forgotten and that I simply didn’t want to remember. Besides, now I had to take care of Rose as well, which would make my life much harder than the last time. Freedom Field was no safe place either, since the gangs knew me already and they would watch every single move I made. This was my final gamble. If I didn’t make it, I would have to start all over again.
“I understand.” I gulped. “Now, what about my companions?”
“You’re free to do as you wish. You three came together, so it’s your call.”
“I see. If there isn’t anything more you have to tell me, I will be leaving.”
I turned around to leave the room and the Gummy Building, when I heard Harpsong call me from behind.
“Yes?” I turned my head to look at her.
“Good luck. The Republic is counting on you.”
I nodded and turned around. They were counting on me, of course. However, they’d dump me if I didn’t reach any progress in one month. What sort of trust was that? I felt used, expendable. And even if in the very deep I knew that this was the way of the Wasteland, I couldn’t stop a growing resentment towards Harpsong and the NER. If they wanted to play rough sending me as their little piece of discord, I’d show them what I was capable of.
*** *** ***
The first thing I needed to do was to talk to Rose and Nadyr about the sudden change of events. I didn’t worry about Rose, but maybe Nadyr wouldn’t take it so lightly. Since our partnership wasn’t being all that smooth, I had to be very careful when telling him about what the NER had ordered us. Even if I didn’t fully trust the zebra, I was aware of his abilities and I knew they would come in handy someday. Therefore, I wanted to keep him around, no matter what.
I checked the canteen, as it had become quite a habit for Nadyr to chill there when he was off duty. This time, however, I didn’t find him at his usual spot. Instead, he was training hardly in the rocky, jagged outskirts of Nobuck. When I reached him, he was doing two-leg pull-ups, dressed in nothing more than his underpants. While it didn’t attract me at all, I had to admire my striped companion’s physical shape. His dark gray and white body was very muscular, but it wasn’t bulky. Instead, it was fibrous and slim, as if it had not a single cell too much. Besides, I had the feeling that Nadyr took a great care on keeping himself fit.
“Nadyr!” I called.
The zebra noticed me for the first time and stopped his exercise. Huffing and panting, he grabbed a towel from the rock where he had stored his clothes and started drying the sweat that had appeared on his slim, scarred body.
“‘Sup, Farsight” he greeted me.
“Wow, Nadyr. I didn’t think you were so... fit.”
“What? Are you one of those bucks whose barnyard door opens the other way round?”
“No, no, not at all.” I laughed faintly. “I have other... deviations, but stallions are not my weakness.”
“I’m glad to hear that, because I’m not one of those either.”
“However, I must admit that your body looks stunning. You’re really fit!”
“Damn, of course I’m fit, bro! Did you think my agility is a product of magic or something? I train really hard every single day to keep being tough as a fucking nail!”
“All right, there’s no need to get all fired up.” I shrugged.
“Dude, you should train a bit as well. Otherwise, you’ll get all flabby and slow.”
“Flabby and slow? It’s not like I’m lying on a couch all day, Nadyr.”
“Whatever. Don’t come whining when you can’t gallop without having your heart climbing up your throat.”
“Never mind. This wasn’t what I wanted to talk about.”
Nadyr threw the towel and started putting his pants on, while humming some tune I didn’t recognize. Was he even listening to me?
“What is it, then?”
“Our situation here has... changed.” I walked up and down, rather nervously. “The gangs of Freedom Field have signed an alliance against the NER, but they have pulled out an intelligent trick. They’ve decided to resist in a non-violent way.”
“Non-violent?” Nadyr chuckled. “Yeah, right. How will they stop an army in a non-violent way?”
“The bad news is that they already have. The NER won’t attack.”
“You heard it. They won’t attack, since they’re afraid that their aggression might spark a popular revolt. The folks at Freedom Field are quite sympathetic to the gangs.”
“I did have that feeling, yes.” Nadyr nodded. “I never thought they’d use the population as a shield.”
“They’re gangsters. What did you expect?”
“Duh. Of course.” Nadyr facehoofed and smiled. “So, what is our new situation?”
“They’ve decided to send me into Freedom Field to break their alliance. I’m going in on my own to try and sow the seeds of chaos. They’ve called it Operation Discord.”
“Pfft. Who names those things, anyway?”
“Beats me. That’s not my point, though. What worries me is that they’ve given me a month to destabilize the situation in Freedom Field, or we three will be fired.”
“Yes, fired. As in no job, no money.”
“No money?” Nadyr whined. “Oh, no, no, no. I ain’t letting that juicy NER pay go. What can I do?”
“Nothing. Keep working for the Republic as usual.”
“I don’t get it. You expect me to do nothing and lose my pay?”
“I’ll give you two reasons, so choose the one that suits you best. If you come with me to Freedom Field, the NER will stop paying you, as it has stopped paying me. Once in Freedom Field, we’re no agents of the Republic. We’re on our own in there. That’s reason one. Reason two is the following: when I went back to the meeting, I had to tell them that the NER had wounded you and you had decided to lay low for a while. It wouldn’t be very logical if you went back into Freedom Field as if nothing had happened.”
“All right, it seems you don’t give me much of a choice.” He shook his head in disagreement. “As you wish, I’ll keep working for the NER, but mark my words. If I lose my pay because of your failure, I’ll destroy you. I swear.”
Another motivation to do a good job in Freedom Field, I thought. Nadyr was a cold blooded killing machine, so I just didn’t want to see him angry at me. I felt chills up and down my spine, and my throat became dry. I didn’t want to show him that I was afraid, so I tried to keep cold and serious.
“Fine. I’ll be leaving now, Nadyr. I really hope that we don’t have to get to that situation. Good luck and all that jazz.”
“Later.” Nadyr’s response was curt. Then, he turned around and picked his shirt from the floor. Our conversation was over.
I turned around and left without looking back. Nadyr wasn’t a friend, that was true, but I definitely didn’t want to have him as an enemy. Not if I wanted to have a long life in the Wasteland.
*** *** ***
Rose was strolling up and down Nobuck when I came back from my little chat with Nadyr. Day after day, she was less of a helpless filly and more of a full-grown Wastelander. She had one thing that many others didn’t, and that was the ability to quickly adapt to the situation without giving up her principles. I had the feeling that she would outlast many of the ponies that we had come across.
She spotted me as I got closer, and she waved a hoof and smiled. Her fiery red mane was covered with a shiny new blue beret with the insignia of a griffin head in it.
“Hello, Rose. I hadn’t seen that beret before... Where did you get it?”
“Do you like it?”
“It suits you. However, you didn’t answer my question.”
“All right...” she giggled. “I got it from one of the troopers. He gave it to me as a gift for healing him. I’ve been working in the field hospital for the last few days.”
“What does the insignia stand for?”
“If I recall correctly, the trooper told me that it was the insignia of Gawd’s Guns, the name of his company. I kept it because I thought it would be ungrateful to remove the insignia from the beret.”
“I understand.” I nodded. Rose’s firm principles were something that never ceased to amaze me.
“Oh, by the way, I saw you enter the Gummy Building some time ago. What happened? Were you called to a meeting or something?”
“Yes, Harpsong wanted me to report. Then, I got a new assignment. One that involves you as well.”
“Me?” Rose looked at me with a surprised face. “What is it?”
“We need to get back to Freedom Field. They have decided to resist peacefully to the NER’s advance, and that is something that makes both Harpsong and Stonetree very nervous.”
“What are we supposed to do? We can’t attack somepony who’s not violent.”
Rose had immediately grasped the situation, once again. This time, however, I was worried about how her principles would affect the way she saw our assignment. She had been in Freedom Field, she had seen how the gangs worked for the population. And since Rose was so kind, so virtuous; I had the feeling that she might not like to topple the gangs. However, she didn’t have much of a choice.
“We are going to work as covert agents there. Our mission is to destabilize the situation. Either we move them towards an agreement of submission to the NER, or we move them towards a violent stance, allowing the Republic to intervene.”
“But you’re going for the first, aren’t you?”
“I’m going for whatever I can get, Rose. We only have one month, or the Republic will dump us, and Nadyr didn’t seem too pleased about losing his pay.”
“I see...” Rose lowered her head, worried. “Then, what will we do?”
“For now, we’re leaving for Freedom Field. We can’t lose any minute.”
*** *** ***
It didn’t take us too much time to gather our stuff and leave Nobuck. After all, the most of our inventory was tidily packed in my saddlebags. We stopped by the canteen to get ourselves some rations for the trip to our destination, and left on the double. Every minute that I spent outside Freedom Field was a minute lost.
A storm of dust blew across the Wasteland, covering us in a dry, beige grit. The visibility was lower after every step we took, and it wasn’t the most pleasant way of traversing the roads, but we needed to push. We needed to get to Freedom Field.
“Farsight!” Rose yelled, so I could hear her. “We can’t stay out in the open! I can’t see anything, we could be ambushed by raiders!”
“If I can’t see them, they can’t see me either!” I yelled back, only to get a hoofful of dirt in my mouth. I coughed and spat.
“I don’t care! I can’t breathe without getting dirt in my nose! Let’s find someplace safe to stay!”
“I think I saw a marker on the map following the road we’re walking right now. I just don’t know if we’re far away. You should be able to see it in your PipBuck map, shouldn’t you?”
She was right. We needed to hide from the roaring storm before it smothered us in dust. Coughing and spitting sand, I tried to look at my PipBuck map. Even with the light at full power, I could only manage to fathom some contours on the screen. If I wasn’t mistaken, there had to be a small shack close to our position. I started walking against the harsh wind, pushing against a wall of dirt. My PipBuck had started clicking nervously. There was radiation in the wind! We needed to find shelter as soon as we could!
“Rose!” I yelled as strong as possible. “I’ve found the place you talked about! It’s not far away! Follow me, follow the light of my PipBuck!”
I didn’t hear her response, as the sound of the roaring wind was deafening. I just prayed to Celestia for her safety, as I began to distinguish the contours of a small building in front of me. I pushed forward with all my might, as I had the feeling that our immediate survival was depending on getting into shelter. I managed to get close to the shack, since it wasn’t much more than that, and I slammed the door open. There was no time for subtleties.
I jumped into the room and landed on the floor, exhausted. Rose came behind me, closing the door after her. She fell to the floor, huffing and panting from the great effort. We didn’t know where we had ended up, nor did we care. We could finally rest our weary bodies. I took myself some time to recover my breath, and then I got up to check the shack. The place was dusty, as if nopony had lived here in a long, long time.
*BLEEP!* My PipBuck had been beeping ever since we got into the shack, but I had been too busy resting my bones to pay attention to it. Now, a bit fresher, I lifted my foreleg to check what my leg-attached device wanted to tell me. You’ve discovered Neighvada Relay Wave Radio Station. The name Relay Wave didn’t say anything to me, but the fact that this place was a radio station made it interesting. Who knows what we might find in here? But first, I had to make sure if the place was safe to stay.
“Anypony here?” I yelled. No response. This could mean that the place was empty or that we were being stalked. I picked my rifle from the saddlebag and cocked it.
The place was silent. Rose had fallen asleep in the very place she had landed, and the silence was only broken by the howling wind and the whirring noise of some electronic device. The shack was small, only a couple of rooms, a kitchen, a bathroom and a closet. I activated the E.F.S. Nothing. There were only two ponies in the area, those being Rose and me. I sighed in relief and holstered my rifle.
After having done that, I started checking the place more thoroughly. The kitchen was empty, probably raided by any Wastelander curious enough to enter the shack. The bathroom had a first aid box where I found a pack of bandages. But the thing that most interested me was the last room I checked. As the PipBuck said, it was a fully functional radio station.
The devices on the room emitted a faint static buzzing, since nothing was being caught by the receiver. The machinery of the station was fairly complicated, many chunks of buttons and dials, as well as microphones and speakers. With enough time, I could have learned to operate such an equipment, and who knows when it might have been useful; but now I had no time to worry about it.
Something caught my attention, though. Lying on one of the panels was a small piece of paper with a small diagram of the device and a series of numbers scribbled. Since Rose was still asleep and the storm didn’t seem to be ending anytime soon, I decided to try and discover what the numbers meant. The diagram drawn on the note was faulty and vague, but it made clear that it pointed at a knob with a dial right above. A quick inspection of the machine showed me that there was only one such knob that could show the numbers of the note in the corresponding dial, so I operated the knob to the first of the numbers, and music started ringing from the speakers. I realized that the dial symbolized the tuned frequency, so the numbers had to be stations. The first one was New Pegasus Radio, the news and music station of the City.
A small screen with the map of the area was attached to the big radio receiver. Once a signal was detected, its source point appeared on the map. When I locked on to New Pegasus Radio, the marker had been placed on a building in the City of New Pegasus. I kept looking for the rest of the stations. Many of them were blank signals, only static. Other ones kept playing emergency broadcasts from before the War, but one caught my attention. It wasn’t the classic static buzz. Instead, it was a series of clicks and clacks, something that made no sense at all, but that had some pattern. There was some logic to it... encrypted signals. That had to be it. I took a look at the locator screen, and I found to my surprise that the source was hovering over New Pegasus, shifting from one side to another. It didn’t point at any place in particular, but it would never leave the contours of the city. What could that mean? Was that signal being broadcast from under the city? Or from above? I saved the frequency on my PipBuck memory, just in case I might need it.
“What are you doing, Farsight?” I heard Rose say behind my back. She was awake once again. I turned around and watched her yawn graciously. She was cute, I thought with a smile.
“Investigating,” I replied. “This place used to be a radio station, and somepony wrote down a series of working frequencies. Whatever this could be used for, anyway.”
“Maybe this will clear things up.” Rose handed me a small booklet.
I took a look at the book Rose had given me. It was a small hoofbook, thin and aged. It had to be from before the War. The covers were dark blue with a small emblem in the front cover: three balloons, two of them sky-blue and the other one yellow. The print in the cover was almost unreadable, but the a quick look to the first page made it clear: Relay Wave Radio Station, Operator’s Hoofbook. Property of the Ministry of Morale. So, this station had been commissioned before the War. Curiosity sparked in me, so I kept reading. The preface to the book was a small explanatory paragraph, succinct but very clear at the same time.
If you are reading this, then it means you have been chosen to be the Operator of a Relay Wave Radio Station. Let me thank you from the bottom of my heart for the key role you are assuming from now on. The purpose of the Relay Wave System is simple. In the event of a national catastrophe, as the one we are drawing closer to, keeping the people’s hopes up is the top priority to the Ministry and the Government.
Therefore, the Ministry of Morale has decided to start the Relay Wave program, a series of Radio Stations distributed through all Equestria, to keep the population informed and entertained while the war goes on. You have been provided with top-class equipment to fulfil your duty as an Operator. The orders are simple. Please check the receiver-tracker device every short period of time, and in case the rest of the stations go silent, start your broadcast and keep it running until things get back to normal.
Equestria is counting on you.
The rest of the book was nothing more than an instruction manual to the different devices in the station, such as the receiver-tracker that I had been using to find the frequencies in the area. Once again, this station was another one of those memories of the Old Equestria that surfaced every now and then in the Wasteland. Probably, the operator to this station never got to broadcast anything, since New Pegasus Radio still filled the waves on Neighvada.
“Where did you find this, Rose?” I asked.
“In a small cabinet close to the station room door. It was locked, but I managed to open it.”
“Yes, does it surprise you? I was raised in the Wasteland, remember? You need to learn how to pick locks.”
“Indeed... I tried to pick one once. It was awful.” I smiled at the thought. Thank Celestia for that drill. “Mind showing me where it was?”
Rose pointed at a small locker, almost at floor level, close to the corner of the room. No doubt I had gone past it without noticing. I took a look at the locker. It was small, and there were some old records stored there. Most of them were classics and cheerful records, and there were some rarities lying around, like a collection of the “Hoofbeats Sessions” with Vinyl Scratch. That stash could be worth a big amount of money in the Trader Plaza of Freedom Field, so I decided to grab them. I had an idea in my mind.
“Why are you taking the records?” Rose asked, intrigued.
“I have an idea to start working our way in Freedom Field, and I’ll need your help.”
“Count on me.” Rose nodded with a smile. After all, she still was a filly and she liked helping the grownups.
“Are you used to bartering?”
“I’ve done some before. I’m not that good either.”
“It doesn’t matter. We need to make money while we’re in Freedom Field, so I’m going to resort to an old acquaintance of mine. You know, before I met you, I worked briefly as a scavenger-trader in town. With a bit of luck, maybe we can get you a stand to sell things.”
“To sell things? And how is that going to help you?”
“First, earning money to pay for beds and food. Second, for hearing gossip. Ponies talk a lot when they don’t think they’re being listened to.”
“So maybe the gangsters will talk about important things while looking for stuff at the market.”
That’s why I liked Rose. She definitely could grasp the ideas I tossed at her without having to explain too much. Once again, she had surpassed all my expectations.
“Exactly. Gossip that, in a similar way, could be used in this radio station.”
“Wait a minute, Farsight. Do you expect me to come and go all the way to tell the ponies in town what I’ve heard?”
“No, not you... It’s something I’m brewing right now in my mind. It might end up being nothing, though.” I waved a hoof to let it pass.
“All right...” Rose shrugged. “So, what is your plan this time?”
“Plan? I have no plan. I’ll improvise as I go.”
“I don’t believe you. You ALWAYS have a plan.” Rose stood on her hind legs to emphasize the word ‘always’.
“Not this time, Rose. My only plan is to get a grip on the situation. From there on, I’ll have to adapt to the events.”
“That doesn’t sound much like you, Farsight.”
“I know... but look at it this way. Had I planned on meeting you in the Wasteland? Had I planned on joining Nadyr to our team? Had I planned on switching sides to the Republic? Had I planned that I’d be sent back to Freedom Field to unleash chaos? The answer to all of them is a big fat ‘no’, and they have been key events in our recent lives, haven’t they?”
“Well, yes, but what is your point?”
“My point is that plans are always subject to external things, circumstances we can’t control. To those, you just have to adapt... or perish.”
“That was a bit too gloomy, wasn’t it?” Rose shivered.
“Maybe.” I nodded with a smile.
Silence filled the room once again, since our conversation had come to an abrupt end. I noticed that the storm wasn’t shaking the shack’s walls anymore, so we were good to go once again. I trotted back to the main door and opened it. The exit was partially blocked by a knee-tall layer of sand, but it didn’t mean too much for me. Rose, on the other hand, needed my help to climb out. We locked the door of the shack and returned to the road.
Ahead of us was Freedom Field, and also a long month of hard work.
Note: Reputation Change
New Equestrian Republic: Willingly unknown. Although the ponies on this faction know you, they will deliberately deny it as long as the circumstances don’t change.