Chapter 7: Everybody Wants To Rule The World
“Good night everypony! This is New Pegasus Radio, taking you through the night, and I’m your host, Mister New Pegasus, directly for your ears. I know that New Pegasus never sleeps, but I’m so delighted to know we have so many listeners even after dark. You’ve just listened to Sweetie Belle and the Equestrian Philharmonic Orchestra in one of the most amazing recordings ever made. I’m glad you can’t see me right now, because I’m crying like a little foal. Such magnificent beauty!
In breaking news, the situation in Freedom Field has become really tense in the last hours. The information we have is still blurry, but it appears that the gangs are getting ready to wage war. And when I mean war, I mean all out war, everypony! According to the NPPD, the whole city is being transformed into massive barracks. Some voices speak about trenches being built, arms being deployed and patrols on the walls. Even if everything has gone silent by now, we’re issuing a safety warning here. Please, if you have to do business in Freedom Field, take good care of yourselves, folks.
However, here at New Pegasus Radio we’d like to have some more information on the happenings of tonight, so please, if anypony can let us know what exactly is taking place in the Freedom Field Shuffle, as a colleague here at the station called it, please, send us a message and let us know.
The New Pegasus City Board has decided not to intervene in the issue, since the battle has taken place outside the walls of the city and no actual Citizen was involved. Even though it’s a sensible decision according to both common sense and the Laws of New Pegasus, this humble reporter here thinks that if things start to go wild in Freedom Field, sooner or later they will affect the City as well. I don’t want to question the City Board’s decision. I just want to send out a warning to anypony listening out there.
On to an update on the Ferratura murder! According to the last press bulletin issued by NPPD Chief Investigator Brass Badge, the police investigators found the suspected murder weapon in the dumpster close to the city walls, next to the New Equestrian Republic Embassy. The weapon was a standard issue Ironshod Firearms nine millimeter Wildbuck pistol. However, all identification numbers had been scraped from the weapon, and the pistol itself had been dismounted and the pieces scattered around the dumpster. The investigators are performing tests on the gun for traces of DNA or magical signatures. We’ll keep you informed.
Out there things are moving as well. It seems that the work of the NER in Neighvada is starting to bear its fruit. Reports of caravaneers and traders tell us that the deserted village of Pipton was secured by Republican troops and is now inhabited by pioneers from across the Divide. Now, it has flourished into a promising trading post and resting place for hard-working ponies out in the Wasteland. Even if somepony might think that the NER is trying to peacefully assimilate us, I support their job bringing peace and civilization to this battered world. Thank you!
Now, let’s keep going through the Neighvada night with some music, shall we? I’ve been playing Sweetie Belle’s music for a long time now, but I happened to find a really surprising recording in a trader’s stand last week. Did you know Sweetie Belle started a band with her fillyhood friends? I bet you didn’t know. Well, here it is. Open your ears to hear this musical rarity, “Trot this way” by Run-CMC! This is New Pegasus Radio, and I’m your host, Mister New Pegasus, speaking right to your souls...”
The Wasteland shone with a weird light.
I don’t know if it was a consequence of the storm that had ravaged this part of the world for the last hours, but now the sunlight that sipped through the cloud cover gave the Neighvada Wasteland an eerie look. The air glowed in unnatural tones of orange, gold and red, as if a translucent curtain had been drawn right before my eyes.
“It looks beautiful, doesn’t it?” Rose asked.
“It is breathtaking.” I nodded. “However, beautiful is not the word I’d use. There’s something eerie about the looks of the Wasteland right now. As if we were walking in the middle of a nightmare.”
“A nightmare?” Rose chuckled. “How can you think about this right now? It’s nature at its finest!”
“Indeed, it’s fine.” I smiled at her. I was feeling nervous for a reason I didn’t manage to understand. “But there’s something odd about this storm. It came out of nowhere, so suddenly... It wasn’t a common storm.”
“How can you tell that? You’re a Stable Pony!”
“I don’t have to be a Stable Pony to know that something so big and so violent can’t pop out of the thin air. It needs to breed, to grow. And that didn’t grow. It just happened, boom, just like that.”
“I’m sorry to tell you that you’re wrong, my dear Farsight!” Rose squeed, just like a filly when proving a grownup wrong. It was heartwarming. “I’ve lived through more than one of these sandstorms. Every now and then, they sweep Neighvada from West to East. Always from West to East. I don’t know more about them, but they happen randomly. Therefore, they’re natural.”
“All right. You’re the Wastelander here.” I smiled and gave Rose a friendly pat in the back.
“Exactly. Now let’s get moving.”
Rose sped up, forcing me to follow her suddenly hasty pace. I wasn’t in a bad shape, but the bulky armor and the load of my saddlebags made it a tough ordeal not to lose track. After almost a whole day of trotting across the eerie golden Wasteland, we made it to Freedom Field. The guards at the gates were very surprised to see us enter the city unharmed.
“We weren’t expecting anypony after the storm, and less coming from the South!” the baffled guard exclaimed. “How did you manage to do it?”
“We were lucky to find shelter.” I shrugged, giving less importance to our arrival than the one the guards were giving it. “That’s how we managed to survive the storm.”
“Then you’re a lucky couple! There are many caravaneers that won’t have made it through this one.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.” I was lying, but courtesy was always a good weapon. “What is wrong with these storms, though? I had never heard about them before.”
“They’re fairly random... the truth is the last one happened a long time ago. However, you never know when or where a Divide Storm is going to hit.”
“A Divide Storm?” That name again. Harpsong had spoken about Divide Pass... or had it been Forger?
“Yes. A storm that blows from the Divide, from the West of Neighvada. They’re usually very local, like a beam of wind and sand shooting from the Divide to the Coltorado. This one hit south of New Pegasus. We didn’t even notice until the reports of the caravans came in. Also, a couple of griffin escorts were able to make it out alive by flying. The greatest danger is to be smothered by the sand.”
“More than radiation?” I asked.
“More. The amount of rads you can get from Divide air, at least at the vicinity of New Pegasus, is very low. The sand is a far more present danger.”
“That’s why we were so lucky of finding shelter!” Rose smiled again.
“Indeed, young miss!” The guard smiled at Rose. “Well, get in. I don’t want to entertain you anymore, since I presume you’ll be tired after all you’ve been through.”
“Thanks.” I nodded and walked past the guard post. The gates of Freedom Field opened before us, once again.
*** *** ***
I was surprised at the sight of Freedom Field. The last time I had crossed the gates, I came across a fortress under construction, with trenches, barricades, firing posts and supply lines. Now, after the decision of a peaceful resistance had been taken, all the remains of the defensive emplacements were nothing more than a couple of lousy barricades close to the entrance gate, not too different to the ones that stood before all the preparations.
Besides, something else had changed in the township. The last time I was there, the activity was frantic, with ponies galloping around in their different tasks. Now, the place had sunken into some sort of stasis, as if the time had stopped still after the gang leaders had decided not to fight the Republic. Where all was haste and diligence, now it was nothing more than sloth and indolence. However, to be honest, this was the logical look of Freedom Field.
Rose trotted before me, looking at every single thing that moved in the streets. Rose had one great virtue that she had been developing ever since we met. She looked at things with a perfect mixture of fillyish, open-minded curiosity and an analytic mind, trained both by me and the NER. Now, she was profiting of it. I looked at her while she noticed the different emblems of the goons, the places to hang around, the looks of the ponies in town... She had grasped her quest of becoming a spy, and was already gathering all the information she could manage.
I led Rose to our first destination, the open-sky square of Trader Plaza. The place hadn’t changed much from the last time I was here. The stands were crammed into small makeshift passages, where the ponies offered their wares at, as every single vendor said, the best prices in all of Neighvada. Of course, the adjacent stand had a better price, most of the times. I quickly trotted towards my former place close to Sunny Orchard’s Vegetable Emporium, raising a silent prayer to Luna for an empty stand close to it.
“Of all the ponies in the Wasteland, you had to come back.” Sunberry welcomed me with a cold face. Was she still hurt for my decision?
“Hi there, Sunberry.” I smiled faintly, slightly ashamed. “How are you feeling?”
“I can’t complain. My sales have increased lately, mostly because of the failure of the communal farming programs, remember that?”
“Yes, I remember that. I still can’t believe that a Water Talisman would have saved their farms.”
“It would have. The poor farmers didn’t get anything to sprout because of the dry lands. If they had obtained the Water Talisman, they would have been able to irrigate the crops.”
“Really? I don’t think so.”
“Explain yourself!” Sunberry yelled in anger. Small teardrops were starting to surface in her big, honey-colored eyes.
“Sunberry, the Water Talisman needs an infrastructure to work properly. It needs piping, flow control systems, emergency overrides... Trust me, I know what I’m talking about. I’ve worked with talismans. I seriously doubt a bunch of farmers could set up such an infrastructure.”
“And the gangs have?”
“Well, they’re using the former infrastructure. My bet is that they’ve done some sort of bypass in the original piping and that they’ve installed the Talisman there. It’s a bit of an ordeal, but by far easier than what the NER would have had to do to get their farms running.”
“Besides,” Rose spoke for the first time, “why didn’t they start the farms close to lake Honeymead?”
“What?” Sunberry looked puzzled at the filly’s question. “Lake Honeymead?”
“Yes, the big lake on the flow of the Coltorado, to the East! The water is clean and good for drinking. Why didn’t they start the farms over there?”
“Who is she?” Sunberry asked.
“She’s Desert Rose. She comes with me since our paths met in the Wasteland. She’s got a fine eye for making clever remarks.” I smiled. “So you’d better listen to whatever she says.”
Sunberry looked past me and to the filly, who smiled proudly at the farmer mare. I was expecting some sort of smug retort from Sunberry, since I had assumed she had grown to dislike me, but suddenly her face turned into a blushing squee.
“Oh sweet Celestia!” she clapped her hooves. “What a sweet, sweet filly!”
“Thank you, miss...”
“Sunberry Grass. Oh, how cute!”
“Thanks, miss Grass. You’re too kind. But please, don’t be too harsh on Farsight. You and I know that he does things selfishly, but he’s a good pony. He has honor. I can vouch for him.”
I felt surprised at Rose’s stern declaration of confidence. I had the feeling that she was losing that appreciation she had for me because of my last actions. However, this was totally unexpected. I refrained from hugging Rose, since it would have been quite a melodramatic scene. Instead, I smiled and gave Rose a soft pat on the back.
“Why, Rose...” Sunberry doubted. “If you say so... sorry, Farsight.”
“Never mind, Sunberry. You had your reasons, I had mine. That’s how we all work. That’s how the Wasteland works. Even the NER’s farms will have ulterior reasons.”
“Sure... What brings you two here?”
“Is the stand beside yours free?” I asked, pointing at the empty stand where I had begun my business.
“It is. Nopony has claimed it yet.”
“Great! Because I do!” Rose leapt onto the stand counter.
“What are you going to sell?” Sunberry asked, surprised.
“Scavenged goods, of course!” Rose replied with a vital smile.
“So you’re continuing with Farsight’s business... I should have seen it coming.” Sunberry smirked.
“Now, speaking of which...” I intervened, “I’d like you to keep an eye out for her, help her learn the tools of the trade. She’s just a filly, so I assume that many ponies around won’t take her too seriously. That’s why we need you, Sunberry.”
“You come asking for help, Farsight, after what you did?”
“Yes, I do. I thought you had forgiven me, Sunberry.”
“I have forgiven you, but that doesn’t give you the right to ask for favors, Farsight.”
“Come on, Sunberry, do it for her...” I staged a sad face, which Rose mimicked immediately.
Sunberry looked at me, then at Rose, and her muzzle curled. She was trying to hide the tears that Rose’s heartbreaking face was causing her. It was a real shame that Rose was so straight and honor-bound. She could have turned out to be a scam artist.
“Awwww... Alright. I can’t say no to that face, so you can stop now, Farsight.”
“Thanks, Sunberry. Thank you so much.”
“Never mind, Farsight.” Sunberry shooed my with a wave of her hoof, while nudging at Rose to get behind the counter.
“Well, Rose.” I walked to the empty stand and looked at the filly with a tender smile on my face. “Learn as much as you can from Sunberry. Search every single apartment, and try to loot as much as you can. You never know what might sell well. I’m going to pull some strings here and there, to get ourselves somewhere to sleep. I’ll be back at night, okay?”
“Understood, Farsight! And don’t worry, I know what I have to do.”
“I don’t doubt that. See you later!”
I was about to turn around and leave when a wall of caramel-coloured feathers locked me into a tight hug. There was no need to look at who the griffin in question was.
“Hi, Stuka.” I said, half smothered by the young griffin’s hug.
“Hello, honey!” she cooed, and then kissed me on top of my head, gently touching my horn. I had a shiver of pleasure down my spine. Horns can be quite sensitive.
“Not now, dear. There are ponies watching...” I whispered.
“I know, silly!” Stuka chuckled and let me go. “I was just playing around with you. I love to see you embarrassed.”
“Aw, great.” I smiled, wiping all embarrassment from my face. If she wanted to play, I would play. “How are you, honey?”
“Wait, wait, wait!” Sunberry yelled. “HONEY?”
“Farsight... Who is she?” Rose asked, puzzled.
“Oh, please. Where are my manners.” I smiled at all the female audience that was gravitating around me at the moment and thought on an elegant way out of this situation. “Ladies, this is Stuka Talonblade. She and I... well, we have a sort of relationship. Not the usual love story, but it’s something alright.”
“Hi there!” Stuka winked an eye to Sunberry and Rose. Their reactions were different. While Rose smiled back and seemed pleased to meet the griffin, Sunberry was looking at me with a smug face.
“Stuka, these are Sunberry Grass and Desert Rose. Rose is my protégé, I saved her from a bunch of raiders out in the Wasteland and took her along with me. Sunberry is a local trader who’s helping Rose along with her business.”
“My pleasure, Stuka!” Rose cheered. “Farsight’s friends are my friends!”
“Well, that was the most unexpected thing of the day.” Sunberry smirked. “Congratulations, Farsight, you never cease to amaze me.”
“We’ll be leaving now, alright?” I smiled and looked at Stuka while nudging away. We could have a calm chat away from Rose and Sunberry. “Later, Rose. Sunberry...”
“See you later, loverbuck.” Sunberry smiled ironically. I was starting to have the feeling that she didn’t hate me anymore. She just found me as a massive, walking contradiction on four hooves.
I turned around, this time for good, and left Trader Plaza with Stuka following me closely. Once away from the market, I looked at Stuka, grabbed her and gave her a passionate kiss. She had me excited from the very beginning.
“Sorry about that, Stuka.” I shrugged. “I hadn’t told you about Rose, I hope you don’t take it badly...”
“Badly?” she laughed out loud. “Honey, Rose is the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen. She’s like you in many things, but so different in many others... I think we’ll get along well, as long as she doesn’t get a crush on you.”
“For now, she sees me as a father figure, or so I think. Maybe later, in a few years... But that’s far away from now. Why should we worry?”
“Exactly. Why should you?” She caressed me with one of her big wings, making me shiver. “Now, why don’t you come to Mama Stuka’s nest for a bit of tender love and care?”
I smiled at the proposition, it was one of the things that I wanted at the moment. The destabilization plan could wait a little longer, couldn’t it?
*** *** ***
“Whoa, Stuka... you’ve learned new tricks, haven’t you?” I gasped.
I felt sweaty and tired, and my lungs fought to absorb the oxygen from the air I was shoving into them. My body was in pain, hardened by the tough effort Stuka had demanded. However, I was enjoying the moment. Stuka’s ‘nest’ was a small flat in one of the penthouse floors of the apartment buildings close to the Four Little Diamonds. She had cleaned the dirt, repaired the windows and decorated the place turning an old, gritty flat into a nice place to live in. Now I was lying on a griffin-sized bed, my sweat dripping onto the wrinkled sheets.
“Never show all your cards in your first move, honey!” She smiled and caressed me once again, making me shiver in delight.
“That’s a great policy, you know?”
“Of course it is! Now come here, I’m not finished with you!”
“Stuka, I don’t know if... uhhhn.”
I was close to blacking out from the pleasure I was feeling at the moment. Stuka knew my weak spots and how to exploit them, rendering me useless. I didn’t want to confront her, though. I just let her do her thing while I let the chills flow through my body. The sounds went dim, so Stuka’s moans rang muffled and distant. I closed my eyes, since I was just lacking the energy to keep them open. Then, I stopped feeling. I simply slid into a limbo of silence and, surprisingly enough, peace.
“Honey... are you asleep?” Stuka whispered in my ear.
“Errr... what again?” I asked, still confused.
“You fell asleep while we were making love!” she smiled. “You had to be tired indeed.”
“How long has it been?” I almost jumped out of the bed. I couldn’t waste an entire day fooling around!
“Don’t worry, dear! You just blacked out for an hour. After having given me one hell of a ride, I must add!” She winked an eye seductively.
“My pleasure.” I started dressing up patiently, latching my armor piece by piece. “By the way, what’s the news in the Diamonds?”
“Well, Saddle seems all fired up about something. He won’t let us know about what it is, but he secludes himself in his office for hours.”
“Really? That sounds like some kind of plan brewing to me.”
“Same goes for me, honey. I don’t know what to say, honestly. After the meeting we all had some time ago, I thought Saddle was done for. With all the drug production cut down to almost nothing, I never thought he’d be so active.”
“That sounds worrisome, doesn’t it?”
“Saddle is highly militaristic, if I’m not mistaken. In the meeting, he was willing to go out and fight the NER. Him being active worries me.”
“I see where you’re going, but I don’t think that is going to happen. As long as Golden Swallow keeps him on a short leash, Saddle is nothing more than a lot of bark and no bite.”
“Still, that doesn’t make me less worried. Goldie is not precisely the most trustworthy pony in the world.”
“I think Goldie was the one that proposed the idea of non-violence.”
“So I think it would be rather incoherent for her to dump her principles and start a war.”
“I hope so, for the good of all of us.”
In the very deep, I didn’t care all that much, because if Saddle started a war against the NER my job would have been done. I would be able to return to Nobuck with a broad smile and the certainty of having a career in the Republic, as long as I kept my professional relationship with Harpsong in a buoyant state. However, there was something refraining me from endorsing that plan. It lacked the challenge, it was too easy. It didn’t appeal me at all.
“So, what are you up to, darling?”
“I can’t tell you, Stuka. You’re working for Saddle.”
“Oh, is it a nasty, nasty plan against grumpy old Saddle?” Stuka talked to me as if I was a foal. I smiled at her cute face. Griffin cute.
“No, nothing like that. It’s that Saddle and I don’t get along. I tend to align more towards Dee and the Stringers, and I have the feeling that Saddle doesn’t pair up with the fellows at the Music School too well either.”
“Yes, but I’m not Saddle, am I?”
“No. You’re far hotter.” I winked.
“Are you asking for another ride?” Stuka giggled.
“As much as I’d love to, no. I’ve got other things to do. Otherwise, we could go on and on until one of us fainted. Which, by the looks of things, would be me.”
“Awww, come on, darling, tell me what you’re up to.”
“I’ll tell you, but just because you ask it like that. I’m going to meet Dee, or at least Metronome. There are some things that must be cleared before I can do anything else. Besides, Rose and I need a place to sleep while we live here, and I think she can give us that.”
“Why don’t you bring her over?”
“Stuka, I said sleep. And while I don’t care about myself, I do care about Rose. And I don’t think she’ll be sleeping too much here.”
“Fine, fine.” Stuka raised her talons and shrugged. “You’ve got your point there. Just... remember to pop by to say hello, all right?”
“I will, don’t worry.” I kissed her gently and walked away. “See you later, Stuka.”
*** *** ***
I got back to street level a couple of blocks away from the main gate to the Four Little Diamonds, and I noticed the wry looks the Buckmare goons were giving me. I had the feeling that I wasn’t at all unknown in Freedom Field, and that big buck Buckmare considered me a threat. To be totally honest, having your lover living close to your greatest enemy in town was a bit of a risky gamble. However, I was rather confident that they wouldn’t attack me, at least not without prior provocation. If they knew me, they had to know about my partial affiliation to the Stringer gang, which acted as a great dissuading force.
“Gentlecolts...” I greeted, nodding gently.
No response, only a plethora of menacing gazes from the punks in the street. My salute hadn’t been the wisest thing I had done in the day, that was true. However, it prompted an idea in my mind. A civil war would be another possible option to break the stalemate of the situation in Neighvada. If the gangs started fighting each other, the NER could come in as a pacifier, either by itself or supporting one of the gangs.
Needless to say, that solution was far more dangerous both for me and for Rose. For Stuka, on the other hand, it was a plain death warrant. Being the bodyguard of one of the gangs, there was a hoofful of possible outcomes that ended up with her dead. And I didn’t want that to happen. Not by any chance. Therefore, I would have to look for another way of breaking the union between gangs.
That way meant diplomacy and scheming. Guns aside, there was not much more to do. Since the alliance between gangs was clearly split in two fronts that were close to breaking, there were two possible sides I could try to influence. On the one hand, there were the bellicist Buckmares, which hated me with the intensity of a thousand suns. On the other hand, the Stringers, whose second in command had sent an assassin to kill me and Rose. While none of them were precisely friendly, I preferred to make things up with Metronome and Dee. They were the ones that wanted a peaceful agreement with the NER in the first place. After all, they were forced to accept Goldie’s intermediate solution in order to avoid a greater evil. I believed that they were the ones that most fit into the Republic’s ideology, and I had the feeling that maybe, only maybe, the Stringers would accept integrating into the NER.
I walked all the way to the Music School with my mind lost in my thoughts and plans, but truth be told, I had no idea about how things would develop from this very moment on. I was hoping on having the chance to speak with Dee and make things clear, although the little pony in my head was preparing me for another showdown with Metronome. Anyway, I would have to play with the cards I had.
The bell above the entrance door chimed lightly as I walked into the warm, fuzzy lobby of the school. With the new peace, the place was thriving, as a long line of colts and fillies sporting different instruments waited for a lesson. Some of them looked especially neat and tidy, which made me think that the high society of New Pegasus sent its descendants to Freedom Field to get cultivated. It was a funny sort of symbiosis, indeed. I walked to the counter in the middle of the room and greeted the secretary mare with a gentle nod.
“Good day, sir.” She smiled, very professionally, while she filed some folders.
“Same to you.” I smiled back. “Is Miss Cleff available right now? Or at least Metronome?”
“Miss Cleff is busy giving lessons, as you can notice.” She pointed at the long line of young ponies waiting for Dee to teach them how not to produce eldritch noises when playing them. “However, Metronome should be in her room right now. Should I call her?”
“It won’t be necessary. I’ll go find her.”
“Fourth room to the right on the second hallway of the second floor. Knock first.”
“Of course. Thanks for the information.”
I trotted calmly upstairs, leaving the legion of foals behind me. Their discordant noise echoed through the long corridors of the Music School as I made my way to Metronome’s room. To be honest, I would have had a hard time finding the room if it hadn’t been for the secretary’s help. The hallways were all so similar, without any distinctive decorations that helped me difference one from the other, and the place was enormous.
I finally made it to the fourth room to the right on the second hallway of the second floor. There were no distinctive signs that revealed the ownership of the room, so there was no way of knowing if it was the right room. I shrugged and knocked gently.
“Metronome?” I asked.
No response. The door wasn’t closed, so it moved slowly after I knocked it. I got a clear sight of Metronome’s room. The blinds were partially closed, leaving the room in a slight penumbra, but I could see that the place was a small bedroom with a bed in the middle, a closet on one side and a table on a corner. Next to the bed, there was a rack on which a checkerboard piece of clothing was hung. If I wasn’t mistaken, that had to be Metronome’s dress. That being the case, where was Metronome?
I walked slowly into the room, almost creeping. I even brought my Eyes-Forward Sparkle to the front, looking for signs of life. There was one, not hostile, on the bed. I kept moving forward and understood what happened. Metronome was lying on the bed... fully naked. I felt a sudden chill when I gazed at her white coated flanks. Her cutie mark was a swinging metronome, shining in black and wood-brown over the gleaming white fur.
Many ideas crossed my mind at the moment. My body was still weary from my early morning exercise with Stuka, but Metronome was very attractive. Also, it wasn’t too civilized to sneak up on her with the intentions I had in mind. However, I wasn’t going to walk away. If she was to catch me in such a situation, I preferred to be caught admiring her than sneaking away like a foal who’s done somehting wrong.
I had a mean idea cross my mind, and in a bit of a risky move, I decided to pull it off. I concentrated on making a soft pressure spell. My horn lit the room in a dim blue light while I started to massage Metronome’s body, soft and carefully.
“Mhmmmm... awww...” she moaned.
I had to fight to keep silent. She wasn’t asleep anymore, but she was clearly enjoying the moment. What was going to happen when she opened her eyes and found me in her room, I frankly didn’t care. Well, maybe I should have cared, but I didn’t. I just kept applying pressure to Metronome’s body while I fought my impulses to lay a hoof on her.
“Oh... so... good...” she mumbled with a smile on her face.
I smiled too. I had finally controlled my anxiety, and was caressing her carefully from a distance. Her face showed how much she was liking my massage, and I was now thinking on what to do when she finally opened her eyes. I could play fancy or even seductive, but I could just excuse me saying I thought she looked tired and that she could profit from a bit of care. While I was considering the different options, Metronome twitched and opened one eye. She lifted her glasses with her magic and looked at me through them. Then, her expression changed to something between amazement and disbelief.
“Farsight?” she gasped.
“Yes. It’s me.”
“And what the hell do you think you’re do... uhhhn... doing?”
“What does it look like, Metronome?”
“Well... uhhhh... you sneak into my room with me naked and you start... ohhhh... you start fondling with my body... It looks like something dirty and lowdown to me.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry, Metronome. I just thought that such a lovely body needed some serious care.”
“And you were here to deliver, weren’t you?”
“I happened to be visiting, yes.” I smiled archly. "Anyway, if you want me to leave, I will."
“Ugh, just... never mind.”
Metronome got up, slothfully, stretching her gracious body. Since she usually hid under wide dresses and packed her mane in a topknot, her sheer attractiveness was concealed. Probably, it was a tactic to draw all the spotlights to her boss, Dee. She walked all the way to me, looking at me with a mean face. Her body waved gently with every step she took. She got so close I could feel her warm breath on my muzzle.
“Now, I have been taught to be thankful and to repay any favor, gift or not.” She licked her lips. “However, don’t get me wrong. This is nothing more than a compensation. Don’t think there are any feelings attached.”
Metronome kissed me in a passionate way, even more passionate than any kiss Stuka had given me. It was hard to believe there were no feelings to it.
“Come on, Metronome.” I smiled and looked at her with an amused expression. “Don’t tell me you haven’t felt anything.”
“Farsight, don’t you dare to get lovey on me.”
“Who said I was talking about love? I felt your passion, your body twitching, your warm breath, your heartbeat... You must have felt that too.”
“That’s just bullshit, Farsight. Quit it.” Metronome looked away with a pissed face.
“Really. Bullshit, you say. Let me show you something.”
I got up and walked towards her. She was sitting in silence, looking towards an undetermined point in the far wall of the dark room. I got closer and kissed her gently in the horn. If her horn was as sensitive as mine, she would really feel that.
“What are you doing?” She shivered. Bingo.
I said nothing and kissed her again, this time moving my tongue in quick circles around her horn, caressing it in a hot and damp embrace. Metronome started twitching and shivering as I kissed and licked every spot of her sensitive horn.
“Farsight...” she panted.
“Didn’t you feel anything, Metronome?” I asked with a naughty smile.
“All right...” She smiled too, while fighting to recover her breath. “I felt something... and it was great.”
I put myself in top of her and whispered seductively to her ear.
“Last one was a compensation. Now, let’s do it... with feel.”
She had tried to get up, but in a sudden move, I swept her hooves from the floor and toppled her. Before she could even recover from the impact, I unlatched my armor and gave her a malicious smile. She smiled back, aware of what was coming next, while I silently prayed to Celestia. My body would have to endure another round of a sweet, sweet punishment.
*** *** ***
Daylight sipped into the room through the half-closed blinds. Metronome and I were lying on the floor, still embraced, encircled by the pieces of my leather armor. She smiled once again and freed herself of my hooves. Then, she sat on her hind legs and used her magic to bring a box of cigarettes and a lighter. She lit one and started smoking with slow, slothful puffs.
“Do you want one?” she asked.
“Nope. I don’t smoke.”
“Damn, Farsight. You’re going to make me run out of smokes.”
“That’s why you should stop smoking.” I rubbed my hoof up and down her belly.
“No, that’s why I’m going to have to buy more.”
“OK, have it your way.”
“I suppose you won’t speak a word about this, will you?”
“My lips are sealed.” I slid my forehoof along my mouth.
“Good. Because I think your griffin marefriend wouldn’t like to hear about our meeting.”
“She won’t hear. At least from me. Although I’ve need to know if she’s one of the jealous kind.”
“Trust me, you don’t want to find out if a griffin is jealous.”
“One of these days, I’ll end up finding out. What I’m not so sure about is if it will be willingly or by coincidence.”
“Well, at least you’re preparing for the shock. Even if I don’t think anything can prepare you for an angry griffin.”
“You’ve got your point there.” I smiled.
“Good. We have an understanding, then.” She finished her cigarette and got up. She grabbed the dress and the underwear from the rack and began dressing. I did the same with my armor.
“Now that we’ve got so intimate, Metronome, I think we should make things clear.”
“What about him?”
“You sent him to kill me.”
She stopped dead, with her checkered dress still hanging in midair. The room became silent for an instant that seemed to last forever, until I decided to break that silence.
“Don’t worry. I’m not mad at you, I’ve been over that part already. I’ve learned that treason is the usual coin in the Wasteland. He’s fine, I spared his life. You just need to know that he and I are partners now.”
“Partners, as in business partners. We go fifty-fifty on earnings.”
“Oh, I understand. I’m not going to ask you how you managed to convince that greedy zebra.”
“The same way you convinced him to kill me, money. Which, I have to admit, was a masterful move from your side, Metronome. There were few ways that I could have gotten out alive.”
“You’re a lucky bastard, Farsight.” She smiled and winked.
“Maybe. And you are a smoking hot schemer. Just the kind of mare that turns me on.”
“Stop fancy-talking, Farsight...”
“Come on, Metronome. I’m not fancy-talking. This one is honest praise, trust me. Actually, I’m quite surprised that you keep playing second fiddle.”
“Are you implying I should betray Miss Cleff?” Metronome’s muzzle curled in anger.
“No, no.” I shook my head. “I never meant that. I wanted to know why you haven’t thought on going independent. You’ve got the skills for that.”
“I owe much to Miss Cleff. She picked me up from the gutter when I was nothing more than a homeless filly and rose me as a younger sister. I’ve learned every single thing about this world from her, and the only thing she asks in return is loyalty and respect. I’d rather die than betray her. Period.”
“All right, I’m sorry for asking that. I never thought it would be such an important matter to you. Please forgive me.”
“You had no way of knowing.” She sighed. “Just forget about it.”
Metronome slid the dress down her neck, hiding her attractive body from the world once again, then she started tinkering with her mane.
“Thanks for the honest praise, though. Speaking about Nadyr, where is he right now?”
“Who, Nadyr? Why the sudden interest?”
“Because I want to know where my money went.”
“Ow, Metronome. That is rude. I thought you actually cared about him.” Irony filled my voice.
Metronome laughed. He had already finished wrapping her mane in a topknot and was locking it in position with a bunch of bobby pins.
“Yes, I care a lot about Nadyr. One hell of a lot. Where is he now?”
“As far as I know, he keeps working for the NER, so he should be stationed in Nobuck. He won’t be coming back until he knows he’s safe. And besides, they’re paying him quite well.”
“What does he think? We are not like the fucking Buckmares. We don’t kill our mercs if they fail. We just don’t pay. Which would link with your second reason. Anyway, I think it’s better for him to keep away from Miss Cleff for a while. Nadyr’s salary was frankly high, and I don’t think Miss Cleff’s going to like seeing him around in a while.”
“I see your point.”
“Of course you see my point. It’s just too obvious not to see it. Is there anything else you need to tell me?”
“Yes. In Nobuck, we were forced to work for the NER in order for them to spare our lives. They sent me here to try and break the alliance you forged.”
“Really? And why do you tell me this? That’s rather bold of you, not to say totally insensible.”
“Why? The way I see it, I’m a mercenary. I work for myself, not for others, and I manage myself in terms of convenience. Look at Nadyr, he will work for the one that pays him most. I don’t think that’s insensible. The only difference between your ordinary hired gun and me is that I’m beyond all that hypocrisy.”
“That’s something uncommon. What are you after, if it isn’t money?”
“Power, and the access to New Pegasus.”
“You know that in this city, first you get the money, then you get the power.”
“And then you get the mares.” I smiled. “I know that philosophy, Metronome. However, as I said, my top priority is to get into New Pegasus.”
“If that is the case, I’m afraid we can’t help you with that.”
A sting of disappointment made me frown. Although it was rather obvious that the Freedom Field gangs had no way of getting anypony into New Pegasus, I had that tiny bit of hope about it.
“What?” I asked, unhappy.
“That’s how it works, Farsight. In order to get yourself into New Pegasus, you need somepony from the inside to vouch for you. They only want ponies that are worth their interest. Also, there is a citizenship fee, depending on who vouches for you. If some important pony is the one welcoming you in, like, let’s say one of the Ferraturas, or somepony in the City Board, the fee you’ll have to pay will be minimal. However, if a street-level trader is the one vouching for you, you’ll have to find a true shitload of caps to obtain your Citizenship Card. As you see, it’s a rather well thought system to keep the riffraff out. Not that we complain, however. After all, Freedom Field is full of New Pegasus rejects that don’t know where to go, and those rejects are the ones filling our pockets.”
“This one is a world of traders and pencil pushers, indeed.”
“I couldn’t have said it better. Now that your motives are clear and that you see that we can’t do anything for you, I assume you’ll be leaving us.”
“No, not really.”
“No? How so?” Metronome seemed surprised.
“The NER sent me to destabilize Freedom Field. They want the city, but they don’t want to fight. It’s a stalemate that bothers them a bit too much.”
“So you’re still working for the NER. I had understand you were going to betray them.”
“So to speak, although I don’t think I’m betraying them. I never pledged allegiance to the twin unicorns, after all. What counts is that I’m here on a mission from the Republic, but the Republic won’t recognize my existence. Also, if I don’t bring back any result in a month, they’ll dump me. As you see, I’m close to losing everything. That’s why I don’t worry all that much about being secretive and all that. Besides, I have the feeling that this alliance keeps being a scam to keep the NER at bay.”
“I have my sources that tell me that Saddle Buckmare is very active and happy in the last times. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t see that you are happy at all. And that sounds like trouble in paradise to me.”
“No wonder why you’re called Farsight.”
“Exactly. And also, may I remind you that you owe me something?”
“What do we owe you?”
“The plan you used to close the alliance with the Buckmares and the Followers was mine. I was the one that scouted the Coilites for a possible negotiation. And the plan to limit the drug supply came out of my mind as well. To sum up, I’d say you owe me something.”
“Come back tonight for your payment.” Metronome smiled seductively.
“It sounds good, but I have another offer to do. One that would need your cooperation.”
“Our cooperation? I’m listening.”
“As you know, I’ve been sent by the NER to break the stalemate. However, the way I see it, breaking the stalemate equals helping one of the factions. Since you have my sympathies, even after having tried to kill me...” I winked at Metronome “... I’ve decided to offer my help to you.”
“Why do we still have your sympathies?”
“Honestly, because if I had to choose who’s to govern the city I live in from the existing lot, that would definitely be you. Buckmare is a maniac, Ampera just doesn’t give a single damn about anything and Goldie is a manipulative bitch. You seem to maintain a concept of honor among thieves and righteousness. That’s why I like you.”
“Heh. I would have never expected those principles from a buck like you, Farsight.”
“Blame my Stable education. I still have residual concepts of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ lurking in the dark corners of my mind.” I smiled slothfully. “What do you think about my plan?”
“You’re implying that we’d have to ally with the NER!”.
“Should that be a problem?” I shrugged. “As far as I know, you were willing to sign a treaty with the Republic. And, to be honest, I think the NER would love to be able to position itself on the side of one of the factions.”
“Yes, but now we can’t, as much as we’d like to. The population has assumed the ideal of peaceful resistance. Goldie is a great manipulator. And now, going solo and offering an assimilation proposal to the NER would have Miss Cleff hung and quartered. Figuratively speaking, of course.”
“I see... So you’re tied in politics.”
“Exactly. Miss Cleff can’t make a single move without risking her political status. I think that’s what makes Saddle so happy. She’s bleeding out in her own trap.”
“That is a tough situation. Listen, I can get you out of it, but only in the way I told you. I can give you the keys to an alliance with the NER. You only have to take them.”
“I’m sorry, Farsight, but as much as we appreciate your help, we must refuse. The Buckmares and the Followers know you already, and Miss Cleff can’t afford having you acting on my behalf. They’ll see foul play in each of your actions, and if I know Goldie half as good as I think I do, she’ll use you as a weapon to turn the population against Miss Cleff, and she can’t afford that.”
“What are you going to do next?”
“Frankly, I have no idea. Maybe you can pull some strings on your own.”
Metronome started walking towards the room door, which had been partially open since I entered. Anypony could have been watching us, but I simply didn’t care about that. She was about to leave when she stopped and looked at me.
“Now, get moving. I’ve got work to do.”
“Of course, Metronome.” I trotted close to her.
“Also, you could dress something fancier while you’re in town. That armor makes you look like a raider.”
“Oh, yes. Speaking of which, Rose and I would need somewhere to sleep in town.”
“Take your former rooms, they’re still vacant.”
“Thank you very much, Metronome.”
“You’re welcome. Now, get out of my room before my patience runs out.”
I trotted out while Metronome closed the door and locked it shut with a small key she hid in her purse. I walked down the corridors until I found the room where I had spent days recovering from the attacks I had suffered from some Buckmare goons. The door wasn’t locked, so I walked in and closed it behind me. The armor fell to the ground with a thudding noise, and I got into the shower. The feeling of the pouring water on my fur had an almost healing effect.
Feeling clean and refreshed, I unpacked the suit, the shirt and the tie from the saddlebags, and dressed in style. It felt good to be out of the tough, constraining armor for a while. I brushed my mane carefully, trying to look as good as possible, even for a ragged, battered Wastelander. With a lot of questions in my head, I left the Music School.
*** *** ***
I found myself looking at the building right in front of the Music School while the rest of the world kept moving. I realized that, for the first time ever since I left the Stable, I found myself not knowing what to do next. Until that moment, I had always had a task to do, either due to circumstances or because I had planned to do that. Suddenly, things had changed and I was standing there, wondering about what my next move would be.
After having realized that the Stringers were caught in their own political trap, I knew I would have to find another way to alter the status quo. What in other words meant moving Saddle Buckmare to one side or another. After all, the chief of the Diamonds was the key to Freedom Field. The situation at the moment had him locked in an uneasy partnership with Goldie, and that lockdown was what caused the stalemate. If Saddle changed his position, either to a more hostile one or to a more NER-welcoming one, Goldie’s non-violent solution would be proven pointless.
However, there was no way I was going to be able to convince Saddle. Mostly, because I wouldn’t be able to get near him without getting beaten to a bloody pulp. I couldn’t ask Stuka to speak on my behalf, since that would reveal our mutual agreement to Buckmare, making her status inside the Buckmare gang compromised. My best bet was Ampera Von Ohm, since she seemed rather inclined to sign a treaty with the NER, and she probably wouldn’t have all the political issues that the Stringers had.
The approach I would have to take in order to convince Ampera to help me topple Saddle and Goldie’s union was totally unknown to me. I simply had no idea of what made Ampera tick, whether it was power, money or privileges. Being so secretive, the Coilites were a great mystery regarding their goals and interests. They looked like standard gun runners specialized in energy weapons, but something was off with them. Their lack of involvement in the issues of Freedom Field, their indolence when it came to decide about their future... That didn’t sound like the usual trader behavior.
I reached the Tesla Bar while my mind kept trying to shed some light on my next steps. The guard on the entrance door recognized me and welcomed me in with a short nod. It seemed that my alignment with the Stringers had earned me some enemies, but it had earned me some respect as well.
“Good day, sir. Are you carrying any concealed weapons?”
“Concealed? No. I only carry my rifle, and it’s on plain sight.” True, I wore it hanging from my back.
“I can see that. Mind letting me check?”
The guard conducted a quick frisk and stepped back. He smiled and nodded.
“Good to go, sir.”
“Thank you very much.”
I opened the door and walked into the ugly, gray, metal plated bar. I had expected to see Ampera behind the counter, but she wasn’t there. Instead, I saw the hulking blackness of LaRoche looking at me from the far end of the room. I waved a hoof to salute him and he smiled in return.
“Bonjour, Farsight. What do you want?”
“I’d like to speak to Ampera. Where is she?”
“She’s in the workshop. I’ll go ask her if she wants to meet you. Please, wait here. And don’t touch anything.”
LaRoche opened a service door behind the counter and left the room at a rather fast pace. Obviously, he didn’t like to leave the place unattended. I used that time to think about my approach. I’d have to tempt her with the possibility of taking over Saddle’s business. While I was picturing the situation LaRoche returned to the room.
“She’s agreed to speak with you. Follow me.”
“Thanks.” I smiled and nodded.
LaRoche turned around and left the room through the service door and I followed him. We went down a staircase and walked through a narrow and dark corridor. If I was not mistaken, we had to be below ground level. After a couple of minutes walking, we climbed another group of stairs and exited the corridor.
The workshop was a big room, thoroughly lit by a myriad of neon tubes. Tools and equipment hung from the walls, and a series of workbenches were displayed alongside one of the sides of the room. In the middle of the room, Ampera was looking at a pony-shaped mannequin wearing an ornate plate armor while adjusting nuts and bolts with a wrench. Instead of the sharp dresses that she used to wear, she had a dirty red jumpsuit on, as well as an oil-stained apron and a welder mask. Her shiny white mane fell to one of the sides of her back, causing a shocking contrast with the red suit.
“Mademoiselle Ampera, he’s here.”
“Thank you, LaRoche. Leave us alone.” Ampera didn’t even turn around to give orders to her bodyguard.
LaRoche nodded and left the room hastily, closing the door behind him. When the hoofsteps faded away, Ampera turned around and made me a sign to get closer. I walked to the middle of the room and looked at her. She kept focused on the armor, though.
“What’s wrong with this armor, Farsight?” she asked, out of the blue.
What kind of question was that? I looked at the mannequin thoroughly, checking out every single plate of the heavy armor. The black steel plates shone menacingly, and the flowy electric blue decorations gave the equipment a futuristic look. If there was anything wrong, I couldn’t see it.
“I don’t see anything wrong...”
“That’s because there’s nothing wrong to see.” Ampera snickered. “Just try it on, and you’ll notice how wrong this armor is.”
“Too heavy indeed. That’s why this prototype was never fabricated en masse. The T-66 Commander Armor was too heavy to maneuver, even with the proper spell matrix working.”
“Spell matrix? That sounds like...”
“Rangers? Steel Rangers? Of course, Farsight. That’s where this comes from.”
“How did you get it?”
“I didn’t get it. I built it.”
“I built it. I crafted every single plate, I joined them together and I cast the spell matrix myself.”
“And how did you know how to do that?”
“I had the blueprints. From there on, it’s not that hard.”
“Where did you get the blueprints? Did you buy them or something?”
“Buy them? The Rangers don’t sell their blueprints. Technology is sacred to them. They won’t go bargaining with it.”
“Then, how?” I felt puzzled.
“You don’t seem to get it, do you?”
Ampera walked away from the T-66 Armor and headed for one of the walls. Using her magic, she removed one of the tool panels. Behind it, there was a safe stuck into the wall. She operated the safe knob and opened the door. She picked up a little trinket from the safe and closed the door. Then, she returned to the center of the room and showed me the small object she had picked up. It was a small crest with a symbol on it, an emblem showing a big apple crossed by a winged sword, with three cogs with stars on them. It was the emblem of the Steel Rangers.
“Does this mean that you...?”
“Former Scribe Ampera Von Ohm, of the Steel Rangers, Neighvada Contingent.”
“Former Scribe? Were you cast out?”
“Yes. The Elders and I had different points of view.”
“What do you mean, ‘different points of view’?”
“Well, the Steel Rangers are a bunch of tech hoarders. They search the Wasteland, looking for pre-War technology in functional state, and they store it. Just like that. They grab it, document it, and store it so that nopony else can use it. I thought that I could profit of that technology and started selling small appliances to the caravans. Soon, they caught me and cast me out of the Order.”
“That’s how you got the schematics.”
“Indeed, but they’re worthless. This armor will need a total overhaul to be functional. But I don’t think you came to speak about armors and spell matrixes with me.”
“Indeed, I came with a proposal.”
Ampera smiled wryly while she took the apron off and hung it from a small hook close to the entrance door. Then, she walked up and down the workshop with an air of superiority, smiling smugly and looking at me with an amused expression.
“Let me guess. You went to Dee and she told you she can’t do anything about Saddle and Goldie, isn’t it?”
Ouch. She had anticipated my move, taking the initiative in this conversation from me. The more I spoke with Ampera, the more I realized how smart she was. And being so smart, she preferred to keep to herself and act discreetly, while others fought for the spotlight. Very Steel Ranger-like.
“And now you come to me looking for a helping hoof, thinking you’ll have some brilliant idea to offer me.”
“Well, I’m listening.”
Ampera sat on her flanks and smiled watching me struggle to come out with a good way of putting things together. My throat had become dry and I had the feeling of being walking on the high wire. All my confidence, all my speech abilities, all my strong points were nullified by Ampera’s presence and wits. I felt helpless at the moment, faced with the task of having to battle a superior intellect.
“We-well...” I stuttered. “Dee is weak. Her ties and her principles make her vulnerable. She clings to power, afraid of losing the people’s favor. You, on the other hand, don’t seem to worry about what the population thinks of you. I could help you climb to the top. I have ties to the NER, and they could catapult you into the leading spot of Freedom Field. You’d only have to agree on an assimilation. Doesn’t it sound good to you?”
“You don’t know me at all, Farsight. I don’t want power. Power brings strings attached, your friends over at the Music School should know that very well, and you should too, since you’re so willing to help them. If you ask me, Dee can keep the power for herself. That’s why I support her.”
“You know that, if things keep like this, Dee will end up losing her power to Saddle and Goldie.”
“I know that Saddle is a menace for the welfare of this town. I know that Goldie is a bitch that has used her ‘oh-we’re-so-good-and-we-care-about-everypony-equal’ position to become a bit of a living saint around here. Now she’s profiting of her popular favor to appear as the logical alternative to the distant and grandiloquent Dee Cleff. I am aware that, if things carry on like this, we’re going to have a war in our hooves.”
“And you want that?”
“Of course not.”
“Then why don’t you act?”
“What would you consider ‘acting’? Running to the NER crying for help because the bad, bad Buckmares are becoming too powerful?”
“You know the NER could provide security and great benefits, don’t you?”
“That’s what they say. They’ll bring more things with them, of that I’m sure. That’s why I prefer leaving things as they are right now.”
“What I said is final. Right now, I don’t feel like helping you change things, since there are no things that require being changed. I like Freedom Field as it is, with its struggles and its politics. It’s a fun show to watch, if you don’t get too involved.”
“No more buts, Farsight. Now, please, leave. I need to work on this.”
Ampera turned around and faced the armor once again. There was nothing else to be done here. I had tried my best, and I had failed. All my wits had proven useless against Ampera’s mental abilities. I walked out of the room and through the dark corridor, feeling down and weak. I thought I could outsmart anypony in the world, and I had just been outsmarted myself. Ampera’s logic was ravaging. If something works, why change it?
Note: Perks obtained.
Easy Lover: You have mastered the arts of seduction. You get +1 Perception and +1 Charisma when interacting with somepony of the opposite sex.
Questionable Logic: You have been outsmarted, which has hit you pretty badly. -1 Intelligence.