Chapter 8: Radio Nowhere
Hello there and good morning to all our audience out there! I’m your host, Mister New Pegasus, and this is New Pegasus Radio, filling your day with the best music in the Wasteland and bringing you the latest news out there. I hope you enjoyed this last one as much as I did. You know, this Velvet Remedy is one hell of a singer. I have a soft spot for classical recordings, as you will probably know if you listen regularly to this station, but I must admit this mare’s voice is almost as good as Sweetie Belle’s.
Let’s start with the news, shall we? The Freedom Field Shuffle has turned out to be a magnificent bluff. What seemed like the start of a spiral of violence and chaos has ended up being nothing at all, since the gang leaders of Freedom Field have decided not to fight the New Equestrian Republic. Instead, they have decided to go down the path of non-violence, resisting peacefully to the gambit of the Republic. This humble reporter isn’t used to situations like these, so please bear with me as I try to make the situation at hoof as clear as possible to you.
What everypony in New Pegasus feared was a full-scale declaration of war coming from the gangs, which would have brought all the military might of the Republican Army right to our gates. By adopting this solution, the gangs have gallantly passed the responsibility and the initiative of the conflict to the leaders of the Republic. However, they have imposed a serious constraint to the NER. An attack by the armies of the two unicorns would be considered an invasion, which, according to political analysts consulted by this reporter, would cause a massive unrest in the neighboring town. As you see, it is a convoluted situation.
On to the issue that is shaking the City of New Pegasus day after day, the infamous Ferratura murder case. The New Pegasus Police Department isn’t being able to do any progress, or so it seems from the lack of news we’ve had in the last days. The tension between the Ferratura family and the Full House Group is raising to worrisome levels lately. Last night a croupier of the Platinum Horseshoe was attacked ruthlessly by a group of unknown ponies, but rumor has it they were affiliated to the Ferraturas. The Security Branch of the City Board is seriously concerned about the increase in the attacks, since the NPPD is already overwhelmed by the murder case. This humble reporter is worried as well.
And now, on to the news of the great Neighvada! The news is... that there is no news! Everything has gone quiet and peaceful in the last few days. The caravans move up and down the Territory without any trouble, bringing supplies to each and every homestead in the Wasteland. At the same time, the NER hasn’t moved lately from its base in the Neighvada end of Divide Pass, down Route 15. However, there are rumours of activity in the town of Nobuck. Some say it’s the NER, some say it’s the Steel Rangers, some say it’s a pack of Raiders. The only thing sure is that no two ponies say the same thing.
Well, that was all the news for now, everypony! Let’s return to some music to make the day brighter! How about we jump on the dance floor with some of the best beats by Vinyl Scratch and the magistral cello of Octavia? What? You never heard them playing together? I have, and I’m going to play it back to you ponies out there. Remember, this is New Pegasus Radio, and I’m your host, Mister New Pegasus, speaking directly to your souls...
I was bruised and battered.
I couldn’t tell what I felt.
I was unrecognizable to myself.
I had been outsmarted. I had been played around by a mind more prepared and experienced than mine. And if that weren’t enough, I was descending into despair. My only chances to fulfil my task and obtain a tiny bit of security were tied to obtaining the support from one or some of the gangs, but without any support at all, my future looked very, very grim.
If the Republic left us on our own, what would we do? What would I do? How would I live? Would I have to leave Freedom Field and start a life on the Wasteland? What would happen to Rose? How would Nadyr take my failure? All those questions tortured me, and I was on the verge of crying. Crying out of pure rage, crying out of frustration, but most of all, crying out of fear. The same fear that had grasped me when I was cast out of the Stable, that dark cloud that didn’t let you see or think properly, and that sipped the energy out of you.
I realized how little I had really achieved since I had left the Stable. All my life had been a big gamble, one move after another, moving the chips with ability, swift thinking and a pinch of luck. However, Lady Luck tends to be a fickle bitch, and it had left me on my own in the worst moment. I simply couldn’t see a way out of my situation. Alone as I was, I couldn’t figure out a way of recovering momentum and advancing in my plans.
Almost staggering due to stress, I found myself close to Trader Plaza. I just had no idea about how I had ended up there, since I wasn’t really paying attention to where my hoofsteps led me. At the moment, however, I was looking at the myriad of stands and shacks, while the cacophony of voices of the vendors and buyers clogged my ears. I decided to go check on Rose. I needed somepony to talk with.
The market was bubbling with activity, as a group of caravans had made it to Freedom Field, carrying a large amount of supplies of the most various kinds. Food from beyond the Divide, raw materials as metal or gemstones, clothes or electronic appliances. The crammed stands attracted both the local vendors and the bystanders. I felt curious as well and headed over to take a peek, but somepony stood in my way.
“Farsight!” she called. It was Sunberry Grass, and she looked excited about something.
I tried to hide my stress and depression by composing a calm smile, and I swear to Celestia that this was one of the hardest roles I had been forced to play in my life.
“Oh, Sunberry, hi. How are you?”
“I’m fine, thanks for asking.”
“What’s all the fuss about?”
“Oh, it’s the caravan trail that arrived from the NER earlier today. As the caravaneers say, Divide Pass is now safe for trade.”
“That’s good news.” I faked a smile, but in the inside, this fact shone like a sun to me. If the NER started pumping supplies into Freedom Field, this could shift the opinion of the local population.
“No doubt... However, this wasn’t what I wanted to show you.”
“It’s your little filly.”
“What’s wrong with Rose?” I was starting to fear something wrong had happened to her.
“Wrong? There’s nothing wrong! In fact, she’s doing fine, too fine.”
“She’s sold out three times today. I don’t know if it’s her adorable look or her ability finding goods, but she is getting her pockets full!”
“Really? Why don’t you get me to her?”
Sunberry trotted down the alley of stands, making me follow her. As we got close to my old stand, I could hear the voices and see the crowd waiting in line to buy something in Rose’s stand. A small fire sparked in the darkness of my soul. It was pride, but not the selfish pride that costed me my banishment from the Stable. Instead, it was the pride of a father, so to speak. The pride of seeing someone beloved succeed in her goals.
Rose was moving busily from one end of the stand to the other, her blue beret shaking graciously with every little jump or dash she took to pay attention to each of her customers. Indeed, she looked adorable, and she did have a natural charm when it came to selling things. I had to fight to keep the tears inside, since the rush of pride was making me feel miserable.
“Yes, of course, sir...” Rose smiled at an elderly stallion that was taking interest in a dusty hat. “It’s thirty caps, but honestly, I think it’s a real bargain... Oh, Farsight! Hi!”
Rose noticed me and waved in salute. I nodded with the hardest smile in my face. I was feeling so proud for my protégé, seeing how she had managed to obtain great results all by herself. On the other hand, I felt miserable. I had failed to achieve anything, and I had put all I had on the table. I had bitten more than what I could actually chew.
“Hello, Rose...” I smiled, forced by the situation.
“Hello, Farsight. Excuse me, everypony. I’m taking a small break. Come back in ten minutes, please.”
The crowd disbanded with a grumbling noise, while Rose packed the contents of the stand into a big bag. Once we were on our own, she hugged me with a smile. I had to bite my lower lip to refrain from crying. This was starting to be a bit of a torture.
“Farsight! You should see this! I’m making a lot of money!” she squeed.
“I... see...” I stuttered. “You’ve got a talent.”
“Of course, Rose... Of course. I did sell some stuff, but I didn’t have a line of ponies waiting. You’re really good at this, you know?”
“I am? Thank you, Farsight, thank you so much!”
“Y-you’re welcome, Rose.” Tears were starting to slide down my cheeks. I couldn’t help it anymore.
“Farsight... are you crying?” Rose looked at me with a worried face.
“Y-yes... but it’s just because I-I’m so proud of you...” I stuttered. “Now get back to business... it’s not good to have the customers waiting.”
“All right...” Rose started unpacking the wares with a worried face, while I hugged her once again and left the place, trying to keep the tears inside.
She had found success in trading. She was thriving, while I was deeply buried in my own schemes. She was happy, while I was stressed. She could work her way forward, while I was stuck in a stalemate. I was feeling a strange mix of emotions at the moment. On the one side, Rose’s success was a source of pride and joy, and overall, it was a ray of hope. If things ended up going wrong, there might be another way out. On the other side, however, Rose’s success made clear my failure. Seeing her thrive made me realize how wrong my situation was, and how little chances I had of succeeding.
Looking at it with a little bit of distance and perspective, I should have felt relieved. I should have let the pride I felt for Rose fill my spirits and cheer me up and make me fight for what I wanted. However, I didn’t do that. I just basked in my own disgrace. I saw Rose as a clear demonstration of my pathetic intent of climbing the ladder. My misery grew like a dark well that was swallowing me little by little.
I needed somepony’s shoulder to cry on, somepony to comfort me. Or, more properly, some griffin to listen to me and make me feel cared about. I needed Stuka.
*** *** ***
I had walked all the way to Stuka’s place and had sat before her door, waiting for her to come back. My morale was hitting rock bottom at the moment. I could see no positive outcomes to my mission, since the ones that had the power to change things wouldn’t do it, either because they couldn’t or because they didn’t want to. All my plans had become useless at the moment, and the shiny lights of New Pegasus were unreachable, even if they were so close.
“Farsight?” I heard her call. “What is wrong?”
“Stuka...” I got up, tears about to surface.
“Oh, my. What happened, dear?”
“I... I need to talk to you...”
“OK, come in.” Stuka opened the door and led me into her apartment. “What happened?”
“Is something wrong with Rose?”
“No... I just...” I was shivering.
“Come here. You’re about to break down.”
Stuka embraced me with her wings, pulling me close to her chest. At the feel of her body warmth, I couldn’t bear it anymore and started crying in silence. We stood like that for minutes, with my tears wetting her fur and her wings keeping me close to her body. I could hear her sing quietly, her usually rough voice turned into a soft, gentle tune that soothed my broken spirits. I sobbed and looked up to her face.
“What are you singing?”
“It’s a lullaby my mother used to sing to me when I was very young. I find it to be almost healing. Are you feeling better now?”
“Yes, thank you, sweetheart.”
I kissed her gently on her beak and broke free from her embrace. Then I walked to one of the windows, and I watched the endless desert horizon that stretched to the East of Freedom Field. Stuka got close to me, caressing me gently with one of her wings.
“Do you want to talk about whatever worries you?”
“Yes you should.” Stuka’s voice became stern and motherly. “If you don’t get it out of your mind, it will end up making you miserable.”
“But it’s dangerous for you...”
“Farsight, you can’t expect to protect everypony you care about by being a shield. Tell me what worries you, and I’ll handle the risks that involve me.”
“All right...” I sobbed and sniffed. “I am working for the Republic right now. Not officially, but I’m running their little errands. They want me to drive Freedom Field out of this non-violent stance. It makes them uncomfortable.”
“So that was your super secret plan.”
“Yes, I’m sorry for having kept it a secret.”
“You did what you thought was best for me. I can’t blame you for that, honey.”
“Thanks, Stuka. I still feel bad about it.”
“Want to snuggle a bit?” She snickered and winked. “It will make you feel better.”
“I’m not in the mood, dear. Let’s just talk a bit, OK?”
“Fine, as you wish. Oh, are you hungry?”
“Why do you ask?”
“If you want to talk, why don’t we do it at the table?”
I gave it a thought, and my body replied quickly with a roaring stomach. I was starting to adopt the dangerous habit of skipping meals, and at the mention of food I remembered that I hadn’t shoved anything down my mouth in hours.
“Yes... That is a good idea.”
“I only have a box of Mac and Cheese, I hope you like them.”
“I’d eat anything now, Stuka. It’s not like I’m going to get picky.”
Stuka smiled and picked the box from a cupboard, a pot from a rack and put it all together on one of the fires in her kitchen. While the food was getting cooked, she fetched some plates and laid them on the table.
“So tell me. You had some devious plan to bring chaos to this town, didn’t you?”
“That’s not what I said. The Republic wanted me to break the non-violent position of the gang alliance. That doesn’t imply turning Freedom Field into hell.”
“All right, all right. Then what is the problem?”
“The problem is that I’ve only got one month to do it, and that I’m only one pony with no support who can’t convince anypony to join him in his plans! That’s the problem! If I don’t get things done quickly, my life will be over!”
“Over? Come on, darling. You’re overreacting.”
“I am not! I’ll be left on my own! Without a single income, without support, and having played around with the gangs a bit too much! I’ll be done for in seconds!”
Stuka chuckled while stirring the pot with the macaroni.
“Oh, dear. Aren’t you a bit of a drama queen, Farsight.”
“Do you think this is a joke, Stuka?” I almost roared. Stuka, however, didn’t seem to take it too harshly. Instead, she cooed lightly and smiled.
“No, I know you’re serious, dear. But I also think you’re a tad too nervous. Come on, you can think better than that.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m no smarty pants, honey, but I know my basics. I love you because you’re cold and rational when it comes to everything except the ones you care for. And now, you’re not being cold and rational when you should be. Come on, tell me a bit more. You are stressed by a time frame, but I never thought that would break you so easily.”
“No... that wasn’t all.”
Stuka removed the pot from the fire and sniffed the food. Then, she winced and grumbled.
“Damn. I am a terrible cook. Oh, well, it will have to do. Then, what is all?”
“I played my cards... I pulled my strings with the Stringers. I thought they’d be more than willing to sign a treaty with the NER to obtain benefits and prove Goldie and Saddle wrong, but it turned out wrong. They are too afraid to move.”
“The Stringers afraid? Don’t make me laugh.”
“I am bloody serious, Stuka.”
“Fine, fine. Don’t get all fired up. Eat something, it will be good for you.”
I picked a bit of the gruel Stuka’s macaroni had turned into and chewed it. It felt like having a tire in your mouth, and it tasted off, but I ate it anyway. First, I was hungry. Second, I didn’t want to appear ungrateful to Stuka.
“Cut the crap, Farsight. It’s junk, I know. Still, it’s food. Now tell me about the Stringers.”
“They are too afraid to move. Apparently, the population likes this situation.”
“Yes, it’s the usual talk in the streets. The traders are a bit nervous, but the rest of the population cheers the Goldie Plan, as they’ve called it.”
“The Goldie Plan?”
“Yes, the Goldie Plan. I think she has an ego so big it doesn’t fit in her body. The thing is that she’s been able to convince the ponies about the benefits of resistance. She’s getting more and more praise every day.”
“That’s what makes the Stringers afraid. They’re losing popular favour, but they won’t do anything about it. They fear that any move will be bad for them.”
“Somehow I think they’re right, Farsight.”
“That’s why I stopped looking for help there and headed to talk to the Coilites.”
“Yes, Ampera. I also had the feeling that she would be willing to join the NER.”
“She did endorse the idea of a treaty in the meeting. No luck there either?”
“Nope. It turns out that Ampera likes this situation too. She says that nothing needs to be changed, so she won’t do a single thing to alter the current balance. So you see, I’ve been left alone with no options.”
“Who says you have no options?”
“I do, Stuka. I’m one pony on my own. I can’t expect to change an entire city.”
“Really?” Stuka smiled.
“What’s so funny?”
“Your narrow-mindedness. You say you can’t change a city. Haven’t you heard about the Light Bringer?”
“Yes, I have read the book. What is your point?”
“My point, brickhead, is that she managed to change the world. The world, all by herself. She had friends, indeed, but you have too. You have a lovely filly that would go through the Divide for you, and you have me. Of course you can change a city.”
“But the gangs...”
“Screw the gangs, Farsight. You’re very smart, but now your mind is totally blocked by the constraints you’ve imposed yourself. The gangs won’t welcome your plans, so what? When you need to get things done, do them yourself. That was my first lesson as a mercenary, and it should be yours too.”
“Do things myself...”
“That’s right, dear. Yourself. Move. Look for weaknesses and exploit them. You want Ampera to support you? Good, then change the situation. You want Dee to support you? Fine, break the ties she has. You want Saddle to support you? Forget about it.”
I breathed deep and let Stuka’s words penetrate into my mind. The pieces started to fit once again, and a ray of light shone in the darkness. She was right. She was so, so right. I had fooled myself to think that I could be a puppeteer that had all the world on his hooves, but that wasn’t the truth. There was a time to play the puppeteer, and there was another time to get dirty. I had been pulling the strings until there were no more strings to be pulled, so I had to brace myself for some direct action.
“Thank you, Stuka. Where would I be without you?” I smiled.
“Who cares? You’re with me now, and that’s all that matters.”
I walked around the table to hug Stuka. She was shining a new light to my situation, and that lifted my spirits once again. There was hope. It was dim and frail, but there was hope. She cooed when I embraced her and kissed me gently on the cheek.
“Feeling better now, Farsight?”
“Yes, dear. Much better.” I exaggerated a bit, just to make Stuka feel better.
“Good. Now, why don’t we go out for a walk? I love Freedom Field at dusk.”
“Of course, Stuka.”
Quickly, Stuka and I cleared the table of plates and glasses and left the apartment. My mind was starting to work again. There had to be many ways of changing the current situation, and if a PipBuck technician with a wimpy body and lousy magic had been able to change the world (or so they said), I should be able to shift the power game of Freedom Field as well. I just needed to use my mind properly, and for Celestia’s sake, I was going to.
*** *** ***
Darkness was starting to take over the streets of Freedom Field as the light of the day was becoming dimmer minute after minute. The few shops that were lucky enough to have an undamaged showcase were beginning to light their lamps and neons, flooding the streets with streams of colored lights. Indeed, Freedom Field at dusk had magic in the air. Of course, there was also danger floating around. The activity of daytime, with traders and caravaneers showing their wares around town made way to a different pulse, the one of nightclubs and hookers.
“I love this time of the day.” Stuka walked pleasantly down the main street of Freedom Field. We were attracting the looks of all the ponies in town, but she didn’t seem to care about it.
“Yes, look around! The dim lighting, the shops making their last sales for the day, the clubs opening up, the neons banishing the darkness to the alleys... Isn’t it just magic?”
“Well, it is quite a show.” I smiled and shrugged.
“Oh, you!” Stuka wrapped me in one of her wings. “Are you still deep in your misery or what?”
“No... I’m just thinking about... things.”
“Now, tell me.”
“I’m thinking about Dee.”
“What about her?”
“I’m curious about why she’s losing popular favor. I mean, Freedom Field is thriving, independent of what Goldie did or whatnot. I can’t understand why she’s becoming more and more unpopular as the days go by.”
“Well, word in the streets is that she’s become too distant. She does care about the traders, but the ponyfolk in town thinks the Stringers don’t give a damn about them anymore.”
“And do you think that too?”
“I can’t tell, since my view of things is biased. I work for the competitors, remember?”
“Yes, yes, I know, but you have two eyes in your face, don’t you? You should have an opinion about it, regardless of who pays your salary.”
Stuka looked up to the sky, considering her possible answers. It was a compromised situation for her, but I needed to know what she had to say. I had no doubt that hers would be the most honest opinion I would get in the entire Freedom Field.
“Well, I do.”
“I agree with the people. At close range, Dee is a magnificent, charismatic leader. She could convince a griffin not to use his wings. Therefore, she should be able to maintain her position as a public figure without trouble. However, the way I see it, she’s lost the initiative to Goldie. After all, the common populace is stupid, no offense meant.”
“Are you implying I’m part of the common populace?” I smirked ironically.
“No, no.” Stuka chuckled. “I meant that the common folk worships the one that walks by and appears to care about them. Dee obtained a great popular credit by achieving a reasonable and inclusive peace between the gangs, and has been living of the profits of that peace. Now, however, she’s running low on credit, and Goldie knows that. Therefore, she started becoming more and more of a public figure, gaining popular favor in the process. And lately, with the success of her non-violent resistance gambit, she’s really threatening to displace Dee from the top spot.”
“So you’re saying Dee should return to her public activity in order to undermine Goldie?”
“I’m not saying anything.” Stuka shrugged. “Hell, it’s only my opinion, darling. I might be totally wrong.”
“No, Stuka. Everything sounds reasonable. Everything you’ve said has logic embedded to it, and I like the way it sounds.”
I was starting to get all fired up. I felt the thrill of planning boost me once again, and I could see the light in my future once again. All I had to do was make the right moves, and I would be back on track in my quest for the Citizenship Card.
“Hey...” Stuka laughed. “Look at you! You’re actually smiling, Farsight. What’s on your crazy mind now?”
“Lots of things, honey. Lots of things.”
“No doubt about that. You’ve got that look once again. The very look you had when I first met you. You’re about to run into another scheme of yours, aren’t you?”
“Well, go. Don’t let me keep you here, Farsight. Good luck.”
I smiled and kissed her passionately. I didn’t care about the locals watching us, since the only thing I wanted to do was to thank Stuka for what she had done for me this time. She had been my light in the darkness, my savior in misery. I owed him that. Our tongues entwined in an instant of passion and emotion that seemed to last forever, as she grabbed my body with her talons and lifted us both in the air while the kiss carried on. Once back on earth, I looked at her emerald eyes.
“Thanks for everything, Stuka. I’ll be back.”
I turned around and left for my room, darting all the way upstairs. I needed to get my plans moving, and those involved leaving Freedom Field for a short while. First of all, I needed Nadyr back on my side. Since I knew that Freedom Field was a safe place now, I could use the half-zebra’s help. The only thing I would have to do would be convincing him. And secondly, I saw a great opportunity in the radio station. If Stuka was right and the ponyfolk of Freedom Field was easily influenceable, bombarding them with conveniently manipulated gossip was a good course of action. Goldie could be a manipulative bitch, but two can play that game.
*** *** ***
The Wasteland glowed in the dim light of the night. The sandy, dry ground of Neighvada shone in a bluish tone, reflecting the streams of moonlight sipping through the everlasting, thick cloud cover. The shadows of whatever stood on the ground shivered because of the slight breeze that blew from the East, bringing the smell of dampness in the air. It had to come from the lake that Rose had mentioned some time ago.
I galloped relentlessly down the old road that traversed Neighvada from North to South like a black line in the middle of the golden desert. Time was of the essence, and the sooner I got to Nobuck, the more time I would have to carry my plans forward. Of course, first I would have to convince some key ponies, such as Nadyr and Harpsong, but there were serious options of getting it done.
You want Dee to support you? Fine, break the ties she has. Stuka’s words echoed in my mind as I trod the sandy roads. Dee had driven her position into a political zugzwang. The only thing she needed to support me was some room to recover part of the political favor she had lost, and I had a feeling I could provide that. Well, not me exactly, but I would have something to do with it.
You want Ampera to support you? Good, then change the situation. Changing the situation was something harder than giving Dee a bit of political room. However, I had an ace up my sleeve, an ace in the shape of a functional radio station. With a little help of the NER and some digging done by Rose and Stuka, we should have a working smear network on the air soon. I was looking forward to seeing Goldie’s face when I started spreading lies and rumours.
I saw the sun rise to the East, between the horizon and the cloud cover, and I saw it go down to the West, hiding itself behind the mountains of the Divide. Nobuck was rather far away, but the roads were secure since the NER opened the caravan trail. Every now and then, I would cross my paths with some Republican patrol watching over the sides of the dusty route. Most of them were friendly and let me pass without stopping, but I had to talk my way out of a couple of them. The closer I got to Nobuck, the more frequently I found patrols.
The second day en route was beginning when I finally saw the hulking Gummy Building in the horizon. It had a bit of a homecoming feeling to me, even if I knew my place was far to the north, in the blinding lights of the city of New Pegasus. However, I knew that the key steps for my future would be given in the Republican base, so I sped up to cover the last stretch of the journey.
*** *** ***
The guards of the Gummy Building hadn’t forgotten about me, as they saluted when I walked across the door in the lower back of the headquarters. Honestly, having to enter a building shaped like a giant toothless alligator through its ass had something utterly wrong in it. However, I had the feeling that Pinkie Pie had a couple of screws loose, if what I had read about her was accurate, which, looking at the giant gator building, didn’t sound all that far fetched.
Harpsong welcomed me with a surprised face when I entered the main headquarters room. As always, the place was fully covered in maps depicting all of the Neighvada Territory, and from the looks of things, the areas surrounding it. Harpsong was sitting in her usual, awkward way, in a sort of couch that fitted her way of laying her flank down. Behind her, some troopers worked hectically in their terminals, filtering information and reporting to the troops in the field. Harpsong herself was studying a folder with the word ‘CLASSIFIED’ printed across the cover.
“Farsight, what a surprise.” Harpsong dropped the folder on the table. “Done already?”
“No, not really. Things have become rather stale over there, and I think we need to make some moves to stir the situation.”
“Moves like what? You know that military action is totally out of question here.”
“Of course. I don’t want soldiers around, I want press.”
“Gossip press, more properly. I need somepony that can move around Freedom Field going unnoticed and pick up the gossip in the streets, to later twist it and turn it into a full scale tabloid.”
“I see where you’re going. You want to make the gangs mad at each other, but will you be able to do that?”
“That is why I’m asking for help. I’m no good storyteller. I’m a rather nice schemer, and a proud fancy talker, but inventing stories isn’t my forte. I lack imagination. You won’t happen to have somepony around that can work hoof-to-hoof with me in order to sow dissent between the gangs?”
“I might.” Harpsong shrugged. “But I need something more than that to give in to your demands.”
“Listen, Harpsong. I have two factions that would like to sign a treaty with the Republic if the situation changed. On the other side, I have two others that don’t want to, and those two are the ones blocking me at the moment. I need them out of the way, and the best solution is to confront them.”
“And you expect to do it through gossip?”
“Yes, because their union is a product of the relationship between their two leaders. If they start bickering at each other due to both professional and personal issues, their union will surely break. Besides, I have another powerful mare interested in joining the buck in charge of one of the opposing factions.”
“I’m getting lost.”
“All right, I’ll summarize. The factions opposing the union to the NER are two, one led by a stallion and one by a mare. The two are lovers, and the mare controls the stallion. You follow me so far?”
“Then, if we break this relationship, their union will fall. Also, one of the factions that want to sign a treaty with the NER is led by a mare that wants to control the faction led by the stallion.”
“What would leave the remaining faction as the only one opposing the union. I see. That is a good plan, Farsight. However, how do you plan to deliver that gossip?”
“There is a Relay Wave Radio Station over here.” I pointed at the map, to the place where Rose and I had found shelter the last time we travelled to Freedom Field.
“Are you sure? I thought all of them had been destroyed.”
“This is Neighvada, remember?”
“Of course. Is it functional?”
“As far as I know, I think it is.”
“Those are great news, Farsight. Really great news. Consider your demand for help answered. You’ll have my best comms officer at your disposal.”
“So glad to hear that, Harpsong. However, I need something more.”
“What do you need?”
“I need a treaty proposal for the gangs. I think it will be better if you go to them with something certain, rather than having them ask.”
“Indeed. And what do you suggest I propose?”
“Give them the status of autonomy they long for. Free City of Freedom Field. Have them pay a tax for your protection, and have them abide some of your laws, but leave them space to govern themselves from there on. I have the feeling that they’ll agree.”
“You’re asking for a lot of things, you know?”
“I know, Harpsong. But I also know you want to deal with the situation in Freedom Field without having to resort to violence, and this is my proposal. A proposal that will be listened and thoroughly considered. You have my guarantee for that.”
“Fine, fine. Just don’t go all solemn with me.” Harpsong grumbled. “Elaborate. Now.”
“Harpsong, why did the gangs adopt the solution of peaceful resistance?”
“Because they’re sly bastards?”
“That is true, but also, there is another reason. They like things as they are, and they see the NER as a threat to their status quo. That’s why they don’t fight or submit.”
“And what are you suggesting?”
“I’m suggesting we respect the status quo as much as possible, so that it doesn’t come to affect the everyday street pony.”
“I don’t think Freedom Field is a democracy, Farsight. From what you tell me, I believe the gangs are the ones that have absolute power.”
“They have, but that power shifts from one gang to another, depending on the population. So, in the end, it’s a kind of democracy.”
“Understood. Mind continuing?”
“Of course.” I cleared my throat and carried on. “The NER must offer an integration of the City of Freedom Field with the least possible changes in the everyday life of the new city. For that, I suggest that we leave things as they are, adapting the dark democracy of the gangs to what the NER has as an standard.”
“That would mean creating a Town Hall.”
“And holding elections for Mayor. Exactly.”
“Wouldn’t that be a change the population would notice?”
“Yes, but it’s a surface change. The gangs would understand that easily, leave it to me.”
“All right. Then, what else?”
“Nothing, really. As I told you, things are good as they are. However, you could throw in some candy to make the deal more interesting.”
“Freedom Field has no industry or agriculture. All its income comes from scavengers and trade caravans. As you know, caravaneers are the raiders’ number one target. I suggest you propose giving Freedom Field an autonomous trade market like the one it has, and you throw in the protection for the caravans across Neighvada.”
“You mean, foalsitting them?”
“More or less. Set up some patrols across the roads, and have the caravans use the patrols as security relays. Ensure a safe route from Divide Pass to New Pegasus, and the citizens of Freedom Field will welcome you. After all, you will be guaranteeing their money.”
“I see. Everypony loves money.”
“Indeed. From there on, guarantee their freedom as is, with no kind of NER influence inside the walls of Freedom Field. I know that it’s a tough deal for you, but with that written down on paper, I’m very sure they’ll accept.”
Harpsong meditated her answer for a while, scrubbing her muzzle with one of her forehooves.
“Fine, you always seem to convince me. I’ll have my comms officer bring the treaty proposal to you, so that you can deliver it. Now, go and do whatever you have to do in that radio station of yours.”
I nodded and saluted, then I turned around and left the room. I didn’t expect Harpsong to agree with me on every single thing I proposed, but surprisingly enough, I had obtained a total victory. I had a comms officer assigned to my plan of sowing dissent and discord in the city of Freedom Field, and that was a very good thing to start off with.
*** *** ***
Nadyr was having lunch at the canteen, and my stomach reminded me that I hadn’t eaten for a long time, so I decided to buy myself some meatballs and join my striped companion before starting to discuss business matters, both with him and with Harpsong. I hadn’t seen him in a while, so I couldn’t hide my smile when I saw him chug a whole plate of oatmeal and sigh out of pleasure.
“Damn this tastes good!” he said. “Oh, Farsight! Good to see you again.”
“Same thing, Nadyr.” I shoved a meatball down my throat. It had been overcooked and tasted a little bit off, but it was food nonetheless. “How have you been doing?”
“Honestly? Patrolling the desert makes you wish for a balefire winter.”
“That’s all you’ve been doing? Patrolling?”
“Naww. We helped to set up a camp on the other side of the river. Manefield, I believe it was called. How about you?”
“Well, I returned to Freedom Field, and here I am, back again. I’m some sort of a courier.”
“Farsight the Courier. It sounds funny indeed. Oh, there was one thing I wanted to tell you about.”
“What is it? Some amazing discovery?”
“More of a scavenger’s paradise. Give me a minute to put you in context, though. I grew close to a city called Neighorleans. Ma decided to raise me in a zebra township close to Ponychartrain Swamp, since it was the only place where we were accepted.”
“I see.” I nodded. “You never told me about your life, actually.”
“I assume that you’re not interested.” Nadyr scowled.
“Why not?” I smiled at the amazed half-zebra. “After all, there’s no harm on getting to know each other.” I was honest. Even if I didn’t care too much about others, Nadyr and I were partners, so I believed our relationship should be of mutual trust. Who knows, maybe this could be the beginning of a great friendship.
“Wow, I didn’t expect this...” Nadyr seemed touched. “You’re the first pony to ever take interest on my life. Thanks...”
“Oh, come on. Tell me. You say you grew up close to Neighorleans.”
“Yes, I did. Ma started working as a baker in Peekayune, the zebra town I grew in. I made my living as a hunter in the swamp. That’s where I learned to be stealthy. Rad-snakes can spot noise from hundreds of meters away, and you damn sure don’t want to mess with them.”
“I understand. What happened then?”
“Ma died young, the poor soul, may Celestia guard her.” Nadyr looked at the cloudy sky and whispered a prayer. Peekayune had nothing tying me to it, so I left. I wandered the Wasteland for years, growing up and earning money as a hired gun. My stripes turned me into a pariah to the normal pony society, but I was very appreciated in the underground. I learned to lose my principles, working for anypony who paid well, no matter if they were slavers, raiders, mercenaries or peacemakers.”
“I won’t judge you, Nadyr. We all do what we need to do.”
“Thanks, Farsight. Well, as I was telling, I worked as an assassin in the other side of the Divide until the NER grew strong. Then, I decided to get away from them, as they started hunting down all the mercs. I crossed Divide Pass and established myself in Neighvada, working as a mercenary. After all, that’s all I know. Then, Dee Cleff hired me, and I met you when we killed those couriers. From there on, well.”
“Yes, I know you from there on.” I nodded and smiled. I patted Nadyr’s back, showing my appreciation. “But now that I know about you, why don’t you tell me about how you found out about Neighorleans?”
“It happened when I was a young colt. I was scouting the swamp, looking for prey, when I ended up in the middle of a big circle of trees. The place was a large open space, covered by a lush green dome of leaves. In the middle, I saw what looked like the remains of a town. It was lit by an eerie greenish light, as if fires were burning in the streets. However, it was too far to reach.”
“Couldn’t you swim?” I asked. “Living in the swamps...”
“It’s not the water, Farsight. There are things that could eat you in seconds living in the swamps.”
“Oh... How nasty.”
“Exactly. Nasty is the word. Well, later, when I returned to Peekayune I asked the town elders about the place. They told me that I had seen the lost city of Neighorleans, and that I should never speak of it again, since the place was cursed.”
“Seriously. They believed it was cursed. Said that the town went silent months before the megaspells fell. At that time, I believed them, but with the years I assumed it wasn’t cursed. It was just the fear towards the unknown. Since then, I always kept the picture of the city in my mind.”
“Dangerous fauna and a mysterious curse. Indeed, that sounds like a dangerous setting. What makes you think the city hasn’t been searched before, anyway?”
“First reason, because it’s probably the hardest place to get to in the whole Wasteland, if you leave Canterlot aside. The place is so surrounded by water and trees that it’s just inaccessible.”
“All right. What do you mean when you say it’s inaccessible?”
“I mean that there’s no damn way of getting there... normally. The city was built in an island on the lake Ponychartrain. Although, calling it a lake is a bit far fetched, since it’s a damn swamp. Before the War, it was connected to the mainland via a bridge, but when the megaspells hit, the bridge was destroyed and the waters rose, leaving almost all of Neighorleans underwater.”
“Then, a boat should be enough to reach the city... the unsunken part of it, I mean.”
“Wrong answer. The problem is that the radiation messed up with the place. Instead of killing everything, it sparked growth. Now the rad-trees have formed a wall around the city. There’s no way a boat could make it through.”
“And by air? Pegasi, maybe?”
“Weren’t you listening?” Nadyr gave me a funny look. “I said trees, buck. Trees. With big branches and leaves. That’s a damn green dome. You can’t get through. Light almost doesn’t get through.”
“Understood. Anyway, I don’t think water and trees would stop many scavengers. They would eventually find a way in.”
“First of all, Farsight, the problem ain’t the water or the trees. It’s the things living in the water and the trees what mean business.”
“Put your hoof in the water for ten seconds, and you’ll lose your leg. I’ve seen that happening.”
“Yes, well. Let’s assume you’ve found a way in avoiding the water and the trees. What can stop you in there?”
“That I can’t tell.” Nadyr shrugged. “There are tales about dark forces living in the city, spirits of the past. The only thing I know is that many went to Neighorleans and none returned. Still, the swamp city is a scavenger magnet. I’ve met many ponies that wanted to cross the tree dome and look for loot. To sum up, I’d say the city is a target, but it’s a risky move. Hard to get there, lots of threats in the city, big treasure in the end.”
“Sounds like you’re right. However, you said it was inaccessible. What made you change your mind?”
“Well, when I was patrolling the place for the NER I stumbled upon an old bunker. The place hadn’t been uncovered yet, so I decided to look for loot. The bunker happened to be a teleport booth.”
“Wow. I didn’t know there were any of those working.”
“This was, damn sure it was. I took a look at the destination coordinates, and well, what do you know? It happened to be a place I already knew. The very center of Neighorleans!”
“Interesting. Did you get the coordinates of the bunker?”
“Don’t worry. I won’t forget where I left our path to wealth.” Nadyr smiled broadly.
“So, I’m going to say your proposal is to go look for loot?”
“Exactly!” He couldn’t hold back his smile.
I smiled as well. The plan looked very, very promising. If all that Nadyr had told me was true, we could gather quite a lot of money in a very short time. Just from the pre-war bottles we would find, we would make a fortune. Still, there were other matters to care about.
“That sounds very good, Nadyr. We should give it a shot when circumstances allow it.”
“Why not now?”
“That’s because I haven’t solved our little issue in Freedom Field. Speaking of which, I would like you to come with me and help me out with some stuff.”
Nadyr scowled, the smile gone from his face. He was all hyped up with going on a treasure hunt, but being rich in the Wasteland was a death sentence. Being rich in New Pegasus, however, was something totally different. That would require a bit more of sacrifice. When I explained that minor detail to him, he seemed to cheer up a little. Foal steps, but I was gaining Nadyr’s appreciation.
“Well, tell me all about that issue.”
“You know Dee, don’t you?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Well, Dee is in dire need of help. She needs to become popular once again. Either that, or Goldie will become the de facto leader of Freedom Field?”
“Don’t play around with me, Farsight. Really? Goldie? How can she actually move Dee off the spotlight?”
“By being in the right place at the right time. You’ve heard about the non-violence thingy in town, haven’t you?”
“I have, I have.”
“Well, that’s her doing. That victory over Dee and her lovey-dovey solidarity display in the Fort have turned her into everypony’s best friend. Now Dee’s tied up in a situation in which she can’t do anything without losing political favor. I intend to help her return to the spotlight.”
“Kicking Goldie in the flank, I see it.” Nadyr smiled. “Just how do you intend to do it?”
“Well, a friend I have in town told me about how things go down when it comes to politics in Freedom Field. After all, what the big lot demands is nothing but attention and care. In a nutshell, they want a leader that can come out and welcome you by your name and ask about your little filly.”
“That’s a rather stupid demand.”
“It is, but think about what kind of ponies we’re talking about. After all, they’re all Wastelanders in a different suit. They want to feel protected and cared for, that is all. If it wasn’t for that, what is the difference with the Wasteland itself?”
“I’m starting to see your point.” Nadyr looked up, then down, then back at me. “The common pony doesn’t care about economy or criminality, it doesn’t care about politics. It just cares about having something to eat, clean water, and a pinch of love and care from the ones above.”
“Exactly. Speaking of which, Dee’s decision of seizing control of the water supply hasn’t helped her all that much. Instead, I think that’s one of the things Goldie has used to contest Dee’s leadership.”
“Can’t she just let the water be free once again?”
“I don’t think so. Probably Goldie would use it by saying that Dee was chickening out or something like that. She can be tough to beat.”
“Yeah... How do you think you can outwit Goldie?”
“I would put my caps in a big display of power. Something that can’t be turned against Dee. Something visible and opulent, that shows the might of the Stringers.”
“A display of power? Really?” Nadyr gave me a smug look.
“All right, all right. It’s not the way to put it. What I want to say is that Dee needs to return to the spotlight in a way that nopony can turn against her. She needs to be the protagonist of something out of the ordinary, something grandiose. She needs to show that she’s back for good.”
“Now I see where you’re going. You want to turn her into the center of attention for good.”
“Exactly. We need to drive the population’s attention towards Dee, letting everypony in Freedom Field see she’s the good, caring leader she’s never stopped being.”
“Understood. We need something big. What did you have in mind?”
“I have obtained a juicy proposal from the NER, and I’m going to show it to Dee. However, I have the feeling that it might not be enough. That’s where you come in.”
“Me? How exactly?”
“I want you to work side by side with Rose. She’s scavenging and selling items in the market.”
“And how is that going to help you?”
“My idea was that Rose could use her position in the market as a spy, listening to all kinds of small talk that took place in the Trader Plaza. However, she’s become so successful that she can’t do both things. Therefore, I want you to do the listening part. Stand there as a helper or even as a security guard, and keep your ears open.”
“That doesn’t sound as a hard task.”
“See? It’s not like I’m asking you to be Dee Cleff’s gigolo.”
“Forget about the lame joke.” I shrugged. “Are you up for the challenge?”
“Well, I can be a masterful spy, you know?”
“That’s what you say. I need you to prove it.”
“Is that a challenge, Farsight?” Nadyr smirked.
“You can take it as a challenge, Nadyr.”
“It is on, bro. Wanna bet?”
“All right. I’ll pay you a fancy dinner if you manage to bring me something juicy.”
“Good. Start saving the caps, because you’ll be paying soon.”
We shook hooves to sign the agreement, looking at each other with a malicious smile in our faces. Being such a gold-digger, Nadyr was always up for a little wager. Therefore, the best way to make him do something was to offer him something in return. Also, if a bet could be stuck in between, that would make the half-zebra give it the best he’d got.
With Nadyr ready, we just needed to wait for the communications officer Harpsong had promised me. It was the second half of my plan in order to stir things in Freedom Field, and I wasn’t going to leave Nobuck without him, even if I was eager to get things moving.
Nadyr saw him before I did. A buck, rather young, came trotting from the Gummy Building. He was dressed in an old metal armor made out of scraps. His coat was of a faint bluish colour, and his mane was of a shining golden tone. He came towards us with a worried expression on his face.
“Are you Farsight, sir?” he asked.
“Yes, I am. This is Nadyr, my companion.”
“Hey there.” Nadyr smiled gently, trying to comfort the newcomer.
“I’m Communications Officer Hertzian Glow, of the First Army of the New Equestrian Republic.” He saluted by raising a hoof to his brow. “Vice-President Heartstrings has put me at your disposal.
“Good. Nice to meet you. Shall we get moving?”
*** *** ***
The treaty was pure gold. Harpsong had written down all my proposals, word by word, and she had signed it herself with a gracious, curly signature. With this in my hooves, I had a really powerful card to convince the gang leaders to join the NER. I’d show the treaty to Dee Cleff, and if it didn’t work, I’d try the same with Ampera. Even if she liked things as they were, the agreement I was carrying was too tempting to refuse.
I led the way out of Nobuck at a relatively fast pace. Nadyr had no problems following me, but Hertzian couldn’t keep up. I took a look at his saddlebags and saw that he was carrying quite a lot of equipment, apart from guns and ammo. No doubt he couldn’t follow us, who were much less encumbered.
“Communications Officer Hertzian, please.”
“Hertzian. You’re undercover now, keep that in mind. You’re not supposed to act as an NER officer now. Therefore, let’s cut the formalities short. I’m Farsight, he’s Nadyr, and you’re Hertzian. Is that a problem?”
“Not really, sir.”
“Fine. And forget about the ‘sir’. Call me Farsight. If anypony hears you address me or Nadyr as ‘sir’ it will sound fishy, and your cover will be compromised. I hope you have understood that.”
“Yes, s... I mean, yes, Farsight.”
“Great. Any more questions?”
“I have one. Could you give me details on the situation?”
“Didn’t Harpsong brief you properly?”
“She did give me a briefing, but I can’t really say it was proper.”
“All right...” I sighed. I did expect something like this from Harpsong. “Let me explain the situation to you. The city of Freedom Field is resisting the assimilation to the NER by means of non-violence.”
“Oh, yes. I’ve heard about that. I must admit it is an intelligent move.”
“It is, as much as I hate to say it. They’ve blocked the whole army of the NER without having to waste a single bullet. So to speak, they’re using the civilian population as a shield.”
“Indeed. And if what Harpsong told me is correct, you’re the one meant to break the stalemate.”
“Exactly. However, I came across a series of problems that won’t let me do any progress without any external help. And that’s where you come in. You should already know there are four factions in town.”
“Indeed. The Stringers, the Coilites, the Buckmares and the Followers of the Shy. The first two are friendly, the last two are hostile or at least not friendly.”
“Good, you know the basics. What you need to know is that the two hostile factions, Buckmares and Followers, are allied because their leaders, Saddle Buckmare and Golden Swallow, are lovers. Your job is to make them break up.”
“I see. How will I do that?”
“Are you good at inventing stories?”
“I work at the NER Propaganda Department. Inventing stories or mixing fact and fiction is my daily life.”
“Perfect. Then you’ll do fine. I need you to get into Freedom Field and gather all you might need to invent credible gossip meant to sow dissent between the two gangs.”
“That will be easy as pie. However, how do you expect me to deliver those stories?”
“Be patient, Hertzian. You’ll have the answers at the given time.”
Hertzian looked at me with a puzzled face. I smiled smugly and trotted forward after having grabbed part of his equipment. We weren’t far from the Relay Wave Radio Station, and before night fell, our group of three arrived at the small shack that had sheltered me in the Divide Storm. It was still half-covered in sand, like we had left it.
“We’re here!” I cheered.
“What is this place?” Nadyr asked, puzzled.
“Walk in and you’ll see it.”
Nadyr opened the door and crept into the shack, with Hertzian following him closely. I entered the station in the last place and closed the door behind us. I didn’t want any surprise visitors while we were tinkering with the radio.
“Is this what I think it is?” Hertzian looked amazed.
“If you’re thinking a fully functional radio station, then it is.”
“But this is one hell of a discovery! We had read about the Relay Wave Network, but we thought it was a legend. We never expected to find one working!”
“This is Neighvada, remember? As far as I know, it’s not your usual piece of Wasteland.”
“It isn’t, indeed. Now, if you allow me...”
Hertzian unpacked his equipment and connected it to different sockets of the radio station. He knew what he was doing, alright. Unlike me, who had needed to check the Operator’s Hoofbook in order to even understand how that machinery worked, Hertzian was acting totally natural, as if he had been born connected to one of those stations.
“I think it’s ready to go, Farsight. We should do a test run.”
“That’s a good idea.”
“Which frequency should I use?”
“I don’t know... we need this station to be heard, so we need to put ourselves in the spotlight. Is it possible to override the frequency of New Pegasus Radio?”
“Going for gold, eh?” Hertzian chuckled. “I’ll try. If this emitter is powerful enough, I should be able to get things running. Keep your ears open, gentlecolts!”
He was in his element alright. I stuck the PipBuck earbloom in my ear and switched to New Pegasus Radio. The soothing voice of Velvet Remedy, that lovely singer from Manehattan, boomed from the waves into my ears. Hertzian had closed the doors to the station room, to isolate himself from the noise of the world. The song carried on uninterrupted while I waited for Hertzian to either come out saying there was nothing to do or actually achieve something.
Suddenly, the music stopped abruptly. It wasn’t a fade-out, or a commercial break. The radio had gone silent. New Pegasus Radio was down. For a moment, I waited for Velvet Remedy’s voice to return, but instead, another sound filled the silence. The sound of a stallion voice roaring through the waves.
This is Radio Nowhere, is there anypony alive out there?
This is Radio Nowhere, is there anypony alive out there?
Sweet, we are ON AIR! This is Radio Nowhere, the radio that brings you the news of the Wasteland, no matter how hard it hurts. We’ll be popping by every now and then to bring you special bulletins about what happens in the Neighvada Territory, both in Freedom Field and in the open Wasteland! So keep your ears ready for the juiciest information and the latest gossip, all of it in Radio Nowhere! And don’t worry about changing your dial setup, we’ll come to you!
This was Radio Nowhere, for anypony alive out there!
This was Radio Nowhere, for anypony alive out there!
Hertzian became silent and the music of New Pegasus Radio returned once again, this time playing a solo of Octavia. I switched the PipBuck radio off and pulled the earbloom off my ear, waiting for Hertzian to come out of the station. When he did, he looked radiant. He was grinning broadly, and his hoofsteps transmitted security and confidence. The broadcast had turned him into a totally different pony.
“Great job, Hertzian.” I clapped my hooves. “We have our little smear network ready. Now we just need content.”
“Don’t worry about that. I’ll handle the content as well.”
“Thank you, Hertzian. Just one thing...”
“Why Radio Nowhere?”
“Uh... because this is a radio station in the middle of nowhere? To be honest, I hadn’t thought about it. It just sounded good to me.”
“Don’t worry about it.” I smiled and patted Hertzian’s back. “It’s fine. We’re about to bring chaos to Freedom Field, the least we should worry about is names.”
“All right. Radio Nowhere it is, then.”
“Fine, let’s get moving. We need to get to Freedom Field as soon as possible.”
We left the station hastily and Hertzian locked the door using a lock he had brought from Nobuck. It wouldn’t stop a determined robber, but at least it would deter raiders and Wasteland scum from using the place as a shelter. Once ready to go, we hit the road at a hasty pace. Night was starting to fall and a group of three wanderers would be a target for highwayponies.
While we galloped towards New Pegasus and Freedom Field, we managed to link up with a trader caravan coming from Divide Pass. By joining them in their way, we made sure that we wouldn’t be attacked by raiders. A bunch of heavily armed guards were a strong enough reason to keep the Wasteland scum away from the caravan. In exchange, we had to pay a little toll and get used to a slower pace.
We reached the Freedom Field gates the next morning. Before entering, I needed to make sure that Hertzian couldn’t be related to Nadyr or me.
“Hertzian,” I said, “this is where we must take separate ways. You can’t be seen close to us, or the locals will suspect there is something hidden between you and I. If you need to contact me, leave a message at Desert Rose’s stand in Trader Plaza. If you can’t find it, ask around. It’s the most popular shop in town, of that I’m sure. Best of luck, Hertzian. We’ll all need it.”
“Same to you, Farsight.”
He entered the city, leaving Nadyr and me waiting for a while. I was acting close to paranoid, but inserting Hertzian into Freedom Field was probably the most delicate part of the plan. Therefore, every move had to be planned and executed with extreme care. We waited outside Freedom Field for around an hour, and then we got back into town. It was time to add a bit of zebra spice to the mix.
*** *** ***
I left Nadyr to his own devices while I headed to start getting things ready for the next step on my plan. A plan that involved paying a little visit to my friend with benefits inside the Stringers. The music school was as soft and cozy as always, and the mare on the counter greeted me with a broad smile.
“Miss Metronome is in the Music Hall at the moment. If you want to talk to her, this would be a good time. She’ll be giving lessons in around half an hour.”
“I see. Then I’ll be meeting her immediately.”
“Please leave your guns at the counter and knock the door.”
I left my two rifles at the ring-shaped counter and trotted towards the Music Hall door. No sound was coming from the inside, but anyway I knocked. The mare behind the counter was looking at me, and I didn’t want to appear too familiar with Metronome.
I opened the door and walked into the Music Hall. Metronome was standing on stage, looking at the door with a smile on her face. I smiled and winked, closing my door with my hind leg at the same time.
“Hello, Farsight. What is it you want?”
“Personally or professionally?”
“Cut the crap, Farsight. If you want to have sex, come at night to my room. Not now. We have foals around, don’t you remember?”
“All right, all right, don’t get all fired up. I come here with a proposal for Dee. A proposal that could break the strings she has.”
“As far as I know from my experience, the ponies in Freedom Field will support anypony who plays the role of a public figure in a rather active way. Following this principle, Goldie has started pushing Dee out of the spotlight by being very active in her role as a healer and as a political activist.”
“I know that, but I assume you haven’t finished.”
“Indeed, I haven’t. Dee’s problem at the moment is that she can’t do anything that Goldie can’t turn against her, in a sign of weakness as a leader or disdain to the populace. What Dee needs is to be the center of attention, in a way that nopony can use to discredit her.”
“That sounds reasonable. What do you suggest?”
“We need something big, something truly epic. Something the population will remember.”
“Something like what?”
“Something like this.” I smiled and unpacked the treaty proposal signed by Harpsong.
Metronome picked the scribbled paper and started studying it. Her face quickly switched from the initial disbelief to a mild surprise, then to a big surprise, later to a big smile of satisfaction, to end up with a smirk of happiness. She looked at me with a satisfied expression and gave me back the treaty.
“This is impressive, Farsight! With something like this, all our problems would be over!”
“Indeed. All the resistance would be pointless.”
“Yes, but...” Metronome curled her muzzle, worried about something.
“What is wrong, Metronome?”
“I am afraid Goldie might use this against us. She will surely say we have surrendered to the NER, and that will mean our downfall.”
“I see where you’re going.”
“No doubt you do. My point is we can’t use it like this, not now. We need something else. Something to move Goldie out of the spotlight.”
“And what could we do?”
“We need something that she can’t use against us. Something that isn’t a political move by itself.”
“Like what? A charity raffle, maybe?”
“A charity raffle is good, but we need something with a bit more of punch.”
“Well, I’m all out of ideas.” I shrugged.
“You know, Miss Cleff has become worried about her biological clock, if you know what I mean.”
“No, Metronome, I don’t know what you mean.”
Metronome facehoofed and snickered.
“For being so smart, Farsight, you can be so naive sometimes. She feels she’s getting old without having foals.”
“All right, Metronome. Why didn’t you say so earlier?”
“Ugh. Forget about it, okay? I’m suggesting we find Miss Cleff a good husband and celebrate a top class wedding. That will draw the population’s attention, and Goldie will have no way of using it against us.”
“That sounds interesting indeed. Do you have a suitable candidate?”
“Hm... Not really. However, I think this is a matter we should discuss with Miss Cleff herself, don’t you agree?”
“This is what we’ll do, Farsight. We’re going to have lunch at the LaGrande. Meet us there and show the treaty to her. Then we’ll tackle the marriage issue together.”
“You know her better than I do, Metronome. It’s your call.”
“I couldn’t have said it better. Oh, and one thing, Farsight. The LaGrande is a rather fancy place, so find something proper to wear.”
“I have my suit.”
“Well go change. I have to give some lessons now.”
I nodded and smiled at her, then I turned around and left for my room. After a quick shower and a change of clothes, I was ready to have lunch in one of the best restaurants in town, courtesy of Dee Cleff. In cases like this, I loved my job.
*** *** ***
The LaGrande was a small restaurant that had been opened before the War started, and it had kept serving food ever since. A large sign on the entrance showcase boasted about the place’s longevity: LaGrande Restaurant. Serving the finest foods in town for 244 years. Even the Apocalypse couldn’t make us close! I smirked at the announcement and entered the restaurant.
It wasn’t a very large place, indeed, but it felt very comfortable and welcoming. The walls were decorated with soft-colored wallpaper, something between a dark beige and a light brown. Wooden panels covered the low half of the walls, while the floor was composed of a myriad of small tiles, forming a mosaic. The light came out of ceiling-hung lamps that projected a gentle yellowish light, far warmer than the imposing white neon light that one could find almost everywhere in Freedom Field.
Six tables with their corresponding white linen and tableware were distributed along the room, far enough from each other to ensure the privacy of the clients. It was the best place to stage a meeting, no doubt. Dee and Metronome were waiting for us at the farthest table. Dee was wearing a light gray suit that fit her very well, showing that she was also a fairly beautiful mare. Taking that into account, it wasn’t all that surprising to know that Metronome hid her attractive when being close to her boss.
“Mares...” I got close to the table while smiling gently at Dee.
“Farsight, good to see you again.” Dee smiled back. Courtesy was one of her strong points. She could be about to stab you, but she would be very polite.
“Thank you, Miss Cleff. Mind if I call you Dee?”
“Go ahead. You’re the first one that ever asked me that. They either do or do not, but they don’t ask.”
“Thanks again, Dee.”
“What do you want to eat?”
“I don’t know. What’s good around here?” I asked.
“Try the gecko steak. It’s probably the finest dish in the whole menu. Don’t even think on asking for vegetables. They’re all from before the War.”
“I see. In that case, I’ll have the steak.”
“Good choice. Garçon! Three steaks and a bottle of wine!”
One of the waiters nodded at Dee’s order and darted towards the kitchen. Suddenly, the place came alive with the sound of sizzling pans and muffled orders. Just a minute later, the waiter came back with an shiny bottle of wine. He uncorked it in a swift move and poured a small quantity into Dee’s glass. She tasted it and nodded. With her approval, the waiter poured the red wine into our glasses.
“Neighpa Valley. The NER has a fine taste when it comes to wine.” Dee smiled out of pure satisfaction.
I took a sip of the dark red wine. It was soft and velvety, and it tasted like wood and fresh fruit, with an aftertaste I couldn’t make out. Indeed, this one was one fine drink, not like the booze the Buckmares served.
“It’s very good.” I left the glass on the table and nodded. “There’s something that tastes off, however.”
“It’s the radiated soil. Don’t worry, it’s not dangerous.”
“I see. Guess I’m not used to drinking.”
“Maybe.” Dee nodded. “However, I think you haven’t come here to speak about wines, am I right?”
“Good. Now, Metronome has told me about your achievements, but she insisted in meeting and discussing it in person.”
“Indeed, she thought it would be the best.”
“Well, here we are. What is it you wanted to talk about?”
I lifted the treaty from one of my pockets and laid it on the table, right in front of Dee. She immediately began studying it carefully, reading the legal agreements displayed in it. Her expression followed a path similar to the one of Metronome, maybe being a bit more cautious in her smiles. After having read it twice, she looked at me with pure respect in her eyes.
“I am really amazed, Farsight. This is what I had been wishing for.”
“My pleasure, Dee. I want this situation solved as soon as possible.”
“Excuse me, Miss Cleff.” Metronome coughed lightly to attract our attention. “I don’t want to spoil your happiness, but there is an intrinsic problem to this treaty.”
“Which one, Metronome?”
“Goldie can turn this into an attempted surrender to the NER. That would definitely mean our downfall as the leading force in Freedom Field.”
“Damn.” Dee stomped the floor in anger. “You’re right, Metronome, as usual. What do you suggest we do?”
“Where there is a crisis, there is opportunity, Miss Cleff. I think we should tackle another problem you’ve been experiencing. How about we find you a suitable husband?”
“Husband? What are you talking about?”
“Dee, if I may...” I added. “What Metronome suggests is staging a grand celebration to drive the attention away from Goldie. Such display can’t be used as a political weapon, and also, that would provide a solution to your worries about forming a dynasty.”
“Wait a minute, did Metronome tell you about it?”
“Yes, but you can trust my discretion. I won’t tell anypony.”
“I swear, if this comes out of this room, I’ll have you shot, Farsight.”
“Please, Dee. Don’t let rage cloud your mind. Think about the benefits.”
Dee took another sip of wine while thinking about what I just had said. In the meantime, I gave Metronome a worried look. Things could get messy if Dee didn’t accept our proposal.
“All right.” Dee grunted. “It wasn’t the best approach, but you’ve got your point. I really want to have foals sooner or later, and a wedding would give us enough momentum to sign the treaty and get away with it. However, we first have to find a suitable candidate. Have you thought of any?”
“What about Saddle Buckmare?” I proposed. “Well, he’s a fine stallion. Strong and well built. Maybe a bit too prone to rage, but if Goldie has taken him under control, I have no doubt you would be able to do the same. Besides, he has control of the second most powerful gang in town. It would piss Goldie and the resulting union would be very strong.”
Metronome and Dee looked at each other and snickered silently.
“Stallions...” Dee smiled.
“Farsight, if Miss Cleff would have wanted to marry Saddle, she would have done it a long time ago. Besides, if we’re speaking of a political marriage, look at Ampera. Rumour has it she’s after Saddle as well, and she’s been a powerful ally for us. Taking Buckmare would most probably force her to join Goldie. Besides, Ampera has always supported the union with the NER. Let her do the job of bringing Saddle to our side, while we care about taking Goldie down for good.”
“Hm. I guess that’s reasonable.”
“Of course it’s reasonable.” Dee smirked. “How about you, Farsight?”
“Me?” I winced, surprised.
“Well, you sure are a handsome specimen.” Dee smiled and looked me up and down. “And you’re smart, very smart. Not to forget your speech abilities. You could be a great ambassador for Freedom Field.”
“Sorry to let you down, Dee, but I don’t think I’m the one either. I have made myself too many enemies in this city to be a good bet. Taking me as your husband would probably cause Saddle and Goldie to openly declare war on you, and honestly, I don’t believe that’s what you’re looking for.”
“I must agree with Farsight on this one, Miss Cleff.”
“All right, all right. I do have the feeling that you’re chickening out, Farsight. Still, the reasons you offer me are logical.”
“Somepony from New Pegasus?” I asked, running out of choices.
“Who would leave the comfort of New Pegasus to come and marry me? Even the most humble Citizen lives a better life than me.”
“Maybe, but my point stands. New Pegasus is out of the question.”
“What are we looking for, exactly?” I asked.
“Somepony not affiliated to any of the gangs. Preferably wealthy or charismatic. Also, he would have to be young and capable of breeding. Also, being handsome is a plus.”
“All things considered, I must say I am totally out of ideas.” I shrugged.
“Me too.” Metronome looked at Dee.
“Then all this plan will have to be postponed, I’m afraid.”
We turned to our plates, as our idea for taking over Freedom Field had suffered a sudden stop. The gecko steak was, indeed, a tasty meal, with a strong flavour and a spicy aftertaste. However, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I would have enjoyed it if our plan had been successful.
“Farsight...” Dee said. I looked up to see her in the eyes.
“We’ll keep looking for somepony suitable for me. In the meantime, I free you of your commitments to us. You could return to the NER and tell them the current situation, but I believe that we agree on thinking that it’s better to wait until we’re ready to sign the treaty.”
“It is the best idea, indeed. I’ll pull some strings myself to help you in the search.”
“No, Farsight. This time, you’re out of the game. As you said, you attract too much attention from the rest of the gangs. If Goldie knows you’re messing around, she’ll see through all our scheme, and I am NOT going to let this happen. And before you say anything, this is not negotiable.”
“I see.” I kept eating in silence.
This was a de facto banishment from Freedom Field, coming from Dee herself. I was rather worried about our future, but first I would have to speak with Nadyr and Rose about it. Maybe they would have thought something out in case we had to hit the road.
*** *** ***
After lunch, I returned to the Trader Plaza, hoping to meet Rose and Nadyr at the stand. I walked with a rather fast pace, not because I was in a hurry, but because my mind and my body had a tendency to act together. Therefore, since my mind was at full activity, my body was acting hastily as well.
When I arrived at the stand, I found to my surprise that it was empty, and that none of my companions was nowhere to be found. With haste, I started looking for them in the market, asking the vendors for the filly and the half-zebra. Such a pair couldn’t have gone unnoticed. However, it seemed it had been a very busy day, since nopony had seen them in the whole morning.
I returned to the stand. Maybe they had left to find more goods, and if that was the case, they would return to Trader Plaza sooner or later. However, if they didn’t return quickly, I would have to widen the search and look for them in the whole Freedom Field, which wasn’t easy at all. My only relief was that Nadyr and Rose were together, which turned them into a well-armed couple.
“Farsight!” I heard somepony call. When I turned around, I found myself facing Sunberry.
“Hi, Sunberry. How are you?”
“I’m fine. Thanks for asking. What are you doing here?”
“I’m looking for Rose and Nadyr, the half-zebra that must have come here earlier.”
“Oh, yes, I know who you mean. They won’t come back.”
“What do you mean, they won’t come back?”
“They told me they’d run out of supplies and left their booth for the day. I suppose they’ve gone home, wherever that is.”
I darted out of Trader Plaza, headed for the Music School. If Rose had returned home, she had to be in her room. I galloped down the streets of Freedom Field, trying to reach my target as soon as possible, in order to plan my next move with the help of my companions. The door of the Music Hall was open wide when I buzzed past it, and the stairs trembled under my hooves like a quick drumroll. I lowered my pace when getting close to my room, and opened the door of the one next to it. Rose was lying on the bed, looking at the ceiling with a bored expression, while Nadyr sat by the window.
“Farsight!” Rose jumped from the bed and ran to me, wrapping me in a tight hug.
“Hello, Rose.” I hugged her back. “Sunberry told me you had left the market. What is wrong?”
“Well, we have got bad news. We’re running out of places to loot.”
“Come on, are you kidding me?”
“No, Farsight.” Nadyr moved from his place near the window. “Rose has a natural talent for scavenging. In a nutshell, we’re doing too good. If we keep at this rate, we’ll soon run out of items to sell, so I’ve suggested that we take the teleporter and go on a scavenging trip.”
“How convenient. I hate to break this up to you, but we might have to leave Freedom Field soon.”
“What happened?” Rose emitted a high-pitched squeak of angst.
“It’s a long story, but I’ll fill you in.”
I started briefing both Nadyr and Rose about the meeting I had had with Metronome and Dee, explaining them the conditions of the treaty I had signed with the NER. Rose listened carefully, and nodded softly every now and then, trying to show us clearly that she was getting the hang of the conversation. Nadyr, meanwhile, looked at me with a worried face. Then, I told them about the marriage plan Metronome had woven, what caused the half-zebra to smirk and Rose to open her muzzle in surprise.
“Dee is going to marry somepony?” Rose asked.
“Yes, but they have to find somepony fitting. In the meantime, they don’t want us meddling around, since they fear Goldie might know I have something to do about it. In a nutshell, they want us to leave Freedom Field for a while.”
“Then this is the best time to exploit my discovery.” Nadyr said.
“You mean the teleporter?”
“Of course. Think about it. Rose is in a dire need of finding new wares to sell, whereas you need to disappear for a while. I suggest we tackle both problems at once by heading to Neighorleans.”
“Hmmm...” I looked at the floor, meditating about Nadyr’s offer. He did have a point. “Rose, what do you think?”
“Well, Nadyr is right. I need to find more stuff or I’ll have to stop selling. I say we go.”
I looked at Rose, and then switched to Nadyr, who looked at me with eager eyes.
“What do you say, Farsight? To Neighorleans?”
“Fine. To Neighorleans.”
Note: Reputation change
Stringers: Partially banished. This faction has kindly asked you to leave for a while, until things clear up. If you disobey, they might not be all that kind the next time.
END OF ACT II