• Published 20th Nov 2013
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FoE: Snippet Story - Windrunner

Set at various points in the Fallout: Equestria universe. Each chapter is intended to be a unique story unto itself. So many references, both ludicrously obscure and blatantly obvious. Even the title. No, not that. You will never figure them all out.

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Cold Storage


'And every time we touch the closer we become

So while the heavens sunder, I do sit and wonder

Wherever do we go from here?' -


Dead and dying ponies and zebra, even some griffons and dragons alike lay strewn across the battlefield this day. This horrific, terrifying day. His heart pounding harder and harder, faster. Looking out over this mass grave. It could now be described as nothing else. The carnage was so over the top it was not possible to deal with. Firing, screaming, crying on the wind of the living and dying alike from both sides ringing in his ears. No more. Make it stop. This must stop. The stench of charred flesh, pools of blood and gore soaking the ground around him. Somepony make it stop. As far as could be seen, the fighting was ceaseless. The young lieutenant shook. Rows upon rows of wounded lay behind. Stop it.

They could not lose this line. If they were pushed back any further by the merciless zebra horde at this moment, the remainder of the force would be destroyed entirely. There were so few of them left able to even stand. His head hurt so bad from the still bleeding gash across his brow. Stop. So angry. Nearly his entire company was bedraggled and barely able to fight on any longer. His friends slaughtered. Some right in front of his very eyes. So much blood. It hurts. How long? What day was this? It never stopped. It just would not stop. It would never stop. Why do they keep fighting? It must end! It must! Whatever it takes.

"Captain?" He startled from this tremulous terrible memory to find himself standing and staring at a mechanical console. He felt, and was, a lifetime older now. He blinked a couple times as it resolved clearly. A strangely designed pony construct was conversing with him. Perhaps it was good he'd been startled out of such thoughts and recollections. They still hurt very badly, even here and now. Far away from the chaos of battle. Even after all this time. What happened, when he...

"Yes? All set?" The Captain inquired. This was going to fix it. This was going to make it all right again. Everything. Surely, this would put an end to all the horror and injustice he'd witnessed during the war so far.

"Captain, I must once again strongly recommend against this. The princess likely forbade this line of research for good reason. My internal data suggests it is not ready for deployment. I must also stress that utilizing an unofficial spark reactor may have unforeseeable consequences." An auton with an entirely disconcerting voice stated.

"It is probable neither of them even remember any of this. If we can make this work, the war essentially ends tomorrow. It would give us such a huge tactical advantage on the ground it would be over inside a week. Continue." The Captain was blunt in his mannerisms and actions.

"Declaration: Unit disagrees. Engaging safety conduit overrides. Provisional power converters cycling up. Generator is steady. Awaiting E.T.S. test go ahead. Confirm, Captain?" the Equioid model-20/40 stated as its head tilted to and fro on an odd triaxial neck consisting of three short pillar-like structures attached to a squat, somewhat rounded equine shaped body. The voice held a strange triple-note quality that was difficult to quantify or become familiar with. A marvel of modern technology, the auton so far functioned and performed flawlessly in the research capacity it was assigned.

Occasionally it's head would disconcertingly turn entirely around or spin to face upside down, focusing its attention anywhere or in on test materials using one of the three varied length shafts which served as its eyes upon a vaguely ball-shaped head. So far it proved to be a great boon for the scientific team stationed here. The project itself did not get much attention, but was funded well enough. Up until the last incident. One which attracted the attention of the royal sisters themselves. It took a long time, but the Captain got it all moved here. Far out of sight, and mind. He gave the go ahead and the auton blipped, pushing a button.

Power streamed into the experiment chamber before them, behind a thick regenerative glass window. At first all seemed well. This was good. How quickly it went wrong in that instant. Anyone that has found themselves in a dangerous situation knows how fast this kind of thing happens. A warning alarm sounded from the console as something fizzled in one of the experiment rooms main panels, causing a shower of sparks to be thrown off a gated platform behind the safety glass chiseled into the rock to separate the rooms, the small scientific staff jumped away from their stations.

Emergency lights flickered on and spun as empowered flames shot from the numerous power shunts lining the rock and steel walls into the huge enclosed chamber, knocking over a desk radio which powered on to the base internal amusement channel with a voice saying:

"Only 175 days left! Can our intrepid space explorers succeed? Find out on the next exciting episode of the Star Grazers radio pl.." The voice abruptly ceased as the internal entertainment radio went off-air, the attached wire burnt. The sound gurgled and disturbingly cut off as it melted. An acrid smell permeated the air as the smoke spread rapidly.

Burning equipment along with frying wires sizzled and popped. In a mere moment this place found itself shrouded in sheer bedlam. Something let out a terrific grinding, cracking sound in the experiment chamber then died out. During all this the research team was trying to regain control of the equipment, now operating dangerously. A secondary alarm began sounding in the immediate area. One piece of scientific apparatus quickly engulfed itself completely in flames. It was already spreading quickly across the various pieces of equipment, almost leaping. The fire got so intense so rapidly that none could have reacted to it immediately.

"Cut the power!" Their Captain was yelling as a weird dull thudding sound made itself known from somewhere far off, indeterminate. The various research personnel tried to shut off the machines they could reach. One of them hammered on the controls of the main consoles.

"I..I can't shut down the experiment rig. A cascading power surge is somehow feeding back from the main generator through the backup connections. Calls to both control and gen rooms are not being answered or getting through the intercom system. We cannot reach the power override controls from in here!' The staff were doing their best to contend with the fires and broken equipment.

Why wasn't the power room responding to calls to shut down the machinery? Could they have been attacked? It was unlikely, hidden as they were in this place. A quick flicker of the overhead lights lent an air of further urgency to the moment. A quivering stuttering noise blared from the distant P.A. system and quickly silenced. Was somepony trying to announce something? There was no time to care about what that might have been.

"Pipe down. 20/40, extinguish the fires." The extraordinarily handsome light brown-coated earth pony stallion with deep, oddly reflective magenta eyes ordered.

As a Captain it was required, but even so he was a very cool and collected customer. They'd never seen him angered or upset in any way by just about anything, save once. The robotic oddity blipped and headed towards a side wall panel that allowed a large rack to rapidly slide out around it, filled with a preponderance of tools and utilities. Odd mechanical spidery looking arms quickly outkitted the Equioid unit with firefighting accessories. They'd thought of everything. The lengthy rack retracted into the rock wall and closed to protect the contents. 20/40 roamed the room making short work of the numerous small blazes. The fires were put out in no time at all. The science team sighed in relief as the last of the flames died down.

Some damage to the experiment control panels was one thing, but a fire raging out of control in a confined space like this would be a very bad thing. Unlike the rest of the place this area was behind an airtight bulkhead and a cleanroom to facilitate the experiments being performed here. Every pony entering or leaving underwent decontamination spraying. While 20/40 went about fulfilling its orders and putting out the last of the smoking consoles an odd crackling noise filtered through the area as what looked like a little black orb with sparks flying off it in all directions formed midair above them and shot into the far wall.

It wobbled in and out of existence as it spun with what looked like tiny stars within it, then vanished completely as it shattered against the rock. Even the auton halted for a second to twirl its head towards it. It was gone too fast for the unit to make any kind of useful analysis.

"What in the hay was that!?" Somepony yelped. Everyone else was shaking their heads in confusion. Did that have something to do with the experiment chamber fritzing? None of them knew an answer to this question. They were confused by all this, almost dazed.

The mere presence of the odd orb somehow left them all feeling a little sickly for a short period. Whatever it was disappeared as quickly as it arrived. What could all that possibly have been? No time to figure that out right now. The first order of business was to get out of this confined space and determine their current situation. Very few were privy to the exact location of this particular room or what it held. 20/40 was actually tasked with initially constructing it. In all only those present right now knew where it was. If they had been unable to bring the flames under control so quickly they may all have died right here or been trapped for possibly hours or more before even a single other pony would think anything to be wrong and come looking.

Now that the room itself was under control they all chose to ditch the lab coats which they'd all been wearing. The coats were minorly resistant to a large array of things, but would only hold up against certain things for any extended period of time. A true hazmat suit hung just outside the currently malfunctioning door. Left there under the expectation it would not be needed today. After all, this was only supposed to be a shielded test run of the experiment. Something clearly went off the rails somewhere. The main exit door was air-sealed and powered by the secret facility generator. It constantly slammed open and closed as energy pulsed through it.

"20/40, ignore everything else and get that door locked into an open position." His further orders were quickly followed as it stepped in front of the extension rack again to be outkitted with torches and wiring manipulation tools while the firefighting apparatus was removed. The rack retracted once again to seal itself in its secure vault in the rock wall. The Equioid went to work. Swiftly and deftly it cut open panels and rewired the door mechanism. The door slid open and stopped with a solid whoosh and thunking sound.

"Good work, 20/40." It thanked the Captain for the words, asking for further orders.

It was always surprising to hear it remark pleasantries. Otherwise this situation was grim. They did not know what was happening in the generator room located a few floors below. The Captain pushed the intercom switch.

"Power room. You have to shut down the generator at all costs, report!" He yelled into the comms panel. A horrible hissing response which sounded like crackling and sizzling was what met his ears and an entirely eerie whisper which sounded for all the world like a pony begging. It was impossible to tell if he'd really heard that through the fritzing panel. He blinked. This suddenly felt all wrong somehow. What was this feeling? It was foreign to him.

"All of you, weapons at the ready. We may be under siege. We must all make our way to either the control room or the generator room. You three with me. You three go for the genny. Do not use the lifts as the power is questionable. Shut it down, whatever you have to do make it happen. Exercise extreme caution." His orders were clear. They all responded with a resounding "Sir!" and salute. They were all scientists, but soldiers first. An unnoticed thing happened during this confusion, a strange quick burst of shadowy light seemed to flash from the gated platform then ceased.

"I don't like this. There are at least three guards stationed down there, and at least two on the levels above us along with other personnel throughout. None have reported in after the alarm and no one else is responding." He informed the others and turned to the auton while the first squad rushed out to make their way down towards the apparently out of control generator.

"20/40, outfit for possible heavy combat operations, include full clips of magic inhibitor rounds. All the ammo you can carry." It beeped at his words, whirring as the rack extended at its behest once more.

The sides of this robotic marvel slid open to receive ammunition packs as scientific equipment was removed to be replaced by targeting and combat apparatus. A softly glowing cylindrical object could just be made out inside. The sides closed and locked shut while three large caliber weapons were bolted onto its squat frame in various places.

"Sir, I must remind this unit is not a combat model." It said. Now the Equioid presented as much less friendly in appearance, a machine ready for war. It carried a 10mm conventional rotary cannon on the right side, the left a grenade launcher below, and an A.D.F. generator line stack geared to its unique systems.

Two vents along its back now emitted a fair amount of continuous heat almost hot enough to be seen, with yellow warning labels along the undersides with stark lettering stating 'EXTREMELY HOT'. Its head and neck pillars spun to face the Captain.

"Verbal warning: Unicorns not to touch unit at any time during combat operations. Serious energetics backlash may occur. Stand well clear of weapon ejection ports. Orders?" The trinote voice was not something one could ever quite get used to.

"Mission priority is to escort me and my squad to the control room, secondary is to shut down or disable the generator. Determine enemy disposition if possible en route. Engage targets only if necessary in a defensive manner." The Captain was always a levelheaded and cool customer, much like the auton to which he was now giving orders. The three pony squad formed up behind their Captain and the unusual auton. These three knew him and his demeanor well. Through battle after battle they'd stood by him, and each knew what terror and horrors they may face if their enemies were truly here. They joked with him, sometimes even argued with him, but they always obeyed his orders because they knew.

They knew, after the last time. Their much celebrated Captain would get them home alive, as he would now, or he would not allow himself to make it back either. He'd seen enough of the front lines. Too respected to be dismissed outright from duty and unable to face it any longer, he found himself given a smaller role in the background of things. How he wound up in this place. They followed him here willingly, choosing to forgo frontline combat in hopes of finding something more useful through scientific pursuit.

"Captain, must that thing come with us? It kind of creeps us all out as it is." A rather gaunt looking unicorn whom they all called Burner remarked. He had an unhealthy obsession with incinerating things, on purpose or not. Before he could respond, the auton interrupted.

"I apologize if my outward appearance is disconcerting. I did not have a role in my own design." The soldier felt uncomfortable, and like he'd been rebuked in some way by these words. Close quarters are never a good place to fight in or through. This place, however, was rather cavernous for reasons not yet disclosed to any.

The Captain held grand plans for this dismal place far out of sight and nearly forgotten. They stepped out through the now useless cleanroom. A strange sense of foreboding seemed to cling to the air down in this place. The size was nearly palatial in scope. To most it looked simply like a bunch of oddly wide tunnels forced through the rock, and far more than tall enough for ponies to easily traverse. There was a lot of metal available as flooring and used as such. Drilling down this far took a long time and much planning. Metal and gem ore to mine were the two things not in short supply in Equestria anymore.

One of the security checkpoints lay down the opposite end of this particular very long hallway, lined by several oversize lifts intended for heavy loads. Closer scrutiny of the station did not increase confidence. Bullet casings lay scattered across the entire area. There was no sign of the security services patrol guard. To keep this place more a secret, few regulars were called in for guard duty. His weapon lay on the ground, amidst several entirely spent magazines. There seemed little to no indication of what actually went on here. They'd heard nothing, but they were otherwise occupied when the experiment went awry.

"20/40, area assessment?" The Captain ordered. This strange machine was nearly silent as it moved, a disquieting thing in itself. After a moment it spoke in that somewhat creepy tone as its head twisted and turned to and fro.

"Observation: Threat indeterminate. Firing pattern indicates multiple hostiles engaged from improbable directions. Conclusion: Extreme danger. Advise: summon reinforcements as soon as possible. Note: There is no blood in the vicinity." It ceased speaking and its head spun upwards to stop in a slight bounce. The group all looked up to quickly reach the eerie realization there were bullets embedded in the rock above as well. Why would he be firing upwards?

The guard could very well still be alive somewhere, but did he even hit anything during the fight? What could possibly have happened? The guards assigned here were not the sort to miss their targets or fire wildly.

"Hey, anypony notice we didn't hear anything? That kind of noise should have echoed through this whole place no matter how far away it was, right?" Said one of the squad, speaking around the bit-catch firing mechanism of his weapon, it dangled just enough to allow him to speak and lent a muffled quality to his voice that might even have been amusing if the situation were otherwise.

"Alright, I don't like it either. Keep it together, boys. We've been here before. Our enemies are brutal, clever buggers that use any possible dirty trick you can't think of. This is probably just more of the same. Keep moving and your eyes peeled. We all know what walking into one of their ambushes is like. We make a beeline for the control room, no matter what." He spoke, cool as ever. Only that one time did they ever see him otherwise.

"20/40, can you get any kind of radio signal down here at all? The hardwired intercoms are not operable with the genny going crazy." The Captain always remained so calm one might question his sanity if they did not know him very well.

"Surrounding rock massively cuts range, cycling frequencies." The auton whirred and continued to spin its head about at any odd angle. It turned on its own internal radio followed by a blip and static issued from what served as its mouth, punctuated by odd bits of scattered echoing that almost sounded like voices that were just too vague to make out. The squad listened intently as it clattered.

"One signal detected. Faint. Switching to internal comms. This is 20/40, science attache unit actual. Any receiving ponies respond." It stated.

A single very strained sounding voice barely registered in return through the mess of hissing and crackling.

"Specialist Fire Brand here!.... T...... corridor 6-C.. that you, Buck? Thank heavens, we've got........ s....Breaking up... N... support.. Get us out of here!.. They're....... Now....... What in.." A loud bursting crackle followed by constant silence was all that followed.

"Specialist Fire Brand, if you are receiving, a support squad is already en route. If you can hear this, hunker down if possible and fortify your position. Acknowledge?" The Captain told the auton to relay the message.

There was no further response.

"Signal interference rapidly increasing. Possible jamming present." The auton continued forward towards the circular stairs carved through the rock, leading up to the next level. The squad followed, feeling something amiss the whole time. Like the very air were about to attack them. It just did not feel right. All soldiers with any time spent in the field where they might be dropped at any second quickly come to know, when this feeling is present, trust it. The nature of their enemy unknown, they made pace towards the next set of stairs.

The weird layout of this place always seemed off, but the Captain assured them since arriving here there was a good reason for it that he never quite revealed.

"Without the lifts, sec-station two is a hard walk ahead. We cannot afford to lose this facility to the enemy even for a moment. Keep moving." The Captain said as they emerged into what was a nearly identical layout as the floor below. The squad fell in behind the strange auton on this level. The walk was indeed long, using the lifts would cut the time in half. This could not be done with the generator acting as it was.

They could very well take a lift and become trapped between floors.

"It's too bad we don't have any spark batteries left. It would make short work of safely going up or down." The pony following farthest behind mentioned. Unfortunately the entire supply was tied into the malfunctioning experiment consoles as backup and support power, they all burst when the generator surged so strangely. Looking down the large hallway lit occasionally by ensconced lamps and tracks, the third squad member stopped.

"Halt!" He yipped and raised his weapon. The others stopped and looked on in confusion. Nothing was there.

"What are you on about, Grevist?" The Captain asked.

"I know I saw something there. I know I did." Grevist shook his head.

"Don't get cross-eyed now. We didn't see anything. You aren't getting funny in the head on us, are you? Enough ponies have gone mad throughout this miserable war already without you joining them." High Stepper chimed in. As with most of those now in military service, he was a pony in very good physical shape. A comely, slick looking partygoer, popular with the mares before being drawn into the thick of things like many of them were.

He still held his fun-loving attitude despite things. It did usually help to keep their spirits up.

"Can it, Stepper. Nopony is going insane on my watch, but you might want to slow up and look ahead." The Captain motioned forward as they finally approached sec-station two. This place was huge. They'd been walking for a near half hour at pace to get here. Déjà vu. The auton, remaining silent until now, spoke.

"Captain." Before it could say more he bid it stop.

"I know. This is looking bad, boys." They all looked around the station, it was an exact repeat of whatever happened below.

How could their enemies have moved this far and fast down here, anyway? It was too quick. Impossibly so. The guards never reported anything amiss. Their very first reaction would have been to raise the intruder alarm. Surely they could not have all been taken completely unaware? The auton steadily walked on. It would follow the orders given it implicitly until completed or it was destroyed. Now, the further they trot upwards within this dim place, the more it felt as if eyes unseen were following. Another staircase hewn through the rock, not generally intended to be used at all unless a lift or two needed service. These makeshift staircases were so far apart.

"One more level to the control room. Perhaps we can finally find out what madness is going on from there. 20/40, Attempt to make radio contact with control every 5 minutes." The Captain was a truly cool-headed individual most of the time. This appeared no different, his speech airy and confident.

"Understood. Interference still present. Chances of contact before arrival: 26.7%" Its silent steps seemed unusual. It was designed to be quiet and normally unintimidating. Bearing the weapons it did right now, though.. It was a beastly construct. Something which could easily dish out immense amounts of damage if called upon to do so.

"Say, 20/40, have you ever actually been in a fight?" The smallest member of the squad inquired. Its head spun around backwards to address him as it continued walking forwards. Okay, that was just a bit creepy.

"Unit was given extensive field and combat testing by Equestrian Innovations Spark Sciences Division during defense campaign Vanh..redacted. Negative, unit has not engaged in active combat." Its head spun back around and the auton continued walking. What?

"Come on, you bucket of bolts. Have you or have you not shot at a zebra before?" Stepper was asking now.

"Unit designation 20/40, unable to comply with information request." Was its only response. What in the world?

"Captain, what's with this..uh, guy, all of a sudden? Seemed more than talkative enough all the time before." They all were curious now.

"20/40, command authorization 1404ghx blue. Answer the question." The Captain was unsure what this was either. It issued an odd string of beeping and blips none ever heard before as they continued to trot towards the command room.

"Command authority of..Nudgers, Buck. Accepted. Response: Information Classified." It almost seemed 20/40 was purposely avoiding answering.

"20/40, explain. I am the commanding officer present." Buck ordered.

"Information request denied. Warning: Further attempts to access information will result in command authority termination." Its trinote voice almost seemed to hold an air of desperation. That could not be.

"Whoa there, 20/40. It was just a question. Forget it. Continue on-mission." The squad and the Captain exchanged concerned glances. What was that all about? Being denied information this basic seemed at odds with his rank and position here. Why would a science assistant auton have been instructed to withhold something so simple? It made little sense.

The question was ridiculously simplistic. He would have to ask command what was going on when possible. Right now it was far more important to determine their actual situation. That bad feeling was not lifting. If anything it was getting worse. The sheer wrong feeling was becoming overwhelming. This was not right. Some unseen presence felt at every step. The place was well lit from overhead tracks of long enhanced stretches of lighting. Even without external power the specialized magi-light tracks lining the rock and steel ceilings could run for nearly ten years unattended. He made sure this place was well-equipped. Even at a brisk pace, It would take at least another half hour to reach the control room.

The long walk felt more and more like it was getting harder and more stressing.

"Sir, is it just me or is it getting difficult to keep moving forward? I don't feel right." The entire squad agreed. They all were starting to feel fearful and hemmed in. As impossible as it was, like many eyes were upon them. The Captain snapped at them.

"Get it together!" he yelled quite loudly, making them all jump. That brought them back from whatever that was.

"Captain, wh.." High Stepper went to ask, he did not get the chance to finish as 20/40 interrupted him.

"Sensory inputs detecting numerous apparent life signatures approaching at unusual speed. Hostile intent probable." The powerful cannon mounted on it began to spin up in preparation. The overhead lights lining the hallways dimmed and flickered in and out. The generator was still out of control. It should not be affecting the lights this way, though. The other squad should have been there by now.

"Where are they? How close and how many, 20/40?" the Captain asked.

"Unknown. Off-scale. Everywhere." It replied, its head twisting about. Everywhere? Off-scale? What did it mean by that?

The other member of the squad, a usually reserved and quiet individual interjected.

"Incoming!" They all hit the floor, ready to fire as something flitted towards them far down the long and wide hallway beneath flicking lights. 20/40 spun and tilted its head forwards, targeting as it began firing down the hall, unleashing a veritable hailstorm of bullets. a pile of spent shell casings was already getting higher beside it. All over the hall. Everywhere. It meant what it said. Multitudinous shadows of things were approaching their position. They barely seemed to register to the eyes.

"I think we're about to walk into a world of hurt, boys. Weapons free. Light it up." Their Captain ordered. They were fast and many. No pony or zebra could move like that. In fact, nothing could move like that. Nothing, should, move like that. As the wave of things got closer they could just occasionally make out they looked like fairly large, grey, featureless slugs. They were incredibly fast and much too large. Were these what took out the guard stations? What about everypony else? They'd encountered nopony else at all.

"What is this!?" Stepper cried out and the entire squad opened up with their weapons, adding to the autons already awesome firepower.

Whenever one of the things died it simply disintegrated, leaving almost no trace but a dissolute powder almost indistinguishable from the floor or walls. The magic inhibitor rounds were doing much more damage on impact. Were these things magical in some way? Despite the veritable hurricane of rounds and the research autons incredible accuracy with the heavy automatic cannon, the wave of disgusting creatures was getting closer rapidly, like some sickening undulating tide.

"Recommendations: Fall back to sec-station two. Seek possible survivors on lower levels. Hold out for reinforcement." The auton stated coldly. There were few other plausible courses of action.

The Captain agreed and motioned them all to move. Despite the large dent in their numbers, these things just kept coming from somewhere. Over half of the autons ammo packs were already spent and even more of the squads magazines. Keeping this up was not an option. Quite soon the approaching wave of slug-like creatures would be upon them. They certainly did not move like slugs, they were much too fast. 20/40 was not following.

"What are you doing? Come on, robot." To his surprise the auton did not move at his order.

"This is the third time you have suggested it, but we cannot summon reinforcements here or they might discover our true purpose. This place is mostly a secret. You know that. Get moving." He demanded.

"Declaration: Negative. Creatures heavily repelled by inhibitor rounds. Expectation: A.D.F. line stack generator will keep them at bay. Unit will secure control room and summon reinforcements as per priority." It was insistent, continuing to fire sporadically while speaking. Keeping the closest of the things from reaching them. Was it ignoring him?

"What should we do then?" the Captain shouted to inquire of the auton.

"Additional: Obtain M.A. flamethrowers from sub-level armory stock." it advised.

"Use augmented flamethrowers, down here!? Have you gone haywire or something?" He turned to leave as he questioned it, really thinking the equioid unit may have gone crazy. The things were getting too close already. There was no choice but to move.

"Physical contact with unknown entities not recommended. Unknown result. Projectile weaponry insufficient for defense of organics." 20/40 spoke and strode forward, towards the surging tide of creatures as the squad retreated.

The last he saw of the fearless auton, the strange things were engulfing the area around and spreading outward as it pushed on towards the control room right through them. It seemed to be correct about the magic deterrent field it was generating pushing them away. How did that thing work anyway? For that matter, how did those magic inhibitor rounds work? The Captain never found anypony that could actually explain either of those things, only offering assurances that they did, indeed, work. Much of the equipment housed here was so very new. So new in fact, they were the only ones yet produced. This looked to be correct. The auton was probably safe. Even if it was not, it was just a machine.

Still, it somehow felt wrong leaving it to face the unknown alone. They'd been working underground here together for over a year and a half, it felt like he was abandoning it. Shaking off the thought, he hurriedly caught up with the others retreating towards the security station.

"Sir, did you see?" One of them muttered as they retreated.

"See what?" He grumbled. Now what? Was this getting even worse?

"Those, things..are coming right out of the freakin' walls!" Oh no. The Captain grimaced, they didn't notice.

They were all panting and moving as quickly as possible away from whatever was behind. Were they even still coming? One thing instilled in them by training, unless without choice you never look back. It only slows you down.

"One of..whatever they are, jumped at Stepper and just like..disappeared into the floor? Almost missed it. What if it touched him? What's going on here, Captain?" Grevist was almost shivering as he spoke. The Captain never heard that kind of fear in any of their voices before. Not even..

"What have I done..." The Captain muttered to himself very quietly.

"What was that, sir?" Grevist huffed, they were all keeping up a stiff and fast pace. If the creatures were really able to move directly through solid matter, would they even be able to defend themselves in any way? Maybe they only saw wrong, or misinterpreted during the fight.

"Nothing. Before I left 20/40 suggested we obtain M.A. flamethrowers, and I don't want to hear it from any of you. You know he's correct. They're tremendously dangerous in confined spaces. But if that thing literally burned through the ground, or whatever it did, then we cannot afford to let even one get close to us again. Got it?" He slowed up as they neared the sec-station once again. It was just as eerie and creepy as the first time they passed the abandoned post.

Where did everypony go? They could not possibly all be dead? There were at least twenty or more support staff here at any one time, along with the guards and private security services. Just few enough ponies knew about this place to be able to reasonably keep its existence quiet, if not entirely unknown. To most it was essentially just a small listening and storage post. All but the science team and a few trusted others knew how deep it really went or its true size. Rarely used for much and barely of note even as a stopping off point. The Captain held much different plans for it. Once this was straightened out he would get them right back to work. He'd put too much effort into this to let it fall or fail. This was strange timing.

Could they really have been found, and could a force sizable enough to seize it actually have pushed this far into pony-held territory without being challenged or noticed? The more he thought about this the less sense it made. No zebra could know about this place. Even finding it would require accurate knowledge of the terrain no matter what direction they came from. Knowledge they absolutely could not possess. The unthinkable may already have happened in this all out war, but this? He shook his head. Lacking information could easily get them all killed. Hopefully 20/40 would be able to reach the control room and assist the staff there. If they were still alive.

If not, at least it might be able to call for help or determine a better course of action. They should focus on going downwards now. Maybe they could meet up with the other squad and the gen room engineers. The four power generation engineers he'd chosen himself. Going so far as to provide their salary out of his own pocket. Unlike many of the soldiers, he was actually heir to a small fortunes worth of bits even before the war. There were reasons for joining up, but he'd never really shared what those reasons were. He looked over to his loyal companions, his friends. They were looking worn already, never really having expected to wind up in active combat again.

"Listen up, guys." He intoned. They were all sort of pacing as they tried to determine some way to defend from the sec-station and looked to him, their trusted leader. It was squarely his responsibility to do right by them.

"I think we need to be completely honest here. 20/40 is definitely right about one thing, those..things are dangerous. We don't even know just how much so. They may even have killed everypony else here already. So I am putting this on the table. I am giving all of you leave to make a break for it and get out of here via the alt exit past the main control room. I would not hold it against any of you. Well?" He finished and looked each of them in the eyes squarely.

They looked stunned by his words. A moment later Grevist spoke up.

"Well, we appreciate your candor, Captain. But, I think we're gonna have to decline. No way would I let you face this alone, so pardon me but.. screw you, uh, sir." It was silent for a few awkward seconds and the squad all laughed. The Captain sighed and gave a vague short smile.

"Alright alright. Can't say I didn't give you the option to hightail it out of here. I don't think we can truly defend this station, 20/40 was giving options without having seen whatever it was you saw. We will go looking for the squad I sent to the gen room or other surviving ponies. Since you're so brave, Grevist, you get point." He waved a hoof back the way they'd come earlier. They were in for another very long hike.

As they walked the Captain thought about his plans for the mine. It was possible they were all about to be undone, especially if anypony chose to take a more thorough look around once reinforcements arrived. If 20/40 even managed to call for any. If he was discovered to have been performing experiments that both the royal sisters forbade, it would all be over. The great grand plan he'd agonized over in an effort to put an outright end to the war would no longer be possible if they knew what he was up to. He might even be imprisoned. The others couldn't see it, but he was holding back tears. All he wanted to do was stop the senseless killing on both sides, even if that meant taking desperate action. Surely what he was doing could be justified? The only intent was to put an end to the war.

His heart sank as it filtered into his head that now these plans might all have been for naught. It would be far preferable to take care of this situation without outside assistance if at all possible. If 20/40 was correct about the seriousness of the threat, there was no chance of that.

"If it comes to it, I will assume all responsibility for this. None of you deserve to be dragged down with me. I will tell them I coerced each of you into performing the experiments. They can do whatever they want with me, but I will not have them ruin your reputations as well. You are all excellent scientists and soldiers. All of you, promise you will not protest." The Captain kept them all moving as he got their cautious responses.

Clearly none of them wanted him to face any potential punishment alone. They begrudgingly agreed and promised. Good. Before the war even started they'd all been part of a small research contingent, amongst others who were now long gone. It was never anything too serious at the time, certainly never anything approaching the importance of this. They did not follow each other into joining the forming military. It just happened that way. He could vividly recall some of the other old faces, fallen ponies he would never see again. Who were the royals to even say what they should or should not be doing?

None of them seemed to have any real plan to bring the hostilities to an end, and anything they did do only appeared to make things worse still. They were the ones who ordered the creation of a true army in the first place. How dare they hold back so much when there was death all around? He could feel himself starting to seethe with anger and put it out of his head, it might be misplaced anyway. What did the royals really know of war? They may have quarreled once in the distant past, and perhaps oversaw one or two minor fights before or since, but nothing like this. Despite their age the two sisters sometimes seemed to know very little about the world around them.

Perhaps it was caution, or maybe it was something else. He shook his head, needing to focus right now. It took so very long to hoof it through here without the lifts. It could be risked to take them, but being trapped on a small platform was not a possibility to be relished. Could this really be some kind of zebra assault? It did not fit with their usual pattern. It was true they did horrible things, but this? They were crafty and outright dangerous. Surely they would never resort to something this outlandish? It didn't sit right, whatever the case. Finally back where they started. What a waste of time and effort it was heading up there. They could not have known what was waiting of course. Now to head downwards even further.

This was an appalling situation. They were all mostly quiet during the walk. What could they really say? It felt so harsh. All the other ponies here might already be lying dead. What could possess such apparent evil to avail itself here and now? The fight on open battlefields at more or less equal odds was one thing, this was entirely different. As it stood, this place was just an abandoned mine of one sort or another that ran dry many moons ago. The previous owners couldn't be found so it was just given to him to keep him busy really. Command held no idea they'd given him exactly what he needed in actuality. The war, ever more pressing, allowed memories to quickly become faded over that one little incident.

Nopony even got hurt. The royalty jumped on him over it for some reason. Said it was unsafe. Never did explain why. Might have been by choice. Maybe they didn't know what they were talking about. Merely forbid further experiments on it, but it would be so useful. It would end the war, just like that. No mess, no fuss. No stopping it. Very rarely could things be claimed so simple. Were the sisters really that afraid of a little science experiment? Couldn't be. Definitely not the younger of the two. Why would she agree? It was no secret that Luna would do nearabouts anything by now to claim victory over the aggressors.

Ponies did aggravate the situation at one point, but to take the war to the level the zebra were pushing towards these days. Insanity. Could they really mostly be crazy? An entire race that bent out of shape over a few misunderstandings and accidental slights? Was it some kind of collective debilitating mental disease that drove them to fight like mad? Maybe they would never find out. Perhaps it was best they didn't figure out the why. Better keep the squads minds on the fight.

"Say, I know this is random and all, but since we've still a ways to go before reaching the sub-level intersection. Is it just me, or was every zebra we ever fought against over the years literally insane, like unreasonably so for soldiers? I get they were pumped and psyched for a fight just like us, but do you see what I'm saying?" The Captain was asking a serious question as the odd thought occurred to him that every single battle he'd ever been in, well, they all had that look in their eyes. That one chilling look. They all knew it well enough. Too well. In the early days of the war little action really took place, but as it dragged on and became more ferocious. That look on their opponents faces became the same taught, cold malevolent stare.

For the longest time it just seemed they were getting worn, as both sides were. Maybe there was something more to it. Maybe he was just imagining things.

"Captain, are you saying there are zebra out there that aren't crazy? Sure pulled the wool over my eyes then. Call me a foal, but that is a load." Grevist interjected. They all sort of snickered.

"I get what you're trying to say, sir. Look at it this way, when this all started they must have thought they'd win easily and treated us like a bad joke. They might even have been correct. Yet, here we are fighting to a practical standstill. Something is sure driving them hard since then, no doubts about that." Stepper threw in their two bits. Burner chimed in.

"Seriously, who cares by now? If we have to plow through every last one of them then that's what we will have to do." It was a heavy statement. He was right. What did it really matter? If they were all somehow insane the only option would be to destroy them outright. A horrible thought. It was never entertained. Would that really be necessary? Kill every zebra? It was a painful idea.

"Let's not go that far just yet, Burner. We have fought them to a draw on the battlefield. We just need that one good punch to finish them off. It's why we're here. I don't know about you, but I would love for the war to be over without having to commit genocide. They must have families too." There was a word ponies almost never used.

Practically coined by the onset of the war itself. The idea of wiping them all out was not something anypony truly wanted to consider. What if there was some kernel of truth to the thought they might all be sick somehow? It was never suggested before. Maybe it was just reaching for a way to give their kind an almost reasonable excuse for their actions, it was also possible they actually deserved it. Finally arriving at a junction marked 6-A in the wall, they were close to the armory. Augment Flamethrowers, magically enhanced to deliver a lethal stream of fire at quite a distance. Several meters. Right up Burners alley. Only one problem.

Based on dragon fire. Even had a great subject to work with in creating them. Unfortunately, the throwers were quickly ruled out for frontline combat. The few times they actually hit a target they were taken out, fast. The enemy learned too quickly, hit the tank with all that magic just waiting to burst out and the pony carrying it is as good as dead. So is almost anything else unlucky enough to be too close. The thought was if your opponents like to close in, don't let them. Fire is good for keeping most at bay, but it turns out when you play with fire, everyone gets burned. Most of them were stored here. Didn't make too many before the realization they were best used to clear out enclosures. Far too dangerous anyway.

Too bad they weren't fighting in zebra territory, around here all they'd be doing is torching their own buildings. Hopefully it would never come to that. The tanks had the symbol of a certain dragons head on them in relief. Would almost be comical if they weren't so lethal.

"Guess what, Burner? You're the only one here actually trained on these, so you get to strap one of those on for once. Better enjoy it, for what it's worth." He smiled at the Captains words and went about slipping into the straps and the protective suit that went with it. It would protect against flame to some degree, but not much else.

After levitating the tank into its holder and locking the last clasp it left him looking rather intimidating. He pulled on the bit-igniter and a little flame spewed forth from the nozzle.

"Ashes to ashes. Haha." Burner sounded a little creepy with that thing on. He strode ahead down the hall.

"Good thing the walls are just rock and steel. These flames would just chew through anything else." He mused, turning his head side to side to test the nozzles positioning. it jutted out from the hanger far enough not to injure himself when engaged. At least somepony was having fun.

"Remember, only use that thing if there is no choice and as minimally as possible. The rest of us will have to hang back, that thing will suck up air too until the recyclers blow more through. Grevist, haul a spare tank on that pull-along. We are heading for corridor 6-C. It's about twenty minutes from here. Check targets, there are two squads down here we don't wanna hit." It was a hopeful statement. Specialist Fire Brand sounded like there was serious trouble down here as well. Got to keep spirits up. Falling in behind Burner, they made a straight line for the offset corridor. It was one of those oddly positioned ones he never told them the purpose of. Maybe he should tell them? No, they didn't need to know.

Why would anypony down here choose to defend from there anyway? Must have been forced back or something. That didn't bode well in itself. On a whim the Captain pushed a nearby intercom panel. Static and nothing more. The same surging static as before. Not so much as a peep otherwise. The generator was continuously backsurging. It was still not under control. That could be a serious danger. Nothing to do about it. They were not the kind of scientists that knew how exactly the generator worked, they were merely using the immense power provided for their experiments. Could they even do anything about it if they reached the gen room? Focusing on the task in front, they approached the reported location.

Horror. Absolute horror. No. They were all dead. Spent bullets lay everywhere down the corridor. Both squads and everypony else, what was left of them were strewn about the whole length. So much blood. More of those shadowy wispy slug-like things were poking through the bodies. More of his friends and colleagues, gone. Burner opened up on them. Flames hosed down the whole way, the flame made a loud thump as air was used up. He was cautious and used short blasts that would quickly go out without more fuel. The fire did kill the things. Made them more dark than they already were, but at least the disturbing things lay still. A whole mass of them. Too many to count.

Poor fellows must have put up a good fight. Now, nothing but their charred bones lay here.

"If there was time, I think I'd be sick, but there isn't." When the flames finally died down the Captain moved up. Some of them must have been dragged all the way here, but why? Fire Brand must have heard his orders, the corridor was set up to defend with tables, chairs and whatever as a barricade. Some of them must have met up and tried to keep the things away. The worst part was the smell. Acrid, sickening. Revolting. It would be forced through the entire mine by the air recyclers. Upon reaching Burner he heard him quip as he looked over the smoking remains of so many.

He shoved one of the things corpses away with the nozzle.

"Original, or extra crispy?" Burner was not callous. He knew this wasn't funny. Probably in shock.

"Listen, put it out of your head. You did what you had to do, they were dead anyway and better off for it judging by the looks on their faces. Let's go now." He ordered. 26 ponies lay dead here. Now they were dust. Even worse, the engineers were among them. How could this have happened?

"There is something else here besides those creatures. They could not have dragged bodies down here without intent. I don't know who or what, but this changes things. We have to fight our way out. There is no choice. Hopefully 20/40 will have got a message out by now. The generator is a lost cause, if there are more of the things roaming around we will never reach it. We need to skedaddle. My orders are as follows: Get out of the mine at all costs, warn command. I guess we're really in for it now." the Captain was shook by the loss of so much life so quickly, but this squad was still alive. He must do everything in his power to keep them safe. Waiting on reinforcements was definitely not an option.

Something truly evil was pervading this place. He was sure of that. They began the long trek back towards the upwards stairs. This was no normal fight. Trying to flee was really their only chance. The carnage in the corridor was indicative of that. There were three ways out of the facility. Two were off in a direction it would probably be best to avoid. It would take hours as it was to get out of here. It would mean taking a side hall and pass the opposite control room door. At least they could hook up with 20/40 there. There was another entrance into the room, but it was down the hall the auton walked through.

"I made a mistake. I should have ordered you all to evacuate. I made a huge mistake. It's my fault. My fault." The Captain was stumbling over his words. Grevist smacked him with the backside of a hoof. Oww.

"Keep your head, sir." Was all he said. That brought him out of it. What was he thinking?

"Sorry. I just.. we lost so many. Anything up ahead, Burner?" The Captain questioned. Burner stopped and was just standing there by a lift shaft.

"Burner?" Grevist asked as they approached him. He crumpled to the floor screaming about his head.

"It's in my brain! It's in..look out!" He was yelling and writhing.

"What?" High Stepper went to lean in and try to help just as Burner for some reason tilted the nozzle to the ceiling and mashed the trigger. One of the the things was above. He'd been trying to warn them. It was too late. The flaming thing flipped off the ceiling, landing on Stepper with a horrible sizzle, causing him to trip and smash his head off the tank which sent both of them slipping and flailing into the lift shaft along with the sickening thing.

"No!" Grevist went to try and pull them out.

Just then the trigger was jammed down by the sagging unconscious form of Stepper. A continuous stream of magically enhanced fire spraying upwards which snapped the lift cables. Down they went. Gone. Just like that. Gone.

"It can't be. It just cant." The Captain, on edge and horrified already, was so close to snapping that he banged his head against the wall several times in frustration.

"Captain, Captain. Stop. Stop. I need you." Grevist was singed by the edge of that blast, but otherwise intact.

"I, I..alright." The two ponies all alone miserably headed on.

"Should I ditch the spare tank? We can't go all the way back for another thrower." Grevist asked.

"No. Haul it along, we might need to use it as a bomb or something." The Captain was right. This was getting more desperate by the hour. Even if a call was sent for reinforcements it would be hours more before they arrived. They would not last that long in here. All this took time, something they were apparently quite short of.

"We are probably going to die here today, Grevist. Just thought you should know." He mumbled. To his surprise, Grevist started howling with laughter.

"You remember that bowling alley I said I was gonna open one day? I just recently saved up enough to do it. I was so close. Guess it's a good thing I gave it to ma for safekeeping." His voice wavered and this hardened fighter was suddenly crying.

"Grevist, I'm so sorry. I know you were looking forward to it." The Captain hung his head forlornly as they approached the next junction. Just two more and they'd be at the control rooms alternate entrance. Grevist wiped his eyes.

"Ah, forget it. Always thought I'd die in this stupid war anyway. Didn't think it'd be like this though. And, sir?" Grevist halted. The Captain looked just in time to see a twisted look on his face. What?

"I think I know what Burner was yelling about now. It's in my head, too. Please, rrruunn." As he finished speaking he swung at his lifelong friend, just missing. The only reason he missed was the tank he was hauling on the pull along held him back ever so slightly. With a shocked look the Captain dodged back.

"What are you doing?" He barely managed to say before Grevist swung again, just missing.

"I c-c-can't control it. It hurts!" Something sort of floated and flashed by them almost unnoticed. Just like back in the experiment room. This time it almost didn't register with either of them.

Grevist was clearly not in control of his own actions. He was trying to fight whatever it was, and losing. He jerked and went to use his weapon as the Captain dove. A bullet struck through his leg as he landed around the corner of the junction to find himself directly in front of 20/40 walking towards him. Groaning in pain he realized what he was looking at.

"20/40, Grevist is under enemy control through no fault of his own, restrain him!" At his order the auton responded oddly.

"Negative, unable to comply. Unit apologizes, sir." Apologies? Then it strode around the corner as he watched in pain and horror. Grevist was firing wildly at the auton. It fired a single shot in return, then sidled back into the hall as the tank he was hauling erupted. He was killed instantly.

"You, you killed him!" Despite his wound the Captain started smashing the auton with his hooves, almost crazed. It did not react.

"Negative, sir. Grevist could not be saved." It stated coldly. It was worse in that voice. What did it mean?

"Explain yourself you stupid machine!" He kind of yelped. The smoke spread down the halls was slowly clearing.

"Declaration: Unit realizes this is upsetting. Grevist was already dead. Again unit apologizes, sir. You require first aid."

"What do you mean he couldn't be saved?" This was too much, why was this all happening here? He calmed, stopped hitting it and backed down, pulling open a wall mounted medical station and started disinfecting and dressing his wound. He listened.

"Explanation: Unknown pathogen infecting ponies in facility. Unit was forced to engage control room staff who were crazed. Approximately ten to forty minutes after infection extremely violent agitation followed by severe physiological degradation occurs. Unit was asked to terminate. Unit complied. Unit has merely prevented Grevist from suffering. Unit has adjusted sensory inputs to detect infection. You are clear. Has unit acted inappropriately, sir?" It turned towards the control room. Why was it out here anyway? If that was true, it really just stopped him from going through an agonizing death. There was so much wrong here. Almost too much. When and where could Burner and Grevist have become infected?

Was High Stepper infected as well? Might never know now.

"I, I'm sorry, 20/40. I should have known you'd have a good reason. No. You did nothing wrong. I am just upset. Everypony else is dead now, aren't they? All staff and sworn civilians. All of them. So fast. Why aren't you in the control room? Did you call for reinforcements?" He finally found the wherewithal to ask for a sitrep as he pulled the dressing tight. The shot went through cleanly, he should be okay with proper treatment. If he ever made it to any.

"Situation as follows: Generator surging growing worse, shutdown estimated within one half hour. Unit was unable to summon reinforcements due to increasing interference. Unit was forced to withdraw, unknown entity present emitting massive energetics readings has taken the control room. Minor skirmish indicates line stack generator may not be sufficient to repel. Unit has taken 12.7% damage from two projectiles of unknown design. Positing: Creatures may originate from multidimensional rift. Orders?" 20/40 went silent as it continued to twist and turn its strange triaxially mounted head. Multi-what? Rift? What was it talking about? Even though it was not a combat model, it was built to take some punishment.

Something strong enough to damage the auton that badly was here? He didn't notice it before, but there were two hexagonal holes punched right through its plating diagonally. Fortunately, It did not take them dead on or it may already be out of commission. What kind of projectiles could those have been? The reactor was actually going to shut off? No spark reactor ever had such a problem before due to the many layers of safety protocols built into them, that could have serious ramifications of its own. It was all so much. His heart felt like it skipped a beat painfully as he rose.

"20/40. I will need to lean on you, I can't walk properly. I will not be able to make it to the exit like this. We must try and retake the control room. Do you concur?" He asked of it.

"Affirmative. Be wary of heat exhaust locations. Warning: creatures approaching. Stay within five hooves distance at all times." It began walking slowly forward with him kind of hanging off the side with the line stack. It felt strange and tingly all over being within the deterrent field. It also made him feel kind of weak? Might just be his imagination. More of those horrible things. Was it too much to ask that all of the ones fried down in 6-C to be all of them?

They seemed endless as the mass swarmed around this odd duo. How many could there possibly be? They did stay outside the range of the line stack. It was just enough to let them pass by. Their meandering looked aimless. In their wake a slick trail of glop was left everywhere they touched. Even the zebra empire couldn't have unleashed something like this, could they? He knew them to fight all out, but this just didn't sit right. From what little he really knew of them, they did have some sort of sense of honor although twisted. For the first time in a long time he felt genuine fear. Did these things spread the pathogen 20/40 said was here or was that something else? One misstep would expose him to the dangerous things.

He held close to the auton for dear life. Finally, he could see the control room door. As they approached the frizzing of the deterrent field could actually be heard as it struggled to repel so many of them. Some of the things just seemed to melt out of existence if they did not move away in time. He was feeling faint. Was his injury more serious than he thought?

"There are coolant lines running down through the adjacent room to the generator below, hidden and routed behind the paneling, correct? If we blew them, would it stop the entity?" He questioned.

"Intent calculated. Most likely. Specialized spark coolant temperature is negative 320.8 degrees. Chances of pony survival less than twenty percent. Room would be instantly hermetically sealed. Line failure may accelerate reactor failure." It advised.

"I see. Well, I can't stay out here. If there is no other choice, your orders are to blow the lines." These might be the last words he would ever utter. It clattered and turned that odd head towards him, halting a moment. Now what?

"Query: Sir, were we all friends?" If it could make other expressions he would swear it was sad. This machine, sad?

What was he thinking? It was strange of it to ask such a thing. It did sometimes say things he thought to be more than machine-like. Sometimes it was disconcerting. He'd spent nearly two years with it. Maybe it really was a friend of sorts after all.

"Of course we were, 20/40. The others might have joked at your expense a bit from time to time, but amongst us anyway, that just means they liked and respected you. They just had a hard time accepting you as one of the team is all." The images of all the others faces sort of flashed through his head. Everypony here was gone now. All of them.

He would probably be joining them in a moment. This place could not fall under enemy control no matter what. It didn't matter what kind of enemy.

"Declaration: That is good to know." They both stepped into the control room and the door slipped shut behind them. A few moments later, If anypony was around to hear it they would have heard a lot of shooting, a dull thud and then an explosion.

- - -

I won't even tell you about the heat in the kitchen..

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