• Published 9th Mar 2012
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Fallout Equestria: Morality of Property - Sir Leadhead



A slaver learns some harsh lessons in the Equestrian Wasteland.

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Chapter 10 > In which there is a Battle-Medic

Chapter 10 > In which there is a Battle-Medic
“History is an account, mostly false, of events, mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers, mostly knaves, and soldiers, mostly fools.”

“What do you mean, you don’t actually have a thousand caps?!” I shouted, my dreams of being able to swim in a bathtub full of caps being burnt to a crisp before my eyes. We were all headed out onto the road again, though Grinder, Walnut, Peanut, and Hotshot were going to be splitting off towards the direction of Neighpalm pretty soon. Matchstick Flare had just emptied out her fire-resistant bag at my hooves, and it contained basically nothing more then soot, a few well-baked bandages, some food, and all of about thirty-three caps. Not near the number I had been promised, not at all.

“Well… ya see…” Matchstick grimaced, rubbing the back of her head with her hoof. Shimmercoat was grinning like a madpony, probably laughing at my expense. “When I say ‘a thousand caps,’ I don’t necessarily mean, ‘a thousand caps right at this moment.’” She said. I fumed, here I was getting ready to rake it all in and this flaming mare goes and pulls a fast one on me.

“Matchstick, did you make a bad deal again?” Grinder said, a knowing tone in his voice. “Ya gotta be careful with that one, Coin, she’ll promise you the world and have nothing but a pre-war bit. Either me or Walnut usually make the transactions when we travel. If there’s one thing we learned, it’s to not let Matchstick shop. Bad things happen.”

“Tell me about it…” I muttered. “Well, if you can’t pay…”

Before I could finish my sentence, Matchstick’s eyes widened, up to big, Hiss-giving-you-the-puppy-eyes-look size, with what I swear were bubbling, boiling tears beginning to form. Shimmercoat was also giving me a look that said, ‘Don’t do it, or I’ll have something to say about it,’ as he put his hoof around her shoulder. She immediately scooted up to his side, Shimmercoat’s faint shield protecting him from the heat. Crescent Wrench was watching me, indecision on whether she should step in or not clearly plastered on her face. Grinder looked pissed.

“If thou art going to split up a mare from the only stallion that she can touch, simply because she has not the funds that she promised thou, when it is fairly clear that Shimmercoat is interested in her as well, then thou art quite a sickening pony for me to have the misfortune of being soul-bound to.” Mezzer said, silently voicing in my head what everypony was probably thinking. “Thou should find an alternative method of payment, if thou should still seek payment for Shimmercoat’s services at all.”

“Shimmercoat is still my slave!” I thought back. “If I start giving him out pro-bono, every straight mare in Equestria is going to come flocking to him, and me for providing him, and they’ll all want him for free too! I can’t have that! Not only will miss firebug over there not get as much time with him, but all that business will be lost!” I pouted. “I hate lost business.”

“Like I said…” Mezzer replied. “Find an alternative method of payment, then thou won’t have a problem with others wanting thy slaves for free, and perhaps thou could include another, well equipped asset to thy property for dealing with, say, swarms of winged, beaked enemies?”

Ahhh… I saw what Mezzer was getting at. If I asked for Matchstick to work for me, or become indentured to me, then Shimmercoat’s company wouldn’t be free. She would be able to work off her ‘payment’ (though I would miss that one-thousand caps), and she would be invaluable in case Murder showed up to harass us again. “Um… if you can’t pay…” I repeated, glancing nervously at Grinder, who looked like he might open fire if I said Matchstick couldn’t be with Shimmercoat. “Then you’ll just have to work it off! You could come with me, and have the additional benefit of traveling with Shimmercoat longer then just to the place where the road to Neighpalm and Auction House fork off. In exchange, I’ll be sure to set up camp a little ways away from where you and him are sleeping for the night so you’ll have some privacy.” Matchstick’s expression went from terrified and teary to upbeat and ecstatic in one easy motion, her ears perking up and the flames on her head flaring up for a second. Grinder smiled, and nodded, as did Shimmercoat, giving the ganger and the former overstallion an eerie moment of looking almost like brothers or something.

“Our traveling days are done anyways,” Grinder said. “Me, Hotshot, Walnut, and the kid will be living in Neighpalm from now on, but Matchstick here has always been… not good with staying in cities for a large amount of time. And I would never want to split her from somepony she can finally find comfort in cuddling with.” He said, putting unneeded emphasis on the word ‘cuddling’ with many a waggling eyebrow.

“I would be okay with being… a long-term loan, shall we say, to Matchstick if she were to join us.” Shimmercoat added, his glasses glinting in the firelight.

“So how ‘bout it, Matchstick?” I asked. “You would technically be indentured to me, but you get to stick around Shimmercoat for as long as you like.”

The mare in question had this entire time been silently shaking, with what was anypony’s guess, but I would have put my money on excitement. With one last glance towards Hotshot, Peanut, and Walnut, who all nodded encouragingly, grins on their faces (except Hotshot, who couldn’t really see what was going on, though she was grinning from what she was hearing anyways), Matchstick said, “YESSSSSSSSSS!” Yesyesyesyesyes! I will fucking become your slave if I have to in order to stay with Shimmercoat!” She spat on her hoof, which sizzled, and stuck it out towards me in excitement. “Oh… right, sorry.” She quickly realized I couldn’t really bump hooves with her, and was about to lower her hoof when I spat on my own and gave hers a quick tap, fast enough that I didn’t suffer anything worse then a quick hot sensation.

“The deal is struck!” I said triumphantly. Grinder had a hoof over his face, groaning. “You’ll be my slave in exchange for having access to Shimmercoat whenever you like!”

“What have I told you about getting too excited and bartering over your budget, Matchstick?!” Grinder said, exasperated. He still had a faint smile though. “Ah, well. The end result is the same.”

“Huh? Oh! Um… heh. Oops.” Matchstick said, realizing exactly what kind of deal had just been struck. She thought for a moment, then shrugged, hugging Shimmercoat, who hugged back warmly, though he had a frown on his face directed at me. He probably wasn’t as okay with what I had just done then Matchstick and Grinder were. “I meant what I said.” Matchstick continued, unaware of Shimmercoat’s glare in my direction. “And being enslaved to a staunch Auction Houser isn’t as bad as some ponies claim it is. Or so I hear.”

“It’s not as if I could do much to stop you if you decided to leave. I doubt a collar would survive for long on your neck, unless it was made of heat-resistant material or something.” I said, already thinking of ways I could probably restrain her, though it was more out of habit then anything else. Keeping the ‘carrot’ that was Shimmercoat in front of her nose would be far more efficient then trying to find some sort of ‘stick’ to control the flaming mare with. I didn’t think it was going to be an issue.

Heh. I now had three slaves with me, only one of which required a collar. Not to mention a pet dog… nightstalker… thing… and a robot. There’s a first time for everything after all.

“Well, now that that’s settled, let’s get going!” Matchstick said cheerfully.

“Why are you in such a rush?” I asked as we hit the road again. We were quite a distance away from the strip mall now, headed in the general direction of both Neighpalm and Auction House, though the others would be splitting off to their own destination shortly. The wide-open plains of the wastes were slowly giving way to a few ruined buildings here and there as we got closer to the ruins of the pre-war city that Auction House was nestled by. For once, the clouds in the sky had decided to stop raining, giving us a somewhat comfortable walk down the road.

Matchstick blushed. “Well… I kinda want to get to a place that has rooms… and beds… before nightfall.”

“Ah. Say no more.” I said, grinning. “We’ll be in the city ruins before nightfall, no worries about that.”

“Ah, yes, the city!” MG-MS11 suddenly said, a whimsical tone in his voice. “We’ll be passing the old Atomareics building, if my navigation systems aren’t mistaken! Quite a few important parts of me were manufactured there! Never seen the place with my own photosensors before, should be quite a treat to play tourist for a while as we pass by!”

“The old Atomareics building?” Mezzer said, suprised. “Quick! Ask him if he means…” he was about to say, but I had already thought of the same thing, and interrupted him.

“Sergeant! Are you saying that we’ll be passing by General Atomareics?” I asked.

“Sir yes sir! New to the area, are we? It’s the General Atomareics Headquarters building, you can’t miss it for the world! One of the first innovation and technology companies in Equestria, that one. It was built right when the war with those dirty striped bastards started! They help build Equestria’s future towards a brighter, less coal-dependant tomorrow! Not to mention manufacturing parts necessary for Robronco, Ironshod, and even the Ministry of Awesome and the Ministry of Wartime Technology’s robots, weapons, terminals, all sorts of things!”

“We must visit that building!” Mezzer said, sounding desperate. “One of the few memories I have after coming to existence in your mind is that my form was built by a company called General Atomareics! We might find some answers there about what we are!” I nodded in agreement, though it probably only looked like I was nodding at MG-MS11.

“How do you know all this?” Crescent Wrench asked, trotting closer to the medical Mr. Gutsy, her curly brown mane bouncing around lightly now that it had dried out from the lack of rain. She had a sledgehammer strapped to her back, something she had picked up at the strip mall’s hardware store. Given that her cutie mark was a mallet, I figured that she probably knew what she was doing with it, and refrained from taking it from her. Besides, if we were to run into trouble, it would be better than nothing for her to be armed with it.

“It’s in my databanks, of course!” MG-MS11 replied.

Crescent only looked more confused.“Why would you be given information of the manufacturing factories and processes of Equestria?” Crescent Wrench pressed onwards. I gave her a curious look. Where was the little filly (alright, technically a teenager. Still a filly in my book.) going with this? “Wouldn’t that be detrimental if you were captured by zebra forces?”

“Ma’am, that implies I would allow myself to be interrogated by those dirty stripes!” MG-MS11 said, sounding offended. “If the unthinkable were to happen, and I was somehow kept from killing every single one of them, I would destroy all valuable equipment on my person and erase my entire memory matrix to keep it out of their grubby thieving hooves!”

“That makes sense…” Crescent Wrench sounded like she was thinking.

“Something on your mind?” Shimmercoat asked her. He had apparently noticed the strange line of questioning too.

“I was thinking…” Crescent said, pausing.

“Yes?” I asked. “Something wrong with MG-MS11?”

“Well… what if we were to go into a zebra town? Or meet up with some zebra merchants on the road?” Crescent asked.

“Kill ‘em all, let their filthy tribal gods sort ‘em out!” MG-MS11 shouted helpfully.

“See? It would be a problem. We need to find some way to fix his matrix so he’s less hostile to zebras, otherwise he’ll attack them. Or if he thinks he’s captured by them, he’ll erase his memories.” Crescent looked at the floating spherical robot as she trotted next to it. “I… we don’t want that.” she said, looking side to side.

“Hmm… she raises a good point.” Shimmercoat said.

“Not a problem!” I said, grinning. “Modifying magical matrices is my special talent! Have I told you guys that?”

Crescent Wrench’s eyes widened. “Really?!”

“Yep! This cap isn’t about money or gambling like ponies usually assume.” I replied, getting into storytelling mode. “It all started one day at the casino I grew up in…”

We continued walking as I told the group how I got my cutie mark and discovered my special talent for modifying magical matrices. This led to Grinder telling his cutie mark story. He was good with mechanics, hence the gears. Hotshot joined in, telling hers. Her smiling daisy apparently represented how good she was at pleasing ‘flowers.’ Walnut blushed profusely as Hotshot told in quite vivid detail how she had gotten her cutie mark, and it was then that I learned that they had basically been together since they were little fillies just growing up. I also learned that some cutie mark stories were better left untold, as pretty much everypony except MG-MS11 and Hiss (who weren’t ponies anyways) was blushing and feeling really uncomfortable at the end of Hotshot’s story. She thought the ensuing awkward silence was a laugh riot.

/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

We parted ways with Hotshot, Grinder, Walnut, and little Peanut a few hours of walking later, when the path we were taking forked off enough from the more direct route to Neighpalm. There was a small, teary goodbye from each of them to Matchstick, and Matchstick looked back at their trotting tails until they were finally out of sight. While they were all happy that Matchstick had finally found a special somepony, they were still Flaming Hooves, a gang that’s best described as a family working together to survive. Parting was hard for them, but they knew that at this time, it was for the best. We promised to come and visit sometime after we had finished our business at Auction House.

The scenery had changed from the open plains of the wasteland to sprawling ruins of a suburban complex, with what looked like a wrecked industrial sector within view on the horizon. Back before the war, this place would have been filled with pony families either headed out to or coming back from work, kids biking down the streets and around cul-de-sacs, and dogs chasing cats up white picket fences, strong oaks, and Father’s Day hoofmade mailboxes. The street was broken up at our hooves, but still recognizable as a street, and the few houses lining the street that weren’t blasted-out wrecks were boarded up tight, or leaning so dangerously that I was afraid the vibrations of our hoofsteps passing by would knock them over. We kept trotting down the streets towards the industrial buildings for quite some time, mostly in silence. Shimmercoat and Matchstick were almost inseparable, the flaming mare constantly leaning against his shoulder, nuzzling his ear or neck or something. I rolled my eyes. Sure, it was cute, but watching them go at it for a half-hour was starting to get on my nerves.

“Art thou getting a little jealous, perhaps?” Mezzer said. I got the sense of a raised eyebrow in my direction.

“What?! No, of course not!” I said. Out loud. To apparently thin air. The weird looks I got from everypony made me blush, and I quickly tried to cover for it. “Uh.. of course not… did anypony say they thought we were going the wrong way?” I asked.

“Smooth.” Mezzer said.

“Shut up.” I replied, silently this time.

“Nooo… you okay, Coin?” Shimmercoat asked, looking at me with a concerned expression, a sort of smolder with his eyes peeking over his spectacles and his mane flowing in a certain way that made my heart pump a little faster as my face turned red. Again.

Mezzer chuckled in my head again. “Thou art indeed getting jealous.”

“I’m fine. Really.” I said to Shimmercoat, internally glaring at the sentient weapon. “Would you stop?! He’s just good looking, that’s all I’m noticing! The fact that he tried to kill me when we first met is still a big factor in my opinion of him. Besides, not only would it be incredibly unprofessional to… use the merchandise for personal entertainment, but it would be unfair to Matchstick too.”

“As I recall, thou hast also enslaved Matchstick, technically. Don’t slavers use their merchandise for whatever purposes they see fit?” Mezzer asked.

“Maybe some slavers use their stallions as studs, but not me. Good little fillies don’t force themselves on somepony, my dear ol’ Ma always said, and I’m…”

“A good little filly, yes. I know. Thy mother, according even to her own rules then, is no…”

“NO!” I thought as loud as I could, almost shouting the word out loud, projecting an angry glare both mentally and physically. “Ma was a good mother, alright? I won’t have a single word said against her, especially since you’re the one that went digging through my memories without permission! You don’t know what she did for our family, for Pa, for me, for our employees, customers, all of us! She made the wasteland better! She always said she devoted her life to making the wastes a better place to live for all ponies, and that one day our little casino would be just the starting point for something bigger, much bigger! I would be a part of it! I… I AM a part of it! I follow my Ma’s teachings, and even if she… she… she loved me, alright?! That’s the last I’ll hear on the subject.”

Mezzer wisely said nothing. The coward.

“Anypony get the feeling we’re being watched?” Matchstick Flare asked, looking around nervously at some of the more intact houses we were passing by. I hadn’t been paying attention to my EFS because of a certain annoying mesmetron, but a quick check revealed nothing out of the ordinary.

“Nothing’s registering on my Pipbuck besides us.” Shimmercoat said, after turning slowly to scan behind him with his EFS, and reaffirming my assumptions. Hiss, on the other hoof, was slinking around behind me, looking around with his ears perked up high, sniffing the air with both nose and tongue, obviously on high alert.

“That’s right, Corporal Flare!” MG-MS11 said. “Nothing’s showing up on my hostility detector array either. Probably just a case of pre-battle nerves, shake it off! Nothing’s going to get past us!”

*PLINK!!*

The ricochet of a bullet bouncing off of MG-MS11’s chassis kicked up the dust at my hooves, as his side dented in. “AMBUSH!” the robot shouted at ear-splitting volume as us ponies (and Hiss) all dived for cover behind wreckage of an old family cart on the side of the road. “COME OUT YOU STRIPED COWARDS! YOU SLIME-EATING POND SCUM! I’LL RIP YOUR FACES OFF!” MG-MS11 plinked and dented again and again as muzzle flashes came from the second story of a surviving house across the street from where we were hiding. He made no motion to get into cover, and started firing his magical plasma caster wildly, obviously not detecting where the shots were coming from.

“Sergeant! Get down! Take cover! Be careful! Oooo…” Crescent Wrench groaned with each dent MG-MS11 took.

“Looks like raiders or something took residence in that house, and they don’t like visitors…” I said, ducking as a bullet wizzed past my ear.

“Gee, really? I thought this was them inviting us in for a cup of tea!” Shimmercoat said, rolling his eyes and taking aim at the windows with his .44 magnum revolver. “I could use some covering fire!” he shouted. “And why didn’t they show up on EFS?!”

“Don’t ask me! You’re the one that gave me this thing!” I shouted back, pulling out my lever-action rifle. Not that I’d be able to kill anypony with it… but covering fire isn’t about killing, it’s about keeping their heads down. I levitated the rifle over the edge of the cart and started firing as fast as I could, levering the action at rapid speeds. It was a good thing I got this gun modified with a dampened recoil framework… I almost dropped it firing at this rate.

The return fire from Shimmercoat and I did slow the rate of bullets headed our way, and Shimmercoat grinned as we heard a cry of pain coming from the house after one of his shots. I, of course, hit nothing. “We need to close the distance… we’re way more effective at close range.” Shimmercoat said, putting his back to the cart as he ducked to reload.

I looked at Hiss, Crescent, and Matchstick, all of whom were close range fighters (though I didn’t know how good Crescent Wrench would be in a fight…), and all of whom were trying to make themselves as small as possible behind our cart, especially Matchstick, who was trying not to burn any of us as we hunched close together behind the relatively small cover.

“FOR EQUESTRIAAAAAA!!” MG-MS11 shouted, charging headlong for the house, having apparently figured out where the shots were coming from. His plasma caster’s bolts licked across the wooden surface, setting a few spots of the old wooden house on fire before quickly dying out. The wood was pretty wet from the rain earlier, but constant plasma fire would no doubt burn the house down eventually. That’d no doubt be a problem for the raiders (or something… we still hadn’t identified our mystery foe) later, but we couldn’t just wait for MG-MS11 to start a true fire… or could we?

“MG-MS11! Get back here this instant!!” I shouted.

“The enemy deserves nothing but pain and death! Forward! Attack them at their strongest point to show them WE MEAN BUSINESS! EQUESTRIAAA!!”

“Yeah, we’re gonna need to fix his A.I. At least to make him less tactically… stupid.” I said to Crescent Wrench as she peeked out from behind the cart at the robot, her face as white as a sheet. She was really scared for him, it seemed.

MG-MS11’s buzz saw sounded out it’s far-too-familiar (for me at least) howl, cutting through a section of the building’s wall and allowing the enraged robot entrance (he ignored the door. It was boarded up though…). “Nooo! He’s going to get hurt!” Crescent Wrench reached out her hoof towards the building, and a few bullets bounced off the ground next to her, causing her to eep and duck back behind cover.

“Shimmercoat, could you shield us across the street?” I asked.

“Probably. They seem like small caliber bullets, but I don’t know how many I could take before the shield breaks.” he answered.

“It’ll have to be enough.” I set my goggles down over my eyes. Safety first, after all. “Alright, on the count of three, we all go. Shimmercoat, put up a shield, and we cross the road as fast as we can, try to find out who’s shooting at us and make them stop. Ready?”

They all nodded (including Hiss… which worried me slightly. That nightstalker was too smart for his own good). “One… two… three!” I jumped out from behind the cart and charged.

ARGH!! I fell as bullets ripped through my worse-for-wear leather barding, digging into my sides and flanks as I tried to roll away. I figured I was dead… until I saw Shimmercoat standing over me, shield projected, looking sheepish and worried at the same time.

“Sorry, I thought it was ‘one, two, three, go!’ Can you get her, Crescent?” Shimmercoat asked, sweating a little as large amounts of small caliber bullets bounced off of the shield he was casting over the group.

“Yeah! Sorry if this hurts, Coin!” Crescent Wrench shouted over the chaos, and hoisted me onto her back. I cried out as my wounds felt like hot nails were being driven into my flesh, but Crescent was able to lift me like a ragdoll and run across the street with the others until we were in the first floor of the building, away from the rain of bullets.

“Heh. Either Coin is lighter than she looks, or you’re stronger than you look, little filly!” Matchstick laughed, a spark in her eye that didn’t seem to come from physical fire. She was a ganger after all, combat must be exciting for her.

“Ugh! I’m fourteen!!” Crescent said, exasperated. She looked around. “Where’s MG-MS11?”

Shimmercoat scanned the room quickly, before pointing up a set of stairs. “I think he went this way, at least that’s where the one friendly I see that’s not us on my EFS is.”

“THERE YOU ARE YOU COWARDLY STRIPED BASTARDS! LET’S FIGHT LIKE GENTLEPONIES!” MG-MS11’s voice rang loud and clear down the stairs, and the maniacal whirring of his buzz saw could be heard over some very panicked sounding screams. Hiss barked and ran up the stairs, turning invisible halfway up.

“Wait! Don’t hurt him!” Crescent Wrench shouted, charging after the nightstalker, and apparently talking to the raiders. It didn’t sound to me like she needed to be worried though… I tried to ignore the sounds of the saw rending pony flesh (to the accompaniment of blood-curdling screams… followed by gurgling noises) drifting down from the upper story, but it was hard to ignore. As was the blood starting to drip down onto the landing from above.

“Come on, let’s get up there before your robot kills them all, they might have some information on what’s going on around here.” Matchstick said, running up the stairs, leaving behind charred hoofprints. Shimmercoat and I were left on the bottom floor, flabbergasted.

“Well… guess we better head up too, then.” Shimmercoat grumbled, hoisting his pistol and muttering something about tactics and how charging in headlong shouldn’t have worked. I rolled my eyes and followed. Tactics were all well and good, but these were raiders. If your opponents aren’t very clever, tactics can sometimes be put on the wayside in favor of brute strength. Some ponies over-thought things too much and got themselves into trouble when all that was needed was the application of a little (or a lot) of force.

The upper story of the house was divided into small bedrooms, once the abodes of ponies living the Equestrian dream. Now the hallway leading to those bedrooms was covered in blood, and even I felt a little ill as I gingerly walked around a pool of blood forming on the upper landing. Two bodies were the source of the blood in the hallway, both obviously raiders (or at least dressed like degenerated raiders usually dress – lots of leather and cutie-mark patches, spikes, scalps, tails, junk fitted into patchwork armor, the usual), and both very, very dead. One had a brand new face made of plasma burns, and the other sported a new, jagged smile across her neck from the buzz saw. Crescent Wrench didn’t even make it past the landing. She was vomiting, the sight of all of this carnage too much for her. Shimmercoat also looked far more pale than normal. The sounds of combat faded and I heard MG-MS11’s voice crackle, “Mission complete! That’ll show ‘em! Hoo ahh!”

“Geeze, ya big robot. You really fucked ‘em up, didn’t you? Couldn’t you have left one for us to talk to? We need to know if more of ‘em are up ahead or not.” Matchstick said from the room MG-MS11 was in. Hiss bark-hissed, in apparent agreement. I trotted into the room they were talking in, the room the raiders had been shooting at us from across the street from. It was a foal’s room, two cribs set up on the far wall, with an empty toy-box on the opposite side. Blood splattered the lamb-and-duck printed wallpaper, and three more raider bodies were here in various states of dismemberment. One was missing its head, with it nowhere to be found. Matchstick looked unconcerned with the bodies, only disappointed that MG-MS11 didn’t leave any alive, while Hiss was sitting next to the robot looking up at him.

He was pretty badly battered; obviously the raiders hadn’t given up without a fight. Various dents and perforations dotted his chassis, and he was listing to one side. One of his four photo-sensor arms hung limply, and the reason his voice was crackling became apparent as his speaker rotated into visibility. It was sporting a big hole… obviously it had taken a bullet. Blood was spattered all over his red-and-yellow paint job, his saw blade completely covered in it. Still, for taking on five armed raiders all by himself… with little to no tactics in mind… the medical Mr. Gutsy did quite well for himself.

Too bad we had no parts to repair him with. “So… MG-MS11… uh, report.” I said hesitantly, worried about his condition.

“Yes –ir!” MG-MS11’s voice crackled again, and buzzed a little before coming back. His voicebox had taken quite a hit, it seemed. “Five dirty striped bastards pacified, sir, with –inor damages to my chassis, a few red-dant components damaged beyond repair by shrapne- and my voice-synthesizer and number thre- photo-sensor at 25% efficiency rating, --r! I will require repaooorrrr…” MG-MS11’s voice dipped to a low register before turning off with an audible click. His listing increased, and one of his arms dipped to the floor to right himself before he tipped completely over.

“Well, that’s not good…” I muttered.

“Is MG-MS11 alright?” Crescent Wrench and Shimmercoat walked into the room, both pale, and both putting on a brave face, Shimmercoat more successfully than Crescent Wrench. The little filly, however, completely ignored the three bodies in the room when she saw what state MG-MS11 was in. “Oh Celestia!” she said, covering her mouth with her hooves before rushing to MG-MS11’s side. I frowned at the swear, but she continued before I could tell her that good little fillies didn’t take the princess’s name in vain. “He’s hurt! We need to repair him right away! Ohhh… does anypony know where to get parts for Mr. Gutsy or Handy models around here?” she asked, looking at me and Matchstick pleadingly, tears welling up in her eyes.

“Did the robot not say that General Atomareics manufactured several of his parts? This would be an excellent opportunity to try and find out some information about my origins, as well as repairing our bloodthirsty medic.” Mezzer said. I agreed.

“There’s a General Atomareics manufacturing building around here somewhere, close by.” I said, looking out the window. “MG-MS11 told us about it earlier…”

“Right, but didn’t he say it was a headquarters building?” Matchstick asked. “Would they make parts at a headquarters? That seems like a job for the factories.”

“But he did also mention that some of his parts were manufactured there, so I’m assuming that there are manufacturing facilities. And remember he’s a prototype model of Mr. Gutsy, they would keep their proprietary research at hoof in headquarters before shipping it out to the factories.” I said, smiling smugly for figuring this out.

“Well…” Crescent Wrench piped in, wiping her eyes and gingerly running her hooves over the dented and damaged sections of MG-MS11’s chassis. “I don’t want to disagree with you… but regular Mr. Gutsy and Handys were made by Robronco, not General Atomarics. At least, that’s what the Stable 11 repair guide on them said… he is a special unit, so it’s possible some of his parts are GA stuff… but a Robronco station would be better, or somewhere where we could get parts from there…”

“Robronco? That’s easy, Auction House has loads of Robronco robots in it, there’s sure to be a parts shop there.” I said.

Crescent Wrench breathed a deep sigh of relief, again looking like she was about to cry as she held MG-MS11 steady on his damaged hovering apparatus. Since when did she care so much about the robot? “Alright… can we stop for a second and let me take a look at him? Just to make sure if any special parts were damaged or not… though, I’d like to move to a different room…” Crescent paled again as she looked at MG-MS11’s aftermath.

“Yeah, Matchstick and I will loot the bodies, Shimmercoat, help her get the robot down the stairs.” I ordered, and he nodded, glad to have an excuse to go where the dead bodies weren’t. Stable ponies… I mean, Shimmercoat was reacting better than Crescent, who was still dry-heaving as she accidentally stepped in a pool of blood on her way out, but then again, that was probably because he had actually killed ponies before as Overstallion of Stable 11.

“Ah, the time honored tradition of looking through pockets for loose change.” Matchstick grinned, and started stripping down one of the bodies, the smell of cooking flesh as she lifted the body and kept contact with it for too long wafting my way, making me feel nauseated, and disturbingly a little hungry as well. My wounds from jumping out without the cover of Shimmercoat’s shield hurt much more now as the adrenaline in my system wore down. I gasped in pain as one of them flared up angrily as I turned the wrong way to look through a saddlebag tossed on the ground.

“You okay?” Matchstick asked. Hiss came up to me and whined, looking as concerned as a snake-headed dog can look.

“Oh yeah, just a few bullet holes, it happens… wish I had a… oh, lookie there.” I said, discovering what appeared to be the raider’s medical supplies. Healing bandages, a few doses of Dash (not that I would use them, good little fillies don’t do drugs), some rad-away, and a few healing potions! I immediately downed one, feeling the perforations in my hide seal up and the pains fade away as I healed. I sighed in relief, and pocketed the rest of the stuff in my own saddlebag. The rest of the healing potions would probably go to MG-MS11 once he was fixed, and the rest of the stuff would no doubt come in handy.

“Was that some Dash in there?” Matchstick asked, peering over my shoulder at the loot.

“Why, you a user?” I asked. “Cause I can’t really afford to keep you in the habit if you are.”

“Naw, I’m not addicted or anything…” Matchstick said, waving a hoof in my direction in a dismissing manner, and rolling her eyes dramatically. “Sometimes it helps me in combat though. You know, helps me move faster, react quicker, that sort of thing. Dash also heats me up hotter too.”

“Right…” I said, unamused. “Well, I’ll just hold onto it, and if we need you hotter than you are, I might consider giving it up, otherwise it’s useful trading stock.

“That’s cool, that’s cool…” Matchstick said, shrugging. I couldn’t tell if she was serious or not. In any case, we finished looting the ammo, guns, food, water, and other supplies the raiders had, and joined the others downstairs.

“Got a little bit of everything.” I said. “Looks like these guys were living here, maybe ambushing travelers and living off the loot. We should be set on food and water for a few days. They even had some Insta Mash.”

“Yech. I hate Insta Mash.” Shimmercoat said, sticking his tongue out.

“Fine. More for me.” I replied, rolling my eyes. Good thing he was my slave and I would take care of him, otherwise that picky attitude would get him killed one of these days. “In any case, this is a good find. I was worried how I was going to feed so many mouths.” Matchstick nodded, aware of such problems that plagued traveling groups, being the only other pony with me who had traveled the wastes extensively. We trotted downstairs, leaving the bodies of the raiders behind. Soon they’d be nothing but a few more of the many skeletons that decorated the wastes.

I glanced at MG-MS11. “I’d prefer if you didn’t go charging into situations that could get you damaged in the future…” I said. Granted, his actions had actually been a boon to us, since we were now well equipped for travel to the General Atomareics Headquarters building and beyond that to Auction House. But replacement parts and tools to fix him were going to be a challenge to find.

“Nonsense! A true Equestrian laughs in the face of the zebra menace!” the robot buzzed, his voice box making odd snapping noises. Crescent Wrench looked physically pained by his condition, and she helped MG-MS11 stay level on his damaged levitation talisman. As soon as we got to the headquarters building, I needed to dive into his matrices and reprogram him a little… he was far more valuable as a medic than a combat robot.

“So… they’re really dead?” Crescent Wrench asked. She looked like she was about to cry.

“Huh?” I asked. This wasn’t the first time Crescent had seen death… she shouldn’t be so reactive to it, right?

This is the first time that she has seen freshly dead ponies up close and personal. The other times the corpses were either far away or pecked clean by crows. Mezzer mentioned. As far as I could remember, he was right.

“Yeah, your robot buddy there did quite a number on ‘em.” Matchstick said, grinning. “Just a few more scum of the wastes that didn’t have the skills to survive, if one little Mr. Gutsy was all it took to wipe ‘em out. Good riddance.”

Crescent started to tear up. “Uh…” I said stupidly. What was I supposed to do? I looked in my pack for what cheered me up as a little filly when I was sad, but the raiders unfortunately didn’t have any Twinkie Pinkies.

“There, there, it’s alright, Crescent.” Shimmercoat said, drawing the beige filly into a hug as she started to cry in earnest. MG-MS11 hovered next to them, sputtering on occasion.

“W-w-why are… Ponies… We’re all ponies!!” Crescent Wrench burst out suddenly. “Why can’t things be like they were in the Stable?! Things were tough, but we at least treated each other with… we didn’t shoot each other! We didn’t kill ponies needlessly!!” She sobbed into Shimmercoat’s chest, his expression looking decidedly guilty. “I thought maybe we’d… w-we’d just run into bad ponies like that crow lady… o-or that griffon…” she continued, muffled slightly by Shimmercoat’s jumpsuit. “But everypony is like this! Even nice ones! Grinder and Hotshot almost shot us! Even Coin has… is…” she broke down into sobs, but I knew she was referring to my… occupation.

Shimmercoat glanced at us, apparently as lost with crying fillies as the rest of us. He patted her head and just repeated, “There… there… we’re trying… we’ll find a place with nice ponies… we’ve got each other…”

MG-MS11 crackled as he played a small fanfare and said, “-ow morale detecte-!! Cheer up, soldier! Remember that every zebra dead is a zebra that can’t cause harm to our beautiful nation of Equestria! Let’s kick this war in the teeth, and be home for Hearth’s Warming Eve!”

Surprisingly, Crescent Wrench chuckled at this outburst. “Heh… I bet you see Equestria as a nice place… MG-MS11…” she murmured something else, something I didn’t catch, but Shimmercoat looked pretty nervous about whatever it was.

“Well, come on, let’s get him to the Atomareics building, huh? And get out of here too…” Shimmercoat said, standing up and wiping Crescent’s tears away. She nodded and got to her hooves too, using her body to help balance MG-MS11 as he hovered out of the house.

An awkward silence followed as we finished up looting the house. There was the usual stuff you found in places like this, a few caps, some common caliber ammo, and maybe the odd healing potion or piece of preserved food. Matchstick Flare looked like she was thinking about something. “Hey…” she said.

“Yeah?” I replied. Hiss was sniffing around a small pool of blood that was starting to leak down through the ceiling from upstairs. I hoped he wouldn’t start drinking it, that probably wouldn’t be good.

“Is Crescent Wrench… Shimmercoat’s… are they…” she stammered, looking everywhere but at me, rubbing her left hoof on her right foreleg.

“As far as I know, no, they aren’t related.” I said, guessing her question. “Though, since they came from the same Stable, they’re probably distant relatives, what with the limited gene pool and all. Is that a problem?”

“No! No, I just…” Matchstick sighed. “I’ve never been too good with kids… not being able to comfort them like that if they’re upset… Walnut was always the mom of the group, she’d get Peanut and other foals that we met from time to time cheered up in nothing flat. They’d think I was fucking cool, of course, but if there were ever a problem, I wouldn’t be the one to see. Unless that problem could be solved with fire.” Matchstick looked out a grimy window, a distant look in her eye, and I had the distinct feeling that she wasn’t looking out the window to check out the scenery. “Anyways, I was just wondering if my new boy-toy you… uh… sold me had any kids. It’s an important detail!” she blushed.

I giggled… for some reason the idea of Shimmercoat having kids struck me as funny, even though his stupid-sexy-stallion-ness probably meant that he might actually have children in Stable 11… I never asked. If he did, and hadn’t mentioned them thus far, that probably meant that he didn’t know they were his, or didn’t care about them all that much. The former seemed more likely than the latter, if he did indeed had kids at all. “That it is. Though they are close, ‘cause like I said, they came from the same Stable.” I said as we trotted out of the house, finished with our looting.

Crescent Wrench was still propping up MG-MS11, and she looked a little less sick and upset now that she was away from all the carnage. Shimmercoat was scanning the area, on the lookout for anypony or anything out of the ordinary. Probably relying more on his EFS than his eyes… I doubted he could see far even with those glasses.

“Alright, we got some food and supplies for the trek ahead!” I announced, pleased at the outcome of this little encounter. Sure, it was a little grisly, but those raiders would have done the same or worse to us, and we were set for a journey now. “Let’s head towards that General Atomareics building, see if we can get some repairs done on Sergeant Charge-On-In over there. I’ll need to get him opened up anyways to dive into his matrices and reprogram him to make sure he doesn’t do stuff like that again, that’s just asking for trouble.” I said, and with that, we trotted out into the constant drizzle of the wasteland.

/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

Fog settled down after the light rain after an hour or two of trotting in the general direction of the headquarters building. Visibility was reduced to nearly zero and the going was slow as we avoided the rubble of fallen skyscrapers in the streets. From the rubble, I could tell that we had passed from the suburban outskirts of the old-world city to what used to be the industrial sector; less ruined houses, more ruined factories. We more than once had to navigate around fallen smokestacks or through truck fleets parked in maze-like patterns. The three of us with PipBucks were keeping a nervous eye on our EFS, as this was the perfect opportunity for something, or somepony, to ambush us.

I heard something, a sort of snuffling noise. “Everypony stop!” I ordered, and we all halted in our tracks, ears turning and eyes open, looking and listening for any movement whatsoever. Everything had stilled… the fog amplified the silence, if that made any sense.

Hiss walked in front of me, making that same snuffling noise that I just heard. He was sniffing the air with his mouth open, his forked tongue whipping back and forth.

“What’s the matter boy?” I asked. “You smell somethi…”

Hiss growl-hissed, his tail rattling, his head swiveling back and forth, eyes darting from side to side. We all drew our weapons. Things could sneak past EFS, but a dog’s (or facsimile thereof) nose is rarely ever wrong. Hiss turned invisible, though we could still hear his tail rattling.

The seconds drug out to minutes. Nothing happened. Hiss stopped growling and went visible again, and after a while his hackles fell and he started to act like normal again. “Whatever that was, it must’ve gone away…” Matchstick said, not sounding very sure about it.

“Either that or it moved downwind.” Shimmercoat said, keeping his .44 mag out and ready to fire. “I don’t like this fog… even with EFS, something could easily get the drop on us.”

“Let the bastards come, I say! We’ll give ‘em what for! Give ‘em what for! Give ‘em what for! Give ‘em what for! Give ‘em what for!…” MG-MS11 started repeating himself until Crescent gave him a gentle tap on the voice box. “Error, vocal unit damaged.” he then said, going silent.

“We need to find some parts for him! What if he’s in pain?” Crescent Wrench asked.

“Robots don’t feel pain… do they?” Matchstick Flare said, looking to Shimmercoat and I.

“No, they don’t.” we both replied at the same time.

“They could! Sometimes when I was fixing the Stable robots… they seemed… relieved somehow that they were better after I repaired them.” Crescent Wrench said, frowning at us. “They might not express it the same way we do, but I think robots hurt when they’re damaged!”

“While this is a riveting debate… pardon the pun…” Mezzer said, “but I do not think this is the place to be having such a discussion. Let us move on before something decides we are a tasty snack that is obligingly standing still and making lots of noise.”

“Good idea…” I said.

“Thanks!” Crescent Wrench replied, smiling.

“Huh? Oh, right… uh…” I remembered that Mezzer was unheard to anypony but myself. I really needed to make sure that I got out of the habit of replying to him out loud. It’d no doubt get me in trouble some day. “In any case, we should move on before whatever Hiss smelled decides to come back.”

We continued cautiously, watching the swirling fog for any disturbances, keeping an eye on our EFS, and slowly making progress towards our destination. After another half-hour of excruciating tenseness, the location marker on my PipBuck began to flash faster, a sign that we were near our target location.

“Looks like we’re nearly there…” Shimmercoat said, confirming my PipBuck’s assurances. How it knew where the General Atomareics Headquarters building was from us just mentioning it in casual conversation I would never know. Probable pre-war satellites… or magic. I guess it didn’t really matter. The fact was we were here.

A green glow emanated from the fog as we got closer, and like a giant radscorpion emerging out of a cave’s gloom, the building faded into view from the depths of the fog. Its windows were emitting a sickly green glow, and as we got closer, our PipBucks started to click ominously. Magical radiation.

“Well that’s just perfect.” Shimmercoat said, frowning at his PipBuck as I thought the same sentiment. “We need shelter until this fog passes, otherwise we’re going to be jumped.”

“For once, we agree.” I replied. “I think those raiders had a few doses of Rad-X…” I dug through my bags, looking for them.

“You can use the inventory sorting spell on your PipBuck to find them, you know.” Shimmercoat said, smirking.

“Oh, right.” I blushed, and opened up that menu on the Stable-Tec device. What? I wasn’t a Stable pony, so I wasn’t quite used to all this thing’s features quite yet.

“You’re seriously considering taking shelter in an irradiated building?” Matchstick Flare looked at us like we were crazy. “Are you fucking crazy?” Yep, that’s what that look meant.

“If we have Rad-X, it won’t be so bad…” I said, scrolling down the menu. Ooo, there were YumYum Deviled Eggs in there… “And I’d rather soak a few rads then become some fog-monster’s dinner. Plus…” I added, gesturing towards the eerie green building. “if they worked with radioactive materials, chances are that they’re medical bay, or first-aid kits, or whatever they have in there, probably has some Rad-Away in it, which we could use after the fog lifts, or if the rads get a little too intense. Plus I know a few tricks to avoiding the worst of the rads in irradiated areas… it’ll be fine…” I gave a reassuring grin. Matchstick did not look convinced. “Ah, here it is! Three doses!” I looked at our little group. “…drat.”

“Yeah, there’re four of us… five if you count the furball.” Matchstick said, gesturing towards Hiss, who tilted his head at her. “I still say it’s a bad idea to go fishing around in hot buildings… and I don’t mean this kind of hot.” she waved her hoof through her fiery tail.

“Well, we could wait out here until the fog…” I started, but just then, Hiss’s hackles raised, and he growl-hissed again, staring straight behind me. Crescent Wrench, MG-MS11, and Matchstick were standing next to him, while Shimmercoat and I were facing them. So Shimmercoat and I could see the looks of horror appear on the non-robot’s faces as they looked behind… and above… us.

Something wet dripped onto my shoulder. I didn’t need to examine it to know it was drool from some beast that had decided I would be a tasty snack. And it was standing right behind me. A deep-throated growl emerged from about three feet above my head, and I did the most sensible thing anypony in this particular situation could do.

“RUUUUUUUUUUUNNNN!!” I screamed, bolting. Shimmercoat was right next to me, his horn glowing, presumably putting up a shield behind us. Everypony in front of us turned tail and ran for the safe haven of the radioactive headquarters building. Shimmercoat grunted, then looked at me, panicked.

“It tore right through my shield!” he shouted. This fun little piece of info encouraged me to move my hooves faster, and we caught up to the others in the blink of an eye.

In fact, we were just about to pass Crescent Wrench, who was slowed down by the bulk of the crippled MG-MS11. “Come on!” I shouted, even as I ran next to her. I swear I could hear pounding footsteps behind us.

“We can’t leave him behind!” Crescent shouted back, looking like she was about to burst into tears from sheer panic.

“Argh! Shimmercoat, help me out here!” I ordered, my horn glowing, a similar glow wrapping around the prototype Mr. Gutsy. Shimmercoat’s glow joined mine, and we telekinetically dragged the robot along as we all fled for our lives into the radioactive embrace of the General Atomareics Headquarters building. Matchstick got there first, and was holding the door for the rest of us as we all rushed in. Once we were all inside, she slammed the door shut, her eyes wide.

“Keep going!!” she shouted. “I don’t think the door will hold it!”

We ran further inside, past what was probably some sort of entry hall and into the main building itself. Our PipBucks were merrily ticking faster and faster the deeper we went in, but I’d rather have to deal with rad sickness later then being-something’s-lunch-sickness now. After a few twisty hallways and a set of stairs later, we slowed down to catch our breath and take stock of our surroundings.

“We… all… here?” I panted. A quick headcount showed that we were. “Alright… here… you three take the Rad-X, I’ll try to find some later, there’s got to be some somewhere if they… worked… with radioactive… materials…” I took a few deep breaths to calm down. “What was that thing?” I hadn’t gotten a look at it like Matchstick and Crescent did.

Crescent was pale and shivering as she munched down her Rad-X, but Matchstick was a little better composed… if still pale. “I couldn’t tell for sure in the fog…” she said. “But I think it might have been a hellhound.”

“Hellhound?” Shimmercoat asked. “Thanks for this, by the way…” he held up his dose of Rad-X before chewing it down.

“Slaves first… the Auctioneer way…” I smiled. “And if it was a hellhound, it must’ve been a sick one. Or blind. A full-grown healthy hellhound would have had us all as hamburger in seconds.” Crescent Wrench managed to lose more color, and started to cry, hugging MG-MS11’s thruster and shaking in fear. Shimmercoat looked at her worryingly.

“What are they?” he asked, going over to Crescent and gently tugging her from the robot, hugging her and trying to calm her down.

“You heard ‘o Diamond Dogs?” Matchstick Flare asked.

“From Stable books, yeah.” Shimmercoat said, nodding.

“Well make ‘em three times fucking larger, six times more fucking territorial, and twenty times more fucking ready to eat anypony who’s stupid enough to set hoof on their turf.” she said, making wild hoof gestures. None of this was helping Crescent’s composure.

I frowned. “Was all that cursing really necessary?” I asked.

“Fuck yeah, when you’re talking about hellhounds.” Matchstick replied. “Good thing we went to the second floor. They’ll dig up right under you, and swoosh, yer fuckin dead, mate… though that one was pretty tall… we should probably go higher…”

“I think we get it, Matchstick…” Shimmercoat said, looking meaningfully at the tearful filly in his hooves.

“T-t-t-t-they… came… from…b-b-behind…” she stammered.

“Matchstick is right, though… let’s get higher. Just in case…” I said. I was starting to get a metallic taste on the roof of my mouth… not a good sign. I needed to find some Rad-X quick… we had a couple doses of Rad-Away, but that’d have to be reserved for when we wanted to clean ourselves after we left here. I made a mental note to check any bathrooms for first-aid kits, as that was generally where they were they could be found.

We trotted around the second floor, looking for an unblocked stairwell or working elevator. Or a handy hole in the ceiling that we could climb through. The place was a mess. Because of the radiation, there was actually quite a bit of good salvage lying around, due to the fact that all but the bravest, most desperate, craziest, or stupidest scavengers generally avoid radioactive buildings if they can help it. Some of the salvage was from the saddlebags of skeletons in the hallways that were probably scavvies who stayed a little too long… unfortunately, though, no Rad-X was to be found on this floor, not even in the bathrooms (though there were a few health potions, which was always nice). Eventually we found a stairwell we could climb, and we did, with haste… just in case that hellhound decided it wanted to try and come from below. We didn’t know where it was, and frankly, I wanted to keep it that way.

“Woah!” I said as we reached the third floor. My EFS had lit up with red bars… there were things in here! Hostile things! “There are…” I started, drawing my rifle.

“I see ‘em. Don’t worry too much about it… they’re probably on the floor above us, if they just appeared now.” Shimmercoat said. “EFS doesn’t account for elevation, and since they didn’t show up on the second floor, that means that they aren’t on the third floor… in theory.”

“Whatever they are…” Crescent muttered, obviously still scared.

“Probably ghouls, if I were to guess. Wish I had one of them Pip-thingys” Matchstick said. Hiss looked up at the ceiling and growled.

“Yep, above us. Let’s stick to this floor if we can…” Shimmercoat said, looking at me with… was that concern? I glanced at my PipBuck… 145 rads… that wasn’t good. “Are you okay? You’re starting to look a little… stretched thin.”

“I’m fine… really…” I coughed, and my hoof came away from my mouth with a small droplet of blood. Not a good sign. “I’ll need some Rad-X quickly, though, or we’re going to have to leave… let’s look around bathrooms and offices for first-aid kits…”

We split into two groups, Crescent Wrench, MG-MS11, Hiss, and I in one, Shimmercoat and Matchstick Flare in the other, and began to search. This particular floor had a long string of offices down long hallways that turned at strange intervals… it was kind of disorganized, not a block setup like I was used to in office buildings. This was because some of the offices were much larger than others. I took a wild guess and figured that since this was a headquarters building, whoever had a larger office in here had more power in the company. Those with power within companies generally had, among other things, well-stocked medicine cabinets. I wandered into the largest office I could find, after having failed to spot any bathrooms when I was trotting down the hallway. My PipBuck continued to click ominously, and it notified me that I now had minor rad poisoning… though the onset of a headache and pervasive taste of blood in my mouth, along with just generally feeling weaker, could have told me that.

The office’s centerpiece was a grand wooden desk of enormous proportions, shaped like a horseshoe and wrapping around a large, spacious chair so big it was almost a couch… dwarfing the pony skeleton lying in it. There was a smaller desk near the door, still quite nice, though not nearly as expensive looking… it also had a pony skeleton still sitting in its chair… a boss and their secretary, perpetually at work for over two centuries… I shook my head and looked around some more. There was a terminal on both desks, the secretary’s was busted, its screen blown out, but the one on the big desk was still powered up and glowing a soft green light on the ancient corpse in the big chair. An empty robot charging station was tucked into the corner next to a large picture window, behind the boss’s desk. Bookshelves lined the walls, filled with decaying or burned books that had probably been only for show anyways, if I were to guess. I looked behind the door, but there was no butterfly-adorned case waiting for me… I coughed again, more blood spattering onto my hoof. “If… if I get to 400 rads, we’re leaving, hellhound or no hellhound…” I said. While I was fine with temporary rad poisoning opposed to facing such a beast, I did not want to die from said poisoning either.

“Coin! I found something!” Crescent Wrench said, looking under the secretary’s desk. She grunted, and I heard bolts pop as she pulled free a first-aid box from the floor under the desk, setting it on top. My hopes shot up.

“Is there Rad-X in there? Or Rad-Away?” I asked, trotting up next to her.

“It’s locked…” she said, frowning. “Who would lock a medical box?”

“Somepony with some drugs they didn’t want stolen… search that desk, I’m going to check the big one. Maybe one of these two had the key.” I said, gesturing at our bony companions. It was actually a heartening thing to see that the box was locked… that meant value, and it meant that this box hadn’t been raided since the bombs fell. All we needed to do was crack it open… unfortunately, those boxes are tough customers, and while I have picked a lock or two in my day, those were mostly locks on bomb collars… more conventional locks proved to be a bit trickier for me. I generally tried to find a key first before going at one with pins and screwdriver. A process which usually ends with me trying to force the lock, which doesn’t work sometimes.

Hiss followed me over to the big desk as I walked around it, sitting on the floor next to the skeleton in the chair. I lifted up a small square of metal… a plaque. A nameplate to be exact, after dusting it off, I saw the name “Square Notch. Nice to meet you, Mr. Notch.” I said to the skeleton. “Mind if I poke around your desk? No? Fan…tastic… ugh…” my breath petered out as I finished my sentence… rad sickness wasn’t fun at all. I started opening and closing drawers, finding a 10mm pistol and some ammo, and lots of paperwork, but no key. “Come on… where is it? There’s a key to every lock, right?” I moaned. All too often those keys were lost to the mists of time, especially when you really needed into something that was locked.

Hiss whined, pawing at the glowing terminal on top of the desk. “Huh? What is it, boy?” I asked, looking at the screen. It was logged out, waiting for a password that had also probably long since been lost to the mists of time… but this was a problem I was well equipped to solve. “Keep an eye on things, Hiss…” I said, closing my eyes. My horn glowed as a focused my magic… who needs hacking when you’ve got a spell that gives you direct access to most magical matrices? My vision swam, and the darkness behind my eyelids began to become decorated with flowing streamers of data, highways for my magic to ride on. There was one to the terminal, another to Crescent and I’s PipBucks, and one pointing towards MG-MS11. I’d check him out later, maybe there was something useful on this computer in front of me… I dived towards it with my magic.

The first thing I saw inside the computer’s code was the Robronco code signature, of course. It was the most common thing to run into on terminals and robots when I went matrix diving. It was also usually the doorway to the larger part of the matrix… something here was off though. The switch to trick the terminal into reading a ‘true’ on password acceptation was… missing! I frantically looked around the matrix, stuck at the entrance to the machine… there had to be something wrong! Lines of colored code ran forward into the terminal, supposedly coming from whatever mainframe was in this building feeding it its info. Maybe I could get around the login screen by going through there… I focused my magic, and jumped from the password line to the mainframe line, letting the flow of code guide my way in… there! I was inside the terminal’s mainframe connection, able to see the lines of code that made up the terminal itself. And boy, was this place a mess… snarls of corrupted code lines lay twisted and torn, pointing every which-way in an irreparable knot of data. Hopefully nothing important to my survival was there; because there was no way I was going to be able to access it. Matrices in terminals had a habit of decaying over time… sometimes you could sort through it, but it took a very long time and was mostly a fruitless endeavor, as all you uncovered was some dirty emails between two desk jockeys or something inane like that. Here, however, there were a few lines of the matrix that I could magically trot across without running into any snarls, code that hadn’t decayed. The most resilient stuff was the stuff that was generally the most important (generally, there were exceptions to the rule), so I shifted those lines from their ‘storage’ flow to their ‘display’ flow, bypassing the need to log into the terminal to get it to display what I wanted. Bingo. With that done, I backed out of the colorful code lines and disengaged my magic from the matrix, opening my eyes again to be greeted by the filenames of what I had just pulled up onto the terminal.

>10/01/77

>Re: 10/01/77

>MG-MS Prototypes: Problems, Require Assistance

>Mesmetron Fuel Cells

>Followup On Mesmetrf2sghu23asl/aew

That last one was probably corrupted, but the others seemed intact. “Coin!” Mezzer piped up in my head. “There are some entries on what I am! We must read them!”

“I see them.” I thought back. “I’m still mad at you for rooting through memories you had no right to go through, though. I’ll read those files for my own curiosity, but I let you know right now we have bigger issues on our hooves then figuring out your own personal history, first and foremost finding me some rad medication. Secondly is repairing our medic. If we happen to stumble across some information about you along the way, very well, but I’m certainly not going to go out of my way to find it after what you did to me.”

“But! I did nothing that thou would not have done to thyse…” Mezzer started, but I was not in the mood to argue with my gun. Again.

“Fine. I just won’t read those files. I don’t really need to anyway.” I thought with a smug tone.

“I apologized though!” Good grief I didn’t know Mezzer could whine.

Rolling my eyes, I opened the darn file he was so interested in. I was curious about it too, which was the only reason why I opened it. He immediately shut up. “Don’t whine at me. It’s my choice whether you get your answers or not, because it’s my body and my brain you’re residing in. I didn’t ask for your accompaniment, and while you saved my life, that doesn’t mean I’m going to kowtow to your every whim. Got it?”

“As thou says.” Mezzer replied. Good, maybe he’d start being more polite and less demanding about anything to do with him. I read the file I just pulled up.

>We tried modifying the microwave emitter like you said, Mr. Notch, but it didn’t seem to produce the desired effects, still melting the target rather than stunning them. However, one of our interns, Sunshine Daises, had a breakthrough though when she was preparing the ammunition for the emitter, much to our surprise and joy. She replaced some of the regular fusion isotopes with a special brew her coltfriend in R&D had provided her with (illegally, but we’re glossing over that). It’s some of the same stuff used to stabilize the M.E.D.I-Gun’s reactions to healing potions. Anyways, it worked, and instead of blasting high-frequency microwaves, the emitter now has the desired effect of stunning the target, making them susceptible to suggestions for a short period of time. There are a few bugs that are still being worked out (most notably the ‘rage’ and ‘cranial fragmentation’ problems), but I’d say that the Mesmetron is just about ready to be mass-produced for riot police all over Equestria. I’ll send the specifics over in my next message.

~Wavy Wind

I checked the other message, but it was as I suspected, nothing but garbled code and indecipherable symbols. Still, that was interesting. “Happy?” I asked.

“… yes. I thank thee.” Mezzer said… he sounded disappointed to me, though. He was probably expecting more, but didn’t want to piss me off any further. He was learning, imagine that.

I selected the first of the other three files, wanting to get through them as fast as possible. The rad sickness was starting to give me a migraine, and I needed to see if this thing mentioned medical or a key anywhere.

>Date: 10/01/77

Hey there, boss! Hehe, I’m so proud of you! This is your mother, over at Stable-Tec… isn’t e-mail just darling? Anyways, I wanted to congratulate you on your promotion to General Manager over at General Atomareics, and invite you over to dinner tonight. Your brother is visiting, you know, and I think he’d like to see you before he goes off on one of his little adventures again. You two are the jewels of this family, I can’t thank you enough for what you two have accomplished for us! Anyways, I’ve got to get back to work, and I’m sure you do too, so I’ll see you later! I love you!!

~Highlight Sparks

Wait a second… I recognized that name! That was the first Overmare of Stable 11! She was just a construction worker before she was saddled with being the boss of a Stable, if I recalled correctly. So her sons had been up in the world, huh? I glanced at the skeleton reclining on the big chair. Square Notch had met the same fate as his mother, unfortunately… though it’d be freaky if he’d survived till now, what with it being over 200 years past the end of the world. I opened his response.

>Re:

Date: 10/01/77

Hey ma. Thanks, but I’ve got lots of work I need to catch up on, as you said, being promoted means a lot of new responsibilities! I’ll catch up with Top later, if he can stay in one spot for more than ten minutes. I’ll have some time off for Nightmare Night, so I’ll come and visit then. Love ya.

~Square Notch

I frowned. If my dates were correct, I think the world ended before Nightmare Night that October in 2077. Square never got to say goodbye to his ma… and she suffered a terrible fate in the Stable she sought shelter in… Despite my own situation, I felt pretty sad at the unfairness of it all. Why couldn’t things have gone… better?

“Is something wrong?” Crescent Wrench asked, looking over at me.

“No, no… just some e-mails that were sent to ponies long ago.” I replied, exiting out and selecting the last terminal entry.

>Boss, there’s some issues we’re having with some of the prototype MG-MS series. Their equipment is fine; in fact, the newest tests of the M.E.D.I-Gun are better than ever, we’ve even managed to reduce the radiation output so that it can be used safely around soldiers in the battlefield, though it still has to be mounted on a robot. The MOP is ecstatic about this, by the way. It’s the A.I. programs that are starting to act up… we caught MG-MS14 trying to slice poor Sunshine Daises in half when she was visiting her coltfriend, and MG-MS02 is showing signs of what I swear is depression. I know the different types of A.I. are meant to show different results, but if one of them gets loose… not that that will happen, of course, but if one of them does, I don’t think they’ll reflect the best this company has to offer. Should I shut down the more volatile experiments, or keep them going as per the schedule?

Also, we’re having an R&D potluck up here on the fifth floor next Thursday, and we’d be happy to see you there.

~Quantum Flux

That was interesting… I knew MG-MS11 had had parts manufactured here, because that’s what he told us, but I didn’t know that primary research concerning the prototypes A.I.’s also happened here. If anything, this was heartening news, because that meant we might be able to find replacement parts for his repairs on the fifth floor. Past all the red marks floating around my EFS, of course.

“Ah! Found it!” Crescent Wrench said, clapping her hooves together before picking up a small key from the bottom of one of the drawers she was searching. “Sorry it took so long…” she said around the key in her mouth as she worked open the first-aid box. “Yay! Coin, there’s lots of radiation medicine here!” she squeed as the box popped open and she got a look at the contents. I made haste over to Square Notch’s secretary’s desk and grabbed a dose of Rad-X in my telekinesis, took it quickly, and washed it down with a dose of Rad-Away. In a few minutes, my headache was fading, the taste of blood was gone, and I was feeling much better. Just to be safe, I sucked down another Rad-Away… there were around thirteen doses in this box, and just as many Rad-X’s!

“Wow, somepony was really prepared for radioactive exposure…” Crescent muttered, her eyes widening as I dumped the case into my saddlebags. That handy inventory sorter spell on my PipBuck would take care of the organization. I think I love this little device.

“And I am forever in their debt… whew…” I said, relieved that the environment was no longer poisoning me so quickly. “Thanks, Square.” I said, turning to the skeleton in the office. He was probably the one that stocked the first-aid kit, since it was his office. I turned to the secretary. “And thanks for holding onto the key. Alright, Crescent, lets get out of here. I found some info on that terminal, we might be able to get replacement parts for MG-MS11 on the fifth floor. Let’s meet up with the others and work out a plan to get up there.” I checked my PipBuck’s rad counter as I told her this, just to be sure that I was actually okay. I now only had 60 rads in my body, and the rate I was absorbing radiation from the environment was now reduced to something I could safely ignore for the time being, thanks to the Rad-X. We also now had enough Rad-X to keep us set for a while, a good thing by my book.

“That’s great!” Crescent beamed. She was still propping up the damaged robot. “I think his voicebox gave out, he hasn’t said much since we came in here…” now she sounded worried.

“You’ll be able to fix him if we get the right parts, right?” I asked.

“I’ll need the right tools as well, but those should be here if they were making parts for Mr. Gustys.” she replied. “I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to do it… they’re not that different from Mr. Handys…” she sounded nervous.

“I know you’ll be able to handle it, it’s your special talent, after all.” I reassured her, patting her on the head. Crescent smiled, and nodded. “C’mon, let’s go find Shimmercoat and Matchstick… hopefully they aren’t snogging in a broom closet somewhere…”

“We could just track Shimmercoat with our PipBucks.” Crescent pointed out. “He’s that way.” she said, pointing.

“Right… I love these things.” I said, following the little tag towards Shimmercoat. Before trotting down the hallway though, I closed my eyes and said a little prayer to Celestia, before closing the office door, leaving Square Notch and his nameless secretary to their rest.

Level up! (Lv. 11)

New Perk: Fast Metabolism: Healing items seem to process faster and more efficiently through your system, making them heal more wounds and poisons faster then ever before!

Author’s Note: A new chapter, just in time for Christmas! Or at least, that’s when I finished typing it, hopefully the editors will get back to me quick and I can publish it around then. If you’re getting this after Christmas, though, don’t blame them, I am a bit slow with the publishing, as you’ve all probably noticed. EDIT: Woo! They came through, and this thing is out earlier than I thought it would be! Merry Christmas everypony! (Hearth’s Warming, whatever ^.^ )

And, again I hate to do this, but I might as well mention it, cause it is the holiday season after all :D What that all means is that my broke-ness just keeps getting worse. If you’d like to help a fellow brony out, my paypal is slinkyjeff@hotmail.com. Feel free to toss me a line there if you want to tell me something, cause that’s also my email ;)

I’ll repeat what I said last chapter, I’m not quite the begging type, and I happen to be a fairly good pony plush crafter, or so I’m told. I have examples of my work on my deviantart, sirleadhead.deviantart.com, right in my gallery. If you want a reasonably priced pony plush of any type, be it OC, fallout equestria related, or even a cannon pony (gasp), then by all means contact me! My prices are listed on my deviantart, but they are totally negotiable, and if you really want one, but are a few bucks short, I’m certain we could work out some sort of deal ;) .

Thank you for reading, and if you got any questions or comments, feel free to slap a comment on down there at the fimfic entry for this story. Love you guys! :D

HUGE thanks to Kkat for writing Fallout: Equestria and giving us sidefic writers a great big sandbox to play in. Also thanks to Lesolan, Shimmercoat, and Wirepony for help editing and proofreading this slog to make it something enjoyable. Really couldn’t do this without you guys. And thanks to all who hang out at the Sidefic Compilation doc for providing feedback and inspiration to write my own story. Also thanks to Bethesda and Hasbro for two great franchises. Hope you enjoy!