• 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 8 > In which our heroine meets a hot mare

Chapter 8 > In which our heroine meets a hot mare
“Maybe you’ll ask me to come back again, and maybe, I’ll say maybe.”

“So… where are we headed now?” Crescent Wrench asked. It was fairly early in the morning after our escape from being slaves and crow food. We had been awakened from our slumber by yet another drizzle from the endless clouds above the wastes, and had decided to get an early start instead of trying to sleep while getting slowly soaked. We had been walking through the deserted plains for quite a while now; there was no path to follow out here, or any buildings close by to use as landmarks, but the map on my Pipbuck and my knowledge of outdoor navigation kept us on track fairly well.

“Auction House.” I replied. “We need some time to rest and recoup after all… that. Auction House is the safest place I know, and I know that we’ll be accepted there with open hooves. Might even be able to make a few caps off of you.” I said to Shimmercoat.

“Unlikely.” Shimmercoat retorted snidely. “You try ‘renting’ me to anypony without my consent and I’ll pop their heads by expanding a shield inside their mouths.”

I stopped, and turned to look Shimmercoat directly in the eye. We needed to get a few things straight. “Alright, look. If some raider or something paid for you and you did that, fine, so long as I got their caps, I don’t care what happens to those scum. But Auction House is different, full of civilized ponies… like Tootie.” Shimmercoat glared at me as I mentioned Tootie’s name. “There are rules and laws there, and you can’t go around killing clients just because you don’t like being my slave.”

“Don’t try and talk to me about ‘civilized’ ponies, Coin.” Shimmercoat spat. “The fact that you tell me… tell us,” he said, gesturing towards Crescent, who was looking at the two of us wide-eyed. “that we’re slaves to you… it means to me that you’re the least civilized of us all. Ponies are not property, no matter what kind of sick upbringing you’ve had out here that tells you otherwise.”

“Good grief not this again… you were going to use me as a battery!” I retorted. “Batteries are things, objects to be owned, and used to the owner’s benifit! So are slaves! What’s the difference between what you were going to do to me and what I’m doing to you? Oh, that’s right…” I answered myself before Shimmercoat could speak. “I’m not actually going to kill you so long as you keep yourself in line. You were fully intent on killing me before I forced you to leave the Stable. Don’t try and take the moral high ground with me, Shimmercoat, just do your job and maybe someday I’ll free you. Annoy me too much, and I’ll sell you, and believe me, I’m probably the nicest master you’ll ever meet.”

Shimmercoat looked like he was about to shout something back at me, but paused when Crescent Wrench reached out and poked his side. She looked like she was about to cry. “Please… we… can’t you two just stop fighting! It’s scary enough out here in this… wide space…” she looked around the barren wastes, her expression extremely nervous looking. Stable agoro-something, if I remembered what that medicine book said correctly. “without you two always yelling at each other! You’re going to attract that crow-lady… I swear I keep seeing them flying around up high.” Fearful tears welled in Crescent Wrench’s eyes as both Shimmercoat and I looked up nervously into the dark, rainy sky. I couldn’t see anything… “You sense anything up there, Mezzer?” I asked the being in my head. He had said that he perceived the world a different way then me… maybe the darkness of the clouds ahead wouldn’t obscure him seeing dark birds up in the sky.

“I do not… but I also do not think the little one’s fear is unjustified. Thou should probably endeavor to at least learn to tolerate Shimmercoat’s eccentricities… remember he’s been his own boss for most of his life, having thee boss him around is probably upsetting to him, even if he isn’t aware of it.” Mezzer replied.

The living weapon was probably right… “Alright…” I said, looking back at Shimmercoat. “How about this… and this is a special, one-time-deal kind of compromise. If you behave, and don’t be difficult with me or anything, I’ll give you some say in what clients you provide your… services to in Auction House. We need the caps, I’ve got to feed you two somehow. I’ll be selling your repair skills to buyers there too, Crescent. You seem to know your way around robots; I know there are a few ponies that will want those skills in Auction House.”

Shimmercoat gritted his teeth, looking at me, then down at Crescent Wrench, who was looking back up at him tearfully, her hoof on his shoulder. He sighed, and said, “Fine… I guess it can’t be that bad, if these ponies at Auction House are as ‘civilized’ as you say… No guys though. My barn door don’t swing that way.”

“Nor doth mine.” I heard Mezzer mutter in the back of my mind. I ignored him. Was it my fault that he was stuck in a straight mare? “Deal.” I said, spitting on my hoof and holding it out. He looked at it with a mildly disgusted glance, before reciprocating the gesture with only a token hesitation. Crescent stopped looking so teary, and was actually smiling.

“Actually…” she said, as we continued on our pathless way through the wastes. “Now that you mention food, I am kind of hungry.”

“Me too.” Shimmercoat said. “Is it not the ‘master’s’ responsibility to feed her slaves?” he asked, raising his eyebrow at me.

“It is, and I will. I’m hungry too.” I replied. “I think I have some food in my saddlebag, if those slavers didn’t take any…” I turned my head and opened my saddlebag with my telekinesis, glancing inside. The first thing I saw… and heard… was a beeping slave collar. The one Price had put on me. I hadn’t dumped it yet…

“… Crud.” I said.

*BOOM!*

I cried out, the pain blinding all my senses as my saddlebag blew outward, everything inside that pouch scattering all around us. That side of my barding was shredded to pieces, and my side caved in from the explosion, the shockwave feeling like a thousand hammers determined on breaking all my ribs in one swift blow. My insides seemed to liquefy as I was thrown to the ground. My vision blurred, and all I was aware of was the pain… blackness encroached around me… what a stupid way to die… I heard the muffled shouts of my companions as the pain faded away…

Wait a second, the blackness was fading away too. My hearing slowly returned to normal, and I heard the voice of MG-MS11, who had been hovering behind us with Hiss, shouting, “Get up soldier! Now’s not the time to be dead!”

Purple light surrounded me, and what looked like little transparent purple butterflies fluttered around my side as I watched it inflate back to the convex shape it was supposed to be. I felt, without pain, my ribs reforming from shattered bone fragments. My organs getting back to their proper locations inside my body. MG-MS11’s M.E.D.I-Gun was pointed at me, firing its healing purple beam full blast. I got up… feeling better then I had even before the explosion! My back twinged as the M.E.D.I-Gun was turned off, but otherwise the only hint that the collar in my saddlebag had exploded was… well, my destroyed saddlebag, everything inside it torn to shreds, and my barding looking like it was directly hit with a grenade. My purple coat under the torn and blasted Stable 11 barding was fresh and clean, as if it hadn’t been touched. Shimmercoat and Crescent Wrench were staring at me wide-eyed, Crescent muttering softly to herself “They… came… from…” Hiss re-appeared, having gone invisible at the loud noise.

“Well then…” I said after sitting down for a few minuets to absorb what had just happened. “I… thank you, uh, Sergeant. I would have… died without you…” I… I had just brushed manes with Death. My heart was pumping at a million miles an hour as the realization hit me, and I started to quake, my hooves shaking so hard I couldn’t stay sitting up. As I laid down on the dirt, MG-MS11 flourished his M.E.D.I-Gun.

“No problem, Sergeant Slot! That’s what a medic is for, is it not? Hoo-ah! That said, you managed to get yourself hurt pretty bad right there. We should be on the lookout for cloaked zebra infiltrators, I hear the striped bastards have cloaks that can turn them invisible, and they use this ability to plant live grenades in poor innocent ponies saddlebags! The fiends!” MG-MS11, oblivious to anything but what his pre-war programming told him, scanned around with his four orb-shaped eye sensors. I shakily got to my hooves. The irony of Price’s collar almost killing me then being immediately healed by the robot I got from the same pony was not lost on me. “Also, that last burst used up much of my healing potion stores.” MG-MS11 informed me as I got up. “I’m at 13% capacity as of now, I will need more healing potions soon.” Considering that the medical Mr. Gutsy stopped in the middle of my back surgery when he ran out of healing potions (which we had also bought from Price… that pony was mysterious in more ways then one. How had he gotten his hooves on so much medical stuff anyways?), I took his word for it.

“We’ll get some for you as soon as possible, Sarge.” I said, my voice cracking. I shook my head and cleared my throat.

“That was a close one.” Mezzer said. I wholeheartedly agreed.

“You, uh, ok?” Shimmercoat asked.

“Yeah… yeah. I’m fine. Or I’ll be fine… ow… that hurt!” I replied. I took stock of my barding and ruined saddlebag. “There goes whatever food we had though… at least Price thinks we’re dead now. Looks like our time limit for blowing up Maregaton ran out.”

“Do you still have the detonator for that megaspell, or was that in the saddlebag too?” Shimmercoat asked.

“No, that was in the other side, I still got it… we should probably get rid of it somehow. Wouldn’t want anypony using it, I like that town now, we’ve been through things together.” I said, looking at the remaining saddlebag I had had on the other side of my body that had fallen on the ground when its counterpart was blown to smithereens. My heartbeat was returning to normal as I calmed down. No need to panic when I was fully healed, after all, even if it was basically with the good luck that MG-MS11 had enough potions to fuel his heal-beam. I floated my remaining saddlebag up with my telekinesis and tied it to my neck with the remains of the straps, wearing it like a necklace. A rather heavy necklace, but it would work until I got a new pair of saddlebags. “I’ll need new saddlebags… and new barding.” I said. “It’s a shame too, I liked the Stable jumpsuit! They’re pretty comfy.”

“Well, yeah, it’s all we wear down there.” Shimmercoat replied, also sounding like he was calming down after the sudden explosion. “Maybe if we find another one somewhere we can fix that one. You did put a lot of work into adding the ‘11’ patches to the leather plates you added to it. Why’d you do that?”

“Well… you two have big yellow ‘11’s’, and MG-MS11 has his designation number printed on him. We’re the ‘11’ group. I like it, it’s like a uniform… like for a club or something.” I said. “All that’s missing is a little dog tag for Hiss with the number 11 on it. I should try and get one of those too.” I smiled. Having a group symbol was cool… I’d never had one before! It was just like those Guard of Honor comics, he had had his own symbol too, the flag of Equestria, and the symbol of the Royal Guard. Maybe the number 11 wasn’t as cool… but it was a start!

“Ok… I guess that’s as good a reason as any.” Shimmercoat said, shrugging. He smiled. “Heh, sometimes you get excited over the weirdest things, it’s like you’re a little filly on the inside.”

“Hey, watch it, mister.” I said, but I knew was kidding around with me. My brush with death, I realized, was also a brush with death for him… if I had died, his head would have been the next thing to be blasted to smithereens. We laughed, the tension dissipating as we blew off steam. Suddenly, Crescent Wrench ran up to me, hugging me. “Woah!” I said, surprised. “What… you ok?” I asked. I realized that she was crying.

“I… don’t want to be alone. Don’t… don’t do that!” she looked up at me with tear-strained eyes. I was shocked… did Crescent actually care about me? She was my slave too, even without a collar. Shouldn’t she feel the same way as Shimmercoat, even though she’s a bit more agreeable then him? “You should have dumped that collar when we were dumping the other ones after the crow-lady!” she smacked my arm. “Don’t be so stupid!” Woah, I think… I think she was angry with me! Also, ow… she didn’t look it, but Crescent had a strong hoof on her! That smack actually stung!

“She is actually worried about thy well-being. Thou should have remembered about that collar, I would also call thee stupid for forgetting about something that could kill thee. In fact, I do. Stupid.” Mezzer… explained. “Remember that thou has at least two, possibly more, lives tied to thy existence. Thou should be more careful.”

“Right…” I said, both to Crescent and Mezzer. “Don’t worry…” I patted Crescent on the head as she continued hugging me. “I promise I’ll keep an eye out for us… all of us.”

Shimmercoat trotted closer, putting a hoof on Crescent’s shoulder as she cried into mine. MG-MS11 hovered closer too, though the robot didn’t show any outward signs of affection. Hiss wandered around behind me, sitting down, looking around, and keeping an eye out for trouble as we got over our close call with death.

In tandem, all of our stomachs (besides MG-MS11, who didn’t have one) growled. We laughed, and I said, “Well, our food was blown up, lets go look for some more. And get out of this rain…”

Crescent Wrench squinted, rubbing her tears out and holding a hoof over her eyes as she looked off towards the south. “I think I see a building over there…” she said. I looked as well. It was far off in the distance, on the horizon, but there was a dark shape out there. Maybe a building, maybe a cliff, but it was the only thing visible on this flat, featureless plain for miles.

“Looks like as good a place to start as any. Come on, 11’s! Let’s get some grub!” I extracted myself from our little group hug, and led the way towards the blob on the horizon.

“Hoo-ah! Another fine day in this stallion’s army!” MG-MS11 exclaimed.

Hiss… hissed in agreement.

“Well… if that’s what you want to call us.” Shimmercoat chuckled, glancing at the 11 on his jumpsuit.

“Wait for me!” Crescent Wrench said, trotting back up to me and walking by my side.

“I’ll keep a watch out for crows.” Mezzer said. Always practical… and a good thing too. I still shuddered at the thought of the screams those slavers and slaves made as those crows descended on them…

I clicked my Hoof of Honor on the ground as the 11’s marched onwards. I didn’t know whether to call my slaves my friends or not… but we were something. Ma would be proud of us, I think. I smiled. The rain even seemed to be lightening up as we trotted to horizon unknown.

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

“Is there seriously no food anywhere in this darn mall?!” I said, frustrated as I exited another commercial building. “Seriously! I’ve found more food in caves.

It turns out that the shape off in the distance was a blasted out strip-mall complex, next to the ruins of an old highway. We were, by my reckoning, midway between Auction House and Fillydelphia. Auction House had plenty of food… but we were hungry now, and it was still at least a day or two’s trot away, even at a fast pace. When I had seen the strip mall, I had smiled. There should at least be preserved food somewhere around here, right? But nooo, there was nothing here but skeletons and empty vending machines!

“C-can we leave?” Crescent Wrench stuttered. “I don’t like this place…” she was getting nervous around the skeletons that were scattered around the complex.

“Not until we find something. There’s got to be something. I replied. I stepped out from under the eves of the building I had just left and looked around the mall complex again. To the side was the broken, half buried highway leading through the empty wasteland to where I knew Auction House was. This complex seemed a little… out of the way, far off from Fillydelphia or really any major urban centers. There were several crashed and burned out skywagons and long cargo carts dotting the highway and in the mall’s parking lot. If I were to guess, I would say that this mall was some sort of rest stop or convenience place along the road between Filly and… whatever Auction House was called before the war. But if that were the case… there would be more food, wouldn’t there? A rest stop shopping complex for cargo haulers and the like was sure to have food! Maybe it had all been looted already, even though this place was pretty out of the way. It bent around in a big horseshoe shape, with storefronts on the inside of the curve and the two ends facing the highway. Skeletons, sprawled where they had fallen so long ago, could be seen here and there, hinting at activity in this place when the bombs fell. I had to wonder… what were they doing out here in the middle of nowhere? Headed for some Stable? They were actually, now that I thought about it, trying to get away from the major cities, no doubt to try and dodge the initial blasts… too bad radiation travels via the wind and magical fallout knows no boundaries.

“Well…” Shimmercoat said slowly, looking at me with a small smirk. Oh boy, he’s going to make me sound stupid, I just know it. “If we take a look around… we’ve looked in what appears to be an old quill and sofa store, if I’m to judge by all the feathers on the ground in there with all the sofas stacked up against the walls… and you just exited the…” Shimmercoat looked above me, reading the still-intact sign mounted above the shop I just left. “Red Racer Outlet Shop. Sounds like gourmet eating to me.” Shimmercoat deadpanned. “You sure you’re from the wasteland?”

“Quiet, Stable pony.” I huffed. He was right though, I was getting impatient. I had explored the shops without looking at the signs above them, and without waiting for the others to catch up and join in.

“You know, before you run off again without us…” Shimmercoat continued, despite my order. For a slave, he didn’t seem to get the whole ‘Coin’s in charge’ thing. Must be because he was an Overstallion. “You could ask for our help. More pairs of eyes looking for the same thing will increase our chances.”

“I know that!” I said. He looked at me pointedly. Crescent, ever the one on the outside when Shimmercoat and I were bickering, looked from him to me and back again as we… discussed matters. “Just… I haven’t traveled with others for a really long time! I’m out of practice when it comes to taking care of more then just myself.” I admitted. Besides the odd slave sold to Ponyville raiders, it was true. Before I got Mezzer, I had mostly just struck out on my own as an independent contractor… not that it had made me rich.

“Well, I’m certainly not going anywhere, and I doubt Crescent or… that thing” he said, gesturing towards Hiss. “…want to leave you either.”

“Nor shall I!” MG-MS11 chimed in. He was hovering around the parking lot, whistling something patriotic.

“So why don’t we pool our skills and look for something for all of us to eat, instead of relying on the bullheaded slaver who doesn’t notice that there’s a sign over that shop over there that says, ‘Green Gable’s Grocer.’” Shimmercoat finished, pointing to the other side of the mall from where we were standing.

“Oh…” I said. “I… would have gotten there eventually!”

“Only after systematically checking every non-food focused store in this place, I bet.” Shimmercoat muttered, but then smiled a disarming smile at me. “It is pretty obvious though, you gotta give me that. How could such an obviously veteran wastelander like yourself miss such a detail? I can’t even see very well…” he gestured towards his glasses. “and I saw the sign.”

“Yeah… I don’t know what’s gotten into me lately…” I said dejectedly, lowering my head. “I keep making rookie mistakes. I even blew myself up from my own stupidity! How could I not dump that bomb collar as soon as I got the chance!?” I hit myself in the forehead in exasperation. I was still feeling the aftershock of being blown up this morning.

“It’s alright… we all make mistakes.” Crescent Wrench said softly. I nodded, but couldn’t help thinking… these mistakes were all the kind of mistakes one made when they were like these two; fresh out of the Stable. I should be better then this!

“Whatever…” I said, shaking off that feeling. It wasn’t getting us anywhere. “Come on, let’s hit the grocers.”

We wandered across the dilapidated parking lot towards the grocers. As we got closer, smaller details about it became visible… like the fresh-looking corpse hiding behind a pillar in front of the store, and the graffiti on the façade of the building. It looked like the ‘paint’ used for the graffiti was procured from the bodily fluids of the dead pony. “Guys, let’s be careful.” I said, drawing Mezzer. “I think there might be raiders nearby, possibly inside.”

“What was your first clue?” Shimmercoat said sarcastically, looking at the corpse with a grimace. Crescent Wrench was dry heaving behind us, having shied away from the body as soon as she saw it.

“You okay, Crescent?” I asked, concerned. If she was going to act this way around all corpses, then she was going to have problems when I sold to raiders or other tribes that used bodies as decoration.

Crescent waved her hoof at me, and then wiped her mouth. “I… I’m fine. That just… surprised me is all. Outside is really different then Stable 11…” she said, smiling, though I could tell the smile was forced. Putting on a brave face, obviously.

“Well, so long as you can defend yourself, you won’t end up like him… wait…” I said, then realized something. I had Mezzer, Hiss was poisonous, Shimmercoat had his shields and his .44 Mag, MG-MS11 had his buzz saw and magical plasma caster… “Did you pick up a weapon somewhere, Crescent?” I asked.

“No…” she answered.

“Hm. Well, that’s another thing we need to look for then, while we’re looking for food. What kind of weapons do you think you’d be good at using?” I said, turning back to the door of the grocer. We went inside, one by one, until we were all in the entryway behind the cash registers.

“Well… if I had a weapon, I’d feel a little safer…” Crescent said, looking around. “I’m good with hammers…”

“Excellent. Sledgehammers are pretty common.” I answered, also peering into the dark grocery store. Beyond the cash register lines was a large store that was lined with mostly empty shelves where food used to be sold. The ceiling was tall enough that a pegasus could have flown around the store easy, but the sign on the nearest counter said ‘Pegasi, please respect our rules. No flying inside the store.’ and had a picture of a smiling pegasus trotting between a couple of isles. Guess pre-war ponies didn’t want the hassle of managing air traffic in a store. The lights were out, but I thought I could spot a flickering firelight in the back of the shop under a sign that said ‘Pharmaceuticals.’ “There might be somepony in the back, be quiet, guys.” I said, trying to get a better look.

“There is…” Crescent said. How could she tell? “Use EFS, they’re right there.” She said as if reading my mind. Right, EFS, how could I forget… again? I mentally activated the PipBuck’s detection spell, noting the four little yellow bars off where I thought the fire was, huddled close together.

“Yellow means non-hostile, right?” I asked.

“Yeah.” Crescent replied. “Though they don’t know we’re here… they could become hostile.” She said, looking through the counters warily. Her stomach growled loudly, echoing through the big store as a panicked look came on the little beige filly’s face.

“What the hell was that?” a stallion’s voice came out of the gloom.

“Let’s go check it out.” A mare’s voice replied, and then called out, “We’re coming to look for you, if you don’t want to fight, either run or give yourself up now! We’re not in the mood for killing fucking thieves again just yet, but if you push us, well…” the sentence was left hanging.

“Should we set up an ambush? The shelves make good cover.” Shimmercoat said, drawing his Magnum with his telekinesis.

“Ambushes are a filthy zebra tactic Private! What did I tell you about reading those zebra stealth training manuals?! If you do that too often, you’ll go blind!” MG-MS11 said, not quietly.

“Would you guys shut up?!” I hissed at them, before Shimmercoat could offer his rebuttal.

“We can still hear you fuckers!” the mare’s voice said sounding much, much closer then it had before. A tan earth pony with a spiked purple mane popped up from behind a cash register’s station, pointing a long, scoped rifle right at me. She grinned. “This is our turf, you best turn and head right out that door right now. You’re right, prettyboy, these counters make great cover… and my dear Grinder is covering you from behind one of them with his fancy machine gun, so don’t fucking try anything. You back away now, we’ll let you go. If not, you end up like the thief we dumped outside.”

Raiders didn’t normally do the whole ‘let ponies go’ thing… I took a closer look at the mare pointing the gun at me. She seemed to be about my age, had scars running around her cheeks and shoulders, almost like whip-marks…

“Look at her hooves… they have those same tattoos as the pony from the Stable generator. Mezzer noted. I didn’t know how he could have seen that detail from the dark gloom of the store, but now that he pointed it out, I could see it. There were tattoos of flames around her front hooves at least, and I took an educated guess that her rear hooves had them as well.

“You’re a Flaming Hoof?” I asked.

The mare lifted her head away from the scope of her rifle, looking at my hooves. “Well… yeah, and I see you’re not. You know us?” she asked.

“Yeah, I’ve traded with some of you before.” I said. I actually had sold a few slaves to the Flaming Hooves, though I thought they were based closer to Friendship City then wherever we were now. “You guys are pretty far out from where I met with others of your gang, though, expanding territory?” I asked. My companions were staring at me oddly, but I ignored them. Most ponies considered raiders and gangers to be ‘shoot on sight.’ I however, have made a lot of caps off of raiders and gangers, and knew that they could indeed be talked to, if you were careful about how you did it.

“Nah, we’re not expanding, just our little group getting the fuck away from the hustle and bustle of Neighpalm.” Neighpalm, I knew, was the Flaming Hooves base of operations, an old train yard that they had repurposed. “You know how it is, big groups getting on your nerves? We just decided we needed some fucking space, so we headed out here, to the middle of fucking nowhere! Finding food is tough, but it’s an alright living.” The mare, at this point, had lowered her gun. “Well, if you ain’t meaning us any harm, I suppose you can come in for a spell…” Just then my stomach growled.

“We would like to trade for some food, if you’re willing. All of us are famished.” I said, putting away Mezzer and motioning for Shimmercoat to put away his gun, which he did with a wary look on his face.

“We got a stockpile, and we don’t attack the caravans that come buy here, that way they keep coming buy here, and we can buy food from them if’n we got the caps. I think we can spare a meal for some friends of the Flaming Hooves. Grinder! These ponies are alright!” she shouted. “M’name’s Hotshot, by the way.” She introduced herself.

“I’m Coin Slot.” I replied, smiling. “This is Shimmercoat, Crescent Wrench, MG-MS11, and Hiss.” Hiss stepped out from behind me as I introduced them all.

“AUGH! FUCK! NIGHTSTALKER!” Hotshot shouted, drawing her rifle again just as Hiss vanished in response to the loud noise. Hotshot slammed her back against the counter she was next to, peering all around the room. “Those things are fucking vicious monsters, look out!”

“No, no wait!” I said, stepping forward and raising my hoof. Hotshot lowered her rifle again, raising her eyebrow at me. “Hiss is my pet, he’s smarter then the average nightstalker. Won’t bite unless I tell him to.”

“Did somepony say nightstalker?” a purple stallion unicorn levitating a large machine gun approached us from my left, on the other side of the register’s counter.

“Yeah, but he’s friendly.” I said. “I assume you’re Grinder?” He had a grungy green mane and tail, and it looked like his cutie mark was a pair of gears. I took a curious look at Hotshot’s cutie mark as well, seeing that it was a… daisy? With a smiley face in it? Cutie marks could be hard to interpret sometimes.

“That’s me name!” Grinder said, levitating the big gun to hang on a battle saddle he was wearing. “Hotshot says you’re all good, so come on back! Just make sure that nightstalker don’t get spooked. We lost one of ours to a pack o’ the things a few days ago, and we ain’t none too pleased with them.”

Hiss reappeared next to me, and hissed. “The General says he will be on his best behavior in the honored business of the Gable family, Mister Grinder!” MG-MS11 said, levitating forward and following the ganger towards the pharmaceuticals department. Wondering how the heck the robot could interpret Hiss… no wait, Hiss wasn’t actually saying anything, MG-MS11 was just crazy.

“Well, that went better then expected. Thought we were going to have a fight on our hooves a second there.” Shimmercoat said as the rest of us followed Grinder and Hotshot.

“Ponies like it when you recognize where they come from. Those tattoos around their hooves that look like flames? That’s Flaming Hooves markings, easy enough to remember.” I said. Glad I remembered it too… my brain was feeling kind of fuzzy, and with all the stupid mistakes I’d been making recently, I’m just glad I didn’t open up on potential allies.

“If thee likes, I can try and figure out why thou art not performing at your best, memory-wise.” Mezzer said.

“NO! You are not going and rooting around in my private memories again! You’re probably the one who messed them up in the first place!” I shouted back at Mezzer, still angry for him watching me and my dear ol’ Ma… doing… spending our special time together.

I looked up, and saw that everyone, even Hiss and MG-MS11, was staring at me, with varying degrees of curiosity and concern on their faces. “Uh… heh. The, um, hunger! It’s getting to me… and the shock from being blown up this morning.” I said quickly.

“Smooth…” Mezzer deadpanned. Oh how I wish I could slap him…

“That’s one way to put it.” Shimmercoat said, rolling his eyes.

I blushed as we entered the back of the grocer. The shelves around us were pretty much all empty, only the odd trashed box or bent tin can decorating the shelves now. It had probably been fully looted long, long ago, as a grocery store is one of the more obvious places where one thinks that one can find food. The pharmaceutical department was a small alcove set into the wall, where the shelves had been pushed to the side, creating a little nook where there were dirty-looking mattresses set up around a small campfire, a pit for the fire having been chipped out of the tiled floor. There was a room with a doorway leading somewhere on the other side of the counter here, presumably where the store used to keep controlled medicines. One of the mattresses on the ground was charred and burned looking… probably used for fuel at one point. There was another pony sitting next to the fire, a blonde earth pony mare with a brown coat, the same Flaming Hooves tattoos as the rest of them, and a smiling fireball for a cutie mark. She had bandages wrapped around her forehead, and looked kind of sick, but smiled as we approached. “So they’re friends?” she asked Hotshot. Her voice was small and weak sounding… she was probably as sick as she looked, though with what I had no idea.

“Yep, good thing too. We can take two or three ponies, but these folks have some serious firepower backing them up.” Hotshot said, gesturing towards MG-MS11.

“Ma’am, you flatter me. If I had a mouth, I’d kiss you on the hoof!” MG-MS11 said.

“Uh… huh…” Hotshot said, giving the robot a strange look. “Anyways, this is Coin Slot, Shimmercoat, and Crescent Wrench.” She continued, introducing us. “Guys, meet Walnut Cracker. Or Nutcracker, for short.”

“Or if you happen to be on the wrong end of her buck if you’re a stallion.” Grinder chuckled. Walnut rolled her eyes.

“Just call me Walnut. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” She said, trying to get up, but hissed and laid back down.

“Geeze, Nutty, why do you have to always be so fucking polite, stay still already!” Hotshot groused, trotting up close to the sick mare.

“We’re a small group, but we try to look out for each other. Walnut’s gotten all sick… we don’t know what with, though.” Grinder said as Hotshot felt Walnut’s forehead.

“Is she gonna be okay?” Crescent Wrench asked, her face creased up in worry.

“I’m sure she’ll pull through, she’s been through worse scrapes then just a little sickness.” Grinder said calmly, though he looked worried too. “Come! Sit by the fire, we’ll get you some food… soon as ya’ll spring some caps, of course.”

“Of course.” I replied, pulling out my cap pouch. “Let’s see… for the four of us…”

“Four?” Grinder asked. I pointed at Hiss, who wagged his tail. “Oh, right.”

“Anyways, does… twenty caps sound fair?” I asked, knowing full well that the answer would be ‘no.’ I had started the negotiations low on purpose, though, no use in overspending just because these gangers were nicer then your average fare.

“What’choo trying to do, starve us to death?” Grinder said, predictably appalled at my low bid. “Four meals, that’d go for at least eighty caps in Neighpalm. And that’s where food is plentiful… I’d say double that would be the absolute minim… minue… min… smallest amount we could go for, the caravans out here are spendy, for sure.”

Shoot, he had a point. I thought for a second, wondering what I could say to lower the price. A hundred sixty caps was out of the question, even for the four of us. Other slavers would tell their slaves to go without food… but I knew down that path was a dangerous and foreboding morality that never led to anything good. That was the path of Red Eye and his slavers… yeah, not good at all.

“Momma! Momma!” a colt’s voice called out, and from the room behind the pharmaceutical counter ran a small yellow colt with a blue mane and tail. Still a blank flank, he was obviously even younger then Crescent Wrench. He ran up to Walnut and nuzzled her, before saying, “Flare and I found some medicine in one of the mall… buildings… oooh! That’s so cool!” he had just noticed we were here… in particular, he noticed MG-MS11. “What is it?”

“I, young scamp, am the Medical Sergeant Mister Gusty Prototype Unit Number 11! Commissioned by the Ministry of Peace and the Ministry of Wartime Technology, and designed and constructed by the good ponies at Robronco Industries, I am the latest in robotic combat medic technology! Help out the war effort by studying to be your very best, and maybe someday when you’re older, visit a recruiting center to show Equestria what you’re made of! You could even work with robots like me! Hoo-Ah!”

“Sorry…” I said as the colt’s eyes widened with glee at MG-MS11’s speech. “He still kinda thinks that the world hasn’t ended yet… robots, what can you do?”

“Good thing none of us are zebras, then.” Hotshot remarked, smiling. “This here is Peanut, Nutcracker’s son. You said something about meds, little Pea?” she asked him.

“Yeah… did the robot just say he was a doctor?” Peanut asked.

That’s it!

“Grinder… how about this; we trade my medically trained robot’s expertise and reserves of healing medication in exchange for some food. I’ll even throw in forty caps, if the leftovers of whatever medicine Peanut just mentioned finding stays with us.” I said. “I was just blown up this morning… that’s why my barding is torn to shreds. MG-MS11 healed me up, if there’s anyone who can put Walnut back on her hooves, it’s him.”

Grinder looked back at Walnut, then at MG-MS11, then back at me. I knew that the Flaming Hooves treated one another like family… or closer even. If there was a chance of Walnut being healed from some sickness that had apparently stopped her from even moving very much, then there was no doubt in my mind that Grinder would take it. “… Alright, sounds like a fair trade.” He said, spitting on his hoof and holding it out. I spat on mine and bumped hooves with him, making a small splash. Behind me, Shimmercoat made a squicking noise… wuss. I dolled out forty caps, and turned to MG-MS11 while Grinder went to get our food.

“Sergeant!” I shouted, in the most commanding voice I could muster. Being a slave master, this was actually a voice I had developed that I was quite proud of. It brooked no argument while remaining non-abusive… or so I thought. I’d obviously never been on the receiving end of it, so I wouldn’t know exactly.

MG-MS11 focused one of his eye-sensors on me, hovering straighter in an ‘attention’ stance. Rather strange looking on his spider-like form. “Yes, Sergeant Slot! You have a command for me, sah?!”

“This mare is sick! She needs medical attention at once! You know what to do!” I ‘commanded.’

“Yes sah! While my expertise is focused towards injuries rather then sicknesses, I’ll do my level best, sah! You can count on me, sah!” MG-MS11 said, and focused three of his eye-sensors on Walnut, hovering almost directly over her. “Scanning… scanning… scanning…” he kept repeating. Walnut looked worried, glancing at Hotshot and murmuring something I couldn’t make out.

“You sure this is safe… he is pre-war, they’re notoriously unstable…” Hotshot said, apparently repeating back to us what Walnut said. “Yeah, fucking Mr. Gutsy’s especially. At least Security Bots don’t really have much in the way of an A.I, but you don’t fucking know what you’re going to get with Gutsy’s or Handy’s.”

“He’s followed my commands since we got him, I think he’s alright. Granted, he hasn’t been with us long…” I said. This did not make Hotshot or Walnut look at ease.

“Oh!” Peanut said, looking at us. “Hi! I’m Peanut! This is your robot, lady?”

“Heh… yeah.” I replied. “He’s pretty sweet, isn’t he?” I crouched down to talk to Peanut on his level. “My name is Coin, by the way.”

“Yeah he’s sweet! I’ve never seen a Mr. Gutsy medi-whatever before!” Peanut said. “You think he can make my mom better? She’s been sick for weeks…” Peanut looked decidedly less happy as he mentioned this. “I just want her to be better…”

“Don’t worry, Pea… I’ll…” Walnut said softly… I wondered if her voice was soft because of the sickness, or if it was just naturally soft. She coughed, hacking for what seemed like two full minutes before taking a rasping breath that sounded like a death rattle… I prayed a silent prayer to the Goddesses that she would be alright. “I’ll… be alright…” she smiled weakly.

Peanut looked unconvinced. “Hey, Peanutty.” I said, something coming to mind. Peanut looked at me quizzically. “You see how all torn up my barding is?”

“Yeah…” Peanut said curiously.

“Well… I just took a bomb to the side this morning! Caved in my whole side!” I squished the Hoof of Honor against my exposed side to demonstrate… oh dear, have I put on weight? Shaking my head to dismiss that thought, I focused on Peanut again.

“No way…” Peanut shook his head. “I’ve seen bombs before, you’d be dead! You look like you just stepped out of a Stable and ripped your barding on the door on the way out!”

“Hey! I’m no Stable pony, they’re the Stable ponies!” I pointed at Shimmercoat and Crescent Wrench. Shimmercoat was smirking behind a hoof, while Crescent was looking on with interest at what I was doing.

“Coin is a Stable pony, Coin is a Stable pony!” Peanut teased, hopping around in a circle. While this… isn’t quite the direction I was meaning to go, my goal was being realized. I was distracting Peanut from his mom’s sickness while MG-MS11 worked. Walnut smiled at me… she knew what I was doing.

“Anyways, you little nut…” I continued. Peanut stopped and smiled up at me, showing surprisingly healthy teeth for the child of a group of gangers. They obviously took care of the foal traveling with them, a good sign in my book. “MG-MS11 here healed me with his heal-ray!”

“It’s called a Medical Extraction and De-fragmentation Injector Gun, thank you very much.” MG-MS11 chipped in as he continued scanning the sick mare.

“Yeah, it’s a heal-ray.” I replied flatly, rolling my eyes at the robot. Peanut giggled. “So yeah, your ma is gonna be fine, one hundred percent chance!”

“Actually, according to these preliminary scans…” MG-MS11 started.

“Sergeant! I said one hundred percent chance! Is that clear?!” I used my commanding voice again, straightening up. Peanut was beaming at me.

“Yes sah! There’s no need to worry sah!” MG-MS11 replied crisply.

“Pardon me for interrupting…” Hotshot said, also smiling. “But didn’t you say something about Flare coming in with medicine, Pea?”

“Oh, yeah! She’s hitched to the scavenging wagon, she sent me ahead! I’ll go and help her get the stuff in, she should be close by now!” Peanut said, running back to the back room. As he did, Grinder came back presumably from where the food was stored, four plates stacked with brahmin steaks and what looked like… carrots!

“You got carrots here!?” I said, excitedly. I like meat as much as the next… griffin, actually, considering ponies don’t normally eat meat, but a good carrot or apple really hits the spot when supporting a protein-based diet.

“Yeah, some trader came by with good food, said he had gotten it from some college-ponies from… somewhere, forget where. Bloody expensive, but we had extra caps at the time and Peanut really wanted to try some… figures that he decides he doesn’t like carrots after the first bite…” Grinder grumbled.

“His loss.” I said, grabbing the plate offered to me hungrily. Crescent and Shimmercoat did the same, while Hiss dug into his steak with gusto. I levitated his carrot over to my plate… hey, I did make the deal, didn’t I? And besides, nightstalkers are totally carnivorous.

“This is good, what is it?” Crescent said, digging into her steak. Pony after my own heart.

“Brahmin. They’re two-headed cows, except much, much stupider then a regular cow. Not even sentient.” I answered, chewing. “Well, some are, but only one head, and it’s pretty rare.”

Shimmercoat picked at his steak. He had scarfed up the carrot in no time at all, of course. “I guess I just don’t like meat as much as you guys…” he said, obviously forcing himself to eat it. I looked at my spare carrot, then back at him… sighing, I levitated the carrot over to him.

“You owe me for this, I really like carrots.” I said. “No complaints on your first job, no matter how homely she is.”

Shimmercoat snorted, but then shrugged. “So long as she’s not evil. Deal.” He munched the carrot with gusto.

MG-MS11 continued scanning as we ate, until finally he repositioned his eye-sensors back to their normal compass-direction positions, instead of all focused forwards. “Diagnosis complete!” he announced.

“What’s wrong with me…” Walnut asked from under the robot doctor. She was trying to sit up again. Failing, but still trying… I hoped whatever she had wasn’t contagious.

“The patient has: One count of the Common Cold, One count of Pony Flu, Three counts of Infected Lacerations, and Severe Radiation Poisoning. Suggested course of treatment: Plenty of fluids, bed rest, a charge with the M.E.D.I-Gun or several properly administered healing potions, and either several small doses of RadAway over the next week, or one large dose of RadAway now. I recommend the large dose, get it done quick so you can get back out to the field, soldier!” MG-MS11 said.

“We don’t have any RadAway…” Hotshot said from Walnut’s side, worryingly checking under her bandages. Hotshot hadn’t left Walnut’s side since she had found us… I was beginning to suspect that something more was there, though the fact that Walnut had a kid was throwing me off. Whatever… it’s not that I mind fillyfoolers, that’s totally fine by my book… just not with me. I could be reading into it more then what was there though.

“I’ll be fine, honey, don’t worry…” Walnut said, stretching her neck up to kiss Hotshot on the nose.

Or my guess was bang on. Go me?

“I recommend against too much bodily contact until the patient’s count of Pony Flu has run its course. It’s probably past the contagious stage now, but you can never be too sure!” MG-MS11 said. He was ignored as Hotshot kissed Walnut back. I looked away… again, not that I minded, it’s just… it’s hard to eat when two mares are snogging right in front of you!

I noticed that Shimmercoat was watching Hotshot kiss Walnut intently. Hotshot wasn’t just giving her light kisses on the nose… and Shimmercoat was way too interested in them. I rolled my eyes. Stallions.

“Look out, everypony, I come bearing chems!” a mares voice shouted from the back of the pharmaceuticals department. “Found em in that old hat store, who’da guessed? Had to unlock a goddess-damned crate to get at them, though, took me fucking forever…”

“Ah, that must be Matchstick Flare.” Grinder said to us. “Match! We got guests!”

“Any of them hot?” the voice asked. I snorted as Shimmercoat perked up.

“No, sorry.” Grinder said.

“Hey!” both Shimmercoat and I said indignantly. We looked at each other, and chuckled nervously, Shimmercoat adjusting his glasses and myself adjusting my goggles on my forehead.

“Heh, don’t you two think highly of yourselves… even though you’re right.” Grinder said with a wink at the two of us. I blushed, and Shimmercoat looked nervous. “But I’m afraid she doesn’t mean what I think you think she means…” Grinder continued, either oblivious to our reactions or ignoring them.

Just then the temperature in the room rose what must have been at least ten degrees. Matchstick Flare had walked in the room, and I could hazard a guess as to what she meant by ‘hot’ just looking at her.

For starters, she was on fire.

Secondly, she was on fire.

And the real thing that set the hotness bar high was that she was on fire.

While that minor detail was still bombarding the forefront of my mind, I did notice that she was a yellow earth pony with a lit match for a cutie mark. She was wearing some sort of armor that looked like she had taken old stovetops and riveted them to metal strips that covered her body. The armor was glowing bright red, radiating visible heat waves. Her mane and tail were solid sheets of flame erupting from her follicles. She sighed when she saw us. “Well, that’s depressing. Are any of them doctors?” she asked, looking back to Grinder.

“They brought a robot doctor, it seems to work fine.” Grinder replied, pointing at MG-MS11.

“Greetings! I must say, my thermal sensors must be on the fritz, I’m reading your body temperature at over three hundred degrees!” MG-MS11 said, hovering to attention.

“I get that a lot.” Matchstick replied. “Robot huh? Rad.”

“Uh… I… you…” I stammered. Crescent and Shimmercoat were similarly stunned. Hiss had disappeared again, probably startled at the strange sight of the mare on fire.

“Yes, yes, I know, I’m on fire, it’s pretty fucking obvious, alright?” she said, rolling her eyes. “I used to be a normal earth pony, happy as a clam living on the coast near Friendship City, then one day I was ponynapped and woke up like this.” She explained all this with the bored tone of somepony who has had to explain themselves to everypony they had ever met. “Shit happens.”

“Uh… alright.” I said. “I’m Coin Slot… this is Crescent Wrench and Shimmercoat.”

“Hi.” Shimmercoat said, with a small wave. The light from Matchstick was glinting off his glasses.

“Ooo, hey there, sexy.” Matchstick said, licking her lips. She spotted Shimmercoat’s collar, and her face lit up… more then it was already lit up. “You a slave, baby? Who’s the owner?”

“That would be me.” I said.

“Before Matchstick’s libido distracts her… again… might I remind you that you have something for poor Walnut here? Dipshit?” Hotshot said, glaring at Matchstick.

“Oh, right, sorry.” Matchstick said, rubbing the back of her fiery mane with her hoof. She retreated back to the back room, and returned shortly with a bag full of stuff. I had by now surmised that there must be a door to the outside back there somewhere, since Peanut had mentioned her being hitched to a cart, which she was obviously no longer pulling. She must have left it outside. “Here, two healing potions, some more bandages, and a bottle of Rad-X. Do we know what’s wrong with Walnut?”

“She’s got a fever and rad poisoning.” Hotshot said. She turned to MG-MS11. “Can you… make her better with that stuff?”

“She most importantly needs RadAway, not Rad-X.” the robot said gruffly. “ Rad-X increases a pony’s resistance to radiation, but does nothing for the stuff already in there! The potions, once loaded into my M.E.D.I-Gun, will do wonders for her head lacerations, but I’m afraid that… standby, processing theoretical simulations…” MG-MS11 beeped and whirred for a bit, sounding like he was having some sort of fit.

“I’m sure he can do something… he fixed my broken back when I first met him.” I mentioned.

“Bet that was fun.” Hotshot remarked as MG-MS11 twitched up and down on his levitation talisman. “Was he this spastic?”

“No… though he did stop midway through for a second when he ran low on healing potions.” I said.

“Simulations complete! Hoo-Ahh!” MG-MS11 shouted, causing us to jump. “Given time, I can use the M.E.D.I-Gun to refine Rad-X into a beam that will reduce radiation poisoning! Theoretically, anyways. Good enough for field emergencies, at least!” The container for the M.E.D.I-Gun’s healing potions depository popped open, and MG-MS11 floated closer to Matchstick. “Toss those potions and Rad-X in here, I’ll get to work straight away, we might be able to save this soldier yet!”

Matchstick looked to Grinder, who nodded. “They already paid for the supplies while you were gone.” He said. “If they can heal Walnut, it will be worth it.”

The fire pony nodded, and tossed the meds into the collection box. It snapped shut, and a beam of orange light, translucent butterflies flying around in it, emitted from MG-MS11’s gun and surrounded the sick mare. She sighed, and fell unconscious.

“What did you do!?” Hotshot yelled, standing up.

“At ease, soldier, she’s only asleep!” MG-MS11 shouted back. “Standard procedure for operations lasting longer then six hours!”

“Wait, six hours?” I asked.

“Twelve, actually. That is how long I will need to refine the Rad-X into something useful for this situation. If successful, though, it will purge the rads from her body and drastically increase her chances of survival. So long as you can keep the enemy away from us, she’ll be back on her hooves in no time!” He hovered closer to his patient, keeping the M.E.D.I-Gun locked onto her.

“I… guess we’ll wait here for twelve hours.” I said. “Is that alright with you guys?”

“Hey, if it brings my Nutty back, you can stay here for a hundred hours.” Hotshot said.

“Well, sweet!” Matchstick said, clapping her hooves together. I noticed that where she was sitting was slowly turning black and charred… I had a feeling the charred mattress was where she slept. “While we’re waiting… you said you owned the sexy beast right there?” She pointed at Shimmercoat, who frowned… but only slightly. Funny, I figured he’d put up more of a fuss when referred to as my property.

“I did.” I replied. “Why? You have a proposition for me?” I asked.

“Yeah, how much?” She grinned.

“He’s not for sale…” I started, and Matchstick pouted. “… but he’s available for rent.” She started grinning again. “Two hundred caps a night.” I said.

“Ah! But… but I need this… it’s been so long!” Matchstick whined.

“Really then?” I smirked. “In that case, three hundred caps!” Matchstick’s eye twitched.

“Oh come on! Can’t you give a mare a break? It’s not fair, you get him all the time!”

“Actually, while he’s easy on the eyes, I personally don’t imbibe in my own merchandise…” I said.

“Um… before you two get to a price you agree on… may I interject?” Shimmercoat raised his hoof.

I rolled my eyes. “What now? Didn’t you agree that you wouldn’t complain?”

“Well… Miss Flare… exactly how hot are you?” Shimmercoat asked.

“You can’t tell on your own?” Matchstick stood up and swished her fiery tail back and forth… “If you can convince your master to give me a discount, you can find out on your own…”

“Actually… and I’m not saying this because I necessarily want to avoid… what you two are arranging, but what I’m asking is; can you control your fire? I don’t want any important bits burned.” Shimmercoat said.

Hey, that was a good point. I certainly didn’t want his bits burned either; they were the moneymakers, after all. “He has a point. I can’t rent him to you if you are going to damage him.”

Grinder sighed as Matchstick sniffed, looking like she was about to cry. She turned and fled to the back room. “I’m afraid she can’t…” Grinder said after she left. “When she says it’s been a while, she means she hasn’t had any action since she was made this way. Once a stallion figures out she can’t lower her temperature… well, nopony wants third degree burns on their junk. And she can’t bring herself to rape anypony, it’s not her style.”

“Uh, good.” Shimmercoat said.

“Oh, I’m not complaining, I’m the only stallion her age in our group after all.” Grinder said. “But it is hard on her, I can’t imagine going without a good rut for so long. Her condition makes it so she has to be extra careful in burnable buildings, she can’t hold her food for too long without burning it, she goes through mattresses like no other, and she hasn’t had any physical contact with anypony she hasn’t been trying to burn and kill. She can’t even get our gang’s tattoos.” He held up his hooves to show us the tattooed flames. “Not that she needs more flames… but everypony in the Flaming Hooves has them but her, because the tattoo needles melt whenever they pierce her skin. We still treat her like our family… but it’s the little things that are the hardest for her.”

“That… really sucks. I thought she was awesome looking.” I said.

“Oh, everypony thinks she looks cool, or hot, pun kind-of-intended, but when you think about it… being on fire isn’t fun. That’s why she asked if you guys were ‘hot,’ she wants to meet somepony, anypony, like herself. Part of the reason she went with us when we left Neighpalm was that the crowd didn’t want her around because she burns anypony she touches. It’s not that ponies didn’t like her… but nopony likes to be burned.” Grinder said. “She’s had it pretty rough. She keeps trying to buy a sex slave, even got a couple of them from owners who didn’t care as much as you do about their slave’s… condition. She couldn’t bring herself to do the deed when they didn’t consent, though, ended up loosing a lot of caps on those deals for nothing. She can’t barter to save her life, if you didn’t notice.”

“Yeah… she was obviously desperate. Gosh, I feel terrible for trying to extort her now.” I said.

We sat there for a while, thinking about how Matchstick Flare’s mutation did her much more harm then good. “While it seems like it would be a boon to combat, I don’t think the benefits of being constantly on fire outweigh the detriments.” Mezzer said to me. I wholeheartedly agreed.

“Um…” Crescent Wrench said. She hesitated.

“What is it?” I asked.

“Where’s Peanut? Wasn’t he supposed to come in with Matchstick?” she asked.

Grinder and Hotshot’s eyes widened. “Fuck! I can’t believe we… how could we space so hard like that?!” Hotshot cried out.

“Matchstick!” Grinder called out. The fiery mare slowly walked back into the room, her head hung low.

“What is it…” she asked, sounding depressed.

Grinder didn’t waste time comforting the poor mare. “When you were coming back, Peanut went back out to meet up with you. Did you see him?”

Matchstick perked up, now looking worried. “No… I sent him up ahead to tell you guys I was coming. I thought he was still here with you… somewhere.” She looked around, obviously not seeing the colt. Her eyes widened in fear. “I… I didn’t see hide nor hair of him when I came in!”

“Shit shit shit shit…” Hotshot stammered. “PEANUT! PEAAAANUT!” Hotshot grabbed her rifle and ran for the backdoor.

“He would have come in by now…” Grinder said.

“I’ll go look for him too.” I volunteered. I didn’t like the thought of the little guy being outside alone for so long, not one bit. “You keep an eye on Walnut, and be here in case he comes back. Shimmercoat, with me, Hiss, Crescent, stay here with Grinder.”

“O… okay.” Crescent Wrench looked scared. Hiss sat, looking alert.

“I’ll go too… I should have spotted him if he’d come out to meet me…” Matchstick Flare said. We ran to the back of the pharmaceutical department, and, just as I figured, there was a door, already hanging open from Hotshot’s quick exit. I ran through it first, looking all over… he couldn’t have gotten far, right? It hadn’t been that long…

“Actually, it’s been over half an hour since he left.” Mezzer said. Not news I wanted to hear. Who knows what kind of trouble could happen in half an hour?

Outside the back of the grocer building was more of the same flat wasteland we’d been traveling through. Even a little colt should be easy to spot… but, as I looked to our right, I saw that a large rock outcropping, almost like a small mountain, jutted up from the wastes a short distance away, and that Hotshot was galloping right for it. Scanning the horizon and not seeing Peanut or anypony anywhere, there was only two places he could have gone; either the outcropping, or some other store in the mall. “Shimmercoat, check out these other stores, maybe he went exploring without telling us.” I commanded. “I’ll head for that outcropping with Flare.”

“It’s more then two hundred yards away.” Shimmercoat said. Oh, right, his leash. I opened the detonator program on my PipBuck and deactivated the leash feature.

“There, special circumstances only, you don’t have a leash now.” I said. “Don’t get used to it. I can still track you. I’ll meet you back here if we find him, send us some sort of signal if you find him.” I said. He nodded and went off towards the most wrecked looking building in the strip mall, somewhere a foal would probably climb all over and get himself into trouble. Flare and I galloped after Hotshot, and I prayed to the Goddesses that Peanut was alright.

Level up! (Lv. 9)

New Perk: Foal At Heart: Turns out you’re better with kids then you thought you were! Probably because your inner self is still a filly… You gain special speech options when dealing with foals.

Author’s Note: Again, super sorry for the late chapter… I need to make a buffer or something, but for some reason I doubt that’s going to happen… In any case, I’ll do my level best to get chapter nine to you guys asap! If you got questions or concerns, feel free to drop a comment!

HUGE thanks to Kkat for writing Fallout: Equestria and giving us sidefic writers a great big sandbox to play in. Also thanks to Lesolan and Shimmercoat help editing and proofreading this slog to make it something enjoyable. 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!