• Published 14th Mar 2012
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Fallout: Equestria - Just Like Clockwork - Starlight_Tinker



When the bombs fell, where was Doctor Whooves? Better question: where is he now?

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Chapter 1 - Secrets and Sewage

Fallout: Equestria
Just Like Clockwork

Chapter 1 - Secrets and Sewage

“Dear Princess Celestia...”


War...

War never changes.

Much like fear, war is powerful - a force entirely without mercy.

Fear...

Fear is what I saw drive my race to actions I had never thought them capable of. Fear was what cost me my best friend. Fear is what I see right now.

As I look into the eyes of my captive, I can see many different flavours of fear in her eyes: the fear of what I might do to her, the fear that today may be her last, the fear that that meagre thread of hope she’s still clinging onto is worthless. There’s a pleading wateriness there. It’s subtle, but it’s all I need to know that she’s silently praying to the Goddesses behind her gag that I’ll just change my mind and leave her alone. I didn’t expect that look to affect me so – it tugs at a now hidden part of me that I’ve tried so hard to forget. It’s the part of me that’s still...I don’t know...sane? Kind? Good? Whatever...

Her gaze reminds of what things were like before all this happened, and I think back to kinder times and brighter days...well, as bright as StableTec fluorescent lighting can be.


My name is Compass – the thing for drawing circles, not the navigational tool – and I’m a Stable technician.

I grew up in Stable 52, a massive subterranean disaster shelter under the surface of Trottingham near the northern coast of Equestria. Apparently, it was once a beautiful region, with rolling green hills and snow capped mountains ('was' being the operative term there). You see, about two hundred years prior to my birth, the world such as it was ended in a maelstrom of balefire; the final blow in a lengthy war that was allowed to escalate too far.

Okay – far too far.

When the megaspells fell, our planet was transformed into a bleak, terminally poisoned wasteland by massive pulses of hard magical radiation. As such, the surface world was rendered incapable of supporting life for generations.

Fortunately though, among our ancestors there were at least a few smart ponies (it was a shame they weren’t diplomats or strategists, or else the war may have ended before somepony had the bright idea of blighting our home). These smart ponies included the likes of Scootaloo and Applebloom, two of my personal heroes, who together with many others were able to ensure the survival of a few thousand lucky ponies by building the Stables.

Why were they my personal heroes? Well, in short, Scootaloo was a visionary and Applebloom was a genius.

“Compass...”

I mean, between them they may have very well saved the pony race!

“...Compass?”

And on top of that, Applebloom almost singlehoofedly defined the state of the art for Equestrian technology. She played a part in inventing terminals, Pipbucks, magical holograms, spark reactors – the list goes on! She was an amazing mare-

“Compass!”

My inner monologue was interrupted as a loud ball of shout tried to climb into my left ear.

“Ah! Petri, come on! That hurt...” I rubbed my ear with my hoof as the noise receded.

Before me stood my best friend in the Stable and the world, Petri Dish – a brilliant young unicorn mare who was only a couple of months my senior.

“Well, how else am I supposed to get your attention?” She responded with a smirk.

“You’re the only buck I know who can occupy himself by staring at a wall. It’s like you slip into a miniature coma every time you’re left alone,” she said as she rubbed her chin with her hoof, looking thoughtful as she pretended to diagnose me with a comical psychosis.

“I was thinking – you know how I like to think.” I responded blankly.

“Everypony does, Compass,” she chuckled, “Are you ready for tonight?”

A smile crept across my face as I remembered our ‘plans’ for that evening.

“Ooooh, yes,” I said, closing in, smelling her sweet perfume as I whispered in her ear:

“You’d better not count on getting much sleep, Petri...”

“Mmm...” she smiled, licking her lips and looking straight into my eyes, “We’ll see about that, won’t we?”

Our gazes were suddenly interrupted by a deep rumble as the hallway lights flickered overhead.

“What the...” I started to say as a pair of brisk chirps emanated from our Pipbucks. Lifting hers to her face, Petri quickly reassumed her normal professional demeanour. I quickly did the same, mentally chiding myself for not responding to whatever was happening in the same manner.

On the tiny leg mounted screen was a glowing green message dispatched by the Stable maneframe’s maintenance scheduling system.

>>PIPCLOUD OS – AUTOMATED INSTALLATION MAINTENANCE PROGRAM
>>!!! EMERGENCY NOTIFICATION !!!

>>CRITICAL OPERATIONAL ERROR DETECTED IN REACTOR COOLANT SUBSYSTEM 5T
>>REACTOR TEMP RISING @ 0.6K/MIN
>>IMMEDIATE REPAIR REQUIRED – LEVEL 3, SECTION 9

"Oh, Goddesses!” she gasped, “I’m needed in Medical – there’s been a pipework explosion on -”

“- level 3. Yeah, got that,” I said quickly as I returned my Pipbuck bearing leg to the floor. “Good luck!”

“You too! See you tonight!” she shouted as she sprinted round the corner at the end of the hallway.

I turned and made my own way as quickly as I could to the elevator at the opposite end of the corridor, arriving at the reactor substation on level 3 just as my Pipbuck flashed up another automated message:

>>PIPCLOUD OS – AUTOMATED INSTALLATION MAINTENANCE PROGRAM
>>!!! EMERGENCY NOTIFICATION !!!

>>SITUATION UPDATE FOLLOWS:
>>REACTOR TEMP RISING @ 1.1K/MIN
>>RECTOR TEMP APPROACHING SAFETY LIMIT

>>ENACTING SAFETY CONTINGENCY 004
>>EMERGENCY SPARK REACTOR SHUTDOWN IN 5 MINUTES

“Aw, crap!” I shouted at nopony in particular as I finished reading the message and swung around the doorway into the substation.

Apparently I was the first technician on the scene - the half dozen medical ponies present had clustered in front a billowing plume of pale blue gas. The blisteringly cold coolant flow was enough to freeze anypony solid in under a second, so they were keeping their distance, having already evacuated everypony they could safely reach. Slumped on the other side of room and separated from us by the coolant was a vaguely pony shaped lump. My eyes widened in concern as I realised that it was in fact Valve, a unicorn buck who worked in maintenance alongside me.

“We’re coming Valve! Hang on!” I shouted as I brought my Pipbuck up to my face and activated the Eyes Forward Sparkle.

A flash of green filled my vision as the EFS displays flickered into being and gave me, among other things, a remote readout of the reactor’s status.

>>REACTOR TEMP RISING @ 2.4K/MIN
>>REACTOR TEMP HAS EXCEEDED SAFETY LIMIT
>>REACTOR TEMP APPROACHING DESIGN LIMIT

>>EMERGENCY SPARK REACTOR SHUTDOWN IN 1 MINUTE

Being an Earth pony, I wasn’t able to reach the controls on the opposite side of the room without turning into a much colder and less alive version of myself. An alternate, and extremely fast solution was required in order to avoid disaster.

You may ask the reason why I was scrambling to avoid the automated safety system in the middle of an emergency, and you would be totally justified in doing so. Put simply, the Stable was at that time over two centuries old, and so was its primary spark reactor. Said reactor fed every system in the Stable with the magical energy needed for continuous operation, and included in that oh-so-long list of devices were several pieces of technology vital to the survival of me and my Stablemates (like the water, thermal regulator and air recycling talismans). In short, were the reactor ever to shut down, we would all suffocate, boil and die of dehydration...in that order.

All I can say is: thank the Goddesses for EFS! The neural interface that allowed me to operate my Pipbuck by simply thinking commands easily detected my intent and magically reached out to the control terminal on the far wall. Mentally logging in, I ran a control override protocol and pulled up the coolant distribution subroutine. I took a moment to gawk at the mess I saw on my Pipbuck’s screen: what had he been doing!? The coolant flows had been manually routed this, that and the next way. The system was so muddled up it’s no wonder the pressure excess hadn’t been noticed till it was too late.

I opened a command prompt and restored the automatic control settings, bypassing the pipe in front of me and ordering the system to reconfigure for safe running. I then gently ramped up the now concentrated flow of coolant, calming the enraged spark reactor. As the freezing cloud in front of me dissipated, I let out a nervous breath as the maintenance warnings on my EFS began to go from red to green and then disappear altogether.

The medical ponies rushed to help Valve as I looked on, confident that he would be okay – Petri was one brilliant doctor. As they carried away my unconscious friend on a stretcher, two of my maintenance colleagues, Atom Spark and Bulkhead joined me, panting heavily from their respective journeys through the Stable.

“Compass...ugh...what...ugh...happened!?” Bulkhead wheezed as he leant against the passageway, his heavy frame convulsing with every laboured breath. Not that he was unfit or anything – he was just big.

“Coolant leak. Valve and a few others are in Medical – I hope they didn’t inhale any of it.” I didn’t want to think about what the toxic fluid would do to a pony’s insides – the idea of being flash frozen was bad enough.

Atom Spark, being far smaller and more lithe than me or Bulkhead, recovered quickly from her exertion and swiftly approached the large control console that dominated the far side of the substation. Actually, scratch that – she galloped up to it so quickly she almost planted her face in one of the monitors.

“Did he hurt you baby!?” She shouted as her magic manipulated the controls and accessed the reactor status summary.

Atom Spark was our reactor technician – the mare in charge of our home’s power source. It was her responsibility to make sure that the reactor was always operating as best it could. Although, in all honesty, we often thought of her as the reactor’s mother more than anything else – she treated it like a loved one, speaking softly to it when it was being serviced, sometimes holding entire conversations about this and that with it. I’d even caught her stroking its casing once while whispering sweet nothings into a diagnostic port. The awkwardness of the moment when she realised I was watching her had stayed with me ever since. My prevailing memory of the encounter though, was that she wasn’t even the slightest bit embarrassed. More annoyed that I had been ‘spying’ on her, actually.

Back in the present, Atom’s eyes widened and her jaw dropped as she beheld the mess that had been made of the coolant network.

“WHAT THE FUCK DID YOU DO TO MY REACTOR!!!” she screamed as her head, moving like a well-oiled bearing, swivelled around to face me, her narrowed eyes piercing my soul. Her Pipbuck made a flatulent beep, but she ignored it.

“I, uh...the pipe...and, um...uh...Valve did it!” I hurriedly blurted out as she approached me with murderous intent.

At just under half my height, Atom Spark was a very small unicorn, while I was a good deal taller than most. However, despite her small stature, she still scared the living hay out of me with her 'episodes'. There was a reason that her cutie mark was a fiery splitting nucleus and not a happy little atom minding its own business: she had the most explosive temper of any pony I had ever met.

“I’ll fucking gut him!” she hissed as her eyes lowered in thought. Her Pipbuck farted at her once again, and as before, she ignored it.

“Whoa now, Atom. Don’t be too hasty!” I said, trying to keep my voice from cracking with nervousness, “I’m sure Valve was just trying to help, uh, improve efficiency or something. You can’t be angry at him for that, can you?”

“Compass’s right, Atom...” Bulkhead chimed in, having regained his composure and caught his breath, “Valve was probably just trying to give you a hoof with the power systems – this’ll all have been an accident!”

Atom’s gaze darted between the two of us as I saw her jaw clench - she was going to break a tooth if she wasn’t careful. Her eyes softened slightly as she stood up and inhaled deeply, calming herself in the way that Petri had shown her years previously.

“Okay...okay...I’ll let him at least explain why he hurt my baby before I kill him,” she growled. At that, Atom lurched out of the substation towards the elevator, while both Bulkhead and I scrambled to get out of her way.

I guessed she was off to the reactor itself, several levels below us to inspect the damage to the massive generator...or to give it a massage. I didn’t care which, just as long as her anger abated. Exhaling loudly, I turned to Bulkhead.

“She’s bloody scary when she does that...” I said.

“I know – did you see her eyes? I thought she was going to make you burst into flames or something!” he replied.

“At least she’s got that calm breathing thing – thank the Godesses for small favours!”

“Thank Petri, you mean,” he said with a smirk, “You two doing anything tonight?”

“Uh...yeah...so how bad do you think the structural damage is?” I quickly turned to consider the mangled pipe above our heads as Bulkhead snorted at my discomfort. I was almost sure that nopony knew about the specifics of what Petri and I got up to behind closed doors, but it still didn’t stop me from turning the shade of a Red Racer scooter whenever it was mentioned. Humouring me, Bulkhead joined me beside the pipe.

“It’ll need a patch and new supports at the very least," he said as he inspected the metal, "I’ll need to go get my spectro-goggles to check it for fatigue as well.”

Bulkhead turned to leave and start gathering his supplies a moment later. Just as he was exiting the room though, he called out to me over his shoulder:

“Enjoy tonight!”

My face burned crimson as I swivelled to give him an indignant look, but he was already halfway down the corridor. I huffed as I picked up Valve’s notebook and went back to my workspace on Level 7.


I spent the rest of the day looking over the adjustments that Valve had made to the coolant system. Bulkhead and I had been right - it looked as if he was trying to increase the efficiency of the reactor, but hadn’t managed to keep an eye on all the many hundreds of status readouts while he scrawled arcane equations in his notebook. I wasn’t surprised that he’d tried something like this – pipes were his thing. He had a bright red valve handle as a cutie mark, for Goddesses’ sake! It was his job – no, his calling – to maintain and improve the system. That was what everypony in Stable 52 did.

Let me explain.

Every StableTec Stable housed a social experiment. The idea, as I understood it, was to figure out what had gone wrong with society before the war, and fix it. Every Stable was to examine a different societal paradigm and then, presumably, compare notes at some point in the future and decide which one was the best bet for the Equestria of tomorrow. While this fact was kept from some of the inhabitants of those Stables as part of their respective experiments, such was not the case with Stable 52. Our Stable was designed to create an optimised society; a society of ponies whose purpose was to be better than they were the day before; to constantly strive.

That was our lot in life.

Take, for example, Valve. Early on in life, he had proven to be extraordinarily gifted with the study of fluid mechanics. As such, he was assigned as the role of hydraulic technician. That title, however, was far more than just a vocational indicator – it was a mark of his duty to absolutely excel in that field, besting all others and advancing the progress of ponykind through his work!

Like I said – he was really good with pipes.

By the time I had finished going over Valve’s notebook, almost four hours had passed. I wasn’t a slow reader, but his mouthwriting was awful. Honestly, it looked more like toolmarks in soft metal than the alphabet. On top of that, though, was his crazy knowledge of magic boundary layer correlations – it took me most of my time to look them up while he had apparently just jotted the complex empirical equations down from memory. I sighed as I closed the little spiral bound book and looked up at the ceiling. My lips slowly curled as I suddenly remembered what I would be doing that night. I rose from my seat and started a happy trot back up to my quarters in the Habitation section – Petri would be by in less than an hour!


I was just finished changing into my best barding as the door chimed. Practically galloping over to it, I took a reinforcing breath as the passageway hissed open to reveal Petri.

“I’m not late am I?” she asked.

“Not at all!” I responded, bowing and stepping aside to allow her entry.

“I brought a little something for us to enjoy,” Petri added as she crossed the threshold.

My unicorn friend floated a bottle of pale yellow liquid into my hooves as she passed me. The Stable had several moderately sized apple orchards dotted around the interior, complete with artificial mini-suns, but they weren’t nearly big enough to meet all of our nutritional needs – that’s what the waste recyclers were for. It was, however, perfectly sized for producing the odd treat or two (apple juice was a popular favourite among the ponies of Stable 52).

“How’re the pipework ponies doing?” I asked as I unscrewed the cap on the bottle and went to find some glasses.

“They’re fine – most have been discharged already," replied Petri, "Although Valve breathed in a little more coolant than he’s probably used to and he ended up with a nasty concussion from the pipe hitting him.”

“Dizh At-hum fine ‘im?” I mumbled, manipulating the bottle with my mouth.

“What? Oh! Did Atom Spark find him?" Petri interpreted, "Thankfully, no - we didn’t let her in. It’s a good thing too – she looked like she was going to impale somepony! I managed to calm her down though. She’s getting better at controlling her anger...slowly.”

“That’s Atom being Atom though, isn’t it?" I responded, as the bottlecap jangled onto the table, "Good to hear everypony’s okay, though.”

I poured the sweet, bubbly liquid into the pair of glasses I’d retrieved from my cupboard and ferried them to the table on a tray. Wait, Petri wasn’t at the table. Where’d she – oh...she was lying on my bed.

That was quick of her!

“Since we’ve all had some excitement today, don’t you think we should relax a bit? Get a little more...comfortable?” she asked with a gentle smile.

I felt my jaw tighten around the tray as I laid our drinks down on the sheet and tentatively positioned myself beside her. Petri slowly lifted one of the glasses with her magic and took a small, savouring sip.

“Mmm...fresh from the orchards this morning,” she whispered, her eyes sliding closed with enjoyment as the juice slid down her throat.

I fumbled with my glass as she drank again, her smile never leaving her face. When I finally managed to get a taste of the sweet, fruity nectar I found that it was immediately easier to breathe. I was able to relax a little - but only a little. Why was I so nervous? It’s not like we were doing anything we hadn’t done before...was it? Wait...maybe it was my subconscious trying to tell me something. Maybe I’d made some sort of faux pas and not noticed! I mentally ran through a checklist of things that I knew Petri would be expecting of me. Being polite? Check. Good personal hygiene? Double-check. Tidied quarters? Eh...semi-check at the worst - nothing too serious. Ready to perform?

Ah...

There it is - a nice big clump of self doubt. I was thinking about what happened last time. And the time before that...and the time before that...

“Well then,” Petri whispered, interrupting my now terminally worried train of thought, “Let’s get started...”

I felt a bead of sweat appear on my brow as she suddenly laid her glass down and started to shift on the bed. Oh, Goddess – keep it together, Compass! Gulping, I silently followed suit, quickly making my first move on her. Petri looked straight into my eyes as she responded to my actions, making a show of approaching me. As we continued to move against one and other, my initial trepidation vanished almost as quickly as it had first appeared, being replaced by a building rush that seemed to traverse my entire body. We were starting to warm; to sweat with the effort of our mutual exertions. I could feel myself getting closer and closer as Petri’s breathing became noticeably louder.

Oh, by Celestia! I could feel it! I was getting so close! The proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. It felt glorious – I knew I would be there soon, basking in that euphoric glow. But then, all too suddenly, I realised it wouldn’t happen – I would be denied once again. I felt a heart breaking gasp escape my mouth as Petri let out a beautiful little sigh.

“Checkmate” she declared triumphantly.

I looked at the chess board sitting between us and gawked. I almost had her! Two more damned moves and she would have been mine! How could she be so good at this? Better question – why was I so bad at it? Why the hell could I never beat her? The frustration built within me, promptly transitioning into anger and then, even more quickly, into a thick wave of rage. It spilled over me, radiating a pulse of warmth from my gut outwards and I felt my right eye twitch as my teeth clenched, threatening to shatter under the force of my lower jaw.

“FUCK!” I shouted, batting the remaining pieces against the far wall.

“Compass!” Petri scolded me, a look of distinct displeasure marring her face, “Language! If you’re going to be such a sore loser, I won’t play with you again.”

I immediately softened, ashamed by my outburst – the wave was distant now, having come and gone in less than a heartbeat. As I opened my mouth to start apologising, a flatulent little beep squirmed out of my Pipbuck.

“Ugh...damn it,” I groaned, lifting the wrist mounted screen up to my face as a message scrolled into being before my eyes.

>>PIPCLOUD OS – SOCIAL ORDINANCE VIOLATION NOTIFICATION
>>STABLE 52 RESIDENT NO. 36360 “COMPASS”

>>PROHIBITED VERBAL OUTPUT DETECTED
>>1 DEMERIT ADDED

>>UNACCEPTABLE EMOTIONAL DEVIATION DETECTED
>>1 DEMERIT ADDED

>>UNACCEPTABLE PHYSICAL ESCALATION DETECTED
>>2 DEMERITS ADDED

>>NEW DUTY SHIFT SCHEDULED:
>>WASTE RECLAMATION PLANT NO.4 SERVICE – 07:00, SATURDAY

>>***NOTIFICATION ENDS***

“See what you’ve done?” Petri said, making excellent use of her ‘I’ve told you before, but you’re too dense to listen’ look. “What did you get this time? Hydraulic maintenance again?”

“Waste reclamation...” I facehoofed and shook my head, thoroughly annoyed that I had just ruined what had otherwise been a wonderful match, “Listen, Petri, I’m...I'm sorry. Really sorry – I shouldn’t have let it get to me like that,” I tried to conjure a meek smile, “You’re just too good at chess.”

To my immense relief, Petri’s harsh gaze softened as she brushed my orange mane out of my face.

“It’s okay, Compass – you’re not nearly as bad as Atom Spark!” she said, returning my smile as my heart warmed, “You’re allowed to slip up every so often.”

I sighed, now smiling for real, but quickly realised that due to my outburst, I would have to wake up in less than four hours and start cleaning the shi- I mean the, uh, waste pipes responsible for ferrying several thousand litres of equine urine, faeces and whatever else could be flushed to the recycling plants. Seemingly sensing my desire for at least a small amount of sleep, Petri slid off the bed and rose to her hooves.

“I’ll let you get off to sleep, then," she said, "You’ve got work in the morning.”

“Thanks, Petri,” I walked past her to the door and opened it with a press of my hoof, “Night.”

“Goodnight, Compass,” she said as she departed, leaving alone with the imminent joy of my new work shift. I slipped off my barding and flopped onto the bed, quickly drifting into an unhappy slumber.


The next morning came far too quickly.

My Pipbuck woke me with a shrill tone as my eyes opened independently of one and other. Rolling over, I forced myself onto my hooves and started to sleepily wander towards the bathroom. After absentmindedly showering, I towelled off, pulled on my utility barding and started my walk towards Waste Reclamation 4. Twenty minutes after setting out, I arrived at the large maintenance door and passed through with a button press and a hiss. Inside was the gantry that overlooked the massive chemical processing plant responsible for keeping us all ‘nutritionally balanced’.

“I see you annoyed the maneframe as well, huh?” Atom Spark’s voice suddenly emanated from somewhere behind me, making me jump, “What’d you do? Lose badly again at chess again?”

“No...” I avoided her gaze as I blushed.

“Aw, you did, didn’t you?” She looked up at me with a disappointed look that quickly changed into a smirk as she walked past me toward the stairs, “Don’t worry vege-butt, you’ll get her one day.”

“You know full well my cutie mark’s a caret, not a carrot!” I said indignantly.

“You just said the same word twice,” replied Atom with a smirk.

“I can feel a physical outburst demerit coming on!” I threatened, raising my hoof in an idle threat.

As Atom and I descended down the tall staircase to the levels below, I reflected on Atom's teasing. I for one liked my cutie mark. It had arrived a little later than all of my friends’, but I felt it was worth the wait. On each of my flanks was a bright blue caret that blended well with my much darker blue hide.

What’s a caret you ask? Oh, for Godesses’ sake...the number of times I’ve had to explain this – look, have you ever seen a terminal? Good. A caret is what you get if you hold shift and press 6, okay? Okay.

No, wait...sorry. I’ll go a bit deeper – ‘shift + 6’ doesn’t quite sum me up as well as I’d like.

The caret is the symbol that terminals and maneframes use to represent the raising of one number to the power of another (so 2^3 would be the same as 2 to the power of 3 and so on). I always figured it showed off both my smarts and those little bursts of practicality I could occasionally muster – the connotations of calculation represented my proficiency with mathematics, computer science, physics and the like while the fact that it was a symbol used by real, working pieces of arcane machinery represented my ability to apply those skills to the world around me.

At least...that’s what I liked to think. There's a story to how I got my mark, and it does go a bit further to explain why it is what it is, but for now, I have a far more pressing tale to tell.

As Atom and I followed our Pipbuck’s directions to our assigned work station, I actually began to look forward to the day’s work. I had always liked fixing things; there was something so therapeutic about it. You diagnose the problem, then take actions to rectify it. Repeat until normal functionality is restored. Nice and simple...ultimately boring, but difficult to get a headache from. I liked it, yes, but I didn’t love it – repairing stuff just wasn’t my ultimate calling. Had that been the case, my cutie mark would have been a wrench or some other tool, and as I’ve just mentioned, it wasn’t.

I snapped back to reality as Atom and I came across the subject of our mutual work assignment for the morning. The accident with the cooling system had ruptured a large pipe much like the one that had fallen on Valve’s head the previous day, allowing its noxious, freezing contents to ravage a section of the waste reclamation system. We wordlessly went to work, thawing and repairing what we could and replacing what we had to, all the while trying to ignore the rising sewage-scented fumes that our efforts were releasing from the machinery.

Atom and I were a good team, and by the time noon rolled past, we had almost completely repaired the damaged assembly. Happy with our work for the day, and released from our punishments by our Pipbucks, we began our trek back to the more populated sections of the Stable and the promise of lunch. I was on the verge of engaging in small talk when I suddenly stopped in my tracks as...something...something that had no business being where it was tried – and failed - to avoid my peripheral vision.

We were passing a monolithic waste silo close to where another coolant leak had occurred, and I had noticed that one of its outer panels was warped out of shape, exposing the interior to the maintenance space that Atom and I were currently occupying. Each of these silos held thousands of litres of liquid waste. There should have been a torrent of putrid, brown nastiness emanating from that fissure...but, amazingly enough, there was a rich shaft of golden light streaming out of it instead.

How had Atom not noticed? That glow- it was so...so bright! Come to think of it, how had I not noticed it sooner? Atom turned to face me, suddenly aware that I was no longer beside her.

“What’s up, Compass? You spacing out over something again?” she asked with a wry smile.

She still hadn’t seen it...but, how? There was a gleaming column of gold coming from what should have been a giant cylinder filled with runny poo. I quickly decided that a little white lie would serve me well, allowing me to slake my curiosity – this was weird, and I didn’t want to try and explain it to anypony without first confirming that I wasn’t hallucinating from all the coolant and rancid fumes I had inhaled.

“Sorry, I, uh, left one of my...screwdrivers back at the last waste processor we repaired. You go on ahead – I’ll catch up,” I said distractedly.

Atom briefly squinted at me as if analysing my words for signs of dishonesty, but after an awkward pause, she smiled:

“Oh, okay – see you at lunch then!” she said as she turned and trotted away, leaving me with my mysterious glowing friend.

As soon as I was sure she was out of visual range, I briskly approached the silo, peeking through the gap. To my surprise I found that the inside of the structure housed a room rather than waste; a gloriously lit room with a central column made of gleaming crystal.

At least I think it was crystal. I couldn’t be sure without properly calculating the refractive index of the – you know what? I think that could wait until later. There was also a toroidal console surrounding the central column, adorned with the most eclectic array of controls that I had ever seen. Seriously, this thing had everything. From a standard terminal keyboard to what looked like a plunger handle!

Who in their right mind had designed this thing? I squinted hard, trying to make out the text on a small, well aged brass plaque bolted to the console’s periphery. As far as I could make out, it read:

T.A.R.D.I.S.
TYPE - 40
RASSIPONY SHIPYARDS, GALLOPFREY

What the hay is a ‘TARDIS’? I thought to myself, and why is it in a waste silo in a two hundred year old fallout shelter?

Whatever the answer was – I was suddenly desperate to find out!