• Published 14th Mar 2012
  • 5,355 Views, 293 Comments

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 3 - Trotfell

Chapter 3 – Trotfell

“We here at Sweet Apple Acres sure do like making new friends.”

My captive mewled gently into her gag as I stroked her mane.

It was about time she stopped crying. I mean, I’d only bound and gagged her in her own home...and stolen the contents of her medical box...and raided her kitchen.

What?

Stop making that face!

Okay! Fine! I...I kind of...shot her as well – but it was a complete accident!

Anyway, apparently not raping or attempting to eat her was a good sign in her book. Either that, or she was especially susceptible to the effects of Stockholm syndrome.

Really, it didn’t matter which was the case. The bullet would have to come out, and no amount of delusion or friendly gestures were going to stop her from resisting.

I gently levitated my survival knife into the flame of a nearby candle in order to sterilise it.

Her eyes were closed. Good – hopefully she wouldn’t see it coming.

I raised the knife slowly to her bloodied flank, taking note of her cutie mark: a bright red cross.

Seemed appropriate somehow...

Everything was so calm – you’d never guess that every pony in the land was out to get me; to find the “monster”. She was so still, so calm; almost asleep in fact.

I gritted my teeth and steadied my glowing grip on the knife.

With more care than I had ever exercised before in my life, I drove the searing tip into her wound...


The scream was close.

I was galloping through a long stone corridor; an example of what I believe is called ‘a cave’. It went on for ages, which made sense, I mused – Stables were more often than not built inside large geological formations like mountains and hills; deep underground where not even the strongest magical radiation could penetrate.

There was a wan light at the end of rocky tunnel, getting progressively brighter as I approached. I was immediately fascinated – it was silver; a silver light! First vitalising gold light, now mysterious silver! What a day for discovering new colours!

I felt a burgeoning sense of elation as I closed in on the land beyond. Honestly, it made me feel guilty – I should have been serious and distraught and stoically brave...but all I could concentrate on was the prospect of a whole different world filled with ponies and all their different lives, individual stories and unique experiences! I quickly realised that I was no longer just running from the Stable. Nor was I just running for help.

I was running toward an adventure!

Maybe the outside world of Equestria wouldn’t be so awful after-

“...by the Goddess...” I whispered as I rocketed out into the midnight glow, my eyes wide and my jaw slack.

I had conceptually referred to this place as the Wasteland before...

Sometimes I hated being right.

A landscape unlike anything I could have imagined stretched out before me – harsh and barren, it assaulted my gaze with its sad beauty.

All those stories...

I scanned the horizon, taking in every minute detail of the now ancient devastation.

I looked intently for any sign of civilisation, but could see naught but ruins.

In the distance there was a shack with rotten wooden walls and missing roof tiles. I wondered: who had lived there? What were they like? Did they have friends?

That sky wagon. Whose was it? Was it well cared for by its owner? I’d never know...nopony would ever know!

Simple things; simple little stories. The tiny tidbits of ponies lives you pick up through conversation. They were lost...forever...

It was altogether too much for me – I gently knelt where I stood and began to weep.

This place was so sad, so absolutely full of perfect sorrow!

“...no.” I whispered between gasps.

“...WHY!?” I screamed as tears careened down my face. I saw the faces of thousands in my mind’s eye, all of them with their own fears and desires, their own loves and hates, and I mourned them...all of them...simultaneously.

I was feeling the loss of a world.

All at once.

In the distance, the scream resurfaced.

“NO! JUST ONE! PLEASE! JUST ONE!” I shouted and whimpered in equal measure as I shot to my hooves and sprinted toward the source of the distress.

I had to help this pony. Why? Because as far as I was concerned, they were the one and only creature left in Equestria. It didn’t matter if they weren’t – their scream had become my own personal microcosm of the end of the world.

I was feeling the apocalypse as if it had just happened.

If I didn’t help this screaming pony...I’d be alone forever. The feeling of desperation; of imminent despair, was terrifying.

I ran. I ran for my life. And I ran for theirs.

Reaching the top of a small hill, I looked down on the land below to see a pale blue pegasus mare attempting to evade a robotic sentry (with limited success, I might add).

The relief I felt at seeing this actual, living pony was unbelievable. Like a wondrous wave, the emotion washed over me.

I sped toward her attacker, using my elation as fuel for what might just have been the stupidest thing I had ever done.

“ALLONS-Y!!!” I screamed as I leapt over the rise, the Screwdriver flicking into my mouth mid-flight. Where I had gotten that phrase, I had no idea – but it was good as any battle cry!

The metal pony (a model B90 Robronco Ponitron, to be more precise) didn’t know what hit it. I landed on its back and plunged the Screwdriver into the spell matrix node that I knew would be housed in its neck. It bucked wildly in an attempt to dislodge me, smashing the tip of the tool between the articulated armour of its neck.

I managed to retain my grip on the Screwdriver as the robot fought to free itself, and following a short, laboured buzz, the metal pony’s head fell to the ground leaving its body to mindlessly gallop off in one direction. It would probably be running until its spark battery was depleted, and given the fact that it was still operational after two hundred years, I guessed that it would be doing quite a lot of running.

Turning to the fallen pegasus, I approached tentatively so as to not scare her. Smiling sweetly, I addressed her in an even, friendly tone.

“Hello? My name’s-”

“Get! Get it...away!” She was slurring her speech, trying to rise to four hooves, when clearly she had entirely lost the ability to balance.

“N-need...hooome!” I closed in, easily avoiding her concussed flailing – she had a large, angry looking wound on her forehead which I guessed was the source of her confusion.

Looking straight into her eyes, I examined her pupil dilation (Petri’s influence again – I was eternally thankful for all she’d taught me!)

“Looks like you could use a doctor...” I said as I gently released her head from my hooves. In large, friendly words, I tried to figure out her destination.

“Where – is – home – for – you?”

“Doc...tor? You...you...it’s...where?” Her eyes were drooping – I wasn’t about to let her lose consciousness with such a large head injury!

“Hey! HEY! Don’t you dare sleep! NO sleeping! Got that!? Awake! Now!” I applied a firm pinch with my hooves to her flank, forcing her closer to lucidity for a few seconds.

“Where is your home? I’ll take you there, but I need a direction!”

“Tr-Trot...fell. That way...th-thirty m-minutes...”

“No sleeping! Tell me about yourself! Tell me, uh...oh, yeah! What’s your name!? Tell me about your life; this Trotfell place. What were you doing with that robot!?” I shouted and shouted, desperately trying to keep her awake as I hoisted her onto my back and started off in the direction she had indicated.

“You awake!? No sleep, remember!” I was practically screaming now. Please don’t let her go. Please. I need her to live. I need her to survive.

She was my beacon. My one voice in the Wasteland.

“...Mo...”

“That’s good! Keep talking! Even if it’s a load of crap, just stay awake!”

“...my name...you...arse! It-it’s Moon Sh...Shadow...”

The smile that spread across my face threatened to split my head in two.

“Pleased to meet you, Moon Shadow...”

“Likepies...”


We conversed disjointedly as I pressed on toward this “Trotfell” place. From what I had managed to garner during the more lucid phases of our talk, Moon Shadow (or “Mo” as she preferred) was some sort of scavenger, making her living by raking through the ruins of what was once Equestria and selling her spoils to others (she had been out scavenging for spark batteries when the roving ponitron had decided that she was worth attacking).

I was both impressed and relieved that there was commerce out here – I had been worried that that sort of civilised behaviour would have been one of the first things the survivors of the war would have ditched.

I also learned that her favourite colour was orange - she really liked my main.

Her concussion was pretty bad, and wasn’t being helped by the constant oscillation of my shoulders as I carried her toward help.

As we walked – well, as I walked – I became more and more aware of the extent of the devastation around me. Everything was just so...so hopeless!

I looked up at the night sky expecting to see beauty and majesty; a sea of light and wonder.

All I got was a cloud layer...a great big grey cloud layer.

In the distance, I noticed a glowing haze indicative of spark powered lights. As I recognised that we were closing in on Trotfell, I hastened my pace, taking care to keep Mo centred on my back so she wouldn’t fall.

I noted the town’s high walls as we approached, and also the large number of towers lining its periphery. I had counted sixteen of them when the ground in front of me erupted in a flameless miniature explosion.

Before I could even think about uttering an expletive, a harsh white light engulfed Mo and me as the cone of a searchlight swivelled around to illuminate us.

A gruff amplified voice rang out across the wastes:

“Hold it there, stranger! Whit’s your business?”

Squinting against the light I shouted back:

“I found a mare who says she’s from a place called Trotfell. She needs medical attention; her name’s Moon Shadow.”

Without missing a beat, the voice replied in unison with the sound of huge rusted gate swinging open.

“Approach the gate. Slowly.”

As I neared the entrance, the spotlights were turned off again and I was able to make out two huge figures standing in front of me. They were both Earth pony stallions, and each seemed to be carrying a long pipe. I didn’t like the look on their faces, nor did I like the way they were pointing their pipes at me! They must have been some sort of weaponry – and I was definitely on the wrong end of them!

The larger of the two approached me cautiously as a trio of unicorns trotted hastily from inside the wall to where we were standing. Two of them were carrying a large medical stretcher between them.

“Surrender the mare. Place her gently on the stretcher and ye can be on yer way.” shouted the giant Earth pony.

“But I don’t have anywhere to-”

A burst of orange flame erupted from the guard’s pipe as the patch of earth directly in between us spontaneously turned to animated dust.

“I told you tae surrender the mare! Put her on the stretcher, then turn your flank around and get the fuck oot o' here!”

One of the medics, a mint-maned unicorn, cleared her throat and addressed the guard:

“Buckshot, I’m pretty sure he’s not a threat – you can let him in.”

“He has Sage’s daughter on his back wi' a head wound! Who knows whit he’s been up tae!”

“Well, seeing as how Mo’s ended up at the gates of her hometown with all of her gear intact and a still- beating heart in her chest, I’m going to assume that he’s not a raider or slaver. If he was either, he wouldn’t be here now, would he?”

She had him there – nice reasoning, minty

“But he’s- She...” The guard looked from me to the medical pony and back again, blinking as he processed her logic. He must have been tired – nopony with a whole brain could be that slow.

“...fuck...” he grunted.

With a clearly exasperated facial expression, he stood aside to let the medics approach me. The mint-maned one stepped forward while making a big show of standing tall. She fixed me with a determined, authoritative stare that wasn’t entirely unlike Petri’s.

“My name is Caring Heart. I’m the chief medic of Trotfell. We’ll be taking Moon Shadow now, and you can follow us inside after you’ve surrendered your weapons. Do you understand?” she informed me.

I nodded while gently lowering the now barely conscious Mo onto the stretcher as two of the medics carried her back into the town.

Both the guard and the third medic looked at me expectantly as the stretcher disappeared behind the wall.

“Uh...I don’t...have any weapons to surrender.” I shrugged, hoping that I wasn’t about to disappoint them.

To be perfectly honest, I was starting to panic again.

My voice in the Wastes had gone, her friends obviously didn’t like me, and they were all seemingly armed with some kind of powerful pipe weapons.

The prospect of them turning around and heading back into the sealed town was far too real for my liking. I didn’t want to be alone again. It may have only been for a few minutes between leaving the Stable and meeting Mo, but even that short time had seemed like an eternity to me.

I was sure that if it happened again...I would lose myself. To the fear of being alone...

Caring Heart began to speak, snapping me back to reality:

“Don’t try to conceal them – we see that sort of trick all the time. Trust me, friend: you do not want Buckshot here to strip search you.”

The guard grinned at me creepily revealing a huge gold tooth implanted in his upper jaw. I gulped – the last thing I needed tonight was some buck exploring my anus!

“Look, all I’ve got is this arcane Screwdriver, two pencils, a pair of spectro-goggles and a notebook. No weapons.” I grinned in as friendly a way as I could without making it obvious that I was about to shit myself – these ponies were nine tenths of the way toward literally scaring the crap out of me.

They eyed me suspiciously as I showed them the contents of my barding pockets, looking to each other with narrowed eyes as I emptied my possessions onto the spoiled ground. I noticed a large tear in the metal surrounding the head of the Screwdriver as I laid it down – no doubt a scar of the fight with the ponitron. I hoped to Celestia that it was still functional.

“That’s it?” Caring Heart asked, one of her eyebrows raised.

“That’s it...” I replied.

They looked to one another once more before Caring Heart gave the guard an almost imperceptible nod.

“Keep an eye on him, Buckshot – and take him to Sage.”

She turned and began to return to the town.

Buckshot, as I was now apparently going to have to call him, waited until she was out of earshot, then bent down low so that his mouth was level with my ear.

“Ah’ll be watching you, lad. Make a single move that Ah dinnae like, and that strip search’ll be the least o’ your worries.”

I stayed perfectly still, as his eyes did more warning than I was mentally prepared for.

Come on now, Compass – first day in a big new Wasteland. We can’t have the lasting first impression you make being that of “the pony who shat himself”.

Buckshot raised himself to his full height again – I felt so much smaller than I had before!

“Geth inshide...” he grunted, while gripping my mane in his teeth.

We trotted steadily toward the gates, and I looked up at the top of the arch above the passageway. A large, improvised sign composed of old, mismatched neon tubes and faded light bulbs cast a textual glow onto the ground below:

T R O T F E L L


Trotfell had apparently been quite a prosperous town before the war, at least from the remnants that I could make out in the wan glow of the lights sparsely strewn about the buildings. There wasn’t really anypony about when Buckshot pulled me inside, so I could only guess at the size of population.

I found myself being dragged towards what appeared to be the centre of the town’s main street – a large, stately building covered in detailed mouldings. As we passed through the heavy wooden doors, my escort (or captor, depending on which of us you asked) pulled me by the mane up a huge staircase situated in the centre of the grand building’s lobby.

As we reached the landing, I was yanked to a stop while Buckshot daintily tapped the most ornate door yet with his hoof.

A voice as rich as the mahogany of the door answered:

“Come in.”

Buckshot lowered himself to my level again as he hissed in my ear.

“Now, ye behave yourself in 'ere, or you’ll be in fae a world o' pain. Got that?”

I nodded dumbly, trying to disguise the nervous gulp making its way down my throat. With a surprisingly gentle motion, Buckshot pushed open the doors, revealing an enormous, lavishly furnished office. The walls were lined with dozens of rows of ancient, leather-bound volumes (all of which had suffered some degree of heat damage).

Behind a large desk in the centre of the room was a brown coated Earth pony stallion. His mane was curious – an upright shock of pure silver follicles.

As we approached, he looked up from a series of clipboards in front of him and eyed us with a thin gaze.

“What can I do for you, Buckshot?” The brown stallion raised an eyebrow as he regarded me.

“And, who’s your detainee?”

Buckshot stood tall, with his legs and back straight as he answered.

“Sir, we found this buck skulking around the East gate – upon inspection, we found that he’d assaulted and abducted Moon Shadow while she was out scavenging. She’s recovering in the Hospital, now, sir – Caring’s seeing to her needs.”

You know what? I don’t think Buckshot likes me. Just a thought...

“Hey!” I protested. “That’s a total fabrication! I saved her from a malfunc-ow!”

Buckshot suddenly gripped my ear between his teeth, and bit down hard, a dangerous scowl adorning his brow.

“Shut up, you possible rapist! What should I do with him, sir? The jail, lashes or a firing squad? ‘Course, the firing squad’ll have to wait ‘til the mornin’ shift, but I suppose I could-”

I did not like where this was going - the last thing I would’ve expected from tonight was to end up getting my flank minced (I didn’t like the sound of this “firing squad” either)! I looked anxiously at the silver-maned buck as he sighed, seemingly from exasperation, and interrupted Buckshot.

“Yes, thank you, Buckshot. That’ll be all.”

“Right y’ar, sir! I’ll get the whip-”

Buckshot grabbed me by the mane again and turned to leave. Silver mane interrupted him again, this time with a more forceful tone:

“That will be all, Buckshot.”

“But, sir! He-”

“Buckshot, Caring Heart has already sent one of her nurses up to inform me of my daughter’s injuries. She also told me that a curiously unarmed stranger saved her from her attackers, and that you took an instant dislike to him...as you seem to do with the vast majority of our visitors.”

“I...but...um...”

Silver Mane fixed Buckshot with a steely gaze

“Like I said: that will be all.”

“Uh...yes, sir.”

Buckshot stood to attention once again and saluted Silver Mane, shooting me another scowl on his way out of the room. The door closed with a quiet click as the stallion with the brown coat rose from his seat and approached me.

“I do hate it when he salutes me like that.”

He smiled and extended a foreleg, practically tearing my shoulder from its socket as we shook hooves.

“You must be the buck that saved my daughter’s life! Call me Sage.”

I rolled my shoulder a couple of times to get the feeling back, thankful that the buck’s previously strict demeanour had been superseded by this far more welcoming one.

“I’m Compass. And you’re welcome.”

He returned to his desk and started rummaging around in a drawer.

“Now, about your compensation. We can’t offer much in the way of caps, I’m afraid. As you may have heard, commerce hasn’t exactly been doing well recently. Buckshot means well, but his style of protection verges on xenophobia sometimes!”

He planted a large bag on the desk and started pulling out hoofull after hoofull of used bottle caps.

“I can only give you about 800 caps, but I’ll instruct the pub to furnish you with whatever you want. Does that sound satisfactory?”

“Compensation? I’m confused – I just did what anypony would have done...and why the hay are you trying to pay me with bottle caps?”

He looked at me quizzically.

“You...don’t want to be paid!? That’s a new one.”

Leaning back in his chair, he regarded me with a frown.

“Why did you save Mo if you weren’t looking for some kind of reward?”

“I...saw that she was in trouble and wanted to help. Was I meant to just let the robot kill her!?”

“You saved her...for the sake of saving her? Heh...it’s been a long time since I heard anything like that...”

Sage smiled at me, once again rising from behind his desk and walking over to me. He placed his hoof upon my shoulder and looked me straight in the eye.

“Thank you, Compass. I think I can safely say that I’m in your debt. What can I do to make this up to you?”

“I need some questions answered for a start.”

“Go right ahead – I’ll answer what I can.”

“Okay. Question one...”


We talked for what seemed like hours. I asked about Equestria, its inhabitants, the state of reconstruction efforts (“What reconstruction efforts?” was not the response I had hoped for). Much to his credit, Sage listened attentively, forgiving my frequent misconceptions and abject ignorance as I repetitively inquired about this and that.

Turns out they actually called this place the “Equestrian Wasteland”! I mean, how bleak is that?

After finishing with my questions, Sage had tried to deliver a few of his own, but was silenced almost immediately by a yawn so large, I feared for a moment that my jaw would lock.

He pointed me in the direction of this “Pub” place, assuring me that I would be taken care of when I arrived.

Groggily, I wandered from the grand building (now known to me as Trotfell’s old City Chambers) across to a somewhat more ramshackle construction. The “Pub” had a complex aroma, made up mostly of the scent of sweat, I noticed.

As I entered, I realised that the place was laid out much like the cafeteria back in the Stable – clearly this was a social venue as well as a temporary residence for visitors. Approaching the counter, I attracted the attention of a mare who had been wiping the water from a nearby pile of drinks glasses. She smiled sweetly when she saw me, slinging her towel over one shoulder as she approached.

“Hey there, stranger – late night, huh? What’ll it be?”

“Sage said you could give me a room for the night...actually, do you have anything to drink? I haven’t had one for over a day.”

“Oh, you must be the buck that saved Mo! We all owe you a debt for that one, stranger-”

“Call me Compass.”

“I’m Brandy Spritz. What’s yer poison?”

“You serve...poison!? What’s the point in that!?”

“W-What? No, I’m asking what you wanted to drink?”

“Then why didn’t you just...oh, nevermind. Whatever you have will be great – just as long as it’s wet.”

“Oh, I think I can manage that.”

She lifted a bottle from the rack behind the counter and decanted a small amount of the amber liquid inside into a squat glass. Passing it to me, she looked on expectantly as I gave it an experimental sniff. The aroma was...strong, to say the least.

“What the hell is this meant to be!? It smells like disinfectant!”

“Heh, I’ll take that as a compliment – no watered down drinks in here!”

“Seriously, though, I asked for a drink. Don’t you have any apple juice?”

Brandy scoffed, as if my request was the most ridiculous thing she’d ever heard.

“Do you see any apple trees around here? Trust me, you’ll love that stuff!”

With one eyebrow raised, I cautiously lifted the glass to my mouth and took a drink.

“BLAARGH!” I spat the “drink” over the floor of the pub and clawed vainly at my neck as the liquid burned its way down my throat.

“MY MOUTH IS ON FIRE!” I screamed between gasps, as Brandy laughed herself to her knees.

Rolling around on the floor, I could feel the pain ebbing, being replaced steadily by a warm, smoky flavour. I rose to my hooves and caught my breath, while shooting the best angry glance I could at the still giggling Brandy.

“What...was...that!?” I managed to ask.

“Ooohhh, I haven’t laughed that hard in ages!”

“Well, I’m glad you’re having a good time! That stuff could’ve killed me!”

“Relax, Compass, it’s just whiskey. The burn’s part of the experience.”

“Look, I just want some water – is that doable, or will I have to endure getting my insides set on fire again?”

“Okay, okay. Don’t cry, little filly. Here.”

She passed me another glass, this one filled with an extremely pale, grey liquid. I eyed it suspiciously, and following an encouraging nod from Brandy, took an experimental sip. It wasn’t what I’d call pleasant, but it was wet.

As I set the glass down, my Pipbuck’s radiation meter began to click, indicating that the liquid I had just ingested was radioactively contaminated. I brought the gauntlet mounted arcane computer to my face to check the exposure level when I noticed that the normal interface had vanished and been replaced by a simple error dialogue:

>>ERROR 598: REMOTE SERVER CONNECTION DISABLED
>>UNABLE TO ACCESS PIPCLOUD
>>RESET CONNECTION Y/N?

Great...

The operating system used by Stable 52 was a wonder of ingenuity; a piece of software that permeated the entirety of the Stable’s infrastructure. Only trouble was: I was no longer in the Stable, and the ponies who developed the Pipcloud OS had apparently failed to anticipate my future egress into the Wasteland.

My Pipbuck breaking was just one more item on the list of things that had gone totally tits up today. Honestly, I could have sworn. In fact, do you know what? I think I will!

“Fuck. Just...fuck...” I flopped to my haunches as the enormity of the day’s events suddenly became clear to me.

My circumstances had changed so much in so little time! I was reeling from thoughts of all the implications.

I closed my eyes as moisture began to pool near my tear ducts.

“Bad day, huh?” Brandy gently enquired.

“You have no idea.” I responded with a nervous giggle.

“Listen, can I take my work demerit in the morning? I’d be of no use to anypony right now.”

She looked at me quizzically.

“Work demerit? I don’t understand...”

“You know...the penalty for swearing or having an emotional outburst. You do wrong; you get a work demerit...”

“Nothing like that ‘round these parts, Compass. Where in Luna’s name did you come from?”

I pointed to the embroidered numbers on the collar of my barding.

“Stable 52...”

“Ah! A Stable pony! Well that explains everything now. How long you been out here in the big ol’ Wasteland.”

“Oh, about...” I did some quick mental arithmetic.

“...five hours, give or take.”

“Wow...this is a big night for you, isn’t it!?”

I nodded, feeling uneasy.

“I suppose. So...you can just swear whenever you feel like it?”

There was a warm bloom in the pit of my stomach, and an itchiness spreading between my shoulders – I could feel my anger ebbing at the thoughts of the day’s events

“Well, there’s still such a thing as good manners, and you might end up with a hoof in your face if you drop a curse in front of the wrong crowd, but for the most part...yeah.”

The itch was more pronounced now – I could feel it moving down my forelegs.

“What about emotional outburst?”

“Same rules apply-”

“Good – cover your ears.”

I rose to my hooves as the warm bloom exploded into a rush of heat.

How dare that murdering bastard force me from my home! How dare he take the lives of innocent ponies! How dare he kill Valve! And why wouldn’t my friends and colleagues listen to me!? Don’t they know I’m smarter than them!?

A torrent of raging exasperation poured through my mind as I reared up and slammed my hooves down onto the counter with as much force as I could muster. Unfortunately for Brandy, who was caught completely unawares by my outburst, all I was able to articulate was...well...it was less than eloquent, put it that way.

“FUCKING!!! ARRGGHHH!!!”

Told you...

I remained in the same position I had landed in, with my forelegs locked straight and my hooves embedded in the thick wood of the counter. Breathing heavily, I was able to feel the wave pass and my rage recede back into the depths of my gut. I was also acutely aware of the now constant streams of moisture running down my face.

Having quickly recovered from her initial surprise, Brandy moved around the counter and approached me. With a look of absolute pity, she embraced me in her forelegs, pulling me into a tight hug.

The embrace was the emotional straw that broke my back. I wept again, like I had in front of the Stable earlier that night. I cried profusely, soaking her coat and chocolate coloured mane in the process.

After a few seconds, I heard hurried hoofsteps, and turned just in time to see a breathless Buckshot barrel through the pub door.

“Brandy! What’s going on in-”

His eyes widened as he noticed our embrace.

“You! Get away fae her!”

He raised his pipe and pointed it directly at my head.

I hadn’t finished crying.

“Ah knew Ah wis right about you!”

Brandy jumped in front of me and waved her hooves at the pub’s newest visitor.

I could feel the wave turning around, ready to make another pass through my consciousness. The itch was back, as was the warmth in my stomach. A sharp pain stabbed me in the forehead. All of a sudden, this situation; specifically Buckshot’s attitude, seemed so familiar.

“Buckshot! It’s okay, he was just-”

“Getting ready tae rape you! Ah know his type! Move, Brandy!”

I could feel my teeth clenching by themselves. Who did he think he was!

“Buckshot, he’s just had a bad day! You don’t have to-”

I placed my hoof upon Brandy’s shoulder as I stepped by her.

“Thanks, Brandy, but I’ve got this. It’s Buckshot, right?”

I approached him without breaking my gaze from his, my fury fuelling my confidence through what under any other circumstance would have been a bladder-emptyingly tense moment.

Buckshot maintained his harsh stare.

“That’s far enough! Now, you come with me to the jail and you might not get shot in the-”

“Who hurt you, Buckshot?”

He stopped mid sentence, but not because he’d been interrupted. No - I’d struck a nerve.

“W-what..?”

He looked so taken aback. This was going to be easy.

“I asked who hurt you. You don’t trust anypony; you defend those you’re close to as if they’re always in danger, and according to Sage, you threaten anypony that you don’t immediately recognise. I thought it was just me...but you do this to everypony, don’t you? You shut them out...”

His mouth was agape, and I could see moisture collecting at the corners of his eyes – he was reliving it right there, as we spoke.

“So that leaves two possibilities. One: you’re actually just a grumpy bastard who wants to be disliked, or two: at some point in the past, somepony did something to you. Something that almost completely destroyed your ability to trust.”

The wave was passing now, dowsing the fire behind my tirade. The prevailing emotion that remained was sympathy – I’d reduced this macho buck to tears with nought but a few sentences. What the hell had happened to him?

I closed in on him gently as he wordlessly took a step back from me.

“Who was it? What did they do?” I whispered.

“I...you...!” he panted, staring at me in horror.

With a sudden grunt, he turned on his hooves and fled, tears streaming down his face.

I turned to Brandy and let out a quivering breath. Curious: she looked surprised with what had just transpired. In fact, she looked more than just surprised; she looked astonished!

“...how...did you...? Buckshot’s the strongest pony I know. Nopony’s ever managed to do anything like that, and any who’ve tried ended up getting shot!”

I shrugged, realising once again how tired I was when I let out another face splitting yawn.

“Call it intuition. Can I get that room now, please?”

Brandy nodded, still in awe of Buckshot’s sudden departure.

“Sure. First on the left at the top of the landing.”

She gestured to a small staircase towards the rear of the room that I groggily began to climb, noticing that my hooves had apparently become an order of magnitude heavier.

“Compass...” Brandy called from behind me.

“Hmm?” I sleepily responded.

“...you owe me for the damage to the bar.” she chuckled.

Her tone was jovial; her smile genuine. I felt another warmth in my gut...not a wave of rage this time, though.

For that moment at least, I actually felt happy.

“I’ll fix it for you tomorrow.”

I smiled back, and continued up the stairs, collapsing onto the mouldy mattress without a second glance at the state of the bed sheets.

<<<<< O >>>>>

“Come on, you silly old thing!” I shouted, as the phase discriminator indiscriminately phased out of sight before my eyes.

“Is something wrong Doctor?” a straw haired pegasus asked as she emerged from behind the console.

“Nothing at all Ditzy, we’ve just hit some turbulence!” The end of my sentence was promptly followed by a huge inertial swerve. It would have thrown us both to the wall had we not been holding onto the console.

“Is this the kind of turbulence that can get us killed, and you’re just not telling me about it!?” Ditzy shouted at me.

“Uh...maybe. Actually, no. No, we should be okay as long as the magnetic constrictors don’t depolarise.”

A sudden shower of sparks fell from the ceiling as the deep, unsettling ‘bong’ of the TARDIS alarm reverberated though the control room.

“What was that!?” Ditzy screamed.

“Umm...that would be the-”

“Magnetic constrictors?”

“Yeeaaah...”

“...depolarising?”

“Kind of...”

She gave me a distinctly unimpressed stare as I nervously grinned back.

“Not to worry, though! If I can put just the right spin on her, we might not get torn apart by the velocity differential as we exit the time vortex!”

“And will that work?”

“Don’t know...” I responded as I deftly manipulated the TARDIS controls.

“...never tried it before. The theory’s sound, though.”

“Oh, I should have stayed in bed this morning!” she shouted as she clenched her eyes shut and wrapped herself around the console railing.

“Hang on Ditzy! Here we go!”

“AAAAAHHHHHHH!!!”

“ALLONS-Y!!!”

We both screamed in unison and the world around us twisted and turned as the TARDIS fell through the time vortex towards our destination.

Suddenly, and completely without warning, there was an almighty crash.

The world went black.

<<<<< O >>>>>


Footnote: Level up!

Perk added: Allons-y!
Rushing into conflicts is no longer a problem for you! Your LUCK stat is increased by 3 whenever you encounter a foe who is neutral towards you, or is in a current conflict with another faction.

New Sonic setting: 14B – Dismantle
Uses vibrations tuned to the natural frequencies of common nuts, bolts, and screws to dislodge them from their components.

New Sonic setting: 23C – Digital unlock
Reverses the polarity of the neutron flow within common electronic components to scramble and open computerised door locks.