• Published 9th Apr 2012
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Fallout: Equestria - Memories - TheBobulator



One crazy pegasus, one roboleg, a contingent of Steel Rangers, and an adventure of infinite detours. Put all that together and what do you get? A rip-roaring mosh pit wrecking its way across the Wasteland, leaving nothing but confusion in its wake.

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Chapter 11: Do you recognize her?

Chapter 11: Do you recognize her?

"I hope you realize how fortunate you are to have me as a mentor."


Just like most of the combatants of the Happy Hills Holdout, I got thrown into the infirmary as soon as possible. At some point between points A and B, with point B being somewhere with rest, Raider Frosty got bored enough to give control back to me just so I could pass out.

Well, sort of.

Sitting around in the depths of my mind was a hell of a lot more boring than I thought it would be. “Wow, there is nothing to do in my mind. I wish I had a soda machine in here or something,” I muttered to nopony in particular. “And now I’m talking to myself. Great.” Why couldn’t things be like before all this crap happened?

<~~~>

“Daaaaad! Summer took my Soarin action figure and won’t give it baaaaaaack!” I wailed in my younger voice. “Tell her to give it back!” Oh, the good old days. What I wouldn’t give for them. And for some damn video to go with this audio.

“Summer Winds, be nice to your sister,” my dad calmly replied. Dad… I’d only hear him again in my memories. And even then, it just wouldn’t be the same without him.

“Why should I? She always gets to play with him!” my sister whined. “And her Soarin doll is cooler than mine!”

“He’s an action figure!” I corrected her.

I heard Dad laugh to himself. “Now, now, girls. Stop fighting. Your mother and I hate it when you two fight. Summer, give back Frosty’s doll.”

“He’s an action figure!” I cried. “You heard him, sis. Give Soarin back right now.” I heard myself stomp the ground impatiently.

Summer groaned, but gave in. “Fine, here you go. Didn’t wanna play with him anyway.”

“Now go ahead and play nice with your sister. Here, I brought something for you two. Lab colts at R&D left a few samples in the officer’s break room. Uncle Updraft grabbed a bunch for me.”

“What are these?” Summer and I both wondered.

“Dunno. Calls ‘em blueberries. Looks more like purpleberries or blackberries though,” Dad said, sharing our confusion. Our following squeals of delight faded away into the fog in my mind…

~~~~~

“Ladies and gentlecolts, your attention please...” a deep voice growled.

Huh? What? Who was that? “Uh… knock knock?” I hesitantly tried.

“Very funny. Moving on.” A scene suddenly popped up in front of my eyes. “Remember this?” I was back in the Wasteland. Two other pegasi wearing Recon Force Blizzard patches were crouched behind me. “Do you?” I was holding a strangely familiar laser rifle in my hooves. Having an actual right hoof now felt unfamiliar and alien to me. At least my scout armor was still intact. Note to self, get another set of this.

“Not at all,” I muttered, checking the energy on my rifle.

A short burst of static crackled out of my earbloom. “This is Ashtray. Radio check, over.”

“Stormfront, checking in.” Shadow Breeze, I think. Was he the squad medic?

“Tornado. Still bored.” Uh… didn’t ring a bell.

“Defib here. I’m online.” Lightning Chaser, the medic. Wait, if she was the medic, then what was… ah, never mind. Whatever.

“Snowmare ready,” I whispered, focusing on the caravan inching its way toward our ambush. It wouldn’t be here for a while, so we had time to kill. Hehe, kill. I made a funny.

“Powerlevel, checking in.” Aha, Tiny Wings! He was armed with the squad’s only heavy incinerator. Just because, I suppose.

“All units, target is approaching the kill zone. Do not destroy the package. That means you, Powerlevel,” the familiar voice of Nest commanded over the radio. “Be advised, we do not have intel on their weaponry.”

“Roger Wilco,” Stormfront acknowledged from behind me. “Anything else we should know?” He scuffed his hooves in the dirt. “I don’t want stuff like last time.”

“Hey! How could I have known they had a damn cannon?” Nest protested over the radio. “Anyway, Powerlevel’s helmet viewfinder is showing four hostiles. They can’t be that heavily armed. Just take them out.”

I sighed and finished up my weapon check.

“New plan. Powerlevel’s incinerator is useless since he can’t control himself— Oh, don’t even start!” Dad nearly yelled. “You remember last time?”

“Yeah, yeah. Don’t burn it till it gets away. Or runs at us,” Tiny Wings mumbled. “I said I was sorry.”

“Good. Snowmare and Stormfront will provide covering fire from the ridge up there. Defib and I will hit the caravan if we can take ‘em. Powerlevel, move into a flanking position. If they run, burn them.”

“Roger.” A large, bulky pegasus in a suit of Enclave power armor at the bottom of the cliff stomped his way into a larger group of rocks further down the road. “In position.”

The caravan was made of a wagon being pulled by a large orange stallion and a small army of guards. I couldn’t make out what was in the wagon, though. “Uh… Nest? That’s more than four hostiles. More like eight.” I peered into my laser’s scope. “Maybe more. Wagon’s got doors on it. No windows, possible hostiles inside.” There were seven guards in a loose ring around the wagon with the one orange stallion pulling the wagon.

“Copy. All of you hear that?” Nest asked.

A round of “Roger that” and “Copy” echoed through the radio. We all sat in silence, waiting for the caravan to scoot closer. I took a few deep breaths, trying to relax myself a little. If I was going to administer aggressive brain surgery, the shakes in my hooves needed to stop. “Take my love, take my land, take me where I cannot stand…” I whispered under my breath. Yay, addicting music.

“Showtime. Everypony ready? Snowmare, prepare to take out the guards in the front,” my dad notified us. “On my mark.” The caravan slowed down in front of our pile of rocks. One particularly sharp eyed guard had signaled them to stop. “Don’t do anything stupid.”

A marker appeared on my visor over the farthest guard from the caravan. Okay, so he’d assigned me a target that the rest of the squad probably couldn’t hit. Movement from the back of the wagon drew the attention of my laser pointer of doom. A little head poked out of a door in the back, only to be pulled back inside. Uh oh. “Nest, we have possible noncombatants in the caravan. Please advise.”

There was silence on the radio. “This is Nest. Eliminate all targets in the area.” I turned around and shared an uneasy glance with Shadow Breeze. “No survivors, no prisoners. Copy?” I sat there in silence, trying to come up with an excuse. Nothing. “Snowmare, Snowmare. Do you copy?”

“Copy that.” I neutrally replied. Just another black mark on my already stained soul. “Da–Ashtray, on your mark.” I mentally placed another marker over the other guard in the back. “I’ve got the two in the back.”

“Roger that. Tornado, what’s the ETA on your strike?” I looked up to the sky and squinted at a gray smoggy figure circling the area. “We might actually need your help on this one.”

“About time you asked, sir.” He carefully waved a hoof at us. “Plasma mines ready. Plasma grenades ready too.”

“Copy that. Okay squad, ground team goes with me to pull the guards away from the wagon. Snowmare and Stormfront, covering fire. Powerlevel, eliminate any hostiles that are retreating.”

A chorus of affirmative responses filled the radio. “Looks like one of them is getting a bit too curious,” Lightning Chaser mentioned quietly. “Orders?” The same guard was blithely trotting toward the clump of rocks where half our squad was hiding.

“On my mark,” Dad repeated. “Three.” The guard observed the rocks, not knowing what was lying in wait behind them. “Two.” She appeared to have picked a rock and strode toward it. “One.” She was about to drop her helmet when… “Mark.”

We struck as one. A plasma bolt vaporized the unfortunate guard that was probably about to do her business. I fired my laser at the farthest guard and instantly shifted to the next guard. Another laser from the rocks injured one of the guards at the front, but he managed to survive. The surviving guards bolted for cover in the rocks or behind the wagon itself.

Dad, and Lightning feinted a retreat down the road, forcing the remaining guards to scurry out of cover to shoot at them. I dropped my other target and moved to cover Dad and Lightning with my laser rifle. I put the injured guard out of his misery with a precise shot through the vision slit in his helmet. “Clear the area. Mines away,” Tornado informed us.

The portion of the squad on the ground scattered away from the guards that were still chasing them. I ignored that entire area and refocused my attention to the wagon itself. The orange stallion was nowhere to be seen. Most likely dead, but hopefully he ran. A little green colt dashed out toward the fallen shape of one of the guards. “No survivors,” Nest had said. The little guy was crying his heart out over the body.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered. “Just business.” I placed my sight over the colt. I hesitated. Sure, I’d done this a few times before. Heck, they’d even told us right into basic. “I’m so sorry.” I squeezed my eyes shut and pushed the button. My aim was true. I instinctively knew it. My rifle shook ever so slightly with the force of the shot.

I opened my eyes. Nothing left but a pile of pink dust. I sent my prayers for the colt to the goddesses. “Never gets easier, does it?” I lifted my visor and wiped away a tear. I strapped my laser over my back and turned around. Shadow Breeze had his visor up as well and reassuringly placed his hoof on my shoulder. “Let’s just focus on the mission, alright?” He whispered, keeping his mic away from his muzzle.

I smiled grimly. “You’d think after five it would get easier.” We surveyed the carnage below. “I need to get over there.” I pointed to a clump of shrubs a few yards away. “You coming?”

“Yo! Drop the chips and get me some damn ammo!” Powerlevel yelled through the radio, cumbersomely stomping his way toward the last guard. Wait, how’d he use up all his ammo just sitting there? I thought he wasn’t supposed to be firing…

“Calm your tits. You can handle it.” Shadow snorted. “We’re on our way down.”

“This is Nest. Recon Force Blizzard, give me a sitrep. Still alive out there?”

“No. That’s why we’re still on the radio,” Dad sarcastically drawled into his mic. The whine of a plasma rifle came to my ears. “And that was the sound of an area secured.”

I waited for a good few minutes for the rest of our squad to check the area. “Area secure,” Tornado called out. He jumped into the wagon. “The package is secure. Squad, regroup on Ashtray.”

Shadow Breeze and I swooped down to the wagon. I arrived and was immediately ordered to secure the package. The rest of the squad formed a defensive perimeter outside the wagon. Dad flinched away from Defib’s helping hooves. “Stop farking moving! I’m trying to heal you, not tickle you,” she fussed, attempting to slap a bandage on a bullet graze on his thigh.

“Aww… did the biggie-wiggie stallion get a widdle gwaze?” I cooed at my dad. He gave me a look. As in, I-will-take-away-your-all-your-dessert-rations-forever look. “Sheesh. Cool off, Dad.” I dropped my sugar-caked tone and adopted a more serious tone. “I’ll keep the ‘package’ secure, as per your orders.”

“Watch your tone, young lady,” he growled, finally letting Defib apply healing.

“Can we leave family matters out of this?” Tornado groaned. “I don’t wanna hear anymore stuff about your personal lives. I think I’ve been mentally scarred.”

“You’re the one that can’t keep it in your pants,” Dad snapped back.

“Are you ever going to let that go?” Tornado whined. “I didn’t realize it was a locker room!” Yes. We were totally going to hold it against him for the rest of eternity because it was funny.

I let them bicker outside as I pushed open the wagon’s back door, making sure not to step in the disintegrated pile of foal. Unsurprisingly, the interior of the wagon was dark, cramped, and lacking in all description of ventilation or exterior viewing. True to standard Wastelander construction, the only other furnishing was the pair of benches bolted to either wall. Otherwise, there was simply a large steel crate occupying the center of the wagon. Most likely, this was the package we were sent to recover. I looked around. Nopony here? Alright. Curiosity got the better of me and I peeked inside the crate.

Carrots. Apples. A few stalks of asparagus. Food, fresh food. They all had the same off-ish tinge that betrayed its origin. “Cloud-grown food? What’s this doing down here?” Well, I was hungry anyway so I snatched up a carrot and shoved it under my wing. “Don’t mind if I do.” Then I reached in and pulled out on apple. I ate it on the spot, and by Luna it was delicious.

Though it did taste a little… off, even for cloud-grown food. I chalked it up to the Wasteland being the contaminating pile of crap it was and left it at that.

Or maybe it was just the Volunteer Corps taking all of the slightly out-of-date food and giving it away to the Wastelanders. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense, given the fact that most of us grunts would almost literally kill for a bushel of actual apples. Dried food and repackaged Meals Rejected by Everypony could only go so far. Knowing how the Enclave worked, it was probably either part of some charity scheme, tax break, or shady government conspiracy.

“So, what’s in here?” Lightning cheerfully asked, poking her head into the dark confines of the wagon with me. “Anything cool?” I hastily dropped the apple core in my muzzle and kicked it under a bench.

“Nofin’!” I blurted, wiping apple bits from my muzzle. “What’s the word?”

“We’re not out of the farking ‘Hoof just yet,” Lightning moaned. “I wanna go back to my bunk.” I completely agreed. My wings hurt from flying and I was just plain tired. “We’re going somewhere else apparently. Nest is sending somepony to grab this giant farking crate.” She fiddled with the straps on her plasma rifle battle saddle. “How you holdin’ up? Need anything? Pills? Bandages? Asprin? Mint thingies?”

I waved her off. “Nah. I’m fine.”

“Whatever. Your loss.” She popped open a tin of Mint-als and crunched one down. “Last chaaaance.” Of course she’d go as far as rattling the tin at me. “They’re gooood.”

I was doubtful. “I don’t think you should just be eating whatever you find down here. It could be toxic,” I pointed out.

“But where else can I play real-time hobo simulator and eat candy?” she pitifully whimpered at me. And of course she’d also use her sad eyes. Why did I even work with her? I mentally facehoofed.

“Fine. Just… don’t let D–Smoky see them. He hates it when we bring back random crap.” I uneasily shifted the carrot under my wing. Yup, nothing to see here. Nothing at all…

~~~~~

The scene faded away into the insanity-riddled depths of my mind. “Do you remember now?”

“Uh… I guess?” I tried. No idea what was going on. At all. “Can I at least get a name? Otherwise you get to be Creepy McStalkerpants.”

The voice groaned. “Is it too much to ask for some professionalism?”

“How about Chorwhacks Jigglebob?”

The soft tinkling sound of metal filled the air. “Fine. Call me Ice Storm.”

Alright, we have a name. “So, what exactly should I be remembering?”

Ice Storm sighed in exasperation. “Look, just… remember that, okay? It was hard enough keeping your mental walls busy, never mind trying to find the damn memory.” Wait. What? “We’ll meet again, at some point. Now piss off.”

<~~~>

Whether or not I liked it, I was conscious again. Everything hurt, and my head wouldn’t stop trying to kill me. Beeping. Antiseptic. Blood. Sound, smell, taste—things that told me I was still alive. I slowly realized I was back in the clinic. Again. I licked my lips, tasting crunchy, irony blood still stuck to my muzzle. I was thirsty and the blood coating the inside of my mouth was nothing compared to a morning after. “Watta,” I moaned, trying to use my saliva to clean out the blood. As much as I hated it, I opened my eyes anyway.

Instant Noodles’s head popped into my blurry field of view. “Oh, hey there!” She turned to somepony to the right. “She’s awake! And, uh, maybe another morphine.”

“Can’t risk it,” Doc muttered distantly. “Aha! Got another one. That makes it… fifteen to thirteen. Your turn.”

Instant patted my head. “Hold on. Be right back.” She screwed up her muzzle in concentration as she levitated an antenna with a magnet taped to the end of it past my face. “I need to beat a doctor at a game of operation.”

Huh? A sharp pinch in my gut caused me to whimper pitifully. “Ha! Point goes to me,” Doc gleefully cried. The pain withdrew and was swiftly replaced elsewhere in my chest. “Aww. That was stupid. You know, this would be a lot easier if your nose lit up.”

“What the buck are you doing down there?” I croaked. A snapping sound followed by a weak victory cry from Instant gave me a somewhat good idea.

Rumcake paced up to me, canteen in hoof. He tipped its contents into my mouth and grinned. “Now you know how I felt.” I greedily gulped down the refreshing water. It was a bit stale and funny-tasting, but I didn’t care. Water was water, and anything was better than the taste of hours-old dried blood. “Yay for bullet fishing,” he sarcastically cheered. “Look, I’ll be right here the entire time.”

I suffered through the pinching and victory dances for in indeterminate time period where I was being used as living board game. At least it wasn’t too bad with Rumcake comforting me the entire time through my whimpering and fits of colorful commentary. After I’d been sufficiently emptied of lead, I was healed up and allowed to carefully stand up.

Doc kept his aura wrapped around my wings and warned, “Don’t overexert yourself just yet. Go find yourself some apple juice or cookies or something to get your platelet count back up since I’m ninety percent sure that you’re going to reject all the blood I’ve got on stock.”

Cookies, huh? “Does this mean I need to stock up on snack cakes for medical purposes?” I giddily asked.

“Sure?”

My squeal of delight was rudely interrupted by a familiar mare suddenly storming up to me and seizing me by my collar. “I need to talk to you,” Instant demanded. “Sparkle Cola told me about what happened. Rumcake, too.”

I broke away, tripping over my hooves a little. “I’m feeling a little lightheaded,” I somewhat lied. “I guess I’ll just have a little lay down for a while.” I jumped back onto the mattress and feigned sleep, snoring loudly.

“Oh no you don’t!” Instant growled. I eeped as I was suddenly lifted up by an unseen force and pulled off of the bed. “We’re going to sit down and have a nice, long chat. All five of you.”

I was forcefully slammed back into the bed by Doc’s magic. “As her attending physician, I’m going to have to say… no.” Thank Luna that somepony had a little sense! “I don’t know how the drugs will react to any sort of magic treatment you’re thinking of doing.” Wait, what? Doc dropped a little tray that was nearly full of little bullets. “Have a souvenir. Or thirty.”

“Hold on, back the addict train up.” I pointed at Doc. “What the buck did you put in me this time?” Please, please let there not be more bits of me missing.

“Don’t worry about it,” he casually mentioned, carefully cleaning off one of his smaller bonesaws. “I’ve removed your need for Med-X. Or more accurately, you no longer physically require Med-X or other painkillers to properly function.”

“Oh,” I simply uttered. Doc, being helpful? What sort of magic was this?

“Though your mental need for Med-X is totally up to you,” he continued. “I’ll trust Rumcake and the rest of your fellows to keep you clean. Also, if you have an erection lasting longer than four hours, tell me. That shouldn’t happen.”

“Uh,” I pointed at my mare parts. “Hello?”

“Exactly. That shouldn’t happen,” Doc replied without looking. “Otherwise, don’t strain yourself. I don’t want to see you in here again for a while.”

“Or you could issue me a frequent visitor ca—” I began, before we were startled by a horrendous cry of pain.

“I’m just going to hazard a guess somepony’s coughing up a lung,” Doc said cheerfully. “Have a nice day!” And with that he trotted off to a curtained-off area near the back of room.

Instant shot me a dirty glare. “Look, I’ll explain it to everypony soon,” I consoled her. “But first, I have business to attend to.” I stretched my limbs out at Rumcake. “Carry me.”

~~~~~

“This isn’t where I wanted to be,” I whined.

This wasn’t even anywhere close to where I told Rumcake to take me. Instead, he brought me to Inquisitor Soufflé’s office. Well, that taught me to never take a nap during a pony ride ever again. The stallion himself was a lot more focused on using a lint roller on his fancy hat than anything else.

Rumcake sighed. “Just—please? It took a lot of effort on my part to even make Soufflé even remotely agree to this.”

“He’s right, you know.” Soufflé paused from his cleaning and replaced his stupid hat on his stupid head. “And as much as I don’t like it, he made a pretty good argument in your favor.”

And I still had no idea what was going on. “So… what’s going on and why am I here?” Hm. I felt like I’d asked myself this a lot more often than I should have for a normal pony.

Predictably, I was promptly ignored. Out of boredom, I tried to see what was doing on over Rumcake’s big head. For some reason, there were a pair of Ranger holotags that Soufflé was busy tinkering with on his desk. Nothing else his office had really changed, besides the freshly-repainted mural of the Steel Rangers logo behind him. The Neighton’s Cradle on his desk had somehow actually increased in size, taking up slightly more space than it used to.

Abruptly, Soufflé looked up and asked, “What’s your name?”

“Frosty Winds.”

“Your whole name.”

“Frosty Winds,” I repeated, a bit louder.

The driest look in the world appeared on Soufflé’s face. “Your real name.”

I felt blood rush to my face. “It’s, uh… Frostivus Kay Winds.”

Rumcake shifted as he tried to look at me. “What’s the ‘K’ stand for?” Yay for phonetics.

“Kay. K-A-Y. No idea if it’s special.” I shrugged and gave my wings a little shrug-like flap as well for emphasis.

Annoyingly enough, he chuckled. “Sounds like a stallion’s name.”

I covered my face and groaned. “Yes, I’m greatly aware of this.”

Soufflé did a few more things to the tags before lifting them and examining them against the single light fixture in the ceiling. He nodded in approval and placed them back on the desk again. A sword levitated out from under his desk and calmly hovered in the air beside him. “For this next part, I’m going to need you to stand.”

I shrank away and tried to worm my way into Rumcake’s armor. “What?”

“Just do it, Frosty.” Rumcake tried to gently scoot me off of him, but I wasn’t having any of that. I clung on as hard as I could. “C’mon. I promise it’ll be fine.”

Against my better judgement, I grudgingly obliged and managed to stand after a few awkward flaps. “Okay, what now?” I asked, still confused.

At the flick of a switch, some music began to softly play. It had an air of reverence to it, which gave me the tingling feeling that this was something really important that I should stop asking questions about. “Kneel,” Soufflé dictated, tags and sword hovering nearby. On closer inspection, the Steel Rangers’ emblem was engraved into the blade itself. Huh.

Obediently, I knelt and bowed.

“I, Inquisitor Soufflé of the Circle of Steel, am hereby present to bestow honors to those gathered here today.” The sword appeared in the corner of my vision for a second. “Do you vow to uphold the honor of the Steel Rangers?”

Uh… “Yes?”

Yet again, Inquisitor Soufflé got annoyed at me. “You’re supposed to say ‘I do’.”

I looked up at him. “What am I? Getting married?”

“Work with me. For the sake of tradition.”

“Ugh, fine. I do.”

“Do you vow uphold the integrity of the Steel Rangers?”

“I do.” Oh. I had an idea what was happening, but I wasn’t going to jump to conclusions just yet.

“Do you vow to uphold the Codex and—actually, we can probably skip that since you’re not going to read it anyway. Moving on.”

“Hey!” I began to rise, but a hoof on my back stopped me.

“Don’t interrupt,” Rumcake gently warned.

I had a feeling that Soufflé was also glaring at me again. “In times of need, do you vow to come to the aid of the Steel Rangers?”

“I do.”

“For loyalty, bravery, and performing above and beyond the call of duty, I hereby unshackle you from your mundane existence—” Abruptly, the weight around my neck vanished and the bomb collar hit the ground with a muted thud. Subsequently, I was having a really hard time keeping the stupid grin off my face for the remainder of the ritual. “—and enlighten you with the guidance of the Steel Rangers.”

The flat side of the sword touched my right shoulder. “We welcome a new squire to our ranks—” Then I felt it swish right over my mane and nearly clip my ears to touch my left shoulder. “—and a new member to our family.” Then the sword withdrew and the tags were looped around my neck.

“There we go. Now stand the buck up, Honorary Squire Frostivus Kay Winds,” Soufflé sighed. I stood and proudly saluted, which he unenthusiastically returned. “Congratulations. Now go be happy somewhere else. I have orders to distribute.”

Rumcake pulled me into the hallway after him. “You’re a Ranger now! Oh, I’m so happy!” He nearly crushed me in a bear hug that I couldn’t avoid.

My stupid grin still wouldn’t go away, just like my racing heartbeat. “I’ll be honest, this wasn’t something I was expecting,” I chuckled. “Why?”

“Since you’ve been on your best behavior and since you helped us at the battle, I thought that you deserved something for your efforts.” Rumcake squeezed me a bit harder, eliciting an involuntary squeak from me. “And I know you don’t like that bomb collar either.”

Was that the sound of my ribs straining or my lungs? “So you made me a squire?” I breathlessly gasped. “Also, you’re going to kill me at this rate.”

Grudgingly, Rumcake released me. “Yeah. You were basically one of us already, and now it’s official.“ I took a few steps and immediately tottered into a wall. He rushed to my side and allowed me to lean on him. “Huh. I think all the blood in your body went to your face. You’re super red right now.”

Yes, my face was excessively warm to the point where Rumcake’s face was actually much colder than mine. “I seriously have shit to do, so I guess it’s better if you carry me there.” I sighed in a sarcastically resigned manner.

“Whatever my little squire desires.” Rumcake crouched to allow me to climb aboard.

~~~~~

“I now realize that your desires happen to be along the lines of being lazy,” Rumcake groaned. “I should have seen this coming. Back on topic, that’s basically it. I mean, it’s not a really high rank, all things considered, but at least you’ll maybe get better treatment from the others. Although that does mean Inquisitor Soufflé might take advantage of the fact that he can actually order you around now…”

I was happily riding around on Rumcake’s back as I half-listened, half-ignored the things he told me about being a squire. His armor was a bit cold and dusty, but at least moving didn’t require effort on my part.

Rumcake abruptly paused. “When is it your turn to carry me around?”

I tousled his mane and replied “Never. Onward, wench! To Sleazy’s!” Rumcake dutifully tromped off toward the west end of the market. “So, anyway… what’s on your mind?” I asked out of boredom, resting my head on his.

“You, actually.” Rumcake sighed.

Uh… “Is that a good sign or a bad sign?”

Rumcake laughed. “It’s a good sign. I think. Seriously, though, I’ve been thinking…” He trailed off.

I blinked. “Well? What is it? Does your brain need a new hamster?”

“When we were in the fortress, you nearly died,” Rumcake whispered, abruptly spoiling my good mood. “For a while, I thought I would lose you forever. Part of me wanted to dismiss you as a loss.” Wow, thanks. “But… my heart told me that you were special.”

“Um…” My cheeks were burning. Where was he going with this?

“And then when I died… when I nearly died… I realized that I regretted not getting to know you better,” he wistfully told me. I floated off his back and landed in front of him. Was this really what he’d been going through this whole time? “Before, I just wasn’t really sure. You know, mortal enemies and all.”

The pieces came together and my breath caught in my throat.

Rumcake liked me.

Rumcake liked me.

I mean, sure, Rumcake was there for me from the beginning… he’d done his best to protect me… and he’d just gone and gotten me squireified… and we went on that date before… and there was that time we kissed, way back…

It really has been obvious for a long time, you know.

Shut up, brain.

I suddenly realized that I hadn’t said anything yet, and Rumcake was looking at me like a small kicked animal as the seconds ticked by.

It was adorable.

“When you were dying, I was thinking the exact same thing.” I smiled brightly at him. “The Wasteland is hell, and you really are the brightest part of it to me. I don’t remember if I had a coltfriend or marefriend before, but that isn’t going to stop me.”

“So this means that this—” Rumcake motioned to himself, then me. “—is a thing now?”

I nervously chuckled, half relieved and half… something else. “Yeah, I guess so.”

The two of us awkwardly stood in silence, not exactly looking at each other. “So, what now?”

“Damned if I know. I’ve never been a very good social pony.” My wings kept trying to spring to attention, but I was doing my best to keep them still.

Another moment of awkward silence. “Wanna bang?” Rumcake blurted.

My eyes widened in surprise, and then I laughed. “You know, most mares like a little subtlety,” I informed him.

“Says the tiny little mare with the largest bucking boomstick in the entire Wasteland that single-clawedly demolishes entire strongholds,” Rumcake retorted. Okay, I couldn’t really argue with that.

“Pretend I’m a normal mare.”

“That’s really hard.” Rumcake rocked back and forth, prompting me to flare my wings for balance. “You know, with the wings. And the claw. And the insanity.”

“I get it!” I whacked his head with my hoof. “I’m not totally normal. Or stable.”

Rumcake smiled. “You’re not like other mares, you know that?”

“What’s wrong with other mares?” My cheeks flared up again. And, for once, I liked the feeling.

“Anyway, so…” He scratched at the ground shyly. “Seriously this time. What do we do now?”

“Not me, that’s for sure.”

Rumcake’s expression flickered between looking like he was about to laugh and looking like he wanted to smack me. Luna, he was cute!

“So, uh, shall we have a real first date, then?” he finally asked.

“That sounds good.” I smiled encouragingly. “Have somewhere in mind?”

“Wanna kick it off at the Spritebot? Apparently Peppermint Shots isn’t such a bad chef, either. According to Bakey. Who’s usually drunk all the time.” Rumcake rolled his eyes. “Trust a drunk, am I right?”

“Well… at least it’ll get me a use out of that dress I bought a while back.” I bopped his nose playfully. “When do you want to get together?”

“How does tonight sound? I’ll pick you up, I guess?”

“Sure thing. I can’t wait.”

Ice Storm here. Are you forgetting something? Or, more specifically, somepony?

Oh ponyfeathers, Cherry… “Wait, crap.” I sighed. Go ahead and ruin my only day to myself, will you.

Rumcake looked concerned. “What? Did I do it wrong?”

I shook my head. “No, no.” How to do this… “I made a promise, and I need to keep it.” I told him all about our somewhat failed recon attempt into the Rad Lads forward base thing. Everything, including how I’d nearly been raped. Of course I got some disgusted and horrified looks from him, but I did manage to wrap up the entire story in a neat and clean-esque package.

“I still don’t understand why you didn’t just let me come along.” Rumcake pouted, still slightly perturbed. “You wouldn’t have to had gone through all of that if I was there.”

“Well, it was kind of a last-minute excursion,” I tried to explain. “I wasn’t really informed beforehoof. And as much as I hate to say, grenade launchers are not considered low profile.”

Rumcake had sat down during my story, and now he was crossing his forelegs in an unsatisfied manner. “No excuse to not bring me along. I do have experience in unarmored combat, you know.” He was a tiny bit miffed, but he did somewhat understand my reasoning. Hopefully.

“Well, that would have been useful to know a few days ago.” I rolled my eyes. “Could we get back on track? I have a base to destroy. Violently. If you really want, you can come with.” I snuggled up against him. “It could be like a day trip.”

From around the building, somepony shouted, “Come on! Just kiss already!”

Both of us bolted apart and looked around. Was it really so hard to get a little privacy in this damn town? “Show yourself!” Rumcake angrily shouted. “Is somepony out there?” A few townsponies gave us funny looks. A small trinket stand nearby rocketed away hastily, trailing little metal sculptures and flyers.

“Damn kids,” I muttered, snickering to myself a bit. “Well, back to our original plan.” I landed back onto Rumcake’s back again. “Carry me to Sleazy’s!” I pointed off to the facade of Sleazy McCheapkin’s Bargain Emporium. Rumcake whinnied and dashed off toward the crumbly store.

Once we were inside, we were immediately assaulted by Sleazy’s voice. A younger, more energetic, and less ghouley-sounding Sleazy. “From the ponies who brought you Pistol Jr, Pistol Sr, and Pistol Jr. Plus comes the Very Pistol. Full of Pistoley goodness and ready to deliver Very bullets into your very enemies' faces. All part of the summer catalog from Gunskill.”

Rumcake jumped in fright as soon as the impromptu advertisement blasted into the doorway. At this point, I’d gotten used to random bits of speech being thrown at me upon entry, but I was a little surprised at the voice itself. “You’re sounding much better,” I simply stated in the direction of the armory behind the front counter.

“Ah, those were the days indeed,” Sleazy distantly yelled from inside his armory, back to his ghoulishly horrid voice. “You like it?” I looked around and got a little confused by his sudden change in voice. What exactly was I supposed to be liking? His voice? “I refurbished my old vending machine!” Sleazy stumbled out of the armory and locked the door behind him. He looked a bit worse for wear, but at least he’d finally gotten around to removing the steel bar in his neck.

“Since when have you had your own vending machine?” Rumcake quizzically asked.

Sleazy pointed at a dimly-lit vending machine in the corner. Huh. That wasn’t there before. “A futile attempt at quadrupling profits,” he sadly explained. “Invested a massive pile of caps into fixing up one of my old gun vending machines. Turned out, most ponies didn’t carry around twenty-five hundred bits as spare change back in the day.”

“Hold on… you tried to sell guns. In vending machines,” Rumcake attempted to understand. “When was this a good idea?” He facehoofed.

Sleazy sat down in front of the machine and thumped its side. “Well, somepony I was competing against centuries ago decided to make machines that dispense ammo. Ironshod, I think.” My turn to faceclaw. “It seemed like such a good idea! Guns and ammunition, right next to your Sparkle Cola!”

“But nopony actually goes out thinking ‘Let’s go buy some soda and a gun!’, am I right?” I asked. I could see what he was thinking, though. Convenience over practicality, because we’re lazy like that. Or we used to be, anyway.

“Yeah. It was hard to turn a profit off them and sell cheap guns at the same time,” Sleazy wistfully replied. He suddenly brightened up. “Enough about the past. How about some guns for you, yes?” He happily clopped his rotting hooves together. “How can I arm you today?”

“I think you’ll be interested in this.” I triumphantly whipped out the pink bobblehead and placed it on the counter. “Also, I’m going to need some stealthy weaponry for the big guy.” I cocked my head toward Rumcake.

Rumcake analyzed the tiny pink bobblehead while Sleazy fawned over it. Just like the Applejack bobblehead, its eyes were off-centered and different sized. The little pink mare had an even pinker poofy mane. Little tins of Mint-als spilled all over the base, and her mouth was full of cupcakes and even more Mint-als. The edge of the base read “Schtable-Tec Bobblehead” and the word “PARTY” everywhere.

“Pinkie Pie! Oh, how I’ve missed you.” He hugged the bobblehead and placed it on the shelf next to Applejack. “That’s two of eight. Doing good!” He was prancing with glee. “Now, I owe you a bunch for that.” He looked over Rumcake appraisingly. “And I think I know what you need. Give me a moment.”

He disappeared back into his armory, singing something along the lines of smiling and stuff. Strange. “You know, I didn’t expect him to be the happy type,” I whispered to Rumcake. “More like the steal everything type, you know?”

“Maybe he was different before, right? You know, the Wasteland hasn’t been kind to anypony. Getting turned into a ghoul probably wasn’t good for his sanity,” Rumcake whispered back. Some loud clanking and very colorful swearing signaled Sleazy’s return. Both of us watched him drag a pallet into the room. “But slap me silly and call me Peaches, that is beautiful,” Rumcake breathed, ogling over the new arrival.

“Alright, Peaches, here you are.” Sleazy dragged the pallet in front of us and collapsed in front of it. “Enter the PB&J Decrusted minigun. Fully automatic, and five thousand rounds per minute. Best of all, it’s magically silenced.” He sighed and continued “Now, usually this comes with the PB&J Toasted Terror minigun as part of the PB&J Premium Platinum Lunchbox Edition, but I couldn’t get my hooves on it before the ponypies hit the fan. I did, however, get my hooves on the twenty thousand 5mm incendiary rounds for the Toasted Terror.”

Rumcake continued to stare at the minigun. I had to say, it looked amazing. The main body was a matte gray and the multiple barrels were painted a dark purple. It looked silly, but all five of the minigun’s barrels were fitted with pale brown silencers each embedded with a tiny orange gem. I nudged him. “Hey, Peaches. Stop drooling.”

“Wha—?” He wiped the saliva hanging from his muzzle. “I wasn’t drooling.” He ran his hooves across the Decrusted’s surface. “It’s so beautiful.” I bristled a little bit. Minutes ago, I was the subject of his adoration.

Colts will be colts.

Teehee. Thanks, brain.

“Now, the bad news.” Both of us perked up. “As much as I hate to say it, Pinkie Pie won’t be able to cover this beauty.” Uh oh. I shot Rumcake a look of panic. “Though we can work somethin’ out.”

“What did you have in mind?” Rumcake asked.

“I need you to go do something for me,” Sleazy said, standing up. “As fa—”

“We’ll do it,” Rumcake instantly piped up.

Hold on, what? “Wait, we will?” I blurted.

“Don’t worry. It isn’t anything we can’t handle.” I really hoped so. Feeling a tiny bit lightheaded, I simply leaned on him and let him continue.

Sleazy was shocked as well. “You don’t want any details?”

“Well, of course we want the details! But more importantly, we need this minigun.” Rumcake told Sleazy my story and what we had to do, minus a few insignificant details. “So we’re going to need to borrow this for a bit.”

Sleazy sat in thought for a minute. “I can work with that.” Well, that was a start. “How about this…” He thought about it some more, scratching at the hole in his neck. “I’ll mount the Decrusted and take your grenade launcher as collateral.” Both of them nodded in agreement. “I’ll give you the incendiary ammo once you’re done. I trust the Rangers have standard minigun ammo?” Rumcake nodded again. “Good! Then we have a deal?”

“Deal,” Rumcake agreed. “And the job?”

Sleazy rolled one of his eyes. I resisted the urge to vomit all over his store. Ewww. “I trust you to do what you think is right. Come back to me once you’re done.”

“Thanks for understanding.” I stepped forward to hug him, trying to not get his… ichor all over me. “How can we repay you?”

“You’re stretching my gratitude muscles as far as they’re willing to go, especially after the last battle.” Right. I’d forgotten about that. “My assignment will call us even. Trust me.” Sleazy shied away. “And you might not want to touch me. Seriously.” He motioned to himself. “This hasn’t been bathed in two hundred fortyish years.”

I reflexively gagged and backed away quickly. Ewww! “But that doesn’t make sense,” I protested. “Wasn’t the war only—”

…Oh, Goddesses.

Well, at least the radiation cleaned him off at some point. I hope.

You and me both, brain.

Rumcake hooked a foreleg over me and nudged me toward the door. “Go get some air. You look like you’re going to hurl.” I gagged again. He winced and smiled in sympathy. “Yeah, go outside. I can wrap everything up here.”

I gratefully stumbled outside. Air! I inhaled the dusty, stale-tasting air in huge gulps. Never again would I be able to see Sleazy the same way again.

What did you expect?

Shut up. I dry heaved in the street while I waited for Rumcake to finish fondling his brand new gun. At least now we were somewhat geared for one last confrontation with the Rad Lads.

~~~~~

“I can’t believe you have a silenced minigun,” Tabber muttered. We’d quickly stopped by the Spritebot to pick him up before departing to the slaver stronghold, since we needed somepony who had more explosives than anypony should reasonably have. “That should not be possible.”

“Buck logic.” I giggled. “We need firepower and stealth. Compromise, right?” We sat on the cliff overlooking the Rad Lads encampment. It was quieter than before and there weren’t nearly as many guards. Luckily, the slaves were still in their cages, so at least we didn’t have to go search for them.

Rumcake had his helmet back on at this point. “I have a plan.” He pointed at the back edge of the camp. “They don’t have a wall, so we’re going to walk in there and pull off a quick smash and grab.” Well, so much for stealth. “Secondary objectives are basically just kill everything and figure it out later. Questions?”

Tabber raised his hoof. “Can’t we just sneak in? I don’t want to mess with that.” He pointed at a large, heavily defended tent near the center of the entire mess. It had a few barricades going around it and even three sentry turrets scanning the immediate area. “If we can find the terminal that controls those guns we can wipe them out, easy.”

Rumcake sighed. “Fine. Tabber, hijack those sentry guns. Frosty, you stay up here and give us overwatch.” I nodded and double-checked my anti-machine rifle. The sight attachment was back on, and I had normal bullets loaded again.

Tabber pointed at a little gray box strapped to his shoulder. “I’ve got a radio on my frequency of forty one point oh one. I’ll radio in when the turrets are down.” A little message popped up in my vision that helpfully informed me a new radio signal had been located. I popped in the earbloom and fiddled with the volume settings.

“Where the buck is the mic sensitivity on this? Advanced?” I muttered to myself, flipping back and forth through the options menu of my PipBuck. “Is there even a mic on this? Oh great, there isn’t even a mic on this. Perfect.”

“I’m tuned in,” Rumcake informed us, tapping the side of his helmet. “I’ve got a two-way radio in here, too.” And of course that left me with the most complicated one-way radio in existence.

“Uh… how about me?” I asked, hoping for a radio. “How are we going to do this? My PipBuck doesn’t have a built-in microphone.”

Both of them stared at me with their blank, expressionless helmets. “Welp, I didn’t bring a spare,” Tabber groaned, patting himself down. “Any ideas? I’ve got nada.”

“Hmm.” My gaze landed on an empty Sparkle-Cola bottle. “I got it.” I picked up the empty bottle and stood it up on a chest-high rock. “Just ask me yes and no questions. If the bottle is up, that means yes. Down means no.”

Everypony agreed on our impromptu communication system. Rumcake trotted away toward the back end of the camp to set up an ambush. Tabber disappeared the second I looked down to place my second magazine somewhere reachable. No doubt he’d gone off to place explosives everywhere.

I kept my scope on the slave cages, just in case anything happened. There was no way I was going to let anything happen to them at this point. “Frosty, please tell me your rifle has a silencer,” Tabber whispered over the radio. I reached up and tilted the bottle over. “Well, buck.” I re-righted the bottle and refocused on the cages. “Two-pony patrol headed toward you, Rumcake.”

“Got them.” Two bandaged up slavers that were walking around the back section of tents were suddenly dragged into the shadows. “Is it safe to move up?” I scanned the camp and left the bottle up. There were still three more patrols circling the camp, but they were nowhere close. After a moment, Rumcake decided, “I’m taking that as a yes.”

He pushed through a tent and cautiously advanced closer to the center of the camp. “Oooh, shiny,” Tabber squee’d. “How many patrols are around me?” How was I going to answer that? “Just gimme a number.” I rolled my eyes. Really? I could hear him facehoof over the radio. “Okay, better question: are there any patrols?” I tipped over the bottle.

“I don’t want to hear fireworks just yet,” Rumcake growled, stomping through another tent. “We have things to do, and ponies to save.”

“Yeah, yeah. Got it.” All three turrets beeped for a split second before resuming their turning. “Good news. These turrets were overloaded in order to move them.” Okay… that didn’t really mean anything to me.

“Which means…?” Rumcake asked irritably. Thank you!

“Bucking noobs.” Tabber sighed. “The turrets think they’re looking at a beach in Zebrica for now. Basically, move fast before they notice it’s a still and reboot.” He dropped the volume of his voice in mid-explanation. “I’m cutting through the tent.” Silence. “Nopony home. Cover me. Going to hack the terminal.”

“Got it.” Rumcake moved toward the slave cages, neutralizing two more guards on the way there. “What should I do with the cages?” he asked, surveying the ponies within. Some of them looked to him hopefully, wondering if they would be saved. “Shh. We’re here to help. Stay quiet.”

Cherry was right there in the front. Still alive, and still clinging to hope. Thank the goddesses. The sound of crunching gravel behind me pulled me out of my rifle’s sights. Crunch. Crunch. Philomena’s Touch found its way onto my right hoof. “C’mere you,” I muttered to myself. Crunch. I pressed myself against a rock for cover. Crunch. A dirty purple leg stopped near my chosen bit of cover.

“Mhm… nofin’ ‘ere but a bottle,” Purple Leg muttered. “You’re seein’ things, mate,” he called to a pony nearby. Crap. So there were two of them. “Le’s get back to our post. Benny’ll be mad as bonkers if we’re not there.”

“Coulda sworn…” the other slaver replied. “One las’ poke around.”

“Fine! See ya back there.” The purple one stormed off.

I couldn’t see where the other one was. Somewhere on the other side of my rock, most likely. Carefully, I switched on the power hoof and watched the little rubies on the bottom light up. Hm. The walking stopped when he heard the low-pitched whine my power hoof turning on. Damn those powering up sounds! “What was that?” the slaver wondered out loud. Uh oh.

It turned out that he hadn’t exactly pinpointed where I was yet, so I still had a chance to pull a plan together. Think, Frosty, think! I glanced at my E.F.S. bar and duly noted that there weren’t any other enemies in close proximity, which meant I was—

…Wait, this stupid PipBuck also had its S.A.T.S. thing! I’d forgotten that this thing was more useful than just for inventory sorting. Remembering the tutorial, I quickly toggled S.A.T.S. on and off to check whether or not it worked. Sure enough, the targeting spell marked the slaver for me, saving me the trouble of having to actually aiming at him myself. It’s like I didn’t even have to try.

Thanks to the power of magic, he’d never see it coming. The drably olive colored slaver was about to circle around to the other side of the rock. However, he wasn’t expecting me to jump over it. A large blob circled his entire body with a little tag that read ‘95%’. I confirmed the hit and whaled into him in spell-enhanced slow motion.

The first punch smashed him into the ground. What I didn’t expect was for him to spontaneously combust. Violently. I nearly landed on top of his prone, burning form and punched him again. More fire! The spell faded away. Well, that was unex—

“Ow! Ow, ow, ow, ow!” I frantically attempted to put out the flames that wreathed power hoof and the fur around it. “Hot! Gah!”

My duster ended up getting singed a bit, but at least the fire was out. Philomena’s Touch was placed back into my saddlebag, and I licked my burnt hoof in an attempt to ease the pain. Sure, the burnt hairs were disgusting, but at least my cool saliva was helping the pain go away. Note to self: acquire burn cream.

Yo. Idiot. Purple Leg down there.

Right. Uh, how would I inform Rumcake and Tabber? I thought for a moment, then I simply removed the bottle. Hopefully they’d get it.

In the little scuffle, my earbloom had fallen out. I picked it up off of the rocky ground and popped it back into my ear after a quick brushing. “—thing’s gone to hell! A freakin’ scavenging party came back! Frosty? You there?” Rumcake yelled.

I couldn’t respond. I could hear his suppressed minigun firing off sporadically, but I couldn’t place where it was coming from. Wow, so that actually worked. I stormed off toward the entry where Purple Leg had headed off to, just in case he was thinking of trying to hurt Rumcake.

And, of course, Purple was actually coming back my way, and we collided with each other coming around a mound of rocks. Just great.

“Oi! Who’re y—” he started. He was right in front of me. I had no time to take out a weapon or even Philomena’s Touch. In our collision, he’d dropped his weapon. A pool cue. A bucking pool cue.

Being in a situation that could potentially cause my imminent death, I panicked and chomped down on it before he could finish his sentence. “Cue in yo face!” I screamed, swinging wildly. My first swing missed, but I caught him on the backswing as he lunged for me. He stumbled backwards in pain, clutching the top of his head. I didn’t let up, yelling in between strikes, “I said—” Thwack. “CUE.” Whack. “IN.” Squelch. “YO.” Crunch. “FACE!” Snap. I panted in exhaustion, discarding the broken pool cue onto the dead purple slaver, leaving the other half in his eye socket.

“That… went better than expected,” I wheezed.

The turrets inside the base beeped wildly and started hosing the area with bullets. Uh oh. Not good. “I love computers!” Tabber laughed inside my ear. Eh? Wut? I heard minigun return fire accompanying it. Not. Good. What the hell was going on in there?

“What th’ buck’s wrong wif’ th’ sentryguns?!” a slaver presumably screamed. “Stop shootin’ us!” Well, at least he’d hotwired the sentries to shoot at our enemies.

“Oi! Asshole! Tell them to stop shooting me, too!” I heard Rumcake yell through the radio. Sounds of bullets bouncing off his armor also made it through the radio. “Stop scuffing my armor! I can’t afford to keep buffing it!” By the sounds of it, Tabber must have deleted the targeting data instead of reprogramming it. Lazy bum.

After a quick dash back up to the crest of the hill to retrieve my rifle, I headed back down to the makeshift gate. A cursory search of Purple’s body revealed a healing potion, a nearly broken pistol with all of three bullets in it, and two entire bottle caps. Glee. My newly-procured loot was promptly shoved into my saddlebag.

“Cova’ me lads! I got one las’ pulse grenade,” a different slaver yelled. Sounded like one of the sentry guns was getting luckier than the rest of them, by the sounds of all the screaming and yells of bloody whatevers. “Ready?”

“Way ahead of you.” I determinedly stepped into the camp, catching sight of the harried slaver grimly holding the anti-spell grenade in her teeth. Three bullets, eh? I gripped the pistol I’d recently acquired and triggered S.A.T.S. The five visible slavers were all facing away from me, but they weren’t my target. Even with S.A.T.S. telling me I had “73%” on their torsos and only “21%” on their heads, I wasn’t going to take a shot that wasn’t at least a ninety, since I was just as better off just aiming at something else. A very specific something else.

You’re going to shoot the bucking grenade?

Yes, brain. No need to yell; I can hear you too.

Instead of the easy shot, you’re going to risk a nine percent chance to hit.

Yep. That’s about it, brain. Questions?

Why are we so bucking stupid?

‘Cause we’re so bucking awesome.

The spell-assisted bullet exited the barrel of the pistol in slow motion. Even with the pistol obstructing my right eye, I could tell my shot was going to hit the grenade. Yes. Yes!

Of course, nailing the grenade would have chewed up all of my luck for the week, so the Wasteland decided to save it for me. The bullet only ended up slightly clipping the grenade’s surface, disappointingly enough. At least the impact caused the grenade to fly out of the slaver’s mouth and over their impromptu barricade.

The two of the five that were paying attention whirled around (ironically, the grenade slaver wasn’t one of them). I grinned sheepishly and dived behind a tent. Sporadic gunfire was pointed in my direction, but I weaved my way through random tents and hallways before they could pinpoint my position.

An explosion rang out from somewhere in the camp. “Can we turn off these bucking sentry guns? I’m running out of bullets to shoot them with!” Rumcake yelled again through my earbloom, sounding weary and incredibly pissed.

“What if I told you I couldn’t turn them off?” Tabber replied, laughing uneasily. “Wow, that’s never happened before.”

I snorted. “That’s what she said,” I remarked to no one, before mentally faceclawing myself. Really? Was this what was going through my mind at this moment? Ugh, I was so disappointed with myself. The gunfire appeared to not be aimed at my direction anymore, so I slowed down to catch my breath. I couldn’t risk flying into the fray; I wasn’t armored enough and I’d be a huge target.

Another series of explosions finally silenced the turrets. “Alright, I think our friends finally turned them off,” Tabber called out in my earbloom. “Uh oh. Gotta go.”

“Status report!” Rumcake shouted, to no response. “Oh, you gotta be bucking kidding me…” I heard more minigun fire in the distance. “Frosty, check up on Tabber! I need to entertain our new guests.” A devastating-sounding fwoosh came from the direction of one of Rumcake’s guests. “Ha! I’m fireproof, bitches!” Which was shortly followed by, “Ow, ow, ow! Okay, I’m fire resistant!”

Let’s assume he’ll be alright. As much as I wanted to help him, Tabber probably needed my help more.

Hold up. How are you going to kill those five slavers in front of the command tent?

Is that what it was?

Yes.

Okay. Tabber was inside, and up to five hostiles were in there with him.

I carefully scanned the area, which meant repeatedly triggering S.A.T.S. until I’d almost wasted a bullet on a stray radroach. After that near misfire, I put the pistol away and pulled out my SMG. It looked like the four red dots and the solitary blue dot on my Eyes-Forward Sparkle were all inside the tent. I looked toward the slave cages, then grudgingly decided to help Tabber first. The slaves weren’t going anywhere.

I kept my eye on my E.F.S. and watched the dots disappear one by one, accompanied by soft paffing noises. I lifted the tent flap, making sure to stay out of the actual entrance. “Friendly, coming in,” I called out, noticing the last red dot disappear with an audible thump.

“Come on in! Can I pour you a drink?” Tabber laughed, glasses clinking. I entered the tent to the sight of four dead slavers and three tied up, bloodied, slavers in the corner. “I’ve got…” He swirled around some liquids in a whiskey bottle. “…Drinks to die for.” He slipped on his orange glasses over the gas mask he was already wearing.

I faceclawed. “No. Just… no.” I pulled his sunglasses off his face and put them on myself. And then everything became that much harder to see. “How do you see out of these? Everything’s orange!” So much orange! And yellow!

“I don’t. That’s why I don’t wear them much unless I’m trying to impress somepony.” He scratched his chin in thought. “You know, that’s probably why that assassin couldn’t find me.”

Rumcake stormed into the tent, his armor caked with soot, dirt, and what looked like baked-on blood. “You would not believe what happened,” he said with a huff. “Out of all the weapons to bring, they just had to bring a flamethrower with them.” He stomped his hooves and shook himself, hoping to dislodge some of the crud on his armor. Ironically, the only part of him that wasn’t dirty at all was his Decrusted minigun. Must have had a heavy duty cleaning enchantment on it.

I helped him scrape off the worst of the grime. “At least they didn’t have plasma weapons,” I pointed out, tapping his armor at the same time. “That stuff goes through everything.”

“I know,” he replied bitterly. “I’ve seen it firsthoof.”

Oops. Touchy subject. “I’m a laser mare, myself. Eh heh heh…” I added hopefully.

“What’s with them?” Rumcake asked, allowing me to continue cleaning up his armor. I looked over to the tied up slavers. Tabber really did a number on them—their heads were soaked with blood.

Mmm.

Hey! Shut it.

Wait a sec…

“Keeping unicorns tied up is hard, so I chopped their horns off,” Tabber pleasantly replied, oblivious to the shocked and horrified expressions on our faces (or possibly behind Rumcake’s helmet). “Frosty, don’t give me that look.”

He’d chopped off their horns! What kind of monster does that kind of thing?

Obviously this one.

Thanks?

Even for my enemies, I wouldn’t want that kind of pain wished upon them. “Uh…” I stammered. “Who are they?”

“I’d assume they’re the leaders of this operation.” Rumcake stomped to the unconscious unicorns and slapped each of them. “Up. Right now,” he growled.

“Wot’cha want with us?” the bright blue one on the left wailed.

“Information,” Rumcake simply stated.

“Oi, I’ll tear ye a new arse!” the somewhat gray-white dehorned unicorn in the center defiantly yelled.

“Make it go away…” the dark red one on the right whimpered, his blood nearly invisible against his coat.

“Uh… do we really need these three? I mean, we could probably find things out ourselves since they’re still slavers after all,” I suggested, somewhat sympathizing with the bound unicorns.

“Good point.” Rumcake revved up his minigun and messily executed them all over the wall with an unnecessary amount of firepower.

I recoiled at the atrocities that had just been committed before my eyes. What, why? That wasn’t what I meant at all! “What the buck did you do that for?!” I screamed, backing away from the rapidly spreading pool of blood before part of me decided I needed a snack. “What the buck?!”

“I put them out of their misery,” Rumcake remarked. I continued to look at him in horror. Who executes enemies with a minigun? “What? At least I didn’t do it with a grenade launcher.” Nearby, I could faintly hear Tabber failing to hold back uncontrollable laughter.

“Worst first date ever.” I mentally forced myself to ignore the headless gore pile in the corner. Out of sight, out of mind, right? “We didn’t need anything from…” I racked my brain for the Rad Lads Leader’s name. “Big Benny, right?”

“Nah.” Rumcake pushed the bodies over with his armored tail and focused on the map on the desk near the back where a terminal was still sitting. “Hm. Interesting.” He turned to me. “Go help the slaves. That’s why you came here, right?” I nodded. “Go ahead then. I’ve got things to analyze.”

I bolted to the still-locked slave cages. Many of the slaves looked up, renewed hope in their eyes. “Hi there!” I feigned cheerfulness as I saw the difficult-looking locks securing the cages shut. Cherry was still in the same cage, and she was crying tears of joy. My demeanor deflated when I realized that the locks were hopelessly beyond my skill level. “Back off. I’m going to have to shoot the locks.”

A diseased and sickly mare in the back piped up, “Just pull the pins on the door hinges.”

Oh, huh, that was a much better idea. Saves me a bunch of ammo and probably a whole lot of shrapnel in my face.

A few minutes of improvised levers and enough swearing to call down the goddesses themselves, the cages were finally open. About fifteen slaves were now milling about in the general vicinity of the center of the camp around the large tent. Cherry galloped up to me with a stern look on her face. She seemed a bit worse for wear with a few scratches on her flanks and a new bruise on her cheek, but at least she was still alive.

“So, you just get up and leave, huh?” She slapped my muzzle hard enough to spin me around since I wasn’t expecting it. “Not a word?”

I regained my balance and stamped my hooves in the dirt. “Well, excuse me for breaking out and coming back for you, then.” I rubbed my jaw. “There were unforeseen circumstances, and I had to make a really quick decision, okay?” Cherry let up on her angry look. “At least the Rad Lads won’t bother you anymore. I think the Steel Rangers have sufficiently eradicated them from the Wasteland.”

Cherry froze. Like, completely ice solid. Didn’t even blink. “You!” she yelled, looking past me. “What the buck are you doing with that monster?” I turned around. Tabber was slowly plodding up toward me with a bag over his back. Cherry turned back to me. “Are you trying to get yourself sold?” she hissed urgently. “Quick, give me a gun.”

“Uh.” Could I really give a gun to a mare that I’d recently met? “Why?” I didn’t take my eyes off Tabber as Cherry panicked into my ear. Why couldn’t everything be as simple as kill that, don’t kill them? “Er, have you met?”

“Met?” The way she nearly screamed that at me gave me a sinking feeling. “He bucking killed my family and sold me to this lot!” The sinking turned into a full-blown crashing. Uh oh. “Still feel comfortable with that… thing?” she growled.

I turned my body and surreptitiously dipped a wing into my saddlebag for the pistol from earlier. Cherry caught my movements and hugged me to reach my wings.

The pistol was removed from the grip of my feathers. “Thanks,” she murmured.

“Howdy! Getting a little friendly with the convicts, are we?” Tabber happily called out, unaware of the revelation I’d just been informed of. I tensed myself for anything at this point. “Anyway, we’re ready to roll. Just one more thing to take care of.”

“Hold on.” I trotted up to him, Cherry in tow. She’d hidden the pistol… somewhere. Despite not wearing clothing. Stop thinking about it, Frosty. Focus. “Question.” I pointed at Cherry, who was glowering at Tabber. “Do you recognize her?” I couldn’t see his expression behind the mask, but his body language betrayed nervousness.

“No.” Tabber swallowed and backed up as I advanced on him. “…Okay, she looks somewhat familiar,” he admitted. “Why?”

“I’m going to give you one chance before I crater your face for being a liar,” I quietly threatened. Tabber nodded. “Do. You. Know. Her?” I locked my glare on his featureless glass eye holes.

“Yes. I do,” he finally admitted. “But there’s more to this story.”

“I wanna hear this story.” Rumcake suddenly appeared behind Tabber. “What’s it about?” Who knew power armor could be so sneaky?

To Tabber’s credit, he didn’t flinch. “About a job.” He lunged at me lightning quick and pulled me into a headlock. A large blade sprung from a slit in his barding and paused next to my neck. Well, I guess I could’ve seen that coming.

Yes, you should’ve.

Now is a bad time, brain.

“I’m probably not going to make it out of here, but I sure as hell can make it hard for you.”

Rumcake spun up his minigun very menacingly. “Let her go, asshole,” he growled. “If you touch a hair on her mane, I will end you.”

A muffled step at the edge of my hearing cued me into Cherry’s movement. Come on, girl! Just a little closer. I could smell the gun oil wafting through the air. “Oh no you don’t!” Tabber shouted, shifting forward just enough to buck Cherry with his rear hooves. Cherry managed to fire off one shot, but it missed. Damn. I heard her hit the ground with a crash, followed by the slaves not involved with us backing away.

“Just shoot him! I’ve had worse!” I yelled.

The knife pressed closer to my neck, causing my pulse to rapidly escalate. “Aww. How sweet. Power down now and maybe I won’t have you watch her bleed her out again.” I’d probably survive it, with my luck. Rumcake took a half step forward. A millimeter of cold steel sank into my throat. Gah! That hurt! “Ah, ah, ah!” Tabber chided.

His minigun slowly spun down to a standstill. “Dammit! No!” I screamed. Why does love always make everything so bucking complicated? “Just punch him, then!”

“I’m sorry,” Rumcake said, resigned. “I can’t see you hurt again.”

“Good! Then you can watch him get hurt!” Tabber gleefully told me. What? A flashing red circle appeared under Rumcake’s hooves. “See ya, sucker!” Rumcake had a good second to realize what was about to happen. Tabber pressed a button on his barding and I watched my beloved Rumcake get blasted off his hooves.

“NO!” I screamed, beating at Tabber’s iron grip. “Why are you doing this?” Tears fell from my face as I continued trying to rush to Rumcake’s aid.

“Caps. Mostly caps,” Tabber simply replied. He held me tighter, pulling me back. Big mistake. The second I could see him out of the corner of my eye, I triggered S.A.T.S. My claw was ready, and I wasn’t going to hold back. The display placed an ‘18%’ next to Tabber’s face. Better than nothing! Four swipes to get revenge. My first attack helped me wiggle out of his grip. Two and three did nothing but scuff his armored face. My last punch was directed into his throat.

I was interrupted by a knife into the underside of my jaw. It was like fire spreading through my head, followed by a flash freeze. No words could describe my pain. My tongue was speared, I was bleeding heavily again, and I’d been interrupted once again during a glorious moment. The knife withdrew and I heavily fell onto the ground. My mouth was slowly filling with blood. I couldn’t speak. The knife sank into my gut once, then withdrew.

A twanging of steel strings and a gust of wind summoned an ethereal form that protectively stood above my prone form. “It’s showtime,” It chuckled. I could only see the form’s teal hooves. “Stay away from the light. Keep to the darkness,” he whispered to me.

“Wha–wha–wha—” Tabber stumbled backwards, drawing a rifle from his pack. “Whaaaa?”

“I am fear. I am terror. I am nightmare.” Ice Storm fearlessly strode forward. He was an unimpressive-looking buck. Even being slightly transparent, he shared a strangely similar color scheme to my own. His mane was a ghastly free-flowing white speckled with little… stars? The blue streaks in his mane were the same as mine, only more bold and solid. Major difference—he was a unicorn, unlike the rest of my personalities. His dark blue magical glow surrounded a tiny revolver hovering at his side.

“Eat lead!” Tabber shouted, spraying bullets at Ice Storm. Ice Storm ignored the shots as they passed through his ethereal body without harming him. I could imagine his horror as the rifle went click. “Wha—” Tabber fumbled with some switches on a console strapped to his foreleg.

In other news, Ice Storm had a really sexy butt. Just pointing this out since I had a great view of it.

“My turn.” Ice Storm’s revolver roared with unparalleled rage and firepower not characteristic of his choice of firearm. Smoke suddenly shrouded the area in darkness. “Damn.” He fired two shots into the smoke; the second answered with an ear-splitting crack and a wail of pain. “Grazed him,” he spat in disgust. “I missed! I never miss, unless…” He looked down at my fallen form. “…Oh. Right. That’s why,” he muttered, crouching next to me. “Uh… now is a bad time, but I’m no doctor.” He started to slowly fade away.

Well… crap. Couldn’t see anything, couldn’t say anything, could barely hear anything anymore. Breathing was getting harder. Thinking was difficult in between choking. My stomach hurt. My face hurt. I was hallucinating to the highest degree possible. Great. Ice Storm was gone, back into the very disturbed depths of my mind.

I became aware of fearful whispering from behind me. I couldn’t get my hooves to move, never mind gather enough strength to stand. “Are… are they dead?” somepony quietly whispered. The smoke started to dissipate. I attempted to choke out some kind of response, but I only managed to sputter and bleed more.

An armored body torn and cracked by an explosion was dragged next to me. “Get her to the medical tent with this one. I think there should be something left we can still use to fix them up. Where’s Stardust? By the space butterfly, I am not letting you die now!”

Watch me. Ooh, hey! A bottle cap!


Footnote: Level up!
New Perk: Mysterious Stranger – A guardian unicorn, just for you. You insane little lunatic, you. Ice Storm will periodically show up to finish off your target when using S.A.T.S.
Current Sub-perk: None.
Status Removed: Addicted to Med-X – Congratulations! Now try not to get addicted to anything else.

Author's Note:

Yup. Frosty has a full name now.

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