• 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 14: How do you feel about flight?

Chapter 14: How do you feel about flight?

“Thank you, but I don't think a couple of nuts will solve my big flying problem.”


“I’m going after Rumcake,” I declared. “That doofus probably needs saving, again.” He probably needed my help, and I was going to give it to him.

…Or maybe he’d fallen into a hole and gotten lost and didn’t need my help.

The conflicting thoughts running through my mind must have shown, because Instant frowned and mentioned, “You know, it’s probably nothing.”

Saying that only made me worry more. “But what if it isn’t?” I had a frightening image of Rumcake slowly sinking in a quicksand pit. The image was immediately ruined by an imaginary Sparkle-Cola trying to help by swinging a giant radpython to him.

“He’s our Paladin Commander. I’m sure he can handle himself,” Instant reassured me. “Besides, don’t you need some rest?”

Now that Rumcake was in danger—

Possibly in danger.

Fine, probably in danger. Point being, I didn’t feel tired anymore. “What if he forgot to, I don’t know, pack extra batteries?”

“Extra batteries?” Instant arched an eyebrow at me. “Really? Look, just forget I brought it up.” She regarded me for a moment. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“You made me paranoid!” I sputtered back, prancing in place. Imaginary Rumcake had sunk up to his neck in oatmeal and had begun to merrily rotate in place, pausing only to wave at Filly Frosty giggling from the edge of the bowl.

Hold on a second.

Don’t look at me. You’re the one with the nervous munchies.

“I need to know if he’s okay!”

Instant Noodles regarded me doubtfully. “If you really can’t be convinced otherwise, I’m going to have you take one of our scribes with you that can do armor repair. Just in case.”

“Sure, whatever.” I looked into my saddlebag for supplies. Supplies that I didn’t find nearly enough of. “I’ll go restock on healing potions and food later.”

“Help yourself to the pantry and medical building.” Instant left the room with her robes billowing out behind her. I was about to head out to the aforementioned buildings to acquire massive amounts of loot, when Instant charged back in. “Within reason!” she blurted. Damn. Well, there goes that idea.

“Would reason be… all the healing potions?” I nervously grinned.

Instant was not amused. “No.”

“Aww. Fine,” I mumbled. After taking a reasonable number of healing potions from the Steel Rangers’ ridiculously large stock and helping myself to a few boxes of apocalypse-proof food, I was ready. Well, almost ready. I needed to stop by Doc’s clinic first.

Doc was noticeably different. His mane was more bedraggled than usual, and it looked like he hadn’t slept yet. “Hey there, Frosty. Need anything?” he asked without even turning around. I opened my muzzle to ask, but he somehow knew. “Your clink-clanking kind of gives you away.”

I shook the uncomfortable feeling in my gut and asked, “Got any extra medical stuff? The Rangers only let me off with a hoof-full of healing potions and a few healing bandages.” Something told me that something was wrong with Doc, but I didn’t want to press the issue. Unless he wanted to talk about it.

Whatever it was, Doc didn’t want to share. “I think I can spare a few med-bands and some painkillers.” Wherever they were, I didn’t see them. They were probably stored somewhere more sterile. “Oh, and there’s also my slightly more improved combat stims,” he added as an afterthought.

“You mean the ones that killed me not too long ago?”

Doc looked sheepish. “If it makes you feel any better, I ironed out that teensy little problem.”

It didn’t. “I wouldn’t call it a small problem.”

“Sorry! You got the initial test batch since I didn’t have time to run trials.” A likely story, but I decided to listen anyway. “But it’s okay, I threw it through a distillery and refined it a little and now it probably won’t kill you.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Probably?”

“I’m eighty-five percent sure that this is ninety percent safe about seventy percent of the time,” Doc brightly explained. “And I filtered out most of the asbestos, so this is even OSHA compliant.”

Maybe not paying attention in chemistry was finally paying off. Whatever asbestos did, I probably didn’t want to know. “Uh huh,” I neutrally grunted. “Screw it, I’ll chance one. Never know when I’ll need an ace in the hole.”

“Sure, sure.” He opened several of his many boxes and floated another syringe full of mystery syrupy smashy goodness into my bag, along with a few assorted other medical supplies. I stood there for a moment, unsure of what to do next. “I’m going to assume you need something else?”

I hesitated, then did what Instant would do in this situation. “Something the matter?” I walked over and placed a hoof on his shoulder. “Wanna talk about it?”

Doc sighed and dropped the medical bag he was assembling. “I just never took Backstabber as the disloyal type.” Then he broke down in tears. I held the grown stallion awkwardly in my forelegs as he sobbed into my left shoulder. “He… he used to be my friend!”

“Well…” I really wanted to call him an idiot, but now seemed inappropriate. Wait. “This wouldn’t be our dear Agent Tabber, would it?”

He nodded, sniffling.

Oh. OH! Now that made sense. “It’s not just you. He betrayed all of us,” I consoled him, before realizing that that might not have been the best thing to say. His tears trickled down the sides of my arm and pooled on the cool metal joint attached to my claw.

“It’s just…” Doc started, wailing harder.

I patted his mane. “There, there. We’ll get revenge one day. Lacking that, I will.” Tabber was the least of my worries right now, though. I still had to get to Friendship City before my contract ran out and I died for good. “Please, stop crying. You’re going to make me rust.”

“Sorry.” Doc used the edge of his doctor’s coat to wipe his face. “Unprofessional of me.” He backed away and silently sobbed to himself. “Shouldn’t have trusted him to change. Shouldn’t have let him go with you.”

“It’s totally alright,” I said while drying off my shoulder. “The Wasteland is cruel to the best of us. Don’t be so hard on yourself.” I knew that firsthoof.

…Well, okay, not really. Sort of.

“Look, let’s just get past all of this and move on,” I continued. “Whatever he was going to do, he failed.” At least I hoped so.

“The past always comes back to haunt you,” Doc whimpered. “You can’t escape it.”

Rusty wandered in from the back room holding a broom in his mouth. I hastily pointed at Doc, who had moved onto wallowing in a pile of empty bottles, and motioned for help. Rusty silently leaned the broom against the wall and pulled Doc out of the bottles. “C’mon, Doc. Let’s get you a drink, and maybe a nap.”

I silently thanked him and slunk out of the clinic. The little orange mare that I saw in the machine shop was waiting for me, decked out in her scribe robes. Her curly striped orange and white mane barely poked out of the hood she was hiding behind. I also noted a horn hidden underneath that hood of hers. “Uh, h-hello, Miss Winds? I’m Junior Scribe Tangerine. I’ve been assigned to you until our Rangers have been recovered.”

“Nice to meet you, Tangerine.” I held out my claw as a greeting, but she shied away from me. Was I really that scary? “Uh… right.” My claw was placed back onto the ground. “I need to go get some ammunition from Sleazy, then we’ll be ready to go.”

“I was informed of your arsenal, and I retrieved your ammunition accordingly.” Tangerine floated a small pouch out of somewhere in her cloak and placed it on the ground between us. “Three fully-loaded magazines for your anti-material rifle, two more shock rounds, and two mags for your SMG.”

When I stepped forward to pick up the small filled-to-bursting bag, Tangerine fearfully backed up. What the hell was up with that? “…Thanks,” I slowly stated. There was a snug corner of my saddlebag that just barely managed to accommodate the bag. Ammo acquired. Traveling supplies acquired. Medical supplies acquired. “Well, I guess we’re ready to head out.” I looked over her body. Not that way! She was on the small side, so I casually asked, “How do you feel about flight?”

Tangerine’s eyes got huge and she almost retreated into the depths of her robes. I was positively sure she was shaking harder than a leaf in the wind.

You’re a big stupid dum-dum, dummy.

Shut up, brain.

I can do it, just you watch!

Filly Frosty sounded like she knew what she was doing. Tangerine, on the other claw, was completely terrified.

“Fine… it’s not like I’m doing any better,” I growled as quietly as possible.

“Um… what?” Tangerine peeked out from behind her orange and white mane under her hood. Note to self, stop talking to self out loud. Apparently it’s not normal.

Of course, I wasn’t normal. Normal ponies don’t find themselves being suddenly kicked out of their mind and replaced with a child version of themselves. Until you’ve experienced a total personality shift, there really wasn’t a way to explain Filly Frosty taking control. It was like being happy. Suddenly, really happy. Not like a flood of rage like Raider Frosty. Colors brightened, that layer of grime that coated everything vanished, and I inexplicably felt much better.

Filly Frosty shook out our mane. “Nothing!” She smiled brightly. “I don’t know what’cha thinking, but I’m not gonna hurt’cha. Pinkie promise.” Other note to self: figure out where Filly gets her material from. Then she changed the topic by asking, “Whatchur favorite color?”

Somehow Filly’s foalish charm was making Tangerine open up a bit. “Orange!” Tangerine replied confidently.

“Orange! Orange! Orange!” Filly somehow bounced excitedly on all four hooves. Well, three and a metal leg. Whatever. “So, I heard you’re scared of flying.”

Tangerine scratched at the ground. “Unicorns shouldn’t fly. And I don’t like heights.”

“But it’s so much fun though!” Filly continued bouncing. “Just get on my back and we’ll go. Don’t worry, I’ll take it easy.” She stopped to lie down on the ground so Tangerine could get on my back. “Hop on!”

Tangerine backed away. “N-no… no thanks…”

Filly pouted. “Aww, c’mon… fraidy-cat!” Tangerine looked unsure. “Am I really that scary?” Filly asked, just as confused as I was.

“It’s… haven’t you heard the rumors? The stories?” Tangerine whispered.

Okay, playtime’s over, sugarpuff. Hoof over the keys.

Filly wordlessly retreated along with her whimsy and brightness. The Wasteland looked even more bleak after seeing things from Filly Frosty’s point of view. “Let me guess. Crazy and neurotic?”

“They say you bathe in the blood of anypony that crosses you,” Tangerine whispered.

“That’s a bit extreme, don’t you think?” I arched an eyebrow at her and spread my wings . “Do I look like I even bathe?”

Tangerine cracked a small grin at that. “You make a good point.”

“See? What else does everypony say about me?” I was methodically trying to convince her that I wasn’t a total menace to her health. Or survival.

“Not much else, once I really think about it. Everything else is really stupid,” Tangerine decided.

“So… still wanna fly?” I hopefully asked. “I’ll go slow, then if you feel sick we can just walk there. Though I prefer we fly to save time.” Please just get on. Wasting too much time. Back legs falling asleep. Ow.

“Well, I guess I need to try it once, since I might not have another chance…” Tangerine looked up, a determined expression on her face. “If I tell you to stop, you stop. Got it?”

I agreed and allowed her to get onto my back. She wrapped her thin forelegs around my neck and pressed herself against me. I think her eyes might have been closed, not sure.

I stood up and experimentally flapped my wings. Tangerine tightened her grip on my neck, unintentionally cutting off my airflow. “Loosen… grip… can’t… breathe!” I gasped, barely audible. She still didn’t loosen her grip. My hoof pounded at her impossibly strong grip. “Air… useful! Stop!”

Tangerine let go and apologetically squeaked, “I’m so sorry!”

I inhaled like there was no tomorrow. Knowing my luck, I wouldn’t be surprised if that were true. “Just…” Inhale. “Don’t.” Inhale. “Do that…” Cough. Inhale. Choke on spit. Cough. “While I’m flying.” Cough. Inhale. “Got it?” I felt her nod. “Good.” Cough. “Let me finish coughing up this lung.” Cough. “And then we’ll finally bucking leave.”

~~~~~

Instant Noodles had supplied me with Rumcake’s last known coordinates, so at least that wasn’t going to be trouble. And speaking of trouble, Tangerine was a terrible flyer. I hadn’t even gotten a meter off the ground before she started to panic. After a bit of consoling and the loss of an apple-flavored snack cake, I finally got her to relax at a gentle cruising speed of really slow. Admittedly, as a pegasus I had a really skewed definition of what was considered “fast”.

“Can we slow down? I feel… sick.” Tangerine tried to suppress a gag on my back. Please don’t vomit on me. Dear Luna don’t let her vomit on me. She was still holding onto me tightly with her forelegs wrapped around my chest and her hindlegs tightly clutching my back. Where were those last ribs when I needed them? She held on so tightly I was getting worried about circulation, since the metal plates in my duster were starting to chafe.

I kept flying toward the heading that I had charted out beforehoof with a little assistance from Tangerine to account for hazards, “You do realize if I fly any slower we’re going to crash, right?” I called out over my shoulder. “But if you want we can take a break.” Wings were getting tired anyway.

Tangerine choked back her breakfast. “We’re making good time.” Unfortunately it was getting dark, and at our speed we wouldn’t even get close, thanks to pre-flight difficulties. “Can you keep going for another two hours? There’s a small encampment along the way that we can try to stop at.”

“Sounds like a plan.” I flapped onward, directed by Tangerine’s outstretched hoof. “Wait. What do you mean by try to stop?” I felt somewhat insulted. “Do you not trust my ability to land myself?”

Tangerine queasily giggled, barely holding in her breakfast. “No, that’s not it.” She waved a paper map that smacked me right in my face with the wind. Repeatedly. “See the big red ‘T’ with a circle around it?”

“Well, my right eye knows what you’re talking about,” I replied, doing my best to navigate with only my part of my left eye being able to see ahead. Darkness was still approaching, and the encampment that sh—Oh, wait, there it is. At the very edge of the sunset a heavily fortified set of three buildings became visible. I pushed the map out of my vision. “I see it. Over there?”

“Yeah. But one teensy little problem: they’re Talon Mercs.” Oh joy. The self-proclaimed public military organization, available for a just a few of your hard-earned caps, assuming our intel was correct. All griffons, all angry, all the time. “And let’s say they don’t like the Steel Rangers very much.”

“Well, good thing I’m two-thirds griffon,” I jokingly tossed back. “Just in case, can you assemble my rifle and load the mags? The parts should be in my saddlebag, and one of the magazines is in one of the pockets on my duster.”

Tangerine dutifully started levitating parts out of my saddlebag and skillfully assembled my favorite death-dealing machine in record time. “Are we expecting combat?”

“No. But just in case I need to relocate a few brains, we’ll have that option.”

Somehow Tangerine also maintained her gut-crushing hold on my, well, gut the entire time. “Ready.” The barrel suddenly protruded into my field of view on my right side. Soft clicking on my back told me my magazines were being reloaded. Excellent.

A miniature fireball whizzed past me and exploded a few feet away to my left. “Woah, woah, WOAH!” I banked out of the way, barely avoiding the flaming bits of shrapnel. Tangerine screamed behind me. “Hang on!”

Another one zoomed past me. “Don’t drop me!” Tangerine hysterically screamed into the back of my head.

“Doing my best!” I dodged another flaming shell. “Stop shooting at me!” I screamed at the encampment. Looked like they were still shooting flares at me. “What the buck?” A flare that I thought would miss barely clipped my right wing. “Ladies and gentlecolts, please fold your tray tables in the upright position.” A few primaries on the edge of my right wing were singed to bits, and we were slowly losing altitude. I could still glide to the ground, but flying was out of the question. Hopefully healing potions fixed feathers.

Tangerine was screaming her head off, and that really didn’t help trying to land at all. As far as crashes were concerned, we were descending at a leisurely rate instead of spiraling out of control. I managed to hit the ground at with at a brisk trot, barely staying upright. She was still hanging onto me for dear life, and I was forced to violently pry her off.

My sharp vision combined with the setting sun revealed that it indeed was the right encampment. Either that or there was another settlement somewhere in the Wasteland that was surrounded with Talon mercs. Unfortunately, they still wanted to kill me.

Tangerine was huddled up on the ground, likely completely traumatized. I unceremoniously shoved her behind a largish rock for cover and dove behind it after her. “I need this!” I pulled my anti-machine rifle off her prone form and retrieved my mags.

“Are we dead?” Tangerine whimpered.

“Not yet, we aren’t.” My first mag got loaded, but before I could cock the bolt...

Hold on. What if they see you as a threat?

“The hell gave you that idea?”

“Whaa?”

“Not talking to you.” Go on, brain.

Don’t griffons have a standing grudge against pegasi?

“Yeeees?” I wasn’t sure what I was getting at.

Enclave? Super anti-everything? And after the war we didn’t really have good relations with them.

Hmm. “You do have a good point. What’s your call?”

“Hide! I don’t wanna die yet!” Tangerine poked her head out of her hood.

“What the buck do I do now?” I growled under my breath.

Just surrender. You mean no harm, and hopefully they don’t either. Lacking that, we can destroy them. Right?

Fine, you win.

“Got anything white?” I pointedly asked Tangerine. “Or anything we can wave at them with?”

Silence. “Wave your hooves in the air?” Tangerine suggested.

“That’s a terrible idea.”

“Got anything better?”

“Not really.” I slung my anti-machine rifle and stood up out of cover. “Okay, you big oversized rats. We surrender!” I yelled, waving my hooves wildly. A stray bullet ricocheted off the rock next to me. “I’m willing to dismiss that as a mistake…” Stay calm and don’t murder them. I continued waving, seemingly oblivious to everything.

A pair of griffons descended from one of the shorter buildings. While I waited for the welcome party, I decided to analyze the encampment for potential weaknesses. Two identical tiny two-floor buildings flanked a sprawling five-floor complex.

“You know, this is a bit large for an encampment. I’d say it’s a full blown field command.” I pointed out the mounted guns hidden in a few windows of the short buildings. “Plasma turrets in the windows.” The corners of each building had a lumpy shadow occupying it. “They’ve got a few snipers. Or missile launchers. Someone on the roofs, to say the least.”

“Okay, our intel may be a teensy bit out of date,” Tangerine admitted.

Two giant armored griffons wearing the Talon insignia landed in front of us. “You’re far from home, Dashite,” one of them boomed. “You know our airspace is restricted.”

I bristled. “I’m no Dashite, retards.” I lifted my duster and showed them my cutie-marked flank. “We just need a place to stay for the night.” Tangerine slunk out from around the rock and rejoined me. “We’ll be out of your feathers in the morning.”

“We’ll see about that.”

“Stable hunters usually got good stuff,” one of them muttered to the other. “A little accidental misfire, split it fifty-fifty, hmm?”

“You mean Stable dwellers?”

“Same thing.”

The other one became much more agitated by that. “It’s not the same thing, you dimwit!”

“Stuff’s the same.”

Silence. Maybe they were a little bit stupid, maybe they just didn’t care that I could still hear them talk about us. I contemplated simply strolling past them and trotting right into the Talon base, but that option may very well put me in a body bag.

“Point taken.”

Tangerine stomped her hoof in the dirt. “What am I, diced onions?”

I was surprised by her outburst, as were the two griffons. “Nobody cares about you,” Lefty instantly remarked.

“Ouch,” I muttered. “But seriously, got room for the Blood Angel and her sidekick?”

They looked at each other and groaned. “It’s another eggin’ social justice wanderer. Screw it, let’s just let the boss take care of this one.” The other one picked Tangerine up in his talons. “I’m not dealing with this. Let’s go, featherbrains.”

My wing worried me, so I flapped it experimentally. I could still fly, but I’d have to watch my balance more often. “Lead the way, then.” The griffons led us to the roof of the tall building. Halfway there I couldn’t get enough lift due to my injured wing and I was impatiently carried the rest of the way just like Tangerine. It was humiliating, to say the least.

“Hey… is your wing okay?” Tangerine whispered, edging up to me after the guards had dropped us off right up at the roof.

“Yeah. I’ll be fine.” I picked off the remnants of my burnt feathers in disgust. “I just can’t fly very well because I don’t have control anymore.” While we were waiting I quickly preened myself to make myself presentable. “Bleh.” The burnt taste lingered in my mouth. Disgusting.

A different griffon came up a flight of stairs behind a pile of rubble. “Follow me, and don’t touch anything.” We obediently followed the griffon down the stairs and into a large fancy apartment around the corner from the stairs. He stopped us in front of a huge female griffon flanked by two equally large bodyguards.

“I’m Thundercane, acting commander of Firewing’s Talon mercs. What are you here for, pegasus?” she lazily asked.

“Just need a place to stay the night, ma’am.” I smartly saluted. Kissassery wouldn’t hurt. Or professionalism, depending on who you talked to. “We thought your establishment would exceed our expectations. Ma’am.” She was eyeing my claw with mild disinterest. Or veiled interest.

Thundercane laughed hard. “I know ass-kissing when I hear it.” Tangerine’s hoof clanked off my metal right leg, which I pointedly ignored. “But I like your tone, filly. If only some of these meatheads shared that.” Thundercane threw an empty can at our escorting guard. “They’re cleared for the night. But keep an eye on them. Especially that one.” She pointed at me. “That one’s interesting.”

“Not sure if that’s a good thing,” I whispered to Tangerine with a sidelong glance.

The griffon behind us padded forward and motioned for us to leave the room. “Ma’am.” I saluted again and about-faced to leave.

“Hey, pegasus,” Thundercane called out to me. I turned around questioningly. “What’s your name?”

“Frosty. Winds, Fr—shit.” I’d just ruined a badass turn moment because I was too excited to seem cool. “Frosty Winds, Honorary Squire of the Steel Rangers.” I sighed, resignation weighing down my tone.

“Honorary Squire?”

By the way she said that, I got the feeling that Steel Ranger “Honorary” things weren’t distributed as much as I had assumed. “It’s a long story involving a chivalrous Paladin, angry ponies, a creepy doctor and an equally creepy merchant, a slaver invasion, a spy, a plot twist, and plenty of murder. You know, all of that good corny stuff.”

After a few tense seconds and an intense staring contest, Thundercane finally broke down and chuckled. “Sounds like a story I gotta hear.”

I didn’t really want to make time for story time. “Maybe another day. Anything else?”

“I’ll keep you in mind.” Thundercane thoughtfully sharpened her talons. “Dismissed,” she lethargically added.

“Ma’am.” I saluted once more and followed our escort down more flights of stairs. Whatever this place had been before the war, it looked really drab and monotonous. Just room after room of short walls. Some floors had been forcibly renovated into sleeping quarters for the mercenaries or other types of rooms.

As far as I knew, the building had five floors. First floor was populated by a few sparse shops, a weaponsmith, and a bar. The next two were sleeping quarters and private rooms for the more veteran mercenaries. The next was an armory, then the floor that we’d already been on was Thundercane’s penthouse. According to our escort, the other two building were full of mercs and weapons.

“You’ll be staying here,” the escort informed us, showing us to a small corner room with two somewhat clean mattresses side by side. We had just enough room to pile our stuff next to the doorway as floorspace. “Do not go upstairs, ever, unless Big Bird summons you.” Presumably Thundercane. “Is that clear?”

“Crystal,” I replied. The escort grunted and left, his job complete.

“What do we do now?” Tangerine whispered.

I had gotten distracted by the writing on the wall. It looked like it was old, maybe meant for somepony important. “Bad Times Friend Ahead. Maybe NO Terminal Maybe NO HOme. I Will GO Way But We Are TwO Of SOul. I will return.” I reread the message again, hoping it would make a little more sense. Either way, it gave me the shivers. Foreboding shit right here.

In the end, I decided not to bother. It wasn’t something meant for me anyway. My saddlebag was discarded and dropped in the corner. “I’mma sleep. My wings are tired, I’m sweaty, and my sides hurt from being squeezed for hours on end.” Tangerine bashfully looked away. I plopped myself down around a stained section of mattress.

“Looky here. Some sexy tail just arrived,” a voice leered. I opened my eyes to see a Talon mercenary leaning against our doorway. “How much for the night?” Truthfully, he wasn’t bad looking with those multicolored red and purple feathers. He’d painted his face and beak with black paint, just to be super-obnoxious. Somewhat on the twiggy side, but his attitude really had a lot to ask for.

Tangerine shrank back against the wall. However, I’d already had enough of this idiot.
“I just met you,” I sneered, pointing my claw at his face. “And this is crazy.” He hesitated. “I have buckshot.” I pumped the internal shotgun in my claw with a resounding click. “Prepare to die, maybe.”

“That’s so hot.” Well, crap. Shooting him in the face was definitely out of the question, especially here.

“Leave her alone, guy.” A mud-colored earth pony mare wearing combat armor emblazoned with the Talon company logo on either pauldron roughly shoved the offending (and offensive) merc out of the doorway. She brushed her straw-like mane out of her murky green eyes. “And you—” She poked the merc hard.“ —still owe me meat from that—” The merc bolted up the stairs and disappeared. “…And that takes care of that.” She sighed and held out her hoof. “Riverbed Ransom.”

“Frosty Winds. Thanks for the save.” I analyzed my claw. “Where the buck is the safety on this thing?” I laid back down on the mattress to figure it out.

“Tangerine. Steel Rangers Apprentice Scribe.” Tangerine shook Riverbed’s hoof. “What’s a pony like you doing in a Talons camp?”

Riverbed Ransom sat down and gestured with her hooves. “Lemme set up context real fast. So, like, there's this random-ass ranch out west at the ass-end of Suburbia, right? Some dipshit kid owns the ranch ‘cuz his gramps left it to him. Thing is, gramps never got around to, like, telling the kid how to use the stills, but I did my research and figured out the guy's recipe. All I need right now is, like, three thousand caps and the ranch is mine. And, like, Talons’ll pay pretty good for a pony with my skills, guy. You?”

I searched the surface of my mechanical leg for some kind of safety mechanism. A button, switch, anything! No dice. Tangerine threw back her hood and sighed. “Wandered the Wasteland for a bit. I followed the Watchers back and forth for a few years, then I joined the Steel Rangers. That’s it, end of story.”

A twenty gauge shell “accidentally” firing into the ceiling from my claw abruptly ended the conversation right there. “Welp, I found out how to fire it without punching something!” I grinned, pretending to not notice my ringing ears. Maybe if I picked them up, they’d stop. Turned out if I just mimicked a punch, the mechanism would fire. “Nothing happened! Carry on!” I yelled to the rest of the floor, just in case.

“The safety is probably somewhere around the elbow, knowing Knight Baked Potato’s work. Otherwise he forgot to make one.” Tangerine crawled over me, aggravating my bruised sides. “Right there.” She simply pushed a button that was flush against my claw’s surface exactly where she’d said it would be. “There. Safe.”

“Thanks.” I sighed. Note to self: empty shell loaded. “Ow!” Tangerine stomped back across my torso, possibly intentionally stepping on my bruises. “Not cool! You’re hea–OW!” I curled up in pain when she kicked my ribs for good measure. “I liked the scaredy-foal Tangerine better.”

“That’s for calling me your sidekick,” Tangerine sing-songed at me.

“So… where’d you two come from, anyway? We don’t get travelers very often. Wait, shit! What’d Thundercane tell you?” Riverbed hurriedly asked.

“Uhh…” Brain, start working.

No.

Well, buck you too.

“Not a whole lot, really.” I scratched at my mane hoping to dig up anything else.

“Crap. Well, I guess you’re paying the fifteen meat premium,” Riverbed muttered. “That used to be the price for drop-ins, at least.”

Wait. What? “Meat? The hell happened to caps?” Did pieces of metal get replaced with… meat? “Why do I get the feeling that I’ve just promised some bits my plot won’t be able to cash.”

Riverbed dropped the small burlap bag that she was carrying around in front of me. “Meat. Just chunks of meat, about this big.” She opened the bag and all of us were assaulted by the stench of her spoils and her freshes. Tangerine nearly lost control of her stomach again, to my chagrin.

I was rendered speechless. Tangerine cried, “Why in the name of Celestia is the currency meat, for crying out loud?” Good question.

“We don’t get travelers or merchants all the way out here, so caps are worthless to the Talons here. Well, more accurately, they’re, like, only worthless locally because there’s not much to spend them on,” Riverbed told us, closing the bag up. “Instead we use meat. Works as currency and food, guy.”

If they used meat as currency and food… “Wait, what do you eat?”

Riverbed shrugged. “I try to get paid in caps. Otherwise I trade my meat for caps as much as possible. I do favors to get some of the mercs to fetch stuff for me, guy.”

“What favors do you do, exactly?” I idly asked. Maybe I could get one of them to retrieve some cherry snack cakes. She opened her mouth wide, held her hoof in front of her mouth, and bobbed her head. She topped it all off with a sly wink and a nod.

“So like, I’ve made something like two hundred thirty one and a half caps a week blowin’ these guys, guy.”

I couldn’t help but make a snarky remark. “Who gave you the half cap?”

“They all did,” Riverbed replied, the most serious expression on her face.

After taking a good solid minute to consider my next words, I finally responded with, “I can’t say that’s not impressive. Still, it’s sort of weird you charge by the inch.”

Sick burn.

“Pfft, that’s great!” Riverbed held up her hoof, which I bumped instantly.

Tangerine only managed a groan. “You’re so immature.”

“Right, uh… I bet your ass there’s a good chance that Thundercane will, like, make you do something for her,” Riverbed causally mentioned. “Hope you have time to spare.” That couldn’t be good.

“And what if I don’t?”

Riverbed stood up. “Better think of something, then.” With a flick of her uneven tail, she went back downstairs.

I shared a somewhat panicked look with Tangerine. “You know what? I’m going to sleep. Worry about it in the morning.” I dismissed any feelings of doubt and made myself comfortable on the somewhat disgusting mattress. And since I was lacking a bedspread or even a blanket, I draped my duster over my body in an attempt to get more comfortable.

Tangerine pulled her hood back up and over her eyes. “If you say so.” She snugly wrapped her robes around herself and laid down on her mattress. “See you in the morning.”

~~~~~

The universe decided that letting me sleep was too much of a good thing to happen. Sometime in the middle of the night, someone did their best to sneak into our little room thing. Someone, because the sound of claws clicking against the floor and the padded noise of paws hitting the floor definitely meant that it was a griffon. I cracked open an eye and groggily peeked out from under the edge of my duster. From my very low vantage point, I could only see legs. Griffon legs. My saddlebag moved on its own accord, opening up to display its somewhat valuable contents.

“Nopony touches my junk!” I sprang up and seized the mercenary by his throat. Even though he was slightly taller, I could still rear up on my hind legs to reach optimal strangling height. He managed a strangled squawk as he struggled to break free from the steel grip of my claw. “What do you want?” I growled, all vestiges of sleep gone.

“Lookin’ for meat?” the merc squeaked, struggling for breath. Those obnoxious patterns…

Hey, isn’t that the idiot from earlier?

Yes. Yes it is.

“Wrong answer.” He received a quick jab to his gut that knocked the little remaining air out of his lungs. “Think out your next reply very carefully.” Philomena’s Touch was retrieved from my bag without looking. “Or I might aim lower,” I whispered into his ear. Or at least I think I did. I failed anatomy class.

“Okay! Fine! Let me breathe!” the merc gasped. I pushed him away in disgust and dropped to all fours. “Ha! I’m not tellin’ you anything, Dashite! I can’t be—” he gloated, but I didn’t let him finish.

I seized his stupid face by his stupid beak and shut him up in mid-sentence. “I’m very annoyed, very tired, and very unwilling to put up with your bullshit right now.” With a sharp tug, I brought his face level to mine. “Consider your next words carefully.”

Very slowly, I released his beak and angrily waited for a response. “You’re so hot,” he positively moaned.

Raider could feel anger boiling to the surface and I had to take a deep calming breath to keep her from trying anything. If I got any more annoyed, there wasn’t much I could do to stop her. Quietly and threateningly, I asked, “I’m not sure you know what this is—” I menacingly tapped him in the chest with my power hoof. “—but I’d bet my left leg that I could take your head clean off, then some.”

His eyes darted to my prosthetic, then back to me. “Can you do that again, but with a little more allure? You’re a little stressed, I’m a little stressed—I’ll toss in a few extra caps.”

Urge… to kill… rising.

One love tap! C’mon!

No. Raider, stop.

You know you want to.

I did want to.

Can I have some fun then?

I sighed. Ground rules first: no dismemberment, no eviscerations, no executions, and absolutely no disintegrations. With every additional term, I could almost feel Raider sulk and pout.

Yeah, yeah, sure, sure. Whatever!

With that, I cautiously allowed Raider to steamroll her way into control. I felt a cocky grin make its way onto my face and I got slightly more worried. Before I could deem all of this a bad idea, she began to chuckle.

Raider pressed our nose right up against the griffon’s beak. “So, you like it rough? We can play rough” she whispered, shoving him onto his back.

A second later, she playfully straddled his chest and most likely tried her sultriest look on him. “Oh shit, you look great with yellow eyes,” he approvingly muttered.

“Quiet.” Worryingly enough, Raider kept Philomena’s Touch on as she ran my hooves along his sides, pausing only to teasingly rub the base of his wings. “You haven’t seen anything yet, big boy.”

A pair of talons appeared in the doorway and Raider looked up to address the very surprised gender-unidentifiable griffon. “Yes, this is exactly what it looks like. Join in or get the buck out of here,” Raider snapped. When the griffon didn’t respond, she waved our claw at her and sneered, “Go on. Shoo.”

It didn’t take much more angry judgemental glaring to scare away our uninvited guest. Raider returned to doing… whatever frighteningly sultry things she was doing to our griffon, and I was trying to ignore how comfortable it was to be sitting on top of him.

“Shit, this is gonna be awesome.” The griffon under us chuckled.

Raider traced my talons up his chin and rested them on his beak. “Alright, zip it.”

“I was ju—”

“Zip it.”

“B—”

“Ziiiip.”

“I just—”

Apparently this guy couldn’t take a hint. “Zip it good.”

“I could go get—”

“Zip.”

“C—”

“Zizip!”

“How—”

“Zipahzipah!”

“I ha—”

“Ugh, just zip it.” Raider snarled. “Do you want to wake my little book-butt over there?” With our talons still wrapped around his beak, he excitedly shook his head. “Good. Now, where were we? Oh yeah, I remember.”

Without even bothering to take her eyes off of the stupid griffon’s stupid face, she brought Philomena’s Touch down onto his right wing at full force. She didn’t even bother wiping the self-satisfied smirk off our face that entire time, either. All she did was grin wider when the stupid griffon’s brain finally caught up to his sudden lack of right wing.

Of course, he tried to scream, but Raider made sure to clamp down my claw around his beak dangerously tight. “I’m going to turn you into hot wings and dipping sauce,” Raider cooed, which was frightening in its own regard.

The griffon tried to scream again.

“Aww. No? I thought you liked it rough,” she innocently asked. The griffon frantically tried to escape, but Raider wasn’t letting him go anywhere. She caught sight of the thin sheen of blood spattered on my power hoof and sensually licked a thin rivulet off. “Mmm. Tastes like chicken.”

At this point, the griffon was only interested in the fastest means of escape from the crazy pegasus straddling his chest. He frantically mumbled something unintelligible and stared with pleading eyes.

“You don’t want it?” Raider sounded mockingly hurt. Theatrically so.

“Nnn-mnnn!”

“That's a lot of syllables for no. Are you suuuure you don’t want it?”

“Nnnnnnn!”

“Good.” Raider violently yanked the griffon’s face right up against ours and growled, “Get the buck out of Frosty’s face before I get a hankering for some Aldornian Fried Chicken. Gotcha?”

The griffon frantically nodded again. The second our weight was off of him, he bolted, broken wing and all. Conveniently enough, he had left behind his currency pouch for compensation for our trouble, intentionally or not.

Raider chuckled. “And that’s how you do that. Wimp. What’s next?”

I somehow managed to catch her off guard and wrest control of myself back. “Now, I follow my dreams by going back to sleep.”

~~~~~

Jab. “Meeeh.” I moaned, rolling out of poking distance.

“What the flank happened last night?!” Tangerine practically screamed into my ear. “Where’d all this blood come from?” I blearily lifted my head and looked around after removing my disturbingly clean power hoof from my mouth.

I giggled to myself. “Someone came looking for bits. But I gave him a helping hoof.”

Tangerine slowly backed away from me. “And now you know why I’m still scared.” Of course she couldn’t back up very far, but the attempt itself pained me. Even though I probably deserved it, I really needed to stop making these impressions on everypony.

“On the bright side, if you don’t give me a reason to hurt you—” I leaned in uncomfortably close as Tangerine scooted backward as far as she could. She fearfully pressed herself against the wall trying to escape. “I won’t.”

Riverbed Ransom coughed from the doorway. “Am I interrupting a rousing game of Grabfannyclutchbutt?” Tangerine roughly shoved me away.

“Not particularly.” Riverbed eyed the blood stain the floor, then back to me. “Yes, there might have been a little misunderstanding last night,” I grumbled. “I took care of it.”

“Yeah. Heard Fragface got his wings clipped, guy.” She winked at me. “Thanks, I think.” Well, at least somepony appreciated what I did. “Big Bird wants to see you.”

“Wait. Why are you telling me this?”

“Thundercane thinks sending her goons after you might not be conductive to their usefulness.” Riverbed snorted. “So she decided to send me because you might not punch me in the face, guy.”

Tangerine closed my saddlebag and draped it around my neck. “Better not keep her waiting. We need to leave, fast.” My PipBuck told me it was nine in the morning, much later than I anticipated. I needed at least half a day to fly out to Rumcake’s last known coordinates at a comfortable speed for Tangerine.

“Yeah, yeah.” I took off my saddlebag and replaced it on my back. “Let’s go.”

Our meeting with Thundercane was awkward, to say the least. Anxiety was kicking in when I realized she was looking very smug. “So, I invite you into my base and you repay it by maiming one of my squad leaders.” Oh feathers. “I don’t think that’s very polite.”

Think fast, brain!

I got this. You’re hopeless.

Thank you, Gala Frosty.

Thanks to her help, everything became clearer. “You’re just looking for excuses. We both know that was not an accident,” Gala spat.

“And what gave you that idea?” Thundercane innocently replied. “You’re in no position to make accusations.” The bodyguards behind her menacingly hefted their assault rifles. “So, what’s your answer?”

Gala threw our head back and laughed. “Looks to me like you owe me.”

Thundercane looked surprised. “Oh really? Enlighten us.” She motioned to her bodyguards. “They might have different opinions, though.”

“First off, one of your m–contractors said he had it coming, as it were.” Gala counted. “He was an abrasive, annoying, self-centered lout that didn’t advance a professional environment.” Thundercane looked interested. “Just by the way he held himself, he probably had it coming.”

“Hmm…” Thundercane smiled. “Continue, please.”

We were about to take a massive swing in the dark. “So you had him rifle through my belongings as an excuse to get rid of him. I’d find out, then you’d use that opportunity to publicly get rid of him,” Gala tried, her tone wavering just a bit. “I appear to have saved you a whole load of trouble.”

One of the bodyguards tapped Thundercane’s shoulder and whispered something to her which didn’t make her pleased at all. She turned her attention back to us. “Good news for you. I’m willing to ignore your little outburst last night if you do something for me.”

“But it was your plan all along!” Gala screamed in exasperation. “There is no other explanation that works in your favor!”

Thundercane grinned. “You keep thinking that.” Urge… to punch… rising. “Anyway, it’s nothing important. Deliver a message for me, and we won’t have to go through any more of this.”

“Buck this, you’re on your own,” Gala Frosty quietly muttered at the ground. She retreated, leaving me feeling very lost and confused. Thanks, me.

“Ugh. Fine. What do I need to do?” I groaned. “Be another glorified messenger in the Wasteland, then?”

“Somewhere, there is a griffon named Blackwing. She’s the leader of the Talon mercenary group called Blackwing’s Talons.” Thundercane threw a map me, which I deftly caught with my face. “Tell her that the book was last seen in Horseshoe Tower.”

As confused as I was, it still didn’t add up. “What do I say if she asks where I got this intel from?”

“Just tell her you saw some of my thugs casing the place or something. I’m sure you can think of something.” Thundercane looked to her guards. “Get them out of here.”

Riverbed ushered us out before any of the bodyguards got near us. “Like, I told you so,” she said smugly. Several flights of stairs later, we were standing outside the building. “Well, it was nice knowing you, guy,” she said, and before we could reply she turned and strutted back inside, slamming the door in my face.

A moment later the door slammed back open and Riverbed got thrown outside. A pair of small saddlebags followed her out. Brushing herself off, she said, “…Okay. So, like, maybe we’re going to get to know each other better after all.”

Tangerine shook her head. “Let me guess. You’re coming with us to make sure we deliver the message?”

All of us looked worn out already, and we hadn’t even started yet. “Well, you get to tag along with us because we’re going somewhere else first. And without some information, we won’t have any idea where Blackwing has her base, anyway.”

Riverbed slammed her head against the wall repeatedly. “I hate my job.”

I eyed the embarrassingly bald patch on the tip of my right wing. Had I preened them out while I was asleep? “Hey, you think healing potions fix feathers?”

“Probably? We can find out.” Tangerine rummaged through my saddlebag and retrieved a single healing potion.

Once we had arbitrarily decided on a “safe” amount, I swallowed it and waited. Not a moment later, the feathers reappeared with a little prickle, good as new. Yay!

Flying was still out of the question though, since I couldn’t carry two ponies my size. “Well, I guess you’re walking then. I’ll keep you two covered from the sky.” I did a little jump and spread my wings. I landed so I could pull my rifle off my back, out of the way of my wings. “You’ve got a day’s worth of walking ahead of you. Get going!”

I took to a higher elevation, flying in lazy circles around Tangerine and Riverbed below. Great wide wonders! Unburdened flight! On a whim, I decided a miniature acrobatics show was in order. Dives, loops, barrel rolls, everything I could do! The cheering coming from below was all the encouragement I needed.

Ah, I missed the feeling of wind under my wings, the breeze in my mane, the goddamn bullets whizzing by my head…

The air show was paused for a moment as I snapped my wings shut to drop like a stone. Faster drop, harder to hit. Who was shooting at me? There! A pony shaped blob a fair distance away firing a rifle in my direction was the answer. I winced when I flared my wings out trying to slow my descent.

A dim cry of panic from below nearly distracted me. I raised my anti-machine rifle to my shoulder, doing my best to ignore the wind whipping my mane everywhere. I deeply inhaled and did my best to line up the shot.

One.

Two.

I fired, and instantly knew I missed. Recoil from my super powerful rifle launched me backward head over hooves, spinning out of control.

“I am spinning through the air, this is not good!” I cried. Screw it. I called upon the marvels of modern pre-war technology to potentially save my life. S.A.T.S. slowed time down to a crawl. Even though the spell was locked onto a nearby radroach, I didn’t fire. All I needed to do was figure out where the damn ground was.

A moment of confused flapping later, I managed to right myself and safely glide to the ground. “I’m going to guess that wasn’t part of the acrobatics,” Riverbed snarked at me. “What happened?”

“I’m fine, by the way.” I spread my wings out to relieve the uncomfortable burn from the strain of stopping my entire body, plus gear. “Ow. And no, that was not planned. Somepony out there was shooting at me.”

That prompted some very worried glances from my companions. “Did you get a good look at them, guy?” Riverbed asked, a shotgun suddenly appearing in her muzzle. “Lef’ get’m.”

“And what do you plan on doing with that shotgun at this range?” Tangerine snorted.

I faceclawed. “Girls, can we stop fighting for a moment and just get reorganized?” Doubtless the shooter was farther away by now, or had completely lost interest. Or so I hoped. “Tangerine, some directions, please.”

“Because the one with the supercomputer on her leg doesn’t know how to use the damn map function correctly,” Tangerine muttered, floating out her paper map once more. “We’re here.” She pointed at the base of a patch of mountains on the right side of the map. “About another day away is where we’re going to start looking.” She dragged her hoof around in a small circle. “You could also learn how to use your map at some point.”

Even though my PipBuck had a map function, among other things, I rarely consulted it because I wasn’t really used to having some of these abilities at my command. I’d only had the thing for, what, a few days? Map, map, map. No, not items. Map. “Oh. There it is,” I sheepishly replied. All the way at the top right corner of the map, a small box simply labeled “Trading Outpost” flashed once at me. Hmm.

“Can we go now?” Riverbed impatiently stomped the ground. Somehow, she’d stowed her shotgun away while we were talking. “We’ve got a lot of ground to cover, and I don’t want to be caught out in the open at night.”

Somehow I was very worried by the nervous mercenary. “What’s so bad about night? Sure it’s a bit dark, but there really isn’t anything to be afraid of,” I chided. “Right?”

Riverbed nervously chuckled next to me. “Yeah. It’s not like the mole bandits come out of their holes at night and like, kill us in our sleep. Guy.”

Tangerine shook her head. “Really? Mole bandits?”

“They’re everywhere!” Riverbed whispered conspiratorially. “Let’s just keep moving. Even with the mountains to our right, it’s not safe here. We’re too vulnerable out in the open.” I looked around and grudgingly agreed. There were too many places we could get shot at by potential ambushers in the mountains.

We kept walking, idly chatting along the way. Tangerine was taking point, Riverbed took up the rear, and I hovered just above them. There wasn’t much to see nor do, for that matter. Besides the random radroach or bloatsprite encounter, nothing was threatening enough to stop for. Though Tangerine did keep glancing around the area. I dismissed it as her constant fear of me, nothing more.

During our idle talk, we somehow got back on the topic of Riverbed’s choice of employment. “I’m just saying, I find it really strange a pony works for a company made up of griffons,” I pressed, much to the annoyance of Riverbed. “Seriously, what did you have to do to get hired there?”

Riverbed shrugged. “Like, a lot of dick.” Well, of course. “And thanks to a few agreements, I managed to get myself hired as a negotiator. Basically.”

“And what is it that you do, exactly? You know, besides the other mercs?” Tangerine snorted in disgust. “Doesn’t sound like such a useful job.” She spun around to glance at me. “Even you’re more useful than that.”

Can’t tell if sincere or sarcastic.

Indeed, brain. Indeed.

I floated along upside down, trying to think. It was just one of my quirks. Shut up. “Now I have to know. What do you negotiate, exactly?” I added, my curiosity now piqued. “Don’t the Talons just shoot everypony that disagrees with them?”

“And that’s what they want you to think, guy.” Riverbed grinned. “In actuality, the Talons make sure to keep traders safe.” She stopped, then corrected herself. “Or whoever’s paying the caps, actually.”

“And what do you do, exactly?” I inquired again.

Riverbed impatiently whinnied. “I settle disagreements between the Talons and, like, anyone under their protection. Everyone generally takes more kindly to a pony than a menacing and heavily armed griffon.”

She had a point. “So they let you hang around to clear up anything that requires pony-to-pony interaction, right?” I clarified.

“Yes, guy.” Riverbed groaned in frustration. “Can we please talk about something else?”

I agreed. “Sure. Like what?” I asked, still completely bored. Keeping watch wasn’t nearly interesting enough, mainly because Riverbed would start flinging buckshot at whatever caught her eye.

“How about you, guy?” Riverbed shot back. “You always want to know everything about us! How about you tell us your story, for a change?”

As if I couldn’t have written a book about it by now. Grudgingly, I told her most of everything I remembered. How I got here, what I’d done on the way here, all that stuff. I left out as much information about my life above the clouds as I could. Well, not like there was much more I could leave out since something or someone had already done that for me. At least both of them were listening in rapt attention.

“So… are you really going to try going back to the Enclave?” Tangerine asked. “Didn’t they try to kill you or something? Multiple times, right? You might as well stay with us, since you and Rumcake apparently have a thing going on."

She has a point.

Shut up!

“Well…” Did the Enclave really have anything left for me? “I have a few scores to settle. But…” I hesitated, my mind temporarily straying back to Rumcake. “Well, we’ll see. One thing at a time, I suppose.”

But what would I do?

Revenge. Luna knows how great revenge is.

After that, I mean.

Up to you. Or, you know, settle down. Have your average two point four six foals. White picket fence and a dog. And a wagon.

Yay for indecision. Thanks for the input, brain.

“How could you have just forgotten everything? Like, I find that even harder to believe than my bucking life story,” Riverbed cried.

“Look, it wasn’t my choice. I blame PTSD,” I growled.

Tangerine suddenly butted in. “We’re being followed.” We all stopped and stared at her. “What? You haven’t noticed?” she asked innocently, as if we were unwitting foals. “They’ve been behind us for the past few hours.”

“How the buck do you know?” I asked, looking around. Nothing. “I don’t see anything out there.” Besides the random mutated critter trying to kill us periodically, nothing particularly stood out. “Unless that tumbleweed works for the mole bandits.”

“Will you shut up about that?!” Riverbed raged. She raised her hoof, readying up for a fight. “Maybe I’ll just send your ass you to them!”

I instinctively fluffed up my wings and dropped into a low combat stance. “You want some?” My talons dug into the dirt. “Get some!”

Tangerine whapped both of us over the head with the map. “Girls, seriously. We’re being followed.” We shrank away from each other, the fight completely disregarded. “Now cut out the foalish attitudes and listen!” I flapped back into the air and mumbled an apology. “There’s consistently been a strange shimmer following us around.”

“Really?” Riverbed snorted. “That’s called paranoia, guy.”

I’d had enough of this. “Alright, let’s clear this up right now.” I double-checked the breech on my anti-machine rifle and spun around. “If you see it, tell me where.” I laid down on the ground and looked down the sights.

We silently waited for something to happen. Tangerine stared off into the distance behind us, looking for her mystery shimmer. Tense minutes went by, but nothing moved. I didn’t even see what she was talking about, if it was there at all. “I know I saw it,” Tangerine muttered.

An hour crawled by painfully slowly. “I’m telling you it’s just paranoia, guy,” Riverbed grumbled. “Overactive little twerp. Come on, let’s get a move on.”

I shifted my wings, positively twitching at the thought of moving. I’d barely moved since dropping to the ground. “Hey. It’s okay to be jumping at lights,” I murmured to Tangerine, trying my best not to mess up my aim by speaking. “It’s okay to be paranoid. Keeps you from getting killed.”

“I’m not paranoid!” Tangerine screamed. She magically yanked my anti-machine rifle out of my claw and fired one shot. The recoil caused my rifle to fly out of her weak telekinetic grip and knocked Riverbed to the ground. But that’s not what I was staring at. Several hundred feet away, the body of a blue alicorn materialized and collapsed to the ground. Its head bounced off the ground three seconds later. Cue dumbfounded silence.

“Well,” I managed to squeak, rubbing my slightly bruised cheek. “That escalated quickly.”

“Geeh,” Riverbed groaned, limping over. She sharply inhaled, holding her right hindleg where my out of control rifle had collided with. “Aaaagh. Nice grip, guy.”

Tangerine didn’t even care. “Told you! And that’s all I have to say about that,” she proudly answered, levitating my anti-machine rifle back into my care. “Shall we, ladies?” After that, she turned around and kept walking.

“Lucky shot,” Riverbed idly dismissed, still rubbing her sore leg. “Stop sleeping on the road and like, let’s go.” She laughed, kicking dust into my face.

I stood up, dusted myself off, and launched myself back into the air. I kept my anti-machine rifle in my forelegs, just in case I needed to shoot anything else. But… “Hey! Hey! How did you know?” I shouted after Tangerine.

She glanced behind her and simply told me, “I may not be as strong, as fast, or as brave as you are, but I’m a hell of a lot smarter than you are.” Ouch.

Ooh. Need some ice for that burn?

No. Just… no.

“And I was paying attention.”

“How does paying attention allow you to, like, see bucking invisible alicorns?” Riverbed whispered to me with a sidelong glance. “Seriously, what the buck, guy?”

I rolled my eyes. “I call bullsh—”

“There’s a cave up ahead that we can hunker down in for the night. Riverbed, care to do the honors?” Tangerine continued, ignoring our conversation about her. “I don’t want to wake up to an angry horde of bloatsprites in my face.”

Riverbed grinned. “Whatever, guy.” She brought out her shotgun and charged headlong into the cave. It looked dark, scary, and totally not full of monsters. Unfortunately, it was the only place that had some semblance of safety.

A cacophony of un-ponylike screeching was followed by wild shotgun firing. I mentally debated whether I should go in and help, but I decided on simply watching on for the entertainment value. By the sounds of it, something—or somepony—must have just been thrown violently against the walls. Increasingly shrill filly-like screaming began, abruptly stopped, started up again. An explosion shook the pebbles outside the cave, and the screaming transitioned into choking laughter.

A few minutes passed. “All clear!” Riverbed weakly called out, walking back to us. Her armor was more scuffed than before, to my slight amusement.

“What the buck was even in there?”

“Radroaches.”

“I heard screeching and what sounded like wet meat pinballing everywhere.”

“Big radroaches.”

I failed to suppress a snort. “Sure.”

“Get in the bucking cave, guy.”

“What? Get assaulted by a hundred angry radroaches?” I sneered at her, floating into the now-secure cave. “Ooh, scary,” I sarcastically added, flailing about in mock fear.

“Let’s just calm down and get along.” Tangerine trotted in after me. “Is it safe?”

Riverbed kicked one of the many semi-intact radroach bodies in the small cave. “Cave ends right here. It’s just deep enough for safety.” She pointed at some rocks near the entrance. “We can use those as cover, if the need arises.”

“Speaking of which…” Tangerine used her magic to scoop out a hole in the loose gravel at the very back of the cave. “The little fillies’ hole in the ground is back here. Now if you’ll excuse me…”

Riverbed suddenly piped up. “Dibs on next!”

I suddenly decided that my anti-machine rifle needed a good cleaning. A very long and thorough cleaning. I dropped my saddlebags onto the ground and used it as a clean surface to place my completely disassembled rifle. Rag, check. Gun oil, check. Ignoring bathroom sounds, check.

I’d gotten through the firing mechanism and part of the barrel before I realized everypony that needed to do their business had already finished. In fact, our cave’s interior was nearly pitch dark because the residual light from outside had finally faded. Nighttime had fallen, and the others decided to bed down for the night. “We should sleep in shifts. I’ll take the first, since I need to finish this up.” I motioned at my disassembled rifle with a grimy wingtip.

“Eh, I’ll take second, guy.” Riverbed yawned. She’d even brought along a bedroll for herself. Note to self: get one. “Tangerine, you good with third?”

Tangerine looked up from her spot against the wall. “Whatever’s good for you two, I guess,” she meekly replied. “Hush now, quiet now, rest your sleepy head…” she sang quietly, tugging her hood over her eyes.

I listened to her song, glancing up occasionally to stare out of the cave’s mouth. Something about the music, or maybe just her voice, calmed me down. Made me feel safe, if you will. The whole time, I kept cleaning out my rifle. Anywhere I couldn’t reach with my hooves or my teeth with the rag, I used the tip of my non-singed feathers to carefully clean out the grime. At some point, Tangerine had fallen asleep in mid-song while I wasn’t paying attention.

My rifle reassembled, I quietly plodded out to the very edge of the cave, keeping watch and basking in the cool night breezes. I stretched out my wings and gently flapped them, hoping to dislodge any dust hiding in my feathers.

“You need a bath.”

I jumped, startled. Ice Storm stood next to me, apparently enjoying the night air with me. “I didn’t give you permission to bother me right now,” I chided. I crossed my forelegs and rested my head on them. My metal leg was colder than a snow cloud and even the slightest contact against my fur was very uncomfortable, even when I had my right leg on top. Body heat, go!

Ice just kept staring. “I don’t care. Can’t I just enjoy myself once in awhile?” He sighed. “Beautiful night, huh?”

“Yeah. It’d be better if I could see the stars. And the sky.” Because it reminded me of home. Home. Something I hadn’t thought of in a while.

Ice must have known what I was thinking. “Do you miss them?”

“I… I don’t know. In the back of my mind, I’m expecting Lightning to pop up any minute now, telling me I’ve OD’d on whatever new chems she’s made.” Even though I knew that wouldn’t happen. “But…”

“Things?”

“…Yeah. I miss Dad.” I sniffed and held back a tear.

We shared a moment in silence. “I’m bored.”

I resisted the urge to slap him. Though I realized that since he was a particularly strange figment of my imagination, I couldn’t physically hit him. “I’m sure you can think of something. I’m keeping watch,” I replied in a hushed tone. “And besides, can’t you hang out with all the rest of me?”

“They’re not doing anything, and your violent side is taking a nap. Ergo, bored.” Ice sighed, sitting down on the ground. He dropped his fedora on the ground between us. “So bored.”

“Can I ask you something?”

Ice regarded me somewhat lazily. “Sure.”

“Who are you, exactly?” I asked. “I don’t think I know any unicorns.”

He chuckled. “Not somepony that you used to know.”

I quickly checked my PipBuck for the time. Three in the morning. “Well, if you’re really bored we can go grab another memory later. I sure as heck wouldn’t have anything against it,” I decided. “Well, actually… can we go see one of my older memories? I… I want to see Dad and the others again.”

“Can’t.”

“What? Don’t I still have Dad’s medal?” I protested.

“You do. But that’s not how it works.” Ice conjured up an ethereal cigarette that gently glowed blue with each puff. “You’ll have to go to the menu to watch them again.”

“What?”

“Don’t worry about it.” He took a much longer drag from his cigarette. “I’ve been wondering…”

Riverbed stumbled in behind me. “Meeh. Who ya talkin’ to, guy?” Disturbingly, she dropped down right next to me halfway inside Ice Storm. Needless to say it was quite disturbing. “I hate mornings.”

“Uh. Could you, say, move over a little?” I suggested. “Personal space.”

Riverbed moved a bit farther away from me. Ice picked up his fedora, shaking it off and replacing it on his head. “I’ll leave you two to it.” With a sweep of his trenchcoat, he bucking disappeared. Just like that.

“Soooo…?”

“Have fun doing nothing.” I started to grin, but widely yawned out of nowhere. “I’m going to slip into something more comfortable, like a coma. See ya in the morning.”

Riverbed grunted incoherently in response. I made sure all my belongings were stowed away securely where I wouldn’t forget anything. Moments like these made me curse my forgetfulness. Now I had to sleep on the cold, hard ground like any other poor, beddingless soul. Not even a cumulus to flatten out. So sad. I cleared a space in the gravel with my wing and laid down in it. A few more sweepings to get rid of the pebbles that kept poking me, and I attempted to go to sleep. Just some normal sleep, no hallucinations, no interruptions, nothing.

~~~~~

“Do we wake her up?”

“Hit her with this bottle, guy. It’ll be hilarious!” Clink. Tinkle.

“You do it. I’m too pretty to die!” At this point, I was completely awake. I resisted the urge to open my eyes and ruin their little squabble. Ah, the joys of teamwork.

“Don’t be such a wimp. Let me do it, then.” Clink. Step. Crunch. Step. Crunch. There was a sharp intake of breath, and that was when I decided to strike. For added effectiveness, I used S.A.T.S. for a major increase in accuracy. Riverbed was swinging an empty Sparkle-Cola bottle by her teeth directly at my face. One hit to the bottle, one to the face. I watched with some sort of twisted humor as I smashed the bottle out of her mouth, then threw her onto her back using an excessive amount of force via claw to throat. “Gaah! The buck?”

I grinned crazily at Riverbed as she was pinned under me. I intentionally held her down as long as possible, drinking in her increasingly panicked expression. Finally I burst out laughing. “Oh, goddesses, that was priceless.” I rolled off her and kept guffawing. “That’ll teach you to wake me up!”

Tangerine quietly sniggered across from me. “You know, that was actually kind of funny.”

“Yeah, yeah. Yuk it up.” Riverbed picked herself up and glared at me. “Are you quite done? I’d like to go before somepony dies from, like, excess amounts of funny.”

The noise of something powering up outside caused us to freeze in our tracks.

“Did you hear that, guy?”

There were two things that made obnoxious charging noises of that pitch. One was the night-vision goggles on those… uh… “Fracture Force” assholes, I think? The only other thing was energy weapons, which was far more likely because of the number of high-pitched whines there were.

“What’s going on?” Tangerine whispered to nopony in particular.

“Does it look like I know?” I spat back.

“Frosty Winds, you have been convicted of crimes against the Enclave and her ponies. You have been found guilty of desertion, treason, multiple counts of murder, multiple counts of theft, sabotage, espionage, and embezzlement. What say you in your defense?”

I growled and my hackles raised. “Lies.” Everypony else stared at me, dumbstruck. “What are you waiting for? Take up positions!” I yelled. If the Enclave wanted a fight, they’d have a fight.

Rape face time?

Yes, Raider. Time to get our rape face on.


Footnote: Level up!
New Perk: Quick Thinking – Because knowing is half the battle. You gain +5 to all sub-perk skills. Mysterious Stranger now has a better chance of appearing against enemies with high health.
Current Sub-perk: Bloodthirsty – Blood for the Blood God! You gain +8 to Unarmed.

Crossed Hearts DLC installed.

  • New locations unlocked.
  • New weapons are waiting for you at your home.
  • New perks available.
Author's Note:

Featuring cool guy Ipochike's Riverbed Ransom!
Fun fact: Riverbed's dialogue nearly exactly match the way I talk IRL. Isn't that interesting, guy?

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