• 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 23: What’s your rate?

Chapter 23: What’s your rate?

“Grab a new partner; here we go!”

“Well, if it isn’t Riverbed Ransom, speech impediment extraordinaire!”

Riverbed grinned widely, sitting on her haunches. “Frosty! How’s things?”

Since the last time we’d met, she’d had a decent upgrade in equipment. The plasma rifle that she’d stolen was now mounted on the left side of her brand-new battle saddle, and some sort of belt-fed shotgun took up the right side of it. Her miniature Talon Merc armor had been slightly refurbished, but it could have been a new set. A helmet with a raised blast visor rode on her head, heavily dented and blackened.

I plopped onto my own haunches and neutrally grunted, “Bleh.”

“Bleh?” She tilted her head at me.

Considering the day I was having, it seemed to be a reasonable summary. “Bleh.”

After a second, Riverbed cautiously responded with, “Yay?”

“What the buck does that even mean?”

“Like, what’s with the…” She gestured at the red band around my neck. “Y’know, the bonda—”

I’d had just enough of this dumb collar, and everypony bringing it up was getting on my nerves. “Don’t. Even. Start.” With a glare that could melt steel, I threatened her to continue. Why was this thing so warm, anyway?

Thankfully, Riverbed understood and defensively raised her hooves. “Okay, okay. Touchy, guy. Sheesh.”

More importantly, I asked, “What are you even doing here? I thought you went home or whatever.”

She shrugged. “I got thrown onto shovel duty, guy. Been digging holes for, like, days.”

“For what?”


“You’ve been digging a mine?” What were the Talons going to do with a mine, especially out here?

A spectacularly exasperated look appeared on Riverbed’s face. “The kind that go boom, guy.”

“Oh.” Suddenly, I remembered Rhombus saying something about a sapper team and everything made sense. “Oh, I heard ‘mine’, singular.”

Riverbed plodded up to me and patted my head. “It’s okay, guy. We’ve all had some long days.” Feeling like some sort of pet, I jerked away immediately.

“Shit needs doing, and it’s sure as shit not gonna do itself!” Rhombus yelled, presumably at Riverbed. “Battle planning, let’s go!”

Riverbed rolled her eyes and groaned. “Uuugh, I hate this guy.” After shooting me an unsure look, she turned and trotted to the now much larger gathering of Talons. Was this place a Talon merc hangout? Where’d they even come from?

At least the burning around my neck had begun to fade. Huh, so Riverbed was back. Maybe I had enough caps to hire her, simply so I had somepony I didn’t hate or had tried to kill to talk to. Judging by the increase in confused squawking from the gathered griffons, she might not have time.

I heard somepony trot up beside me. “What did I miss?” Violet asked lazily, not actually looking at me while she did so. “Anything important?”

Glancing at the confused pile of birdcats, I off-hoofedly replied, “Something blew up. Enclave is on their way down. Deciding whether to hire a merc.”

Either Violet was distracted, or she didn’t care. “Your sarcasm needs work.”

“I wasn’t being sarcastic.”

Violet examined my expression anyway, eventually deciding on: “…Huh.”

The fact that the Enclave was coming was quickly throwing the Talons into disarray. Unfortunately for Rhombus, he didn’t seem to have the clout to keep the rest of the griffons in line. Several griffons had already decided that they’d had enough and buzzed off, while a few others had returned to milling about aimlessly. The two mercs that had pushed Sparkle and the other Rangers away were still keeping an eye on them.

Out of the Talons that ditched the scene, one of them happened to be Riverbed. She came trotting back, a displeased grin on her face. “Yeah, he has no idea what he’s doing.” With a sigh, she shifted her armor and plopped herself back onto her rump.

I wasn’t really sure what I was doing next, so I asked, “So… what are you up to now, then? Need a party?”

“Iunno. Like, I’m probably not going anywhere until whats-his-face gets here. Gonna wait around and see if I get any orders or something,” Riverbed replied, then she happily stamped her hooves on the ground. “But hey, guy! If you’ve got the caps, I’ve got the guns.”

“What’s your rate?”

“Half-cap an inch.”

I weakly chuckled. “Are we still on that joke?”

Instantly, Riverbed’s face lit up. “You remembered!”

“No, but seriously—how much do you charge?” Having her company back would make me feel a lot better. “I might need to buy some new friends.”

“Five hundred caps for the week sounds fair, guy. Caps are caps, and I’m just about done as dicks with dicks.”

Now was a bad time not to know exactly what the going rate was, and whether or not Talons were even unionized. Did unions exist down here? I pretended to know what I was doing, so I thoughtfully tapped my chin and made thinking noises. After spending what seemed like a reasonable time deliberating, I finally decided on, “I’ll think about it.” It seemed like a lot of caps, though.

Note to self: figure out whether Riverbed is a shark.

“She’s not a shark, dum-dum,” Filly Frosty helpfully squeaked.

I groaned, “Not that kind of of shark.” Riverbed opened her mouth to predictably ask what was going on, but I was ready. “Not talking to you.”

She blinked, then shrugged. “Alright.”

Since I was still bored and Violet wasn’t contributing to our little discussion, I awkwardly coughed and asked, “Hey, you never did answer why you were here.”

“Yeah, I did.”

“Your exact words were, ‘I got thrown onto shovel duty’. Try again,” Violet disinterestedly chimed in, before returning to whatever writing she was doing into a scroll.

Riverbed looked confused. “How did you, like… I mean, even I don’t remember what I said five minutes ago.”

“I pay attention,” Violet replied, pointedly looking like she wasn’t paying attention.


“By using my brain, which you two appear to not be using.”

Thanks, Violet.

I nervously chuckled and gently slid Violet over a little. “O-kay! Just ignore her.”

Still glaring daggers at Violet, Riverbed remarked, “She’s kinda a schlong, guy.”

Once again, Violet’s two-grit abrasiveness was coming into play. “Let’s just get back on topic. So, uh, why’d you guys come out here?”

With one last dirty glare at Violet, Riverbed turned her attention back to me. “So, like, I got back, Bitch Bird got pissed and threw me onto the next flight out to be their bitch, guy. So yeah, I’ve been digging holes.” Obviously, Riverbed didn’t sound too happy about it.

Oh right, she’d been with us to deliver a message that didn’t need delivering in the end.

Riverbed groaned and rubbed her eyes. “I gotta figure out what’s going on, guy. We’ve got camp set up, like, right outside the south exit, in the apartment building-looking thing. I’ll probably go, like, find the sarge and see what our orders are. I’ll get back to you on it. See ya ‘round?”

As much as I would have liked to make her stay and chat with me, she had priorities too. “Yeah, see ya.” Before she left, I at least managed to get a last-second hoofbump off her.

Now I was alone, bored, and back to worrying about my continued existence. Now that the Enclave was coming down, I needed a plan forward. Ditching the armor could be step one—it made me identifiable as Enclave, and the second they found out I wasn’t one of theirs I would be as good as dead. Lay low for a while, see what was up, and pray to Luna that I wasn’t the one being hunted.

Hopefully the Talons wouldn’t care if the Enclave issued a wanted poster on me. From experience, they usually didn’t care much about completing Enclave bounties. Who knew whether they wanted to change that now? Did they want to be on the winner’s team?

Gala politely coughed, “If it’s not too much trouble, could I have a word?”

Hm? “You now own the rights to ‘bucket’.” I self-satisfactorily grinned. Who was a witty pony? I was a witty pony.

With a roll of her eyes, I realized she wasn’t looking for a cheap joke. “Seriously, please.”

“Yeah, yeah. Go ahead.” Did nopony appreciate my humor anymore?

Gala shuffled her hooves for a bit, then alternated to uncomfortably glancing at me. “Can I have a name?”

I blinked. “…What?”

“I mean, Toasty has her own name, and I was wondering, well…”

Hold the name train! “Where is this even coming from?”

Gala turned a bright shade of red and she bashfully blurted, “I’m a little bit jealous, okay? I was first and it’s only fair.”

“Did… did you have anything in mind?” I hesitantly asked, almost fearing the response.

“I was hoping for Happy.” I gave her a disgusted look, and she immediately responded with, “What? It is the most parallel with our existing names.”

“That’s dumb.”

You’re dumb.”

I sighed and admitted, “I am dumb.”

“Well, do you have anything better?” Gala crossed her forelegs and stared at me expectantly.

Now that I thought of it, there weren’t many other names that followed the same pattern as Frosty and Toasty. Windy? “Yeah, how about Windy? That has a nice ring to it.”

“Windy Winds? I think the Department of Redundancy Department wouldn’t allow it.”

“Woah, who said anything about sharing last names?”

“What? I’d like to sound aesthetically pleasing, since looking it is a bit lost on you.” She thoughtfully tapped her cheek, staring off into the distance. “What about Gale? It’s already close to what we’ve been calling me.”


“Strong winds and the like. Windy.”

It did sound nice, even if it didn’t match up quite so well. “So you want me to call you Gale now?” Gale. Gale, Gale, Gale. I stared at her and mulled it over, and decided that it fit. Gale. I could get used to it. It wasn’t too much of a difference.

At some point during my own little existential crisis, Violet had been giving me a judgmentally baleful stare. “What’s the plan, miss indecisive?” How long had she been watching? More to the point, how much had she heard?

And I still hadn’t thought that far ahead yet. “Uh…”

“Wait, did Tangerine dash over here without the box of stuff she took from Famine?” Gala—er, Gale quickly piped up, “Maybe we could go see if there’s anything good in it.”

That was as good of a plan as any. In the event that Tangerine had looted the stolen goods first, I’d have to wing something. It wouldn’t be a huge loss, but it would annoy me greatly. Hopefully Riverbed wouldn’t notice that I had stolen Talon property.

“Hey Violet, want to go on a field trip?” I hopefully suggested to her.

The mare regarded me, then replied, “It’s not like you can go anywhere without me with that collar of yours, and I’m not done with my research paper on you. Don’t get us lost.”

Close enough! Now that I had convinced Violet to follow me back to the library to retrieve the box, I checked to make sure that Sparkle and the other Rangers were still tied up by the angry birdcats. From the looks of it, a few additional mercenaries were doing their best to control the situation. I broke into a brisk trot, nearly dragging Violet behind me to get back to where we had been camped out.

Sure enough, the crate of goods we’d stolen was still on the desk I’d slid it onto. A cursory examination revealed that nopony appeared to have tampered with it, so I dragged it off the table onto the ground so I could dig through its contents.

Ammunition, snacks, rations, water, and “water”. Apart from the small bundle of books, nothing immediately stood out to me until I got to the folded canvas underneath them. I scooped everything else out and piled it over to the side so I could get a better look at it.

After unfolding the cloth, I finally realized what Tangerine meant by there was something I would have liked in the Talons’ crate. One of them must have a penchant for collecting vintage weaponry, because nopony else in the Wasteland would even consider using a weapon like this—in good condition, too.

It was an old-model charge laser, part of the initial technological weapon rush in the early months of the war. The receiver of some kind of griffon markspony (marksbird?) rifle had been modified to hold all the workings of a rudimentary laser, as did the carry handle. The base of the carry handle had a hole at either end for a sight. Heat vents pointing upward and away from the user were built into the either side of the weapon above the magazine port and a charge indicator poked out of the middle of the body on the left.

Of course it would be on the left side—where I couldn’t see it if I were using it. “Come with me, my little friend,” I chuckled to myself, lifting it out of its cloth covering. I could probably repurpose the rear sight on my anti-machine rifle to use on this, but I needed to find out exactly why there was already some sort of device mounted on top of the carry handle.

So now the task at hoof was to somehow dump enough random junk so that I could shove this brand-new laser rifle into my bags. There was already a lot I shouldn’t be carrying, but I couldn’t come up with reasons to drop much else I was lugging around. I briefly considered throwing out my submachine gun since I barely used it anyway, but having options just in case was always a good idea.

After throwing out a few other miscellaneous bits of junk that I hadn’t been given opportunity to sell, I was still far too laden down. “Screw it, out with the helmet.” Like I was going to ever wear it—Dad’s hat was too important to me. The Enclave Power Armor helmet thumped onto the table, followed by a curiously sparse suit of power armor. It seemed like I still had one last one spare for parts, so there was at least that.

My gaze finally fell on my anti-machine rifle and hesitated. Maybe it was time for a change in scenery. This trusty gun had helped me through the past few… weeks? It was beginning to show its age—dings and scrapes covered the surface, a bit of blood still stuck to the grip—but that gave it character.

But it reminded me of the Rangers. It reminded me of Rumcake, and he didn’t have a very good track record at the moment.

I needed a change of pace.

More importantly, I needed to make sure that nopony would steal this stuff. “Hey, Violet? Can you do a magic thing so nopony else can do stuff to this box?” I asked, only to be answered by a very disinterested mare nose-deep in a book (Coffee and You – Brewing for Morons!). I wasn’t sure whether she’d heard me or what, so I repeated myself. “Vi-vi, anything you can do to hide the box?”

Violet only spared me a momentary glance. “Don’t call me that.”

“C’mon. Please?” I begged.

“Please what?”

I groaned. “Violet, do you know any spells that you can use on the box?”

Without bothering to stop reading, Violet dryly replied, “I know many spells that can be used on the box.”

Maybe I should have strangled her instead. “Violet, can you make the box invisible to everypony except Tangerine?”

Finally, Violet put down her book and actually looked at me. “Well… it depends. How much credit are we giving her?”

“Uh… enough?” I hesitantly replied.

“That’s more confidence than I have in her, so no.” Violet stared off into space, then added, “I really hope she doesn’t turn herself into a turnip.”

The number of times they’d brought up “turnip” was making me think it could actually be a serious issue. “Is there a way to hide this box though?” Motioning at the array of things I had piled up on the table, I suggested, “Maybe like, invisibility?”

“Oh yes, I could make the box invisible, easy.”

Okay, that was solved. Now, as I was angsti—

“Except that making the box invisible makes everything in it visible.”

“What.” How did magic even work?

Smartly nodding, Violet levitated her normal book back out. “That’s how it is. Area spells usually require regular maintenance, but a simple enchant will last long enough. Something like this, maybe a few days. Maybe a week, if I feel like it.”

Then how was I—

Picking up the crate in her magic aura, Violet dropped it into the pile of books against the wall. Several of the books floated away and stacked themselves on top. “See how easy that was? I’ll write up a scroll to make sure the fruit finds it.” She shot me a smug grin and let it sink in.

At this point, I was pretty sure that Violet was intentionally trying to annoy me. “Just… just go do your dumb things. I’ll finish up here.” I didn’t want her to get away with making fun of me, but I was having a slightly more serious problem at hoof.

Having two rifles on my body wasn’t particularly useful. AMR, high power, good penetration, cumbersome, uncommon ammunition. Laser rifle, plentiful microspark ammunition, normal fire rate, lower damage and high maintenance. I weighed the pros and cons and my choice soon became apparent.

It was time to ditch my old anti-machine rifle and pick up an energy weapon. A new change of pace. Maybe Rumcake would want it back, seeing as I’d basically stolen it for myself all that time ago.

My decision made, I dismantled my anti-machine rifle for the last time and tucked the parts into the crate, along with the rest of my ammunition for it. The only things that didn’t join it were the enchanted rear sight and the carrying strap, which I held onto so I could attach them to my brand-new laser rifle later. For now, I opted to tuck the rifle under the flap of my saddlebag and secure it there with some extra tape.

I needed to leave before Rumcake got back. Maybe leaving a note would be enough explanation on my part.

Theatrically clearing my throat, I called out, “Violet, take a letter.”

“Go buck yourself.”

Aww. Slightly demotivated, I asked, “…Can I at least get some stuff to write with?” I shouldn’t have asked, because Violet yanked out one of my feathers and presented it to me, along with a tiny pot of ink and a sheaf of parchment. “Ow! Really? I need those!”


By the time I got out of the library, new gun and Violet in tow, the Rangers were nowhere to be seen. Getting out of here was my first priority, but I needed to grab Riverbed. Money couldn’t buy happiness, but it sure as hell could buy me a friend.

Sure enough, Riverbed’s directions hadn’t been wrong. The Talons had sloppily fortified the front of a building right past the south gate and posted several identical guards outside of it. Before I could trot up the squat concrete stairs, one of the black-armored griffons stopped us.

“Hold it, Talons only. Are you looking to hire services or just inquiring?” His full-face helmet hid his face, but he still managed to sound bored enough for me to picture the dead look under it.

Looking to spare this poor catbird as much stress as possible, I simply replied, “I’m looking to hire. I’ve got somepony specific in mind.”

The guard tilted his head and motioned at the metal door behind him. “Head in and talk to the sergeant. Don’t go anywhere else or we will shoot on sight.”

“Thanks.” Motioning for Violet to follow me closely, I shouldered through the door and found myself staring down a strange-looking griffon with patchy feathers across a coffee table she was using as an impromptu desk. I was about to wonder who I was supposed to be looking for until I caught a glimpse of a sergeant’s emblem sticking out from under her crumpled jacket.

Curiously, she didn’t have any visible body armor—simply the old ratty gray-green jacket she was wearing, a pair of empty gun holsters, and combat boots on her rear legs. Most of her feathers were a mottled brownish-white, with the common white-chest pattern that nearly every griffon seemed to have.

The griffoness arched an eyebrow and stared at me expectantly. “I’m looking to hire Riverbed Ransom,” I told her uncertainly. “Sergeant…?”

“I am Sylvia, but you can call me Nana if you wish.” She had a surprisingly gentle voice for having such a menacing visage, all things considered. “Is he the pony one from the other division?”

She is the pony from Thundercane, yeah. She around?” Either Sylvia hadn’t cared enough to learn faces and names, or she was subtly reminding me that griffons also had the capacity to be racist pricks. Hard to tell.

Sylvia made a beckoning motion with her talons over her shoulder. “I can check in a bit. Make yourself comfortable,” she told me and Violet as Soundwave the radio griffon trodded in, huffing and puffing. The two of them exchanged words, and I made out one of them mentioning Riverbed.

Giving the the griffons a suspicious look, I tried to make myself comfortable by the weakly crackling fire pit dug into the floorboards. There were a pair of matching couches pushed near it, but I wasn’t going to destroy them by trying to sit in them with power armor. It took an additional moment for Violet to realize that I wasn’t in front of her anymore, so she slammed her book shut and trotted over to me and opened it back to the same page.

Waiting was boring. I didn’t want to ask Sylvia how long it would take for Riverbed to come back to us, so I told myself that she was probably out on assignment. Sighing, I sat down and stretched out my wings. Violet had finally noticed the couches and slithered onto one to comfortably lounge while reading.

Now was a good time as any to secure my old rifle strap to my new rifle, so I did exactly that. The hooks on either end of the strap were slightly too large for the little ring built beside the stock, and the other mounting point appeared to require a different ring for attaching to the base of the barrel. Hmm.

While I struggled with that, I asked out of boredom, “Violet, how do I do more magic?” It would be useful in the future, if I could figure any of it out.

To my amazement, Violet actually stopped and had to think about it. She even flipped her book open and began to skim through pages, periodically pausing to read. “Uh… I really don’t know. The Dispersed Magicka Proof really didn’t intend to put anything into practice; it was merely meant to prove a point.”

Did Violet not know something? “What does that mean?”

Thoughtfully, Violet flipped through a few more pages and tapped a page. “Here is is. Old magic technique involves what essentially boils down to ‘magic batteries’ for the caster to draw power from, which would prove to be redundant after the Thaumic Revolution.”

Seeing a moment for comedy, I added, “There are only three important revolutions—Equestrian, industrial, and dance dance.”

Unfortunately, I’d forgotten who I was talking to. Violet continued explaining without missing a beat, not bothering to acknowledge me at all. “After that, the practice died out. Little documentation exists after this point.” She began to flip through more pages and paused.

Groaning, I interrupted, “Come on, laugh. That was funny.”

“No.” Pointing at another section of her book, she continued, “Okay, here’s another one, but you’re not going to like it.”



“No thank you, next.”

“It seems to be the most viable choice if you really want to perform magic.” Violet turned her book toward me and showed me a page—a mess of lines with more lines and bars connecting to something that looked like a necklace. “Zebras are one of the most skilled practitioners of magic. There’s a reason for that, you know.”

“Nope. Next way.”

“Talismans are basically prepared spells ready to cast, and that might just be what you’re looking for. Unfortunately, we might need to find an actual zebra to make one.” Violet sighed, turning the book back to herself. “I have diagrams and theories here, but the theory does not in actuality make.”

The thought of having to cooperate with a zebra kind of frightened me. “Forget I asked.”

“I mean, whatever they do with their art is astounding. They don’t have horns, which makes their magical conductors the totems and glyphs. It’ll be something to look into, surely.”

“Can we please stop with the zebra crap? Zebras are dumb.”

“Fine, we could try imprinting a circle onto a necklace or bracelet for you, but the problem still remains: besides your natural pegasus abilities, you have almost no magical power. Even if you have it, you still won’t be able to use it properly. A zebra glyph, however… there might be potential there.”

“Buck zebras. Just stop. Please. I don’t want to think about it.” I irritably flapped my wings and looked around. “Where’s Riverbed? I’m getting bored.”

Glancing back at the page she was on, Violet replied, “You’re going to have to get over it eventually. War’s over, Frosty. Everypony lost.”

“That’s not it,” I murmured.

Apparently Violet wasn’t paying attention to me. “I’ve got the basics of what seems to be some sort of summon glyph copied down, so I’ll test it and get back to you on whether I can find something like ‘summon competency’ for you.”

Hooves clopped down the stairs behind me. “Doctor Shot, Doctor Rim Shot to the burn ward.” I looked around, and, of course, Riverbed was standing at the foot of the stairs with the largest shit-eating grin on her face. “Hey there, guy. Got some caps for me?”

Finally, a friendly face. “What took you so long?”

Happily, Riverbed responded, “I had to take a shit of planetary proportions.”

Oh. “TMI.”

“Planetary, guy. Planetary.”

I faceclawed and groaned, “Yes, thank you.”

Still looking quite pleased with herself, Riverbed trotted over to the couch and slouched onto it, completely ignoring Violet’s hindlegs. “So like, what’s the job and where are your caps, guy?” Shit, I hadn’t thought that far ahead yet. I scooped out cap pouches as I tried to come up with exactly where I wanted to go.

“Here, five hundred, give or take a few.” Riverbed groaned and dumped out the pouches of caps I’d passed her to count. “And no, I have no idea where we’re going. Anywhere but here, I guess.”

With a neutral shrug, Riverbed distractedly said, “Eh, works for me, guy. Like, as long as I get paid.” She was in the middle of her twelfth stack of ten when she looked at the pile and groaned, “Screw it, that probably looks close enough.” She dropped her saddlebags and scooped my caps into it.

Maybe having a travel plan wasn’t a terrible idea. “Any requests on destination? I just want to get out of here,” I asked my new friends.

Riverbed shrugged. “You’re in charge, guy. I’ll follow.”

“Violet?” I somewhat anxiously pleaded, hoping she had an idea.

Flipping to a different page, she unfolded a taped-in pamphlet. “There’s an old research institute a few dozen blocks away. I think that could be the solution to your magic-related problem. Otherwise, I really don’t care.”

I didn’t have a better idea, so I decided that the research institute—whatever that was—would be our next stop. Besides, the idea of being able to use magic sounded cool. With a little begrudging assistance from Violet, she helped me mark the location on my PipBuck. While she was doing that, Riverbed went off to talk to Sylvia. From the bits that I’d overheard, it sounded like clerical stuff.

Searching through my bags again, I belatedly realized that my vintage laser rifle only came with five microspark cells, and I still didn’t know how much charge each shot used. “Okay, so like, Syl says I can goof off with you guys since Pogo already bucked off without me,” Riverbed happily relayed to me. “To adventure!”

I pumped my claw in the air and exuberantly agreed, “Adventure!”

The two of us giddily stared at Violet. “What?” she snapped, noticing our combined looks. “Ugh, fine.” She halfheartedly raised her hoof and sighed, “Adventure. Woo.”

With things taken care of, the three of us promptly set off. The surrounding city blocks seemed to have been stripped of all useful materials, which also meant they’d probably been thoroughly looted. We trotted past hollowed-out husks of buildings in relative silence. It was a bit surreal not seeing signs advertising shops, bars on windows, or anything of the like.

The three of us traveled in a line formation—I took the lead, Violet absentmindedly followed me, and Riverbed took up the rear. As much as I wanted to fly around, I decided to walk so that my sore wings could recover a bit more. It was also partly because getting choked by the collar wasn’t very fun, and flying would remind me of it.

Keeping one eye on the path ahead of us, I called over my shoulder to Violet, “So what makes you think there’s something there?”

“From what the brochure said, it was a research lab for the local college. The MAS appropriated it for the war effort under the excuse ‘Know thy enemy, for then you shall know no fear’ or something self-righteous like that.” Once again, Violet checked the fold-out pamphlet tucked into her book. “It’s likely that they’ll have papers on zebra magic, under that logic.”

Now I immediately regretted bringing up the question. “Okay, never mind.”

“I just want to see if zebra magic works with non-zebras, especially now that we’ve found out that you can actually conduct magicka.” Violet carefully closed her book again and actually stopped talking.

“Hey guy, can I ask you a question?”


“Like, where’s th—wait, what d’ya mean, ‘no’?”

“I’m just joking.”

“Guy, you’re supposed to say yes! What kind of monster would, like, ever answer no?”

“I said I was joking.”

It made me chuckle when I heard the annoyed growl of frustration from Riverbed. “As I was saying, guy—what happened to, uh, Tangerine?” she asked, once she had regained her composure.

“We had to go our separate ways,” I emotionlessly responded over my shoulder.

“Aw, and I liked her too." Pausing, Riverbed must have turned her attention to the one other pony with us and remarked, "Oh, like, I didn’t introduce myself to you, did I?”

“We’ve briefly met. Don’t talk to me,” Violet said emotionlessly.

“Riverbed Ransom, gun for hire.” The glee in her voice was apparent, and it sounded like she’d paused to hold out a hoof out to bump.

With a defeated sigh, Violet responded, “Violet Dusk. Stop talking to me.”

“Well, aren’t you just a bundle of joy, guy.”

I let myself grin. It was a little strained, but that was okay. Little moments like this were exactly why I’d decided to hire Riverbed. There wasn’t any romance, any cold analytics, or any clingy adoration attached to her—she was simply fun. I liked having her around, and she was the closest pony I could call a normal friend. Although if I was paying her to be with me, did it make her a prostitute? Should I have paid her in half-caps?

“Hello? I said, when are we stopping?” Violet nagged, even going as far as to throw a rock at the back of my head. “My hooves hurt.”

Riverbed double-timed it to my side and chuckled. “We haven’t even, like, walked that far. Vi just needs exercise, guy.”

Picking up her pace, Violet galloped up beside her and snapped, “I get enough exercise, thank you very much.” Sparing a glance, I couldn’t tell if she did—her patchy robe covered her enough and I hadn’t actually ever seen her out of it.

“You need some muscle. What you need is some meat.”

“Sorry if I can’t stomach eating a dead creature’s flesh on a frequent basis.”

Riverbed stopped, and the rest of us followed suit to watch what she was doing. It took a bit longer than anticipated, but she finally dug out a leather pouch and tugged it open. “That’s because you need protein.” The two of us peered inside and realized it was full of dried meat.

“You can’t be serious.” Violet gagged a little after getting a whiff of the frighteningly delicious-smelling meat.

Grinning, Riverbed brightly responded, “No, I’m Riverbed. Hi.” She popped a small piece into her mouth and made a show of chewing it.

“You’re intolerable.”

“I’m still Riverbed.”

“Girls, let’s just keep moving. We’re going to get ambushed out here in the middle of the street.” I furtively glanced around, turning my ears at the sounds bouncing off the buildings around us. “Violet, just let Riverbed cram meat in her mouth. Riverbed, just cram meat in your mouth. Let’s go.”

Still slightly dribbling meat crumbs from her face, Riverbed casually asked, “What’s the rush, guy?”

Something in me snapped, and I exploded in her face, “I don’t want to get spotted by an Enclave patrol so that they can turn me into a motherbucking crater.”

More importantly, where were the patrols? Where was the inevitable takedown team? If the Enclave really had come down, they had to have set up a forward operating base somewhere. Maybe if I found it, I could get some answers. I still had the major’s pins, so that could be my ticket in. And why did I get the feeling we weren’t alone?

Behind me, Riverbed muttered, “What’s your beef, guy?”

“I’d say menopause but I know otherwise,” Violet thoughtfully responded.

I grimaced and pretended not to hear them. So much for having friends.

“Wuh?” Thanks, Riverbed. I didn’t know what that meant either.

“Never mind.” As an afterthought, Violet added, “Don’t talk to me.”

Whether or not they were actually my friends, I still needed them around for meat shield reasons. Just ahead we had to make a right, so I steered us to the sidewalk for safety. I was hearing echoes and things, but it could just be the creepy deserted buildings being creepy.

Or I was crazy.

I allowed myself a weak chuckle. It was probably just the sound of other ponies around, since I totally wasn’t crazy.

“Hold on, you are aware that contacts are approaching, right?” If I had been any more on edge, I would have punched Gale out right then and there. “We should find some cover.”

Sure enough, a collection of blue and yellow bars were having a great time to the leftmost side of my E.F.S. bar. I turned around and gave the other two the “get down” motion with my claw. All three of us flattened ourselves against the wall to our right, Violet only because I had to shove her there. The sound of Riverbed’s weapon safeties being disengaged reminded me that I should also bring out my weapon as well.

In a hushed whispered, I asked Riverbed, “Do you have a radio?”

“Like, ‘course I do, guy.” She tapped the side of her helmet and smirked. “Never leave home without it.”

I rolled the shoulder with my radio on it. “Good. Can you tune me into your frequency?” The only reason I didn’t do it myself was because I didn’t know how, but I wasn’t going to tell her that.

Riverbed quickly trotted behind me and bodily mounted me. Before I could fire off a snappy, angry, and/or confused remark, she tweaked a few things on my radio, then clambered off and responded, “Done.”

Allowing myself an extra three seconds to snap out of how violated I was feeling, I finally came up with, “That was unnecessary.”

Nodding, Violet agreed, “Seconded.”

“Yet somehow arousing,” Riverbed happily whispered to me.

Was… was I actually the only straight mare in the Wasteland? “Not really, no. Sort of awkward and weird, guy.”

“You liked it.”

“I’m not half-capping you. Not interested.” Back to business.

Eyeing the bar on the top of my vision and echoes of sound coming from around the corner, I fiddled with the sling on my new laser rifle so that I could hold it in my claw single-hoofedly. That way, I could still use my other three legs to stand on. Aiming it was going to be a different problem that I’d solve later.

The building next to us had a second floor that looked like it had been forcibly de-roofed at some point, which also made it a great vantage point. “Violet, I’m going to hop into the second floor of this place. I don’t want to implode, so stick to the wall.” Thankfully she did as I asked without question.

All I managed was a half-assed flap upward so that I could grab the ledge without applying too much extra stress to my wings. I pulled myself up and crept to the corner wall, keeping in mind to find something to stabilize my rifle with. Maybe I should have also stolen the bipod off of the anti-machine rifle.

A short end table would have to do for stability. Rearing up on my hind legs, I made sure that the muzzle of my rifle didn’t protrude over the edge of the building while I took aim. I leaned forward to set up a comfortable firing position and placed my other foreleg underneath my rifle to observe the approaching group of Wastelanders.

They weren’t traveling in any sort of formation and they didn’t have any equipment that made them seem like a caravan group. The scattered four ponies seemed to be arguing with each other, but only in hushed whispers. There were a surprisingly diverse little group—a pegasus, an earth pony, a unicorn, and a walking corpse.

The pegasus in the front was wearing some very familiar-looking combat fatigues usually issued to the Enclave reserve forces, as indication by the “R” overlaid on a winged shield. She had a dusty gray coat that almost shined in the low light, and her light blue mane and tail looked equally taken care of. Both were even neatly braided, surprisingly enough. She had a sort of wrapped bag slung over her back, but I didn’t pay it much mind. She had a PipBuck as well, but I couldn’t tell which variety it was.

Right next to the pegasus, the unicorn mare arguing with her was a sort of orangey-red shade, with bits of light gray mane sticking out beneath her hoofball cap. Unlike the pegasus, she actually had patched-up shoddy combat armor with some faded and crossed out logo on the chestplate. A trio of canteens dangled from her left side with her saddlebags, since the other side was occupied by a massive double-barreled pump shotgun.

Lingering near the back, a spry earth pony was idly surveying the rest of the surrounding buildings. He had a purple coat and a brown mane tied into a ponytail, along with a scraggly goatee and a purple bandanna was tied around his neck. His bulging saddlebags nearly covered up his battle saddle—another shotgun and some sort of rifle. A fire axe was secured on top of everything.

For whatever reason, the last member of their was a ghoul. This one looked like it was in the same shape as Sleazy—more rotting corpse than pony. It didn’t have much more armor than a ratty-looking pair of coveralls and a much newer-looking ballistic vest. A saddlebag on his right side trailed a belt of shells that fed into an automatic shotgun strapped to his other side.

“Looks like four contacts, mostly shotguns. Earthie, Birdie, Cornie, and a ghoul. They still haven’t seen us yet.” On a gut feeling, I glanced skyward and hastily added, “Five. They’ve got a pegasus on recon—really?”

This one seemed to be one of those wannabe dark and broody rookies that would periodically join Recon and Scouting Teams. I’d bet any caps I had that his gray mane was probably dyed because of how patchy it looked, and he’d run out of dye to paint his white coat coat similarly. As for his armament, it appeared he only had a shotgun, knife, and some light Enclave armored barding. He even had a muzzle-covering gas mask, which made me snort. Probably one of those colts that believed all the propaganda.

Through my earbloom, I barely made out Riverbed asking, “Think they’re hostile?” I pressed it a little farther into my ear and hoped that would fix it.

By the way the ones on the ground wouldn’t stop arguing with each other, I wasn’t sure. “I don’t know. Those pegasi worry me, though. If they report back to command, I’m toast.”

“Guy, they’re not even Enclave. Probably like, adventurers looking for a quick score.” Ah, problem fixed. I could hear her fine now.

With mister dark and broody up there, I had the feeling that the others were being paid to follow him. “Or they’re hunting for me.”

While I kept my eyes on the group of hunters and their Enclave handler, Violet lazily asked, “So… what’s the plan?”

If any of them got away, I’d be in trouble. If they somehow managed to take me alive, there was no telling what they would do to me.

“We could brutally murder them! Better than that shit you pulled last time,” Toasty enthusiastically suggested.

I leaned out of scope and gave me a sidelong glance. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Remember the first time the Enclave wanted to say hi?” Sarcastically tilting her head, Toasty snarked, “Oooh, I caught the feeeels. I’m sooo sorry. I’m so sorry I killed you and all your bird horse friends. Here, I’ll let you go so you can tell everypony that I committed treason.” With a snide chuckle, she added, “Wimp.”

Examining the several ponies very slowly bearing down on us, I asked, “What does that have to do with this?”

“You want a repeat of that shit?” Toasty glared at me expectantly, an evil glint in her eyes.

Damn it.

Damn it, damn it, damn it! She made a good point.

“We have to kill them.”

“Really, guy?” I heard Riverbed’s face shield come down as she sighed. “Alright, let’s get this over with.”

Scoffing, Violet responded, “Leave me out of it. I’ll be here if you need me.” Unfortunately, that meant I was stuck in the rough neighborhood of right here. I could work with that.

For whatever reason, they still hadn’t spotted Riverbed or me. The pegasus with the PipBuck hadn’t seen me either, so maybe we were still out of range. “Okay, we need to eliminate their air superiority. I’ll take out the flying one, you take care of the one on the ground.” Being tethered to Violet would keep me grounded, so I wouldn’t be able to engage anyway.

“On three.”

“Ow! Shit, ow.” I stopped observing the group to glance downward at Riverbed, who was doing her best to climb up the side of a dumpster and onto the opposite building. “Hold on, guy. Like, let me get in position.”

As I waited for her, I tried to adjust to my new rifle. Not only was it lighter than my previous one, but I had to keep reminding myself that I didn’t have to lead targets nearly as far anymore. Losing vertical peripheral vision was also a little weird, since I still didn’t know what the little box on the top actually did. It wasn’t another sight, that was for sure.

Gasping, Riverbed finally responded, “Ready, guy.”

The one with the PipBuck was looking around now, so that probably meant I was showing up on it. “On my mark.”

“One.” I took a deep breath and focused in on the pegasus.

“Two.” There was a moment of doubt, but I brutally threw it aside. He was here to capture me, kill me, whatever.

Taking aim slightly ahead of the flying pony’s nose, I breathed, “Boom.” The energy bolt left the gun almost a whole half-second after I released the trigger. As expected, it burned through a layer of foreleg armor and into the pony wearing it. However, it didn’t seem to do much more than leave a nasty third degree burn.

I leaned out of scope and looked with my own eyes. “What.”

A firm claw closing around the back of my collar accompanied Toasty’s outraged cry of, “What?!”

At least nopony was more surprised than the one I’d shot. “W-what? Where did that come from?” He listed to one side and smashed into a wall as a result.

It was at this point when I’d realized my error—this was a vintage laser rifle, probably the end of the second era by my guess. In all the excitement, I’d forgotten that laser pre-igniters hadn’t been invented yet. That meant I’d just fired a low-powered shot that had the bare minimum charge instead of a deadly leg-melting laser that I’d tried to use.


On a related topic, how was I supposed to charge this thing? Why hadn’t the griffon who wanted this thing steal the instruction manual as well? Why did the other pegasus have a scythe? I’d be damned if my next thought was going to be “Why are my intestines over there?”

All hell broke loose, almost as if somepony had shot a pegasus and done no damage. The ponies on the ground dove for cover or dashed to help the one that I’d shot. Riverbed hadn’t fired for some reason, and I snarled, “How come you didn’t shoot the other one?”

“You didn’t bucking say three, guy!” Belatedly, Riverbed let a few half-assed shots loose at a pile of rubble.

“I said three!”

“Like, you said boom.”

Uh. “That was implied to be three!”

“How was I supposed to know, guy?”

Was this not common knowledge? “Just do what I mean and not what I say.” Speaking of shooting ponies, the ghoul seemed like a great candidate for free laser surgery.

It looked like nopony knew how to track the heat trail from a laser, so I had an extra shot of opportunity. The group of hunters had gone to ground, currently hiding in one of the alleys and behind a collapsed section of building on my side of the road. The giant double-barreled shotgun hovered out of cover by the alley, which only meant its user was right around the corner.

While I tried to come up with a reason why anypony would even consider using a scythe for actual combat, I lined up my sights with the floating shotgun. I waited for an additional beat for somepony to peek before attempting to vaporize the shotgun. Once again, the shot was delayed and on impact it didn’t do much more than burn a hole through the barrel. The gun retreated back to its owner, at least.

A few bolts of plasma splashed against rubble where the other half of the hunting party was hunkered down. “They’re pretty dug in, guy.” She fired off a few more shots then added, “I think they’re actually leaving. You have eyes on the other pegasus?”

Speaking of which, I caught sight of him rocketing back into the air while he swerved and spun. It looked like he had opted out to a pistol, but he was actively searching and dodging. I tried to track the dodging pegasus, but he was simply moving way too much for me to predict for the express reason that he knew there was a sniper around.

I toggled S.A.T.S. in order to take care of him. Cue freeze frame, zoom and enhance— “Wait, what do you mean, thirty-four percent? Come on!” Since the headshot percentage was even lower, I decided to let the spell take the bodyshot instead. Strangely, I was only allowed to queue one attack. Nevertheless, I confirmed it anyway and let it go.

The spell helped me track the pegasus, and I noticed that I was being told to squeeze the trigger and hold it. About two seconds later—an eternity in S.A.T.S.—I finally let the shot fly, and this time it was no disappointment. A blazing red beam bolted from my rifle and impacted against the pegasus’s right foreleg with a satisfying burn and heat bloom.

That time, the shot had the desired effect. The pegasus wailed in pain and crashed to the ground in no-pony’s land between us and them, clutching at his burnt leg. A nice clean hole had been burnt right through bone, armor, and flesh. As I began to line up a shot to finish him off, a bloody talon tugging against my jaw made me stop.

“C’mon… double or nothing. They’ll want to say hi to their little friend eventually.” Toasty throatily whispered into my right ear. “Make it two, three, four kills, easy.”

She had a damn good point. “Okay, let me at least maim him a little more. I think I cauterized him with that hit.”

Toasty chuckled. “I like that shit. Go.”

With the strategy in place, I let one more shot loose right into the downed pegasus’s unarmored wing. It hit a bit off my intended target, but a bolt to the leading edge of his wing would keep him grounded anyway.

Right as I was getting into the zone, a rude interruption jolted me out of it. “Howdy to all ya cooool cats out there! Listen up, a little birdie dropped this little number on Uncle Soundwave—intel, fresh off the presses! Enclave morale boosters haven’t been this exciting since your mom!” Wasn’t that the radio griffon from Stronghold? What the buck? “Incoming crazy shit!

“Hey Riverbed, can you squelch him?” I tried to land a more lethal shot on the unicorn trying to peek their corner, but the unpredictable fire delay was messing with my aim.

My earbloom beeped, then it continued with Soundwave’s broadcast, but it was a different voice altogether. “Good evening. Today, our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a single daring terrorist act. Earlier today at approximately oh-eight hundred hours, High Councilor Harbinger and his protective detail were taken from us with a balefire bomb—one of the very devices that forced the creation of the haven we have made for ourselves. This act of terror was intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed. Our nation is strong.

A great people has been moved to defend a great nation. These Wastelanders—these filth—think they can intimidate us with a brutish show of force. Today, our nation saw evil—the very worst of our nature—and we shall respond with the wrath of the Enclave Military. Fear not, citizens. You will be safe. You have my word.

“Can’t do anything about it. He’s broadcasting to all Talons,” Riverbed shouted over the broadcast and the din of her plasma rifle.

I was forced to scoot backward and seek cover because one of them had finally spotted me and was trying to feed me free birdshot. “And they’ve seen me. Great.” More importantly, what was going on? What kind of press release was this?

—rch is underway for those who were behind these evil acts. I have directed the full resources of our intelligence and military to find those responsible and to bring them to justice. We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them. We w—

“I think they’re trying to kill me!” Riverbed screamed, wildly spraying plasma. “Bucking helmeted me! I’m backing off.”

Soundwave returned, accompanied by a burst of static. “Yadda yadda yadda. So if you’ve ever wanted to be part of an underground terrorism syndicate—or if you’re a Steel Ranger listenin’ in, a literal underground terrorism syndicate—today’s your chance! And now for the weather. Off to you, Nobeard.

A gruff, almost bored voice followed. “Norbert. My name is Norbert.”

Same thing.

I could feed you to the hounds.

If I wasn’t so busy trying not to die, I would have laughed. Falling back was starting to look like a better and better option.

Soundwave happily answered, “I could shut up, Nob.

Silence. “As I was saying, tonight’s weather is going to be pigeon filth, followed by cloudy skies. The Freakshow Feathers Talon Branch will be paying thirty caps per Enclave pegasus, fifty if they’re still kickin’. Bring your shit to Stronghold for payment. We’re moving out in three days, so stay tuned.

Time to get paid, boys and girls!” Soundwave happily chuckled. “Happy hunting!

Yeah, buck this place. If this group wanted to take me down, they’d have to fight a little harder for it. I could have politics hour later.


“I’m going to kill her.”

Tangerine sighed, then groaned. “Rumcake, we know. She’s just distressed and angry.”

That still didn’t change anything. “Am I the only one that cares that Frosty lied about knowing us just so she could run off again?” I demanded to my Rangers, to no reply.

The room that the griffon mercs had tossed us in was somepony’s office, but they were only preventing us from leaving until their “leader” gave them the go-ahead to leave. Sparkle was lounging in one corner trying to squeeze in some well-deserved rest, while Tangerine was still trying to decipher the mysteries of the scroll she had been reading for the past several hours.

Why was Frosty doing this to me? This wasn’t the mare that I’d fallen for. I held my head in my hooves and tried to come up with some kind of reason. Did she get a kick out of making me miserable? All I wanted to do was help her. Why couldn’t Frosty just get it?

“Uh… Rumcake? C-can I talk to you?”

Say her name thrice, and she shall appear. I sat up and glowered at the doorway where Frosty was poking her head in.

For once, she looked meek and vulnerable. At a nod, Frosty slunk in, head down and tail tucked, muttering, “I, uh, I’m sorry about how I’ve… how my attitude has been recently. It’s just—” She let out a hiccuping sob and shakily continued, “It’s just so hard to focus when you’re in five pieces, okay? I’m sorry I’m just so… stupid!” She looked like she was on the verge of having a complete breakdown.

My heart simply melted at the sight of Frosty dejectedly sniffling. Seeing her so vulnerable and weak after being used to a more recklessly feisty mare made me realize I was finally seeing a side of her that rarely showed. “It’s okay, Frosty. C’mere. I’m here for you.” I held open my forelegs and motioned for her to come to me.

Frosty let her saddlebag and her rifle drop to the floor. “I’m so sorry,” she whimpered, limping into my embrace. She tightened her forelegs around my neck and leaned in close. “I shouldn’t have done all those stupid things without thinking. I should have listened.”

It was about time that Frosty came to her senses. “Hey, it’s okay. Shh. I did a few stupid things that I shouldn’t have done too.” I was already regretting hitting her earlier, and the bruise on her face still looked tender. “We all make mistakes.” As I comforted her, I also noticed that the collar that I had given her wasn’t belted around her neck anymore. “What happened to your safety collar?”

Frosty pulled herself away and stared at me with those tear-stricken purple eyes. “I… After you hit me, I made Violet take the collar off so I could fly around. Collect my thoughts, I guess.” She sniffled a little and wiped her eyes. “And I sort of told her to go buck herself and she teleported away.”

Damn it, Frosty. “It’s okay. Let’s get you cleaned up and then we’ll go find her,” I sighed.

“I think she teleported back to Perma,” Frosty mumbled.

Even if Violet wasn’t particularly good at anything, having an extra unicorn on hoof was never a bad thing. “You don’t know that. Maybe she’s in the book place.”

“Oh! I left all the stuff in the library!” Tangerine suddenly interjected. “I need to go!”

Frosty tilted her head at the door. “You could totally leave. I already told the catbirds out front to buzz off.” Like a frightened little filly, Tangerine stared at me for direction. Giving her the go-ahead with a nod, she darted out and away.

For now, I just wanted to comfort my broken little pegasus. “Frosty, I’d like to formally apologize right now for slapping you earlier. I was mad and I wasn’t thinking straight.” I allowed her to slouch against me and attempt to pull me into a hug.

“Forgive me?” As she stared me down with those beautiful eyes, I realized I just couldn’t stay mad at her any longer.

“Will you actually listen to me now?”


With an almost relieved sigh, I replied, “Yeah. All is forgiven.” I looped my foreleg behind her and under her wings, pulling her up against my body. “I love you.”

“I love you too.”

Something kept tugging at the back of my mind, though. “Hold on, since when have you had purple eyes?”

Frosty briefly showed surprise, then mild annoyance. “You’ve got to be shitting me. You don’t even know what I look like.” She calmly tilted her head up, her intense gaze boring into my skull. "I have always had purple eyes."

I gaped dumbly at her for a moment, before blinking and shaking my head. Of course, of course. What was I thinking? “Sorry, I don’t know what came over me. I guess I was just being stupid.” Where had I even gotten that dumb question from in the first place?

Frosty purred in contentment. "That's okay. Just hold me, please."

If she wasn’t going to hold it against me, I was going to take as much advantage of it as possible. Gently scooping up Frosty in my forelegs, I slouched a little lower so that she would be comfortable with her head tucked under my chin. After she was done settling onto me, I lovingly stroked her mane and held her tight, praising whatever goddesses watching that had brought my Frosty back to me.

Brushing back an errant lock of her mane, I nuzzled Frosty’s ear and muttered into it, “I love you.”

“I know.”

Footnote: Level up!
New Perk: Money Talks – Mercenaries and free agents are cheaper to hire when you have no other followers or are acting as a follower. Quest-related characters do not count toward using this skill.
Current Sub-perk: Diplomacy – Remember thy Charlamane. You gain +8 to Speech.

Hallowed Ground DLC installed.

Alternate ending now available.*
Six new items have spawned in crates. Some may be locked!
New areas will become accessible upon proper story triggers. Saves in Act Four will require a restart.

Special items from Hallowed Ground acquired (2).

1 × “The Vintage Vaporizer” Laser Rifle
5 × Vintage Rechargable Microspark Cell

*Accessing this ending is not guaranteed and may require multiple playthroughs.

Author's Note:

Pic related.


Several OCs featured belong to their respective owners. TheBobulator is not responsible for death, loss of limbs, injury, spontaneous combustion, and/or prizes. You knew what you were asking for.

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