• 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 4: Hey! Where’s my stuff?

Chapter 4: Hey! Where’s my stuff?

“Are you okay, Rainbow Dash?”


I slowly became aware of a whispering in my vicinity. Poke. More whispering. Poke. Poke. My ribs ached, my legs ached, and my head pounded with the intensity of a thousand suns. Why wouldn’t anypony let me sleep in? Poke. Po—Okay, the ribs are completely off limits! I growled and, ignoring all pain, tried to spring up and swipe at the closest source of sound. Tried being the key word, because all I managed to do was groggily flop off whatever I was lying on. Several bewildered bedraggled ponies were standing around me in a rough circle, eyeing me in mild curiosity.

In terms of places I’d found myself waking up, this looked and felt like something out of a bad spy novel. Dim lighting, crummy decor, non-fuzzy hoofcuffs, and the pokiest mattress in the wasteland. A broken lamp leaned against the far wall, its bendy light extension hanging by a few exposed wires.

“Please stop,” I murmured. “My ribs are broken, so stop poking them.” I groaned and clutched my sides. Ow. The group took a few steps back. “What happened?” The ponies in the group looked at each other. Eventually one of them stepped forward. He looked familiar… that gray coat and the brown mane… and the fresh bandages wrapped around his legs did begin to make sense…

“Why did you let me go?” he asked. “You had an opportunity. I was helpless. Why?” I hung my head. Of course the first wastelander to talk to me was the one I’d recently mauled.

“I just… I don’t work that way.” I looked back at him. “I used to be about helping ponies.” I gestured to his friends. “When you attacked the base, I thought you were trying wipe out the Rangers so you could occupy the base. I had no qualms.” I looked around at my surroundings. I was in a quite large ramshackle building made of metal sheets, tape, and bits of concrete. “You’re just wastelanders trying to live. I didn’t realize the Rangers took your water talisman.”

“Rangers just stormed in one day… smashed our defenses and just took it,” the gray wastelander said. “Killed a few of our militia, too.” He looked around forlornly at the surrounding ponies, some of which nodded. “What were you doing in there?”

I shook my head. “I got taken prisoner a week or so ago. Been hanging around ever since.” I waved my blood-crusted claw at them. “I’ve been trying to put my life back together. They helped me out and I’m just stuck with them.” I pointed at the collar still strapped firmly around my neck, catching sight of my claw in the process. I couldn’t even move it because of all the dried blood stuck to it. I shuddered to think of what the inside of it looked like. Oh, Baked Potato was going to kill me!

“…You hungry?” he asked. I was shocked. I’d nearly torn him apart who knew how long ago! I nodded eagerly anyway. “Follow me. And keep that away from everypony,” he said, pointedly looking at my claw. I nodded and obediently followed. The other ponies left the building through various doorways. “Wait… maybe we should stop by the clinic first, because of your injuries and all. Doc Galactic might be able to fix you up.”

“I like that idea.” I winced. My ribs were still dully aching. Hopefully they hadn’t set improperly while I was out. “Ow. Ow. Ow.” Merely under-exerting myself was already turning about to be a mistake.

“What’s wrong?”

To make my point abundantly clear, I carefully wagged my speared leg at him while giving him my most sarcastic glare. “Boy, I wonder what could possibly be the problem.” I did my best not to wince, as it would have ruined the overall effect.

The wastelander rolled his eyes. “You baby.”

Without his consent, I hobbled closer and draped my wing over his back so I could use him for balance.

The gray wastelander pony basically dragged me around the town. On that subject, “town” may have been an exaggeration. The shacks scattered about didn’t appear to follow any sort of organizational pattern, let alone construction code. Everything about this place just screamed “junk”. A few actual buildings still stood between all the shacks, right next to all the ruins and trash piles. As far as I was aware, the wastelander was following an arbitrary path that hopefully led to medical attention.

“So who is this ‘Doc Galactic’? Is he any good?” I asked. Please, please be a good doctor!

“Galactic’s a great doctor! He’s also the only doctor around.” He nervously grinned. We passed a small cluster of tents, a few of which looked oddly out of place in the wasteland. A huge spotlight placed up higher on the hill behind us pointed down the path and to what I assumed was the front gate. “He helps these ponies go on with their lives, no matter what happens. Sure, his methods are probably a bit excessive or strange, but he usually gets everypony back on their hooves.” As we walked, some of the ponies I passed shied away or gave me dirty looks.

I grimaced against the pain in my midsection. All this limping was starting to jostle my lower ribs, both of which were definitely broken. I was pretty sure that the second lower rib on the right side was broken too.

Hey, idiot. It’s broken.

Thanks, brain.

I gingery poked my ribs with a hoof. Ow. Okay, bad idea. “Hey, does he have any painkillers? My leg’s killing me, my ribs are killing me, and my head feels like somepony landed on it.”

He looked a little sheepish. “I might have dropped you while I was getting you back over to my group.” I narrowed my eyes at him. “What? It wasn’t my fault somepony cut me up!” Oops. I guess he had a point.

“I’m sorry. I lost control, and I should be responsible for what I did.” I stopped to catch my breath.

The waste pony abruptly stopped, nearly making me trip and fall on my face. “It’s not entirely your fault that those dirty tin cans are makin’ you do things against your will.”

I was about to honestly point out that I knew full well what I was doing, but his conclusion was looking like a better alternative than the one I had planned. “Yeah, bomb collars tend to do that.” Turn away and lie through your teeth, Frosty.

“I’ll have to go see if somepony I know can get that off you. It doesn’t appear to be active, but I’m no bomb expert.” My makeshift crutch tugged at a few of his bandages. “So, why’d you start attacking us, anyway?”

“I thought you were the slavers?” I awkwardly improvised, giving him an unintentional awkward grin as well. “What?”

“Slavers?” he asked, completely ignoring my worst poker face.

“Yeah. Why?”

“I saw a bunch of bodies piled outside in the tunnels. I thought they were raiders.”

“Raiders, slavers… Same thing, right?”

He shook his head. “It can’t be a coincidence…” he muttered. I gave him a questioning look. “There’s a band of slavers that operate out of a small camp. It’s about an hour’s gallop from here. They’re vicious, angry, and there’s tons of them. Oh look, we’re here!”

We stopped in front of a slightly less dilapidated building with a big dark red cross painted on it. “…Is that cross… drawn… in blood?” I hesitantly asked. “And why is there a skeleton on a noose? That’s not even possible!”

“I told you. Strange,” the wastelander said. I shakily followed him inside. “Yo, Doc! I got another job for you!”

The thinnest, scraggiliest unicorn I’d ever seen wandered into the room. His off-white coat was stained with blood and his dark blue mane was tangled and messy. He wore what appeared to be a reinforced medical uniform, complete with multiple weapon holsters. Disturbingly enough, his choice of weaponry happened to be bonesaws. He had several different varieties in all shapes and sizes strapped to him, all of which were crusted with blood.

“Hey, Galactic! Wanna fix somepony for once?” the wastelander greeted, hopefully joking.

“And lose out on the fun? Fine.” The doctor turned to look at me. “Oooh! A pegasus! Haven’t taken one of you apart for a while!” I backed away in fear. This guy was crazy! He wasn’t coming anywhere near me! “Ahhahaha! Just kidding.” He stepped closer and peered at me closely. “I’ve never gotten a chance to dissect one of you yet.” Somehow I didn’t think that should make me feel better. “So, my winged friend, what appears to be the problem?”

“Broken ribs, crippled limb, pounding headache,” I recited. “I need to requisition two doses of aspirin, one dose of painkillers, and an extra roll of bandages.” The doctor looked mildly surprised. I looked back at him impatiently. “I really hope you can fix broken ribs.” I huffed.

“Ooooh, we know what we need, don’t we?” He moved over to a drawer and levitated out a facemask. “As much as you know about field medicine, you can’t just sit there with broken bones. Your ribs I can fix, maybe. It depends on the extent of the damage.” His horn glowed with magic as he spoke. “If your ribs are cracked, I can set them. If they are broken, that might be a touch more tricky. Not out of my expertise, of course! Heh.” He walked over and touched his horn to my forehead.

“Now let’s see…” he muttered. An unpleasant tingly sensation washed through my entire body. Ugh. It made me feel so… unclean. After a few seconds, the glow on his horn faded away. “Okay, follow me, hop on the table and let’s get started!” he said ecstatically.

I dubiously agreed and lay on my side on his medical table. “Now what?” I asked. I heard humming from behind me. I became slightly worried when I heard the clanking of surgical tools followed by the quiet scraping sound of a bonesaw being drawn.

“Now, just relax and count down from… nineteen.” I rolled my eyes. “Well? Start counting! This is going to be much more painful if you’re awake,” he told me.

I sighed and started counting. “Nineteen… Eighteen… Seventeen…” I felt his horn poke the back of my head. “Sixteen… Fifteen…” I drifted off into a dreamy dark abyss as I continued to count.

~~~~~

And I’m back in Cloudsdale. Gala Frosty was there to greet me when I awoke. “Welcome back! How was your trip in real-land?”

“Uh… not much happened.” I answered awkwardly. “Any more me’s show up yet?” I looked around. Filly Frosty was nowhere to be seen and Drunk Frosty sounded like she was attempting to make out with a cloud.

“Do you think we can trust him? The doctor, I mean. He doesn’t come off as the kind of surgeon that earned his medical license,” Gala Frosty asked with concern in her voice. I shook my head.

“My kind of guy,” Drunk Frosty shouted from another room. Both of us glared in her direction. “And admit it, he’s kiiiiinda cute!”

We both ignored her. “Well, what do we do now?” Gala Frosty asked. Good question. I had no idea at this point in time. I’d been captured twice, essentially let go, and now I was passed out on a medical table letting some insane “doctor” operate on me.

“Well, I do owe them… maybe I can convince the Rangers to give the talisman back?” I suggested. Gala Frosty gave me a questioning look. “What? It could happen.” She continued to glare at me. “Okay, first I help these wastelanders out, then I try to get the Rangers to give the talisman back. Maybe then I can get something going.”

Filly Frosty slowly floated into the room, rubbing her eyes. “Wuh? What’s going on?” she asked groggily. She looked around the room and when she saw me, her eyes lit up. “Hey! You’re back!” She cannonballed into me and hugged me fiercely. She looked up at me with her giant green eyes. “The creepy guy with the hood says to stop bothering him.”

Both of us stared at her blankly. “Who?” Gala Frosty asked. “Why didn’t you say anything earlier?” I was confused. Obviously, all of us were confused. I didn’t know anypony who habitually wore a hood, did I?

“But Mort said to tell Big Frosty and only Big Frosty!” she whined. We stared blankly at her. She rolled her eyes. “The creepy hooded guy.” We both oh’ed in response. “He said to stop annoying him.”

“You said so already. Alright, other me’s. Anypony know who this guy is?” I asked the gathered Frosties. “How about you, Drunky?” I shouted. No reply. “Somepony go see whether she ate that cloud.” I facehoofed. Celestia, I really hope I wasn’t really like this when I was drunk. “I’m going to go take a nap. I’ll be back later, I guess.”

~~~~~

I slowly awoke to the sight of blood. Lots of blood. Judging by my orientation, the blood was on the ceiling. On the bright side, I’d been uncuffed at some point while I’d been knocked out so I had that at least. I was lying on my back in a surprisingly springy mattress in the town clinic. My midsection no longer hurt, but it was covered in bandages. My head no longer hurt as much and my hind leg appeared to be shrapnel-free and wrapped in a layer of healing bandages. I sighed in relief. I glanced at my claw and noted that somepony had done their best in cleaning it.

“And how are we doing this fine evening?” Galactic asked nonchalantly. “Now, I have good news, bad news, and some more good or bad news, considering what you con—” Activate death glare. “Right, anyway. Good news: I fixed you up! Your cracked ribs have been mended and set. Bad news: Treatment will have set you back quite a few caps. And the medium news: I decided to remove your two lower ribs! For science!” I gaped in shock. “Now, before you overreact, this is a win-win situation! I get some pegasus bones to examine, and you get to be more flexible!” A snarl escaped my muzzle. “Hey! I had no choice! They were potentially going to harm your internal organs! Okay, not really. Anyway, it’s just one rib on either side.”

“You cut me open. And cut out two of my ribs.” I growled at him. “Whatever gave you the right to remove them?” I was insanely pissed. Great, I lose part of a leg and now two ribs. What would happen next? The other leg? Then something occurred to me. “Wait, what do you mean a few caps?”

“Well, I’m charging you twelve hundred caps for the surgery.” I was horrified. Twelve hundred? Where was I going to get that kind of money? Galactic noticed the look on my face. With a grin, he continued, “But I’m willing to drop it down to eight hundred if you let me keep the ribs.” He even levitated my still-bloody ribs and dangled them in front of me. “Deal?”

I crossed my forelegs with a huff. “Six hundred and you treat them with a little respect.” He looked pained, but he nodded anyway. “So how do I pay you the other six hundred?” How would I pay him? I had no way to get caps!

Doc Galactic turned to leave the room. “Once you’re feeling a little better, get a job in the tunnels. You’ll pay off in two or three trips. Now get some rest.” He left me in the candlelight of the room. What would I do?

As if Celestia had demanded it, the gray wastelander pony slipped into the room. “I heard you’re off the table. Feeling better?” I harrumphed at him. “Had to make a deal with the Doc, I assume?” I nodded angrily. “How much?” he quietly asked.

“Six hundred,” I whispered back. “How am I going to pay him?”

“I have your answer.” He sat down next to my mattress and explained, “I work in the Underhill. We scavenge materials, resources, the like.” He raised his bandaged forelegs. “I can’t work because somepony tore me up.” I folded my ears back sheepishly. “So!” He grinned at me. Not good. “You get to take over my shift.”

“Menial labor. This is what I’ve been degraded to.”

“In Underhill, you’re paid one hundred caps for working, then another fifty for every five pounds of scrap you bring back. Since you’re working for me now, you get forty of those one hundred caps.”

Not bad. It could be worse.

Shut up, brain.

“And every fifty extra caps… I guess you can keep forty of those. Scrap’s getting hard to find, anyway.” He shuffled around in his saddlebags. When’d he get those? “Here’s my access card.” He held out a small card on a loop of rope. “You’ll be able to get into the tunnels and through the militia with it.”

I reached out with a hoof to take the rope, when I noticed my bare leg. “Hey! Where’s my stuff?” I looked around. “Hey! Where’s my bucking bag?” I glared at the gray wastelander. “WHERE. ARE. THEY?”

The wastelander backed away. “Scrap Bank’s got your stuff! We can talk to her later if you want!” I edged closer to him and growled. “She’ll take anything interesting we scrounge up and we trade to her for supplies and food!” He covered his head with his bandaged forelegs. “Please don’t hurt me!”

I caught myself and backed up. We’re not doing that again.

Thanks for the catch, brain.

“Okay. Let’s have a word with her. I want my stuff back.” The wastelander nodded. I blinked, then asked, “What’s your name, anyhow?”

He blinked. “I’m Rusty Parts. Welcome to Happy Hills.”

~~~~~

I barreled through the store’s doorway in a furious blur of fur and feathers. I caught a glimpse of a green and pink mare sitting behind the counter, and I immediately pounced on her. “Where’s my stuff?” I yelled at her. The poor mare was shaking in fright. I sort of pitied her, but I was angry and hopped up on painkillers. “Where’s my bag?” I yelled into her face. Before I could torture her further, Rusty Parts ran in and pulled me off of her.

“Hey! Calm the buck down!” he cried. “Look, I’ll handle this, okay?” He trotted over behind the counter and helped her up. “Scrap, I’m sorry about her but I’d rather not piss her off right about now. And she needs her bag.” Scrap Bank looked at me and I grudgingly nodded. “Can you let her have it back?”

Scrap Bank shook her head. “I… I can’t give it back to you!” I bristled and growled at her. “Eeeep! I really can’t! The mayor won’t allow it!” I snorted in frustration. “The only way I can give it back to you is if you buy it back!” Scrap Bank hastily exclaimed. She was getting more and more panicked with every passing second.

“You want me. To buy my stuff back. That you stole from me,” I enunciated. Scrap Bank nervously nodded. I sighed.

You’re better than this, Frosty. You can deal with it later.

Shut up, brain. I’m working on it.

I raked my claw through my mane and replied, “Fine, I’ll buy it back. But you have to hold it for me, okay? If somepony gets it before I do…” I flexed my claw. “Somepony might have an accident.”

Scrap Bank hastily pawed through the contents of my bag and pulled out my dad’s hat. “Here, you can take this back!” I reached out for it and she continued, “I can say I traded it off! The mayor won’t know! You’ll have to buy your bag and everything back for eight hundred caps.”

I rolled my eyes. How was I going to pay that? On consolation, I felt a little better now that I knew my dad’s hat was safely back on my head. “Now, where does a pony get some food around here?” I didn’t have to look back to see how scared poor Scrap Bank was after that confrontation.

Later, after we’d acquired some relatively inexpensive hay chips and a can of hundreds- year-old corn, courtesy of Scrap Bank (provided I left as soon as possible), we started to discuss what I’d be doing to pay off Doc Galactic’s medical bill.

“So you’ll be working the south tunnels with several other residents,” Rusty said. He pointed on a map, assisted by the flickering porch lamp hanging above us. “There’s a few passages down here” – he circled a portion with his hoof – “that I managed to hide away from everypony else.”

“So… you want me to go check it out?” I asked. He nodded. “Don’t you want the scrap to sell?” I felt a little guilty for preventing him from working.

“Don’t worry about it! Doc’s gonna pay me for helping around the clinic. I just need you to watch out for some things while you’re in Underhill.” He looked around and leaned in closer to me. “This place was built for a reason. I’ve seen plenty of crazy stuff in there. Labs. Offices. Machine shops. We’ve stripped out most of the usable scrap, but I’ve got questions.”

“I’ve got one for you.” I hoofed the edges of the map. “Where’d you get this from?” It was a somewhat detailed, mostly intact map of the tunnels. It was covered with a really tough plastic on the outside, but it was still flexible enough to roll up. There was a label in the corner and a few other random arbitrary markings, but I couldn’t muster the effort to decipher it.

“I pulled it off a metal frame that was attached to a wall in Underhill. As far as I know, nopony else has found one that they’ve been able to take, if they have.” He rolled up the map and tucked it into a pocket on his bag. He rummaged about and dropped some pins and twisted bits of metal onto the table. “Here. I’ve got quite a few of these. Can you pick a lock?”

I nodded. “I’d need the screwdriver from my bag. But yeah, I have experience in lockpicking.” Experience, as in multiple failed attempts at breaking one lock.

He looked confused. “Can’t you just use one of your claw blades?” I looked at my claw and examined it. I guess the end of the talon was thin enough to work.

“Hm. I guess so.” I gingerly picked up the pins with my claw and slotted them into my mane and tail. I stared at the metal sticks. “Where do I hide these?”

“Pockets?” He suggested. I made a show of patting myself down and flapped my wings irritably. “Right. You don’t have pockets.” He dropped the metal sticks in his bag and tossed out more pins. “We’ll have to fix that.” He looked at my wings. “And maybe we should hide those. Most wastelanders won’t tolerate pegasi, Enclave or not.” He sat in thought, then got up. “If you’re going to be working in Underhill, you need some work clothes. I’ll go see if I’ve got some extras lying around.”

Midway through eating a hay chip, I realized my recent exploits were getting rather surreal. I went from Enclave to Rangers to whoever these ponies were and the latter two were a lot nicer than I ever anticipated. “Lemme ask you a question. Why are you even helping me? You do realize that I was the one that did, uh…” I shyly gestured at his bandaged limbs. “Most of that. All of that, probably.”

Rusty didn’t stop shoving dried chips into his mouth. “Well, you had the slave collar look goin’ on and I decided to give you the benefit of the doubt. At the time, it seemed obvious—those walking soup cans probably took you hostage and are using your life as leverage to make you do whatever they wanted. You sounded pretty down at the time and I was a few pints light, but you seemed genuinely appalled at yourself. It took a little convincing, but I appealed to Ge—uh, a buddy to patch you up and bring you back with us. You’re free now. Er, free-ish.”

“Oh,” was all I could muster.

“What? Just an ARK. An Act of Random Kindness. My daddy taught me that one. Fighting will only get us so far, you know.” He paused as he located another chip to munch on. “Also something about kindness being an element, but we all know that’s a little stupid.”

“I… uh, appreciate your kindness and stuff,” I awkwardly mumbled back, unsure how to really respond.

“No problem. If you really feel bad about it, you’re paying my medical fees, so I guess we’re sort of even.”

Once we were finished eating, Rusty led me toward a shoddy row of what appeared to be living quarters nearby the shop. They were all very dilapidated and mostly held together with tape, glue, and metal sheets. A few of them were made of concrete and steel, but we weren’t going there. We headed to the middle shack that was marginally less rusty and walked in. “You live here?” I asked. He nodded. “It’s… cozy.”

His idea of cozy appeared to be the near exact definition of claustrophobic. Stuff was scattered everywhere except inside of the storage containers they probably belonged in. If I spread out my wings all the way, each wingtip could probably touch each wall, give or take a feather or two’s distance. At least it appeared that there was half of a second floor that wasn’t nearly cluttered as the ground floor. The only light in the entire shack looked like some sort of industrial-grade lamp rigged up to a spark battery.

“It’s a rust bucket.” He nodded. “But I call it home. I share it with somepony. Lucky for you everypony’s either working or sleeping right now.” He dived into a chest and rummaged through some clothing. “Nah… Nah…” He took one out and held it up to me. He immediately put it away. “I think she might have something in your size.” Both of us suddenly heard hoofsteps drawing closer. “Uh-oh. That might be the shift boss again. Quick! Hide!” he whispered urgently at me.

I looked around in panic. Where could I hide? I glanced at the clothes chest. Too small. Reflexively I jumped and flattened myself against the ceiling, making sure to tuck my tail under me. Nopony ever looked up, right? I motioned him to go open the door. “Just make sure nopony looks up!” I whispered back. This was a terrible plan!

You think?

Shut it, brain. This is all you.

From my perch above, I watched as an orange mare with wild, untidy brown hair strolled into the building and flopped down onto a mattress. “Hey, bro! I’m back! Anything interesting at the Doc’s?” she said. Rusty sighed in relief. “Somethin’ the matter?” she asked.

Rusty looked more relaxed. “Oh hey! It’s you.” He looked up at the ceiling. I frantically motioned at him to stop. “You could say that. Got a job at the Doc’s.” Why are you still looking up here? Stop! I kept waving at him. In my panic, I didn’t notice a loose feather slowly drift down to the ground. By the time I noticed it, it was halfway to the ground. When was the last time I fixed my feathers?

I watched as my beautiful, incriminating teal feather drifted to the ground, right into the line of sight of the other two ponies in the room. The orange mare picked it up. “Woah… where’d this come from?” She looked up. We locked gazes, and neither of us spoke. I nervously grinned. “Please tell me I’m completely wasted right now.”

“Uh… you’re wasted?” I nervously suggested. Rusty shot me a look. “What?” I shrugged. “I live to serve.” I looked back to the orange wastelander. “Okay, fine. You’re not wasted. I’m actually here hiding on your ceiling.” I looked between the two of them. “How was your day?” I added.

She looked to Rusty. “Want to explain?”

“Uh… well…” Rusty stammered. “Okay, I found her. Can we keep her?” The mare slapped him. “OW! Okay, okay.” He looked up. “You can come down from there.” I gently landed on the floor. “This is my sister, Broken Parts.” I waved at her. “Sis, this is… uh…” He looked at me desperately.

What? Oh, right. “I’m Frosty Winds, Former Enclave Scout. Uh… version two-point-oh.” I waggled my claw at them. “Nice to meet you.” I glanced at Rusty and sighed. Might as well get this over with now. “I also kinda mauled your brother a little. I’m sorry,” I said quietly.

She pinned me against the wall and slammed her hoof next to my ear. “This is all your fault! You hurt him!” She turned to her brother. “Why are you helping her?” He backed away nervously. “What have you done with my brother?!”

“It’s a long story. Basically, she helped me get that position at Doc’s so that might mean we can get this place fixed up a little,” Rusty piped up. “After she pays off the Doc and gets her stuff back from Scrap, we can figure things out from there. By the way, she’s taking over my shift so she’ll need some duds.”

Broken Parts held me against the wall, deep in thought. “Well…” She exhaled. “I guess you’re about my size. This town is also an equal opportunity refugee camp, so most of us won’t really care about you too much. Unfortunately, pegasi are a touchy subject for some of the old-timers hanging around here, so we’re going to have to hide your wings. At least you didn’t show up during the lunch rush.” She let me go and dug around in a chest. “Doc’s not the talkative nor believable type, so you’ll probably be fine for a while.” She took out a worn, dirty shirt with baggy sleeves and a pair of coveralls. “These should cover up your wings nicely.”

I grudgingly started pulling on the outfit. “So… when do I start working?” I asked, as I attempted to get the shirt on.

“My shift starts at three whistles.” I opened my muzzle to ask, but then he explained, “The day is divided into quarters. Each work shift is followed by recreational time, then overtime, and after that it’s nap time. The work shifts are staggered. One at one, one at three.” He opened a locker and scooted some kind of saw to me. “This is an auto-saw. Use it to cut up larger pieces of metal. You’ll need it.”

I gripped the bit of the auto-saw in my mouth. Light, maneuverable, and deadly in case of emergency. It was a worn yellow saw with a three-sided blade that looked very similar to a radiation symbol. “And I just cut things up?” I asked around a mouthful of saw.

“Yep, you’ll get a carrying bag when you show up. Broken’s got some pockets down the front of that shirt and a few more scattered about for all the other cool things you think you want to keep. Trust me, there’s some really cool stuff down there,” Rusty explained. “You’ll want to get some rest. Work starts…” He looked out the door. “Soon. Just show the gate ponies the card and they’ll let you in.”

I looked around the room. “Where will I be staying? Here?” They looked at each other and nodded. “Uh… Do you mind if I tuck myself in that dark spot in the rafters? It’s a… habit thing. Also, I’d hate to cause more problems for you two.”

“I’ll go procure some bedding material later from Scrap Bank. She’s got everything.” Broken said. “Go ahead and park yourself there for now. Rusty will wake you up when work starts, if the whistle doesn’t get your fat flank up.” I rolled my eyes and clambered up to the top of a locker. I’d seen the large panel lying over the top of the living area, right underneath the sloped roof and, for some odd reason, I found it to be quite fitting. I hopped up and found a dry spot to rest in, hopefully I could get some sleep before I had to work. I curled up into a ball and quickly dozed off.

~~~~~

I was rudely interrupted from my hallucination-free sleep by a loud, shrill whistle blasting through my ears. I slowly made my way to the edge of my sleeping area. “Is it time to go?” I mumbled. I peered over the edge. “Who wants to take me to work?” Rusty was nowhere to be seen, however Broken was looking around in various boxes and lockers.

“Yep! Just a sec…” She pulled out some kind of bulky chip thing from a crate. “You’re a smart Enclave birdie, right? Maybe you can tell us what this is.” I dropped down with a soft whump and took the chip in my claw. “According to the piece of paper it came with, it does interference stuff but we don’t really know what it attaches to.”

I was too tired to argue about where this had come from. A miniscule sticker stuck to the bottom corner of the chip just barely read “Electronic Disruption Device, Mk.3 Prototype”. I continued to squint at the faded text for a moment longer before I finally gave up trying to make out the even smaller fine print under it. I tucked it into a pocket where I hoped it wouldn’t get damaged. “I’ve got the card and this saw. What else do I need to go to Underhill?”

“You know where you’re going, right?” Rusty asked. “To my hidden stashy place?”

Vaguely probably wouldn’t cut it. “I don’t really remember,” I shamefully replied, scratching my head.

Rusty rolled his eyes. “Here, just take my map. Don’t lose it and try not to damage it. Bring it back when you’re done.” He sighed, tucking the rolled up map into a loop on my coveralls.

“That should be it. Follow me!” Broken sang. We left the room and walked through the town, following the flow of the other ponies also heading in the same direction. I was getting a few strange looks, but nopony really paid much attention. “Just don’t do anything too stupid,” she whispered. We stopped at a run-down building with a large door built in it. “This is my stop. I’m going to hit Scrap Bank’s shop. See ya!” She waved goodbye and wandered off.

I waved back and stood in the group of ponies all waiting to enter the building. There were a few security ponies checking the workers’ passes before letting them into the room. When I got to the front, I held up the access card Rusty had given me and showed it to the security pony. “I’m filling in for Rusty Parts.”

“Good to know,” he grumbled. He took a closer look at the card, then gave it back to me. “He explain the rules?” I nodded. “Good. Now get on the elevator.” I nervously entered. So this was an elevator, eh? I looked around. I’d never really needed to ride an elevator, because of my wings. I could just fly everywhere! I sighed. Just two weeks ago I was cleaning out bunks and running letters. Who would have known I’d end up like this? I stared at my claw with a pang of sorrow. I’d lost so much. How would I fit in if I could even get back?

I noticed a mare next to me also staring at my claw. “That’s really cool,” she quietly exclaimed. I looked at her. She didn’t look much different from many of the other wasteland ponies I’d seen today. Ragged, tired, disheveled, yet determined. She was a unicorn though, which was an interesting change. “How’dja get it?” The elevator squeaked and clanked into action. We slowly descended into the darkness and I suddenly became aware of a nervous sensation in my stomach. I was tempted to open my wings for stability, just out of instinct.

“I don’t remember,” I automatically told her. Should I socialize with these ponies? “I woke up without my leg and got a new one.” I turned to her. She rolled her eyes. “Wanna help me out? I’m…” I stopped for a second. I couldn’t tell her my real name! It was too… pegasistic.

What?

Shut up, brain. You know what I mean.

“I’m… Pat. I’m new here,” I lied.

She smiled. “You’ve got a silly name too?” I nodded. Sure, let’s go with that. “The ponies around here call me Trouble. I operate in the south tunnels. You?”

“Yep. I’m taking Rusty’s spot because he’s in the clinic,” I told her. No need to tell her everything just yet. “How does everything work?”

The elevator ground to a halt. A set of large doors opened and the group around us slowly moved into the large room that was in front of us. “This is the hub, the center of Underhill.” She pointed at a large pair of scales manned by several ponies. “You take metal there for ten caps a pound.” She pointed at the booth we were approaching. “On the way out, you’ll go through the other side. Show your pass and you’ll get paid.” We shuffled through the narrow gap between the booth and the wall to enter the hub. After getting a good look, I realized the branching tunnels were broken into four primary directions: North, South, East, and West. “When you head over to the South branch, the forepony will give you a bag for your scrap. You’ll turn it in when you get your caps.”

We walked over to the tunnel labeled “South Wing” and we spoke to the guard posted there. “Hey, Burly!” The guard slowly turned around. “Anythin’ new?”

“Hey there, Troubs! Who’s the new mare?” He stared idly at me. Kinda creepy, considering the circumstances. “She’s kinda cute.” I blushed a little. Wow, really creepy now. “Anyway, here’s your scrap bags.” He ambled over to a box and tossed each of us a pair of large saddlebags. “Careful out there. Somethin’s rocked the bloatsprite hive. Doc’s gettin’ more patients lately ‘cause of it.”

Trouble frowned. “The metaphorical bloatsprite hive or the literal bloatsprite hive?” He stared at us lazily and shrugged. “Wanna tell us?” Another shrug. I couldn’t tell whether he didn’t want to tell us of whether he just didn’t know. Trouble sighed. “Will I know it when I see it?”

“Yep, I’m sure it’ll find you. Happy scrappin’, fillies.” He turned to stare back into the tunnels. We scooted around him and made our way into the dimly lit tunnels.

After a few minutes of silence, I noticed that the tunnels and passageways were very similar to the ones in the Steel Ranger base.

“Hey… these tunnels… do they seem familiar?” Trouble gave me a flat stare. “Uh, let me rephrase that.” I faceclawed. “You notice all these tunnels look the same? It can’t be a coincidence.”

“Well, these tunnels are the only ones I’ve seen. But I guess you have a point—all the tunnels here are all identical in design.” Right. She hadn’t been in a Rangers base before. “I think they were mass produced and made modularly, so it makes sense.” She suddenly made a turn into an identical hallway and started going down it. “I’ve got some scrap here just waiting to be turned into caps. See ya!”

“Uh… okay! Bye!” I waved and moved on. I looked around and made sure nopony else was in the area before opening up Rusty’s map. “What the hay is Seapony Energy?” I whispered to myself after seeing the company’s emblem on the bottom left corner. A quick peek at the directional markings on the walls and floors helped me pinpoint my location. The map had identified my location as the eastern corridors, specifically the science division and reactor floor.

Thanks to the map, I’d easily located the area Rusty had barricaded with a large piece of concrete that had dropped from the ceiling. With great difficulty I shifted the barrier just enough to squeeze through and into the short tunnel behind it. “Energy Application Offices, B1,” read the plaque nailed beside the door. “Please keep all products and materials inside this room.” I unconsciously touched the little chip in my pocket. Is this where Rusty had gotten this? Around the room I spied some scrap-worthy pieces of junk and some power cells for a laser weapon. I pocketed the cells to sell to Scrap Bank, or maybe for personal use if I ever found anything worth powering.

After thoroughly looting the room and taking everything that wasn’t nailed down (if it was, I used the saw to liberate it) I decided there wasn’t anything else to take and moved on. The next room housed a broken-down Sentry bot and several sealed chambers housing several more dormant Sentry bots. I looked around in slight confusion. Who’d smashed this one? I strolled over to it and started gutting as many parts from it as I could. After procuring several more energy cells and a missile, I decided that I might as well chop up the metal body for more scrap.

As the saw blade slowly chewed through the metal, I had some time to think. What would I do after this? The Rangers had me on a leash—a leash that hadn’t decided to randomly explode just yet, so I was definitely thankful for that. Even on the random off chance that I managed to escape or whatever, what could I even do? Go back to the Rangers? Enclave life was over for sure at this point. I’d spent too much time on the surface. According to the political horseshit, I was “contaminated” and a threat to the health of others. I growled and threw a lump of slag at a wall in anger. I flicked my wings in thought. What would I do?

I heard the sound of metal scraping on metal and I spun around, combat mode engaged. I relaxed when I realized it was just a small keypad opening up on the wall. Strange, why would you hide a keypad here? I trotted over to it and squinted at the dim display. “Enter… passcode?” I ran my claw through my mane. C’mon brain! Got anything?

See which buttons are the most worn-out.

That… that wasn’t such a bad idea. I blew the dust off of the keypad and stared at it harder. A few of the keys were a little worn and cracked, but only one key stood out with its complete lack of numbering. “Okay, it can’t be this simple…” I mumbled to myself. “Here goes nothing.” I hoped it wouldn’t set off an alarm if I got it wrong. “One… One… One………. One.”

I heard a gentle beep from the keypad and a door at the far end of the room unsealed. I could only faceclaw. Really? Super-secure room with a secret keypad whose combination was a bucking series of ones? I ignored the toxic amount of stupidity I was currently experiencing and investigated the room. “It’s just an office…” Just your standard pre-war fare: desk, two chairs, a filing cabinet, and a terminal. I dug through the desk and was slightly surprised by the loot inside. Fifteen caps, a probably salvageable laser pistol, and three cigarettes! I shoved all these into various pockets in my suit and hoped the bulge of the pistol didn’t stand out too much. “What kind of pony hoards bottle caps before the war?”

I took a peek in the filing cabinet and found yet another bobby pin, along with some old dusty documents and several old bits. I stashed the bobby pin in my mane and dropped the bits into another pocket. After taking a look around the room, I shrugged and started sawing the drawers apart and shoving them into my scrap bag. After thinking for a few more seconds, I began the slow and arduous task of chopping up the filing cabinet itself, too. Scrap is scrap, right?

The terminal intrigued me. I idly poked the power button on the terminal on the desk and jumped in surprise when it booted up with an abrupt beep. I attempted to clean the dusty screen with my fetlock, with little avail. The words on the screen read, “Password?” I tapped my chin and guessed “password”.

The terminal unlocked. Shocking.

I scrolled through the entries on the screen. I paused at “Unlock” and pressed enter.

Somewhere, something faintly shifted and thumped—presumably in the open position, but it wasn’t in this room. Unsatisfied with the results of that, I highlighted “Message Center (1)” and pressed enter on that instead. As I waited for the text to finish scrolling, I took out my frustration on the remaining drawers that hadn’t been reduced to scrap metal.

After the last of the filing cabinet had been chopped up into movable pieces, I sat down and leaned against the side of the desk. That’s enough chopping for now, I told myself. I began reading the long message that never actually reached its intended recipient.

My Dear Director:

It is my regrettable decision that I must shut down your little science department so quickly. I understand your attachment to your various projects in your department. However, need I remind you we are supposed to be an electric company! Company stock has skyrocketed ever since the Neighagra Falls Hydroelectric Dam project was announced, and corporate doesn’t want anything to jeopardize profits. I do not know what you are currently working on, but it’s clearly costing the company too much from what the number-crunchers keep dropping in my tank. Again, I regret having to do this to you, but you have been shut down. Cease research at once and file all your findings. Destroy the rest and bury your connections to the MWT.

Your friend and boss,
Wavebreak

I sat back and deliberated on the message. Somepony had been working on some really top-secret stuff here! I checked my map again to find the quickest way out. All this sneaky stuff was already making my brain hurt.

I idly poked at my bulging scrap bags. They were starting to get uncomfortably heavy, so I grudgingly picked them up and headed out before I ended up with more stuff than I could actually carry back. If I thought a little creatively, I could definitely cram a load of other things in them before I had to leave. I poked my head into the hallway and spied another doorway I hadn’t yet looted.

I dragged my scrap bags over to the door and noticed the keypad next to it. “If only I could hack this keypad…” I complained to myself. I rolled my eyes and tried four sequential ones again, just in case. Imagine my surprise when that didn’t work. Okay, so we were dealing with somepony who was smart enough to have an actual numerical combination. I tried the next best thing. “One… Two… Three… Four?” The door beeped at me angrily and the keypad flashed red.

Wait… Isn’t the door metal?

Yeah, of course. Why?

Don’t you have an auto-saw?

I sat there in silence for a moment, then faceclawed. Of course. Shut up, brain.

I hefted the saw and chopped my way through the door, right between the words “No” and “entry”. After the door had been chopped up into small enough pieces for me to shove into my scrap bags, I entered the room and began to choke on the dust hurricane that greeted me. Once I had recovered my breath, I found myself in a large room lined with several desks, a multitude of filing cabinets, and what appeared to be a snack machine in the corner.

I was pulled out of my room analysis by the strange noise again. I perked up my ears and held my breath as I strained to identify the noise. I was definitely closer to it, that was for sure. There it was again! It was some kind of scratching, scraping, clanking sound in the walls somewhere. I dismissed it as a few giant killer bugs having a scuffle in a room somewhere and turned my attention back to the potential loot in the room. I could probably steal most of the drawers and maybe one filing cabinet before I was full on scrap.

One drawer after another, I checked their contents then cut them into little flat sections to shove into my bags. Most of the contents were just old outdated documents and papers I really didn’t care for, but at least there were a few bottle caps, pre-war bits, and three .44 bullets. I remembered the terminal from before, and I hastily checked the few scattered terminals on the now-empty desks. All of them were broken and inaccessible, except for one.

Lucky for me this terminal was still logged in to the home screen: Seapony Energy Security Services. I opened the menu and squinted at the options. “Open Surveillance Room”, “Recalibrate Turrets”, “Clear targeting data”, and “Deactivate Turrets” were the only options available. Why would this place need turrets? I clicked the “Deactivate Turrets” button, only to be greeted by an error message. Shrugging that aside, I selected “Open Surveillance Room” and heard a click from the snack machine in the room.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I muttered to myself. A hidden room behind a snack machine? Really? I trotted over to the snack machine itself and forcefully relieved it of a few bags of hay chips in quiet rage. I then shoved the snack machine over to reveal a small, white room filled with monitors and a single chair. “Wha…?” I had no idea why an energy company would need so many hidden rooms, nevermind the turrets. Most of the monitors just showed a haze of static, but a few were still showing some shaky images. I dropped myself into the chair and scanned the monitors. The ones that appeared to be working were a few hallway cameras, one office camera, and a very shaky image from “RCT_SEC4”. I turned my attention to this monitor and attempted to figure out what was on it.

The image was slightly blurry and fuzzy, but I could make out what looked like a control room. There were terminals and computers along the left wall, and a large window covering the other wall. The camera was positioned so I could see through part of the window into the darkness of the next room beyond. A sudden movement in the darkness drew my eye. What was that? I scooted closer to the monitor. Some… thing was moving back there! I felt my heart involuntarily speed up. The thing was large, for sure. I tapped the monitor with transparent hopes that the image would clear up and just prove to be my imagination.

I felt something brush against my muzzle and I jumped back in fright. I exhaled in relief when I realized what I’d bumped into. It was a small black joystick with several buttons next to it, most likely to control the cameras. I pressed the corresponding button and pushed the joystick to the right. Sure enough, the screen slowly panned to the right, allowing me to get a better look at the shape.

It was shaped somewhat like a pony, if ponies were large, inordinately bulgey, and made entirely of steel plates. I turned the camera further and started to zoom in, when the shape suddenly stopped moving. I immediately stopped moving the camera and froze. I even held my breath in terror. It slowly turned its head and stared right into the camera with its one, large, glowing blue eye.

I screamed and fell out of the chair. Oh Celestia, I need to get out of here! I hurriedly grabbed my bags and proceeded to haul my plot out of the room. On my way out, I spied something shiny, orange, and tantalizingly lootable. I grabbed it and galloped all the way to the hub, never looking back.

~~~~~

“Hey, little filly… what’s chasin’ you?” Burly asked nonchalantly as I dashed past him. “Hey! That’s a nice haul. Be sure to bring the bag back, ‘kay?” I ignored him and galloped toward the giant scales. I had to get out of here! Had it seen me? I really hoped it didn’t! I stopped at the table where a bored looking stallion was idly scribbling on it with a large marker in his teeth.

“Drop the bag on that side. We’ll count it out.” I obediently and hastily dropped my fully-loaded bag onto one end, where a larger buck started dropping five-pound weights onto the other. He grunted in slight interest when he had thirty-five pounds on his side and kept adding weights. “So, my pretty lady, where’d you get all this scrap from?”

I shrugged. “Mostly filing cabinets and the better half of a Sentry bot.” They both looked somewhat shocked. “What?” I remembered something. “There’s a missile in there somewhere. I expect extra for that.”

“Why didn’t we think of that?” he muttered. “And yes, you will be compensated for the… missile.” He shuffled around in his desk. “As for the scrap…” He turned to the pony that was hauling the weights, who nodded at the large pile of them. “That’s an impressive sixty-five pounds.” He pushed several small bags of caps at me. “There’s your pay. Six hundred fifty caps for the scrap, One hundred for the missile, and another hundred for working. Now go away.”

I shoved the caps into several of my many pockets and started toward the elevator. Okay, time to go buy my stuff back! I didn’t notice Trouble chasing me until she grabbed me in a hug, nearly crushing my neck. “Heya Pat! Nice to know you’re back!” I resisted my first impulse to throw her off and stab her. “How much you make?”

“Uh… somewhere like eight hundred some caps. Why?” I asked. “Well, it’s more like I made around six hundred because I have to pay back Rusty.”

“Wow! I only usually manage to make around three hundred. What’s your secret?” she asked, while we both got on the elevator.

“Steal everything that isn’t nailed down. If it is, steal the nails too.” I grinned at her. “How else?”

“I dunno. Hey, are you doin’ anything later?” she asked.

Hmm. Well, I did have to buy my stuff, pay Rusty… “Yeah, I’m going to be pretty busy. You?”

“Nope.” The elevator shuddered to a stop. “Well, I guess I’ll see you next shift!” With that, she strolled out of the elevator and into town. She was annoying, but her momentary company was enjoyable.

I made my way over to Scrap Bank’s store. “Hey Scrappy! I’ve got stuff and caps for you!” She peeked over the counter. I waved my claw at her and she dove behind the counter again. I went over to the counter and peeked over. “Look, I’m sorry about before. I was really angry and I lost control a little. Apology accepted?”

She looked up and fixed me with a dubious glare. “Really?”

“Really.” I gave her my best sincere smile, which may or may not have come off as a crazed grin instead based on her reaction.

“I don’t… caps are caps I suppose…” She fixed her pink mane and forced a smile. “How can I help you? Wait. Nevermind.” She left then came back with my saddlebag in her teeth. “You’re here for this, aren’t you?”

I dropped the miscellaneous items I picked up onto the counter, including the laser pistol. As much as I’d love to keep it, I needed it as barter material and it wasn’t in very good condition. I didn’t trust laser pistols in bad condition. “How much for all this crap?”

She looked over my goods and sighed. “I’ll take the ammo for six caps and the fifty bits for five caps. The pistol’s seen better days but since it’s got ammo, I’ll buy it for eighty caps. Deal?” I did a little guesstimatory math in my head since I wasn’t entirely sure exactly what a cap was actually worth. Eh, close enough I guess. “Hey, what’s that?” she asked, pointing at a pocket on my left side.

I pulled the object in question out of my pocket. In my haste, I hadn’t gotten a good look at what it was, other than it was shiny and I wanted it. It was a well-preserved bobblehead of an orange earth mare wearing a cowpony hat at a rakish angle. She held several apples in her mouth and another in her right hoof. As funny as it was, her eyes must have been misprinted. They were both facing different directions and were different sizes as well. The base of the bobblehead read “Schtable-Tec Bobblehead” and underneath that was printed “I buck apples”. Hm. Strange, I guess. “I dunno. Some kind of bobblehead. You wanna buy it?”

She sat in thought for a second and waved me off. “You better hold onto that. There’s somepony in town who collects those, though. Go talk to him, he’s at the west end of town. You can’t miss him.” She sat back. “So you’ve got more caps?”

I pushed five hundred caps over to her. “It’s all I got,” I lied. “C’mon, gimme a break.” She rolled her eyes. Think fast, Frosty! “Do I need to give you extra encouragement?” I bared my teeth and flexed my claw. As if on cue, the whistle blew four times.

She flinched violently and tossed the bag to me. “Just take it!” she yelled. “Take it and leave me alone!” I grinned. Victory!

I opened my bag and checked its contents. All the parts for my rifle were in there, and all the other things that I tossed in appeared to still be there. I spied a slightly crushed package at the bottom and fished it out. I took out one of the two snack cake from the box and shoved it in my mouth, chewing happily. Oh, cherry snack cakes, I’ve missed you so much!

I left the store, happily munching on my last snack cake as I made my way back to Rusty’s little home. I got my stuff back, which was what mattered the most. On my way back, I ran into a sad-looking wastelander trying to sleep against a wall. He saw me and ran up to me. “Hey! Got a sec? Or a few caps to spare?” I stopped and gave him a once-over. He was grimy, scraggly, and he looked like he was some kind of addict.

“What do you want?” I asked him impatiently. “I’ve to to be somewhere right now.” I attempted to push past him, but he jumped into my way again.

“C’mon! I need like, a hundred caps. I know it seems like a lot—”

“That is a lot,” I growled, interrupting him. “What are you going to do? Buy more drugs?”

He shook his head violently. “Nah, I got this really great investment going! I just need a startup deposit, you know?”

Against my better judgement, I tossed him a hundred caps. “Here. Out of the goodness of my heart, I’ll help you here.” Be a good pony, a voice in my head echoed. I’m a good pony, I told myself. Be better. I smiled to myself as the hobo ran off, probably to spend it on drugs.

When I finally entered his home, Rusty got up to greet me. “Hey! How’d the first day of work go?” I fished around in one of my many various pockets and tossed him the rest of my caps. He peeked inside and his eyes widened in amazement. “Wow! This is, like, three hundred caps!”

“I know. I also bought my stuff back from Scrap and possibly funded a hobo’s drug addiction.” I waved my bag at him and smiled. “It cost me all my earnings, but I have all my important stuff back.”

“Like what?” he asked.

“I got my giant kills-everything sniper rifle back,” I boasted. “And some other miscellaneous stuff.”

“Woah! That’s so awesome!” he squeaked. “You could probably kill bunches of slavers with that!” I uneasily glanced at my claw. Last time, I’d simply torn them apart. “You have bullets for it?”

I stared at him blankly, then facehoofed. “I, uh, forgot.” Good work, brain.

Not my fault—that’s all on you.

He facehoofed. “You should probably buy ammunition for that. On another topic, how’d you manage to make so many caps?”

I shrugged off my uncomfortable clothing and fluttered up to my perch above his head. “As a pegasus, you learn that everything is valuable. Reuse everything. That’s what we’ve done for years.” I stretched and rolled onto my back, spreading my wings out. “You know… up there, in the clouds… it’s not all that good. Sure, there’s little crime and no radiation, but it’s like a prison. Everything is regulated. The military and the government control everything. Freedom is a commodity, not an entitlement.”

“Down here, it’s not so good. You’ve seen the raiders. You haven’t seen disease. Famine. Destruction.” I arched my neck so that I could stare at him upside-down. “It’s definitely worse down here. Freedom… Freedom is objective.” We sat there in silence. I wasn’t sure if we were having a really deep conversation or just pretending to.

I decided to change the subject. “Hey… lemme ask you something.” Rusty had worked the tunnels Underhill longer, he might know about that… thing. He looked up. “You ever see something weird in the tunnels? It’s huge and it’s got a big glowy eye.” I spread my forelegs apart as far as I could at an attempt at scale. “This thing was huge! Like, really really huge!” Rusty raised an eyebrow at me.

“Somepony’s been hitting the bar,” piped up Broken from under several layers of bedding next to me. I eeped in fright and flattened myself against the ceiling. She was quiet! She poked her head out and looked around. “Eh?” She looked up and laughed. “You just love that ceiling, don’t you?” I floated back down and glared at her. “Anyway, I’ve never heard of anything like that.”

“Me neither,” Rusty managed to make out, suppressing a laugh. He straightened up and replied “Well… there is some pretty strange stuff down there. Maybe it was one of their robots or something.” He had a point. Maybe, maybe.

“Sure, I guess I’m just going insane…” I muttered to myself. “I need to relax.” I shook my head to clear out the cobwebs. “Maybe I was just imagining it, right? I haven’t slept since…” I stopped. When was the last time I’d actually had a good night’s sleep? I’d spent quite a lot of time unconscious lately, but that really didn’t count.

A hoof waved past my vacant stare. “Yo… Frosty? You in there?” Poke. “Hey! You okay in there?” Broken Parts moved into my field of vision. “Bro, I think she’s in a coma. Better bring her to the Doc.” She continued waving as Rusty climbed up.

The slight mention of Doc Galactic made me snap back into focus. “Gah! I’m here! I’m here! I was… I don’t know. Thinking, I guess.” I continued to stare dejectedly off into the distance. “Ever since that day…” I mumbled. “My life changed. I’d always wanted some excitement, but this is really pushing it. I just want… I want everything to be normal again.” A tear rolled down my muzzle and I wiped it away. Stupid tears. “I just want to wake up in my barracks and find that this has all just been a bad dream.”

Broken turned to Rusty. “Got any more of those Sugar Apple Bombs?” He shook his head. “Go get some, will ya? They make me feel better, so hopefully it works on her.” Rusty scampered out of the room and Broken turned her attention back to me. “I don’t know what you’re going through right now, but everything will be fine.” She scooted closer and hugged me. “We all want something back… but the wasteland isn’t so forgiving.” I continued to stare off into the distance. “Take it a day at a time, and everything will be fine.”

“I am,” I whispered. “I just don’t want to wake up and find out something else has gone wrong.” I moved my claw and stared at it. “I never asked for this…but here it is, and I don’t know why.” I shifted and hugged Broken back. “I just…”

“Shh… no words… only dreams now.” She gently pulled my muzzle toward her and she planted a kiss on my lips. Woah! Okay! What? I was suddenly snapped out of my depression and sadness, and flung into a great big pit of confusion. A mare was kissing me! What? My cheeks and ears burned and my whole body was filled with conflicting emotions. What the hay just happened?

I pulled out of the kiss, my whole body turning a shade of red. “Woah! Okay! Uh, This is very sexy and all…” I awkwardly shuffled back a little. “But, uh, my barn door doesn’t swing that way.” She stared at me in confusion. “I’m into stallions,” I clarified.

“But… I thought all you heroine types were into the mares?” she said, sounding confused. “Right?”

I couldn’t come up with words at the moment. Brain! Is everything up there still working?

I don’t know what just happened, but I think I might have liked it.

I mentally punched myself. Our awkward staring contest was broken by Rusty’s return.

“Hey! I got a few more snack cake boxes from the Doc’s storeroom!” he exclaimed as he ran back inside. He tossed me a box, but it just bounced off my head. I was still sort of frozen in shock from the kiss, and my brain was still debating whether or not I enjoyed what had just happened. “Luna’s plot! I missed something, didn’t I?” He groaned. I shakily nodded yes.

“I’m uh… I’m going to go to sleep now…” I slowly moved myself on to a nearby pillow. “So… uh… yeah.”

She’s kinda hot.

Shut up, brain.

“Right! Uh… Big day ahead of us. Better go to sleep,” Broken proclaimed, and hopped back down to her bed. “G’night, everypony!”

As Rusty started putting out the candles, I wrapped myself in a blanket that Broken had left up here. I heard them whispering under me, and I had no choice but to listen as I tried to go to sleep.

“What the buck just happened?” Rusty whispered.

“Uh… nothing?” Broken replied.

“That was definitely not nothing.”

“Okay, fine. I might have kissed her a little.”

“What.”

“What? She’s cute, strong, and athletic! Plus, I couldn’t resist. She’s a bucking pegasus! I might not have another chance to make out with a pegasus!”

I heard Rusty facehoof and sigh in exasperation. “Just… just go to sleep.”

~~~~~

My dreams that night were confusing, to say the least. I did, however, manage to sleep through the night up until the wee hours in the morning when the first whistle woke me up. I was awake, but I didn’t feel like moving. I just laid there under covers as I heard Rusty and Broken start getting out of bed too. “Rise and shine, my little birdie!” Broken sang. I curled up and hid under the covers. I heard her climb up to my perch and rustle my covers. “Wakey wakey!”

“Meeeh.” I covered my eyes with my foreleg. It was still too early. Lemme sleep. I felt the covers above me fly off, and then the cold air of the morning hit me. I curled up tighter in a vain attempt to warm up again, but Broken wasn’t having any of that.

“You’re so adorable when you do that!” She cooed. I groaned in response. It’s early and cold. I’m not getting up. “C’mon, my little brain damaged birdie! Time to get working!” She fiddled with my ear while I tried to ignore her. “Does the little birdie need a smoochie?” she huskily whispered into my other ear.

I immediately bolted upright. “Okay! Okay! I’m up!” I angrily huffed at Broken. “You’re not giving up, are you.” She grinned and shook her head. I rubbed my eyes and stretched. “Well, I guess I’ll hit the tunnels again. There’s definitely something down there, and I plan to find out what.” I shook out my wings and did a quick preening to get rid of some loose feathers. “I guess I gotta talk to somepony that’ll take this stupid bobblehead,” I said, referring to the orange Schtable-Tec bobblehead.

“Oh yeah!” Rusty exclaimed from under us. “That’s, uh… Sleazy’s looking for them!” I scooted over to the edge and listened. “He’s down by the west end of the market. You really can’t miss it.”

Everypony was telling me I couldn’t miss it, which was starting to make me suspicious. “What’s with this pony that makes him un-missable?” Rusty and Broken exchanged glances as I pulled on my borrowed clothing.

“Well, he’s interesting. You’d have to see him to believe it,” Rusty told me. “Trust me on this one, you have to see him.”

“And where would that be, exactly?” I asked.

“West end of town. You literally have to be blind to miss it.”

Well, those directions seemed specific enough. Lacking that, I had the power of flight on my side in case I got too lost. I tossed on my gear, grabbed my saddlebag, and double checked to make sure I actually had everything with me. A quick goodbye and hug later and I was out and about, looking for a store that I couldn’t possibly miss.

Sure enough, near the west end of town I noticed a big gaudy sign with the picture of a laughing bearded pony. “They did say I couldn’t miss it…” I muttered under my breath. In big, mostly working neon letters the sign read “Sleazy McCheapkins’ Bargain Emporium”. I cautiously poked my head into the store and called out, “Hello?”

The first thing I heard was a sort of muted jingle in the background for ambiance’s sake. “Me bird's night's free and me car's a nutter / Loadsamoney is a shout I utter / As I wave my wad to the geezers—” And that’s when I stopped caring since none of it made sense to me.

Well, Rusty and Broken were right—you really needed to see him to believe it. For lack of a better description, he was falling apart. He was in a state of decay, yet he didn’t smell as bad as a dead body probably would. Patches of his hide and fur were missing, he had a few bullet holes in him, and most disturbing was the large steel bar wedged in his neck that slowly dripped… sludge. One thing that really stood out was his beard: it was neatly trimmed, well kept, and strikingly similar to the picture outside. “Hey there tresha hunter! What c’n I do for you?”

“Um… Sleazy?” I hesitantly asked.

“Yep! Tha’s me.” He smiled proudly, showing off his mostly-intact teeth. “I sell guns, gun accessories, ammo, ammo accessories, accessories, and bobbleheads.” He stopped and checked the wall behind him. “Well, I used to sell bobbleheads. Need a gun?”

I pulled out the orange bobblehead. “You mean these ones?” His eyes lit up and he gently picked it up and gave the head a loving tap.

“Aha! The Applejack bobblehead! I’ll give you top caps for it.” He rummaged about under the desk, then stood up again. A buzzer sounded and the steel door behind him opened. “Hop on over the counter!” I shied away, unsure. “Come on my tresha hunter! You want yer reward don’tcha?” The grimy storefront wasn’t that appealing, so I was very hesitant to see what was in the back rooms.

I jumped over the counter and followed him into the dark room. “Why’s it so dark back here?” I asked, a tad apprehensive. I heard him go over to the wall and the creaking of a lever being pulled. The lights in the room slowly came on, revealing a jaw-dropping assortment of weaponry. “That is so. Awesome.” I whispered, awestruck.

“I used to sell gifts, trinkets, and the like. Then the war kicked in and I started dealing in weapons. I’ve got bunches of guns, guns for all! Since you brought back one of my bobbleheads, I’ll give you yer pick! Nothin’ that shoots rockets, though,” he told me. He had guns mounted on walls, guns stored in large red crates, and even some hanging from the ceiling. “Heck, most of them come in several colors, too. Need some help?”

I walked through his selection of weapons with great interest. “I need something that has low recoil, and mouth-firable. You got anything?” He nodded thoughtfully and headed over to a display in search of a weapon. “Also, I need some buckin’ bullets.” I looked up from my examination of a particularly spiky pistol.

“What are your thoughts on submachine guns?” he asked as he turned around with a dark blue submachine gun in his mouth. He dropped it on the table in the middle of the room and explained, “It’s an E39 custom submachine gun. The barrel’s been replaced with a hollowed-out garnet with a weak freeze enchantment on it. The magazine’s been modified to hold twice as many bullets and the firing bit has a recoil damper built into it. Top of the line holographic sight, as well. Heck, I’ll throw in two free mags! Deal?”

I grinned and nodded. Hay yes! Bullets and ammo! Wait. Ammo! “Hey, do you have anything for this?” I pulled out my rifle parts one by one and laid them out on the table in a rough approximation of a rifle. His eyes widened in awe.

“That’s a griffon-pattern PGM Hocotate Mark Two! Where’d you get it?” He ran his decaying hooves gently across the parts, smiling with glee. “Super scope enchantment, custom stock, and… no mags.” He looked at me in disappointment. “Did you lose the mags? I am dissapoint.”

I held up my forelegs defensively. “Hey, hey! I didn’t lose them! I never had any. I was kinda hoping you had ammo and mags for it.” I idly shifted around the parts. “I pulled it out of a hooflocker in a military base, I think. Why?”

He started assembling the rifle carefully, pulling the part I was fiddling with out from under my hoof. “Only a few of these were ever made during the war, because griffons ain’t the sniping type.” He grinned at me. “I had such a hard time selling these off to those birds back in the day.” He turned his attention back to the rifle. “However, I didn’t sell this one. That is, if you’re interested, anyway.” He left and started tossing things about in a toolbox.

Wait…back in the day? “How long have you lived here?” I asked him. Maybe he knew about the thing in the reactor! Might as well try.

“I’ve been living here for the last two hundred thirty-one years,” he announced proudly. “Bein’ turned into a ghoul is the best thing that ever coulda happened to my business!” He motioned at the room around him. “I wandered the wasteland for decades, collecting weapons and ammunition. This is my arsenal!” He laughed and prodded my chest with a hoof. “And it could all be yours.”

I was astounded. A ghoul? And he was happy with himself, to boot. “Anyway… back to the original topic. You were here before the bombs fell?” I questioned. “You know anything about Seapony Energy?”

He rubbed his beard in thought. Did he know about the research labs underneath us in the tunnels? “Eh. Your guess is as good as mine about Seapony. I never got around to looting it as long as I’ve been here. I think the town got established… maybe eight years ago?” He scratched his beard and fiddled with the bar in his neck, causing me to involuntarily wince. “Tell ya what!” He whirled around and started opening and closing drawers. “Now you’ve got me interested, I got a job for ya. You find any sort of cool guns down there, I’ll buy em.” He dove into a toolbox and tossed two large boxy magazines at me; I caught one with my claw and the other with my face. “I’ll trade em’ one to one with anything in my armory. As much as I hate to say it, I’ll even throw in” – he shuddered visibly – “free… ammo.”

I looked at the magazines in my claw. “What are these?” I asked him, while rubbing my sore forehead indignantly.

“Nine bullets for your rifle. The lighter one only has two bullets in it.” He drew closer and continued, “Now, let me ask you something. What’s a pretty little pegasus like you doin’ in a place like this?” My heart froze. How did he know? “I’m willing to keep yer little secret. You don’t squawk about my little arsenal, and I don’t tell everypony out there you’re an Enclave spy.”

“How did you—” I started, but he interrupted me.

“Easy. Yer not a unicorn, obviously. You can’t be an earthie, because your build isn’t right. You’re not stocky or particularly tough-looking either. And also, yer sides are larger than they should be.” He leaned in close enough I could smell his rancid smoky breath. “I know my mares well, little pegasus. What’ll it be?”

I sighed. “Alright, I won’t tell anypony I don’t trust about your little ‘operation’ here.” I started putting things away into my saddlebag. “And for your information, I’m not a spy.” I exhaled in exhaustion. “I’m just…down on my luck.” I carefully placed my new SMG into my bag. “Thanks for the gun.”

“I believe ya. But will the rest of them?” He straightened up and his demeanor suddenly became jovial again. “Come back again! And remember—if it took more than one shot, you weren’t using a Steelpony!”

“Oh, before you go-” Sleazy loudly interjected a moment before I pushed my shoulder against the door. “Word is, some new crazy mare’s jus’ hit the scrappers’ caps hard. Mayor wants to know who’s do’s the voo-doos. Sounds like yer the mare to talk to.”

On hindsight, I may have gone a tad overboard on collection. “Sounds like you might be onto something.”

“Sounds like you need to talk to ‘im.”

“So, where does a mare go bug the mayor?”

~~~~~

“Get this mare outta my sight! She’s starting to annoy me,” a dark purple unicorn with a neatly combed red mane yelled. I held my ground and refused to budge as the large security ponies attempted to push me out of the room. I’d followed Broken’s directions and made my way into the mayor’s well-sized estate through the second floor. Obviously, estate security didn’t find this amusing at all. However, I managed to push my way to the mayor’s room before anypony managed to catch me.

“But weren’t you looking for the somepony that just got a nice payday from your scrappers?” I theatrically whined. He paused, then dismissed the burly security ponies with a wave of his hoof. “That’s more like it. Now, why don’t we talk like civilized ponies?”

The mayor walked from around the large mahogany desk in the room and stood in front of me. “So you’re the scrap whore.” The corner of my jaw tightened in anger. “So, how do you do it?”

“On the bed,” I snarked.

His expression showed confusion for a few seconds, then he sneered and let out a sarcastic little laugh as he finally got it. I facehoofed. “A quick tongue, eh? I like that.”

Can’t tell if—

Shut it, brain.

“But in all seriousness, how did you get all that scrap? You’ve set a new record in the employee ledger.”

“I just take anything I can. That’s it. Now, I actually wanted to know something else.” I inched closer to him. “You take in survivors and wastelanders, right?” He nodded. “Then why do you take their things and force them to buy it back?”

He calmly backed up and raised a hoof. “Now, now. It’s a learning process that all of us have endured. As a gesture of goodwill—” I snorted in disgust and he gave me a dirty look. “Their possessions are held as collateral while we provide them with medical care and food.” He turned around and picked up a small unpainted model in his hoof. It showed a mother and her filly having a picnic on a grassy plain, probably eating lunch. “This is my dream.”

“Making little models of things?” I asked. I was already starting to lose interest in him and I was actually slightly regretting breaking in. “Come on, that’s lame.”

“No, you fool!” He exhaled in frustration. “I am working for peace and prosperity for all of Equestria!” He gently placed the model back on his desk. “One day, we might just be able to return to what the land used to be—green rolling hills, quiet evenings…” He stomped his hoof resolutely and raised his voice. “Imagine! No radiation! No raiders! No struggling to survive.” He strode forward and poked my nose. “Don’t you see? I’m trying to put the world back together!”

“I think you’re insane. Really, you’re just a community of scavengers. You’re not doing good. You’re just trying to survive. The only reason ponies stay here is because of the trade and Doc Galactic!” I shouted back. His conviction faltered and he seemed to doubt himself. “The defenses here are laughable at best, you’ve lost your only water talisman, and for Celestia’s sake you’ve essentially glorified slavery.”

He was visibly seething with rage, but he managed to keep his voice level. “Common rabble like you wouldn’t understand.” As to make his point, he levitated a pistol out from under his desk.

Common rabble? “Oh, I’m far from common!” I yelled. I shifted my wings out from under the work shirt I was wearing and launched myself into a circling pattern around the room. “I’m from the bucking sky!” He gaped incredulously. I smiled to myself in satisfaction. Didn’t see that coming, did ya?

“You… you’re…” he stammered. The pistol was shaking in his magical field and he appeared to have lost his entire vocabulary. I landed gracefully in front of him and grinned threateningly at him.

“Yes, I am.” He pointed the pistol at me unsteadily. “Oh, why are you so serious all of a sudden? Can’t take a joke?” I cooed at him. He gibbered incomprehensibly as I confidently strode closer. I stopped and traced the tips of my talons along his muzzle. “Let’s put a smile on that face,” I whispered threateningly into his ear.

My little nightmare scenario for the mayor was abruptly stopped when a guard burst into the room. “Sir! There’s a—” He immediately stopped and processed the scene unfolding before him. “Sir? Is everything alright?”

He furtively glanced at me, and I backed off. “Yes… I’m fine.” He straightened up and adjusted his red mane. “What’s going on?”

The guard took his eyes off me and he snapped back into attention. “Our spotters have spotted Steel Rangers on their way to our location. What are our orders?” Rangers? The mayor moved back behind his desk and put down the pistol he’d been levitating.

“How many?” he asked urgently. “A hundred?”

“Nope,” the guard replied.

“You’re right, that is a bit ridiculous. Fifty?”

“Lower.”

“Twenty?”

“Go fish.”

“Ten?”

“Keep going.”

“Five?”

“Wrong.”

“Well, how many are there then?” he nearly yelled at the poor guard. “Gimme a number!”

“Uh… two,” he answered. “Just two of them.”

Two? Could it be? “I’ve got huge caps riding on me knowing those two Rangers.” They both stared at me in shock. “What? I get around. Lemme talk to them, and hopefully they aren’t here to kill anypony.”

The mayor nearly threw his desk at me. “Just go! I’m going to have a drink. This day has gotten far too ridiculous.” He turned to the guard. “Show the pegasus to the Rangers. Hopefully she doesn’t die, I guess.” Thanks for the vote of confidence.

The guard looked to me with uncertainty. “Uh… follow me, miss?” I flexed my claw at the mayor and smiled when he flinched. I followed the guard out of the building and over to the nearby wall. “I gotta ask… what was going on in there?”

“None of your business,” I immediately responded. “Where’s those Rangers at?” He pointed at a small dust cloud forming on the horizon. “Cool. Thanks!” I took to the skies and left him sitting there, gaping.

I didn’t realize how much I missed flying! The feeling of wind in my mane, the breeze under my wings, the sound of being heckled at…

What was that last one?

What? Good catch, brain. I snapped back to reality and looked around. Two Steel Rangers had stopped a short distance away and appeared to be staring at me intently. I waved at them in excitement. “Hey! It’s me, Frosty!” I called to them. One of them cocked his head and the other raised his hoof to his ear. “IT’S FROSTY!” I shouted louder. The one with the minigun perked up and waved back.

“Oi! Girlie! There ye are,” The familiar voice of Baked Potato shouted back. “Safe n’ sound, jus like I thought.” They were worried about me? I landed near them and hugged Baked Potato, then dashed to Rumcake.

“Took you long enough.”

“Hey, Frosty. It took long enough, but we finally tracked you down.” He cautiously hugged me back with steel-clad hooves.

“Aww, you missed me. That just melts my heart.”

“I was… uh… doing my job,” Rumcake muttered awkwardly.

“Oh, of course,” I sarcastically replied. “So you were taking your time then?”

“No, I searched damn hard for you! I even went and made sure the range detector was off so I didn’t blow you—”

“Oh, so you’d like to blow me too? That’s a bit up-front.” I foalishly giggled to myself, imagining his face turning the same color as his mane.

Rumcake let out a defeated sigh. “As weird as it sounds, I… uh…” He mumbled the rest of it.

“What was that?” I really wanted to tousle his mane, but he probably wouldn’t take off his helmet.

“...like you,” he mumbled slightly louder.

So he did have a crush on me, did he? “I didn’t quite catch the beginning of that,” I teased.

“I sort of like you,” Rumcake blurted.

“Really?” I conspiratorially whispered back. “I thought you didn’t really care.” Somepony in the wasteland actually cared about me!

Wait, what was my last relationship like? Who had it been with? Don’t freak out, Frosty. Oh goddesses, oh goddesses. What do I do what do I say don’t stare at his junk.

“I hate t’ break up this beautiful reunion, but we need ta get back to base,” Baked piped up from behind us. “Let’s get goin’, lovebirds.”

My brain finally caught up to the conversation at hoof and prompted a really good question: “Wait, what do you mean by ‘tracked you down’?” I asked.

Baked tapped the heavy collar bolted around my neck. “Two hundred gram of ‘splosives, monitorin’ an’, as Rummy an’ I found out, not a very accurate global positionin’ tracker built right into it. There ya go. C’mon. This way, lass.” He tried to politely nudge me in the right direction.

I resisted. “Not yet. I still have stuff to do still. Also, I think I figured out a way to solve all your problems with them for a while,” I told them. I could tell they were disappointed behind their helmets, but I was obligated to finish my business in town. I turned around and slowly walked back.

“Always gotta be the good pony, huh?” Rumcake rumbled through his helmet. “Alright. Let’s see what you can do.” He stamped his hooves and began to trudge beside me. “What’s the worst that could happen?”

“Eh, I got nothin’ better to do. Sure, I might as well come along.” The minigun hid itself back into his battle saddle and he followed us. “Gimme a moment- gotta call up the Inquisitor and report in.”

~~~~~

The three of us stood uneasily in the mayor’s office. We were surrounded by a lot of security ponies all armed to the teeth with heavy weaponry. I was facing his desk again, this time flanked by two Steel Rangers. The mayor was angrily surveying the rapidly-escalating situation in his office. “I’d like to think you have a plan, Frosty,” Rumcake whispered to me.

“Okay, so basically you” – I pointed at the mayor – “need a water talisman and some actual bucking security.” I then motioned to Baked Potato and Rumcake Rum behind me. “They need scrap metal for armor, bullets, and maybe an aboveground base. They also have your water talisman.” I looked to them and they nodded. “Each of you has what the other needs. We can make a deal, right?”

Rumcake thought for a moment. “Inquisitor Souffle has demonstrated an interest in your quaint settlement here. I could tentatively propose the following arrangement: You give us access to your scrap mines and we’ll step in for your security. And as a gesture of goodwill, we’ll throw the water talisman in as well.”

“The talisman you stole.”

“…Irrelevant. What’s past is past.” He motioned to Baked. “In the meantime, he’ll help you improve your security here until we get our forces moved in.”

Baked stepped forward and whispered to me, “I will?” I lightly punched his helmet and he backed away.

The mayor sat in his desk, thinking. The room was eerily silent, even with all the guns pointed in our direction. The mayor finally looked up and motioned the security ponies to lower their guns. All of them slung their various submachine guns and pistols while exiting the room en masse. “Fine. Under one condition.” He pointed at me, specifically. “If this is some kind of takeover plot… I will find somepony to get rid of you. Understand?” He smirked at us and waved all three of us off. “Now get out of here.” I nodded and complied.

As we left the mayor’s residence I nudged Rumcake. “Thanks for the help back there.”

“No problem,” he replied. “I’ll probably be able to clear it with the Inquisitor.”

“What do you mean by ‘probably’?” I asked, somewhat incredulous. “Wait, did you even have the authority to do that?”

I heard Rumcake make a sort of choking noise. “I wish. I’ll tell him something about how our current base is no longer secure—which it isn’t—and recommend that we take up the mayor’s offer. This place has got better defenses and a whole population of wastelanders to throw at anything.”

“That’s… that’s horrible.” Some of these ponies were nice, too!

Baked tromped up behind me and playfully body-checked me. “Like it ‘r not, lass, better them th’n us. Ye’ve got mil’try background—y’know how it goes here.”

He was right to a certain degree, of course. “Doesn’t mean I have to like it. It’s horrible.” Enclave or Ranger, the overall message was roughly the same in both factions. A soldier was more important than a random wastelander because training and gear was expensive, not to mention hard to immediately replace.

“At least we’re giving them some training and stuff. Might as well give ‘em a fighting chance,” Rumcake admitted. “That, and I’d rather not lose any more Steel Rangers.”

I duly noted the presence of Baked still by my side. “Don’t you have somewhere to be?” I asked him, subtly trying to hint that I wanted a little one-on-one time with Rumcake.

“Well, some lassie thinks she c’n tell me what to do,” Baked sarcastically replied in our direction. “I guess I’ll show meself to their barracks for a surprise inspection.” He sauntered off to go do exactly that.

“Does he know where the barracks are?” I asked Rumcake. He shrugged. “Eh, maybe he’ll—” I was cut off by the third whistle blowing loudly. “Aw crap! I gotta get to Underhill for my shift!”

“What? You don’t really need to work for them, do you?” he asked. “What do you still need to do for them?”

I picked up the pace and headed toward Rusty’s shack to pick up my bag. “I still gotta pay off that bucking insane doctor.” A thought occurred to me when we arrived at Rusty’s shack. “Hey, wanna come with me?”

“Why would I want to do that?” he immediately responded.

“Well, there’s bunches of prewar tech just sitting down there…” I started.

“Eh. I’m in,” he agreed. Good! Now in case I ran across that creepy monster down there, I had my knight in slightly battered power armor to protect me. No need for him to know about my paranoia just yet, I told myself.

You just want an excuse to spend more time with him, don’t you?

Of course not! Right? Shut up, brain.

When we got to the elevator down to Underhill, the guard outside calmly asked me, “So, you bringin’ the tank down to the tunnels, then?”

“Bite my shiny metal flank, rent-a-merc.” Rumcake shot back.

“Whatever. Mayor’s radio’d in about you three. You start causing trouble though, and we will terminate you with extreme prejudice,” he casually replied. I had to give it to him, he was unshakable.

“As opposed to overwhelming kindness?” I shot back sarcastically. The guard only rolled his eyes and waved us in. The other ponies in the lift uneasily backed away from Rumcake as he backed in. “How you doing?” I asked the other ponies, feeling awkward. They all either nervously nodded or cowered in fear, sometimes both. I didn’t really blame them.

This time, the ride down was completely devoid of any noise, except for the squeaking and clanking of the elevator. I noticed Trouble standing a few ponies away. “Hey! Trouble!” She looked over and shrank away, most likely because of the imposing Steel Ranger standing next to me. “What’s up?”

“Uh… hi?” she uneasily replied. “What’s with the tank?” I glanced at Rumcake and he shrugged. Why does everypony say he’s a tank? He’s large, but I guess the armor probably gave off that vibe.

“Let’s just say I found him and he kinda grew on me.” I playfully punched his armored shoulder.

“More like the other way around,” he growled from under his helmet. I punched him again. “Stop that. You’re scuffing the armor.”

I rolled my eyes. “Goddesses forbid that I continue rending your armor with my brute strength,” I shot back, dripping with sarcasm. He huffed childishly in response as I allowed my hoof to simply bounce off his armored head.

The elevator grounded to a halt as we reached Underhill. “Come on, Tanky. I got something to show you. Bye, Trouble!” I quickly got out of the lift and dashed over to the South tunnels with Rumcake, leaving the other confused residents in our wake.

We quickly made our way to the collapsed piece of rubble leading to Rusty’s hidden little area and the reactor after grabbing my scrap bag. I wormed my way in and Rumcake simply smashed it under his armored hooves. “What’s so special about this place?” I pointed at the ‘Energy Application Offices’ sign. “Oh.” We made our way to where I’d stopped at the security room last time.

“So if we ignore the creepy room with all the cameras, we can follow this tunnel to the reactor room.” I told him as I consulted Rusty’s map. “First we gotta go through…” I squinted at the markings in the tunnel walls. “The South labs, I guess.”

“Wait, but didn’t you say this was an electric company?” Rumcake asked me. “Why do they need a reactor?”

“That’s what I want to find out,” I replied. There was that scratching sound again! “Hey, you hear that?”

Rumcake stopped and looked around. “What? The sound of you being an idiot?” I growled and punched him again. “No, seriously. What sound?” I pointed at the walls. “In the walls? I really can’t hear much outside of this helmet.” He tapped the side of his helmet. “Blastproof, fireproof, bulletproof, and apparently, sound resistant. What else could you ask for out of a piece of headgear?” He even toggled the built-in light for emphasis.

I dismissed the sounds as my imagination and we moved onto the South Labs. The room was in a great state of disrepair and the rear half of the room—where we had to go—was completely caved in. The rest of the room was mostly white-ish and covered in tables and broken glassware. “Well, crap. Now what?” Rumcake approached the rubble and shifted pieces of it about while I stuffed random bits of scrap into my scrap bags. “You find anything?”

He pushed several more pieces of ceiling and dirt around. “Hey. Here.” He tossed me a piece of scrap and continued digging. “So, what do you think is up with this place?” He continued to supply me scrap as he tried to dig a path through to the reactor room.

“I wanna say it’s some sort of pre-war conspiracy plot gone wrong. I mean, it’s an electric company! Why are they working on megaspell-level devices? Actually, it kinda looks like a micro—er, macrofusion… cell? Reactor? Thing?” I called back at him. “Besides, if the reactor is working, then you guys can probably get power out of it.” I opened a drawer and found a terminal inside it. What. “Hey! Look what I found!” Rumcake turned around in interest. I poked the power button and it powered on. “Oh cool, it’s logged in, too!”

He stomped over to look at the terminal. “Wait, why is it inside— you know what, I don’t even care. What’s on it?”

I impatiently tapped through the choices. Research data, reports, aha! One sent message! I opened it up and began to read.

Dear Wavebreak,

I would greatly appreciate your continued funding of the Seapony Energy R&D department for a few more weeks. We have nearly completed the MK4 supercompact high- energy reactor for the MWT. I require several more test subjects and some more equipment. Be sure you notify your normal employees that the high security zones are strictly off-limits. Let me remind you I helped salvage your career after that whole ‘bedroom secretary’ fiasco. I look forward to another check in the mail.

- Regards, High Class

Wow. To the point. “So… a tiny reactor? Interesting,” Rumcake muttered behind me. Looks like High Class never got the memo that his funding got cut off, then. “That would have revolutionized power armor technology! Imagine—I could have rocket boots right now!” I could tell he was almost giddy with joy at that thought. He downloaded the research files onto his face. Or helmet, wherever data got stored on Steel Ranger armor.

“Anyway, carry on digging that tunnel.” He gave me a mock salute and went back to digging.

We spent the next few minutes in silence. I scrounged up scrap from the rest of the room and Rumcake kept excavating in earnest. “You might want to see this, Frosty.” I made my way over to Rumcake and looked at what he was holding in his hoof.

“What is this?” I asked him. He was holding some kind of busted tube-shaped object that was covered with tape and wires. “Some kind of pipe?” I ventured. Looked like some random scrap to me.

“This is part of a junkyard rocket.” He dug around the rubble and picked out a few more parts similar to the one he held in his hoof. “Slaver workshops make these for their rocket launchers. Red Eye’s slavers.” I stared into his visor as he turned to me again. “The slaver gang is in the tunnels. The slavers are here.”


Footnote: Level up!
New Perk: Scrounger – Loot all the things! You will find considerably more ammunition in containers than you normally would.

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