• Published 10th Dec 2014
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Sweetie Bot - A Heart's Warming Tale - Grimweird



Sweetie Belle discovers she's a robot - and runs away from home.

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Chapter 10. Cooking up Trouble

Sweetie laid awake in the bed, just staring up at the ceiling. She had learned that if she deactivated her blinking subroutine she could keep her eyes open forever. And if she deactivated the senses in her eyes she did not feel them drying out, or the need to blink as dust landed upon them.

She had been lying for what felt like hours, singling out individual sensors. Turning her sense of touch off and on in different areas of her body. It was an odd feeling indeed, to drag her hooves across her body, feeling the almost checker like pattern of palpable and absence.

The touching game had now reached her eyes, and she repeatedly poked at her eyeball with the tip of her left undamaged hoof. Her hoof felt the soft and squishy membrane. Felt the moist surface of tears gathering upon it. And she saw the red lines of nerves appearing in her field of vision as she dragged the hoof across her eyeball. She was careful, as to not rupture the membrane. She had no idea how much or little an eyeball was suppose to be able to take . They where supposed to be sensitive, fragile things. And here she was, letting the dust fall upon her open eyes without flinching.

She closed her eyes. She wondered if they were mechanical too. Just how much of her was?
She touched her cheek. If felt as soft as it always had.
But then again, she though as she held her hoof up in front of her. Her legs felt as soft as they always had as well. Regardless of that she knew they were mechanical underneath the skin.

Was the skin the only part of her that was alive? Could she really be just skin and nothing else?
Could skin have thoughts and feelings all on its own? Could skin have a soul?

Where was the seat of the soul anyway? There was no place in biology class were they said “here is the soul”. There was no organ in the body that was said to contain the soul. The soul was just your energy in your body.
How much of your body could you lose before you lost your soul? Just how much of a pony's body could you remove before it was not a pony any more? What part could you not replace?

There was only one logical answer to that question: The brain.

Doctor Cardiac has said that all thoughts emotions comes from the brain. The brain made sure all the other organs did their thing. Then did not the soul sit in the brain as well?

Sweetie dragged her hooves across her forehead. Maybe she had a real brain. With wrinkles. That would mean she was alive, right? That would mean she had a soul.

And if she had a real Brain. Maybe her head was real too?

Come to think of it The only part of herself she had not been able to see when Nurce Brittlebone cast the X-ray spell was her own head. There had been no mirror in the classroom.

Maybe she was a real head attached to a mechanical body?

Sweetie jumped out of the bed, and walked into the bathroom.
The caretaker, Brick, had called the room a luxury suite because it had its own bathroom. In truth it was little more than a cosset. A sink and a toilet shoved into barely more than a square meter of floor.

Sweetie gave the toilet seat a dumbfounded look. She did not know how long it had been since she last relieved herself. But she did not feel any pressure from her nether regions. It was as if all those needs were turned off. Weird. She had no memory of doing that.

She ignored that for now, and climbed up on the toilet to reach above the sink. To be able to look into the simple square mirror.

The same little sick looking filly looked back at her from the glass, as it had been last time. Her biological exterior had taken a beating from the horrid climate she had pushed herself through. But she did not let that bother her. She wondered what laid underneath that skin.

A worried thought entered her mind. What if the skin was not alive? What if it was just a meat-sack wrapped over her true body to make her blend in? Something she just wore, like clothing. Ponies didn't even need clothes for the most part. They had fur. The fur was their clothing. And the fur was attached to the skin. The skin was the clothes of the body.

And like clothing – you would be able to take it off.

She grabbed around her cheek, and pulled. As hard as the old mares at the elderly home would pull. She did not know how thick the flesh was in the cheek. But whatever it was made of it did not came loose, regardless if she put all the strength she could muster behind it.

She stopped her self and let go of he cheek. It had become red from the strain and a little voice in her head told her it would hurt. But she could not pull it off. Her skin was too tough. It had taken a cart full of homemade explosives to remove it from her foreleg.

She looked down at her right foreleg, and removed the sock. The scar from when she had tried to pull the skin back was still there. She grabbed hold of it and pulled some. The skin continued to loosen from her leg with a tearing sound. The roots of the nerve clusters came of one by one an they were plucked like weeds from their tiny red sensors crystals, whom one by one went dark.

Before to long she'd managed to roll her skin up like the sleeve on a sweater. But the bundle of loose biomass was stopped at the shoulder. Her inability to proceed made her question what she was doing.

What was her plan anyway? To rip the skin open all the way to her head so she could see if the metal ceased at her neck?
What would she do then anyway? Walk out of here as a robot body with a pony head on top? Did she really think ponies would not look upon her different then? If anything they would be more disgusted if such a horror came waking around. Sweetie didn't want to be any horror. She wanted to be a pony. And that was all she wanted everypony else to see.

She slowly pulled the skin back down over her mechanical leg.

She looked back into the mirror. Into her eyes. They looked just like they always had. The skin around them might have gotten pale, and big black bags had appeared under them. But the iris remained the same green color. One of her eyes- the one she had been poking at, was red and irritated.

Rarity had once said that the eyes are the mirrors of the soul. How could she possibly not have a soul if she had such eyes?
But If the skin was just a thin organic fabric pulled over her body. Then maybe the same was true for the membrane over her eyes?

She leaned closer to the mirror. Until she could see the red lines of veins reflected in the glass. Placing her elbows on the sink for balance she tried to pull her eyelids away. Tried to look underneath or above the eyeballs. To see if there were any connection ports hidden underneath the eyelids. There was nothing other than red soft flesh.

That didn't prove anything. She knew how thick her flesh could be. Maybe the eye-membrane was simply grown into the flesh?
She leaned in even closer. Until her chest pressed up against the sink. Until her muzzle touched the glass.

Until she lost balance.

Her back hooves slid off the toilet seat. In the fall she instinctively grabbed for something to hang onto. And the nearest thing to her front hooves were the edges of the mirror.
The mirror detached from the wall and her elbows slammed into the sink. She dropped the mirror and fell onto the floor.

-:: Initiate defensive roll ::-

Sweetie pulled her hooves above her head and curled up into a ball, expecting to have the mirror smash down upon her. even thought she would not be able to feel it it was reflexively to brace herself.

But the smash was slow in coming. The only thing her ears registered was a slow creaking and the clinking as something - that did not sound like glass - fell in the sink.

A soft thump from something landing next to her caused her to open her eyes. It was a small cardboard box with the picture of a plaster on the side.

Sweetie looked up. The mirror was hanging out from the wall, having swung open on a pair of hinges. Behind the mirror there was a large hole in the wall. And the hole was stuffed to the brim with all kinds of things. Bandages. Syringes. Medical tape. Bloodpacks. Combs. Cans of wool. Bottles of medicine. Canned food. Magazines and even a few golden coins and pieces of jewelry.

Sweetie got back up and examined the hole. This clearly was no ordinary bathroom cabinet. The hole was far too crudely shaped. It was made by removing a few bricks in the wall, as well as the stuffing insulation inside it, to make room for more stuff. And the stuff was stacked and crammed into every last available inch, packed so tight it had come falling out when the mirror opened.

Sweetie wondered if the whole wall was filled with stuff instead of insulation. Who had put it there? She started going through the stuff and began putting it back into the overstuffed cabinet. It looked mostly like stuff you find in a medical cabinet apart from a few odd things.

Why would the hospital store anything like this? She wondered. Maybe the doctors had simply run out of space to store their goods and had to make a new secret stash? But shy would it be secret? And why had they not cleared it out before she moved in? Maybe it had just slipped their minds?

Like a good little filly she began picking the boxes of plaster and band aid out of the sink and putting them back into the stash.

One thing at the bottom of the sink caught her eyes. A scalpel. One of those special knives doctors uses to cut flesh when they operate.

An idea surfaced in her head. Maybe she did not have to rip her skin apart to examine the status of her brain. Maybe she could just open up and take a look.

She brought the scalpel up to her forehead. She made sure her pain sensors were off. She took a deep breath, and subconsciously turned her breathing off to not have to let it out. She pulled her mane away. Her hoof shook slightly as she placed the scalpel against her forehead.

She told herself to calm down. That If she had a real head then there would be a thick layer of cranium between the knife and her brain. That it was okay to remove a little skin to satisfy her curiosity. A part of her desired to see that she would see white cranium, proof that she had a living head.

She brought the knife down, and let it slide.

It was true what they say about scalpels. They really do cut like a hot knife through butter.

The only thing she saw was a thick red line. She raised her hooves and pulled the line apart.
The wound was filled with red blood. But behind it she could see something solid. Something hard. It was her cranium.
She opened the wound a little more. and took a big lump of blood absorbent batt to wipe the wound clean.

The batt turned red. And when she pulled it away to reveal the clean open patch of her cranium.

It was grey. Metal grey.

Sweetie just stood there looking at it. She even poked at it with the scalpel a few times. Producing a metallic cling sound. Scraping it even made a fain blue light appear to fade the scratch-marks away.

Her mind stood still.

Maybe ... maybe there was a real brain on the other side of that metal. Right? If anything she should be glad it was there! It was far better protection of the most important body part than some fragile bone!

Sweetie just stared at the metallic surface as new blood began to form at the edges of the open wound. She followed a drop as it made its way down her face. Painting a red line right between her green eyes.

Her eyes ...

She had to know.

She brought the scalpel up to her eyes. The tip glimmered in the dim light as it approached her pupil. And suddenly her vision went red.

The scalpel clinked into the sink.

Sweetie looked up into the mirror. A trail of blood had fallen into her eyes from the wound running across her forehead.
Her heart sank like a rock in water. What was she doing? What had she done to herself?
She had cut open her forehead from ear to ear, and the blood was now pouring down her face like a waterfall.

She was ruining herself. Her skin might not be anything more than a organic blanket stretched over a mechanical core. But it was still her skin, her fur and her looks. It was part of the pony who she was. It was her shield that prevented anypony from seeing the horror underneath.It was her one remaining comfort in that everypony else saw a pony when they looked at her.

And what would everypony else say if they saw her now? With blood over her face and a large open wound in her head? She could not show herself like this!

Sweetie opened the water faucet on full burst, and splashed her face to wash away all the blood. Her mane and chest were drenched before the blood had ceased to flow.
And then she still had a big hole in her forehead. The metal cranium was glistening wet in the bathroom lamp.

She had to close the wound.

Sweetie grabbed one of the packages of plaster and began taping the wound shut.
She pinned the wound closed with one hoof and applied as many plasters as necessary until she had covered her forehead. She considered wrapping her head in bandages. But that would be too obvious, and raise questions. She instead pulled out some medicinal tape and put a big patch over all the plaster.

Now she has quite the package under her horn.

She took a comb and pulled her drenched mane down over her face. She managed to make her hair long enough to hang down over her eyes. She had to sacrifice the curls. But at least a new mane-style would not draw as much unwanted attention/questions as a big plaster over her head.

Sweetie put the last things back into the hole and closed the mirror by re-attaching the hooks that were suppose to keep the mirror to the wall.

She walked out into the room. A shivering sequence was starting up, making her whole body shake in response to the horror of what the had done. And how much further she would have gone, if she had not stopped herself. She had been ready to tear herself apart looking for her soul. But what if the skin really was the only part of her that was alive? Then she would have be killing herself. She would have been destroying the one thing that made her a pony.

-:: Crying sequence initiated ::-

Suddenly, there was a knocking on the door.

-:: Crying sequence aborted ::-

"Who is it!" Sweetie asked. She just barely keep herself from screaming.

"It's Cardiac. May I come in?"

-:: Panic levels rising ::-

Why? Why did he come now? What could he possibly want? And shat was she to do?
She had no idea what to tell him. But she did not dare to tell him to go away. It would only create suspicion.

Sweetie brunched her mane down as far as she could, turned her breathing back on and took a few deep breaths to calm herself before opening the door.

But the first face in through the door wasn't Cardiac's orange face. But the face of a light blue mare, who immediately licked Sweetie across the face.

"Look who's happy to see you." Cardiac said as he entered behind Screwloose. "Since you are getting along so well I thought she could come to visit you for a change. Maybe she could play in your room."

"Um...Right. Sure." Sweetie said as she scratched the mare behind the ears.

His eyes swept over Sweetie. "Do you have a new mane style?"

"Yes." Sweetie forced a sheepish grin. "I undid it so we could do each others manes again."

Cardiac eyed her for a second. A second during which Sweetie prayed to Celestia he would not buy the half baked lie.

"Okay then." He said, A smile returning to his face.

He turned his tail and left. Shutting the door behind him. And Sweetie was alone with the older mare.

The smile had melted off Screwloose's face. She sniffed at Sweetie, sensing that something as wrong. Her muzzle got closer and closer to Sweeties face, until it touched her forehead, and began punching the mane away.

"No!" Said Sweetie and backed away.

Screwloose whimpered, and her ears flattened to her scull . She sat down and reached out her forehooves to grab Sweetie.

"I said NO!"

Sweetie lashed out with both forehooves, and pushed Screwloose away. The mare quickly retreated to the other end of the small room.

"I'm not your doll!" Sweetie yelled. "I'M NOT YOUR DOLL!"

-:: Hate levels rising ::-

"I'm a pony! I'm not your chewing toy! I'm a pony! I'm not anypony's possession! I'm a Pony! Not an object! I'm a pony, I'm a pony, I'M A PONY!"

She stomped the floor to emphasize every word.

"I'm my own little pony! Do you get that? My own! Not yours! NOT ANYPONYS!"

As she kept yelling at the mare the rage inside her slowly subsided. She actually felt a bit of joy in putting her hoof down. It felt good to vent some of this pressure. It felt good to tell this mare that she was not a possession of her's, or anyponys!

Said mare laid flat on the floor. Face down in the carpet, ears flat to the skull and her tail between her legs.
She whimpered as quietly as a mouse. Her worried, defeated look carrying a pleading message to Sweetie. She was afraid that Sweetie would hurt her.

Looking into the sad, scared eyes of Screwloose quickly made Sweeties fiery heart freeze over. What was she doing? Where had all this rage come from? And why was she taking it out on this mare?

-:: Sadness levels rising ::-

"No." She said. Her voice trembling "No, no, no, no,no, no. I'm sorry. I'm sorry..."

She reached out an apologetic hoof towards Screwloose. But the mare winced and pulled herself further away. Sweetie retracted her hoof as if she had been burned. Burned by the mares rejection. Had she just managed to scare away the only friend she had in this place?

Sweetie sank back on her haunches.

-:: Crying sequence resuming ::-

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry." She mumble. Each word becoming weaker then the next. Before it was all drowned out by sobs.

Suddenly she registered a weight leaning down over her. Looking up she saw that Screwloose had put her forelegs around her.

Sweetie turned around and returned the hug. She apologized as best as she could.How scary must Sweetie not have seemed to this mare in that moment. How horrid must it not be to have somepony scream disapprovingly at her like ... like that wretched mare in the memory.
Just looking at Screwloose made Sweetie remember the horror that had been transferred into her from that strange blue disk. A disk that had been inside the poor, poor mares head.

"I saw ... what they did to you ... They hurt you ... because they wouldn't let you be who you are."

Once Sweetie had started talking about it she could not stop. And even if Screwloose could understand a single word, she was more than able to share in empathy.

"I know what its like. To not have anypony letting you be what you want to be... to have them look at you like there's something wrong with you. But its not us there is something wrong with. Its them. THEM! They can all take their judging eyes and shove them up their buttholes!"

Sweetie felt the rage coming back. And apparently so did Screwloose. She started licking Sweetie in the ear. The onslaught of saliva put out Sweeties fuse, and the rage inside her subsided. She actually allowed herself to laugh a little at the tickling feeling.

It was only when the licking stopped that Sweetie realized that the mare had licked her mane out of the way. Screwloose now rubbed her muzzle against the package on her forehead. It had already begun to fall apart at the seams, and a single plaster loosened and fell into Sweeties lap.

Sweetie let out the heaviest of sighs. She would not be able to hide this. her mane was not a sufficient cover. She would attract to much attention and questions.

Screwloose just looked at it. And there seemed to be a glimmer of understanding in her eyes. She grabbed hold of the bow Sweetie had made for her yesterday, and pulled it off her mane (a few chunks of gray hair followed) She undid the bow, and tied the string of fabric around Sweeties forehead. Like a a bandana.

Now the plaster was held properly in place. And it made her look more like she was making a poor fashion statement that would make her sister cry - rather than a masochist. Sweetie might still draw attention, but at least they would not lock her up, wearing a restraining jacket, in a room made of mattresses. (Even if Rarity would have argued the contrary.)

Sweetie just looked at the Screwloose, not without some semblance of awe. Once again this supposedly insane mare had shown a simplistic level of intelligence that was beyond Sweetie

A loud rumbling sound broke the silence. A sound that came from the abdomen of both mares

"Are you hungry?" Sweetie asked with a slight blush.

Screwloose nodded. Sweetie was quite hungry herself. The candy bars and sandwiches she had eaten were long since digested by her stomach and the emptiness were now sending its clear signals. She was sill far away from the starvation she had felt in the woods. And she would prefer to never, ever feel it again.

The common need to eat something drove the two to leave the room. There were no caretakers stationed outside their door to bring them anything today. So they had to find some food on their own.

Cardiac might have told them to stay and play in their room. But what harm could there be in going to take a snack in the kitchen?

What's the worst that could happen?


***


Sweetie walked past the main hall and common dining room to avoid anypony from yesterday wanting to play with her (or, Celestia forbid, comb her mane again.) and headed straight for the kitchen.

The head chef was an unusually busy mare, whose white coat was dotted with grease and food stains despite never actually cooking anything herself. All she did was walk around the different cooking stations and monitor what everypony was doing. Usually yelling at them with varying degrees of frustration what they should be doing.

The ponies at the stations were clearly no chefs themselves. Just more patients brought in to participate in another cooking session.
Everypony had their mane stuffed into a small plastic cap. Everypony also had their hooves shoved in similar plastic gloves.

When Sweetie asked for some food she was promptly put at an empty station and told to make some of her own. At first the head chef had told her to remove her socks. Sweetie immediately thought about leaving but stayed when she was handed a pair of plastic socks of her own. Though she was glad to have something to putt over her socks she had to ask why everypony had to wear them.

“For the same clinical reason I don't want your socks touching the food.” Said the head chef, who was so stressed she was looking at somepony else while talking to Sweetie. “For the first you are about to get them stained. Secondly we do not want any hair, fluff, stuffing or dirt getting into the food. That's why we also wear these caps.” She pointed to the plastic bags that she wore on her head and tail. “To prevent hair from falling into the food.”

If the mare had been looking at Sweetie she might have seen her trying to suppress a wry snicker. The caps that the chef wore were bulging so bad it looked like big blue mushrooms were growing out of her hear and rear.

“I'm telling you, Its a pain to have fur all over your body sometimes.” The chef continued to say as her eyes steeped the kitchen ”Some of the ponies here really don't know how to shave their fetlocks. And you don't even wanna know were someponies been with their hooves. And speaking of hooves ... PUT THAT KNIFE DOWN!” She yelled at a red pony who had caught her attention.

The chef (whose name Sweetie did not learn and was henceforth gonna be called Miss Mushroom) left Sweetie to go and stop that pony from bashing tomatoes with the blunt edge of a knife.

As she left, she more or less threw Sweetie a little plastic cap.
Rather than putting her mane up she pulled it so far down it engulfed her eyebrows. She thought her horn was gonna poke hole in the plastic, but would rather have it sticking out than showing off her head wound.

She looked down at Screwloose.

“I guess you need some gloves too?”

The gloves were easy enough to find in a small box next to the door. And Screwloose was soon dressed up in shoulder high gloves on all four legs, and a blue cap over her head and tail. Sweetie didn't even try to suppress her snicker, as Screwloose's long gray mane and tail resulted in some pretty big mushrooms when all the hair was shoved in them.

This drew the attention of Miss Mushroom. Whom apparently did not want to share in the snicker.

“Also, I don't want this mare in here!” She said with a frown.

“Why not? What has she done” Sweetie asked.

“Proves she is incapable of being around food for one thing” Said miss mushroom “Last time she was here she turned the place upside down. Licked several unfinished desert right out of the bowls and ate the main dish right out of the oven.”

Screwloose let out a happy bark. Miss mushroom answered it with a disapproving glare.

“Security. Could you please escort this mare back to her quarters.”

On her words, Two broad stallions entered the kitchen and began to flank Screwloose.

“But Cardiac said we were to be together.” Sweetie threw out.

Miss mushroom stopped the stallions with a wave of her hoof. This time she actually took a good close look at Sweetie. A little to close for Sweetie's taste as she found the eyes of others weighed uncomfortably heavy upon her.

“Cardiac Huh?” You must be Sweetie. The Boss's little personal case.”

Sweetie nodded.

“Ok then. I guess he knows what he is doing. She is your responsibility. But one screw up from this loose screw and she is out.”


***


Walking back to her station Sweetie had became aware of all the others eyes on her.
Their eyes weighed heavily on her. Really, she could not be the most interesting thing in this room, She was wearing a silly cap and gloves just like everypony else! So what were they looking at?

That uncomfortable feeling gnawed at her. That they knew. That they were searching for a tiny gap in her cover, to see the clockwork underneath. She instinctively pulled her gloves up a little higher. The weight of their eyes was getting to her.

She pulled a small stool to her station, to be able to reach up over her bench.

A series of kitchen appliances, ladles, whisks and knives, hung from a rack above the bench. App fastened at the end of chains, so that nopony could try and take anything with them.

Sweetie pulled down the knife. The chain was just long enough that she would be able slice up tomatoes on the bench. If she dropped it, it would not even fall off the bench. Only by holding her foreleg up on the the cutting board did she come within the reach of the blade.

Sweetie stared at the tip of the knife. One slip. That's all it would take. One slip and she would have yet another hole in her fragile skin. One more hole to cover up. One more thing to hide.

She found herself cursing her skin. No wonder she had been found out. Her skin was too fragile. It fell apart for nothing. Why could she not have been made of sterner stuff?

But what was the point of hiding anyway? All their eyes were just as heavy anyway. It felt like every pair of eyes could rip the skin from her body with mere looks alone. Was there really any difference between this and having no skin at all? She felt just as naked and exposed anyway.

“It will go faster if you get some ingredients.”

Sweetie was broken from her thoughts by Miss Mushroom.

The chef handed her a recipe, laminated in plastic. And directed her towards the pantry in the back of the kitchen

Walking to the pantry Sweetie caught the eyes of one yellow mare who had been facing her back towards her the entire time. She yelped when she saw Sweetie. She pulled a food tray as some sort of protective shield. And all the food that she had placed on that tray was spilled over her chest.

-:: Facial analysis // Match found // Replaying memory file ::-

For her inner eye, Sweetie got a glimpse of yesterdays hysterical mare being dragged away, screaming at the top of her lungs. A yellow mare with her long white hair. Sweetie barely recognized the mare as the blue cap that now hid her white mane.

She looked at Sweetie like she was the plague. It was a look that had previously filled Sweetie's heart with sorrow. Now it filled her with rage.

"WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING AT!" Sweetie could could not help but scream.

"Marrow!" Shouted Miss Mushroom. "What have you done? Now you are gonna have to make a whole new dinner."

The mares red eyes diverted from Sweetie, and swept across the room, and finally settled on herself. On the whole carrot soup with tomato pudding that were splashed over her. And on the big food tray that she still held like a shield between herself and Sweetie. She looked on the verge of hyperventilating. Her tiny, red irises had shrunken to pinhead size, and were shaking unfocused in her skull. Her jaw was hanging open, and a silent scream had gotten stuck in her throat.

Sweetie ignored the stupid crazy mare and entered the pantry. Deciding to focus on her cooking in order to try and subside her feelings.

Sweetie tried to tell herself that it wasn't the mare's fault. That there was something not all right in her head. That she probably just had some mental illness that made her behave like that. Still, this rage inside her, this fire that had boiled up from just the thought of anypony looking at her. Again, it had felt good to just tell a mare to stop staring at her. But she still felt like you would be able to cook a dinner on her head from all the steam inside her.

She picked up as many ingredients she could carry and walked back to her station. As she existed the pantry. The mare had been moved to the dishes, where Miss Mushroom and the caretakers were now cleaning her off.
They were asking her if she wanted to leave. But the mare seemed to have regained her senses and insisted that she would redo her dinner.

Sweetie did her best to shut out the rest of the world and just focus on the task in front of her,
Cooking could not be too hard. Her own family had never complained, and her dad had always liked the fried oranges she made.

Sweetie did her best to follow the recipe. A little bit of this and a little bit of that. Plus a few things she added to improve the taste.

Since she did not want to walk past the stupid yellow mare every time to the fridge, she sent Screwloose.

Again, everypony was impressed by how easy Sweetie ordered Screwloose around. And how the mad mare seemed to understand what she asked of her.

Not that everything that Screwloose brought was what Sweetie had asked for. But Sweetie was to hungry to care. Preparing food took a long time and only made your belly roar louder.

The logical thing to do in order to speed up the process was to increase the heat of the oven, to make the food inside become done faster (that's how it worked right?)
She did the same for the pots on the stove. Or would have done if the stove worked. But no matter how much she turned the knobs she couldn't get any heat.

“I think my stove is broken”

Miss Mushroom walked over.

“Its not broken. These old stoves just needs a little spark.

She pulled up a black, plastic rod from her pocket, A light-stick, of the kind Sweetie's dad usually used to light candles or fireplaces.

"Its a good safety feature." She said with the rod in her mouth "That way nopony can start up a stove except me."

She leaned in close to the plate. She bit down even so slightly on the light-stick, and the tip started to sparkled.

But nothing happened.

“Told you it was broken.” Sweetie mumbled.

“No – Its just out of gas.”

Miss Mushroom turned around and called out.

“Hey! Marrow! Stove 24 is out again. Could you go and get a new canister – you know were it is.”

The yellow, nervous mare looked up, and nodded. She went into the pantry and came back a few minutes later, with a smile on her lips and a tube under her foreleg.

“I'm sorry about before.” She said as she opened a hatch on the bottom of the stove ans started removing the old canister inside.

Sweetie thought there was something off about her smile. She still seemed rather nervous, and tired not to look Sweetie in the eyes. But perhaps that was just her insanity that made her so twitchy. As she installed the tube, Marrow instead turned her attention to the purple stallion next to them.

“Shouldn’t you go get a new set of fries now?” She asked him “I'm pretty sure you have fried those fries 27 times now.”

Miss Mushroom did not like when anypony told others what to do, except her. But she asked the stallion to lift the basket of fries out of the batter. Doing so revealed a set of fries that were so hard and greasy that they were like rocks in slime. Miss Mushroom immediately directed him to the pantry for a new set. And then returned to impatiently tapping her hoof. The light stick in her mouth sparkled from time to time as she clicked on it with her teeth.

Sweetie too wished that marrow could hurry up with whatever maintenance work she was doing. Changing the gas tube apparently took a long time.

The purple stallion soon came back from the pantry. Without any fries. His walk was unusually wobbly, and his eyes even more empty and unfocused than they had been. Miss Mushroom asked him if he couldn't find the fries. It took him a while to answer.

"No ... But there is an ... awesome smell inside that room dude."

Miss Mushroom grew concerned and sent one of her stallions went to see what was wrong. He only peeked his head inside the pantry door before pulling back with a rather worried look on his face.

“Gas! We got a leakage over here!”

Miss mushroom spit out the light-stick and started yelling at the other staff members.

“Okay everypony! Grab a face mask and secure that leak! And don't bring any light sources with you in there, or the only thing that gets well done this Hearth's Warming Eve will be us! And somepony get this guy to the infirmary for potential gas poisoning!”

The kitchen quickly emptied of staff as everypony wearing a white coat donned a face mask and headed into the pantry. and the purple stallion was quickly led away by a pair of nurses.

As they left. Marrow suddenly crawled out from under the stove.

“And there you go.” She said. “Now you be able to cook anything. Just turn on the gas and wait for a moment before igniting it, to make sure the flame has something to take hold on.”

She twisted and pulled on all the knobs on the stove. Then held her hoof over the plates, as if checking something.

“There you go. I would use the plate furthest in. it always takes the most heat anyway.”

Sweetie looked at the light-stick. Standing on top right next to her.

“But miss … chef...” (she refrained from saying “Mushroom” sine that was probably not her real name) “. She said that only she should...”

But Marrow had already turned her back and walked over to her own station.

“Oh come on." She said "Who knows how long till they find the leak? She said without turning her head around. ”And didn't you say you were hungry? I can hear your belly roar from here. You saw how the light-stick works. Just lean over and bite the button. Just make sure the gas has time to grow first.”

Sweetie looked back at her stove. There was a hissing sound emanating from all four plates on the stove. And the air above them had started to shimmer.
The smell of gas assaulted Sweeties nostrils. She held a hoof over the plate, into that shimmering air, but could not feel anything.

Silly...Of course she could not.

She removed the plastic glove and the sock from her left, undamaged hoof, and turned on a few sensors.
She could feel the flow of gas coming out quite steady from all the plates. She looked down on the knobs. All of them were set to full.

She looked over at Marrow. But she had her head turned away. Currently leaning over her own bench with both forehooves pressed against her forehead. As if something would burst out from it is she didn't press hard enough.

Sweetie looked over at all the other inmates. But none of them seemed like they would be willing (or able) to help her.

She looked down to the light-stick again... but it was gone!

A quick look around and she found Screwloose, happily wagging her tail. And chewing on a black plastic stick.

Cardiac's words about not playing fetch returned to her ears. Sweetie threw a panicking look at the Pantry door. What would Miss Mushroom say?

“Screwloose … give me that.” She whispered.

She climbed down from her stool and took a step towards Screwloose. But the mare jumped back from her, a big smile spreading across her face as she gagged the stick in her mouth, clearly she was in a playing mood.

“Screwloose … come here!” Sweetie whispered between her teeth.

She reached out to grab the light-stick. But Screwloose jumped back from her and started to run back and forth through the kitchen.

“Screw... Please! No! They are gonna lock you away!”

Sweetie knew she could not chase after Screwloose. That might prompt the mare to run out of the kitchen. Instead she stood still, and when begging did not work. She finally yelled as loud as she dared.

"Scrweloose!"

Finally Screwloose released the Light-stick. Unfortunately in her own ideas of laying fetch. She swung her head threw the light-stick at Sweetie. Sweetie tried to catch it mid air. But it bounced off her hooves. Then it bounced of the stove, and then it took a nose dive down into the fryer batter.

Sweetie panicked. For the sake of Screwloose, she had to retrieve that light-stick before Miss Mushroom returned.

Without thinking, she put her left hoof down into the cooking hot batter, subconsciously disabling her sensors the moment her hoof touched the greasy fluid. There was a rigid, fizzling sound as Sweeties leg disappeared down into the boiling fluid. and before her hoof made contact with the bottom she had grease up to her shoulder. She closed her hoof and and miraculously managed to grab the light-stick, and pull it up from the bottom on her first try. A foul smell of burned flesh assaulted her nose. Her left foreleg was completely covered in greasy fryer batter. And so was the light stick.

She had to wash the light-stick off quickly. She pulled the sock and the glove back over her greasy leg, and ruched over to the washing sink. Quickly she though. Quickly before Miss grumpy Mushroom comes back. Quickly before the batter hardens.

She quickly washed off the light-stick. Grabbed a towel and wiped it off as she ran back to her station.

She had just put it back were it had been, when Miss Mushroom an the others came out from the pantry.

Miss mushroom walked over to Sweetie and grabbed the light-stick. She leaned in over the stove. But then her nostrils flared, and she sniffed disapprovingly.
Sweetie hid her left forehoof behind her back. But the chef did not turn her head towards her. Rather, she looked back down on the knobs, and shouted in an even more disapproving tone.

“FULL THROTTLE!? Are you trying to blow us all sky high?”

Sweetie tried to defend herself.

“But she said … ”

She pointed over to were the yellow mare had been. But she was no where to be seen.
In her place was Screwloose. Crouched down into the hatch underneath the stove. The stove itself saw on, and the flames shooting out of the plates reached halfway up the pots on them. Pots that were boiling so hard that the water inside was jumping out over the edge. A hissing sound filled the air. Like when a teapot on the stove is signaling its ready and about to burst.

But there were no teapots on the stove. The hissing sound was coming from below the catch, that Screwloose had now shoved her head into.

Miss Mushroom also looked over and saw the mare tugging and pulling.

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING!?”

At that moment. Screwloose pulled out from underneath the stove. A gas canister clenched between her yaws by the valve.

As she swung the canister away from the stove. The tip of the vale swung past the dying flames from the plates. And the stream of hissing gas was instantly transformed into a roaring stream of fire. Screwloose swung the canister around, spewing flames like a dragon. Several ponies jumped and ducked for their lives as the flamed passed dangerously near them.

“SHE'S CRAZY!”

“She's gonna kill us all!”

“Screwloose, STOP!”

Still Screwloose refused to let go of the canister. She wrapped her forelegs around the canister and twisted her head. Closing the valve she had in hr teeth, and making the fire disappear.

The next second, a pair of caretakers wielding fire extinguisher ruched in, and sprayed Screwloose down with white foam. Another broad stallion tackled the foam-covered mare to the floor while a forth pried the gas-canister from her hooves.

After a minute of wrestling in the foam, the stallions emerged with the defeated mare between them. Wrapped in a restraining jacket.

The words that Miss Mushroom spoke were not meant for ears as young as Sweetie's. The curses and insults washed over Screwloose like a storm.

“I told you! One screw up! ONE! And you decide to screw up spectacularly!”

Screwloose just hung her head in utter defeat. Her sad heavy eyes met with Sweetie's only once as they more or less dragged her away. Her look seemed to carry a pleading call for help.

Sweetie was speechless. She did not know what she could say or do. She did not why Screwloose had suddenly tried to light the kitchen on fire. She only knew that there was one mare who was suppose to man that stove.

But Sweeties words where unheard. As soon as Screwloose was out the door, Miss Mushroom turned to her.


***


Miss Mushroom scolded Sweetie for her improper use of a gas driven stove. The risk of explosion and dangers surrounding easily lit gas. And for not keeping that crazy mare under control.

The gas was soon vented out through the chimney. And Sweetie could resume her cooking. She was both angry and sad. She had been scolded for something that wasn't her fault. And the real culprit had disappeared, saying nothing about the dangers of letting the gas flow unchecked out of the stove.

She was so angry, she was sure one would be able to cook a meal on her head from the pressure alone. And she was even hungrier now that even more time had been spilled before she could resume cooking.
To make up for lost time she increased the heat by tree times the recommended setting. That way it should me done tree times as fast.

Her feeling made her forget about the horrid smell coming from her leg. It was soon drowned out by strong spices and smoke, as the pots on the stove boiled to full effect.

The heat made Sweetie sweat. And she could feel the plaster loosen under her headgear's.

Unfortunately. Her cooking skills did not impress Miss Mushroom. And as it turned out Sweetie had burned most of her food into something that resembled black crisps. Miss Mushroom did not think they looked edible. And the color on her face after tasting one did not change her opinion.

“My dad always liked it.” She said in defense of her cooking.

“They probably just say that.”

-:: Processing ::-

“You mean … they lied?”

-:: Crying sequence initiated ::-

Sweetie fought to hold back the tears. Somehow that one notion had stung worse than imaginable.

"They ... can't be that bad"

"have you ever tasted them yourself?"

"No."

Sweetie put the black crisp in her mouth. And her taste analysis labeled it as "coal." Her heart sank even lower. Miss Mushroom had stabbed her right in the pride. It was something Sweetie didn't think she had any left of. But apparently being reminded of her own awfulness stung more than she could have imagined.

It did not get better when the frying iron caught fire.

“How did you manage to make the soup flammable?! And further more. Why were you using a frying pan to make soup?!”

The final straw for Miss Mushroom was when they opened the stove. What was suppose to be some form of sufflé had become some kind of smoldering black tar. The black smoke that came billowing out of the oven laid on so thick it clothed Sweetie's vision. She tripped and fell off the chair she was standing on, accidentally knocking the still flaming frying pan into the fryer batter - Which also caught fire. A few moments later the fire alarm started. And in a few more moments the kitchen became disorganized.

“That's it! Get out of my kitchen!”

Ponies ran back and forth, carrying flame extinguishers and wondering if they should evacuate. Sweetie ran away between the legs of these ponies and bolted away to her room with tears in her eyes. She had completely forgotten her hunger. The last thing she heard from Miss Mushroom mean mouth was her yelling orders left and right as she got her hooves full trying to calm everypony down, and direct somepony to put out the flames on the fryer, and throw that dangerous fluid away.

“And can somepony get that fire alarm shut off!”


***


If you want something done. You have to do it yourself. That's what Miss Mushroom thought as she walked into the back of the pantry. At the end of the big storage area there was a secluded door that led to a power room, were the big switch for the fire alarm sat.

Sparks were sent flying out of the lever as she pulled it. The ringing sound stopped, but so did the lights.

Great. Must be another fuse.

She pulled up a light-stick from her pocket, and bit on the button. This one produces a small flame at the short end of the stick. She had to replace her old one, as it had for some reason stopped working.

She had told Marrow to throw it away, along with all the waste products that little filly had created. Especially that flammable meal. She had still no idea how one could make cooking oil burn. But that little mare had found a way. A way to ruin a dinner more spectacular than she had even seen.

So maybe she had been a little hard on the filly. Still. Foals needed to be taught the hard truth sometimes.

As she walked back. Her eyes steeped over the gas canister that were stored here in the back. The tiny flame from her light stick was reflected in their chrome. She was careful not to go near them with an open flame. She did not want any more incidents after today.
She counted four canisters missing. At this rate they were gonna run out long before Hearth's Warming Eve.

Four?

She recounted. There had been the one used to refuel the filly's stove. One to relapse the one that the crazy mare had turned into a flamethrower. And One that had been leaking in here earlier, the one that purple stallion from group C no doubt opened up and started sniffing ... and ... and ...

No. There should not be four canisters missing. Where had the last one gone? Celestia forbid it was that kleptomaniac Soylent had taken it! If so, she was gonna have a talk with her sister Sully, to have that mare thrown into isolation!


***


Marrow pushed the dining cart down the hallway as the lights went out.
She wanted to say "just as planned", but that would have been a lie. Nothing had gone as planned. That little demon had a way of disrupting everything. It knew what she was up to. It had to. How else would you explain that it went to the kitchen? Because it was hungry?

Marrow twitched. What a mockery that had been. That little monster couldn't feel hunger. It was her hunger it felt. Her recording of hunger playing in its systems.

She had nearly lost it when the thing showed up in the kitchen, and it had nearly thrown a wrench into her plans. But she had managed to play cool, and had actually been provided with an unexpected and unique chance to rid herself of that menace. To prove what that little demon really was to everypony. Fate had played into her hooves by making the stoves run out. Of course they asked her to change the canisters. She had been doing it for years. Her skill with machinery had not dwindled. And the skills she had acquired putting that demon together - she would now use to destroy it.

But she had not counted on the mad mare, whom the little demon had snared into becoming her bodyguard. And to mock her the demon had not even reacted as she burned her own hoof off.

Then her main plan had been ruined as the madmare sniffed out her ticking timebomb. At least she had taken the blame for the leaking gas-canister. And at least the distraction had served a purpose, Marrow thought as she pushed the dining cart, making sure the blanket on the cart reached all the way down to the wheels, concealing the main dish underneath.

She pulled up a light-stick from under the sheet, put it in her mouth, and ignited it. She was supposed to throw it away. But some simple tinkering had brought it back to working condition. She used it to ignite bowls of sticky, greasy, easily ignited batter. Another thing she was supposed to throw away.

Well, she was about to trow it away right now.

She put some of the flammable grease in every trash can she passed. It was almost like a symbol of how awful the food was here at the best of times.

The darkness in the hallways would hide the smoke that rose from the trashcan. And the fire alarm would not start. The little demon's own inability to cook would bake the way for its own demise by triggering the alarm the first time. And once that thing had been shut off. It would not come on again. Marrow had made sure of that.

And once she was done serving these appetizers. She would move on to the main course. A course cooked for one filly, and one filly alone.


***


Blood fell like tears in Sweeties room. The sink in her bathroom had been painted red with meat-chunks and blood.

Once Sweetie returned to her room, she had made a grim discovery when she tried to remove her socks.
The batter from the fryer did not just smell bad. It had gotten stuck between her leg and her socks. End the two had merged together. The thin plastic glove over her sock had almost melted from the heat of the batter, and become stuck to her left leg like glue.

The smell of burnt fabric and flesh mixed with melted plastic was horrible. And Sweetie knew she had to remove it. To clean herself up, less somepony else were gonna do it.

She managed to roll down the upper part of the combined glove and plastic glove. And found that the flesh was horribly red-burned. The fur was all but missing, and it looked like the skin had melted and reformed with the fabric and batter into a bizarre pattern. the substances had merged together so bad sweetie could not remove her sock any further. What little skin she did see had a few bubbles and veins, which had swelled up on the red surface and pulsated with a beating rhythm. It made sweeties Belly turn over just to look at it.

She had to get rid of it. There was no way she could stand having that disgusting mess as part of her body

In desperation she took the scalpel from the stash behind the mirror, and started cutting in order to remove the pieces of fabric that had gotten stuck to her skin. Just to remove the worst of the damage. Cut off the burned, black flesh, and those nasty blobs, and the horrible deformed skin-pattern. Then she would be able to heal much better. (Right?)

Blood and pieces of meat painted the sick red as Sweetie removed piece after piece of herself. But no matter how far down she got down her leg. The sock did not loosen up. Nor did the skin look any better. It only got worse.

As she cut, she realized that she could not reconnect with the sensors in her leg. where they had previously just been in standby mode - They were now all offline. And she that she could not turn them back online. Not that she wanted to be able to feel what her horribly burnt and mangled leg would feel like. But without the sensors she could recieve no data on her skin at all. She could not feel the connection between the sensor and the nerve-cluster. It was as if...

She looked over on her other leg, where the skin hung as loose as the sleeve of a sweater. A sleeve she had rolled up to her shoulder, and torn from the seams of nerve clusters . She could not get those sensors to come back online either.

Had she damaged herself so bad that the nerve clusters had separated from their sensors!?

A new wave of horror washed over her. Without her sensors - without her nerve-clusters - she would lose all contact to her skin. And her skin was the only thing that let her feel the world around her. Let her feel the warm embrace of a pony's hug. Let her feel the wind on her face and the grass under her hooves, and the substance off every surface she touched. Let her feel the comb through her hair.

If she lost her skin... She lost one of her senses.

What was she suppose to then? How were she gonna reconnect the skin to her sensors?

Sweetie grabbed the last part of her sock and pulled. Despite not being more than a fried patch on the bottom of her hoof it refused to let go. Sweetie pulled a little harder, And with a wet, tearing sound, the last of the fabric slid off. Along with the remaining, cooked skin on her fetlock.

Sweetie stood stunned. Staring at the blank metal of her left hoof. The remains of the sock laid in the bottom of the sink, almost indistinguishable from the blood, fat, and biomass. It took her a while to proses that her skin must have been so cooked that the meat just slid off the metal.

Now the metal and gears were exposed on both her hooves. What was she supposed to do now? would the skin grow back on its own? Were she just gonna have to wait until then?

No. She had once regrown her skin. By drinking a health potion.

She dug through the hole in the wall looking for a little red bottle (Or a big bottle). But found nothing but an old restraint jacket. It was almost like the hole in the wall was taunting her with a probable future.

She used the scalpel to cut up the sleeves. Making her able to wear it like a normal shirt. The jacket was still several sizes to big for her, but the sleeves were long enough to cover her forelegs down to the hooves. The hooves she had to hide by bandaging herself up.

She looked into the mirror again.

Now she looked like a truly psychotic inmate. In between the baggy restraint jacket, the out of place bandana below her ruined mane, and hooves covered in bandages ... Just who was she trying to fool? Just how much clothes were she gonna have to end up wearing to cover the damage she had done to herself?! She might as well have no skin left. There was noting left of the old Sweetie anyway! It was a stranger looking back at her from the mirror. A stranger that looked like shit.

And she smelled like it to. A pungent smell stung her in the nose as several flavors hit her nostrils at once.

-:: Smell analysis // Batter // Cooking oil // Gas ::-

Gas? Had she been standing to close to the stove for to long?

No... It was not she who smelled like that.

The smell was coming from elsewhere. She followed her nose and began crawling closer and closer to the floor. Down to the door gap under the door. The smell was leaking in from the sleeping room and into the bathroom.

Sweetie put her ear to the door. There was a small hissing sound coming from somewhere far away.

Then there was a sound of something like a lighter being ignited

Then Sweetie's world exploded.