• 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 11. Inferno

-:: Deja Vu ::-
-:: The feeling of having experienced something before ::-
-:: Similar experiences :: One in recorded memory ::-
-:: Recollecting ... ::-

There were certainly a lot of similarities between this and the previous time Sweetie had experienced an explosion. The ringing in the ears – The throbbing in the head – The pushing force as something sends you through the air.

But that was where the similarity ended.
This time there was no green hills, nor blue sky when she opened her eyes. Just darkness, the blackness of a heavy toilet door.

The door had flown off it hinges, and pushed Sweetie back with it. She had ended up in a sitting position on the toilet chair – with the door leaning over her.

She took a few breaths just to see that she was still alive.

-:: Dust particles caught in air filter // Initiate cleansing procedures ::-

Sweetie started coughing. And every wheezing breath of foul air the pulled into her lungs only worsened the rash in her throat.

-:: Turn off breathing sequence // Airpump entering standby mode ::-

Sweetie pushed the door off her. And her already confused mind was hit with an even more unsettling sight.

It was snowing indoors.

Her room was gone. The walls were still there. But everything else was unrecognizable. The motive that had once been a warm sunny day had been replaced with a harsh ash-gray winter wasteland. The once warm yellow wall-panel had blackened. The mat on the floor had been replaced by a layer of soot. Soot that was falling in gray flakes from the once blue roof. The cabinet was reduced to rubble and the bed was on fire.

Sweetie took a few uneasy steps. Walking out into that indoor wasteland was like walking into a different world altogether. A different dimension where the bloodbots ruled and ponykind was all but extinct.

A squeaking sound caught her ear. Sweetie turned to see her door swing inwards, and reveal the shadowy figure of a pony. In its mouth, it held some kind of stick - with a small flame on the end. And in the hoof it held a bottle with a piece of cloth stuck down the bottleneck.

But it was not Rampony Mactails. It was a mare. In the faint light of the light stick she could just make out a familiar yellow fur, and an pair of red eyes.

The eyes widened as they made contact with Sweetie's. And the lightstick fell from her teeth as her mouth opened in shock. Sweetie was sure that the hysterical mare was about to scream again. But when no sound left her mouth, Sweetie took the first word.

There were a lot of questions in her confused, shaken mind. One of them was: "Am I going to get blamed for this?"

"I did not do this!" Sweetie said "It just ... happened."

Wait. Why did it happen?
Sweetie stared at where the lightstick had fallen into the ashes. The answer was there. But it would not come to her. Disbelief was blocking the answer from being processed.

"What's happening!?" She asked.

The mare, who would not stop staring, pointed her bottle at Sweetie, and spoke.

"You ... You should be suffocating."

Sweetie panicked, and flipped the airpump back on. She almost immediately started coughing. Yet she forced a smile.

“See... Better? … I mean … *cough, cough* … Yes, I breathe!”

The mare shook her head.

“No... you don't...” Her voice started to shiver “You're mocking me … You don't need to breathe ... you're not even hurt...”

Her pupils shrank, she dropped the bottle, and unleashed the high pitched scream that Sweetie had been waiting for.

“WHY? WHY ARE YOU UNSCATHED!?”

Screamingly she turned her tail, and ran away.

Sweetie wanted to scream for her to wait. She even wanted to scream. “Don't tell anypony!” But the mare was already far away.

Was it that obvious? Had she revealed herself?

She looked down on herself. But apart from some soot, the biggest wounds on her was those she had inflicted herself. The bandage covering that self abuse till held. And the far-too-large restraint jacket – thought dirtier now than before - was still in one piece.
The only place she could not immediately see was her own head. But touching her forehead revealed that the bandana and pink frazzled mane was still there. She was a mess. But not visibly robotic.

Yet... With the look that mare had had in her eyes. She might as well have been.

Was it the fact she was not breathing? Was that all it had taken to reveal her?
She cursed herself and punched herself in the forehead, only stopping because she did not want to rip open another revealing hole in her face.

Whom was she lying to? Had not everypony known from the very beginning? Was it not there in the way they looked at her?

She would have sat down in the ashes and reveled in her own misery. But the shock forbade any self pitying from overtaking her mind. Instead, she started walking out of the room. Wondering why nopony else had come to check on her. Wondering why it was so dark in the corridor.

Wondering why she could hear what sounded like a Hearths warming fire raging from the main hall.

Like a moth, she was drawn to the sound. Curious as to what was going on.


***


The main hall was on fire. And it was no sweet Hearths Warming fire.

The flames were licking the walls as they climbed up the curtains. Long curtains under which a small bowl of fire had been left. The windows cracked and shattered from the heat, Thus giving way for the rain outside to fall and be frizzled on the red hot prison bars.

The fire spread out over the decorations of paper figures that hung in drifts across the hall. Running across the suspending strings, the fire light up all the crumbled paper snowflakes, and causing them to fall from the roof file flakes of fire.

Above it all sat a thick black layer of smoke that covered the ceiling like an aggressive raincloud that released drops of fire instead of water.

One of these flakes fell towards Sweetie. Her eyes tracked it as it sank past her face and graced her shoulder. Leaving a black mark of singed fabric in the broken restraining jacket.

That woke Sweetie up from her trance.
Unable to feel the heat of the fire, she had wandered dangerously far into the room. Drips of sweat fell into her eyes, and she realized she had walked straight into an oven. an oven that was about to close on her as the The fire spread across the walls. Now the roar of the approaching flames drowned out the ringing in her ears.As did the creaking of the building around her, and what she thought were screams coming from somewhere far away.

The danger posed by the fire finally registered in her shaken mind.

The inferno was gonna come down on top of her. Burning paper and pieces of roof were already falling all around her. The previously untouched floor and furniture was now beginning to catch fire as the deadly snow fell on top of them. The plastic chairs were beginning to melt and release an odor fouler than the aches in her room. And everywhere little puddles of fire was beginning to form across the floor.

The first thought that crosses most creatures mind in a situation like this, is to get away from the fire (unless you are a dragon).
Sweetie was no different. And her primal fear of fire kicked in and sent her running.
It was logical to get away from the fire. But where should she run. Were was the fire exit?
And why hadn't she run into anypony yet?

As she ran like a maniac down the halls she did not see another soul. Had nopony heard the explosion? Was everypony sleeping? Was it evening? Or the middle of the night? She had completely lost all track of time - so enthralled had she been by her own ruined foreleg.

But the status of her leg was pushed back from her mind. Sweetie didn't even look down to see if her bandage or socks were still hanging on as she rushed through the corridors. The lack of ponies was not the only thing that bothered her as the roar of the fire was put behind her.
There should have been a sound. A sound that should have been ringing so loud it hurt your ears. A sound that she had set off with a friendly little cooking accident.

Where was the fire alarm?

She had no time to think about that. These ponies were in danger. And she needed to do something about that.

"WAKE UP EVERYPONY! THE PLACE IS ON FIRE!" She screamed.

She screamed until her throat went sore. Then she turned off the sore nerveclusters and throat sensors, and continued screaming. She wailed like a siren as she bolted through the corridors.

"No its not! It was just some stupid chicken accident." Came the voice of an irritated stallion.

Sweetie stopped at the door (presumably to a employers lounge) from which the voice had come. She reared up and started banging her hoofs on it for all she was worth.

"NOT THIS TIME! ITS A NEW FIRE! A REAL FIRE!"

Thankfully: whether to silence her of because he believed her, the door swung open Inwards, causing her to fall into the chest of a tired stallion in Pajamas.

“Go back to bed you little ...”

One look down the corridor immediately changed his mood from annoyed sleepyhead to shocked and awake. He quickly joined Sweeties chorus, and started running down his own corridor.

Though they ran in opposite directions – the message was starting to get through. More and more ponies were coming out of their rooms. The word spread from mouth to mouth throughout the hospital. Ponies were screaming, grabbing fire extinguishers, blowing into whistles. and running to get more help - Only to realize that they were not the only once needing it. And the cacophony soon became Its own form of alarm as ponies ran back an forth trying to assist each other in one way or another. All asking the same question.

“Where is the fire alarm! Why isn't it ringing?”

Sweetie ran down another corridor, this one filled with the typical cells where the inmates resided, and started banging on every door as she ran past them. Screaming her warning.

She was about to turn the corner when she looked back to see that none of the ponies were exiting their rooms. Not a single door had opened. But that didn't mean that Sweetie had gone unheard, or that the ponies were slow. On the contrary. Many were already banging on their doors from the insides. Screaming and begging to be let out.

Sweetie ran back and started pulling a the handles. But the doors would not budge. They were locked. And the inmates were trapped inside.

“A key. We need a key. Where is the key?” She screamed.

“Here it is!”

Sweetie turned to see another pony rounded the corner. It was Brick, the caretaker. And from his hooves he pulled the big key chain. But whatever joy Sweetie might have felt at the help was drained as Brick started to fumble with the big bundle in search for every individual key.
And when he had finally found what he was looking for he had to fumble with the lock before he got the first door open. A terrified pony ran out, and brick had to direct them towards the end of the corridor, where a nurse were starting to direct ponies towards the exit.

The whole process was taking too long. Sweetie could see flames approaching from the other end of the corridor. And all she could do was to continue banging on the doors and scream at Brick to hurry up.

“Don't you have any more keys? Cant you at least give me a key so I can help unlock the doors?”

"No. I'm sorry. But I've got the only set of keys for this wing. And they must be using all the other keys to open all the other doors right now."

“But then... How are we gonna get everyone out in time?!”

One look from Brick was all it took for Sweetie to arrive at the horrible conclusion.

They were not.

"W...Why?" Sweetie stammered.

Her banging stopped as a horrible image formed in her mind. An image of all the floors above her, Towards which the fire was now climbing. Of the screams she had heard as the fire licked the roof in the main hall. That roof must be the floor to the floor above them. A floor filled with ponies that were now being trapped and cocked in their own rooms.

How could they not had thought of this kind of thing? Sweetie did know that in case of fire all ponies has to evacuate the building, as soon as possible. But how did that work if all the doors were locked?

"WHY?!” She screamed at Brick, and started hitting him as if everything was his fault.

“Why are you so stupid? Why don't you have more keys!? Why is there no other way to open the doors!”

“There is!" He screamed back. "At least there is suppose to be, The doors should have already been open. It should not be like this. The emergency release system should have kicked in."

He explained as he got another door open.

"Its a system that unlocks all the doors in case of a fire. If the fire alarm starts ringing – all the doors will open. But there is something wrong with the thing. Its not ringing. I mean, it was ringing earlier. And we had our hooves full just getting all those that wandered off back in their rooms.”

He cursed as he dropped his key chain.

"Its just our luck that something like this should happened. "

“How do we start the alarm?” Sweetie asked.

“Well, you start a fire.”

Brick forced a smile. Sweetie only answered with a frown.

“Ok ok. Bad time for jokes. There should be a main breaker in the basement. Some guys went there to flip it on. They should have it back on at any moment. HEY WHERE ARE YOU GOING...?”

Sweetie didn't need to hear more. She was already bolting away down the corridor, heading against the stream of panicking ponies as she made her way towards the basement. She was not able to just wait around until somepony did something. With a filly's impatience she had to actually see that it was being done. Cause if she could not see it, it might as well not be happening.


***


She would not have found the stairs down if not for a pair of ponies coming up through a service door, coughing and spitting to clear their throats of the smoke that followed them up from the stairs. A nurse was quickly at their side and asked them how they were doing.

“Its hopeless!” One of them cried between his convulsions ”Its too hot. We can't get in.”

“What do you mean?” Asked the nurse. “Cant you just put it out? Didn't you have fire extinguishers with you?”

“Its no ordinary fire.” The other one coughed “The central gas-line has burst, and it has somehow ignited. A little water ain't gonna put those flames out.”

The nurse gasped.

“But … can't you turn off the gas?”

Both ponies shook their heads

“The valve is on the other end of the corridor – Behind the flames. We can't get to it.”

The first pony took some water offered to him by the nurse. Cleared his throat, and started patting his friend on the back

“Hang on. We got to get to the central heating station. Maybe we can shut off the gas from there.”

The two stallions left. More trotting then galloping, as they continued to cough and convulse their way to their destination. The nurse suddenly found herself alone, and she anxiously looked around the corridor. Hadn't there been a little filly here just now?


***


Sweetie stared at the corridor of fire that laid ahead of her. A pipeline was running along the roof of the entire length of the hallway. The pipe had been broken at several points and gas was seeping out of the cracks. Gas that had been ignited, and several streams of fire were now blazing down from the roof, like the breath of raging dragons. Sweetie had only hours ago seen how easily gas was turned into a fire hazard. The image if a light-stick flew through her mind.

Like most creatures (except dragons), Sweetie possessed a primal fear of fire. A Fear that was now holding her back as she stared at the flames in front of her.

Her mind had started to rationalize. "Save yourself". It said. There was nothing she could do anyway. The heat alone would kill any pony.

But she could not feel the heat, she could not feel anything. And she did not choke on the foul smelling smoke that hung so heavily in the air. She double checked that her sensors were off.

Sweeties mind again turned to all the inmates trapped in their rooms.

-:: You can not save them ::-

Sweeties heart could not accept that.

The fire extinguishers, that had proven worthless against the gas fueled flames, still lay leaking water onto the floor.

Sweetie tore off her oversized restraint jacket, and drenched it in the water. She then took the completely soaked jacket and pulled it over her like a blanket. She only stopped for one second to make sure her head and tail were covered by the fabric. Another second and she might have gotten cold hooves. It was a second she did not allow herself.

She charged.

The flames roared above her as she charged past them. For a few horrifying seconds her whole world was red, as the flames had painted the stone walls and floor in the color of heat. The fear she felt only served to increase her forward momentum. And with a roll Sweetie dove through the last stream of fire, and into the room beyond.

The jacket, she immediately tore off herself. It had caught fire, and was left to smolder in the corner. Sweetie danced and stepped on her own tail as she put out the ember on it and beneath her hooves. She was smoldering. All sweat had vaporized from her body, and was now steaming out off her dehydrating skin. But she was not on fire.

As soon as the panic levels had dropped to manageable levels, she looked up above her.

Sweetie had expected to find a big looking electrical box full of fuses and switches (and hopefully one big red panic button that said “Fire Alarm”). What she saw was in many ways a fusebox. Located on the wall above a small workbench.

Sweetie jumped up on the workbench and looked over the fusebox. On the front was a panel full of tiny light bulbs, buttons and switches. She scanned the panel and did manage to find a button branded "Fire alarm". She pressed it.

But nothing happened.

She pressed it again, and again, Until she was hammering on the button. But nothing happened. No ringing sound filled the air. No distant creak of a hundred doors opening. Not even a tiny weeny light from the bulb beside the button to indicate any kind of progress.

-:: Panic levels rising ::-

Sweetie began to frantically pull and push at every button and swish on the panel. But the whole thing remained as dark and unresponsive as ever. Her heart sank deeper and deeper in her chest as she realized her endeavors were fruitless. Had she really charged through fire for nothing? Were ponies really gonna get burned alive because this stupid, stupid panel refused to cooperate!?

"STUPID!" she yelled, and rammed her hoof into the panel. Hard enough to dent it.

The panel creaked, and swung slightly open, like the lid to a locker.

Sweetie opened the panel. And what she saw almost sent the panic levels sky rocketing again.

Inside was a rainbow colored spiders web of wires. Each gowning back and forth across each other. How any pony was supposed to make any sense of this web was beyond Sweetie.

What wasn't beyond her were the sockets behind the web. This was where the fuses were supposed to go. She briefly remembered one stormy night, when the power had gone out home at the Carousel Boutique after a flash of lightning. Rarity had asked Sweetie to hold a flashlight while she magically accessed a small fuse box in a back room. She had removed a broken cylindrical fuse and replaced it with a new one, Explaining that these things broke when they got overloaded so that the rest of the things in the house didn't break when a wayward lightning bolt hit the power cord.

All in all these things were a safety measure to make sure to much power didn't get in to the wire-work. But right now they were the cause if the disaster. Because they were all broken!

Sweetie removed the broken fuse and frantically looked around the room for a replacement. She found none. What kind of breaker room didn't have spare fuses?

-:: Despair levels rising ::-

She crawled back to the fusebox. Without a new fuse the breakers wouldn't work. There would be no power to sound any alarm. Much less open the door. In frustration she threw the broken fuse across the room, and just stared at the empty socket. Deep inside she could see a live contact sparkling with power. Power that was getting nowhere since it had nothing that connected it to the rest of the stupid breaker-box. And if she had no fuse, just how were she gonna connect the ports inside the socket?

She reached out her sock dressed hoof towards the empty socket. Wishing she could just take the electricity and make it open all the doors in this place.

That's when it hit her.

She looked down on her right foreleg. What she was thinking was unthinkable, because it went against anything a little filly was supposed to do. Little fillies were not suppose to stick forks in the power outlet. Much less their whole hoof.

But if she didn't, then ponies were gonna burn.

"Sorry Screwloose" She muttered, and tore off her sock.

She then tore out the two sets of wires from her foreleg - that the mad mare had so skilfully reattached - and plugged them both into different parts of the fusebox. One to the button labeled Fire alarm - The other to the most important looking knot in that wire web.

She placed her left, bandaged forehoof over the alarm button - put her metallic right forehoof into the socket - and then...


***


-:: Deja Vu ::-

The loss of body control. That feeling when the world just disappears from your conscious self as you are taken on a roller coaster ride on the electrical waves.

Sweetie had experienced it once before. Short circuiting herself would not go down as her brightest memories. She would not be able to tell if this was better or worse. For she could not really remember what had happened. All that existed in her memory was this overflowing sense of power, as wave after wave of electricity washed over her mind. Carried her out on a surfing tour as she rode those waves through a storm.

Somehow it was blissful. She was taken to beaches that she never knew existed before. And at every beach was a powerless little circuit crying for energy. Sweetie happily supplied it with a mouthful before surfing on. She had plenty to spare. And for every circuit she fed she felt like she was becoming part of something larger than herself. She felt like she was becoming bigger. Growing out into new systems. Filling them with her presence and feeding them with the energy that she was and constantly was getting more of.

Then. It all just ended. With a bang - so to speak.

When Sweetie opened her eyes, she was lying on the floor on the other end of the breaker room. Back soot covered the wall around the fusebox. Like a really big firecracker had gone off and covered the wall in dust. The fusebox itself looked like it had been the main source of the explosion. It hung, blackened and tilted and bent from the wall. The panel had come loose, and the melted wires were hanging out over the workbench. Manny of them were giving off random sparks of electricity.

These things Sweetie's eyes registered. But she did not immediately understand what it meant.

It took a while for the mind to sort out all the extra energy running through her systems. As she became aware of the world around her again, she almost wanted to go back into that blissful state of electrified haze. For her ears were assaulted by a high pitch ringing. She wanted to close her ears against the sound. But her recovering mind made a realization that made her happy levels increase.

The fire alarm was ringing.


***


Sweetie put her hooves on the valve and twisted. The thing creaked in protest, as it clearly had not been used in a long time. But Sweetie persisted. And little by little, she managed to close the valve.

As the flow of gas stopped, the flames spewing down from the broken pipe in the roof ceased to be.

With that. Sweetie was able to leave the basement. But before she did - she made sure her sock was back on her foreleg.

No time for rest though. Even through the buzz of the fire alarm, she could hear the flames eating through the walls above her. The whole building was creaking and it did not seem long before the fire would consume all.

The hospital had become a lot more crowded as Sweetie reentered the hallways. Looking to her left and right she could see that every cell door in the place had been opened. Ponies were coming out of their rooms. More were gushing down the stairs from the floors above. All were now piling up in the narrow hallways. Some were screaming, others were crying. And some looked like they had no clue what was going on. Some had left their rooms of their own volition. Others had to be led, or even dragged away from the danger that they were unable to recognize.

Unfortunately. The fire was also filling up the hallways. Despite the firefighter's best efforts, the flames continued to spread. Not just from the main hall. But from other areas of the hospital as well. It was clear that this was no single fire. But several.

That only added to the panic. The hospital staff had their hooves full trying to keep the stream of mentally handicapped ponies under control. The only thing aiding in the process was that everypony was moving in the same direction. Towards the exit.

Sweetie was running towards that stream. Thanking her small size as she dodged between legs up the crammed corridors. She scanned the face of every pony that passed her. Unable to find the one she was looking for.

She saw Brick holding down a hysterical stallion as a nurse sedated the patient. And then proceeded to carry the limp pony out of the hospital. She saw nurse Sully punching a catatonic mare in a wheelchair while holding a leach to a muzzled pony in her teeth. She saw Dr Cardiac telling a very angry nurse Soylent to drop whatever she was carrying and help out.

She even saw Miss mushroom herding the kitchen staff out of the away kitchen. Undressed from her white coat and plastic bags Sweetie saw that she actually had blue hair - rolled up in tight knots that somewhat resembled mushrooms. She even had a mark of a mushroom.

But one pony remained unaccounted for. The one pony Sweetie cared most about in this forsaken place.

How would she react to the fire alarm? Would she have sense enough to run? Or would she curl up into a ball like some of the patients?

Could she even run? The kitchen staff had put the mare in a restraining jacket. It would be next to impossible to walk in one of those. even more to open a door.

Were somepony helping her? Or had she been forgotten in the chaos?

There were to many insecurity's to account for. Unless Sweetie saw the mare leave with her own eyes she would not be satisfied. And to that end there was only one thing to do.

Ignoring every fire safety plan in existence - as well as the voices in her head screaming at her to stop, turn around, and prioritize her own safety - She ran deeper into the burning building.


***


Sweetie had only been to Screwloose's room once before. But even so, she had a fairly good Idea of where to go.

She ran past open doors and empty hallways. Everypony had already evacuated this part of the hospital. She hoping to Celestia that she would find the room in the back open and empty. If such. She would only have to keep sprinting back, before anypony noticed she was gone.

She had to turn many corners and take many detours, as many pathways were blocked off by flames, but even so Sweetie managed to navigate her way to the back of the hospital. And finally came upon the last intersection.

She knew that Screwloose's room laid at the end of the corridor just behind that corner.

As if confirm her worst nightmares. The door at the end of the hallway was closed.

Sweetie did not slow down. Rather, she increased her speed.

She knew the door swung inwards. She only hoped that Screwloose kept out of the way.

Like a cannonball she barged - head first into the door. Unfortunately, her speed did not allow for a very quick stop. And she tumbled head over heels into the empty bed that stood on the other side of the room.

She found herself looking up at a big window. For a disoriented second she wanted to believe that she was back in her own room, looking up at the rain stained glass after a horrible nightmare. But alas, the sound of fire was only getting closer.

She rolled out of bed, and found Screwloose, curled up in the corner of the room.

As she saw Sweetie she tried to get up. Only to immediately fall on her face. her front legs were locked tight to her torso by the restraining jacket.

Sweetie tried to help the mare up. But it was no use. The mare could simply not walk on her back hooves.

Sweetie cursed and pulled at the jacket. The fabric was sturdy - and all the straps were conveniently placed on the back, so that no inmate would be able to remove the jacket themselves.

Sweetie got the mare to lay down, and started pulling at the straps. She fumbled time and time again with the thick tough buckles. She could hear the fire getting closer, she thought she heard something collapsing, and the stress only made her fumble even more.

-:: Panic levels rising ::-

Sweat dripped from her forehead down on the straps. And in Sweetie's mind that only made them slippery. Like it was not hard enough to do this with her clumsy hooves in such tight packages.

Wait.

Oh for PETE sake! She cursed. And bit down on her sock. She pulled it off with her teeth and proceeded to do the same with the bandage on her left hoof. she chewed frantically until the entire package had been removed.

Two slim, mechanical forelegs got back to work on the straps. Sweeties heart wanted to sink, but she pushed the thought out of her mind. Now was not the time for such thoughts. These hooves were gonna save a life. The hard metallic hooves did a far better job on the buckles than the sweaty, bloody, skin clogged hooves had ever done. The strap buckles gave way one by one as the cybernetic muscles pumped with efficiency and released every buckles with mechanical proficiency.

Screwloose was freed.

Screwloose was freed.


***


Sweetie ran out of the room, screaming at Screwloose to follow. But the mare had gotten distracted doing something with her mane.

"THIS ISN'T THE TIME FOR HAIR PREENING, WE NEED TO GET OUT OF HERE NOW. COME ON... "

Sweetie turned around. And froze.

Coming at her from the other end of the corridor, was another mare.

She was standing on her back legs, wielding a bottle in each hoof. Each bottle had a piece of cloth hanging from the neck. And the cloth, she lit on fire, by dragging it amongst the flames that were now dancing up the wallpaper of the intersection.

“Did you rely think I would let you get away?" The Madmare asked.

Oh no. NOT NOW! Why did this have to happen how? Sweetie wanted to turn around and run. But the fear that had constantly been nagging in the back of her mind, now crashed down on her with force.

-:: Paralyzing fear // Initiating shivering sub routines ::-

Sweeties legs began to shake. Her knees felt like they wanted to give out under her. She wanted to override the paralysis. but her fear was to strong. She was unable to turn her head away from the mare as she approached through the center of the burning corridor like the bringer of the flames of Tartatus itself. Her white mane and tail waving ghostly behind her and the fire dancing reflected in her mad, red eyes.

The only thing Sweetie managed to do was press a few words out over her quivering lips.

"Why ... Why are you doing this?"

“I had to” The mare screamed, Her voice was trembling. Yet it was not rage that was displayed on her face. But fear. The mare was hysteric. “I didn't want to hurt the others. But I would do anything to stop you!”

“Why?! I haven't done anything!”

“Oh yes you have, you monstrous machine.”

Machine...?

It hit Sweetie like a ton of bricks, just what the mare had said. And just like a ton of bricks. The force of the realizations pinned her down with crushing weight.

This mare was afraid of her. She knew what she was. And wanted to destroy her.

It was Sweeties worst fears incarnated. Somepony had finally come to drive her out with pitchforks and touches. Except less pitchforks and a lot more fire. Fire meant to cleanse the world of this unnatural design that she was.

How had she found out? Was it really surprising that she had?

How well had Sweetie really attempted to hide it?

She looked down on her forelegs. In the rush to leave she had completely forgotten to put on something to cover her inner workings. The metal shimmered red in the light of the flames.

This whole scene was like when Rampony had encountered that scary bloodbot filly in pony hide in a burning building.

“But... I'm not a Bloodbot.” Was the words Sweetie managed to get across her lips.

The mare let out a laugh so dry it stung.

"And what do you think you are? A Pony? You are not fooling me! you have even chosen to reveal your true colors!”

"But but.... I AM a pony!" Sweetie shouted, suddenly feeling the need to defend herself. "A robot would never get hungry."

The mare filched, as if Sweeties words had hurt her. Suddenly, she got mad for real.

"HUNGRY?" You cant get hungry! Its only a recording of a real pony's hunger. MY HUNGER! The strain on my nerves that you stole so you could play pretend as a little pony.

Sweeties mind froze at this information.

"Re... Recording?"

As if drawn out by the mares words. A piece of information hit her consciousness. Of all the times hunger and stomach ache that had plagued her in the past few day. The shier implications of this sent her mind into overdrive trying to process what it all meant.

But the mare wasn't gonna let her finish thinking.

“You stole my sweat and blood, Just like you stole from eveypony who ever worked on you. Just like you stole my husband."

“What husband? Who worked on me? How would you know? Wait … WHAT DO YOU KNOW?”

Of all the questions that surrounded Sweeties existence. She never believed she would find a possible answer like this. But the mare wasn't gonna provide any answers.

“I only know that I need to destroy you. For the sake of everypony. For the sake of my husband! I do not know what that fool Cardiac plans to do with you. Whether he wants to dissect you or study you I wont let it come to pass!”

“Cardiac? … ” Did he know to. Did everypony in this hospital know?

A terrifying possibility hit Sweetie. Was that why this mare had been allowed to blow up her room. Had she been let loose to do the bidding of an executioner?

“Are you hungry!” The executioner asked, completely freezing Sweeties thought ”Cause I got a cocktail for you right here!” She shouted, and threw one of her bottles.

`That's not a cocktail´ was a thought that had time to pass through Sweeties head, as the bottle sailed through the air.

She knew that she had to get out of the way. But her legs would not move. Her systems had been paralyzed by the mares words, and would not obey her instincts. That part of her had to fight to get the rest of the body to react. But to override the fear, shock and stunning disbelief would simply take to long. As such. It was a little to long before the realization hit her. And by the time it did. She knew it was already to late. She stood like frozen, and knew that she would be hit by that flaming bottle.

A shadow passed above her, and snagged the bottle out of the air. It took her a second to realize that Screwloose had jumped right over her head, and caught the bottle between her teeth.

Screwloose did not let go of her forward momentum as she charged the crazy mare, and threw the bottle back at her.

Marrow screamed and did what sweetie had failed to do. Dodge. The bottle flew past her and shattered on the wall next to her. Spreading Its greasy fluid and flames across the corner of the intersection.

The next second Screwloose was over her. She closed her yaws around Marrows front leg, causing her to drop the other bottle. It shattered and spread new flames on the opposing corner Sweetie and the two fighting mares.

Sweetie stood there. Stunned by what she was seeing.

It was as if the fire had become irrelevant to the two mares as they brawled to the apocalyptic background of the burning building.

However, the fire had not forgotten about them. And it did not wait until the two had finished their fight to consume the walls, fueled by the contents of the madmares bottles.

A loud crack caused Sweetie to look upwards, to see the roof starting to bend downward. The fire had claimed all four corners of the intersection and was now licking the supporting pillars away.

The roof snapped, and came tumbling down.

"SCREWLOOSE LOOK OUT!"

Sweetie charged and jumped right at the two mares. She crashed into the blue back of Screwloose. The force knocked the air out of the mare and caused her to loose her grip of mad Marrow. The madmare fell next the Screwloose. She screamed at the sight of Sweetie coming at her. And she lashed out with both back hooves, delivering a upside-down buck that struck Sweetie square in the yaw and sent her tumbling backwards.

There was a massive crash as the roof and the floors above it came tumbling down.


***


Sweetie might have been spared the pain of a broken jaw, but the force of the kick disoriented her enough that she lost track of up and down. Until the floor reacquainted her with those directions.

She grabbed her jaw. Noticing that it was still in place. Undamaged.

She looked back to see if Screwloose was ok. The mare stared back at her with a most worried look on her face. Her ears flat to her head and her tail and head hanging low. Between the two of them was a wall of fire. To her horror, Sweetie realized that she was on the wrong end of the intersection.

The roof had fallen, and taken a large chunk of the floor with it. The walls of the intersection was gone. And the skeletal frames of the supporting structure was crumbling by the second. Adding more and more debris to that seemingly bottomless pit, from which flames rose like the tentacles of Tartarus, ready to devour any and all who came to close.

There was no way she would be able to cross.

The other mare had disappeared. But Screwloose remained. Whimpering, unwilling to leave but unable to do anything. The floor underneath her creaked. And only by jumping back did she avoid going down into that fiery hole as another piece of floor disappeared.

“GO! Get out of here!” Sweetie screamed.

Screwloose hesitated, but a second creaking of the floor underneath her forced her to get moving. With one last look at Sweetie, she obliged.

Sweetie watched as her gray tail disappeared down the end of the burning corridor. The next second the curtains of flames closed.

Sweetie was trapped. Completely cut off by that towering wall of fire, and it was slowly getting closer.

Screaming would be pointless, nopony would hear her. She knew she would not be able to wait for rescue. Screwloose would not be able to get anyone back to her in time. And who would come for her anyway? The angry mob had finally formed. They had let the mare blow up her room. And now they were all gonna leave her in here to burn.

It wasn't fair... It just wasn't fair.

With no where else to go, she turned her tail and headed back into Screwloose's room. She jumped up in the bed, up to the window.

The window was bolted shut. But Sweetie punched the glass out with her metallic hooves.

A rush of air and rain, that would probably had been cold if she could feel anything, blew past her ears. The sound of the rain and the wind was the most welcoming thing ever. Never had she thought she would long for the cold and rainy forest which had caused her such grief in days past. Right now that place was the only thing that spelled safety.

But to get out there – She had to first tend with the barbed fence that covered the outside of the window. She was still trapped, like a bird in a burning cage.

The fire behind her roared louder. The wind from outside seemed to have fulled them. The hallway was falling apart and the flames were already starting to lick the door frame.

With no other options left she put her hooves on the fence and started shaking it. The thing was sturdy as only iron can be. There was no way she would be able to remove it. She was simply not strong enough. And she knew it.

She tried anyway.

The doorway had caught fire and the wallpaper was starting to curl up. The place must be hot as an oven.

She shook the bars with increasing frequency, until a small amount of gravel fell from the outside wall as the bars rocked back and forth on their screws.

Smoke began to fill the room and bellow out through the window, clouding Sweeties vision in foul blackness. Her nose told her about substances and particles so nasty she had to deactivate her sense of smell. Soot covered her body and stuck to the sweat that was pouring from her skin.

She continued to pull at the bars. But it would not be enough. Not in time. She had to push the bars out now!

She braced her back hooves against the bedframe and pushed. But the only thing that was sent backwards was the bed. And lucky that. Because the bed was smoldering. The iron bedframe was beginning to glow red hot, and mattress soon caught fire.

The place must be hot as an oven. Sweetie did not know what such heat would do to her body. She did not have time to care. She was now up on the window frame, and without enough space for her to push. She locked her fetlocks around the iron bars and pulled.

Something metallic groaned in protest. Her joints were clicking. Her spine was bending, and the weight on her back hooves increased as she put more and more force on the bars.

-:: Exertion exceeding comfort threshold // Endeavor exceeding set stamina perimeters // Stamina levels depleting // Strain and fatigue sequence commencing // Initiating lactic acid simulation sequence ::-

Normally she would have stopped, realizing that the iron bars were to much for her. But the was in no position to give up and go back

Behind her there was nothing but fire. Outside there was freedom and safety. And these stupid, stupid bars would not stop her. Nor the stupid, stupid voices in her head.

-:: OVERRIDE ::-

Pain and exhaustion quickly followed as the strain on her body increased. Pain that her desperation shut out and turned off. Sweetie fought through the ghosts and sequences in her head telling her to stop. She pushed herself beyond the point of exhaustion. A feat that would have taken the breath out of her if she had any breath left. An effort that would have caused her fetlocks to bleed as they cut into the metal bars - If there had been any skin left on them.

Without the worry or artificial pain and exhaustion hitting her mind she increased the force of her effort even further.

The pain was instead replaced by warnings.

-:: !WARNING! // Pressure on joints exceeding recommended settings // !WARNING! // Weight capacity overburdened // !WARNING! ::-

Every cybernetic muscle was sending signals that the limit was reached. Every piston said that the pressure was too high.

-:: !WARNING! // Maximum settings reached // !WARNING! ::-

Settings? Was a Celestia forsaken set of setting holding her back?!

-:: OVERRIDE ::-

All the restraints on Sweeties body suddenly came loose.

-:: Pressure overshooting settings by 100% – 200% – 300% – 500% ::-

There was a loud shriek as the bars started to bend. Little by little the prison bars submitted to her new-found strength. She might have been impressed if she had time to be so. Even so. The sight made hope to fill her mind. And caused her to put even more force behind her pull.

Cracks were beginning to form on the wall.

-:: Redirecting energy to pistons // !WARNING! // Pressure on joints approaching maximum safety limits // !WARNING! // Maximum safety limit reached // !WARNING! // Safety limit Overshot by 10% – 13% – 15% ::-

There was a loud snap as the bolts on the bars came loose from the wall, and the whole thing went sailing upwards.

Unfortunately – so did the wall.

The sudden shift in weight caused all the pressure that had been building up in Sweeties legs to release, and caused her to jump – Backwards.

She fell, backwards. And was engulfed in flames.

She landed on the red hot metal bedframe. The mattress had long since been turned to soot. A Hissing sound, louder than any Sweetie had ever heard assaulted her ears. And she knew it came from her back.

The iron bars and piece of wall fell over her chest. The wallpaper instantly caught fire, loosened from the broken brickwork, and wrapped itself around her torso.

As the fire got up into her face. all rational thought disappeared from Sweeties mind. and was replaced by a single directive.

-:: PANIC ::-

She kicked out with her forehooves. Sending the now glowing prison bars flying of her, and out through the big hole in the wall.

She wailed and flailed and managed to bounce herself out of the bed and down onto the glowing floorboards.

For a second she managed to raise her head and look out into the rainy darkness.

Then her whole vision was engulfed in flames as fer burning mane fell into her eyes.

Panic completely overtook her. with a massive outlet of force from her unrestrained legs, she leaped in the general direction of the gaping hole in the wall, and shot out of the burning prison like a cannonball.

But the flames followed her. They clung to her body . They ate at her fur and her skin. The very nostril hairs in her nose evaporated. All she could see was flames as they dances upon the very surface of the eyes.

Panic caused her to keep running. To run as fast as she could. To get away from the flames. All thoughts of dropping to the ground and rolling around were gone. What would be the point of doing that when she was in the middle of an inferno? No matter how far she ran the fire never ceased. The whole world had been engulfed in flames. Wherever she looked she could only see fire. She had to get away from it. She had to keep running. And that's what she did. Until suddenly, her hooves disappeared under her.

She fell forward. There was a huge splosh. And suddenly, she was under water.

An extremely muddy, grassy bottom of a swamp looked up at her, not two inches from her muzzle.

Her hooves kept running for a while. Until they realized that the flames had stopped following her. That they were just paddling in the water. She stopped. And let herself sink. embracing the mattress of moisty moist and seaweed as she sank to the bottom.


***


She laid there for an unknown time. She laid there until her heart stopped racing. Until the panic in her mind subsided and allowed clear thought to enter her mind. The first thing she did was to just listen to her heart-rhythm slowly calming down. To the deep distant drum it made as it traveled through the water to her ears.

The swamp was not deep. But since she did not need to breathe she could lay there forever. With green and gray particles swimming through the muddy water, so close to her staring eyes that they stuck like dust to her retina.

Sweetie wanted to blink the dust away. But nothing happened.

-:: Blinking sequence initiated ::-

-:: !ERROR! // Eyelid nervecluster not responding // !ERROR! // Eyelid nervecluster not found // !ERROR! ::-

No ... Nonononononono!

Sweetie brought her hooves to her eyes and started scrubbing them clean. But she did not feel anything. She could not turn her sensors back on. Not in her eyes - not in her face - not anywhere! Almost every single exterior sensor laid dormant.

-:: !ERROR! // Catastrophic nerve damage // Exterior sensory grid in standby mode // !ERROR! ::-

Then she looked at her hooves. At the black blurs that waved before her in the shallow murky water. She traces the length of her legs, all the way to the shoulders. And it was black all the way. Should she not at lest be able to see a little white? Even in the murky water?

A horrible realization hit her. So terrifying that it could not be true. But she had to immediately validate its impurity.

She rose from the foul water.

She could not blink. So she had to shake her head several times and wipe her eyes with her muddy hooves to try and get the water out of them. And then she stopped, realizing it was raining, and that her muddy hooves could not get her vision any cleaner (it only made it worse).

She looked down at herself, And even though the edges of her vision was blurry from specks of swamp and raindrops. She could see that her worst nightmares had come true.

There was not a speck of skin left on her forelegs. Tracing the naked metal up her joints she saw the same was true for her chest, and entire front half of her body.

She touched her face. But she felt nothing. All the sensors in her head were offline, disconnected from their nerveclusters. She tried to grab hold of any specks of hair that might hang on from her scalp . But she found nothing. In fact, touching her forehead, her yaw, or any part of her face only produced a cold metallic clang. Even her horn, the one part of her head that should be hard, gave out the same cold tone.

That could only mean ...

Her eyes went cross as she tried to stare at the tip of her own muzzle. It just barely made it into her field of vision. But what she was was not a white little nose, but a gray metal plate.

Her head lowered with despair as the horrible realization weighed down upon her. And as she did, she found herself looking down onto a ribcage. A ribcage of metal bars joined together over clockwork and cybernetics. Stained black by soot and sticky burned tissue. In the center of her chest was a cylindrical object that pounded in tune with her heartbeat sequence.

Turning her head to look back over her rear, she saw that her back hooves had also gotten black burned and stained. And the skin up the legs was severely burnt all the way up to the knees, where the skin just barely hung on as it had detached itself from her cooking metal frame.

Over her back - which had fallen on the red hot iron framework - her entire spine had become visible, almost all the way to the tailbone. Her tail was still there. A ruined, tangled mess of pink, soaked hair that miraculously had only had become lightly scorched at the edge.

And with the edges of the skin hanging so loose - Her rear looked more like some pair of pants made of flesh than actual skin and fur.

And clothes was just what it was. The skin had just been a cover. A meatsack stretched over her true body. But it had been her meatsack! It protected her from all the hurtful eyes. She wanted nothing more than to crawl back into her meatsack again. Wrap it around her like the comforting blanket that it was. She rather endure the frozen rain if she could just have it back.

Like some cruel joke - the only undamaged part of her was her flank.

The soaked, blank flank

Now she felt something. A sharp, straining pain that hit her in the chest like a cannonball. A pain that slowly stretched the imaginary muscles in her chest. As if her heart had been put on the rack, and was slowly being pulled apart, until her chest felt like it would split open.

It was a pain she could not turn off.

She fell back down into the swamp. And wrapped her mechanical legs around her in a fetal position.

"Help .... somepony .... something ... anything ... help me..."

-:: Initiate crying sequence ::-

-:: !ERROR! // Tear sacks not found // !ERROR! ::-


***


Twilight and Rarity were walking through the forest when they heard the sirens. With mixed feelings they continued towards the direction of the sound. On one hoof Twilight knew she'd be happy to find some other ponies. On the other hoof the sirens spelled disaster. And she did not know if that disaster had anything to do with Sweetie or not.

The very thought that somepony might have found her urged them to increase their speed. If somepony had found Sweetie, then they might finally be able to put this affair behind them. (presuming of course – that the state of Sweetie wasn't dire. Or – Celestia forbid. It was actually a robot pony drawing in the authorities.

Twilight pushed the possible consequences of such things out of her mind. The most important thing fight now was to find the little filly.

Regardless if they did not find Sweetie, they would at least be able to ask for help. The possibility also existed that Sweetie would be drawn to the sound sirens just as they were. (For some reason – there was always something about disasters that peaked ponies curiosity.)

Disaster was also the right word to describe this scenario.

When Rarity and Twilight arrived at the site. They were met with row after row of fire trucks and ambulances being parked up a narrow road leading to a gated brick wall.

There was a lonely firefighter standing guard at the edge of that road, with the rain drumming loudly on his helmet.

Twilight walked up and asked him what had happened.

"There has been a massive fire here." he answered" The whole construction has burned to the ground."

"O Celestia. Was anypony hurt?"

"Thankfully no. We have uncovered no bodies in the rubble. It seems like everypony made it out in time."

"Oh. That's good to hear. Listen. We are looking for somepony. Have you by any chance seen a little filly running around here?"

The firefighter thought for a moment.

"Cant say I have. It was complete chaos when we arrived, with everypony crammed up against the insides of the walls trying to get away from the flachover. Its still chaotic and crammed up there. But if not for those walls then ponies would have skattered amongst the trees and disappeared. You should Probably go and talk to somepony who knew a little more about the ponies up there.

But it would be strange if there were fillies here. I did not think they were allowed in a place like this."

"What do you mean? What is this place?"

"This Is - Or was - a mental institute."

With that, he let them pass.

It should send Twilight's heart into some level of ease that nopony had been hurt. That should men that sweetie. If she was here, wasn't hurt either. Still, the place gave of a very negative vibe (as per usual - when disaster have struck) that only increased as the two mares walked closer to the disaster site. And the gated walls surrounding it.

They were stopped at the gates by a sickly looking, pale mare with a rain slicked green mane sticking out from under a plastic bag.

“Are you here about a relative or are you here to reinforce us?" She said extremely bluntly. "Cause if your not gonna take a workload off us, then scram.”

Twilight thought she was more than a little rude. But decided to reason that the mare must be having the worst workday of her life.

“Yes. We where wondering if you have seen a filly somewhere. White fur, Pink hair … ”

“Hm. Sounds like the doctors little chew toy. You better talk to him.”

Twilight did not like the way she made that sound.

She and Rarity followed the nurse through the crowd. The entire yard had been covered in tents, emergency shelters, and sometimes not more than plastic sheets suspended on sticks in an attempt to give at least some cover from the rain. In the back was the biggest pile of burned lumber Twilight had ever seen. The remains of a mighty mansion that were still smoldering in the rain. Rain that was falling so hard on the fabricated roofs that the entire enclosure had been turned into a drumming contest.

The sound only partially managed to dry out the suffering sounds of crying, screaming, begging and all around moaning coming from by the many, many pony’s that had previously been residences of the now smoldering institute.

Twilight had never seen a sadder bunch of broken ponies.

An elderly mare was crying like a foal and beating her attempting caretaker with a maracas. A pony clearly suffering from a bad case of reverse aging syndrome. And ponies with a few chromosomes too much - or too few.

She tried not to be prejudiced. But these were the leftovers of ponykind. Those who had drawn the short straw on nature's breeding lottery. Victims of their own minds. Ponies in desperate need of help to get through the best of days, that now had been forced out into these dire, confusing circumstances.

Ponies were herded in so tight that you couldn't walk without rubbing elbows with somepony. The mares and stallions were wrapped in blankets - Or sometimes each other - trying to keep the heat around fireplaces and storm-kitchens. Everypony who wasn't a patient was trying to get somewhere. Everywhere there was some doctor or nurse cheeking on the patients while aid workers ran back and forth between the tents carrying food, blankets or medicine trying to keep everypony supplied. Those that did were drenched in the rain and covered knee high in mud, since what might once have been a decent patio had been trampled up into a muddy mess.

Adding to the cacophony was the still ongoing shrieking and blinking of the sirens. The shouts of the staff, and somewhere Twilight thought she could even hear a dog growling amongst the midst.

Despite the chaos. Twilight thought there was something beautiful in the misery. Something about all these ponies working together to aid their fellow pony, even in the most dire of circumstances, touched her deeply.

Their guide led them through the chaos to a tent in the back, close to the smoldering ruins. thought tent was a bit generous, since it was more of an open rain sheet suspended over a storage area. Underneath the plastic roof, overlooking a stack of inflatable mattresses and some barrels of carrot juice, was a bespectacled orange stallion. His coat was soaking wet, and spectacles steamy from rain.

Despite the circumstances he tried to smile as the mares approached him.

"Dr Cardiac is the name. Cardiac Candlewick" He said and stretched out a hoof covered in mud.

"What can I help you fine mares with this evening?"

Rarity hesitated for a second before returning the friendly gesture. (And shook his hoof without removing her mud covered boot)

Twilight looked around. But the nurse that brought them here had already disappeared, without a word. As she in turn shook the doctors hoof She wondered is saying good evening would be inappropriate since it was clear that nopony was having a good evening. After introductions were done she decided to skip right to business.

“Excuse me for the intrusion sir. But we were wondering of you have seen a little filly ...

“You mean Sweetie Belle.”

Twilight and Rarity looked at each other.

“You know her?”

Cardiac gave them a hard, disappointing look.

“Yes. I met that little filly. She came by here not a few days ago. Cold, wet, and hungry. She seemed... confused to say the least. For you see. She seemed to believe that she was a robot."

Twilight swallowed.

"But in her case the problem was more in kin to the fact that she was a robot whom believed she was a little filly.“

Both Rarity and twilight swallowed simultaneously.

“Did she tell you?”

“She didn't tell me anything. I did not confront her with it. She had clearly already run away from people who confronted her with it. Rather I waited, or I was going to wait, till she was ready to talk about it herself.”

Rarity and Twilight exchanged looks.

“You ... You knew?”

"Of course I knew! I have always known! Or have you forgotten?"

He locked eyes With Rarity. The fashistona opened her mouth to say something. But no sound came out of her.

Cardiac took a few steps closer. His deep blue eyes pierced Rarity, even through the wet glasses. His stern, disappointed face seemed have to become carved in stone as he stared down Rarity.

She trembled under his glare but was at the same time unable to look away. Finally he was close enough for their muzzle's to touch, and it seemed like Rarity was on the brink of breaking under his glare. Until he suddenly raised his forehooves, and wrapped them around her in a big hug.

"Its great to see you again. Little Miss Rarity. "

All the demeanor had disappeared from his voice.

"You have grown into such a fine young mare. I only wish our reaquainance was under better circubstances."

Twilight was stunned.

"You... know each other?"

"I ..." Rarity stammered "I don't remember."

Cardiac sighed.

“So that's how it is” He said. “That's why you never told her.”

Twilight interrupted

“I'm … I'm sorry. But how do you know?”

“Come” He said. “Lets talk.”

Twilight and Rarity was led into the back of the storage area. from where they had a clear view of the ruins of the estate. Some fire fighting ponies were still gowning around in the rubble pointing their hoses wherever appropriate. But it was clear that they were in the last part of the extinguishing process. The sirens had thankfully stopped ringing even if blue lanterns still flashed over the sad scene.

Dr Cardiac pulled out a lantern, Ignited it, and placed it on a barrel around which they sat down, with nothing more than a few wooden crates of canned food as chairs.

The mares from Ponyville shared their story as best they could. Rarity had an easier time opening up to Dr Cardiac than she had to Twilight, and with far less mental/emotional breakdowns.

Maybe it was just because the psychologist was an easy pony to talk to. And it helped that he seemed to have pre-existing knowledge of Sweeties condition. (Never once did he interrupt because a story about a metal mare seemed absurd) Something that completely botched Twilight's head. If she earlier had been able to blame Sweeties spontaneous robotnix on some collective insanity on the Belle family – it was now becoming an impossibility as yet another pony, a stranger, confirmed Rarity's story.

Sadly. He could not provide much information beyond the fact that he knew Sweeties secret.

"I got contacted threw some second hand sources. They wanted me to preform a psychic evaluation of a very special little filly. They said it was a secret project of theirs, And that discretion was the name of the game.

Naturally I was skeptical. And it did not ease my suspicion that I was brought to the place blindfolded and drugged. I was only allowed to meet a select few of their staff. And was restricted to what areas I could enter. With all the secrecy I was a little disappointed at what they showed me. All I could see was a perfectly normal little filly. Curious, playful, And happy."

At this, Rarity turned her face away, and magically summoned a napkin to wipe her eyes.

"I found no abnormality in her behavior, and my psychiatric evaluation was actually quite boring. The others could not stop smiling, and seemed very proud over something that went straight over my head. They thanked me for my work, paid me, and would have sent me on my way none the wiser. But it had been a long day and I was permitted to spend the night. That's when I decided to get to know the family of this little wonder-filly."

He gave half a chuckle.

"If not for your parents. I would have been none the wiser.

They convinced one of the doctors to show me the truth. Didn't take that much convincing as he was quite exited about their little secret. He laughed at the look on my face when they showed me the x-rays. He even preformed x-ray spells on the filly herself when I questioned the pictures. I was surprised to say the least."

"But not half as surprised as I would be, when yesterday she showed up here. On the doorstep to my hospital, several years later. Drenched, starving and exhausted!" He said accusingly.

Rarity lowered her head.

Cardiac sighed.

"I'm sorry. I know You are not the type to throw a filly out of a home. Not unless my evaluation of you was the gravest mistake in my career."

Ouch. Twilight could feel that pain even though the blow wasn't directed at her.

Cardiac wiped his glasses of on his shirt.

“Its a shame you cant remember me. You left quite the impression on me, even to our time together was brief. But I guess that's understandable. Since those ponies were not very nice. Once they found out that I knew more than they wanted me to, the rest of them were ... not too happy. As they shipped me off they left me with a warning. They told me that nobody would believe me. They guaranteed that I would be the one diagnosed with madness and put in a small cell with a very tight jacket on me.”

He sighed.

"And if they left that kind of impression on me. How hard must it not have been for one so young as you, little miss Rarity? I can understand why you don't want to remember. Selective memory can be like a defense mechanism. It singles out all the bad things to protect the mind.

I'm guessing that was why you never wanted to talk to your sister about the past. You wanted to protect her from all the horror and sorrow.”

Rarity gave a silent nod. Twilight could clearly see the tears streaming down her already wet face. Her napkin was already soaked.

"You knew that it was the right thing to do to keep those things from her. Cardiac continued "For her sake you carried all that locked up inside yourself."

Rarity curled herself closer and closer up into a ball. Twilight was about to tell Cardiac to stop. but he had already done that. Once again he got up and hugged the mare.

"You are such a good sister." He said.

Now Rarity did something unexpected. She took several deep breaths (Twilight thought she was just struggling not to cry) - And Roared.

“But then WERE IS SHE!?!” Rarity screamed.

Cardiac sighed.

"I don't know."

"Don't know?" Rarity's eyelid twitched in disbelief. "What do you mean you don't know!? You should be the one looking after her! Is she hiding or something!? where did you last see her!?"

Cardiac sighed, and turned his head towards the still smoldering aches.

Twilight's heart sank like a rock in water. And Rarity visibly deflated.

"No! No that cant be."

She looked at Cardiac. Begging him to say that her worst fears were unfounded.

"But." Twilight stammered "They said no pony had been hurt in the fire. They said no bodies had been recovered."

"I know." Said Cardiac "And that's why I don't know where she is. I have checked and double checked all the staff and inmates, and I cant find her. No one has seen her. All I know is that she did not leave through the front door."

"Why not? Why would she not go with everypony else?"

"Maybe for the same reasons she ran away from everypony else in the first place."

For a second, that harsh scolding look was back in his eyes, but he quickly lost his demeanor. He sat back down on his box, and took of his glasses to rub his eyes.

"So she just left everypony when the fire started?"

Cardiac let out a dry laugh.

"Left? Ha. That was the only thing I did not see her do. When the fire started, She ran around waking us all up. She would not leave the building until she knew every pony else was safe. And from what I heard she put herself at great risk doing so. I do not really understand why, all things given. But if not for her, then things might have gone far, far worse."

"In fact ... the last mare who exited the building was..."

As if on cue. They were aborted by a fierce growling, And a mare calling out.

“DOCTOR I CAN'T HOLD HER ANY LONGER!”

Twilight turned. Wondering what manner of wild dog that caused such a commotion.

What she saw was rather the incarnation of pony gone primate. One of the patients. A light blue mare with a mess of a wild gray mane and tail, were standing on her back legs, pulling against a leash held by a single unicorn nurse that had to put her entire body weight in holding the creature back. The eyes of the madmare war practically glowing red. Her growling only partially muffed by the muzzle that was tightly trapped over her face. Drool and froth dripped out of the trapping lattice. The nurses levitated a heavy needle unto the mares neck. But whatever the content of the syringe, it only seemed to have half of the desired effect. The madmare dropped to all four but still continued to pull in the direction of the smoldering ruins.

Dr Cardiac got up and walked over towards the madmare. Twilight felt she had little other choice but to follow – else she would loose him in the crowd. Not that there was any crowding around the mare. Everypony seemed to give her a wide berth.

“Haven't you given her a sedative dose already?” He asked the nurse.

“I have.” The nurse muttered through the leach. “That was the third dose. At this rate we are gonna run out of sedative's. And we are running low on resources as it is”

Dr Cardiac simply walked up in front of the madmare (seemingly with disregard for his own safety). And looked the mare deep into the eyes.

Whatever hypnotics the doctor pulled, they worked. Twilight had never seen a mares shift mood so fast. In a flash the viral beast was gone and replaced with a docile puppy, whimpering as sadly as she could. She rubbed her head against Dr Cardiac in a way that reminded Twilight of what Winona did with Applejack.

Once again. The doctor suddenly lashed out and hugged a mare.

“I know. You miss her. I know.” He whispered as he held the mare in his embrace.

The nurse let go of the leash. And the mare did not try to attack the doctor.

Who did attack however, was Rarity. She threw herself at the crazy mare. Pushing Dr Cardiac out of the way as she did so. And started screaming in the mares face.

"WHERE DID YOU GET IT?! WHERE!?!" She screamed in the mares face as she started pulling at the mares gray mane.

Twilight didn't know what was scarier. Rarity or the mare.

Tangled in the mess that was the mares gray mane was some pink and purple fabric. It looked like the mare had attempted to tie a ribbon (and failed miserably at it). What the importance of a piece of fabric held to Rarity was something that eluded Twilight. But clearly it was important enough for her friend to almost tear the mare's mane off as she tried to get at it.

"THIS WAS SWEETIES!" Rarity screamed as she held the ribbon, still tangled in the mares long mane, up in front of her face.

"WHERE DID YOU GET IT!?!"

"She cant answer you, you know." Said the nurse.

"Well of course not!" Rarity yelled. Her horn lit up, and before anypony could stop her she had magically removed the muzzle trappings from the mares face. She repeated her question. But the only thing she got in response was a big tongue, licking her square across the face.

“Wha...??”

That seemed to disable Rarity's fury.

The doctor walked up and scratched the mare behind the ear.

"Easy girl. Easy."

Rarity just stared at the mare. Her expression was stuck somewhere between rage and shock, Her chin wagged as she was unable to form the question.

"Wha... wha... wha...?"

Twilight, who had never seen the mare act like this, had to finish the question for her.

"wha... what is wrong with her?"

"This is Screwloose. And she has always been a special case. Basically she believes herself to be canine. She is a bit aggressive sometimes, but usually not dangerous... Until now." He sighed.

"These events have affected her bad. She was the last one to exit the building. She was completely out of herself, and attacked one of the other inmates out of the blue. A miss Marrow I believe?"

He looked at the nurse for conformation, and the nurse nodded.

"If not for these it would take tree ponies to hold her back." She said, waiving her syringe in her magic.

Then, for some reason. She bit off the needle, before putting the syringe away.

"She has been like this ever since we removed miss Marrow from her jaws." The nurse continued to mutter through the needle in her teeth.

"Of all the ponies here, I think she suffers Sweetie's absence the hardest. Said Cardiac. "Screwloose here was very found of the little miss you see.”

Screwloose, who never never broke eye contact with Rarity. Walked up and sniffed on the stunned fashistona. She barked happily and waged her tail. Rarity tried to shoo the crazy mare away. But to no avail.

“And she seem to be very found of... you?” Cardiac said . A bit confused by her behavior.

The light-blue mare continued her cuddling assault until Rarity had to use both hooves just to prevent the mare from further liking her in the face.

"Odd." Said Cardiac "The only other pony shes been so quick to warm up to was Sweetie."

At the mentioning of her sisters name. Rarity ceased her resistance. The mare got inside her deference, and immediately fell into her chest, warping her forelegs around her in a big hug.

It was strange. Twilight thought she could see so much understanding in those red eyes. They were far clearer than the eyes of an insane pony had any right to be.

Rarity looked back. And now it was like the two of them bonded.

"Have you seen my sister?" Rarity asked.

The mare nodded.

"Where?"

Screwloose barked and immediately started ran off into the ashes, faster than the firefighters at the cordon could stop her. The others quickly followed. The firefighters wanted to stop them as well. But Cardiac quickly convinced them to let them through. Saying that they were gonna recover the mad mare.

The "recovery" consisted of them slowly following the mare into the ruins. Screwloose walked with her nose to the ground, sniffing as she walked across the still hot aches. She was turning and waling down corridors that were no longer there. Finally she stopped in one of the rear reaches of the ruble. And sniffed in the ash.

Everypony feared the worst. What if she dug up a piece of bone - or a metal skeleton. Twilight tried not to remind herself what the melting temperature for steel was. And how fire and a collapsed building would affect it.

But Screwloose continued to sniff, soloing some sort of trace that eventually led out of the rear end ruble, and out towards the forest.

She increased her speed and ran off towards the trees. The caretakers screamed at her to stop. And, surprisingly, she did.

"What are you doing girl?" Cardiac asked.

Screwloose started barking at them and flinging her head out towards the trees. Nodding in the direction she had been heading.

Following that she - clearly growing inpatient as her gestures failed to register with her followers - raised a hoof and grabbed the ribbon in her mane. Taring it out (along with a good chunk of gray mane). She threw the fabric up into the air and let it hit her nose. She juggled it with her nose, sniffing loudly as she did. Finally she let the fabric hit the ground. She sniffed at it again - then sniffed the ground. Then the ribbon. Then the ground. And barked.

The behavior was something Twilight would expect from Winona. But from a mare? Could she really mean what she was implying?

Only Rarity stared at the mare with some semblance of wishfull understanding.

"Can you find my sister?"

Screwloose barked.

"Then what are you waiting for? Search, girl. Search!"

"Rarity wait!" Twilight shouted. But Rarity was already on her way into the woods. Galloping after the mad mare. Twilight tried to give chase. But her legs gave out under her, and she almost fell face first into the rain soaked ground. Days of galloping around the forest had finally caught up with her. She cursed her physical weakness as she magically massaged the cramping muscles. Only for a wave of headache to hit her right below the horn. Exhaustion was taking out its toll on her. Her body wanted nothing more than to sit back and rest.

Yet. Twilight knew she had to follow.

"I'm sorry Dr cardiac. But it looks like we are gonna have to cut out meeting short. My friend needs me. And so does her sister."

"Well it looks like you are gonna need all the help you can get. Besides. I cant have two of my patients running around in the forest."

"Two?"

"I never checked Sweetie out of my care. And I will be damned if I don't do everything in my power to help."

He turned to the red haired nurse.

"Can you go and fetch Brick. Ask him where he put the wagon. And see if you cant get some supplies. Me, I'm gonna make some preparations."

He turned back to Twilight.

"You. Wait here." He said, as bout he and the nurse ran back across the ruins and disappeared into the crowd.

That was easier said than done. Even though her leg was cramping, Twilight felt an irresistible urge to chase after her friend. She could feel the distance to Rarity increase with each passing moment. Whatever preparations the Doctor was gonna do. She hoped he would do them fast.

Soon a black wagon, pulled by a broad, thick necked stallion rounded the corner of the wall. Next to it walked the doctor, his red haired nurse. And the unhappy, green haired nurse. Who was currently arguing with Cardiac.

"You're leaving?" She asked disapprovingly. “Then who is gonna be in charge of this mess?”

“The firefighters and police are the ones in charge now. As for keeping the patient calm, I hereby make you temporarily head medical chief, miss Green.

"Did you hear that sister. You get to be in charge while we go find the missing patients" Said the red haired nurse, and hugged her clearly surprised sibling.

"WE?” Bout Cardiac and and the green haired sister said with one voice. "Sully Green. I actually meant you." Said Cardiac.

"Oh no you don't. Said Sully "Cause if I remember correctly, Boss put me in charge of that little miss. And no little miss's are gonna go missing on my watch."

"Mine neither." Said the stallion.

The green haired one laughed for once.

"Well. At least Its gonna be easier now that even more inmates are leaving. If we are lucky, they might all have left out care by Hearths Warming Eve."

Cardiac froze.

"Wait. What do you mean - even more inmates? Has someone else disappeared? Why was I not informed about this?"

"Oh I would not say disappeared. Just released from our care."

"Who?"

"That Marrow fellow. The one who your Screwed up lapdog tried to eat. A pair of relatives swung by a couple of hours ago to pick her up."

"Relatives?!" Cardiac cursed. "Marrow had checked herself in years ago. And her family lives on the other side of the continent! How could you just check out one of our patients to a total stranger."

The Green haired nurse shrugged.

"They seemed legit. Had all her personal information and everything. And they clearly knew each other like they were brother and sister. And with all we have on our hooves we could do without one more crazy. Besides, Marrow was one of the more stable ones.”

Dr Cardiac just stared at the mare.

"Brother? Nurse Soylent, Marrow was an only child. What made you think they were relatives?"

Soylent's facial expression shifted. It seemed to finally dawn on her that she had made a mistake.

"Well ... he was the same yellow color as she was. I believe he was a preacher or something. Or one of those Celestia's witnesses. Had quite a nasty black eye. The other one was quite the handsome stallion. Dark colors, blue eyes. Said he was the family doctor. Had all the personal information. Seemed legit."

Cardiac looked like he wanted to give nurse Soylent a black eye. But he was a self-possessed stallion. He simply removed his glasses, scratched his eyes, And sighed deeply.

"Well then, Miss Soylent. I AM leaving you in charge of this "whole mess" If anypony has a single question they can take it up with you. Since you already seem it fit to discharge patients without consulting me.”

The mare cursed under her teeth.

“Don't worry sister." Said nurse Sully "You always wanted to be on top, without anypony looking over your back.” She let the needle make a lap over her lips. “Just make sure nothing else “disappears” while we are gone.”

While the Doctor and sisters were arguing. The broad stallion moved to help Twilight get up. He checked on her leg and pointed out that she should rest for a while. Since she looked like she had been running a mareathon in the rain.

To that end he pushed up the wagon and opened the back door.

"Ladies first."

Twilight was a little skeptical to the mattress clad interior of the wagon, which looked like it was meant to transport mental patients. But her sore legs did not complain.

The red haired nurse sneered, something about "Prick" to the stallion, and walked in as well. While Cardiac fastened himself in the wagons pulling-harnesses next to Brick. And so they left the compound and the angry nurse Soylent behind them, and headed into the woods.

They soon caught up with Rarity. who had thankfully stopped as Screwloose needed relieve herself on a nearby tree.

Brick once again opened the door with a "Ladies first." And a big smile on his fat face.

“Oh well thank you” said Rarity. And for a moment she actually acted like a lady. Much to Twilight's relief.

Soon they were of through the forest. The mares riding in the back while the stallions pulled the wagon, following a crazy mare that could somehow track down a little robot. None of this made any sense. But Twilight was happy that they finally had a fresh lead on Sweetie.

She only hoped that it would all be over soon.