• Published 28th Nov 2015
  • 3,781 Views, 217 Comments

Fallout: Equestria - Make Love Not War - hahatimeforponies

Atom Smasher, a sharp-tongued scoundrel, attends a turbulent family reunion that happens to take place in the deserts of the San Palomino wasteland.

  • ...


Author's Note:

Before I begin, I'd like to give a shout-out to my editor. BasicIsiah has been a massive help since all the way back in the planning stages of Make Love Not War, helping me nail down the plot and the theme, translate the tangled mess of ideas in my head into the characters you see, and being a fresh pair of eyes on everything I've written, catching everything from spelling mistakes to chapter pacing blunders. He's shipping out to basic (hue) training this week, so it's possible I won't have his services for the rest of the story. Which is a shame, but I'm really grateful for all his help so far and wish him all the best in the future.

And who knows, maybe I'll take so long with the rest of the story that he'll be back in time to edit the last two chapters.

Sam stayed behind for our journey back into the quarry. He got antsy after I mentioned the anti-matrix grenades, and declared that he'd just slow us down and that he'd better do some catching up around the lab. Now, there wasn't really much catching up being done while we stopped to rest? Trinity milled about checking things on her clipboard (she probably was still working), Tube Alloys - should I call him Tube, or Alloys? What a peculiar name. Anyway, he kept dozing off, probably because we'd woken him up in the dead of night. Rainbow went for a power nap, which left me and my still buggered up sleep schedule without much in the way of a conversation partner while I chowed down on some low-flavour hydroponically grown sandwiches. I managed to extract a vague direction to look in for some supplies for going back into the tunnels with, but most of what I got from Mr. Alloys, if that is his real name, was mockery about the Shitbuck (patent pending).

When I came back from a raid of the store cupboards with a bandolier of what I thought were anti-matrix grenades, as many weird looking rifles as I could carry and a couple of other science-looking things, Trinity squealed and took half of them off me, babbling about damage and untrained handling. Which left us with, when we stepped out of the big heavy doors, three little twisty-canisters that were actually anti-matrix grenades, which I kept on the bandolier, and two magical energy rifles, which Tube Alloys fitted to a battle saddle for Rainbow. He was also able to supply us with a stealth buck each, which I was just floored by, and a freshly-minted keycard each so we could get back in. He told us not to pop the stealth bucks until we were in real trouble, because they could only last so long - mine probably longer than Rainbow's. The door shut behind us with a loud, echoing mechanical clang, and we were alone in the caves again.

For a moment, the two of us looked at each other with that blank, vaguely uncertain stare that says, what the fuck are we doing?

Now that we weren't panicking, we took it slow in the caverns. When we heard one of the bots on the move, we listened out and kept our distance. Rainbow was into mission mode and not really up for chatting while we worked, and this time I was inclined to agree. Took us maybe double the time to get back to the offices, but by the time we did our ears were adjusted. Passing through the widened hole, all we heard was our steps, the rattle of our gear, and only the distant growl and clatter of automated excavators pottering about. If there's one thing that can be said for having to avoid giant malfunctioning mining robots, it's that subtlety does not come naturally to them.

The one that chased me out of the control box had evidently tried to follow us through the office, meeting little success. Must have been rotten wood - I remember seeing the floors bow and bounce under Rainbow's steps and especially Sam's, but there was a big fuckoff hole in the floor by the big fuckoff hole in the wall, both of them approximately square. When I leaned over to take a look, there was a smoking pile of steel at the bottom of three similar holes in the floors below, impaled on some rebar and sparking in a couple of places. One less thing to worry about.

We retraced our steps back to the flood doors. We stopped to examine the gouges in the metal wall where the first bot lunged at us. It had pierced right through the far wall to the crawl space behind, and left a gouge in the wall at the back. We didn't hang about too long, since we were going to be funnelled through the passage to the flood doors. The Protectipony was fucking dust now. I think I found all of a hoof intact from it.

The flood doors themselves were still open on the route we went. We slowed down once we were in the room with the switches. And just as well, because there, idling in the way we came in earlier, was one of the mining robots. Possibly the same one that chased us into the corridor. It was just... sitting there. The motors were on, but it hadn't noticed us. I looked at Rainbow. He gestured to the upper level, and we did our awkward jump-fly thing to get up. Some elevation on the thing couldn't hurt. We scooted back into cover in a hurry. A support strut for the cave would have to do.

"Right. Dad must have gone through one of these doors."

I looked at each of them in turn. "But they're all shut. We're guessing."

"We'd better start guessing, then."

"What, like, just go and start throwing switches?"

"You got a better idea? A sniffer dog, perhaps?"

I glared at the stupid bugger.

"Oh. Yeah, that was below the belt."

I gave him a whack on the shoulder and got up. "I'll try this one up here." I stepped lightly towards the pair of switches, one of which I'd thrown earlier. The bloody thing was taller than I was. I looked at the idling robot, and then back at him. "Get ready to run," I whispered, as loud as could be considered a whisper. I gave the switch another once over, and put a hoof to the top. Deep breath.

It didn't budge. I started with a light touch, because the more I could control it the better, but I wasn't getting anywhere. I put both hooves on the top and tried to hang out of it. It didn't budge. Not a peep from the idlebot. I shrugged at Rainbow. He grimaced. I glided over the gap to try the switches on the other side. I think he had a fit, but was determined to keep it quiet.

I tried the switch on the left, and got a creak out of the hinge. Damn, these things were rusty. Determined not to let this one get the better of me, I jumped and hovered until I was pivoting on the lever, then dropped, putting all my weight onto the switch. The hinge gave, and I bodyslammed the floor. The hollow metal floor. With all of my body. Like a giant snare drum.

An awful synthetic scream erupted from the robot. It was like its voice modulator was picking up a phone call from Tartarus. It sluggishly turned to where I was, because as soon as it made that noise I bolted back to Rainbow. I caught a glimpse of the door on the lower left rumbling open, and when I skidded to a stop and looked back, the robot was in the middle of trying to execute a three-point turn. I say trying, because the hallway wasn't quite wide enough, and three points was turning into dozens, each time banging on the metal walls on each side.

"I think it's stuck," I shouted, to be heard over the cacophony of hollow metal and robotic screeching.

"Let's go!" Rainbow stood up and pulled me along. We dropped to the lower level to head through the door that had just opened. That was our plan up until square yellow headlights rounded the bend in the tunnel, we looked at each other for a split second, and both of us mumbled something to the effect of 'the other door' that we couldn't really hear over all the noise. We both awkward-wobble-flew to the upper level and jumped at the last switch at the same time. I backed up when Rainbow reached over me, because I didn't want to get caught in the hinge or something. It was another tough switch, but it cranked down in fits and starts, shaving rust out from the mechanism as it went. By the time it was down, the square yellow headlights had arrived.

The first one ploughed full speed into the one trying to turn around. At least it got the screaming to stop. The second one stopped with a skid on the floor, and turned its upper half to face us. It garbled something out of its voicebox, then took a swing at us with its scoop. It reared back for a good three seconds - plenty of time for us to scarper. I pulled one of the grenades out.

"Not yet!" Rainbow yelled. My ears were still ringing too. "Save it for the way back, we don't know what's ahead."

The upper left door only opened part of the way. One of the pistons was badly bent and wouldn't retract, which was somehow jamming up the whole mechanism, but the gap it left in the middle was easily wide enough for us one at a time.

We emerged at another one of the cart rails, this one longer and straighter. The lights got dimmer the further away they were, and a couple of side tunnels were in complete darkness. I wasn't sure that this part of the complex was designed for ponies to be in at all. A couple of rooms with windows overlooked the tracks with no visible way to get in.

"How big is this place..." Rainbow muttered.

"It can't be that big, they didn't send us off with food. I mean, it took us what, an hour getting in from the outside? Maybe a bit less? We can just right-hoof-rule it and we should cover most of it pretty quickly."

Rainbow went to raise an objection, but just sighed, and started walking. "What I'd do for an EFS about now..."

The tunnel was long. It was long and largely featureless, and I got bored in a matter of seconds. "Man, this is the holiday from hell, innit? It's five million degrees out in the daytime, we've been chased by manticores and rogue robots, we've traipsed all around the desert multiple times, I nearly died from an overdose, can we get our money back? I'm sure this is worth a refund."

"Atom, you..." Rainbow screwed up his face a bit and then started chuckling. "What?"

"Bugger, that's right, I never got travel insurance. You always think you don't need it until you do."

He looked at me silently for a bit, with a kind of mouth half-open smile. "I think you'd have voided the T's and C's with the drugs."

"Oh, that's where they draw the line? Not voluntarily wandering into deathtraps like the Caballero Centre?"

"Or here."

"Ah, but the killbots weren't advertised here. S'false advertising. They can get done for that."

He giggled again. "It were in the fine print that we couldn't be arsed reading."

"Yeah, well they shouldn't hide shit like that in the fine print, should they? It's highly pertinent information." Now I was losing my straight face.

He gave me a shoulder nudge, while still trying to control his grin. "Shush, we're supposed to be moving on the quiet."

After a few minutes of walking, ambient mechanical noises picked up again. The sound of a motor and some quiet metallic thumping echoed along the tunnels. We were sure it was one of the robots, so we proceeded quietly.

We encountered a stop for the mine carts. A junction in the tracks fanned out to five parallel tracks, some with carts resting on them, and most importantly, access walkways to the rooms adjoining the tunnel. A crane had collapsed over the tracks, but the ceiling was dark, so I couldn't see where things were being loaded and unloaded. And sitting to one side, gently bumping at a wall every few seconds, was a sad-looking solitary mining bot. Its saw blade was bent and wouldn't spin, and the scoop arm rested on the floor lifelessly. It looked like the tracks were the only things still going, propelling it up the gentle incline to ram the shutters on one of the rooms at the floor level of the tunnel.

We watched for a full minute from a safe distance. It didn't notice us, and didn't do anything else besides give a low groan from its voicebox. It sounded like a toy with dying batteries.

"Put it out of its misery, will you?"

Rainbow squinted at me. "Keep a grenade at the ready in case this goes tits up."

I nodded, and he lined up the rifles. With a chomp of the bit, two streaks of pink lit up the cave and struck the robot's left track. The track broke, and it lost traction over the next two rams, causing it to turn and skid down the ramp at the rate of molasses. At the bottom, its momentum caused it to go up on one track, and seconds later, tip over. It clattered on its side, its own scoop arm puncturing the hull on the side, and its engine went dead, followed by the grumbling from the voice box and the dim, flickering headlights.

I put the grenade away, and hopped forward to give it a little kick. Rainbow nearly had a seizure. When the robot remained dead, I jumped on it, turned and shrugged. He sighed and rubbed his front.

"Alloys? Is that you?" some muffled voice said. Both Rainbow and I flinched and looked at each other. It definitely didn't sound like a robot.

I looked around. "Where did..." Rainbow pointed at the shutters the robot had been trying to ram. We approached with hurried caution. I wasn't quite sure what to say.

"No, but he sent us," Rainbow said after a pause.

Silence. "Who... is the robot dead?"

I was nearest the pile of scrap, and I gave it a kick. "Looks pretty dead to me."

"Who's there?" The voice was strained, but soft. I couldn't quite place the accent. It was a bit like the local Palominian with a lick of Shetland, sort of like Rainbow's when he was talking to Ivy, but with the ratios reversed, but even then I'm probably not getting it quite right.

Rainbow smiled. "You wouldn't believe us if we told you." He looked back at me with a wide-eyed grin.

"Where have I heard that voice before..."

"A long way away, let me tell you."

There was another pause. Then the shutter lifted a couple of inches. Then it got stuck, with the motor humming but the shutter not moving. I could see a load of junk piled up in the doorway.

"Oh, buggery, just a second..."

There was a crash, and I spotted some chairs toppling from the barricade, along with a table being pulled away. The shutter continued up without issue. It crawled up for a long time. I watched three beige legs come into view (the fourth presumably on the switch), tattered, dirty, oil-stained blue overalls with the sleeves rolled up - but only the front half, revealing an ugly burn on his flank, and a pair of wings with shabby feathers. My heart leapt into my mouth. Holy shit. This was the guy.

A face beaten by age and worry came into view. Bent, square glasses, and a messy mane of green hair, unkempt and matched with bushy eyebrows and a shock of green on his chin. And behind all that, a pair of earnest, fearful emerald eyes. My eyes, if you put them in the head of an anxious leather bag.

From this point I was frozen. It was like my brain had finally matched the face I was looking at to a face in my distant memory that I'd failed to completely scrub out, and it was now spinning the wheel on how to react.

His gaze darted between us. He took a step towards Rainbow. Well, more of a limp. I spotted some bandages on one of his legs, with bit of a red stain. "Is... is that you? Rainbow Code?"

Rainbow grinned. "Hey Dad."

Gadget stood looking up at Rainbow. He was comically shorter than him. I'd say the old man was probably about my height. "Rai- and..." He chuckled once, a sort of breathy exhale around a slight smile. "And..." He pointed at me. Rainbow nodded. "You came all the way here?"

"Took ten years."

Gadget threw his legs around Rainbow and laughed. Heartily at first, then hesitantly. Then he groaned, then he sounded like he was still kind of laughing, but I could see tears starting to stream down his face. When Rainbow decided to stop crushing the poor guy, he certainly didn't look overjoyed.

"You shouldn't have come."

Rainbow, who was kind of tearing up himself, blinked, and his grin broke. "What?"

"You... had a life. You were safe. You don't understand the danger you're in now."

Rainbow chuckled. "What, killer robots and a hostile mountain range? Dad, I've been stomping around San Cimarron for the guts of a decade at this point, I-"

The more Gadget continued, the more desperately worried he looked. "No, it's... I gave you a chance to escape. I'm a wanted man. Some really powerful forces want to see me suffer and I thought I'd given you the chance to get out of the blast radius. I..." He rubbed his head in his hooves. "It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do but I couldn't live with myself if I dragged you back in, and now..." He wiped a hoof on his cheek. "It was all for nothing."

Rainbow frowned, and looked like he was thinking, while Gadget just kinda sobbed. Then, Rainbow grabbed him by the shoulders and lifted him back up. "Dad. You literally named me after Rainbow Dash. What did you think was going to happen?" Gadget sniffled. "I mean yes, following you here was basically an objectively stupid thing to do. But look at us. Being raised by ponies as idealistic as you and as stubborn as Mum was, did you really think we'd willingly rot away in stable 512 for the rest of our lives?"

Gadget actually smiled. Weakly, but he smiled, and pushed himself to his hooves again. "Your mother... you're right. If she were still around when I left, she would have come after me herself." The two of them wistfully gazed at the ground. "Don't get me wrong, I'm overjoyed to see you again. I feel like I'm a sharp fright away from a panic attack, but seeing you two all grown up..." He hugged Rainbow again.

"It's good to see you too, Dad." They had a proper hug this time, without crying. Then Gadget broke off, and approached me, and my body went into fight-or-flight mode.

"And Atom Smasher... my little baby girl. Last time I saw you, you were only up to my shoulder..."

He reached out to hug me.

And I punched him.

Just, hoof right across the face. Pow. Nearly broke his glasses.

He stumbled from the shock, nearly falling over. "What the fuck did you think you were doing, you plonker?" Rainbow's jaw hit the floor. Gadget stood there and gingerly rubbed his cheek. "You abandoned a nine-year-old filly. You had a small child who you left to fend for herself." Gadget looked at me like a rabbit in the headlights, and then at Rainbow, who now looked like the puppy who'd been caught shitting in your slippers. "And don't tell me you expected moptop McGee over there to look after me because that moody teen was out the door after you the next fuckin' day! I thought scientists were supposed to be smart, but no, it seems like the men in this family got all the stupid genes."

He straightened his glasses a bit. "I... suppose I deserved that."

"Yes, you fucking did."

Rainbow shrugged. "She tried to strangle me. This is actually kind of restrained."

"What did you think would fucking happen, though? You fuck off to Equestria to go farting around in the desert and abandon your daughter to do it, of course I'm gonna be right pissed off! But at least you had a plan B, didn't you? It was a bloody stupid plan B, but it were at least a plan B, weren't it? You," I pointed at Rainbow. He winced. "You just went and cleared out without a second thought!"

He sighed. "It's a fair cop."

"The pair of you, honestly." I turned to pace and fume for a bit. I let myself simmer for a bit. "I'd forgotten about both of you. Three years ago I was still living the stable. Six months ago I had a house near Manechester. The only reason I'm standing here up to me tits in fucking killer robots and shitty desert yokels is because this plank sent me a letter and I took a chance. I didn't even know if it were fuckin' real until I got here. I was just gonna have meself a road trip and go home, but now I'm standing in some abandoned mine, I've just punched me Dad and now I'm shouting about it." I clutched my hair and huffed. "I don't know where I'm going with this."

"Would you like to get back to the lab, Atom?" Rainbow asked, in almost a whisper.

I made a frustrated growl. "Yes technically that is a good idea but also aaaaargh!" I kicked the robot again. I dented it, but also hurt my hoof. Bugger it all. This was around the time that I noticed Gadget was on the floor. I sauntered over and nudged him. "Y'alright, mate?"

He stirred and looked up. He seemed confused. "What?"

"I didn't break anything important when I hit you, did I?"

He hesitated. "I thought you were going to kill me."

I frowned. "What? No, that's stupid." Never mind that I've definitely killed for much pettier reasons in the past. "I mean, I'm angry at the both of you but I've still been going around with that blockhead for the last week, and I'm still here, inn't I? Get up."

I did more yanking him up by the scruff of his collar than taking his hoof and pulling him up that way. "Even after... after all those things you said?"

I sighed. Oh fuck, now I was going to have to be genuine or something. "Look. I'll say to you what I said to him. You're an idealistic moron. You mean well. You really do. I'm sure that somewhere in that lab is something well worth your time. You just don't think about what you're doing before you do it. So just, I dunno, do think about it?" Don't laugh. I know. Me, of all ponies, telling someone to consider consequences. Look, I'm not responsible for a child. "You can't fix the past, but you can learn from it."

He sighed, nodded, and laughed nervously. "Right."

"Okay. Right. That's my quota of emotional sincerity for the day. Let's get the fuck out of here. I'm surprised my yelling hasn't attracted more of these rustbuckets. Speaking of!" I plodded back to the downed robot. "Y'know this thing was on its last legs? Colour barf over there zapped its tracks and it fell over and that's what did it in."

Rainbow sort-of winced at 'colour barf'. "Just as well, a barricade of wooden furniture wouldn't do much to stop it if it was firing on all cylinders."

Gadget chuckled. "Once in a while my luck does hold up. I was already injured, so I couldn't do much, and even with its saws disabled it could still run over me if I got in the way." He held out his bandaged leg. "I've been holed up in this break room for a couple of days waiting for it to go away, but it seemed pretty persistent."

"Oh, and uhm..." Rainbow rubbed his mouth. "We were told you went to look for Fizzle?

"Oh, yes..." Gadget's already perpetually sad face dropped even more. "Fizzle... Fizzle didn't make it. I found what's left of him in the excavator bypass between the mining levels and the service bay. I got cut off and had to retreat through the reactor levels, threw the flood doors, then got chased here. Poor guy..."

"I'm sorry..." Rainbow approached him and put a hoof on his back. He probably did this a lot.

"Well, let's not join him, shall we?"

Rainbow nodded solemnly. I saw him muttering those prayers as soon as Gadget wasn't looking. I'm fucking on to you, you spiritual fuck.

Gadget opted to fly when we started moving again. He hovered effortlessly and seemed confused at our baffled stares. It made sense to him with his injured leg, but it took him a minute to remember that we, the stable pegasi, had the flying capabilities of chickens. So he just floated along behind us so we could stick together.

When we returned to the flood doors and the confluence of paths, the racket of a mining robot traffic jam in a tiny metal corridor was still ongoing. We looked through the gap in the half-open flood door.

I turned to Rainbow, and picked one of the AX grenades off of the bandolier. “How effective are these things? It’s been a while since I’ve used one.”

“You’ve used them before?”

“First time I used one I didn’t know what it was and chucked it at a bunch of loopers with spears.”

He cringed. “Everyone does that. Everyone.” He rubbed his face. “It depends how much of the system is spell matrix. They sound like they’ve got conventional engines, so it might only stop them long enough to reboot…”

“Kids?” We paused. Gadget wasn’t with us braced by the doors. He was a hundred yards away with his head sticking out of the window of one of the rooms overlooking the tracks. We looked at each other.

“What are you doing up there?”

“What are you two doing down there? You weren’t going to go through the flood doors, were you?” We paused again. Motherfuck. “Come on. There’s a safer way through maintenance access. Did you think that they’d have ‘flood doors’ without there also being a way around them?”

“I thought you were stuck out here.”

He did that one-hoof almost-shrug you do when you’re leaning over something. “I knew the way back but I still needed help.”

I snorted. We got up and left the excavator pile-up behind. We entered through one of the broken windows, about five yards above the tracks. “That would have been a crap way to go out. Drinking your own piss and starving to death in an ancient break room because you were too weak to fight off a rogue robot that was probably going to give up the ghost shortly after you did.”

He smirked. “Then it’s a good thing you found me. Come on, this should take us straight to the offices.”

“Oh, so they gave us these for nothing?” I held up the stealth bucks.

Gadget stopped and stared at them like I was holding the map to Blackbeak’s treasure. I shook them a bit. “I don’t know whether I’m more alarmed that they gave you stealth bucks at all, or only two.”

Now I was staring at them. “Y’know, that’s a good point.”

“Save ‘em. They could be useful later.”

I tucked them in my bags again and scowled “Why do they even have flood doors in a quarry in the desert anyway? You’re not exactly trudging through water up there.”

“Flash floods,” the two lads said at the same time.

“It’s like the sky pays back all the rain it’s owed since the last time,” Rainbow continued. “Too unpredictable to plan for, too rare to account for when you’re stretched thin.”

Gadget looked at nothing. “That’s… that’s one way of putting it.”

The maintenance tunnels were cramped to say the least. Gadget had to lead the way and didn’t have room to hover, so he limped along ahead of us. It was slow.

“Maybe while I can’t turn around isn’t the wisest time to ask this question, but…” Gadget coughed. “I have to wonder how you found me. I… it doesn’t fill me with confidence, after going to all this trouble to not be found.”

“Well…” Oh boy, here we go. That’s the ‘well’ of a maths nerd who is just itching to show you all the workings on his homework. “The Manechester leg was cake. As I found out, a pegasus in a stable jumpsuit sticks out of a crowd, so figuring out you’d taken a boat to Equestria was easy. The hardest part of that was survival and working up the caps for the trip over.”

Gadget sighed. “If you were raised in the clouds, you could probably have flown it. The Shetlands aren’t that far from the mainland. They were a province of Equestria before the war.”

“What?” I squinted. “Nah. That can’t be. I was on the boat over for fuckin’ weeks.”

“That’s because of the route they take. The most direct route would be into Fillydelphia, which…” He chuckled. “You don’t want to go to Fillydelphia. Let’s leave it at that. So they go all the way south to Jockeysonville. Lets them charge more too.”

“Anyway…” Yeah, yeah, Rainbow, present your sodding research paper already. “The trail was harder to follow when I got to Equestria, not least because of the headstart you had on me, but then I found my way to San Cimarron, where I hit a dead end. And around that point I… found myself recruited into the Steel Rangers.”

Gadget jumped in shock and banged one foreleg on a pipe. He yelled in pain and hopped about. The corridor was still a bit too narrow to turn around in, but he hopped forward to a junction ahead where he could turn around, clutch his hoof and show us exactly how much colour had drained from his face. “S-steel…” His breathing raced.

Only then did Rainbow realise what he’d just said. “Oh! Shit, I. They didn’t come with us! They don’t know we’re here. They’re not all bad! I mean, some of them are pretty bad, Elder Saguaro is kind of a dick, but my father in-law is a nice guy! He’s trying to get the Rangers to do more cha-”

Gadget grabbed him by the shoulders, eyes wild. I couldn’t tell if he was angry, terrified, or just having a seizure. “You married into them?

“I…” Rainbow looked at me. I shrugged. You walked into that one, mate. “Yes, kind of, a little. Listen, it’s really…”

“Do you know what the Steel Rangers have tried to do to me? To this project? Do you know how hard we had to work to hide this place from their grubby little hooves?”

Rainbow put his hooves on Gadget’s, trying to gently get him to stop shaking him. I was impressed that this injured, starving, crazy old scientist was having such success in overpowering a professional soldier nearly twice his weight. “Yes, I do know. I know because it left me at a dead end for ten years.”

Gadget huffed a few times, and slowly released his grip. He closed his eyes and breathed deep. “You’re still my son, and I love you. But I can’t begin to tell you how disappointed I am.” Rainbow made a face like those words were bullets in his belly.

I couldn’t take it any longer. “Okay, I’ve had enough of you idiots doing this.” I wedged myself in between them, which in these corridors was some work. “You, settle down.” I physically pushed Gadget on the top of his head. “And you should have led with Sam so he didn’t get the wrong idea?”

“What?” both of them said.

I sighed and rubbed my forehead. “The way we found this place was by getting in touch with Find-It, currently going under the name Satellite Sam.” Gadget perked at the mention of Find-It. “Turns out he lost his way back and was chilling out in Isotope City. Y’know, the baseball stadium full of nutters? He was specifically hiding from the Steel Rangers because he knew they’d take him apart if they got a hold of him in a dark alley.” Rainbow opened his mouth. I stopped him. “I know you and your buddies didn’t, but Pickle Park’s crowd were fuckin’ salivating over him. Hell, even Ivy was looking at him like a twelve-inch sub a couple of times.”

Gadget frowned. “And how did…”

“Sam was not happy to see this muppet, certainly.” I bapped Rainbow’s front. “But then he name-dropped you and that got his attention. It’s only because I’m not a Ranger, a fact that I keep having to remind everyone of, that we were able to get in contact at all. But, with a bit of help from the Eagle Tribe through Rainbow’s wife, we were able to find the quarry with no Rangers in tow.”

“Wait, I thought you…”

Rainbow looked at the floor. “Yes and no, it’s complicated… she’s… half? Her dad’s a Ranger and her mum’s from the tribe.” He exhaled through a little smile. “For a long time she was the only Ranger who wanted to be around me.”

“A Ranger and a tribal…” Gadget scratched his beard. “That can’t be right. When we abandoned Los Arabos the Rangers were hunting the tribes. Are you sure?”

“Mate.” I picked the laser spear off my back. “Where’d you think I got this piece of junk?”

Gadget squinted at it, and gingerly stepped closer to take a look. “Fascinating… this is the core off a sunburst rifle. Is that… is that a AA battery?”

I giggled. “That part was my doing.”

He winced at the battery, then continued examining it. “It definitely looks like a tribal spear head… but this construction on the laser components is professional.” He stepped back and muttered. “Maybe they… maybe they are. If they’re working together, then…” Gadget rubbed his beard some more. Rainbow practiced his principal’s office guilty shuffle. “If Find-It trusts you, and the tribes trust you, and,” He briefly looked at me with a smirk. “A rambunctious child trusts you…”

Oy! Who you calling a fucking child, mate?”

“Then I trust you, son.”

Rainbow looked up, and slowly smiled. “I… really?”

They were about to hug again when I thumped Gadget in the shoulder. “I asked you a fucking question, you twat!” It was the leg he’d banged into the pipe, and he reeled from it. Rainbow burst into a laugh and put one of his big hooves on me to like, hold me down so I didn’t hit anything else.

“Let’s just keep moving, shall we?”

Mutters of ‘yeah alright’ started us on our way again.

As promised, the route snaked through parts of the reactor level, around the outside of the service garage, and up to the offices. We had stairs to climb, but without Sam with us, the fallen holes in the staircases were trivial. The rest of the way was a sprint in the dark. I held on to the grenades carefully, and did my best to fly above them, leading the way with my head torch. Like before, we only slowed down when we were entering the floodlights by the door. We flinched at the whine from the turrets, but didn't have the full-fledged dive-for-cover response we did earlier.

I dropped from the air, panting and rubbing my sides. That was a workout I wasn't expecting. Gadget was visibly in pain by now, limping to the door to swipe us in. We didn't even need the keycards, guh. Waste of plastic.

"What time is it?" he asked, leading us inside.

I pulled up the only watch in the world that was simultaneously more fully featured and less good than a regular watch. "Fucking hell, it's coming up on two in the morning."

"First priority is probably some sleep then."

"Dad, let me take a look at your leg when we get in. I'm guessing you have proper medical supplies?" Rainbow asked.

“It’s just a bruise, it’s nothing to worry about.”

Rainbow snorted. “No, not the leg that Atom hit.” I snickered. “The cut one at the back.”

"I'll be fine, son. Don't you worry."

I laughed. "Get a load of this guy. Telling the most sentimental sap in the universe not to worry."

"That gash looks pretty bad. You don't want to lose that leg, do you? I'm trained as a field medic. At least let me change the dressing before it gets infected."

"Ugh, fine." Gadget turned to me with a smirk. "Has he been like this all week?"

"Don't look at me, I'm not getting involved."

He rolled his eyes. "Okay. We rest and repair, and then tomorrow, I can show you why I'm here. My life's work." He looked up at nothing in particular, smiling as he stared into space. "The Manehattan Project."

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