• 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.

  • ...

Here Comes The Sun

I'm not going to repeat Rainbow's story about Treble Clef again because I can only get so soppy before getting sick. I will, however, inform you that he reduced himself to tears as he clutched his broken violin. Twice. Left me to gather all of the intact shit into a box by myself. The prick. Not that it was a very big box, but still. The muppet could have helped at least.

Pulling Lemon Puff out of the rubble was the last excitement for a little while. It was peak heat and the only ponies doing much work were Crumble (who was in the shade), and a handful of ponies searching the rubble for survivors, all of them wearing air-conditioned power armour. Rainbow, who had run out of places to hide from Ivy, finally lay down to sleep. When I snitched that he'd been lifting plaster walls, she went ballistic at him, and I snuck off to embezzle some water supplies for Nevada. Once I'd done that, the tuckered out puppy found some shade to curl up in, and I sat with him. I didn't sleep, even though I was pretty exhausted. I woke up this morning in some supply cupboard in Los Arabos, and it felt like years ago. The weight of everything that had happened had me - a feckless transient - struck dumb. I couldn't imagine the effect it was having on Rainbow. The boy probably needed his sleep.

At some point I heard a minor commotion breaking out somewhere. Not a fight or anything - I'm pretty sure all of the Rangers were too demoralised for that. Someone had spotted something coming, and they weren't sure what to do. I was bored, so I got up to check it out. Nevada yawned, stretched, and scampered along after me. (Holy shit, I have a puppy! Aahhh!)

How anyone picked out the incoming caravan from the west is beyond me. I had to squint horribly in that direction, since the sun was descending that way, and I had to look away with streaming eyes before long. I took their word for it as I milled about looking for a familiar face. I passed by the mess almost-hall, and spotted the table will the kids. Only about six of them there now, Marmalade among them. I found Turing Test being briefed by scouts and keeping an eye out, and took shade nearby. Prickly Pear wasn't too far away either, but she looked like she was having a sulk.

"Are they armed?" someone said.

"I'm spotting one with a long rifle."

"Should we fire a warning shot?"

"It's not like we're in a condition to fight."

"There's just a few of them though. We could overpower them with our cadets."

"Stand down," Turing Test said.

"I'm sorry, Sir?

"I know that rifle anywhere."

The lancer and the scribe that were his current improvised war table exchanged puzzled glances, but sat down and put down the pistol and knife that constituted their combined defence. The caravan advanced in silence, with Turing Test watching them intently, and everyone else watching Turing Test.

Boy it was hot out here. Couldn't they be doing this at a more reasonable hour?

"Hail," the pony with the rifle called. Had I heard that voice before?

"If you're coming to keep the peace, you're a little late," Turing Test called back with a laugh.

The pony with the rifle looked at the rifle, tossed his hood back, and pulled his mask down. "Did what I could, my dude."

"How's your mother?" Turing Test said.

Full Moon chuckled. "So blind she don't know a cactus from a candle."

They both laughed, and clapped a hoof together in a sort of manly half-hug. "Last time I saw you, you were only up to my shoulder."

"S'all good. Babylon keeps me posted. Hard to get away in your shoes, I imagine."

"Not the kind of behaviour I'm supposed to encourage."

"And look who we've got here!" I smelled Full Moon approaching before I noticed he was talking to me. The sour smell of star stuff still made me a little sick. "Atom, up and about again. What'd I say?"

"It's just a little heart attack, it's fine. Walked it off."

Full Moon's eyebrow rode high. "You mean your brother walked it off for you?"

"Phbhbhft. Pffffft. Pschh." I waved dismissively like, four times. "Maybe."

A couple of other ponies milled around by the remains of the walls, with a couple of knights looking antsy. "Let 'em in. They're here to help," Turing Test called down to them. "You'll be lookin' for Night Light, I presume?"


"Well..." Turing Test cleared his throat. "I can't honestly say I know where he is. We're still trying to get a head count. You..." He made a face like he'd been kicked. "You know how energy weapons are."

Full Moon nodded, eyes on the floor. "We brought medical supplies. I dunno if Mister Cactus-Face himself would approve, but we've got some of the juice with us too. Makes an improvised anaesthetic with the right ingredients."

"Elder Saguaro is among our valiant fallen, Full Moon."

He breathed deep through his nose. "Apologies." He paused. "Shall we?" Turing Test nodded.

I hung to the back of the group as they moved, keeping upwind of them. A few Rangers looked uneasy as they approached, but no more than that, particularly when Turing Test gave them his 'go about your business' look.

"The infirmary is a slag heap now, so we're in the process of setting up a temporary one over behind that building. You'll want to borrow Crumble, over in the mess hall, to see about those ingredients you need. As for Night Light, we're counting casualties by the gate. In the event of the worst, that's where he'll-"

"Hold on."

Full Moon jumped ahead a few steps to the row of bodies that they were running out of room for at the gate, and who were starting to spill out on to the walls and the helipad. He stopped at one, and stared. Turing Test scratched the back of his head. I grimaced. Was it? I mean, with this much carnage, someone I know was bound to have-

"Ow!" Full Moon kicked the body.

"Get up."

"Five more minutes, man, can't you give me that?"

I smacked my forehead. You're kidding me.

"Nighty, you're chillin' with the cadavers."


Spaceman sat up, helmet still on. He tipped it back to look at who was talking to him, which had to be the first time I'd ever actually seen his eyes. Much clearer than I was expecting. Full Moon grinned, picked him up and pulled him into a tight hug.

"Bro, what are you doing here?"

"Lowering mom's blood pressure, you turkey."

Turing Test sighed. "Well, that could have turned out a lot worse. Knight Night Light, quit your slackin' and report your status!"

The poor boy wasn't entirely awake yet. "O-oh-kay?"

"If he didn't have such sharp eyes..."

"Sir!" A scribe pushed past the Wormwood caravan, slamming off the back of one of them and rolling into the dirt. He scrambled back up to Turing Test. "Sir, the sentries have spotted more incoming,on foot."


"Unknown. Looks like it might be a caravan, or it might be raiders."

Turing Test snorted. "Now what are you renting that braincase out to, Chive? Use your common sense. What kind of raiders ride up in broad daylight, going slow enough to be confused for a caravan?"

"Uhhh..." Chive sweated. Turing Test lost patience, and left the way he came. Naturally, I followed him to see what all the fuss was about.

The noise of the first caravan arriving had disturbed some ponies from their siestas, and while it wasn't yet a crowd - it was still too hot for that - it would be getting that way if commotion continued. When Turing Test climbed the remains of the north wall to get a better look, there were enough ponies at his back for whispers to circulate. Then, he hopped forward off the wall and started walking to meet them. The crowd's whispers grew to nervous chatter.

"Calm down, calm down!" Rainbow yelled from somewhere nearby. The muttering reduced to the occasional murmur. I whipped my head around, and he was making his way towards me with Ivy in tow. "Atom, what's going on? I heard something about a caravan."

"Turing Test just hopped over the wall to meet 'em. One of the scouts said they looked like 'raiders'." Yes, I did the air quotes. Ivy glared - not at me, just that 'oh yeah, that's the kind of people I work with' glare. Rainbow walked up to the wall, and we followed.

Turing Test was holding someone a short way ahead of the caravan while they caught up.

"We came as fast as we could!" I heard. Babylon? Of course.

"I'm just glad you were out of harm's way, darlin'. I'd said my goodbyes back there."

"Oh, quiet your mouth. Lightning cares not for who it strikes. Where is our dear little sparrow? Is she alright?"

At this point, Ivy couldn't help herself. She leapt over the wall and scurried over to meet them. "Over here, Momma!"

"Ivy!" I couldn't really see them properly from the distance, but I fully imagined Babylon in floods of tears. Made me lean on Rainbow a bit. I stopped when he went 'ow'.

It was a couple of minutes before the group got as far as the walls. We backed up a bit to make room for them. Turing Test climbed over first, with Babylon close behind. Then when Jericho crested the wall, every weapon in the base made a whine as it was primed and trained on him.

He froze and lifted a pair of rifles. Nineveh, coming up on his flank, crouched with the wall as semi-cover, looking wary, and Jaffa, coming up on the other side, brandished a spear, bless him.

"Don't shoot!" Turing Test and Babylon immediately threw themselves between them.

"They are afraid, confused! They mean no harm!" Babylon pleaded.

Jaffa pointed his adorable spear at a few places, trying to look threatening. "And I suppose those are laser rifles of greeting, then?"

"That's my brother-in-law, you morons!" Turing Test yelled.

"They're raiders!" someone called back from the Ranger crowd.

"Excuse me!" Jericho barked.

Ivy finally found a way over the wall. With three other ponies standing in the deepest breach in the wall, she had to scramble and climb up somewhere else. She stood atop it, watching the display with... on another day she might just be disappointed. Today though, she looked like a terrier on a balcony barking at passers by.

"Will you morons put those things down? The tribe are here to help!"

A scribe put up a hoof. "But..."

"But nothing, shitrag! Are you gonna turn down help at a time like this?" The scribe who raised the objection sank, silently. "Y'all are family. My family. C'mon now." She hopped off the wall, and circled the standoff, gently pushing weapons down with her magic as she passed. "Give peace a chance, hm?"

The clearing remained silent. Ivy could only avert the weapons of so many ponies at a time. Turing Test and Babylon backed up to each other. Rainbow bit his lips. Ivy's pacing slowed, then stopped. Her gaze darted between the Rangers, and Jericho. Jericho breathed deep. Some Rangers exchanged glances.

Nevada poked his nose over my head.

One by one, the whine of primed energy weapons died off, and lasers were lowered. The first few were nervous and slow. Jaffa lowered his spear, and as it seemed more and more okay, the crowd disarmed. Nineveh stood up, and Jericho let go of the breath he was holding on to. Babylon and Turing Test sighed with relief and turned to each other. Ew, old people intimacy.

"What the heck is holdin' y'all up over there?" someone shouted. That was a very impatient tribespony. Jericho made an 'oh that's me' face, and still wary of trigger-happy Rangers, climbed down from the breach. Jaffa and Nineveh followed, along with a couple of the other tribe members. Peregrine flashed me a smile when she spotted me. Behind her, two ponies manoeuvred two carts over the wall by lifting them awkwardly. Behind them, well.

"What'd I tell you? I knew these son-of-a-guns would be right in the middle of it." Madeira was not who I was expecting to see in this combination of place and time. From the way Rainbow looked like he'd been smacked on the back of the head, I don't think he was either.

"Pay up, Rough Stuff, heh," someone further back said.

"Aw, hasenpfeffer."

"Okay, hang on. Hold the phone. What?"

"Something the matter, Miss Atom Smasher?" Madeira came over to me, since Turing Test was busy coordinating the tribe's carts.

"I can understand Jericho's lads showing up, they've got an extended family thing going on here, but why are you here? And more to the point, is... are those the two idiots who were duelling in the street?" Tumbleweed and Rough Stuff, each pulling a small cart through the breach, bashfully doffed their hats when I mentioned them.

"Just seemed the neighbourly thing to do, hm?" Madeira leaned on a crumbling pillar. "Y'all were more helpful than you'd ever know from passin' through. These two felt so bad after you made fools out of 'em that they started doin' extra chores to make up for all the trouble they caused. Heck, it was their idea to bring a care package after that ruckus this morning, and then we bumped into Jerry 'n co on the way, so we all formed a big convoy..." Jericho must have heard his name being mangled, and shot a look in our direction. "Not to mention that that robot fixed up the boiler. Is he around? I know he said he weren't a fan of Rangers..."

"Uhhh..." I looked at Rainbow, and he looked at me. "He's not around."

"That's a shame. Really knocked out those problems we were having with the water condenser. I'm sure I'll run into him again, hm? He's a little hard to miss!"

I nudged Rainbow before he and his honest streak broke Madeira's heart. "Right!"

"Now, where should we put these? We got medical supplies, water supplies, food supplies, and drinking supplies."

"Oh boy." Rainbow ran a hoof over his head. "Talk to Crumble in what's left of the mess hall. Down to the helipad, right, past the hangar, right again and then follow the smell of food."

Madeira turned. "You heard him, boys!" With discipline I wasn't expecting from two idiots whose pastime had been duelling up until this week, they rolled out, and were gone.

We came over to see what Jericho was doing. He was cracking open one of the boxes from the tribe's carts. Turing Test peered in from the other side, as one of the sets of goggles floated out. Jericho grimaced.

"We were not able to return all of them. One pair was lost, another damaged. We were lucky not to lose a life with them."

Turing Test nodded, and put it back. "Well, if they were still here, they'd be under ten feet of water right now. Dunno how much good they are to us, but it's somethin' at least."

"Do you think you could find a buyer for them? It might give you the resources you need to rebuild."

Turing Test winced. "Ah, we're not gonna sell 'em. At that point we might as well give up being Rangers."

"Your choice, brother."

He nodded. "Chive!" That snivelling little scribe was still hanging around? "Find somewhere to put these."


Jericho snuck up on me when I was looking in another direction. "Ahh!"

"I see you have returned from the Cave of Screams?"

Rainbow nodded. "Just flew back this morning. Sam was right, it led right through to the lab." I spotted Ivy heading towards us.

Jericho measured us up carefully. "What happened to the metal pony?"

Both of us winced at the same time. Rainbow paused. "Enclave happened to him," I said.

"Oh," Jericho's look slid to crestfallen.

"So weren't I right all along about the cave?" Ivy was totally failing to conceal a smug smirk. "Nothing to worry about."

"Uhh..." Rainbow put a hoof up, but Ivy grabbed it and waved it around, and made him touch Jericho's front. He did not look happy.

"See? Both of them still in one piece."

I scratched my temple. "Well, I mean, Sam bought it, but it's not entirely relevant to what you're saying..."

"You need not insult my intelligence, little sparrow."

Rainbow couldn't keep biting his tongue. He had a face like he was busting for a piss. "I wouldn't say we had nothing to worry about..."

"Oh?" Ivy and Jericho looked at him at the same time.

"I mean, it's an old quarry and mining facility. The place was dangerous. But the kicker was the rogue mining robots."

"Yeah, we uh." I smirked. "We found the 'screams' in your cave of screams there. Old engines and machines still trucking along and making lots of noise."

"My guess is - and forgive my outsider perspective here - that the oral tradition started up to warn people away from a dangerous location that they might otherwise use for shelter. Just a theory."

The two of them looked at each other and blinked. "I..."

Ivy nodded. "Yes, I'd say that makes sense?"

"It's not unreasonable."

"So in a way, you're both wrong!" I said. Ivy and her cheating unicorn magic yanked my goggles down over my eyes, which knocked my glasses off. I mean, I deserved that one, but still, fucking scribes.

While I was scrambling in the dirt for my glasses, and Rainbow was chuckling at me, Ivy and Jericho wandered off to make up for being jerks to each other or something. Bastards, the lot of them. I gave Rainbow a thump and traipsed off to find someone else to talk to. Fortunately, I didn't have to go far.

"Jaffa! Me ol' boy. Jaffa cake. C'mere." He was hanging out on a peak in the ruined wall, keeping watch, because I guess that's all he knows how to do.

"I am neither old, nor a cake, free bird."

"Do I have some stories to tell you."

He tilted his head. "Why are you asking me?"

Was he being intentionally obtuse? I'd never know. "This spear." I pulled it off my back. I had to tug a bit because my duct tape harness got caught on it. "This spear has seen some shit." He tilted his head at me like a confused puppy. Nevada, the actual confused puppy, was busy sniffing the tribe's crates and peeing on them. "See this gouge in the blade? Where it's bent a bit?"

"I see it."

"A couple of hours ago I used this thing to pry open the door on a flooded saferoom. There were fourteen foals and one of the kindest ponies I've ever met holed up in there. All of them are currently over there, finishing their lunch. Right now Crumble is probably figuring out what to do with all the shit you've guys brought." I smiled, and held it up. He watched it with wide eyes. "This thing you gave me saved lives. I just... thought you might like to know before I give it back to you."

"You're... giving it back?"

"Well yeah. I didn't ask for it. And hey, I know how much things can mean to a person. I thought you might be missing it."

Jaffa smiled, and sat. "You keep it, free bird."


"An object only means as much as the story it tells. For me, that spear was a toy. I never used it for more than troubling strangers coming to meet with Jericho. With you, it is the wings of life. Its story is now more yours than mine."

"You never used this when like... the Rangers and the Tribe were fighting?"

"That was before my time. Bear it well, free bird."

I looked it over again. Well, that was unexpected. Guess I need a sturdier holster than duct tape now. "Well! Thanks, Ja-" When I looked up, he was gone. Not gone gone, he'd just hopped over to the next peak on the walls, but I humoured his dramatic exit and let him be.

Now, you might be thinking, who else could possibly wander out of the desert to come to our aid? We already had the Eagle Tribe and caravans from Wormwood and Fort Mercer, who's next? The Ranger-hating loonies from Isotope City?

Well. Wait right there.

An hour passed. The lookouts calmed down, the new arrivals rehydrated, and Babylon took over cooking duties while Crumble started organising supplies. The sun had stopped rising and started sinking, and it was cooling down enough for ponies who aren't me to do some work. I chilled in a shaded part of the north wall with a puppy sleeping on my stomach. I remember thinking that I should get some real sunglasses at some point. The hypnoswirly toy glasses were fun, but they were starting to bend and wobble (they were only supposed to fit a foal), and they were crap for sun protection anyway.

Then I looked over those glasses as I held them in my hoof, and saw another caravan coming from the north.

I scooped Nevada off me (gently, he's only wee) and scooted along the wall to get a better look. One, two... six ponies, three carts... four blue jumpsuits, one oversized helmet, and one... suit of armour with a trucker hat? I didn't believe it. I sat there, watching them, not believing it.

The equine manifestation of a briar patch stopped on the road below me. I smirked.

"Well inn't this a turnaround for the books?"

Winchester glared at me, then turned around. "Okay, we're going back. I knew this was a bad idea."

"The hell you are, y'old coot." Sam headbutted him immediately, and being a domesticated forklift, there was no way ol' Winnie was overpowering him.

"Sam? Okay. This needs some explanation."

"That you, Atom? Oh, thank fuck."

"Aw, you were actually worried about me? That's sweet."

"Oh, can it featherbrain."

"Alright, consider it canned." I sat over the edge with Nevada at my side. "So please, do explain. We thought you'd kicked the bucket and legged it over here to help with the defence."

"Me? Sunk by a little blue party favour? Nahhh. I must have rebooted shortly after you left. I knew I wouldn't be able to get to you guys before the lightshow was over, but I did beeline for Isotope City to get some help."

"Y'gonna sit there or are you gonna let us out of the sun already?" Winchester barked.

"I have to say, I'm impressed at the feat of negotiation that had to take place to get us to this point. How'd you pull that one off?"

Winchester raised his rifle at me. "Let us in already!"

Sam slowly put a metal hoof on the gun and pushed it down. "No guns, sheriff, we're here to help."

There was a brief, excellent moment of watching Winchester's blood simmer. I should really stop fucking with him now, poor Caliber looks like he's going to fall over any second. "Only reason we're here is because it's his idea." He gave Sam a shove, and only succeeded in shoving himself. "We're gonna dump our shit and go, and if he thinks he ain't gonna be torn apart immediately, that's his business." You confusing-motived, angry little man. Sam gave him a nudge. His moustache wrinkled. "And... I guess it's... neighbourly." He said that like it was a verbal brussels sprout. "If they're comin' out and attacking the Rangers, well... enemy's enemy." Sam nodded and looked at me. If he could smile, he would be grinning from ear to ear, the beautifully smug bastard. "Now hurry up and open the gate before I change my mind."

"You uh, you actually might want to come around the side? The gate's out of commission."

Winchester grumbled, and around the side of the base they went. Naturally, as they entered, they were met with stares. Even Sam started to look antsy. Cinderblock was the big one's name, yeah? He was pointing his guns at everyone who looked at him. I'm no expert, but from the look of his saddles, Sam had unloaded them first for just such an eventuality. I got some gliding use out of my wings for finding Turing Test and ushering him over. Rainbow Code spotted them by himself as I was returning.

His eyes widened. "Is that..."

I nodded. "Yep."

"The lone robot rides again," Sam said.

"How... what? You're here?"

"Get it all out, Ken."

Rainbow instead ran out of words and looked kind of offended. Turing Test took advantage of this pause to step forward. "Now what's all this then? Stable jumpsuits are some of the last things I'd expect to wander into town today."

I smirked. "It would appear we've been busy making friends this week."

Winchester glared at me, then at Turing Test. "Tincan here wanted to make sure the two pigeons were alright and drop off some supplies. They're dandy, here's your shit, we're leaving. Good day."

All of us tried to say something, but we... couldn't think of anything. We looked at each other and shrugged.

"Ma? Is that Ma?" Caliber tipped his helmet back, looking at the Tribesponies gathered in the shade, watching.

Winchester didn't even bother to look. "No, Cal, it ain't your Ma. She's probably in another galaxy by now." I'm sorry, I snickered. I couldn't help myself.

"Wait!" Peregrine scrambled to her hooves and galloped over. "Caliber!"

"M-ma?" Caliber's jaw was on the floor. I think I saw Winchester's actual eyes for maybe the second time.

She practically jumped into hugging him. Cinerblock tried to fire, and got nowhere. "My lil' Callie... I had no idea you'd be here. I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry."

"Peh... Perry..." Winchester gibbered.

Peregrine released Caliber. He was stunned stiff. "Chas, I'm... I never meant to meet you like this. I'm sorry."

He reached a hoof up to touch her front, like he was trying to make sure she was real, and then suddenly grabbed her sides. "What did they do to you? Where did they take you?"

She threw him off and stepped back. "What? What are you talking about?"

"Y'know... those."

Peregrine stared for a moment. Every time Winchester leaned in, she backed up. "Tho... oh you're not talking about..." She chuckled nervously. Any trace of a smile departed when Winchester's desperate grimace remained unbroken. "Oh. Oh no. Chas... Chas there are no aliens. It was made up. Someone in Stable-Tec made it up."

"Wha... but the lights! They were here! They attacked this base!"

"That was the Enclave, Chas. It was ponies, just like you and me."

"The... Sam?"

Sam sighed. "Listen, if I was made by aliens, why would I look so damn much like a pony?"

He sniffed and gibbered. "Then who took you?"

"I..." She paced on the spot. "Chester, I ran away." He sat back on his haunches, his jaw slack. "I'm sorry. It was selfish and Callie, you... you didn't deserve it. Of all the things, you didn't deserve to lose your mother." She scooped up Caliber's chin and nuzzled him. The poor kid looked like he was about to faint. She turned back to Winchester, tears streaming down her cheeks.

"Wh..." Winchester's rifle dropped to the ground, and he rubbed his face with a hoof. "But why?" His voice cracked.

"Because I was young and wild and reckless and couldn't stand the thought of living my whole life in that damn baseball stadium, scared to death of phantoms. The world is... big and beautiful and out there, and even when it's ugly it's worth fixing, and I... knew there was no way I'd ever convince you to see things my way. I said it was selfish, and if I could make the choice all over again, I don't know if I'd do it... but it's what I did, and you know why."

Winchester panted. "But you could come back! I found you! You can come back with us! Today!"

Peregrine... poor girl. Jericho, with a grimace, walked towards her. "Chas, I'm sorry, I... this is Jericho. I ran away with his tribe, and we wander the wilds here. It was the life I always wanted, so... we got married." Have you ever seen a stallion with a face like a broomstick cry? It's kind of hideous. "Callie. You have a sister. A half-sister. Her name is Ellasar, she's twelve and she's full of energy and joy and I'd love for you to meet her."

"A sister?" Caliber actually smiled. It wasn't a big smile, but it was something.

"I..." Winchester was still panting. Then, he closed his eyes, breathed deep, and held it. I couldn't imagine the spinning that must have been going on in his head. He tossed his rifle to the side, turned and paced. He muttered things I couldn't hear. A small crowd had gathered around the scene (and it was a scene). He looked at the sky.

"Chas, say something."

"I'm gonna need... time. To think about all this. But you... you made your choice a long time ago. You've got your own life now. I'm just..." Winchester wiped his cheek, and even had a little chuckle. "It sounds silly now, but to see you one more time with my own eyes, safe and sound... that's enough for me." He tried so hard to smile, bless him. Peregrine was also choking back tears around a smile. Jericho held her. "C'mon boys, let's go home. 'Fore any more surprises show up."

"Uhmm..." Caliber took off his helmet and held it close to his front. The mane underneath was matted, greasy and pressed into a bowl. "P-Pa. I was wondering, uhm... if I could... I mean, if you'd let me... I'd like to..."

"You wanna see your sister," Winchester interrupted. Caliber nodded anxiously. "Cal... do whatever you want. You don't need your ol' man beatin' you up anymore."

"R-really?" I thought Cal was going to collapse into a gibbering fit at any moment.

"I'm sure you've got a lot of catching up to do with your mother." He sniffed again. Caliber... he didn't so much answer as squeak, and he slapped his helmet back on and bounced over to Peregrine. "As for the rest of you..."

"Hang on. Hang on." I raised a hoof and stepped forward. Winchester found his glare again. "I know you're probably having a wild enough day without me being in it, but I don't know if we're ever going to have all of the same people in the same place again. If you were married to Peregrine... and she's married to Jericho..." I looked around the group and crowd, picking out ponies by hoof. "... who is the brother of Babylon..." She made a 'wait, what did I do?' face when I pointed her out. She'd arrived to see what all the hubbub was. "... whose daughter is Ivy Bells, who is married to Rainbow Code, who's my brother..."

"Oh no."

"Cousins!" Some of the crowd actually cheered. Winchester, however, didn't seem too interested in my offer of a hug. "You're my sister-in-law's uncle's wife's... ex-husband? Dunno if I got that right."

He rubbed his brow. "Aliens made more sense than this."

"I mean, look at this! The gang's all here. I can't go anywhere in this fucking desert without tripping over extended family. Kinda sucks that the camera got wankered in the attack, this'd be a great photo." Winchester was losing patience with my shit, and backing up to leave. The crowd started to chatter, drift off and return to their business.

I think Crumble intercepted Winchester to insist he stay and get some food. Caliber got talking to some Tribe members, quite enthusiastic to know what their life was like. I couldn't understand how he was so apparently quick to forgive Peregrine for walking out on him, but that's not my place to judge. Sam talked shop with some curious scribes, with Ivy Bells keeping a close eye on them in case they got a bit grabby.

Babylon tapped me on the shoulder. I finally noticed that I was standing there gawping. "Now you see, free bird, that the stars are all connected."

I opened my mouth to snap back but... fuck. She had me there. I smiled. "Dammit."

By about four, the base had become pretty lively. Everyone who'd arrived from the caravans had stuck around. I imagine the cases of booze they'd brought with them helped with that. Rainbow was still nursing a bit of a headache, so he took a spin away from the crowds for a bit. Nevada started following him, so I went with him. (Ivy also wanted me to keep an eye on him because of the whole concussion thing, so there was that too.)

We weren't the only ones out the back of the terminal, though. Nevada got ahead of us when we spotted someone sitting by themselves on the west wall looking out. It was Prickly Pear. The oblivious little mutt scampered up the rocks to give her haunches and legs a good sniff, and boy was he an excited waggy-tailed little thing when she dignified him with a look.

Rainbow whistled. "Hoy! Nevada, get down from there."

"He's like four weeks old, he's not gonna answer."

Pear looked over her shoulder at us with an inscrutable stare. Rainbow bit the corner of his mouth. "Sorry, didn't mean to bother you! We'll just grab the puppy and get out of your hair, uhm..."

"No, wait, uh..." She stopped and cleared her throat, because she'd accidentally yelled at us, and was acutely aware of that. "I'd actually wanted to talk to you. Both of you."

"The fuck do you want with me?" I chuckled.

Rainbow smacked my shoulder. "What were you looking for?"

She sighed, and resumed staring at the horizon. I could see Big Top in the distance. She contented herself with petting Nevada, who was quite happy to be pet. "It appears that you're owed an apology. I've never trusted you, Rainbow Code. And I've certainly never trusted you, Atom Smasher." No kidding. "Today has been the greatest test of the San Palomino Steel Rangers in my lifetime. We were caught by surprise by overwhelming force, and have paid a terrible price. The comfortable thing for me to do would be to blame you. Cast you as spies. That would be... as my father would say, lily-livered and downright dumb."

I went to open my mouth. Rainbow touched my front again, and I closed it. I guess I won't mention the part where Saguaro wanted to shoot me outside his office? He sat down.

"Today has tested the bonds that hold the Rangers together, and I have come up wanting. But you... I sit here not because of my pride, but because of your valour, Rainbow Code. Our wounded are being healed not by my purity, but by the gifts of tribals that you befriended, Atom Smasher. My father would never have been able to admit such a thing, but we are in your debt, pegasi."

I wanted to wisecrack. I wanted to make some quip about 'it's about damn time' or something. But she was holding my puppy and she could probably squish him flat by not paying attention.

"I think you're forgetting someone, Pear," Rainbow said. She turned her head around once more to look at us. "I'm sure your first friend would love to know how you're doing."

Then she did something I wasn't expecting. She smiled. I don't think I've ever seen her smile. Not sincerely, anyway. "Y'know... maybe she would." She turned, and carefully jumped down. The earth didn't shake too much. Nevada stayed on the wall and barked until she picked him up and set him down, so he could scamper back to me.

"Dismissed," Rainbow said.

Prickly Pear shot him a glare as she passed. "Don't you... you're gonna know how it feels. Just you wait."

"Why am I not allowed to be a cheeky shit?"

He ignored me, and exchanged smirking glares with her.

As is pegasus habit, we found ourselves a perch to hang out on. It was hard to find a spot with the sun not in our eyes, but we eventually found one in the terminal ruins overlooking the remains of the quad. From here we could see everything from the bodycounters carrying out their grave duty, to Crumble and Babylon consoling a distraught Marmalade, to Ivy and Madeira leading a dance with Tumbleweed on an accordion. Nevada clung to me for dear life. I don't think dogs were designed for going this high up.

"So," I said. "What now?"

Rainbow sniffed. "Well. The base is obviously a wreck. They're going to struggle to keep everyone warm tonight, but with all this help around I think they'll manage."

"They'll be fine. Look at all these jolly pricks. It's a fucking carnival down there. I'm not worried about them."

"You're not?"

"Nah. Weren't we here for something else?"

He paused. "I thought you hated him."

Then I paused. "I thought I did. Then we met Valkyrie again."

"That's fair."

"So what's the plan?"

He sighed. "You tell me. Somehow I don't think a full-frontal assault or asking nicely is gonna get her to turn over Gadget unharmed. Celestia knows what she's been doing to him all this time. We should have left here sooner."

"Relax, hot-shot. We were pretty busy."

"I guess."

I scratched my forehead. "Okay. I've done things your way today. Now it's time you try my way."

He snorted. "And what's that?"

"Steal some clothes, waltz right in and lie through our teeth."

He chuckled. "You can't be serious."

"Listen, I do this constantly. Just walk like you've got to be somewhere and most people won't question it."

"And do you know Enclave callsigns and radio protocol? You'll look a bit silly asking for directions around the base."

"You're overthinking it. You just gotta... wing it."

"Auuuugh, Atom."

"Really though. Just follow my lead. A, because it's not that hard, and B... have you got a better plan?"

He grimaced, and scratched the back of his neck, and hissed. "No."

"Exactly. Now go convince your wife to jailbreak the armour off some of those dead troopers and let you wander off four hours after a concussion."

"You're not making this sound any easier."

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