• Published 28th Nov 2015
  • 2,347 Views, 171 Comments

Fallout: Equestria - Make Love Not War - hahatimeforponies



Atom Smasher goes on an excellent adventure in San Palomino with the brother she didn't know she had to find the Dad she forgot everything about. Also, strange things happen in the desert.

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Paranoid

I jumped, and my clumsy wings ferried me up to one of the scaffolds where I could get a better look at Little Boy's face. The cockpit was set in its neck, flanked by huge shoulder armour buttresses and criss-crossed with reinforcements for the mucky glass. I couldn't make out anything inside - too dark.

"He doesn't look very lively."

"Have you tried finding enough rocket fuel to lift a building-sized robot? It ain't easy. All the hydraulics move like they should, and the matrices worked fine after being given a little love, but that's all on spark battery juice.That ain't gonna get him off the ground."

I swung to the scaffold below to inspect some of the rockets. "No MWT caches of hydrazine hanging around?"

"What?" Ivy said.

Rainbow piped up. "Maybe enough to lift a bottle rocket."

"Kerosene?"

"The vertibuck crowd would skin us if we took their supplies for a vanity project."

"Hydrogen?"

"We can barely scrape together enough water to keep the base drinking."

"Have you tried detonating balefire eggs behind him?"

Rainbow blinked. "Uhm. He still has legs, doesn't he?"

I slid down one of Little Boy's legs like a fireman pole, and kicked off his foot to jump over the terminal and land next to the two of them again. Ivy had a moment of intense panic as she moved her coffee out of my way again, trying not to spill it.

"Honestly we're just stalling for time. Like a good IT pony I've been making excuses to keep working on him, but Elder Saguaro wants him butchered for parts if we can't get him flying."

"Wow. What a dick."

Ivy sighed and rested her forelegs on the terminal, looking up at the robot. "It'd be such a shame to see my baby put down."

I ignored her. "Okay, so. Recap. The Scrooge Ringers and the Enclave are sitting in their bases squabbling over lost technology while slowly leaking their gear into the general population. Where does the Dadquest fit into this?"

I heard a thunk of Ivy's forehead hitting the terminal. "Steel Rangers."

"Yes, Spice Racks."

She grabbed me by the shoulders. "Steel Rangers. Say the words."

"Scrub Ratifiers."

"Are you defective or something?"

"Look, I'm saying Spread Reddit, I don't know what you're getting so irate about." By this point, my face could hardly be described as straight. Were all scribes this easy to drive round the twist? She glared at me and my decaying self-control. Then I felt that phantom, static-electricity-like pressure and tingle that comes with magic, right on the bridge of my nose. "Are you attempting to mutilate me? I feel like that's probably going to get you in trouble."

"It ain't you I'm mutilating."

I went cross-eyed. Ivy disappeared into blurry double-vision, but I got a clear (and uncomfortable) view of my hypnoglasses slowly twisting in the grip of her magic. My eyes went wide around the same time her frown turned into a smirk. "Okay, okay, Steel Ranger! It's Steel Ranger, I got it, just don't break my shit!"

The magic vanished, with my glasses mostly intact, save for some creased paint on the bridge. "Now. You were saying?" She fluttered her eyelids at me like absolutely nothing had happened.

I looked at Rainbow. He quickly looked away and started whistling, but he couldn't hide the smirk on the side of his mouth. I huffed. "I've half a mind to fuck off now. But since I don't have anything better to do, I'll say it again. How does my missing Dad fit into this?"

"We'll..." He hid behind a hoof until he was done chuckling, the smarmy bastard. "We'll have to go back to our quarters to get our personal notes for that. You'll be sleeping on our couch, and you can't be seen in the mess anyway, so we might as well bring you there. I'll be bringing back your dinner."

"You have your own quarters? No rows of bunks or anything like that?"

Rainbow laughed again, then talked quietly. "Not only am I a Paladin, and not only am I married to someone on base, and not only am I one of Star Paladin Turing Test's favourites, I'm also married to his daughter."

"Oh." I looked at Ivy, then back at him. "So basically you're taking full advantage of classic piece of shit nepotism?" No wonder Pickle Pep or whatever didn't like him.

He looked around pensively, then shrugged and nodded. Ivy slapped my shoulder with the back of a hoof. "Hey, if it weren't for favours from Daddy, you'd be camping out in a Satellite Sam's."

"Yeah, alright." They started towards the way out. "Show me to my four-poster couch."

"And you can still be camping out there if you ain't careful."

"Okay! Yeesh." Fucking highly strung scribes.


My latest attempt to get another ride on Rainbow's back was met with a suspiciously-timed offer from Ivy to attach saddle spikes to his armour. I was so going to put dog shit in the feet of that thing or something. It was suggested for stealth purposes that I put on a spare scribe robe or an initiate jumpsuit or something. I rejected this suggestion and proved that chutzpah would suffice by imitating Pringle Popper's accent and scaring the shit out of some grunt with a drill sergeant routine. They told me not to do that again, or at least not to do it in my civvies.

Rainbow stepped on a pedestal on the short wall opposite the door, popped the switch, and his armour released him. Their quarters were this cramped L-shaped room, though that might have just been three ponies plus a foot mech standing in a room that was probably fit for one with all the crap they had in it. One end of the L had a couch in it, and the other was taken up entirely by a messy double bed. The corner of the two long walls had an antique TV in it, flanked to the left by a stereo unit and a rack of guitars, violins, and instruments I wouldn't even be able to name, and to the right by a cork board plastered with photographs, maps, scraps of paper and strings wound around pins.

Then I had another one of those flashback realisations. He was in the middle of saying something when I flung him against the wall next to his power armour and pinned him. "It was you, wasn't it?" I'll be honest, he was probably humouring me, and could throw me off any time he liked.

"What?"

"You're the fucker that raided all the music shops, aren’t you?"

"The... music shops?"

"I went to start a band and every goddamn String Shack and Rock Ranch in the Greater Manechester area had been picked clean! There wasn't even a fucking kazoo! And guess who went around digging up musical shite ten years ago?"

"Oh! Heheh. Oh..."

Ivy lightly pushed me back a bit. "Pardon me." Both me and Rainbow mumbled something, and I shuffled back to let her pass so she could leave the room. Once she was past, I resumed holding him to the wall.

"Do you have any idea what a prat I made of myself getting a bunch of ex-raiders together only to not have anything to show them?"

He raised his eyebrows. "I can fathom a guess."

The door slid open again, and Ivy nudged me again. "Hot coffee, coming through!" More mumbling, I leaned back, she pushed past, and I got back to nearly-throttling my brother.

"Look, Atom, I'm not sure why you're more vividly and particularly angry about me vicariously scuppering your band before it could start than deliberately abandoning you, and I definitely don't know what you want me to do about it."

I shoved him again and let go. All I succeeded in doing was throwing myself off him. I pouted for a few seconds, then turned around and started pulling one of the guitars off the rack. "I'll take one of these for a start." It didn't feel like coming off the rack, and Ivy lifted the strap that was caught on one of the pegs.

"Do you uh... know how to play the guitar?"

"Sure I do." I swung it around in front of me, sitting down with the neck resting in one forehoof and the body on the ground. I stared at it for a few seconds. It couldn't be that hard. I mean, I was gonna play one of these in the band, after all.

I'll be honest, the sound that followed was worse than me peeling my sunburned ass off the bedroll back in that diner. Ivy was doing her best not to laugh. Rainbow looked like he wanted to cry. Ivy smiled, and lifted the guitar from me and put it back on the rack. "How about we just... hold on to this for you for now, and we get back to the finding your Dad thing?"

"I'm not a child."

The smile remained. "Then stop acting like one, sugar."

"Moving swiftly along." Rainbow rubbed his face a whole lot. "Let's get to storytime, shall we?"

"One second." I threw myself at the couch. "Okay, I'm good." This way, I could fall asleep if I needed to.

He cleared his throat and started pointing to bits of his scrap board. "Thirty-five years ago, there was an incident somewhere in the hills northwest of San Cimarron. Los Arabos is somewhere out here. Enclave raptors and troopers were spotted amassing, and the Rangers rushed some vertibucks to the scene to check it out. The whole thing was a mess. Nothing was recovered, and the top level of the facility was blown out. It wasn't us, and the Enclave were as surprised as the Rangers were, so it must have been someone inside. Based on the timing, the location, the fact that the Enclave were out in force, and the fact that his trail went cold here, we're confident that Gadget was one of the ones inside, and that that's where he went back to."

"Hold up. Something doesn't compute." I rubbed the back of my hoof on my mouth. "You've been here for ten years. Accounting for however long it took you to get Turbo Taz's trust..." Ivy whacked me on the back of the head with my own raygun. "Look, sometimes I'm just bad with names, okay?"

"Sure." Ivy didn't believe me. (I didn't believe me either.)

"Anyway, even with however long it took you to get this information, surely the Rangers would know where Los Arabos is now because they got there before, and you could just like... go there."

"Whoever blew the top level was trying super hard to hide the facility, and they weren't stupid about it. There's a paranoid level of detail involved. They were using some magnetic or force weapon to expel fallen troopers and rangers from the facility before they brought down the roof. No suits of armour left behind, no transponders to follow back to the facility."

"You weren't kidding about paranoid."

"Not only that, but the explosion completely removed all surface traces of the facility. It's like it was never there."

"Except for the big smoking scar in the side of the mountain."

"Heh. Remember when I said 'paranoid'?"

I paused and frowned. "Yeah?"

"They'd gone to the trouble of blowing the sides out of like, twelve other mountains out there."

"Oh for fuck's sake."

"One of those craters has Los Arabos underneath. The others are just holes in the ground. Without precise coordinates - which the Rangers never had, it being a scramble operation - digging it up would be pot luck, and even worse, after thirty-five years of sandblasting, you'd have trouble even finding the holes without bringing a geologist."

"Why didn't they start digging the next day?"

Ivy answered. "They don't call them hills the Death Caps for nothing. Ranger foot missions to the area covered by the former Death Caps National Park have a 65% casualty rate from environmental hazards alone. Loose gravel, high winds, steep cliffs and fragile ledges, all baked in desert sun. You don't go up there unless you know damn well what you're doing, have three or more backup plans, and an up-to-date will."

"Well shit. Someone really was trying not to be found."

"This all just adds to my suspicion that Dad was down there, because when I think 'paranoid', I think 'Dashite'."

I scratched my chin. "Explains the extreme measures in hiding."

"Exactly. But if that's where he was, then that means that there's another way in, because he obviously got out."

"Unless he blew that way behind him."

He chuckled. "We can live in hope."

I inhaled deep to process this. "So there's an underground science lab that the Rangers raided and then lost entirely, but you're think that Dad was there and tried to go back there, and that he was obsessively hiding something. That about the long and short of it?" Rainbow looked like he was doing some remembering, and then nodded. "So that leaves you with a dead end."

"Not quite. I'll spare you the long-winded details of it..."

"This was the short version?"

"Haha." He gave me a venomous smirk. "We started tracking things that might lead back to Los Arabos in some way. One of the most promising ones we've found in a while is a mechanic who lives in Isotope City, in downtown San Cimarron."

"That sounds like just the safest place in the world, doesn't it?"

"It's a baseball stadium. The San Cimarronians had a sense of humour and called their local team the Isotopes," he said. I snorted. "But what's interesting about this mechanic is that he is, in fact, a robot."

"A... robot?"

Ivy floated a photograph over to me. It was a bit blurry and silhouetted, but those eyes were definitely glowing. "One of a kind, passes for sentient as far as we can tell. This ain't no house-trained vacuum cleaner. The city treat him as one of their own. If he ain't one of your Dad's, then he's gotta be a late pre-war prototype. Either way, he's definitely from Los Arabos."

"And just to throw it on the pile, you get one guess how long he's been in Isotope City."

I tossed the photo back, and Ivy caught it. "I'm gonna hazard about thirty-five years." Rainbow touched his nose.

"The problem is that like Little Boy, Elder Saguaro wants to take him apart and see how he works, and they know this in Isotope City, so Steel Rangers are distinctly not welcome there."

"From what I've heard about him, I'm surprised Isotope City isn't another hole in the ground by now."

"Turing Test won't allow it. If Saguaro takes the City by force, he tears the San Palomino Rangers in two."

I cackled. "Nepotism and insubordination? You guys are gonna fall apart in a light breeze." Ivy grimaced and shrugged, that kind of ‘it’s a fair cop’ shrug. "So your lead to Los Arabos is a robot who you can't even get close to without getting shot at, and you want me..." I pointed in no particular direction with a hoof. "... to go and talk to him because I'm not a S..." I paused and looked at Ivy. She glared at me, and I stifled a giggle. "A Steel Ranger... right?"

"Got it in one, Atom."

"Good, because that was a lot of concentrating and I don't feel like doing it anymore." I twisted around on the couch so I was sitting upside down. "Now I'm hungry and uncooperative."

"Uncooperative?"

"You told me to stop acting like a child, so I can't be cranky. I have to be something else."

Ivy scoffed. "There is gonna be a betting pool for how long it is before you're sleeping under an overpass."


They didn't leave me unsupervised in their room. Ivy went to collect more food than might actually fit in her body while Rainbow made sure I didn't make a mess. I got up a couple of times to get a better look at his collection, and he had a seizure every time I got closer than a foot from touching it. On the third pass he dove between me and the rack.

"Look, why don't I just give you the tour?"

"And listen to you some more? What do you want from me, man."

"Well I'm sure as shit not leaving you unattended with my pride and joy, so unless you're going to sit on the couch and do nothing..."

I flopped to the ground and rolled over. "Fiiiiiiiiiine."

He nudged each of the hanging instruments to check which one he was looking at, then went 'oooh' and pulled a case out from under the stereo. He opened it, and lifted out a violin. I've seen infants carried more carelessly than the way he cradled this thing. "This is one of my favourites. What's great about these things is less the instruments themselves, but the stories behind them." I yawned. He didn't notice. "I found this maybe... three weeks after I joined the Rangers. One of my first patrols. I was taking a break to do some collecting. I stumbled across this shack, that I thought was recently abandoned. So, I started poking around in the shelves and stuff for supplies. There was a trunk that contained only some blankets, and this violin. Almost perfectly preserved - no major damage, no rot, a couple of scratches on the edges of the body and some wear on the strings, but otherwise a pristine pre-war standard violin. And of course, this was around the time that the little old mare who lived in the shack hit me over the head with a cooking pot."

I frowned and rolled right way up again. "You stole a violin from some old bitch?"

He kicked me lightly. "I didn't steal it, and she wasn't a bitch." His glare was probably one of the sharpest I'd had all afternoon, and I'd been getting a lot of glares. "I apologised - let's be honest, a tiny septuagenarian about Ivy's size isn't gonna knock me down, even without power armour - put it back, and told her I was interested in music. She agreed to play for me for a while, and then I had to go. But then, the next time I had some time off, I came back to see her again." I made a vomiting gesture with a hoof. He was off in his own sentimental world. "She was grateful for the honest company, and I enjoyed the music. I started bringing her sheet music, spare strings, tuning equipment, stuff like that. I was even putting together some recording equipment for her. But then..." He paused, but remained oblivious to me scratching behind my ear. Fucking itchy glasses. "Then she died."

"You killed an old mare for her violin, got it."

I got another kick. "She died of old age because she was old. She was in good health for her age out in the wastes, but time just caught up to her a few years ago. She left me everything that I'd brought her, plus the violin, and it's stayed safe in here ever since. The last sound this thing made was the last song she played me."

"You are a fucking sap, Rainbow."

He snickered, then sighed. "I won't deny that."


The tour was mercifully cut short by the arrival of food. Ivy pulled a spice rack out of the footlocker and drowned the sad canteen trays with four different kinds of flakes. The resulting semi-artisanal mash was weird, but I can only guess the Rangers' home-grown produce was sleep-inducing by itself, so weird was better. She said something about stuffing some of her mom's cooking in my face, and Rainbow nodded and made some noises muffled by his dinner being eaten in three bites.

My fucked up sleep worked against me come nightfall, since I couldn't engage in whatever counted as nightlife on the base. Ivy had to go do some scribe thing on a late shift, and Rainbow was going to sleep early for an early watch, which left me wide awake in the middle of the fucking night on a base crawling with guards who had every reason to shoot me on sight. Normally I'd be out the door and up to no good as soon as captain doofus was asleep, but I found myself struggling with this feeling that I didn't quite know what to make of. Self-preservation instinct? Familial honour? Guilt? That was a new one. Maybe the flashback in the diner had damaged my disinhibition (if it's dis-in-hibition, then shouldn't they cancel out and it just be hibition?), because on some gut level I felt bad about ditching him to go cause havoc. I still wanted to liberate his teeth from his jaw, but that was all I wanted to do. I didn't want to break his stupid prized violin. I didn't want to plant a cherry bomb in the stereo and wait for him to accidentally fuck up his whole collection. I didn't want to take a vertibuck for a joyride and let him take the blame. I wanted to want those things, but something bordering on the physical wasn't going to let me.

I was getting astonishingly cut up about this. I got up from the couch and walked to the door and back like, twelve times. I kicked the couch a whole bunch, and went up to the stereo and opened the case and closed the case and put it back and kicked the couch some more. Rainbow somehow remained asleep the entire time. The boy must have been worn out from all that talking, or he just sleeps like a corpse.

I wanted to scream, but even more, for some reason I wanted to keep my voice down so I wouldn't wake the fucker up. I got my subconscious to compromise and let me scream into the the couch while punching the back of my own head through a cushion. I threw the cushion across the room when I was done, and it made a loud bang as it knocked their conspiracy board against the wall - some loose fitting or something. Despite myself I hurried over and made sure nothing had come off. I made some more grunts and snarls and threw the cushion at the floor. Holy shit, was this how most people lived? Feeling attached to people fucking sucked.

The room was down to just safety lighting, so I couldn't do much, but I definitely wasn't going to sleep like this, so I carefully lifted my guitar off the rack and took it over to the couch. It was electric, so it wasn't going to make much noise unplugged. Fringeface continued his coma while I started figuring out some melodies by ear and memory. And thank fuck he did too, this shit was harder than it looked.

At some point I must have dozed off, because I woke up on my side and shivering. I was still wearing my jacket, which probably explained the cold - big load of use a personal fridge is in desert nights - and my glasses were askew. I ditched both of them (the room was actually warmer) and went to look for my guitar. It wasn't on the floor next to me, it was on the rack. I looked around the corner, and some time while I was out, Ivy had come back. Their alarm clock was duct taped to the wall next to their bed. I had to contort to get a look, but it said it was 4:34 AM. With any luck, Rainbow would be up and able to let me out at five, but I hadn't been paying attention, so I had to prepare to amuse myself for hours yet. Fucking arse crackers.

I went to take a closer look at the TV. One of the safety lights was actually behind it, so I could see that it was plugged in. I felt around for buttons, and kept pressing them until the TV made a high-pitched whine and static filled the glass square at the front. Loud audio static followed, which covered up my panicked 'shit shit shit' as I fumbled around for the volume knob. Once I had it down, I looked over my shoulder. The wolfhound and the cocker spaniel were still dead to the world. Whew.

I tilted the screen down a bit to use the light to get a look at what else there was to play with. I doubted I was going to find much of a signal, but surely he wouldn't have the thing set up if there wasn't anything to play on it. A box in the cabinet below the TV had toploading slot and another set of buttons, a bit like a tape deck, but jumbo sized. Maybe better Stables than mine were supposed to have things like this. I didn't feel like endangering the connections by touching anything else in the cabinet, so I shimmied over to the stereo and started opening doors in the unit. Most of them were records. The central part had the records that were being fed into the record changer. The one on the far side of the TV had some rows of chunky boxes. I nudged one out. The paper sleeve had some spaceships and some serious-looking dudes with rayguns and stuff. When I tipped it to the side, the box appeared to be super chunky tape. A square peg for a square hole.

Out of the corner of my eye there was some stirring. I ignored it and brought the tape over to the machine. Sure enough, it was the right size and shape for it, and when I pushed down on the lid gently with the tape loaded in, it clicked shut without needing to be forced. I wasn't reflective enough to properly see the buttons, so I squinted and started pressing some. The left-most one made a loud mechanical whirring, followed briefly by a click. The second did nothing, except for apparently making the lights turn on.

"Mother of Celestia, Atom, what are you doing?" I blinked and looked over my shoulder. Rainbow was sitting up in bed, looking like he'd seen a ghost. I'm gonna guess Ivy was still out cold.

"Relax, I know what I'm doing." I didn't, but I pressed the third button without breaking eye contact. The static on the screen went dark, and the noise vanished, leaving only the arcanoelectric whine of the screen, and the slow whirr of the playing tape. A few seconds later, a Ministry of Morale piracy warning came up.

He squinted, then crawled out of bed. "What are you watching?"

"Dunno. First tape I found." I shuffled back from the screen and sat on my front.

Rainbow turned the volume up just enough that it was audible, without risking waking Ivy. "Space... the final frontier." the TV said, with white dots floating about. What appeared to definitely be a model of a space ship swung across the screen. It started flying around with models of planets, as majestically as models on strings could manage. "These are the voyages of the starship Harmony. Its five year mission: to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life, and new civilisations."

"What a ponce."

Rainbow thumped me as he sat down a couple of feet away. "Shh."

"To boldly go where no one has gone before!"

A bunch of spaceships whizzed around, the opening credits rolled through, and then stuff started happening. They encountered this planet that was emitting some energy signal or something that they'd been asked to check out, they did some scans, and then some dude with what looked like a bin bag on his head or something came up on the screen, made some noises, and then they started falling around the set. The engineer shouted about how they were having some nonsense problem with the engines, and then more dudes with bin bags marched on to the bridge and started punching people. The captain fucking socked one of them in the face, and then some pointy-eared dude just calmly went up to the other one and like, touched his neck, and then he fell over. They seemed as confused as I was at this point, then screen-bag-head laughed and went away. The next scene was them teleporting down to the planet's surface, which... all the budget must have gone on the bridge, because I could see the paint streaks on the polystyrene rocks, even on this grainy-ass picture quality.

Then there was a flash and a click that definitely did not come from the TV. In a blink I remembered that the world outside the screen existed, and looked over. Rainbow looked like he'd had a similar startle. Ivy was sitting at the end of the bed floating a camera and chewing on a grin from here to the moon.

"Like foals on a Saturday morning."

"I'm gonna fucking scoop your teeth out with that flash, you fucking-" In the space of a second, I'd gone from sitting in front of the TV to having my charge towards the bed halted by a wall of prickly, glowing air pressing on my front.

Ivy fell back giggling, and Rainbow tugged my tail to get me to sit again. "Come on. You should get moving before the day heats up."

I glared at Ivy, then stuck my tongue out, and returned to my stuff.


Breakfast happened while the base was still quiet, so I got to see the mess hall. It was dirty and looked like it would be cramped with a base full of Rangers in here, and I don't blame anyone for preferring to bring their food to their rooms. Ivy was more interested in the bag of stuff she'd brought than the food.

"Okay, so. I did what I could to requisition you some computer solutions to help you around San Cimarron."

"Not just giving me a tourist map and sending me on my way?"

"Whyever would I leave you out to dry like that? Nah. You're gonna need the works out there. Unfortunately, I couldn't get you a pipbuck. Those things are practically under embargo. But if you can deal with a rough and ready solution, I've got a present for you."

"I look like I've tumbled through a jumble sale. I think I can handle rough and ready."

She opened the bag and spilled a pile of tech-looking parts on to the table. "I have no idea what this thing is. It might be a pipbuck prototype, it might be a school project, I really don't know." She sorted the largest thing from the pile. She wasn't kidding about rough and ready - there was a screen without proper casing duct taped to a cartridge slot, with a circuit board and some bracing in between. All of them were connected by fat cable ribbons. She had some machined metal strips with a few holes in them and a tube of glue, and she was gluing them around the exposed circuit boards as she talked. "It can just about run pipbuck firmware, so to make it run at an acceptable speed I've had to simplify it a whole bunch. There's just a map, a transponder, date and time functions and a jailbroken Stable-Tec bus interface."

"I see." I caught about half of what she was saying.

"You're just going to have to remember what you're carrying and where you need to go yourself, find your own radio, and I trust you'll be able to know when you've broken your legs without technical assistance, hm?"

"I think I'll manage."

She rolled out like, four feet of duct tape, cut it and folded it and stuck it to itself in some convoluted way, and then stuck one end to one side of the device. She grabbed my left front leg and put it where a pipbuck would go, then muttered 'shit' and flipped it around, and stuck it to one side of a suitcase clasp. The other side was already on the device, and it clipped tight. "If it comes off, just stick it in your bag. It ain't Stable-Tec construction, but the internals should still take a few knocks."

"There's rough and ready, and then there's 'held together with duct tape and prayer'."

"I can tape it straight to your hoof if you like."

I waved my other hoof dismissively. "Just saying!" She jerked me forward, and taped something else with a chunky wire hanging out of it to the upper leg of my jacket. She plugged the wire into the device, slotted a laser pistol cartridge into the upper leg thingy, and then held down some hidden button on the device. The screen sprang to life, blinking and whirring through its bootup routine. "Of course it needs an external battery pack."

"This is what has me thinking 'school project'." The rest of the bag was cartridges. "Let's see... office software, not gonna need that... if I give you Asteroids you're just going to get distracted."

"Damn."

"This one's some kind of digital textbook, that's no use... y'know what, none of these are any use to you, but the slot might be. Y'never know."

"I might find more games."

Ivy dropped her face into a hoof. "Get out of here."

"You're going to have to make your own way, since you can't be seen with us," Rainbow said. "In fact it's probably a good idea to travel indirectly while you're at it. Sun-up should be in the next half hour, so make use of the morning cool and try and get far enough away to come at Isotope City from a funny angle.

I double-checked the clasps and tape by shaking it. Seemed firm. "Look, knowing me, I'm going to meander over there so indirectly that the angle I come at the place from is going to be the least of my concerns."

Ivy sighed, grabbed my leg again, and pushed in a bunch of things on it. When I was able to get a look at it again, the data tab just read FIND THE ROBOT. She patted the screen. "Just in case you forget."

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