• Published 28th Nov 2015
  • 3,705 Views, 216 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.

  • ...

I Get Around

With the Beach Boppers or whatever the fuck their name was serenading me, I strolled around town looking for ideas. I passed by the bar and took a seat to weigh my options. I swung on my chair and looked over at the bartender.

“Hey. Who do I talk to about getting like, a history of the town?” I turned and leaned on my hooves on the table. “I’m curious.”

The bartender spat something brown into a bucket. “With those feathers, you’d be lucky to get a warning shot.”

I furrowed my brow. “Right.” Ol’ Winnie setting an example, I see.

“You seem quick on the uptake. So let me tell you this.” Apparently this was so important that she spat again and leaned over the bar at me. “Forget about nosing around. I know your type. I see ‘em every now and then. You’re too clever for your own good. You’ve already figured out half of what you wanna know, and you’re gonna start looking for leverage to get the rest. You’ve also stopped listening to me already.”

“Sorry, what?” I couldn’t resist.

She banged the glass she was cleaning on the table. “Don’t try it. The sheriff picks guards like brain damage is a job requirement, so they ain’t even gonna think once before making paté outta you.”

“I’ll keep it in mind.”

“No you won’t.” I smiled. She sighed and found another glass to clean. “They never do.”

Well, with a reception like that, I’d definitely have to find some weak spots to pry. I started wandering around town with my detective glasses on. They were swirly cheap hypnoglasses that were identical to the pair I was already wearing. In fact, they were the pair I was already wearing.

The Stable equipment everywhere permitted an educated guess about the origin of the town. Somewhere in the vicinity had to be Stable 51, from which, at some point in Winchester’s lifetime, the founding population of the town emerged. I had no idea what weird attempt at social betterment had gone on down there, but it had obviously succeeded, in as far as there were ponies around to build a town with. Judging by how everyone I’d talked to was behaving, maybe the experiment was abject, crippling paranoia. Either that or they picked up pretty quickly that being in possession of a Stable full of pre-war gear in a city with two techno-fascist paramilitary groups hanging around was a bit of a hazard. Tough to call.

I could break into whatever Sam called a house, but I have to give him some credit. If he didn’t hear me right away, he’d probably figure it out pretty quickly. He was already suspicious of me, so the risks there were a bit much. Most of the other locals didn’t even seem interested in eye contact, and I doubted eavesdropping would net me anything convenient. Except for the yardbrushes in stetsons at the bar, who, judging by the looks they were giving me, would feed me any old rubbish if I’d just ride the cowboy. I was looking for information, but not that badly.

I needed some point of entry. Anything that could feed me another scrap. The guards all looked like their vocabulary didn’t stretch further than their gun barrels, so while anything they did have might be easy to trick out of them, I doubt they remembered what they had for breakfast, let alone events 35 years ago.

There was one exception. Caliber, for all his timidity, at least seemed to be paying his brain bill. He also appeared to have all the willpower of a rabbit with self-esteem issues. There was something to work with there. I just needed to get to him - assuming he was still keeping an eye on the front gate, with Winchester in earshot. Which meant getting Winchester away from Caliber, which meant a distraction.

Fortunately, I know a thing or two about distractions.

Based on our interaction at the gate, I guessed that Winchester didn't trust the boy to do anything right. So in the event of, say, some problematic event in town, he would rather sort it out himself rather than send Caliber.

A bar fight was right out. If the bar was on fire, these bristlesacks would just call it a good run and raise a toast to smoke inhalation. Actually setting the bar on fire would kill my chances of getting any kind of information from anyone, along with killing half the city. Anything else fatal - bombs, murders, y'know - would have similar consequences. Then I leaned against a shack by second base to think, and it gave a loud creak. I got off it and quickly found somewhere else to think, because I could hear the owner of the hut I’d just bent scrambling to the door to yell at me.

Of course. These idiots wouldn’t know structural engineering if it came up and abducted them. They probably had regular problems with building collapses. If something were to fall over, or at least sound like it, then Winchester would definitely come running. The stands looked like a sneeze could knock them over. Some of them, apparently, were so unstable that they hadn't even built precarious three-storey shacks on them. Everyone probably knew those stands were condemned but didn't want to risk demolishing them themselves. Inhabited or not, though, they'd still make a shitload of noise coming down.

I backtracked along Sam's dusty alleyway and went around the back of the shanties on the field. A guard stood in front of one of the dugouts, with the door boarded up. I squinted and turned off my radio. Between his helmet and his desire to stay in the shade of the dugout, I figured if I flew to the lowest seats in the stands and bolted for the exit, he wouldn't see me.

I touched down quietly, but the sprinting echoed throughout the structure of the stands. I threw myself at the floor and stopped as soon as I was in cover. The next thing I heard was the clueless hick making some slack-jawed noise of query. Seconds passed. I held my breath. If word got to Winchester that I was up to shenanigans he would have no second thoughts about chasing me out with a gun like I'd slept with his wife. He might not have had time to tell all the guards what to look for though. I was looking into the exit, so the only way I'd know if I'd been caught was at best some yelling, at worst a bullet in the ass from some yokel who thinks I'm with the local storm troopers.

I heard him breathing through his mouth, probably no more than four feet away from me. "Dumb ol' bleachers. Things are a damn deathtrap." Stomping ensued, starting loud and getting quieter. I was afraid the stands would collapse there and then.

Whew. I crawled until I'd moved from metal stairs to concrete floor. Sunlight got in through cracks and crevices in the seating, and made beams in the dust. It was actually pretty cold down here. I had a quick scan for any drinks that might have been down here, but found nothing. If it weren't in danger of collapsing, the dugout would be a good place to have the bar.

I made sure to check out the whole place before anything else. If they traced bringing down a condemned stand to me they'd be annoyed, but I could argue it was an accident. Who knows, maybe Sam would put in a good word for me. If I succeeded in making a big hole in their perimeter wall, then my best bet would be to use it and not come back.

The internal access door to the locker rooms was in two pieces, so I could look over the still-locked lower half to see the top, with a dessicated 'no entry' sign on it. The door to the outside let in a couple of rays of light through the gaps in the boards. It was so dark in here that if the guard was looking right at me, he wouldn't see me. The lockers themselves were ripped out long ago, and all that was on the floor was scrap and rubbish and a couple of bones. Nothing of value here.

The end of the concourse that led to the next stand was boarded up too, presumably to keep ponies from wandering in here from stands that were safe enough to inhabit. It didn't take me long to find the lockers. Contents evicted, they'd been welded together and bolted over the fire exits. That gave me my next idea. I ran along the concourse, checking the walls for fire extinguishers. Two wall-mounted clamps were canister-less, but the next two were still there. The panels next to the empty clamps said they were water fire extinguishers. Thirsty town.

One of the remaining canisters was relieved of its contents already, by way of a rusted hole in the top. The other had a dent, but appeared to otherwise be intact. I took it off, hooked the handle in one hoof, leaned back, and slowly pushed the plunger.

Nothing happened.

I held it down and frowned. It spluttered. Brown sludge trickled out of the nozzle. "Well shit. Aren't you the most-" Then the rest came out. After ejecting a spray of mud, foam started going everywhere. The fright caused me to fumble it, stopping the flow, but tossing it into the air. I fell on my ass and scooted back.

Ever get those moments where everything seems to go in slow motion, like the universe wants you to get a good look at exactly how everything is about to go pear shaped? That fire extinguisher took an eternity to come down. It landed on the valve, at an angle, breaking off the valve entirely. Now basically a rocket, it shot up towards the stands, where it hit a support beam in the middle and wrenched, like, all of the bolts out. The beam tumbled from its wedge between the stands and the dugout, and kicked up a cloud of dust when it made a hole in the concrete on the concourse. The fire extinguisher came out of the exchange considerably worse for wear, and after blowing all of its remaining foam all over the dugout, it ricocheted to the ground next to me looking like a bent tin can. The now unsupported beams groaned, drawing my attention up. A shower of dust fell from the ceiling. I gulped and started running. I needed to find an outhouse, quick.

With the guards and much of the town distracted by the structural crumbling sounds, I had an easy time slipping out the way I came. Ponies were being herded out of the more precarious structures and into open spaces. Not everyone was responding yet. The patrons of the bar seemed particularly unperturbed by these developments, and nobody saw me duck into the adjoining latrine and shut the door behind me.

I quickly wished that this wasn’t my alibi, because toilets without running water are not pleasant places. I mean, I should have seen this coming. They probably recycle their own piss, they're that stingy with water. It was just a bucket. A bucket covered in stains with rotting sides, and a number of stains around the back of the place from ponies who were too sloshed to even shit in a bucket correctly. Some poor bastard had the job of emptying this thing. I wasn't sure if I'd be able to commit to staying in here until I could deliver my punchline.

I cracked the door open and took a breath (never has tobacco smoke and wood rot smelled so sweet) and held it. When I started seeing stars, the whole shed shook from vibrations in the floor, and the crash of the stand falling in on itself echoed around the stadium. I sighed in relief. Then remembered why I was holding my breath. No longer able to take it, I let the door fly open.

"Wow what did I eat? That felt like an earthquake, damn." Nobody was humouring my joke. I doubt it was helped by how green my face was.

"You!" Oh boy, here comes bristleface. "What did you do?" He knocked someone clean over on his way to me.

"Uhm. A number two?" I wiped my hooves in the sand. "Actually I'm not sure I did anything, that place could put you off a heart attack."

He stared at me. I did my best to look like I had a football in my ass. "I'm watchin' you, you flyin' snake." He started stepping away towards the stand. I kept up the most constipated face I could, until he was jogging towards the collapse. Then, I made haste towards the front gate.

The second floor concourse had been converted into a watch post, with an office made out of a beer stand. A scrawny thing with a helmet too big for his narrow head, swivelling on his horn, and a combat coat he was swimming in, sat looking out the broken window at... nothing. I don't know how he kept up his staring, I had to squint every time I was outside. Maybe he was trying to go blind so the old fart would give up on him. His plasma rifle rested against the wall. He didn't notice me climbing the stairs, or walking up behind him, or sitting next to him.

"Whatcha lookin at?"

He squealed. I looked over to see him somehow fumbling the rifle about with magic. "S-s-s-stop!"

"Mate, I'm already sitting next to you. If I was gonna mug you, you'd already have a knife in your back. Cool it, okay?" He looked a little offended, but put down his rifle.

"W-what are you doing here?"

"I came up to hang out. Our conversation earlier was cut short, you might have noticed." He smiled and huffed weakly. "You don't exactly look comfortable up here. Something about the stammering and jumpiness." He didn't say anything, and shot me a wary look. "What's up with that?"

"I... I don't want to be a guard, okay? I don't like..." He hesitated.

"... guns?"

"Oh, I love guns!" His eyes lit up. Oh boy, I'm in that part of Equestria. He pulled up the rifle and cracked it in half. The muzzle powered down. So did my brain a few seconds later, because I will admit that I am not boned up on energy weapon mechanics. "Take a look at this thing. Started life as two halves of a sunburst rifle when we found it. Pa shot down one of them birdies and it dropped it, so when we found it the crystal was in a million pieces and the chassis was cracked all around the radiators and the barrel had to be completely ditched, but I was able to rip out some of the spark apparatus and the rebreather from the birdie's armour and improvise an ioniser, and then rewired the capacitor in the rifle to be a magnetic chamber, and presto! Plasma pistol. So then to get a new barrel..."

"Absolutely enthralling, Cal. Can I call you Cal?"

He blushed and put his gun back together. "I g-guess..."

"I get it. You like guns. So what's the problem?"

"Well... Pa figured that if I was old enough to fix a gun, I was old enough to use one, and..." He shivered. "I get... scared... easily..." He trailed off. Well gee willickers, who would have guessed it?

"So you'll happily reassemble the things all day, but a combat situation sends you running?" He nodded and wiped his nose. "Surely you'd be more use helping out Sam or something, right?"

"Pa says guard duty'll put hairs on my chin." I looked under his face. There was some scruff there, but only about as much as Rainbow grows in a day. The difference being that Rainbow can trim it roughly and look like a beatnik with his messy mop. Caliber's scruff just makes him look mangy. Seems the whiskers skipped a generation.

"That's a dumb reason. I want to talk about something else." I looked behind me. Fascinating as Cal's life story is, I was here on a job. "Do you know where Sam came from?"

"Sam? The robot?"


"Dunno. He was here before I was born."

"Hm." Figures.

"He don't talk about it much. He keeps to himself and fixes things. I don't know if he... likes me very much. When I was small he used to let me play with the scrap in his workshop, until one day I made a musket out of spare parts and shot his eye out on accident. I got my cutie mark, but he didn't let me play there anymore."

I snorted. "That was you? Fucking hell."

"I don't see much of him, except when he goes out with some guards on scavenging missions. I think they're going to the Cabellero Center tonight." This is also why he shouldn't be on guard duty.

"Caballero Centre?"

"Old mall in south SC. Scouts said it looked pretty undisturbed."

I heard steps echoing from the bottom of one of the staircases and turned. "It's been swell, Cal, but I gotta split. You keep a good lookout, eh?" See, now I sounded shady as fuck, but I had a lead now. All I had to do was make it out of here with my alien blaster, and without Winchester hanging my head on his wall.

"Oh? Oh..." Poor thing actually sounded disappointed. Then again, with the charming gent he's got for a dad, he probably doesn't get many people who talk to him without yelling. I scooped up my toy from his desk, quickly checked which staircase was echoing the loudest, and synchronised my footsteps down the other one. Butter smooth. Sorta.

I picked through my caps back at the bar to see what I had to work with. I'd done all I could here and it wasn't even lunchtime. Not only that, but I was really starting to feel the heat. Bless him, but I'm pretty sure that Rainbow's personal cooling thingy wasn't meant to work by itself. So, I did the only sensible thing that someone can do when they've got five or six hours to kill and it's pushing 90. I started drinking.

The beer was warm and tasted terrible, but then I was used to that in Equestria by now, and at least it was cheaper than the water here. The bartender didn't seem receptive to conversation, and I wouldn't understand the tumbleweeds in ten gallon hats if I tried, so I swung on my chair and napped and people-watched. As with all drinking sessions, it started off kinda slow and boring, and then evolved into dancing to the radio in my seat with a table full of bottles. Winchester gave me a glare when he passed later on, but I just waved and kept on slurring through words to 'I Get Around' that I didn't know. The raisin behind the bar didn't seem bothered by my self-contained rowdiness, probably because my caps were slowly being drained in her direction.

I fell asleep at some point during the hottest part of the day, and got woken up by a rifle butt in my shoulder. Now, nine beers in the middle of the day is less than conducive to mental function at the best of times, but add the heat and my lack of water to this, and I wanted him to shoot me. I can't tell you what the fuck he was saying to me because I don't remember figuring it out in the first place. The sun was about to dip low enough to hit me in the eyes (not helping) so I guessed peak heat had passed and I was being told to get lost. I wasn't terribly impressed, but I figured walking around in the desert in the evening would be slightly less hostile than Winchester's guest reception.

It's fifty-fifty as to whether I was right about that. I had to check my map every five or ten minutes, because with the two halves of my brain attempting to undergo a divorce, I didn't have a fucking clue where I was going. I'd forgotten all the landmarks from my journey there, and everything looked different with the sun on the other side anyway. I hadn't even cleared the car park before I turned the radio off, because centuries-old pop-rock coming from a tinny-ass speaker might as well have been battery acid pouring into my ears with this headache. By the time I got to the highway, I was ready to accept the embrace of death that awaited me when I would inevitably barf and collapse downtown.

Obviously, that didn't happen (way to rehash the intro, Atom). Somewhere south of the suburbs, I saw a pony on the road. The first one I'd seen outside since getting to this dump. Normally my thought process goes like this: if they're traders, go fuck with them. If they're raiders, blend in. If they've got power armour, usually not worth fucking with. I couldn't tell what I was looking at here, because flowing brown cloaks and shit don't give a lot away. However, the thing about the wasteland is that ponies who need much persuading before they'll kill you are few and far between. So I didn't really have much to lose by seeing what was up.

"I..." I paused. Talking felt like eating light bulbs. "I don't suppose you've got a headache cure with you, mate? A .44 calibre one, perhaps?"

The stranger laughed. "Had fun today, child?" I will admit, her voice turned me on. Deep and husky and purring but still quite obviously feminine. Probably quite a bit older than me, but that didn't stop me from tingling every time she talked. I spotted a horn and a couple of beaded braids sticking out of the hood of her cloak, and she had a big stick across her back with a bunch of stuff tied to it.

"Could say that." She didn't stop, but she was heading south, so I followed her.

A gourd floated in front of me. "Drink." My eyes took fifteen seconds to actually focus on the thing.

There were a few things it could be, I thought. It was either some magical cure, more booze, or poison so my corpse could be looted with a minimum of effort. Or like, any other number of weird things being handed out by a stranger, but of the most likely possibilities, none of them seemed like particularly losing situations. So, I sat and chugged, and holy fuck, it was like liquid candy, gloriously chilled. She had to tug the thing away from me.

"How do you feel, young one?"

I waited for it to settle before answering. "Less inclined to find a semi-automatic to play Stalliongrad Roulette with, wow. The hell was in that?"

She tucked the gourd under her cloak and started walking again. "Nothing more than the nectar of life." I followed.

"Um. Sounds expensive."

"Sometimes it is. What is rare is valuable."

"Sometimes? A magical flat cola potion is only sometimes expensive?" She snorted and chuckled, looking ahead. "You're having me on, aren't you?" She continued to giggle. "It's just Sparkle Cola, innit?"

"You must have been thirsty."

See, now I felt like a right mug. "It's just fucking water. Nectar of- goddamit."

"Sometimes expensive, such as in a desert."

I sighed and brought up my map to check where I was supposed to be going again. "Right. Thanks, I guess. I'm gonna be on my..." She'd turned to look at me. There was so much hair going on that I could only see one eye under her hood. I looked around and got my bearings. "... way..." I sighed again. "Man, I am not sharp today..."

She tilted her head and smiled. "Where are you headed? I suspect we are going in the same direction."

"Uhh." I scanned the map. "Caballero Centre."

"Indeed you aren't sharp today. Either because you're going the wrong way, or you take me for a fool."

I rubbed my eyes. "Fuck." Then I found myself with two small forelegs and a load of cloth around me, and the smell of cinnamon and pepper in my face. Why the fuck was she hugging me?

"Do not be bashful, child. It is just me, you, and the road. We may travel for a time, and then we may never walk the same road again. Your words to me will be as the wind. So, shall we?" With one foreleg around me, she waved the other out in front of us.

I blinked, and looked at her, and then at the road, then back at her. "Lady, I don't know how the fuck you haven't been stabbed for your shoes yet, but sure. You sound like someone who'd at least make sure I don't drown on dry land if I pass out."

She chuckled and started walking. "Wonderful."

A few minutes passed in silence. Fucking finally. Maybe my headache was creeping back in now with the placebo bubble burst.

"I suppose... I suppose there may be a reason."


"A reason why, as you said, my trust in strangers has not been punished." Oh great. She's talking about herself. "I am of the Eagle tribe. We roam San Palomino, living off what we find, defending ourselves where we must. We are free as the eagles we aspire to be. But... the settled ponies see us as a pest. The Rangers and the Stable ponies do not let me close to them, usually. They see me dressed in the jewels of the desert and call me raider."



I paused. Fucksake, I was having another moment. Why can't this hole let me be an irreverent asshole in peace? "I know that feeling." She looked at me with a smile and a kinda 'continue' eyebrow quirk. "The fact that I dress like a street punk notwithstanding, I mean, the spiky hair and leathers has been enough to get me shot at in the past, even like, earlier today." I was already feeling like a massive goofball for actually indulging in a feelings conversation, but hell, a bit of embarrassment is a fair price for some travel insurance. I was still forcing mumbled words out of my mouth though. "You're... you're the first person today besides my brother and his wife who hasn't treated me like I might eat your babies if you let me out of your sight, because of these." I frowned and gave my wings a flutter. "I mean, I don't even notice it most of the time. People being at least a little bit afraid of me is just standard procedure. And then someone like you or him comes along, and it's... like putting down a weight I didn't know I was carrying, y'know?"

She flashed a grin. "See? We already have something to talk about."

"Shit." Dammit, I was laughing.

"But whereas I trust everyone because I have nothing to lose, you trust no-one because you think you have nothing to gain?"

I went cross-eyed. Little on the nose there, weird travelling hippie? "Well... yeah. If nobody's ever gonna think of me as more than a loose cannon with violent tendencies, then I might as well have fun with it, y'know?"

"Have you asked everyone?"


"Have you asked everyone you will ever meet if that is what they think of you?"

"The fuck kinda question is that?"

"So you have not?"

"Of course I fucking haven't, what are you getting at?"

"So there could be someone willing to see more of you than meets the eye?"

I sighed. "Listen, when you find someone, let me know, because I'm not wasting my time-"

"Hello!" She stopped and turned to me, and I bumped into her. "If what you say is true, then this conversation could not have happened!"

I paced back the logical steps. "I'm pretty sure that was some kind of deductive bait."

She patted me on the shoulder. "The world is cruel, more so to its black sheep. But pay kindness unto cruelty, and at the very least, to someone, the world gets a little better."

I crumpled to the ground and rubbed my face in the dirt. "Eeeeuuughh." She didn't seem particularly concerned. "If this hangover doesn't kill me, your sappiness will."

She kicked me and laughed. "Get up!" I did. Eventually.

I let some time pass, and so did she. The sun disappeared over the horizon while we were walking, leaving a pink glow around the western skies. She slowed down to watch, and I plodded along behind her, just grateful for the reduced light. Then she stopped, and I bumped into the back of her.

“Look!” She slid out that stick and pointed it somewhere at the sky.

“Listen, if we’ve got a hostile coming up we might as well break out the white flags, because I’m in neither the condition nor the equipment to fight a radscorpion right now.”

“Open your eyes!” She bopped me on the head with the stick. “The stars are coming.”

I stared. “Is this… news to you?”

“It might be news to you, Stable pony from the cloudy lands!”

I looked at her. “How did you...”

“Tell me. When you were small and you looked up, what did you see?”

I rubbed my eyes. Mother of fuck, how far was it to Roswhinny? “Ceiling tiles I guess?”

“And when you first looked up at night outside, what did you see then?”

“I don’t remember. A roof? Clouds, probably? Look, I know what stars are.”

“But do you know the stars?” She grabbed my face with magic and pointed my head at the eastern sky. More stars were coming out by the minute. “Watch!” At this point I was running out of energy to argue, so I humoured her.

I have to admit, she had a point.

I squinted at first, trying to find stars as they appeared. A thing that I was still having trouble accounting for, even after months in Equestria, was how much quicker the sun rises and sets this far south. Back in Manechester, in summer the sun will start setting at nine and not be done until eleven. Here, I can start looking in my bags, and by the time I’ve found what I’m looking for it’s already dark. Once the pink had faded from the sky, more stars than I could keep track of started appearing. There were the big bright ones that had been around since before the sun was gone, and the smaller ones in between them, and then the smaller ones in between those, and then I looked up and saw more of them, and there was the Milky Way getting brighter by the minute but it was already brighter than I’d ever seen it and I started following it up and then I fell on my back.

She laughed and threw herself on her back next to me.


“Now, you know the stars.”

We watched them silently for a while.

“There it is,” I said.

“What did you find?”

“I think that’s the Plough. I don’t really know. Some crusty sailor dude back home told me about it for navigating. He was a bit shit at it though.” I pointed at it. Four stars in a square, with three behind it as the handle.

“Ah! The Great Bear.”


“That is one of the names the ponies of the old world had for that same collection of stars.” I squinted at it for a moment, It didn’t make sense until I found the head and legs of the bear in the stars around it. “The stars at its feet were called the Leaps of the Gazelle by other ponies of the old world. My father did not see the bear. He looked at the bear’s nose and legs and the stars in front of it and saw a pilgrim, forelegs outstretched in praise. Others in my tribe saw a phoenix instead.”

At this point, I was cross-eyed. “Where are you going with this?”

She pointed her stick in the sky and moved it as she talked. “That star, is connected to that one, somehow. And that one, to that one. A different way. And that star, to that one, all across the sky. I know you have just arrived in the desert, child, but you are not alone in the sky. You are connected to another star, that is connected to another, and another. To the next pony you meet. To the pony who served you those drinks that are making you miserable now. To me.” She smiled.

“You are gonna fill my head with this free spirit bollocks before I get where I’m going, aren’t you?”

She burst out laughing. Ponies here seemed to come in two varieties: the ones that scowl at everything, and the ones that find everything hilarious. Wasn’t sure what to make of it. “Then shall we go?” She thumped my side and got up.

It turned out she was going the same way as me for much further than I thought, because I was still walking with her when we reached Roswhinny. I turned to her fifty yards out from the gate. "Well! Mad banter as this has been, this is my stop. Maybe I'll see you around if you go this way regularly?"

She smiled that knowing, cheeky smile at me. The same one she used earlier with the water gourd thing. Immediately I got suspicious. "Perhaps. Perhaps we will be walking the same road again very soon."

"What the fuck is it now."

She giggled. "Nothing! Nothing I have said is incorrect."

I had one eyebrow a foot higher than the other, then turned to go inside. A couple of bangs on the gate, a minute's wait before the space captain who was on yesterday recognises me, and I strolled inside. The gate wound down, and I looked about the place, trying to remember how to find my way back to Rainbow & Ivy's quarters in the dark.

Then I turned around, and the hippie raider lady was standing there looking like she'd successfully blamed a fart on the dog.

"What the arse hell are you doing in here?"

"Very soon!" she chuckled, before prancing off somewhere else in the base. I was, frankly, too exhausted, thirsty, and burdened with this fucking headache to follow her antics.

I barged through Rainbow and Ivy’s door, rolled on the couch, and let out the groan of the dying. Then I realised I had to get up to take my jacket and bags off. I contemplated not bothering because eeeegh.

"Atom! You're back." I let my head roll to the side to look at Rainbow poking his head around the corner of the L of the room. He looked even more of a mess than normal. That made two of us.

"Thanks in no small part to my requests for euthanasia on the way being denied."

He smiled, and ducked behind the wall again. "Just a sec." And then I died. Or, looked like it.

Then I had a thought. It wasn't hard to put together. He was in bed at 8pm, looking like he'd been through a wind tunnel, while I wasn't there...

I got up and went over to their bed for a look. Called it. He'd gotten back into bed and was spooning with Ivy. There was this moment before they noticed me, where he was whispering and nipping at her and stuff.

"Holy shit guys, I've been here for all of a day and you're already coordinating your fuck sessions around when I'm not in?"

Rainbow looked like his shower had run cold. Ivy flailed like a panicking cat, and then skipped grabbing something and went straight to giving me a telekinetic punch on the nose.

I must have been out for a couple of minutes because the next thing I remember was waking up flat on my back with Rainbow standing over my side. "Still in one piece?"

"This isn't even the worst wake-up experience I've had today."

He kicked me in the side. "C'mon, get up. What do you have for me?"

"Oh yeah, I was doing a thing." I rolled over, got up, threw off my bags and jacket, and plopped down on the couch again. "So funny thing about the robot. They call him Satellite Sam."

"Are you really still trying to screw us around? Ivy wants your head mounted on the wall as it is."

"I'm not kidding, that's what he goes by. I mean, it's obviously a cover name."

"Okay. That makes sense."

The door opened, and Ivy stepped through, brushing her teeth and carrying a bottle of water and a glass. She glared at me as she passed. I smiled and waved. She ignored me and climbed on Rainbow's back. He didn't even lean. "Hey, that's my seat!"

Ivy took a swig of water and spat into the glass, then rested her chin on the top of his head and hugged around his neck. "No, it's mine." Okay, she had a point.

"Whatever. I was just saying that the robot you sent me to check out is called Satellite Sam." Ivy's brow rose. "Pseudonym. He's a bit of a character."

"I see."

"He wasn't keen to spill any important details and got jumpy and dodged the subject, so no joy. I might be able to weasel them out with like, a few weeks to work with, buuuut..."

Ivy put her hoof on her forehead. "What did you do..."

"I don't think the sheriff likes me."

"What did you do, Atom."

"I didn't actually do anything, I seem to automatically trigger his irritation centres or something."

She raised a hoof and then stopped. "That does actually sound pretty likely."

"So sustained visits to Isotope City, not going to go spectacularly. I did, however, find out another thing." Rainbow gave an 'I'm listening' head tilt. "Sam is out of Isotope City tonight, scavenging."

He scratched his chin. "Probably not worth pursuing... he'd have guards with him, and I’d guess they’re already out there, and we'd have to get ready..."

I sprawled out on the couch. "I'm certainly not inclined to go traipsing out to the Cabellero Centre after a day like today. Man, I am hungry after all that walking. What's for dinner?"

When I looked over again, Rainbow and Ivy were looking at each other pensively. "Did you say, Caballero Centre?" he asked.

"Yeah. I'm guessing the pizza delivery is closed, so I don’t think it’s worth calling."

"Ivy, wasn't the Caballero Centre where Heather Grass' squad..."

Ivy's face went white. She hopped off and shoved him towards his power armour with a force I wasn't aware could come from that small of a frame. "You need to go. Like, now." Magic rolled me off the couch and on to my feet, and then dropped my jacket and bags on me.

"Uuuuugh. Really?"

Rainbow butt's armour did the thing where it folded around him. Ivy slid a locker out from under the couch, making me stumble away from it. She floated out a battle saddle and a helmet. She kissed him. "Come home safe, sugar."

"I will." The helmet dropped over his head with a hiss and a click. The door swung open, and off he went. The door remained open, and then I found myself being slid towards the door.

"Hey! What are you doing, I just want to sleep!" There was no answer, only the door shutting behind me. Rainbow was waiting for me down the corridor. I grumbled and followed. "Okay, what the fuck is up with the Caballero Centre that I'm not even allowed to sleep off the rest of this hangover?"

"Why are you hung over?" I was hearing more of his voice coming through a tinny speaker in his helmet than his actual talking.

"I spent the hottest part of the day at the bar in Isotope City."

He sighed. "That's your fault." We exited the barracks and entered the courtyard. "There's a manticore nest in the Caballero Centre. We lost a scouting party in there six months ago."

"Oh. Yeah, that's a hair in the soup alright."

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