• Published 11th Jun 2012
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Fallout Equestria - The Zone - Sweetwater



An ex-slaver named Buckler must survive in a very different part of the Wasteland.

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Chapter 7 - Delays

Chapter 7 - Delays

“Come on, Fluttershy, we should be much farther along by now.”

Day 2

The sewer stank.

The light from my horn flickered as I knelt over and retched. Of course doing so brought my face closer to the stagnant water and the stench assaulted my nostrils again, causing me to continue to dry heave. Nearby the stink was having a similar effect on Nimble. My guide had a hoof firmly clasped across her nose to block out the overpowering smell. I saw her reach around and grab something hanging from her barding in her mouth, adjusting it with her hooves to cover her mouth and nose.

“Here.” She said to me, her voice muffled by the mask. She pointed at a similar device on my own barding, clipped out of the way so that I hadn’t noticed it. I wrapped the mask in my magic and covered my own muzzle. The stench wasn’t completely blocked by the mask, but it blocked the majority of it and I found myself able to breathe in without trying to bring up my guts.

“Thanks.” I wheezed. “What in Equestria is your sister doing down here? Trying to poison herself?” This was definitely not the same pipe we’d passed through before to pass under the compound, why would she want to come here?

The mare chuckled lightly through her mask. “Maybe. If she doesn’t do it herself I just might. Just look at this!” She lifted her flowing pink tail and I saw that it was coated in the disgusting liquid we stood in. “Honestly, there are hundreds of pipes all over the Zone and she chooses to go for a little trip into the one that smells like something died in i-”

Her complaint was cut off by the sound of splashing and a wet growl echoed through the tunnels behind us.

“Okay. So maybe several things died in it.” Her voice dropped to a barely audible whisper now. I could guess why. Feral ghouls were common in the wasteland, my crew had dealt with more than a few over the years when taking shelter in seemingly safe tunnels. I’d already seen what the Zone did to something as everyday as a radhog, somehow making it into one of those disgusting flesh beasts. I didn’t want to see what happened to the walking corpses of irradiated ponies when they spent time here.

“Where to now then?” I whispered.

“Let’s see.” She reached into another pocket on her barding. A familiar piece of tech emerged, gripped in her hoof, a green PipBuck-like screen with a thin backing. The Stable-Tec Data Assistant glowed in the dark tunnel as she hooved a button. I wandered up next to her and looked at the screen, a map of our current location, while bringing up my own PipBuck and activating my own map. She poked the machine again and this time a little green dot appeared on the map. That was new.

“What is that?” I asked quietly.

“That’s Soft Step. Our SDAs are linked. If I have her ‘signature’ I can track her, or any other pony with an SDA that I’m linked to. Your PipBuck can do it as well, look.”

She hooved another button on her own screen before grabbing my own foreleg. Before I could protest she was hitting buttons on my own PipBuck. A little message popped up on both screens for a split second and she released me. I stepped back and my Eyes Forward Sparkle shimmered before my eyes, a small bar appearing on the compass. I scowled at Nimble, who simply beamed at me.

“There, now you can track her as well. Me too, if you ever wanted to find me. Y’know, after you leave...” Her voice trailed off and her smile faded. “Right yeah. Anyway. Let’s go find Sis? Before the ghouls find us.”

She slipped her SDA back into her barding and headed off towards the dot. I sat there, dazed, for a few seconds before I caught up with myself and headed after her, taking care to try not to splash the disgusting liquid and attract the things were in here with us.

After all, with my luck they would be just around the corner.

*** *** ***

Following the little bar on my EFS lead us further through the sewer system until we emerged from the end of the pipe into a large square room. The cavernous dank space was dominated by a pool of the foul-smelling water that filled the sewer, stretching several yards between us and the pipe on the opposite side, the one that my EFS was telling me Soft Step was down.

My PipBuck made a faint clicking noise as I neared the pool, the whole expanse was irradiated with magical radiation. In a way that thought was comforting. Radiation was something I knew, something I was familiar with in this place. The wasteland was full of it and I’d had my fair share of radiation poisoning. A flitting memory of having RadAway tossed to me by an indignant Choke Chain made me smile briefly before I returned to thoughts of the present.

A quick dip of my hoof revealed that simply wading through the water was out of the question. The bottom of the murky depths was far out of both sight and reach.

“Can you swim?” Nimble whispered beside me.

I shook my head. “No.” I quickly added “I don’t think I’d want to anyway.” A lifetime of living in the wasteland meant I could barely keep myself afloat in water, let alone swim. I didn’t like the thought of attempting such a feat while weighed down by my barding, saddlebags and rifle as well as the ever-present weight of the bomb collar around my neck. Assuming that the damn thing didn’t simply short-circuit and explode when exposed to the irradiated water.

I really needed to stop thinking about my bomb collar.

“Hey. Look at this.” Nimble whispered, thankfully interrupting my morbid trail of thought and pointing at the sides of the room. I followed her point and saw what she was looking at. The edge of the room had some sort of rim jutting from the wall just above the water, mere inches from the surface and barely large enough for a single hoof. It looked treacherous, but Soft Step’s little bar was definitely across the pool, meaning that either we were going the entirely wrong way or she had managed to walk her way across the narrow ledge. Regardless, I had no idea how I was supposed to work my way across the ledge. One wrong hoof and I’d be sent tumbling into the water and, well, everything that came with that.

Apparently Nimble had a similar thought. “Look, maybe you should stay here and guard? Sis’s signal isn’t far down that pipe. I’ll go get her and then we’ll come back and get out of here. No need for you to risk falling in.. there.” A bubble made a wet *glomp* on the surface of the water, as if to force her point. I quickly weighed up the options in my head. I really didn’t want to end up in that water, but at the same time I didn’t like the thought of being left alone in the darkness. Again.

“Yeah, fine.” Better alone than dead. Maybe. Oh well, too late now, I thought.

The mare nodded. “I’ll be right back.”

I followed her to the ledge and watched as the agile pony stepped confidently across the surface, one hoof in front of other, using movements far quicker than I thought I could manage even unburdened. I watched as she circled around the pool, reaching the wall and turning to follow the ledge around. She deftly circled the expanse and skipped lightly into the pipe opening across from me. She turned to me briefly, and despite the dim light and her mask covering her mouth I could tell she was grinning.

“Right back, okay?”

With that she turned, heading through the gloom into the pipe beyond, leaving me standing alone in the little oasis of light that my weak magic provided me.

I shivered in the gloom and it dawned on me that this was the second time today I had been left on my own with promise of return - both times by mares in the same family. The pipe around me didn’t even provide a way for me to distract myself like the compound had, just an endless darkness full of Luna knows what.

I concentrated and forced the dull glow coming from my horn to brighten, allowing me to see slightly further down the pipe. I could see other, smaller, pipes joining the larger one at even intervals. Warily I approached one and looked down the slim tunnel, squinting in the dark. Barely large enough for a pony to crawl through, it led on for a few yards before turning sharply. I reached up to adjust my mask, the smell of the sewer around me briefly assaulting my senses once again as I moved it, and backed away from the opening. I turned to return to the pool to wait for Nimble, the pipe having failed to provide anything interesting.

The water around my hooves sloshed as I walked through the darkness, sending a few more drops cascading over the lip into the pool. The sound of the displaced water echoed around me through the pipe. I smiled lightly. The effect was comforting, it made it seem as if I wasn’t entirely alone, as if there was another pony with me instead of being simply alone in the darkness. I neared the edge of the pipe and came to a stop, looking out over the water and expecting to hear the sloshing stop.

It didn’t.

I stood there in the dull light from my horn as the pipe behind me continued to echo the sounds of moving water behind me, not even decreasing in volume while I stood there, my fur standing on end. If anything, the source of the noise seemed to be getting closer. I released my spell and the pipe around me went completely dark, but still the sound continued. Then I heard another noise, a wet growl among the sloshing, the same kind Nimble and I had heard upon entering the sewer. Ghouls.

I backed up closer to the edge of the pool, suddenly very aware of the pressing darkness all around me and the ever-approaching sloshing. The growl sounded again, much closer, and my heart pounded in my chest. I lit my horn up slightly, just enough to allow me to see a little in front of me.

Standing in the barely lit pipe, a few yards away, was the form of a pony looking straight at me. I could barely see it, but what I could see wasn’t pretty. The pony was missing all of its coat and the skin beneath was rotted away, revealing a hideous mess of skin. It let out another deep growl and stepped towards me, allowing me a view of the vicious teeth in its maw, as well as the glowing green eyes in their sockets, staring towards me with mad fury. I stood frozen to the spot, staring at the hideous thing that used to be a pony while the light from my horn flickered in the dark

Suddenly it charged, the creature tearing through the dark towards me at frightening speeds. The silver glow of my horn flickered and the air around me shimmered, a silver magic shield replacing the basic light. The ghoul barreled into my magical barrier and I grunted to maintain it as he shook off the force of the collision and started to beat on it with his front hooves. He reared up to smash down on my weakened barrier and I released the spell, sending him unexpectedly to the floor as the collision he was looking for didn’t happen. I quickly took advantage of his surprise, drawing my rifle and slipping into SATS I queued up two direct shots to his exposed head. The sound of the shots thundered through the pipe around me, echoing around the tunnel and amplifying to obscene volumes as the ghoul’s skull exploded into several bloody pieces and the thing slumped to the ground.

I knelt down as my ears rang from the sound of gunfire and pain stabbed at my head. Through the ringing I could hear the sound of more growls echoing through the tunnel towards me. I raised my head and shoved the body of the deceased pony out of the way. I reloaded my hunting rifle reluctantly, the sting from the amplified gunshot was still there and, even if I could bear another round of fire, once I exhausted the limited power of my SATS I doubted my own ability to fight more ghouls. I brought the rifle to my eye and stared down the sights into the pipe, my horn dimly lighting the way.

The first ghoul went down the moment I saw it, my spell-assisted fire hitting it once in the leg and twice in the chest, sending it sprawling to the ground dead. I winced from the sound of the fire, pain exploding in my ears and head as another two ghouls charged from the darkness behind their fallen sister. The final two shots from my SATS went wide and the sound of the gunfire finally proved too much. My concentration broke and my magic released my rifle, sending it clattering to the floor. I raised my hooves uselessly to block as the two slammed into me, hooves flailing and teeth tearing at me. I hit one dead in the face with a forehoof, sending it reeling, but pain flared through my other arm and I saw the second ghoul biting deep into the barding and the flesh beneath. I screamed and hit at the dead pony, smashing it with my hoof to drive it off my arm. It released itself, but by then the first had recovered, bucking me dead in the face and sending me flying over the pool behind me.

As I fell towards the irradiated water time seemed to slow. Waves of water flew up around me towards the ceiling, strangely blurred in my vision, probably damage from the kick. My PipBuck sprung to life, clicking madly while I hit the putrid water and the waves rushed to cover me.

Suddenly my air was gone and I found myself falling rapidly through the murky depths, snapping me out of the effect and bringing panic to the forefront of my thoughts. My bite wound stang as the putrid water slipped into the wound and the stench of the water overwhelmed my mask, saturating the filter and allowing me to fully smell the liquid around me, forcing me to struggle to hold down the contents of my stomach and hold my breath. I flailed and kicked at the water around me as I started to sink deeper into the pool. I could feel myself moving through the water, but I wasn’t strong enough to push up through the water with the weight of my equipment.

My lungs burned and I looked desperately around for something, anything that could help me. The darkness of the water glared back at me and struggled to light the water by channeling my little strength into my horn. The light didn’t help, it merely solidified the hopelessness of my situation as the size of the pool around me was made clear. My gaze quickly shifted around the, looking-

Wait. What was that?

A small section of the floor stood out from the rest, much darker. Focusing revealed it to be some sort of mound, covering something. Was that a grate? Maybe a drain? If I could just clear that mound blocking it, maybe it would drain the water. I was certainly desperate enough to try. I was almost positive my lungs were empty now but I still flailed towards the blockage, my hooves sinking into some sort of mush to grab something solid, a long tube, possible a pipe or something. I heaved, with both my body and my little remaining magic. The mound gave way and I felt the water around me shift towards the gap I had opened. Success!

The last of my willpower left me and I finally lost hold of my breath, gasping for air that wasn’t there, breathing in instead the irradiated water around me. Darkness clawed at my vision as I pulled more of the mound apart desperately. I could feel the current of the water pulling around me towards the grating, but it was too late. The darkness claimed me and I slipped into unconsciousness.

*** *** ***

“Come on little pony. Wake up!”

Pain exploded in my chest as I felt something smash into it. I opened my mouth to protest and found a torrent of foul liquid erupting from my throat. I realised I could breathe and sucked down the precious air around me, my empty lungs filling with the life-giving stuff. My brain caught up with just how much of the sewer water I had inhaled and I rolled, doubling over and vomiting all over the stone floor beneath me. I felt a hoof rubbing my back as I groaned, vomit dripping from my mouth.. I wiped it away with a hoof and I heard Nimble’s voice next to me with a worried tone, strangely muffled.

“Come on now, up you get out of that. You’re okay now, you just swallowed a lot of water. Errrmm...” She paused and I felt the hoof withdraw as I retched and vomited again. My wet fur and barding clung to my body and I felt so weak, the muffled sound and the ringing in my ears probably meant that my rifle fire hadn’t done me any good. “There you go, get this back on and you’ll feel better.”

I opened my eyes for the first time and saw her offering my mask to me. It was definitely the worse for wear after my little swim, but looked like it had dried out a little, maybe enough to use again. Thankful, I pushed it to my mouth and fixed it in place.

“Thanks.” I wheezed and turned to look at her. Both sisters stood almost side by side, their rusty and orange coats almost identical in the dim light from Soft Step’s horn. We stood in the now empty pit that had once held the pool of water I had been knocked into, the lips of the pipes on either side jutting a little over the edge. The lump that had been blocking the drain in the center looked like some sort of plant that had pieces of wood sticking out of it, the majority of which was now strewn across the pit floor. I wondered how the two had got down here, and then noticed a set of stairs set into the wall, hidden just below where the waterline had been. Soft Step nodded at me and then at the drain in the center of the room, metal bars linked over the opening to stop anypony falling in.

“Good work. We heard the shots from all the way down the tunnel but by the time we got here you were already under. We took out those monsters but I didn’t think you would make it.” She smirked. “You’ve impressed me, little pony.”

I spluttered angrily, having found my breath. “I impressed you?!” I practically shouted at her. The pony widened her blue eyes a little as I continued. “I almost died because of you and that’s what you say? I IMPRESSED you?!” Her casual dismissal of my near-death experience unlocked an anger that shocked even me a little. All my body’s weakness seemed to fade as I raged at her. “Why are you even down here?! You said you were going to get me out of here! As a thankyou for rescuing your sister and as an apology for bringing me here, you said! Instead you just leave me up there like a sitting duck while you go off to do I-don’t-even-know-what down here!”

Nimble put a hoof on my shoulder. “Buckler...”

“And you!” I shrugged it off and rounded on the pink-maned pony. “You won’t even tell me what danger I was in! Who were those ponies up there and why is it so bad if they see me with you two specifically?! Why won’t anypony tell me anything?”

“Enough.” Soft Step said. I turned to her and breathed heavily, my rage subsiding a little after my rant. “I’m sorry I left you up there Buckler, but I had to get down here and find something before it was too late. Those ponies you saw, they were who I wanted to get here before. I only had a small window and I needed to be as quick as possible.”

“Oh yeah?” I retorted. “And what is it you needed to find?”

“That.” She said simply, pointing with her hoof behind myself and Nimble. I turned, wondering what in the Wasteland she meant, and my eyes fell on a large, reinforced metal door set into the wall of the pit. It vaguely resembled the doors of the memory orb vault from upstairs, except far more intact. Set into the wall beside it was some sort of simple terminal with a keyboard, perhaps some sort of opening memory. “You found it, little pony. I couldn’t figure out where it was from my SDA map and I had given up when Nimble found me. Without you I wouldn’t be here.”

That threw me off a little, but I recovered mentally. So what if I found it for her? “So what’s in there?” I asked.

“If I’m right, information about all over the Zone. The Ministry of Morale had ponies watching every inch of Equestria before the war. The Zone has dozens of hidden MoM installations around the various other Ministry bases. I don’t think anypony trusted anypony back then.” She looked pointedly at me. I suddenly felt bad for my rant earlier, but then she hadn’t exactly earned my trust, had she? “That information is very important. Do you understand?”

I nodded slowly.

“Good.” She walked past me. “Now trust me. I do this and then we go.” I sat down and watched as she approached the terminal set into the wall. “Hopefully this still works. It was made to be waterproof, but time has broken stronger things.” She started typing on the keyboard, no longer paying attention to me. Nimble walked up beside me and sat next to me.

“How are you doing?” She asked.

“Alright considering I just almost died.” I responded. “Nothing serious.” I glanced at the bite mark on my arm from the ghoul. I brought up my PipBuck and glanced at my radiation meter. The little indicator was showing that I had taken a serious dose of radiation in the water, I had minor radiation poisoning that needed seeing to and my ears were still causing me trouble.. “Maybe.”

“I’m sorry.” She whispered,.

“Huh?”

“Sorry for not telling you about the ponies upstairs. Do you want to know?”

I sighed. “Okay then. Who are they?”

“They’re rebels.” I looked at her quizzically, interested. “There’s a reason Death Toll’s group are called Loyalty. Years ago Barn was part of a group of settlements that banded together for protection from the wastes under Death Toll. One day one of the settlement leaders took off and took half the group with him. He said that Death Toll wasn’t thinking in the right way and started taking in the kind of ponies Death Toll was trying to protect everyone from, like raiders and slavers.” I winced a little at the tone she took when she said “slavers”. “The ones that stayed called themselves Loyalty and the others, the ones that left, they called themselves Freedom. They’re the ones that control the compound up there now and they’d kill Soft Step and I if they saw us. Loyalists and Freedomers are supposed to shoot each other on sight.”

“You know I’m not a Loyalist! I’m neutral!” Soft Step yelled, her attention temporarily torn from the monitor.

“You might as well be!” Was Nimble’s answer. “You’re my sister and everypony knows you spend too much time at Barn.”

“Bah!” Came the response, before the brown-haired pony returned to her work.

I processed this new information in my mind. The Zone was getting much more complicated. We had factions in the wasteland, slaver groups and raider gangs as well as villages that protected each other, and of course the powerful Steel Rangers, but this seemed far more complex than anything I knew. “Wait.” I said. “What about the Rangers? What do they want from this place? They were here the last time I came through here.”

She shrugged. “The Rangers want what they always do, technology. There’s not a lot we can do to stop them from taking what territory they want, but they mostly keep to themselves and don’t shoot unless you threaten them first. Well, normally anyway.” She smiled morbidly.

A little bell interrupted us as it signalled from over by the door, followed by an “AHA!” from Soft Step and I snapped my head round to look at the unicorn. She turned and grinned at the two of us as the door behind us hissed and grated, pulling slowly apart. 170 years ago it was probably an impressively smooth sequence, now it clunked apart in fits and starts and one of the doors actually stopped moving after opening two thirds of the way. “The password was ‘Press’. Luna knows why. Come on in.”

I stood to follow her. As I did so I felt Nimble put a hoof on my shoulder and I turned my head to look at her. “I hope you feel happier now that you know exactly why we’re down here.” She whispered, smiling warmly.

“I do, thanks. It’s just frustrating when nopony will tell you anything.”

“I know.” Her features suddenly lost a bit of their warmth and her smile somehow felt a lot more dangerous. “So maybe next time we’re sharing secrets you can tell me why you said Soft Step brought you to the Zone.”

I stood stunned as she sauntered past me through the doors behind Soft Step. What would she do if she knew about me and my history? What about Soft Step? I felt my heart race but I fought to control it. It was fine, I didn’t even need to tell her the truth, did I? There didn’t even have to be a next time. I could be out of the Zone by this time tomorrow, for good. Yeah, it was fine, I decided. No need to stress. I smiled confidently as I followed the two mares into the open room.

The room beyond greatly contrasted with the sewer outside. For one thing, it was painted in various bright colours. The light from the mare’s horn revealed a pallette of blues, greens, yellows, every colour of the rainbow. A rather obviously grey bank of screens sat against one wall, providing a welcome break from the offensive array of colours, their green screens flickering, somehow still powered decades after they were made. Cork boards hanging around the room held various faded pictures and notes that had long since lost legibility.

Soft Step approached the bank of screens and magically pulled her SDA from a pocket on her barding. “Let’s see if this works.” She mumbled, placing the thin machine on the screen bank and pressing a button with her hoof. The screens exploded with scrolling text and, glancing over, I could see her SDA doing the same. “There! Nice and easy. The data should be transferring now. Hopefully it won’t take too long.”

I marveled at the technology. “So all this was for getting information on other ponies?”

She nodded. “Of course. And now it’s mine. Everything the MoM knew in my hooves.”

I was confused. “But why? What good does knowing about the past do?”

She sighed. “You should know that more than most ponies. You’ve been in the past, piggybacking on another pony’s memories.” I was shocked at this knowledge. It must have shown because she laughed. “I had your stuff, remember? Those orbs were very interesting.”

I felt a little upset, she had gone through my memory (well at least I thought of the concert as mine) and hadn’t even told me. I suppose it was obvious, and she did have my stuff. Why didn’t I expect it? Still, it felt wrong knowing that another living pony had the same memory as me now. Taking it from a dead pony was different, the memory host was long gone and the memory was its own thing now. I tried to ignore the fact and concentrate on the current issue.

“That still doesn’t answer my question.”

Nimble walked up to us and answered for her sister. “I think she means we can learn from the past. Use information from back then to aid us now.” Soft Step nodded in agreement.

“Even if they don’t give us answers, they lead us in the right direction. Your memories make it clear that the Ministries had something big going on in Maremont before the war, something they went to extreme lengths to hide. It could be anything and it could be very valuable.”

This was far more clear. “So that’s why you want the information here. To find treasure and be rich.”

“No.” The unicorn shook her head. “Well not entirely. When I said valuable, I meant that it could be something that could help ponies. Even the information here could give us a clearer way of mapping the Zone. There’s still parts of it completely unexplored.” An admirable goal. I approved, although it wasn’t what I expected from the pony that captured me and put me in this Goddess-forsaken bomb collar. “Plus.” She grinned. “It’s fun to read about what they were all up to in the past. Look.”

She hoofed a button on the screen bank and one of the screens went blank for a second before the scrolling information was replaced by a series of dates. They were old, very old. Another few button presses and a one of the dates was selected, revealing some sort of report.

ENTRY 46-0-2
Red Gala has moved on to the MAS hub in Central Maremont with a squad of new guards and an unknown cargo. Squeak expressed concern that Red Gala might be aware of monitoring of her and this facility. Questioning of MoM agents within the facility about potentially suspicious behaviour suggested.
END ENTRY

More clicks and the entry changed.

ENTRY 29-11-6
The facility has increased their communication with the MAS hubs in Canterlot, Manehatten, Hoofington, as well Ministry agents in Ponyville. Intercepted messages suggest a new Ministry project moving forward. Increased surveillance suggested.
END ENTRY

The reports seemed to be in reverse-chronological order. Apparently they had been monitoring the facility above us thoroughly.

ENTRY 4-4-7
Construction of Ministry of Arcane Science facility complete. Surveillance of activity has begun and Ministry of Moral agents have been placed within the staff on various levels. Some other ponies within the facility have close friends and family that are known Zebra conspirators and could be potential targets for questioning.
END ENTRY

Soft Step scrolled all the way down the list of reports, clicking on the very first.

ENTRY 1-0-0
Installation of Ministry of Morale Surveillance Station under proposed Ministry of Arcane Science facility ground complete. Standing by for further orders.
END ENTRY

“Wait.” I stopped the mare as she began to scroll back up to back out of the entry menus, something had caught my eye. I pointed a hoof at one entry, different from the others. It wasn’t a report, it instead simply read NOTICE. Soft Step nodded and selected it.

NOTICE
Recent increase in activity from the Ministries of Arcane Science, Wartime Technology and suspected activity from the Ministry of Awesome centered around Maremont has lead to increased risk in Maremont as a likely target of Zebra infiltrators. Ministry Mare Pinkie has made the decision to greatly increase surveillance on every potential target in Maremont. All agents are to report directly to me with all information gathered. I’ll decide what’s important.

Document everything.

-Featherweight
END NOTICE

I whistled. “You weren’t joking when you said they had information on everypony.”

“Of course not. The ponies in the Ministry of Morale were crazy. Led by a crazy mare as well.”

I was reminded of the billboard I had seen on the day my crew were slaughtered, and of the gigantic beaming pink pony declaring that the MoM protects ponies. I shivered and stopped thinking about it. The memory of the pony creeped me out, and it was far too easy to slip into remembering the event a few hours later.

*BEEP*

The three of us jumped and looked at the screens on the screen bank. To my surprise all of the screens were now blank, the scrolling text gone. Soft Step picked up her SDA and hooved a few buttons. Her expression changed to one of confusion. “It says it wasn’t done downloading data. Something stopped it.”

*BEEP*

The beeping sounded again and once again we turned our attention back to the screens. A single screen flickered and then a single line of text seemed to type itself across the blank page.

CAN’T LET YOU HAVE THAT. SORRY ;) - WATCHER

“Who in Equestria is Watcher?” Nimble murmured absently while her sister tried typing violently on the keyboard to no avail. Finally she slammed her hooves down on the board, followed quickly by her head.

“I don’t know. But whoever he is I swear to Luna I’m going to fucking kill him.” Soft Step screamed.

*BEEP*

“And what is that beeping!” She shouted at the room. The sound of grating metal sounded from above us and we glanced up. A hatch was opening in the ceiling above us and as we watched, a round metal ball dropped from the ceiling on four insectoid-like wings. The sprite-bot turned and seemed to consider us. They were common in the wasteland, but this one seemed different somehow. For one thing, it was painted bright pink. The machine crackled and whirred and a shrill voice sounded from it. “You’ve been a bad pony!”
The black muzzle of a magical energy weapon emerged from a hatch on the bottom of the pink bot and the three of us dove to the side as a magical beam lanced straight at the place. My horn flared and I reached for my weapon, only to come to the horrible realisation that my rifle was still lying on the pipe floor where I had dropped it in my grapple with the ghouls. The bot turned and fired at me again as I jumped to one side to dodge the magical energy. I screamed as I felt the beam connect with my hind leg as I jumped, burning me horribly.

I heard muffled gunshot and the bot shook. Soft Step was aiming at the machine with a silenced .22 pistol. The quieter gunfire of the pistol had none of the ear-splitting volume of my rifle in the confined space and the little weapon was punching some very noticeable holes in the pink metal casing. The bot turned to face the more immediate priority of the firing pony and I took the opportunity to scramble away.

More blasts fired from the little machine towards the mare shooting at it, but I marvelled as she twisted and dodged away from the sprite-bot’s pointing weapon and piercing shots. From somewhere behind me Nimble came running at the bot holding her submachine gun in her mouth like a club. She jumped and my eyes widened as she seemed to almost fly directly at the bot, wrapping her hooves around it and sending it crashing to the ground, smacking it with her weapon as she did so.

“Party’s over bad pon-zzztt....” the shrill voice fizzled out as Soft Step sent a final bullet into the bot.

“Shut up.” She said simply as Nimble untangled herself from the sprite-bot. The orange earth pony sat down, legs wrapped around the machine and set about dismantling the thing, with a screwdriver pulled from her saddlebags, with surprising efficiency. Several tiny bolts clinked to the ground within seconds.

“Ooh! Spark batteries!” She exclaimed, her front legs pawing through the machinery within. “This could be fun, now I just need a weapon to use them. This could do.” She pulled the specially designed barrel that the sprite-bot had used from the mechanical shell. “Think we can do anything with this?”

“I don’t think so.” I offered, considering the black box. “Look, it doesn’t even have a firing mechanism. Maybe if we found some parts, but I don’t even know how they work.” My experience in weapons didn’t cover the rarer magical energy weapons and I doubted my knowledge would translate well to the alien weaponry.

“Oh well. I might still get some caps for.... Errr...” She paused in mid sentence and pointed at the screen bank across from her. “We might have a problem.” At some point in the course of the fight and our looting the text on every screen had been replaced by a clock, counting down to zero. A single line of text sat under the countdown. “PARTY’S OVER BAD PONY.” The numbers counting down seemed completely nonsensical, with no discernable pattern in the decreasing digits, only the ominous countdown to zero.

“Fuck! Let’s move!” Soft Step grabbed her sister and bolted to the door. I followed as fast as my hooves could carry me, following the two ponies into the pit beyond. We ran up the stairs set into the wall of the pit and back to the pipe. The corpses of the ghouls lay in the lip, I dodged and jumped over the bodies. My rifle lay on the floor beside one body, I grabbed it with my magic and kept running, slipping it into my saddlebags as I did so. The echo of the sloshing water at our hooves followed us through the tunnel as we ran and ran, until an almighty boom sounded from far behind us. We skidded to a stop and looked back. Soft Step stood still for a second, seeming to assess the situation before simply saying.

“We’re done here. Let’s go Buckler.”

*** *** ***

I stood perfectly still against the wall in the darkness of the pipe as the armed pony walked past me, grumbling.

“Fuckin’ dark and noises everywhere, why ain’t they dealin’ with this. I didn’t even hear no explosion. So fuckin’ dark, can’t see shit. Bet there’s ghouls down he-”

His voice was cut off with a strangled yelp as Soft Step materialised behind him and cut his throat with her hunting knife.

We had been heading back to the entrance Nimble and I had entered through when we had heard the sound of approaching ponies. From their echoed voices it seemed that the Freedom ponies in the compound above had heard the explosion from the MoM facility. Their response had been to immediately locate all the nearby covers that led to the sewers and send teams of ponies to investigate. Now we were playing a game of cat and mouse with the armed ponies while trying to find an unwatched way out of the sprawling network of pipes. Thankfully the darkness was on our side, a single pony who got too close would quickly find himself missing a vital bodily function (like breathing, or the ability to keep his organs inside his body) after Soft Step had finished with them. She moved like a ghost, unnaturally quiet and somehow able approach targets without so much as disturbing the water she walked through, before eliminating them with a single suppressed shot to the head or a quick slash with her combat knife. Unfortunately the groups were rapidly catching up with us and we still had no way out.

“Come on.” Soft Step whispered. “I think there’s a way out this way. It’s pretty far from the compound.”

I nodded and hurried after her, closely followed by Nimble. We all had our weapons armed and ready, although the brown-haired mare was the most prepared of the three of us. Any fire from our guns and we would announce ourselves to everypony down here, and although the two of us could use our weapons as clubs we couldn’t hope to match the silence and effectiveness with which the other pony could kill.

“Hey! What the fuck?!” A voice sounded from behind us.

“Oh shit.” Another voice joined them. “They got Screw. Hey!” The voice started to yell. “Down here! There’s somepony down here! They killed Screw!”

Luna be damned.

We ran as quickly as possible down the tunnel, hearing the sounds of pursuit behind us, multiple ponies by the sound of it. The tunnel stretched in a dangerously straight line, and suddenly the tunnel exploded with gunfire, several bullets whizzing blindly past us, but still close enough to worry me.

“To the sides.” Soft Step quietly ordered the two of us and we complied, rushing to the tunnel walls.

From further down the tunnel I heard a cry of pain and a voice. “Moron! That fucking hurt my ears and you didn’t even hit anything.”

“Here, let me.” I heard a new voice say. Something about the deliberate tone and the sound of chase suddenly stopping worried me greatly.

A single gunshot fired and I heard it connect with the wall over where I knew Soft Step was. In the darkness she yelled, all sense of silence gone. “Night scope! Weave!”

“That’s right! Run! It’s more fun this way!” Came the response from behind us, the voice laughing as I began to duck and weave around the tunnel. More shots fired, closer and closer. Suddenly I felt a powerful force hit my neck and send me staggering forward, the bullet thudding into me and making my blood run cold. I then realised that I hadn’t felt the hit. The shot had hit home and yet I felt no pain, no blood beneath my hoof as I tentatively investigated my neck. I was exhilarated, it was some sort of miracle, surely.

And then I realised exactly where the bullet was and my blood ran cold. The little slug of metal had hit me in the bomb collar. My heart was pounding in my chest as I prayed to the Goddesses that the ring of metal and explosives wouldn’t go off from the stress of the bullet.

“In here!” I heard Soft Step shout to my right, and I turned to see a golden light from her horn leading the way down a side-tunnel. I ducked in after her, Nimble following quickly as a final shot rang out, missing completely as we raced down after Soft Step. A set of spiral stairs leading to the surface loomed out of the darkness ahead and I had a great feeling of relief, only slightly dulled by the sound of resumed pursuit behind us.

Soft Step stopped and turned at the bottom of the stairs. “Nimble, go up and move the cover. Buckler, protect us. If they try to come near, I’ll shoot the bastards.”

We both nodded and moved to follow her orders. I moved onto the stairs behind Soft Step as Nimble moved up them and started to heave on the cover. From my position I could see down into the gloom of the tunnel, lit up as my horn flared and a silver shield appeared surrounding our position. I prayed that in my weakened state I could sustain it long enough to escape. The unicorn in front of me reloaded her pistol and aimed down the tunnel, braced to fire.

A pony stepped into the entrance of the tunnel in her line of fire and a single shot fired from the pistol at the pony. The shot went wide and the pony immediately stepped back, but the message was there, we were in a position of power here. At least for now, eventually they’d figure out that we couldn’t hold back more than a few of them rushing down at us. Another pony popped out and fired a few shots down at us. The shield held when they impacted, but I could feel the spell failing.

“Nimble.” I called up to the earth pony mare. “How is it going?”

“We’re through! Let’s go!” Came the response, daylight immediately flooding the floor . Soft Step turned her head and nodded.

“Go.”

I rushed up the stairs after Nimble up through the entrance to the tunnel to the surface, Soft Step backing up behind me and aiming at the tunnel. The sudden light hit me like a sledgehammer, almost blinding me after spending so long in the darkness of the sewer. We were standing in the street inside a collection of houses, presumably as stripped clean as the rest of the Zone.

I checked myself over quickly while I waited for the rust coloured mare to follow us. I looked far worse than I thought. My coat was sodden and matted from the filthy water and the bite mark on my arm looked very, very nasty and had visible much inside the wound. I pulled one of my two remaining healing potions from my saddlebag and let the red liquid slip down my throat, allowing my wounds to heal. I’d need some Rad-Away before this was over as well, combat my minor radiation sickness.

Soft Step joined us on the surface and slammed the cover back over the hole and using her magic to grab a nearby piece of large rubble and shove it over the metal plate .“Let’s go. Move fast, but be careful. This area is very dangerous.” She looked directly at me. “If you see anything strange, anything at all, tell me. We can afford a little care, they shouldn’t be able to get out of there ve-”

BOOM

An explosion interrupted her and rocked the ground beneath us. The cover next to us exploded in a cloud of debris and dust. The unicorn seemed to go pale as the dust cleared and revealed a the tunnel beneath us, clearly exposed. She opened her mouth to say something, but her sister got there first.

“Run!” Screamed the orange pony, tearing away as a blurred shape erupted from the hole, exploding against the wall of a building across from us. I didn’t need telling twice, the I took off after her. Soft Step quickly overtook me and ran up beside her sister, both mares leading the way down the street. Gunfire sounded behind us as we ran desperately down the street away from the ponies emerging from the sewer. Nimble cried out as a bullet hit its target in her rear. Although her barding protected her from the brunt of the force she slowed a little. An alleyway approached to our right and I was relieved for the cover as the mares a few hooves in front of me turned sharply into it.

My thanks came too early, unfortunately. I heard two gunshots and suddenly my side and flank flared with pain as I moved into the alleyway. My pace suddenly slowed to a crawl as my injured leg protested against every movement. The two mares were still making good progress, emerging from the other end of the alley and turning to follow the street without looking back.

“Wait!” I yelled desperately. If they heard me they didn’t show it, moving out of my line of sight as I limped through the alley towards the street, using every ounce of my will and adrenaline to push forward. I emerged into the street beyond and looked about. Soft Step and Nimble were nowhere to be seen.

I started to panic a little. Moving down the street, I could still hear the sounds of pursuit, a stampede of clopping hooves moving down the street towards my position. I desperately pulled myself into a building on the side of the road. Beyond the doorway was a completely stripped shop, its shelves almost entirely empty. I limped over to the counter and collapsed behind it, pulling my last healing potion from my saddlebags and drinking it eagerly. It wouldn’t deal with the pain entirely, at least one bullet was inside my body and the healing potion wouldn’t remove that, but it would allow me to at least run properly.

I lay there waiting while my leg healed, listening to the ponies chasing us run past and watching my EFS light up as dozens of red lights passed past my field of vision, desperately hoping they didn’t check in this particular building. At least an hour passed before I decided it was safe enough to move and night was starting to fall.

I quickly checked upstairs before moving out. It proved to be a fruitful endeavor. A dead pony provided me with ammo for my rifle and an extremely faded box of what seemed to be some sort of potato that crunched when I shook it. Searching through her bags also provided me with an extremely odd item. It resembled some sort of yellow seed pod roughly in the shape and size of a pony eye with a deep red “iris”. I felt vaguely unsettled holding it, but it looked valuable so I slipped it into my saddlebags anyway.

The place was completely empty now, the houses on either side looming ominously in the silence, broken only once by a dog howling in the distance. I felt alone for the first time in days. I had lost everything I knew in a single night, but since then I had almost constant companionship, even if it wasn’t companionship I wanted. Now I was alone again, having been abandoned by the ponies that had promised to take me back where I belonged. Instead I was weak, damaged and alone after being forced over and over again into places I didn’t belong. The loneliness ate at me and I began to remember my life with Blood Money’s crew once again. I missed the times when I understood everything that happened to me.

I shook myself. I needed to keep moving and stop thinking about things. Staying here brooding was an easy way to get myself killed, I knew. I needed to move and I needed to find something to help me, and more importantly I needed to take my mind off my loneliness.

So I ran. I turned and I ran back through the alley, back down the street past the hole leading to the sewers. I didn’t cared where I was going, I was just running and I was running away from the ponies chasing me. I ran past the outskirts of the village and down the road leading away from it. I ran as fast as I could with my injured leg for as long as I could.

I was running so hard, concentration on just ignoring my current situation, that I didn’t even see the fluctuation of the air in front of me, neither did I see the warning sparks as I neared.

I collided with the anomaly and my entire body seared with pain as the blue magical lighting raced across my moving body. I cried in pain and my vision swam as I fell, my legs giving way in pain as momentum carried me through the field of lightning. I hit the floor and felt my flesh burning away from the electricity racing across my hide. My PipBuck made a steady ticking noise as I lay there in severe pain and a familiar darkness clawed at my vision. I closed my eyes and let the steady click lead me into the bliss of unconsciousness for the second time that day.

*** *** ***

My eyes flickered open, revealing a corrugated iron roof above me. I lay on some sort of dirty table in the middle of a sparsely decorated metal room. Where was I? I felt weak, very weak, and very woozy as I hurriedly pulled myself from the table. My vision swam and I almost fell, grabbing the table at the last minute and righting myself.

I made my way slowly towards the door. Even in my delirious state I knew I had to leave. This wasn’t a place I knew and I had to get out to get back to Barn and find Soft Step and Nimble. Soft Step had promised she would help me leave the Zone. I needed to get out. If I got out I could go back to my crew and be safe again.

The door opened and a strange pony entered the room I tried to focus on his appearance but my brain wouldn’t co-operate with my eyes. My ears worked though.

“What the-? Oh nononono. You can’t leave, you’re not even close to being well. Get back on the table and go back to sleep!”

This was a trick, I knew. I needed to leave, this pony couldn’t stop me! I flailed at him but knocked myself off balance and tumbled to the floor. Pain arced through my body and I moaned.

“Come on, get up. You’re delirious. You can’t even go outside anyway, look.” The pony put his hooves around me and propped me up to look at the sky in the distance. Dark clouds filled the sky and in the distance I could see blue lightning racing through the clouds. A deep black shadow also appeared to be moving ahead of the moving blue lightning . Wait. I peered closer. I peered closer and could see the shadow moving and fluctuating. Hundreds upon thousands of pitch black birds made up the shadow, moving just ahead of the lightning as the phenomenon advanced towards us. This was insane.

“Can’t go outside when the storm comes. The air will fry you again itself, you won’t even need to run into a bloomin’ anomaly.” I felt the pony prop me up and shift me onto his back to drag me over to the table. No! I couldn’t! I had to get out and find Soft Step and Nimble. They were out there, they’d be hurt!

As much as I tried to explain this to the pony carrying me he wasn’t having any of it. “No-no. You’re hurt. Now look, here you go.” He dumped me down on the table and lay limp on my stomach. “This will help, just relax and sleep it off for now.” I felt a sharp prick in my back. I opened my mouth to cry out but I already felt even more strange. I suddenly felt very very tired and very numb.

I adjusted myself into a comfortable position on the table, my mind briefly telling me I should be getting up to do something about this situation. Instead my body ignored it and began to shut down. My last waking thought was of Nimble and Soft Step.


Level Up!

New Perk: Final Straw -- When everything goes wrong and you can't take it any more you start to lose it, finding new strength and influence in your rage. You gain +2 Strength, +2 Agility and +15 Damage Threshold and gain access to certain unique chat options when you are at 20% health or lower.


This Fic is based on Fallout Equestria, which you can find here: http://www.equestriadaily.com/2011/04/story-fallout-equestria.html
Huge thanks to Kkat for writing it and creating the world for us all to play around in.

More thanks to my pre-readers and editors.

Locations and events in this story are inspired by the 1972 novel Roadside Picnic, the 2007 video game S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl and the 1979 film Stalker. Familiarity with these pieces is not required but is encouraged (They're good.)

Any resemblance to any other pieces of fan fiction is merely coincidental.

Any criticism is welcome and encouraged.