• 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 8 - Reflecting

Chapter 8 - Reflection

"You do not have to say anything. You only have ... to concentrate and try to remember the whole of your life. When people think about the past, they become better."

-??-

I opened my eyes.

I lay alone on a familiar stretch of land, a storm raging overhead and rain falling in a torrent. The mud around me splattered as raindrops fell into it like little bombs in the night. I couldn’t feel my body and in the darkness I couldn’t even be sure whether I was whole or not, I might have only been a head lying in the filthy muck with water impacting all around me.

The sounds of gunfire echoed from all directions. Shocked, I looked about, mercifully able to move my neck - maybe I was whole after all. Silhouettes were fighting all around me, simple black pony figures shooting and tearing at each other with terrifying ferocity, like shadow puppets barely visible against the night sky and through the rain.

I couldn’t see how many fought. Dozens? Scores? The darkness obscured the true number to me and seemed to warp those I could see clearly, throwing up enormous shadows that quickly shrank back. I only knew that there were many of them fighting in a circle around me. I saw several fall to their wounds, the dark outlines falling to the floor and the survivors stepping over them to find another opponent. I wondered how they could even see who they were supposed to be fighting - an oddly calm thought, for although I was unable to move and ponies were dying all around me I felt no fear for myself.

Guns roared and ponies screamed as the bullets tore through them, collapsing to the floor as the battle raged. More ponies fell, again and again adding to the corpses on the floor until only a dozen remained. My strange sense of peace continued as the final pony fell and the twelve stopped fighting to face me, I even felt strangely safe and guarded. They advanced, weapons at their side, through the darkness towards me. I lifted my head and squinted, desperate to see who they were through the darkness.

Finally the lead buck came into focus and I moaned. Blood Money’s cropped silver mane framed his cool, unflinching face, the effect ruined by the enormous dent in his skull that seeped blood as rain ran into it. His eyes, the left red with blood and barely visible in the dark, focused on me and he stopped just a couple of hooves away. I heard the sounds of howling somewhere as the pony considered me, lying numb and helpless. Suddenly his legs buckled and the body of my former leader fell to the ground, shuddering before going still. The others stepped forward and I could see more wounds coming in to view.

And then I was running. I didn't stand or turn, I simply found myself running from the ponies I once knew, control of my body somehow restored, as if by magic. Even the darkness was suddenly gone, replaced by a dim daylight that lit up the world. The ground beneath me was no longer wet with rain, instead it was the standard dry earth of the wasteland, the cloud cover looming overhead. The clouds were strange colours, blues, oranges and greens that blended together in an awe-inspiring rainbow-coloured mural that also lit up the world slightly. I could see distortions in the air as I ran. Anomalies meant I was beyond the Rim, inside Maremont, the Zone.

I felt safe, running through the world. I wasn’t even sure that I was being chased by the dead ponies of my crew, only that I was running somewhere.

Shadows darted behind me and I turned my head to see several timberwolves flanking me. Again, I felt strangely serene despite my situation, dangerous animals all around me. They weren’t snapping at me, simply keeping steady pace with me as I ran through the streets.

I saw new movement out of the corner of my eye. I snapped my head back and saw that it was a pony, running with her back to me. I followed, leaving my former route and the timberwolves, who ran steadily onwards the way they had always been going.

The pony’s brown tail and mane swayed as she ran, and the colour of her fur, red-brown - like rust, seemed to dull and lighten while I chased her. It was Soft Step I was running after, my brain informed me.

A hill rose sharply in front of us and Soft Step climbed quickly. By the time she had crested it I had barely reached the start of the incline and she quickly fell out of my view as I ran up after her. I reached the top, slowing and panting from my sustained running, and looked out over the view in front of me. Soft Step was nowhere to be seen. Instead, I could see dark clouds drifting closer and closer towards me, blue lightning crackling across them ominously.

I knelt to the ground and watched in dread as the magical energy washed over the clouds above me. There was nowhere to run or take cover, I could only sit and wait in dread as the air crackled with power and the strange magic tore at me. Strangely, instead of pain I simply felt numb as the lightning collected around me. I shook my head and looked around from my vantage point, ignoring the blue sparks flying crackling in my vision.

I felt as though I was desperately looking for something, but I didn’t know what. The empty wasteland wasn’t giving me answers and the longer I stood there the worse I felt, a strange mix of sadness and frustration overwhelming me. I felt horrible, but I still didn’t know what I was doing. My emotions came to light and I cried out in desperation, tears streaming down my face at being unable to find this unknown thing.

I knelt to the ground and buried my head in my arms, weeping silently.

*** *** ***

Day 3

*** *** ***

I pulled myself from the dream with a start. I lay on a cold platform, my mind groggily trying to recall how I had got there. I remembered the dream first and the emotion I had felt, that desperation, that ultimate need of something I couldn’t quite remember.

The more I thought about it the more the emotion came flooding back. I started breathing heavily, the singular thought overtaking me again as I tried to force myself to remember what I was searching for. The sheer misery rose again.

Then my mind whirred to life properly and pulled me back from the brink. I wasn’t desperate for anything, I realised, it was a dream. Just my sleeping mind playing tricks with me and my emotion running wild over something that didn’t exist. I sighed and allowed my body to go limp again, having tensed in the past few seconds. I looked up at the ceiling and wondered why my mind was making up imaginary things to worry about when I had so much else to worry about.

I thought hard, trying to remember more of the night before. I had blacked out from the excruciating pain that running into an anomaly had caused. I was probably lucky to be alive after that, I realised with a start. Between the damage in the sewers and the anomaly it was going to cost me a lot if whoever had fixed me up decided to charge me. At least he had done a good job. I had a bandage wrapped around my leg, the one that the ghoul pony had bitten, and I felt much healthier than I ever had before.

The constricting presence of the explosive collar was still there around my neck. I was glad that the damage I had taken hadn’t set it off, but I still wondered if I was ever going to get rid of it, since it seems my healer hadn’t had the skill required to remove it.

Staring at the ceiling, something suddenly felt very wrong. I looked up at it, trying to figure out what the problem was supposed to be. Then it hit me. The ceiling was concrete. I narrowed my eyes, staring at the ceiling in confusion. The events of the night before were still returning slowly to my memory and I was still half asleep but I was sure that the ceiling had been metal before. I sat up and looked around. Again, the walls of the sparsely furnished room were concrete, not metal as I remembered.

I remembered the pony that I resisted. Although he had been obviously trying to help me, my damaged condition had convinced me that he was some sort of enemy, although if he had really been out to hurt me directly I would probably be dead by now. I wondered if he was the same one that had fixed me up, or if he had been another illusion, like the metal room might have been.

Thinking about that brought back more memories. I remembered when I tried to escape, he had stopped me and shown me the sky through the door. That same door was there, right in front of me as I sat up. Closed, I couldn’t see through it, but I could remember what I had seen. That same magical storm that Nimble, Haze and I had taken cover from - the one that had filled the air with static and moved at insane speeds. No rain, just blue lightning that struck the ground with frightening power and ferocity. It had been in my dream as well.

And then there had been the birds. Thousands of them flying ahead of the black clouds, almost becoming part of the dark clouds. Had that really happened or had that been part of my dream? I was sure it had been real, but in the addled state I had been in it could have easily been my mind playing tricks on me, or something I was remembering from my dream. I shook my head and pulled myself off the table. This was all getting too much. Even when I tried to leave the Zone it was as if the entire place was purposely messing with me, bringing me back and then sending some new mystery my way. First it was this strange weather that was getting worse and worse, then it was Soft Step’s little mission that had almost gotten the three of us killed, and now because of that I was in Goddesses-knows-where, separated from two of the only ponies I knew in the Zone and no closer to getting out.

And my stuff was missing. Again.

My saddlebags were nowhere to be seen, even as I glanced over the work benches on either side of the small room. A variety of filthy and used first aid equipment lay scattered across them instead. Several empty glass bottles that once would have held healing potion, scraps of bloody bandage and spent packets of Rad-Away as well as what appeared to be label-less liquor bottles of some sort. Vodka maybe?

There was also a mirror in the far corner of the room, a large full-body one that leaned against the wall (concrete, I reminded myself. Not metal.) I wandered across the room and vaguely wondered how long it had been since I looked at my own reflection. The life of a slaver often didn’t give one the opportunity to enjoy things like that.

There had been one time, I recalled, when my father had found a slightly cracked mirror in a building we liked to sweep through for potential slaves. Single or small groups of ponies liked to use it as a shelter, as it was one of the most intact buildings around and often contained supplies, ones that we cleverly left to lure ponies. Then we would sweep through when we passed it again, nabbing some more stock to sell for caps. I normally felt a little guilty for the tricked ponies, but if they were stupid enough to fall for it I suppose I shouldn’t have. I mean, how did they think piles of caps and the occasional chem got there? Ponies had been living in the wasteland for decades, stuff doesn’t just materialise out of thin air because somepony walked past.

It had been a fairly successful trap that time. Rupture had personally caught the two ponies who had been sleeping in the basement and the rest of us had just been checking around for anything else.

My father, Cobbler, had called me over and showed me the mirror. Such a sight was rare in the wasteland and I had looked eagerly into the reflective glass. Standing side by side my father and I had contrasted well, his dark orange coat and thick build with my dull, slightly murky blue fur and admittedly average size. We both shared the same mane colour though, both of our horns poking through the little light olive patch of hair and with a short flowing tail of matching colour sweeping behind. It had felt nice standing there next to him, safe and, although not quite happy, content with my life with the others in my crew.

I sighed ruefully and stopped in front of the mirror. That had been half a life away, and it showed.

My blue fur was patchy and scarred in places and the bandage wrapped around my leg hid the stain of blood. My light blue eyes were red-rimmed and bloodshot and my already light mane and tail seemed to be even more faded than usual, although it might have been just the light. I looked thinner than I remembered, even a little gaunt. Twisting my head revealed that the patch of fur beneath my collar was missing, leaving a nasty red mark and a lovely bald ring around my neck. My entire haggard appearance made it clear my adventures in the Zone had not been good for my health, despite my absent healer’s best efforts. As if I couldn’t have guessed already.

I angled myself and looked at my cutie mark. The little wooden shield sat proudly on my rump, my “special talent” showing itself off nicely. Despite what it claimed, I didn’t feel like I had been able to protect anypony recently, especially myself.

A door slammed open behind me and I jumped, turning to face the door. A dull grey earth pony walked through the door and smiled as he saw me, poised to run if he proved a threat.

“Oh good you’re awake! How are you feeling? All better now that you’re not running through anomalies I suppose?”

I relaxed slightly and nodded. “You healed me?”

He walked over to one of the worktops along the wall, taking a pen in his mouth and scribbling on a clipboard that lay on it. “Of course. I might not be an expert, but I’m the best you’ve got and I know enough to know what each bit is supposed to look like and where it’s supposed to go. A bunch of healing potions, a rather lot of Rad-Away and some clever use of chems and you’re good to go!”

I sighed. I knew what was coming next so I got straight to the point. “How much will all this cost me?” Nothing in the Zone seemed to be cheap.

“I already charged you.” He said, smiling. “I went through your saddlebags while you were out and took the caps.” He shot me a patronising look as my expression changed to one of protest. “You didn’t expect me to just heal anypony without a down payment did you?”

“So the first thing you thought about when you saw me was whether or not I could afford not to die?” I said sarcastically. Thinking about it, it was prudent for him to do so, but this was my health and I wasn’t about to let this go.

“Now don’t you get like that!” He shot back. “You’re lucky to be alive. It took the last of my Rad-Away to get you down to a respectable level and that stuff doesn’t grow on trees!” He sniffed at me. “Maybe if you didn’t go running into anomalies we both could have avoided this. And maybe...” He pointed to a cabinet in the corner. “If you weren’t carrying that I wouldn’t have had to use so much Rad-Away.”

I looked over, confused. Lying on top of the cabinet, next to a handful of healing potions and packets of Rad-Away was the strange, yellow and red, eye-like seed I had found on the dead pony. It seemed as though it were staring at me with that deep red unblinking iris, with no discernible pupil. It was eerie, looking at it.

“What do you mean, is that thing irradiated?” My PipBuck hadn’t voiced any complaints when I had picked it up.

The medical pony laughed. “You just carry around expensive and volatile objects without knowing what they do? Are you an idiot or just suicidal?” I looked oddly at him and he laughed again. “You really have no idea what that is do you?”

I shook my head. “Not a clue.”

He pressed a hoof to his face and slid it down again.

“This.” he said dramatically, walking over to the table it sat on. “Is an artifact. It’s an object of great power that grants the pony holding it resistance to certain things, at a price.” I walked up behind him as he continued to talk, glancing back at me. “In this case, this one healed you.”

“It healed me?”

“That’s right.” He nodded. “Started fixing you up the minute you got shocked, healing the burns from the magic a little. Unfortunately as soon as it started doing so, it also started dumping lots of radiation into your body. That’s the trade, you see. Artifacts rarely give without taking.”

He turned and wandered over to a different table with a clipboard sitting on it, leaving me to look at the little seed-pod. This was more Zone madness, I thought. Just what I needed.

“So where do they come from?” I asked, glancing at him.

He shrugged. “I don’t know.” Great. “You find them around anomalies normally, some ponies say they’re what happen if you start messing around with them. But nopony I know really knows.”

He turned and smiled oddly at me. “But you’ll be pleased to know you don’t have to deal with it any more.”

“What?”

He nodded. “That thing paid for most of your treatment.”

Okay, now this pony was getting annoying. Why tell me all that and take it away from me?

“So where’s the rest of my stuff?” I asked, annoyance evident my voice. “I can’t have cost that much to heal.”

“No.” He replied. “But my silence cost a bit more.” He pointed at my slave collar. “Now I don’t love slavers and I’m more than willing to help an escapee, but I expect some recompense for that.”

I was aghast. “I’m not a slave! This was an accident!”

He nodded slowly, clearly not believing me.

“Either way you owed me a lot, and most of your stuff was broken beyond repair. A massive zap of magical energy is pretty damaging. Just look at what it did to you.” I almost screamed. “But the stuff that I didn’t sell and survived is locked in the locker outside. Here.” He made his way towards the door. “Follow me.”

I sighed and followed him outside. I wondered how much I had left after this pony and the anomaly had finished bleeding me dry.

We emerged from the pony’s house into a small settlement, nothing more than a couple of buildings and some ramshackle gates. Standing by one such gates was a caravan of some sort, a couple of ponies standing by a pack-brahmin pulling a cart.

“They’re the ones who brought you in.” The pony leading me said idly. I almost didn’t know what he meant, and then I realised. Of course somepony had had to have brought me here. I didn’t just come here on my own.

I followed the earth pony around the side of the building, to a locked metal locker leaning against the wall. He knelt and shoved over a small rock, revealing a key that he picked up in his mouth and used to unlock the small padlock keeping the locker shut. I was so glad that he had kept my property in such a secure place, I thought sarcastically.

Opening the locker revealed that he had at least had the decency to leave me my weapon. The hunting rifle stood next to my now even more broken saddlebags, filled with holes and burn marks but somehow still functional. I opened the flap and checked inside. All of my healing supplies were gone, as was most of my food. Only a single can of meat remained, sitting next to my memory orbs and lock picking “kit”. I levitated out a blackened lump of something and sniffed it, trying to figure out what it had been. The wave of stench hit me and I fought the urge to throw up. It was the smell of hot sweat and rotten meat and I suddenly realised what it was. It was the meat from that creature I had killed, the flesh. Somehow the meat was even less appetizing after it had been incinerated by magical lightning. I grimaced and threw it away.

I slipped the saddlebags on with my rifle and levitated up my barding. For his worth, the medic hadn’t been lying. The barding was completely wrecked, somehow more so than my saddlebags. Massive swathes of the reinforced hide had been burnt away completely, leaving the barding apparently unwearable. That too was thrown. Now fully outfitted, I turned back to the earth pony behind me, who beamed at me. I didn’t return it.

“There you go. Now no more running into anomalies.”

“Sure.” Was my brusque response. In a short amount of time this pony had managed to annoy me greatly and I was glad to be on my way as I turned curtly and walked away.

I walked towards the caravan sitting on the other side of the settlement. A white unicorn with a short curled green mane that was going through the packs on the brahmin turned to watch me approach. I caught a glimpse of his cutie mark just as he did so - a spilled bag of shotgun slugs.

“Hullo.” He greeted me in a low voice as I slowed to a stop. “All up and kicking already I see. That’s good to see. You were half dead when I found you.”

I smiled gratefully. “Thank you. A lot of ponies I know would have left me there to die.” We’d done such things many times in the crew, I remembered ruefully.

The unicorn shook his head. “A lot would. Not me. We had room so I picked you up and brought you with us. I knew they had a medic where we were going. Fixed her up a few months back when she ate some bad flesh meat.”

Emphasizing “her”, he indicated to the small cart the brahmin was pulling. I had assumed it was filled with stock for trade. It was, but it also had a light grey unicorn filly sitting happily in a small bare patch in the middle, almost like a nest for the filly, and working. I might have mistaken her fascination with her current task as one of an innocent child with a toy, if it weren’t for the fact that the objects before her were the parts of a revolver, strewn haphazardly across the bare space. The filly brushed her two-toned peachy mane from her face and held a part of the firing mechanism up to her eye as I watched, examining it before putting it down. Her curiosity and work with the weapon reminded me of my father, and I smiled lightly.

“Is it just the two of you?” I asked, turning my attention back to the white stallion. He nodded at me and went back to rearranging the bags in his caravan as he spoke.

“That’s right. I’m Gauge and this is Pellet. We sell what we can along the trade routes here in the Zone, mostly guns. Resources are limited here so ponies pay better. That’s changing though.”

“Changing?” I asked.

“Changing. Those storms of a night, they’re changing everything. Places that you couldn’t even go near are suddenly safe and ready for scavenging and some completely safe trade routes are filled with danger. It’s no place for a new pony to the Zone.” He looked pointedly at me.

I was taken aback slightly. “Is it really that obvious?”

“Yep.” The filly in the cart suddenly piped up before the stallion could answer. She had turned away from her work and her wide brown eyes and smile were playful. “You just look wrong, y’know? Look, you’re not even standing right.”

She pointed at my hooves and in response I lifted on curiously, adjusting and trying to figure out exactly how to stand. This just served to get a laugh from both unicorns as I tried to stand straight and attentive, instead serving to make myself look stupid.

“Never mind.” She giggled at me. “You’ll get it, just as long as you don’t get crushed or burned or shocked-” she paused and looked me up and down before continuing on her rant. “-shocked more I mean. Or thrown in the air or torn apart by dogs-”

“That’s enough.” The stallion, I supposed it was her father, interrupted her morbid list of my possible fates with a forceful tone and the filly’s words ground to a halt as she frowned. “Not everypony new to the Zone ends up like that, otherwise we wouldn’t all be here. You just need to be cautious. Keep your eyes out for everything and listen to ponies who know better. Don’t go running off. Not like that mare a couple of days ago. She’s probably dead by now.”

My ears perked up. “What mare?”

“Another new mare passed us not two days back. Big girl, she had a violent look about her. Said she was chasing some raiders. She wanted to know where she could find some. Got rather rude about it so I pointed her in the direction of Dryside.”

A big, violent mare who was new to the Zone sounded eerily like a pony that I knew. I wracked my brains trying to remember if I had seen Choke Hold go down on that night days before, or if I had seen her corpse among the fallen. I couldn’t remember if I had. Blood Money, Tripwire, Obelisk, Rupture, even Choke Chain were accounted for, but I couldn’t remember seeing the mare’s body along with her twin’s.

And if some raiders had escaped the slaughter with her, it would be just like her to go after them, wouldn’t it? But would raiders from the Zone even go down that far? This was getting far too convoluted, but a voice inside my mind reminded me that despite my dislike of Choke Hold, and hers of me, if we were the only survivors in our crew then maybe I should find her. We were still basically family, we could reconnect and make our way back to normality together. I just needed to make sure it was her.

“Do you remember anything else about her?” I enquired. “Colour, scars, anything?”

The stallion looked at me strangely. “I can’t. I don’t go out of my way to remember specifics about strangers. Especially rude ones.”

The peach-maned filly on the cart suddenly piped up. “Is she your friend?”

“Maybe.” I mused. “You said you pointed her to Dryside? Where is that?”

“That way.” The stallion pointed vaguely north. “Actually we’re heading there now ourselves. We’re planning to stay there until the weather settles again.” He cast a gaze skyward as he said this. “And then we can find some safe new trade routes.”

“I could come with you.” I offered, carefully making sure to show off the hunting rifle I was carrying. “I could make sure we all get there safely, in exchange for your guidance.”

The stallion laughed. “Okay. We don’t need protecting, but it would be nice to have another gun on the trip. Everypony’s a bit shaky with the changes. You never know when ponies might start shooting.” His horn glowed and a few straps pulled tighter around the brahmin. “We’re done here. We’ll leave right now if you’re ready. “

I was about to nod for us to leave when a thought occurred to me.

“Just a second, I need to see to something.”

*** *** ***

The door to the clinic creaked open and I slipped in through the door-frame. The medical pony stood in the corner studying something. On closer inspection it proved to be a rather substantial sum of caps. Caps that he had taken from me, I realised, as well as probably the results of selling my things.

I didn’t begrudge him the caps. He had fixed me up and made sure that I was healthy enough to get back out into the wastes, but I still felt sour watching him count up the profit of my stupidity.

And besides, there was one thing I definitely not going to let him keep.

He looked up at me from his caps at me. “Can I help you?”

“Yeah.” I edged closer to him, closing the gap to the cabinet at the same time. I hoped I was being convincing, keeping my voice steady.. “I just wanted to thank you. I know it took a lot to get me back on my hooves and I’m grateful for that.” This was at least partially honest. “I’m sure your fee was a good deal.”

He smiled waveringly, eyes drawn to my weapon. “Of course. It’s my job to heal up ponies, not to take from them. I wouldn’t want to steal money from an injured pony.”

Especially not one who doesn't know anything about this place, I thought, staring at him. “Oh of course not.”

The dark grey coat on the stallion’s face seemed to grow redder under my steady gaze and he quickly turned back to his pile, suddenly fascinated with it. “Well if that’s all, I accept your thanks and hope you have a good rest of your life. It would be good for both of us if you didn't end up back in this clinic.”

I couldn’t figure out if they were supposed to be kind words, but I continued as if they were. This was going well and I didn’t need to draw attention to my actions now, as I heard a clink from the corner. “My thoughts exactly. I’ll be leaving with the caravan outside, so this will hopefully be the last you’ll see of me.”

With that I turned and started to leave. Glancing behind me revealed that he didn’t even get up to watch me leave. Good. I felt a sudden weight enter my saddlebags as I opened the door and I glanced down at them. I could see the red iris of the seed staring up at me from their depths, nestled neatly between packets of Rad-Away, bandages and healing potions.

Stealing from this pony, I decided, wasn't such a bad thing.

The door shut behind me and I quickly approached the caravan with the waiting Gauge and Pellet. I nodded my readiness at the stallion and he immediately slapped the brahmin, forcing it forward at a lumbering pace to pull the cart. He fell into place to its left and I followed suit to the right, Pellet sitting in her position in the cart and continuing to toy with her revolver. We walked slowly away from the settlement and the clinic across the cracked ground and I set my sights and my thoughts on our destination.

I never did learn the name of the medical pony.

*** *** ***

I stuck my head over the side of my barricade, surveying the area. A broken cargo chariot lay on its side, a hundred years of age showing on the rusting frame. Its cargo, several large barrels large enough to hide a pony, lay strewn across the landscape for many yards in all directions. It was one such barrel that Pellet, Gauge and I now sat behind, guns at the ready. Even the filly had her revolver at the ready.

I almost laughed at the irony. I had been looking for Choke Hold and Choke Hold was looking for raiders, and instead I’d found some raiders. We had made good progress in the past hour and had almost made it to barn, when a battle cry and gunshot had announced the arrival of a band of raiders. The ponies were dressed in rough barding and hide and fairly well armed, but so were we, and after a couple of warning shots both parties were now taking cover behind the fallen barrels, ready to take a shot of opportunity. Unlike the raiders, however, I had my PipBuck. E.F.S. was telling me exactly where they were hiding and moving, even if I myself couldn’t see the movements over the top of my protection. I saw a head pop up over a barrel to my right, where two red dots were hiding, and I brought my rifle up to shoot at them, activating my S.A.T.S. and...

Nothing.

I felt panic rise in my chest as the spell failed to respond, time continuing at its correct pace around me and the the targeting spell failing to activate. This was not good.

A bullet tore past my head and I realised I was still in a battle. I brought my rifle up to aim manually, looking down the scope mounted on the barrel and firing at the pony who had fired at me. Whatever had happened to my S.A.T.S could be dealt with later. Right now I had to deal with the current situation without the assistance of the spell.

Gauge fired beside me with his own rifle and I saw a pony go down in the corner of my eye, a red light blinking out on my E.F.S. to correspond with the kill. My target ducked to avoid the fate of his friend and I followed suit, reloading and glancing up over the barrel while trying to keep as much of me covered as possible.

More shots fired overhead and I brought myself up slightly, picking off another pony behind a different barrel with a round of fire, the scope of the rifle helping to make up slightly for the lack of the complicated algorithms and aim functions of S.A.T.S. More sudden fire sent me sprawling in the dirt with my heart pumping after I felt the trail of a bullet practically graze my fur. My horn flared and I summoned a light shield to aid our protection as I heard my companions’ answering fire. Another light blinked out, three left.

I glanced around at my companions now. Gauge was reloading himself in the brief break in fire and Pellet was moaning and smacking her revolver with one hoof - something seemed to have jammed. Yet another thing to cripple us, but we were still in a good position, despite the four remaining red lights on my E.F.S.

I heard shouting and peered over the top of the barrel, only to see a raider rushing at me with a vicious machete in her mouth. She rounded our barricade and my horn flashed as the wild pony swung her blade. The metal connected with the magical barricade I created, close enough that I could smell the bloodstains in her coat. The pony screamed through the grip of the blade and smashed the shield again as I carefully took aim with my hunting rifle and fired directly into her chest. Her eyes widened in shock from the shot and I released my magic, sending her sprawling forward.

Turning my attention back to the living raiders, I left my victim to die on the ground. Gauge fired beside me as I turned and I saw that the last three ponies were rushing at us at frightening speed through the field of fallen barrels. Their pupils were pinpricks in enormous white saucers - under the effects of a good healthy dose of Dash. I raised my rifle and aimed down the sight, firing desperately at the rapidly weaving ponies. One fired back, levitating her pistol as she ran and firing wildly in our general direction. Every shot went wide, but it bought them more time to catch us up as we ducked for cover.

Suddenly I felt a sudden, intense pain in my leg and I screamed in shock and pain. Looking down, I could see the insane grin of the pony I had left to die on the floor staring back up at me. She grinned through the grip of her machete, the blade of which was now firmly embedded in my rear left leg, just below the hock.

I cursed myself as my vision swam and my mind brought back old lessons. You needed to make sure they were dead. Of course you did. You always made sure your enemies were dead or else they might turn around and kill you. Blood Money had told me that long ago. How could I have forgotten...

A hoof slapped me across the face and I refocused on the world around me. Gauge was standing above me, his white fur splattered with blood. I felt movement in my saddlebags and a healing potion materialised in front of me. I drank it eagerly and I felt a sharp stab in my flank, followed by a rapid dulling of the pain that filled my leg. Vaguely I could also hear a steady clicking coming from my artifact as the artifact I carried started to take its slow effect.

I brought my PipBuck up to my face as I lay on my back. The little pony on screen grimaced at the little dashed line that represented my broken leg. Only just healed up and already hurt, I thought to myself. Looking at my PipBuck brought a new thought. I tried once more to slip into S.A.T.S, hoping that the lack of it in the fight had been a fluke.

It hadn’t. I found myself unable to activate the spell, the matrix of spells not responding to my prompting and the screen of my PipBuck actually seemed to blink out if I tried to activate the targeting system. It was well and truly busted, and somehow I was sure that I wasn’t going to be able fix it. I didn’t even know if it could be fixed. Now I had to rely on my own shooting skill.

I sighed and leaned back, my collar pressing against my neck as I did so. I glanced about. I didn’t know how long I had been out, but the last of the raiders lay dead in the dirt, their own blood pooling around them, including the bitch that had sliced me, her stupid grin wiped from her face by gunshot to the face.

“Okey Dokey! All better now?” I heard Pellet’s enthusiastic tone from outside my field of vision and I pulled myself to a sitting position wearily. I lit up my horn and levitated another stolen healing potion from my saddlebags. I drained the red liquid inside and looked around.

I breathed heavily and cast a glance at my leg. A wicked gash lay along the flesh, although it was already starting to heal - the blood coagulating in the wound rather than seeping from it. I winced and turned away, looking back to Gauge and Pellet. The former had begun calming his braying brahmin and cleaning up the “battlefield” while the latter stood a few hooves away, looking at me expectantly.

“I’m fine.” I smiled at her while I pulled a roll of bandages from my saddlebags and set about wrapping them around my wound. “Did we win?”

“You bet. No help from you, you had to go and get hurt so we finished them ourselves.”

“I thought your gun jammed.” I asked curiously and the light grey filly snorted in dismissal in response.

“Only for a second. A bit of casing, really easy to remove.”

I finished dressing my leg and stood on it warily as the filly responded, relying on the remaining Med-X in my system and the healing potions working to keep me stable. Happily I found myself able to stand on it with ease. I looked about at the bodies lying around me, wandering over to one with Pellet trotting alongside me, her peachy tail flicking absently as she watched me.

“So you and your Dad are good with guns?” I asked, pulling a Rad-Away from my saddlebags and draining it to combat the radiation the red seed-eye was creating in its efforts to heal me. I glanced over the corpse in front of me as I did so. This one had been the one that rushed at us with a pistol. The weapon now lay beside its bullet-ridden former owner.

“Uh-huh. He finds them, buys them, looks at their quality, repairs them, sells them. I help as well. It’s really easy, fixing guns, and Dad is always really good at getting a good deal for everything.” She informed me happily.

I frowned a little. This sounded a bit like my family. I’d been learning from my father how to fix up armour and weapons for a while before he had died. Learning somepony’s special talent from them was hard, but I suspected that Pellet might be talented in that regard herself.

“So what can you tell me about this?” I picked up the raider’s pistol in my magical grip and passed it to her. The large weapon had a very dark, almost pitch black smooth finish on the metal and a curved dark wood grip, that was chipped and scratched from heavy use. A surprisingly elegant weapon for such a vicious former owner, I decided.

The filly took the weapon in her own magic and squinted at it. She carefully twisted and appraised the dangerous weapon like it was a valuable that could shatter at any moment. The long cylinder of the weapon snapped out and back in while wrapped in the filly’s red-tinted magic and when she spoke she seemed to have a more serious tone than the excessively happy one she used normally.

“It’s a standard Ironshod Firearms .45 caliber double action revolver. Five shots. Nothing really special, but it is very pretty. This grip could use replacing before it gives, the barrel is a little warped and the hammer looks really worn but otherwise it looks in good condition.” She looked back at me. “Do you want it?”

“Of course.” I nudged the raider with my foot. “It’s not like she’s going to use it.” And besides, I could use a closer range weapon. Sometimes a rifle didn’t cut it. Perhaps I should invest in something like a knife like Soft Step’s.

I felt a pang of guilt thinking about Soft Step. Even after the circumstances of my meeting with Soft Step, the direct mare had grown on me, I’d been thinking about her on our journey to Dryside - specifically her and her sister’s safety. I was sure she was fine, but I couldn’t help but feel I had abandoned her and Nimble. In reality of course, I told myself, they had been the ones to leave me, even if it was my own fault for getting shot. They weren’t to know.

When we arrived at Dryside, I had decided, I could look for clues as to where Soft Step and Nimble were as well as Choke Hold. When (if) I found my former crew member I could go searching for the two mares, to make sure that they were alright. I ignored the obvious option that they were dead and instead focused on imagining the two mares safe back at Barn.

I found myself thinking of Nimble’s playful, pleasant smile and a smile in response to the imaginary face started to play on my lips. She was a far easier pony to get along with than her sister, and our meeting had been on much better terms, although maybe not a much better situation.

I felt my mind wandering and I shook myself. I wasn’t sure what my thoughts were doing, but I needed to stay in the moment. I couldn’t afford more painful surprises.

“Let’s go! I don’t want attention from ponies looking for our fight.” I heard Gauge shout from farther away and Pellet bounced off back towards him.

“Coming!”

I chuckled and magically pulled my new revolver’s holster from the leg of the fallen raider, attaching it to my own and trying to ignore the blood. I turned and walked back towards the pony standing by his brahmin, waving my new possession in the air as I did so.

“Got any ammo for this?”

*** *** ***

We walked side by side through the southern checkpoint into Dryside. Approaching it had been plain to see that this was a very different settlement to Barn. Compared to the latter’s large metal walls and looming warehouses, Dryside was made of a rag-tag collection of dilapidated houses that had been fixed up. It sat on the edge of an enormous sloping crater that was filled with pools of murky water.

The ponies of Dryside seemed different as well. The few that I saw wandering about paid me no mind, unlike the highly suspicious ponies of Barn, and seemed to have a greater air of contentedness about them.

Despite this there was still obviously as much of a fighting presence as there was in Barn. Ponies in barding of all kinds wandered the streets and manned checkpoints into the town. Two such ponies were inspecting Gauges caravan now. They cast a wary eye at me as they worked, but quickly waved us through into town, not even asking about the rifle slung across my back and the holstered revolver on my leg.

The center of town seemed home to some sort of little market, where ponies stood behind roughly constructed stalls that proclaimed the price of their wares on dirty signs. Next to one such stall were ponies chained to poles, wearing bomb collars and sitting in cages. Even slavers were present here. Ponies of all kinds milled about, even a few pegasi. I marveled at the rare breed working their way across the square. One walked past and I found myself drawn to her wings.

I frowned upon inspecting them. The light violet pegasus’ wings seemed stumpy and smaller than I had expected, and her stable barding and saddle-mounted sniper rifle seemed to almost hide them. I heard a cough and looked up to her staring at me with an annoyed expression on her face. I felt myself going red and looked away as she huffed and stomped off. Behind me Gauge chuckled.

“I wouldn’t go looking at her wings if I were you. She’s a bit sensitive about it.”

“Are they meant to be like that?” I asked tentatively as the white unicorn walked up behind me.

“Of course not. Didn’t you see her barding? Stable 45. Nopony from there ever came out normal.”

Pellet bounded up beside me. “They let in pegasi, which was really weird, but everypony says they were trying to turn them into Earth Ponies! That’s why all the pegasi and unicorns from Stable 45 can’t do anything like flying or magic or anything.”

Turning pegasi into earth ponies seemed a bit fanciful, but there was definitely something there. I wondered if I should bother apologising, but I already couldn’t see the violet mare any more in the square. I turned my attention back to the mission at hand.

“So this is Dryside? Where exactly did you tell Cho-” I caught myself before finishing the name. “Where exactly did you tell the mare to go?”

Gauge shrugged. “I just sent her here. But I don’t think she was the kind of mare to not make herself known. Asking around might be a good idea. Here.” His horn glowed and two bags floated out from his bags. “This is for coming with us. I know you volunteered, but you did a good job.”

I thanked him and took the bags. I peered inside to see a decent pile of caps, as well as some mixed rounds for my hunting rifle and new revolver.

“You might want to start over there.”

Gauge pointed towards a two-storey building with a strange flag hanging from a pole jutting from one of the boarded up windows. The crest on the flag showed a pony skull profile flanked on either side by a long leaf with acorns sitting at their base. Not a crest I recognised, but then that added to a list of unknown things I’d learnt about in the Zone. Nailed to the wall on the front of the building was a billboard advertising various jobs with more of the strange crests drawn onto a scrap of cloth pinned into several.

“The ponies stationed there know a lot about the Zone. More than me maybe. Anypony looking for information goes to them.”

“Are they Loyalists then?” I asked, looking between the base and the trader, who frowned for a second before responding.

“No they aren’t. I don’t think you should ask them that either.” He shook his head, seemingly at my question. “Listen. You’re new, but I can see potential in you. You could fit right in here. Just don’t get yourself killed doing whatever it is you are doing. If you ever see us on our trade route, don’t be afraid to make yourself known. I’ll sort you some deals out.”

“Thanks.” I smiled at the two ponies and turned to start off towards the base. “I will, and you look after yourselves.”

Pellet giggled. “You’re the one who needs looking after.”

Yeah, I thought as I put a hoof on the door, I did. I always had other ponies looking after me, and now in this strange place I needed it even more. Maybe that’s why I was trying to find Choke Hold, a part of my mind said, and I found myself agreeing with it.

I hoofed the door open and a dull interior greeted me. Looking at it made me feel uneasy. The place was clearly inhabited, although it seemed more by a manticore than by a pony. Only the presence of an earth pony mare sleeping, passed out on a table propped up by a crate, let me know that anypony lived here. Bits of paper were strewn all over the floor and nailed to the wall, most seemed to be job descriptions similar to the kind nailed outside, although most of these were faded, showing signs of age. Smashed chairs and other assorted dilapidated furniture was strewn across the main room and various liquids pooled beneath the mare on the table, while the walls were littered with scratch marks and bullet holes.

A brown unicorn stallion with a deep red mane walked into the room through a door and his eyes widened briefly as he saw me, before settling into a more relaxed posture as he approached me. He seemed almost lethargic in his movements and as he walked closer towards me in the light I could see classic signs of some sort of drug withdrawal.

“Hey there bro. You’re a new face around here, aren’t you?” He inquired calmly.

“That’s right.” I nodded in confirmation. Everypony could apparently see it just by looking at me, so why hide it?

“Thought so.” The stallion seemed pleased with his correct assessment. “What can we...” The unicorn looked at his partner and sighed. “What can I help you with? Need to know the best place to score around Dryside? Maybe get some good chems?”

“Actually, I need to find a mare that might have come through here. Or maybe some raiders if you can’t manage that.”

“A mare, ‘eh?” The pony smiled suggestively at me and I held his gaze.

“Not like that. She’s family.” Almost true, and I didn’t want this pony getting the wrong idea. “I think she might have been looking for raiders, and she was sent here. She was big, probably a bit of a temper on her.”

“Right, sure.” The pony rubbed his chin while considering my request. “Might be that mare that was causing a bit of trouble in the market. I think she came in here. Give me a minute.”

He signaled for me to follow and made his way over to the mare on the table. She remained unresponsive as we stood by side at the table, snoring peacefully. The stallion turned and winked at me before raising one hoof above the sleeping mare and positioning his mouth next to her ear, close enough for her to hear his breath, were she awake. Suddenly he brought his leg crashing down on her side and simultaneously yelled straight into her ear.

“HEY! WAKE UP!”

The sudden startling wake up call reminded me of my own frequent alarm, in the form of Choke Hold kicking me awake and I smiled in familiarity as the mare’s eyes flickered open groggily with a resentful glare at the pony that had woken her.

“What do you want, Canvas?” She asked flatly.

“Where did we send that mare who was stomping about looking for raiders?”

She shot him a contempt-filled look and sighed, replying with a slightly slurred response. “Ramtar. Sent her after that group that’s been blocking passage through the safe zones. Hopefully the Loyalist morons shot her.” She spat a phlegmy blob of spittle at the floor at this.

“Thanks. You can go back to sleep now.”

The mare grunted and rolled over, burying her head in her arms and turning her back to the stallion, apparently was named Canvas, who turned back to me and explained with a smile on his face.

“We sent her out west, to Ramtar. The place is a big swampy mess and since the storms anomalies have been popping up all over it. It’s also crawling with Loyalty ponies, ghouls and raiders. So it’s just what she was looking for!” He paused and then his tone got a little lower. “Listen, bro. To tell you the truth, she was trouble. She caused problems in Dryside and to be honest when we sent her out there it was probably to get killed. If she kills the raiders, that’s great, but nopony wanted to take the job because of how hard it will be. It’s up to you if you want to go, but honestly bro, I wouldn’t.”

I furrowed my brow. “I need to find her.”

The stallion sighed and rolled his eyes. “Okay bro, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. But you gotta know, information isn’t cheap. If you want to know exactly where we sent her, you’ll need to cough up caps.”

I decided to press my luck, I’d had enough of ponies fleecing me. “How about instead I take that raider job as well. Then you tell me where they are and I go to the same place she is. You never know, I might be more successful.”

He didn’t look like he believed me, but he conceded. “Okay.” He led me over to a worn map on the wall. It showed a big patch of land with some rough landmarks and reference points mapped out. He pointed to one such landmark. “Here. Go here and you might find her, or get killed. If you kill the raiders, bring some proof. Until that time you still owe me caps.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

“One more thing. That place is really dangerous bro. You’re really gonna need to be better supplied.” He indicated my bare coat.

I nodded, turning to go as I did so. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to rush in helpless.” I reached the door and hoofed it open, leaving the building and heading for the market. It was time to go shopping.

*** *** ***

My supply of caps, it turned out, wasn’t getting me very far. After much haggling and persuading in the markets I’d only been able to get some very inedible-looking food and a few bottles of irradiated water at any sort of reasonable price. Now I was trying to talk down the price of some very worn-looking leather barding that a trader was trying to sell me at a vastly inflated rate.

“Look, if you don’t want it, leave. I’ve got other customers I can sell this to and I won’t be seeing any new trade routes soon. 300 caps or nothing.”

I groaned. I really needed any sort of armour and this pony was trying to bleed me dry. “Look, I’m going to Ramtar, I’m going to kill raiders blocking trade routes! Surely that means something?”

The trader rubbed his head. “So you’re doing a job for those Freedom colts are you?”

His words hit me hard. Freedom ponies? They had been the group that had attacked Nimble, Soft Step and I in the sewers, hadn’t they? That explained why the mare had spat at the Loyalists, and why Gauge had suggested I didn’t call them that. But Nimble had said they worked with raiders, not tried to kill them. Would the same ponies that had shot at me really be asking me to kill raiders in a place like this, to keep trade routes clear? This was all getting very complicated.

The trader seemed to notice my stunned silence and he asked again wearily. “You are, aren’t you?”

“Er, yeah of course. Killing raiders in Ramtar. I mean, I’m making things easier for you, so you could easily make up the caps you’ll lose if you give me a discount.”

“Hmm...” I was on edge as I watched the pony consider this. “Nope. 300 caps.”

“Fine!” I almost screamed at the trader and flung my caps at him from my saddlebags with my magic. “Take them.” Before he even had a chance to respond I grabbed the folded barding and stomped off with it, grumbling. It seemed that I wasn’t going to get anywhere near a decent price in this place without fighting off raiders for it.

“Psst! Hey”

A sudden whisper reached my ears. I came to a stop and looked about. I was walking past the slaver stall I had seen earlier, but I couldn’t see anypony who might have made the noise. Regardless, it came again.

“Hey! Listen! Down here.”

I brought my gaze down, to a cage sitting next to the stall. Inside sat an earth pony. She was small, smaller than any grown pony I had seen, although she was clearly not a filly. Her coat was a pinky colour, but not bright like Nimble’s tail and mane. It looked more like the colour of raw flesh after a pony had had their fur burnt off, and her mane and tail were the colour of charred wood, punctuated only by thin lines of distinct silver. The mane on her head was pulled up in spikes bound by cloth, while the rest fell in an uneven mess down the crest of her neck - common raider hair. An image of a tiny flame sat on her flank, even her cutie mark betraying her as a dangerous pony. Her eyes stared up at me, her pupils strangely contracted and a smile playing on her lips. A bomb collar, like mine, sat around her neck.

I looked about. The slaver in charge was talking to another customer on the other side of the stall, oblivious to the raider and her actions.

“What?” I hissed at the caged pony.

“I heard you say you’re looking for raiders.” She said playfully. “You found one.” She giggled at her own joke, clearly this pony wasn’t all there, as if her eyes and look didn’t give it away. “I can help you find more if you want.”

I looked suspiciously at her. “And why would you do that. You’re a raider.”

“Anything to get out of this cage.” She laughed again and I glanced nervously at the slaver, but he seemed to be ignoring her outbursts. “I need to be out there.” She pointed vaguely outwards. “And ‘sides, I don’t need loyalty. Not to ponies like that. Do you know they left me to that bastard?” She indicated the slaver, still chatting with his customer.

“So what, I buy you and you lead me to what I need?” There was no way I was trusting this.

She nodded vigorously. “That’s right. Simple.”

I decided to humour her. “Hey!” I called to the slaver at the stall. “How much for this one?”

He turned from his customer and quickly told me. I swore. “Never mind.”

I turned back to the raider, staring up at me with her strange eyes and shook my head. “I don’t have that kind of money. Even if I did, I don’t really trust you.”

She made a show of thinking in response, as if mocking me. “Hmmm..... The lock on this cage isn’t very reliable, you know.” She rapped on the padlock keeping the bars shut with a hoof. “If you could open it, or let me open it, I could make a break for it, then meet you later wherever you want! Then we go kill ponies. We both get rewards!”

She spread beamed and spread her arms like a showmare, or she would have if she weren’t inside a cage. Instead she kind of pressed her hooves against the bars.

“Right.” I intoned. “And what’s to stop you just running straight away and leaving me royally screwed?” Did she think I was stupid.

“Well. Nothing I guess.” The mare cackled and leaned back against the bars behind her. “Except my detonator. It’s right over there you know.” She pointed behind the stall and rotated the collar around her neck to show a big number “9” drawn on the metal. After briefly making sure nopony was watching I quickly checked behind the stall, where she had pointed. Sure enough, a pile of detonators sat in a crate, and sitting conveniently on top was one labeled “9”. I turned back to the cage.

“See!” she exclaimed. “You let me out and then I meet you at the right place at the right time, and if I don’t, or try anything funny. Well. You blow my head off! Whoosh!”

The madness of this pony was frightening. She actually seemed happy about the idea of having her head blown off, but despite her apparent insanity she seemed to know what she was talking about. I knew all about the incentives of a bomb collar around your neck and she seemed more trustworthy than most raiders, as if that was an impressive feat.

“You’ll need somepony to get you safely through the anomaly fiiieeelds...” She sang the final word.

I sighed. This was going to get me in so much trouble.

“Meet me south of here, at a collection of spilled barrels in two hours.” I looked around anxiously for trouble and levitated my screwdriver and bobby pins out. “Don’t run yet. Give me a few minutes to get away then run for it. If you leave too soon I’ll blow you apart anyway.”

She giggled and nodded. “Gotcha.”

I leaned around the back of the stall and carefully lifted the “9” detonator with my magic, making sure to not attract the attention of the slaver, standing not 10 hooves away. I gently floated it over and slipped it into my saddlebags. I could feel myself sweating. Returning to the strange mare’s cage, I carefully slipped my pin and screwdriver into the padlock and rotated. The mare had been right, it was not hard at all to open it. Within seconds I heard a click and I could hear the enslaved raider breathing excitedly.

“Remember, wait for me to get out of range.” I whispered, flicking off the padlock before walking off.

I made it as far as the southern guard post before I heard a commotion from behind me. Shouting punctuated the air and I glanced over my shoulder to see the small pony rushing across the market, the slaver and several other ponies on her tail. She was laughing and barreling east, avoiding the clumsy grabs of the few ponies who cared enough to help. I briefly thanked the Goddesses that she hadn’t tried to run past me and instead appeared to be arcing around to our meeting point.

I watched as I saw the slaver and the others returned to the market, heads low in defeat. The slaver walked over to his stall and ducked behind it, looking for his detonator. I smiled as I heard his shout of frustration from my position and gently patted my saddebags. In a way I felt bad for the slaver, losing a slave often meant a lot of lost profit for my crew, but it was only a single slave and I needed her. Perhaps I would make it up to him.

The guards nodded to me as I walked past the guard post, paying no mind to the events in the market. And like that, I was out. The plan had gone off without a hitch. Now I just needed the raider to hold up her side of the deal. Or else.


Level Up!

New Perk: Intense Training (Charisma) - You’ve been dealing with a lot of new ponies lately, and your social skills have improved to reflect this. You gain +1 Charisma.


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.

For further FOE reading visit
https://docs.google.com/document/d/1KaoFWVlFlMjYR2KmTWxwCYnvTZQcjEULO9YHSaqqk9U/edit?hl=en_GB&pli=1


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.