• Published 1st Aug 2016
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Fallout: Equestria - Sunny Skies - IMFoalishFace



A Ministry of Awesome agent is awoken from stasis to deal with an attack on the Stable she has been housed in for the past two hundred years.

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Chapter 5: An Elderly Cyberpony is Assisted Across the Street

Author's Note:

I split chapter 4 into two chapters as part of Sunny Skies's rewrites to help with reading flow, since it really should have been something I did in the first place. Sorry for it not being new stuff but that'll be here soon.

Chapter 5: An Elderly Cyberpony is Assisted Across the Street

The synths seemed to be sweeping the city searching for anyone still left. That would pose an issue to us but I doubted they were anything I couldn’t handle. These robots may have been super advanced, but they didn’t hold a candle to zebras as hunters. I could get by them easily.
Doing so with Star, however, might prove difficult. We wound up in a busted-out store, a city block away from the synths and as I confronted my companion.

“Okay, Star, I want to know if you’re going to be able to stick with me if we try to run Wintermail’s net or if we should try and flank around.”

“How hard will it be to sneak through?” she asked.

“I don’t know. These things could be exactly like ponies; if that’s the case then we just need to stroll by with a smile, maybe sing a musical number with them.” Star smirked at my poor joke.

“Worst case: they were programmed to think like Praetorians and they already know we’re here.”

“What are Praetorians?”

“The Zebra Ceasar’s royal guard, bunch of crazy ninja types. They’re the ‘hoof-picked from birth for greatness, trained in mountains by monks, can walk on the tops of grass blades to stalk their prey, kill you in a million different ways with a feather and foul glare’ kind of warriors. Real nasty business, fought against more than a few of them in my day.”

“Cool!”

“Shh.” I looked up the street and weighed my options again. “I think I feel a plan coming on…” There were four synths in the street a little over fifty meters away, scanning the roads while others searched buildings. “Let’s get a closer look.”

I led Star out of the back of the store and into an alley. A large dumpster was sitting sideways, blocking most of the alley toward its intersection with the next street. I left Star behind the dumpster and crept to the end of the alley. There was a wagon sitting on the side of the road and I was able to look through one of its mirrors at the synths. They were a little more than a stone throw away, standing in the middle of an intersection of two major roads. It was a good position with long sightlines; the four robots could see any movement across the roads for at least a mile in each direction, effectively locking down the whole area.

I crept back into the shadows of the alley and motioned for Star to join me. “You see that building in the distance?” I asked her. “The high-rise with the purple tinted glass.”

I was pointing to the building that I had been hiding in when I had witnessed the fight between the squad of Rangers and Wintermail’s robots. It was risky to go back but the search seemed to have moved on. Additionally, the building was distinctive and easily seen from pretty much anywhere in the neighborhood.

“Yah, I see it,” Star answered.

“That’s going to be our rendezvous,” I said, “just in case we get separated. We’re going to stay in the shadows and make our way through these alleys. Don’t use your magnums unless you absolutely have to; everypony in the Empire will know if you shoot them off.”

“Ok,” Star said. “But how are we going to get past those four?”

I smiled a little and motioned for her to fall in behind me as I trotted back where we had come from. I passed the restaurant and turned down the road away from it, headed toward something I had spotted on our way in.

About a block away from where we had been hiding, I found the Helpinghoof medical clinic. The small heath center looked much like the surrounding buildings: simple square-with-round-edges architecture, pleasant sparkling pink paint with yellow trim that had faded, and wondrous images of wildlife and happy ponies printed on the front windows. The main door was a beautiful sheet of glass with pink and yellow crystals embedded in it, forming a cross with three butterflies. “Welcome” was printed in gold leaf above the Ministry’s logo and some other stuff like the address was printed below

All in all, it was a beautiful window and I gained no small amount of petty satisfaction watching a rock sail through it.

“Shh,” Star hissed, “the synths might hear. And you didn't even try the door.”

“The synths did not hear that,” I said, throwing back coat’s my hood. “Plus, I like when glass shatters, and the MoP sucked.”

Glass crunched under my hoof as I stepped through the door. Star followed closely behind me, pulling back her hood and scarf so she could look around the waiting room we had entered. “What’s your problem with the Ministry of Peace?”

“It was an irritating hive of corruption and hypocrisy.”

“Weren’t all of the Ministries like that?” Star asked, critically.

“Yes, but Peace was the worst.” I scowled at an example of a particularly irritating poster that hung from the wall: “‘We must do better.’ You have any idea how insulting that was? Never mind it came from a traitor. Then the Mops in the field that didn’t lecture you on love and tolerance and call us barbarians were drug dealers, smugglers, and pimps. And the whole damn Ministry’s operation was charlie foxtrot at its best.”

“They didn’t sound that bad,” Star said as she followed me through the clinic’s waiting room, past the reception desk, and down a hall with treatment rooms on each side and a large set of double doors at the end. “Especially when you compare the Ministry of Peace to the other ones. The ponies at Technology were a bunch of crooks and tried to kill their Ministry Mare, Magic had all kinds of horrible deaths with their experiments, Moral was… Moral, and Image just lied to ponies and burned books.”

“I never said I liked any of the other ministries, I just hate Peace most. If I’m honest I had had too much fun harassing Magic and Tech when I was working for Ordinance to hate either of them too much. Pinkie and Rarity were pretty cool mares too, when they weren’t being spazzes.” I had reached the end of the hall and was starting to push open the double doors .

However, I stopped and looked back at the filly with a questioning raise of the eyebrow. “You sure seem informed on the political topics of two centuries ago. Especially since most of that information never reached the public ear.”

“Our Stable’s always been centered around educating its inhabitants as well as possible so they could build a better world when the time came,” Star said. I chewed on the information as I broke through the double doors which had frozen together. I let Star pass by me as she continued: “The whole of the Canterlot University library is back home. Moondancer hoarded away as many old books as possible when the Ministry of Image started purging them. And then she also did a lot of writing when she got old. She wrote some of my favorite stories when I was a foal. Then she had some memoirs about her life and the war.”

“Was I in there?” I asked, stopping in the middle of the room and looking down at the filly.

Star giggled. “She wrote one of my favorite stories growing up, it was about a black mare called the Huntress who fought monsters that wanted to attack ponies as they slept. And I guess there was some mention of an irritating but endearing black military mare she was friends with who was always harassing her and causing chaos in Canterlot.”

I snickered.

“Yah, you don’t really seem like the ‘desk-bound, bureaucracy-blocking pencil warrior’ Moondancer talked about.”

“Not everypony gets to be damn war hero and those of us that do eventually get put behind a desk before we can hurt ourselves. I spent a lot of the war working behind the scenes as a commander, teacher, and equipment evaluator.”

“Did you have trouble not being out there helping in the fight?” Star asked.

I looked down on her, “I did far more good as an officer then I ever did as a grunt.”

“Sounds like a waste of a cyberpony,” Star pointed out.

“It was pretty late in the war when this” -I waved my synthetic wings around- “happened.” I leaned down and shifted my voice to a gossiping whisper, “I think I might have actually been... old at that point.”

Star chuckled a bit before falling silent, seemingly in thought. “You like reading then?” I asked. She nodded, “That’s good. Knowledge is a valuable commodity.” She smiled and I gave her a pat on the back.

I moved into the back rooms of the facility. Being that these clinics were only meant to deal with specific issues and this one seemed focused on general wellness, it was nowhere near as large or well equipped as a proper hospital. Getting past a few exam rooms placed one at the back of the facility with nothing but a pharmacy, staff lounge, and storeroom between them and the back door.

I trotted over to the pharmacy and started looking across the shelves of drugs. I was instantly distracted by the contents of the first rack though. “Star, you have some healing potions right?”

“Yeah,” she answered from right behind me.

“Take care of them, I don’t think that we’re going to find any usable ones up here.” I picked up a bottle that had once contained a rich purple fluid that was coveted for its ability to heal minor injuries instantly. Now, most of the bottle was full of cloudy, greyish lavender ice with a black sediment collected on the bottom and a layer of white lard-like film on top. The potion was definitely not healing anypony and I put it back before moving on.

There wasn’t much in the way of fancy drugs here. The clinic probably handed out healing potions and Med-X for most issues. Anything worse got sent to an actual hospital or a script to an actual pharmacy. There was still a wide variety of painkillers, cold syrups, vitamins, personal hygiene products, sexual health pamphlets, and all other manner of things ponies needed to keep themselves in a semblance of physical health. I, however, glanced over everything on a search for two things far more basic yet far more elusive.

“Come on!” I groaned as I almost ripped the doors off of a cabinet.

“What are you looking for?” Star asked as she looked over the stuff I left in my wake, some rolls of bandages and some bottles getting put in her saddlebags.

“Alcohol, mainly.”

“Really! We’re here for booze?” The filly demanded indignantly.

“Shh!” I hissed and looked at Star, instantly regretting the decision as her eyes burned into me. “It’s not for me, it’s for getting around the synths.” I pulled a brown plastic bottle out of the cabinet I was looking though and tossed it to her. “Don’t lose that,” I said with a stern tone.

The filly’s anger had been pacified by my assertion and she looked rather embarrassed at her outburst. I trotted past her, through the lounge, and to the storage room door. The door was locked but didn’t hold under my master key, the bolt breaking out of the wall under a strike from my forehoof.

I started walking through the door, a smug grin on my face as I looked at several glass bottles full of a clear liquid right in front of me. I almost missed the movement to my side that prompted a staticy voice calling out:
“Intruder alert.”

I was instantly treated to the sensation of something hard beating me across the back of the head. Dazed and confused, I stumbled back out of the room and into the table in the lounge, rubbing a rapidly swelling lump on my head.

“You are trezzpassing on Ministry of Pea-zz property, prepare to be dizzintegrated.” I looked up at a Ponitron robot as it hobbled toward me. The robot had a barrel like chest topped by a head that was housed in what looked like a clear plastic egg shell. It stumbled along on four rather stubby-looking legs and from the shoulders protruded a set of arms. Each arm ended in a set of claws that reminded me of a carnival game you got stuffed toys out of.

I pushed the lounge table back as the robot advanced on me, those arms raised high. The choice between grabbing my carbine and raising my hooves in self defense was ended as the robot brought those chunky arms down on me. I crossed both of my hooves above my head, catching the arms. The acrylic shells of my limbs emitted a loud crack under the impact but remained intact and I pushed the robot back. It stumbled back on its clumsy legs and looked like it was about to fall over. I rapidly jabbed at it with my right hoof.

My strike dented its steel chest, but robot didn’t fall and reprimanded me for my success, its arms coming down again. With my weight on my left leg, I could only try and swipe the Ponitron’s arms away with my right hoof. I blocked the right arm but the left smacked me in the face. Much like my legs, my nose made a loud crack when struck. I let a string of profanities slip out of my mouth as I grabbed at my bleeding muzzle.

I hobbled away on three legs as the robot made to strike again. I started to unfurl my wings but was cut off as something tightened around my throat and yanked me up. The air was soon filled with the sounds of suppressed gun fire as the Ponitron’s clear head was shot full of holes. I flailed my hooves around and flopped my body around, trying to get at whatever was strangling me. Meanwhile, the shell over the robot’s head shattered and the sensors inside started sparking.

I saw something glowing in my periphery and tried to see it as the Ponitron entered its death throes. My carbine was floating above me wrapped in an emerald aura that promptly faded, leaving me to fall to the floor.

“Ooph.” I landed on my back with my hooves splayed around me, then rolled onto my side to keep blood from running into my eyes. I looked over at my companion. “What was that?” I asked Star, my voice distorted by my hoof over my nose.

“Well, you said to only use my magnums as a last option, so I improvised. It’s not like you were using your gun for anything.” The filly trotted past me and over to the scrapped robot, giving the metal carcass a tentative poke.

“You didn’t need to strangle me,” I complained as I stood up and started moving toward the storage room. I limped past the filly on three legs while I held my nose.

“You didn’t have to get smacked around either,” Star shot back as she followed me into the small room.

The filly started looking over the shelves while I walked up to the glass bottles I had originally seen. I reached up with a wing and pinned one of the bottles between the appendage’s blades, bringing it closer. A smile spread across my face as I read the label: ‘100% Pure Grain Alcohol’.

“Star,” I called, “come over here and get your healing potions out.”

The filly trotted over and sat next to me. Her horn lit up as she produced nine doses of deep purple healing potion. I set the bottle down in front of her. “Open the purples up and mix a tiny bit of alcohol into them. It’ll keep them from freezing,” I said in a nasally tone.

Star looked up at me and rolled her eyes. “Shadow, put your hoof down.”

I creased my brow at her but complied, blood dripping down my face and onto the floor. Her horn ignited again and my vision was filled with the green glow of Star’s magic as it enveloped my nose. Pain was instantly replaced with a warm tingling sensation, like my face was being rubbed in a fluffy towel that was fresh out of the dryer. Star closed her eyes as the flow of my bloody nose slowed to a trickle. Next, there was a loud click as my nose jerked back into its proper place.

“Ouch!” I yelled and grabbed my face again. The pain from the relocation faded quickly though, replaced with the warm tingling before there was numbing by the cold. I pulled my hooves away and crossed my eyes to look at my nose.

“There,” Star said with a self-congratulatory tone, “it’s even straight.”

“Thanks,” I said, wiggling my muzzle and finding it as good as new. “Where did you learn that?”

“Miss Blossom,” Star said going back to the healing potions and alcohol, “my magic teacher.”

I found a rag sitting on one of the shelves and started using it to wipe the blood off of my face and sleeve. “Well good job, that spell was pretty much perfect.”

Star took a moment to finish precisely guesstimating how much alcohol to put into each of the potions before looking up at me. “Thank you.”

I smiled. “If you’re done with those potions you can put them away. Do you still have that brown bottle I told you to watch?” Star nodded and levitated it over to me. I pulled a cardboard box of powder laundry detergent off of a shelf and went to work. First, I poured the alcohol out until there was only a little over a half of a bottle left. Then, I added a bit of the detergent and filled the alcohol’s bottle up with the contents of the brown bottle, leaving about a third of the bottle full of air . Finally, I knotted up my bloody rag and jammed it in the mouth of the bottle.

“Shadow, what is that?” Star asked, gesturing to the brown container.

“Hydrogen peroxide,” I said, taking my wingblades and scoring lines in the glass of the bottle.

“What’s it for?”

“Its an oxidiser, it should help the alcohol burn better in the cold.” I placed the completed device in front of Star. “And this is the most classic of Embassy Party Favors: the Molotov cocktail.”

“Embassy Party Favors?” Star asked, looking forlornly at my improvised fire bomb.

“That’s what we started calling improvised weapons after the Stripes burned down our embassy in Roam,” I said with a somber grin.

I left the cocktail on the floor and grabbed the other four bottles of alcohol off of the shelves and packed them, along with the hydrogen peroxide and detergent, into my saddlebags. “Do you know a fire spell?”

“No,” Star said examining the bomb in her magical grip. “I found a lighter in one of the staff’s lockers, though.”

“When were you looking through the lockers?”

“When you were strolling into a flank beating.”

I gave Star a stern look that she returned until I cracked a grin and a smile slipped onto her face.

“Let’s go then,” I told Star as I started walking out, shaking my head and snickering.

We left the Ministry of Peace clinic and made our way back up the alley to our observation spot. The only thing that had changed since we had left was to position of the sun in the sky. The four synths were still positioned at the intersection. Star had carried the cocktail in her magic on the trip over but I took it from her as she pulled out her lighter. I turned the bottle over so the mixture inside soaked into the rag.

“All right, Star.” I looked her in the eyes, “I’m going to chuck this and we’re going to run. You go as fast as you can, I’ll cover us. If we get separated, where do you go?”

“The high-rise with the purple glass.”

“Good,” I said with a smile. “Light me.”

Star nodded, flicked the lighter open, and held the flame to the alcohol soaked rag. The flames took hold on the fabric instantly and I brought my carbine to my mouth before giving Star one last nod.

I sprung around the corner and threw the Molotov. The bomb arced through the air and landed right on the face of the synth looking down our road. The bottle shattered and the cloud of fluid spread across the other synths. The detergent I had added, caused the mixture to stick to their bodies and produced a thick black smoke.

Star was instantly racing across the street while I slowly trotted out into the road, covering her. I put several rounds into the synths before looking over and seeing that Star had almost made it across. I fired several more shots and took off after her, racing across the street. Star had stopped at the edge of the next alley and was looking back at me. I shook my head and waved a wing at her, “Keep going, there might be more coming.”

Star turned around and started running down the alley while I followed behind her, casting a glance back to the entrance of the urban canyon. We didn’t seem to have any immediate pursuers but we were leaving an extremely noticeable trail in the fetlock-deep snow. Star’s progress was also slow as she struggled to stay on top of snow that regularly came up to her belly.

In my mind’s eye, I looked over the map of the local area. We were in an urban area surrounded mostly by apartments and small businesses. The high rise was a in the edge of the financial district a few miles to the east. In between us and our objective was a labyrinth of back alleys and a few main roads that we would have to cross without being spotted. If we traveled south east we would be able to get to a community center.

The community center stretched from Amethyst, west for about two and a half blocks. There was a large bus stop on the west side that bordered a park that eventually lead to a recreation building and some government offices. If Star and I traveled southeast to the bus depot and crossed the road there, we would be able to sneak through the park to the rec center. That would put us on the edge of Amethyst with only one instance of major exposure. From there we could wait until the cover of nightfall or bad weather to run across the massive thoroughfare and escape into the financial district, hopefully avoiding the synths in the process. Then we just needed to cross the city, work our way through the outer suburbs, and flee across the eastern plains under the cover of darkness to the mountains.

We’re probably getting caught and killed but it’s not like I’ve got anything better to do.

I easily caught up with Star, grabbed her in my jaws, and slung her onto my back. Speed was the main objective as I raced through the alleys, taking turns as my mental maps deemed fit. I was quickly away from the site of our firebombing and moving through the alleys, navigating toward my objective. There was no sign of pursuers and there thankfully didn’t seem to be any pegasus-based synths flying around.

I trotted down the alleys, occasionally doubling back on myself, jumping a fence, or ducking into a building to break up my trail. A half hour found me across the street from the bus depot. The weather was rapidly deteriorating as strong gusts started howling down the streets, clouds covered most of the sky, and thunder rumbled in the distance. Star and I would need to take shelter from the building blizzard soon and we needed to be on the east side of Amethyst when we did. If not, we would probably get pinned down by the synths.

However, luck was with us and in little time I was crouched in the snow at the edge of an alleyway looking at the community center as it spread across a four lane street from me. Even better for us was that the bus station at this end had been turned into some sort of evacuation staging area. The road was crossed by an assortment of concrete and steel barriers meant to direct ponies through a series of processing stations. Scattered around were wagons, some featuring Ministry of Peace crosses or the military’s white, six pointed star; others were obviously commandeered passenger and school wagons. A massive tank still stood sentry over the whole scene from the center of a nearby intersection. Icicles hung from its canon’s barrel and the white paint on it blended seamlessly with the snow that had covered it over the years. Nothing moved in the nearby area other than snow and debris caught up in the wind. However, another foursome of synths watched over the street from about half a mile up the road.
Star had gotten indignant about me carrying her around and now stood on the ground next to me, looking over the scene with a cautious curiosity. I sat for several minutes to make sure nothing else was observing us or patrolling the area before I stalked out, keeping low and hiding myself behind the concrete barriers and wagons.

The only thing breaking my stealthy approach was the noise my hooves made. The snow throughout the Empire was old and crunched loudly beneath a hoof, but here it was like the ground was covered in broken egg shells and twigs. The noise only getting worse the further into the street I traveled.

“What is that?” Star whispered, looking at my hooves.

“I don’t know,” I answered quietly as I slithered around the corner of a wagon and into the shadow of a barrier. I had my theories but none of them needed to be spoken to the filly.

I creeped along the barrier, the cracking sounding with my every step. Behind me, Star silently followed until I heard a snap and she let out a pained hiss. I turned back to see her face contorted in pain as she held up her right front hoof. A large white shard was sticking out of the sole, blood slowly leaking out. Star grimaced and lit her horn, removing the splinter. She stuck her bleeding hoof in her mouth and levitated the fragment in front of her to examine it.

Annoyed confusion was replaced with horror as the filly slowly figured out what had stabbed her. I had been keeping that thought out of my head, not even wanting to entertain it for a second, but now there was little use in denying it. This evacuation had been a failure.

Star turned her gaze to me, looking for somepony to tell her that her idea was wrong, that it wasn’t a piece of bone that had stuck her in the hoof. I grimaced and reached to pick her up. Before I could get her, Star’s gaze turned to look over all of the open snow. She looked almost sick as the idea started to sink in and she started backing up toward the concrete barrier at the edge of the area.

Star backed up and onto something under the snow. That something was the chest of a long dead pony and what followed was horrifying even from my perspective. The corpse’s ribcage gave out and Star fell through it. It looked like the ground opened up with a groan and a few cracks, the unicorn tumbling into a gaping maw full of jagged teeth formed by broken ribs that dug into her. Star, to her credit, only let out a single bloodcurdling scream before thrashing/jumping out of mini sinkhole, stumbling away as she broke down sobbing. I grabbed her by the scruff and made a break for the bus depot’s terminal building.

The side of the terminal facing us was supposed to be a wall of glass panes, however, all of the glass was gone leaving a steel framework supporting nothing. One of the steel bars exploded in a flash of blue as I dove into the lobby. A robotic screeching could be heard on the wind as the four synths up the road took notice of Star’s little outburst.

There was a much plainer horror inside of the terminal. The place had been converted to a processing area with barriers flanking a line that serpentined to a row of desks. Around the perimeter were a few sandbag walls with soldiers and riot police. Only a layer of frost had been able to cover the charred bodies of ponies trying to flee. Despite how hard I tried not to, I absorbed how the dead had been mummified by the cold. Charred skin and blisters were pretty much perfectly preserved on flesh that had shrunk around the bodies’ skeletons, amplifying the anguished expressions on their faces. Bodily fluids had run out of ponies eyes, mouths, ears, noses, and cracks in their skin as they burned and the flows had been frozen in time.

To make matters even worse, there were several ghouls scattered around the space. The specters had probably been napping, praying to Celestia, contemplating existence, studying the lobby’s decor, or just snickering to themselves about how funny mortal ponies with their goals and limited lifespans were. Whatever they had been up to before I came racing in with Star in my jaws, they made the quick, unanimous decision that I looked delicious and a half dozen ghouls let out screams before charging me.

I stopped and considered my situation for a second. There were synths outside and ghouls in here. I had a filly in my jaws who was probably going into shock and was bleeding from some gashes on her legs. My carbine hung pretty uselessly from my neck. I was wading through mounds of civilians that hadn’t escaped death in an inferno. I was being hunted by some maniac mercenary and her horde of robots in a frozen shell of an isolated city. Corpses now came back to life and attack the living, as if death didn’t already suck enough. Everything I had ever worked and cared for was gone. All my friends were dead. Fuck it, I should just go back outside. Getting gunned down by synths would be better than getting mauled by ghouls…

No! No, no, no, no, nononono. I’m not going to start that. I’m going to keep a level head. I don’t need all of that rattling around in my brain.

OK, Objective One: get away from synths. Probably by going through the ghouls, use of force probably necessary. Objective Two: find somewhere to get Star thinking right again. Might have to bump that one down the list depending on how the situation develops. Objective Three: Find a secure place to hide out from the synths while the storm blows over. Should be east of Amethyst Avenue, preferably with heat and access to good scavenging. Objective Four: find alcohol (consumable, preferably bourbon) and have a good sob.

With my list committed to memory,I returned to pressing matters.

I lunged forward and pounced on a ghoul that was standing between me and a door at the back of the terminal. The crystal ghoul let out a pained hiss and a crack like glass as I landed on the abomination. I was off of it and on my way to the door without pause.

There was only one more ghoul in my path to the back door. It was what I thought an animated corpse should really look like. Skin like dried out leather stretched over a skeleton that was somehow moving, a pair of milky eyes rounding everything out.

I brought my right front hoof up and delivered an uppercut to the ghoul. It’s head popped off with an almost comical sound and icy cold, black blood shot out of its jugular into my face. I screamed into the scruff of Star’s barding as the blood got into my eyes. I attempted to wipe my face before bringing my hooves down on the ghoul, doing my best to mash the monster into a paste on the floor.

My distracted and distressed state was quickly broken along with a couple of my ribs. A crystal ghoul had run up and brought its own hooves down on my side. I staggered and swept a wing blade across the creature. It created a couple sparks but only really knocked the ghoul back a step. However, that was all of the space I needed as I kicked out with both of my rear hooves at it. The zombie’s head shattered into shards from the impact and I winced in pain as my right side burned. I started running as fast as I could, limping awkwardly as I tried to not move my right front leg and agitate my ribs.

Through the door at the back of the lobby, through some dimly lit office space with a few more ghouls, and into a back storage room. I dropped Star and collapsed on the ground, only just managing to close the door with a rear hoof as I started hacking. I slid across the floor and up against the opposite wall pressing in on my chest, hopefully putting the broken rib back into its proper spot so my talisman could fix the damage. Eventually, my coughing slowed and the adrenaline stopped flowing, leaving me clutching my side in pain as exhaustion pressed in on me.

I groaned and looked around the room, instantly realizing what I was sitting next to. He was a young buck, young as I had been when I joined the military. He wore white, grey, and dark green snow camo fatigues bearing the six pointed white star of Equestria on the collars. He had a sergeant's stripes and the patch on his left sleeve identified him as a member of Company D, Fourth Battalion of the 5th Mountain Regiment. Originally the 5th Hoofington Regiment before Luna’s Reforms, they were one of the best winter and mountain warfare units in the army. I had fought alongside and even led troopers from this pony’s unit during the Battles of Stalliongrad, Shyloo Peaks, Trotaviv, and during the Cartpathian Campaign.

I reached over and put a hoof on the shoulder of the long dead soldier. He was sitting in much the same way I was. Leaning up against the wall. His coat had fallen out in places and blood had trickled from his mouth, pain not just from the radiation sickness was etched across his face. His right front leg was crossed across his chest so his Pipbuck would be close to his mouth. A holotape was sitting in the slot on the computer, a final testament from some poor soul who watched the world burn.

With a tear in my eye I reached over and removed to holotape from the slot. I then reached into his shirt and pulled out the chain with his dog tags. There were two tags there, one to add to the record and another to stay with the body. Since I was still a commissioned officer of the Royal Equestrian Armed Forces, it was my duty to record the fallen.

I also elected to liberate him of a pair of frag grenades he had clipped to his webbing, packing them in my bags. I stuffed the tape and tag into my barding before laying my hoof across his eyes and kissing his helmeted forehead.

“Star? You with me?” I asked somberly. Turning my attention to the filly sitting in the middle of the floor. She was seemed completely zoned out, staring at the door as the sound of the ghouls pounding against it echoed. I crossed the distance to her side and wrapped a foreleg around her. “Hey, I need you to here with me.”

Star jumped at my touch and turned to look at me. Slowly, I watched emotion return to her eyes and she wrapped her hooves around me before letting out a few choked sobs. The filly shivered against me and I stroked her mane for a few seconds before I hefted her onto my back. We unfortunately didn’t have time to hang around here and wait for her to recover. I took her hooves tightening around my neck as a good sign though.

At the back of the terminal was a door that opened into a small employee parking lot that was separated from the park beyond by a cinderblock wall that I easily jumped. I laid low and listened to the sound of something storm through the crunchy snow and into the parking lot behind me.

“Sensors indicate intruder in proximity,” declared a synthetic voice. While a synth was looking around the parking lot on the other side of the wall, I made a mad dash into the park.

The park was a series of gently rolling hills covered in scattered trees. Everything was coated in a thick layer of snow and ice cascaded from the trees in beautiful flows. I ran along the backsides of the hills in order to reduce my silhouette and hide my trail from the road. I had made it almost halfway through the park before the synth in the parking lot caught on and started firing at me. I ducked around a hill, got my carbine in my jaws, popped up, and blasted the synth’s head apart with a burst.

I was instantly back to running. Speeding alongside hills, through snow drifts, among the frozen trees. The likelihood of finding somewhere to hide was still in flux. On one hoof, the synths had an idea where Star and I were. On the other, they still didn’t know that much about us and so far there were only a few robots in the area.

Of course, life also seemed to hate me.

More laserfire came at me from my right. A squad of about nine synths appeared on road beside the park, having emerged from the ether apparently. Behind me were the other three synths from the group that had investigated the bus terminal. I could do nothing against them other than pop off the occasional shot and pour on the speed.

The synths, to their creators’ credit, could keep up with me and my cyberpony enhancements. I stole a few glances back at my pursuers. One of them was missing their gray rubber coat, revealing a metal endoskeleton actuated with servo motors in the joints. There were large components hanging in its chest, some sort of sensory package set in its head. Each one carried beam weapons that I didn’t recognize, mouth carried pistols and battle saddle mounted rifles that fired blue bolts and had large, white, plastic housings. One of the synths even had on armor.

I decided that I would prefer not fighting them on the likely terms (with me being outnumbered and surrounded) if I could help it and continued to run. I lifted my wings and covered Star with them as blue laserfire flew around us and even into me occasionally. I ignored any damage to my bionic limbs or barding and put the pain from a few burns out of mind. Getting away is what matters right now.

I soon crossed the park and passed a memorial sitting in the center of a cul-de-sac. The ice covered, dark blue alicorn sat atop its marble pillar, looking down on me as I ran past. To my left, the purple highrise rose promisingly.

At my first opportunity, I charged up an alley that lead north. My intention was to use my two frag grenades and rifle on the pursuing synths when they entered the narrow road. This plan was ruined by what I ran into coming around the corner. I quite literally collided head on with a synth that had been running to intercept me. The synth and I bounced off each other, the sounds of breaking bones, plastics, and metal ringing out. Star was hurled off of my back by the impact and my rifle went flying with her.

I landed in a heap and was a bit slow to recover, little Stars prancing around my vision while I took stock of a broken nose and collarbone. I hefted myself up and looked around. The synth I had run into was unmoving on the ground while another two stood in front of me. One had a fancy beam battle saddle while the other was looking at its fallen comrade with a beam pistol clutched in its mouth.

Without really thinking, I pounced on the battlesaddled synth and smashed its head in with a few strikes from my hooves. My wingblade swept through the other robot and it collapsed with a loud pop and fizzle as I tore something out of its chest. The lack of an intact head, however, didn’t really impair the synth I was on top of as it kicked me off with a buck to the gut.

The headless synth tried to stand but was unable to gain any balance, only succeeding in thrashing around in the snow. I stumbled up onto my hooves, clutching at my abdomen and coughing. Blood was running out of my mouth and nose again. I swayed as the pain from several broken ribs and a thoroughly bruised midsection radiated through me, just generally absorbing how bad I’d gotten at fighting since my prime.

I wasn’t even able to gather what was happening before the synth I had sliced with my wing lifted its head, pistol in jaws, and melted the left half of my face off. It was a lucky miss for me but, I still wailed in agony and reeled. Just to have another synth came out of my peripheral vision and drive its head into the left side of my rib cage, since none of those ribs had been broken yet. I felt my back get thrown out as I landed and my vision went white with pain. I was almost completely incapacitated when I landed in a heap in the snow.

Another synth was quickly on me. It smacked me across the face with its forehoof, ripping off charred skin. I bucked that one in its chest, breaking something and getting it off of me. However, more hooves fell on my battered chest and legs as I tried to drag myself away. Soon the dozen synths that had been chasing me were pounding me into the snow. I was quickly reduced to simply trying to cover my body with my wings and hooves.

I was starting to lose consciousness when there was a whoosh of air, and a shadow passed over me. Most of the synths were knocked away by something that made a mighty crash as it hit the ground a small distance away. The sound of suppressed gunfire followed. I lifted my head and looked where the object had landed and rolled.

A large dumpster sat at the end of a trail of crushed robot pieces, the metal box dented from its journey. Most of the synths had been shattered under the bin but a few struggled back to their hooves just for bullets to tear into them. Turning the other direction revealed my salvation. Star stood with her horn flared as she levitated my carbine.

“You threw that?” I asked weakly and gesturing vaguely in the direction of the dumpster. Star nodded and I started laughing. That damn thing probably weighed a ton; most full grown unicorns couldn’t move something like that. The act of laughing sent pain lancing through my chest and black blots dancing in my vision.

Star didn’t say anything, but worry was etched on her face as she trotted over to me. Her horn flared brighter and a warm tingling sensation filled my chest. Star only seemed to make sure all of my ribs were in their right spots and that I wasn’t bleeding internally before the magic faded. I felt myself get lifted up out of the snow and my carbine’s sling settle around my neck before the glow faded from Star’s horn.

I cried out as my back tried to support weight, my spine messed up to the point that breathing made me sick and the pain was causing my vision to blur. Star was forced to use her magic to hold me upright as we stumbled through several more alleys and to the back of a building that I recognized.

Looking up revealed two shattered windows in the wall of glass, the panes not surviving a cyberpony crashing into them a few hours earlier. We made it. Star picked a back door and I was escorted into a large industrial kitchen. Stainless steel appliances and counters with black and white checker patterned tile on the floor was the flavor of the place.

Star eased me down onto the floor while she slammed the door. She looked over her Pipbuck for a few seconds before I felt the poke of a needle and the pain faded away a little. Star then went off to check the area while I leaned up against the a counter. I pressed my face against the cold metal surface and let the sensation help numb the pain. Even with the drugs, my face stung, my head was throbbing, breathing set my chest on fire, my back ached to the point that motion was pretty much impossible, I felt like I was about to literally puke my guts out, and my computers were feeding a staticy haze of signals into my brain.

No, I wasn’t capable of much more then pressing my face against the nice cool metal for a good five minutes. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to be lounging around right now. I pushed myself off of the counter and turned to look at it. My barding was scorched in a few places but other than that I looked relatively okay, save the half of my face that was missing.

It was a sight that sent a shiver down my spine. The skin on the left side was blistered and peeling off, my coat burned away. The synth’s hoof had slid across my skull and sheared the flesh off from the top of my jaw to the bottom of my eye. The metal socket my cybernetic eye sat in and the white of my skull were exposed in places. That wasn’t what made my skin crawl though.

I could see the black plastic of my gums. Steel, silicon, and copper snaked around my cranium in a fine grid lines looking like a reinforced motherboard printed on the bone. An occasional crystal dotted buses that did Celestia-knows-what. There was more plastic in the wound that served to maintain my face’s shape when it had its normal layers of flesh. The steel, disk shaped actuator at the pivot of my jaw was poking through the skin and flesh as they tried to regenerate.

“Holy fuck,” I mumbled to myself in disbelief and horror. I was torn between being shocked at the damage or what the damage exposed. The whole left side of my face had been rebuilt and I flet another wave of sickness wash over me as the memories set in.

I studied the macabre sight of my own reflection for several more seconds before shuddering and turning away. I looked around the kitchen for Star and was drawn to sounds coming from a walk-in freezer off to one side. “Star?” I whispered.

I didn’t wait long before the door opened wide and the filly walked out levitating a pail of ice cream. I burst out laughing (which hurt like hell) while Star trotted over to me and summoned a pair of spoons to her side. She blushed a little but looked no less pleased with herself as she sad down in front of me and opened her prize.

“Seriously?” I chuckled. “It’s a bit cold out for that isn’t it?”

“Well I’ve only heard about ice cream and strawberries in books,” Star said, showing me the pinkish white contents of the pail and rolling her eyes, “I’m not going to pass up an opportunity like this.”

I tried to laugh more but was just left wheezing as Star levitated me a spoon. “You’ll like it,” I choked out. “Strawberry is my favorite flavor and ice cream is always good.” I gawked a little at the immaculate condition of the frozen treat. “This doesn’t even look a day over expiration. Letting anything like this go to waste would be criminal.”

Star grinned, the filly’s behavior struck me as odd. On one hoof, I expected her to be on the edge of a breakdown from recent events. On the other, the filly I had seen was one tough piece of work and never one to pass up on an opportunity. But eating ice cream in the cold wasn’t very sensible and Star was one of the most sensible ponies I had met in ages.

My worries melted away as Star chipped some ice cream off with her spoon and shoveled her bounty into her mouth. Her eyes went wide and she let out a squeal of pleasure, quickly driving her spoon in for more.

I laughed again and plunged my own spoon in. “Easy with this. Don’t need you getting brain freeze.”

“Mm-hum,” Star grunted around a full mouth, already massaging her forehead.

I helped myself to a bit of the frozen delicacy. The two hundred years had been very kind to some high-class quality ice cream. I let the sweet taste of strawberries and cream cascade over my tongue while the cold numbed my brain.

“Shadow,” I looked back at Star who had stopped gorging herself to look at me, “are you going to be okay?”

“I’ll be fine, Star.” I smiled at her. “Thanks for having my back.”

The filly blushed again and dug her spoon back into the tub. “It was nothing.”

I found myself laughing again. “Nothing? Star, you threw a Celestia damned dumpster with gusto and control, while operating a firearm.” I paused to swallow a spoonful of ice cream. “My younger sister, Ray, was a magical protege. She graduated from Celestia’s School For Gifted Unicorns and was one of Twilight Sparkle’s top researchers in the Ministry of Magic. She wasn’t able to do anything like that at your age.”

I smiled nostalgically. “You have no idea how much trouble I would have caused if Ray had been that powerful when she was a filly. There would have been a wall of wagons and garbage bins in front of the school everyday. Or all of the desks would have wound up on the roof of the building across the street. Or inside the police station”

Star giggled. “You didn’t tell me about her.”

“Ehh, Ray always tried to distance herself from me as she got older. Thought I was a bad influence.”

Another giggle. “She sounded cool,” Star said.

I chuckled, “She was a sourpuss. Mother was always a bit miffed that she didn’t get a daughter with a sun name with me so she tried again. Sunshine was a gloriously ironic for my sister and I always called her ‘my little ray of sunshine’. Soon the whole family was doing it.”

“Who were your other siblings?”

“Well there were my younger brothers, Trade Wind and Beryl; they were both block heads. Angel Cake was my ‘not-a-unicorn buddy’ -since she was the only earth pony in the family- and general accomplice-in-crime. Then there were the twins…” The light faded from my voice and I cast my eyes down at the last two.

Star noticed my fall in attitude. “Were they alright?”

“Yah, they grew up fine from what I heard. I was just never a part of their lives…” I stood up, hissing and groaning in pain but not wavering. “Let’s find somewhere else to wait out the storm, I don’t trust here.” I quickly turned and started trotting through the kitchen.

Star scurried to keep up with me, the tub of ice cream still floating along with her. “What’s wrong with here?” Star asked as she trotted alongside me.

“I don’t want to try and cross Amethyst Avenue in good weather. We need to be on the far side of it by the time this storm hits,” I answered as we trotted through a door and into a dining area.
We went through the restaurant and found ourselves in the lobby of the building. It would have been a gorgeous place in days past. There was a very tasteful use of crystal in a modernistic water feature in the center of the lobby while most of the space was done in marble floors and glass/crystal walls supported by brushed steel. Of course the centuries had led everything in the space to fade: the steel rusted, the glass cracked, and the floors dirty. Everything was coated in a uniform layer of frost, much like the rest of the Empire.

I was just getting to the entrance when Star called out, her voice quiet and ashamed. “Shadow, I’m sorry.”

I stopped and looked back at her. “It’s not your fault. I loved my family but it was a damned mess.” I placed a hoof on her shoulder. “I can deal with that later. Right now we need to be on our A games. OK?” Star nodded and gave me a forced smile. “Good.”

A mountain of shattered glass from the sides of the tower crunched under our hooves as I crept from the entrance and into the street. We were at 53rd St and Amethyst Rd, a couple miles from the Wintergreen Landing’s train station. The two of us had made decent progress in our trek south just to turn around.

I checked the roofs and the streets then darted across with Star on my heels. I was halfway across the street when I thought I spotted movement on one of the roof tops. I continued running for the rubble of the store the Rangers had been in and dove for cover.

“Stay down,” I hissed to Star as she found herself being pushed further into the building while I turned my attention to the roofs. There had been something on one rooftop. I scanned the roof line with my cybernetic eye.

The average pony would never spot the shimmers and most would have struggled to see them if pointed out. Even as a mare who had fought zebras in stealth cloaks more than a few times it was difficult to see but I had no delusions about ‘heat waves’ or ‘tricks of the light’ after zeroing in on my targets.

The invisible observers’ breath was also showing up in the cold and that almost made being invisible pointless. There were two of them standing side by side. They seemed to be talking to each other; one cloud of breath would be slow and steady while the other shot out in broken torrents, then they would exchange roles.

They weren’t using stealth cloaks; the distortion cloaks caused had very defined edges if one could see the apparition. These had blurred out lines like a Stealthbuck but lacked the wavy shimmering that the Pipbuck mounted devices created as their spells constantly refreshed.

I won’t say that I could read their lips or anything, and body language is pretty hard when there’s no body to look at. However, I was able to look at the breath clouds, the distortions, their orientations, and any changes to extract some meaning out of the discussion our shadows were having.

The one on the left did most of the taking, a constant stream of steam shooting forth as they whispered their companion’s ear off. The stream and distortion shifted up and down and left to right; they were uneasy in their babble. The one to the right just breathed calmly, occasionally interrupting Lefty’s commentary. I got the feeling Righty was the leader and that she and I were analyzing each other. I could almost feel the scrutinizing glare her invisible eyes shot at me.
Righty was probably thinking about how to react to the pony that could see through invisibility spells. I found myself reflecting on the situation too; I hadn’t seen these two when I was running across the road. No matter how perceptive I could be (and I did have my moments), I wasn’t going to claim to have spotted two cloaked creatures looking down from the roof of a four story building while going at a full sprint. Something else up there had caught my attention.

Several minutes passed as the two blurs and I stared each other down. Lefty’s chatter ended as she just accepted that Righty was going to let me make the first move. I just laid there like a corpse, putting years of experience as a sniper to good use and wondering who I was facing off with.

Our long distance stare down was ended when a head popped up behind the two invisible ponies. A purple unicorn looked around for the thing that her companions were observing. She looked like a big filly, her eyes full of curiosity and her mouth a bit agape as she searched for me.

The purple unicorn jumped a little as Lefty turned around and said something loud enough that I could hear a little echo. Purple looked at Lefty and her mouth formed one word: ‘Why.’ Righty turned and told Purple something and a horrified expression spread across the unicorn’s face before she ducked back down.

I smiled, it was an understandable reaction to being told some mystery pony was pointing a gun at you. Lefty started shifting again and her breathing had quickened but Righty was back to calmly observing me in an instant.

Well, she was either waiting for me to lose interest and scurry off or to make some sort of move.

“What are you looking at?” Star whispered from the rubble behind me.

“There’s a pair of cloaked ponies standing on the roof across the street,” I answered, not taking my eyes off the duo.

“What do you mean cloaked ponies on the roof? Like invisible?”

“Yeah.”

“Huh, I wonder what the alicorns are doing this far south,” the filly muzed.

“The alicorns can turn invisible?” I asked.

“Some of them can, yeah.”

“You said they were friendly, right?”

“They’re more kinda semi-friendly,” came the answer, “friendly by Wasteland standards.”

Well, they hadn’t flown off, so they were interested in us and they hadn’t attacked so they probably weren’t interested in killing us. This was a good opportunity to let these ponies know that we weren’t enemies at the very least. I lowered my carbine, got to my hooves, and took a step out with a neutral expression. I stood in the building storm and waved a hoof to the alicorns.

Purple poked her head back up over the wall. Righty then revealed herself to me and Lefty followed suit soon after. The three alicorns and I stood, staring into each other’s eyes. I heard hooves behind me as Star moved to my side.

Several seconds pasted with nothing moving other than what the wind stirred up. Lefty was a pretty cyan color with a pink and light blue mane that looked like cotton candy. She looked tense; ready to flee or fight at the drop of a pin. Righty, however, looked the role of group leader; she was a dark midnight blue with a wavy, silvery blue mane and a set of piercing amber eyes. The mare stood with her head held high and body in a calm, collected stance that was just intimidating enough to not invite challenge.

I was just starting to question the wisdom of my decision when Righty lifted her hoof and waved back. I smiled as she lowered it before turning around. Purple gave an exuberant wave before following after her. Lefty fingered through, her eyes locked on me for a spell before she nodded curtly and was off. I turned around and walked away, Star following after.

“What was that?” Star asked me as we reentered the ruined building.

“Big Blue and I were just feeling each other out.” I answered. “Luckily for us, she wasn’t looking for a fight either.”

“But how did you see them? Those two blue alicorns were invisible!”

“I saw the purple one peaking out at us. After I got an idea where they were, I spotted the other two’s breath and the visual distortion from their invisibility spells.”

“Whoa, so you can see through invisibility spells?” Star asked, her awed tone making me blush a little under my black coat. “That is amazing!”

“Shh, no need to stroke my ego. Invisibility magic has its limits,” I said. “Let’s get moving, we’ve lost time.”

“Why can’t we stop here? It’s on the far side of the road.” Star stopped and looked around what had once been the main floor of a department store. Clothes, perfume, technology, jewelry, and all other manner of consumables sprawled around us in a uniform state of decay. The back half of the store was blocked off by a collapse and the storefront was pummeled rubble. “I’m sure we could find a janitor’s closet or something to spend the night in.”

“No, we need to move on,” I answered firmly, “it's not safe here with the synths.”

“I don’t even see any signs of synths, Shadow,” Star shot back. That’s exactly what’s putting me on edge, the ground should be scattered in synth parts. “Besides,” she continued, “if we go deep enough into the store I doubt they would find us.”

I huffed, “We are going to move on. There’s only one way in and out of here and I don’t want to get cornered while we sleep. Come on,” I turned and started walking back to the front. I wasn’t going to end up trapped in here like the Rangers.

“Fine,” Star pouted, following after me.

I crept up to the edge of the building, checking the roofs and streets. I froze as a hacking sound echoed around the buildings. “What’s that?” Star asked behind me.

“Nothing. We need to get moving.” I started to trot away from where I had heard the cough. I didn’t get far before another echoed across the followed by the much more distinct sound of a weak voice crying out.

“Help!” The call was followed by another cough and then the pony started crying.

Star froze in her tracks and looked back toward the intersection. “Star, ignore it. It’s a trap,” I said to the filly but had already started away. “Stop, you can’t go back there.”

“Somepony needs help, Shadow,” Star said as she bolted off.

Damn us ponies and our bleeding hearts. “Star, leave them alone!”

“I’m not going to leave somepony to die out here, Shadow. I’m not some callous monster.”

I stopped in my tracks. Callous as I may be, that statement still hurt. I could only stare after the filly as tears burned in my eyes.

“Eep!” Star let out a choked gasp.

“Starprancer!” I jolted toward the filly. She was staring down at a heap of bloody steel; tears running down her face. A green mare in Steel Ranger armor looked up at Star with a mix of hope and disbelief.

How the fuck did she survive a .50 cal to the chest? I mentally swore.

Before I could get too close though, the mare’s hope melted to fear as Star’s face was twisted with pure rage and anguish. She grit her teeth and growled, her horn burst to life and the Ranger was dragged into the air. The armored pony screamed out in fear and pain as the air filled with the smell of burning hair. Star’s eyes glowed white, the snow around her flashed away in a cloud of steam, rubble and trash started to float around the white and red demon.

Small bolts of lightning lanced off of Star and into the ground and buildings around her. The Ranger’s screaming only intensified as her limbs were jerked around in Star’s magical grip. The mare’s wailing was cut off when Star’s magic focused around her throat and she was driven into the ground. I could smell ozone as energy built on Star’s horn.

I started running toward my charge as she reared up onto her rear hooves, energy racing across her body, for the death blow. The energy surrounding the unicorn burned me as I got near; screaming “STAR, STOP!” was all I could contribute.

Star lifted up into the air, the air crackling with energy and her looking down on her victim like a spiteful god. The mare could only look up in terror as tears ran down her face. Her limbs weighted down in the dead power armor and her throat locked in a magical clamp. Everything sat still for but a second as Star’s gaze burned into the Steel Ranger. Then, she pulled her head back her magic focusing into a sphere, before the surge shot forward.

The entire intersection was bathed in light bright white light; a brutal concussion blasting outward. Ozone burned my throat and nostrils, my face and barding were scorched; the air filled with dust and ash. I was beaten into the dirt by the blast and rose dazed.

Blood started running from my mouth and nose again. My brain throbbed against my skull. My computers had been scrambled by the magical energy. I could move my body erratically and a haze of signals was bouncing around in my dazed mind. Something wasn’t working right though, my vision was darkening and I felt the burning of suffocation in my muscles despite breathing freely. I staggered, growing light headed from lack of oxygen. Still, despite my pain and the primal panic welling up in me, there was only one thing I was thinking about.

Starprancer!