• 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 6: Grape Vine

Chapter 6: Grape Vine

I jerked awake with gunfire and screaming ringing in my ears. My eyes quickly darted around as I tried to find the ghosts that rapidly faded from my memory, leaving only the soft hum of a spark generator, the quiet breathing of a filly, and the slightly panicked breathing of another mare.

The generator room we had taken refuge in was quite small. It only consisted of the spark generator against one wall, a door across from it, and enough space to provide access around the generator and open the door. It was quite the cozy space and the generator threw off enough heat to keep the cold at bay as it pumped electricity into the surrounding building.

The size made our current occupation of the room rather awkward since there was a Steel Ranger sitting less than a meter away from me and the filly that had tried to kill her. The mare looked at me like a beaten dog: jamming herself into a corner, ducking her head low to the ground, shaking like a leaf, and staring at me like I was death itself.

Of course, I looked like Death herself and was doing my best icy, aloof glare. My head slightly tilted back and my face bearing a neutral frown while my eyes all but burned holes through the mare.

Grape Vine sat there in abject terror, her wide hazel eyes quickly darting between the floor in front of me and the door. The mare jerked and covered her head when I shifted and stood up, pressing her whole body into the floor like she wanted to sink through it. I paid her no mind as I arched my back and neck, trying to stretch the stiffness out of my spine.

I left the green mare to her shivering and instead turned to a pile of blankets next to me. Pulling the layers of fabric aside revealed a filly. Star didn’t respond as I uncovered her, simply laying there and breathing softly. I laid my hoof across her forehead and then rested it against her jugular, checking her temperature and pulse, which were booth fine. I next focused my attention on her horn. It was scorched black at the end but didn’t show any cracks or surface imperfections and was still solid in its socket; which was fantastic.

It was expected for a developing unicorn to have a few magical flare ups as they grew up but the flares could seriously damage a body that wasn’t ready for them. My sister, Glimmer, had never really recovered from a particularly bad flare that cracked her horn while growing up. She had spent a week in crippling pain, and then had only really been able to do basic spells while suffering from migraines for the rest of her life.

Of course, Glimmer was a particularly bad example of flare gone wrong. I didn’t really know what to expect from Starprancer, she had discharged a frankly terrifying amount of energy in a stunningly controlled fashion. A building had been pretty much leveled by the filly but the mare that had triggered her was fine aside from a bruised neck and a singed coat. Star herself seemed mostly fine, aside from the loss of consciousness.

The whole thing was honestly kind of beyond believing and I was hoping Star would pull off another mind blowing feat by waking up unharmed in a few hours. I didn’t really have any ideas of what to do if that didn’t happen. The most I had learned about treating magical ailments was to get the unicorn to a doctor and be quiet while they waved a horn over them or whipped up some sort of potion.

I stroked Star’s mane and smiled bitterly. I have faith in you.

Finally, I turned to the Steel Ranger eyeing me up. She wore the simple orange and black jumpsuit expected of a power armor pilot. She had a surprisingly nice Pipbuck on her left wrist and a goofy looking pilot’s hat pulled over her ears.

It was hardly a stealthy get up yet Grape Vine seemed to be under the impression that she was sneaking away. Her breathing was still hurried but it had taken on a hushed tone, trying to suppress her panting so I wouldn’t notice she was slowly inching toward the door. Apparently, I can’t hear on top of lacking peripheral vision.

Her eyes darted between me and her goal rapidly. When I looked over to her again, she jumped a little, her eyes quickly going to the floor in front of me while once again pressing herself into the wall.

I sat up to my full height and looked down on the green mare. “Just stand up and leave,” I said with a roll of my eyes.

She jumped like a child caught with a hoof in the cookie jar at being addressed and looked at me with utter confusion once I finished my declaration. It seemed that every time my statement echoed through her head she got more confused. It didn’t look like a matter of not believing what I said, but more not believing I could say such a thing. As if me telling her to simply go away was an impossibility to her.

“What?” she finally asked, her internal processes failing to provide an answer.

I looked at her with a slight sneer. “I really don’t need to get shanked in your daring escape attempt or something. Just go.”

The mare blinked blankly at me. “But you… Aren’t you going...but… What?”

“What are you not getting? Take your luck and get moving before I shoot you,” I snapped.

Grape jumped again, but then just fell back on her rump and sat there dumbfoundedly staring at my chest. She seemed broken by the turn of events, having no idea how to respond. I stooped my head so my eyes were level with hers and she instantly averted to the generator.

Her mouth soundlessly opened and closed a few times, her hoof absent-mindedly rubbing over the .50 caliber hole in her barding, before she finally spoke brokenly. “W-why?” The mare dared a look at me. “Why did you save me? How am I alive?”

“I didn’t save you. I assumed you were dead and was going to leave you to freeze. It’s luck that none of your organs got scrambled, your suit pumping you full of drugs, and her” –I jerked my head toward Star– “that saved your sorry ass.”

Grape’s eyes darted to Star for the first time and a look of sheer terror spread across her face. “Sh-she was the… How did she do that? What happened? Who is she that she could do that? She lifted me in full armor and…” Another look of panic passed across her face as she pressed a hoof to a chest that only bore the light barding worn under power armor. “What happened to my suit?” she exclaimed.

“It’s shot.” I told her, settling back against the wall on a blanket. “That spark granade did a number on the spell matrix and whole chest section is all kinds of fucked. The breast actuator assembly ate most of that fifty cal. Saved your life, really”

A look of abject loss spread across her face. “My baby was ruined? Where is he? I can fix him, I know it.”

“It’s sitting in the snow where you were, three blocks west and one south of here.” I stood and stretched again. “I don’t know how much there is to fix though, I had to rip the damn thing off of you.”

“You ripped my armor apart?!” The mare looked like she could have fainted.

“I could have just left you out there,” I snapped.

Grape Vine blinked and for the first time she looked at me in the eye. She once again worked her mouth soundlessly for a second, working up the courage to finally ask: “W-why did you get me out of my armor and drag me here? You could have left me and lost nothing. It wasn’t the filly or luck that did that.”

“Because it was the right thing to do! Now, stop looking at me like I’m some fucking saint,” I barked and she flinched again. “I’m cold and calloused,” I looked down at Star’s slumbering form, “but I’m not a monster.”

Grape nodded but didn’t say anything else. We sat in silence for several seconds before the other mare spoke again. “What happens now?”

I looked up to her and quirked an eyebrow.

“Please, I’m all alone up here. I won’t survive an hour on my own before that mare and her robots hunt me down. Even if she doesn’t get me, I’ll freeze and starve!” She started shaking a little and gave me a set of puppy dog eyes that came close to rivaling Starprancer. “Please? It’ll be safer with more numbers.”

I gave the mare a cold hard stare again.”You’re asking a lot from someone you already owe your life to. I was doing just fine with Starprancer, I really don’t want to take on a third wheel.” I leaned back and brought a hoof to my chin, sizing up Grape Vine. Having her luck around would probably be really helpful and I could use someone to keep me company.“You know how to fight?”

“I can shoot and did okay on my squad drills, I guess.”

“You guess?” I needled.

“I’m a technician, okay. I was never supposed to be a Knight. I worked on the power armor inside base and other ponies used it outside.” Her eyes lit up as an idea passed through her head. “I could help you with your augments! Keep you tuned up and working smoothly. Fix anything you need.”

Just my luck to get a wrench jockey instead of someone who could cover my six. I didn’t even know how useful a mechanic would be to me.

Earlier generations of cyborgs had extremely intensive maintenance requirements but my model generation had been designed explicitly to reduce that need. However, over-relying on healing and repair talismans would still prove disastrous for me. They were more than capable of staying ahead of any wear and tear, and patching severe damage when the need arose. But they were only patches and my augments would probably be in need of some TLC if I wanted to keep them running smoothly.

“Okay,” I said evenly, “some base rules: you turn on me I turn on you. If you’re going to stab me in my sleep make sure I die because I’m going to skin you alive the soonest chance I get.” Grape’s dark green face grew lime colored and she nodded violently. “No mentioning Wintermail or any of what’s been going on in front of her.” I pointed to Star. “Not a single word. I don’t need her getting killed on some quest for vengeance.” Grape nodded. “Look me in the eyes and commit to memory: ‘I will listen to the grouchy, old soldier mare when she tells me to do shit, she knows better,’ got it?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Good.” I shifted and stood up. “Come on, let’s see how well you can fight, do a bit of scavenging.” I walked to the generator room door and opened it. “You first.” Grape quickly slipped out and I followed, closing the door again. We emerged into the much colder main basement which served as storage. Grape instantly started shivering as she followed me over to one of the shelves.

I looked at the green pony again. She was a rail of a mare under her barding, a rather average sized frame with barely any meat attached. “You’re a what? A small, with a size seven shoulder?”

“I guess?”

Of course, she doesn’t know what her jacket size is. I pulled a large box off the shelf and opened it revealing heavy firefighters’ jackets. I dug around until I found one that would fit Grape decently and tossed it to her, followed by a matching set of pants, a beanie, and a set of saddlebags.

“Um, I’m not going to get set on fire am I?” Grape asked as she sat with her front hooves full of gear.

“Probably not,” I said. “That should protect you against the cold though and I can guarantee there’ll be no shortage of that.”

I turned away from the shelves of uniforms and fireproof jackets and headed for the door leading upstairs. As we ascended the stairs to a small utility room the opened into the large garage for firetrucks and wagons. The massive doors at each end of the room were open and the brutally cold wind blew through uninhibited, the space empty for a single fire engine. The truck had most of its engine spread beside it, apparently in the middle of repairs at the end.

Grape adjusted her jacket collar and put up a hoof to guard against the cold as I moved along one wall to the side of the sole vehicle. I ducked my head under the bright red machine and pulled out the curved steel plate that used to make up the back of Grape’s power armor. Piled on top was some salvage I hadn’t bothered sticking in my saddlebags.

“My tools!” Grape gleefully exclaimed and threw herself at the stuff, digging through the assorted wrenches and gadgets, stuffing them away in her bags.

“Grab what you want,” I said, glancing between the doors at each side to make sure we were unobserved. I ducked my head under again and pulled out a synth’s dual beam rifle battlesaddle, “grab that, and make it fast, my stubs are starting to ache.” Damn cold.

The mare quickly packed her things into her bags and slipped under the saddle, hefting herself back to her hooves with it across her back. I lead her across the bays to another door. The remainder of the fire station’s first floor was a reception area and several offices. We looked through them but didn’t really find anything of value aside from a few cartons of cigarettes,bits, and more magically valuable bottle caps.

Next, we ascended another set of stairs to the firefighter’s living quarters. The stairs opened into a large communal living space. A kitchen ran along the wall to the right with a dining table in one corner and the rest of the space filled with tables and couches. Grape went off and scavenged through the dorms and other rooms while I walked around the living room, finding myself another pack of cigarettes.

Oh, it’s been too long sweet poison. Part of me knew smoking a 200 year old cigarette was a bad idea, but smoking in general was a bad idea. Fuck it. I’m two hundred years old and missing half my body, if cancer or carbon monoxide poisoning manage to get me, it was meant to be. And Celestia damn it, I need a me moment.

I sat down on one of the couches and lit up with Star’s lighter, which I kinda stole. The familiar motions had a wonderfully calming effect on me. The burn in my lungs was gone but there was still a little tingle in my veins as I sighed out a large cloud and sank into the rotted old upholstery. My eyes closed, the familiar rancid smell smothering me, the saggy old sofa cradling me; I could have been anywhere, anywhen.

“Are you okay?”

I was dragged back to the present and looked at the green mare staring at me.

“Sorry,” she said scuffing a hoof on the floor, “you just had this weird look on your face.”

I sighed out a last breath of smoke and put my cigarette in an ashtray on a coffee table in front of my sofa. I stood and moved to a relatively open space in the middle of the room. “Come here,” I told Grape.

“O-okay…” She compiled and awkwardly stood in front of me, shaking ever so slightly.

She really think I’m just going to beat her or something? For interrupting a smoke? Hopefully I haven’t gotten to that point.

“I was going to put that battlesaddle to use myself but the harness is too small and I don’t feel like modifying it,” I said. “Besides, without a gun you’re only useful strapped to my chest as body armor or stuck in a bright red catsuit as a distraction.”

“I would rather not be bodyarmor or bait,” Grape mumbled.

“You’re too thin to be useful as a meatshield anyway.” She fumed a little at that. “You know how to operate a laser rifle?” She nodded, a confident smirk spreading across her face. “Good, the saddle’s unloaded so I want you to put it on properly and adjust it to fit. Then get in a combat stance.”

Grape lifted the assembly once again onto her back, this time settling it properly, and tightening the collar and the belt. She brought up the trigger bit and turned to me to show off her good work.

“DON’T POINT IT AT ME!” I yelled at her. Grape quickly jumped and pointed her rifles away. “First rule! The first fucking rule: don’t point a gun at something you don’t want to destroy! EVER!” I berated. “How do you not already know that?”

“I’m sorry, ma’am.”

“Damn right you are!” I walked around behind her checking the saddle’s alignment and her stance.

After doing a circle, I walked up next to her and took a combat stance. “Your center of balance is going to be directly beneath your belly button, about halfway to the floor. Where each of your legs attaches to your body is a main point of articulation. Your hooves need to be on the opposite side of the point of articulation from your center of gravity, that’ll give you good stability to shoot from.”

I demonstrated by setting my hooves out a little bit but still keeping them mostly under me. Grape, however, spread her hooves out about as far as they could go without her falling on her chest. I rolled my eyes, “Not that far, you’re not stable like that. You still need your legs under you.” She pulled them in a little bit but I still had to move over and push them in further. “Like that.

“Now, you’re using a battlesaddle so you’ll also need to stay mobile.”

“How am I supposed to be stable and mobile at the same time?”

“By not being a dunce that can only think in extremes. You want to be poised and ready to strike not flop on the ground in defeat. You gotta keep your legs spread but under you so you’re balanced.” I once again demonstrated my stance with my legs only slightly spread. She copied the hoof placement. “Better, keep doing it and you’ll start to find the balance.

“Next, you want to unlock your knees. Your legs will go numb if you don’t and you’ll be able to shift from planted to moving quickly.” My knees didn’t lock like an organic set would but I approximated moving them out of the locked position. “Keep your weight on the center of your hooves. That’s your basic combat stance. You’ve got flexibility like this. You can lock your knees or crouch down to plant yourself, or-” I let my front knees continue to fold and started to fall forward before taking a step forward into a trot. “-you can easily move. Forward, back, to the sides, just shift your weight and drop into a trot, a run, a roll, or just dive for the ground.”

I turned to Grape. “Get into your stance.” She moved to the basic stance and I adjusted her just a little. “Keep your back legs out,” I tapped her rear legs back and pushed her rump down, “trying to show the other guy your cutie mark isn’t a good idea if you don’t want to fall on your face or get shot in the ass.

“Now, start forward.” The mare eased her weight forward and let her knees start to fold before taking a step into a trot. She took a few steps before coming to a stop, standing up straight and looking back at me.

“In your stance!” I snapped. She jumped and dropped haphazardly into a ready position. “Always return to your stance, get to the point where you do it all the time. If I want you to stand there and be smug about something I’ll tell you. If not, assume you should probably be at the ready until we’re out of this hellhole. Now, to the left.”

Grape shifted to the left and shuffled to the side before coming to rest in her stance. “Better. Now, a few steps back, turn ninety degrees to the right and plant your hooves so you’re ready to fire,” I told her as I moved around a coffee table.

I watched the mare as she backtracked and then jumped to her right, almost falling over before she slipped into a mostly planted shooting stance. “Not too bad. Do it again,” I said as I climbed up onto my couch and flopped down, picking up my cigarette and looking across the pile of ancient magazines on the coffee table.

A Vague magazine and a few other tabloids, pass. Guns and Bullets? Intriguing choice for firefighters but those kinds of magazines had devolved into weird gun porn. A few newspapers with headlines about a Zebra terror cell in the city and how the populace needed to help in capturing it. Meh, Image always cut all of the interesting parts out of news articles and passed out the same Ministries good, zebras and dissenters bad BS every time, pass. A fucking copy of the Imperial Firefighters’ glamor calendar?! Don’t mind if I do!

“Umm, what are you doing?” Grape asked, frowning at me as I lounged across the crusty upholstery like an enormous black house cat.

“My drill instructor made me do this for six hours straight in the rain between fifteen mile hikes and fifty mile flights, I don’t need the practice. You on the other hoof…” I let my eyes move down to Grape’s left rear hoof which she had positioned too far out. It forced her muscles to support too much of her weight and they were rapidly growing fatigued, the whole leg starting to quiver. “Ready stance,” I snapped settling into my seat. “Right, front, right; and stay on your toes.”

The mare grumbled. “Now, damn it!” I snapped at her.

“You truly are pathetic.”

I shook my head, expressing as much disappointment as I could for the mare collapsed on the floor. She had shed her thick fire jacket and now laid in her orange and black fatigues, steam rolling off of her body as she panted deeply.

“No more,” she gasped. “You’re a mad mare.”

“And fucking dramatic too.” I rolled my eyes, going back to December’s team of muscular stallions hitched to a large sleigh loaded with toys; a petite, attractive Santa Mare at the reigns. “You were going for twenty minutes. And you were actually improving, but no, you gave into your inner little bitch.”

“I’ll listen to the inter little bitch over the outer big one,” she shot back. I smirked at that one a little. “I’m not going to fucking jump around like a fucking performing animal for some cruel, crazy, old hag.”

“Watch who you’re calling hag,” I warned.

Grape grumbled unintelligibly as she hoisted herself to her hooves and walked over to the large refrigerator. Opening it and rummaging around rewarded the mare with a Sparkle Cola.

She turned around and started walking over to a plush recliner. “Wait a second, if you’re not going to be a good soldier, you can at least be a good tech.” I pulled the zips of my barding and flight suit down and pulled out the leg that a crystal ghoul had chomped on. The shell looked intact, only some slight rippling to the otherwise smooth surface to indicate where it had gotten crushed. “It’s starting to feel a bit crunchy in the ankle.”

The mare’s sour attitude disappeared in an instant, like my outstretched hoof had reached down as an invitation from heaven. She scurried over to me and sat down on the floor, stars in her eyes, the now forgotten bottle of soda still in her mouth. I retractacted my hoof a little and eyed her. “You’re not going to make this weird are you?”

“N-oww,” Grape mumbled around the bottle in her mouth. Her ears flipped back and she turned around to put the Cola on the coffee table. “No, I’m just excited to work on something as cool as you. How many other times am I going to get the chance to work on a super advanced cybernetics?”

“Fine,” I said, moving my hoof back out to her. “But don’t call me thing.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Grape caressed my hoof in her own and turned it over. “Are you holding this up?”


”It’s lighter than I expected,” she mused. “Now, where do I start?”

“You see that screw in the crook of my knee?” I asked, turning my hoof over.

“Yeah,” she nodded, reaching for a screwdriver from her pack.

“Pull that out. I don’t have my PIP interface on this leg so all you’re going to need to do is push the shell up my leg, toward my chest.”

The mare followed my instructions, pushing the gray shell away from herself. As she pushed up, something fell out of my leg with a coin-like clang on the floor followed by my foot falling off.

“Oh fuck!” the mare squeaked, freezing with a look of pure anguish on her face.

“You’re okay, I probably should have warned you about that,” I admitted. “Pull the shell off and make sure to find where that C-clip and my foot fell.”

Grape nodded. With my foot off, the carbon fiber shell of of my fetlock easily slipped off the end of my leg revealing the robotics underneath. Where my augment’s shells were sleek and clean, following the lines of my own body, the actual mechanics they covered reflected the bulky nature of most technology from my time. Sets of pistons linked the mounting plate for my foot to the titanium fetlock “bones” and then up further to the still covered joint of my wrist. Among them was a small electro hydraulic pump and pressure control unit, providing the power for my lower leg’s motion.

“So the next piece, you’ll see another screw just above the first one on the inside of the shell.”

“Yeah, I see it,” Grape mumbled around her screwdriver starting to work on her next task. The second section of shell was made up of two pieces, one wrapped most of the way around my leg, leaving only the back third to be covered by the second piece. Grape didn’t even need my instruction after she removed the screw, tilting the panel and lifting it out of the indent it sank into below my next joint. Removing the backplate freed the front section which slipped off easily.

“Do you want to take the last set off?” the techie asked me, rubbing along the last set of shells covering the short length of my upper leg that stuck out past my body’s hide.

“Nah, that top set won’t come off without a knife and won't go back on without suture.”

“This goes up under your skin?” Grape asked moving her hoof up and across my shoulder. She quickly found a large piston that articulated my leg and rubbed her hoof over it, rolling my skin between her and the steel beneath. She followed the up to my shoulder blade where she could feel muscles and metal intermingling, “How much of this is you?”

“It’s all me,” I told her.

“But you were a normal pony before you were like this, right?” she asked, confused by my somber response. “You weren’t born a cyberpony.”

“No, I certainly wasn’t born like this,” I said quietly, rather shocked that she would even consider I had been born like this. “I-I was a mutilated cripple rotting in an asylum, a broken old soldier waiting for her body and stubbornness to realize her time was over.” I shuddered at the memory, my eyes burning and my chest tightening. That cold death-like grip of defeat and despair closing around my core

“But one day, an old friend offered me a place in the Cyberbolt program.” I smiled remembering that friend’s cocky smile. ”I remember she told me that I would walk again, that I would fly again, and that it would be me doing it. She was just going to help.”

I looked Grape in the eyes. “Thinking about it as you and not you, that’ll fuck you up. This… this was my rebirth. A second chance to walk this earth and to fly these skies. Of course my second life is going to be different, I’ll never be the little foal I once was again. Denying that… it would make my gift pointless.”

Grape looked at me speechless for a second, before nodding, a bittersweet smile on her. “I can admire that. Thank you.”

“Ehh, it was nothing. What’s the story of some haggered old mare worth anyway?” I swallowed back a knot in my chest before looking down at her leg. “Now, get your hoof off of my shoulder and back to that knee,” I reminded her, pulling myself back from the brink of another emotional breakdown.

She nodded and went back to the actuators at my knee, moving it around a little as she got a sense for the hardware. “You know, I was expecting synthetic muscle fibers or electro-archaic hyperactive motion drivers or something under here,” she said.

“I’m sorry to disappoint you,” I quipped.

“I’ll admit, it would have been cool to see some ultra advanced magictec weirdness but it’s much nicer to actually know what I’m looking at. This looks just like a power armor frame.” She cradled my fetlock joint, examining the two motors on each side with their attached pumps. “These are the same electrohydraulic actuator assemblies as T-60 armor.” She looked over the pair of pistons that rotated the leg from left to right. “Actually, this whole joint looks exactly like a T-60’s knee, there’s just no room for a leg between the two sides. The fetlock and hoof articulation is off of T-51 armor but the linkages’ geometry is modified. And then the upper leg and wiring harness looks almost like Enclave armor.”

“You know your tech.” I nodded to her.

She smiled. “What’s this tubing though?” She looked at two hard lines that ran from the end of my hoof up into my body, connecting to the joints and actuators as it went along. “Wait, are those oil lines? You’ve got one of those oil cooling/lubrication loops, like on the early versions of the T-60, before they switched to sealed joints and water jackets for cooling.”

“I knew they switched to sealed bearings, the grease fittings on the T-36, T-40 series, and the T-51 armor were disasters,” I said. “Well, everything on the T-36 was a disaster. But I wasn’t aware they switched to water cooling the actuators on the later stuff, I thought dedicated cooling on the joints and actuators was pointless.”

“I think it was a retrofit they did after it worked out really well with the T-64,” Grape answered, as she started working my leg back and forth and listening to the actuators work through.

“I’m not familiar with the T-64.”

“It was a post-war design, I think. Improved T-60 armor the Steel Rangers made themselves.”

“The blockheads managed to make anything new?” I muzed. “Color me surprised.”

She shrugged and seemed to zero in on something in one of the actuators, leaning her head in close. “Why do your augments use power armor parts?”

“Why not?” I shrugged a little. “The MAw used what they could off the shelf so they could focus on making the complicated stuff better. I’m a generation five Cyberbolt, and if I’m honest, a generation four might be able to take me in a fight. They were a tiny bit stronger and faster because they used all custom mechanics.”

“So, why the change?” Grape turned away from me to grab a screwdriver and a wrench.

“Confidentiality for one. It’s hard to keep your operation secret when you have to order drop forged titanium skeletal components, but also needing to call someone about custom servo motors or a 50,000 Bit set of bolts? Stuff like that is near impossible to hide. That also ties into supply: it was just easier to use stuff that you could pull off of a shelf, even if you needed to tune and modify it to suit a different purpose.” I shifted around in the seat. “Us gen fives were really designed to just be easier to deal with, far less maintenance and cost, much better cybernetic equilibrium with only a slight loss of overall performance.”

“What’s cybernetic equilibrium?” Grape asked, sitting back from my leg and looking at me.

“It’s... a complicated concept,” I admitted, “but it boils down to the harmony within and between the organic and inorganic self.”

“That doesn’t sound too complicated.”

“It doesn’t sound too complicated like that, but in practice it's getting engineering, programing, mechanics, medicine, biology, psychology, sociology, and more to balance out in one closed, unique system that operates within much larger systems. There were ponies that were building careers off of it.”

“Sounds like it would be a cool thing to study,” Grape said. “But I wouldn’t have a clue how to deal with the fact that what I was working on would be trying to make idle chat.”

“You seem to be doing fine,” I told her. Just quit calling me what and thing.

“I’m not getting anything done,” she mewled, leaning down and pushing her face against my leg. “And I don’t even know if I’m going to be able to do anything for this. This inside actuator is making some weird sounds and I can’t think of anything that would be that wrong that I could fix. It’s not like I could open it up, machine the motor gears back smooth, and whip out a new set of seals for the pump’s cylinder. Best I could do is crack the hydraulic loop open and flush it out, get rid of any metal files in there.”

“If that’s what you can do, then do it,” I said, reaching into my saddlebags. “I’ve got a bottle of hydraulic fluid that should work. At least that should keep anything else in there from getting fouled up.”

Grape Vine nodded, accepted my bottle, and turned to her bag, extracting a few tools. She quickly had my fluid reservoir opened and a deep frown on her face.

“This is empty,” she declared. “How have you even been using it with no…” her voice trailed off and she heaved an exasperated sighed, looking me in the eyes. “Make the power armor part of the pony and they still neglect and abuse the fuck out if it.”

She shook her head and returned to her work before I could respond, a sour look on her face. I decided to just let the mare work, trying to explain yourself to a tech of any sort always just made them madder in my experience. I laid my head back down and looked across the discarded firefighters’ calendar.

They’re all dead…

The idea floated through my head and while obvious, it hadn’t really thought about it when I was looking through it earlier. I had just been looking at a bunch of young, attractive ponies objectifying themselves. It hadn’t really past my mind that calendar was probably all that remained of them. Their families and friends were gone, the only remains of the society they had served were the skeletal buildings it had inhabited.

Damn, annoying ass, random, depressive thoughts.

I looked around the space once again, this time looking for leftovers from the station’s inhabitants rather than ghouls or synths. The place was dusty and frozen but under that, everything seemed to be well kept. There were no dirty dishes in the sink, their trashcan wasn’t overflowing, and there was no clothes or other clutter scattered across the floor. There was an air hockey table in one corner with the puck and strikers on top of it. The tables were clear save for a single glass with a bright green swirly straw that was sitting on the table I had gotten the calendar off of, next to the pile of magazines.

The remains of the glass’s contents were a frozen moldy sludge but looking at it, I could almost imagine it was full of orange juice or soda. I would have had a tabloid open to some scandal about Fluttershy’s tail extensions, Rarity stealing fashion designs, or Twilight Sparkle and Luna’s secret love affair. Calmly levitating over my glass as I idly flipped the page. In the background a few of my coworkers would be having a hockey tournament. The air maybe filled with the sound of the radio or loud workout music drifting out of the weight room.

Then an alarm would ring out. We would all rush for our gear and down the firepole to the engines. We would race off into help an increasingly panicked populace with soldiers and police at our side. Too busy to think about how we had been betrayed. Knowing that we probably wouldn’t make it back to the station again. Probably should have finished my drink...

“Are you okay?”

The voice cut through my daze like a knife and I jerked back to Grape Vine working on my leg. She had a wrench in her mouth, for a second I wondered whether she had yet to start until I spotted the emptied bottle of fluid on the table behind her with an oily coffee filter and glass of dirty amber liquid.

“I’m fine,” I tried to recover, “just thinking.”

“Okay,” Grape said, looking at me sideways as she went back to my leg. “Give that a whirl.”

I lifted my leg and gave the limb a few flexes. The crunchy, unevenness that had been in the damaged actuator’s travel was still present but it was much better. The whine in the pump was gone and the leg seemed to respond better overall.

“I think that was the problem you were having.” Grape turned around and lifted the coffee filter to show the metallic grit she had extracted. “Your talismans should at least be able to fix up any internal damage now that all that’s out.

“At least I think they will. Don’t really know what your repair talismans are doing. You don’t have an access port, do you? I always like running system checks, there’s no point of fixing the mechanical stuff if the computers are all fucked up.” She pulled the connection jack out of her Pipbuck. “This thing shreds through diagnostics on pretty much every suit of power armor I’ve ever hooked it up to. I wonder how it’ll do with something as advanced as you.”

“Just take it easy,” I warned. “You’re not hooking some virus-riddled piece of junk up to me, especially when you don’t even know what you’re trying to do.”

Grape gasped and held the oversized wrist watch to her chest. “I take very good care of this thing. It’s never been near any kind of viruses, the Steel Rangers maintain our software just as well as we do our hardware. As for you, well, I might not know what I’m doing but taking a look couldn’t hurt anything.”

“Yes, it could. I don’t need you tripping some security feature and locking me up. And I don’t need you snooping around my stuff. I’ve got the grind out of my leg and we’ve stayed here long enough. I can walk and you should be able to use your battlesaddle and that should be enough for us to get moving.” I shifted around on the couch. “Get my leg back together.”

Grape nodded silently before reattaching my leg’s shells. I quickly had my barding back on properly and Grape had all of her gear collected and her battlesaddle in place. We walked back through the station and crossed the icy parking bays again.

Now that I had my body working properly and a someone to back me up, we could quit fucking around and get moving. We had already lost enough time.

Author's Note:

I'll get my actual notes out of the way before the page and a half of BS that I can't bring myself to delete. Chapter is slow and quiet. While it's probably not the best way to make my comeback, I figure it should work really well as a moment to breath in the story. It's not my best, it's not my worst, and while there are a few things I'm really unsure about (Grape died in most drafts of this and the technobabble probably goes on too long in this draft), I've been tangled up on this for too long.

My Whine

It's great to be back though. See y'all later.

Up and out :trollestia:

From May 2017:

This chapter was such an pain in the ass. I've literally written more for this one chapter than the rest of the story. There were at least six or seven completely different versions of this I had mostly done that were scrapped. Just so much effort:ajsleepy:

-Me, THREE MONTHS and like SIX DRAFTS AGO!!!!:applejackconfused::flutterrage::twilightangry2::applecry::raritycry:

This has taken me for fucking ever!!! I started writing this chapter in AUGUST!!! I had only just published chapter one when I started working on this and its taken this long for me to get something I was willing to call good. There were all kinds of ideas I would follow to a dead end and then I would find a new angle and charge headlong into another dead end! It was endless!

Shadow and Dash's exploits and delinquents in the Sky Gaurd, their brutal hardships in the Equestrian Foreign Legion. Should I introduce Windwraith or Silver Whisper? Am I going to be able to introduce them? Should I even be bringing any of that stuff right now. Should Grape Vine live and become a third member of the team? What am I going to do with her if she does live? Should I let Shadow's remincing tell her story or have her background revealed through interactions with other characters. How am I even going about characterizing Shadow? She's been some amalgamation of total badass and absolute spaz since I started writing her. Am I going the Old Lady of War route or is she going to just be some Badass Jerkass in Sour Armor with a Heart of Gold? Am I going to be able to pull off some hybrid of those two ideas? What about Starprancer? She's not featured much in this chapter but its still bugging me. I want her and Shadow to have that Badass and Child Duo develop into a relationship similar to Joel and Ellie or something.

Not to mention all of the plot threads that I've laid and have no idea how to tie together. I've already had to abandon a few things and its rendered Chapter 2 mostly irreverent. How am I going to get the Crystal Empire's baddies and the other Windigos taken care of before this is over three hundred thousand words. How am I going to get to the Wasteland proper? I've got some good ideas for what Shadow and Star would get into in the Wasteland proper. Is there any meaning in this? To life in general?

I went through like five different depressions, three vacations, and have pretty much killed any attention this story was getting.

I am just so salty right now.

For the story:

For my salt:

This was in the old description for some reason and I'm too salty to remove it.

Robby Rotten Silly Shadow

I'm so done with this chapter...

Up and Out