• Published 29th Jun 2012
  • 3,201 Views, 375 Comments

Fallout: Equestria - Wasteland Bouquet - Cascadejackal

There's a lot of stories in the Equestrian Wasteland, and they all need to be told.

  • ...

Chapter 29: Stacking the Deck

---CHAPTER 29: Stacking The Deck ---

"UGH! Now I need to find a trombone..."

We were on the road for over a month after meeting up with my parents. The first week or so we'd still been in civilised territory, passing through towns every couple of days, meeting other caravaneers on the road, but then we hit the Big Empty.

The Big. Freaking. Empty. That Goddesses-forsaken place.

It wasn't the desert I was used to. It was flat-out, genuine, uninhabited wasteland, totally deserving its name. Nothing but dust, sand and rock as far as the eye could see. Not a damn thing moved out there that was bigger than a foal, and even Rose couldn't pick up on anything or anyone more interesting than a vulture that had beaten Ibis to a rabbit.

We weren't in any danger of running out of supplies, though. We were well stocked up, two full barrels of water and an extra crate of food secured alongside the flutterpony cargo.

Still, it was a long, boring trip. My Pipbuck couldn't pick up anything but static that far out, Rose was content to pull in silence, and when Ibis wasn't napping in the back of the Serenity he was pulling outrider duty, ranging high and wide above us like an overgrown buzzard. Which he was.

I even got bored enough to go through Rose's books for something to read! Still, reading Daring Do out loud to Rose while she pulled helped break up the silence. Did I mention the silence? It was way too quiet out there! There was wind, Rose clopping, the Serenity's wagon-y noises, and nothing else! I don't like the quiet!

You can imagine how close I was to cracking up towards the end of our little journey. The boredom and quiet were really starting to get to me. Before I could do anything drastic, though, Ibis came swooping down and landed in the Serenity's cargo bay with a grunt, shaking his wings out once he'd touched down. "Town ahead," he reported, pulling a canteen from our supplies and uncapping it. "An hour or so, to the south-east. Your map say anything about it?" He watched me curiously, tilting his head back and pouring water into his beak while I fumbled with my Pipbuck.

Shaking off thoughts of giving Rose the decaf coffee I'd traded with the flutterponies for and trying to get her moving faster, I sat up and started flicking through my Pipbuck. "Ah, one sec... we are... here... and... huh." Slowly, I looked up from my map and met Ibis' eyes.

"So?" He asked, taking another swig of water. "What's it say? The place safe?"

I grinned so hard my cheeks hurt. "It's better than safe, Ibis. It's our destination! HYAH!" I snapped the reins against Rose's flank, getting a whinny of surprise and an increase in our speed for my efforts. "Move it, brahmin! Civilisation awaits!"

It wasn't long before something came into view, a tall, wide stretch of stone rising out of the desert where my map said the town was. Almost as soon as we saw it, Rose picked up the pace even more, practically galloping along.

"Whoa!" I yanked on the reins, trying to slow Rose down, then having to settle for just steering her when it proved fruitless. "What's the rush, Rose?!" Behind me, there was a wark! of surprise and the sounds of something metal bouncing around, jostled loose by our sudden acceleration, then a shadow as Ibis took off from the wagon and into the safety of the air above us.

"I can hear them, Lily!" Rose called out, too focused on our destination to actually look back to me. She laughed, sounding excited and eager for once. "Lots of cousins!"

"Ah, fuck!" I grumbled as I bounced around in my seat, trying to steer Rose around the worst of the rocks and dips in the nonexistant path we were on. "Do they know we're coming?" I wanted to put off meeting more flutterponies for as long as I could. Freaky bugpones.

The answer didn't come from Rose, who'd pitched both ears forwards to point at the rapidly-approaching cliff. Instead, Ibis dived back down and made a shaky landing next to me, digging his claws into the seat to keep himself steady. "Flyers incoming," he stated, ignoring my deathglare (he was messing up my cushion!) and pointing ahead, where some specks had risen above what I'd thought was a cliff but was probably just a wall or something, and were slowly approaching us. "Looks like ponies... or flutterponies, I guess," he added, glancing at the happily running Rose.

"Here comes the welcome wagon," I muttered, jerking the reins to avoid clipping a big rock before glaring at Ibis, "and get your claws off my seat!"

Rolling his eyes, Ibis sat down beside me, freeing the poor, abused seat from his claws and subjecting it to his jumbo-sized catbum instead. "Think we'll get a warm welcome?" He asked, then dug his claws in again when one wheel hit a small dip, shaking the whole wagon.

"Dunno," I gave a terse reply, doing my best to steer us onto smooth dirt, despite Rose's headlong charge to meet with the approaching ponies as soon as possible no matter what was in her way, "but Rose certainly seems to think so!" Turning my attention forwards again, I yelled out "Rose! Would you slow down already?!"

She nickered loudly in objection, but I yanked back on the reins, forcing her to slow down to a more reasonable pace. "Look, they're coming out to meet us," I told her, waving my hoof at the now obvious ponies who were slowly descending to intercept us, "so there's no rush."

Rose just nickered again but, rolling my eyes, I used the chance to steer her around a cactus we would've run into before, and traded a cautious look with Ibis. Hopefully, these flutterponies would be as friendly as the first bunch were.

"Easy, guys," I said, watching the pony shapes circling above our wagon as we came to a slow halt, "let me do the talking."

"They're friendly, Lily!" Rose chimed in, looking up and smiling before waving her hoof in greeting. A couple of the flying ponies banked slightly in response and Rose's smile grew.

"I sure hope so," Ibis added from beside me in the driver's bay, puffing himself up and looking put-out at having something else circling him for a change, "because here they come."

Right on cue, the flutterponies descended, most of them settling into a low hover around us, three landing in front of us, their hooves kicking up puffs of sand. Now that they were closer, I could see they were all pegasi... proper pegasi, I mean. Not the ones with bug wings. I couldn't make out more than that, though, since they were all in a mix of Stable barding and patchwork desert clothing, their faces hidden behind goggles and cloth wraps.

Taking a deep breath, I put on my best winning grin and prepared myself for breaking the ice. "Hi!" I started strong, cheery tone and a friendly wave. "I'm Caravan Lily, of the Silver Trails caravan company. We have a... um... delivery... for... you..." I trailed off as the lead pony trotted torwards us, stopping just in front of Rose, and pulled down their facewrap to reveal a stallion's muzzle.

Rose just cocked her head to the side and smiled at the strange stallion, her ears perked forwards as they stared at each other, practically touching snoots.

"What're they doing?" I whispered to Ibis, confused by what I was seeing.

"Probably talking to each other," The big griffin grumped, ruffling his feathers and getting the attention of some of the hovering pegasi who angled their ears to point at us. He didn't seem too happy that some strange stallion was getting so friendly with Rose.

"Oh, right," I nodded slowly, "that whole... hivemind... thing..." I shuddered. That just wasn't right.

Suddenly, the lead stallion stepped back and nodded to the hovering watchers, who landed and visibly relaxed. "I don't believe it..." He shook his head and a small smile crept across his muzzle. "It's been years since we've seen a cousin from the wastes. What brings you out here to our little town?"

Rose beamed at him. "My name's Rose, Mister Cousin. We met some nice flutterponies who told me I'm a flutterpony too and they-grmph mrrph-"

Rolling my eyes, I clamped Rose's gob shut with my magic and cleared my throat, getting the stallion's attention. "Ahem, let's start again." I put on my best grin again, ignoring Rose's muffled attempts at talking. "I'm Caravan Lily, my sister there-" I waved my hoof at Rose, who had finally given up on trying to speak and was just panning her ears around, probably listening to the other flutterponies doing their wierd hivemind thing, "-is Whiskey Rose, and the featherduster beside me-OUCH!" I glared at Ibis when he jabbed my flank with his claw.

He just glared back at me, then nodded to the stallion. "Ibis Greywing." His eyes narrowed and he leaned forwards in the seat. "Rose's mate. Understood?" The stallion just gave a small nod, calmly acknowledging Ibis' claim to Rose. Smart stallion. Jealous griffins are scary!

Rubbing my flank and trying not to grimace (it would've ruined the first impression, after all), I turned back to the stallion. "Like the buzzard said, he's Ibis. And we-" I paused to indicate the three of us and the Serenity, my smile becoming more natural as I got back to my speech, "are from the Silver Trails caravan company. As Rose said, we met some flutterponies in Manehattan. Long story short, their leader, a miss Damsel, hired us to make a delivery-" I paused again, this time indicating the crates in the Serenity's cargo bay, "-and here we are." I kept smiling, but it slipped a bit when I remembered our other reason for coming. "Oh, and Rose is apparently a wild flutterpony. Miss Damsel said you guys could... teach her, or something." I shrugged and my smile returned full-force. "Anyway, that's why we're here. So, who do I have the pleasure of speaking with?"

The stallion looked amused... well, what little I could see of his face did. "Dust Kicker. Security Division." He motioned with his head and spread his wings, him and his team taking to the air in unison. "We've alerted Maintenance and they're standing by to recieve your cargo. Just follow us." Before he turned to lead us towards the wall, he gave us a friendly smile. "Oh, and welcome to Drift, Equestrians."

As we rolled through the large archway in the cliff-like wall, we got our first glimpse of the town of Drift. Old pre-war architecture was everywhere, wooden structures built in the haphazardly-laid-out way of frontier towns, but a longer look made me realise that the place wasn't quite a normal town.

The wall was the first clue, easily a pony's length thick at the archway we'd entered through. I couldn't see a single sign of bricks or anything, the surface so smooth it practically looked grown instead of built, all curved and ribbed, sweeping out into walkways and platforms that I could see various winged ponies perching on and either resting or looking out into the desert wastes.

The second clue was the ponies themselves. I could see dozens of them, most looking normal as far as I could tell, with only the occasional flash of glittery bug wings in the crowd, all busy as parasprites. That's not what clued me in, though. No, it was how they all perked up as we entered, the nearest ones calling greetings or waving to Rose, the others looking towards her with an expression I'd soon start to recognise as them doing their freaky hivemind thing to talk with each other. It was awfully similar to the blank look Rose usually had, and I firmly refused to think about just who she might have been talking to when there weren't any flutterponies around.

Rose, for her part, was practically prancing in the traces, happily waving back and saying hello to everypony we passed as we followed Dust Kicker and his team through the town.

Seeing Rose so sociable was wierd. Especially when all me and Ibis got was some curious glances. Well, some of them waved to us too, but not nearly as many. I was starting to realise that me and Ibis were the odd ones out in this town, and that Rose fit in better than we did for once.

It was unsettling. Just a bit. Like, a lot of a bit.

"Rose seems happy," Ibis remarked. I nodded my agreement and tugged on the reins to keep Rose from wandering off the path to meet the flutterponies up close.

"Yeah..." I glanced at the big griffin out of the corner of my eye, "You think... you think they can really help Rose here?"

Fluffing himself up a little, he looked around at the many ponies who were staring at him. In surprise, it looked like. On account of him being a griffin and all. "You mean the whole hivemind thing that Damsel mare was talking about?"

"No... well, yeah, that too, but..." I continued in a lower voice, waving back to some of the flutterponies we passed, "I mean, with everything. Like, y'know..." I hesitated, not wanting to say it, just the thought of it making my skin crawl, but seeing Ibis' questioning look I forced myself to finish. "The whole Starfall thing."

Ibis returned to scanning the area around us and watching the flutterponies before answering. "Maybe. It sounds like it might have something to do with their hivemind thing... I'm more worried about her leg."

I shrugged, glad to have the conversation turned to something else for now, and watched Rose's flank bobbing as she pulled us along. "It can't be that bad. She hasn't complained about it."

"Since when does Rose complain about anything?" he asked, his eyes lingering on the same attractive duster-covered butt as mine. "You've seen her limping around in the morning. If there's really a fully-stocked Stable here, they might be able to do something."

I shrugged again and focused on keeping Rose on the road and following Dust Kicker, hoping we'd be able to get Rose some kind of help... and maybe me, too. I wasn't meant to find Rose attractive, dammit!

Dust Kicker and his squad led us to the front of a large-ish two-storey building, the same wooden frontier construction as most of the rest of the town, showing the tell-tale signs of centuries in the desert. More important, though, was the group of ponies that came trotting out as we pulled up, all of them wearing pouch-covered Stable barding.

"Whoa!" I tugged the reins and brought Rose to a halt while Dust Kicker spoke to the pony at the front of the group. I exchanged a curious look with Ibis, who just shrugged and returned to looking around. I took that as my cue to take charge. "So," I called out to Dust Kicker, "where do we unload this stuff?"

"Spanner here will handle it," Dust Kicker replied, motioning to a short, stocky unicorn mare with glasses. Then, at some invisible signal, the rest of the greeting party took to the air, Dust Kicker pausing to bump hooves with Rose before lifting off himself. "I'll see you later, cousin. Equestrians." With that, he nodded to us and joined his team as they all flew off over the town.

Turning back to Spanner and her waiting crew, I put on my best smile and hopped down from my seat. "Nice to meet you. I'm Caravan Lily, of the Silver Trails Caravan Company." Noticing their gazes wandering to Rose, I rolled my eyes. "Rose, introduce yourself to your... cousins." I still wasn't completely comfortable with the idea of Rose having a whole town of wierdo bug pony cousins, but I managed to keep most of how I felt out of my voice.

While Rose happily introduced herself (and Ibis, who was watching everything from the cargo bay) to the crew (whose names I didn't catch), I floated my clipboard out. "Anyway, we've got a delivery here from one Damsel and her salvage team in Manehattan." That got Spanner's attention, the short mare moving away from Rose and squinting at me through her grimy, cracked glasses.

"Didn't think Damsel'd be sending us live salvage." She pulled her glasses off with her hoof and rubbed them on her barding before balancing them back on her muzzle. "Our cousin I can understand, but you and the griffin?" She let out a low whistle. "You two must be something special, Equestrian."

Feeling a little put-off, I cleared my throat. "Ahem, well... we're... not the salvage." Getting my Trader's Smile back in place, I checked the clipboard. "Two crates of prewar food, two crates of miscellaneous parts, one crate of assorted tools." I floated the clipboard over, watching with a little confusion as Spanner took it in her hoof to look it over. Was using hooves instead of magic a flutterpony thing?

"Ibis," ignoring the odd flutterpony behaviour, I shrugged and called out, "let Rose out and help them unload." The big grey featherhead hopped out of the wagon and approached the front, towering over the gathered flutterpony crew and fluffing himself up to make it clear that Rose was his mare. Seeing Rose being freed from the traces, I turned back to Spanner. "Everything's there, but if you'd like to check before signing for it..." I trailed off as, over the sounds of happy flutterpony chatter (mostly coming from Rose), I heard the familiar clunk of my Serenity's cargo ramp being dropped.

Spanner looked up from the clipboard, watching the cargo getting unloaded. Rose was happily clattering around in the wagon and shoving the designated crates towards the ramp, where the unicorns teamed up to lower them to the ground for inspection.

"It all looks fine," Spanner confirmed after her team had opened all the crates and checked the contents, presumably doing their Hivemind thing to let her know what they found. She turned back to me and, blinking, re-examined the clipboard. "You want me to sign this?"

Nodding and smiling, I floated a pencil over to her. "It's just a reciept form. Says we delivered everything intact, you checked it, that sort of thing." Confusion reigned again as Spanner took the pencil in her mouth to scribble her signature instead of using her magic.

When she held the pencil and clipboard out for me to take, I discretely shook the slobber off while checking the form. "Aaand we're good." Tucking everything back into place, I turned my winning smile back on. "Ordinarily we'd be done now, but... well, we have some things we'd like to ask about while we're here. Medical help, maybe some more... flutterpony specific help..." I trailed off, not wanting to go into too much detail just yet.

Spanner shrugged and pushed her glasses up. "Not my departments. You'd have to talk to..." She trailed off as well, her expression turning vacant for a few seconds before she shook her head and nodded to me. "You're in luck, Equestrian. The Regent and Overmare want to meet you; you can ask whatever you want when we get there."

"Uh, great?" I hestitated. If I remembered Stable stuff right, the Overmare was the leader... but who the hay was the Regent? "So... where do we go to meet them?"

"I'll take you to them," Spanner clarified, "I need to report in anyway. Just follow us down below."

"B-below? As in, underground?" I could've kicked myself. I'd forgotten that Stables were underground, and if there was one thing I disliked more than bugs, bugponies, freaky mind readers or being underground, it was being underground and surrounded by freaky mind-reading bugponies!

I was starting to get the feeling things in a bastion of prewar tech and amenities weren't going to be as comfortable as I'd hoped they'd be.

Down, down, down... then more down. First a spiral staircase that seemed like it wouldn't end, then a long, sloping tunnel with the same wierd, organic look as the wall so far above. Soft lighting shone from insets in the walls, enough to see by without straining my eyes but leaving pools of shadow in the curves and swirls of the walls.

I could feel the weight of all that rock crushing down on me, and the warm, humid air wasn't helping. It felt like I was being buried, suffocating, trapped under-

"Ooh..." I relaxed, the rising panic leaving me as I realised something was pressing against the side of my head. Turning slightly, I saw Rose's horn sputtering with green sparks as she did her thing. I smiled and bumped heads with her in thanks when she stopped. "That's better... good job, Rose."

She just blinked at me in response and gave a small smile. When I turned back to the front, I noticed Spanner and her crew staring at Rose with wide eyes and splayed ears, surprise clear on their faces.

"Uh, something wrong?" I hesitantly asked.

Spanner shook her head and stared at Rose. "That's... she..." She shook her head again. "We need to go. The Regent and Overmare want to see you as soon as possible, cousin."

Ignoring my questions, the flutterponies closed ranks around us, a sense of urgency in their movements as they herded us down the tunnel and towards a large, gear-shaped opening.

The lighting in the Stable was better than it had been in the tunnel outside, close to late afternoon on the surface. I could see clearly, easily able to take in the wierd hodge-podge mix of Stable architecture and what I was starting to guess was flutterpony construction, dull blue-grey walls merging with sweeping curves and ridges of dark greenish stone. The whole thing gave me the uncomfortable feeling that I was in some kind of hive or something...

Not that the flutterponies seemed to mind, and, now that I was actually in the Stable, I realised there was a lot more of them than I'd ever expected. There was hundreds of them, in varying levels of pony and buggy, all going about their business with a surprising sense of order and purpose.

The ones who passed by greeted us, somehow aware that we were there with a new cousin for them. Us being me and Ibis, sitting in a corridor by ourselves, Spanner having taken Rose through the door next to us to meet the Stable's leaders. Me and Ibis were reassured we'd meet them as soon as they'd had a chance to talk to Rose in private, and since Rose trusted them completely... well, we kinda... went along with it. The rest of Spanner's crew had split off to take the crates to... wherever they were putting them.

After a few minutes of waiting I got bored and stood up, stretching my legs with a groan. "How long do you think they'll be?" I asked Ibis. He shrugged, cocking his head to the side to eyeball a flutterpony who was watching him curiously from down the hall.

"Don't know. Not too much longer, hopefully," came his response as he fluffed himself up and ruffled his wings, drawing the curious stares of some more flutterponies. You'd think they'd never seen a griffin before!

With a shrug of my own, I looked around, not paying much attention to the flutterponies in the area, just casting my eyes up and down the corridor... before realising that it looked like it opened up just a short distance away. I took a few steps, looking around to see if anyone would stop me, then went the rest of the way. My jaw dropped when I got there and I reared up, leaning on the railing that seperated the walkway I'd found myself on from the massive drop.

There was a huge room there, so big it was like a hollowed-out office building. Walkways ran around the edges and criss-crossed it, a seamless blending of Stable and Hive, with flutterponies all over the place. Some flew through the wide open center of the room, taking to the air to reach different levels, most were content with just taking the paths like sane ponies... and some of them were walking on the walls!

I must've been gaping at it for a solid minute or so before the sound of the door nearby wooshing open caught my attention. Turning, I saw Spanner coming out, a small frown on her muzzle. She nodded to me and Ibis. "You can go in now."

With that, she turned and trotted off.

Sharing a look and a shrug with Ibis, I rejoined him and we approached the open door together. I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw what was inside.

Rose. In the clutches of a giant, pony-sized bug thing. A big, giant, pony-shaped bug thing. With huge fangs. And a shell. And big, buzzy, buggy wings. And Rose was hugging it like it was her mother, instead of the monstrous offspring of a parasprite and a pony that it was.

What else could I do? I fainted.

Author's Note:

A wild chapter appears! And it only took... wow... oh, wow... a year?!:twilightoops:
I am so, so sorry for the wait, guys! Anything and everything that could have gotten in the way of working on WB did this year, but we're back now! Honest!:twilightblush: