• Published 14th Apr 2017
  • 2,779 Views, 135 Comments

To Outlast - Camolot the Creator



Matt has always wished to visit the world of Equestria. He finally makes it, only to find an empty world barren of life. What happened? Where is everypony?

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XIV: Deeper

As I stepped through the opened elevator doors, Luna followed right behind, muzzle slightly open and a wry comment on her tongue. However, the words died there in her mouth as she glanced about, taking in this level of subbasement.

This was far more open and well-lit than the previous maintenance level, larger and longer lights humming underneath frosted coverings and bathing the room in stark white. The floor was still concrete, to be sure, but it was obvious that it had been polished. The occasional pipe snaked its way across the concrete walls, turning hither and tither through bolted holds before sinking back into the walls, floor or ceiling, but they were much fewer and farther between. The room was much wider and more open, a slightly vaulted ceiling stretching out above, with large circular holes in the walls near the ceiling, words written around the edges.

WATCH OUT FOR YOUR FELLOW PEGASI!
BE AWARE OF OTHER FLIERS
IN CASE OF EMERGENCY, FLYHOLES RESERVED FOR USE BY IMPORTANT PERSONNEL

"Flyholes?" I muttered to myself, squinting at the letters. Luna nodded.

"Such things were common, in military and civilian structures. It is more or less a honeycomb of small, circular passages designed to be just wide enough that pegasi may fly through them, allowing them to get from location to location with speed. Often, buildings would have flyholes bridging floors, for pegasi that did not wish to take the elevator or stairs." She trotted forward, sparing the 'flyhole' merely a cursory glance. "It would assist greatly in reducing stress for pegasi in this underground space. However, I doubt that they link the floors together- that would be a security concern."

"Huh." I examined the hole one last time, then followed behind Luna.

She walked right to a series of plastic signs set in the wall. Each had bold lettering, listing a number of locations, much like the one on the floor above. Unlike that floor, however, these had no lines and, as I got closer, I realized that they weren't signs at all, instead appearing to be a series of options on a screen. I noted that, halfway up the wall, the concrete was interrupted with a strip of clear plastic. Looking through the clear surface revealed a series of precisely carved blocks of crystal like we had seen on the floor before. These, however, appeared not to be thicker, larger blocks, instead appearing to be very slim slabs that had been mounted inside the wall with a series of wires inserted into their sides.

"What do you think, then?"

I turned back at Luna's comment. She was rubbing the underside of her muzzle with a hoof, eyes narrowed slightly in thought at the list of options in front of her.

"Well, if I had to guess, I'd say that when you selected an option from the list, these things-" I gestured to the panels, visible inside the wall- "light up to show you the way. So, uh, pick one, I guess."

She nodded, turning back to the list of options. After a moment, her expression brightened considerably, and she jabbed one with a hoof and an uttered "Huzzah!"

The 'Mess' option pressed in. Whatever computer powered the display worked for a moment, then a series of words popped up, the mess option doing a small animation and a small chime sounding.

IDENTITY CONFIRMED: LU2-42. CLEARANCE GRANTED. HAVE A NICE DAY

The panel just to the right of the screen lit up with an arrow. As Luna approached it, the arrow moved just ahead of her. I had to admit that it was a pretty cool little guidance system, though I wondered whether it worked so well when there were a number of different ponies using it at the same time. Something to find out later, I would guess. I shook the little tangent of thought out of my head and hurried after the alicorn, not exactly eager to be left alone for any amount of time.

The trip was a surprisingly short one, with the directional arrows leading us to a pair of white-painted steel double doors labelled 'MESS' in large, red letters. Luna didn't hesitate to push one open with magic and step inside, with myself following swiftly after.

"I had not wished to say anything, but I am quite hungry, and not a little bit glad to see a potential storage place for food!"

I grimaced. "Are you sure anything left is going to be any good? I mean, from what we've seen, it's not like anyone's been here recently to refresh the supplies."

The mess was a large, wide and tall room. The walls were painted white with a red stripe at about the same height as the top of the doors, circling the walls of the room in a clear attempt to make it seem a little less bland. However, what surprised me and took my breath away a little was what coated one of the walls.

An entire wall, directly across the mess from the doors, had been devoted to a mural of incredible detail. A scene of thick grass and rolling hills, leading out towards a forest in the distance and a mountain in the far background with a familiar-looking city perched atop, a waterfall streaming from it to the ground. On the far left was the sun, painted in yellows, oranges and gold on a background of sky blue, looking almost exactly like Celestia's cutie mark, which was what it most likely represented. On the other side, to the far right, the clear blue turned to darker blue and finally black, ending in a large representation of Luna's cutie mark on a field of white pinpricks that must have been stars. In the center, dominating the main view, sat Twilight's castle, with her cutie mark of stars emblazoned on the doors. Around the edges and over the scene itself were overlaid a detailed painting of carved wood, framing the scenes as if they were being seen through a window.

The level of detail was nothing short of incredible. This wasn't all that surprising considering that Equestria was basically the land of incredibly talented individuals, something that I realized I'd somewhat forgotten, being wrapped up in all that had happened. I shook the thoughts from my mind, returning my attention to the mural.

My eyes went first to the emerald fields that graced the lower quarter of the artwork. The closer blades of grass had such detail that I was surprised that they didn't sway in some invisible breeze, down to drops of dew on the leaves. As they stretched into the distance, they lost more and more of their stunning detail, morphing and running together into fields of green only just marked with darker, thicker brushstrokes that implied the continuation of grass and not a homogeneous carpet.

The painted-on wood was just as detailed, and markedly more interesting for its subject matter. The wood was faithfully recreated down to the tree rings in the material, implied more than painted. Carvings were represented with layered strokes of paint and cleverly placed shadow lines, implying a three dimensional effect that was only fully dispelled when one approached and laid their hand against it, showing it to be just as flat as the rest of the wall. The wood itself had been painted with detailed carvings, stretching around the squares that framed the illusion of glass.

Walking over to Luna's side of the mural, I noted that the carving on the bottom depicted two tiny fillies with wings and horn, lying at the hooves of a much larger figure that was much the same. A quick walk over confirmed that the same image was represented on the opposite side, the side encircling Celestia's mark. A flicker of awareness, and I realized that Luna was sitting a bit farther back, watching me with a sad gaze. I reached out, stroking the image of the fillies, and nearly jumped when she spoke.

"My sister does not remember our birth, but... I do. T'was so long ago that I remember naught much more than the coldness of the air, scorched ground beneath our hooves and... our mother's expression. Not her face, not her mane, not even her coat, just the most divine radiant joy and pride." She shifted her hooves slightly on the concrete floor as I looked around at her. "Mother... I suspect she always liked our... ah, my sister more than myself. Celestia received the bulk of her attentions and lessons, and when mother chose to interact with me at all, t'was for combat and tactics lessons." The bitterness in her voice surprised me, but before I could ask a question or offer comfort, she continued. "This continued until she... left us. My sister and I were very young, then, though far more than old enough to be considered adults. We saw our strength and wisdom and thought to tame the world, make it safe and civilized..." She made a huff. "We were fools."

I stood fully from the painting, turning towards her entirely. "It was worth it though, wasn't it? Equestria-"

"Equestria is GONE, Matt, or have you not been paying attention!?" I recoiled slightly from the sudden fiery anger, and Luna jerked her head to one side, shame overtaking her expression. "Equestria is gone. And even before that, t'was not the utopia of science, magic and strength that we had envisioned it might become. Our sister is- was, too careful, too cautious. We were the balance to that, and after we were gone..." She stared at Celestia's painted cutie mark, through it, almost as if she could see the lines drawn by time and fate. "It was too late. Clearly, far too late."

"Luna... then what about this? What about all of this?" I flung my arms wide, gesturing to the facility around us. "Computers, weapons, advanced building techniques- it's all here, and it's incredible what was accomplished!"

"AND HOW MUCH GOOD DID IT DO THEM!?" Luna stood, her hooves smashing into the concrete, leaving craters in their wake. "They are GONE, ALL OF THEM! They LOST!"

"We don't know-"

"YES, WE DO! The BODIES, the abandoned town-"

"Is your sister an idiot!?" Luna's jaw snapped closed, partly out of indignation, partly out of confusion at the non-sequitur. I sighed, taking a moment to breath, getting my thoughts in order before continuing, "Your sister is NOT an idiot, not by far. Celestia was capable of steering an entire nation on her own for a thousand years, ending with them prosperous and a near-utopia." The ever-present guilt lingering beneath the surface of Luna's emotions flickered to the top for just a moment, but I pressed onwards. "Do you really think that your brilliant, immortal, Dumbledore-times-ten class manipulator sister failed to guide the ponies that she'd gladly give her life for towards hope for a happy ending?"

Luna looked away, but even with only a side view of her face, I could see the conflict. Depression and despondency in the face of an abandoned Equestria fighting with the faith she had in the sister that had arranged her salvation, even a thousand years after her betrayal, and the hope that the ponies that she had made friends with in those few years that she had had being safe and sound somewhere. I stood and walked to her, taking one of her forehooves in my hand and raising it, making eye contact when her head jerked towards me.

"We'll figure out what happened. We'll find out where they went. And then we'll do what fighting needs doing, we'll rescue them all, and you can be smug about your achievements for the next thousand years."

Despite herself, a thin, amused grin cracked her solemn expression ever so slightly. Just a little, but it was enough for her to take a breath and calm herself. I held her hoof until she nodded, and then a little longer until I was sure that her breathing had calmed. I realized that, from the rapid heartbeat I could almost hear from here and the rate of her breathing, she'd been on the direct path to a full-on panic attack. By pure luck, I'd managed to derail her, and I was rather glad at that stroke of fortune. I didn't want to ever see the result of an alicorn having a panic attack, let alone be inside of the blast radius while it was happening. Still, as I released her hoof and drew back, I realized that I would have to keep a closer eye on her emotional state, better to give her what support or space that she needed, when she needed it.

"Stay here for a bit, okay? Rest a little. I'll go check the kitchens."

She nodded in response, her features showing a flicker of the weight of exhaustion before she drew herself up a little and leaped onto one of the long tables, where she settled down in a curl. I gave the curled ball of Luna a sad look, then shook my head and walked towards the door to the kitchen area.

Opening the door wide triggered the lights, which flickered on and brightly lit the room within. Ovens, counters and racks of cooking equipment of all kinds filled the space, but I ignored all of this as I moved deeper, towards the thick steel doors in the back that looked like the type of insulating seals that one would put on a refrigeration unit. I wasn't exactly confident that any sort of food that needed cooling was intact in any way, shape or form, but I wanted to check for the sake of thoroughness. I hit the latch on the thick door and muscled it open, then gasped a quick breath and took a step back as I looked into the interior of the unit.

I had wondered before where the bodies had been, where all of the soldiers watching this place had gone. Here was a part of the answer: bodies, intact thanks to the frozen, dry air inside of the unit. A griffon in what looked to be a military uniform was the closest to the door, his right claw wrapped around the grip of a pistol, a small number of spent cartridges scattered about the weapon. Behind them all, in the rear of the freezer... I covered my mouth, suddenly struck by the urge to throw up.

A number of the creatures behind the griffon guard were scientists, cloaked in the signature white coats that signified scientists even here. They were a range of species: an anthropomorphic cat couple, laying next to each other. A pony with blue fur, horn coated in ice. A handful of griffons, laying against the wall. Each of them had a hole in the side of their head, a single entry wound, and a single spent cartridge to represent the round that had done them in. The worst part was how it was obvious that not a single one of their number had fought back or resisted- they had all simply sat there as they were killed, one by one, ending with the griffon soldier shooting himself.

I couldn't handle it anymore. I slammed the fridge door closed, hand still clamped over my mouth, and I ran. Somehow, I managed to get to a restroom connected to the kitchen area via a short hallway, where I found myself kneeling over a toilet as I voided my guts.

There wasn't much in there, thanks to me not eating since sometime yesterday, back in my world. Bile and water primarily made up what ended up in the toilet itself, but it didn't stop my body from retching multiple times, trying to push something else out. It took about ten minutes for me to get ahold of myself, but I finally managed to force myself to stop trying to force out my empty stomach and collapse against the wall next to the toilet itself.

I ran my hand over my face shakily, trying to stabilize and calm myself. Not even when I had looked into the trench full of bodies had it affected me this much, and it was only really hitting home on a more than intellectual level how bad things must have been for Equestria- no, the world, if these scientists and military personnel had willingly submitted themselves to being killed in order to escape whatever had happened, in the end. Before, it had just been skeletons, the barest remains of individuals who had once lived, but seeing the frozen and preserved bodies? That had had about the same effect as a bullet on me.

It took time for me to calm myself, but I eventually managed it. After all, though it had been nothing short of horrifying... they were just bodies, and not even of my own species.

I suspect that it would have been much worse if they had been humans. At least because they weren't, I could distance myself from them, make myself detached.

I stood, and after taking a second to ensure that I wouldn't just keel over the moment I put my full weight on my legs, I walked to the sink and turned on the tap. After a second of gurgling, clear water flowed out of the tap. Just to make sure, I smelled and examined the water, before finally using it to wash my hands, wash out my mouth and finally just splash in my face before shutting it off again. I looked up at myself in the mirror above the sink, hand on either side of it, and took another moment to steady myself before turning to the exit and returning to the kitchen area.

I moved among the stoves and cookware, all of which seemed at once more sinister and more sad for having witnessed deaths so close by, and still being untouched. I spent a moment lingering outside of the door before I moved on, with a silent promise to come back and bury those left here some day.

There was another door a little further down, and it was here that I went next. As opposed to the thick and heavy refrigerator door that was meant to keep the heat out of the small space, this one was more of a pantry door, a thinner steel door designed to swing both ways and generally just make a barrier between itself and the room behind it. I passed through this one with markedly more caution, not particularly excited about the possibilities of further bodies.

Fortunately, the space behind was empty of any remains. Even more fortunately, the entire space was filled with rows and rows of shelves, themselves packed tightly with layer after layer of cans and sealed containers. I made my way among the stored food of the pantry, looking on in fascination at the high stacks of food stored here, giddy excitement overcoming the unease and sickness that had formed an underlying layer to my status.

The wide range of food options were very obviously meant to feed a number of species and individuals for a long period of time: the room was something like a small warehouse, with shelves arranged in three rows down the center, additional shelves bolted to the walls. Everything was immaculately sorted, silver cans laid out in precise rows behind labels, and each stamped with individual paper labels. Picking one at random from a nearby shelf, I flicked a critical eye over it.

BEANS, BARBEQUE, SINGLE SERVING
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR CONSUMPTION BY: GRIFFON, DRAGON

The rest of the label was concerned with nutritional information. I tossed the can into the air and caught it, considering the contents of the label.

That they were packaging rations with consideration for griffons was no great surprise, and I'd rather expected it, given the presence of griffon soldiers here and about. Dragons, on the other hand, were something of a surprise. Were dragons common enough to justify having their own specific rations, as well as being mentioned on the actual labels? Looking deeper into the racks of shelving, I could just see near the back a series of darkly coloured bins filled with gems. I shifted uneasily at the sight.

I had mostly skipped the episodes of the show involving the dragons, but I did remember that their teenage forms were impulsive and irritating, not to mention not exactly attractive. The only adult dragon that I really remembered from the show was the one from near the beginning, the one that had settled at the edge of Ponyville and had to be told off by Fluttershy in order to get him to leave. I didn't think that the serpent from the pilot really counted.

From that, I was vaguely aware that the dragons were cranky and obstinate, though that may have just been because he'd already settled down in the cave with his hoard and was unwilling to move for a bunch of little ponies until Flutters had blasted him with her more forceful side. Afterwards, however, he'd been a bit cowed and accomadating, though, again, that could have entirely been attributed to Flutters. No lie, she could be terrifying given the right motivation.

Still... things had even been so bad that the dragons had joined with the Equestrian cause, if not entirely as a people, then at least enough individuals to justify a supply chain for them. I'd imagine that uniting the entirety of the dragon race would be rather difficult, seeming as they were less a nation and more a large group of individuals bound together primarily by biological drives and their shared genetic code.

For the moment, however, I put these thoughts aside in respect to a much more important goal: gathering and making something for lunch! Normally I would cook something for myself, bachlorhood being rather nurturing for one's culinary skills as long as they did not entirely rely on ramen and mac & cheese for foodstuffs, and I was decently skilled with pots and pans myself. Right now, however, I was hungry, I knew that Luna must be hungry, and I didn't want to delay things any farther. Thinking back to the sad little ball that Luna had made on one of the mess tables, I grimaced and hurried my pace as I walked among the shelves.

It wasn't long before my efforts were rewarded in the form of a rack of gray rectangles packed tightly into wooden crates, and wrapped tightly in clear plastic wrap. I glanced down at the label stuck to the front of the wrapping, which said in large, block letters:

MRE, MEALS READY TO EAT, 400 COUNT UNIVERSAL CONSUMPTION

I grinned, remembering some of the better encounters that I'd had with modern MRE's and the small measures included to raise soldier's moral. Tiny vials of Tabasco, various small candies and amusing things... with any luck, Equestria's MRE's were no different, containing at least some sort of way to make soldiers in the field feel a little better. Luna needed something to raise her spirits right now.

I tore open the packaging and pulled out two MRE's, randomly selected from the tons of them that the large container housed. I tucked the two small metal rectangles under my arm and pushing the door open as I passed through. I passed quickly through the kitchen, and as I exited into the mess proper, I noted that Luna was still lying int he exact same position that she had been when I'd left to go look for food. In fact, pausing and listening for a moment, I realized that her slower and deeper breathing indicated that she'd fallen asleep on the table. She must have been even more tired than I'd previously thought.

I set the two meals down on opposite sides of the table just a little down from Luna's sleeping form, looking at them a little closer. On one side of each of them was a small, plastic tab jutting out from the side of the package, which had only the words 'pull' and 'caution: hot' on it. I shrugged, assuming that this would activate the Equestrian version of heating elements in contemporary MRE's. I pulled the tabs on both of the meals and, just to be safe, stepped back a little.

There was a very light, faint hissing noise from each of the packages. As I watched, small holes in the edges popped open, letting out small plumes of steam into the open air, dying down after a few seconds. I approached with a little apprehension, not exactly eager to get myself a steam burn. Thankfully, as I flipped the lid off of the meal that I'd chosen for myself, it appeared that the excess steam had vented itself out of the hole, leaving behind a hot, merrily steaming meal.

The meal itself was divided into four sections. A peice of fish steamed in a shallow pool of a white sauce in the largest section, with the others containing a small roll with a bit of butter, some dark brown stuff that appeared to be pudding, and...

I blinked at the last little section in the tray, the smallest of them all. There was what appeared to be a small peice of spun sugar in the shape of a griffon, styled and detailed as if it was holding its head high, and, looking closer, I realized that I could actually see a small, confident smile on its beak. Despite myself, I smiled a little: clearly, Equestria knew exactly how important the morale of soldiers was in the field.

I turned my attention to the lump of blue fur and feathers sitting just down the table from me. Listening closer, I realized to my concern that she was softly whimpering in her sleep. I reached out a hand and put it against the warmth of her coat, shaking her lightly and murmuring to her lightly.

"Luna... Hey, Luna... wake up. Food!"

Luna jerked awake, flailing her wings and hooves in the air, and looking around with confusion and panic clear in her eyes. I ducked, barely missing getting smacked by a wing before her eyes landed on me and a flash of recognition flickered through them, quickly shifting to guilt and embarrasment. She rolled onto her belly, folding her wings close and grimacing.

"We appologize, we did not mean-"

I fixed her with a look, and she snapped her muzzle closed. "It's fine, Luna! Really. I understand."

She sighed, but didn't fight back. Her meal was wrapped in her magic as she extended her wings slightly for balance and stepped down onto one of the benches that ran along the sides of the mess tables. To my surprise, instead of settling into the seat opposite me, she decided to sit right next to me- in fact, she leaned on me as she popped the cover off of her meal. I rolled my eyes and picked up the fork, spearing a piece of my fish and dipping it in the mystery sauce.

Before I could take a bite, I glanced at Luna... and realized that she was frozen, staring at her meal. My eyebrows creased as I leaned forward, looking at her face. Her expression was one of surprise, but not necessarily negative; I followed her gaze down to her meal... and stared.

To my side, I heard Luna start to giggle a little, in the back of her throat.

After a moment, I started chuckling a little, covering my mouth with a hand, trying to hold ito in. I nearly succeeded in stopping it there, Luna's giggling petering off besides me... and then we made the mistake of looking at each-other. Our eyes met, and... it was too much. The both of us collapsed in opposite directions, laughing so hard we were shaking the bench.

Because there, in Luna's MRE, had been a pony. Muzzle scrunched, wings kinked, forehooves wrapped around herself, a frown gracing her face. Somewhere, somewhen, some brave little confectionary master of a pony had decided to create a picture perfect image of Luna pouting.

And as my shuddering laughs slowly stopped and I wiped away tears, I looked across at Luna, the tension gone from her form and replaced with joy at such a simple thing even for a moment, and I said a silent thanks to that brave little pony, wherever they were.

Author's Note:

They'll finish exploring in the next chapter, and we'll have some real answers about exactly how advanced Equestria was before... well.