• Published 15th Sep 2018
  • 1,171 Views, 84 Comments

Fire & Rain: Applejack and the Queen of Knives - Limbo Theorem



The fate of the world hangs in the balance and its potential savior is a mysterious figure known only as The Queen of Knives. But who is she? That's what Applejack has to find out.

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Voices from On-High

BLUEMONT, VIRGINIA
150602RJUL30:

One thing that had always been a constant with Applejack was that as far back as she could remember, she’d always been used to hard work and she’d always been used to getting up before the first rays of sunrise. Even when others in bootcamp or BUDS or just daily training bitched about getting up at the ass-crack of dawn, Applejack was already ready to do it. She had done it when working her family’s farm, or bootcamp or whatever. She was used to hard work and very little sleep and one could argue her body was now just made for that sort of thing.

So now that she had the chance to PT outside of the geofront, she joined the FEMA security personnel, Marines and various hard cases whose job it was to be at the peak of physical perfection. The first day she worked out with them, they tried to take it easy on her, given that for the average female servicemember the physical fitness standards tended to be less than that of a male servicemember. That “handicap” vanished the next day as they soon realized that she was a SEAL, which meant she was required to have the exact same requirements as her fellow male SEALs – and those were much tougher than just about anyone present.

A week later, they were struggling to keep up with her, much to her silent amusement. A few others, however, actually did; the fact that most of them were Marines was to be expected. Shining doing so as well at first surprised her, until he reminded her that he was a Ranger – Special Forces himself, but not to the level that she was. However, the real surprise was Chrysalis, who kept up with the pair with relative ease.

“Why does that surprise you?” Chrysalis asked Applejack once they wound down. “I’m a Changeling – we’re trained much the same way as any SPECOPS person, because the amount of shit we do is pretty similar. Hell, if it wasn’t for the fact that I’m happy working for the Company, I’d probably have tried to see if I could try out for your little outfit. Besides,” she said, leaning against Shining, “keeping in peak perfection is great for our sex life.”

“You just love telling everyone about that, don’t you?” Shining mock-accused her.

“With a body like yours against mine? Can you blame me?” she laughed.

“Okay, I’d say get a hotel you two, but don’t you have a house out in town?” Applejack asked.

“Yeah. In fact, we’re probably going to hold a welcome BBQ at our place tonight, both for you and the newbie when she gets here,” Shining told her.

“Oh, you got someone?”

“Yeah. Former fighter pilot, got shot down during Decimation and lost her left leg. They offered her the chance to medically retire, but she said she wanted payback, so she settled for sitting behind an operations table. She came highly recommended from Col. Rolling Thunder, and I got the Admiral to clear it, so we should be good to go.”

“What’s the name?”

“Lt. Col. Lightning Dash or something like that; didn’t exactly recall the name. Obviously, she’s not at our level of physical activity and she’s got an artificial leg to boot, so she’ll probably be minding the store whenever we’re out in the field,” Shining said to them. “But apparently she knows her stuff and she’s highly qualified, so I don’t think we’ll have a problem.”

“Just so long as she understands she can look at the merchandise but not touch, then that’s fine,” Chrysalis commented.

“Little possessive, Chryssie?” Applejack joked.

“Oh, I’m not talking about Shining here – I’ll just kill her if she tries anything,” Chrysalis said with a straight face. “No, I’m talking about the computer systems we have. I spent forever making sure they’re just the way I want them, so we wouldn’t have any IT nutbars fucking with them. If she thinks she’s going to come in all ‘Let’s do this in Linux!’ Air Force style, she has another thing coming.”

“Well, I’ve got to do my daily shooting,” Applejack said, “so I’ll be there later.”

“Shooting? Mind if I join you?” Chrysalis asked. “I need to keep up my quals.”

“No, you’re just going to show off again, aren’t you?” Shining stated. When Applejack looked at him, she said, “She’s got the base record for a DMR. Pissed off some of the actual marksmen that are here, too.”

“Hey, when a girl’s gotta pretend to be a bubble-headed British girl in order to seduce a French officer so she can get into a particular hotel room so she can be in position to assassinate an Iranian operative planning a hit in the hotel across the street, you have to be good, because generally you only get one shot, especially when you have to dispose of the rifle immediately afterwards and go back to screwing the Froggie even though we’re talking ugly city, because you need plausible deniability, you do what you have to do.”

“That sounds suspiciously specific,” Applejack noted.

“It pays to be flexible in my occupation – at no time did I mention said commandante was male, did I?” Chrysalis shrugged. “Let’s just say I retired from that part of the job after I met Shining and call it that, okay?”


After about an hour on the range (to which Chrysalis, once again, showed off with her skills on a M38 SDMR), the two headed back to the office, where Shining was busy talking to a woman slightly older than Applejack. Unlike either her or Shining, she wore a flight suit, given that she still had some qualifications as a pilot even though she was no longer cleared for fighters. She had short spiky blonde hair in a hairstyle more often seen on guys and her honey-colored eyes scanned the room as if she had situational awareness perpetually turned on.

“Ladies, I’d like you to meet Lt. Col. Lightning Dust, formerly of the 601st Air Operations Center.”

“You can just call me Dusty or Dustball,” she said, pointing to her flightsuit’s name tag. Good to meet you.”

“Dusty, this is Lt. Cmdr. Jackie Apple, formerly of DEVGRU; and Ms. Chrysalis, our CIA liaison.”

“Hey, I heard about you,” Lightning said as she offered her hand to Applejack. “You were in that shitshow in Rome, weren’t you? We were directing some of the drones giving you air support. Glad to see you made it out okay.”

“Yeah, thanks. Though I’m honestly looking to get some payback for Rome. Those bastards killed too many good men and women and made us walk away with our tails tucked under our legs. I’m going to make sure that shit don’t fly a second time.”

“Yeah, I hear ya there. What I wouldn’t do to be behind the cockpit of a Raptor again, shoving ordnance down whatever serves for their mouths. Unfortunately….” She reached down and knocked on her leg, which sounded out a hollow noise. “Just ain’t in the cards anymore, I’m afraid. Still doesn’t mean I can’t tell people where to do the most damage – and believe me, I certainly intend to.”

“Well, as long as you’re ready for the purple world, we should be fine,” Shining said.

“Even if I’m not, I’m a quick learner,” Lightning insisted. “Well, I still have to do the rest of my checking in, so I’ll catch you guys later, okay? Nice meeting you two.”

“Yeah, same here,” Applejack responded.

“Well, let’s get back to the office,” Chrysalis suggested, “check on things, then we can go hit the commissary before we head to our place. Should give you enough time to head to your quarters to grab a change of clothing, if you want.”

“Thanks, I really appreciate that.”


As the pair arrived in the office, an alarm went off. “What’s that?” Applejack asked as Chrysalis darted towards her desk.

“I have a report coming in from one of my Changelings,” Chrysalis said nonchalantly. “They use a particular encrypted channel that we’re fairly sure the Octos aren’t monitoring.”

“Why’s that?”

In response, the spymaster turned her monitor so that the other could see it. “It’s on the same frequency as old AM band radio waves. There’s enough of that still rebounding in the upper portions of the atmosphere that the Octos probably dismiss it as electromagnetic junk. And for the most part it is…except if you know what to listen for.”

Across the screen was a bunch of radio signals, their frequencies and channels denoted by different colors and shades. Chrysalis slipped on a headset, then started clicking on each one, then removing them from the possible sources. Finally, she narrowed in on a particular signal. “Okay, I think I found it.”

“How can you tell?”

In response, Chrysalis reached over and turned on the computer’s speakers. A ragtime song rang out, both strange and oddly familiar at the same time.

“Well,” she said with a grin, “unless Portugal the Man recorded a 1920s ragtime version of ‘Feel It Still’, I’m pretty sure I have what I’m looking for.” Tapping a few more keys, she began to speak into her mic. “This is Queen Bee. We are on signal isolation.”

“Hey there, hot stuff,” a smooth voice on the other end said. “Like my newest tune? Gotta be the hit of 1926, dontcha know!”

“I’m sure it is, CH. What do you have for me?”

The voice on the other end switched from joking to businesslike. “Reports check out. This Button Mash dude has been trying to find ways to smuggle people out of the city, but they’re getting caught in the dead zone between the old city limits and the combat line just north of Apple Corners. Apparently his wife is close to term, so he’s desperate to get her out of here. I think he’ll work with us. Do you want us to approach?”

“No, do not approach,” Chrysalis cautioned. “If he finds out we have forces within the city already, it might set him off. Things are precarious, and I don’t want shit to go south because his precious fee-fees got hurt.”

“Well, you’re the boss lady; we’ll back your call.”

“Good. Anything else I should be aware of?’

“Yeah, some rumors about hunting creatures the Octos have brought back from their homeworld or something like that,” was the response. “Might not be anything…but if it means they’ve deployed a new weapon or something worse, we should look into it.”

“Then do so and be careful,” Chrysalis ordered. “I expect to see all of you alive when I get there.”

“So you’re finally coming back out to play, huh? Knew you couldn’t live without me.”

“More like you’re lucky I keep you alive, CH,” Chrysalis laughed. “Anyway, give my regards to the others and do what you gotta do. Secreta semper. Queen Bee out.”

Secreta semper – CH out,” came the response, then the line went dead for a second before classical music replaced it, hiding their tracks.

Chrysalis slipped off her headset, then looked absently at the screen. “That can’t be good.”

“Yeah, tell me about it. If they’ve got some way of getting to the survivors, that means there has to be a reason they’re using it there, whatever it is,” Applejack commented. “I wonder if they’re trying to clear out the city?”

“Couldn’t they just level it?”

“Not if they’re looking for the same thing we are,” Applejack said grimly.

Chrysalis sighed. “Great, just fucking great. Okay, have a seat at a keyboard – you know how to type, right?”

“Not a yeoman, but I’ll do my best, why?”

“We need to get a report done quickly, and with staff still short, it’s going to be just you and me while Shining’s taking Lightning around. I want to make sure we get this to the intel community before we call it a day.”


CANTERLOT, COLORADO
150821TJUL30:

“Olympus, this is Athena. Do you read me? Over.” The voice came over the line as tinny and a little bit garbled, but was still overall understandable. Besides, the fact that it wasn’t in the best of situations gave the extra bonus of preventing them from being identified by voiceprint.

In a battered room, Button Mash flipped a switch, bringing his station to life. “Yeah, Athena, read you loud and clear,” he said into the microphone. “What’s the sitch?”

“The usual shit: we’ve got Octos crawling all up in our asses,” the person codenamed Athena replied. “Lost two people trying to recover the remaining medical supplies from Westside Hospital, but we managed to do so. But given that we gave as good as we got there, I guarantee the Octos are going to level the place soon. So if we’re going to get whatever’s left out of there, it’s going to have to be now.”

“Fuck.” Button Mash groaned; he did not need this shit this early in the morning. “Okay, I’ll talk to Zeus and Hera and see if they can deploy teams to back you up. Should be worth the risk, and hopefully we can do this without losing anyone else.”

“Fine, but I could just settle for a beer right now,” came the response. “You know if Pinch managed to get her mother’s old brewery working?”

“You know the rules, Athena – no real names or locations in the clear. We don’t know if the Octos can understand us or what they can get from our traffic.”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever. While we’re at it, who the hell chose Greek names? Why didn’t we go with something cool, like Cougar or Shark or something? Now as for me, I can see myself as a griffin or something, even though they’re fictional….”

Despite the situation, he laughed; leave it to her to bitch about the trivial things. “Sure, whatever. Anyway, just standby for further instructions, Athena. Olympus out.”

He cut the line and sat there for a few seconds in contemplative silence, running his hands through his hair. It was getting a little too long again, and he knew she hated that; she was probably going to insist on cutting it again. He smiled, however; she adored doing little things for him like that. It was just a part of their marriage…or what they would have, if they were technically married.

Doesn’t matter to me, though, he thought to himself as he leaned back in his chair. I’ve got her and I’ve got her for life. He then got up from his chair and walked over to another desk, one that had a battered laptop as its centerpiece. The laptop was still running lines of code for a project, and it had been a small miracle that the thing, state-of-the-art five years ago, hadn’t yet overheated, especially from the code it was compiling.

He would likely never achieve his dream of being a videogame developer, but at least he knew enough about code that he could put it to use to defend the lives here. And given the situation, life in Canterlot certainly needed defending, now more than ever.


“Button?” He turned to see a vision of loveliness approach: fair skin, pale mulberry and dusty rose hair in a short pixie style, and the most gorgeous spring green eyes he’d ever seen. He remembered meeting Sweetie’s sister Rarity, and while she was beautiful, elegant and refined, Sweetie was stylish and outright sexy. He was lucky as hell that he had her.

He walked over to her, embracing his love. “Oh, hey, honey, what’s up?”

She gave him a loving smile, patting her sizeable belly. “The baby kicked, and I just couldn’t sleep anymore,” she stated. She then pouted and added, “But I feel a little guilty about not being out there where I’m needed.”

“You don’t have anything to prove, love. I know you’re brave – everyone knows that. But sometimes remaining behind is the brave part. After all, someday our child is going to wake up to a world that’ll need peacemakers and people who forge the future. And someone once told me being a mother is the bravest thing of all.”

She kissed him. “You are such a bullshit artist, you know that?” she giggled.

“Hey, I managed to talk you into my life and my bed, right? Must be doing something right.”

She shrugged. “Hey, if you want the bloating, morning sickness and looking like a beached whale in the Rockies, I’ll be more than happy to trade with you,” she said with a grin before walking over to the workshop table, as something caught her eye. Looking at the laptop screen, she asked, “What’s this?”

“Coding compiling for the onboard firmware that Lachesis and I are working on for Hera,” he explained. “If this works right, she should be able to get out of her wheelchair, at least for a little while. She deserves to, given that she saved our asses.”

She frowned, not looking up at him as she continued to look at the screen. “Still with the codenames? We’re in private, Button – you know you don’t need to use them.

“Sorry, trying to keep in the habit so I can get the others to do so,” Button admitted as he walked over to the coffee pot to pour something for himself and his wife. “Zeus is insisting on it, given that we’ve been too lax with radio discipline as of late.”

“Fair enough,” she began. He was about to say something else, when she suddenly held her hand up. “Did you hear that?”

“Hear what?”

With the practiced, catlike movements of someone used to padding around, despite her girth Sweetie leaned up against the wall, pausing only to grab a pistol from a nearby shelf. Button took note of that immediately and rushed over to grab his carbine. As he joined her, she asked, “Can you hear it now?”

“Jet engine, or sounds like it,” he told her. “But there hasn’t been anything around—”

“—since Decimation,” she finished for him. She took a chance and peeked out the window, watching an arrow-shaped aircraft pass by in the sky above. “Aircraft of some kind.”

“WEFT?”

She grabbed binoculars. “Looks like a delta-wing with fuselage integration. Tail is minimal and based on the configuration, might be a ramjet,” Sweetie noted. “Too small to be a fighter. Drone, maybe?”

“Why would anyone send a drone out here, unless—”

The familiar whine of a plasma blast split the air, and a thick beam of energy lanced into the blue above, burning through the drone’s right wing and fuselage. The machine immediately plummeted from the sky, leaving a trail of thick black smoke in its wake as it headed towards the ground.

“Get to the radio,” she told him, going back to the binoculars. “Call the Moerae and have them check it out.”

“In broad daylight?”

“We don’t have a choice,” she reminded him, lifting the binoculars to her eyes once more. “Looks like it crashed in Greenvale Park – if we can get some of our folks there before the Octos do, we might be able to set up an ambush.”

“I don’t like this,” he told her. “I’m not sure we should bother chasing after a broken recon drone.”

“That drone had to be there for more than just recon, Button!” she told him. “The government had to know it would be shot down, otherwise they would’ve flown it at night or used satellites. I think they’re trying to get a message to us.”

“I hope you’re right,” he told her as he flopped back in front of the radio. “Olympus to Moerae. Are you in the field, over?”

A few seconds went by before a new voice came over the line. “This is Atropos. Was busy tryin’ to get some sleep before we went huntin’ tonight. What’s up?”

“We just had what looks like a drone shootdown in Greenvale Park. Need you to check it out.”

There was a rustle in the background, followed by the voice again. “Shit, if we get there in time, we c’n set up an ambush, even if it’s daylight. Great thinking! Okay, we’re on it. Find out whatever group is on patrol right now, ‘cause we might need some backup.”

He reached over for a notepad and looked at some scribbled notes. “Poseidon’s group is closest to you, so I’ll send him a note.”

“Ain’t Aphrodite or Bia on right now?”

“Yeah, but given the incident at the hospital it wouldn’t surprise me if Zeus is sending them to back Athena up.”

“Well, it is what it is,” was the response. “We’ll make do and report to you what goes down. Atropos out.”

“We’ll be waiting. Olympus, out.” He then went and grabbed his rifle once more, heading over to kiss Sweetie. “Okay, I’m heading over to talk to Zeus and Hera. I’m sure they already know about this, but we’re going to need coordination. You sit tight, okay?”

“I can probably get there faster than you, even while pregnant,” Sweetie protested.

“I’m not going to risk you or the baby,” he told her in a firm voice. “Besides, I have a feeling that I might have to get out there and take a look at that drone in person. Lachesis might know hardware, but I’m the software guy.”

She gave him a worried look. “Just…be careful. You remember what happened last week.”

“I’ll be careful, I promise,” he told her. “I’m not going to leave you as a widow, not now, not ever.” Kissing her one last time, he then headed out the door of their surprisingly-still intact apartment.

Sweetie watched as he went to the ruined street, then started moving through cover. They were uncomfortably close to where the Octos had their base, and if they realized that, it would all be over for them.

Her knuckles went white as she gripped the windowsill as she watched the man she loved risk his life – when she knew it was her job to do that, not his. She placed a hand on her stomach, briefly hating herself and Button for being stupid enough to bring a new life into this world, when there might not be a future for their child.

She recalled last week and the bawling, horrified pregnant woman she had to hold as she delivered the bad news.

“Yeah, I’m sure that’s what Two-Tone told Eclipse the last time he saw her,” Sweetie said in a sad tone, trying to convince herself everything would be okay in the end.

She never could.


BERRYVILLE, VIRGINIA
151327RJUL30:

It was amazing, sometimes, how some parts of a house felt so sacred. Sure, houses were for everyday life and for people to live and love in, raise their families and grow old in. But there were some parts of houses that seemed to be altars of a sort, memorabilia of a life gone from this world or something from the past. Applejack had known that sort of existence when she lived on the farm; her grandmother had dedicated a small portion of the living room wall to Bright Mac and Buttercup, the parents that Applejack had barely known before the car accident.

And now, as she stood in the living room of the house that Shining and Chrysalis called home, she knew the presence of a de facto family altar when she saw one.

She reached over and picked up the portrait, an image from 2023, or what seemed like a lifetime ago. In it was a younger Shining, posing for a picture, with a beautiful young woman next to him, a woman with beautiful olive skin, expressive violet eyes and long golden, rose and violet hair. The two between them held a bouncing little child, an adorable little girl with slight curls of violet and arctic blue framing eyes of light blue. She had her father’s eyes and her mother’s features, and as the three sat in the picnic area of Greenvale Park in downtown Canterlot, the future looked so bright and cheerful.


“There isn’t a day that doesn’t go by when he doesn’t miss them,” a voice said behind her. Applejack turned to see Chrysalis, holding a beer for her.

“I’m….” Applejack began to explain, but the other woman shook her head.

“You looked as though you knew what that kind of experience is like. Losing someone before you’re ready to.” She took a swig of her beer. “I’m lucky. I grew up with a charmed life in Badlands, New Mexico. Only child, my parents were as fit as fiddles and I’m sure they were fine until Decimation; they weren’t happy about me joining the Agency, but I like to think they were proud in the end. But Shining….” She sighed. “He loved Cadance, more than he could ever say. And his daughter? Flurry Heart? I just look at her and…well, I know this is going to sound strange, but it makes me angry. Angry to see that I have a stepdaughter that I’ll never get the chance to know.”

“Complex much?” Applejack asked as she accepted the beer from her coworker.

“Sorta. I know if Cadance was still alive, Shining and I wouldn’t be together. Hell, if Decimation hadn’t happened, we probably would have never even met. But I’m not jealous – I don’t have a right to be, nor am I that petty. I don’t begrudge him the fact that he still loves them, and I know he loves me. After all, the heart is too big not to love what you’ve lost and yet still care for what remains. Maybe that’s what makes us human, which is more than I can say about the Octos.” She smiled sadly and asked, “What about you?”

“Raised by my grandmother,” Applejack told her. “When I was nine, my parents were killed by a drunk driver. She survived without a scratch, but my parents…well, I remember there was a closed-coffin funeral for a reason. The woman that did it ended up serving a dime in prison, but it never felt like it was enough. My brother and I barely knew our parents, it felt like – and my kid sister doesn’t even remember them. I’d like to think they’re proud of what I’ve made of my life, but it’s not like I can ask them or anything, you know?”

“Well, here’s to the dead: may they rest better than we do,” Chrysalis said, holding her beer up. Applejack clinked her bottle against the other and both downed it.

“So, you hungry or anything? Shining’s almost got the burgers done, and we should probably rescue him from hearing any more of Dusty’s tall tales of when she was a pilot.”

Applejack laughed. “Yeah, French whores always do that.”

Chrysalis raised an eyebrow. “French whores?”

“Navy nickname for fighter jocks, because they carry themselves differently from other aviators. Don’t know if the Chair Force calls them anything similar.”

“I’m sure we can ask,” Chrysalis said as she ushered the SEAL towards the backyard, where Shining and Lighting were already mock-arguing over which service was the best. Applejack decided to stay out of the conversation; after all, everyone knew the answer to that – it was the Navy, obviously.

Still, as burgers were had, friendships were established and old stories were told, Applejack’s mind went back to the picture of Greenvale Park and a younger Shining Armor, taking a picture with his wife and child and unaware of the horrors that were yet to come just two years later. Applejack had already long left Canterlot by that time; in 2023, she was already a SEAL and deployed to hot spots around the world, back when the enemies were still fellow humans and things seemed so much simpler than they were now.

But that in itself was a lie, she knew – she’d betrayed Sunset and had her own regrets.

There wasn’t really something “simpler” for her.


CANTERLOT, COLORADO
151727TJUL30:

Sitting by the wreckage of the drone, a USAF RQ-180 Wraith, Button was busy pulling open the broken bay doors. Sweetie had been right; this was a message sent by the assholes in the government. The payload had far better protection than the rest of the aircraft, a clear sign it was meant to be a cargo drop, not ordnance. He wished he could save the whole of the wreckage – Lord knew what they could do with kitbashing the electronics and firmware into something they needed, but with a ruin slightly larger than a minivan, that was a non-starter. Best to set explosives and take the whole thing out.

“Hey, big guy, want to give me a hand with this?” Button turned to look at Bulk Biceps. Though he’d been a mountain of a man in his high school days, that always hid the gentle giant that he truly was. Somehow, adulthood had made him even bigger, and paradoxically even more gentle, almost timid. In many ways, he was like that one chiffon-haired girl that had been in the same age group as Bulk. Shutterfly, or something like that. In any case, in the time before Decimation, Bulk had run a hair salon and was known for his gentleness with his expansive female clientele. Now, he served as muscle for the resistance, though it was a passive sort of muscle, given that he was practically a conscientious objector.

“Sure thing,” Bulk said in that strangely racking voice of his. In many ways, it was like that comedian from decades ago – Bobcat – but unlike that comic, in Bulk’s case it wasn’t an act or an attempt to sound off-kilter. It was just who he was.

“Careful with that thing, Bulk. Could be valuable,” a third voice chimed in. Hearing that, Button chuckled; figured of all people she would be the most likely to freak out about it.

He looked up into apple green eyes. “Bloom,” he said simply, acknowledging her.

Apple Bloom looked back down at him, her long red hair tied back in a ponytail via a familiar yellow bow. Funny that she was in her mid-twenties and yet still rocked basically the same hairstyle she’d had all her life, it seemed. But the cold look in the once-vibrant eyes told a different tale. It was the tale of a woman that had gone through hell, the same as the rest of them. The look of a girl who had once dreamed of being an engineer or scientist, and was now one of his most cold and calculating snipers. She’d put her knowledge to math to use in a way far different than she’d done before, and many an Octo had fallen to her shots.

Since Sweetie’s sister had gone long before Decimation and Bloom had stayed, she was the closest thing that his wife had to a sister – and thus he to a sister-in-law. Additionally, they were working on the exoskeleton that would let Hera walk again, so they worked well together.

“That th’ payload?” Bloom asked him.

“Yeah, funny how that worked. Those jackboots shielded and padded the thing in order to make sure that we’d get it,” Button told him. “We’ll have to open the box later when it’s safe, but I get the feeling that if they wanted to kill us, they would’ve just dropped a nuke on us now and wiped their hands.”

Bloom frowned; they’d had this conversation before. “Button, they can’t be all bad,” she reminded him for what felt like the umpteenth time.

“Bloom, no offense, okay? I know your grandpa was a state senator, but that was ages ago, long before you were even born – and back before those fuckers in Washington abandoned us! Federal government pulled out whoever would run away and just left the rest of us to rot! And now, suddenly they give a fuck? There’s maybe, what, ten K of us left in this festering shithole that used to be our hometown and now they want to play nice? Fuck that.”

With some strain, Bulk pulled the second of the cargo boxes free. Hefting one over his shoulder, he waved over a couple of guys to help with the second one. “Can’t carry both of them and navigate the terrain,” he apologized.

“Hey, big guy, th’ fact that you’re able to do so in the first place is a miracle in and of itself,” Bloom said with a grin. “‘Bout the only good news we’ve had today.”

“Something wrong?” Button asked.

“Yeah. Given that it’s late afternoon and the drone crashed this morning, ain’t it strange that th’ Octos really haven’t come out? Ah mean, sure, we’ve got a couple o’ slagged corpses over there,” she said, pointing into the slight distance where some of the other resistance fighters stood, “but that wasn’t our doing; that was just wreckage from the drone and they were in the wrong place at th’ wrong time.”

“Maybe there’s a holiday they’re celebrating?” Bulk suggested.

“Like what? ‘Yay we fuckin’ killed another human’ day or something?” Bloom drawled.

“I’m not sure that’s it.”

Button thought about it. “No, she’s right. Given that this was a major tactical issue, I would think the Octos wouldn’t ignore it.”

“Maybe you’re just thinking too much like a human would,” Bulk reasoned. “I mean, do we really know how they think?”

“Sugar, they’re tryin’ to kill us all,” Bloom snarled. “Ah don’t really give a fuck what they think.”


The trio was about to argue more when a voice came over the radio: “Hey guys, you’d better hurry – something is going down over by the main entrance to the Octo base.”

Button smiled grimly. “Up for killing more Octos, Bloom?”

She gave a laugh. “Hey, we gotta make up the slack since you knocked up Sweetie.”

A keening cry rent the air, a sad yet high-pitched tone like nothing they’d ever heard before.

That can’t be good,” Button said. “Okay, let’s wrap this shit up! Bulk, follow the others and see if you can get this to the subway station; we’ll take the shit underground to camp.” He pointed to two others. “Okay, you three give them cover. Do whatever you have to do to make sure this shit gets to camp safely, am I clear?” They nodded and got into position.

Bloom looked at two others. “You two cover us while we install the explosives.” She then pulled out a small radio and hit the button. “Atropos, what’s th’ eye in the sky say?”

“We have our folks engaging what looks to be like….” The voice faded off into nothingness before it became frantic. “Holy fuck! Get out of there, now! Our guys are getting slaughtered over there. I’m going to provide cover, but you need to get out of there quicktime!”

Bloom and Button looked at each other worriedly. “Atropos, what’s going—”

“Not now, Bloom!” came the response, followed by gunfire on the other end. “I’m busy!”

That was enough to get the groups to spring into action. Bloom took off her backpack and opened it, pulling out pipe bombs, as well as some electrical tape. “What do y’ think, one or two?”

“All of them,” he told her. “We need to make sure nothing’s left.”

“Gonna to take a while to make new ones,” Bloom said.

“Yeah, but better that than letting this fall in Octo control. I don’t want them to get any more advantages on us than they already have. We’re hanging by a thread already, and if the fucksticks in Washington have finally decided to descend from the Mountain to help us proles, then we can’t let their stuff be exposed either.”

The strange cries rang through the air again. In the distance gunshots could be heard, as well as screaming.

The group worked faster.

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