• Published 23rd Mar 2019
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Fallout Equestria: Influx - Beyond the Adventure - Lex the Pikachu



Crystal and the False Princess must now live with the consequences of their actions while settling into their new roles in the Wasteland.

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Recovery

Author's Note:

Merry Christmas everypony. I'm sorry this took so long. I had intended to get it out before Christmas Day but i had work and soooo many presents to wrap that i didn't get around to it until now.

I hope everypony has a wonderful Christmas Day and I hope you'll enjoy this chapter.

Fallout Equestria: Influx
Beyond the Adventure

Recovery


12 Hours after the destruction of the Production Facility.

“Still no sign of her!” A green alicorn cried out as she paced about frantically in the old ski lodge lobby. The assembled group of ponies in front of her could only watch.

“We’ll find her Tratos, don’t worry,” Dr Pear said soothingly. The frantic alicorn turned to the damaged cyborg zebra beside her.

“WHERE IS SHE? SHE WAS SUPPOSED TO HELP YOU SO WHERE IS SHE?!”

Nexus stepped up in front of the crestfallen mare and fixed the alicorn with a fierce glare. “That is enough, Tratos. If anything, it’s my fault she’s missing. I told her to wait for us by the MASA HQ until we left the facility. Why she left, I don’t know. Perhaps something spooked her, or she needed to find better cover.”

The alicorn snorted, turned around and stormed off. Dr Pear sighed sadly.

Crystal frowned with what was left of her face. She couldn’t help but feel a little responsible. Oxanna was there to help her and her friends rescue Xian and escape.

“Is she going to be alright?” she asked with concern, her voice having an electronic buzz thanks to the damage she had received.

Dr Pear looked down for a moment. “I don’t know. It has been a long time since we lost an alicorn, and what makes this case more unfortunate is that they were sisters even before they were transformed. She must’ve felt her connection with her get severed.”

“What does that mean?” Fruity asked curiously.

“Well, the green alicorns have a strong link with the ones they were paired with; stronger so if they were originally related.”

Fruity opened his mouth, but the doctor raised a hoof.

“And before you ask, losing their connection can amount to a multitude of reasons; from being too far apart to one being dead. But until we can find Oxanna, we can’t know for sure what happened.”

“I hope she’ll be found soon,” said Crystal.

“I hope so too, but right now, we need to get you to Upgrade Station Alpha for repairs.”

“Wait, what?!”

“Why there? Can’t you fix her here?” Fruity asked, just as concerned as his marefriend.

Dr Pear put on a flat look. “Yeah, I can… With the right materials and tools.” She gestured to the lobby around them. “Does this place look like an advanced laboratory to you?”

“But your lab-”

“-Is outfitted for medical purposes and light repairs,” She jabbed a hoof at Crystal’s exposed chest where a mess of twisted blue wires sat, circled around a diamond-shaped indentation. “I’ll need spare parts from the Upgrade Station to repair her regeneration system, and on top of that, she needs a new set of wings and various other parts to help the repairs along.”

Crystal quaked with fear, her one intact eye going wide. “I… I don’t w-wanna be disconnected again.”

“Disconnected?”

“Sensory deprivation, ma’am,” Nexus clarified.

“Ah. Don’t worry. I’ll be able to do the repairs without you being connected to the system like that, but it will hurt as a result.”

“I don’t care how much it’ll hurt as long as I’m not locked in my own mind again.”

Dr Pear nodded and turned to the lobby’s reception desk. She then tapped a button on the intercom.

“Gin and Lyn. Report to the main lobby, please.”

Shortly thereafter, a pair of bright flashes appeared as a pair of green alicorns teleported into the lobby. Their sudden appearance caused both the zebra filly and purple pegasus to shriek in fright.

“Bloody hell… Don’t do that!” Fruity whined.

The two alicorns bowed their heads apologetically. They turned to Dr Pear and awaited instruction.

“Please open a bridge to Upgrade Station Alpha.”

The two nodded silently and walked towards an open space. One of them disappeared in a flash, while the other stood there and waited.

“Don’t talk, much do they?” Fruity whispered.

Crystal nudged him in the ribs disapprovingly. He wilted further upon noticing similar looks from Dr Pear and Nexus.

Seconds later, the other’s long horn began to glow brightly, and a swirling vortex of magic appeared in front of her. She gave the doctor a subtle nod.

“Alright everypony, let’s go,” the doctor said. She walked up to the alicorn’s side and approached the vortex. As she came closer, the magic cleared to reveal a burned-out house, nestled between the cliffs of the north-eastern desert outside of New Pegasus. She walked on through, instantly stepping out onto the sand as if she simply passed through an open door.

The whole group eventually joined Dr Pear. Crystal and Fruity felt a little uneasy being back here, the events leading to the former getting changed into a zebra-pegasus still fresh in their minds. Fruity felt a wave of guilt wash over him, for he felt solely responsible for his love’s unwanted upgrade. Sensing their anxiety, Dr Pear turned towards them.

“Don’t worry. Everything will be fine. Lyn, stay with us, please. I don’t want you out of my sight.”

It didn’t take long for them to find the stairs to the basement, and the Upgrade Station’s main entrance. The doctor grunted in mild pain as her uplink cable emerged from the back of her neck and snaked around until it inserted itself into the door’s control console. The console’s red light flashed green before the large security door opened.

The automated system greeted them. “Welcome, Dr Pear.”

Dr Pear retracted her link cable with a sigh of relief. She headed on inside with the alicorn following close behind. She strode up to the main centre console and noted the crack in the corner of the screen.

“Bear with me a moment,” she said as she ventured deeper into the station. Crystal and her companions held back and waited.

Mater quod odore,” Xian whined, wrinkling her little nose in disgust.

“Something smells?” Crystal asked confusedly. She then sighed in realisation that her sense of smell was shot as well.

“It wasn’t me, I swear,” Fruity said defensively.

Before long, Dr Pear returned with a flat screen monitor floating beside her. “Sorry for the wait. I’ll get this place up and running so we can begin.” She placed the monitor on top of the console in front of the broken screen and plugged it in. Once connected, the doctor rebooted the system. Within moments, the facility’s lighting turned on. The source of the foul smell also became clear. A table, once hidden by the darkness, stood just feet away from the centre console, with the dead body of a young unicorn mare lying on top. Fruity was quick to cover the filly’s eyes with a wing.

Nexus, like the rest of his friends, knew who the mare was, for Unit-03 was using her appearance and name. He walked over to a row of lockers and searched them for anything he could use to cover the body with. Thankfully, he didn’t have to search long before finding an old lab coat, which he then used to drape over the body. Once that was done, Fruity retracted his wing. Crystal went over to give him an affectionate nuzzle but stopped herself when she remembered that half her face was still missing; so, she gave him as much of an appreciative look that her damaged face could muster.

“Alright, before we get started, Crystal, can you give me a damage report, please?” Dr Pear asked.

“Um, h-how do I do that?”

“With your Pipbuck. Since it’s connected to your system, it can display a damage report under your ‘Status’ tab. I want to know precisely what’s wrong.”

Crystal looked down at her Pipbuck. She lifted it up to get a better look at the screen. With some concentration, she mentally flicked over to her Status tab, and just as the doctor had said, she found a secondary tab that displayed her mechanical and electronic statuses.

“Oh, um, wow. Err, where do I start?” Crystal gulped in shock at the large list dominating the screen.

“Start from the top, please.”

“Um, ok. Auto-Repair offline, Regeneration System offline…” And so, the mare began to read off fault after fault.

Dr Pear sighed once Crystal finished the list. Besides the two major systems being offline that would ensure the cyborg’s recovery, there were also a multitude of minor damages such a crippled locomotors and servos, and fractures and cracks in her endoskeletons.

“Ponyfeathers…” Dr Pear groaned as she stood up and walked into a side room. When she returned, she carried a thick cable which she connected to the console. “From what you just told me, I’m going to have to do a little reprogramming to fix your auto-repair system, along with everything else.” She tapped a few buttons on the console, and the upgrade chamber opened. “It might also be more beneficial if I were to upgrade you a little.”

“Upgrade?! Hell no! I’m not going through that again!” Crystal shrieked in defiance.

“Please don’t get me wrong. I have no intention of changing you from your current state, but with the damages your limbs have suffered, I think it would be prudent to replace your limbs with Mark 2 limbs, which are made from the same reinforced alloy as your chest and cranium.”

Crystal looked down at her right shoulder. Her wing looked to have been wrenched out of the socket, and the shoulder itself had clear impact damage with some very pronounced cracks in the metal.

“I… I don’t want to be locked in my mind. I-I can’t go through that again.”

“You don’t have to. That’s what this is for,” said Dr Pear, grabbing the cable with her magic. “Unlike the automated upgrade system, I can disconnect your head from your body.” Crystal and Fruity’s eyes went wide in shock. “Uh, not literally. I mean I can cut off your system from below the neck, so you won’t feel anything at all.”

Crystal turned to her coltfriend. “Do you think I should do this?”

Fruity looked at Dr Pear with a serious expression. “It’ll just be improved limbs she’ll get, right?”

“Of course. I’m not Colonel Ironside. I just want to make sure she’ll be ok in the future.”

“Then I think you should do it, Crystal.”

“O-ok then. I’m, uh, I guess I’m ready.”

Dr Pear nodded, but quickly addressed Fruity. “You should take the little filly outside. I don’t think she’ll want to see this operation.”

Fruity nodded in understanding. He gently picked up the little filly and placed her on his back. “Let’s give the good doctor and your Mummy a little privacy, ok?” Before the two left, Fruity looked back at Crystal one more time and mouthed, “I love you.”

Licuit erit mater?

“Um…” He paused and looked to Nexus for help.

“She asked if Crystal will be ok.”

Fruity nodded before looking back at Xian. “Yes sweetheart, she’ll be ok… I hope.” He couldn’t help whispering that last part.

“I’ll stay with them,” said Nexus.

“Alright, let’s begin…” said Dr Pear, dragging over a pair of steel chairs. “Lie down on these. Your limbs will go limp when I connect you to the system.”

Crystal gently rested her barrel onto the chairs. She cringed when she felt a chair press into where her stomach should’ve been if it hadn’t been ripped out.

“Ok, this will sting for a moment.” Dr Pear levitated a scalpel from her bag and brought it over to Crystal’s forehead. “I need to uncover your forehead expansion port.”

Crystal closed her intact eye and braced herself. She grunted and fought to hold still as Dr Pear began to cut deeply into her forehead. With practiced ease, the cybernetic unicorn cut out a clean circle and, with a sickly wet sound, pulled out the small piece of flesh. She then levitated the cable over, and with a press of a button, a large spike shot out of it.

“Ok, this will feel a little weird.”

She quickly shoved the spike into Crystal’s forehead expansion port. Crystal squeezed her eye shut in momentary pain before she suddenly lost all feeling below the neck. She looked up in confusion.

“Connection established. Ok, I’ll try to be as quick as I can.”

And with that, the good doctor began to work. Using the specialised tools that the station had handy, she cut away the damaged flesh and removed her damaged limbs. She then retrieved new ones from the upgrade chamber to replace them with, including new wings and a regeneration suppression ring. Within a couple of hours, all her mechanical replacements were done, and the doctor went to fixing and updating Crystal’s software and firmware. The final repair needed was a replacement regeneration talisman, and that’s where they ran into a problem.

“No regeneration talismans!” Dr Pear cried.

“Where can we find one?” Crystal asked desperately.

“The Production Facility…” Crystal went pale. With the facility now destroyed, that meant its stock of parts were most likely destroyed as well. Dr Pear watched as Crystal’s despair twisted what was left of her face. With a determined frown, she pulled off her lab coat and used the scalpel to cut into her own chest. Crystal cried out in shock at the display. She could only stare as the doctor used her magic to pull the self-inflicted wound apart, where a pink glow began to emit from inside. Dr Pear grunted in discomfort as she pulled her chest further open and yanked her regeneration talisman out from within it. After that, she sighed in relief and let go of her wound, allowing it to close.

“Why did you do that?! Don’t you need that?” Crystal squeaked.

Dr Pear gently brushed her hoof across the cut before answering.

“You need it more than I do right now, and I don’t intend to go on any wild adventures anytime soon,” she said. She levitated the gem over to Crystal’s new suppression ring and inserted the gem into its housing. Once in place, it glowed brightly. “Ok, I just need to cut away the damaged flesh that has already begun healing, so your recovery won’t be impeded.”

“What do you mean?”

“Our organic flesh will heal naturally, so if I don’t remove the flesh that has healed recently, the regeneration process will result in large, ugly trench-like scars across your body. So, by removing those pieces, your regeneration will restore your original appearance almost entirely. You’d still have scars, but they’d be hidden under your fur… well, apart from that cut over your left eye. I don’t want to cut a large chunk of your face off just so you don’t get a small scar there.”

“H-how long do you think it’ll take?”

Dr Pear reconnected Crystal’s Pipbuck to her new left foreleg. “It will take at least a month or two to fully regenerate your flesh, and for your repair system to correct any remaining faults. But don’t worry, you and your friends are more than welcome to stay with us at the lodge while you recover.”

“Thank you, Doc…” Crystal stopped and cringed as Dr Pear removed the spike from her forehead.

“Think nothing of it. It’s the least I could do after everything you’ve done for me.”

XXXXX

Four weeks later, Crystal Éclair finally had flesh completely encapsulating her endoskeleton, but it was still far from fully regenerated. Crystal looked like a horrible burn victim, her flesh regenerating into a twisted, melted mass.

During this time, Crystal and her new family witnessed the deteriorating state of Tratos. In that timeframe without her sister or any signs of her being found, the alicorn had become increasingly unstable; not even her close friend, Umagon, could console her. In the end, she snapped and couldn’t wait any longer, so she vowed to go find her herself.

Dr Pear tried to keep in touch with Tratos using her long-range communication system through the ski lodge’s radio transmitter, but shortly before Tratos was to reach what they had dubbed the ‘Meadowlark Crater’, she disappeared. Dr Pear couldn’t tell what had happened, thus she was prompted to scan for any possible Mark 2 units that could’ve survived. Like before, it turned out negative. It did, however, result in a positive reading of Unit-1000, but only for a moment. Dr Pear requested the aid of Nexus to investigate, but he returned with a negative report of his own. She chose to keep the reading a secret from Crystal; she didn’t want her to worry.

The news that Tratos had also disappeared rocked the community of the Alicorn Sanctuary, making plenty of the more sound-minded alicorns refuse to leave the makeshift town. Some even started to doubt their own safety, but Dr Pear did her best to try and calm them down.

Crystal herself didn’t leave her room often, for she didn’t want any of the ponies living there to see her while healing. She couldn’t even bare to look at herself. Thankfully, though, Tooty Fruity and Xian were enough to distract her for the most part.

Her coltfriend did everything he could to make her as comfortable as possible; and to her relief and happiness, he was not repulsed by her appearance. She felt very lucky to have found a stallion like him. Xian was understandably frightened by her mother’s appearance, at first. However, after a little coaxing from Fruity, she soon came around, which made Crystal all the happier.

The next big development to occur happened four weeks later when Umagon left to try and find her missing friends, and then subsequently disappeared. Dr Pear declared that no alicorn was to leave the Sanctuary unsupervised after that. There was no telling what was happening, but the doctor theorised that an alicorn hunter was at work in the Marejave Desert. It wouldn’t have been the first time that such a threat had occurred.

After three months, Crystal had finally, fully recovered. The process ended up being slower than expected, since her rechargeable Mana-Core would cause the healing to stall until it regained a sufficient charge. By that point, Crystal was feeling angsty from being cooped up for so long. It didn’t help that her pegasus instincts really wanted to jump out the window and fly; an urge that got stronger every day.

Crystal cooed in delight as she rose into the air, her large wings flapping slowly, savouring the cool mountain air flowing through her feathers and blowing across her fur. Fruity smiled as he flew alongside her. Xian sat under Nexus for shelter while she watched her parents fly together.

“Whoa, easy there, Crys. Let’s not get too carried away,” he cautioned. He could see his marefriend’s mane and tail briefly flash into a two-tone gold and orange, recognizing it as a sign of her turning into ‘Lightning Éclair’.

Crystal felt the pegasus magic surge and took a deep breath to calm herself. “Oh, I’m sorry. It’s just been far too long since I felt the wind in my feathers.”

Fruity smiled and took his marefriend’s hooves. “You sound just like a pegasus,” he said softly, kissing her cheek. “It’s so good to see you look this happy again.”

Crystal smiled adoringly. She leaned forward and gently pressed her forehead against his, cooing softly. Fruity tilted his head up slightly so their noses touched. He looked into her gorgeous baby blue eyes and watched her blush as they slowly inched their mouths closer together. Just as their lips were about to meet, the sound of a large explosion shook them.

“Fucking hell, what was that?!” Fruity shrieked. Crystal still had the mind to bop on the head for swearing.

“That sir, was an explosion,” Nexus stated matter-of-factly.

Crystal and Fruity landed softly beside the robot. Crystal gently wrapped a foreleg around Xian comfortingly, while Fruity gave the robot an unamused look. “Oh, you don’t say.”

Nexus shrugged (if he had flesh, he would’ve been smiling). Fruity turned in the direction of the sound and frowned. “You don’t think a scavenger is using dynamite somewhere close by, do you?”

Nexus opened his mouth but was interrupted by the sudden slam of a door, and a distressed looking Dr Pear sprinting out towards them. She frowned as she looked to the east before sighing irritably.

“Doctor, what’s wrong?” Crystal asked worriedly.

“Upgrade Station Alpha just exploded!”

“Oh, so that’s what that was…” Fruity’s eyes went wide upon realising what she just said. “Wait what?!”

“How?” Crystal gaped at the doctor, just as surprised.

“Something triggered its self-destruct. It could be down to multiple reasons, but I wouldn’t put it passed that deranged stallion to set the place to blow if there had been unauthorised access. He did everything he could to keep his sick project off the records.”

“What a cun-err, ahem, what a tosser…” Fruity had to stop himself from saying something vulgar in front of Xian and getting a smack in return.

“Agreed, sir,” said Nexus before turning to Dr Pear. “I suppose that offer to make me a one-point-five is out of the window, then?”

“Hm? Oh no, I could still do it. I just need to locate materials, a cybernetics lab and some nano-lathing tech.”

“Nano… what?”

Crystal groaned. She held her head as another piece of information was shoved into her head thanks to her electronic brain. “Ugh, Nano-lathe Technology. Working from a pre-determined blueprint, the system sprays microscopic particles layer upon layer until completed.” She blinked and shook her head. “Doctor, can you please turn this off? It’s annoying to suddenly have information dumped into my head, especially when I don’t want to know it.”

Dr Pear raised an eyebrow. “Of course. Please come to my lab later and I’ll see what I can do.” She turned back to Nexus. “So, does that mean you want to go through with it?”

“No ma’am. I appreciate the offer, but I was just wondering if the offer still stood.”

“Why not, dude?” Fruity asked curiously.

“I was born, or rather, created as a machine, and I’m much more accustomed to my mechanical nature. I currently have no desire or need to become partially organic.”

“Huh. Fair enough, I guess.”

Dr Pear nodded and returned her attention to Crystal, who was fussing over her daughter’s messy mane. Said filly squirmed and batted at the mare’s hoof with her little forehooves. She smiled at the sight and cleared her throat. “So, it looks like you’ve finally recovered.”

Crystal smiled. “Oh yes. It feels so good to be whole again.”

Dr Pear nodded and smiled back. “Good, good. Now, I wanted to ask you something.”

“Go ahead.”

“Now that you’re recovered, do you have anywhere to live and what do you plan to do now?”

Crystal’s eyes widened with uncertainty. “I, um… I haven’t really thought about that. I guess I intended to go back home since my house is still there, but as for what do now… I don’t know.”

“Well, you and your…” Dr Pear looked closely at the group before her. “Family are more than welcome to stay here.” She put a hoof to her chin. “Now as for what you can do with yourself… I’m sure there are plenty of jobs that could benefit from your cybernetic abilities. If memory serves me right, you used to work in warehousing before the bombs fell, correct?”

“That’s right.”

“Perhaps working for a caravan company might work for you.”

“Uh, nah. The life of a caravanner is wrought with danger,” Fruity interjected.

“Um, I don’t want to do something that’ll put me of my family in danger. I have a young filly to look out for now,” said Crystal.

Dr Pear nodded. She watched Fruity stand beside Crystal. Together, the pair gently wrapped a hoof around the young zebra affectionately. Nexus also took up position beside them, ever the faithful butler and friend.

“Thank you doctor, but I think we’ll find our own path,” said Crystal, nuzzling up against Fruity.

“Of course. I wish you lot the best of luck, and you will always have a place here should you choose to; and Crystal, enjoy your new life as a free and healthy mare.” With all that said and done, Dr Pear bid the family farewell and went back inside. Crystal smiled with a happiness that she hadn’t felt since before she first woke up in the wasteland. She looked around at her coltfriend, her mechanoid friend, and her adoptive daughter. She felt that happiness swell as she realised that Dr Pear had done exactly what she had intended for her when she made her an Infiltrator; she had given her, her life back without the ailments that once afflicted her. Now she can have the things her original life would have denied her: friends and family. Her future may have been unknown, for now, but that could wait until after she regained her family home.

XXXXX

The family journeyed back to the old residential district outside Hayside and New Pegasus, where Crystal’s old family home resided. Even after two hundred years of no maintenance, and with nothing special to protect it, it was in a surprisingly decent condition.

The area was close to the junk wall around Hayside, so the Queens were often seen close by, keeping the area free of unsavoury characters and, therefore, relatively safe. Crystal, Fruity and Nexus spent some time repairing the old house, including reinforcing the internal structure to support the heavy weights of both Crystal and Nexus, what with their metal skeletons that made them heavier than the average pony. They even fixed the hole at the top of the stairs, where Crystal had fallen through the floor and down straight through the kitchen and into the basement.

Crystal had quite the emotional episode when she and Fruity took the master bedroom due to all the reminders of Crystal’s past family. She was quick to push it all into the attic for her own sake.

Soon after, they started looking for ways to make a living. After some thought and asking around, they found that the best lines of work that could suit them were to be prospectors and couriers. It helped that Crystal and Fruity had a reputation already established as being local heroes, thanks to their sealing of Stable 16. This meant they already had ponies willing to hire them for such tasks.

Crystal enrolled Xian at the school in Hayside so that the filly could get an education. This school in particular taught foals much about the state of the current world, survival skills, and even some pre-war history. Crystal decided to attend the school also, mainly for the former subjects. She thought, at first, that attending with Xian might be embarrassing for the young zebra, but it turned out that the school didn’t have many students, and a parent often attended to keep an eye on their foal. Crystal encouraged Xian to try and make some friends with the other foals, but unfortunately, and predictably, most of the students wouldn’t entertain the idea of being friends with a zebra. Crystal had to defend her filly from the discrimination, while at the same time, endure it herself from the other attending parents.

Around three-and-a-half-months later, rumours of a white, red-maned alicorn began circulating. No pony was certain where it originated, but the one thing that was consistent was that the alicorn was first spotted in the eastern region of the Marejave, heading south towards the Grogar Mountains. Most ponies took the rumour at face value, but some believed them and saw the news as the first, new ascended alicorn since the bombs fell. They believed that the once beloved alicorn princesses of old were returning, along with the values they stood for.

XXXXX

It was about five months after the destruction of the Production Facility that life was becoming normal for Crystal and her new family. Fruity was happy to see how much more confident Crystal was getting with life as a Wastelander. She wasn’t as nervous about going out for work or using her weapons for defence.

To his surprise, she even came home one day with a new revolver. She told him it was a reward she received for a particularly fast delivery. It was a hunting revolver, a fairly powerful weapon. Unfortunately, the rounds it used were hard to get a hold of and very expensive.

Fruity eventually realised that he had been with Crystal for about a year since meeting her all the way back in Manehattan. Over the last several months, he had grown particularly close to her, more than he thought he would, considering what he’d learned about her true nature. However, it didn’t matter in the end, and he found he was in love with her. In fact, he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her, and he wanted to make it official.

Fruity sighed nervously as he left the house. He felt bad, for he told a little white lie to Crystal, so she wouldn’t wonder where he was going on his own. He wanted it to be a surprise. He spread his wings, ready to take off, when a voice from behind scared him half to death.

“Sir, where are you going?”

“Waugh!” He screeched and whirled around to face Nexus, standing by the living room window, and fixing the old window frame. “For fuck’s sake, don’t do that!”

“Sorry, sir, but I wasn’t aware you were working today.”

Fruity quickly looked around before rushing over to the robot, talking quietly. “I’m not. I just have an errand to run.”

Nexus blinked his red eyes in confusion. “Sir?”

“Look buddy, can you keep a secret?”

“Of course, sir.”

“I’m going to ask Crystal to marry me. So, I’m gonna go see Miss Queenie and ask if she can help me. I want to do this properly.”

“Ah, that’s wonderful. I understand sir. You have my word that I won’t tell a soul.”

“Thanks buddy. I’ll try to be back before dinner.” With that, the purple pegasus spread his wings again and flew off towards Hayside.

“Good luck, sir.”

A couple of minutes later, Fruity landed in the street that led to the old Rich Estate, now serving as the headquarters of the Queens Gang, and the place of residence of their leader, Miss Queenie. He took a moment to get his breath back and put on a confident face before strolling up to the gates.

“Can we help you, darling?” asked a bodyguard as he approached.

“Um, yes. I would like to see Miss Queenie,” he said.

“I’m sorry, but she is rather busy at the moment.” She sighed in annoyance, likely from having to deal with numerous ponies wanting to see her boss every day.

Her partner recognized the pegasus, however, and piped up. “Wait, Jade dear. He’s Tooty Fruity, the stallion that was with that zebra. The one who sealed up Stable 16.”

“Wait, seriously?”

“Yep, that’s me!” Fruity declared proudly.

“Oh, I do apologise, darling.”

“Do go on in, Mr Fruity. I’m sure Miss Queenie would be thrilled to see you,” said the other as the two stepped aside to let him through.

Fruity thanked the mares and quickly made his way across the courtyard and up to the front door. Before he could even knock, the door opened, and Miss Queenie herself was there to greet him.

“Darling, welcome!” She gave Fruity a friendly hug, taking him by surprise.

“Um, hi?” Fruity squeaked.

Miss Queenie released him and blushed in embarrassment. “Oh, I do apologise. It’s good to see you and…” She trailed off when she saw that Fruity was alone. “Oh, no Crystal or Nexus today?”

“Uh, no. Just me.”

“Not doing something behind her back now, are you?” she asked with a pointed stare.

“Uh, well yeah, but it’s a surprise for her.”

The older mare perked up and smiled broadly. “Ohhh, I see. How lovely. Please, come on in.”

Miss Queenie led Fruity inside and towards the old study. Once the door was closed and they were alone, the older mare turned to the stallion with an eager smile on her face.

“So, how can Miss Queenie be of service?”

Fruity sat down on a cushion and took a deep breath.

“Ok, ok. Um, well, I want to ask Crystal to marry me.”

Miss Queenie let out an excited gasp. “Darling, that’s marvellous!”

“Thanks. You see, Crystal is a pre-war pony, so I wanna do this marriage thing right by her. Thus, I was hoping you might perhaps have an engagement ring I could buy, to give to her.”

“Oh, how romantic of you! Of course, I can help you,” she said. “Also, you do not need to worry about paying me. Please come with me and I’ll see what I can find for your beloved.”

Fruity smiled gratefully. He then followed her out of the study and through the estate until they came up to the master bedroom. He sat down in the middle of the room while Miss Queenie walked over to a large vanity table and began to rifle through the many jewellery drawers.

After what felt like hours of opening drawer after drawer, she finally found what she was looking for.

“A-ha! Finally,” she muttered. She took out several gold rings, each with a diamond of various sizes embedded in them. “I don’t know why the original owner of this estate had so many rings, but these are what I believe to be considered as engagement rings in pre-war times.” She stepped aside and gestured Fruity over. “Go ahead. Choose whatever one you like.”

Fruity nodded as he stepped up to check out the selection. Meanwhile, Miss Queenie began looking through more drawers.

After a short time, Fruity sat down as he took a closer look at a gold ring with a small but noticeable diamond. He didn’t think Crystal would like something super flamboyant. She wasn’t a pony that cared much for jewellery or looking ‘fabulous’, as Miss Queenie would say. If anything, Crystal would’ve most likely been happy with even the smallest of diamonds. Even so, he wanted to give her a ring with a noticeably sized gemstone, to try and reflect how much he loved her. He nodded in satisfaction.

“I think this one will be perfect,” he declared.

“Wonderful, darling! Here, you can take these, too. They’re a pair of wedding rings to be worn when you get married,” she said happily, giving him a pair of plain gold rings. “Now as for where to get married, Duchess of the Canterlot Royal Hotel in New Pegasus has been trained to marry ponies. There are several others that live inside the New Pegasus wall who live something akin to a pre-war lifestyle. Oh, and if you take those rings to Stone Cutter, New Pegasus’s local jeweller, he can engrave the rings for you. Nothing would be more special for a wedding ring than to have a heartfelt inscription in them.”

“Thank you so much, Miss Queenie. This means a lot. Seriously, I owe you one.”

“Think nothing of it, darling. Now go. Make that mare the happiest mare on Equus.”

She promptly started shooing him out the house. Fruity nodded and was about to let himself be led out, but he stopped suddenly in remembrance. “Wait, hang on! Um, this may sound weird, but do you have any socks?”

Miss Queenie stopped and blinked. “I’m sorry, socks?”

The stallion chuckled and rubbed the back of his neck bashfully. “Hehe, uh, yea. You see, Crystal has a thing for socks and, um, I think if I hide the ring in a pair and give her the socks as a gift, it’ll be a nice surprise for her.”

The older mare chuckled and smiled warmly. “Oh, how lovely. Yes, I do believe I have a sock drawer somewhere. Bear with me.”

Miss Queenie went back to opening more drawers. It took her a few minutes longer, but she eventually found the right one, and she once again, gestured for Fruity to take a gander. As Fruity looked over the different sets of socks, he tried to remember what his marefriend already had, but his mind drew a blank. So, with a shrug, he picked out a set of two tone, blue-striped tube socks.

“These will do. Thank you for this. Thank you for everything,” said Fruity, stuffing the socks and the rings into his duster’s pocket.

Fruity bid Miss Queenie farewell and quickly took to the air to return home. As their house came into view, he stopped mid-flight.

“Wait, I’m gonna need some flowers. I need flowers if I’m going to do this right.” He rose higher to get a better view of the land below him. He groaned in annoyance as for as far as he could see there was nothing but sand and rock. He eventually spotted an unusually large green area, far to the west on the opposite side of New Pegasus at the foot of the mountains. He flew towards it as quickly as he could, grateful for all the morning workout flights with Crystal improving his wing power and speed. It was hard work to keep up with his fast marefriend.

He managed to make it there in less than an hour. He landed at the entrance to a small valley, all covered in lush grass. He smiled at the sight of numerous, colourful flora spread all over.

“Oh yes, these will do nicely.” He began picking the flowers, trying his best to have the bouquet as colourful as possible. He considered himself lucky to have found a patch of greenery in one of the least contaminated regions in the wasteland, considering that most of the current flora around was usually contaminated from all the magical taint and radiation. He’d been picking for several minutes when he spotted a billboard, half-grown over by the foliage, and with a message that set him on edge.

Project Eden’s Gate. Authorised Ministry of Arcane Science Personnel Only!

He looked down into the valley where he saw what looked like a stable door built into the side of the mountain. It was half-hidden by the foliage, and it looked to have been pulled ajar by what appeared to be thick tree trunks. He looked back at the billboard, and he noticed numerous bits of graffiti.

Stay away! The Plants are Alive! The Plants Kill!

Fruity gasped with mounting fear. Suddenly, there was a rustle in the foliage, and Fruity turned just in time to see a strange green mass disappearing out of sight near the stable entrance.

“Ok, I’m good. I’m not ready to become plant food.” He held his picked flowers close to his chest and swiftly took off. He didn’t see the vine that was mere moments away from coiling around his leg.

The sun was setting by the time the purple pegasus landed in front of his new home. He huffed and puffed tiredly from his long flight. He smiled as he looked down at the small bouquet and sighed in relief upon seeing that he hadn’t lost too much of any of them. He used a wing to take the flowers from his hoof to the top of his back. Then, he trotted up to the door, which suddenly opened to reveal a familiar mare.

“There you are!” Crystal exclaimed. “I was starting to get worried.”

“Heh. Sorry, Crys. I got a little… sidetracked.” The pegasus slowly maneuvered his wing to hide the small bouquet behind his back, but the keen eyes of his marefriend picked up the slight movement.

“What’re you hiding?”

He let out a slightly disappointed sigh and unfurled his wing. “I was hoping to surprise you with them inside, but, well… Surprise!”

Crystal gasped. She had assumed that much of the old world’s flora had been destroyed. It was welcoming to see that was not the case, to say the least.

“Oh Fruity, they’re lovely. Thank you so much,” she cooed happily as she took the flowers with her own wing and brought them to her nose to take a sniff. “Hmm. They smell as nice as I remember.”

Crystal and Fruity went inside and sat down for a late dinner. Later, after young Xian went to bed and Nexus was making himself busy, Crystal and Fruity cuddled together on the couch. Fruity felt increasingly more nervous as he looked at his duster draped across the back of the sofa. Fruity froze suddenly when he felt Crystal rest her head onto his chest.

“Fruity, are you ok?” Crystal asked, concerned at the sensation. “You’ve been a little off since you got back.”

The stallion gulped and nodded, steeling his nerves. “Y-yeah. It’s um, I’m a little nervous, to be honest. I’ve never done this before.”

Crystal raised an eyebrow. “Never done what before?”

Taking another deep breath, he reached over for the duster and pulled it down. Crystal watched curiously as Fruity started digging through all his pockets. Eventually, he pulled out a small bundle of fabric and presented it to her. Crystal smiled at the gift and took it gently. She gasped in surprise and glee when she found that the small bundle turned out to be a set of socks. Fruity smiled, and while she was busy trying them on, he slipped off the couch to stand in front of her. He felt his heart begin to race when she slipped a foreleg into one of the socks and stopped, as if she felt something inside it.

“Huh?” She gripped the solid object inside the sock and pulled it out. Her eyes went wide at the sight of the diamond ring.

“Crystal Éclair,” began Fruity, getting her attention as he knelt before her, taking her hoof. “Will you… will you marry me?”

Fruity squeaked in surprise when he was suddenly tackled to the floor and found himself in a bone-crushing hug.

“Yes, yes, yes! Of course, I’ll marry you!” Crystal squealed in pure happiness and cried tears of joy.

“You will? Oh yes, thank you, thank you!” Fruity cried just as happily and returned the hug. The pair’s emotions quickly took over, and the two started kissing passionately.

“The hole in the kitchen has been reinfor…” Nexus walked into the living room to find his friends in a state of shameless intimacy. He did an about-face and walked back into the kitchen.

The following day, the couple told both Xian and Nexus the big news and began planning their wedding. When Fruity explained to Crystal that Miss Queenie had helped him with the ring and venue, she insisted on paying her a visit to express their thanks, which they did. Fruity also took the time to warn the Queens about what he’d encountered in the fields.

The following week saw Crystal and Fruity tie the knot inside the Canterlot Royal Hotel. The wedding was officiated by the alicorn, Duchess, another friend/patient of Dr Pear, who was also invited to the wedding. It was truly a happy day, although Crystal couldn’t help but feel a tinge of sadness when she wondered if her mother would’ve been proud of her.

After that and their two-week honeymoon at the hotel, the newlyweds returned to their normal lives. Several months afterwards, Crystal felt that it was finally time to visit their friend, Silver Disc, back in Manehattan. They never did tell him of their success in defeating Colonel Ironside and their marriage…

XXXXX

1 year after the destruction of the Production Facility.

“Maybe this new alicorn is what the world needs. I mean, she single-hoofedly took Sparkle World back from Raiders, and what she’s built with it so far seems to be working,” Fruity ventured as he and his family returned to their home.

“I don’t know. It’s too early to tell yet,” Crystal said with a sigh. “Don’t get me wrong. She is helping, at least.”

“Hey, are you alright?”

“I dunno. It was a shock to learn that Silver is ill.”

“Yeah. I can’t believe it myself.”

“Yeah… It reminded me of my family before the war. Back when I was certain I would die young because of my condition. It must’ve made my Mum and Dad feel horrible. I’ve been thinking of my mother a lot recently; how I’ve never found out what happened to her. I want to find out. Say goodbye to her, you know?”

Fruity nuzzled his wife’s cheek. “Of course. And don’t worry I’ll help you the whole way,”

Crystal smiled warmly as she nuzzled him back. “Thank you, honey.” She looked up the stairs and at the attic hatch above. “I’m gonna need to get into the attic and go through all my Mum’s stuff. Hopefully, we can find some clues.”

Fruity nodded and draped a wing around his wife, eager to help her however he could.