• Published 22nd Nov 2022
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Fallout Equestria: Sisterhood - Crowseph Crowstar



A wayward soul will find that the greatest company one can keep is the company of the mare in the mirror.

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Prologue- Wayward Soul

Trust is a valuable commodity, not easily gained or found. You can’t trade for it; you can’t purchase it and you most certainly can’t steal it. It’s twice as valuable as food or water and twice as rare in the Equestrian Wasteland. Sometimes I like to think most of the nation’s supply of trust went up in flames when the Balefire bombs hit. Either way, if you don’t manage to get some of that valuable trust, you might as well leave and never return. Without trust, you’re nothing more than an outsider or worse, an outcast in our small little patch of home.

***

The toll of vessel bells and the smell of the humid air only a fishing wharf could hold assaulted my senses as I awoke from my hammock with a grunt. The last thing to recover from the heavy sleep was my eyesight as I struggled to remove myself from the comfort of my makeshift bedding. The rope made bedding threatened to drag me back to the depths of sleep as my struggle became futile. The black bliss of sleep had nearly recovered my soul before suddenly I was thrown to the ground, my hammock rolling and depositing me unceremoniously to the wooden floor. From behind I heard the faint laughter belonging to a mare I knew all too well. “Good morning……mother…...you devil.”

“Morning was an hour ago, Muddy Waters. You have work to do unless you’re taking the day off. Which you aren’t, so hop up!” The pale blue coat and paler green mane filled my vision as I rose to my hooves. Vivid Grove, my mom, was already trotting off with a half-formed smile. Somepony was pleased with themselves regardless of the evil they’d inflicted upon me. Yeah, I had work today and from what I recall, my older brother was pretty desperate to get my help looting some place up north along the river. I could see the faintest glimpse of her fillet knife and spatula cutie mark as she disappeared through the wooden doorframe. Checking myself over to ensure there weren't any splinters or bruised shoulders, I followed my mother’s trail to the small kitchen. Work wasn’t something I even needed to worry about considering I’m practically self-employed. That never stopped mama Vivid Grove from having a good laugh and tossing her three kids out of bed.

Our house wasn’t impressive by a longshot, but whose house was when you lived on a massive overpass that spanned the fake river below it. The smell of radigator steak overpowered the smell of fish that permanently filled the atmosphere around the town of Point Wayward. Oh yes, today was going to be a good day if the first meal was radigator. Relatively taint free and a little radiation never killed anypony. Immediately at least…. “I’m probably going to eat on the go, mom. Rough needed me for something today and I promised I’d help.” I wasn’t about to stick around after what mom said. If she was telling the truth, big brother was going to be livid with me. I was supposed to be there early in the morning, which meant he’d be a stage or two above just simple anger. The dictionary was going to have to come out for the next words to describe his coming wrath.

Without a word, the older mare gripped a spatula between her teeth and slid it under a particular large slab of gator meat before flipping over her shoulder. Not even a word of warning before having me do tricks to try and catch the meat between my own teeth like some dolphin! Granted, the meat hit home and I caught it effortlessly with my earth pony reflexes, but what if I hadn’t? I’m an earth pony, like my mother and father before me! Not some cat or circus animal! “Thanks for the meal and sudden workout. Say, where is everypony? Is dad still in town?” I asked as I carefully slipped on my scavenger’s attire. A nice brown coat with no less than 18 pockets, a duffle bag backpack and a pair of saddle bags to really drive home the fact it was going to take me longer to get home than it would to get to my destination due to the sheer weight of the shit I would be hauling home. And of course, to top off the ensemble, my sun-bleached red hat with a pair of goggles strapped around the top of the brim. It wasn’t weird that I also had a pair of goggles around my eyes and neck, bringing my total of these bad boys to three.

What? It’s a collection. I really like goggles, okay!

“Rough Waters is on the Market Pass, Clear Waters is down below in the fishery and your father is out on the water down river, near the falls. Now Muddy, please don’t forget your gun again. I didn’t buy this so you can leave it here.” Oh shoot, that might have been important. Of course, in a mother’s fashion, she had my dinky pipe revolver resting upon her trademark spatula. And like the rad-gator steak, she flung the gun at me sending it arcing into the air. It’s wooden mouth grip landing square in my teeth as I rapidly holstered the weapon in my leg holster before finally escaping my mother’s antics.

“Okay okay, you win this round, mom. I’m heading out.” She paused her cooking to glance in my directions and waved with a cheery smile. I thought I heard a ‘I love you’ through the spatula gripped between her lips, but mom’s special talent was butchering and cooking the more dangerous critters flowing through the Centennial River, not talking with cooking utensils in her mouth. “Love ya too! Assuming that’s……even what you said!” And there I was, out the door at last. The leather tarp that acted as a door did nothing to stop my rapid exit into the streets of Point Wayward Trading Post. Our home was a humble collection of scrap metal and driftwood buildings built over a x shaped double overpass with what used to be a highway beneath us. A long time ago it was used as a road for the rapid deployment of materials and military stuff around Equestria. Now, it was a flooded ruin that had sunk so far into the mud of northern Equestria that it had become a tributary for the Centennial River after a large enough storm rolled through. At least the overpasses were in decent enough condition to build our home here.

The stairwell that connected the top overpass to the bottom overpass kept the two parts of the settlement connected and helped with travel. The top, or Market Pass, was used for trading and other businesses. The bottom, or Residents Pass, was where the population made their homes. Below that, was the fishery and fishing wharfs that hung from the bottom overpass. A nice sized collection of buildings suspended by rope and steel cable from abandoned ships held the lower levels just above the water. When ships came through and needed to pass under, the buildings would be heaved up with massive wenches that pulled the buildings high enough to let large ships through. My big brother, Rough Waters, worked the market selling scrap and salvage. My younger brother, Clear Waters, was a fishing pony despite only being fourteen. I myself was only sixteen and Rough was eighteen. Dad, Deep Waters, was a proud fisher pony and was always on the water sailing for places to hunt the next river monster and put food in our bellies. The Waters family was dedicated at least. We fit the bill for the average Wayward resident.

Me? I was a scavenger. If you didn’t work on a boat or have anything to do with fish, you were a merchant. If you didn’t fall into either of these categories then you were a scavenger whose day-to-day life consisted of traveling up and down the river picking over dry docks, not so dry docks and waterside businesses from before the war. That’s my existence and subsequent outlook on said existence at least. My hooves carried me up the stairwell which led me to the middle of the market. Shacks full of goods and ponies looking to sell those goods were everywhere here which made it a little harder to navigate through the crowds of smelly sailors and eager merchants. The Northwest ramp leading down to the road below was where big brother Rough liked to set up shop and where I found work to keep the family going. Rough Waters was already waiting for me and judging by the frown resting on his face, he wasn’t happy at how tardy I was today. That more lively shade of blue coat just like mom’s topped with his light blue mane with traces of black going through it. No mistaking it because when my green eyes met his royal blue ones it was over. Upon seeing me approach, he waved off a couple of ponies he was talking with and rushed to meet me before I could get away. Maybe it was the fact I was trying, and failing, to sneak past his shop that spurred such a reaction, but with a steady stride he caught up to me with gusto.

“Let’s see. Pale green mane, unwashed and overgrown as usual. Smells like radigator meat. Jade green eyes and probably a light brown coat beneath that dirty jacket you’re so fond of. Unhealthy obsession with goggles. Nice try little sister, nice try.” I tried to run, truly I did. Facing the scorn and disappointed look only a family member could produce wasn’t on my agenda today. Tried being the keyword for today as my legs fell out from beneath me and I went sprawling along the asphalt. True to the words spoken by the merchant family member, my tail was a braided nightmare that was growing far too long. Something I was proud of to be fair, but it was also what he used to stop me in my tracks as a heavy hoof held my tail in place. A sharp pain rose up my hind quarters as he pulled my tail back. “You’re late again. When I asked you to not be late today because of how important today was, you said…...?”

No amount of puppy dog eyes or quiver lip was going to free me from this scolding. Didn’t stop me from trying. When that failed and his slowly increasing disappointment became more apparent, I relented and finished what he was saying. I knew that’s what he wanted me to do, it just embarrassed me to do it. “I said I’d be on time today…”

“You said you’d be on time. Should have known better. Look, time is extremely important today so let’s cut the crap and focus. Team effort today, and by team, I mean you. There’s really no one else on the payroll…” Rough gripped a sheet of paper in his mouth and dropped it in front of me. I wasn’t sure what it was until it unraveled at the touch of a hoof to reveal a map of the local area. Of course, what else did we use paper for besides wiping our asses here? Art? Ha, as if. “No room for the aloof personality Muddy. We got a big score coming from down south. Word on the river is something is happening up north near that Hoofington place. They got this ship full of Steel Rangers from Trottingham coming up the river in a day or two to back up some buddies in Hoofington and we’re going to be the first ones to get in on some trade with them.” Rough seemed unnaturally excited about the prospect of trading with the Steel Rangers. Of course, there was no love lost on them due to the fact they tended to seize technology for themselves and weren’t always keen on asking for it if they saw you in possession of said technology. You might get away with owning a working toaster or spark battery, but for the most part anything that used gems or magically charged tech was risking it when around those power armored ponies.

I rubbed my cheek as the fall had stung quite a bit, but it would take more than a tail stomp to keep an earth pony down. Especially a member of the Waters family! “Wait, hold on Rough. Aren’t Steel Rangers just glorified raiders? I’ve heard word on the ol’ rumor mill that some ponies tend to get robbed by those guys. What if they try to take our gem engines or our water talismans from our boats? We can’t exactly take on grenade machine guns and rocket launching power armor ponies with pipe rifles.” We barely survive the damn river leeches that are as big as a forehoof. A boat full of Rangers would level the town if they wanted.

Rough shook off the notion I was trying to pass and looked like he’d already made up his mind a while ago on this subject. “It’ll be fine! If we go out to Friendship and Freight up north and grab some working servos or something, we can trade for better weapons. Or at the very least a good bit of caps. Metal is always in high demand when you’re in that fancy power armor of theirs. They gotta have some kind of material to repair those tin cans, right?” He said the word ‘we’ a lot, as if he was ever going to make the thirty-minute trek from here to Friendship and Freight and fight off the feral ghouls that stalked the shipping company there. Maybe my tightening gaze was enough to convey my distaste for this whole scavenging run, because he stood at attention for all of two seconds before fishing something out of his own pair of saddlebags. From within the magic bags came forth the most delicious bit of prewar delicacy I could remember tasting. “If you bring me everything I need on this here list, I’ll give you a Sparkle Cola Cherry~.” Damn his special talent for being persuasive! The older stallion had his way of ensuring successful barters and this was no exception. His cutie mark was a bag with a bit sign printed on its side with three fishtails poking out of the top of said bag. Where had he even found such a rare drink?!

“I can’t argue with that reward. Fine, I’ll head out right away. Just remember your dear little sister when she fails to return and is ripped limb from limb by a pack of ferals. Woe, misfortune be upon me this cloudy day! My end is surely nigh!” I made the theatrics a little much, especially with the hoof over my forehead and fake dying. More than a few pairs of eyes were on the two of us as whispers began to break out. Score one for Muddy, zero for Rough.

Rough for his part wasn’t amused, but that was okay. He wasn’t meant to be, the pleasure was all mine. Heh. As quickly as a mole rat on an unsuspecting pony, Rough shoved a bag of ammo and caps my way and hurriedly began shoving me down the ramp out of town with his head. Maybe it was my endless chuckling and shit eating grin that got me this small bounty, but a win was a win. The more annoyed my brother got the better. “Let’s see here. A decent amount of .45 caliber rounds for my revolver. Very nice. An upfront payment? Why you’re too kind, dear brother. There’s a first for everything after all!!!”

“Just get the items on the list, Muddy and hurry home before dark. I know you can handle yourself out there overnight, but mother gets worried about you. And so does everypony else, so get in and get out. Got it?” As much as big brother liked to act his namesake and wear a rough business pony personality, he was always the worry wart. It was hard being a rough and tough pony here when everyone knew everyone else. Being an unnecessary asshole got you kicked into the river from the top of Point Wayward.

Plus, acting and pretending was my thing. Not a special talent or anything, but it was a fun little hobby. Not much else to do around town besides the shitty little hobbies you formed. I nodded to Rough and pulled him into a hug which he happily returned. Without another word, I made my way down the remainder of the ramp and left town. Time to get to work.

***

The day was cloudy as usual, not like it was even possible for sun to shine through that much with the permanent cloud layer cast over Equestria. It’d been that way for 200 years and no sign of changing anytime soon. Before I even fully left the ramp and made my way north along the river, my eyes wandered to a…. well, it was a thing. A black wagon of sorts with white stripes and strange markings around the base. Four wheels gave the wagon it’s way of travel, but no owner was in sight. Whoever parked their strange wagon here was probably in the market, or sleeping. The sight of such strange writing and color palette made my sides bristle like a startled opossum. Maybe it was best to hurry on towards my destination and not stare at somepony’s property. Just as I was turning to leave, I came face to face with the owner of the mysterious wagon. Of course, I nearly smashed right into him as I was more eager to leave than I had any right to. It didn’t help he was standing barely two feet from me like some sort of creep! As I quickly backpedaled to avoid an accident, I was mentally screaming and berating the stranger for having no respect for personal space. And when did he even get in my way to begin with? I hadn’t heard a single hoofstep other than my own!

“H-hey! Sorry, but could you not stand right on my…a-ass?” It wasn’t a pony I was getting angry at. The moment his striped hide came into view I knew it wasn’t a pony, but one of those zebras so many ponies disliked. He stood there, watching me silently as if he was looking through me rather than at me personally. For a moment, as silence held fast, I pondered the idea of just shaking my hoof in his face to see if he’d react. The moment I actually decided to try it, he opened his mouth to speak. His milky eyes bored into my own as if he’d finally acknowledged my existence.

“You are so alone my child. Even in a crowd you are plagued by loneliness. You drift between your jobs almost as if you were a robot following a program. Your days blend together, your interests forgotten and you struggle to bring yourself to care about any of it. I can see your destiny has alluded you, leaving you empty and…. without a special talent to call your own.” I could only stand there and gawk at the words thrown at me like rocks. The truth of them hit me hard like rain hitting an unprotected pony on the open seas. He wasn’t wrong, but that wasn’t what scared me. Anyone who knew me could come to that conclusion. No, what scared me was the fact he guessed correctly that my special talent had eluded me. I had no talents; thus, I had no cutie mark. Sixteen years I’ve been on this earth and yet my talent had never manifested. To say I was a late bloomer was an understatement. The thing was, I was always in my favorite cargo jacket which covered my flanks. A good number of the two hundred and eighty townsfolk knew I didn’t have it since keeping secrets in such a small town like the lack of a cutie mark was virtually impossible. So how did this zebra, the first one I had ever met, know I lacked one without seeing my blank ass?

“Don’t be afraid, my child. You are confused and scared, I’m sure. The sight has given me all I need to know, however vague. Though, in your case, the meaning of what visions I’ve managed to witnesses are quite clear.” Suddenly, his eyes lost their milky shade of white and black irises formed once again. I thought this crazy zebra might have been blind, but clearly that wasn’t the case. What was the case with this nut job anyway? Approaching the first pony he sees and starts going on a frighteningly accurate tangent about destiny and crappy personality traits wasn’t what I’d call a good first impression.

And boy was I about to let him know it. “Listen my striped friend, you and I have nothing to talk about. You really ought to work on your people skills before preaching about their destinies, or whatever it is you’re going on about.” I looked around quickly to see if anypony might be seeing this display of zebra craziness and wouldn’t you know, not a single pony was interested in dealing with the striped being before me. Some of the new arrivals to the market and guards were even turning away to avoid the awkward scene before them. I even saw one guard mare whistling to herself while facing away, but not enough where she couldn’t get enough information for dinner time gossip. Help a young scavenger out would ya! What does this town even pay you for!? Looking back towards the zebra, I notice just how old he was. He even had more wrinkles and gray hairs amid those black stripes than dad did.

“You didn’t rebuke my claims, I noticed. Maybe I’m on the right track and my sight has revealed things you wish to leave buried? Come then! Let us walk while we talk.” With a smile gracing his weathered features he took up a trot alongside me and, without asking for my opinion on the matter, made himself my traveling companion. The nerve of this zebra was annoying at best and I struggled to tolerate the idiocy from the aged outsider. I wasn’t a book to be read, nor a pony that wanted to be talked to. Heck, I barely talked to ponies outside my own family. Sometimes I barely talk to them! In the end, with a defeated sigh, I continued on my way north down the well walked path between the reeds and tall grass that grew like a wall within the fertile lands along the Centennial River. “My pony friend, if I may be so bold as to suggest another path. I’ve seen the area north of here and with certainty in mind, I can safely say the only thing waiting for anypony there is death.”

This day was becoming a slog and I haven’t even gotten to the hard part of scavenging, fighting for my life over pieces of garbage. “Excuse me for my skepticism, but did your ‘sight’ tell you that? I can’t risk going home with nothing and I’m not about to call it quits before even getting started. Excuse me for the disbelief…” I thought those words would be enough to get the zebra to leave, and for a minute I thought that might be the case as he began to outpace me and move ahead quite rapidly. After a few minutes of him walking ahead of me, I thought that was the end of that. It didn’t take long before all that thinking I was doing proved wrong. He stopped, moved to a bush and quickly pulled it aside to reveal what lay ahead of us. We’d traveled up a hill in the last few minutes of our thankfully quiet adventure. Now that we were elevated a decent bit, I could see what the old Zebra was talking about.

Fog. Not the normal kind that just obscures vision and proves to be a slight annoyance once it gets bad enough. The fog that comes off the waters of the Centennial is the kind that starts pouring magical radiation into a pony that stands too long within its cloud. Without proper doses of Rad-x and Radaway, a pony would lose their minds in the fog. Then they’d lose their lives as radiation worked wonders on pony anatomy. Well, that wasn’t always the case. Sometimes a pony didn’t have the good fortune of dying to the radiation and instead would shed their coats and skin to become a ghoul. Or, at least, that’s what I thought happened to them. All I know is not long after ghoulification, a pony could lose their minds and ability to reason with others. That’s how you get feral infestations.

Lucky me I just so happened to forget all about radiation supplies. There wasn’t supposed to be fog here, the weather just wasn’t right for it! I was sure of it, and yet there it was, saturating the land between me and my goal. Given my current streak of luck and hitting the ground with my head, my destination was probably also consumed by the unfortunate weather.

“My name is Shazan. Pardon me for forgetting to introduce myself. It’s not every day the Sight gives me a clear picture to work with. However, I did not need the Sight to know of the danger your land poses. I came to your town from here before the fog settled in. My eyes work just fine.” I’ve never seen another living creature give such a familiar, shit eating grin before. Score one for the zebra named Shazan. Zero for the stupid earth pony named Muddy Waters. A loss I’ll just have to accept as I reached his side.

Today was starting to look like a defeat for the Waters family altogether to be fair, but what else could I do? I wasn’t about to fail at the one task I’ve been given today. “Names Muddy. Muddy Waters to be specific. But today it looks like my new name is gonna be ‘fuckup’ once I get home and get chewed out for not waking up sooner and beating the fog here.” Yeah, this mistake was on me. No way Rough was going to let me live this down once I got home empty hoofed. I guess my growing gloom was apparent, because no sooner had I said the word ‘fuckup’ did the zebra start digging around inside some pouches he’d been concealing underneath his tail. At least I hope he’d been hiding it there and not up his ass. From within the pouch a flower was pulled. It wasn’t anything big or pretty given the fact it looked like it had been dried. It was when he decided to start sticking it up his nose did I suddenly get the impression this zebra I was rolling with might be some kind of drug fiend. Especially with the way his eyes crossed upon inhaling whatever was in that dried yellow flower. Hooves dug into the mud-covered ground as the zebra braced himself in some effort to remain upright while he rode out some sort of drug fueled trip. I was more than content just leaving him there to enjoy his altered state of mind when he clamped his teeth around my tail to prevent such an action. Eventually, someday, I was going to chop this thing down to size so people would stop using it as a floor mat.

“I can see it, my muddy friend. Your true destination and objective do not lay in this miserable place. To the northwest, but leaning closer to straight west, is your goal. By hoof and an hours’ time you’ll see the Sight has paved the way for faithful hooves. I can see it!” Shazan gave out one of the most ear grating wheezes I’ve ever heard before coughing violently. I thought I saw his eyes go from milky white to normal to milky white again before finally resting on his true eye color. Black pupils remained, although their tiny size suggested whatever he’d just done to himself probably wasn’t healthy. There was no way this sight crap was real. This had to be just a drugged-up zebra spreading his zebra witchcraft or something. Unicorns couldn’t even do what this zebra was claiming to do. Right? There wasn’t anyone back in Wayward who was reading ponies like books was there?

I was calling it quits. I wasn’t about to let a zebra overdose on magic mushrooms or some mutated fern in the middle of nowhere. “No. Not happening. I’m taking you back to the clinic to make sure you aren’t dying. You look terrible!”

“No no! I am fine Madame Muddy. Please, I beg of you. Travel to the west, northwest and see for yourself. Under the overhang of the largest rock, past the growing mosses and greens you’ll see a sight that is not meant to be. A door lost to time and to civilization. Or rather, a door to civilization. The Sight would not lie. I’ll return home on my own and rest within my wagon.” It was my turn to stop the crazed zebra from trying to run off. There was no way I could believe such crazy talk from a zebra snorting flowers and getting high right in front of me.

However, returning home with nothing to show for it was more than a little heart wrenching.

“Go my friend. I’ll be okay as long as you return and prove me right. Just give this old swamp born soul a day to recover. Honest.” He sounded so confident for a zebra shaking on all four legs. As much as my mind and semi good moral compass wanted to refuse and take him back to Point Wayward, my actual compass and gut said following his instructions was the best possible plan I could follow now that my original mission was a failure before it even truly began.

I pointed my hoof back towards the town. “Shazan, go home. I’ll follow your instructions, but you’re going to follow mine too. Get to the clinic, get some help and do. Not. Fucking. Die! I’ll never get to sleep if you died on the way back, or something. My conscience would never let me live this down!” He smiled softly and nodded; the energy visibly drained from his face now. Without a proper goodbye, I began to follow the compass and trudged through the brush in the direction between west and northwest. An hours’ time was all I needed right? Shouldn’t be too bad. If I couldn’t find this supposed destiny door then that was okay. I’d go someplace else to find salvage before night fell. So long as a little peace of mind came my way and the job was at least semi done, I’d be happy.

I’d be happier if I didn’t have to worry about a damn zebra stranger who’s name I’d already forgotten.

***

The longer I walked through the mud and pony tall grass, the more I began to suspect I was the dumbest mare in Point Wayward. There I was, giving some semblance of empathy to a zebra who was quite shameless in his display of chemical dependency. I actually cared if he was overdosing on his mutated fern or whatever it was he decided to stick up his nostril. I didn’t know if his zebra magic was some sort of future vision or not, and to be honest with myself I kind of didn’t care. Having some stranger trying to magic his way into my life, and more importantly into my head, wasn’t something I was eager to experience again. As if that was even real, assuming it wasn’t. There was no way Shazan would be able to tell who I was or what I was about just by huffing plant pollen! Absurdity is what that was.

The other absurd thing was me actually following his drug induced instructions. Travel an hour in the westward, northwestward direction and just hope I’d spot this over hanging rock? What if I got caught up on something and my journey took an extra thirty minutes? That was the primary thought running through my head as the hold ups finally presented themselves. The telltale buzzing of insects alerted me to the coming danger of possibly mutated hostiles. After about twelve minutes of walking, I donned my dirty green bandana and covered my nose and mouth with it. Combined with the goggles I always wore and my hat, I was fairly covered against the smaller insects like mosquitoes. What I wasn’t covered against was the mosquito’s larger cousins, the bloodbugs. Pony sized abominations that used to be the more annoying mosquito. Now? Now they were a deadly threat that could carry off smaller ponies provided they didn’t stab you with their needle-like noses first and drain your body’s worth of blood in a matter of seconds.

My eyes spotted the threat through the reeds and their bulbous tops. Three of the bloodbugs were swarming around a swamplurk, the new mutated variety of crab that had grown to be even larger than a pony. Usually, they walked on four chitinous legs and used their claws and tiny pincer things to tear the meat from bone on anyone unlucky enough to lose a fight with them. Didn’t help they were armored like a suit of combat barding. The swamplurk had buried itself in the mud to the point only its shell and small head poked above the watery dirt. A few bloodbugs were lying beside its resting spot, clipped apart by powerful pincers while the remaining three circled above trying to pierce its shell. Today was my lucky day. Well, maybe not, but this was a fight avoided. A bullet dodged. I was already well past the scene and on my way towards the unknown. I couldn’t have stepped in, murdered the insects and hunted the swamplurk for some delicious crab meat, but a couple of reasons prevented me from doing that.

Bloodbugs terrified me. Absolutely put the fear of Celestia and Luna in me. I’ll turn tail and flee any day over fighting those hell spawns.

The other reason was because I’d rather not fire off my revolver and attract more problems than I’d be able to solve. There were a few more instances of avoiding creatures and other unfriendly vegetation that delayed me. Swarms of bloatsprites, the occasional water worm and leech, spikey grass that poked my hide through my jacket like a doctor’s scalpel. I sighed heavily as I stomped a leech that was too eager to score a meal that it was just throwing its life away to nab. Judging by the position of the sun, it should be just about an hour’s worth of time having passed since I started this doomed journey. The progress I’d made wasn’t even that great given how awful these lands were with predators and mutated bug vermin. Another patch of tall grass was passed and left behind me and I stomped forward through the wet ground. I was more than ready to give up and admit I’d fucked up the entire days’ worth of scavenging to my older brother. The ground rose up slightly as my thoughts turned to a darker place. This was supposed to be an important job and I’d ruined it before it even began. Curse this broken sleep schedule of mine and Celestia take the fog to the pits of hell where it came from for fucking me. I could have been halfway done with the job had it not been for the radioactive fog stomping me down and making a bad day worse.

I was moping again. Complaining and whining were what got me through the crappy parts of the day. Not like anyone was out here to get annoyed at me. It was a good thing too, as the moment I was about to make the swamp know of how fed up I was, the ground disappeared out from under me. Before I knew it or even registered what happened, I fell almost sixteen feet down and landed in a shallow pony. Emphasis on shallow, given how I still hit solid ground and felt the terrible snap of bone breaking in my front right leg. My vision blurred and almost faded entirely into black as the air in my lungs was forced out and the pain sent my mind reeling. If I could just suck in a breath of fresh air and manage to not scream bloody murder, I could avoid suffocating and fish out a healing potion from my bag.

Crawling out of the shitty little pond that failed to break my fall, I plopped down next to the sheer cliff I’d just waltz off of and drained a healing potion of its contents. After this, I’d only have four more before any injuries were permanent and possibly life ending. I could feel the bones in my leg melt back together and the meat give enough room to make sure the bones were set before the full healing could take place. Nausea filled my head and my day's nonexistent lunch threatened to spill out. Maybe it was a good thing I hadn’t eaten the meal prepared for me by my mom. Probably would have thrown up if I had. Watery eyes remained as I turned my head to look at what exactly I had walked off of. Solid stone rock, with vines and rotting vegetation growing over the side to obscure what lies in the rock’s shadow. My non broken hoof wiped the tears from my eyes as shallow breaths returned to my lungs. Such a strange giant rock jutting out of the ground like my once broken leg did from the meat surrounding it. There, lying hidden by the rock’s shadow and overgrown vines was a wooden shack door built into the rock. “No fucking way. No Luna damned way…”

The zebra had been right. An hour walk and a giant rock led to a door so out of place it was almost comical. I’d be jumping for joy and bliss filled euphoria had I not been so damn angry at the zebra for not telling me more about the rock itself. Maybe I wouldn’t have walked over it and ate shit on the ground, breaking my leg in the process, had he said more.

***

Gosh, had it not been for the trauma of falling and breaking a limb in the middle of a swamp I would have been very okay with actually finding this supposed destiny door. Instead, I was bitter and angry at the world as my tender hoof pushed open the rotting wood door. Soft curses towards every little inconvenience slipped past my lips as my legs carried me into the safe confines of this hidden treasure trove.

Maybe treasure trove wasn’t accurate. The door led down into a narrow cave that looked like it extended underneath the rock and slowly transformed into a more stable tunnel that was actually built out of concrete. Cracks formed along the walls and ceiling which let water drops fall and puddles of rancid water form along the ground. Whatever was here needed to be looted before somepony else came along and took what I needed. Using my formerly broken limb was going to have to happen, as much as I’d rather not. A dull ache that made its way from the bottom of my hoof to the top of my shoulder would be a constant reminder that I was not a smart pony and should keep watch of where I was walking more often. With a deep inhale and small mental breakdown, I headed down into the unknown tunnel. First time being underground actually and I could safely say it wasn’t as pleasant as I’d imagined.

There wasn’t much light at all and the rancid smell coming from the pools of water made my already tear-filled eyes water even more. It reminded me of the time I accidentally played in sewage backup once the drainage ditch overflowed because I thought it was mud. A fun, refreshing day in the mud turned into a moment in my life I would never be able to escape. Ponies still reminded me of it ten years later. Spoilers, it wasn’t entirely mud.

Steady hoofsteps echoed through the tunnel that began to widen the further in I got. Concrete walls eventually gave way to a brown rust covered metal surrounding a machine along the far wall across from me. It looked like it was some contraption that was meant to move a giant vault door. Sure enough, a cog shaped wheel lay in its divots out of the way from the entrance it was meant to be plugging up. On the cog shaped door rested the numbers 98 in their cracked yellow paint. I wasn’t exactly sure of what I was looking at, but it had to be important for someone to build a giant ass door to guard it! My own house didn’t even have a real door, just a tarp we tied to the door frame to ‘lock’ the house up. Whatever this was, it was the jackpot I needed. Rough could sell whatever I found here, I’d get the finder’s fee of a lifetime or two lifetimes and those Steel Ranger weirdos wouldn’t jack our stuff after passing through.

“Alright Muddy Waters. Let’s do this. I can do this…” The whole scene before me was more than a little daunting, but as my hooves stepped past the threshold and into the rusted interior, the task at hoof presented itself. All around me were rusted walls and a control board resting behind some safety railing. It didn’t look like anything that I could salvage so ignoring that, I continued onward through a door on the right side of the room. More machines whose purpose I simply couldn’t identify. It was a single small room with a window overlooking the entryway. Maybe this was the door knob panel for the massive hunk of rusted metal. With nothing left for me here, I returned to the entry point and trotted to the opened door on my right which faced the opposite of the cog shaped door. This way held a little bit more promise as it was a long hall that led deeper into the facility here. Down the hall was a small gathering of radroaches. These bugs were the size of a small dog now which was a massive difference compared to the coin size they were previously meant to be. I didn’t even have to waste ammo as I stomped over their small bodies with delightful crunches. Radroaches were a nuisance and each one I killed brought me a little joy.

I had to wonder if someone was already here before me. Granted there wasn’t anything dead that I’ve seen, but the lack of valuables combined with the wide-open security door wasn’t bringing me any hope. I knew a picked over spot when I saw one and this was starting to check out as a picked over spot. Time would tell. Down the hall was a set of stairs that led even further down. Rust particles and thick clouds of dust floated all over the place. Without my bandana I might have been a little screwed health wise. Still might be, but again only time would tell. At the bottom of the stairs was a small hallway that led into a room with a handy sign above the door that glowed faintly. ‘Processing’ was the word over the door. Well, it couldn't be that bad. No delays or mysterious doors would stop this scavenger. With the press of the button located on the side of the doorway, the door opened upwards into the ceiling. Okay that’s new. Further on was something that looked right out of a clinic. Medical tables for ponies to sit on were thrown about and chairs on the left side of the room looked to be hooked up to a machine hanging over each of the five chairs. All of them looked broken except for the closest one to me. It glowed like an emergency glow stick, or a signal buoy that floated along the sides of rivers to warn nighttime sailors of the shore line to avoid running aground. Could this place be powered? Could be valuable if it still worked, whatever it was. So, like any good looter, I began to see about taking the chair and its helmet looking machine apart.

“Huh. Well, look at you. Bet I can sell whatever this is. Ugh, I mean Rough could. He’s got the gift for gab…” Some part of me wanted to try the machine out for myself to see what it did. I guess it wouldn’t hurt to try it out and make sure it was worth the effort. Of course, like a rookie scavenger, I was too caught up in the mysterious chair to realize something was coming up behind me. Without warning, a cold metal claw gripped the scruff of my neck and shoved me forward into the chair. Metal clamps closed around my midsection as the helmet came down and covered my eyes.

It was no use! The clamp around my torso kept me pinned in the chair and something had pushed me in. Did I have hearing damage because this is the second time today something has snuck up on me! “Welcome residents to your entry level medical evaluation and screening. We hope this process does not cause you any discomfort as we check all vitals and brain functions to ensure maximum efficiency health diagnosis. Please stand by for routine scans.” A robotic voice sung out to me in the most unpleasantly cheerful way it could. Someone was trying a little too hard on their scripts and it did little to alleviate my growing panic. As I struggled harder to break away from the machine, I could hear it powering down rather than up. A good sign maybe? Then I heard the damn robot speak up again. “It would seem the new arrivals are too panic stricken by the events happening outside. We do not blame you for these reactions. Please hold still as we apply a small dose of sedatives to help with stress and ensure no harm falls upon our waiting guests. Please stand by…”

The prick in my right shoulder spelled the worst possible outcome for me. I could feel the pain in my foreleg vanish which was a welcome event for sure. Then I felt the feeling in the rest of my body vanish alongside the pain. I couldn’t even bring myself to panic, or fight off the effects of the drug flowing through my veins as conscience escaped me and flung me into a world of black. “N-no……wa…. wait….” and like that I was gone.

***

Oh, the dreams I could have while under the effects of drugs I didn’t consent to. There were flashes of a zebra huffing brahmin dung from a paper bag, moon sized bloodbugs coming to drain the planet of its blood as if the planet itself was a living thing, the strangeness went on and on. I even dreamt of my mom and dad and the pleasant family dinners we’d have. Swamplurk was so good when it was cooked with hub flower spices and glowing fungus. Might not be the healthiest thing to eat, but you just haven’t lived until you sunk your teeth into one of those mutated crabs. Some ponies even bred them away from the town and supplied the market with fresh ‘lurk meat on the weakly. I was going to learn his name when I got back. Assuming I wasn’t being eaten, raped, tortured, murdered or some combination of these when I awoke. The worst part of the dream I was having was when I was snatched up by a robot with enough arms to be mistaken as an octopus. It tore me apart over and over in the matter of a few minutes starting with my hooves, my eyes, then whatever it was that kept me alive long enough to experience these new and terrifying pains. Just go for the heart first you asshat. Have your sadistic fun AFTER I’m gone like a good pony.

***

I wasn’t sure how long I was out. Any amount of time being unconscious was a death sentence in the swamps and bayous surrounding Point Wayward Trading Post. As the involuntary sleep ended, my eyes opened to the blinding light I’d never experienced before. Some lamp hanging from the ceiling was what I imagined the sun to be. Blinding and bright enough to hurt the eyes even under the cover of their respective eyelids. Looking left to right, I noticed the rust covering the walls and air was gone. Every bit of degraded metal had been replaced by a smooth paint job and clear metal walls. The air had the smell of stale oxygen that permeated those tanks divers use to breathe underwater. At some point I’d been deposited onto a gurney within some kind of medical center and left here. After a few moments of contemplating my situation, I panicked as the thought of being robbed set in. In seconds I’d patted every square inch of my body to make sure my pockets were still full of their respective contents. Nothing was taken surprisingly! Even my faded red baseball cap and goggles remained where they were supposed to, which was on my head.

“Hello? Is somepony there? For a moment there I’d figured I’d be mugged and murdered…. but I guess you’re not into that.” I wasn’t even sure who I was talking to. I wasn’t even sure if there was a somepony TO talk to. It didn’t matter so long as someone heard me and realized the mistake they were making. Why would they drag me down here and not even bother to stick around to help me out? Where was here anyway?

The only answer I got was silence. I was more than a little scared given my surroundings were completely foreign to me. Things just got weirder and weirder here. However, I had one job and I wasn’t about to call it quits no matter how much my legs shook! It was probably a side effect of that stupid drug, yeah that was it!

It took me all of two minutes to clean out the various medically marked boxes and first aid kits along the walls. A shot of Med-x to fight the pain, a single healing potion which was a little bit of a letdown and finally a couple tablets of buck. At first, I figured this place was already drained of valuables, but those thoughts were gone from my head when I thought about it. Why leave the few things I found? Surely even an amateur scavenger wouldn’t have left these. As I stored the new found stash of medical supplies, something tapped on a window across the room from me. I didn’t give it much thought as I went to leave. Just before I pressed the button to slide the door up, the tapping returned. Only this time it wasn’t so much tapping as it was somepony punching the glass. I looked back just long enough to give myself a heart attack at the sight. It was a pony, a freaking pony just smothering the glass with his purple hide and blue mane. He wore some kind of blue jumpsuit and had a device on his left foreleg. It must have been a sturdy piece of equipment since it didn’t even appear fazed as it was used to bludgeon the window in some vain attempt to destroy the glass. I backed against the door as if that was going to change anything.

His features showed one of pure anger. Each thump against the glass made the stout stallion grunt in exertion as the attempts to break down the window kept coming. “H-h-hey! Quit it. Fucking stop you fuck up! What do you think you’re doing?!”

“Jelly!” For a moment, my brain stopped processing what was going on. Jelly? What the hay was that supposed to mean? “Jelly!! Jelly. Jeeeeelly!” Okay, it was time to panic starting now! Enough was enough. Somehow this stallion made the word jelly sound like a rage filled threat and there was no way I was going to find out if it meant something else. Judging by how hostile he sounded when saying the silly word, and by how angry he looked at not being able to get in, it was safe to assume he wasn’t a pleasant pony. Dad taught me how to deal with unpleasant ponies from the ripe age of four years old so I knew what I needed to do. I pulled down my bandana first, then my teeth clenched down on the mouth grip of my pipe revolver as I drew the weapon and brought it to bear on my soon to be attacker. The taste of the trigger was something reminiscent of buttered bread made from the razor grain those homesteaders always sold in the market.

Anger rose up in me just like it did in this strange and creepy stallion banging on the window before me. “Okay asshole. I don’t speak your language, but you’re about to stark speaking mine.” My language was about to be violence here in a second. Okay, maybe what came out of my mouth wasn’t exactly that given I had a gun clenched between my teeth, but that didn’t matter to me. I turned back towards the door and quickly smashed my hoof against the button. The door slid upwards and my pistol came up to face the open-door way. I could already hear the pounding on the glass stop and heavy hoofsteps approach the door from the hallways around the right corner. The moment he rounded the corner and put his round frame into the door, my pistol barked its response to his aggression. A .45 caliber round struck him right in the sternum causing him to flinch back and scream in pain.

“J-Jellyyyy! Ha, Jelly.” He didn’t go down with the first bullet. Blood poured from the wound, but he smiled and charged forward as the hostilities didn’t end there. In a panicked response to seeing a stallion tank a bullet like that, I backpedaled away as fast as I could and continued to fire. Three more shots from my gun rang out in the enclosed space with only one actually hitting him. Luckily that was enough to bring him dropping to the floor in a heap at my hooves. I put another bullet into his flabby frame just to be certain, leaving me with only one round left in my pipe revolver. Six rounds might be a bit of a limiter if there was anyone else looking to take me on. Like clockwork mixed with bad luck, another, familiar, voice rang out through the halls.

“Oh Jeeeelllyyy!”

Well shit…

***

First kill jitters. My dad, Deep Waters, told me about them in detail in some vain attempt to help me cope with them when they arrived for the first time. My heart pounded so badly I thought I was going to die from heart failure. Everything shook, from my ears to the tips of my hooves. The bloody corpse I’d left on the floor, the thought of murdering another pony like an animal, the fact another pony was coming as I struggled to load the bullets into my gun, all of this was driving my body crazy. The more I fucked up my speed loader for the revolver and dropped it, the more I shook and the harder it was to load the gun. Hoofsteps were getting closer and closer and so to was my death if I didn’t manage to get more than a single bullet into my fucking gun. Before long, I abandoned the effort entirely. One bullet was still in the gun and it would have to do.

“No no no no! This wasn’t supposed to happen! I…I killed someone….I actually…..” Heartbeat in the ears like war drums, violently sick stomach, the shock of it all was getting to me. Slowly I inched around the body staining the white floors red as another body was making its way to the doorframe. Again, I heard the words that brought confusion and fear into me like a toxic brew of emotions. My gun was ready and the hammer cocked back with the flick of the tongue as I held the mouth grip tight between my hooves.

Again, the words from my victim rang out. “Jelly? Jellybeaaaaan?” How could somepony make the name of a prewar treat sound like a question? How could the pony I just murdered still be alive and pushing his way through the doorframe?! The same exact pony who fell at the bark of my gun was now locking eyes with me with the same rage fueled glare that the previous had. And like the previous, he charged the moment he spotted me.

“Raaaah! Jelly Jelly Jel…”

BANG!

I was ready and waiting, ignoring my body’s protests against the action. The moment he showed his identical face I was already on the attack with the barrel of my revolver stuffed into his familiar face and firing. Brains and blood showered me as the next pony fell like a ragdoll. My blood-stained goggles were ripped from my head and the gun fell from my teeth as I staggered wildly to the side of the room and vomited. Dad, when I get home assuming I survive this, I’m joining the fisherponies and living a quiet life catching fish! I was gonna need a minute or two to recover mentally and physically.

Hope the ear ringing isn’t permanent.

***

Shazan. That was his name. The zebra mother fucker who sent me on this cursed journey to find this underground hell. When I get out of here, if he isn’t dead already from drugs, I’d kill him myself. Then, I’d never touch another firearm as long as I lived!

After the jitters finally went away and the rolling ocean that was my stomach settled down, I picked up my discarded gun and began the process of reloading it properly with the speed loader. Dad was a smart pony, so looking back on his advice I probably should have listened when he told me to practice. I could have been beaten to death twice today because of that.

Doesn’t matter now I guess. I survived and the twins who attacked me didn’t. Speaking of which, those two ponies were freakishly weird. I only gave my handiwork a glance as I hopped over their still fresh remains and exited the clinic. Well I could go left or right to escape this stable I was stuck in. Without much else to go on, I went left which was the same direction the second twin came from. The clinic and its new occupants were left behind as I made my way to destinations unknown.

Now, one could say I was like an animal trapped in a maze. One would be right in assuming as much. The more I walked past doors and extra halls leading to Luna knows where, the more I realized I might be stuck here. Claustrophobia be damned I was not about to have another panic attack after murdering two ponies. There were no stairs, most of the doors were locked and the one elevator I found remained shut after pushing multiple buttons. Large structures like this ALWAYS had stairs, so where the fuck were they?! I needed out! “I’m gonna die here. If somepony doesn’t kill me I’ll die of starvation…”

Wait, no I wasn’t. Despite the resilience of the Waters family which we took great pride in, I had lunch still packed in my pockets! I was a moron for forgetting. With eager hooves and a little patience, I fished out the gator steak mom made for me earlier. It was still wrapped in cloth to keep it from getting dirty. Technically I was on the job despite my unfortunate situation and therefore I was allowed a lunch break.

“Good thing I didn’t eat this earlier. Foods no good if you puke it up.” I released the meat from its wrapping and took a large bite. If I started thinking about the twins and their brutal ends I would throw up again. I just had to force my lunch down and move on with what energy I had. There was no telling how long I was out cold, which meant I could be missing out on valuable calories to keep me alive! That and water… “M’not gonna die here. The reaper won’t take me like a starved dog in some bunker. I’ll be fine.” Take a bite, chew, swallow, sip from the canteen, stay alive.

Just had to stay alert and stay alive.

“……jelly…..jellybean.”

Ears perked up quickly at hearing a very familiar voice, again. No, there was no damn way that stallion was alive, either of them! I rushed to pack my things and begin abandoning my current path. Going in one direction would only get me so far in these halls, so it was time to pick up the pace and start taking a new approach. “North is no good. Let’s try heading east. Can’t go wrong with right.” With that, I was off like a rocket. Hooves bounced across the metal floor as I turned on the first hall on my right and galloped as fast as I could. Doors and more halls passed me by and every so often I could hear him down one path or another. Sometimes behind doors I could hear him saying that stupid word over and over! When I heard it, I went another direction and avoided anything that looked like a pony.

I had a feeling these weren’t ponies. Sometimes I’d catch a glance at one before they saw me and I’d find they all looked the same. Each and every one of these ponies down here in their blue jumpsuits looked alike, said the same damn phrase and got angry whenever they thought they saw me. Every stallion was the same purple coated, blue mane, mother fucker.

And there were a lot of them. I wasn’t that great at sneaking around, but I made due until I found the stairs. Stairs! My ticket to freedom from this tomb full of seemingly undying ponies who appear like a bad dream despite me killing them twice. Them, or was it just him? Were they the same pony endlessly appearing, or a bunch of mentally unstable siblings? Who knows, but more importantly WHO CARES!?

Seeing a way to freedom at the end of the hall nearly broke the emotional dam. I wanted to cry to be honest. In fact, I actually started to when I approached the stairs and saw they didn’t lead up at all. They only went down straight into the belly of this metal tomb. “Oh Celestia…I’m…not gonna make it out of here…”

It didn’t matter to me anymore. Forward was a better option than going back and stumbling around until one of those Jellybean ponies spotted me and brought a horde of lookalikes to join in on the frenzy. Even if they didn’t appear to have weapons, the ponies were all male earth ponies. It would only take a few to overwhelm me and stomp me to death, and from the sound of things there were far more than a few.

“No going back. Maybe…maybe I can find a service elevator like the ones in those old shipyards. I can figure it out after that.”

This area of the Stable looked like the engine room of a boat, so maybe there was some way to get up to the surface quickly. It’s all I had, so down I went. The large number four was left behind me and a sign with the number five greeted me soon after. Another level of the stable for me to fumble around in until I escaped or died. With a little extra patience, dying wouldn’t be on the menu. My ears swiveled back and forth as I hid behind the metal stairs I just came down on and eagerly awaited any sounds. Nothing so far…no hooves, no ponies saying the word jelly bean, nothing. The coast was clear!

“…..so….thirsty….”

Not clear! Not clear at all! The faintest of voices could be heard, raspy and dry. Female by the sound of it too. Somepony that might need help, but more importantly somepony that might be able to help me! And I needed all the help I could get if I wanted to get the hell out of this metal suicide bunker. So, without much thought or patience, I took off towards the sound of the voice. I had a chance and patience be damned. I was gonna take it.

“H-hey! Hello! Is somepony there? I’m friendly, don’t shoot!” I opened a door that led to another hall that looks no different than the ones from before with the sole exception of the sight of a pony’s tail disappearing around the corner. Unlike the purple coat and dark blue mane of the stable ponies, this tail was green and surprisingly long. I gave chase once more and slammed my hooves against the metal walkway full speed. “Wait! Come back. I’m not a bad pony, honest! I’m not…”

It was my turn to round the corner. The sound of hooves racing off again to the right around another corner, which only led back in the general direction of the stairs. Could have sworn there weren’t any paths other than this one from the stairwell. Caution to the wind and all other advice I built up for myself, I followed. This could be a trap, but those sibling ponies didn’t seem the sort to do traps, just rush head first at targets. “I said stop!”

I rounded the corner again, and like before I saw only the tip of a tail hurdling around the corner and breakneck pace. This time it went left, but unlike last time there was something else in the hallway, a body! It was another one of the jelly bean siblings clearly dead with a pencil shoved through the throat. Yikes, that's gross, but I didn’t let the morbid thoughts settle before I passed by the corpse and continued on. I was so close…

Bong

The sound of a body colliding with metal along with the cries of a female pony graced my ears. I could hear her more clearly as she wailed against something. “Nooo! Somepony, help! Help! The door…somepony unlock the door…” grunts and small yells of pain as the pony tried to bust down what appeared to be a solid door. That wasn’t the concerning part to me. What concerned me was the fact the voice…

The voice banging against the door was mine.

I stepped around the final corner that led to the fear struck pony. When my eyes rested on her, I froze with a sense of shock I’d never felt before. Terror, awe, bewilderment, it could have been any of those for me. Because when she turned to look at me she adopted the same features. I was looking in a mirror, I had to be! Because the face that looked back was mine! I was looking at the one and only Muddy Waters…

“Stay….away…s-stay away!” I’ve seen stray animals less afraid than the creature before me. She had every feature I had, except her coat and mane were clean and unbraided. It seemed like she was in the process of trying to braid her tail when I came along given its shoddy shape. “You….can’t…”

I stepped forward and slowly closed the gap between us. I had a feeling that this was going to end badly, and another feeling that she might be responsible for the dead pony we ran past earlier. “What are you? You can’t be me. This…this is insane…” I said more to myself.

“Shut up! Stay where…where you are okay. And give me back my things.” Her things? That’s not true at all. Everything I had was mine because I earned it. This had to be some kind of sick joke from a unicorn, or maybe I was drugged and in some kind of trance. The closer I got the more I began to suspect this wasn’t a magic prank, or some kind of drug dream. She seemed real, she seemed like me. That couldn't be possible, right?

I responded to her statement by taking off my hat, my goggles and removing my bandana from around my neck and tossing them to the floor at my hooves. My face was revealed fully just to be clear who truly owned what, because I was Muddy Waters. I have no idea who she was. “These are my things. Now mind telling me just what the hay this is and why you have my face?!”

At first, she looked shocked by the revelation. Then she pulled a complete turn around in the mood department and pointed a hoof at me before yelling “Brahmin shit! That’s…this is insane. You can’t be me. I’m me! Those are my things and I can prove it. You’re just a damn thief who drugged me!” Oh, this was something else entirely. At least she wasn’t afraid anymore so talking was easy. Now, she was just angry and yelling much like I would if I thought someone took something from me.

“Wroooong! You probably drugged me after shoving me in that chair. I’m willing to bet you’re some kind of…..well I’m not sure, but you sure aren’t Muddy Waters.” She was right. I was right. This is insane!

The imposter stomped her hooves with half hearted fury only Muddy Waters could manage. “You got a radi-gator steak in your left shoulder pocket wrapped in my mom’s clean dish rag. Open up the pocket.”

“I…..” she was right, but how could she have known? I removed the contents of the disputed pocket and sure enough it was the steak I had snacked on earlier to gain some energy. When she spotted the teeth marks her expression darkened.

Stunned as I was, I didn’t move to stop her when she snatched my food away and began to eat it like a starved ghoul. Even cold, it tasted better than nothing. “This….is my….shit. You’re…a damn….phony pony!”

“But….” She knew about the drugging, and about the food, which could only mean she had to be Muddy Waters. There had to be a way to make sure, and luckily I thought of one. “Okay, okay hold on. Mom made that for me this morning. That’s MY lunch, well technically breakfast since I didn’t wake up on time.” A small fact that led me to my current predicament. Life could have been easier had I just taken on the day's task when I was supposed to.

Her eyes widened upon hearing what I had to say. No longer was she eating, so I took the liberty to snatch back the half eaten steak and start eating it myself. “But…..that’s what happened to me…are you…”

“Am I what? A clone?! A magic copy? Listen sister, I’m the one with matted ends and the smell of fish on me. You? You look like you haven’t been outside this stable!” I got her there and she knew it. Her eyes fell to the floor, then to her mane as it dragged along the metal floor without its braid. Sure enough it was clean with no damage to it to be found, while mine was more than just a little dirty. The tips of my green mane were turning a darker green, almost black thanks to my poor hygiene. Knowing this, the doppelgänger began to shake as the sudden realization hit her like a falling boat.

Muddy, or whoever she was, looked to her hooves and dragging mane with a clearer understanding now that things were coming to light. She hadn’t been washed by some pervert and robbed of all her possessions, but rather she’d never been dirty in the first place. None of the things she assumed were hers were ever hers to begin with. To top it all off, even the name Muddy Waters belonged to another mare. “No! No, that's the dumbest….it can’t….that’s…” no words existed that could truly translate what she was feeling and to be honest with myself, I didn’t want to know. That level of despair can jump off the top of Wayward for all I care and drown in the flood waters below.

There was nothing left for me here. The food she could have, but my things stayed with me as I adorned my favorite hat and bandana along with the goggles now gently used and bloodied from the murder prior. “I don’t know you. Or what you are for that matter. Maybe if you follow behind me and NOT murder me in the process of escaping this place……I’ll….we’ll help each other.” I had to hold out hope that this was a bad dream. If I started referring to the dazed mare as another me, well, I’m not entirely sure I’d maintain the fragile sense of self I’d established in the past 20 or so minutes. I was already feeling the onset of insanity just trying to figure out this fairy tale nightmare I was in.

***

The door the mare tried to escape through earlier proved beyond my ability to unlock. I asked her why she thought she’d escape that way, just out of curiosity to the thoughts behind running the way she did. Her response gave me pause and another clue to the nature of the stable. “The door wasn’t locked before….I swear I was inside earlier. It’s a storage closet for parts and electronics…”

I looked back at her to get a feel for her state of being. It wasn’t good. Eyes were puffy and red from repeated breakdowns along with the ragged gaze she kept firmly on the ground. Poor mare has been through some real shit down here, but so have I. It was a blessing I got a complete sentence out of her at all. “Keep it together. Maybe it locked automatically when you closed it. Security system maybe…I wouldn’t doubt it.”

“I know you wouldn’t…” this was going to be more of a chore than I thought. The hay did that even mean anyway? Maybe she was a bit more affected by killing the pony from earlier than I was.

She did murder him with a pencil after all…

We weren’t eager to return to the upper level. At least I wasn’t. The only option available was forward. Once we got back to the stairwell the path was obvious. Down the hall leading opposite the stairs was a tiled floor leading to a large double door. It looked like the doors you’d find on a merchant vessel to me. Metal, imposing and with those metal levers over its surface that controlled the locking mechanisms inside that kept the door firmly closed. Scavenger instincts told me this door led somewhere important.

“You don’t wanna check the other little hallways before we try this door?” The copycat spoke up. Strange as it was, I guess she had the scaver instinct as well.

“It’s not worth it. If the doors lock on their own then I’d rather not waste time trying every door. We still need to escape…and get home.” No, don’t think about it! You can come up with an answer to what might happen if I brought home a twin sister much much later. “Hey…wait just a minute. Where did you even come from?”

We paused in the middle of the looming hallway and turned to face one another. I looked into her eyes trying to read her, but she looked past me and into the door that looked impossible to open. Oh don’t tell me… “I walked out of that room at the end there. It wasn’t closed when I came out, just wide open. It closed once I got further down this way. That’s when I got chased by the freak who could only say jellybean over and over…then killed him…” Celestia damn it.

“Any idea on what’s in there? Ya know, since you were in there…” I asked.

“Y-yeah…” she paused with a look of unease worming its way into her expression. Those familiar green eyes never looked away from the door as she explained what happened. “I was in that rusty ass room, the one I thought I was gonna get sick in cuz’ of the shit floating in the air. Got trapped in the chair, drugged, freaked the hell out and suddenly I’m soaked to the bone on a floor that reminds me of a pre war house bathroom. These tubs were there and this big glass tube was hanging from the ceiling above the tub. It’s all hazy, but I woke up in there with none of my shit. Can’t tell ya how long ago that might have been.”

Talk about freaky. I couldn’t have come up with that kind of story if I tried. No way she’s lying about this. Assuming she’s me, which I’m totally not because if I started to dwell on this any longer I’d have another panic attack…I really really didn’t want to deal with the prospect I had another sibling who was a walking talking version of me. Okay Muddy, let’s start walking and pray to dead goddesses that this isn’t some comic book mad scientist type of crap. “I hate to say this, but we might as well give it a look before trying the elevators again. If this is floor five…we’ll have to fight or sneak our way through four more floors of those stallions before we’re home free.”

“No!!! No…I-I mean…I can’t.” My copy didn’t seem thrilled. Neither did I. It made sense she might be a little shook over what happened. Plus, we both know my sneaking skills were donkey ass. Only luck and a prayer got me through the fourth floor.

“I know, I know…just come on and let’s find a way inside.” I said as I walked past the shaken mare and approached the doors intimidating frame. No keyhole so no poor attempts at lockpicking. Explosions were out of the picture too. Door looked like it could stand its own against any attempts at a forced entry. The only thing I could think of to get in was to knock, or ask nicely.

KNOCK KNOCK

I turned so fast my head nearly collided with my flanks. Here I was thinking about knocking as a crude joke, but my supposed duplicate decides to actually KNOCK ON THE DOOR! “Hey! What do you think is going to happen if you actually banged on the door?! Somepony could hear us!”

“I'm just doing the only thing I could think of that isn't a guaranteed waste of time. So…probably the same thing you’re thinking of.” Oh. Well this wasn’t good for my sense of self. Of course she knew what I was thinking, or guessed correctly with unholy amounts of luck. Either way, things were pointing towards a closer relationship between the two of us that I really didn’t want to have.

……or did I?

I shook my head. No time for intrusive thoughts, only survival and escape! “Okay one…you can hush. Two…” I didn’t have time for another point to scold my copy with. Before I could continue with my cleverly thought of scolding remarks, the metal door towering over us decided to open. With the shriek of metal and the clacking of moving parts the door slid to either side and folded in on itself before continuing to slide into the walls. Similar to currents being parted, the door opened before us until it was out of sight.

“…..holy crab apples would you look at that!” Me and my new friend with the magic hooves yelled at the same time. Our thoughts on the matter were practically the same, utter shock and bewilderment at the fact that knocking yielded results beyond just looking dumb. Well I had to give props where it was due and take the loss.

I reached over and patted her on the shoulder. “I apologize profusely. You win. I concede defeat…”

“Why thank you, me. I look forward to our next bout…” we shared a look that very easily shared our thoughts on what had just happened. A look of barely contained laughter and a love for the foolish theatrics we only really did with our brothers…

Our brothers. I forgot they were only MY brothers for a second there.

“Alright, let’s go.” I told her as I stepped through the doorway and into the unknown. We were off again, once more into the breach. She followed close behind and entered alongside me into familiar territory. At least for one of us.

***

The lab itself was something beyond my wildest fantasies. Not even the comics did the whole crazy lab environment justice compared to the world I found myself in. Terminals long since powered down lined the walls on the left and right side of the room with a door on the far end leading to even more unknowns. Cables snaked up the walls and into the ceiling like vines eating their way up the side of a beached cargo ship and through rusted holes. Some led to the door across the room and slipped underneath the welp kept floor. I was so amazed at all the lab equipment in the center of the lab that I lost myself in the wonder. The other me wasn’t so lost in the scene as I.

“There's another door on the right behind the terminals. It’s a little hidden, but it’s there. And there’s a door going from that room to another. I’ll show you….it’s where I came from…” she walked ahead and past the stacks of papers and equipment over to the door behind a workstation terminal. The stacks of paper almost reached the ceiling while the vials and chemistry sets definitely gave me the vibes I was looking for. Kind of reminded me of a drug lab, but cleaner.

“H-hey! Don’t leave me here. I get anxious when I’m alone in a shit pit…” my eyes darted to the far side of the room where another door sat with an untold mystery behind it. I’d get back to that once the first mystery was solved. Then after that I’d leave this place and never return! No amount of scrap was worth the nightmare this place put me through. The cherry on top was having to deal with my hallucinations and other traumas too.

Still wasn’t entirely convinced the other mare I was following now was actually me. I bounced back and forth between her being a sign of insanity or a robot. So far, I’ve yet to settle on a possible explanation.

I saw her standing in the doorway holding it open just in case anything happened. Her familiar green eyes turned to face me in a sideways glance. “There’s not much here. Just a terminal and a console with a whole lot of buttons. Nothing turned on when I tried messing with it earlier. Doors locked that I came from earlier too.” She pointed with a hoof at the door sitting in the corner opposite of us. Above the console she spoke of was a thin window looking into the next room. Centuries of not being washed didn’t obscure the strange room filled with pony sized glass tubes hanging over bathtubs. The whole thing looked like a mad scientist’s locker room with the floors being composed of clean tiles and drains for Luna knows what to come out of those glass containers.

I paused for a moment to soak in the sight. What was I even looking at? “…you uh…you don’t think I’m some kind of lab experiment…do ya…?” My copy turned to me, and I to her. I didn’t know what to think to be fair with her. For all I knew she was my evil twin, just a lot more pathetic looking and devoid of grime.

I was about to put in my thoughts on the matter, but the moment I opened my mouth to say something, someone else spoke up instead. I’d be glad for the interruption to help me not think on the topic had they not scared the both of us like newborn foals. “Experiments imply that the product still needs testing, my little clone. We’re far past that stage…”

My…clone…turned towards the door we came in from in a panic. She must have thought the voice came from behind us, but I turned my head upward. I remember that voice. Sixteen years of not bothering to remember the voices or names of ponies around me, but I’d never forget the voice of a pony that whispered artificial, soothing words into my ears while drugging me! “Hold on a damn minute. You’re that robot voice from the medical examination room I had to pass through to get into the Stable!!! You fucking whore!” There must have been an intercom in here, because the voice responded with a cold robotic chuckle. It sounded feminine, but what was once believed to be artificial pre-recorded words turned much more emotion driven and…eager.

“I hope you hold no hard feelings. I did what I had to…what I’ve always done…when some lost soul found their way in here. Let us bury the hatchet….and talk. There’s much to discuss~.” I wasn’t so forgiving. Hell, I was down right angry. Being ambushed and attacked wasn’t something a pony from the Equestrian Wasteland just forgave.

I spotted my supposed clone, as she’d been called, keeping an eye on the previous room to make sure nopony got behind us. Good Muddy Waters don’t forget to pack their instincts when they dive into a scavenger run. “Discuss? You want to talk after dumping me deep underground full of crazy stallions who all look the same? Not to mention making a mare that looks like me?! Where do you get off?! I ought to teach you a damn lesson, punk! I….we had to murder ponies today…I’d never killed somepony before. Do you know how that feels?”

The voice was silent. At least for a moment. Then she returned with her voice resonating from the intercoms in multiple rooms. “My friend, death means nothing to me anymore. It’s life that means everything to me now. That’s why I’ve been producing copies of ponies. It’s been awfully lonely these past few years, and I’ve yet to produce a working clone thanks to the damage….until now. That’s why….that’s why I need you…” she paused unexpectedly. Before I could respond she blurted out “well technically I don’t need you anymore, but let’s say for the sake of sanity that you and I could reach some form of mutual agreement. Would you be interested in aiding me with a task?”

From the corner of my eye I could see my clone shaking her head no with breakneck speed. I didn’t blame her. She had to murder her attacker with a pencil while I had the luxury of not getting so personal with my own self defense. “….I kind of don’t want to. You’re kind of….well you’re an asshole for starters. Secondly, unless you want to redo the first impressions I’m not interested in whatever you’re selling.”

Her response wasn’t what I would expect from a robot. From the start of this conversation I was getting the impression I was talking with another pony. “Like I said, I don’t technically need you. But, as a show of good faith and proof of my desire to….redo first impressions, I’ll unlock the door to the freight elevator. The door to the loading dock will be opposite of this room. I do hope you’ll come to your senses and consider what I have to say…”

Wait, didn’t need me? From the sound of things it sounded like she did, but wasn’t eager to be so forward with that fact. “What do you mean by not needing me? That room over yonder have something to do with that?”

The intercom buzzed. “Heh….heh heh. I guess it couldn’t hurt to tell you. You already know by now your clone over there is a perfect imitation of you. You’ve come to that conclusion in the hall once you met. If I can make a perfect copy once, I can do so as many times as I like.”

A stomp of a hoof and the frustrated squeak from the corner and my supposed clone was ready to say her own piece of mind. She didn’t look too happy with the voice. “That's bullshit! She said she wasn’t interested, I’m definitely not interested, so what makes you think another one of me is going to say something different, huh?”

“Because if I fail to persuade one of you, I can make another. And another. And another! Until I find the correct combination of words that will convince you to help me! I’m only reaching out to you two for my own convenience. I’ve already extended my apologies and given you the freedom to take the elevator to the upper floors. If I wanted, I could have just let you rot down here until you decided to join me. I’m TRYING to be civil, young lady.” A little lost composure didn’t seem to deter this stranger. With an audible groan that translated to a staticy buzz, she was back to her gentle, slightly more reasonable self. “All I ask is that you return once you’ve reconsidered my offer. I have much to offer and you stand to gain much. However, do not tell others of this place. It’s all I ask…just….don’t.”

I already had an idea of what would happen to other ponies who were unfortunate enough to stumble into this cursed stable. Context clues painted a dark picture with a lot of jellybeans and no survivors. “Fine! Maybe I’ll come back…when I get this mess sorted out and cool off. BUT! If you don’t have anything I want I’m not taking this job of yours. You picking up what I’m putting down?”

Another pause, this time much longer than the one before. I could only guess she was thinking it over. “I am…picking up what you have put down. A strange expression, but I understand. Thank you…the elevator is ready when you wish to leave…” with that, a click within the speakers could be heard. Then there was silence, she was gone.

“Well that settles that. Come on, let’s go.” My clone didn’t say anything. She only offered a curt nod before stepping in line behind me as I made my way towards the freight elevator. Freedom was offered and by the goddesses I wasn’t going to turn down a get out of jail free card.

***

The freight elevator was a simple thing. Larger than the standard elevator by at least double the length and width. The loading dock wasn’t anything special either, just crates stacked to the high ceiling and garbage littering the floor. My hooves crunched paper wrappers and rotting garbage alike as the pair of us moved to leave this place. Whether or not it would be forever was up in the air.

“Hey…”

The clone spoke up behind me. Talking wasn’t something I was terribly interested in, but she sounded depressed almost. I’d never heard my own voice sound so sad or defeated before. I turned my head and checked to see what was wrong. “What’s up? Something on your mind?” She nodded.

“Can we talk? Just for a bit?” Ah yes, the existential dread I’m more than aware she was feeling. It was a matter of time before her own attempts would fail at keeping herself together. Mine weren’t far behind in the failing department.

This was going to be a lot longer than a bit, I could tell. So I sat down and rested my back against a plastic container before nodding. “…w-we didn’t ask who she was. Why? Don’t you wanna know who we’re dealing with?” I shook my head which left her with a more speechless expression. Seeing my own face do these things was an experience I wasn’t going to forget anytime soon.

“I don’t care. She means nothing to us, just like all the ponies back home. It’s why we have no friends, remember?” From speechless to annoyed, her face shifted quickly as she took the opportunity to stomp.

“That’s bullshit! We didn’t make friends because you….me….WE…can’t bring ourselves to care! But now? I care now. I want to know more about why she….” She stopped. I stepped in.

“Why she created you. That’s the reason.”

“Yes! I’m not real! I woke up today eager to eat mom’s cooking and make some money so I can buy Sparkle Cola. Now I’m ending the day with…the sense that I’m not….I’m not real. I’m not real and you are! I was a pony with a name and now I’m NOPONY…” she was speaking through clenched teeth with a few tears already making their way down her cheeks. I felt bad, which wasn’t something I usually did on my own. The ramifications of what was going on hit her a lot harder than it did me, because in the end I could go home and hug my family knowing they still loved me after all the fucking up I did today. I could see where she was coming from, because I’d be the same way if that happened to me.

Waking up one day and suddenly you have nothing left. No hard earned trinkets or caps, no clothes or items, no family to support you when things got rough in the wasteland.

This mare was well and truly alone. So I stood up, stepped up to the crying mare and wrapped my hooves around her tight as I could. She didn’t deserve this. She didn’t ask for this, but it’s what life handed her and that wasn’t fair. I’m more than positive those thoughts were shared between us. “Muddy Waters is a name I’m fine with sharing. This whole trip was bullshit from the moment I found this place. So I understand…” she didn’t respond, not at first. It took a few minutes of crying before she made a move. Her own hooves wrapped around me and returned the hug.

Hugs were nice. They always made me feel better when a day was just a little too hard, a little too much. “Th-thanks….I…wanna go home. I want mom…” another problem with an even uglier face than the problems we just got over. How in Celestia’s dead Equestria was I supposed to explain this to mom or dad or my brothers?!

There’s not a chance in hell they’d believe a drug using zebra high on flower stuff told me where to find a functioning Stable full of clone ponies. Oh, and I brought home a friend who’s an exact copy of me in every way. Guess I have a twin sister now….wait. That’s not the worst possible outcome. A twin sister.

“Listen Muddy. You’re me, and that’s cool, but we gotta get one thing straight and keep it straight.” I broke the hug and stared as hard as I could into her eyes. It felt like staring into a mirror and having a dissociative, out of body experience. Like I wasn’t looking at myself, but at the same time I was. “…….we have to find a way to break this to mom and dad. BEFORE we get home.”

A choked laugh was her initial reaction. Hey, that’s a good start! At the very least I didn’t have to suffer the cries of myself the entire way home…maybe. She wiped her eyes with a hoof and smiled. “Clear and Rough are going to freak out so hard when they find out….still…we didn’t give that voice back there anything to work with. We didn’t ask for anything WE could work with. What’s gonna happen now?”

I already had a solution in mind. Dumb as it was, a job was a job. Even if it was the sketchiest, most suspicious pile of crap job I’d ever seen, the opportunity was too good to pass up. If we wanted something, chances were it was down here in this Stable regardless of what that something might be. It was a treasure trove of scrap and valuables, a dragon's hoard. “We make money and survive, like we’ve always done. What she wants can’t be much different from what the usual job is. Find something somepony wants and get paid.”

“You….you don’t want answers? To ya know…questions? I mean like, there’s the whole cloning thing…whatever that means.” Not sure what a clone even was, but it couldn’t be too far off from what a copy was. They sounded the same after all.

I sighed, “no…not yet. I’m gonna have to sleep on this. I’ve had a long day. Plus we need to deal with you and our parents first. Foal steps…” I really just wanted to go home and take the rest of the week off. This whole day, this whole Stable, was absolute bullshit to the highest degree!

“I guess we’ll ask questions next time. Assuming there IS a next time.” Her mood increased so that’s a plus. My own mood was a little brighter despite the emotional trauma today. With that out of the way we turned and pressed the button on the wall to call down the elevator.

It was high time we got outside.

***

Ding

Another floor passed as the elevator carried us up slowly, but surely. Me, and by extension the other me, collapsed on the sides of the elevator too exhausted to keep standing. I looked at her with the very edges of my vision and saw her looking a little less miserable than before. I wondered to myself what she saw when her eyes glazed over me.

Ding

Another floor. The third floor was left behind, two more to go. The number on the top of the door slowly shifted to two before the elevator came to a halt. A long drawn out ding sounded, signaling the stoppage of the machine. “Finally! We can get out of here.” She said with a hope bursting forth I didn’t share. This was the wrong floor, so why were we stopping? I corrected her and pointed at the number.

“Wrong floor. Somethings not right!” This time we looked at each other with a little less hope than before. What positivity we had vanished when the door opened and a familiar voice greeted us with a heart stopping shout of alarm.

“Jelly? JELLY! Jellybean!”

Teeth bit down on the mouth grip of my revolver, but I wasn’t fast enough to bring it to bear as the jellybean clone surged forward and smashed into me like a wagon, shoving me back into the rear wall of the freight elevator and knocking the air from my lungs. My own clone didn’t fare any better in such close proximity. Either we were just weak for earth ponies, or this stallion clone was a monster up close. No sooner had I slumped to the floor, the other Muddy Waters delivered the most solid buck I'd ever heard to his ribs, in which he responded with a glee filled laugh and smashed her face with a right hook.

Seeing I was too dazed to fight, the cloned stallion began to wail on the defenseless Muddy trying her best to cover her face as the stallion punched her hooves again and again with meaty thwacks. I struggled to breath, but through the pain and fear of suffocating I managed to keep my grip on my revolver. I raised my head and prepared to fire.

“Ha ha! Jellybean.” A kick to my head was all I managed to gain. This stallion, which I’d assume his name was Jellybean by now, was fast with his reflexes and perception. The moment I moved to fire he noticed and responded with the nastiest single hoofed buck I’d ever received. Now it was my turn to get an ass beating as two front hooves found their place in my side. I’d be impressed at the capabilities this guy had despite his pudgy body….had he not used them to bludgeon me over and over. Just as reality began to go black from the pain shock, I heard salvation in the form of an ear piercing BANG that ripped through the elevator into the neck of Jellybean. The corner of the elevator was washed red, the stallion stumbled and like that the nightmare was over as another Jellybean dropped dead from a gunshot wound.

“Holy……oh Luna….I’m gonna be sick.” I’d never looked at myself with such amazement before, but the clone with my face stood there with a weapon clenched between her lips shaking like a leaf and looking pale.

I pressed the button to go up before any more animalistic clone ponies arrived. “Nice shot me. You saved my ass…” I sounded terrible and probably looked about the same. One of my eyes was starting to swell and my mouth produced the slurred words of a pony deep into a drinking session.

“T-thanks…those things are a lot tougher when….hey…why isn’t the door closing?!” The elevator doors buzzed with power but didn’t respond to the button mashing. Did the close door button even work? The longer we sat there the worse the situation became. Any moment a Jellybean fucker would round the corner and spot us. They’d have to be brain dead to not investigate the gunshot. “Muddy the door isn’t working!”

“I know! Push…push the body out. I’ll check the outside panel.” At first I thought the door must have suffered damage because of the gunshot, but everything seemed fine when I pressed the buttons. They lit up fine when I pressed the first floor button, at least. When I checked the panel on the outside I found the problem. A strange circular key was jutting out of the panel and twisted inside. A key ring was there too which hung from the strange key still inside the elevator. I twisted the key to see what would happen and sure enough, the elevator dinged. “I got it! It should work now.”

The jellybean body was rolled out through the door and into the hall where the stench of blood and Celetisa knew what else filled the area. It wasn’t a good feeling to see two more Jellybeans round the far corner and a third following behind them. At first I was happy to fix something and be on our way, but misery loves company and wasn’t about to leave despite its overstayed visit.

“Get in. Get inside right fucking now! Hurry!” I panicked. How could I not after seeing three of those ponies begin their run straight for us? I grabbed my own clone and yanked her through the door by the tail and slammed the button hard enough to send a shock of pain through my hoof. She screamed, I screamed in return. And all the while the door closed with an agonizing slowness. When the door finally closed the Jellybean clones were practically sticking their noses through the crack before it disappeared. Finally we were moving again. Finally!

My clone looked over to me and our eyes met. Yeah, we looked pretty bad. There was an obvious fact hanging in the air that made both of us want to tear up and weep, but we were proud members of the Waters family. There was no way we were going to cry after getting our assets beat by a fat pony who could only say the word Jellybean…

Didn’t mean I didn’t sniffle the rest of the ride up to the surface.

***

It was decided that we’d swallow our hatred of spending caps by washing it down with a couple healing potions. I gave one to my brand new best friend for eternity and one to myself, though we both wanted to initially only take half each. I gotta admit, at least I was consistent even when I was a clone. No, I wasn’t being stingy about giving others a healing potion! It was an idea we both shared equally.

Healing potion only did so much though. After that it was the healing bandages that held remarkably less effectiveness, but would have to do. The swollen left eye of mine was wrapped up good as well as my badly bruised midsection. If I had damage to the ribs the healing potion took care of it. The other Muddy Waters took a beating to her hooves and head, both of which were wrapped with the last of the bandages. Hopefully with some luck, and depending on how many times we got lost, our injuries would fade before we got home.

“There’s the entrance! We…we made it.” It hurts to walk. It hurt to breathe too, but we made it regardless. The moment we reached the top floor I was glad to see the rusted remains of the medical screening room a short hallway walk later. Apparently this area wasn’t the first floor, but the ground floor. Basically a floor zero which was weird to me, but I stopped caring the moment I stepped out of the elevator and into familiar territory.

“We’re gonna make it after all. Kind of got worried near the end there…hey! At least we got two each, right?” A barely maintained smile, that’s all I could muster with my face hurting. It was one she didn’t return.

Her face fell. “I’d rather not think about….killing another pony. Especially now that I know I’m…like them…doesn’t make it easy to process.” Oh no, this wasn’t gonna slide. Her depressive sighing told me everything I needed to know.

With a little more eagerness than I initially meant, I walked alongside her and brushed shoulders to let her know I wasn’t about to leave her like this. When we got the exit, she was the first to poke her head out of the wooden shack door. No light, which meant it was nighttime. Nighttime in the wetlands surrounding the river meant getting home wasn’t just going to be dangerous, it was going to be impossible. The creatures of the bayou and western swamps came out to play in swarms when the sun set and the moon came out.

Or as much as the moon could given the permanent cloud layer. Details details.

“You listen here and listen well. Those things we killed down there were NOT ponies. Doesn’t matter that they looked like earth pony stallions, they weren’t ponies. Real ponies don’t say one word over and over and try to murder others…well okay raiders do that, but that’s something for the elder ponies to think about.” I poked her in the chest before continuing. “I…WE…didn’t kill anypony. Just some more monsters the wasteland likes to throw at us. You with me?”

Heh, I could see the gears turning in my own head. Sure enough, her line of reasoning came back around to match my own as she nodded and lost her drooping frown. “I-I guess. It makes sense. I’m not like those things. I’m…im a good c-clone. Whatever that means.”

“We don’t know, but like I keep saying it doesn’t matter. You’re a pony, you’re a…well a sister I guess. My sister.” I shrugged and pushed her forward to get us outside. Nothing changed out here, but there was no telling how long I’d been underground. That was a question I regretted not asking, but emotions flared and reasoning jumped out the window and into the river.

“Well….” I began, but was interrupted almost immediately.

“Such a deep subject for such a shallow mind.” That was dad’s favorite saying whenever I started a sentence with the word well! I was at a loss for words…so I responded with a shoulder check to give her a love filled nudge. Tough love that is.

Funny as it was, I was glad this pony was me. “Oh, we are going to have SO much fun. I sense a lot of self reflection in the coming future.” I said as I started to walk back inside. Again, she followed and together we went to camp out inside the cave entrance to Stable 98.

“I guess we’re staying here till dawn then? Probably for the best. I’d rather not get chewed up or eaten after surviving the Stable…” the yawn that followed spread quickly, as I found myself doing the same almost immediately after. Exhaustion was setting in now that the adrenaline was well and truly used up.

“We’ll wait here, head east just as the sun comes up and follow the river south. Maybe we can catch a boat, but chances are we’re on our own. It’ll be a decent walk back to Point Wayward” that was all the planning I had come up with so far. It wasn’t much, but home was one agonizing trip back and neither of us was eager to start. Not in our current state anyway.

“That’s a good plan if I’ve ever made one before” the clone said with a tired look in her eyes. She moved to make herself comfortable against the rock wall in the lower half of the cave entrance, so I moved to join her and nestle against her. “Thanks for the body heat. Nothing weird about cuddling with yourself.” My clone, my sister, wore the worst smug I’d ever seen grace my features.

A blush found its home in my expression which I quickly hid. “We are not getting into the….whatever you call it. I’m not doing this for me! Just trying to…to help? I have the cargo coat here, you got squat. So be grateful! And for fucks sake don’t make this weird.”

“Just playing around. Get some rest, we’re gonna need it…” she spoke for the last time, falling silent as she faced the cave wall. I faced the opposite way, our backs pressed against one another.

“Goodnight, me. Gosh this is gonna be a weird trip…'' heh, weird. If today wasn’t the weirdest, tomorrow probably was going to steal that title. And let me tell you, as I fell asleep the nightmares I had felt more like bad omens than anything. Definitely weird…

***

Pain, misery, a drowning sensation coming shortly after taking the largest whiff of yellow and black smoke. I was high out of my mind floating through an ocean of pain. No sooner had I emerged on the other side I was back into another world of sights and sounds, all of which served to overload the senses. My heart raced, my body shook itself apart at the seams, an endless noise so high pitched it drowned all other sounds and drilled the elevated note into the core of my brain.

I was either going into shock and about to die, or having a stroke. Either way, life was suffering and only death could free me now.

Death did free me in the end. Amid the rainbow swirls and high pitched wine, a single word in a strangely familiar voice reached my ears. I wish it hadn’t because that word was going to trigger my fight or flight reflexes every time I heard it after today. “Jeeeellybeeeean~.” One bloody thwack later and I was gone. One stomp was all it took to splatter my head like an expired pumpkin. Next thing I knew, I was in a place of nothingness splayed out on the white sands of a sandbar. I couldn’t get up nor could I move my body well enough to crawl away from the rising tide that threatened to swallow me. First it took my side as the water flowed onward, then it went up to my eye and ear before reaching both sides of my head. Submerged, I laughed one last time as death literally washed over me.

***

Sleeping on the ground wasn’t something I was going to be doing again for a good while. My skeleton felt like hell and the injuries I sustained felt even worse. As I stood up tall and shuddered under the various cracks my bones gave out, my clone did the same in almost the exact same fashion. Now I know what an out of body experience felt like.

“…uuuuugh! My back!”

Her groans echoed through the cave entrance as did my laughter despite feeling the same way. “Lessons learned number one hundred in the past couple of days. Cave floors are not comfortable.”

The early day air was moist, like always, with the feeling of sucking down water just by taking a breath always on the mind. Humidity wasn’t bad just yet either. The journey east was under way shortly after snacking on what remained of the day old radigator steak and the various snacks I brought. After that, we were out of food. Water was close to running dry much the same. An hour walk should get us where we started assuming the best.

The journey itself wasn’t bad, but after about 40 minutes of aching bruises and battered bodies, we were slowing down hard. The predators of Centennial River wetlands would have an easy meal if we were spotted by anything larger than a radroach.

“The sun is almost fully up….” The other Muddy spoke up. At first, I was inclined to believe her. Then after a few seconds something clicked. That wasn’t the sun poking through the reeds, that was a fire! A camp! “Wait…you seeing what I’m seeing?”

“Uh, yeah! It’s a fire, which means ponies…or something smart enough to use a campfire. Come on, let’s see if we can get some help.” Caution was thrown to the wind, again, as we changed course. I was praying to whichever princess would listen that it was just some homesteader's hovel cooking on an outdoor campfire. When we got closer those hopes left faster than a fleeing foal. Seeming to be the theme of this entire adventure was getting my hopes up for nothing.

Trappers. Ponies that held a relationship with the ponies of Wayward that could only be described as ‘extremely tense’ whenever I asked about them as a youngster. None ever offered an explanation, or just refused to do so claiming I wouldn’t understand. The camp was filled with colorful buoys, lobster traps, spears and harpoons and the occasional bear trap. And of course, there were ponies clad in the hides and carapaces of their various kills with a few of those kills being strung up and gutted on vertical racks. They lived in dome shaped tents made of leather and bones from larger critters. Just then, I heard a whisper behind me. “Maybe we should go around. We’ll make it to the river eventually…”

“Alright. Let’s back up and find another route. Maybe we can….” I turned to look back at her, but the eyes I found meeting my gaze didn’t belong to me like my clones did. No, these eyes were red instead of green and belonged to the dirtiest green colored stallion I’d ever come across. He might have been blue-green, but the grime from the wasteland showed well over his coat. The next thing I noticed was the bear trap looking hoof weapon he had pressed against my clone's neck.

“You two might be the dumbest little critters who ever did stumble into our camp. Now why don’t you go ahead and start walkin’ and no funny stuff, got me?” That bear trap hoof looked like it could take the head right off the pony if he punched them with it. At this point all I could do was obey and start walking. I was right to assume he was marching us into the middle of their camp to expose our trespass into their place.

“Lookie here y’all! Got a couple of scabs that need pickin’.” His announcement brought out half a dozen other ponies all clad in shells and gear looted from boats and harbors. One pony was even wearing a lobster trap as a helmet that obscured their features. The rest just looked angry that we were there. “Now y’all’s gonna explain to me real slow like, why you was skulking around and be honest. Imma tell if you ain’t honest.”

“We gonna eat em? I betcha we can find a reason to string em up and dry em out!” One pony from the tiny crowd shouted. I wasn’t aware trappers fed on pony meat, otherwise I would never have run the risk of approaching a camp! This wasn’t just bad, this might be the damn end of us…

“We uh….we got into some trouble out west. Trying to get home, back to Wayward. We weren’t meaning to trespass, honest! Just…” I was a bundle of fried nerves. So many strangers who I’ve never seen before looking at me like I deserve to get eaten for the crime of just wandering too close. Some ponies back home, dad especially, always said Trappers weren’t much better than raiders. That was a sentiment I was coming to agree with.

“My sister and I got jumped by some ponies out west. Took our salvage and our food. We needed help badly and came to the first ponies we saw. That’s the truth!” She spoke suddenly so my lapse in conversation wouldn’t cause more problems. That’s what I assumed anyway. So far the various Trappers surrounding us seemed to take what she said into consideration. We definitely got our asses beat back in the Stable, and from her perspective she truly had lost ownership of everything she thought she owned. Wasn’t technically a lie…

The Trapper from before hummed before walking in front of us. “Now, I’m not inclined to believe what a filly has to say especially if they is from Wayward. However!!! I do declare that poaching on Trapper turf is thee most egregious offense one could inflict on us here. That goes for predators AND ponies. You’re all just meals, so we can’t be letting ponies take what’s ours.”

That was the weirdest way of saying murder wasn’t allowed I’d ever heard. Robbing and murdering ponies wasn’t allowed because it was considered poaching? Well I guess I’ll take what I could get. After a moment of pause, the dirty stallion continued. “My name is Crab! Defacto leader of this here hunting party. Now, so long as you ain’t poaching on our land, we’ll let ya be and we won’t even take what’s yours. Alls fair in love and huntin’. However!!! I’m a charitable pony indeed, I do say so myself. Let’s make a trade. Whatcha need little missies?” With the excitement over, the other Trappers went on with their business. At least two of them spared glaces our way hoping maybe they could bargain for something of their own, but after taking a proper look at our sorry states they huffed and turned away. I guess they expected something more than a pair of beaten twins with nothing to show for their adventure.

“Could you….lead us in the right direction? We’re trying to get home, me and my…” he interrupted me with no hesitation. Or remorse, rude.

“You and your twin sissie need a lift? That’s all? Hehe~! We can do that. A boats down by the river we got parked up on the party spot. But a trade is a trade. What’s your offer?” He was a very talkative pony I was starting to realize. That and his constant smile made him seem a little unhinged. Maybe a diet consisting of almost entirely irradiated meat wasn’t a good thing to do to your body.

“I…..I….well I got…I got drugs? Managed to hide them…I got…well I don’t have much.” Defeat tasted awful. All I had was the clothes on my back, some of the medical supplies I found in the Stable clinic, my compass and gun, the goggles collection I lovingly wore and that was about it. I wasn’t about to offer up caps when the price was dictated by somepony outside of Wayward. That was a good way to get overpriced services and lose everything!

His smile only grew as another trotted alongside him and faced us. It was the pony with the lobster trap helmet! And as it turned out, it was a she as the voice of a mare spoke up. “Oh Crab, let’s go easy. They’re youngins after all. We’ll just go ahead and take a pair of those goggles and those drugs. Poor things look like you could use some drugs.”

So it was, I lost one of my favorite pairs of goggles, the Med-X and the tablets of Buck I’d found. I guess it didn’t matter since we got off easy and we had safe passage back to Wayward. I could only guess that the lack of monsters in our adventure back home was thanks to these ponies considering the semi fresh corpses still being gutted and chopped apart around their camp.

“Is it safe to assume we’re getting off easy compared to most others?” That was a question I didn’t want to ask, but curiosity was killing me.

“Well that’s a yes and a no.” The mare spoke up through her helmet. I really wanted to see what was inside, but the lobster trap she had around her head obscured everything! “You’re lucky it was us who found ya. Some of the groups like to eat pony as much as they enjoy a good swamplurk or gator. We’d eat ya too if things get harder around here.”

The pony named Crab was next to speak his piece as the four of us walked east toward the river. “Things ain’t like they used ta be. Fog rollin’ in more frequent, animals gettin ornery even before we shoot em. Soona or later, we’d gonna be pushed out if we don’t step up. We was actually gonna go to Wayward today anyway at some point. Might as well do it now. Ammo is getting scarce round here cuz of the crap the bayou’s been spitting out.” I spotted the weapon he needed ammo for. A lovely lever action dangled across his back and from the look of it, it was more than well used. The wood showed signs of rot from the moist wetlands air and the metal wasn’t much better.

Minutes passed as the trek continued. I didn’t have much to say really. Neither did my clone. If I had trouble communicating to ponies I wasn’t comfortable with then she’d have the same problem. Which meant we were a couple of loners who’s only friends were an exact duplicate of themself. It wasn’t until we finally got to the river that the sound of flowing water returned to me and brought a sense of relief. We were one step closer to home. The boat the trappers talked about sat docked inside one of the more northward docks belonging to Friendship and Freight, which meant we were a lot further north than I thought. That’s what happens when you don’t check your compass.

“Alright kids, a deal is a deal. I expect we get a little something extra from whoever’s looking for their lost children.” Not a nice way to start a conversation with the strangers you decided not to kill, but I’ll take it anyway. Her boat in question was a little aluminum thing with strange harnesses on the sides. The front was tied to a hanging hook held up by rusted chains meant to keep titan sized cargo ships in place. I expected nothing less from a shipping lane freight company from before the war.

Suddenly my newly acquired sister decided to voice a concern she had once we got down to the boat and hopped in. “Hey! I don’t see anything you could use to get this thing going. Where’s your spark generator, or your water talisman that pushes you forward?” Crab just smiled his usual happy, and creepy, grin and pointed a hoof into the water besides the boats, right next to the harnesses.

I looked over and so did my sister. “CREEEE?!” We screamed at the sudden noise as a pair of eyes accompanied by a fang filled maw poked out of the water. I’d never seen a dolphin before, let alone the post war ones that were born in taint filled waters and magical radiation. I have to say though, I was as terrified as I was in awe.

“You use these mutant dolphins to drive your boat?! That’s…..that’s fucking awesome!” I felt a hoof grab my shoulder and pull me back slightly away from the boat's edge. It was the lobster helmet mare.

A faint chuckle sounded from the dark helmet. I stared into it to see if there was a pony inside, but the dark net covering hid her well. “Alright sweetheart, let’s not excite the dolphins too much. Don’t want them to get any ideas. Oh! Speaking of ideas, I forgot to introduce myself back there at the camp. I’m Lobster! And this is my hubby who I love more than anything.” Her hooves grappled around the stallion named Crab and pulled him into a surprise hug.

I didn’t even need to look at my clone to feel her deadpan expression, mainly because I had one of my own. Crab and Lobster? What a pair… “Lobby, don’t be so rough. Remember what them homesteaders we’d been talking with said. Gotta keep cool so we ain’t disturbing the baby.”

“Oh?! You’re expecting? Congratulations on the baby. What are you going to name it?” For the first time since our meeting in the Stable, me and my clone were stumbling over one another to ask questions as sporadic as possible. Something about the occasion of having a baby always caused a celebration back home, so hearing of one out here in the wild brought a child-like excitement for a celebration. Unfounded, yes, but I didn’t stop us.

“We’d gonna name it Shrimp if it’s a colt or filly. We like the sound of it.” Lobster just hugged him tighter and giggled like a school filly, while our own excitement faded immediately. Our deadpan expressions returned with a vengeance so strong it threatened to mold our faces like that forever.

I turned to my sister and whispered “I’m starting to sense a theme here.

Her response was similar to mine. “Kind of reminds me of a certain father who named all his kids after water.” Oh yeah that’s right, mom and dad purposely doing that to keep a theme. I’ll never understand how dad convinced mom to go along with that, but after Clear Waters was born I had a sneaky suspicion there was something strange going on.

“Alright lil doggies! Giddy up!” The boat rocked forward, then backwards, tossing us from one direction to the next. “Y’all might wanna take a seat little fillies. You end up in that there water you is good as gone.” When he spoke those words my flanks hit the bottom of the boat. As did my sister’s since great minds think alike. The dolphins looked like they could chew the concrete off a dry dock, so I REALLY didn’t want to know what would happen if a flailing pony happened to fall in next to one.

Speaking of the dolphins, I risked peeking over one side to see the creatures pulling the boat like some kind of wasteland fantasy ride. These Trappers managed to capture and tame two dolphins and use them like some kind of propulsion devices. How did they get to swim forward or turn the boat? Well that answer came to me along with the sickly sweet stench of bloody meat. Two slabs of raw fat were dangled over the creatures by fishing rods Crab and Lobster were holding onto. When they wanted a dolphin to slow down they dangled it closer and let the creature have a bite before holding back up again. And when they wanted the boat to shoot off down south towards Wayward they held them out in front of the boat and let the creatures work hard to catch up to the delicious fat that would never get any closer unless their masters reached their destination.

“…okay, I’m freaked out. I thought pony eater dolphins were a scary story told to misbehaving foals…” I tried hard to hang onto the side of the boat as the bumpy ride had me fearing for my life and the possibility of being eaten alive by things I wasn’t even aware was in the water until today.

“And I thought Trappers were raiders! Everypony back home never had anything nice to say about y’all…” I felt my sister's question was a little too soon, but the Trappers didn’t seem to mind. In fact, they seemed almost gleeful at the comparison.

“These here beautiful creatures was found waaaay up north out in the east coast. We like to capture em and breed em so we’s can domesticate thems baby dollies. They ain’t natives, but theys eat ya down to the bone. Makes em eager to serve, so long as they get the pleasure of killing sometimes. You thought I was joking about em didn’t ya~?” Crab was all smiles and smug posture with that last sentence as we shook our heads no. Now it was Lobster’s turn to answer a question.

“You fillies best not go around talking all that talk about us being raiders. As much as I enjoy a good kill, we aren’t going out of our way to just murder anypony. We only murder ponies we don’t like!” Now I wish I could see her face even more. I needed to know if she looked as happy as she sounded when talking about murdering another living breathing pony…

I swallowed my fear for the tenth time in the last twenty four hours and asked another question. “You like us though right?” Somehow, that got a laugh out of Lobster. Without answering the question, she removed her homemade armor of swamplurk shells and tanned hide to reveal her faded red coat and a sliver of cherry pink mane. There was truth to her being pregnant too. Easily seven or eight months in and close to popping! How did she manage to hide that thing under all the armor?

“Hun, I understand what a mamma feels now when she sees her little demons being the best they can be. I wasn’t gonna rob a pony of that. To be honest, it’s the only reason I ain’t killed ya two. Y’all just seem like the sweetest thangs!” I wished for whatever could hear my prayers to not let my face show the absolute horror I was experiencing. A brush with death disguised as a loving pair of ponies and we were none the wiser until she told us the truth.

Now I understood why the relationship between Wayward and the various Trapper camps was stuck at ‘extremely tense’.

If my clone really was another me with the exact details copied down to the smallest one then I had no doubts our experiences were the same right now. I wanted to go home and never leave the house again. It’s a feeling I was for certain with no room for doubt that my clone was feeling too. Today, and almost all of yesterday, absolutely fucking sucked!!

“I…I wanna go home…”

Author's Note:

Although I'm not new to fimfiction or reading fanfics, I am new to writing one. Made an account just for this little passion project not too long ago. Criticism is appreciated.