• Published 20th Oct 2012
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Out of Touch - ToixStory

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Manehattan Calling - I

The magic field burst in a shower of light and left us behind in its wake. It took my vision a few moments to clear, but when it did, I fell to the dusty ground in sheer awe and disbelief as to what now lay before my eyes.

We were standing in a blackened field that had, at some point long in the past, been green and overflowing with flowers and grass. Now, only the burnt ashes remained.

Surrounding the the field—which seemed to be a courtyard of some sorts—were massive skyscrapers that reached miles into the sky in order to fulfill their name. What had once obviously been shiny glass and clean steel was rusting beams and crumbling fabcrete foundations. Some of the buildings had even toppled over onto each other other and now topped small mountains of rubble.

The wind whistled softly through the broken windows throughout the city, like the empty and gaping mouths of a thousand dead giants of old.

In the end, that was really the only way to properly describe the place: like some sort of sick fantasy land with a modern twist. A graveyard to every achievement modern pony had made in the past centuries.

“What is this place?” I asked Twilight softly. “How . . . how could this happen?”

She looked up quietly at the grey landscape of fallen grandeur around us.

“Manehattan,” she said at last. “After the Third Migration, if I’m not mistaken.”

“Migrations? What are you talking about?”

“It’s exactly what it sounds like.” Twilight kicked a yellow patch of soil that might have once been a flowerbed. “Whenever Equestria would grow too large, the government would organize a migration to spread the population out further among the stars and free up space down here. In fact, the first happens not too long after your own time.”

I turned to her. “So what went wrong, then?”

“I’ve only heard stories, so I may not have the most reliable information.”

“Try anyway.”

She sighed. “It’s said that this Third Migration wasn’t like the others: the ships were fewer and planets that would accept new colonists less than the last two times. As a result, more ponies had to be left behind than usual, and most of them were not happy about it.

“Then, disaster struck: one after the other. A series of earthquakes, famines, tsunamis, and other troubles hit the aging planet. Every nation—including Equestria—had a hard time rebuilding with what little resources remained . . .”

“So they fought over what remained,” I finished.

“You can figure out the rest. Looks like megaspells were used here: cleans out the organics, but leaves the infrastructure intact.”

I sank to my knees as I tried to take the information in. It was all coming . . . too much. Too fast. Streets that should be bright and happy were nothing more than cracked and barren avenues.

I had called it a graveyard before, but that wasn’t quite accurate. It was more a monument, now, to just what my own species could apparently do.

“How could we . . . how could we ponies . . . do something like this?”

Twilight stared out in the distance. “Every animal that is backed into a corner lashes out eventually, and lashes out hard. Ponies are no different.”

We remained in those positions for a long time. I could feel a whole gamut of emotions ranging from shame to grief run through me at once.

Sure, some ponies back home would have considered me sappy in such a situation, but it was the realization that I stood on the graveyard of millions that kept me from caring much about that. It was not for some time that I was able to raise myself up, and even then kept my eyes to the sky rather than the destruction.

It was funny, seeing a great blue sky with puffy white clouds hanging over Manehattan. Something so normal and upbeat that it seemed out of place.

“So what do we do now?” I said eventually. “This city’s dead . . . so what cosmic good are we supposed to do to take us to the next location?”

Twilight shrugged. “It usually reveals itself.”

Just then, there was a rumble in the ruins of what once had been a city hall behind us. Sure enough, a small colt in a red scarf and dark hat came tearing out of the building and down the steps right toward us.

Behind him, a larger stallion in significantly dirtier clothing and a matted, brown mane ran after the young colt, practically glowing in anger.

“If this were a sitcom, I’d start tacking up the coincidences to lazy writing,” Discord remarked, ever the comedian.

The colt ran across the desolate field over to us, his green eyes shining in fear as he kept looking behind him. The light blue mop he wore for a mane kept falling into his eyes as he did.

He came to a halt when he neared us, and even leapt behind Twilight as if seeking protection from the stallion who had begun to catch up.

The stallion, too, stopped in his tracks when he spotted us, and looked at each of us closely. Not out of hostility, but curiosity.

“Who’re the two of you?” he asked in a guttural voice.

“Just two travelers,” Twilight answered. “The better question is, though, why were you chasing after this colt?”

The stallion’s eyes narrowed. “’Cause he stole from the Hall. Nopony takes anything from the Hall without permission from our council.”

“But I was taking it for a good reason!” the small colt squeaked. “Packer, you know the council doesn’t approve any of my ideas!”

“Runt, if they don’t approve them, then it’s for a good reason,” Packer said evenly. “Now, are you going to give the artifact to me, or not? The council doesn’t have to know that you were stealing again.”

Twilight stepped a little further in front of Runt and raised an eyebrow. “Who was stealing what now?”

Packer blinked. “Oh, well, you see . . . Runt here stole some artifacts from one of the Old Ones’ buildings.”

“And that’s bad?”

“Well . . . yes. Our town’s council says it is blasphemous to try to remove any of the artifacts.”

Twilight turned to Runt. “And what exactly did you remove?”

The little colt parted his messy mane to reveal small, stunted horn that glowed and held up a tiny, yellow object. A battery, to be more precise.

“I just needed another one of these,” he said. “The last one I had broke, and the talk-box won’t work without one, and if it doesn’t work, I can’t hear the voices come out of it.”

“Which was an invention that the council barely approved in the first place, anyway!” Packer protested.

Twilight paused. “You said you heard voices come out of it?”

“Besides the crazy ones?” I heard Discord mutter softly where only Twilight and I could hear.

“Yes, why?”

“If the city is in this ruined state . . . then who is broadcasting?”

Runt shrugged. “How should I know?”

Nopony should know,” Packer butted in. He snatched the battery away from Runt and glared at all of us. “Runt will have to answer for his actions to the council. The two of you are not from here, and may leave us.”

Twilight’s eyes narrowed. “And if we stay?”

“Then you will answer for his actions as well. Be warned: if he is punished, you will receive the same.”

Twilight laughed. “Right, I’m very afraid.”

Packer shook his head. He grabbed Runt by the tail and started to drag him off in the distance while Twilight and I followed.

“Uh, Twilight?” I said.

“Yeah?”

“You do remember that I’m a lot easier to harm, right?”

Twilight scratched the back of her head. “Uh . . . maybe?”

Well that was just great. I was now being led to a trial against using machines that would feature a colt who was obviously guilty. Then the punishment afterward.

Packer led us into the shell of a department store. The interior was blasted clean, and only a few bits of metal racks and counters remained, all rusted. Ash scattered around my feet as we walked through it.

Ahead, the large room had been blown open at the back, and we filed through the hole and onto the highway on the other side. The city had been pretty advanced, even for my time: the system of highways rising and diving beneath each other on more than ten levels made me dizzy just to look at them.

Most of the roads were crumbled and cracked, though the one Packer led us on seemed at least somewhat complete. The asphalt was hot in the heat of the day, and Runt made a show of jumping from hoof to hoof as we walked.

“Did this happen to all the cities on the planet?” I asked Twilight as we climbed over the wrecked remains of a traffic jam. My hoof shattered a windshield whose glass had gone brittle over time.

“Quite a few,” Twilight said, “but not all.”

“Then why didn’t they help the survivors?”

Twilight looked around at the crumbling edifices lining the roadway. “I don’t think they thought anypony could survive after what happened here.”

She jumped from the roof of a small sedan onto a cargo container loaded onto a truck. The metal groaned under her weight.

“Then again, most of the cities that were left were probably the ones with the least amount of resources, so it’s doubtful they were in any position to—”

The roof of the cargo container, rusted in time, gave in and collapsed, taking Twilight with it. She fell through with a shriek and the sound of rending metal.

Packer, Runt, and I scrambled over to the rear entrance of the cargo container, which was open to the elements. We found Twilight laying on her side and rubbing her head, looking no worse for the wear.

She grinned sheepishly. “. . . help.”

Twilight climbed out of the cargo container and continued on the road with us, though a bit more carefully.

We walked for an hour before the massive and long roadway finally ramped down to meet the ground once again. Here, we were met by the ruins of suburbs.

Somehow, it was even worse than the inner-city. The ruins of houses and towering apartment complexes just seemed more ghastly. Perhaps it was the fact that ponies had not just worked there, but lived there.

We didn’t dare go in any of the houses.

Twilight kicked at a mailbox that had been withered away to almost nothing.

“Really brings it home, doesn’t it?” she said.

“You say that like you’ve seen this kind of thing before,” I said.

She looked away. “Maybe.”

“Will you two shut up?” Packer growled. “We’re almost there.”

I jogged up next to Runt.

“You walked all that way just for a battery?” I asked.

He nodded his head sadly. “All of the buildings closer to the village have been sacked already. To find anything oldtech, you have to go a bit farther out.”

The road split in two directions up ahead to circle a large area that had once been—apparently—a park. What remained of the actual park, however, appeared to be the husks of a few trees.

What was most striking about the area, however, was how it teemed with life. A rough fence surrounded the park and past it the signs of civilization could be seen. Simple civilization, but civilization still.

Tents and houses made of scrap rose from the tortured ground. The smoke of campfires could be seen drifting up over it, as well as the din of talking ponies.

“That’s where all of you live?” Twilight asked.

Packer nodded. “It’s home.”

“Why not live in the houses?” I asked.

Packer whirled around and stared me in the eyes.

“Why, that would be heresy,” he said icily.

When he continued on, Runt walked up next to me and whispered, “They tried to at first . . . but they couldn’t bear to try to take over the remains of ponies like that. The heresy laws came after.”

“How would you know that?”

“My dad, of course.”

Runt hurried to catch up to Packer, who had stopped at the point where the rows of houses abruptly ended but before the park began.

“His father, huh?” Discord said. “Let me guess, he’s trying to make it up to dear old dad. That’s how it goes, right?”

“If you don’t keep your mouth shut, I’ll punch myself just so you feel it,” Twilight growled.

Discord pouted. “You must be terrible at parties.”

“Look,” Twilight said. “These ponies are paranoid of old technology as it is. I don’t want to imagine how they would react to seeing you.”

“Point taken.” Discord sighed and retreated to Twilight's side. She drew her cape closer around her to keep him as hidden as she could.

As a pair, we walked up to join Packer and Runt at the same spot, where they remained rooted to the ground. They kept eying the buildings around them.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“Stand still,” Packer ordered. “The Sentry has to check you first before you can be allowed entrance.”

I did as I was told, though felt very silly. Twilight, however, chose to scan the area with her own eyes, as if she were looking for any hidden enemies.

Suddenly, however, a pony appeared on top of a nearby roof that I could swear hadn’t been there before. He wore tattered rags around his head that flapped behind him like a cape of his own. The only gaps in the rags were for his eyes and a small one for his nose.

The tan-coated pony hopped off the roof and landed on the ground with a very precise movement that left almost no sound.

Closer up, I could see that he carried a single weapon with him. It was a pony-style rifle, all right, but in the worst condition I had ever seen one. The barrel was dented and misshapen, while the rest of it looked to be rusting and falling apart.

It was a wonder that it held together.

Even then, however, he handled it like a veteran and kept the weapon trained on us.

“Who are these two?” he asked in a surprisingly warm voice.

“I found them out by the city hall,” Packer said proudly. “They were poking around, but they appear harmless.”

The Sentry turned toward us. “You two are not from here,” he observed. “Your clothes, they are too clean.”

I looked down at my shirt and vest. They were covered in grime and various other substances, but immaculate in comparison to the others.

“No, we come from far away,” Twilight said.

“Ah.” The Sentry turned back to Packer. “If they are harmless, then why do you bring them here?”

They brought themselves,” Packer said. “I caught Runt trying to sneak sacred artifacts again, and they wanted to vouch for him to the council.”

“I see.”

He nodded to all of us.

“Alright, you’re all clear,” he said. “Go on through.”

With a few quick jumps off various pieces of scenery, he was back on the roof and out of sight just as fast.

Packer led us across the street to the entrance to their little village. The walls appeared to be made out of scrap, and one had a large name written across it, like it had once been part of a starship or airframe or some other.

Revelation,” I said. “Is that the name of your village?”

Packer nodded. “Yes, it is named so after the artifact that we used to build our village in the first place.”

Twilight peered past the wrought-iron gate, which had many gaps in it. “This place isn’t very big; it can’t have more than thirty ponies, can it?”

“Twenty-one adults and six children,” Runt said. “Used to be seven, but I turned sixteen a few months ago.”

Packer banged on the gate, and it began to slide open obligingly on squeaky tracks. Once they were open, we were led inside the village proper.

The interior of the village, placed on the ancient park ground, was not much to look at it. A scattering of tents off to the left and buildings made out of the same materials to the right. In the center was a large ring which appeared to have a captain’s chair at its head, embedded into the ground.

Three more ponies sat near the gate with guns in about the same condition as the Sentry, though the way they handled theirs showed that they had never actually shot them before.

“Come on,” Packer said, goading us forward. “The council’s already in session. We can get this over quickly.”

An old pony with a bushy, salt-and-pepper beard sat in the captain’s chair and stared out at us with green eyes set deep into his golden face. He seemed to grow wary as soon as he saw both Packer and Runt approach the circle.

Two more old ponies sat in the circle on the ground, one on each side of him. They seemed almost as old, but not quite. They stared at the new arrivals.

“So Packer returns, and brings Runt with him,” the one in the captain’s chair spoke. “What tidings do you bring us?”

“Oh, Father Eden,” Packer said, “I bring Runt before you once again to be charged with the tampering of artifacts.”

“Again,” Eden grumbled. His eyes lit up, however, when he caught sight of Twilight and I. “Tell me, who are these guests you bring with you?”

“Oh, them?” Packer said. “They’re just citywalkers who wanted to vouch for Runt. Now about that—”

“Hush, boy,” Eden said quickly. He stared at Twilight like she was a present on Hearth’s Warming Morning.

“Now,” he said, “who exactly are you?”

“J-Just a traveler,” Twilight said, watching all the eyes that had suddenly fallen on her. “Nothing more.”

“Is that right?” Eden said. “Because, the books of ancients seem to mention a mare perfectly fitting your description. Purple and covered in scars, with a crimson cloak . . . though most also mention a tattoo.”

“I don’t know what you’re—” Twilight began, but was cut off by Eden who raised a hoof and one of the other council members, a unicorn, turned his horn to Twilight.

A small bit of magic, and the cape lifted up to reveal Discord’s tattoo.

Gasps were heard from the ponies outside the council circle who had gathered to watch. Eden’s eyes only narrowed.

“So the prophecy is true,” he said. He waved a hoof at the flustered Packer. “You may go now, boy. Take the other ‘traveler’ and place her in Runt’s tent until we get to him. I believe this council has much to talk about with the prophesied one.”

“What if I refuse?” Twilight said haughtily.

Eden laughed, a very dry motion of his lips. “The ancients did not believe this to be your way. Is it?”

Twilight looked at me once, gave me a little nod, then answered, “No.”

“Good, then we have much to discuss.”

* * *

Packer roughly led us to a small tent near the fringe of the village and made sure we were both inside before leaving, grumbling about his fair share.

That left Runt and I in the middle of a very cramped canvas tent. The entire interior consisted of a rough cot and a scrap-metal table covered in junk. Junk that was, at least, familiar to me.

“Is this it?” I asked, walking over to the table. “Your, uh, talk-box?”

Runt nodded. “It was, but Packer smashed it up last time I got some parts for it. Now, I don’t even know if I can fix it . . .”

“Yeah . . . me . . . neither . . .” I began, but drifted off as I looked at the pieces more closely.

I felt a slight burning in my flank as my cutie mark, and suddenly the pieces looked so, well, obvious. Of course this one goes there and that one goes there! It was simple.

“Mind if I try to fix it?” I asked hurriedly.

“Your eyes are glowing,” he mumbled.

“That’s a good thing!” I laughed. “You’re not the only pony here who’s good with tinkering.”

I quickly set about grabbing and adjusting all the little bits on the table. My hooves flew in front of my face until I lost track and began to act purely on instinct.

It may have been hours or only minutes, but eventually I had cobbled together what could more or less be called a radio from spare parts. I was only missing one element.

“Hey, do you still have that battery?” I asked.

He pulled out the yellow cylinder. “You mean this thing?”

“Yeah. Give it here.”

He did, and I carefully attached it to two wires that allowed the electricity to flow through it. I licked my lips and placed a hoof on the radio’s on/off dial.

“You ready?” I asked.

Runt laughed. “You just fixed my radio like it was nothing. Of course I’m ready!”

I took a deep breath. “Then here we go . . .”

I turned the knob and static flew out of the mesh speaker. I let out a happy squeal and grinned at Runt, who returned the gesture.

However, static wasn’t the only thing we received back.

As soon as it had come, the buzzing in the speaker was replaced by a slow, drawling voice calling out through the circuits.

“This is Manehattan Calling,” the voice said. “If anyone can hear this, this is Manehattan Calling, and we need your help.”

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