• Published 20th Oct 2012
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Out of Touch - ToixStory

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Manehattan Calling - II

The broadcast repeated itself several times, leading Runt and I to conclude that the broadcast was just on repeat and not actually directed toward us, unfortunately. After a while, I just turned the thing off when it became apparent that nothing else was going to be said.

“So, what do you think?” Runt said.

I shrugged. “The broadcast has to be coming from sort of station, but the problem would be pinpointing exactly where the signal is coming from.”

“Yeah, sure,” he said hesitantly.

I turned to him. “Do you even know what a broadcast is?”

“Is it when the voices come out of the box?”

“Yeah, kind of.” I tapped the antenna hastily attached to the radio and made of scrap metal. “Every broadcast needs a source, though. Usually, it’s a tower of some kind. If the ponies from that broadcast still need our help, then we’ll have to find that tower.”

“Well, there are a lot of towers in the city,” Runt said. “Why do we have to help them, anyway? I mean, uh, we’re probably not the only ones to hear the broadcast . . .”

I paused. To be fair, setting out and immediately helping any pony who had the slightest problem was probably disconcerting to the average individual. Then again, I hadn’t been with Twilight too long either, and here I was jumping at the chance.

Not that it was necessarily a bad thing.

“Well, think of it this way,” I told him, “if they are continuously broadcasting over a channel like this, then they must have a bunch of ancient technology to help them. If you can guide us to a likely location, my, um, partner and I can take care of whatever danger there is, and you can help yourself to what tech they offer afterward.”

“I, well, that does sound good . . . but I don’t know.”

“That’s okay,” I said, “you don’t have to decide now.”

“Yeah.” Runt scratched at the back of his head. “I just wonder what’s got them so scared over there.”

“Well, I figure it’s probably some sort of brigands or raider group,” I said. ‘Doesn’t this place have ponies going around and stealing from each other?”

“Not that often.” Runt shook his head. “Most pony groups I’ve seen besides ours weren’t really looking to hurt anypony else. There isn’t a lot of food or shelter in this city . . . So most ponies just spend their time trying to get that instead of anything else.”

“Yeah, but a gun could get those faster,” I pointed out. “I mean, even your guards at the gate had guns.”

Runt glared darkly at the ground. “They’re all relics from before the end that our council keeps patching up . . . they told me it was heresy to try to find out how they would work!”

I didn’t bother to point out that if weapons could be maintained since whenever the megaspells went off, then ponies without obstructive councils probably had guns as well.

Twilight would want to know, of course. That, and I’d want her to know, too, so she could keep any bullets off of me should we run into ponies wielding the weapons.

Packer suddenly appeared at the entrance to the tent. “The council will see the two of you now,” he said.

Runt looked at me once before taking a deep breath and following Packer out of the tent. I stayed on their heels, though I couldn’t help but look back one last time at the radio.

Outside, the council members were still intact and Twilight didn’t look particularly angry, so I expected the meeting to have gone at least somewhat amicably. Eden, however, glowered when he saw Runt.

“And so we now return the subject of this meeting to you, Runt, son of Liam,” he said. “Do you know of the crimes which you are charged?”

Runt gulped. “H-Heresy in an attempt to scavenge old world tech— er, artifacts?”

“So you do know.” Eden grunted. “Though, ignorance of the law would be no excuse anyway, especially in a situation such as this. Not only have you committed heresy, but have done so again after being reprimanded before.”

“But why is trying to tamper with old technology such a bad thing?” I asked.

The entirety of the council, Packer, and even Runt himself looked at me in surprise. To them, I guess, I must have been asking a child’s question about a truth they had all accepted long ago.

Eden cleared his throat. “Since you are an outsider, we will spare you your ignorance. This council—and those that served before us—forbid the use of the old world technology to prevent us from coming into the very weapons that destroyed the ponies of old and even caused their gods to flee to the stars.”

“We only want what’s best for the village,” Packer insisted, “but Runt here refuses to accept that.”

Runt angrily kicked at the ground. “Not everything the old ones left behind is evil.”

Packer raised a hoof as if to strike the upstart, but Eden moved forward and held the bulky colt back. The council leader then stood before Runt, towering over the little inventor.

“We may argue semantics all day, but this will not excuse you from your crimes,” he said, “and crimes must result in a punishment.”

Twilight stepped forward. “You’re not going to kill him, are you?”

“Kill him?” Eden snorted. “Our village has a low enough population as it is, and to think of doing something so horrible to the son of Liam is out of the question.”

Twilight and I both let out the audible sighs we had been holding. I briefly dwelled on the fact, however, that that had also been our first assumption from this society. Maybe their talk of the pre-war culture wasn’t completely wrong . . .

Eden looked at us both quietly before continuing. “You are, instead, going to be given a very certain task to accomplish to redeem yourself in the eyes of the council.”

“W-What would that be?” Runt asked.

“You are to accompany the prophesied One on her journey until its completion, at which you may be allowed to return home. Doing so before her journey is complete will result in banishment.”

Runt gulped. “I understand.”

“Good, now leave with the One and do not return until her journey is complete.”

The council immediately turned away, apparently satisfied that their job had been done. Twilight, Runt, and I looked at each other, shrugged, and started to back out of the camp.

“Guess I’m going with you guys after all,” Runt said, “whether I like it or not.”

“I guess so,” I said. I turned to Twilight. “What was all that stuff about prophecy and you being the ‘One?’”

Twilight held up a hoof to silence me while the gates were opened once again. They slid open on their noisy—and rusty—tracks to let us out, then closed shortly after that.

“They’re calling me the ‘One’ because of some stupid prophecy,” Twilight began. “It’s something about how a madmare with a tattoo will come after the end of the world to save it again or something like that. It’s ridiculous.”

“Is it?” I said. “I mean, couldn’t you have made the prophecy, like, in your future, but their past?”

“Possibly.” Twilight looked at Runt. “You ever hear of this prophecy?”

He shrugged. “There’s a bunch of them, so I might have, but maybe not. This is the first to come true as near as I can tell.”

“Right.”

Twilight started to walk down one of the urbanized streets lined with houses, then stopped and turned around. “Say, would that prophecy happen to say exactly what I’m supposed to do?”

Runt shook his head, but I eagerly raised my hoof. “We may have discovered a lead while you were talking to the council, actually.”

“Oh, and what would that be?”

“There was a radio transmission broadcasting over a single, open channel,” I explained. “All it said was: ‘This is Manehattan Calling,’ and then something about needing help. I mean, that’s a lead, isn’t it?”

Twilight nodded. “Probably, but the problem is finding a radio tower around this city.” She sighed. “I could teleport to the top of a big building to find one, but I’m not going to risk it in a city filled with leftover residual magic from a megaspell. I wouldn’t want to end up with my skin on the inside.”

“Yeah . . .”

Runt and I just kind of sat back in our helplessness while we watched Twilight walk around and try to come up with a situation. Feeling particularly useless, I turned back to look one last time at the village behind me, only to come face to face with the Sentry’s facewrappings.

“Gah!” I cried. “You!”

The Sentry tilted its head, then shoved past me and approached Twilight. The sight of the large gun strapped to the pony’s side caused the lavender mare to drop slightly into a territorial stance and her eyes to darken, though she didn’t say anything.

The Sentry stopped just before, raised a hoof to its face, and pulled them down enough to reveal the face of a . . . Mare?

“Y-You’re a girl?” I said, perhaps a little bit too loudly.

He, er, she whirled around and said in an angry voice, “Of course I’m a girl! Just what did you think I was?”

I gulped. The warm voice . . . the way she hopped around all over the place with a surprising amount of grace . . . the slim body I had tacked up to malnutrition . . . oh, this was embarrassing.

“Well?” she demanded.

“N-Nothing,” I stammered, “I was just, uh, surprised because of the gun—”

“Are you saying a girl can’t handle a gun? Kind of surprising coming from a girl traveling around with a prophesied warrior.”

I shook my head. “No, it’s not like that at all! You see—”

“Tinker,” Twilight said icily. “Shut. Up.

I closed my mouth while she turned back to the Sentry. “Did you have a reason to approach us?” she said.

The Sentry nodded. “I overheard your talk with the council, and then what you were saying out here.” She swung her rifle around and pointed to the scope. “If you can tell me what a ‘radio tower’ looks like, I’m sure I can find it. I get bored, so I’ve scouted all over this city.”

“And why do you suddenly want to help us?” Twilight asked. “Don’t you have a village to guard?”

She snorted. “Duh, you’re the prophesied One. All of the cool stuff is going to happen around you; all we ever get around here is a whole lot of nothing, coupled with the occasional drifter.”

She lifted up her cloak to reveal a cutie mark of a sniper’s crosshairs. “When your special talent is shooting things, guarding a peaceful town sucks.”

Twilight sighed. “Fine, you can come along, if only so we can get to this radio tower before everything really goes out of control.”

The Sentry saluted. “Got it. Now, what does one of these radio tower things look like?”

“Well, it’s like a big metal tower, but with a, uh, bunch of little cross beams through it. And it’s hollow,” I said.

“Right,” the Sentry said. “I’ll, uh, look for that. Wait right here.”

She scrambled up the nearest house and leapt across the rooftops away from the village and down a side street toward a large, concrete building near the houses. Somehow, she re-covered her face as she went, with two cloth strips still trailing behind her. The rifle bounced against her back as she went, sometimes even resorting to running along for a brief time on two legs.

Twilight, Runt, and I had a hard time keeping up with her on the ground, even when she stopped on the large building—a bank—and waited for us.

“Has she always been like this?” Twilight asked as we ran.

Runt shook his head. “I’ve never seen much of her, so I don’t know. She mostly keeps to herself when she’s in the village at all.”

“Hey,” the Sentry called down, “does the radio tower kind of look like the inside’s made up of a metal spider web, and have a big ball on top?”

“That’d be the one,” I yelled up to her.

She shimmied down a ladder on the side of the building, though chose to drop the last ten feet or so, still managing to land softly somehow. She brushed herself off and looked at Twilight.

“We’re lucky; the tower’s not too far, and directly east of the village. We should be able to make it there if we follow this street.”

“Great then,” Twilight said. “Lead the way.”

The Sentry started down the street, and we followed where. Whereas we walked down the middle of the cracked concrete boulevard, however, she kept to the shadows and overhangs of the buildings, always keeping out of sight except for the briefest moments when she’d move to more cover.

The houses quickly disappeared behind us as we moved into a sort of low-grade commercial sector with the remains of restaurants and shopping malls staring out at us in all their decadence. The road widened as we went, as well, turning from a two-lane residential street into a four-lane highway.

Off in the distance, between more tall buildings but still within the unending sea of concrete that was Manehattan, I finally spotted the radio tower.

As the Sentry had said, it wasn’t very far. At most, it was twenty city blocks, which were much easier to travel without traffic. Which, oddly enough, there wasn’t a lot of.

“Hey,” I said, “how come there aren’t a whole lot of cars on the road out here?”

On the crumbling highway in front of us, in fact, there was only one vehicle: a rather large tanker truck that had fallen on its side and was now rusting away.

The Sentry looked both ways, then walked out tentatively toward us in the road. “The city was given an evacuation order before the bombs hit,” she told us. “Most of the ponies managed to clear out of the business districts, but got stuck on the highways. And then . . . well, you can probably figure out the rest.”

“How do you know all this?” Twilight asked.

“You can find the information if you look hard enough,” she said. “Isn’t that right, Runt?”

Runt gulped. “Y-Yeah, though the council doesn’t look highly on it . . .”

“That’s why it helps to be the Sentry; they need me.”

We continued onward after that, though a question started to bug at me. I drifted over toward the sidewalk that the Sentry crept along, and she regarded me with a huff of annoyance.

“What do you want?” she said.

“Oh, uh, just wanted to ask a question,” I said.

“Yeah, well, spit out.” She hopped over an overturned mailbox. “Once we get to the station, I get the feeling that we won’t have time for this.”

I nodded. “I just wanted to know, since you’re traveling with us, uh, what’s your name?”

She looked at me funny. “Sentry.”

“Your name is your job? Isn’t that kind of redundant?”

“Oh yeah, and what’s your name?”

“. . . Tinker . . .”

She snorted. “Right, my name’s ridiculous.”

Sentry shook her head and started to laugh a little as we walked, though her moment was quickly cut short.

The sound of a single bullet cracking through the air echoed across the empty street. It had come from the direction of a radio tower.

Soon, another crack followed it, and then another, and another. The sounds of a gun battle filled the long-desolate air over the Manehattan suburbs.

“What’s that noise?” Runt asked.

Sentry grinned. "Show time."

* * *

We practically ran the rest of the way to the radio tower, though we couldn’t get a good look at the battle going on until we rounded one final corner and ducked into the cover of a restaurant’s doorway.

The road continued up the road a little bit, until it ended in a large, squat building with the radio tower jutting out of its top. Where it would normally have front steps and a wide patio, there were sandbags and weapons emplacements. Ponies in steel helmets and armor blazed away with semi-automatic rifles and submachine guns.

Startlingly, given how far into the “future” we were supposed to be, the weapons looked no different than what the guards around Journey’s End had carried, if a little more worse for the wear.

The ponies they were shooting at were more ragged in their appearance and in weapon choice. Despite that, however, they were smart enough to take cover among the rubble strewn about on the road and to the side of it.

Occasionally one of them would try to move forward while his comrades provided covering fire, but the ponies defending the station weren’t as keen on keeping their heads down as the ragged ones would have liked, and kept the other ponies pinned down.

“So are we going to take bets on who’s the good ponies in this fight?” Twilight asked.

Sentry pulled a bullet out of the tattered clothes on her back and slid it into her rifle’s chamber. “I don’t know, but I’m gonna get up on this restaurant’s roof to get a better look.”

“Here, take this, just in case,” she told me. She tossed me a blocky pistol that she also pulled out from somewhere beneath her clothes.

Without another word, Sentry scrambled up the crumbling parts of the restaurant until she was on top.

Meanwhile, Runt, Twilight, and I took cover behind some of the remains of one of the restaurant’s walls that was scattered in the street. Luckily, none of the combatants had noticed us yet, so we were content to watch the battle continue.

I watched Sentry slowly move toward the edge of the roof, put her rifle on her shoulder, and looked through the scope. Unfortunately, putting weight on the rifle put weight on the edge of the unstable rooftop, and a section of the roof suddenly fell off and hit the ground with a large crash.

Immediately, several of the ponies in ragged clothes who heard the noise turned and began blasting away at the roof with their bolt-action rifles.

I could hear Sentry curse as she, too, was pinned down.

“Great, now what?” I said, turning to Twilight. “Any bright ideas?”

“My magic doesn’t work, remember?”

“And all of your ideas involve magic?”

“Element of Magic: kinda my thing.”

Runt growled in exasperation. “We can’t just leave her to die!” he cried. He snatched the pistol out of my hooves and, before I could stop him, ran out of our cover and into the middle of the street.

“Leave her alone!” he yelled, opening up on the ponies closest to us with the gun, though every shot went wild by several feet. The intended effect of drawing their attention away, however, worked perfectly.

Bullets snapped at Runt’s hooves as he ran across the street toward more rubble to escape the gunfire that the ponies now shifted towards him.

They didn’t get much of a chance to, however.

As soon as their fire was off of her—and confirming who exactly she should shoot at—Sentry laughed, raised herself back up, and started taking shots at the ragged ponies below.

I could see Sentry grin as she watched the first bullet enter its victim.

The high powered rifle bullet hit the middle stallion in the knee, the high speed lead ripped his foreleg off in an explosion of gore. The stallion dropped to the dirt, clutching the remains of his leg in agony.

The other two stallions quickly met similar fates. As she saw the gruesome toll her bullets wrought on the ragged ponies, Sentry’s grin widened and she laughed out loud.

The sound was high and melodious, the sort a filly would make running through a field of daisies in summer.

My stomach, instead, turned as I looked at the slick remains that covered their former positions and spots of cover.

Sentry jumped down from her spot just like she didn't have a care in the world just as several of the armored ponies approached us with their weapons still drawn.

“We don’t mean any harm,” Twilight said quickly, though Sentry’s ready gun kind of made it a moot point.

The leader of them, a tan pegasus with a chocolate mane looked us over, then widened his eyes. “Stand down,” he told his soldiers.

He walked up to Runt and looked down at him. “You. Are you the son of Liam?” he asked.

Runt gulped. “Y-Yeah, why?”

“Then you just might be able to save us all.”

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