• Published 20th Oct 2012
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Out of Touch - ToixStory

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Manehattan Calling - III

The leader of the armored ponies had introduced himself as Steady Aim. He led us back across the now-quiet courtyard to the radio station. Some of the other armored guards had begun to sweep away the spent munitions and clean up the bodies of the ponies Sentry had taken out.

They dumped them near the front of the street leading to the radio tower. Steady Aim explained at as an “intimidation factor.”

He kept very close to Runt the whole way as we walked, making sure to keep his bulk behind the young pony like he was a physical shield. Runt himself seemed pretty confused about the whole thing, and his eyes almost continuously swept across the courtyard like he couldn’t believe what he was seeing.

Sentry, meanwhile, just looked to be on edge by all the other ponies with guns that weren’t hers. She eyed the semi-automatic military rifle slung across Steady Aim’s back hungrily.

Twilight and I just took everything in stride, like usual. A few ponies with guns isn’t exactly comparable to a dragon, Equestrian history’s most powerful wizard, or a ship filled with insane ponies, after all.

The guards by the radio station’s doors saluted Steady Aim as we went inside.

* * *

The interior of the station wasn’t much, but it was at least cleaner than the outside. It mostly consisted of an entry room filled with boxes of supplies and resting soldiers, and then the next room where the actual radio-ing went on.

All sorts of electronic equipment were piled on tables and leaning in haphazard towers that scraped against the ceiling. Most of them didn’t even seem to be on, or even whole.

The equipment that sat on a smaller desk at the center of the room, however, blazed with life. Obviously cobbled together from a variety of sources, they glowed green and red and hummed with power. Wires snaked their way around the floor and under a large red door at the back of the room.

A lone pony sat in an old chair in front of the table, a microphone placed just under his mouth and massive headphones on his head. His pure, white coat seemed to be out of place in a city like this, though his mane that was the same color red as blood fit right in.

Steady Aim coughed, prompting the radio pony to turn around. He wore thick glasses that were covered in tape from years of repair. By all accounts, he seemed to be very old.

He smiled at us. “Ah, Steady Aim, I see you have found some new friends.” His gaze focused on Runt. “Some very special friends indeed.”

Steady Aim nodded. “Yes, sir. They helped us in that recent Raider attack, and even brought us the son of Liam.”

“Yes, yes, his son looks just as the old coot used to describe him.”

“You knew my father?” Runt said finally.

The radio pony nodded his head. “Oh yes, quite well. When your father left your village, he combined his work with my own; this radio station is only part of our combined success.”

“So you were the pony broadcasting on the radio?” I asked.

“Ah, yes. ‘Manehattan Calling’ was Liam’s idea, and I’ve kept it up over the years in hopes of any ponies who might be able to help.” He smiled at Runt. “I could only hope that it would wield such results.”

Everypony looked like they were trying to ask another question at once, so Twilight stepped forward with a swoosh of her cloak that quieted us all.

She focused her attention directly on the radio pony. “I’m sure somepony knows what’s going on here, but I, for one, am lost. Care to explain before we get into how Runt is supposed to help you so much?”

The radio pony coughed. “Oh, yes, of course.”

He stood up from his chair. “Ponies around here call me Aradesh; it’s an odd name, I know, but I’ve grown quite fond of it.”

“Alright, Aradesh,” Twilight said, “explain what you’re doing here.”

Aradesh sighed. “It all has to do with this city.”

He pointed to a faded map showing a massive city grid spreading along the Equestrian coast. “The city of Manehattan must have been the largest in the world before the War. Now, the Manehattan Boneyard stretches forever, the skeletons of buildings lying under the hot sun. Not even the wind enters this dead city.

“My family was part of one of the many roving bands who made camp in the suburbs of Manehattan, but I lost them to raiders at a young age. I wandered across the Boneyard for years—so large as it is—until I came across Liam, Runt’s father. He had just run away from his village to escape their views on technology, though he regretted leaving behind his frail wife and child.”

Aradesh’s eyes closed and he clenched his jaw. “He never stopped regretting that. However, he put up with it out of the dream that he could make the Boneyard a better place. He sought to use old-world technology to create a sort of purifying device that could restore life to Manehattan once more.”

“I’m guessing something went wrong,” Twilight said.

Aradesh shook his head. “No, his research was sound and the project neared completion in this radio station that he used for a laboratory. His action, however, did not go unnoticed.”

The radio pony paused.

“Raiders who believed him to be building a great weapon invaded our facility. We had no guards, and no armed ponies besides us. If I had not been out that day . . . then they would have gotten me, too.”

Runt’s lip began to quiver. “Then my father is . . . dead?”

“I am sorry you had to find out this way,” Aradesh said slowly. “They took him and his project to their camp . . . and no pony has ever come from there alive.”

Runt didn’t respond, or obviously cry. Instead, he sat in a corner away from us and held himself, shaking. After a moment’s hesitation, Sentry went over to him, and laid a hoof on his shoulder.

“So how’d you end up with all of these guard ponies?” Twilight asked.

“When I returned to the station, I tried to clean it up as best I could and began the broadcast that your friend heard. These ponies were the first to respond: The Iron Battalion, they are called.”

Steady Aim stepped forward. “We are the descendants and heirs to Equestria’s 101st Armored Battion: The Iron Battalion. They were in the field when the megaspells hit, and survived the war. We continue their duty of searching the vast Equestrian Wasteland for ponies to help. The contingent here is the one that chose to try and enter the Boneyard on foot.”

“That leads us up to today, for the most part,” Aradesh told us. “We have been sitting here, waiting for either the son of Liam to show himself to us one day, or the Iron Battalion to link up with its vehicles trapped across the city so we could effectively drive back the raiders who continue to pester us.”

Runt, sniffling, joined us again. “How am I so important, exactly?”

“You are the catalyst of your father’s project,” Aradesh said. “A key was made with old-world technology that could activate the purifier, but only if used by one with his DNA. That would be, right now, you.”

“I’m going to take a guess and say you don’t have it,” Sentry quipped.

Aradesh nodded. “The raiders took it when they took Liam. We know the location of the camp, but cannot hit it without the full force of the Iron Battalion, lest they destroy the project before we can reach it.”

“That’s where we come in, isn’t it?” I said.

“Yes,” Aradesh said. “The four of you are a small enough force to sneak into the raider camp virtually unmolested. Once there, you can locate the key and signal us. Our forces will storm the camp, with or without vehicles, and we can all activate the project and finally begin purifying the Boneyard.”

“Sounds dangerous,” Sentry said, absentmindedly grabbing at her rifle.

“It sounds suicidal,” Twilight shot back.

Sentry just grinned.

“What it sounds like to me is something my father would have wanted me to do,” Runt said. “I didn’t know him for long, but if he abandoned me and my mom for this . . . I have to believe that it was for a good reason. A reason worth dying for.”

Twilight raised an eyebrow, while Sentry laughed.

“That’s the spirit!” she said.

“If you choose to go,’ Aradesh said, “we will be right behind you the whole way. Their camp is quite large; it should not be a problem for all of you to sneak in. Once in, you know what to do.”

Runt nodded. “Then let’s do it.”

* * *

We were escorted away from the radio station and down the street, but at the end of the block our group of guards turned back. All save for Steady Aim.

He looked across the city, and pointed out the direction we needed to go: due North from the radio station.

“Their camp isn’t hard to miss,” he told us. “It’s placed at ground zero of a megaspell crater. Some of the ponies around here think it’s why they’re all so crazy.”

Twilight’s eyes narrowed. “Center of a megaspell crater? The magic there will be off the charts . . . this could complicate things.”

“Well, you don’t have to come,” Runt said cautiously. “This is my fight, not yours.”

Twilight snorted. “I wish.”

He looked at her funny, shook his head, and took off toward the crater. Sentry followed behind him, still keeping to the shadows of the nearby buildings that lined the street.

Twilight and I exchanged a look before following them.

The avenue toward the crater got progressively messier and run-down as we neared the center. A side effect of being in the actual blast of the megaspell, I supposed.

Concrete buildings that had once stood solid by the side of the road now crumbled and swayed dangerously in the late morning sun.

It was evident that many ponies had been trying to take refuge in the more sturdy-looking buildings. The remains of wood that had been for boarding up the windows and heavy doors made of steel littered the street. Most of the cars, however, were gone.

The Boneyard, Aradesh had called the city. A pretty apt name, I began to realize.

Twilight jogged up next to me while Runt and Sentry pulled ahead.

“Hey,” she said.

“Oh, so we’re talking now,” I said.

She ignored my comment. “Am I the only one getting on odd vibe from this Iron Battalion?”

“Maybe?” I said. “I mean, what’s so weird about them? They want to take down these raiders and restore the wasteland. What’s so bad about that?”

Twilight shook her head. “It just seems really . . . contrived. Runt shows up, and suddenly they’re willing to attack the raiders now, even though they’ve waited a long time to do so in the past.”

“I think you just worry too much,” I said.

“I hope so.”

“Will you two pipe down?” Sentry hissed. “We’re here.”

Up ahead, the road rose slightly, and when we came to the end of it I realized that I was standing on the lip of a massive crater in the middle of the city.

The other end of the depression must have been at least half a mile away, if not farther. The inside of the crater was not empty, as I would have expected, however.

Large amounts of blasted buildings and general rubble littered the center of the crater, providing large amounts of cover for the raiders who crawled like ants over the destruction.

“The buildings are still . . . intact?” Runt said.

“The concussive force of a megaspell is low compared to the deadly magic it puts out,” Twilight explained quietly. “While it will level a few buildings, most of the damage it does is to flesh-and-bone ponies, not concrete and steel.”

“Any excess magic I should watch out for, then?” Sentry said, taking her gun and cradling it in her hooves.

“Just some that’s going to be stored in concrete and steel of the rubble itself, but not much of a worry for you—” Twilight began, but Sentry didn’t stick around to hear the rest.

She was off, dashing across the no-mare’s land between the lip of the crater and the first group of rubble. Sentry had switched the gun to her teeth and managed to make it across without arousing any obvious suspicion from the raiders.

Then again, most of them were on the other side of the crater, and those that were visible were a small number—not more than twenty or thirty—for the size of the area.

Still, it was more than the four of us could handle, especially without Twilight’s magic.

Runt was the next to run across the open ground to the rubble, though at a considerably slower pace. Twilight and I followed him, doing our best to stay quiet and low the whole way.

We managed to make it to the cover of a toppled housing block without being seen. The building was on its side, so we entered in somewhere around the fourth story into the empty interior. Sentry was waiting for us.

She scrambled up to the one of the building’s gaping windows, and pointed outside. “I can see some smoke rising from the center over there. That’s probably where that command of theirs is located, if I had to guess, which I am.”

Twilight nodded, and Runt and I peeked out a hole in masonry to see what she was pointing at. Sure enough, a thin tendril of black smoke rose from what was more or less the center of the crater.

“There’s fairly good-sized tower that’s mostly intact over there,” Sentry continued. “I’ll make my way in there and give you guys and Runt cover while you sneak in and find that key.”

The tower she was indicating was a bit less than “mostly intact.” It looked like massive bites had been taken out of its side, and was a wonder to just stand up on its own in the first place. Still, I didn’t object.

Sentry hopped down from her spot and led us across the ground toward the center of the crater. We made sure to keep to the cover the rubble provided, though Twilight shied away from it a little; every time she got close, her horn started to glow.

Finally, we came to the base of the tower.

“Wait right here,” Sentry said. “I’ll give you all a signal when I’m ready.”

With that, she deftly began to climb up the tower, her gun slapping against her back on its strap. The tower groaned a little, but otherwise she had no trouble.

She gave us a wave from her new perch at the top of the tower, and we all started to move forward.

As we stepped carefully among the scattered metal on the ground near the center of the crater, Twilight turned to me.

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” she whispered. “This is too easy.”

“Yeah, I feel it too,” I replied.

“Good,” said another voice.

Twilight and I turned around with a start to find a pile of rubble to our side suddenly occupied by raiders in tattered armor. More raiders began to flow out of the surrounding masonry to surround us. Their guns were held at the ready.

“Congratulations, you walked right into where we could trap you,” a pony at the crowd’s head, said.

Unlike the others, he wore clean, shining armor and a large helmet on his head that muffled his voice and gave it a tinny quality.

“Here I was expecting more from the Iron Battalion.” He turned to one of the ponies near him who was hold a large tube-like weapon. “Take out their sniper, if you would.”

The soldier nodded, and leaned on the ground before bringing his weapon to bare. A press of a large button on the side sent a large rocket sailing through the air out the front and a profuse amount of heat and smoke out the back.

Runt had to be held back by two of the soldiers as the rocket reduced the tower to a smoldering heap of concrete and dust that crashed to the ground below.

“Sentry!” he cried.

He struggled against his captors. “Let me go!”

“Hold him,” the captain ordered his soldiers. They complied.

“Now, let’s see about the two of you,” he began, turning to Twilight and I. Most of his attention, however, fell solely on Twilight.

“The tattoo, the colors, the scarring . . . so you must be the prophesied one,” he said.

“So I keep hearing,” Twilight said evenly. “Nopony seems to think actually telling me would be worth my time. Then again, I am talking to a glorified barbarian; you even took our companion’s father.”

The stallion laughed, then removed the helmet keeping him contained. The sandy face with a shaven mane that was revealed didn’t seem to be what Runt expect, as he looked crestfallen and turned away.

I was going to assume that it meant that the pony was not his father.

“I am Captain Raven of the true Iron Battalion. The ones of us who did not follow the insane rantings of that fool, Aradesh,” he said, showing off the rank insignia now obvious on his chest. “You would be careful to talk of Liam so flippantly. He spoke of the prophesied one from before the war: the one ‘who was to bring light to the Boneyard.’”

Raven’s eyes narrowed. “He did not consider this a positive prophecy.”

“What do you mean?”

“He interpreted the prophecy as—”

Raven was interrupted as the head of one of his soldiers was splattered across the chest of the stallion behind him. The echo of the shot carried across the crater, along with the sound of a rifle being reloaded.

The soldiers scrambled for cover, but not before a shot tore a chunk off a large soldier’s shoulder, sending him skidding to the ground.

Sentry was laying against a rocky piece of rubble, clutching her gun in two hooves and sighting targets through one eye. The other was swollen shut, and the rest of her wasn’t much better. She was bloodied, burnt, bruised, but very much alive.

She laughed as she loaded another copper bullet into her gun and fired away, almost landing a shot on Captain Raven right next to us.

“Kill her!” he shouted.

Bullets sparked and cracked around Sentry, though she made no move to take cover. She kept firing until another snapped toward her, though this one hit home.

A nasty red wound ripped open Sentry’s hoof, and she struggled to hold onto her gun. I could hear her cursing, decidedly not under her breath.

“No, stop!” Runt cried in futility. “Don’t hurt her!”

He tried to grab on to Captain Raven, but the stallion shoved him off. However, with their attention all focused on Sentry, nopony was paying any attention to what Runt was doing.

Before we could make a move to stop him, Runt ran toward Sentry’s position, even under heavy fire. The surprised soldiers stopped their fire and looked at each other, apparently confused on whether to shoot or not.

Runt made it easy on them. He pulled out the pistol Sentry had given him, and pointed at the soldiers, who immediately re-aimed their weapons.

“Nopony move!” he said. “Just everypony calm down!”

The soldiers began to advance on him anyway, though slowly and cautiously. They moved like confronting a family member gone crazy.

The gun shook in Runt’s hoof. “I-I mean it!” he said. “Stay back, or I’ll shoot!”

When they didn’t, Runt pointed the pistol at the nearest soldier. His eyes were bloodshot and his hooves shaking like crazy, but he was determined to protect Sentry, who clung to her wounded hoof while somehow keeping her rifle at the ready.

When that soldier took another step closer, Runt closed his eyes and pulled the trigger. Nothing. The gun went click.

He had used up all the bullets.

The soldiers, emboldened, raised their weapons and prepared to fire on both of them.

Runt stared them down. Now that his death was assured, I could see a sense of calm was over his face. He raised the pistol one last time, now toward Captain Raven.

“Bang.”

The soldiers opened fire in a hellstorm of lead that nopony could ever hope to dodge. The bullets kicked up such a dust storm that obscured the two from view. Not that I wanted to see.

I cringed when the dust finally settled, ready for the second blood bath that day. Instead, the settling smoke revealed a shining, purple shield covering Sentry and Runt, who cowered inside, safe from harm.

I looked at Twilight to see her horn and eyes glowing like white fire.

“I thought you said using magic was too dangerous here,” I said.

She laughed. “It is, but what fun has there ever been in doing things the safe way?”

“I agree!” Discord shouted, coming to life and growing to several times his normal size until he was a giant outline of a draconequus that towered over the soldiers who had trained their guns on the pair.

“Before you do anything excessively stupid,” he said, “I should inform you that you are about to attempt to use simple ballistic weapons on an immortal and powerful unicorn infused with all the powers of Chaos. I advise you all to run, and run very fast.”

The soldiers, seeing a giant talking tattoo threaten their lives, didn’t need any further encouragement. They quickly disappeared into the rubble.

All, that was, save Captain Raven. He watched us defiantly as Discord wound down back to his usual form.

“Exactly how immortal are you?” I asked Twilight.

“Never quite enough,” she said, “but more than you’d think.”

“That doesn’t even—”

“Hey, what are we going to do about him?” Runt asked, pointing to Raven.

Sentry raised her rifle with her wounded hooves and aimed it at the defeated Captain. “I can think of a few things.”

Runt stepped in front of the gun. “No, killing him isn’t the answer. Enough ponies have died today.”

“But—”

He looked at her. “There will always be more bad ponies to kill . . . right now, though, is not the time for that.”

Sentry huffed in annoyance and put her gun down. “And here I was, just about to compliment you, too.”

Twilight turned to Raven. “Now, give us a good reason we should keep you breathing for the next thirty seconds. Why did you shoot at us? Why is the prophecy a bad one?”

“The prophecy of the chosen one can be seen as—” he began, but that’s as far as the Captain ever got.

Without warning, his head blew apart, splattering those of us unlucky enough not to have a shield—namely everypony but Twilight—with the remains of Raven’s head.

Standing behind him, holding a smoking revolver, was Aradesh.

That was for Liam,” he said.

“Aradesh!” Runt said. “You’re here!”

“Yes, and I brought the Iron Battalion with me,” he said. “They’re mopping up the last of the raiders as we speak. I see the four of you managed to make it hear.”

“Yeah, we did,” Runt said. “So now what?”

Aradesh brightened. “We take you to the project, of course! There is not time to waste with activating it: the sooner this Boneyard is purified, the better!”

He led the now-enthusiastic Runt toward a squat, somehow intact building in the center of the crater while Twilight, Sentry, and I dubiously followed. Twilight especially looked wary.

The inside of the building was dim, and mostly covered in tents and weapons from the raiders. It was at the center of the room, however, that Aradesh took Runt to.

Sitting in the middle of the room, practically shining in the light, was a massive white cylinder. It had a small datapad on top, and a plastic card was lying next to it.

Aradesh took the card and gave it to Runt.

“Is . . . is this it?” Runt said.

Aradesh nodded. “This is the key your father created. Just by inserting it into the machine will begin the purification process! The Boneyard will finally be pure!”

Runt gave him and Sentry a nervous smile before walking over to the machine—that stood, at its tallest, up to his shoulders—and inserted the card into the slot.

Twilight had been glaring at the cylinder the whole time, but suddenly jumped just as the card went in. “No, don’t!” she cried.

But it was too late. Lights around the cylinder—hidden from view before—turned on all over the cylinder as it blazed with life.

Twilight staggered and clutched her horn.

“What’s wrong?” I said, putting a hoof on her shoulder.

“The key . . .” she said. “Get the key!”

I ran over to the cylinder and plucked the card out of the machine while a startled Runt simply watched. Aradesh, too, made no move to stop me.

Taking the card out, however, didn’t seem to have a visible effect on the machine as the lights continued to blink. Near the bottom of the cylinder, all the lights suddenly turned red.

“Uh, Twilight?” I said. “This thing’s not stopping. Is that bad?”

Twilight growled as she fought to stand again on her feet. “You bastard!” she yelled at Aradesh. “How could you?!”

“What? What’s wrong?” Runt cried.

“That’s not some sort of purifying device,” Twilight spat. “That’s a megaspell!”

I looked at the cylinder that lay before me. The blinking lights and smooth, white shape . . . it was hard to believe that I was staring at something with enough power to destroy cities.

Aradesh laughed. “Of course it’s not some ordinary megaspell . . . no, it’s far more than that. While megaspells have the sole purposes of destroying life and leaving the scenery intact, this bomb was modified by Liam to destroy everything around it with the purifying power of a miniature sun! I gave him the science behind it, and the fool went right along with me!"

“My father did this?” Runt said, taking a step back.

“Why of course he did.” Aradesh sighed. “He figured it out in the end, unfortunately. Decided that the glorious future I had told him about wasn't worth it anymore. Shortly after, he defected to Captain Raven and brought the bomb with him. As I expected, though, he kept his old work around. He never could bear to see his work destroyed . . . the only reason your friend Runt is with us today.”

More of the lights turned red on the cylinder. I tried pushing the key back into the slot, but it didn’t seem to work.

“You monster!” Sentry cried, and tackled Aradesh to the ground. She jammed her rifle into his face and growled at him. “Give me one reason why I shouldn’t kill you now!”

Aradesh smiled. “I don’t need to: when this goes off, everything in ten miles will be gone. It’s worthless to resist!”

“Why do you want to kill everything in the city?” Twilight spat. “What does that gain you?”

“Purity.” Aradesh spread his hooves up toward the ceiling. “Through my life, I have witnessed the worst this Boneyard has to offer. In times like these, ponies turn from their peaceful ways: it makes them barbarians. Looting, killing, and far worse crimes are committed against their own kind. With this device, this city will be able to start anew, without any marks left of the city that was destroyed.”

“You’re insane,” Sentry growled.

“Uh, Twilight . . .” I said as more of the lights turned red.

“There must be a way to stop this,” Twilight muttered to herself, staring at the ceiling.

More red. “Twilight, uh, you might want to see this . . .”

“Can’t teleport it away, it’d just destroy everything there too,” she said, “but if I teleport us away, then everypony in this city dies . . .”

The only lights not red were on the top of the cylinder, and they all turned green. Twenty rows of three lights each began turning red one by one.

I searched on the cylinder for some way to stop it, but found nothing. I looked at the slot with the card sticking halfway out of it, but there was nothing else.

As more of the green lights turned red, I did the only thing I could think of and tried to literally shove the card farther into the slot. Surprisingly, it worked.

My other hoof that was resting on the cylinder burned a bit and a computerized voice beeped: “New user accepted.”

At the same moment, more red lights switched on until only one green remained. Even I could figure out what that meant, but, yet, the last stubborn light refused to go off.

“Hey, uh, Twilight?” I said in a high pitched voice.

She ignored me, however, and turned around with a big smile. “I’ve got it!” she said. “I can create a magic shield around the bomb and let it explode on the inside!”

“How much time do we have left?” she asked me.

I smiled. “Um, I think I stopped it, actually.” I looked at the green light carefully, but it refused to turn red.

“That’s great!” Twilight said. “Go ahead and step away so I can activate the shield, though. Just in case.”

I started to release my hold on the bomb, but was stopped by the shrill laughing coming from Aradesh on the ground.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” he said in a sing-song voice.

“Why not?” I growled. “I stopped the bomb. We won.”

He started to giggle in a fit. “You haven’t stopped it! You just created a new user using your own DNA. That bomb won’t go off so long as you’re touching it, but the second you do, judging from how many of the lights turned red . . . it’s curtains for all of us.”

He looked up at Twilight. “Unless you think you can stop the power of a miniature sun escaping the bomb’s confines in less than a second and avert the prophecy.”

Twilight looked at me. “Tinker, step away from the bomb.”

I gulped. My hooves started to shake. “Twilight, you know I can’t do that.”

“Tinker, step away from the bomb.”

“If I do we’ll all die!” I cried. “You know you can’t stop it! With all the extra magic in the room . . . if my hoof comes off it, we’ll all die!”

“You’re not sacrificing yourself,” Twilight said icily. “Not today. We will think of something to avert this. We can teleport you away, or you off of it, or . . . something.”

“Hmm, maybe it would be nice to mention the automatic kill switch lasts for about five minutes,” Aradesh said with a giggle. “A pony who knew the bomb could easily disarm it in that time, but can you?”

I looked Twilight in the eye. “This bomb’s going to explode somehow,” I said slowly. “We both know the only way to keep the casualties for a minimum.”

“B-But you’ll die!” Twilight said. The lines etched in her face from her years of travel suddenly seemed more visible. “You can’t die! Not here, and not now!”

“It’s either me or everypony in a fifty mile radius,” I said.

Runt and Sentry, meanwhile, were backed up in the room, and had somehow found each other in the hooves of each other. I wanted to laugh. A bomb going off in my face was going to be the best thing for another colt’s love life.

“Tinker, I—” Twilight began.

“The five minutes are almost up,” I interrupted. “Activate the magic shield around me. Just . . . please, do it.”

In the end, I felt empty on the inside. I had come across the galaxy to die because some stupid, insane scientists had built the bigger bomb.

There wasn’t any glory in it besides saving other ponies. When Twilight’s shield finally sparkled and glowed around me, I didn’t feel victorious. I had lost.

Twilight’s eyes sparkled in the light of her magic. It looked . . . pretty. Runt and Sentry watched with her too as the shield was completed.

I looked down at my hoof and took a deep sigh.

I took my hoof off the bomb, and a white light consumed my being.

“I wish—”

?

?

?

!

White. That was all. A white light that encompassed my vision.

I floated in a timeless void, my limbs free to drift around me. Rayless and pathless I went. There was nothing more for me.

I was done.

“You know that’s not true.”

What? A voice?

Not mine, that was for sure. With an effort that defied myself, I spun around in the white space. There was a figure standing there.

As soon as I perceived him, gravity returned and I fell to a floor as white as the space around it. I picked myself up and tried to look at him, but it was like my eyes kept slipping off of him.

“W-Who are you?” I said. “And why can’t I see you?”

My words seemed to echo through the empty space.

His form did, however, clear up, if only a little. It was strange: he seemed to keep fading between the shape of a pony and something . . . else. Something in a suit and the universe's dorkiest bowtie.

But his face . . . whatever form he took, his face emanated power and wisdom far beyond what the soft features could show. Behind him was a large, blue . . . box-ish object that seemed so out of place in this void world. He was watching me patiently.

“I’m only just another story,” he told me in a heavily-accented voice. “We all are, in the end. But your story’s not over quite yet.”

I looked down at myself, which seemed to be wholly intact. “So you’re saying I’m not dead?”

“No.” He smiled. “You’re just waking up.”

He turned on his heel and started to walk away on long legs that kept switching from four to two, back toward his box.

“Wait!” I called. “What does that mean?”

He didn’t listen, and the edges of my vision began to get blurry. Or, rather, the white void itself began to waver.

Another voice called out to me through the nothingness.

“Hey, are you okay?” it asked.

I looked up, trying to find the source. Even as I did, the world around me began to fade to black and everything lost its focus.

“Charm?”

* * *

My eyes fluttered open. I was lying on my back somewhere dark. Brick and concrete buildings stretched far above me in the electric night until they met the dark, cloudy night sky. It was raining.

A fat drop fell from above and struck me on the cheek with a soft glop.

“Hey, can you hear me?” the voice said again. It sounded so much like Charm . . . but no, it couldn’t be.

I rolled over to face my savior, only to be met with a face that stopped my heart cold.

Sitting next to me with a worried look on his face was Charm, about ten years younger and without a cutie mark. Behind him, silhouetted against the stormy night and lit up with a thousand lights, was the Celestia State Building, striking defiantly up into the night above the rest of Manehattan.

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