• Published 22nd Dec 2012
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Fallout Equestria: The Fossil - alnair



A pegasus and a zebra hybrid mares on a quest for ancient Equestrian artifact in snowy northern mountains.

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Jester

Chapter 03: Jester

Yes, I love coincidences. And this sort of coincidence left me no choice. I hustled up, but it still took me about ten minutes to reach the vehicle. Even when I went downhill, I could beraly move my legs - so much they hurt. I could hear soft rumble of a small generator fixed to a wagon’s door.

Of course, I had no intention for robbery. However, I really wanted to find out what was inside. Daring Do’s mark promised the vehicle’s owner could know something about her. Maybe, there even were some book that were not present in the Stable’s library! What if... Well, there could be dozens of ‘ifs’.

I walked around the wagon, peeking into windows. Unfortunately, there was no light inside and almost every window was covered by a faded curtain. Even with my PipBuck’s light on all I could see was a pile of cardboxes in a corner. Then I climbed on an improvised porched and pushed my muzzle towards the door’s glass. It was almost at the ground level - remind you, the vehicle was turned upside down. Peeking into darkness I understood I’ll find out nothing until I’m inside. And the door begged to be opened, even if with my muzzle, as it was latched only with a tiny hook. I had no more strength to sit there and wait for whoever lived there. The temptation was too strong.

I pushed my head inside. When I saw something that my PipBuck light illuminated, I fell back on my rump, bewildered. A sinister silhouette of a zebra with glowing red eyes looked directly at me. It was a poster, with a scarlet background, so the silhouette cast a shadow on a line of chained military ponies. Obviously, these were meant to be prisoners of war - their pale uniforms looked more like prison robes and a huge round iron weight appeared just like in a “Showflank Redemption” book. Underneath this exposition of wartime pony misery was a classic slogan: “Better bullet in a head, than become a zebra's friend!”

The poster looked definitely menacious, but the rhyme reminded me ponies were not so much different from zebras, after all. Also, I decided this poster has been painted by a unicorn: I could think of no way an earth pony could push the gun to its noggin and pull the trigger at the same time.

Anyways, the best way to get over a scary thing is to make fun of it. So I coped with my inital fright, entered the habitat and went on exploring. Unlike previous vehicles I encountered, this had a particular scent inside - not of rot or rust, but of dusty cardboard. And the most spectacular was that there was really warm inside! After all those ours outside I almost forgot what Stable’s 78F could feel like. And it was definitely was much warmer inside.

I was all covered in snow and it immediately started to melt, and I left wet hoofprints all over the wagon’s wooden floor. It was clear that this strange house has been rebuilt with skillful hooves. Probably, once it was no different from any other wreckage I found, but now it was a true apartment, with furnishing, a lot of shelves around and a real wooden floor. All parts of the vehicle’s original interior have been unscrewed, turned into appropriate position and screwed back again.

At the far end of the wagon lay the cardboxes that I saw from outside. Each one had a letter inscribed with marker. Whoever inscribed these letters, had a terrible handwriting, so I could discern only “A”, “E”, “P” and “O”. The latter one had been offhandedly pushed under a folding table beneath a boarded window. I pulled this one out, casting a whole cloud of dust around. It was all like our Library’s archives, and I thought the cardboxes must have contained books. One can imagine my surprise when I found quite a collection of pre-war vinyl discs inside! I landed my rump on the floor and started browsing through faded envelopes.

True to the inscription, this box contained discs with perfromrs starting with “O”. I’ve picked one, and the label said “Omnipony - Equestria in Grey”. I found it gloomy. Another one was Octavia. Surprising, isn’t it? I’ve seen most of Octavia’s albums before, in my father’s collection, but there were a few I have not heard before. One particular disc caught my attention, it was called “DJ Pon3 feat. Octavia: Live in Hoofbeats!”

The cover artwork featured a pair of enormous loudspeakers and in front of them stood Octavia and some other white unicorn mare with an acidic blue mane. A pair of huge violet shades covered upper half of her face. I’ve never seen this mare before. She hugged Octavia with one hoof familiarly, with cello pony’s face expressing both perplexity and embarrassment. The white unicorn mare, however, smirked and looked confident. Instead of her trademark cello, Octavia clenched her hooves on an instrument of a most spectacular design. Well, it actually looked a sort of like a cello, but basically represented a curved frame, decorated with red and blue luminous gems, with strings attached to the frame. I could see a cord, going from the instrument somewhere beyond the picture. An arcane cello? This thing looked weird and, and the same time, fresh and cool. And I had no idea what exactly it could sound like.

Putting the curious envelope aside, I pushed the cardbox back under the table. Searching for a some kind of playing device, I noticed an old refrigerator in a far corner, by the door. My starving stomach sent another alert into my brain and, being fully aware of my wrongdoing, went towards it. Suddenly, I could hear a brief rustle, and a yellow point appeared on my EFS for a moment and disappeared instantly. I turned around but saw nothing. “A radroach,” I thought. Back in our shafts they used to appear and vanish in a split second. Darned quick creatures. Good thing a good screwdriver stab or a shocker charge was enough to calm them down forever.

Muttering “Celestia forgive me”, I pulled the refrigerator door. A clang told me my effort was in vain. “Of course, there is a lock I missed”, I noted.

Examining the lock, I reckoned it was no different from ones used in fuse boxes. I have already retrieved a suitable screwdriver from my sleeve pocket and prepared to insert it in the keyhole, when I’ve suddenly got deafened with a terrible blow. A combination of can grinding, a preforator drill, and a crying screech, vaguely reminiscent of a cello, suddenly broke out behind me. I dropped the screwdriver and jumped on all fours. Bloody hell!

I unholstered a pistol, which, by my calculations, contained only a couple of bullets after my manticore encounter. I aimed the gun in all directions, hoping to catch an invisible foe in my sights. At the same time I drooped my ears in a desperate attempt to dampen the unspeakable wall of sound around me. A slow, pendular rhythm countered rapidly changing bending, ear-tearing sounds, that summoned a perfect chaos, disabling me from concentrating on anything.

“Come out! Enough hiding! Whoever you are!”, I muttered, trying to light up darker corners of the wagon with my PipBuck. I was not going to kill anypony, but I sure hoped my adversary would prefer to keep his distance.

The horrible noise ceased as instantly, as it exploded seconds ago. At the same time, I felt somepony’s hoof on my shoulder and knew I’ve just got owned.

“Spit your gun, or you’ll swallow it one day,” a mare’s voice sounded right at my ear. The voice was calm and mocking at the same time. I shook my head vigorously in denial.

“Nuva!”

“What?”

“I said: never!”
I said it so legibly, that the gun fell down on the floor with a thud. “Oops!” I tried to bend down to pick it up but met my captor’s another hoof’s resistance.

“Now, now, let it lay there, girl. Nopony perforates my house until I say so.”

So, here’s the mistress. I peeked at my PipBuck to see a lonely yellow point in the middle of EFS compass. This promised some negotiations without hooves on so far. At least I hoped so.

I stopped pushing my adversary with my wings and she loosened her grip on me and said almost protectively:

“See? It’s not that hard.” The mare’s voice had a strange accent I’ve never heard before. But at least we were speaking the same language. “Now, who are you filly, and what are you doing in my house?”

“Filly?!” I gasped in indignation. “I have my cutie mark already! And my name is Dodo!”

“Oh, what a funny nickname.”

“It’s a... name!” Yes, I’ve considered that my name for a long time already. It was not as long and fussy as my given name.

“Whatever. Still, you’re avoiding my question. Touching somepony’s else belongings is a reason for a good spanking!”

I did not take her words seriously. I had two thoughts on my mind that were way more important: first, where this conversation could lead to and second, what’s that strange accent?

“You won’t do that! You’re neutral on my compass!” I parried brightly, as this conversation’s tone started to annoy me.

I heard a playful chuckle.

“You don’t say!” The EFS point suddenly became red and then I heard a fruity slap... Of somepony’s hoof on my rump! What the hay! Two slaps followed and the fact that they were dampened by my rough cotton shorts did not make me any happier. The last time I’ve got spanked was in my fillyhood, when I got caught jumping upwards to the Overmare’s window, knocking on it and then hiding under the balcony.

“Stop it! Ouch! I - saw - a cutie mark - ouch! - of Daring Do! That’s - why - I came in!”

“Whose cutie mark?” I heard no surprise in the mare’s voice, only disbelief. “Mind you, I can keep spanking you all day.”

“The symbol on your wagon. The wind rose. It’s Daring Do’s cuite mark! You live in a house with one on its wall and know nothing about it?”

“So what? Is that a some sort of a mysterious sign saying “Free food here”?”

“I could have exchanged that for services!”

“Now that’s interesting! What kind of services, if I may ask?” I could hear my captor’s voice become playful and interested.

“I could have w-washed your laundry! Or c-cleaned your room! You... pervert!” Stumbling at every syllable, I almost spat the last word. The pony burst out in laughter in response to my lame accusation.

“Oh yes, I am a bad girl. Seriously, you should have seen the look on your face now! Pity you’re already pink.”

“I’m lavender! You’re so...”

“Annoying? Fascinating! You’ve broke into my house and dare to complaint!”

“I don’t!”

“Then what are you doing?” This pony started to get really annoying. It felt like on every one my word she had two. Besides, she had a nasty habit of starting speaking even before I finished my sentence.

I turned my head to the right a bit and then I noticed an old mirror on the wall. Through it I could see my face, all dirty and haggard, my messed mane and... a grey zebra with green playful eyes and pale stripes on her face. Her white smile contrasted with her long sleek black mane and her whole look was like she was ready to start laughing again at any moment.

“So, you’ve found me, filly. Nice to meet you at last. Listen, I don’t know who you are and where you crawled out from, but I’m going to release you now, and you are not going to run, scream or do any other sort of stupid things. Okay? And then we can have a sweet talk about cuite marks, Darling Doom and stuff. Otherwise, I’m going to catch you again and then I’ll spank you until you become as soft as filly’s bottom.”

“Alright. Only, it’s Daring, not Darling...”

“Whatever.”

I could breathe deeper now. Nopony held me now, so I made a few steps and turned around, towards the zebra mare. Now I could see her better. The wagon’s mistress wore a cape of grey and green patches. She also wore trousers of the same patched pattern, covering her cutie mark. Looking at her face, I realised this was neither a zebra, nor a pony, but something in between. As if somepony painted stripes over a grey pony. It was exotic, almond-shaped eyes that ruined the illusion.

I tried to come up with some polite way to ask her what she were exactly, but I could not finish my thought. My body swayed.

“Filly? Where are you going?”

My vision blurred, my legs gave way and the last thing I saw was a couple of grey hooves I fell into.

* * *

Well rested and fresh, I trotted down the mountain path. My bags were filled with food and the gun had been thoroughly reassembled and oiled. The weather got better, too. This morning was so friendly and calm that I expected the sun to come out any moment.

As I jumped over another boulder, somepony called me:

“Dodo!” I actually thought I heard that, but soon the familiar voice called again:

" Hey, Dodo! There you are! - I stopped and turned towards the voice. To my greatest surprise, I saw Copper Wire standing higher up the path. This stubborn pony managed to get out from the Stable and find me! And, judging by her neat, almost perfect, appearance, she managed to avoid all the obstacles I met.

"Copper?” Was all I managed to say before the little unicorn dashed into me. Despite her tiny stature, she tried to give me a bear hug. I found it funny, but then she said:

"Dodo! You’ve made us all worry! And worst of all, you’ve made me worry! Why, you know how much I love you!” And with that she tucked her muzzle into my neck. I could feel her tears on my hide. I tousled her mane and pushed her away gently.

"Yeah, I do.” Now I had better to drive our talk to a safer ground, so I made my face look as serious as possible. I looked strainght into Copper’s eyes and said:

"But now it’s me who’s going to worry. The whole Stable must be looking for you, Copper. Losing two technicians in one day - that’s a bit too much, you know.

Copper looked at me upside from under her ruined mane, like an offended child.

"Silly Dodo. It’s you who they are looking for. The whole Stable. When we’ve realized you managed to get outside, the Overmare canceled the upper level lockdown. It was dangerous to blast all that concrete, but now the Stable is connected to the Surface, like you always dreamed!

Copper paused to inhale some air.

"You know, Dodo, I so so much happy it was me who found you!” She winked at me and smiled in absolute happiness. I looked at my young admirer and I could feel my cheeks burning red. But my curiousity has got the better of me:

"But how exactly did you manage to get to me? There seems to be only one way here, with a deadly abyss in between.”

Copper’s smile turned into a proud grin.

"Levitation! Or, rather, self-levitation. If we unicorns don’t have any wings, this does not mean we can’t fly! - With that, she put her hoof to her horn and knocked on it lightly. And then I heard a loud clap. A small red point appeared on Copper’s forehead and blood spurt all over me. Copper Wire’s eyes rolled up and she collapsed.”

I turned around and a bullet hit me in my neck. Trying to hold the wound, I watched the walking dead in a torn barding with its cape dangling aside. Maney Brown aimed a compact revoler right in my face. Then he shot again and I fell into the snow face first.

* * *

I was alive. Lying on my belly, I desperately tried to inhale. My muzzle sticked into something soft. “Copper’s body,” I thought dreadfully. I had no wish to open my eyes, I felt like burning all over my body and my throat felt sore. I turned on my side and cuddled. Little by little, my mind cleared, my ears caught a repeating metal clang and my congested nose discerned a smell of cooked food!

For startes, I was in compartment. All those bloody nightmares I saw were just a bad dream. I have never dreamed such abominations since I had my time in Stable hospital, covered in bandages. At least I felt safe for Copper now. Now it was time to take care of myself.

My whole body was numb, my rear leg emitted dull pain, my mouth was dry and my stomach remained empty. I stretched and turned on my back. I’ve been wrapped in a blanket and, worst of all, I was completely naked!

I opened my eyes and saw a baige ceiling with a dim lamp - apparently, a night-time illumination. I layed in a hammock inside the familiar wagon. My clothes have been neatly folded next to me. Despite my fears, that strange striped pony (somehow I treated her as a pony, not a zebra), has done nothing bad to me. And there she was, sitting next to the refrigerator and cooking something with a soup ladle, fixed on her hoof.

I sniffed, curious about what was that she had been cooking, but immediately started caughing badly, attracting my mistress’ attention. She turned towards me and narrowed her eyelids, pleased.

"Now, good morning, filly.” She cooed. I was too weak to get angry. So I turned towards her slowly and got out only two words:

"Do Do...” And turned back towards the wall. My voice was unexpectedly hoarse. I started caughing again and could not stop. I’ve caught cold. Marvellous.

I wanted to stay alone, to gather my thoughts, or at least try to. And I also needed to wipe my tears, caused by caugh. I would hate to make my ‘savior’ think I’m crying out of self-pity.

"Are you denying a breakfast in bed? Mind you, there will be no second call.”

The word ‘breakfast’ made me stop caughing and stick my head from under the blanket. The striped pony stood over me, smiling as usual.

"Okay, at least you are hungry.” The striped pony winked and picked a small pot with her teeth.

I forced a smile.

"Even if this is made from radroaches, I’d eat it all - so hungry I am.” And after a thougt, I added, “Yeah.”

"Well, then you’re lucky little one. It is made of radroaches.”

"Very funny.” I replied, making a sceptical face.

"Hm, you’re a swift learner.”

The striped pony held out a hoof and said:

"Jester.”

I bumped her hoof weakly and raised myself on my elbows a bit.

My new acquaitance scooped her brew from the pot and carefully poured it into my mouth. I’ve read before, that when you’re hungry, even the worst of food would taste good, but now I could say firmly: this soup was delicous. Even despite the only ingredient I knew were cooked carrots. I could smell spice - back in the Stable I used some, too, but here the thickness of soup depended on the base. And although the base tasted like dried mushrooms we kept in the Stable since pre-war times, was something else.

With every sip I could feel my strength come back to me. Besides, the hot soup warmed my sore throat and the spice returned my sense of taste.

Jester kept silent, as she watched me tucking into her soup. I could see satisfaction on her face.

It was not until I licked the pot clean that I could adress the striped pony by name. And I tried to make it as friendly as possible:

"Listen... Jester. You know, I used to be a somewhat good cook. Pray tell, what is this soup made from, actually? It was delicious!” Yes, I meant it.

"I told you, it’s made of radroaches.”

Jester’s voice was deadly serious.

“Kheck!” The comprehension of what has just happened made my eyes buldge. Not only that was the first time I tasted meat, the worst thing was, whose meat I’ve just tasted. However, it was too late to spit, and I had no intention to force it out.

Now I could see Jester literally shine with joy. Apparently, she used to set this sort of ‘traps’ for the unsuspecting for her own enjoyment. “Darn, I wonder what her cutie mark looks like”, I thought, but then I decided she may have none at all. I looked at stripes that covered her face, almond eyes, remembered her strange accent. All in all, I decided a straight question was better than guessing. So I made my face a bit easier than “Sweet Celestia, I’ve eaten a cooked radroach!”, and said:

"Jester...”

"Not on the floor! Here’s the pot.” She interrupted me again, and, apparently, she thought I’m really just a filly, fit only for troublemaking.

"It’s not a about that!” I snapped. “It’s okay. I’ll survive.”

"No doubt. Nopony died from my soup.”

Darn, she’s impposible!

"Je...” I paused, expecting her to throw in another embarrasing line, but she patienly waited me to continue, smiling with corners of her mouth. She even turned both her ears towards me.

"...ster.” I exhaled and coughed.

"Wot?”

"I keep thinking: you’re not exactly a pony, right?”

"How perceptive. My father was a zebra, and my mother was a pony. I am what is called a hybrid.”

I could not read a single emotion on her face now. She mastered her mimics perfectly.

"Then why are you keeping that terrible poster? Ain’t it a little bit offensive towards your ancestors?”

"I think I’ve overestimated your perception.” With that Jester pointed her hoof to the darker corner of the wagon, where I saw another piece of paper. ”Point your light there.”

I had to twist my hoof in a most uncomfortable manner, but in the light of my PipBuck the shapes on the wall turned into a poster. This one was in blue and violet. But, actually, it did not differ much from what I’ve seen before. This one also featured a ‘menacious shadow’ theme. An effective device, never too old. But this time it was a pony soldier, with a bloody serrated knife in his teeth. He cast an alicorn-shaped shadow on a zebra mother and a filly. The zebras pushed their backs to the wall of a destroyed building and watched the soldier with eyes full of fear. Beneath the drawing was a weird ornament of triangles and spirals.

Jester commented:

"It says “Nightmare comes with a load of sorrows, do you care for your tomorrow?”. How is it towards my other ancestors?

I remained silent.

"Say, here you are, a pegasus. And pegasi are not exactly welcome in the Wasteland for closing up the sky at the Last Day.”

"For what?” Now I could see why there were no stars outside and the dawn could barely pierce through the grey wall of clouds.

"Girl, you don’t even know such things... When the first balefire bombs fell, the pegasi have separated themselves from the surface with a cloud curtain, taking away the sun, the moon, and the stars from those who remained on the ground.”

"But that’s...” I stammered, feeling tears coming from within. “How could they?”

"That’s it. Everypony got their hooves dirty during the War. And these posters remind me of that. Believe me, I’ve picked through all sorts of ruins, and saw enough traces of both sides’ evil. So what, should I feel guilty for those who lived and died two hundreds years ago? Or should I repay my ancestor’s sins?”

I tried to apply the situation to myself. If Jester’s words were true, the pegasi have doomed the whole Equestria to starvation. And all this snow around... But was there any of my fault?

"No.” I replied firmly.

"Then don’t think about it and live on.”

"And how do you live?” It seemed like the conversation has finally went on. The normal way, at last. I hoped to find out more about my new strange acquaintance. Something just kept telling me there had to be a lot of interesting things happening to her kind.

"I dig throught the garbage.”

"Eeh? Why? Are you a cleaner?”

"A scavenger. All the junk scattered around is more than just empty bottles and smashed cans. The local ruins contain a plenty of ancient hardware, and all sorts of curiosities that not every trader could identify. Even works of art. And if you are lucky enough to stumble upon a military camp, you may raid the armory. You will need, however, a set of fine lockpicks and a defense system bypassing skills...”

"So, you are an archeologist?” I could feel my heart flutter with excitement.

"Well, that’s a bit too much to say” Jester chuckled, “I’m not looking for any ancient treasures of lost empires, after all. One needs to know history and mythology for that. And we are a bit short on universities here, you know. No, Dodo, they call ones like me ‘tomb raiders’, ‘grave robbers’ and ‘marauders’. They usually forget that it is us who provide them with goods in first place.”

I nodded and opened my mouth to continue talking about all the strange things in Jester’s house, but she interrupted me:

"Alright, it’s my turn to ask questions. Who are you, after all?’

"I am...” I paused. After all I heard, I wanted to picture myself as something worthy. So I called myself what I always wanted to be called. “I am The Adventurer.”

"Oh, I bet you are!” This was the first time I didn’t feel insulted by her mocking tone, because I knew she was a sort of right. However, I pretended to be displeased and even put some effort not to stick out my tongue.

"Seriously, though. Where did you come from? You didn’t fall from the Moon after all, did you?”

See? You shouldn’t have spanked me, and would have told you everything myself,” I thought.

"Where else? There are all those beautyful craters there...”

My irony didn’t confuse Jester at all.

"Alright. It’s more fun to guess!” Said she and then mumbled to herself, “What kind of rock have you crawled from under?”

A brief pause followed, as Jester looked somewhere to the side. And then she eagerly followed:

"Let’s start with simple thing. Judging by your uniform and that thing on your leg, you’ve emerged from some sealed underground shelter.”

"The Stable.” I noted.

Jester pretended not to hear me and followed:

"The weird thing is, as far as I know, the pegasi Stables have been constructed separately, and they all are devastated by now. And all the pegasi now live up there,” Jester pointedly raised her hoof upright, but, seeing a misunderstanding in my eyes, explained, “behind the clouds.”

And then I decided to finally cool her down a bit.

"So it has never occured to you that I could have been born in a regular Stable by wingless parents?”

"Oh,” she said perplexedly, “I did not know such things happen.”

She gave no sign of disappointment. She just kept on speculating:

"Now, about your cutie mark. I examined it carefully while you slept.” Jester looked at me pointedly, and I bet I’ve become all red.

"So you stared at me while I was asleep! You! You...” I suffocated with indignation.

"I counducted a thorough medical examination.”

"Eeeh? What?” A row of obscene thoughts rushed through my mind, as I recalled some... leisure journals I’ve found one day in the technicians’ locker room. Amazed by my own naughtiness, I noticed Jester’s look. But of course! She expected me to react like that. Enjoying he own success, she continued:

"And you’ve bandaged your leg really well. No, I did change the bandage, but was sorry to cut it off.”

I promised to myself to never again fall into Jester’s ‘traps’, but I was not sure I could do it. It seemed like she had a whole warehouse of hints and ambiguous lines prepared, especially for me.

"So, your cutie mark tells you’re good with electrical equipment, if only your special talent is not piercing red worms with lightning strikes.”

"Hey!”

"And, after all, you are not long here. A day or two, maybe. Am I right?”

"How did you know?”

"Your barding’s collar is dirty with sand and soot, but its fold is clean from inside. The same is true for you pocket flaps. So, am I right? Huh, Adventurer?”

"Y-yes...”

I’ve read some detective stories featuring a detective pony named Sharing Hopes, who could use a solitary hoofprint to tell not only a criminal’s age, sex, and species of the criminal, but also could describe his habits and his manner of speech. Apparently, Jester used the same method. Anyways, I cound not deny her observancy. I had another thought, however, and not as pleasant, and I decided to voice it:

"Maybe, you’ve examined my bags, too? Say, searching for the clues?”

"No.” Jester frowned. “We scavengers respect such thing as ‘khabar’ - ‘the loot’. And your respect towards another one’s loot determines what kind of Scavenger you are. So, only external exam.”

The change in her tone told me I’ve insulted her with my idiotic suspicion. The only thing I could do now was to excuse and wait for reply.

"Sorry... I didn’t think...”

"You should think, filly! In this place, the ones who do not think, or do it too slow, tend to get in situations very soon. Damn, we almost know each other already. But what if you say something like that to a complete stranger? One may just spit in your face, and another may shoot you - just so, for a lesson.”

She sighed and continued her tonguelashing:

"I guess they people were right when they told me you Stable folk are like mares from the Moon. You know nothing, and instead of looking around yourselves you start bothering everypony with dumb questions, and more, only you can munch on salad leaves, while freezing your arse off, having a can of nutritious manticore paste in your bags...”

"Stable folk? As if, in other Stables?”

"You don’t want to know.” Jester’s look suddenly became dark, and I reckoned she was right this time.

"But...”

"Girl, this is no place for you.” Jester shook her head. ”You need to sleep, gain strength. Together we will get back to the Stable...” she nodded towards my barding “...96, right? And while we go there, I’ll tell you about the Last Day, about the Wreck and about my twice removed paternal uncle...”

"To the Stable? But why, if I’ve just got out of there?”

"I’ll get you back home, of course. Alive and kicking, right in the hooves of your mom and dad.”

So, that’s how it is.

* * *

Jester had to go outside for some business of her own, so she showed me where the lavatory was. Actually, it was what I mistook for an old locker. I could have spent ages looking for it! Also, Jester put a heavy washbowl next to my bed - “just in case”, as she said, and went on dressing up. Then I heard a light switch click, a door bang and then I was all alone with my thoughts.

It was deadly quiet in the room, but I could not sleep. According to my PipBuck clock, I was unconscious for approximately 6 hours. But wait! There was a date on the screen: November 7th. I was out cold for more than a whole day!

Of course, Jester was kidding when she said “Good morning” - it was dark outside already. I wondered, how serious she actually was. At least, her intention to bring me back to my parents appeared serious enough.

Parents. It just occurred to me it was the first time I remembered them since I’ve left the Stable. And it was Jester who reminded me about them.

Father. An engineer unicorn. His education was a product of the best of Ministry Of Wartime Technologies programmes. He was a pneumatic systems specialist. Each time any Stable door started malfunctioning, it was him who always made it work again. And this was the least he could do. As far as I could remember myself, he was constantly repairing something. He always had blue papers with white lines and digits on his table, along with some metal cylinders and all sorts of tools - from precision screwdrivers to a huge red wrench.

My Mom has told me once, that when I was born, Dad could not even understand - what exactly I was, and how this sort of thing could happen to him. But the Stable had been overcrowded already, so the Overmare has put a restriction: no more than one filly for a family. So, Dad decided to raise a heiress. His skill of tampering with all sorts of engineering descended from him to me. Also, it was him who constantly fed me classical music, and I think he had really overfed me with it.

Mom. An earth pony. She worked at the catering department as a chef’s assistant. I remembered her starched apron and rows of vegetables, synthesized by a food talisman, ready for processing. I have no idea how close they were to the real ones, but at least they had different taste. I could also remember a locker with all sorts of spice and a huge refrigerator where I conducted my experiments of turning water into ice.

The day I received my cutie mark, mom presented me a small orb made of magical glass with a piece of real cloud inside. It’s base had an inscription: “From Cloudsdayle with love”. By the way, I still had it with me in my saddlebags. Once it belonged to my distant maternal ancestor, an descended through generations.

This ancestor was a pegasus, who fell in love with an earth pony. Such marriages were rare in pre-war Equestria, since unicorns and earth ponies could not walk on clouds and pegasi refused to be tied to the ground. However, it was this lucky gene combination that made me so special.

When I’ve got my cutie mark, I’ve become an adult. Well, at least according to the Stable laws. So I was assigned to a job, and in a year I’ve got my own room, where I lived alone, listening to music and reading books about the outer world.

My parents have long got used to the idea that the Stable was not a suitable place for me. A couple of months ago we had a conversation when I told them that I was determined to leave the Stable, sooner or later. Since then I’ve never wavered in this decision. I warned them that if I ever succeeded, and would not be able to contact them, they should mourn me no sooner than in a month. Also, I’ve told them that I may even not leave a farewell note. And not because I was an ungrateful daughter. I loved them a lot. It was just that you had to leave the Stable unnoticed - the Overmare nipped such ideas in a bud.

It was bad that I’ve left so many traces. Now I had about 4 weeks to have a trip around the Surface and then find a way to get back to the Stable with minimal trouble. I could not count on my wings yet. And Jester... Boy, I believed she had no idea where exactly was my home. I longed to see her face the moment we reach the edge of the abyss.

Remembering the abyss, I faces another problem: I had only two bullets and a quite weak pistol. I had to do something about it, and soon. Maybe I could offer some of my “loot” in exchange for a box of bullets. But first, I had to persuade her that I had no intention to go back home now.

All these thoughts made my head ache again. Jester was right: first of all, I had to recover. I dropped my face into the pillow, stretched my legs and soon I was fast asleep.

* * *

I woke up in the middle of the night, and, obeying my bodily needs, crawled out of the bed. My stomach was not used to radroach meat, after all.

Trying to move as silently as possible, I sneaked past sleeping Jester. She came back while I was asleep and now lay in the hammock, hanging her hoof into the passageway and snuffling. The door to the sacred place looked rather like a wardrobe, narrow and squeaky. Thankfully, inside was not a wardrobe, but a sterling restroom, just like in the Stable, if a bit older and smaller.

Returning back in darkness, I managed to hit the washbowl, lose my balance and, after a painful second, fall down with lots of noise.

Jester jumped out of her bed as if she was expecting it. Oh no, I could not see her in the dark, but I heard a brief rustling next to me and then I felt her weight on me. You know, lying flat on the cold floor, having hard hooves pushing against your back is very unpleasant.

I had to twist my neck badly and hiss:

"Get off me, damn it!”

"Ah, Dodo, sweet relief!”

Did she just...? Gosh, she’s nasty.

"Thanks.” She finally let me stand up and shake myself off.

Jester found a night illumination switch in the darkness and a dim light shaped her perfectly calm muzzle.

We stood nose to nose to each other. For the first time. And Jester turned out to be almost half a head shorter than me. And all in all she was quite miniature. Our eyes met.

"Why in Equestria are you attacking me like that?” I asked.

"You’ve made quite a rattle. I decided that some of your friends have broken in.”

"Are you kidding me?”

"Not even a bit.” She replied. “Have it ever occurred to you that somepony would be looking for you?”

"Now. Jester. Listen to me, please.”

I stressed the last word, and, this has got her attention. Just like at the breakfast, she perked her ears.

"You live at the base of a mountain. And my Stable is almost at its top. You know, there is a steel tower up there. And in between these two points is a huge abyss almost two hundred feet wide. There are no other pegasi in the Stable. So nopony would ever look for me here. Mind you, also, that if you are going to get me back to the Stable, you’ll have to learn to run the walls with a considerable cargo in your teeth, as I’m not going to go back on my own. Or, rather, conjure yourself a pair of wings, and carry me on air. I think you zebras are capable of all sorts of weird magic, right?”

"We zebras?” Jester arched her eyebrow ironically and I reckoned I have just put a metaphorical hoof in my mouth.

"Now imagine yourself a zebra with wome fluffy wings. Have you? Now, forget it and never remember again. And the latter option we do can consider, although it is not called ‘running the walls’, but an ‘alpinism’.”

"You know, Jester. I’ve got enough up there.” I remembered a dead tree and a rusty shotgun; only Celestia knows how they managed to keep me from falling into abyss. “Don’t know about you, but I had enough of this cliffs and rocks. I’d rather stay as far away from them as possible.”

"Sorry, girl, but I’m afraid you can’t. The mountain chain goes like a horseshoe around the Flashtown and you are where one of its ‘nails’ would be.”

When I heard a familiar name, I flinched, hitting a Celestia-damned washbowl with my rear hoof, which made the poor thing hum like a large bell.

"You said “the Flashtown”?!”

"Yes, why?” Jester was apparently puzzled by my reaction.

"Where are my saddlebags?”

"I’ve put them under your bed.”

Bucking the washbowl away, I dove under the hammock bed. With my saddlebags in my teeth, I trotted to the folding table and asked Jester to turn on more light. How could I forget about the planchette!

Jester watched me unfolding the old map with visible interested. Aside from red pencil markings and blue relief lines, the map was almost devoid of color, as if it was covered with snow, too. There were, however, patches of what once was emerald green, pale green and beige shades. This told me that before the War the Equestrian climate was somewhat warmer. The mountain chin really looked like a horseshoe of a kind. They surrounded a pale green valley, and in its center was a settlement called “Polarstern”. Above it, a red pencil inscription read “Flashtown”.

"Where did you get a pre-War map of the region?” Jester asked, bewildered. “It must cost a good fortune of caps.”

"Caps? What caps?”

Jester looked at me as if I were completely insane.

"Ah yes. The bottlecaps are not currency back on the Moon, are they?”

I browsed through my saddlebag contents and retrieved the old candy can. I opened it and shook some soda caps on the map.

"Like these?”

Jester clicked her tongue.

"Where did you get such wealth?”

* * *

During the next 15 minutes Jester listened to me telling stories about my adventures. I expected her to interrupt me again any moment, so I rushed. The story did not go out smoothly, especially without the parts I preferred to omit, like my heroic ascend up the tower and the following hangover pills affair. And on the contrary, I described my escape from the manticore in every detail.

Jester had never interrupted me. All sorts of emotions came across her face during my monologue. Worry, interest, surprise, even compassion. I could catch only the slightest traces of emotions on her face, but that was enough to understand: she was excited. I finished on the moment, where she sneaked upon me and deafened me with that noise. She knew the rest.

I could not tell for sure, but it seemed like now she looked at me with more respect than before. And she kept silent, picking a bottlecap with her hoof.

Finally, she smiled and said:

"I think I understimated you. Not every pony can escape the hvyt dyret.”

"The what now?”

"The White Beast. The manticore. And, climbing the lighthouse tower during the blizzard just to repair the light? Girl, you’re crazy! I like that!”

Listening to compliments from Jester was extremely pleasant, but I remembered what I’ve unfolded the map for.

"Speaking of lighthouse towers. Jester, you’re good with maps, aren’t you?”

"” With drafts, schemes - yes. But I’ve seen such detailed maps only a couple of times.”

"But can you show me where we are?” I asked.

"I’ll try. But I will need a familiar name, but this map is pre-war. All these places are no more. And those that still exist, have new names and new history.”

Jester bent over the map, stretching her neck and almost scratching her nose on it.

"What was the name of the lighthouse mark again?”

"Altitude 472.”

"Then it’s right... here.” Jester straightened herself and pushed her bottlecap to the southern part of the map.

I took a closer look and noticed a point on a map, barely visible, saying “Stable 96”, next to the bottlecap. The point had definitely been set by hoof - presumably, by this map’s previous owner. The bottlecap reminded me the Stable door with its jagged edges, the symbol that my PipBuck used to mark the Stable on its map.

I gulped and said:

"Jester. I think I need to know what had happened to other Stables.”

"Well, if you insist. Not every Stable had been built in such a back of beyond as yours. And of course they were not separated from the outer world by a convenient abyss.” Jester sticked her hoof in the map. “See? There was a bridge once. Now, there’s the abyss. That’s why you were left untouched.”

"What do you mean?” I didn’t like the way she said the last phrase.

"Raiders, Dodo. Since they’ve found out about the Stables, they invented dozens of devious ways to lure the naive Stable inhabitants outside. Then, they either killed them or sold them to slavery. Now these Stables are deserted. The survivors would barely be able to remember their life there. I’m not exactly sure, but I think I can bet a hoofful of caps that you are the first pony to come out from the Stable on your own, ever.”

A dark silence filled the room. And then Jester continued:

"But it is North here. When they run out of the easy prey, they found themselves out in the cold. The organized gangs fell apart and lonely raiders died or went south. Still, you should know: your outfit, this trademark barding of yours and this device you’re wearing is enough to trick you badly. This should not necessarily be raiders, but here’s my advice: watch out, observe, conclude. This will keep you out of trouble. And the main thing is: learn how to ask questions. Better if you don’t ask them at all. But if you really need to do that, your questions should better not be smart.”

"But can I ask you?”

Jester made a wry face, but then it turned into a smile.

"Alright. You have to learn somehow, after all. And I can bet you have a question right now.”

"Yes, it bothers me from since we’ve met.”

"Something about my parents again? Why are you so concerned?”

"Now you’re wrong!” I cheered. “I want to know, how do your refrigerator alarm work? I’ve peeked inside it once more while you were away, but nothing has deafened me this time.”

"Oh, that one!” Jester laughed out loud. “Well, you’ve stared at the disc cover so long that I’ve decided to give you the taste of it. I think I’ve just... overdid it with the volume.”

She proudly pointed me to the wooden box that hanged above us. I’ve never noticed it before.

"Meet “Fiddlesticks Acoustics M6” audio system. Bog oak case, gilded contacts, gem amplifier.”

"Just... Wow.” I nodded.

I stood in the middle of the wagon, spellbound. Too see such a piece of art in this place was just beyond incredible. “Now, this is better than looking at the photos from the “Waves of Harmony” magazine, small and monochrome.” I thought.

My contemplations have been interrupted by Jester, standing with the familiar envelope in her teeth.

"So fwat? Are fwe goin’ to try fis one in acfion or fwat?”

I nodded affirmatively.


-----------------------------
Note: LEVEL UP! (4)
New perk: Mare from the Moon.
You ask too many questions about the world around you. As a result, some pony may encourage your curiosity, while other may... discourage you all the way back to the Moon.
Your arguments with Jester has raised your speech skill to 25.
Good start.

Author's Note:

Alnair's notes:
So, Jester, my own character, has finally made it to the text. Hope you like her. Hope you'll like her even better as the story develop.
And I personally adored the way Lucky portrayed Copper Wire.
As always, I would like to remind readers that comments are highly appreciated.

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