• Published 5th Jan 2013
  • 879 Views, 13 Comments

Fallout Equestria: Fillies - ShadowKick

The story of a mother's fight to save her fillies.

  • ...

1: A Small Party

Chapter One: A Small Party

I awoke to the sound of screaming children.

With a tired groan, I rolled over in my bed and shouted, "Sky! Grove! You two play nice, it's too early for fighting!" My voice cracked and croaking from half-sleep. I sighed and pulled my pillow over my head to block out the continued sounds of fillies arguing. The pillow was a poor defense against their high-pitched squeals.

I sat up and shouted to be heard over them through my door, "Don't make me come out there!" The sounds of arguing died down to a few low grumble, but I could tell that they were backing down. Good, that gave me a few minutes to wake myself up and get ready.

"Ok, Deft," I said to myself, "Big day today... time to wake up."

Reluctantly, I slid out of bed and landed on my hooves. I gave my limbs a good stretch to slowly wake my muscles, then walked to the big mirror on top of my dresser. Through the unkempt strands of my frizzy mane, I gave myself a long look. My big, bushy red mane fell in a lump over most of my face that nearly obscuring my scrawny, light blue body. Sticking out of the frizzy mass of hair was my horn, barely visible under the mess. I shook my head, but my mane refused to be dislodged from its spot in front of my eyes. Turning towards my bedroom door, I nudged it open with my snout.

I could hear my children playing out in the main room of the house, but I headed directly for the bathroom. A quick shower would wake me up, and my mane needed cleaning anyway. Locking the bathroom door behind me, I stood in the shower and twisted the knob with my telekinesis. Cold, bone-chilling water blasted me in the face. I jumped back with a hiss, "Stupid water heater....” I would have to fix it before tonight. I couldn’t let my fillies bathe in freezing water. I already had a busy day planned, now it had gotten busier.

I frowned and stepped back under the cold stream of water. I gasped as it hit my body and raised goose-pimples on my flesh. Shuddering, I scrubbed myself down with soap and rinsed it off as quickly as I could. My mane was the biggest problem. The big frizzy mass took forever to wash, and the freezing water flowing over my head, neck, and shoulders did not make the experience pleasant. I finally worked my way through my entire mane, then T shut off the water and grabbed a towel to quickly dried myself off. I was shivering slightly, but once out from under the water I soon warmed up again. I used up a second towel trying to dry out my mane, but it remained fairly damp as I dumped the towels in the laundry bin and headed back to my room.

My wet mane hung down around my face like a curtain. With one forehoof I pushed it out of my eyes so I could see myself. I floated up the hairbrush next to the mirror, the cyan glow of my magic wrapping around it and drawing it to me. I ran it through my mane, the bristles of the brush yanking painfully at out of place hairs. In some places it stuck so hard that I had to use a hoof to push it as my telekinesis was not strong enough to dislodge it. I grumbled, and wished I had taken more time to brush it out the day before so it didn’t end up such a tangled mess.

I smiled when I saw the reflection of the door slowly swinging open. The angle of the mirror prevented me from seeing the little filly whose hooves pattered behind me, which meant it was my youngest, the five year old. As she approached, I kept brushing and said, "Yes Windy Sky?"

A tiny snout nuzzled my side, "We're sorry for fightin' mama," the dejected filly said. I smiled wider, and turned to wrap my forelegs around her in a gentle hug.

"It's ok, my silly little filly, I needed to wake up anyway," I said, holding her close and nuzzling her orange mane. My hooves ruffled her wings a bit, and I spent a moment straightening her red feathers before I turned back to brushing my mane. I almost had it properly brushed out.

Her snout nuzzling my side brought my attention downward again. I kept brushing as Sky asked, "Mama, when's the party gonna start?"

I smiled at her, "Not until this afternoon. You and Painted have to go to school this morning."

"Aw, do we hafta?" Sky said, frowning.

I ruffled her mane and nodded, "I hope you never find out how lucky you are, living in a nice town with running water and even a school! I grew up out in the wastes with grandma... I dreamed of such a peaceful life." Just thinking of the wastes made me want to shudder, but with Sky so close I made myself repress the urge.

She smiled, "An' that's why granma settled down here, 'stead of being a travelin' trader, right? And then you met daddy," this last sentence was followed by a slight frown on her face, which was mirrored by a twinge of sadness in my heart, "I wish daddy could be here for Painted's party."

I nodded, "Me too, dear. But grandma will be here. I’m sure you two will enjoy that!"

I finished brushing out my mane, then sat down. Sky was watching me intently, she always enjoyed this next part. Closing my eyes, I concentrated. My horn lit up, and I could feel the cyan glow of my magic as it wrapped itself around my mane. Hairs rose, separated and lined up, pulled straight by my telekinesis. My mane splayed out around me. I could feel the motions through my magic, and feel my mane begin to shift as I made the hairs twist and turn around each other, strands and strings of strands ducked and dove and wove about in a quick and complicated dance of hair and magic, a mesmerizing moment of motion. A twist here, a turn there, pull things tight over there, and within a few minutes my frizzy mass of mane was tied down in a complicated ponytail braid. I slung it over my shoulders and it was finally out of my eyes for the day.

Windy Sky was still staring in awe when I opened my eyes. I smiled at her and she said, "Mama, you always look so nice when you braid your mane."

I blushed a bit and asked, "Do I?"

"Uh huh," she nodded, "You smile so pretty when you’re braiding."

I smiled shyly, not used to compliments even from my own children, "It's... relaxing. I enjoy the feel of using my magic so... precisely," I pulled her close again, and hugged her soft body against mine, "Now... I'm ready for the day, so let's go get some breakfast, ok?"

"'Kay!" she said, and pattered out of the room on tiny hooves. I followed at a leisurely pace, and shuffled down the short hallway and out into the main room. My eye was naturally drawn to the far wall.

This wall had a mural.

It was, in my opinion, a rather good mural. A depiction of myself stood in the center, blue pony shape with red mane and tail. Two fillies on either side, snuggling close. One, red and orange with tiny wings sticking out. The other, a pale gray earth pony with a brown snout and purple mane and tail. My two little fillies and me, stylized and simplified but recognizable through coloration, with a sweeping background of windswept plains. It was Painted's first large painting, and the one that had earned her cutie mark.

And there was Painted. She was sitting at the table in the kitchen-y half of the main room. Her brown snout really did look painted on, the reason her father had given her that name in the first place. Her cutie mark had the same look, splotches of paint surrounding a brush. She was munching on a bowl of oats. I smiled at her.

"Good morning, Painted Grove," I said, and trotted across the room. I pulled the bag of oats out of the cupboard, and poured out another pair of bowls for Sky and myself. I set the bowls on the table and called out, "Sky? Breakfast."

Sky came running out of the bathroom, and hopped up onto the table by way of a chair and burying her face in her oats. I sighed and considered telling her to get off of the table, but she looked so adorable that I did not have the heart. I sat down and began to eat my own breakfast.

Time passed quietly, the only noises the crunching of oats. Painted seemed to be pouting. She snuck an occasional glance at Sky and an even more occasional worried look at me. I furrowed my eyebrows in concern, "Are you ok, Painted?"

She blinked up at me, and adopted the innocent face I knew too well, "I'm fine... just nervous, is all. Only have a cute-cenera once!"

I narrowed my eyes in suspicion, but let the matter drop, "Ok... well, don't be nervous. You'll have a great day," I smiled as pleasantly as I could as she finished off her oats. After a moment, Sky finished eating as well. I stood up.

"Ok you two," I said as I herded them towards their room, "Grab your saddlebags, off to school," they both groaned, and drug their hooves. I pouted a bit, "Hurry up, girls. I have to get to work, too."

They groaned again, but they grabbed their saddlebags. Sky had a set of bags that I had clumsily stitched together myself. Painted was large enough to wear adult sized saddlebags, so I let her use my tattered old set. Bags settled comfortably on their backs, I guided them through the door and outside.

Our house was little more than a three-room shack. Four, if you counted the bathroom. It was sheets of metal tacked onto a frame of wooden beams, all of which I had carefully gone over to remove splinters, rust, and sharp edges. No sense letting my children cut themselves on the house. After coming outside, I blinked in the bright morning light. After my eyes adjusted, I looked around Neighgaton.

The town was decently sized, as towns went, with nearly two hundred residents. Many houses like mine sat in small clusters around the town, some of them reaching three or even four stories tall. A high curtain wall ran around the whole town, made of layers sheet metal, junked pre-war vehicles, and rubble. Guards patrolled along the walkways at the top, rifles slung over their backs as they peered out into the wastes.

From the center of town rose a tall windmill, blades spinning lazily in the early morning winds. Those blades turned a generator which provided power for the whole town. Not far from the windmill stood a water tower, and between them sat the sturdy little brick building where the school was held.

I loved the fact that my children had a school. Not just because it gave me free time several days a week, either. The day Painted came home and started reading, slowly and haltingly but with increasing confidence, from the little primer they'd given her... my heart melted. Sky was starting to figure out reading as well, and her attempts at reading the various technical manuals I kept around the house were adorable.

They followed me through town, and smiled at various ponies as we went. I returned a few greetings myself, but did not have time to stop and chat with anypony. The schoolhouse soon stood over us, and I ushered the two inside.

"Goodbye," I said, "I'll see you two after school. Be good!"

"We will mama!" Windy Sky said, as she and her sister trotted inside. I smiled and turned away, then headed towards the windmill in the center of town.

The windmill was a large building. Its round base would take dozens of ponies to circle and it towered above the rest of the town. Just building the structure had been a major challenge. I trotted up to the front door, and nodded at the pony standing guard as I pulled it open.

Machinery whirred and hummed. The center of the building was dominated by a huge mass of machinery, a large shaft running from the top and vanishing into the dark ceiling. The shaft spun in place and carried the mechanical energy from the windmill's blades and down into the generator.

I could see several technicians moving around the room. Most of them were carrying portable lights because we didn't have enough spare power to keep all the dark little nooks and crannies lit up. I ignored them, and headed for my office.

Nailed onto the door was a small plaque which read 'Deft Embrace: Designer and Head Technician'. As always when I noticed the little plaque, a wave of annoyance passed through me. All I had done was take the idea of a windmill from one book, and an electrical generator from another, and realized that one could power the other. I didn’t feel like much of a designer. As for 'Head Technician', it was an honorary title at best. I never ordered the other technicians around and I was not even, technically, a real employee here. I just offered my services as a repairpony when needed.

I shut the door behind me to block out the noise from the machinery in the main room. Most of it, anyway. With a small sigh, I sat down in front of my workbench and began gathering my tools. I shoved them into a convenient bag. No time to dawdle today, I needed to finish up my work quickly so I could get home in time to work on Painted's cute-cenera gift.

The job I had for today was simple. The generator worked best when the windmill spun at a certain speed, so there were small motors that would change the angle of the windmill's blades to adjust its speed based on the current windspeed. Today I needed to re-align those motors and give them a tune-up. A simple job, but time-consuming.

There was a knock on my door. I set down my bag of tools, then trotted over and pulled it open. Standing outside was a green-coated earth pony stallion with a spikey purple mane. Tech Head, the technician in charge of monitoring the motors I was about to go tune up.

He smiled at me, "Heya Deft, you ready to start the climb?"

"Not quite," I said with a shake of my head. I turned back towards my workbench, "I need to gather a few more tools."

I could hear his hooves scuffing the floor behind me, "Okay, well I've had them bring the windmill to a stop. Don't waste too much time."

I shoved the last few things I would need into my bag, then slung it over my shoulder and strapped it in place. I gave him a small nod as I walked passed him into the main room, "I don't waste time."

He facehoofed, then trotted after me. I set a quick pace, and even with his longer legs he had to struggle to keep up as I climbed several flights of stairs to get above the main floor of the windmill. There was a small platform with a door that led outside. I waited for him to catch up.

"Wow Deft," he panted from exertion, "You're quick!"

I pushed the door open, "I have lots of practice... growing up out in the wastes."

He followed me through the door, "Sometimes I forget you grew up in a traveling caravan," he stopped suddenly, and stared out into the town. He paled, "A-and sometimes I forget how tall this windmill is."

I glanced over the side of the windmill, the ground several stories below, then looked up towards the top and shrugged, "We aren't even halfway up here. And we don't want to waste any time... so come on," I hopped onto the nearby ladder and climbed up the side of the windmill. I could hear Tech climbing the ladder behind me.

I climbed my way up the ladder, and closed quickly on the small platform at the top. It gave easy access to the now-still blades of the windmill. I peered over my shoulder at Tech. He was well behind, and stared up at me. He did not even move. I frowned and shouted down, "Come on Tech, we have work to do."

I clambered up onto the platform, and edged my way around to the front of the windmill. I sat and waited for Tech, my eyes closed. I smiled while the wind blew across my face, and made my mane bop and bounce against me. I heard slow, unsteady hoofsteps approaching.

It was Tech. He made his way across the platform. He kept his eyes pointed up and towards the wall beside us. I watched him for a moment, then glanced down at the ground. A thought hit me.

"Tech... you aren't scared of heights... are you?" I asked.

He swallowed nervously, "I-I, uhm..." then rubbed the back of his head with a hoof, "Yeah. Yeah, I am."

I turned to the base of the windmill's big blades, and set down my bag. I pulled out several tools, "Oh, well... why don't you ask for different work? Somepony else could be up here..."

He looked at me, then blushed slightly, "I don't mind the heights that bad," he said and smiled, "Come on, Deft, let's get to work."

I nodded, "Yes... yes let's." I set to work. To start, I popped open an access panel to expose an assembly of parts and motors. This next part required precise, careful work. I dug in my bag again and pulled out a headband with a light and a magnifying glass on it. After it was strapped securely to my head, I flicked on the light, then adjusted the magnifying glass over my eye. I leaned in close to the assembly, brought up my telekinesis, and began making careful adjustments.

Tech watched me work, occasionally handing me a part or a tool when I asked for it. I worked quietly, and carefully aligned each part precisely into place. After a while, he broke the lapse in conversation.

"You're really good at this, Deft," he said, and handed me a small wrench I had asked for.

I shrugged, "It's a simple job. I'm sure anypony could manage."

"I couldn't," he said with a shake of his head, "My big, clumsy hooves just trip over themselves if I try to do such precise work."

I nodded, and concentrated on the task at hoof, "Mmmhmmm..."

"If you want something heavy lifted, I'm your stallion. Anytime. If precise work needs to be done, well, I'll tell them to call the most skillful mare in town."

"Who?" I blinked.

He coughed nervously, "Uhm... you."

"Oh... well, I'll... I'll keep that in mind, then," I really was not all that skilled. This job was so easy I could almost do it in my sleep, any of the technicians should be able to handle it easily. Which made me wonder why they had dragged me out, on today of all days, to work on it.

Tech was quiet after that. I wished he would keep talking, he was nice to chat with. But I knew how much of a bore I could be, I did not blame him for letting his mind wander. At least he kept handing me tools and parts promptly when asked.

After five minutes passed he broke the silence again, "So... I heard the town guards spotted some griffin mercenaries sniffing around nearby."

I look up at him, my tools not faltering in their work, "Griffin mercenaries? Any idea what they're up to? Oh... and hoof me a screwdriver. Flat head."

"No clue," he shook his head, then clamped his teeth down on a screwdriver and held it out to me. Once I'd taken it and his mouth was free again he went on, "Nopony got close to them. Just saw them flying around in the distance. Looked like they were scouting or something, but the guards have no idea what. It was too far from town to risk going for a look."

I turned back to the project at hoof and applied the screwdriver, "Well... I'll be sure to warn mom. Sometimes mercenaries get desperate enough to ambush caravans, she'll want to know to beef up security." He just nodded and watched me quietly. I saw his mouth open a few times, as if he wanted to say something, but whenever I turned to listen he just closed it and looked away.

Things continued like that for over an hour. Tech would occasionally make a stunted attempt at conversation, but we would always settle back into silence before very long. I worked my way through all four windmill blades, and got everything adjusted as close to perfection as I could manage. Finally finished, I pulled off the headband and looked over at Tech.

"Well, that's that," I said, "Should be good until the next overhaul."

He nodded, "That took less time than I expected."

"Too much time," I glanced up at the sun, "The girls will be out of school in a few hours..."

"Well, we should get back down quickly, then," he glanced over the edge and paled, "But not too quickly."

"After you."

I followed him down the ladder, and then back through the building to the ground floor. Dumping off my bag of tools, I headed out through the front door. I was several steps away from the building before I noticed Tech standing in the doorway behind me.

I stopped and blinked, and when he said nothing I asked, "Yes? Was there... something you wanted?"

"Oh, I was just wondering..." he turned away, coughing a little, "Wondering if you're free tonight, maybe?"

I could not help but wonder why he would ask me that. But I was not free, so I shook my head and said, "No. Painted Grove is having her cute-cenera tonight. I'll be busy."

He seemed to deflate, his ears drooping and his head dipping down, "Oh... she got her cutie mark then?"

"Yes!" my head bobbed up and down excitedly, "She finished the big mural on our wall, and once it was done she came running into my room all excited and happy. I couldn't even understand what she was saying, but when I saw the mark on her flank I knew." It had filled me with so much pride. Even now, just remembering it, I couldn't stop a big grin from lighting up my features.

A small chuckle drew my attention back to Tech Head, "Those fillies... seems like you'd have a lot more free time if, uhm... I mean they take up a lot of your time, don't they?"

I nodded, but my smile remained, "Oh yes, they take up a great deal of my time. But it's worth every second. Besides... I'll have tonight to relax. They'll both probably end up sleeping over at mom's. They usually do on special occasions."

A cheery smile spread across his face and he took a step back towards the windmill, "They'll be at, uhm... a night to yourself? After the party, of course. That sounds cool, enjoy it! I'll see you later in the week, then, next time we need your expert skills."

I shrugged, "Yes, probably. Goodbye for now, Tech," I said, then turned and walked away.

I could not go directly home, though. I'd heard a pony was selling a certain part I needed to finish building Painted's present, and I trotted towards his shop in a good mood.

The shop was a rundown shack constructed of rough metal plates dropped onto a framework of beams. All sharp edges and rust and dents. Whenever the subject came up, my mother would rant for an hour about how the lazy upkeep was a sign of a bad trader. I did not like doing business here, but he had the part I needed and mom's shop did not. I pushed the door open and stepped into the dim and smelly interior.

The proprietor, an earth pony stallion named Coin Purse, stood behind a shoddy counter. He leaned on it with his head resting on one hoof. His green mane was unkempt, greasy strands of hair hung down and stuck out all over, and his white coat was so dirty it was nearly brown. He stood up straight and smiled as I entered, which showed off his yellow, crooked teeth, and said, "Deft Embrace! Welcome! Don't see you in here too much," he stepped around the counter and winked at me.

The stench coming off of his unwashed body was horrible, but not quite strong enough to wash out the reek of his breath. How he managed to do any business in this place was beyond me, but apparently he had a knack for getting just the thing a pony needed, and in something that approximated working order.

I nodded, "Er... yes, well... I need a part. Mom doesn't have it, heard you might," I shied away, and tried to put a little distance between us.

He closed that distance with a single long step, and brushed alongside me as he walked towards the door to his storage room. He looked back over his shoulder, still smiling, "Oh? What're ya looking for?"

I turned away, "I, uhm... I need an X-171 servo."

He stopped, a confused look on his face, "An X-171? I'd expect your mom have have plenty o' those... not that I'm complaining that you stopped by, Defty," he winked again. I felt a sudden urge to gouge out that winking eye.

"Town bought them all," I chose to ignore his wink, "Needed them for the big overhaul of the windmill this week. Mom hasn't gotten any more yet."

He nodded, "O' course, o' course. And so you came to ol' Coin Purse," another wink, "Well, I believe I got what your looking for... and the part you need, too," he didn't wink this time, instead he trotted into the back room. I seethed a bit while I listened to the sound of him digging through piles of junk, parts and goods clattered and crashed. I snorted, knowing how organized mom kept her own store rooms. She never needed to dig around in piles.

He eventually came back out, a few more things crashed in the background as he carried the part clamped between his remaining teeth. He offered it to me, and I hesitantly grabbed it with telekinesis. Even through my magic, it felt slightly slimey. I frowned and asked, "How much?"

I knew the answer wouldn't be good when a devious smile played across his lips, "Oh... say, a hundred caps?"

My eyes widened in surprise, then I narrowed them. My nostrils flared as I said, almost shouting, "A hundred caps? That's ten times the fair market value!"

"Oh yes, I know," he smiled, "I also happen to know that someone's little filly got her cutie mark recently. Looking to make a gift for your foal? And I'm the only one in town with the part you need. Supply and demand, Defty."

I sputtered, and the part dropped from my telekinesis, "That's far more than I can afford, and you know it."

His smile widened, "Oh, is it? Well, I'm sure I could be talked down. But I'd need something in return."

"Er..." I realized his angle, and tried to think of a way out of it, "Er... what?"

He sidled up close to me. Way too close. His stinking breath washed over me as he spoke, "Dinner. You and me. Private little meal. I've got a dining table upstairs that would be perfect. And maybe after dinner..."

He had me trapped, he knew it, and he knew that I knew it. But the very idea made me want to retch, especially the implication he tacked on to the end. But... Painted's gift, I wanted it to be perfect. I sighed, "Dinner. Nothing more," and now I glared at him, "Nothing. More." Any attempt at more would end painfully for him.

He smiled and stepped back, "Fifteen caps, then."

It still wasn't a fair price, but I sighed again and said, "Fine... here," before telekinetically dropping a small pile of caps on his countertop. I grabbed the part and bolted for the door.

"Oh, and Defty," he said, stopped me halfway through the door, I looked back and waited for him to continue, "I'll be collecting the rest of my payment very soon," he winked.

I galloped out of the shop, and headed back towards my house. My heart pounded angrily in my chest, thoughts of smashing Coin Purse's stupid face flickered through my mind. I felt so... taken advantage of. And I hadn't even gone to his stupid dinner yet. Stupid Coin Purse.

I made it home in good time, and slammed the door shut behind me. Just being near that flankhole made me feel grimey, and decided another shower would be a good idea. A searing hot shower would be best, but with the water heater broken I settled for another frigid sheet of icewater. I scoured the side of my body that he had brushed up against. Twice.

Finally feeling clean, I dried off and went out into the kitchen. The water heated needed to be fixed, and with great reluctance I decided it had a higher priority than finishing Painted's gift on time. With a glance around the room I muttered, "Tools... tools... where are my tools?"

A short search turned them up, in the foals's room. Sky had been tinkering with one of her toys, again. I could not help but smile. Simple tinkerings like that were how I got started when I was just a little filly. It seemed so long ago.

"I just wish she'd put the tools back when she's done," I muttered to myself and balanced my toolbox on my back. Trotting back into the kitchen, I set the toolbox down next to the water heater before plopping down beside it. I reached out with my telekinesis and unplugged the water heater, no sense in having live wires about while I worked.

"Hrm..." I murmured. My horn flared as I began to cast my diagnostic spell. Magic flowed around and seeped into the water heater as I felt out the inner workings, hoping that whatever I found would be a quick fix.

"Come on..." I muttered, "What's wrong with you?"

Celestia must not have heard my prayers, because I soon found that the heating element had overheated and burned out the wiring that led to it. The entire thing would have to be replaced. Luckily, I had a spare. I twisted the valve that would drain the water heater then turned away.

I trotted back to a side room where I kept my spare parts. It was not quite as organized as mom's storehouse, but everything was tucked away on shelves or in labeled containers. It took me less than a minute to dig out a new heating element and the appropriate variety of wires. I stuffed them into a spare set of saddlebags for ease of carrying, then went back to the water heater.

The water had nearly all drained out, and after waiting for a moment to let it finish I set to work. Horn glowing, my tools bobbed and danced, and removed an access panel near the base of the water heater. The tools dove inside and quickly removed the burnt out parts, the spare heating element found itself quickly shoved inside and connected up soon after. I reattached the access panel and plugged the water heater back in. It filled with water and soon the heating element hummed to life.

"Well... that was easy," I smiled with satisfaction, "Now... Painted's gift."

I turned to the table, where I had laid the X-171. First things first, I cleaned it thoroughly, and gave it a quick overhaul. It was in surprisingly good condition, given where I bought it, and it soon gleamed, almost like new.

I headed to my room, and dug out the bulk of Painted's present. A metal disk with various colors arranged in a circle around the perimeter. I carried it back out into the kitchen, and set it on the table. I checked the clock. Between the walk across town to shop, dealing with Coin Purse, the walk home, showering profusely, and fixing the water heater, almost three hours had passed. I would have to work quickly to finish up before the girls got out of school.

So of course someone knocked on the door. With a small sigh, I trotted over. I pushed the door open to reveal an older unicorn mare. Smiling so wide that the corner of her eyes crinkled, she waved at me.. She had a vibrant purple coat, but her mane had long since gone gray. There was a box balanced on her back.

"Oh, hi mom," I blinked with surprise, "I, uhm..."

"Ya forgot I was comin', right?" she smiled as she trotted into my house.

I nodded, "Sorry, I've been... distracted. Water heater broke down again, had to fix it."

She set her package down carefully on the table, "Mmmhmm, an' ah'm sure you would've remembered otherwise. I've brought the cake."

"Oh, good!" I my eyes lit up, "Thank you. Last time I tried to bake a cake..."

"Ah remember... I had to pay for the buildin'."

I frowned, and busied myself getting out tools to work on Painted's gift, "Er... sorry." Mom just laughed and settled down on the old couch in the living room. I kept quiet, still embarrassed.

To distract myself from thoughts of the past, I set to work. My horn glowed with magical energy, and I brought my tools up. Screws twisted and slid out with careful application of my screwdriver, until the cover of the disk popped off.

Without sitting up, mom called out from the couch, "Did you hear the rumors going around about those town guards?"

"Uh huh," I nodded absentmindedly, grabbing the X-171 servo in my magic, "They spotted some griffin mercenaries, right?"

She did sit up now, looking across the room and blinking at me, "Griffin mercenaries?" Surprise filled her voice, "Ah only heard 'bout the Enclave scouts. Exchanged a few shots with some guards this morning, less'n a mile from town. Nopony hurt, but..."

I frowned and turned to her, at the same time my magic began to carefully fit the servo into place, "Enclave? What are they doing this far south? We're nowhere near Storm Cloud here." The Enclave city was weeks of travel from Neighgaton. Their scouts rarely came within twenty miles of town.

"Nopony knows for sure," mom said, her head shaking slowly, "The guards ran 'em off. But griffin mercenaries too? I wonder if they're about to fight over something."

Wires connected themselves under my magical guidance, but I didn't take my eyes off of mom, "What could they have to fight over?"

She shrugged, "Ah ain't sure... there's an old stable somewhere around here. Could be they've figured out exactly where and wanna go looting for prewar tech."

"Hrm... a stable? Near here?" Screws spun into their holes, holding everything in place. I started casting a spell I knew to feed power into the device.

"Somewhere in the wastes near town. It was built for the families of the workers at the silo here, so it can't be far. But nopony could ever find it. It'd sure draw lots of attention if it was discovered."

"Maybe that's it then..." I pushed a small button on the side of the device. The machine hummed to life. I pushed more buttons, and the X-171 whirred, spinning the main platter around. Small containers of paint deposited their contents, which quickly mixed together to form a brownish goo. I sighed.

"This would be much easier to test if I knew anything about mixing paint..." I said, prodding a few more buttons and watching the machine work. It could hold up to three mixes at once, and I hoped that would be enough. I let my energy spell slip away and began connecting up the microsparkle cell that would serve as the normal power source.

Mom laid back on the couch, her eyelids sliding half-closed, and murmured, "Ah'm sure she'll love it. They'll be home soon, right?"

I nodded. After a second, I realized she could not see me nod and added, "Uh, yes. Less than half an hour! Oh goodness, is everything ready?"

I hastily reattached the cover of the paint mixer, then bounded around the room. I cleaned a little here, straightened things out over there. I frowned, and glanced around, "I wish... I wish I'd thought to make the room more festive. Doesn't really look like a party."

Mom just chuckled, "It'll be fine, ah'm sure."

I kept frowning, "You only get your cutie mark once, mom. I just... don't want her to be upset..."

Mom rolled off of the couch. She trotted over to me, and gave me a gentle hug, "Deft, you remember what we did when you got your cutie mark?"

I thought back, "Er... you bought me a brownie and a new screwdriver..."

"An' did you get upset about that?"

"No," I shook my head, "I... I was just so happy."

"An' so is Painted. Now calm down, they'll be home any minute an' they don't need a frantic mother to ruin the mood. It's a party, ish. Have fun!"

I nodded, and forced myself to calm down. Everything would be fine. I knew it would. Painted would be happy. Sky would be happy. Everypony happy.

So why was I so anxious?

The door whipped open, and two excited, shouting fillies barged into the house. Mom was quickly buried under filly hugs, their squealing voices calling out, "Grandma!"

I giggled and pulled the door shut. Seeing I'd left the paint mixer on the kitchen table, I quickly shoved it into a cupboard out of sight. No need to give away the surprise early. Build up some excitement. Pray to Celestia the gift did not disappoint. That was the plan.

"Mom! Mom!" the fillies shouted, turning their attention to me. I wondered idly how two fillies could manage to swarm somepony as they jumped on me. I let myself fall, and hugged them both as Windy Sky smiled up at me and said, "Is it time for the party?"

I nodded, "Yes. Party time! Let me up." With great reluctance, they stepped back and let me get back on my hooves. Smiling at Painted Grove, I said, "So... shall we cut this scrumptious cake grandma brought for us?"

Both of them nodded excitedly as I grabbed a knife. Mom came into the kitchen and pulled the cake out of its box. It did look very scrumptious, a chocolatey mound resting on a tin platter. She set it down on the table as I approached and applied the knife to it. I carefully and precisely divided the cake into eight even slices.

"Mom? Plates?" I said as I cut. She nodded and went over to the cupboards. She pulled out four cracked, worn plates and setting them around the table. I distributed a slice of cake to each, and smiled at the eager faces on my fillies as they watched the delicious treats float towards them. Cake distributed, I said, "Dig in," then followed my own advice. I broke off little pieces of the cake with my magic and slipped them into my mouth.

The foals were less fastidious. Painted opened her mouth wide, and took big bites directly out of her cake. Sky just pushed her face right into the cake and shoved it into her mouth. I giggled at them. Cake was such a rare treat for them, and their excitement was evident on their faces.

Both of them soon finished the first slice. Painted pouted at me, "Can we have seconds?" she asked.

I nodded, "There's enough left for everypony to have another slice," I quickly distributed more cake. This, too, was soon gone. Painted and Sky both looked slightly disappointed to see this.

I smiled, "So, the cake is done. I think that just leaves... the presents!"

Painted Grove blinked, then sat up and grinned, "Presents? I get presents?!"

"Of course," I said, giggling. I stood up and walked over to the cupboard where I had stashed her paint mixer. I pulled the small device out and laid it on the table.

"What is it?" she looked at it with confusion.

I frowned, she did not like it, "I-it's a paint mixer," I reached down to push the buttons on the front. The machine whirred to life. My heart thudded in my throat as I explained, "It... it mixes paint... for you."

She frowned a bit, then a smile slowly spread across her face, "Oh! I see... thank you!" she jumped up and gave me a hug, which I happily returned. She did like my gift!

"An' you'll need some paint to put in it, ah think," Mom stood up. She pulled a package seemingly from nowhere, and handed it to Painted. The little filly tore through the brown paper wrapped around her second gift, revealing a full set of paints.

"Grandma, thank you!" she smiled and hugged her grandmother. Mom just smiled and hugged back.

Windy Sky watched all of this and said, "I can't wait to get my cutie mark! I want presents!"

I was going to say something, but I found myself distracted by the small frown that crossed Painted's face when she thought we weren’t looking. I frowned too and said, "Painted? Is... is something wrong?"

She shrugged, "I just... I don't know. Can we talk alone, mom?" She looked up at me, and my heart melted at the sadness in her eyes. I nodded.

"Sure, Painted, why don't we go for a walk?" when she nodded back to me, I looked over to mom, "Care to watch Sky for a bit?"

"Ah don't mind at all, Deft," she cast a worried look at Painted, "Be right here 'til ya get back."

"Come along Painted," I headed outside. Once past the front door, I let her lead the way.

The sun was well past its zenith, slowly sinking in the sky. Painted led me towards the town wall. We walked in silence. I gave her time to gather her thoughts, and worried the whole time about what might have her so down on such a good day. She climbed a set of stairs leading up to the wall, and sat down at the top. We looked out over the landscape outside of Neighgaton. A slight discomfort weighed on me. The wastes looked so peaceful, but I knew death and pain waited around every corner.

I trotted up and sat down next to her, and finally broke the silence by asking, "What's wrong, Painted?"

She leaned against me, "Mom, I'm... not a repairpony."

"What?" I asked, blinking in confusion, "I... I know that, Painted."

"Don't you wish I were?" she asked. Things started clicking together in my head as she continued, "Don't you wish my talent was something you enjoy?"

I leaned down and nuzzled the top of her head, "Painted... I enjoy seeing you happy. And painting... painting makes you happy."

She frowned and stared at her hooves, "But you always get so bored when you watch me paint."

"I just... I'm sure you get bored watching me work sometimes," I said. When she shook her head, I tried a different tactic, "I love the finished product. You make really good paintings."

"Do you really think so?"

"Yes," I smiled and gave her a hug, "Why would I want you to be a repairpony like me, anyway? I already take care of all the repairponying. I love that your special talent is unique."

She smiled at last, and cuddled against my side. She was silent for a long moment, while both of us stared out across the wastes, before she asked, "Mom? What's it like out there?"

"Out where?"

She raised a hoof, and pointed forward, "Out in the wastes? You grew up out there, and I've always wondered what it's like."

I shivered, not even wanting to think about the subject, but I could not just say nothing. Hugging her tighter, I said, "It's... dangerous. Wild animals, mutated by radiation... mean ponies who like to steal and hurt other ponies... hunger and thirst, wondering if you'll even make it to the next town. It's... it's horrible. Every moment is fear and worry."

She frowned, "Is it really that bad?"

I thought about this for a moment. Mom had settled in Neighgaton not long after I got my cutie mark. I had not left the town since. All of my memories were a filly's memories. My terrors those of a child who barely understood the world around her. But yes, as I recalled it was absolutely horrible, "It's worse than I know how to describe. I'm so very happy that you and Sky can grow up safe and sound in Neighgaton."

We sat there a while longer. Eventually I glanced at the sun and saw it touching the horizon. I stood up and stretched my legs, then I said, "We should get back, Painted. I'm sure grandma wants to go home sometime tonight."

She nodded and smiled, "And, mom?"

"Yes dear?" I asked with one hoof poised over the stairs that led down from the wall.

"I love you."

I smiled and gave her another hug, "I love you too, Painted Grove."

With that we headed back down the stairs. Eager to get home, I decided to take the most direct route, even though that would take us rather close to the Silo.

The Silo always made me nervous, and I usually avoided it. It sat in a small crater, half-filled with greenish water on the edge of town. An unused megaspell from the war. Neighgaton's sheriff had asked me several times if I would try to deactivate it, but each time I refused. Even being near it made me nervous, the idea of tinkering around inside it terrified me.

I nodded a greeting at the guards around the Silo. The sheriff never left less than two ponies watching it. If it could not be deactivated, the sheriff reasoned, then he would at least make sure it was not tampered with.

I hurried past and back to the house, Painted close behind. I pulled the door open, then I stepped inside to see mom snoozing on the couch with Sky curled up next to her. The two of them laying there were so adorable, and I hesitated to wake them up. But they could not just sleep on the couch all night. Hesitantly, I put a hoof to mom's shoulder and gave her a shake.

She woke up, and blinked the sleep from her eyes, "Y'all finally back? Good. Ah need to get back home."

Sky yawned, and rolled over to hug mom, "Don't want you to go. Can I come with?"

Mom smiled at her, "If your mom says it's ok, ah don't mind."

Both of my fillies looked up at me with excitement in their eyes. I sighed, not at all surprised. They did this every time we had a get together, "I suppose... if grandma doesn't mind..."

"Yay!" they shouted together. Grandma never minded.

"Go get your things, then," mom stood up and stretched. The fillies scampered off to their room.

"Thanks mom," I said, "I'm sure they'll have you up half the night."

She nodded, "Ah think you need the sleep more. Still got more work at the windmill tomorrow, right?"

"Yes. Thank you," I gave her a quick hug, and then Painted and Sky crowded around us. Even though Sky had been fast asleep moments ago, she was now wide awake and bounced around. I trotted over to the door and held it open for them, then gave each filly a hug and a kiss on the forehead as they left.

"Goodnight my fillies. And goodnight mom," I said. Then they were gone, and I closed the door.

I was ready for bed myself. I walked into my room, and slipped off my technician's jumpsuit. I let it fall into a head on the floor. With my magic I loosened my mane, frizzy hair now unleashed, then I hopped into bed and settled in. It had been a very good day, when all was said and done.

I snuggled down into my bed, pulled my blanket over myself, and smiled. I could feel myself slowly drift off, and soon darkness overtook me completely and I slept soundly.

I awoke to the sound of screaming children. Gunshots and the noise of battle raged through the night.

Author's Note:

Deft Embrace

Strength: 3
Perception: 5
Endurance: 4
Charisma: 5
Intelligence: 9
Agility: 8
Luck: 6


Lots of thanks to Kkat for this awesome ‘verse to write in!

And thanks to my prereaders for this first chapter: BroadestPeak, TicTac, Lazer, No One, and Menti.