• Published 6th Feb 2014
  • 907 Views, 21 Comments

Merry Stewed: An Equestrian Fallout - TundraStanza



Tells the tale of an alicorn rendered effectively powerless after losing her horn in the wastelands of Equestria. She'll pick up a gun, a blade, and a few companions. But really, what is the point of telling the tale of a Mary Sue?

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Ch. 13: From Sea to Shining Sapphire

From Sea to Shining Sapphire

"They say, 'Imitation is the highest form of flattery.' But sometimes, it's nothing more than a slap in the face." ~W.

---

Baane trots on ahead. He says something about a personal recon mission and that he'll meet us up at the New Canterlot safe zone inside the strip. I've never seen him move his hooves so fast, not even at Milton when he was practically charging at half the Imperials he shot. In any case, I turn to the rest of my team with new questions to ask.

"Baane said that this pony caused a lot of problems for military factions in various areas." I try to cross my wings, but then sheepishly remember that I currently don't have them. I settle for tapping my right hoof lightly against the ground. "I get that he'd get intel regarding threats to his objectives, but how do you know this mare?"

Stratus turns her head in embarrassment. "Well, rumors go a lot farther when you've seen pictures to go with them. For a while, I saw posters of her everywhere I flew. Every town I flew to had some kind of poster with her mug. Some marked her as 'Wanted'. Others said stay away from her. Hell, I even found an editorial about her that explained all the crazy-**s-s*** she went through."

That just leaves me more confused and I raise an eyebrow. "If she's so infamous, why haven't I seen any clues of her existence in the towns I've been to?"

"That's the weirdest part." Stratus holds her hoof to the side as her tail flicks. "One day, all of her pictures just up and vanished."

My hoof stops tapping as my eyes open wide. "Vanished? What's that supposed to mean?" I squint at her.

"I was in the Baltimare Crater area when it happened. The pictures with her face looked like they were being erased by some unseen force. Coincidentally, I happened to take a look at the editorial in the magazine I had snagged. Her photos and all mentions of her name were completely stripped... like they were never there to begin with."

I lean back in surprise. My eyes widen again. "How? Why?"

"Beats the hell out of me." Stratus shrugs. "Maybe she changed her continuity like how Stroke Of Red did with Strike 'Em Dead."

I tilt my head. "Like who of what did what to who?"

Stratus deadpans. "Really? You remember the Power Ponies, but you don't remember the Mare-acle and LR hero comics?"

I sigh. "I told you before. I have selective amnesia. I have no say in what my brain selects for memories."

She crosses her front limbs and hums. "By the way, do you have any memories of that pony that you're wearing?"

"Huh? You mean this unicorn's memories?" I shake my head. "No, my mind is still my own."

"No, no, just..." Stratus reaches out her arms, hooves facing up. "Think hard for a sec."

I don't really understand where she's going with this. Still, I see no harm in doing what she's asking right this minute. I close my eyes and try to clear out the rest of my thoughts. I take slow, deep breaths.

Do you remember anything, little pony? I think to the emptiness, not really expecting anything.

This is a waste of time, scoffs Monarch.

I can't get off to this, pouts Nuisance.

Shut up, Monarch and I tell her.

I open my eyes. "No. Nothing of hers specifically is coming to me, unless you count waking up this morning in her form."

Stratus shrugs. "All right, I was just curious."

"I think we've given Baane a good head start," pipes in Tilaso. "Shouldn't we get going, Your Majesty?"

I turn to the colt. "I'm going to have to ask you to stop calling me that, especially once we get to middle of New Pegasus. It might seem suspicious."

"So, what do you want for an alias, Forte?" asks Stratus while fluttering in place. "I think that pony's name was Old Maid or something."

"It's probably best if I don't use anything close to that then," I say while mulling it over. Idly, I look at this form's cutie mark. It kind of looks like two playing cards: a black Queen and a black Ace. I smile as a brilliant idea pops into my head. "Call me Spades."

"Meh, I was thinking Equus Hold'Em, but that works too." Stratus nods.

I hum. "I feel like I'm forgetting something." Something beeps and I snap to attention. "Oh, right. FRED-E, will you still follow me?"

A few gibberish beeps flow out of his speaker. These are followed by a slow, yet deliberate sequence of chirps. A few more mix of beeps later and I think I get it.

I relay his phrase to my other allies as best as I can. "User... pupil data... Forte Pianissimo... Fully Responsive Electromagic Device Epsilon... ready to provide assistance... secondary user... Spades... certain information withheld... primary orders still operational." I nod. "All right, we're good to go."
---
Note: Certain A.I.s will recognize you if you change form in front of their sensors. Be mindful of where you activate the changeling implant.
---

"This gate seems a little overboard," I comment, "not to mention too colorful for the middle of a desert."

"I've seen places more inappropriate than this," retorts Stratus.

"Really?" asks Tilaso, "Were they worse than an astral designed tent with a flaming carriage decal?"

"Oh, most definitely." She smirks.

"I wonder why the outermost section is called Freewall," I say as I trot up to the gate. "It can't possibly be free to live on the wall."

There is an awkward silence.

"Booooo," mutters Stratus.

I sigh. "Help me open this gate, would you?"

The vibrant metal sheet creaks and groans as the three of us ponies push and shove. No offense to FRED-E, but I don't have much confidence in his physical strength aside from keeping himself afloat. Once there is sufficient space, we squeeze on through. Tilaso sits down to catch his breath. Three darkly dressed and armored ponies trot over near us.

"You could do worse than us, wanderers," addresses the mare in the center. "A hundred caps sees you safely to the strip's front entrance."

I chance a couple of glances to my sides. My dagger and gun are still in their proper places. I look back at the rude mare. "No thanks. I think we're just fine."

"Your funeral," she says as the gun behind her back clicks.

*Pow* *Pow*

Within my golden magic aura, K.R.'s barrel smokes slightly as the leader's head falls backward. FRED-E fries the stallion on the left while Stratus introduces the one on the right to her ballistic hoof jab.

"I'm sorry. Whose funeral is it?" I ask as I holster my gun. "I didn't catch that over the sound of you dying."

"Now what do we have here?" Stratus flutters over and picks up the leader's weapon. It seems about the same size as my varmint rifle. However, something in the ammunition chamber causes Stratus to open her eyes wide. "Holy s***, this is a grenade launcher!" She clicks it back shut and tosses it to Tilaso. "Hey, kid! Merry early Hearth's Warming."

I look at her in confusion. "Weren't you the one that questioned my decision to put Tilaso in charge of explosive weapons?"

"I never said I was against it," Stratus points out. "I was just surprised when you first said it." She continues digging around pockets. "Huh, I guess it's a slow day in the escort business. She's only got fifty on her."

"Trying to double up from us, huh?" I ask rhetorically. I shake my head.

FRED-E hovers over next to me, chirping and puttering.

"He's right," I admit, "We should get moving before some pony starts staring at this mess."

"Understood, Pri-... er, Spades," stammers Tilaso after stowing his new toy.

---

"If it can be bought, it can be found at Mac 'n' Tosh's! We've even got stuff that's illegal in most city-states!" hollers a young colt.

"Come to the Platinum Rush for all your energy weapon needs!" calls out a stallion wearing a hoodie.

"For a good time, head on down to the Sparking Buckler where the booze is fine, the babes are hotter, and the slot machines are just like the booze!" This slogan comes from a questionably dressed filly.

This is some city, I think as we trot down the stretch of road. Here's to hoping I don't have to spend more time here than what's absolutely necessary.

FRED-E's quick beeps snap me out of my hurried power trotting away from the advertisements.

"Bogey at twelve o'clock?" I echo as I look up.

I involuntarily gasp at the sight. It's a green alicorn flying at full speed. She's heading for the strip's second gate. A few securitrons turn around near that gate and start firing swift and large rounds. A large orb of light vibrates around that alicorn. That must be her magical shield. But even though she doesn't appear to be getting hit directly, her wings seem to wince in pain at every other shot. The flinching seems to be in time with every large distortion along her shield.

Just as she looks like she's going to clear the strip's wall, her wings hang low in fatigue. Her protective orb vanishes as a robot's bright, white beam blasts through her tired head. The rest of her corpse flops onto the top of the wall. A splat of bloody chunks starts to dribble down the side. After seeing that, I can't help but shiver slightly.

"Friend of yours?" whispers Stratus.

I shake my head. "Can't say I knew her at all. I just couldn't help but picture that being me."

"Just act natural and that won't have to be you," she says encouragingly.

"Remember," adds Tilaso, "You are a unicorn now. You look down on the lesser pony races, use your magic to push others around, and take very little consideration of the needs of the many."

"But I've been doing that already, except for the magic part," I point out. "Can't I just try not to be a crude girl while still cutting up the bigger dicks?"

"Sounds good to me." Stratus nods.

Tilaso mutters to the side, "Well, sure, if you want to take the easy way..."

After that little pep talk, we resume the trot toward the guarded gate. There are a few randomly placed barrels on fire along the streets. Even more haphazard are the stink eyes I get from a pony or two that happen to wander by. A young colt and filly scamper by in their pursuit of what appears to be a giant rat. However, what really catches my attention is a well-kept stallion walking toward us in a suit and tie.

"You look new around these parts," he says, "Word of advice: don't go past that gate without talking to the greeter first."

"Are you talking about that securitron that just obliterated that alicorn trying to fly in?" I ask dryly.

"Well, those bots are apparently under orders to vaporize anyone that tries to bypass the greeter. As for alicorns, they're pretty much shot upon entry no matter what."

"Thanks, I'll keep that in mind." I give a quick nod.

"I'm Bowtie by the way."

"Spades."

"You seem awfully dressed up for a rundown place like Freewall," comments Tilaso. "What are you doing around here?"

"Oh, I've had a number of different jobs over the years," says Bowtie, "Courier, escort, and crier. It's been pretty rough."

"What were those jobs like?" asks Tilaso.

"Being a courier was all right at first, until I realized how crazy some ponies could get just to try and acquire certain packages that I was carrying. No amount of money was worth my life."

I hum. "How is escort work different in terms of risk then? Isn't that just taking ponies to other places instead of packages?"

Bowtie scratches his neck. "Well, when I say 'escort', I mean like the kind of pony that knows how to show others a good time in the bedroom. After a while, I felt too much like a flimsy slab and got out of that gig."

Stratus recoils and almost loses her place in the air. I agree with eyes wide. This line of conversation ought to stop here.

"I don't get-"

"And the crier job?" I quickly ask, interrupting Tilaso in the process.

"Now that was a good workout for the vocal chords." Bowtie smiles. "I was the man out in front of one of the casinos getting ponies' attention and convincing them that their gambling needs were right inside. I really liked the work and some of the mares recognized my smooth chats. Unfortunately, the manager's son caught wind that his girlfriend, among all the other ladies, really liked me. He found a way to frame me for stealing a large sum of the casino's money. Sure enough, when they checked their safe, those caps were missing and I got booted out into Freewall."

"Sheesh, and I thought Cirrus was bad," mutters Stratus while looking to the side.

"So what do you do now, Bowtie?" asks Tilaso. "Do you just wander around and give the occasional warning to the ponies that slowly make their way toward the main gate?"

"Well, I had just enough to get through the month, but it's getting pretty close to the end of the third week after the crier job went south. I was starting to think that maybe I should just find out what the starving community's point of view is."

"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that," says Tilaso.

Bowtie chuckles. "You're all right, young colt." He looks to me again. "Keep his innocence strong. It's difficult to find a son like that in this world today."

"Huh?" By the time his comment registers to me, he's already trotting away.

"What do you suppose he meant by that?" wonders Stratus.

"Tartarus if I know," I say with a shrug. "Let's go have a chat with the 'greeter'."

I carefully trot up behind the securitron who still seems to be pointing its visualizer at the alicorn's corpse. I lightly tap its back to get its attention. It turns around with a barely audible whir.

"Please pay the credit check or present your passport before entering the strip," says the mechanical audio. "Trespassers will be shot."

'Shot' seems like a mild word, I think. "What's the credit check for? Are you looking for bombs in the money or something?"

"Confirmation must be made that all visitors are carrying sufficient caps so that a safe and enjoyable time will be had by all," it replies.

Hmph, somepony sure loved their propaganda programming when making these robots, thinks Monarch.

This shouldn't be too hard. I pull out the large pouch of caps that I happen to have. "Here's 300."

"Please return when you have sufficient credit." The securitron abruptly turns away from me.

"Wait, what? That's not enough?" I stuff my caps away and turn around. "How much is the minimum I need?"

FRED-E chirps a comment after I get about ten feet away from the greeter.

"Fifteen hundred?!" I nearly choke. "That's almost as ludicrous as one of that doctor's implants."

"Your Hi- er, Spades!" Tilaso's voice calls. "Over here!"

I step lively over in direction that the call is coming from. I see Tilaso's head sticking up through a hole in the ground. There is a mostly flat metal disk right next to this hole.

"It looks like this sewer tunnel goes right under in the direction of the strip," he says, "We can get in this way."

Stratus stares at that hole uncertainly. "It looks like you barely fit through that opening, kid. We're going to need oils that we don't have on hoof if we wanted to even try squeezing through there."

"Oh." His ears flop down.

I sigh. "I can't believe I'm saying this, but maybe you should go on ahead that way."

"Prin- Spades?" The colt's eyes open wide in surprise.

"Get a mental map of that underground maze," I advise. "There might be a chance that you'll need a quick escape route if we ever have to split up again. I value your safety as a top priority." I pat a hoof against the road. "You're on recon duty for now, Servant Tilaso. Once you've got a good understanding of the tunnel layout, make your way near the safe site that Baane is waiting. Is that clear?"

"Understood!" he yelps out excitedly. He pulls the cover over as he climbs down out of sight.

"You really have that much faith in him," says Stratus skeptically.

"He works better when he's given a clear motive," I respond. "That just leaves figuring out how to get a couple of passports for us. I'm sure FRED-E can just hack his way in or bribe the robots with his mechanical personality."

The sprite-bot's speaker sputters.

"No, that is not racist," I counter, "That is an observation of your ability to hack into their CPUs and find out the exact credit amount for their greeter's check."

"What's the plan, leader?" asks Stratus.

I deadpan. "I'm not your leader. You can do whatever the hell you want. I'm going to head to the various small stops in Freewall and see if they've got any openings."

"Sounds fun," she comments. "I'm going to hit up that Sparking Buckler place and try to crack regi- I mean grab a cold drink."

"All right, see ya." I watch her fly off.

FRED-E beeps a pattern at me.

"Oh, please." I wave my hoof dismissively. "I'm technically committing identity theft. I'm in no position to reprimand her if she wants to steal a few caps and beers."

His speaker sounds like it is blowing a fuse or two.

I shake my head and smile. "You're way too easy to rile up. Do you know that?" I trot over to one side of the road as I read the giant letters on one corner's building face. "The Shores' School of Idol Imitation. Well, that sounds interesting. I'm imitating a changeling imitating a unicorn. Maybe they could use a tutor."

My remaining ally chirps his uncertainty.

"Oh, you're always saying that."
---
Note: The biggest contenders for the Mojave wasteland are the New Canterlot Republic, the Empire, and the Mansion household. However, you can still join some of the other groups in the desert if you play your cards right. Among these lower-tier gangs are the Powder Gangers, the Great Khans, and the Shores. Wild beasts will attack you regardless of your faction.
---

This is... not at all what I was expecting. I figure that schools have hallways that lead to classrooms and lockers that don't open even when you know you entered the combination exactly as it was given to you. If the hour is right, there should be students galloping and tripping over each other to get where they need to go. Somepony is supposed to be shaking down another for their lunch money.

What I see is a secretary's desk and one door in the corner that leads to another room. There are some ponies walking around, but they all look like they're wearing too much makeup and manes that look like they popped out of a wig store. None of them are actually sitting at the secretary's desk. So, I trot over to the corner door. I figure whoever is in charge is probably through there.

"Well, looky what we've got here," says the shiny mare loitering by the door. "Another wanderer looking to meet the Queen."

"Huh? I thought this was an educational facility," I say in confusion. "Who's the queen?"

"You sure you haven't been living under a rock or something, girl?" She tsk-tsks. "Here in Freewall, the Queen is the only pony whose good side you need to be on. Riddle me this, Red. How much do you think it's worth to see the queen?"

Is this a toll? I wonder quietly before I scoff. "Tell you what; I'll give whatever tribute is required directly to this queen of yours."

She half-smiles. "You know what? I get a good feeling about you. Go ahead and meet the Queen. Don't get on her bad side, or I'll be the first one you answer to."

I shrug. "Say whatever helps you sleep at night."

My tail whips back behind me for emphasis as I trot through the door. The room is filled with a lot of low-sitting, round tables. From a brief glance, I guess that the amount of chairs outnumbers the occupants by about three-to-one. Over on the far wall is a sizeable stage. Four ponies atop shake their rumps to some pumping sound playing over the speakers.

Every outfit I see in here is very garish. I feel out of place in my NCR armor, but I really don't want to take this off right now. Despite the crazy outfits, one of the seated ponies stands out more with a headdress that holds several golden feathers that look more solid than fluffy.

The stage performers draw to a brief closing as the music comes to a halt. "Five, six, seven, eight, ba-bam!"

I walk up to the pony with the headdress. She turns and looks at me. She looks briefly surprised, but smiles politely.

"Why hello there," she greets. "It's been a while since I've seen a new face in here. Folks around here call me the Queen. What can I do for you, Honeybun?"

"Is that where your toll collector's money goes?" I ask while glancing up from her eyes to her headgear. "To that hat of yours?"

"Toll?" Queen looks surprised before realization dawns on her. "Oh, it looks like Quartz is up to her thing again. Sorry about that, Hon. What did she take you for?"

"Nothing, actually." I shake my head. "I pretty much bull-crapped her with a line about direct tribute and she let me through."

"Is that a fact?" Queen chuckles. "Quartz must be losing her touch."

"You'd know that better than me," I say with a shrug. "Why is this place called Shores?"

"Hon, the High Queen of Pop's spirit is still alive and it's the job of us, the Shores, to act as her temple so that she can keep on being--" She gets up from her chair and abruptly struts. "~Sensational!~ Ow!" She goes back to sitting in her chair so fast that I wonder if I was imagining the entire movement.

After blinking and shaking my head, I ask, "Okay, this may sound pretentious, but do you have any job openings?"

"Perhaps, Hon, perhaps." Her head feathers rattle a little as she bobs her head. "Tell you what, if you can do a small favor for me, come back and I'll let you handle a more important task. What do you say?"

"I'll defer to your cautious approach," I say with a nod. "What would you like me to do?"

---
-What are you looking for? A new perk? We aren't just giving those away. You have to earn them!
... Oh, fine.
Lv. 1 Levitation: You can lift and maneuver light objects without any negative consequences. (This ability is exclusive to your unicorn form.)

Author's Note:

Happy New Year!

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