• Published 15th Mar 2013
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Fallout Equestria: Shades of Grey - Gig



Some of us aren't heroes. Does it make us the villains?

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Chapter Nine: The Snowflake Effect

Read it on Google Docs for improved formating.



“There’s no gene for fate.”

Chapter Nine: The Snowflake Effect

Honestly, I should have seen it coming. A lone seemingly artificial intelligence forgotten in a shady, underground science complex in the middle of nowhere?

Of course it had to be the result of some terrifying experiment in which evil scientists had strapped their wailing victim to a chair, hooked him up to a computer, and then poured the life out of him.

Then, as lighting thundered in the background, they would have reared in triumph and yelled, ‘IT’S ALIVE!’

“And before you start imagining silly things, no mad scientists were involved,” Saios added. “If anything, I regret absolutely nothing.”

My Frankenstein fantasy came crashing down. It did little to reassure me: I did not know what terrified me most between being guided by an AI which resented ponykind for what happened to it and being guided by somepony so nuts he didn’t care about being turned into a tin can.

“But… you… what?” I blabbered, making my way to the couch. Sitting right next to me, Meridian seemed lost in his thoughts.

“You are confused. It is natural,” Saios continued patiently. “To be honest, had I been told something like that by a computer back when I had four legs and a digestive system, I would have freaked out and been halfway to Manehattan by now.”

I gulped and miserably failed to hide the worry on my face. It really didn’t need to know I would have run too, if I had believed I had a single chance of making it to the exit alive.

“You see, before the megaspells fell on Equestria, I was…” the AI trailed on uneasily. “Well, technically I was naught but a pile of electronic scraps. Saios, as the person you now came to know, did not exist yet. It came to existence when some pony, named Blue Shift, decided to copy his memories and brain pattern into his pet project in hope of artificially prolonging his life. It seems quite foolish in hindsight, since all he did was basically clone himself into a computer. The real Blue Shift probably died of radiation poisoning shortly afterward – if the transfer didn’t kill him like last time. I have his memories, his way of thoughts, yet I cannot be him.”

I blinked, trying to process what I had just heard.

“So, you’re telling me you are Blue Shift, and yet you’re not?” My head started to hurt.

“Trust me, when I sort this mess out you’ll be the first to know,” the slight Prench accent had a short comeback. “Besides, I never got to run tests on the systems before jumping in. I have no way of knowing if my personality was altered by the transfer.”

“Wait, what?” I frowned. “Nopony conducted tests before starting you?”

“Not really. The Project SAIOS had been disabled for years when I – when Blue Shift decided to try his luck at immortality,” the AI explained. “Unbeknown to his peers, however, he used his position as chief of the computer division to prevent the project from being dismantled. He kept on working on it during his free time, hoping someday he would be able to put his ‘best creation ever’ to good use. When the bombs fell, I – Blue Shift realized he was screwed anyway, so he just decided to roll with it and finish the job by himself. Very lousily, he patched up the systems to override most of the failsafes so he could operate it on his own.”

I suddenly recalled the record I had found by the security post near the entrance. Didn’t he lock himself in the labs or something like that, leaving everypony else to die because of the lockdown?

“This is when I made a very stupid mistake while making the automated routines to restart the maneframe once the transfer completed,” Saios continued with a sigh. “I forgot that under lockdown you needed administrator rights to start any non-vital subsystem. Had you not come along, I would have stayed powered off until rust got the best of me.”

“In short, you owe me one,” I resumed.

“I have not yet blasted you into next week. Don’t you think it is payment enough?” Saios answered with a straight voice.

I blanched.

“… that was a joke, Spring.”

(** **)

The bedroom in Blue Shift’s old quarters was not very large, but it sure felt comfy. Pre-war posters of various origins adorned the cream-colored walls. A couple drawers and a closet stored a few suits, lab coats and socks of all kind. A bedside lamp, sitting on a small table between a broken alarm clock and a discarded watch, basked the room in a warm orange light. But more importantly, most of the space was occupied by the bed.

Slightly hesitating, I pocked the queen-sized bed with a hoof. I almost expected it to disappear into thin air, mattress and clean bed sheets included, but no. I peeled the blanket and took a good look under it: nothing but white, soft-looking sheets.

“You know, Saios, I don’t even remember if I ever slept in a bed this nice,” I finally said, sniffing the pristine cloth. It smelt like cinnamon.

Then, I moved forward, and plucked the pillows with a hoof. They softly yielded under the pressure.

“Saios, you there?” I turned around, looking for a camera and finding none. “Saios?”

A cold sweat started running along my spine. I dashed off to the door I had closed behind me not two minutes before.

It opened with a soft hiss. I stumbled into the living room right under Meridian’s nose, which shot me an inquisitive look.

“Is something the matter, Spring?” Saios asked on the speaker system. “I thought I had thoroughly checked this room. Did I miss something important?”

“It’s…” I breathed out, my heart rate slowing down to normal. “Nothing. I just…”

I turned my head back into the room. The bed felt like it was calling me.

“I don’t know. I told you something, you didn’t answer and I believed something fishy was going on,” I finally admitted.

“Oh, I see,” the AI said with a chuckle, as if it was the silliest thing in the world. “I reckon the fault is mine. I should have told you there were no cameras nor microphones in this bedroom.”

“Really?” I raised one eyebrow. “Why’s that?”

“The last time a security officer suggested installing cameras in private areas, such as bedrooms, somepony poured a non-negligible amount of laxative in his morning coffee. The measure got thereafter postponed indefinitely.”

“Oh.” It made sense. Kind of. “Well, good night then.”

“Good night, Spring.

“’night,” answered Meridian with a yawn. “Don’t worry about me. I’m gonna sleep on the couch.”

I shrugged. The door closed behind me, I threw myself onto the mattress.

(** **)

I was in the Tenpony Tower hall, alone.

It shared little common features with the gorgeous place I recalled. Gone were the pristine and luster. The oversized golden chandelier had long ago shattered against the white marble floor. Soot and dirt covered most of the tiles; overgrown vines flooded the few columns still standing.

Some unknown force drew me toward the stairs leading to the uppers level. My hoofsteps softly clattered in the emptiness. No other sounds could be heard; the place was eerily silent.

I reached the top of the stairs.

“We had a deal, Spring,” a feminine voice accused.

I froze in my steps. I knew who this voice belonged to, and it sent shivers down my spine.

“S… Sure Shot? What are you doing here?” I stammered, turning on my heels to face Friendship City’s sheriff.

“Doing my job,” she spat, raising her shotgun toward me. “Hunting down raiders and criminals like you.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I slowly backpedaled. “Really.”

A huge, scarred griffin landed right next to her. Gawd pointed an accusatory claw at me.

“You lied to me, Spring!” she roared. “You told me your business with Van Graff was purely professional!”

“I never… No…” I stammered, dizzy. “I did not…”

“And what about me?” Liberty Shield asked. Half of his face was gone, turned into a bloody pulp of bones and brains. Vomit hanged from his dislocated jaw. Droplets splattered on the sanguine marble as the walking corpse inched ever closer.

“That was an accident!” I tried to say, but words got stuck in my throat. Frantically, I looked around for an exit.

Everywhere around me, dark shadows bleeding crimson rivers blocked my path. There was no escape from their empty eyes.

“Daughter, you have ventured far beyond disappointment,” a beige stallion spat, holding a sobbing mare with one foreleg. “Disgust and shame are all that remain. You became the very monsters we spent our life fighting!”

“Dad…” I whispered. “I am not a raider…”

“Daddy? Wake up daddy!” a foal voice sobbed from somewhere behind me.

The voice was alien, yet I already knew whom it belonged to. I mobilized all my willpower not to look, yet my legs moved on their own accord.

There, lying in a growing pool of blood, Cloud Vote stared at me with lifeless eyes. His daughter, soaked in his gore, cried over his warm corpse. Then, she looked up at me, tears running down her cheeks.

“Why did you do this?” she murmured. “Monster…”

“I had no choice!” I sobbed, falling on my knees. “I… I thought I had no choice…”

An intense racket of metal and gears filled up the atrium. When I looked up, huge robot sentries were towering over me. Their miniguns started to spin.

“EXTERMINATE! EXTERMINATE!”

(** **)

“EXTERMINATE! EXTERMINATE!”

I yelped. My hooves entangled themselves in the bed sheets. My momentum promptly sent me over the mattress onto the cold floor.

My still dazed brain failed to process the signals my body sent him. All I could see was black and a hint of red; somewhere on my right, a muffled robotic voice repeatedly screamed something I couldn’t make out. Out of reflex, my telekinesis reached out to my holster on the floor. One last kick and I bucked the sheets through the room.

Then, gun at the ready, I peeked over the bed.

In my sights, unfazed by my abrupt morning start, a ten centimeter tall robot yelled and rolled over and over in circle on the bedside table. A small screen on its base flashed the time in a bright red light.

I moaned and let my head drop on the mattress.

(** **)

Still half asleep, I dragged my hooves into the living room. There, a still smoking cup of coffee waited for me, along with warm croissants.

I pushed the pastries asides (I wasn’t nearly hungry enough to trust Prench food) and began downing the warm caffeinated brewage.

“Rough morning, huh?” Saios piped in. I realized the coffee had a noticeable motor oil aftertaste.

“Hadn’t slept well for some reason,” I grumbled as I massaged my temples with one hoof. “Plus, the alarm really didn’t help. I mean, what the hell? A robot yelling ‘EXTERMINATE’? How sick is that!?”

“It’s a reference,” the AI seemed to be a tad vexed as it slipped back into his Prench accent. “I’ll have you know this is a collector piece. It’s probably the last in existence!”

“Well good riddance,” I mumbled in my cup. “I have enough in my lap already with the full-sized ones; I don’t need miniatures to assault my sleep schedule as well.”

“I shall try to find you another clock then,” the AI sighed. I almost asked if it meant I could throw the old one in a compactor, but the thought of being exterminated for real chilled my temper.

“Anyway, now that I’m up,” I yawned, putting the emptied cup back on the tray, “what’s the plan for the day?”

“We need to lead an excursion outside to replace the parts you broke so carelessly yesterday,” Saios answered. I rolled my eyes. It was an accident! Will I ever live it down? “Luckily, I know of a place nearby which should have a similar installation. Once you’ve eaten, we shall head off.”

I glanced toward the brown, crispy pastry waiting for me on the tray. “I’m not eating that,” I pushed it further away on the table. “I got provisions of my own.”

“That croissant spent the last two centuries in stasis. I took it from the previous administrator’s reserve. It should be perfectly edible – delicious even.”

“Still,” I said, rummaging through my saddlebags, “French food. Last time I tried it, I got so sick I lost almost ten kilograms!”

“Ew.”

I blinked. “Wait, no, my bad. Last time, I ate a Prench salad which cost as much as a whole month of real food. The monstrous diarrhea was the time before.”

“Have you even ever tried true Prench food?”

“Just told you I did,” I sighed. “’got served a ‘magnifique salade’ by a faux-Prench waiter in Tenpony somewhen last month.”

“Before that, I had croissants –” I eyed the infamous pastry as if it was going to assault me “– filled with hay ham or something like that. Tasted like shit and make me sick as hell. No way I’m living through that again.”

“Ham!? In croissants?” the accent did an outraged comeback. It almost sounded like those pre-war cheap comedies. “That’s scandalous! If this is what you Equestrians remembered of our glorious gastronomy, no wonder your restaurants suck.”

I choked on a spit of saliva. “Wait, what?”

“You cannot compare real croissants with a cheap, misbaked imitation,” the AI continued. “Come on, give it a try, you’ll see.”

“I’m not sure I…” I trailed off, glaring at the golden treat.

“Eat. The. Croissant.”

I gulped. Engulfed in a blue glow, the dreaded treat floated toward me. I eyed the camera in a corner of the room.

I made my choice between risking food poisoning and being obliterated by a turret. I closed my eyes and bit the pastry.

My teeth sunk deep into the crust, breaking it into a myriad of tiny pieces. My lips closed around the pastry. My taste buds came into contact with the hostile treat.

I opened my eyes with a frown. Unexpectedly, the inside was soft and supple. It started to gently melt against my tongue as I munched on the food. Then, the taste kicked in.

I quickly engulfed the rest of the croissant, barely concealing a moan of pleasure.

“See? Not that bad, uh?”

(** **)

“All right, I’ll admit I was wrong about croissants,” I sighed. “There. Happy?”

“Very much so.”

I rolled my eyes at the over-patriotic AI’s antics and dragged my discarded saddlebags toward me. I began removing all the items I wouldn’t need for a short mission.

“No offence, Spring, but do you even know where we’re supposed to go?” Meridian exited the bathroom, water dripping from his face. Oddly, he hadn’t removed his trenchcoat.

“... point taken.” I looked up from my bags. “Saios? Where are we headed anyway?”

“The card you broke belonged to a signal filter manufactured by Stable Tech,” the AI answered. “I will not bother you with the details, but it happens they equipped a nearby Stable with a very similar model.”

“A Stable?” I let out a long sigh, before repacking the ammunitions I had been removing. “Damn, and I thought this was going to be a walk in a park…”

“From the official statements Stable Tech released, its doors should have been opened more than a century and half ago. Given the overall poor climatic conditions so far north, the whole area should be empty by now.”

“Oh, yeah, I forgot, you’re new around here,” I chuckled, checking my pistol for early signs of wear. “The Stable program was a fraud. Sure, most of the underground vaults protected their inhabitants from the fallout, but if they had known what they had gotten into I reckon they would have rather tried their luck outside. Lab rats, that’s what Stable Tech turned their customers into.”

“You mean, as social experiments? I have to admit the Stable provided the perfect conditions for that.”

“Yeah, they did some ‘social experiments’ all right,” my voice went dark. “More like terrifying nightmares came to life. Stables equipped with enough weapons to gear up an army, just to see how long it would take before somepony blew it all up. Stables following strict breeding protocols, to insure the ‘purity of the Equine race’ as they put it. Overcrowded stables, underpopulated stables, stables with no doors, stables with sealed doors, stables with gambling, stables with no leaders, stables with monthly sacrifices, stables with no food, stables inhabited only by foals… The list is endless.”

“Luna preserves us.”

“I stopped praying to the goddesses when I truly realized how shitty the Wastelands were,” I grumbled, checking the Geiger counter. “What Stable were you talking about? With any chance, I’ve heard about it and it’s a control.”

“87. We need to get inside Stable 87.”

I froze.

“Dude, the zebras dropped a megaspell right in front of that one,” I laughed nervously. “The place is a deathtrap. You can’t even reach the door before dying of radiation poisoning. Or worse.”

“Do you believe the containment had been breached?”

“No idea,” I answered truthfully. “And it doesn’t matter. As I said, nopony can even get inside.”

Pause.

“There might be a way,” the AI finally continued. “From Blue Shift’s memories, I can assume that particular Stable got built inside a pre-existing natural cave. If we cross-reference that data with geological maps of the area, we can assume the aforementioned cave had at least two accesses to the surface.”

“They probably sealed one of them, and turned the other into the front entrance,” I deduced.

“I don’t see Stable Tech collapsing rock ceilings or sealing off a tunnel for good. This is simply not their style. I believe they simply built a door and hanged a ‘do not enter’ sign on either sides of the frame.”

“That’s assuming they didn’t use the caves as a part of their experiments,” I pointed out. “I wouldn’t be surprised they sabotaged the food recycler and advised the inhabitants to grow mushrooms for food.”

There was a beat. I blinked.

“You would have made a good mad scientist, you know?” Saios teased.

I facehoofed.

(** **)

A couple hours later, Meridian and I were jogging west toward the presupposed Stable 87 secondary entrance. I honestly doubted we would be able to bring our little quest to its successful conclusion; after all, all we had were assumptions and partial knowledge from a centuries-old AI. Yet, the trip away from Big Mountain gave me an unexpected opportunity to discuss with Meridian out of range of Saios’ prying ears.

Radio contact had been broken for some time by then. I had even removed the batteries of the radio, just to be sure.

“So, what’s your take on our newest acquaintance?” I asked my taciturn friend.

He shrugged. “As far as I can tell, he seems to be a nice guy.”

“That’s exactly what’s puzzling me,” I frowned. “It seems to be a nice guy, but it’s not even a pony! How can we tell this is not all just an act?”

“Ponies can be pretty deceptive too,” Meridian pointed out. “I don’t see how seeing him as an artificial being changes anything.”

“Well I wouldn’t trust a pony I can only talk to by radio either.”

“You wouldn’t trust a toddler hoofing you a lollypop,” he chuckled, a mischievous spark in the eyes. “Anyhow, I have yet to find a reason to be wary of him. If anything, I’m more worried about the place itself.”

“Found anything in the archives?” I asked.

“Not much,” he admitted. “It just confirmed what Saios said about the DERTA – that they worked with the Ministries, yet had a lot a leeway to do whatever they pleased. I did not find any incriminating projects. It doesn’t mean there were none though.”

“Crowneigh’s files mentioned at least one project being cancelled by a royal order,” I muttered. “I wonder what it was all about…”

“Could have been SAIOS,” Meridian suggested. “After all, he did say somepony got killed during the first activation.”

I stopped dead on my tracks. “I don’t recall it saying that.”

“He did,” the Earth pony insisted. “Yesterday evening, right before we headed off to sleep.”

I frowned, but the AI’s exact wording were nowhere to be found in my memories.

“I can’t remember it,” I finally admitted, resuming my trot. “I don’t think that’s the project we’re looking for, though. A skeleton in a closet probably didn’t weigh much for the government, if the Ministries’ wrongdoings are of any indication.”

“They probably did a better job at hiding them,” Meridian pointed out. “Besides, the project only got cancelled. The right thing to do would have been to close the place and send the ponies in charge right behind the bars.”

“Point taken.”

“Still,” he continued with a frown, “I couldn’t find a single trace of those Ministry of Awesome exclusive projects. If they wanted to hide them from the other branches of the government, who knows what they were doing in there?”

“We may never know.”

All of a sudden, Meridian stopped dead on his tracks.

“Something’s inbound,” he pointed out a tiny dark point in the cloudy skies in front of us.

I looked around and spotted a small alcove between two nearby rocks.

“Let’s get to cover,” I whispered.

(** **)

Hidden in our makeshift shelter, we didn’t have to wait for long before an Enclave patrol flew over our heads.

My blood trumpeted in my ears as they circled a couple times over the area. I prayed the goddesses above they wouldn’t spot us, or see us as a threat. I may have had some genuine skills in firefights, but I wouldn’t bet a single cap on my hide in a skirmish against the heavily armored Enclave pegasi.

Besides me, Meridian did his best to hide the worry on his face. I silently hoped they weren’t looking after him for some reason – while I always did my best to never cross their path, some wastelanders simply didn’t have the sense to do that.

Then, the shadows on the ground went away. Silence fell back on the plains.

A couple minutes passed by in a growing discomfort. I craned my neck to get a better view. I winced as my back vigorously protested.

“I think they’re gone,” I whispered to Meridian.

“Good. It’s getting a little crowded in here,” he mumbled back, half buried under my own body.

It took me a few seconds to register how awkward our respective positions were. I blushed furiously and crawled out of the hole. Meridian soon followed, somewhat more gracefully than me.

“Well, uh,” I coughed, still somewhat perturbed by having used a very male friend as a mattress, “what do you think they were looking for?”

“With any luck, not us,” he answered, visibly unfazed. “They probably were doing a patrol. I heard they had bases in the Crystal Mountains.”

“Yeah, I heard the same rumors,” I turned toward the cloudy summits in the distance. “Since they don’t want to set a single hoof under the cloud layer, I reckon the mountaintops are the closest things to land they have.”

I paused to dust myself. As I brushed my suit front pocket, a disturbing idea germinated in my mind.

“Do you think they know about the DERTA?” I found myself asking.

“Without a doubt,” Meridian answered grimly. “After all, they used to be one of the Ministries.”

“Then why didn’t they take over Big Mountain?” I scratched my head. “They sure had enough gear and time to force the entrance.”

“Probably for the same reason they didn’t scrape the ground to its bare bones. They left everything untouched down there,” the stallion pointed out. “I reckon they simply don’t give a damn about what’s going on here.”

“I guess you’re right,” I admitted. The pegasi had disappeared somewhere in the grey skies. Once again, we were alone in the Wastelands. “Let’s hope it stays that way.”

(** **)

The Geiger counter on my back ticked slowly, only periodically interrupted by our labored breathing through the gas masks. This time, I refused to wear a full hazmat suit – our little experiment back in Big Mountain having proven they were not battle-ready at all. Instead, Meridian and I wore a standard issue gas mask and had ingested industrial amounts of RadSafe. While it did little to prevent the direct radiation poisoning, at least we would not stay radioactive afterward. Saios told us we should be fine as long as we didn’t expose ourselves to more than a couple rad per hour and didn’t ingest anything from inside the irradiated areas.

So far, we were well below that threshold, and yet I could see the crater through my scope, some three kilometers away. By all means it looked like the zebra had dropped there a tiny megaspell, or maybe an airburst one. The differences between the types of megaspell strikes were common knowledge in the Wastelands. After all, if one were to dwell the lands, they’d better know if the soil still retained a lethal amount of radiation.

Still, often the smallest yields had the most vicious fallouts. The Pink Cloud of Canterlot came back to my mind. Scavengers reported the city had been left virtually untouched by the blast – yet whatever the Zebra used melted everypony and their dogs onto the concrete under their hooves in a matter of seconds. Even two centuries after the End, the place was a deathtrap. I’d never been there, and didn’t plan on ever going.

As I swiped the horizon with my scope, I wondered how irradiated the entrance really was. After all, with our equipment, we could hope to cross an otherwise dangerous area without being worse for wear.

Or, we could die in a very painful agony.

I coughed in my gas mask. I tried to remove the dust congregating on the pane, to no avail.

“I can’t see any movement, nor the Stable entrance,” Meridian’s muffled voice said. “Not really surprising though.”

“We should get going,” I stood up from my prone position. “I don’t know how long the filters stay efficient and I don’t plan on figuring it out the hard way.”

(** **)

I got to hoof Saios credit: his analysis of Stable Tech’s antics were dead-on.

We had little trouble finding the cave entrance. A concrete shack had been built over it, providing us with convenient stairs and indications. I sure had to pick a few locks here and there, but otherwise the place was untouched. I doubted it had anything to do with the many ‘NO ENTRY’ stickers glued everywhere – more likely, nopony ever bothered to venture here, in a remote valley in the middle of nowhere. We did see a couple charred skeletons here and there, but nothing even remotely recent.

After an uneventful trip through the fitted out caves, we reached Stable 87’s secondary entrance. As Saios predicted, the previous owners had simply riveted thick steel plates over the concrete wall, holed by a nondescript, standard-issue Stable Tech blast door.

Or, I should say, what used to be a nondescript, standard-issue Stable Tech blast door. Because it was very obviously gone.

Meridian and I shared a knowing look and drew our respective weapons. From where I stood – that is, the other end of the small cavern doubling as Stable 87’s entrance – I could not see inside the underground vault. I did notice the lights were still on, though, and if the bent steel frames were of any indication the door had been burst outward. Somepony or something had been very eager to get out of the place it seemed.

I turned off my flashlight. Slowly, I proceeded toward the doorframe. I noticed two or three more partially melted skeletons over there. Plasma weapons, maybe?

I reached the wall, and pressed myself against the cold steel. On the other side of the hole, Meridian did the same. With a grim look on his face, I saw him cock his Colt Python for the first time in forever.

I took a deep, ragged breath in my gas mask, and leaned into the doorway.

Stable 87 looked like many other abandoned Stables. On the walls, the steel panes had begun rusting; in the absence of janitors, the ground had been covered by a nondescript layer of grime. Some light bulbs had gone dark already; I recalled somepony once telling me those could last centuries before finally burning out.

A few discarded crates aside, the room behind the door was empty. Without a sound, I signaled Meridian, and we proceeded onward.

We arrived in a narrow corridor. It headed toward the reactor on the right, and toward everything else on the left. We were looking for a communication center of some sort, so we ignored the reactor altogether.

Soon enough, we reached another junction, giving us the choice between the laboratories and some offices. It was a no brainer; we avoided the labs. I had no idea what the Stable 87 experiment was, but if it involved researches of some kind, it was a safe bet to assume they weren’t looking for new species of flowers.

The offices had seen a lot of fight in a distant past. Oddly enough, I saw little traces of firefight. Desks were overturned; scraps and blood stains ran from a few makeshift hiding spots toward another door labeled ‘Laboratories’. A cold chill rolled down my spine. I suddenly regretted not pestering Saios for another shotgun.

Slowly, I walked over the mess on the floor toward the opposite door.

“Spring, come over here,” Meridian whispered. Turning my head, I spotted him near a still-running terminal.

“We don’t have time for that,” I harshly whispered back. “I want to get out of here as soon as possible.”

“Does that imply running blindfolded into that maze? We don’t even know what we’re up against!” the stallion retorted.

“Fine, I’ll try to unlock it,” I gave in, stepping toward the terminal. “Watch over my ass.”

Meridian nodded and posted himself behind some overturned furniture.

Meanwhile, I opened my saddlebags and grabbed a little gift from my nerdy friend: a terminal technician omnitool. He’d given me a crash course on how I could use it to hack into local devices with poor security. Basically, it did what I used to do by hoof with an administrative session, but somewhat faster. Plus, Saios had modified the software to bruteforce whatever passwords it couldn’t guess based on the hashes. It sure wouldn’t fool a decently protected system, but this particular terminal opposed little resistance.

In a couple minute, the omnitool came on with the correct password (“Evolution”). I gained access to hundred of log files on the terminal.

“It’d take hours to read them all!” I hissed toward Meridian. “The guy who used this terminal recorded everything!”

“Can’t you copy them to your omnitool?” he asked, looking at me over his shoulder. “Then just read the oldest and the newest entries. That’d give us an idea of what’s going on here.”

I sighed and proceeded to transfer everything onto the omnitool. With any luck Saios would know what to do with them. Then, I opened a folder at random. It was a scientist’s personal log.

(** **)

Isolation +7 hours

At last! We finished parking the test subjects in their respective habitation zones, the experiments can begin. Oh, the discoveries we shall make here! Those Stable Tech officials didn’t lie; the laboratories come right from a geneticist’s wet dreams. Now that those pesky ethic officers from the MAS are out of the way, we can finish what we started at Maripony. To think we would have won this war if Sparkle hadn’t been so cold-hoofed…

Oh well, there is no need holding those old grudges now. I have met most of the science team, and they are as eager as me to do their duty toward the Equine race. The Stable shall remain closed for two decades. By then, we will have boosted evolution by dozen of millennia!

All the possibilities, all the experiments… My only fear is that we will lack test subjects. The ones we have are in their primes, most of them willing to do whatever it takes for the nation. At least, that’s what Stable Tech told me. I suspect they were not very straightforward with them though. But you can't make an omelet without breaking some eggs, right?

(** **)

Isolation +8 days, 13 hours


Already the Alpha test subjects (unmodified IMP, 1000 standard doses per hour for two days) are showing intensive mutations. They are now almost indiscernible from one another. It is fascinating.


Pr. Fisher however noted some test subjects were presenting internal malformations. She fears the studies of those specimens might be cut short by their premature death – the malformations often include a cardiac and/or respiratory insufficiency, which can indeed prove fatal if their overall body mass continues on raising.


Given the change of pigmentation, the overall growth, and the noticeable atrophy of genitalia among male subjects, I personally believe the Alpha group will progressively end up sharing striking similarities with source C. This feeling is only partially shared by my colleagues, but they agreed to let me use the L-sample to try to recreate my own brand of IMP. If my theory is correct, it would mean the IMP alters the body in ways we had never expected.


Oh, a little anecdote: earlier, after giving us all her report on the Alpha group health status, and sharing with us her worries, Pr. Fisher meekly asked Pr. Lenz if she could proceed to vivisections. Lenz approached her, a grim look on his face, and told her: ‘we are mare and stallions of science, given opportunities no pony ever had. It would be a crime not to!’.


You should have seen the look on her face! I think by now she realized nopony would interfere in her work. She’s preparing her tools right now, we are all very eager to hear her findings. For science!

(** **)

Isolation +14 days, 4 hours


Pr. Fisher’s findings proved to be fascinating, but not for the reasons we expected.


For sure, her exhaustive biological study would have made more than one medicine professor jealous, yet her hard work shall be forever shadowed by two other incredible phenomenon which occurred because of her vivisections.


Dr. Gregg, our neurologist, had been observing another specimen from the Alpha group when, all of sudden, it had reached out and cried in pain, clenching its chest and yelling something was cutting its flesh. Moved by a formidable intuition, our good doctor immediately rushed to the operation room.


Pr. Fisher had barely begun opening the chest cavity of her first subject when Dr. Gregg barged in the operating room. They quickly convened a test protocol (how marvelous it is to be surrounded by sound scientific minds!) and they discovered every test subject in the Alpha group shared, at different level, some kind of telepathic (or emphatic) link. Intense feelings and emotions, such as pain, could bleed over from a subject to another. How fascinating!


A few hours afterward, as she was beginning her second vivisection, Pr. Fisher made another interesting and puzzling discovery. Pr. Magnusson had somehow managed to isolate a small amount of irradiated (for the lack of a better word) particles from the bomb outside. We already knew they provoked an accelerated state of decay on pony subjects, but he hoped the IMP would somehow alter the radiations into something more… viable. At the very least, less lethal.


Well, it would seem it went far beyond his expectation, since Pr. Fisher (who was about to place tiny irradiated sample into artificial wounds) could not even finish her experiment. The reason was both simple and flabbergasting: every time the sample got closer to the cut, the flesh would heal, on its own, at an accelerated rate.


A comparative study with non-radioactive materials showed the radiations seem indeed to trigger the healing process.


Those findings opened up a whole highway of opportunities. A ‘radiation chamber’ is already in the works. Could it be that we found a way to recolonize the surface before anypony else?

(** **)

Isolation +61 days, 18 hours


Subject Alpha-3 died last night. Alpha-5 wailed for hours before we decided to sedate it. It knows it is the last of it generation. Its survival did illustrate the ‘survival of the fittest’ theory though. Before the inoculation, it was a bulky stallion with an iron constitution. The weaker subjects died, but it didn’t.


On the other hoof, the Beta and Gamma subjects are showing no signs of malformations. They are perfect clones of one another. All fifteen of them. Fisher’s intuition was right: radiation, as a regenerative catalyst, allow the IMP to act faster and more regularly. So far, we are only feeding them those ‘nutriments’ through contaminated food and water. Pr. Magnusson wishes to expose a few of them to an intensive amount of radiations. We denied his request so far, since we are unsure our new irradiation chamber design is really safe. We can’t afford to make mistakes on that one.


Pr. Gregg believes the telepathic link can be enhanced way beyond a simple ‘awareness’ of other’s conscience. His experiments on the Beta group proved they are able to do out-of-body problems solving: if one subject manages to figure out a solution to a specific problem on its own (e.i., being taught by a scientist), then all the others subjects will instantaneously be able to solve it as well. Maybe it is the reason they refuse to talk? I cannot shake the feeling they see us as hostiles; if they are capable of communicating fully structured thought through this link, then speaking would be, to them, the language of the enemy. They’d be giving us the silent treatment!


… well, now that was a silly theory.

(** **)

Isolation +367 days, 13 hours

At last! I have managed to reproduce the IMP fabrication process with an L-sample! All we need now is to test it. Alas, we had a very limited amount of L-samples. I need to make the most of it, and my colleagues agree. We shall use a wide array of fifteen healthy, strong-willed specimens as test subjects for the group Lambda. We will give them an incremental dose of the serum, with Lambda-1 being given the lowest exposition, and Lambda-15 the highest. We will use the feeding program developed with the previous C-sample groups. Pr. Fisher and Pr. Gregg agreed to monitor their health on a daily basis. Most of the crew went over my IMP-2 (as I like to call it) formula, and found no flaws. Let’s hope it works!

(** **)

Isolation +367 days, 16 hours

Lambda-15 is showing signs of [LOG SESSION TIMEOUT]

(** **)

Isolation +368 days, 7 hours

Goodness, the experiment is a total failure. Lambda-14, 15, 12, 7 and 3 are dead; all the others are in deep comatose. Fisher and Gregg are doing an autopsy as of now, they suspect the IMP-2 act on the nervous system in a way the IMP-1 didn’t.

I fear Lambda-1, 5 and 13 will not survive the night.

(** **)

Isolation +368 days, 23 hours


Lambda-13 made an unexpected recovery. Lambda-1 and 5 were found dead, along with Lambda-11 and 10. The later seemingly choked itself to death with its telekinesis in a brief moment of consciousness.


Gregg conducted neural scans of the survivors, and they are not encouraging. Lambda-6 is brain-dead, Lambda-4 has an erratic brain pattern.


We are doing our best to feed them through intravenous injections, but Lambda-9 is already showing symptoms of an irregular evolution.


They are doomed.

(** **)

Isolation +369 days, 5 hours




As expected, Lambda-4 and 9 died. We decided to unplug Lambda-6 – there is no need to waste our supplies on an overgrown vegetable. Lambda-13 is showing signs of cardiac arrhythmia again. Given its exposure to IMP-2, I seriously doubt it’ll make it.


On the other hoof, Lambda-2 seems to have stopped its evolution. It does not look as much like the L-source as the others groups looked like the C-source, but it’ll do. From its brain pattern, Gregg predicts it will awake soon.


Maybe something good will come out of this experiment after all.

(** **)

Isolation +372 days, 11 hours


Lambda-8 is dead. It had some kind of autoimmune reaction. Only Lambda-2 and 13 remain. My money is on the former, since 13’s health keeps on going up and down as its evolution continue.

(** **)

Isolation +372 days, 15 hours




Lambda-2 has awoken! I’m so glad it hurts. Fisher says it is as healthy as an IMP subject can be.


We shall begin the tests on it as soon as possible.


On a side note: the radiation chamber had been thoroughly tested. It should be safe to use. Dr. Magnusson, obviously, managed to get to use it first to make the controls. I believe this is a waste of perfectly good test subjects, but I have to admit I am curious to see what happens when ponies are subjected to intense amounts of radiations.

(** **)

Isolation +385 days, 8 hours




It would seem Lambda-2 is not connected to the C-groups. Stimuli from one side do not seem to affect the other. It is odd. Without additional specimens from the L-group, we cannot be sure whether Lambda-2 lacks a telepathic ability, or simply can only communicate with its fellows.


For some reason, Gregg is deeply troubled by Lambda-2’s behavior. He spends hours a day trying to communicate with it, but to no avail so far.


Fisher may have come up with an idea to see if IMP evolutions from different brands can socialize. We shall put Alpha-5 (which had reacted very positively to specimens from other C-groups, instantaneously establishing a bond) in a room with Lambda-2. We’ll see what happens then. Given the gregarious instincts of the equine species, I believe they socialize and have a little domination contest. Since they are both female, I reckon the eldest will win – that is, Alpha-5.


Then again, I have been mistaken before. That’s what science is all about after all!

(** **)

Isolation +386 days, 7 hours




Lambda-2 is dead. Alpha-5 killed it, bashed its head against the floor, and there was nothing we could do about it.


I’m feeling very tired of all those failures. It has been more than a year, and we are not any closer to have fully sentient alicorns than when we started. I’m going in my room to sleep and think.

(** **)

Isolation +389 days, 12 hours




Fisher came in my room to see me earlier. She was worried about me, it seems. Such a kind mare. A great scientist, too. Two things I’ll never be I fear.


Oh, and Lambda-13 is still not dead. It’s only a matter of time, I reckon.

(** **)

Isolation +395 days, 7 hours




Fisher had come to see me every day since the last entry. She is genuinely worried about me. Sometimes, I wonder if some kind of romance could be possible…


But I digress. I woke up this morning to realize I had been neglecting my duty to Equestria. Lambda-2 got killed? Well screw this, I still have a test subject, alive and kicking! Yes, Lambda-13 may be our best hope at figuring what went wrong. Science shall triumph!

(** **)

Isolation +395 days, 18 hours




During my absence, Lambda-13 evolved into a magnificent specimen. It had finished its evolution and looks trait-for-trait like the L-source. At first, I feared it had gone brain-dead like 6 before it, but Gregg reassured me. It is far, far from brain dead: in fact, it seems to be dreaming. As far as the readings are concerned, it is perfectly healthy. All it needs to wake up is a nudge in the right direction.

(** **)

Isolation +404 days, 7 hours




Magnusson concluded his control experiments. His findings are terrifying. I am glad the Stable sheltered us from suffering such a fate.


On the other hoof, it means that we can now use the chamber on the IMP specimens. That is, once we have finished removing all that disgusting goo.


13 still sounds asleep. Gregg noticed sensible changes in her dream patterns when somebody is nearby, but without a real double-blind study we cannot know for sure if it’s significant.

(** **)

Isolation +405 days, 13 hours




We now need to decide which specimens we’ll send first into the chamber, and I fear 13 will have to do it. Most of my colleagues fear the now strong link between all the C-subjects may have a disastrous impact if the specimen in the test chamber happened to die. 13 being apparently disconnected from them, her death would not endanger the whole program.


It is the most reasonable solution. Still, it doesn’t mean I have to like it. Fisher shares my opinion. I should offer her a drink sometimes.

(** **)

Isolation +406 days, 7 hours




The die is cast, 13 shall go first in a few hours. She’ll be bathed in a very radioactive atmosphere for two hours. I hope everything is going to be fine.

(** **)

Isolation +406 days, 19 hours




Something truly marvelous happened!


I’m shaking so much from excitement I can barely write. We were all there, watching 13 lying in her now irradiated cell, when the cameras started recording something peculiar. At first, we reckoned the radiation was interfering with the cameras, for some reason. Then we realized it was localized to 13’s mane and tail. It started with a shimmer, then it began floating in an invisible breeze.


Soon enough, 13’s mane had become ethereal!


The ramifications of such a discovery are boundless. Ethereal manes were believed to be a sign of Luna and Celestia’s divine nature. There can only be two explanations:


Either they were a fraud, or we just created a living goddess.


Both are equally terrifying.


Otherwise, 13 got out of the chamber healthier than ever. We now need to confirm those results with a specimen from the C-group. We do not know if the process is pain-free, so we need a hardened veteran. Alpha-5 is a likely candidate.

(** **)

Isolation +407 days, 5 hours




I could hardly sleep. 13’s mane and tail seem to have faded in intensity. Still, they remain ethereal for now. Sadly, she is still in a deep slumber. What will it take to awaken her?


Magnusson has already locked Alpha-5 in the chamber, even though we have not yet begun to replace the atmosphere yet. Oddly enough, it had been very… cooperative this time. We didn’t even need to sedate it.

(** **)

Isolation +408 days, 1 hour


OH GOODNESS IT BROKE FREE

(** **)

I ended up my reading with one of the nastiest nausea of my life.

“Spring, you okay? You seem a little pale,” Meridian frowned.

“They… did things on ponies here,” I murmured. “Very bad things…”

He shot me an inquisitive look.

“They experimented on them… Trying to turn them into alicorns…” I continued, my throat suddenly parched. “Then it backfired.”

“You think that’s where the Unity comes from?” Meridian asked. I could feel the fear in his voice.

“We’d be dead by now if it were,” I grimly answered. “Or worse. Alicorns are not very kind to trespassers.”

I took a deep breath in my gas mask. Before me, the terminal went into power saving mode.

“Let’s go,” I finally ordered. “I’m sick of this place already.”

We left the offices.

(** **)

There was no avoiding the laboratories, for the whole bloody Stable was a laboratory.

As we proceeded toward the communication center, we passed by countless observations chambers – three-by-three cells, padded like in a madhouse, with a thick door and what I assumed to be an one-way mirror. Most of them had beds; some even had terminals. Still, they couldn’t hide from me their true nature: a prison guarded by deranged scientists.

Up and up we went, until we reached the third level below the main entrance. There, we found the communication center.

Smaller than the one back at Big Mountain, it had seemingly been preserved from the fight. Helped by the schematics Saios printed out for me, I had little trouble finding the electronic card we needed.

Once I scrapped out the useless part, a plastic plate smaller than my hoof was all that remained.

“Well, damn, I can’t believe we went through all that trouble just for that,” I mumbled, putting it in one of my pockets. “Now let’s get the fuck out of here.”

“Uh, Spring?” Meridian squeaked. “I think we may have a situation here…”

(** **)

“We were just passing through, I swear!” I yelled from my cover in the communication center.

Sadly, the three alicorns at the other end of the tunnel showed no signs of understanding. A green drone, a shield raised in front of her, slowly walked toward us. Two of her peers, one dark blue and the other purple, followed suit. One of them had a huge laser Gatling floating before her; the other had a more standard (yet still deadly) laser rifle.

Meridian and I, on the other hoof, had a .44 Magnum revolver, a 9mm semi-automatic pistol, a .308 bolt action rifle, a rusted console for cover and no freaking idea whatsoever.

“We need to get out of here,” Meridian half-whispered, half-shouted.

“No shit!” I took another look to the incoming wing of hostiles. “I recall seeing a set of stairs leading to the level below on the maps. Maybe we can get around them.”

“They’ll see us running away,” the stallion pointed out.

“What if we close the door?” I eyed the terminal not three meters from me. “By the time they realize we’re gone, well, we’d be gone.”

“Go ahead then. I’ll be covering you, in case they wanted to turn you into a pony Carpaccio,” Meridian aimed his Colt toward the ever approaching alicorns.

“Geez, thanks for the support,” I mumbled. Then, praying to the True Goddesses above, I rolled from my cover and jumped toward the terminal.

I tripped on some wires I had discarded earlier and I fell one meter short, flat on my belly.

“Damn, Spring!” Meridian shouted. “Watch out!”

I looked up toward the alicorns, determined to stare my death straight in the eyes.

The three-wing stopped. I heard Meridian whisper a curse as I held my breath.

A few seconds passed. The green one tilted her head to the right. The purple one shrugged.

“They… are not shooting,” Meridian observed. “Why are they not shooting?”

“I have no idea,” I grumbled, slowly crawling toward some nearby cover. “Why don’t you go and ask them?”

Finally, I reached up to the terminal. The door closed in a loud clank.

“Well, I reckon it’s too late now,” Meridian snorted, darting toward the other door. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”

(** **)

We had little trouble finding the stairs. Sadly, they didn’t go all the way down to our exit. We found ourselves in a prison level once again.

“I don’t recall going through there on the way in,” I breathed out, galloping in a corridor toward the stairs. “Do you think we’ve lost them?”

“I’m not sure,” Meridian seemed to have a better cardio than me. “Hopefully they were alone in here.”

We turned around a corner.

“I can see the stairs!”

Then, in a shower of purple sparks, one alicorn teleported right in our way. She had her laser rifle aimed toward us and didn’t seem very happy to see us.

My hooves skirted on the metallic floor as I drew to a stop. I looked around me. There was a smaller corridor on my left, but I had no idea where it was leading.

As if she had read my thoughts of running away once again, the alicorn lighted up her magic. I got engulfed in a purple halo; my hooves began levitating over the ground.

“Fuck!” I spat, drawing my pistol. No way I was letting her using me as a puppet!

I blindly emptied half a magazine in her direction. From her cry of pain, and from the speed at which she teleported out, I reckoned I had somewhat hit her.

Sadly, whatever injury I had inflicted on her was not enough to incapacitate her, because she returned our fire from behind a cover a bit further.

“Spring, over here!” Meridian pulled me away from the rain of lasers blazing around us. We dove into the smaller corridor.

“Look like this one got no shields,” I grabbed my hunting rifle and chambered a round. “Laser rifles ain’t accurate for shit. She’s done for.”

I leaned over the corner, eyes glued to my sights.

“Watch out!”

I heard the spin of the Gatling before realizing the other alicorns had followed us. I felt Meridian tugging my tail; a hail of death missed me by a hair as I went back to cover.

“Fuck, that was close!” I cursed, adrenaline flowing through my veins. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine, I’m fine,” Meridian spat a few hairs from his mouth. “But your mane’s on fire.”

My eyes went wide. I promptly put out a rebellious lock.

“Well, don’t that beat all, they had to ruin my hair too,” I grumbled. “Let’s hope there’s another way out.”

We turned tail and dashed down the corridor.

“Luna’s tits! It’s a dead end!” I noticed the plain steel wall barring the way. I franticly searched around for an exit, but found only more cells.

The alicorns reached the bottleneck formed by the smaller corridor. Desperate to keep them away, I emptied what little bullets I had in my pistol in their global direction, but their shield deflected them all. The blue one, with the Gatling, then moved forward away from the shield, her weapon spinning.

I cursed and took cover in a cell. On the other side, I saw Meridian do the same. I fumbled through my gear to get another magazine.

A couple bolts of death darted past us, followed by the characteristic sound of an energy weapon running dry.

Taking a swift look to the alicorns, I saw the blue alicorn shake her weapon high and low. I realized she wasn’t covered by the green shield anymore.

“Take her out!” I yelled toward Meridian. I fumbled to reload my own pistol.

Six loud detonations rang clear through the tunnel, as the stallion emptied his .44 Colt on the defenseless alicorn.

It took a few seconds to the smoke to dissipate.

Behind, the blue alicorn, a dumbfounded look on her face, looked over her whole body, then turned toward the green one, who shrugged.

My jaw dropped when I realized she was unharmed.

Then the Gatling began spinning again.

“How in Tartatus did you miss an alicorn in a narrow corridor!?” I yelled over the sounds of metal cracking and melting under the sustained assault.

“Well SORRY, I’m not the marksmare here!” Meridian spat back, ejecting the emptied shells from his revolver.

I grumbled something vaguely insulting, and tried to find a way to get a clear shot on the gunner. To no avail.

“Hello? Are you okay out there?” a feminine voice asked.

I blinked, and looked around me. The cell was completely empty, aside from a dirty mattress in a corner. I looked back at Meridian, who shrugged unhelpfully.

“Over here, in the room opposite to your own,” the voice continued.

I looked up through the thick, dirty observation. On the other side, a dark, tall silhouette waved its hoof at me.

“I can help you!” she said.

“Oh buck me, it’s yet another alicorn,” I moaned.

(** **)

While the narrowness of the corridor prevented our foes from walking side by side – and thus, from taking advantage of both their ludicrous firepower and their impervious shields, the hail of death raining on us from their end pinned us, effectively removing all our options. Meridian couldn’t hit anything with his revolver to save his life, and I couldn’t even take a peek in the corridor without having my hairs fried.

At that point, listening to an unknown alicorn trapped in a cell not three meters from me arrived surprisingly high on my list of potential ways of escaping in one piece.

“What do you want?” I yelled over the deafening noise of the Gatling’s sustained fire.

“If you could find a way to free me, I could help you fighting your foes!” she shouted back.

“No way!” I shot a couple rounds toward the end of the corridor for good measure. “I have enough on my laps with three alicorns already!”

“But I am not with the Unity!” she protested.

“Yeah, for sure,” I deadpanned. “I’m gonna believe that and let you stab me in the back for your little friends over there!”

As if on cue, a laser hit an electric relay nearby, showering me in sparks.

“If they were my friends, they wouldn’t have left me locked in here for Celestia knows how long!”

“She’s got a point, Spring,” Meridian intervened. “Besides, it’s not like we have many other options.”

“There’s a terminal right over here to unlock the door,” the alicorn continued, “or you can use the fire alarm at the end of the corridor.”

I leaned a bit, just to spot them both way too much in the Gatling’s line of fire to my taste.

“Get behind the door,” I grunted, reloading my pistol. “I’m taking a third option.”

I emptied my magazine in the reinforced glass of the tall observation window. Then a second. Then a third.

Finally, a last pull with my telekinesis got the better of it. The pane collapsed in a myriad of glass fragment. The alicorn stepped out. I realized she looked much like those old pictures of Princess Luna – if the latter had spent two months in the Everfree Forest without soap nor brushes.

“Thank you kindly,” she bowed before me, as a few laser bolts hit harmlessly a blue shield raised in front of her.

“Good, you got shields,” I began, “I tell you what: you give me cover, and I’ll…”

Then she teleported away.

“OH YOU GOT TO BE FUCKING KIDDING ME!” I roared.

I think even the alicorns down the corridor flinched under the unholy vocal assault that followed.

(** **)

“’She’s got a point, Spring’,” I snarled, punctuating my sentence with a hail of lead in the alicorns’ global direction. “’We have no choice, gnah gnah gnah’. No options my ass!”

“Hey, don’t blame me, you’re the reason we’re in this mess in the first place!” Meridian retorted, firing blindly from his cover. Piles of empty shells littered the ground between us. We had probably munched through most of our ammo already.

Then, an alicorn started screaming murder. The Gatling fire stopped.

I took my chance and peep over my cover, hunting rifle at the ready.

At the other end of the corridor, I saw something very peculiar.

The alicorn I had freed earlier had just stabbed the green alicorn with Luna-knows-what, and was now wrestling the already injured purple one over the laser rifle. The blue with the Gatling, obviously as surprised as we were, had turned her gun toward the fighters in melee.

As she weighed the pro and con of a possible friendly fire with a laser of mass destruction, I lined up my scope and exploded her brain.

Gore showered both the remaining alicorns. Our newfound ally took advantage of the confusion and stabbed her opponent in the leg, then in the neck. She wrested the rifle from her grasp.

Then she melted her face off.

Promptly, I re-armed my rifle and took aim at the survivor. She turned toward us. Blood and gore dripped from her face as she looked at me with her big, blue eyes.

Everything froze.

“Well… Looks like we won,” Meridian said, glancing at my still raised rifle.

“Indeed,” the alicorn answered. “Yet I fear this place is not very safe.”

“I wonder what make you think that,” I gritted through my teeth. Whatever this alicorn’s agenda was, it did not bode well for us.

“Spring…” Meridian warned, a reproachful look in his eyes. Well, no, sorry, not this time, Mr. Everybody-Is-Nice-And-Shit.

“You do not trust me. I understand. After all, we have barely met, in this very peculiar situation,” the alicorn continued. Slowly, she began to sit on her haunches. I noticed her ruffled wings had come back to her resting positions. There, she looked slightly less intimidating.

“Let’s introduce ourselves to each other,” she continued, her voice getting ever softer. “My name is Evey.”

“I’m Meridian,” my companion said, standing up from his cover. “This trigger-happy mare over here is my friend and companion, Spring.”

“I see.” Evey smiled at me with a knowing look on her face.

“We are not an item, if that’s what you mean!” I flushed.

I could hear Meridian’s eyes roll in their orbit from five meters away.

“Honey, that’s not what she meant at all,” he chuckled. “You really need to get laid.”

“Sex is an excellent stress reliever,” Evey agreed.

I then proceeded to drown them under a flood of exotic insults and empty shells. I believe this is when I definitively lost the battle.

(** **)

“Wait, you are telling me you woke up in this cell, alone, ‘long ago’, and stayed there ever since?” I resumed, dumbfounded.

“Well, I said ‘long ago’ because I kind of lost the notion of time in there,” Evey corrected as she followed us in the stairs to the exit. “Otherwise, yes. Had you not been there, I would have stayed trapped there. I am forever in your debt.”

“And you have no idea what in Tartarus you were doing there in the first place?” I continued. We were slowly but surely reaching the lowest levels.

“I am vaguely aware of existing before coming back to consciousness, but I cannot remember anything past a few fragments,” Evey seemed almost apologetic.

“Luna’s tits,” I mumbled. “I sure wouldn’t like to be in your horseshoes.”

Then, realizing what expletive I had used, I stopped and facehoofed.

“Sorry. I shouldn’t have said that,” I sighed.

Evey shot me an inquisitive look.

“I mean, ‘Luna’s tits’. That’s kind of… Well, you know, it wasn’t aimed at you but…” I trailed on, with a disturbing feeling I wasn’t really pleading my case.

“I don’t follow,” the alicorn frowned.

“It’s because you look a lot like Princess Luna,” Meridian finally came to my rescue. “Hence, she fears she may have offended you.”

“Oh, I understand,” Evey smiled kindly at me. “Don’t worry. If I wasn’t offended by your hail of unfriendly comments when I teleported out of my cell earlier, I will not be offended by a reference to somepony who shares a deep likeness with me.”

My ears folded against my head. “Oh. You… heard that.”

“I did. But worry not, I understand,” she chuckled softly. The marvelous sound almost made me lose my train of thoughts. “You were, after all, suffering from an intense stress. One should never reproach a soldier for what they say in the heat of battle.”

“I’m not sure I qualify as a soldier,” I uneasily answered. I tried to change the subject. “You’re lacking the waving-thingy mane though.”

“And Princess Luna was a bit taller, too,” Meridian added.

“How would you know how tall she was?” I quipped.

“Old pictures. While she was smaller than Her Sister, she still towered over ponies tall in their own right.”

I stepped back and took a good look at Evey. There was no hiding she was quite tall – even Chrystal would find herself shorter of a few centimeters, and she was one of the tallest mares I had ever met. Yet, oddly enough, even though I had to crane my neck to look her in the eyes, she didn’t feel tall.

My gaze then ran down to her wings. During the fight earlier, they had been half-deployed, as if she had used them for stability. I wondered if she could even use them to fly. She had spent Celestia-knows-how-long years in her tiny cell, after all.

Then my eyes stopped where her cutie mark should have been. Her flanks were bare, like all the alicorns I had seen so far. But while the ones in the Unity didn’t seem to have a personality of their own, Evey apparently had a well anchored identity. I wondered, how much remained from the poor pony who got mutated with the IMP, and how much came from, well, somewhere else?

“Spring,” Meridian politely coughed. “You’re staring.”

“No, it’s okay,” Evey interrupted him. “I find the reaction of other ponies to my alien form fascinating, even though you are among the firsts. It may help me become integrated in whichever society I will found out there.”

My flustered response got interrupted by a violent explosion which rocked the world around us. I caught on the stair rail. Evey’s wings partially spread in reflex. Meridian let out a tired sigh.

“What now?”

(** **)

As we rushed down the stairs, the explosions became more numerous. The sounds of machineguns echoed in the levels under us. Soon enough, we heard heavy hoovesteps coming up from the depth of the staircase.

“Is there any chance those ponies in black armor are friends of yours?” Evey asked, leaning over the railing. Meridian and I shared a knowing look.

“Enclave,” he said.

“Likely,” I answered, switching my hunting rifle ammunition to armor piercing rounds. “Or the Steel Rangers. In any case, they won’t be friendly to you.”

“Oh, I see,” Evey sighed. “Well, then I guess this is farewell.”

“Maybe we can snea…”

“WATCH OUT!”

A rocket shot vertically through the air from the lower levels. Time seemed to slow down as it rose and rose toward a nearby wall. My brain cried to my body to get the hell out of there, but my legs were frozen and refused to budge.

I saw the rocket hit the wall, detonate on impact. I stared wide-eyed at the burning deflagration coming toward me.

Then, all I could see were dark feathers.

“A… y… ight?”

I shook my head to remove the whistle in my ears. I had fallen on the ground somehow. Evey’s face was over mine, and she was saying something.

“A… you… ight?”

I blinked, unable to understand a single word of what she said.

Then, she softly grabbed my head and pried one of my eyelids open. I shuffled a bit, yet something in the way she acted prevented me from struggling too much.

“You’ll… ine, …on’t… y,” she smiled. Noticing my saddlebags, she rummaged through them. Grabbing a health potion, she held it toward me. I downed it without any fuss. A few seconds later, my hearing came back.

“You okay there?” Evey asked me. “We really need to go now.”

I nodded. As I got up, I noticed I was standing in a small circular area on the ground which had not been blackened by the explosion. I spotted my gas mask on the ground next to where I laid. I grabbed it, and put it back on.

“You know, forget what you said about splitting up,” I coughed some dust from my throat. “You’re coming with us. To Tartarus with the Enclave!”

We started ascending the stairs again.

(** **)

“I thought you said the entrance was inaccessible,” Evey frowned. “This is why we went down and not up, right?”

“It’s not inaccessible per se,” I panted, trotting up the stairs. To my great dismay, neither of my companions, even the alicorn who spent decades trapped in a closet, showed a single sign of tiredness. “We just have no idea if we’re going to die going through there or not. But since the alternative is a certain death, we just have to try.”

“Oh.” Evey blinked. “Let’s go then.”

“Yeah…” I breathed heavily. Exhausted, I leaned against a wall on a landing. “Just… a moment, okay? It’s not like… they are going to… catch up with us… anytime soon…”

Of course, the very moment I said that, a characteristic ‘ding’ rang through a corridor on our right. In the distance, six Enclave soldiers started pouring from an elevator.

Wait, there was an elevator!?

“Spring, we got company!” Evey called out.

“Yeah, looks like our Enclave friend did catch up after all,” I suddenly regained a second wind.

“Not here, here!” she pointed out a corridor on our left. No less than three wings of alicorns had popped up out of nowhere and were pointing their own weapons in our direction.

“Luna’s holy tits! Let’s get the fuck out of here!” I darted toward the upper levels, my tiredness already a long forgotten memory.

As we dashed out of the way, the two miniature armies started shooting at each other with everything they had.

(** **)

A similar scenario repeated over and over as we closed on the surface levels. Everywhere, alicorns mowed down entire squads of Enclave troopers, only to be blasted away by grenade launchers and other plasma rockets. Nopony noticed us in the confusion, but some close calls sent dozen of shrapnel fragments on us. Thankfully Evey’s shield protected us from most of them, so I only had to worry about minor cuts and bruises. I would have been torn to pieces already otherwise.

Yet, among all the explosions and the detonations, I couldn’t help but notice the steady increase in the tick frequency of my Geiger counter.

I gritted my teeth and pressed on. Better radiation poisoning than lead poisoning!

We eventually reached the surface level. There, the traces of fighting seemed more ancient, and probably went back all the way to the insurrection, centuries before.

By the time we got to the Stable door, the Geiger counter became so loud I had to turn it off. I started to feel nauseous; on the other hoof, Evey looked healthier than ever. Her mane had started to darken ; her movements seemed swifter.

Meridian, as for him, was growing gloomier with each step. When I turned off the rad detector, he simply nodded, as if he acknowledged we didn’t have a choice anymore.

Stable 87’s airlock looked much like the airlocks of countless other Stables. Aside from a console on the right, and the gigantic blast door in front of us, it contained very little furniture. Had I been given a picture of the place, I would have never guessed it would slowly turn into a death trap.

Without losing a second, I activated the door mechanism. Slowly, the fifteen-ton block of steel rolled in its slide. Thankfully, it had survived the megaspell and the throes of time. Air flowed from the outside. I mentally hoped the mask’s filters were still working.

Evey’s mane suddenly started flowing in an invisible breeze. Meridian suppressed a fit of coughing.

Before the door even locked itself in place, we all rushed outside. I knew Meridian and I didn’t have much time out there before going over the fatal threshold of radiations.

We galloped through the tunnel entrance, jumping over charred bones and bodies in hazmat suits. How long had they been there? Two centuries? Twenty years? Had the radiations faded already, or were we condemned to a terrifying agony?

We reached the side of the crater proper. Entire constellations now shone in Evey’s mane. My saliva tasted like metal.

I hoped I had simply bit my own tongue.

Then, our wild race forward against time came to a halt. There, standing around us in the crater, a whole army of alicorns waited for us to exit.

Up in the skies, explosions and beams of light against the colorless sky were the only testimony of the aerial battle raging under the clouds. Of the Enclave or the Unity, I didn’t care who won.

I already knew that we had lost.

As my hopes melted like snow under a flamethrower, strength left my body. My knees gave in, reaching down into the irradiated soil. Acid tears filled my eyes.

At my side, Meridian drew his revolver. But I knew he hadn’t decided to go down swinging. He just hoped not to end as a ghoul, or as one of the Unity’s soulless minions. I considered doing the same.

Then, Evey covered us with her wings.

“Spring, think of a safe place!” she urged, her gaze not leaving the alicorns in front of her.

“Wh… what?” I miserably bawled.

“A safe place!” she begged. “For Luna’s sake, Spring, think of a safe place!”

A safe place? She didn’t know a single thing about the Wastelands, I darkly chuckled. There was no such thing as a safe place in this world. Not even those cozy little quarters back in Big Mountain, with its bed and its shower and its…

The world became blackness.

(** **)

Main quest updated: No Signal
Objectives:
[X] Go to Stable 87 find a Stable Tech Flux Transductor (Primary)
[X] Escape Stable 87 (Primary)
[ ] Repair the DERTA's communication center (Primary)
[X] Salvage Stable 87's experimental data (Optional)
[ ] Destroy Stable 87 using the fission reactor (Failed)


Side quest added: Ira Lunae
Objectives:
[X] Meet and recruit Evey (Primary)
[ ] Find more about your new companion (Primary)




Level up!

New perk:
Rad child: by now, you are used to working in irradiated area. You don’t lose time with formalities. You gain a global increase in speed when in an irradiated area, along with better reflexes and a finer accuracy.

"From the Wastelands, born ‘n’ raised!"

Author's Note:

As always, special thanks to Lepking13 for his proofreading.
Cover art courtesy of Greeny-Nyte.

Read it on Google Docs for a better formating:
Fallout Equestria: Shades of Grey, Chapter Nine: The Snowflake Effect

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