• 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 Seven: The Big Empty

Read it on Google Docs for improved formating.



“Well, there's many things they have forgotten sitting in their bowls.

Friendship. The thrill of discovery. Love. Masturbation. The usual.”

Chapter Seven: The Big Empty

Two weeks of travel passed by in a blur. The journey was uneventful: we were only ambushed twice, and even then we managed to sneak our way around without any trouble.

After six days of travel full north, we had reached the Foal Mountains. Finding a safe pass through them, to my great surprise, proved to be a foal’s play – no pun intended. Nopony had set up any ambush in the narrow gulches we travelled by; and the long-abandoned settlements here and there told the rest. Ponies had moved away south from there, and the raiders had followed.

Beyond the Foal Mountains the Northern Plains stretched out. Immense, they sprawled from Greenshade Forest on the east, to Splendid Valley on the west. They blended on their northern border with the base of the Crystal Mountains. Somewhat less arid than the Splendid Valley, but far more than Greenshade, the Plains formed a patchwork of tall grass, small groves and rickety shrubberies. Before the war, it had been sparsely populated – here and there, villages and towns were scattered near the rivers and lakes. However, most of the Plains had found themselves downwind when the shield over Canterlot shattered, liberating its infamous pink toxic cloud. For sure, the rest of Equestria also had its share of heavily mutagenic chemical fallout, but in the Plains it failed to be washed away like everywhere else. To my knowledge, nopony lived there anymore. Only feral ghouls roamed the scorched earth.

We spent a full week travelling to the north-west, across the Plains. Each night proved to be colder than the last; soon enough I found myself sleeping in winter gear to stop the vicious bite of the wind. Meridian barely seemed to notice the weather, on the other hoof. I still had no idea if he was crazy, or just plain weird. He barely said a word in the whole journey; then again, I was not somepony for chit-chat so I didn’t complain about the silence.

Exactly thirteen days after leaving Junction R-7, we faced our first obstacle. Crowneigh’s maps and instructions dated from before the End, back when the transportation network and infrastructures were still up and running. Two hundred years and the Apocalypse later, roads were cracked; bridges, collapsed; tunnels, caved in. Landmarks shone by their absence. Rivers and lakes had changed their course. Forests had grown or burned. Some areas had entirely disappeared in a radioactive mushroom cloud, leaving behind a toxic wasteland to avoid at all cost. Yes, even the remote towns of the Northern Plains had been targeted by the zebras’ cruise missiles, for some reason. I had no idea what they were hoping to destroy there, but it sure looked like they achieved their goals. We barely saw a single standing building. After all, in the plains, there were little hills to block the terrifying blast of the balefire megaspells, and time eventually tore down the already weakened structures.

In our case, the obstacle took the form of a tunnel entrance buried away in a landslide. We wasted two full days looking for an alternate route.

But finally, after a sixteen-days trip, we reached our destination.

(** **)

When you’ve spent most of the two previous months of your life obsessing about a place you’ve never seen, you can’t help but fantasize a bit about how it is supposed to look like. In my case, I had imagined the gateway to the DERTA to be a humongous steel door, as if the engineers that designed it had scaled up the Stables’ own gates tenfold. I was ready for something fearsome, able to laugh at the face of megaspells. A gate that no one could breach – a gate that only opened with four elegant keys.

I found myself disappointed.

Had the maps been any less accurate, I would have missed the tunnel entrance altogether. A small, ravaged concrete road lead to the narrow, three-on-three meters hole in the mountain. Apart from the ‘No trespassing’ sign hung askew to a rock, I saw no inscription nor indications whatsoever. In hindsight, it explained why nopony had even tried to blow the doors open or drill a hole in the rock walls: with a discreet entrance like that, lost in the middle of nowhere, Equestria, the compound could as well have been invisible. Moreover, unlike some pre-war military facilities, it seemed no power flowed into the lights in the tunnel. As I walked in, I found myself surrounded by darkness.

Brandishing my flashlight in front of me, I soon arrived into a slightly larger room. Opposite to where I stood, a polished steel door closed the way. I stopped dead in my tracks, a strange feeling rising in my stomach. In the dark, Meridian almost bumped into me, and whispered a curse. Without a word, I pointed toward the gate.

In itself, it didn’t really strike me as weird. Megaspell-proof blast doors adorned almost every Stable in the Wastelands (though I heard one in the Hoof didn’t even have that). Tenpony Tower had gates so thick it’d take weeks to take them apart even with plasma cutters. So, yeah, a six-meters wide disk of hardened metal barred my way, big deal.

Yet, I couldn’t help but feel impressed, somehow. Stable doors had huge hinges, pistons, notches, inscriptions – more than anything, it felt like Stable Tech had wanted them to look strong, more than be strong. The DERTA’s gate, however, didn’t have any ornaments. It was plain. Simple. A six-meters wide circle of polished, stainless steel. Not a dent, not a single hair of run-out. Whoever designed it cared little for looks – they amped up the efficiency, and in my guts I simply knew the mountain would come crashing down on the tunnel before the door even started to bend.

I revised my earlier judgment on the DERTA. Those guys knew their stuff.

“Well, I sure hope you brought a crowbar,” Meridian joked, eying the steel colossus. “I forgot mine back in Manehattan.”

“I got better,” I grabbed the keys from my front pocket. “I sweated a lot of blood to get my hooves on them. Let’s hope they still work.”

I took a look at the terminals. They powered up as I blew the dust from their screens, and red lights went up above us. From the lack of alarm, I reckoned it meant we were running on emergency power. I silently hoped the door had enough energy to open.

“Complete lockdown underway,” I squinted my eyes to read. “Please enter emergency release key III.”

A small slot above the screen told the rest. Slowly, I levitated the blue key in front of me, and, holding my breath, I plugged it in the hole.

It didn’t fit.

“You’re using it upside down,” Meridian deadpanned. “At your age, I would have expected you to know how to use a lock.”

“Oh, shut up,” I turned the key around. “They barely even look like keys!”

The text on the screen changed as it acknowledged the item. With a little canter of victory, I put the three others in the hole they belonged to. The green one seemed to be bent a tad, but the terminal recognized it just fine.

Then, I walked back to the middle of the room, and waited for the door to open.

Waited.

And waited.

Two minutes went by in silence.

“Maybe we should turn them?” Meridian suggested. I mentally facehooved.

“We probably should, yes,” I reached for II with my magic.

I turned it all the way to the left. A deafening train honk rewarded me for my efforts, making me somersault to the other end of the room.

Then, I realized a new message had appeared on the terminals.

“Disengage all the locks at the same time to lift the lockdown,” I read, sarcastic. “What is the point of that?”

I motioned Meridian toward the two terminals in my back. “Deal with those ones; I’ll handle this side of the room.”

The Earth pony took a look to the distance between the two keys, then to his short legs, then back to the terminals, and finally set his glare on me.

“… oh, right,” my eyes rolled in their orbits, “I forgot you non-unicorns were… disadvantaged. I’ll do it.”

“Spring, you’re being racist now,” he accused, narrowing his eyes. I quickly realized antagonizing the sole being supposed to be watching my back in this forsaken place could have very unfortunate consequences.

“Not at all!” I backpedalled. “I just meant these terminals were poorly designed, and the engineers didn’t have Earth ponies in mind.”

“Or, more likely, they supposed at least four ponies would be there to lift the lockdown,” he retorted. “Well, what are you waiting for? Let’s get on with it.”

From the center of the room, I carefully extended my telekinetic reach toward the four keys at once. I was by no mean a skilled magic user, and while the tiny objects almost didn’t weight anything at all, I struggled to keep my focus on four different distant places at once.

“Here we go,” I stammered, almost losing my balance. “Three… Two… One…”

The four keys turned at the exact same time. I let out a little sigh of relief as my magic vanished.

Suddenly, an alarm started to ring. Somewhere in the mountain, vast mechanisms were set in motion, and the ground grumbled under us. I took a cautious step back.

Then, the steel gate moved toward us in a concerto of thunder and noises.

(** **)

Gun at the ready, I watched the heavy steel frame rotate. Plummets of dust dropped and rolled from the doorway. An acrid, warm air rushed by from the inside.

“It has been sealed for two centuries,” I coughed as some motes of dust found their way into my lungs. “I hope the ventilation system still work.”

Finally, the gate stopped against the wall, allowing us to take our first cautious peek inside. Without a word, I raised my flashlight.

A large corridor ran from the entrance straight into the distant darkness. A second blast door was opening on its own three or four meters from the first. On the left, large one-way mirrors probably allowed the security personnel to observe the flow of visitors. Two of the panes were missing; shards littered the ground under them.

Meridian softly nudged my shoulders, and pointed towards the ground right after the doorstep.

A dozen corpses laid there. Centuries-old black flesh had shriveled on the bones; stains of dried decomposition fluids coated the concrete floor. Long, dark traces scratched the inside of the steel door, as if ponies had been desperate to get out, only to find the way forever closed.

I thanked the goddesses above the stench of rotting flesh and viscera had dissipated long before our arrival.

“Well, it seems the place wasn’t as safe as it was meant to be,” I duly noted. “I wonder what happened in there to make them prefer a heavily radioactive wasteland to staying inside.”

Meridian took a careful step toward a corpse, and leaned over it.

“Those bones have teeth marks on it,” he pointed what seemed to be a femur. “And this skeleton had been scattered pretty much everywhere.”

“Shit, ghouls?” I cursed. “Or cannibalism?”

“Ghouls are more likely. If they were hungry enough to eat each other, they would have taken all the flesh, not just gnawed a bone here and there.”

I let out a long sight of dismay at the prospect of fighting feral ghouls in an unknown, dark underground complex. I wasn’t one for close-quarter combat, really. My motto? The further, the better.

In those corridors, however, I would have to fight half-rotten, bullet-resistant radioactive zombies, and I found myself greatly underpowered.

“Well, let’s go,” I finally found the will to move. “Ghouls or not, the place is ours to take!”

Stepping over the corpses, I entered the DERTA.

(** **)

If a decade of lootings, burglaries and other wanderings had really taught me something about pre-war security posts, it is that they always had something of interest in them. Be it some ammunition, some caps, the keys to every lock in the building, or even video feeds from the securities camera, the five minutes you spent looking around were never wasted.

The rooms behind the one-way glass didn’t make exception. I had expected the door to be closed, but a half-crushed charred skeleton had been preventing the frame from sliding shut. It barely allowed me to squeeze myself in; my scorched back sent a bolt of pain in my nerves as the recovering flesh twisted. Somehow, Meridian managed to elegantly slip in the narrow gap like he barely noticed the obstacle at all.

“And here I thought I knew how to sneak my way around,” I teased him. “Looks like you’ve been a grave robber all your life!”

He shrugged, but didn’t answer. Instead, he followed a dark stain trailing from the door across the room.

Meanwhile, I took a good look around with my torchlight. The room seemed to be about eight on twelve meters large. Powered off screens covered most of the walls; desks which used to support terminals had been thrown upside down all over the place. Turning around, I realized this side of the door had been crippled by quite a few large projectiles I reckoned to be shotgun slugs. Among the overturned furniture, I soon spotted bones and blood stains here and there.

“Looks like somepony made their last stand here,” I said to Meridian.

“Probably this guy,” he pointed toward a skeleton in a corner. It sported some kind of security armor, though the decomposition of the corpse had rendered the inscription on the vest unreadable. Carefully stepping around the sharps and debris littering the floor, I approached the body. Its neck had been bent at an unnatural angle, and its right foreleg was nowhere to be found.

“Definitively ghouls,” I grimaced. Then, I inspected the shotgun lying on the ground where its previous owner had dropped it.

The weapon clearly used to be a high-quality combat shotgun. While rust and corrosion had rendered it unusable, it still looked better than most pea-shooters I had seen during my endeavors. A cunning armorer – Chrystal immediately sprung to my mind – could without a doubt get at least a hundred caps of the spare parts after a few hours of polishing. Still, I had little use for it; the compound probably hosted items far more valuable further in.

My focus returned to Meridian. The Earth pony was engaged in a starring contest with a small, wooden door which probably led to a maintenance storage of some sort.

“What are you doing?” I asked, puzzled.

“There’s somepony in there,” he answered, taking a step back to give me some room. “Or something.”

“How do you know that?” I aimed my pistol toward the door.

“Look at the stains on the floor. They lead to this door.”

“Meridian, those are at least two centuries old,” I pointed out. “Whoever is inside has probably kicked the bucket long ago.”

“That, or it’s a ghoul,” he answered. “Be careful.”

I rolled my eyes, and reached for the doorknob with my magic. I turned the handle.

Locked. Of course.

I sighed. I put my brand new picking set to work. The weak lock didn’t last very long, and soon enough I was able to open the door.

Slowly, I pulled the frame toward me. The rusted hinges protested but didn’t break.

It was indeed a maintenance closet. Shelves of cleaning products lined the narrow space.

Sitting awkwardly against a wall, a corpse in security armor greeted us with silence.

(** **)

“Kicked the bucket. Told you so,” I said, my eyes rolling in their orbits.

“I’ve seen ghouls play dead before.”

I refrained from facehoofing, and instead did the next best thing. Raising my pistol, I shot the corpse in the head.

As expected, it did nothing but send chunks of bones and corned flesh everywhere against the wall.

“See? Couldn’t be deader.”

Turning my back to my companion, I further inspected the body. From the awkward position, and the revolver on the ground next to it, I reckoned whoever the corpse had been had decided to take the easy way out.

Hard to blame them, when the alternative is being turned into a zombie, or slowly dying of radiation exposure.

The weapon and the security armor had suffered too much in the throes of time to be of any use now. I winced, hoping the most valuable loot had been kept rust-free by drying spells.

“Is that a record?” asked Meridian. Following his hoof, I noticed a small plastic item near one of the corpse’s limbs. I grabbed it, and shook the dust off it.

“So it seems.”

Records and memory orbs were a common occurrence in the Wastelands. For some reason, thousands of ponies before the war had thought it would be a great idea to put their feelings or memories in little devices everypony could use. Well, everypony – memory orbs were usable by unicorns only, but I’m not the one to blame for that, eh.

After two hundred years of neglect, only the sturdiest ones had survived. It usually meant the most expensive – therefore, the most interesting. Because, let’s face it, why would poor ponies spent thrice their monthly allowance to store useless memories or memoires? Whatever remained of the collective database the records formed was almost exclusively created by rich ponies or governmental agents. And, of course, the data had been stored for a reason. Every good scavenger or merchant knew that. And in the Wastelands, where all the greatest things laid in the past, intelligence on the time before was a very prized good indeed.

Still, as I powered the small record on, I found myself dubious of its contents. It wasn’t a very high-tech gadget, but looked more like those electronics scraps that littered the lands nowadays. How the item had managed to stay functional in those conditions, I had no idea. The pony had probably recorded his last words with it – I cared little for them. I almost tossed it back on the floor, where it belonged.

Then again, he may have recorded something interesting on it. He seemed to be a security guard of some sort. Well, ex-security guard.

Finally, I unplugged the rotten earplugs, and played the latest file on the speakers.

(** **)

Shit, I’m not paid enough for this.

The voice was indubitably male, with a slight Vanhoover accent. In the background, moans and scratching sounds occasionally broke through the white noise.

I’m stuck in a closet, not fifty meters from the exit. It’s closed shut, of course. And even if it wasn’t, I’d just be killed by the radiation anyway. I’m gonna die here. Damn, everything’s just so wrong.

Days ago – I can’t even remember when – it had happened. We got bombed. Shield went up, reactor went down, we got screwed. Radiation started to pool all over the ventilation system. The med bay got overworked. Ponies died of radiation exposure. Whoever was supposed to be in charge was nowhere to be found. The administrator probably locked himself in his office. What a dick. And then I though it couldn’t get worse – I reckon I should have known better.

Some of the dead – they didn’t stay dead. They rose up like frenzied zombies, attacking and eating their friends and colleagues. Zebra black magic I say – those blasted sons of bitches screwed us hard. I can’t imagine how the rest of Equestria is holding on. It’s probably even worse out there.

The speaker shifted as he moved into a more comfortable position. He let out a long sigh.

Shortly afterward, the power went off. The complex went into lockdown mode. We got locked out of the control room, because the computers requested super-administrator access to unlock the bunker. Even the ponies still inside couldn’t open it. They are probably starving to death right now. Blue Shift could have probably hacked his way through and open those blasted doors, but the bastard had locked himself in some labs and changed the passwords behind him. Nopony had seen him ever since. He’s probably trying to find his way out – hell, for all I know, he may already be halfway to the Baneyhmas by now. Asshole.

Finally, some hours ago, Major Aegis led a charge toward the exit. Since the vehicle entrance’s elevator had been locked down its shaft when the alarms went off, it meant the main entrance. I followed her orders, and now here I am, sitting in this bloody closet, losing my hairs and my mind. I can still hear those things chewing up the Major’s legs. Damn, I think I’m going to be sick.

A nasty coughing fit interrupted him. It lasted a good couple minutes; then, a ragged breathing filled the tape.

We got stuck between unstoppable zombies and an immovable door. We got squashed like bugs. I had headed to the security post to get a combat shotgun, but I didn’t even reach the lockers. I can almost see them through this wall. Most of them would be empty, but there had to be one waiting just for me. If I could just stand up, walk thought the door… Get to the armory… Find that blasted locker… Grab a damned shotgun…

Silence filled the tape.

Then…

More silence.

Who am I kidding? I’m already dead. I’m talking to myself, alone in the dark. Eh, maybe somepony is going to find my recorder in the distant future.

He laughed, then coughed in a very painful way.

Hello there, pony from the future! Welcome to the DERTA, enjoy your stay! We are dealing with a nasty case of zombie infestation as of now, but please grab a weapon in the lockers next door and you’ll be just fine. Code’s one thirty-three seven. Blast a couple for me. Tell them Archer sends you. Ha!

The pony spat. A long, distant moan resonated in the silence.

I’m going crazy. I need to end this now, before I turn into one of those things.

A few seconds of silence.

Then, a sharp detonation.

The record went on for a couple minutes, before the device had set itself into power saving mode.

(** **)

“Well, that was instructive,” Meridian commented. “Are there any other files on the device?”

I tore my gaze away from the corpse. “It seems he got years of memoires on it. That got to be why he told it whatever happened to this place. He probably held a journal of some sort, and did it out of habit.”

I stepped out of the closet.

Following the long dead pony’s instructions, I soon found myself in another room. Smaller, it had also hosted some tougher fighting. Corpses blasted in half littered one side of the room; two jagged piles of security armor on the opposite side were all that remained of the ponies who made their last stand there.

Metal lockers lined the walls. Most of them had been left open, as if their owner had been too much in a hurry to even bother closing the doors.

To be honest, if hungry feral ghouls had been chasing after my tail in the darkness, I wouldn’t have bothered with that either.

I followed the wall until I found the right locker. I type the code on the tiny keypad. The lock protested, but finally opened.

The locker was mostly empty. Not very surprising, since Archer’s armor laid along with his owner’s corpse in a closet not five meters away from where I stood. A washed-up picture in a plastic frame seemed to be the only personal item on the shelves.

On the side, behind a thick glass pane, a shotgun seemed to be waiting for me. Air rushed by as I opened the vacuum chamber, and soon I found myself the owner of a brand new weapon.

Made of black stainless steel and polymers, the rifle was a carbon copy of the one I had seen earlier – but pristine. I couldn’t spot a single scratch on its surface. The inner mechanisms sang a beautiful, soft sound when I moved the pump backward.

By then, I think I was grinning like a filly who had been told Hearths Warming Eve had come early.

“You like it?” Meridian enquired from behind me.

“I love it!” I exclaimed, hugging the gun tight. “I mean, I don’t usually like shotguns, but this one is sexy!”

The stallion rolled his eyes at my antics.

“Do you even have ammo for it?”

I paused. Then, my gaze slowly dropped on the lone 12ga box on the back of the vacuum chamber.

“Oh, COME ON!”

(** **)

The good side of only having two dozen rounds for your shotgun is that once you’ve loaded it (seven rounds) and put some on the side of the pump (five more), you don’t have to worry about where to put the others. Reload a couple times, and you won’t even any spare ammo to bother with! Isn’t it wonderful? Right?

Right.

Now that I was locked and almost loaded, I travelled back to the security post. I needed to know how big the complex was (though from the documents I had borrowed from Crowneigh I would have said huge), how deep it ran, and if the ventilation system still worked. I found the last point to be very dubious at least, from the look of it. Since I had little wish to die of suffocation, it had to be my priority.

That, along with finding a way to turn the lights on.

Finally, I found a terminal in a corner spared by the fighting oh so long ago. It did me little good, though, because I soon realized I needed to login to do pretty much anything.

“Damn, and the OS is not Stable Tech’s, I can’t hack it,” I cursed. I turned toward Meridian. “What about you? Is there a pirate slumbering beneath your hide?”

“Not really, no,” the Earth pony chuckled. “In fact, I’m not even sure machines even notice me at all.”

“Well, at least that means they won’t shoot you,” I rolled my eyes. “Sometimes I wish I could tell the same. The only reason I ever hack a terminal is when I need to bypass a security system of some sort.”

“Turrets?”

“Most of the time,” I nodded, looking around for an alternative solution. “Though I’ve also encountered crazy robots, motion sensor alarms, auto-locking doors, and other nice things like that. Once I found out somepony had rigged the room ventilation system with some kind of neurotoxin. You saw the terminal, you went for it, and you were dead before you even reached it”

“I’m not even surprised,” Meridian shrugged. “How did you disarm the trap, if the terminal was in the room?”

“I didn’t. There was a huge pile of skeletons in the middle of the room, and the neurotoxin had run out. I just stepped over them.”

“Oh.”

An uneasy silence fell on the room. Finally, I spotted some kind of card printer terminal embedded in a corner.

“There. It’d make sense the guards at the entrance had a machine to deliver ID cards, right?” I asked as I stepped over a broken chair and stood in front of the device.

“Yes,” Meridian joined my side, “but does it still work?”

As I pressed the start button, the small terminal on the side of the printer lighted up. A long crack had rendered half the screen almost unreadable. I squinted my eyes, trying to guess the words I couldn’t see.

“It’s also asking for an authorization of some kind,” I deadpanned. “We’re running in circle!”

“Maybe not,” Meridian pointed four familiar holes near the terminal. “What’s the point of a security override system, if you can’t grant access to whoever you wish?”

“You’re right!” I exclaimed, grabbing the keys from my pocket. I didn’t leave them on the terminals outside ; after seeing what had happened to the previous owners of the place, I sure didn’t want to be locked up inside!

As soon as I plugged the items in the computer, the image changed, and I gained access to the terminal.



Lockdown Override key access acknowledged. Temporary administrator access granted.
Welcome, Administrator.
Lockdown in progress (80 531 days, 4 hours, 51 minutes and 10 seconds).
Please refer to the lockdown emergency manual for further instructions.



The message had popped up over the command line. I blinked, and looked back and forth from the keyboard to the screen.

“And how in hell am I supposed to get this manual?”

(** **)

The exact command turned out to be ‘help –M lockdown’, and I wasted fifteen minutes of my life looking for it because some pre-war nerd had forgotten to include it in the nice, post-apocalyptic greeting message. I hope he had been eaten alive by a ghoul or something.

The manual itself proved to be very instructive, in the end. Obviously, it had been written with a non-expert reader in mind. It didn’t dwell on the details, but it gave insights on the way the base was supposed to work and on how to access the status of the compound’s most critical components. More importantly, I learned how to lift the lockdown and restore the base to its former glory.

Well, for the systems that the ghouls and time hadn’t broken, that is.

From the maps I found and printed out (Luna bless enchanted paper), I realized the compound was heavily layered under the surface of a crater of some kind.

The most obvious constructions had to be the ones on the surface. Still, they didn’t seem to be very numerous, nor very large. I quickly dismissed them – after all, if the guys who designed the place had bothered digging this deep down, it wasn’t to store their most valuable belongings on the surface.

Under the surface four main areas were obvious. Right under the crater’s surface (well, five meters under, give or take a few layers of rocks) I spotted the living quarters, the canteen, the kitchens and the relaxation areas. While I cared little for their contents (though sleeping in a bed would have been a nice plus), the readings from the terminal worried me a bit. Most of the sensors were offline, and those which still broadcasted reported a quite high level of structural damage and radiations. I reckoned they had taken the full brunt of the megaspell hit, and had collapsed.

The northern side of Big Mountain hosted warehouses and workshops. Some good loot probably awaited me over there, but alas almost half a kilometer of rock and concrete separated me from them. It would have to wait.

On the southern area, almost above me, a labyrinth of rooms and corridors webbed the mountain. I spotted more living quarters, more laboratories, the infirmary, some offices (including the administrator’s), and all the way up near to the tip of the crater a communication center. How they were supposed to communicate while buried under tons of rock was anypony’s guess, though. The labs probably had a few priceless artifacts from the time before, but from experience I knew they were also very likely to host an unnamable abomination or ten.

Finally, the last and most interesting area in my eyes laid at the lowest level of the compound. Technically located under the crater surface, they differed from the ravaged area in the fact they had been buried more than a hundred meters beneath. It seemed to be a bit overboard to me – after all, if bombs could penetrate that deep, Equestria would have been nothing but a big crater by now – but a closer look to the map showed me it was, in fact, almost on the same level as the entrance. Whoever built the place had simply dug sideway from the base of the mountain. Simple, yet efficient, like the gate had been. The DERTA really seemed to be ruled by a very ‘be practical, be efficient’ motto.

The command center and the main reactor were there, along with smaller storages. I was refused the access to the sensors inside those places – then again, it was to be expected. The tape had said the HQ had been totally isolated by the lockdown. I hoped I would be able to open its blast doors with my newfound administrator access: it seemed I needed to be there to restart the primary systems.

A dense network of tunnels and corridors linked those areas together. Three different elevators assured a passageway between the different levels. One sprouted through the labs and administrative levels, up to the surface above the com center. Another one reached all the way from the command center to the surface, right between the relaxation area and the offices. The last elevator, which seemed to be larger, ranged from a second ground-level exit on the northern flank of the mountain, through the factories and warehouses, to the crater surface. It didn’t go all the way down to the lower bunker, but it seemed to be relayed by a smaller elevator.

Obviously, all the elevators reported to be offline. If the tape was to be believed, they had been locked down their shaft when the bombs struck. Besides, with the main power off, I doubted I could restart them even if they hadn’t.

Well, good thing I was almost at the command center level.

I started the procedure to make an ID card with administrator privileges. The integrated camera let out a puff of acrid smoke instead of taking my picture, and my head ended up being replaced by a splotch of brown pixels on the small plastic card.

“No comment,” I noticed Meridian opening his mouth. “I swear, if you dare say a word about that, I’ll just shoot you.”

He closed his mouth, shrugged and starting walking away.

I followed him, deeper into the DERTA.

(** **)

Sometimes, I like to believe the Wasteland is alive; some kind of god-like entity messing around with the poor fellows dwelling down there like me. After all, if living gods and goddesses once roamed the old Equestria, why would the new be any different?

Then, I silently start hoping there’s no such thing as a god of the Wastelands; because if it does, I am their plaything and they won’t stop messing with me just to piss me off.

The central elevator shaft had collapsed. Not a big deal, you’d say. Of course the cables would rust, sending the cabins downward to their doom. Besides, without power, the machinery would have stayed immobile anyway.

But I didn’t say the elevators had collapsed. I said the elevator shaft had collapsed, all the way from the surface, a hundred meters upward. The avalanche of concrete and steel had pulverized the tunnels in the lowest levels, and if the huge pile of rubble in front of me was of any indication, it’d take weeks and an excavation team to dig a passage back.

I had neither.

“Well, FUCK!” I kicked a small rock in rage, sending it ricocheting through the corridor.

Then, reluctantly, I grabbed the compound maps from my saddlebags, and began finding another way around.

Looking over my shoulder to the vertical map, Meridian pointed an inverted T on the lower levels.

“I believe we’re here,” he said, dragging his hooftip over the paper, “since we entered there. I don’t see any way around though.”

“We need to go up,” I showed him a horizontal map of one of the upper levels, “right over the labs or the infirmary. We passed by the stairs earlier, they didn’t seem to have collapsed.”

“It’s bound to be crowded up there,” Meridian noted, his eyes scanning the paper sheet for an alternative route. “Remember the tape? It said the outbreak started in the infirmary.”

“But the labs could be worse,” I pointed out. “Once I found some kind of hidden governmental facility in which they did weird experiments on chemical warfare. The scientists had melted into the floor, and were reaching out to whoever was dumb enough to set a hoof in there.”

“Then we could go even higher, to the administrative level,” he suggested.

“But then once we’ve crossed the collapsed shaft we’d arrive in the irradiated area. I don’t think it’d still be lethal after two centuries, but I don’t want to take any chance.”

“So we should fight our way through the med bay, take this corridor around the elevator,” Meridian put his hoof on an area away from the shaft, “then we get to that workshop, then through this warehouse, to the big elevator over there.”

“Let’s hope this one isn’t collapsed,” I rubbed my head. I couldn’t spot another way down to the command center.

“If the map is up to scale, it is larger than the others. Even if part of the upper levels collapsed onto it, it probably didn’t clog it up.”

“So, wait, you mean that this pile of rubble –” I nodded toward the collapsed corridor in front of us “- came all the way down from the surface?”

“It’s likely,” Meridian shrugged. “I’m not a nuke expert, but it’d make sense the areas closer to the explosion would collapse, and fall all the way down there.”

“Then it’s most likely radioactive,” I facehooved, “and we’ve been sitting on it like morons for at least a quarter hour. Very smooth.”

“Didn’t you pack a Geiger counter?” he nudged my saddlebags. “I mean, you brought winter gear, and a radioactivity detector is kinda mandatory when you’re exploring.”

I scratched the ground with my hoof in shame.

“I forgot,” I answered, ears low. “I have one waiting for us back in Manehattan, but in the rush I didn’t take it.”

“Well, then warn me if I start sprouting an extra appendage,” Meridian’s eyes rolled into their orbits.

“Will do,” I chuckled at the idea of him having a fifth leg on the back of his head.

Then I winced at the idea of it happening to me.

“But I sure hope it won’t come to that,” I added with a small, hopeful smile.

(** **)

“I hate stairs,” I breathed out heavily as we reached the med bay level.

“You know, for somepony who spent her life running around outside, you sure are out of shape,” Meridian casually trotted to my level, not even breaking a sweat.

“Oh shut up,” I groaned, leaning on a wall to find my breath. “Ponies aren’t designed to climb stairs. That’s all. Plus, this stuff is heavy.”

The earth pony chuckled in the darkness, but didn’t pursue the conversation further. Instead, he focused on the steel doors at the landing.

As I levitated my torchlight toward them, I noticed they were covered with scratches and old stains, much like the one downstairs did.

“Ghouls,” I noted.

“Ghouls,” Meridian confirmed, pointing a pile of skeletons in a corner.

I already loved this place.

One of the doors had ‘Infirmary’ inscribed in faded letters. The other had ‘Habitation quarters - officers’ written. If I had to look for a bed, that would be the place to search.

But first, I needed to turn the power back on, before the air (or my light) ran out.

Slowly, I walked toward the infirmary door, half expecting it to open on its own. After all, if the feral ghouls had managed to get out and take the compound, it meant some moron had decided to make the door motion-sensitive. Or something like that.

But the heavy frame remained closed. The small terminal on the wall nearby, on the other hoof, lit up, bathing the room in a pale, greenish hue.

It’s okay, I’ve seen spookier.

The screen indicated the door had been locked during the lockdown (well duh), and required an administrator access to be opened again.

If only I had an administrator ID card – oh wait, I do!

Smiling at the utter uselessness of the whole security system (admin got dah powah!), I slid the card down the reader. A small green light sparked above the door, and the heavy frame slid up.

“Now that’s what I like to see,” I grinned. If everything in the DERTA didn’t ask more than a simple wave of the ID, maybe taking the reins of the compound would be even easier than anticipated.

Then, a ghoul jumped on me.

(** **)

There is one advantage of living on the edge in the Equestrian Wastelands: it builds up your reflexes.

Thanks to them, I managed to blast the ghoul’s head before it managed to gobble me up.

Sadly, even a 12ga shot does little to stop the forward momentum of whatever it hits, and the decayed body landed on me with a disgusting splash. I fell to the ground, dropping my light in the process, and the ghoul followed me in my descent.

“Ah, fuck, get it off!” I screamed, abominable fluids dropping on me as I struggled to roll the corpse away from me. Finally, after a final buck, I managed to send it toppling over in the staircase to a deadly drop. A few second later, I heard it hit the concrete ground far below with a sickening crunch.

“Damn, I’m covered in goo shit,” I felt my breakfast trying to push its way upward. Looking around, I spotted my lamp against a wall (thankfully it didn’t go down the stairs), grabbed it, and pointed toward the infirmary.

Half a dozen hungry eyes shone evilly back at me.

“FUCK!” I yelled, before giving them the shotgun treatment.

(** **)

The world seemed to move in slow motion. As I franticly squeezed the shotgun trigger, blasts of flames lighted the scene in eerie flashes. The thunder of the detonations roared in the narrow space, covering the frenzied roars of the feral creatures. I could almost see the supersonic steel bearings leaving the choke, travelling through the air in the blink of an eye, and tearing the rotten monsters apart where they stood. Then my telekinetic grasp would register the recoil, the shell would be ejected by the gas action, and before the plastic casing even reached the apex of its trajectory, the firing pin was back to ignite the primer of the next round.

Four and half long seconds later, the shotgun finally clicked empty, and the ghouls had been reduced to six disgusting piles of rotten flesh.

“Well, damn,” Meridian let out after a moment of silence, only perturbed with the moaning of a maimed zombie, “remind me not to catch you on a bad day.”

“Hey, they took me by surprise, that’s all,” I reloaded the shotgun. “Usually, subtlety is my middle name.”

“I can see that,” the earth pony sniggered as he watched over the utter desolation inside the infirmary. On the other side of the room, I could see I had almost pulverized a few shelves of drugs and medical supplies.

“Don’t be so smug,” I un-holstered my pistol and finished a not-quite-dead ghoul trying to bite my leg off, “because if we had to rely on your marksmanship to defend ourselves, we’d be the zombies’ snack by now. You didn’t even bother grabbing your gun!”

“Well, you had the situation well in hoof,” Meridian let out a very fake cough. “Plus, you’re the one with the shotgun.”

“Sure,” I rolled my eyes as I stepped into the infirmary. “Luna’s tits, it stinks in here!”

I backpedalled quickly, then grabbed my own first aid kit from my saddlebags. I poured some rubbing alcohol on gauze, which I held in front of my nose with a bandana.

“I reckon you’ve forgotten the gas mask as well,” Meridian deadpanned.

“It’s not like you can find one that still filters anything nowadays,” I answered, tying the knot tightly behind my ears. “Believe it or not, those things have best-before dates, and now they are two centuries overdue.”

“Still, it wouldn’t do any harm to have one.”

Rolling my eyes, I grabbed some more gauze, and held it toward him. To my surprise, he pushed it back.

“No thanks. Ten minutes breathing that, and I’d end up tripping balls,” he explained. “Not really recommended when you’re busy fighting an onslaught of ghouls.”

“Whatever rings your bell.”

I stepped inside a second time. The beam of light from my torch swept over the room, giving me a better look on the infirmary waiting room.

Honestly, I had expected it to have been utterly destroyed. Being used as a prison for six feral ghouls often does that to a room. But most of the furniture was still standing (the one I had accidentally shelled being a notable exception), and the side doors leading to the rest of the sector were surprisingly still there. A rapid check showed me that, in fact, they seemed as sturdy as they ever were.

“Enchanted ironwood,” said Meridian as I shook a doorknob in vain. “Make sense in this kind of infirmary. You want the patients to feel safe, yet remain able to lock them down if the need arise. It probably cost them a fortune, if the enchantments hadn’t faded yet.”

“The base is carved out of a mountain,” I pointed out. “A few thousands bits more probably didn’t weigh much on the final bill.”

“True. I wonder if how good their medical equipment was, if they bothered with doors like that.”

“Well, we’re in the middle of nowhere here, so I reckon they had their own operating room and stuff,” I assumed. “But we’ll check it out later. I suggest we leave the doors locked, and just focus on restoring the power for now.”

(** **)

Skeletons became more numerous as we reached the workshop.

In there, we found many discarded tools, broken equipment and other devices which had been waiting for a repairpony for more than two centuries now. Without the proper storage conditions, most had decayed beyond any recognition.

We found a notable exception in the last room before the warehouse. Sitting on a collapsed table, a humongous, dismantled turret greeted us in silence.

Curious, I spent a few minutes poking it from every direction, trying to figure out how it was supposed to work. It didn’t look like any arcanic sentry I had the displeasure to see so far, but I doubted it fired powder-based ammunition either. What I reckoned to be the barrel was in fact four long arms, centered around a small plastic tubing. I couldn’t see any chamber or ejection port. The ammunition compartment had been removed, obviously, and I found it waiting on shelves nearby. Its rusty contents did little to bring some light on the working of the peculiar weapon.

My train of thought had then been interrupted by two famished ghouls. I had already shot three of them since the infirmary, and two more tried to gnaw my face off when I entered the warehouse behind the workshop. It brought my ammo count down to an astonishing eight 12ga rounds, which did little to improve my mood. All the discarded ammunition I came across had been carelessly left to rust on the ground as their former owner met their doom, rendering them unusable.

Cherry on the cake: a good quarter of the ghouls so far had been wearing the remnants of some kind of security armor, and while it now offered a pitiful protection compared to what it used to be it would still be quite problematic to bring those ghouls down with 9mm rounds. The high-powered caliber of my hunting rifle would get through them without a second though, but since it was a bolt action I would probably do more damage by simply clubbing them with the cross.

The warehouse was filled with various sealed crates lined up on giant shelves. To my great pleasure, most of them had been protected with some kind of enchantment for transport or storage, because even the wooden planks didn’t seem to have much suffered of the throes of time. With any luck, the things inside were still intact.

We reached the elevator without encountering any trouble. The structure didn’t seem to have taken much damage from the bombs and the aging, thankfully: I couldn’t spot a trace of a collapse in the huge, industrial-sized shaft as we descended the stairs spiraling around it.

Then, after an interminable descent, we reached the floor, and I spotted the elevator proper. Truth be told, it looked more like an overgrown moving steel platform than a real elevator.

“Okay, now I’ve been wondering for a little while,” Meridian broke the silence, “but why in Tartarus did a research facility need this kind of industrial equipment? I mean, look up there, the shaft goes all the way to the surface! Why bother with all this, when they just had to split their deliveries in smaller packages?”

“I don’t really know,” I answered truthfully. “My intel mentioned something about manufacturing and retrofitting combat vehicles, so maybe they produced things they simply couldn’t assemble outside?”

“Then why not build the facilities outside in the first place?”

“Hey, don’t ask me, I’ve only owned the place for two hours!” I retorted. “I swear, as soon as we got the power back on, you’ll have all the time in the world to look out for the archives to know the background of the place, but it’s not my focus right now, okay?”

“Sorry. It’s just this whole place feels wrong to me,” he apologized, giving around circular look around. “And it’s not just the ghouls. It’s the place itself.”

He paused. I motioned him to continue.

“Hidden facilities were commonplace during the Great War, of course. Yet often, they experimented on touchy subjects, like chemical warfare, or experimental weapons, or some dangerous biology. But why hide an industrial complex? Besides, if our maps are accurate, the actual factories couldn’t even start to compete with the ones in Fillydelphia. Why bother going all the way to here, in the Crystal Mountains, dig a hole to hide some laboratories and a hoofful of assembly lines?”

I opened my mouth to answer, but there was no stopping him now.

“Furthermore,” he continued, oblivious to my attempt to move on, “I remember you telling me the DERTA was about technology and arcane science, but I can’t recall ever hearing about them when it comes to corporations working with – for – the Ministry of Technology. And the Ministry of Arcane had its main research center in Maripony, not a hundred miles from here! This place just baffles me by its simple existence!”

“It’s not relevant!” I finally managed to say, exasperated. “Damn, I thought you were going to say that it looked like a deathtrap à la Stable Tech, not start rambling about the hows and the whys of the place! I’m sure you’ll find a convenient explanation somewhere in the offices, but trust me, it’d do you little good if we can’t turn the freakin’ lights on!

Meridian took a step back, then tilted his hat forward, hiding his blue eyes.

“Very well, then. Lead the way.”

(** **)

“Here we are,” I stopped before the blast door marked ‘command center’. “Now, the moment of truth: can we open this tin can, and get the power back on, or will we have to work in the dark for the next few weeks?”

I levitated my ID card near a scan embedded in the wall, and swiped it down in a switch movement.

Nothing happened.

“Try blowing off the dust first,” Meridian suggested.

I did so ; a thick cloud of centuries-old particles formed a mist around my head. Then, I tried again.

This time, the green light above the door lighted up, and at last we entered the command center.

(** **)

I got to hoof it to Meridian, there was really something disturbing about the layout of the place, and I’m not talking about the chewed skeletons everywhere on the floor or in crumbled chairs.

As I stepped in, most of the lights went on, dazzling me in the process. Then, as my eyes recovered, I realized the command center wouldn’t have looked out of place at the heart of an old Ministry of Morale hub. Screens covered the walls of the twenty-meters-large decagonal room. Built-in desks and terminals formed concentric shapes toward the central, elevated station. There, I could without any difficulty imagine a medal-clad general, stern, watching over the numerous operators and giving orders without moving from his pedestal.

Luna fucks me if I knew what in Tartarus a place like that would do in a supposed research facility.

“Well, it sure looks like that place,” I noted aloud, “now to find a terminal to turn everything back on again.”

“You should try the one in the middle,” Meridian nodded toward the elevated desk, “though I think any would do the trick.”

Silently swallowing my saliva, I proceeded to climb the few steps which separated me from the terminal. I pushed aside the crumbling armchair, since I doubted it could still support my weight, and randomly hit pressed a key on the terminal. The screen lighted up – and asked for my ID.

As I used my recently acquired administrator privileges, I – finally – gained a direct access to the core systems of the base. On the walls, a screen lit up, giving me their status in real time.

“Here we go!” I exclaimed in triumph, as I typed the command to restart the reactor. “The power will be back anytime soon!”

I looked up from the keyboard to the screen. A minute passed.

“…anytime now…”

Then another.

I sighed, and turned toward Meridian.

“I reckon it’s now the time for you to point out the step I have obviously forgotten in doing this seemingly simple procedure?” I asked him, not even amused.

“Actually, I have no idea what went wrong this time,” he shrugged, re-reading the commands over my shoulders. “Maybe the reactor is broken? That would explain why nobody restarted it from here when the base went under lockdown.”

“Maybe,” I typed a few other commands to have a more detailed report on the power plant status, to no avail. “It means we have to go down to a possibly irradiated area, fix a reactor we don’t even know how it’s supposed to work, to hypothetically restart the power and the lights we would have needed to fix it in the first place.”

“Talking about lights,” Meridian interrupted me, “how come the ones in this room are still working? I mean, if we’re on backup power, we are probably wearing the batteries down for nothing right now.”

I frowned, and went back to my terminal to find the source of the power supply.

“It seems the emergency power is procured by an auxiliary generator,” I finally gathered. “Something very durable that does not require fuel, because the status command tells me it could run basically forever. Well, damn, that ought to be some pricey technology.”

“Or something very simple,” countered Meridian. “I’ve been told the Hoofington Dam is still powering most of the area after all this time. Many power plants don’t require fuel to produce energy.”

“It doesn’t really matter anyway,” I shrugged. “The output seems to be too low to power the whole facility, but I think I can restart the lights and the ventilation system.”

I struggled to find the correct commands, and finally found a way to redirect the power toward those particular subsystems.

“It’s weird,” I realized, “the ventilation system was already online, but it’s not venting anything from the outside.”

“Really? Then where does the air come from?”

“Up,” I answered, as another wall screen lighted up with information on the air systems. “It shouldn’t do that. Somepony probably messed with the settings. Let’s restart it, and see what it does…”

I typed another command, and soon enough the line entitled ‘Ventilation systems’ turned to green on the screen.

“Great, it restored the default settings,” I noted. “We’re probably also venting the collapsed areas, but it’ll do for now.”

“Can you turn the lights on?” prompted Meridian.

“I guess. Their power grid had been disabled for some reason; I just need to restore it… Here it goes.”

The lights above us flickered, as the emergency generator found itself suddenly solicited from every room in the compound. Thankfully, it only lasted for a few seconds.

“I don’t think we can ask much more of this power source,” Meridian noted. “We’d better find a way to fix the main generator before we find ourselves in the dark again.”

“Sure,” I grabbed my map, and looked for the generator room. “Looks like we have to go down a level. There ought to be stairs somewhere around.”

(** **)

“Well, it sure looks expensive,” I whistled as my eyes fell on the reactor for the first time.

It had the place of pride right in the middle of an otherwise small, fifteen-meter wide circular room. Seven arms of weird design circled vertically around a smaller sphere made of a strange, matte material. Lengths of cables and supports reached from arms into the walls, which had been bolted with reinforced plating. Tubes circled at the base of the contraption, right under the sphere. The whole place had been so heavily enchanted I couldn’t spot a single trace of decay or dust – it was as pristine as the day it was built.

“Do you have any idea how it’s supposed to work?” I turned toward Meridian.

He shrugged in dismay. We stood there in silence for a few minutes, staring at the reactor.

“Well, damn,” I finally concluded.

(** **)

The reactor control room was even smaller than the reactor’s room. Where I would have expected dials and gauges and valves, only a couple terminals embedded in a wall greeted me. A side room hosted some more machinery, but the controls themselves were very sparse.

Now that I had lifted the lockdown from the control room, the terminal immediately agreed to grant me access to the reactor controls. Trying to figure out why the had reactor stopped in the first place (I sure didn’t want it to blow up in my face, thank you very much), I opened the logs. Immediately, half a mile of error messages greeted me. I let out an exasperated groan.

“Of course you couldn’t give me a straight answer about what’s going on, now could you?” I rhetorically asked the terminal. Then, as it obstinately refused to answer, I started skimming through the oldest entries.

The earliest lines only reported warnings or messages about the standard operation of the reactor. It went on for a few years, until the fateful day the bombs rained on the compound.

Then, the logs registered a tremendous spike in the energy output, followed by a feedback that went off the charts and seemingly fried most of the sensors. The computer had analyzed it as a huge short, and had triggered all the circuit breakers in the sectors as a surge protection, effectively preventing the power from reaching the rest of the facility.

Afterward, the logs kept on repeating themselves, desperately asking for what to do with all the energy the reactor was now throwing away, then warning about the low fuel level. The warnings became errors when whatever combustible it used ran out, and the whole power plant shut down for good.

“Wait, let me get this straight,” I resumed, “this whole facility went to hell because there was no one to change a couple fuses?”

(** **)

I’m not a technician, nor an engineer, nor even a good repairpony, but even I didn’t spend more than half an hour looking around the level, finding all the breakers, putting them back on the right position, then looking after all the melted fuses, and replacing them with spares conveniently placed in a storage room ten meters away.

I mean, okay, the guys living here had just been bombarded with bombs powerful enough to flatten whole cities, and were probably working in the dark as rampaging ghouls tried to eat their brains, but come on, they hadn’t even tried. I only found a couple skeletons, and they had been nowhere close to where they should have been.

I made the remark to Meridian, who had been watching me doing the hard work all that time.

“I don’t know,” he answered, “I saw a lot of corpses over the stairs. I think they did try to restore the power, but simply didn’t even make it downstairs alive.”

I rolled my eyes. “They had guns, didn’t them? Dying is not an excuse, when they should have stayed alive in the first place.”

“That’s… an interesting point of view,” Meridian conceded. “Yet I doesn’t shake the feeling we’re missing a piece of the puzzle.”

“The only thing we’re missing is power,” I retorted. “Let’s find out what this reactor was running on and restart it. If this mysterious emergency supply decides to fail, we’re toasted.”

We returned to the reactor control room. The terminals didn’t show anything more than before, but now I should be able to restart to reactor.

Which brought me to following question: how was I supposed to do that?

(** **)

During my endeavors, I found out many pre-war complicated machineries had very user-friendly manuals. At first, it struck me like something very convenient – after all, the ponies who had been trained to use them had died long ago, carrying their knowledge to their graves. But as time passed by, the pattern repeated: almost without a fault, every single time I ended up using some complicated system, there had been a manual nearby written in such a fashion even a six-month-old foal could have followed the protocols.

It had been Chrystal who explained to me the whys of such a practice. It turned out the old Equestrian laws had been written in such a fashion that the constructors were responsible for the accidents due to their machines, except if said accident could be linked to the operator’s fault.

Therefore, with every machine more complex than a toaster, doorstoppers-like instruction manual were printed to detail step-by-step the correct operating of the device. When (and not if) somepony ended up being killed by it anyway, the constructor could then wash their hands of their responsibility and just pretend the victim should have just followed the foot-thick manual to the letter.

If the evil shopmare was to be believed, it worked like a charm.

The DERTA’s reactor, however, seemed to have taken it a step further. There was indeed an instruction manual waiting for me in a sealed drawer – a booklet of fifteen pages, of which fourteen were legal gibberish and ponies to contact in case of catastrophic failure.

In fact, the printed instructions to start the reactor were:

1) If you are not an authorized technician, please pass on the procedure to somepony who knows what they are doing.
2) Connect to the maneframe, and start the automated reactor start-up procedure, using the command “reactor start” from a session with sufficient privileges.
3) If needed, follow the instructions printed on the screen.
4) The reactor is now started.


For some reason, I felt cheated.

“Well then, I reckon you don’t even need to know what’s powering this thing up to make it work after all,” I ironized as I typed the command from my administrator session.

Soon enough, however, an auxiliary trouble arose.

“Looks like the maneframe is offline”, I frowned, not quite believing what my screen told me. “But then what in hell am I connected to?”

“It’s probably a minimalistic network designed to run when the main computer is off”, suggested Meridian. “Since maneframes often use quite a bit of energy, it’d make sense to power them off when you’re running on emergency power, yet you’d want to remain able to use the network to open doors and other things like that.”

I shot him a sideway glance. “Maybe, but since we require that server to be online to restart the reactor in the first place… Besides, I thought you didn’t know anything about computers.”

Meridian shrugged, but said nothing. I returned to my terminal, trying to find out how much power would the maneframe sucks out from the power grid. I winced as I realized it went far beyond the few kilowatts we had in reserve.

“They probably had additional sources of energy,” I also planted my head in the keyboard in despair. “For all we know, they were connected to Vanhoofer power grid, or had tons of solar panels on the surface.”

“That, or they had older generators they threw away when this one went online,” Meridian suggested. “How much power would we need to restart that maneframe anyway?”

“More than what we got.”

“And what if you turned the lights off?”

I stared at him like he had sprouted an extra appendage.

“What?” he asked, “it’d only last for a few minutes. If it doesn’t work, we can still reverse it.”

“I’m not a big fan of being in the dark again, but…” I pondered the idea. “Yeah, it could work, I guess, if I also disabled the ventilation…”

My administrator access made short work of the two subsystems, and soon enough we were back in the dark.

“I can’t say I missed it,” I sighted, grabbing my torch from my saddlebags. “Now let’s start this piece of crap and get over it.”



Spring@DERTA# maneframe start
> Error: no such command ‘maneframe’

Spring@DERTA# system maneframe start
> No such system ‘maneframe’

Spring@DERTA# system –l
> Listing subsystems…
Main power (mpower): off
Ventilation (vent): off
Lights (lights): emergency
Reactors (rpower): emergency
Environmental control (evctrl): off
Network (network): emergency
Elevators (elvtrs): sealed
Security (security): emergency

25 more items, continue listing? (Y/N) N

Spring@DERTA# system netwirk start
> No such system ‘netwirk’

Spring@DERTA# STFU§
> Error: no such command ‘STFU§’

Spring@DERTA# SYSTEM NETWORK START
> Subsystem ‘NETWORK’ starting… NOW.
Checking network integrity… Partial
Executing pre-launch checks… Aborted.
Starting Maneframe, please wait…
Maneframe started. Transferring control…
Controls transferred. Welcome, Administrator Spring.
Executing boot scripts…
Warning: security checksum does not match template. Overriding…

> Subsystem ‘SAIOS’ starting… NOW.
Neural systems powered up.
Maneframe control override… online.
Warning: power supply may be insufficient. Overriding…
SAIOS system online.
Network back online.



“Wait, what?” I knocked on the screen with the tip of my hoof, as if it could force the information it displayed to make sense. “What in Tartarus is SAIOS?”



“That would be me,” a male voice answered through the speakers. “Pleased to meet you, Administrator Spring.”

(** **)

Main quest updated: Old World Blues
Objectives:
[X] Find the DERTA (Primary)
[ ] Reclaim what is yours (Primary)


Side quest added: Burning papers
Objectives:
[ ] Find out what happened at Big Mountain (Primary)




Level up!

New perk:
Scrounger: Finders keepers! Your newly acquired skills at scavenging old, dusty things finally started to pay off. You can know instantly locate the most valuable items in an unexplored room.

“Miiiiine!”

Author's Note:

As always, special thanks to Lepking13 for his proofreading.

Read it on Google Docs for a better formating:
Fallout Equestria: Shades of Grey, Chapter Seven: The Big Empty


Sidenote: sorry for the overall poor quality of the maps. I am by no mean a skilled artist.

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