• Published 24th Mar 2013
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Fallout: Equestria - False Dawn - Requiem Mori



Equestria has fallen, and the pieces are still being recovered. A mare wanders alone, cold and embittered. Perhaps she'll find friendship, even in these dark times... if such a thing is even possible.

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Chapter 10: Rusted Dreams

Chapter 10: Rusted Dreams

To dust, to dust, it crumbles to dust.

It is odd, thinking about the future. Especially now. What future can rise from this dust and ruin? What future can rise from the skeletons of industry that have been picked clean by raiders and rangers? What future is there for us few cursed souls that wander the corpse of Equestria? There was a time that ponies lived for more, looked for more, hoped for more. They created, they innovated, they made things that defied imagination. But now? Now it is nothing but a struggle for survival. Ponies fight and scrape and kill, ekeing out something that cannot truly be called survival. No... the future is dead, buried in the same grave that we buried the rest of Equestria, the same grave that the heroes went to. The same grave that has been denied me all these years, the grave that I still yearn for.
~ From the Journal of Nevermore

The building towered above us, the touch of decay showing on its face... or at least neglect and disuse. Despite the worn and dirty appearance, the rest of the building was still almost entirely intact. Strong spells were protecting it, apparently, based on the scorch marks that failed to break through the walls, with the explosions doing only superficial damage. Actually, it seems that more than spells were protecting it, based on the corpses littered in front of the door. Of course, the bodies appeared to be rather old, relics from the war. Odd, that. I would’ve presumed that there might have been some fresher bodies, but apparently not. The sign above the door declared the building to belong to a group called... ‘A.C.E. Inc.’, though I had never heard of it before. It was hardly to be expected that I would know of all the companies, especially in other cities. After all, there were many new companies formed during the war. Some were attempting to take advantage of the climate to make a quick bit, others were fronts and names for war purposes or the ministries. I wonder which of those, if either, this particular company was. Perhaps the acronym had meaning, but there were a thousand such possibilities and it didn’t matter to me now, if it ever mattered to me at all.

My hooves crunch down, shattering ancient bones as I look to Star Racer. She shakes her head... nothing showing up red. Good. Zone and Fritter looks like they’re about to throw up and panic respectively, the warped and twisted skeletons on the ground looking pitiful, even as they were ground underhoof. They had died in fear, not cleanly or painlessly, their contorted forms advertising their distress. Slowly, carefully, I lean into the door, prepared to have to try to pick it if needed. To my surprise, and near fall, the door simply slides open at my touch, sending me off balance. Recovering quickly, I glance around the foyer, the opulent surroundings at complete odds with the desolate wasteland. The air smells different, odd. It takes me a moment to realize what the smell was. Poison? Decay? No, none of those, it was something far more rare in these times. The air was clean.

<Welcome, guests. To what do we owe this honor?> A female voice crackles over the speakers, obviously mechanical and false. There’s no trace of a soul in it, just a programmed, synthesized response.

The mechanical voice sets us all on edge, the voice as unnatural as the surroundings, and I hear Star’s cannons starting to cycle up again as she gets ready for anything. Zone looks around, diplomatically keeping her shotgun holstered. “Um... we’re looking for a broadcast that originated from this tower? We don’t mean any harm or anything.” Personally, I wasn’t a fan of machines that could talk. I prefer them to simply do their job and be ignored. Did one require a conversation with a knife, a rifle, a potato peeler? No. So why the need to make machines that talked? Silence is preferred in most cases, though at least they did not bleed all over me when I knifed one.

<Standby... searching... broadcast originated from -kzzzrt- exactly two hours, nineteen minutes, and 42 seconds ago. Please state the reason for your inquiry.> That, and it was nearly impossible to tell anything from their tone, their lack of emotion in their programming. Unlike dealing with a pony, where a wealth of information in their inflection, tone, behavior... no... machines were predictable, but only if you knew what to expect.

“Where was it from? Our companion here has a personal interest in the broadcast... it’s from her past.”

<Information appears to have been corrupted. Recommended course of action is to speak with Engineering with regards to repairs. Processing... Short Circuit is not responding to request... processing... unable to locate any other authorized repair ponies on site. Warning. Systems are currently functioning at 23% optimal capacity.>

Zone looks towards the speakers. “Perhaps you can tell us something else then... where was the largest consumption of power at the time of the broadcast? Or at least the greatest fluctuation?”

The computer thinks for a bit, faint crackling coming in from over the speakers. <Power spike detected in the president’s office on the 42nd floor.>

Zone smiles for anypony or camera watching, though I find it to be a fruitless gesture. “Thank you... is there any way for us to get up there?”

<Only authorized ponies are permitted to use the lift. Please present proof of authorization.>

She chews on this for a bit. Authorization? That just made this more complicated, especially considering that whoever was authorized is probably long dead and gone by this point. “Who’s authorized?”

<The president, executive staff, and designated maintenance ponies.>

Zone looks at us, then back towards the elevator. We only had one lead, and there was no other choice than to take it. “You said that Short Circuit wasn’t responding... can you direct us to their location?”

<Affirmative. She is located in Maintenance Bay 3. Please follow the light strips to your destination. Your color is green.>

A series of green lights light up along the floor, blinking their way down a hallway. Warily, we trot down the hallway, following the lights deeper into the building. Literally, since they curled down the stairwell, going down several levels. Our hooves press into the soft carpet with barely a whisper. Odd, that. The silence. We had been so used to hearing our hooves on the pavement, that the sudden silence was eerie. The only sounds was the occasional whine from Star’s armor or the clinking of a pony’s equipment. That, and the occasional banal chatter that one of the ponies inevitably tried to bring up to break the silence. Thankfully, their attempts died as quickly as a raider charging a manticore. About as pathetically as well. One other thing bothered me though... and that was how well maintained this place still was. It didn’t make sense. There were no obvious defenses, and if nothing else, raiders should have taken up residence, or at least despoiled the building, leaving their desecrating marks and crude drawings everywhere. But no... there was no blood, no bodies, no bullet holes, no scorch marks... not even dust. Something or somepony seemed to be taking care of this building... There weren’t even stray animal nests or bodies. Not even the buzz of insects.

My fear that this is a trap deepens... perhaps we should turn back. The past is dead, after all, and there’s no reason to lead my companions into death pursuing it. Well, except for the zebra. I wouldn’t mind if he got killed. But before I can decide a course of action, the light goes up to a partially ajar door... and stops. The lights flicker slightly, the sign above the door announcing its location. Maintenance Bay 3. Having guided us to our destination, the light winks out. We had made it this far in, no reason to turn back now, I suppose.

The entry room is a mess of clutter, unlike the rest of the building. Parts and machinery litter the floor, and what appears to be a half-eaten dried oat bar is at the desk. Amazing how long those can last, really... Odd to find one still here, and only half eaten. Two things draw the most attention though. The first is a sleek metal form suspended above the table by a mess of wires and cables snaking out of its back. Quite advanced, really, more than I’ve normally seen in these wastes. At least, it looked advanced to my untrained eyes. Advanced technology and I had a sordid past, and the less I had to deal with it, the happier I was. The metal was dull gray, not yet colored, the lower half missing from the mare-shaped object... was it a prototype armor, or something else entirely? I wasn’t entirely sure, to be honest. Parts were clearly missing, holes in the frame and armor, along with the fact that wires and other things were hanging out.

The next object that drew attention was the body at the desk. The unicorn’s skeleton was pathetically slumped next to the oat bar, her last meal apparently not finished, and in my own opinion, not very tasty. Personally, I had found the things to be dry and tasteless when I was forced to eat them. Some ponies liked them well enough, and they did make for convenient rations as well. A small earpiece lay by her head, faintly blinking with a dying light, pinging slightly in a vain attempt to get her attention. I ignore it, looking over her body to see if there was anything to be salvaged. Ominously, the top of her skull is missing. Not some crude shatter, jagged edges and blunt force trauma, but rather a clean, precise cut, as if it were surgically removed. As if something had deliberately sawn the top of her skull off. Hopefully after she was dead. On the desk next to her oat bar was a badge, a picture of a pale rose unicorn with a tired smile on it. “Short Circuit - Research Lead and Repairs” was printed on the face of the card, along with other information regarding the long deceased mare.

My voice rasps out. “I think we found Short Circuit... but this raises yet more questions.” I look over the ancient body, a touch of emotion filling me. “Like what she was doing... and how this happened to her.” Carefully, I move around her body, doing my best to not disturb her body. “And why she was left here like this.”

<Please do not disturb her. She is resting right now.> The synthetic male voice crackles from nearby, even as we turn, weapons snapping up. Something else was in here...

A flash of red light from its eyes as the speaker finally reveals himself... itself. A small foal-sized robot was hiding in the corner of the room, watching us. He sounded young, though that’s how it was programmed probably. Its metallic ‘coat’ was dull and grimy from years, perhaps decades of neglect. It was a wonder it was functional, let alone communicating. Apparently it was well built to withstand the years.

<It is a pleasure to finally meet you. I am called Johneigh 9. I have heard much about you... much. I will inform the master of your arrival when she wakes up. She hasn’t had a guest in so long.> Heard about us? But how and from whom? While I was well traveled, I normally kept a low profile, and I know that the rest of my companions were relatively unknown. Well, I didn’t know much about Vusi, but to be honest, I didn’t really care either.

An old robot and a dead body. And the robot doesn’t seem to realize that Short Circuit wasn’t waking up anytime soon, and had probably been ‘sleeping’ for over a hundred years. Mysterious dead mares, crazed robots, and random strangers just now stepping into the scene. This sounds like some sort of horrible movie in the making. I decided that it would be easier to just ask him directly what he meant, how he knew. “What do you mean you have heard about us? Who told you anything?”

If a robot could sound smug, it would sound like Johneigh now. <I can inform you of this... but first I require the assistance of the one designated as Zone Control. I am told that she possesses skill with regards to electronic systems.>

Zone steps up, looking at him curiously, her technologically inclined eye checking out his design. “Well, I’m Zone Control... what do you need me to do?” She looks at the machine, obviously intrigued. Considering it didn’t seem to have any lasers or buzzsaws attached to it, I suppose that her curiosity shouldn’t prove to immediately dangerous. Well, at least there weren’t any immediately obvious. Whether or not it had something hidden away was anypony’s guess.

<I require the activation of this unit here. I lack the ability to achieve this by myself. Please use the terminal located next to the unit. I have unlocked it as best I could, but without Short Circuit’s codes, it is not fully unlocked.> The small robot motions to the Maneframe sitting next to the partially assembled machine, throbbing with some life, channeling some of the building’s remaining energy. <I require you to finish breaking into the system.>

Zone nods her head. “Well, I suppose that I can take a look at it for you...” She looks at the body then back at Johneigh. “It’s not... dangerous, is it?” Trust is a rare commodity in the Wasteland, and given the current environment, was justifiably lacking right now.

<There should be no inherent danger in this activity at this time.> Her face obviously not pleased by that statement, Zone gets to work with the terminal, the green light flickering across her face as she works. I turn to look at the zebra as my companions make themselves busy. Fritter looks like he wants to take the oat bar, whereas Star is more concerned with the apparent technology in the room. Vusi, on the other hoof, is watching warily despite his apparently laid back demeanor. The others don’t seem to notice, but despite his fluid movements and cavalier attitude, I can tell that he’s tense, and wary. He’s oddly quiet right now, the hours spent heading here were full of useless and banal chat, deepening my already deep, instinctive loathing for him. I had fought zebras for too long, done too many vicious acts, seen too many heinous deeds to ever accept one. That is one name that would not be in my journal.

<Systems online... powering up... initializing link.> A new feminine voice breaks the silence as the machine that Zone was working on begins to power up, coming to life slowly and painfully as lights flicker across its frame. <Link established, contact established, systems are operational... bringing cognitive systems online.> There’s a high pitched screech, almost sounding like a howl or a mechanical scream before stopping abruptly. <Hello? Hello? Who’s there? It’s dark... so dark... why am I cold? Where am I? Is anypony there?>

I turn my gaze away from the activating... well, I’m not sure what it is anymore and focus on Johneigh. “What is the meaning of this... what is this... thing. What is your reason for having us bring it online?”

The little brat ignores me, instead heading straight towards the suspended machine, looking up at her almost desperately. <Mom... are you alright? We have guests... and I have news to report... your files were broken into.> The little robot moves closer to the half-finished machine in the middle, raising a hoof up towards it.

<Johneigh? Johneigh? Is that you? Where are you? It’s so dark... I can’t see... and cold, so cold...> Her voice is broken and confused, the mechanical tones not deadening the words enough to strip all emotion from them.

Realization dawns on Zone’s face, even as I get that feeling of dread again. The unicorn goes past the console she was working on, peering up at the machine. “Short Circuit?”

<Who’s there?> The machine’s head swivels slightly as it looks around blindly, the orbs for its eyes dead and lifeless. <What happened?> The voice sounds like its on the verge of panic, despite the harsh and grating quality of the mechanical rasp.

“What happened to you? How are...” She stumbles over her words, horrified yet intrigued. This was amazing and terrifying all at once. Though... she didn’t seem to know... how long has she been asleep? How long was she dormant? There’s a whine of motors and servos as the machine tries to look down at Zone Control.

<It is... hard to remember... I was working at my desk... when... I can’t remember... it’s so hard to remember...> She stops moving for a moment, and her synthesized voice appears to stabilize as she begins to speak again. <I’m sorry… I’m just very confused right now… tell me… how goes the war? We had a breakthrough recently that could change the war effort… save lives.> Short Circuit stops… hesitating. <Something is not right… where am I? Where am I?>

I look at the poor creation, still mostly disassembled, lacking even limbs to move about. A body, a head, a partial shell. The mare was obviously still confused and justifiably so. “You are in your lab, Short Circuit. Tell us what you were working on.” I try to coax some information out of her. The last thing we need is for her to suffer a complete breakdown. Knowing our luck, she’d turn into some sort of homicidal maniac bent on killing us all or something.

She swivels her head to face me, blind eyes focusing on the direction of the sound. <We are doing work on advanced cybernetics, the ability to create soldiers for the army. Unlike ponies, these ones do not breath, do not eat, are not lives to be lost. They’re machines, mindless automatons… though that isn’t quite true. We did a lot of work, lots of promise, but they weren’t right, weren’t perfect. They needed something, a spark, to make them more alive. Simple programming can only go so far, and programming to handle the concerns of a battlefield quickly proved to spiral out of control. We needed organic thinking, the ability to adapt and change. The ability to react outside of preset conditions. That was my field, attempting to create an artificial intelligence. We succeeded mostly, but not completely. The programs we created could emulate life, to an extent, but it was still a broken facsimile. We had almost given up… until he came… he gave us the answer to our problem, or so it seemed. The ability to cyberize a pony’s brain… though it ended up destroying the original. I can’t believe how many of my colleagues want to try it… While the science itself is quite fascinating, the moral implications are too much. I intend to put a stop to that nonsense. We can’t kill a pony to create a soldier, no matter how much we may need it. If need be, I will let the Princess know what’s going on… I already told them that I would not accept this at our last staff meeting.> She keeps her head pointed at me. <I have told you much. Probably too much. I wouldn’t be surprised if they fired me for this… but somepony has to know, this is going too far. Now tell me… why is it so dark in here?>

Now, kindness and gentleness is not exactly something that I am renowned for, but even my heart breaks for her. The poor thing apparently has no idea what happened to her, or even how long it has been. Furthermore, she’s in a crippled robotic frame, shut out from seeing or even more than base movement. Johneigh is trying to wave me off, prevent me from answering her. “The lights are off, Short Circuit... you have been sleeping for a while... but do not worry. We won the war.” My voice is low and harsh, though softened with pity. I look at Johneigh, who looks almost relieved... well, as relieved as a mechanical device can be. “Though there is something that you should know... there was an incident.” Johneigh moves to stop me, but my hoof on his head keeps him at a convenient distance, his forelegs flailing as they try to grab me. Her mechanical ears perk up, I have her full attention.

<What sort of incident? What happened?> I push my hoof down, slamming Johneigh to the ground as he starts to speak. No matter what he wants, what he thinks should happen, she has to at least know something.

“There was a...” I try to think about something to tell her when my eyes fall on Vusi. Close enough. “There was a zebra assassin, trying to stop your research here. You were badly wounded, and the only way to save you...”

She swivels her head away, leaving herself quiet for a hooful of seconds. <I see... that would... that would explain much... am I to assume... am I in... in the prototype then? Is that why I can’t see?> Her voice breaks slightly, the reality and horror of her situation wearing at her.

“Do not worry, we will get you up and running... just one thing first. We require access to the lift, do you know how we may do that?”

<M-my badge... use the badge... the password is ‘Rosebud’... did you tell my family? Is... is Hot Wire alright? I hope she’ll understand... b-but... let her know that I love her... she’s still young, but she’s a smart filly... she’s understand...>

“Of course, Short Circuit... I will make sure she knows that you will be coming home soon as well. But you should rest for now. We need to get started on the repairs.” I nod to Zone, who looks at me, eyes wide. But she knew my intention, my meaning. Slowly, with a heavy heart, she returns to the terminal.

<Shutdown initialized... power levels normalized... shutting down.> With a hiss, the partially assembled machine powers down, even as Johneigh gives a plaintive cry. While shutting her down may have been cruel, leaving her active would have been more so. Shaking my head, I let Johneigh up as I move towards the badge on the desk.

<I hate you... I hope you die.> Johneigh is pouting in the corner, turned away from us. <I miss her... why could you not leave her with me?> He doesn’t understand... how could he? <I don’t want to be alone again... I can’t... why did you take her from me?>

Sometimes to be kind, I must be cruel. I knew about loneliness, I knew the pain and the sorrow associated with it. Some moved past the pain, some clung to the past. Some were unable to do either. My hoof strikes hard and fast, dislodging his exposed power supply. Not enough to damage it, I think, but enough to knock it loose. He slumps down powering off. Perhaps forever. My companions look at me, a mix of shock and horror. I shrug it off, used to the looks, though it still hurt. What made it worse was the only one who seemed to understand was Vusi. I feel his eyes on me, that Zebra understanding the pain of loneliness and isolation. I detest it. I detest him. He may have been a kindred spirit, but I cannot accept him. My hatred runs deep and strong, seeing his face only reminds me of the sins of his ancestors, though I understand that he had nothing to do with this. Sins of the fathers... shall pass through the generations. The pain and loss and blood... they shall haunt those who are innocent of such.

“We should get going now.” I look at the others before heading towards the door, gently scooping the badge up, being careful to not disturb the remains. “It is for the best.” So much pain in this room, so much suffering... so many things that are wrong with this world. When will it end? Perhaps it won’t ever end. Perhaps this is our fate, to scavenge the broken corpse, finding the sad remains of a different time. Haunted by echoes of the past, followed by memories of hate and death.

We head back up towards the lobby, towards the lift. My companions are silent, presumably the events are playing through their minds, a small twisted horror that had survived all this time. Vusi comes up to my side as I studiously ignore him, but that’s apparently no deterrence for him. “For what’s it’s worth, you did the right thing. Nothin’ should have to be like that, especially if we can’t help ‘em.”

“What does it matter to you, zebra?” My voice hisses harshly. “What does your kind know about what is right or what needs to be done?”

“More than you’re willing to give us, I reckon.” There’s a tinge of anger in his voice though he hides it well. “You have a lot of hate in you, don’t you? Probably not very healthy, you should keep an eye on that, like your blood pressure. Well, at least you should if you weren’t dead and all.”

If he was trying to improve relations with me, he was doing it the completely wrong way. Hissing, I try to ignore him, as knifing him right now wouldn’t help. Wouldn’t help at all. Well, it’d help me feel better, but... Regardless, I don’t have time to indulge in my own desires to stab him. There is still something wrong with this building, and I can’t help but shake the fear that we were lured here. Who would do such a thing though... my mind runs through ponies I know of who would have the motive and the technological prowess to do so. A few names come to mind... but nothing definitive. Most of them were either dead, had no reason to jerk me around, or were too far away... mulling the issue in my head, I tune out Vusi as we look at the lift, looking for the entrance. I have my suspicions though, mostly... mostly... from what I could gather, this seems like something that Head Case would do, pulling my strings like a puppeteer. He needs to be careful though, for this marionette has a knife and a short temper.

I’ve said before how life hates me, and how sins come back to haunt me. Lucky me, I guess. Star Racer yells out a warning just in time, allowing us to dive for cover as a storm of bullets rip through the front doors. Taking shelter behind a column, I note how despite my shelter looking like wood, the bullets are bouncing off of it. Peeking out, I catch a bullet with my ear, the round punching through with a flash of pain. Ignoring the blood and ichor leaking from the new hole, I spot several ponies, all with heavy weapons, blazing away at us. A white unicorn mare stands slightly behind the others, a smile on her face. What seemed to be dried blood marred her otherwise pristine coat, staining her hooves and face. Great, another crazy pony, though it seemed that there were others out there as well. Abruptly, the bullets stop as she calls out to us. “Hello in there! Are you Nevermore? You are Nevermore, aren’t you?” I look at her again. Nope, I had never seen her before. What is with all these ponies knowing who I am now? “I’m here to renegotiate a deal you made with my brother! You have no idea how hard it was to track you down!”

Deal... brother... you have got to be kidding me. While I knew that Sleazy Slick was some sort of gangster, I must admit that I didn’t expect this sort of firepower. I thought that he was just some local punk... guess I probably should have found out more before killing him. The only choice now was to retreat, but there is only one way in that we know of. The entrance that was currently heavily guarded. Gak... that left... “Star, suppressing fire, then into the lift, go go go!” In response to my command, Star lets out a burst of energy beams while Zone and Frisky added their rounds as well. As they open fire, I dash towards the lift, slamming the card into the slot. “Rosebud! Rosebud!” The doors creak open, slowly and painfully. I had wondered what kept this place clean, what had made it so well maintained. I think I had my answer now, and how I truly wished that I didn’t.

A figure steps out of the doors, tall and sleek. Taller than Star Racer even. Her form was mechanical genius, intricate in its design. The floor seems to shake as her mechanical form stepped off the elevator. The armor plating was a rich and deep red, trimmed with gold. Her mechanical eyes scan the gathered ponies, all firing having stopped at her entrance, a mixture of terror and shock. Her eyes were cold and hard, a light burning within. It was like looking down the barrel of a rifle, cold, lifeless, and incredibly deadly. Thick armor plating came up, protecting the neck and chest, while the vulnerable joints seemed to all have segmented armor protecting them. What sort of monstrosity was this? Several barrels are clearly seen mounted on the armor, heavy energy weapons seemingly integrated into the body itself. Something clicks in my mind... this was similar to the body that Short Circuit inhabited, but more complete... finished. There’s a clearly audible whine as the energy lance on her other side begins to power up, gleaming with magical energies. And clearly armed and very deadly. She turns her head down to me, huddled to the side, the gears and servos in her neck whining slightly. I see what looks like an armored apparition of death looking at me, the powerful mechanical mare towering over me. This day just got a lot worse.

~~~~~~~~~~

Welcome to Level 7!

Wait... who’s this? And why did they come off the elevator? And why is this chapter ending like that on a cliffhanger?

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