Fallout Equestria: Morality of Property

by Sir Leadhead

First published

A slaver learns some harsh lessons in the Equestrian Wasteland.

Coin Slot, a slaver in the Equestrian Wasteland, is making just a regular sale when something a few miles away explodes violently. Deciding to check it out, she discovers a strange weapon of unknown origin that seems to mesmerize its targets. There are... drawbacks to this weapon, however, and its discovery soon leads Coin down a chain of events that will change her morals, lifestyle, and even her very soul... provided that she manages to survive. Will the friends she makes be enough to convince her that her slaving ways are immoral? Or will they just reinforce the belief that that is one of the best ways to survive After the End?

A side story of Kkat's Fallout Equestria. Which is excellent.

Here's a link to the Gdoc's index

Cover image by http://felixattchar.deviantart.com/. He's awesome. Look at his stuff.

Chapter 1 > In which property is managed and damaged

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Fallout: Equestria
Morality of Property
By Sir Leadhead

Prologue > In which a visitor makes an extended stay
“Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. How I Wonder What You Are.”

There was a collision. Rocks and ice crystals spewed forth from the impact of the two stars above the roiling gray clouds that covered most of Equestria. In the olden days, before the war, this event would have been watched by thousands of ponies. Both professional astronomers and groups of friends out for a picnic under Luna’s beautiful night sky would have gazed up into the heavens at the sparkling collision and wondered… just what was out there?

Some questions are better left unasked.

Before the war, such a collision in the night sky would have been watched with not a small amount of trepidation, and even perhaps panic in the Zebra lands. Zebras in small towns would batten down the hatches and prepare for storms to come, and those in great metropolitan areas such as Roam would gather together, praying for safety in numbers. For when the stars fought, surely nothing good could come of it.

Today, even through the majority of the planet below was covered in an endless blanket of clouds, ponies still looked up into the sky and wondered just what was going on up there, albeit the only ponies asking were pegasi. And frankly, they had enough worries going on down here on the clouds, so not many pegasi wondered what was going on in space for long.

Just because you don’t watch your enemy though, doesn't mean that they aren’t there.

From the collision, a blue sphere shot forth, headed directly for the cloud-covered planet below. The light of the sun glinted off of the metallic sphere, reflecting a blood-red sheen off of the edges as it plummeted through the atmosphere, igniting as it sped for the clouds below. Luckily, no pegasi or pegasi buildings were around as it punched a large hole through the cloud cover, vaporizing the clouds into nothingness and opening a window onto the war-torn nation that was Equestria.

From above, it was mostly brown, although there was a line of green depicting where the Everfree forest, ever tenacious in its untamed growth even after the world ended 200 years ago, started. The red-hot falling star piece was headed directly for this line. From above, its impact looked like a little poof of dust. When the dust cleared, a small brown crater was visible just inside the edge of the forest, small lines of smoke drifting away from the fires along the edges. No doubt the sound of the impact made somepony curious. Somepony must have asked, ‘What was that big noise just then?’ or ‘What’s that big plume of smoke on the horizon?’

Some questions are better left unasked. You might not like the answer.

Chapter 1 > In which property is managed and damaged
“All the world's a stage, and all the stallions and mares merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one stallion in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.”

I was swiftly running out of patience with these ponies… and I use that term loosely. Now, I can appreciate the odd head-on-a-stake-used-as-intimidating-decoration as much as the next mare, but this… this was bloody ridiculous, no pun intended. These Ponyville raiders seemed to take perverse delight in stringing up dead cats wherever there was room, splaying open rotting carcasses and just leaving them on the street, and pinning decapitated bodies to walls as though they were the new art-deco… yeah. In my personal opinion, it was a little over the top. And don’t get me started on the stench. Dear holy Celestia, the stench. At least the smell of desiccated flesh overpowered the horrible stink these unwashed raiders had following them around. Barely. We were standing outside one of the… buildings. Again, a term I use loosely.

“Now, look…” I said, attempting to restrain the rising anger in my voice. “While I really appreciate the repeat business, I go to a lot of effort to capture these goods. I don’t appreciate coming back a week later and seeing all that hard work carved up and splayed open! If you want these slaves, you’re going to have to promise me that you’ll actually use them for SOMETHING ELSE besides EFFING WALL ART!!” The two raiders in front of me, a unicorn mare and earth pony stallion, flinched, some of the fleas they were carrying falling off in front of my hooves.

Yeah, so I have a short fuse. Bite me.

“Y-y-y-y-y-y…” the mare stuttered. The stallion next to her gave her head a good smack, and she continued her sentence. “Yes… we won’t carve up this batch… no matter how good it… FEELS…” she said with an altogether too happy look on her face. Seriously, did this mare actually get off on the stench of rotting corpses or something? Not that I would put it past these raiders…

The stallion continued while the mare kept looking like somepony was giving her nethers a good once-over. “We actually have a use for them more than just entertainment this time, Coin Slut.” He said, giving my Cap-Going-In-A-Slot cutie mark a leer that made me unconsciously stand with my legs closer together.

“That’s Coin Slot to you, moron.” I replied. He was one of the smart ones, as far as raiders went, but that only made him a smart-ass. I wonder if he had any donkey in him. Wouldn’t the least bit surprise me. “Only my dear ol’ mum ever called me Coin Slut, and you certainly ain’t my dear ol’ mum. Now that will be 100 caps for the stallion and 200 for the mare. That’s 300 total.” I added, to spare myself the embarrassment of watching him try to add. I said he was a smart raider, but that’s not exactly setting the bar high.

My prospective customer looked behind me at the ponies… goods I had on a chain lead, explosive collars adorning their necks. Best jewelry ever, in my opinion, they always make me lots of caps. I had the detonators in my saddlebags, if the goods left a 200-foot proximity around me, their heads would pop like overripe melons. I hated it when that happened though. Those collars are hard to come by. “They don’t look like they’re worth 300 caps…” he said, giving me his best bargaining grin. It was rather pathetic.

“Oh? So you don’t want ’em then, very well. C’mon, you two, lets get out of this reek.” I replied, levitating the end of the goods’ lead with my horn and making to leave. Wait for it… wait for it… I thought as I started to trot away from the two raiders.

“Wait!” the raider mare cried out. Bingo.

I turned around slowly. “Yes?” I said, giving them my best bargaining grin. Much more convincing. I had them in the sole of my hoof.

They exchanged a look. “Fine.” the stallion said. “300 caps.”

“Sorry, no sale. This place stinks.” I said, offhoofedly, turning to leave again. If my guess was right, whatever they needed these slaves for was something they either couldn’t do themselves or didn’t want to do. I shudder to think of something raiders like these don’t want to do.

“Wait!” they both said in unison this time. Heh, I had ‘em right where I wanted ‘em. “What… what about 400 caps?” the mare offered.

Now, this was more my speed. I held my hoof out expectantly. The mare levitated a bag of caps out to me, which I took in my hoof and gauged by its weight. Seemed legit. With payment secured, I deftly levitated the keys to the collars up and unlocked the slaves’ fancy neck adornments, putting the collars back into my saddlebags. The first time I sold slaves to this particular gang of raiders, they complained that they didn’t get the explosive collars with them. I told ‘em, with no uncertain terms, that collars are expensive and hard to find in this area, but they are welcome to buy them if they wish. Since I personally price the collars at 300% of the price of the slave, they opted to keep an eye on their goods with more conventional means. Smart raiders. Or poor, doesn’t matter to me. In all honesty, the collars are comparatively easy to come by or make if you know where to get them (or the parts for ‘em), but since I don’t really like going to Fillydelphia, unless I absolutely have to, I try to hold onto my collars.

I levitated the end of the chain lead to the raiders, where my own light blue glow was replaced by the raider mare’s red one. The goods followed their new masters into the dilapidated and smelly (did I mention the stench?) building for whatever new fate awaited them. It used to be that I wondered what happened to ponies… goods after I sold them, but you don’t make it in this business with thoughts like that.

As I trotted away from my latest sale, I heard a shout behind me. Great… what now? I thought… then I felt the sharp stab of a bullet piercing my rump. “OW! Son of a…” I shouted in pain, almost forgetting the promise I made to dear ol’ Ma to not swear. Almost. Ma put the fear of Celestia in me, and Celestia don’t like fillies that swear, she said.

Why do I always think of my Ma when I’m being shot at? It’s happened a lot.

I quickly drew my trusty lever-action cowpony rifle, using telekinesis to make the satisfying ‘ka-chink’ sound of the action sliding another bullet into the chamber. Ignoring the burning pain in my rump, I turned around just in time to see the two slaves I just sold to those raiders running right past me. The raiders were shooting at them, and missed. Hitting me.

Screw it; these customers aren’t worth the trouble they cause me. Ignoring the panicked slaves, I drew a bead on the earth pony stallion raider. Never did learn his name. Oh well. He wasn’t paying me any attention at all when I shot him once, twice, three times. First shot missed, but the next two sunk into his chest, dropping him like a sack of flour.

That’s when his lady friend turned her attention from the retreating slaves to me, shouting all sorts of things that would make my Ma give her hide a good tanning. She had a pistol levitating above her head, some puny 9mm, I think, although it was hard to tell from this distance. Before I could move for cover (which was hard because of the fire still shooting from my flank), she emptied her entire magazine in my general direction. About two of the bullets found their mark, all of their force absorbed by my thick leather barding. Yeah, not a high caliber pistol at all.

While she was fumbling the reload, I aimed my rifle, taking the shot as quick as I could. Her head caved in as the bullet smashed its way into her braincase… hm, I had been aiming for her center-of-mass…


The earth shook. I was tossed off my hooves, momentarily thinking that it was the raider’s exploding head that made that noise. But it had already exploded, hadn’t it? Could it explode twice? Is that even possible? Trying to get my bearings, I shakily got to my hooves, raising my rifle, ready for anything.

Nothing was around. I knew there were other raiders in the town (although they probably didn’t give two flying fleas about what happened to their fellow raiders out here), but they were keeping low. I looked around, turning to the forest.

A black plume of smoke rose from the Everfree, no less than two miles away, at most. Something had obviously exploded and with significant force if it shook the ground from way over there. But what could be in that deathtrap of a wood?

First things first. My rear was hurting up a storm. I telekinetically rummaged for a healing potion in my saddlebags, finding one and quickly drinking it down. The pain faded away as the structurally superfluous new behind was healed over. Finding things would be so much easier with a PipBuck… unfortunately the only Stable ponies I had encountered (or enslaved) either didn’t want to sell theirs or didn’t have the tools necessary to remove it. Maybe I can find one in an abandoned Stable some day…

The smoke rose above the forest, although now it turned from black to gray. This was smoke from a residual fire, not the explosion. It would probably go out soon… nothing in the Everfree stayed aflame for long. If anypony ever wanted to find out what happened there without getting totally lost, now would be the time to go check it out…

Ma said to never let poor ol’ Mr. Opportunity hang out there in the rain when he came a knock’n. That advice is part of the reason I took up slaving after the casino I worked at went bust. Something caused that explosion, and, more importantly, something was blown up. Maybe something useful still remained at whatever secret 200 year-old facility was nestled in the forest. I reloaded my rifle, checked my gear, and started for the forest. I had to be careful; the Everfree was a dangerous place before the war… now it ate ponies that were brave or foolish enough to enter it for breakfast. In retrospect, even going in just a few miles was probably not a wise choice, but at the time, it even seemed as though something was calling to me… knocking…

And I never didn’t answer somepony knocking. That’s not what my dear ol’ Ma taught me.


I forgot that my dear ol’ Ma also told me that I was a dang fool sometimes. Usually, when I was getting my hide tanned. The forest started out all right; there was even a little path for a few hundred yards. That didn’t last long though, and as I traveled deeper into the forest towards the now-fading plume of smoke, the trees got closer together, the wan sunlight disappeared altogether, and darkness encroached around me. Strange chattering and screeches were constantly sounding off around me, and every time I turned my head, I thought I saw eyes quickly vanishing before I could get a good look at them. Thorny branches and thick undergrowth slowed my pace as I tried to find the easiest way forward.

I wasn’t scared though. Nope. Not at all. Especially not by that low growling sound right behind me that disappeared whenever I looked.


“HOLY… nuts!” I almost swore, my heart pumping at obscene speeds. Somepony had screamed one of the most blood-curdling screams I’ve ever heard, and I’ve heard a number of them in my time. The visions of eyes around me vanished as I quickly tore through the brambles towards the scream. The branches and thorns that I had been trying to avoid tore at my skin as I pushed past them. The threat of meeting whatever caused that scream was overwritten by the need to not be alone in this blasted forest. It was seriously creeping me out. But I wasn’t scared!

I broke through into a clearing. There were embers at my hooves, and the comparatively bright light breaking through the trees blinded me for a second. The smell of smoke wafted through the air. My eyes adjusted, and I saw a… wolf-thing attacking one of the slaves that had run off from earlier! The stallion slave was dead on the ground; his throat torn out by the wolf-thing (it almost looked like it was made out of stars, but that’s ridiculous, right?), and the mare was running around the clearing, absolute terror in her eyes, the wolf hot on her heels. Why had they decided to run into the forest in the first place? Stupid meat. I lifted my rifle, and fired, aiming for the wolf’s head.

I hit the mare’s rear left hoof. Oops.

She stumbled, flopping over in a painful-looking fashion onto her back. The star-wolf-teeth-thing dived onto her, its jaws clamping hard around her stomach, then ripping upwards, disemboweling her in a grisly manner. Ouch. Unfortunately for my ears, she was still alive, her howls of pain and fear ripping through the air. I took aim and ended the noise with a bullet to her head as the wolf went for her neck.

The star-wolf looked up at me when I killed its prey for it, finally noticing the other pony in the clearing. Well, crud. It abandoned the dead mare and started to stalk around me, growling a deep, vicious growl that spoke to the primeval pony in me, telling me to run as fast and as far as I could, preferably into an open field where I would have a wide clear view of large toothy death headed my way. I decided to do just that, although instead of running with my back turned (which would have been suicide), I slowly backed towards the center of the crater, where no matter what approach the wolf took, it wouldn’t have any cover. I kept my rifle trained on it, hoping that if it charged I would actually hit what I was aiming at. It continued circling me, almost as if it was herding me into something…

Wait. Weren’t wolves pack animals?

Quickly, I spun around. Two more silently approaching wolves were waiting to strike quite close to the center of the crater. SH….oot! This was not going to end well! Think, Coin Slot, think!

Out of the corner of my eye, in almost the exact center of the crater, something blue, spherical, and about the size of an apple glinted in the sunlight. A grenade! So something did survive the explosion! I quickly yanked the sphere up with my magic, tearing it free from the blue leaves wrapped around it, bringing it closer to me…

‘Thou hast been chosen, thou cannot choose again…’

What the hay? A deep, almost sub-sonic voice reverberated in my head, and the sphere started to bubble in my magical grip! Afraid it was going to explode in my face, I tried to let my telekinesis go, but I somehow couldn’t get rid of it!

The three wolves were now encircling me hackles raised, drooling and growling, waiting for their leader to give the signal to tear me into pony kibble. Trying to concentrate, I lifted my rifle and fired in a feeble attempt to defend myself, but holding the bubbling, shifting blue sphere and my gun was something that was difficult for me (What? Multi-target telekinesis is hard work!), and so my shot went wild. The wolves tensed up, ready to pounce. I closed my eyes, hoping that it wouldn’t be too painful. At least I could see dear ol’ Ma again… I hope she will be proud of me…

*TkTkWhoop!* *TkTkWhoop!* *TkTkWhoop!*

Three strange noises emitted from my immediate right. Howls of pain then surrounded me as I opened my eyes just in time to see the star-wolf directly in front of me paw desperately at its head, which seemed to stretch in a clearly unnatural way…

*Splich* *Splich* *Splich*

Well. That was… gross. I was now covered in wolf brains and bits of sparkly skull that looked like stars. The three heads of the wolves had exploded in a violent manner. I looked around curiously, wondering who had come to save me… surely nopony wanted to save a slaver?

Floating in my telekinesis was what looked to me for all the world like a small terminal attached to a gun stock, made primarily out of shiny blue metal that glinted with a red sheen in the sunlight. On the side, a little sticker read, “GA,” and under that, the word “Mesmetron” was embossed in the metal in a fancy pants font. I stood there for a while, examining my apparent new toy. Was this thing where the voice came from? “Uhh… hello?” I said to it, feeling stupid. Of course, it didn’t say anything. Well, it had a trigger… I aimed in a random direction and fired.


That noise! It came from this gun! And it was a gun; some sort of weird magical pulse had burst forth from what looked like the ‘screen’ of the terminal-shaped ‘barrel.’ Magical energy weapons come in all shapes and sizes, but this was the weirdest I’d seen. It was the same color blue as that blue grenade… or what I’d thought was a grenade. Could you store a magical energy weapon in a small sphere shape? Whatever, I had apparently fired it at the wolves instinctually… with my eyes closed… and it made their heads explode! Neat!

I holstered my new… Mesmetron, I guess, alongside my rifle. I had never had a magical energy weapon before, so after I had trotted out of the Everfree (with little trouble, apparently something had scared off all the watching critters that were watching me on the approach, must have been the sounds of the fight), I took it out and examined it more carefully. On the back of the terminal-barrel-thing there was a little pen drawing a zig-zag on a tiny scroll mounted inside the gun, with the label “EKG” below it. Dunno what that means, moving on. I test-fired it again, and although it seemed as if there were some moving parts on the inside that made the clicky noise, the gun didn’t have much in the way of recoil, if any at all. I had heard that one of the tricks to using magical energy weapons was getting used to that, but recoil had always thrown off my aim, even the low recoil of my lever-action rifle (which has been customized to have a low recoil, by the way). Test firing the Mesmetron… too long a word, I’m just going to call it the Mezzer. Test firing the Mezzer was a blast! Although it didn’t seem to do heat damage like most magical weapons I’d seen, since it didn’t scorch or melt any of the rocks I was shooting at. But I was hitting those rocks way more consistently than I did with bullets! I must be a natural with these fancy-shmancy guns, and I just didn’t know it. No wonder, they’re usually way out of my price range, one good beam pistol with a decent amount of ammo cost the price of three slaves, and that was if I made good sales on them! Since I worked alone, I usually only captured one or two slaves at a time so I could keep an eye on them without worrying about being too stretched out. The overhead of feeding them until they were sold kept my profits modestly low, but still a livable wage. No way I could afford magical weapons, though, so a free one was the neatest thing ever!

Speaking of ammo, I’d been firing this thing for a while now, and I didn’t see any sort of ammo compartment to re-load it with spark batteries or magical energy cells or whatever… did this thing not need ammo? I looked around. The sun was setting, and I needed to find shelter for the night, I had wandered into the wasteland wilderness, and the beasties out here are mainly nocturnal. I’ll test the Mezzer’s ammo capacity out tomorrow.

After wandering around for a while more with no real direction other than ‘northwest’ in mind, I found a cozy-looking cave nestled in a crag sticking out of the flat wasteland. Carefully, I checked inside for anything that might have already called this little place home. However, this ‘cave’ only went in about 16 hooves, and all I found on the inside were a couple ancient eggshells and an empty metal box. Somepony had obviously been here before, as well as some creature, but both had moved on long ago. I settled down for the night, using my saddlebags as a pillow.


“Ma!” I cried out. I ran through the casino my Ma and Pa ran on the Big 52, just outside of Broccoli. It was a little place, no bigger than three game rooms and seven rooms-for-rent, although we did have a little stage in one of the game rooms and a kitchen Pa was always cooking in to serve any guests the finest non-broccoli-based food around. Since we were among the only ones around this area who didn’t use a copious amount of that icky stuff, we got a fair amount of customers just for our food, and they sometimes took a spin on the roulette or slot machines. My parents had two employees as well, Fiddlesticks and Lucky Shot. Fiddlesticks was our dealer, and Lucky was our showmare… or at least that’s what Ma told me. She must have been our waitress as well, because she always talked about serving our guests in their rooms. Pa laughed when I asked him if that was the case, and Ma told me that good fillies don’t ask questions about their employees, and I’m a good filly, so I stopped with the questions. But this time I wasn’t running to Ma with a question, oh no, this was so much more exciting!

I had just gotten my cutie mark!

I ran into the back room next to the kitchen that was my Ma’s office, where she did all the bookkeeping for the casino. Normally, I wasn’t allowed in there unless it was really important, but this was important! Ma looked up at me, already opening her mouth to tell me to leave, when she saw the bottle-cap-going-in-a-slot mark on my flank. “Ma!” I said again, showing off the mark against my light purple coat. “I got my cutie mark! I was helping Fiddlesticks with the modifications to the slot machines, you know, so that they’ll accept and dispense caps instead of chips, and he told me to try modifying the detection spell matrix in the anti-cheating systems, and I tried it out and did it and this came up and look, Ma!” I said in practically one breath.

Ma closed her mouth, smiled, and said, “Well, today’s a special day, isn’t it? After all, only good fillies get their cutie marks. Could you go get Fiddlesticks for me? I need to thank him for letting you work with him. Have you shown your father yet?”

I beamed. This was the highest of praises from Ma. “Nope! I came to you first! Is Pa around?” Sometimes Pa went to Broccoli or even Tunnel Town to buy things.

“He’s in the kitchen, dearie.” Ma said. “Send Fiddle in first.”

“Ok Ma!” I shouted, buzzing with excitement.

“And stop shouting, good fillies don’t shout.” Ma said, turning back to her ledgers. That’s my Ma. Always working hard to make sure I didn’t starve out in the wastes. I tried to calm down as I walked out, but I was still practically bouncing on my hooves as I quickly got Fiddlesticks and told him Ma wanted to thank him. A big grin appeared on his face and he quickly got up, smoothing his brown mane down as he headed for the office.

As soon as I walked into the kitchen, I said, quieter than I wanted, “Pa, Pa, look!” He turned and immediately broke out into a giant smile, dropping the wooden spoon he was using to stir some sort of sauce and reaching out with his forehooves, scooping me up in a great big hug before giving my light-blue mane a noogie.

“That’s fantastic honey!” Pa said. “I’m so proud of you! How’d you do it? I want to hear all about it.”

So I regaled the tale of my cutie mark to him, in greater detail than I had to Ma, because he said that he didn’t care if there were hungry customers out there. His little pumpkin had gotten her cutie mark, and he was going to celebrate it with her, and by ‘her,’ he meant me! He looked around in a sneaky fashion and motioned for me to come to the back of the kitchen, where he pulled out two Twinkie Pinkie cakes and a bottle of champagne. I gasped. “Twinkie Pinkies!!” I said, super excited. They were my favorite, and there weren’t many of them around this area, so they were super-duper expensive.

“Shh! Not even your mother knows I got these, I was saving them for a special occasion like today.” He popped open the champagne and poured two glasses, and cut one of the Twinkie Pinkie’s in half, giving me the one and a half and taking the half-cake for himself. He also passed me one of the glasses.

“Don’t you want all of your Twinkie Pinkie?” I asked, even though I was thrilled he was giving me the manticore’s share it still didn’t seem fair. “And Ma says that good fillies don’t drink alcohol…”

“Today’s your special day, honey.” Pa said, smiling down at me. “Go ahead and take the cake. And the champagne.” He winked at me conspiratorially. “What your mother doesn't know won’t hurt her.”

I grinned the biggest grin I had in my entire life. Pa was the best. Ma kept us cozy in our casino. I knew there were a lot of foals out there far worse off than I, and I thanked Celestia and Luna for what I had before digging into the cakes just like Ma taught me to do. This was truly the best day ever. While I savored the creamy, buttery, chocolaty, pinkity goodness that was a Twinkie Pinkie with my Pa, I heard from Ma’s office Ma crying out, “Yes! Yes!”

“Huh. Your mother must have found us some unexpected money in the ledgers.” Pa said. “I’ll go in and see what’s up, you finish your cake and drink, and then we’ll celebrate some more as a family, alright?” I nodded, my mouth full of awesome.

The stove started to hiss. Wait, I don’t remember that…


I woke up from my dream of the day I got my cutie mark to a hissing, rattling noise. Cautiously, I opened my eyes, looking for the source. It sounded like a snake, but I didn’t see any snakes… I didn’t see anything…

A shimmer in the shadows, barely visible, rippled towards me before winking out, revealing a gigantic rattler head! It was crouched low, attached to… the body of a dog? A Nightstalker! It’s tail was vibrating, the rattle on the end making the threatening rattling noise. Its long sharp fangs were bared, and it crouched in the opposite corner of the cave I was in, ready to pounce… hold up, why wasn’t it attacking? They usually don’t give any warning, if I had stumbled upon a Nightstalker den, I should be dead before I awoke.

And speaking of den, aren’t these pack animals too? I shifted my eyes around, looking as hard as I could in the shadows, but I picked up no more shimmers of invisible snake-dogs in the cave. Why was this one alone? I gave it a closer look, not moving a muscle besides my eyes.

It was covered in bite marks. One of its legs looked seriously wounded, and blood seeped from shallow wounds all over its body. In fact, if I wasn’t mistaken, those bite marks looked like Nightstalker bites… could this be an outcast of the pack? No wonder it wasn’t attacking, what with being injured and I’m betting quite recently kicked out of its home, it probably wasn’t up to even ambushing a sleeping pony.

“Don’t worry now. I won’t hurt you…” I said, trying to sound as sweet and non-threatening as possible. The hissing picked up a notch and the Nightstalker tensed up, its three good legs ready to spring into action if I moved a muscle. This wasn’t going to end well. I telekinetically reached for something in my saddlebags, anything, ready to fling it at the Nightstalker’s face. Maybe if I could stun it I could get enough time to run away or draw my gun. My horn flared, and something flew out of my bag at high speed, right for the mutant animal’s face.

A healing potion. I had just flung a healing potion at a Nightstalker’s head.

As quick as lightning, the Nightstalker whipped his head and snapped at the potion, like a snake striking a mouse as it jumps away. I heard the glass bottle the potion was in break, and the abomination started to cough, spitting out glass shards. I quickly stood up, telekinetically fumbling for my rifle.

The Nightstalker stood up fully as well… its wounds were healing! It must have actually swallowed the healing potion, cr..ud! Even its beat up leg looked like it was mostly good to go. Before I could raise and cock my rifle, the Nightstalker leaped right for me, closing the short distance between us faster than I could blink. I shut my eyes, waiting for the poison bite… that would end me…

A scaly head nuzzled under my mane, making a weird sound that sounded like a combination of a hiss and a whimper. I opened one eye, then the other, and looked down. The Nightstalker was sitting there, rubbing its head against my neck and… oh sweet bucking mother of Celestia, was it wagging its tail? Small rattling noises came from the tip as it wagged back and forth…

Ahh! I just took the princesses name in vain! I'm sorry Ma! I'm sorry, Celestia; please forgive me! Nightstalker forgotten, I quickly put my hooves together and said a quick prayer, begging forgiveness and deserving just punishment just like Ma said I should when I was a bad filly. As I did, the Nightstalker curled up under my raised hooves, plopping down on the ground in front of me and leaning against my belly. It gave a wide yawn, a small dog-like whine emitting from the back of its throat. Was it… going to sleep? I looked down. Was this the just punishment from Celestia? She wanted me to be responsible for a pet?

“Well…” I said quietly to myself. “I’ve always wanted a puppy, but Ma said no pets in the casino… I think I’ll name you… Hiss. Short, easy name that says all I know about you right now.” I nodded, curling up around Hiss. He (and a curious check proved he was indeed a he) was quite warm, better than any blanket… yeah. Yeah, I could get used to this. If Celestia decided that Hiss was to be my pet, I’ll take him, train him, and the two of us will be unstoppable! Not only that, but I had the testing of my new gun to look forward to in the morning. And I was 400 caps richer than I was yesterday. All in all, pretty good day, even though I was attacked twice. Still, that’s life, in the wasteland.

Level up! (Lv. 2)

New Perk: Magical Matrix Mare: Your natural aptitude with magical matrices makes devices that use them pretty easy for you to pick up and use right away, even without prior knowledge of the device. You get +10 to Magical Energy Weapons skill, and can modify their effects, along with the effects of other magical matrices, fairly easily due to your special talent.

New Quest Perk: Enchanted Weapon: <Error: Cannot read perk data. Analyzing…>

Character Profile: Coin Slot
S: 5
P: 6
E: 6
C: 7
I: 5
A: 4
L: 7

Tag Skills: Magical Energy Weapons, Survival, Barter

Author’s Note: HUGE thanks to Kkat for writing Fallout: Equestria and giving us sidefic writers a great big sandbox to play in. Also thanks to ErrantIndy and Shimmercoat for help editing and proofreading this slog to make it something enjoyable. And thanks to all who hang out at the Sidefic Compilation doc for providing feedback and inspiration to write my own story. Also thanks to Bethesda and Hasbro for two great franchises. Hope you enjoy!

Chapter 2 > In which our heroine gets wet

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Fallout: Equestria
Morality of Property
By Sir Leadhead

Chapter 2 > In which our heroine gets wet
“All things truly wicked, start from an innocence.”

I awoke to the sound of heavy rain outside our little cave. Perfect, just what I want to wander around in. Probably going to get pneumonia. At least now I don’t have to wander around alone, even though I prefer to do my work alone. But I don’t have to split profits or deal with an immoral, punk-headed attitude with Hiss. Taking a look at him in the slightly lighter daylight, I saw that he was smaller than the average Nightstalker, which is probably why he was picked on so bad by his pack and kicked out. Outcasts like us gotta stick together. He still had a few minor injuries from whatever ordeal he went through, so I levitated another healing potion out of my bag. Hmm, only two left. Still, best to use them when you need them rather than save them for somepony to loot off your corpse. “Hiss, wake up.” I said, nudging his scaly head. Hiss’s reptilian eyes blinked open slowly and he got up and arched his back, stretching out his front paws and yawned so big that he unhinged his snake-jaw. Re-locating it (because Nightstalkers are weird and can do that), he looked up at me and sat. Wow. I didn’t even need to teach him to sit. I wondered if it was possible that somepony had domesticated this Nightstalker before, but immediately threw that idea out of the window. Who else besides me would be crazy enough to think about having a Nightstalker for a pet?

“Here. Drink this. It’ll fix you right up.” I said, tilting the opening of the potion bottle into Hiss’s mouth. He drank the potion down greedily, as if he knew what its purpose was. His remaining wounds healed up almost instantly, and he stood up wagging his tail, the rattle making a shick noise every time he did it. “Heh. You’re just a little sweetheart, aren’t you?” I said, patting Hiss’s head. He looked pleased with himself. “Well, we gotta go out in the rain, no use waiting. It’ll probably be at this all day, darn it all. Let’s try to find some new merchandise today; I’m wanting to test out my new gun on some ponies.” Hiss… was that a bark or a loud hiss? He made a noise in response, and I grabbed my gear and headed out, back into the wasteland.


An hour later and I was soaked to the bone, my leather barding making squelching noises as I walked. Hiss looked thoroughly miserable, his fur dripping down and plastered to his skin. We needed to find shelter, even if it was only for a little while to dry off and warm up. Otherwise, we really were going to go hypothermic and get pneumonia.

I looked around. The rain made it hard to see any further than around 30 meters or so, so I really couldn’t get much in the way of a lay of the land… wait, was that the shadowy form of a shack over there? Shacks work as shelter, and if I’m lucky some potential merchandise will be there too! “Hiss, let’s approach that shack. Quietly and carefully now…” I said. A weird, quiet woomp noise came from where Hiss was standing behind me, and I curiously turned around. Hiss had disappeared, although I could still see where the rain stopped to hit him, and a slight shimmer in the air also betrayed his presence. Still, it was pretty cool that nightstalkers could go invisible, now that I had one. Funny how your perspective changes, I used to absolutely despise Nightstalkers for that very reason. “Alright, good. Sneak around behind, and I’ll approach from the front.” No noise replied, but I saw some small paw prints heading towards the back of the shack. Those paw prints were much smaller than I would expect, even if Hiss is a small Nightstalker. He must have a pretty light step to leave those small of tracks.

And he was uncannily aware of my meaning when I said something to him. I’m all for that, personally I don’t really have the time or skill to train animals, but something about it creeped me out a little at the possibility that Hiss may have had a previous owner. Would they come looking for him? How had he gotten so injured when I first saw him? Would the potential previous owner then inflict those injuries on me for ‘stealing his pet?’

As I worried about my pet, I boldly walked up to the front door of the shack. No lights were on inside, and it looked abandoned… “Hello? Anypony home? Telegram!” I said, to no avail. I tried the door, but it was probably loc… hello, what’s this? Unlocked? Well, alrighty then. I opened the door, Mezzer raised in my telekinesis, ready to fire.

The shack was completely bare and empty. No sign of life and no sign that there had even been life in this shack for a very long time. All that was there was a desk with about an inch of dust covering it, and a hole in the ground with a ladder leading down into it. Now didn’t that look interesting. If nopony had been here for a while, there might be some prime salvage at the other end of that hole. Or something incredibly dangerous. But even then, incredibly dangerous things usually guarded good salvage, so the situation was pretty much a win-win, so long as I was careful not to die. And Ma always said to never leave the door closed when Mr. Opportunity came knocking. “Hiss!” I called, and soon the Nightstalker was standing next to me, visible again. “C’mon you, let’s go explore this hole in the ground, there might be some good stuff in there.” I said, climbing down the ladder first, looking around for anything nasty waiting at the bottom. Nothing of note was immediately noticeable. I looked up. Hiss was looking down at me, trying to place a paw on the first rung of the ladder. “Oh, right, you can’t climb down ladders…” I muttered and grabbed Hiss with my telekinesis, floating him down next to me. His legs wiggled around in the air as I levitated him down, like he was trying to swim in the air or something. I chuckled; it looked pretty funny. As soon as I set him down, he ran up next to me and whined, rubbing up against my coat. “Aww, do you not like flying?” I cooed. “Sorry, but that was the only feasible way to get you down here without you falling.” He just looked up at me. Reptilian faces were hard to read, but I think he was giving me a ‘don’t do that again’ look. Too bad, I would have to when we left, unless there was another, less vertical way out of here.

I turned, and as soon as I turned my attention down the cave, Hiss gave a growl-hiss-noise-thing (colt, that sounded weird) and rattled his tail threateningly. He had spotted something down the tunnel, though I couldn’t see anything, I was going to trust his judgment, seeing as nightstalkers had both superior eyesight and sense of smell when compared to ponies. “You see something, boy? Sic’em!” I said. Hiss turned invisible, and his shimmer leapt forward into the darkness with me close behind.

We ran down the tunnel a little ways, and soon what Hiss had seen became clear. Two bark scorpions had made their nest here, and were facing us, tails raised and sharp pincers ready. They started to skitter towards me. “Crud.” I said, backpedaling. I took aim with Mezzer and fired at one of the scorpions. It stopped in its tracks as soon as the pulse wave the Mezzer emitted hit it, but it still looked alive, just stunned or something. I danced backwards as the other one struck out at me with its tail. Firing again, the same result happened. The pulse stunned the scorpion, and it just stood there, looking as dazed as a giant arachnid can look.

Before I could fire again, though, invisible fangs sunk into the scorpion’s carapace, and Hiss appeared, ripping through the giant bug’s back as though its armored exoskeleton was no more than tissue paper. Those fangs were sharp. The scorpion died, slumping down onto its belly, and I looked up to see that the other one had suffered the same fate. Well, then. “Good boy, Hiss!” I praised my little nightstalker. “Thank you for killing those mean ol’ scorpions for mama!” I patted him on the head, his tail making a rattle noise as he wagged it. “Let’s go.” I said, continuing forward into the cave. I was still soaking wet from the rain, and the cold of the underground wasn’t doing me or my core temperature any favors. I stopped after a while of walking, saying, “Ok, Hiss, let’s dry off before we continue on. I’ll start a fire.” I reached into my bag and grabbed my tinderbox, then removed my wet leather barding, setting it aside so it would dry in the soon-to-be-lit fire.

After going back and getting the now-unused parts of the bark scorpion nest to use as fuel, I soon had a roaring fire going. I had also taken the liberty of cutting the tails off of the scorpions, using some of their exoskeleton plates as an impromptu frying pan to fry up some scorpion tail steak. I also took the poison glands and while the steak was cooking, used some of the junk I had in my bags to distill some antivenom from them. Pa had taught me how to cook and make stuff using only the most minimal of tools, and I must admit, I was rather good at it, if I do say so myself. The fire was warming me up nicely, and I was nearly dry again, only my mane and tail were still damp. Turning the steak to fry on the other side, I looked around again, making sure the light wasn’t attracting anything unnecessarily toothy in our general direction. Hiss was curled up next to the fire, his fur steaming. My barding was doing much the same, although it was far less cute. Did I just call Hiss cute? Well, he was. Never thought I’d think that of a nightstalker. How the times change… what was that?

A glint of firelight shined off of something down the tunnel. Metal? Glass? Something shiny? Only one answer to those possibilities, investigate! I got up, leaving my barding and bag, wearing only the old Royal Guard shoe that had been given to me a long time ago when I was little on my front left hoof, and the ski-goggles that I sometimes wore to ward off dust storms was perched on my forehead above my horn. I levitated Mezzer with me too, just in case. It wasn’t that far, though, and I didn’t see anything ahead, except the shiny thing, of course. Hiss perked up as I moved, and he got up to follow me.

The shiny thing turned out to be a door. A large, gear-shaped door with a huge number ‘11’ engraved in the center. I had stumbled upon a Stable. I’d heard of them, and I’d even sold a few Stable ponies too stupid to tell a slaver from a friend, but I had never actually seen one. “Would you look at that, Hiss! It’s Stable 11.” I said. There was a control panel next to the door, but a cursory examination told me that it was locked up tighter than Ma’s door when Fiddlesticks and her were discussing the finances of the casino. Don’t know why she saw fit to lock the door because of that, but I hadn’t asked any further questions, ‘cause she had looked like she was going to tan my hide if I didn’t shut my trap.

A whirring noise came from above me, and I looked up. Nothing but a few spider webs. Weird. Hiss started to growl-hiss, and I heard a sound similar to the sound my horn made when I started casting a spell… was there another unicorn around? I looked, but saw nothing. Hiss disappeared. “Hold up, what’s going on?” I said, then my eyes were assaulted with the brightest flash of light I’d ever seen, and I fell unconscious to the floor.


Ma and Pa hadn’t been speaking to each other for a week now, ever since I got my cutie mark. At first I thought it had been because of something I did, but Pa said that it wasn’t my fault at all. “You don’t need to worry about us, Coin dear.” Pa had said. “Your mother and I just need… some space from each other right now. She didn’t even stop… just told me to leave…” he had then muttered. I don’t think I was supposed to hear that last part.

“Why are Ma and Pa fighting?” I asked Lucky Shot. The entertainment mare smiled at me, though her eyes looked sad.

“Oh, honey, they just have some issues to work out is all.” She said. “Fiddlesticks was… playing with your mom when your dad wanted to, and your dad’s a little upset about it.”

I thought about this for a moment. “Well, why didn’t Fiddlesticks and Pa share Ma? Ma says good fillies always share.” Lucky spurted the drink she had been drinking out of her nose and started coughing and laughing all at the same time.

“O-oh, darling, one day you’ll understand better…” she wheezed, still giggling. What was so funny? “But I don’t think it’s my place to tell you… you’ll have to ask your Ma or Pa.”

“I already asked them, and they basically just said the same thing you did!” I shouted, frustrated. I stormed out of the room, leaving behind a sad-looking Lucky Shot. Why was she sad? It wasn’t her parents that were fighting!

“‘Scuse me, little filly?” Somepony asked. I looked up. A black-coated earth pony stallion with a red mane and scars all over a large portion of his face and front legs looked down at me. He had a cage for his cutie mark, and was wearing ski goggles. He was standing right outside the door where Lucky and I were talking.

“Welcome to the Slot Casino, where you can get gambling and non-broccoli dishes, all in one place!” I said, with forced enthusiasm. Just because I was upset didn’t mean I couldn’t make a sale. “I’m Coin Slot, and my Ma and Pa own the place! How can I help you?”

“Heh, you’re a helpful little one, aren’t you?” the stallion said. “My name is…” he looked up at the stage for a second. “Uh, Mic… Stand. Mic Stand. Yeah.” I raised my eyebrow at him.

“Don’t worry, Mr. Stand. We don’t need to know your real name to serve you!” I said, giggling a little.

“Well, helpful and smart too! Say, maybe you can help me out, little one.” ‘Mike’ said. “I’m looking for somepony who’s good with tools. I need him so my client can fix something very important. You wouldn’t happen to know anypony like that, would you? I’ll make it worth your while to point them out to me.”

Fiddlesticks was good with tools. Maybe the solution to Ma and Pa’s fighting was standing right in front of me… but this guy sounded… fishy. Not to mention he looked like bad news turned over twice and dragged in by the cat. “What do you mean?” I asked, bringing out the big guns and giving him the best puppy-eyes I could.

He looked around. Other patrons were busy playing games or eating, and he looked decidedly uncomfortable. “We should talk somewhere more private, if you’re really interested. I can tell you now that you can consider me to be Mr. Opportunity.” He knocked twice on the floor. “And I’m a’knocking.”

I gasped. This stallion was Mr. Opportunity! “Quick, Mr. O, you can, uh, come to my room!” I said. “Nopony goes there but me. And Ma when she tucks me into bed, but it’s still daytime.”

He chuckled. “Lead the way, Miss. Slot.” He said. Wow, I’m a ‘Miss.’ now! That’s so cool! I lead him up the stairs and to the back past the guest rooms to my room. I was a little embarrassed when he walked in and looked at my Guard of Honor and Swordmares comic posters, but he didn’t say anything until the door was closed. “Alright, Ms. Slot. I’ll get right to business. I buy and sell ponies for labor and entertainment purposes, and my client needs a repair pony to work for him for an indefinite amount of time, and he can’t afford to pay a salary to a contractor, so he asked me to find such a pony for him. I know you have somepony here who works on the slot machines and has the necessary repair skills that my client requires. I’m prepared to buy him from you, should you wish to sell him.”

“Sell… ponies?” I asked, confused. I had never considered the idea before. “That seems… wrong…” I said.

“Your repair pony is under your family’s employ, yes?” Mr. Opportunity asked.

“Well, yeah…” I replied.

“So, therefore, his contract belongs to you, right?”

“I guess…”

“Then what’s the problem? It’s a simple transaction of caps for a contract.” He said.

“Well… our contract with him does include a salary…” I said, still unsure about this whole thing.

“That will be taken care of when the contract is transferred between owners.” Mr. Opportunity quickly stated. He clearly wanted me to agree with this. After a while of watching me deliberate, he said, “You know, I couldn’t help but overhear that your parents seem to have some sort of disagreement. Do you know the cause?”

I looked down at my hooves. “Oh, you heard that, huh?” I said. I was slightly ashamed about my outburst now. “My Ma was playing with Fiddlesticks, and Pa doesn't like it…”

“Would this ‘Fiddlesticks’ be your repair pony?” the black stallion asked. “And would his absence perhaps fix the relationship between your parents?”

I looked back up. I hadn’t thought of that. “…how many caps are we talking about here?” I asked.

He thought for a while. “I’ll pay you 200 caps now, just for the information that Fiddlesticks is indeed your repair pony. If you help me capture him, I’ll give you another 300 caps, and I’ll even throw in some equipment to help you with your future endeavors.”

500 caps?! That’s more money than I’ve ever had at once… ever! That could cover the casino’s expenses (provided nopony wins any jackpots, which sometimes happens. Ma hates it when it does.) for like, a whole month! And I could do Fiddlesticks’s job well enough, in fact, now that we got all our slot machines converted with the discovery of my new special talent, Fiddlesticks has mostly just been hanging out in Ma’s office helping her with the ledgers. I know she doesn't actually need help… and getting rid of him might help Ma and Pa… “F… Fiddlesticks is our repair pony, yes.” I said. “I could get him outside of the casino, alone and at night… if you take care of the rest…” I didn’t even try to haggle the price up, I was so nervous about this. Mr. Opportunity grinned.

“That’s my little filly. I can tell you’re going to go far, kid.” He said. “Tell ya what, I like you. I’m going to tell my associates about you, if ya ever decide to get into this business, go to either the Wild Herd or Old Appleoosa and tell ‘em that… Mr. Opportunity sent you. Heh. There’s plenty of caps to be made, selling ponies. I’ll meet you and the goods a little ways south from here tonight after midnight, alright?” he said, pulling out a bag. “Here’s the first 200 caps. You’ll get the remainder when the goods are delivered.”

“Goods?” I asked.

He sighed. “It’s a little easier to think of Fiddlesticks as goods rather than a pony. You’ll understand soon enough.”

“Oh. Ok.” I said. I didn’t quite understand, but I figured that a pony that makes his living selling other ponies would know best. “I’ll bring the goods tonight. I shouldn’t have any trouble sneaking past Pa, he’s been drinking more…” I accidentally let some worry into my voice. Don’t cry… don’t cry… whatever you do… don’t…

Tears formed in my eyes, and I started to sob. Mr. Opportunity looked around; he looked like he didn’t quite know what to do.

“Um…there, there,” He said, patting my head. I ran up to him and hugged his scarred leg, crying into his black coat. He sat there and let me sob on him for a while, looking distinctly uncomfortable. He looked up at my Guard of Honor poster again. “Hey, kid… um… take these. As a gift. Sorry about your dad… I know how that feels…” he said, reaching into his pack. He pulled out an armored horseshoe, and took off his ski goggles. His deep blue eyes looked sad, and there was an X-shaped scar over the space between his eyes that had been covered by the goggles. I looked at the two items.

“T-t-that horseshoe…” I said.

“Used to belong to a Canterlot Royal Guard, way back before the war. Who knows, maybe it was in the same room as the Princesses at some point. Just like Guard of Honor, huh?” he said. I nodded, smiling. “And my goggles will prove useful to you if you want to wander the wasteland, I can make do without ‘em. Here’s a little advice for my new favorite filly… don’t cry in front of my associates. And protect your eyes.” He gestured to his scarred face. “There’s a reason I can still see even after all of this. Treasure your senses. They’re what keep you alive out there.”

“Thank you, Mr. O! I’ll be sure to get Fiddlesticks to you none the wiser!” I said, cheered up. That horseshoe was cool! A little big for me now, but I’m sure I’d grow into it. And the goggles covered nearly all of my face, but the headband was elastic, so they still fit.

“See that you do. I’ll see you later.” Mr. Opportunity said, walking out of my room and back down to the casino floor. After a while, I picked up a Guard of Honor comic from my shelf and read it. The Guard was fighting against a brown-maned Traitor pony that was threatening the stability of the family unit in Equestria in this issue. He was doing it to, of course, help his Zebra boss take over Equestria. And of course, at the end, the Guard of Honor defeated the Traitor and saved the day, same as always.

Right now, it was my favorite comic of all.


I woke up from yet another childhood-related dream. What was making me re-live my childhood? Usually my dreams were about ridiculous stuff like Equestria being healed or the sun coming back or something. I wonder if it means anything… where am I?

I looked around. I was strapped to a table. Ok, first bad sign. My goggles were still on my forehead, but Mezzer was nowhere to be found and my Guard of Honor shoe was missing. I hadn’t taken that shoe off since it would fit me (except to wash it and my hoof, of course. Wouldn’t want either of them getting all grungy). This was the second bad sign. My barding was theoretically still in the tunnel where I used to be, and Hiss was also nowhere to be found. Third bad sign. There seemed to be a lot of those. The room I was in was stark gray metal, with medical machines all around my table, thought thankfully none of them were hooked up to me. The last thing I needed was to be in the hooves of some crazy doctor. I strained against the straps that held me down, and tried to pry them open with my telekinesis. No luck, the straps were actually mechanical shackles. I looked around for a control panel or terminal. It must have been in another room or something, because I couldn’t see it.

It was then that I noticed two other things. Firstly, I had a blue with yellow trimming jumpsuit on. It had a large number 11 on the sides. Secondly, I had one of those fancy PipBuck things on my right foreleg. It was off. My breathing started to speed up. I was trapped… strapped down… calm down, calm down. No need for a panic attack, you can handle this, Coin. Think logically.

I was obviously inside the Stable now, probably its medical bay, judging by the equipment around me, although it could just as easily be a storage closet. There was nopony else around. I had probably been… examined… and put in this jumpsuit and given this PipBuck, then strapped to this table. How I was brought into this Stable and why was still a mystery.

Time to get some answers to those mysteries. I looked at my (funny how I thought it was mine… it was technically given to me) PipBuck and focused. I needed to turn it on. From what I had seen of Stable ponies and their PipBucks (when I sold them), these things had a radio, automap, and some sort of situational-awareness aid. It was the second and third things that I needed the most right now. I didn’t know how to turn these things on, or indeed if they would even work for anypony other than ponies who were born in Stables. But I did know that they used magical matrices to operate, and if there was one thing I could do, it was work with magical matrices. My horn glowed and I closed my eyes.

A latticework of green, blue, and amber lines and dots covered my vision on the insides of my eyelids. A magical matrix. Several, actually, and all of them fairly complicated, but not impossible to navigate. Whoever made these matrices really knew what they were doi… oh, look. A signature, coded into the matrix. Designed By Stable-Tec. Oh, right, Stable-Tec made the Stables and everything associated with them. How the feather did I forget that?

In any case, the matrices were well designed and logical, even though they did a lot. I easily found the power-control matrix. Rotating the line-switch that broke the circuit back into the ‘true’ position, I came out of the matrix, my horn dimming as I opened my eyes. Lines of text flew into my vision as the fetlock-mounted computer booted up.

>PipBuck 3000 booting up

>Stable-Tec OS online

>Data Organizer online

>Diagnostic Protocols online

>Inventory Sorter online

>E.F.S. online

>S.A.T.S. operational

>Welcome New User! Registering PipBuck Tag…

>PipBuck Tag registered. Welcome, Coin Slot!

Huh? How did it know my name?

>Registering Stable…

>Stable 11 Registered. Map and protocols downloaded from mainframe

>User Interface online

A picture of a smiling mare appeared on the screen of my (most certainly mine now) PipBuck, with little bars pointing to certain body parts with the letters CND next to them. They were all full. I think this is a health diagnostic screen or something, that’s interesting. I’ll have to examine the full potential of this device later, though. I knew it had wireless capabilities, so I closed my eyes and reached into the matrix for them, my horn starting up its red glow again, the same color as the Sparkle-Cola cap on my cutie mark. After following the trails of colored lines through the organized-chaos of the PipBucks many matrices (there were now even more of them now that the thing was on), I located what I was pretty sure was a PipBuck-to-Unregistered-Device communications node. It had several items logged onto it. One of them was Hoof_Restraint.TBL. I quickly accessed that process and twisted the restraint’s lock matrix open. It was far easier to access the lock with the PipBuck’s integrated communications equipment than with my horn alone, and soon the restraints clicked open as I gave them a false positive for their key being nearby and activated. Go me. This PipBuck was going to make just about anything that had wireless communications and a magical matrix dance for me. Since most all technology in the days before the war was being integrated into one massive network by the MoM and MAS (at least, I saw their signatures all over the place on other matrices), this little trick was going to be really helpful, I could just tell. The one downside is that took a little longer than I thought it would, I had to navigate the maze of matrices in the PipBuck before actually getting to my objective.

I sat up and got off the table, gathering my bearings. As soon as I got up, symbols appeared in the corners of my vision. What was this? A compass with yellow bars moving around on it was in one corner, and a bar that was labeled S.A.T.S Charge was in the other. Before I could make heads or tails of this, the door to the room I was in hissed open.

Oh… My…

I felt weak at the knees, and my heart rate skyrocketed. In had trotted the most handsome, clean, and simply hot stallion that I had ever seen. Even his light musky scent sent me straight into a hormone-addled mindset that I was perfectly content to sit in. He had a light blue coat with a dark blue mane and tail. His cutie mark was a sparkling tower shield like in the Guard of Honor comics I read when I was little. He was also wearing a similar jumpsuit to mine (oh my gosh, skintight jumpsuits are a gift from Celestia) and a PipBuck. Perched on his nose was a pair of half-moon glasses that did nothing but add allure to his perfect features. A finely filed and obviously well-cared-for horn adorned his forehead, making me self-conscious about my own not-so-well-cared-for horn. In fact, compared to him, even with my recent rain-soaking, I was a total mess. His mane and tail were well-brushed, his coat trimmed, his fetlocks flush with the edges of his hooves… this stallion obviously knew he looked good and was not afraid to enhance his looks even further… “Uh…” I said. Oh, nice, smooth one, Coin. Why don’t you drool while you’re at it.

“Well,” the perfect stallion said. Good gravy, even his voice was hot! I felt a distinct warmth in my loins. Keep it together Coin. Keep. It. Together. “What have we here? And here I was hoping such a pretty little thing like you was still tied up for me.”

I nearly strapped myself back down then and there. But my brain was frozen at the fact that he had just called me pretty.

Apparently either not noticing or not caring that I was being an utter vegetable in front of him, he continued. “You must be resourceful, being able to get out of our restraint table all by yourself without a key. It is magic resistant, so unless you’re used to lifting up reactor cores with your telekinesis, I know you didn’t use that to get out.” He leaned in close to my face. “I like resourcefulness. It show’s that you’re… creative.”

Think of math. Math is good. 2 times 2 is 4. 4 times 4 is 16. 16 times 16 is… uh…

He turned around, facing the door.

It’s beautiful…

“My name is Shimmercoat.” He said, looking back at me. My eyes snapped up from the most glorious sight ever to grace ponykind to meet his gaze, a bright red flush flooding onto my face. Oh, please tell me he didn’t notice me staring, please tell me he didn’t notice… “And I” he continued, staring at me straight in the eye. “Am the Overstallion of Stable 11. Welcome to your new home, outsider!”

Level up! (Lv. 3)

New Perk: Honor Guard: Remembering your childhood heroes has inspired you to be tougher. You gain +3 DT, and when defending others you gain an additional +3.

New Quest Perk: Stable Grounds: You are now an official resident of Stable 11. You gain +1 to Charisma and +5 to Speech and Barter, along with a PipBuck!

PipBuck 3000 acquired! You can now use EFS and SATS, as well as the many other features a PipBuck has to offer.

Author’s Note: HUGE thanks to Kkat for writing Fallout: Equestria and giving us sidefic writers a great big sandbox to play in. Also thanks to ErrantIndy and Shimmercoat (who is totally not cameoing in this, no sir) for help editing and proofreading this slog to make it something enjoyable. And thanks to all who hang out at the Sidefic Compilation doc for providing feedback and inspiration to write my own story. Also thanks to Bethesda and Hasbro for two great franchises. Hope you enjoy!

Chapter 3 > In which the joys of reading are discovered

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Chapter 3 > In which the joys of reading are discovered
“'Educational' refers to the process, not the object. Although, come to think of it, some of my teachers could easily have been replaced by a cheeseburger.”

I stood there, stunned. “Bwa… huh?” Oh, Coin, you are earning so many points in eloquence right now.

Shimmercoat smiled a glistening, perfect smile. “Your new home, cutie. Welcome to it. Stable 11 has all the comforts a pony would ever need, and you have been expressly invited to live in it. We need you…” he got closer, looking me straight in the eye. “I need you…”

Whoa whoa whoa. Ok, hold your hooves; something was up. I backed up a bit. “Hold up, Mr. Coat…” I said, my voice sounding a whole lot more nervous than I intended it to be.

“Please. Call me Shimmercoat. Everpony does.” he said smoothly.

I shook my head, trying to banish the thoughts my brain was offering up. None of them rose above the gutter level. This pony was really throwing me for a loop, right when I needed to concentrate the most. “Um…” I said again. “Shimmercoat… I don’t understand. How was I even brought into this Stable? I thought they were supposed to be impossible to break into, even with teleportation…” That’s right, Coin, keep thinking of technical things. That will take your mind off of how much you want Shimmercoat’s… no! Bad Coin! Focus! You don’t know what situation you’re in right now, and you need to gather as much information as possible! Afterwards though…

As my mind went down yet another gutter, Shimmercoat grinned, looking rather pleased with himself. “Ah, normally, yes, it is impossible to gain unauthorized access to any Stable, especially when the doors are closed.” He said. “As Overstallion, however, I have special permissions and access to certain protocols that nopony else possesses. I can allow anypony I wish into the Stable.” He turned and muttered, “Getting out on the other hoof…”

“Wait, are you saying I can’t leave?” I asked, my suspicion and flustered arousal quickly solidifying into anger. Oh sweet, sweet anger. I understand anger. I can use anger. Anger is good.

“Goodness me, no!” Shimmercoat said, looking back up at me. “The Stable’s mainframe won’t open the door, no matter how much its sensors say that it’s safe to go outside again. Our population has been stuck here ever since the war ended two hundred years ago. Quite tragic, if you ask me, but not so tragic as to be unbearable. After all… we occasionally get new arrivals that liven things up a bit around here…” He said with a look that made me weak in the knees again. I couldn’t think straight around this pony! “But enough questions for now.” He said, putting a hoof to my mouth before I could say anything. “I can see that you’re quite dusty from your travels in the outside world, and the Stable has strict hygiene regulations. I can’t in good conscious allow such a pretty mare to trot around so unclean. Why don’t you follow me to my quarters… you can use my bath. If you like, I’ll answer any further questions you have while we’re there… if we aren’t otherwise occupied…” he said with a wink, opening the door and gesturing for me to go first. “By the way, I think in all the excitement I forgot to ask. What is your name?”

“Uh, Coin Slot…” I said nervously. A bath? In his quarters? With him? Two ponies in my head waged war. The sensible one who said that I knew far too little about this stallion to trust him, and the much stronger one that was beating the sensible one over the head with a stick and telling me to go and do it and enjoy every second. “Uhh… ok…” I said quietly, walking out into the hallway. As we walked down the steel gray corridors of the Stable, I heard background noises of ponies. Laughing, talking, and the sound of trotting echoed quietly around me, even though Shimmercoat and I were walking the corridor alone. “How many ponies are in here?” I asked.

“At last count, around three hundred. We’re one of the smaller Stables, or so our database from Stable-Tec tells us. The small population allows for extra luxuries, such as personal baths for everypony, multi-room quarters, several entertainment rooms, and a large cafeteria.” Shimmercoat said. He sounded like a salespony, but not the bad kind that try to get fifty caps for a tin can, more like the kind that will negotiate with you for a fair price on a fine piece of hardware, be it gun or pony. “Stable 11 was built for Stable-Tec’s investors and board members. Although unfortunately, the founders of Stable-Tec didn’t make it here in time or decided not to come. I can’t imagine why they would decide not to come though…” he said, the last part almost sounding like he was being sarcastic. I was too distracted by his voice to pay much mind to it though. “Well, just up these stairs is the Overstallion’s office, and adjacent to that is my quarters. After you, Miss Slot.” He said, gesturing up the stairs.

I walked up the stairs and into the room he described. As the door hissed open, I saw that though the walls in the room were still a depressing slate gray, the effect was mitigated by large paintings mounted onto the walls, a plush, dark red carpet, and the scent of… something sweet that I couldn’t quite place. It smelled good though. As I walked through the room, the carpet under my hooves sunk in a little with each step I took. I’d never felt something like that before. I looked down at it, and started jumping up and down, giggling at the strange feeling.

I heard deep chuckling behind me, and I immediately stopped acting like a little filly as my face flushed a bright red. Oh, goodness, had I really just done that? “I take it you’ve never encountered a thick carpet on the outside?” Shimmercoat said, covering the large grin plastered on his face with his hoof.

“S-shut up!” I said, all flustered again. “W-what’s that smell?” I asked, desperate to change the subject.

“Lavender. I keep it in these vases. Helps freshen up the air.” Shimmercoat said, pointing out some purple flowers in some rather uninspired looking vases. “They’re also good for a tasty snack, although I only eat them when their scent fades. The hydroponics lab doesn't grow much of them. Would you care for one?” He levitated one out of a vase and floated it towards me. I cautiously took a bite.

Alright. He can take me now, so long as he keeps giving me lavender. The taste of the flower was the most soothing, flavorful, wonderful thing I had ever tasted. It reminded me of the rare times that the clouds broke and I felt the sun on my face, or when a cool breeze blew through a rain-soaked wasteland, when the rain is just stopping… there’s nothing better than that scent. Until now, now the best thing to treat my senses with is the taste of lavender. Maybe being a Stable pony isn’t a half-bad deal… I ate the rest of the flower, careful to savor each bite. It was over all too quick though, and I sighed in contentment and slight disappointment that there wasn’t more as the last petal slid down my throat. “That was… delicious. I’ve never had lavender before.” I said, my eyelids drooping in pleasurable bliss.

“Heh. Glad you liked it. There’s more where that came from, our hydroponics lab makes more than just lavender. We’ve got the juiciest apples, the finest daises, and the firmest carrots you ever did crunch.” Shimmercoat said with that salespony voice again. “But why don’t we eat later. For now, let’s get that bath running.” He opened a door into a separate room, which turned out to be a bathroom. Soon, water was running into a large porcelain tub. It was steaming. A hot bath? Oh yes, Stable ponies knew what was going on. I could get used to this. “I’ll leave you to it; I trust you know what soap is? Our last guest didn’t…” He said, leaving the bathroom and gesturing me in.

“Of course, I know what soap is… um…” I said. “I thought you were… um…” I blushed again. Curses. Why must I be so flustered around him? Oh, right, because he was perfect in every way possible.

“Why, Miss Slot, are you implying that we should take a bath together? At the same time?” Shimmercoat said with a very smarmy grin. Oh great fruit, this is so awkward… though Shimmercoat didn’t have a single hint of a blush on his face.

“W-why are you asking that?!” I said, a little more loudly than I meant. “You were practically stating that that’s what we were going to do earlier!”

“Oh, that!” Shimmercoat said with a chuckle that was far too patronizing and yet still sent me into another bout of frustrated blushing. “Cutie pie, that was just a little flirtation, you know, a little witty banter to loosen an attractive mare such as yourself up. Wouldn’t want you panicking at the sudden translocation from the outside to here in the Stable, I understand that it must quite the shock.”

He was right, of course. If he hadn’t come into that room and gotten me all flustered, I probably would have charged out of that room ready to kill the first pony I saw in a blind panic. “Um… ok… I do still have questions, though.” I said, walking into the bathroom. He smiled, and slid the door shut. Almost immediately afterwards, his voice came out of a speaker set into the wall next to the bathtub.

“That’s alright, Miss Slot, I can still talk to you whilst you get yourself all squeaky clean.” He said, his voice sounding slightly tinny through the speaker. Now that I wasn’t in the same room with him, I was far less flustered, and suddenly found myself able to breathe easier. I unzipped and took off the jumpsuit I was in, removed my goggles, and looked at my PipBuck. These are hard to get off… meh, they’re also waterproof. I got into the tub, the warm water feeling absolutely wonderful against my skin. It had been far too long since my last hot bath that was for certain. I soaked for a bit as I pondered my next question.

“Ok… now I don’t really care much on exactly how you brought me into this Stable. It’s evident that you did, the how of it really doesn't matter.” I said. “That was just a leading question for the real question I have. Why did you bring me into the Stable?”

“Ah, that question is always among the first that are asked.” Shimmercoat said his voice wistful sounding.

“Cut the smart-talk. Give me the reason.” I said, irritated at his tone. Yes, it was much easier to talk to this pony when I wasn’t actually looking at him at the moment.

“I take it that you wouldn’t believe me if I said that I bring ponies in from the outside as a gift to them to lighten the burdens of their no-doubt hard lives on the outside?” Shimmercoat asked.

“Correct.” I replied. Like anypony would believe that load of crock. My Ma taught me that nothing in life, no matter how trivial, is free. There’s always a cost for something, be it caps or love. Sometimes it’s caps for love. I’ve had my fair share of customers that hired me to go find them a soulmate. Those jobs are easy; just find a pony that’s vaguely attractive and of the client’s preferred gender and bam. Soulmate. Slap a collar on ‘em and sell.

I could hear him smiling disarmingly. It was mildly annoying. “Very well, I’ll tell you the true reason. I try to capture and keep happy anypony that wanders close to the Stable door in order to sustain the future of the stable.” Shimmercoat said. “Like I said before, we have a small population. We would have been inbred out of existence if this policy hadn’t been enacted a while ago. You guarantee the future of the Stable. You guarantee that it has a future. We need to retain genetic variability in order to survive.”

Wait… was he saying… “So you ponynapped me… just to make me have foals for the Stable?” I said angrily.

“Of course not! We would never force you to have children.” Shimmercoat said, sounding affronted. “However, as you live here I do hope that you find a very special somepony that you wish to…”

“And what if I already had a very special somepony, huh?” I cut him off. “What if my husband is waiting for me to come home on the outside?!” I didn’t have any such pony to go home to. I hadn’t for a while. But the principle of the matter bothered me. When I enslaved ponies at least they had a chance to fight back when they encountered me. Sure, they usually lost, but I’d been avoided or fought off before by my quarry. This… this abduction was just a sucker-move. I’d had no choice in the matter, one minute I was standing outside the Stable, and the next I’m in this bath being told that my future consists of making foals! “What if I don’t want to spend the rest of my life here?”

“Well, other ponies have tried to fight the Stable… our security handled them swiftly.” Shimmercoat replied through the speaker, an undertone of threat in his voice. “I remember one mare that simply refused to eat or do anything. Another time, a stallion we brought in committed suicide. You could react in such a manner, but I would be sorely disappointed if you did…” The way he said that, I almost felt that the last thing I wanted to do was disappoint him. “In any case, nopony has been able to escape the Stable, believe you me, if there was a way out, I would be the first to lead Stable 11 into the outside world. Stable-Tec sealed us in tight, though, so we make do how we can for now… If I truly did tear you from somepony else, I apologize with all my heart. There was no way to know…” he sounded genuinely sorry.

I… didn’t know what to think. I was angry that I had been captured, confused at Shimmercoat’s motives, sad that if I ever got out all my stuff would probably have been looted, afraid that I might really have to spend the rest of my life here, and bubbling below all these emotions was the lingering lust I had for Shimmercoat, which confused me the most. “Uh…” I said again. I’ve been saying that a lot recently. “Where did my shoe go?” I asked. Then I remembered something. “Oh! And where did the nightstalker and M… uh, gun I had with me go?” I suddenly thought of what Hiss might do if he suddenly woke up trapped in an unfamiliar environment full of ponies. The implication wasn’t pretty.

“I have your shoe and weapon right here in my room… but what do you mean by ‘nightstalker?’ Is that another type of gun?” Shimmercoat asked. “It might have teleported to another part of the Stable, sometimes the spell is thrown off a bit by the Stable’s anti-teleportation fields.”

So he doesn't know what a nightstalker is, to be expected of a Stable pony. And I haven’t heard any alarms since I’ve been here, that either means that Hiss is still knocked out or has enough sense to keep his little snake head down. Maybe I can find him before anypony else does. If I do, I have an ace up my sleeve that will no doubt come in handy. “Uh… yeah, the nightstalker is my gun.” I said. “Sorry, I’m still a bit dazed at what’s going on.”

“That’s perfectly understandable. Why don’t I let you be so you can finish your bath. Or do you have any more questions?” Shimmercoat said, his voice taking on a soothing tone.

I had a lot of questions still. But most of them, such as how to work a PipBuck or where I was supposed to sleep tonight would answer themselves in time. “No thanks, Shimemrcoat.” I said. “I’ll be sure to ask you if I think of anything.” I immediately thought of something. “Oh! About my gun… am I allowed to carry it in the Stable?”

“Ah, sadly, no.” Shimmercoat replied. Before I could yell at him, he added, “Nopony but security is allowed any weapons of any type. When we live this close together, we need the added countermeasures to make sure everypony is on their best behavior.”

“What about my shoe?” I asked.

“What about it? It’s a shoe.” Shimmercoat said. “Of course you can have it back, I’ll even set it out by the door, ready for you when you’re done in there.” I heard a clink as what was presumably the Shoe of Honor was set outside the door. “Though I don’t know why anypony would walk around with just one shoe on.”

“It has sentimental value.” I said, remembering back to the day Mr. Opportunity knocked. That day had set me down the course of events that had defined my life since then. Although, if one thought about it, every day does that. Best not to think about it too much, I’m no philosopher pony. I was a bit miffed that Mezzer was being kept from me, but I had no doubt I could get my hooves on it at some point, and in the meantime, the Shoe of Honor would serve me well. Sure, it was just a shoe, a metal shoe that had beaten its fair number of heads in.

I relaxed in the bath water, soaking the soothing warmth into my weary muscles. Sure, I was captured against my will and disarmed, but I had no intention of staying in either of those conditions. I was going to escape, no doubt about that. So I might as well enjoy some luxuries while I can.


I stepped out of the bathroom refreshed and invigorated. My mane was slicked down with moisture, and my coat was all fluffy from the toweling off I had just administered to it. For the first time in far too long, I felt clean. I had put back on the Stable jumpsuit, and my goggles were perched back on my forehead. Right outside the door to the bathroom was my Shoe of Honor. I put that right back on my left front hoof where it belonged. “Shimmercoat? Shimmercoat!” I called out, but he was surprisingly no longer there. I was left alone in his quarters. Well ok then. Guess I wasn’t ‘cute’ enough to wait around for, I had only been in the bath for… I checked my PipBuck.

Three hours. Huh. Alright, I would have gotten bored too; I guess I’ll let him off the hook. I looked around the room some more, but not much seemed changed. There was a bedroom through a door with a large round bed with what looked like silk sheets, and shelves of random nick-nacks were placed along the walls. A large bookshelf in the main room of the overstallion’s quarters was absolutely chock-full of books. I took one at random off the shelf. “The Canterlot Journal of Internal Medicine, huh? Now isn’t this a little bit of light reading…” I said to myself, putting the book in a pocket in the Stable barding to read later. I looked on the shelf for something else that I could use, but didn’t find much besides trashy romance novels, more technical journals about things that had to do with Stables, and a few science fiction novels that looked interesting, but there was always the first or second one in the series missing. Typical. “Ooo, what’s this?” I said, spying a thinner volume amongst the books, almost hidden from view between a large manual describing how many ways ponies could prepare themselves to die in the event of a reactor core meltdown and a cookbook. I pulled it out with my telekinesis. “Overpony Journal, Vol. 1.” I said, reading the cover. “This might have some answers as to what goes on here…” I pocketed that book too. I took a look around the shelf for any other volumes of the journals, but didn’t see any. I took a quick glance at the end date of the first volume. This journal had been filled up almost one hundred and sixty years ago! There had to be more volumes…

My musing on journals was interrupted by my stomach growling loudly. Didn’t Shimmercoat say something about there being a large cafeteria around here somewhere? I walked out of the room, looking for signs or some sort of direction to the nearest source of food. After wandering the corridors for a little while, I swiftly came to the conclusion that I was totally lost. I’d never been in a Stable before, so though I have heard that they were all pretty much built off of the same template with only a few minor differences, that particular tidbit of info didn’t do me much good. As I wandered downwards aimlessly, the echoes of pony life around me dwindled into silence, soon replaced by the hum and bang of heavy machinery working hard to keep this place habitable. I turned a corner and nearly bumped into a small beige mare who was holding a wrench and had a very focused look on her face. Until she looked up at me, that is. Then she looked positively terrified, her eyes widening and her legs freezing up. She dropped her wrench to the ground with a ‘clang!’ “Oh, uh, hi there, miss.” I said politely. “You wouldn’t happen to know where the cafeteria is, would you? I’ve kind of gotten myself lost…”

“Y-y-y…” the mare stammered. “Y-you’re n-not from here!”

“No, I’m not. I’m new.” I said, hoping that this mare would absorb that quickly and tell me where the dang food was.

“B-but if the Overstallion’s brought a new pony in… then that means… um… HI!” the mare said suddenly and very loudly. She was obviously trying to cover up a slip of the tongue. It didn’t work. I totally caught that. She practically telegraphed her nervousness to me.

“Hi.” I deadpanned. “What about the Overstallion bringing me in?” I asked. “I thought new ponies were brought in to preserve the genetic variability of the Stable?”

“MY NAME IS CRESCENT WRENCH! WHAT’S YOURS!!” Crescent shouted. Her eyes darted back and forth.

Yeah. Nothing’s up at all. No siree. And my dear ol’ Ma was a dash addict. This mare was going to give me answers whether she wanted to or not. “Coin Slot.” I answered. “So Crescent…” I took a glance at her cutie mark. Surprisingly, it was a mallet. “I take it you work maintenance?”

“U-uh… yeah.” Crescent said, observing the floor between her front hooves quite intensely.

“You seem a little high strung. What’s troubling you?” I asked, plastering a smile on my face. I think it was just as convincing as her attempts to cover something up though.

She didn’t seem any more calmed by my smile; in fact, she shivered, even though it was actually quite temperate down here. “Well, I d-don’t meet new ponies very often… All the new ponies I’ve seen in here are ones I’ve seen since they were foals… and… there’s a ghost down here!”

“Oh?” I asked. A ghost, huh? “Lemme guess, it slips in and out of the corner of your eye, and all you hear is a hissing noise?”

She gasped. “You’ve seen it too! I knew I wasn’t crazy! It just showed up today, and all the other maintenance mares think I’ve lost my mind, but whenever I go down into the pipe system to fix something, I hear it hissing… I think…” She leaned in conspiratorially. “That it’s the dreaded Creeper Ghost!”

Well, I’d dealt with crazy ponies before, but I had to admit that this was a little new and unexpected from such a cushy environment. I guess growing up safe and sound in a Stable doesn't necessarily mean you’re sane. “Creeper Ghost, huh?” I asked. I had a pretty good idea what it really was. “What do creepers do, Crescent?”

“Don’t take on that tone with me, they’re real, my great grandpappy was killed by one!” Crescent said, a little miffed at my condescending tone. “They are silent, making no noise whatsoever, unseen… unheard… until it’s too late!” She waggled her hooves in my face, making ooo-ing noises.

“What about the hissing? That’s not very silent.” I said.

“Oh! Right, they don’t make a noise until they’re right behind you, so you can’t get away… then they hiss! You have just enough time to think, ‘Oh, horseapples,’ and then… they explode!” She leaned up closer to me, whispering conspiratorially in my ear. “I even hear that the really big ones will explode twice.”

“Is that even possible?” I said, incredulous. I shook my head. “Look. That sounds ridiculous.”

“It’s true! Creepers are real!” Crescent pouted, giving me a terribly cute puppy-dog-eye look.

“I don’t think they even exist.” I replied, unmoved.

She stomped her front hooves a couple of times. Ok, this mare was pretty cute when she was angry. Such a small thing too… bet she doesn't eat much… I wonder how much she would sell for… “C’mon! I’ll show you!” she said, her voice suddenly a lot more determined.

“Um…what about the cafeteria?” I asked. I hadn’t forgotten how strangely she acted when she first saw me. I was just trying to figure out the best way to get more information out of her without her freaking out again and closing up on me. She seemed calmer now that she wanted to prove something to me… maybe I could use that. Plus if this ghost Creeper was what I thought it was, then that would be one mystery solved before lunchtime! Even though it was going to be a late lunch.

“After I show you, we’ll go up to the cafeteria. You’re really off track. It’s three levels up.” She answered. “Follow me.”

We walked for a ways, deeper into the mechanisms of the Stable. Large pipes with strange markings on them wound around us, and tiny catwalks and tunnels under the pipes sometimes popped up, but we didn’t go into any of them. The space was really tight even without trying to squeeze into the inner workings of the plumbing. These pipes seemed to go on for miles… how deep did the Stable go, anyways? We had already walked down three more flights of stairs. “Uh… you sure you know where you’re going?” I asked.

“Well duh.” Crescent answered. “Our PipBuck’s have a map function, you know.”

Oh. Right. I facehoofed. How could I have forgotten that? At least I had an excuse; I’d only had this thing for a few hours.

Deeper and deeper into the Stable we trotted. I pondered how to approach this mare with my questions. “So… Crescent…” I said. “You mentioned your great grandfather. Has your family always been in this Stable?”

“Yep! Stable 11, born and bred!” she said proudly. “My family is descended from one of the big contracting companies that worked on building all the Stables, including this one! You could say that Stable building and maintenance is in our blood.”

“That’s nice.” I said. I thought for a bit more, trying to come up with something that would answer in more detail why I was brought here. ‘Diversifying the gene pool’ my right flank. After the way she reacted when seeing me, I knew something more than what Shimmercoat was telling me was up. “So I bet you know all of what goes on in the Stable, don’t you?”

“Just about!” she said, smiling. Somewhere close by, some piece of machinery made a loud banging noise. I jumped in place, bumping my head on the close ceiling. Crescent didn’t even flinch. “Oh, that was just the hydronic purifiers pumping new deep-ground water into the system.” She said matter-of-factly. “There should be a big clanking noise coming up that will sound right above our heads…”

Sure enough, as soon as she finished talking, a cacophonous racket practically exploded above our heads. What was going on down here?! It sounded like the place was falling apart! After the noises stopped, all that was left was a faint hissing noise, originating from a point behind Crescent.

In fact, it almost sounded more like a growl…

Crescent Wrench froze, her eyes going wide. “D-d-d-d-d-d…” she stammered. “D-do y-y-you hear t-that? It’s a-a-a-a… a CREEPER!! AHHHHHHHH!!” She screamed. She ran forward for about four hooves, and then seemed to realize that I basically blocked her only route of escape. “Ohhhhh noooooooo…” she said, withering right in front of me. She sank to her knees, curling up into a quivering mess, her eyes staring straight forward. “They came… from… behind…” Dang, this mare had issues. I looked over her, seeing a familiar shimmer in the air approaching us.

“Hiss! C’mere boy!” I said, sitting down and holding my hooves out. Hiss reappeared and jumped over Crescent and into my waiting forehooves, licking my face with his forked tongue. “Aww, did you miss me? Were you scared of the noises and the crazy maintenance mare? Oh, you must be starving, aren’t you, little puppy? Oh yes, you are! Oh yes, you are!” I said as Hiss rolled over, and I started scratching his belly.

Crescent got up and stared at me, then at Hiss, then back at me again. “I… you… but… huh?” she said.

“Oh, Crescent, this isn’t a Creeper, this is Hiss! My pet nightstalker!” I said cheerfully.

“Nightstalker?” she said, a confused look on her face. “It looks… uh… what is it?”

I remembered that Stable ponies wouldn’t know what different types of mutated creatures there were. “It’s um… a breed of dog.” I said. Technically that isn’t exactly a lie, if you’re a bit loose with your definition of the word ‘breed.’

“Oh… so there isn’t a Creeper?” she said, looking for all the world like she was mildly disappointed. Good grief, does this filly want to be blown up?

“No. No Creeper. Only Hiss and an overactive imagination.” I said, smiling a genuine smile this time. Her face glowed red and she stomped her front hooves again.

“Stoooop it! You’re making fun of me!” she said. Great biscuits, was she cute. I bet there’s a lovely raider couple out there that would want a filly just like her to raise their very own. Or something. You never can tell with raiders.

“How old are you, Crescent?” I asked, the thought suddenly occurring to me.

She stopped glaring at me and said, “Almost 14. Why?”

Holy brahmin! She looked older than that, but this mare was barely out of fillyhood! No wonder she was so cute. “No reason. Just confirming a thought that I just had. How long have you been working maintenance?”

“Ever since I got my cutie mark!” Crescent said proudly, all trace of anger gone.

“Oh? Do you mind telling me how you got your cutie mark?” I asked, knowing a filly this age would still like regaling the tale every chance she got. Cutie marks were a big deal. “While you guide me to the cafeteria, of course. Hiss, c’mon.” I said. Hiss fell in line behind us as Crescent took the lead, nervously passing by him and squeezing past me.

“Oh, right! You haven’t heard the story!” She said. “Well, when I was a little filly, Mommy had just come back from her shift down near the reactor core.” Crescent launched into storytelling mode as fast as her mood changed. Like I said, this filly was a special case. “She was really tired, and I was busy tinkering with the broken Mr. Handy that’s been busted the past ten years, and she asked me to do her a favor and wash up her containment suit, because she needed a nap.” Crescent had this habit of talking faster and faster the more and more she kept talking. It was getting a little hard to keep up with her mentally. “So, I of course said, ‘Sure Mommy, no problem, you can count on me!’ and got to work straight away, cause I love my Mommy. Do you love your Mommy?” she asked suddenly. “Do they even have mommies on the outside?”

“I love my dear ol’ Ma more than you know, Crescent.” I said, very serious. “She meant the entire world to me…” my eyes misted over. No! Don’t cry in front of the little filly! I covered my eyes with my PipBuck, trying to pull myself together. Suddenly, I felt a fuzzy warmth hugging me above my Shoe of Honor. I looked down to see Crescent giving me a hug.

“It’s alright, Coin Slot.” She said. “I know you’ll see her again soon.”

“Thanks…” I said, wiping my eyes. “So, you were washing a containment suit?” I prompted her to finish her story.

“Oh! Right, so Mommy gives me her suit and goes to her bedroom, and I go to the bathroom and run some water in the tub, quickly before the radioactive waste got in the carpet.” Crescent said. I raised my eyebrow at that statement, there seemed to be a mix of priorities here. Stable ponies, I thought, rolling my eyes. Crescent continued, “I brought in the suit to wash it, and it accidentally caught on a piece of the Mr. Handy on the floor and got a hole torn in it! I thought Mommy was going to kill me, these suits were super hard to make, and she needed it for her job cleaning the reactor core!” Crescent laughed a lighthearted giggle-snort. Seriously, this filly would rake in a ton of caps on the open market for her cuteness alone, never mind her apparent repair skills. “I panicked for a bit, then calmed down and thought that maybe if I could fix the suit before Mommy got up, then I wouldn’t be in trouble! So I got out some strips of rubber I had from the Mr. Handy’s insulation, some lead paint, Wonderglue, and a mallet, and started patching the hole as best I could. Before long, the banging of my mallet woke Mommy up, and she came in to tell me to quiet down, and when she saw what I was doing, she just stood there, her mouth wide open. I thought I was in really big trouble, so I was like, ‘Mommy, no, please don’t be mad. I promise I’ll fix it. I double-doggy swear!’ and she just smiled at me and said, ‘Dear, I know you did a good job fixing my suit, just look at your flank.’ So I did, and was I ever surprised! My cutie mark had appeared!” She wiggled her rear in my face, showing off her mallet picture. I tried to look impressed. “I immediately ran around the whole Stable, telling everypony I saw.” She giggled. “I even told Mr. Cutthroat, and he had only been in the Stable for a week! I wasn’t scared of him at all!”

Oh? “Mr. Cutthroat, you say?” I said, thinking fast. There were only two types of ponies who would name themselves (Or alternatively, be named by their parents. It happens.) this particular style of name. Those were raiders and mercenaries. Either one was bound to look way different than your average Stable pony. “I think I know him, did he look really roughed up? Like he’d been through several fights and just barely crawled out of them? Maybe had a spiky mane or really bad teeth?”

“Yeah, how’d you know?” Crescent asked. “Do all ponies know each other on the outside like we all know each other in here?”

“Not entirely.” I answered, still trying to come up with a line of questioning that could lead to some real answers. “Where is this Mr. Cutthroat?”

“Oh, he was the sacrifice for the Stable that year, so he’s not… eep!” Crescent said, slamming her hoof on her mouth.


Before Crescent could run away, I tackled her, pinning her to the ground. Pre-empting her scream for help, I stuck the Shoe of Honor in her mouth. “MMMMMPH!!” she tried to yell.

“Don’t shriek!” I ordered. She lay there, looking pathetic. “Do you promise not to shriek?”

“Mmm Hmmm.” She nodded, her eyes wide with fear.

“Alright. What do you mean by, ‘sacrifice?’ I want answers!” I said, taking my royally-shod hoof out of her mouth.

She just lay there, quivering, her mouth shut tight and her eyes wide.

I glared at her. “Hiss. C’mere.” Hiss obediently came up next to me, into Crescent’s field of vision. “Open your mouth, and show the nice filly your beautiful fangs.” Hiss opened his mouth, his fangs dripping poison slowly onto the floor. A growl-hiss emerged from the back of his throat.

“T-t-t-t-t-t…. they…” Crescent stuttered.

“Yes?” I urged her to continue. It looked like intimidation was working.

“C-c-came… from… b-b-behind…” she finished, taking another look at Hiss’s open maw. I smelled the scent of urine coming out from under us. The young mare had apparently soiled herself. She closed her eyes and just kept muttering the same nonsense phrase over and over again.

“Talk straight, or you’ll feel how sharp those fangs are!” I shouted, getting tired of this. If I was going to survive and escape, then I needed all the information I could gather about this place, and this teenaged earth pony was standing… or rather, lying, in my way. I couldn’t let her stop me.


Three yellow dots suddenly popped into view on my shiny new EFS. They rapidly turned red. “You there! Get off Crescent Wrench, and keep your hooves where we can see them!”

I looked up. Three ponies, all unicorn stallions, were running towards me in armored barding and helmets with face shields. Their barding had bright yellow letters spelling SECURITY. They drew batons that telescoped out into painful looking clubs. “Hiss, hide.” I said quietly, stepping off of Crescent. Hiss was nowhere to be found. If there’s one thing a nightstalker can do, it’s disappearing. I widened my stance and lowered my ears and head, trying to look as non-threatening as possible. There was no way I could go hoof-to-hoof with three security guards when I was unarmed and unarmored, even if I had Hiss help me. Two of the guards took positions to my right and left, keeping their batons raised in case I decided to be stupid. The other guard helped Crescent get up out of her own mess.

“What were you doing to young Crescent!? Answer me!” One of the guards next to me shouted.

“It’s alright, miss. We’re here. Why don’t I take you to your mother, huh? I’ll let your supervisor know where you are and what happened so you aren’t blamed for missing work.” The guard that was helping Crescent said. They quickly left the scene, leaving me with the two guards menacing me. Peachy.

“Well? Explain yourself, outsider!” the other guard that was next to me ordered.

“I was just asking her a few questions.” I hissed quietly through clenched teeth. So close. So close to answers. Why did those guards have to be there?!

“She pissed herself! Those must have been some sorts of questions!” The guard to my left said, his tone indicating that may have been disgusted with me. That was only a guess on my part though.

“You’re coming with us to the security office to cool your hooves until we decide what to do with you. If you’re lucky, then Crescent’s mother won’t press charges. Since she doesn't know you though, outsider, I highly doubt it.” said the guard to my right. He sounded calmer than his partner but no less serious.

“We’ll have to send a cleanup crew down here afterwards.” The guard to my left said to his partner.

“Right. Let’s get chuckles here processed first.” Mr. Right-Side said. They guided me up the stairs, heading for the security office.

My stomach growled. I somehow doubted I was going to get a substantial meal anytime soon, though.


Sacrifice. That didn’t sound good no matter how you sliced it. I had been locked up in a jail cell, after being searched. Surprisingly, the guards didn’t confiscate anything from me, not even the technically-stolen books. Good thing too, because I was stuck here for a while and bored out of my mind. In my cell there was a bench, toilet, and rather uncomfortable cot. Not exactly the luxury accommodations that the Overstallion’s quarters were. Just outside my cell I could see the little office where the security ponies hung out on their break, the security chief’s office on the other side of the hall, and just beyond that was a locked door labeled ‘Armory.’ It seemed odd to me that the Stable designers would have the place where they kept prisoners and the place where they kept weapons in the same location, but it did make sense that both were near the security offices. Going to sit on the bench (which was a sight more comfortable than the cot), I pulled out the Canterlot Journal of Internal Medicine from my barding. I may as well kill the time by reading something, and if there’s one thing I knew from my travels in the wastes, it was to always take the opportunity to learn about medicine in any way you can. You never know when that kind of knowledge would come in handy.

The Canterlot Journal of Internal Medicine was interesting, informative, and highly useful. It’s entertainment value, however, was rather low, so after reading it for about forty-five minutes I stuck it back in my barding’s pocket, and fished out the Overpony’s Journal. I doubted that a journal written two hundred years ago was going to in any way help my current situation, but reading about the lives of ponies in the past had to be more interesting than the different classifications of tumors, right? I cracked open the journal and turned to the first page.

Day 1

Overmare Highlight Sparks

Well, it’s happened… I… I don’t know what to think anymore. I thought Stable-Tec was a company just founded and funded by hyper-paranoid ponies, that there wasn’t going to be a megaspell war at all, no pony… or zebra… would be that insane! It was mutually assured destruction! How… how could anypony do this?

I need to collect my thoughts. I’ll be addressing the Stable soon… Stable 11. Our children will call it home, as will our children’s children. I don’t know how long we’ll be stuck down here. For some bizarre reason, when we came to the Stable, my name came up on the register sheet as Overmare! Me, in charge? Of an entire Stable?! I’m a construction worker, not even a manager! I’m no leader! Still… the registration sheet was very strict on who was to do what in the Stable; that no matter our former standing in the world, the paradigms would be shifted once we began our new life… underground. Guess my loyalty to the company has finally paid off, huh? Heh.

I’m going to keep this journal, write in it on occasion. Might help me remember a few things, and besides, ponykind’s new history starts with us. Might as well record it.

I’ll never fly again… I just realized that. The only room really big enough to fly in is the atrium, and even then it’s only about 15 meters tall…

My son, Top Notch… he was in Cloudsdale. Did he make it out in time? He’s not here… maybe they let him in another Stable! They aren’t supposed to, but we ended up letting in three ponies who were supposed to go to Stable 101 and another whole family, five more ponies, that were bound for Stable 19 also got in. I hope he’s ok… though even if he is, I guess I’ll still never see him again… he was doing so well in life too! He’d already landed a management position at General Atomareics. Guess that doesn't matter any more though… I need to go lie down. I need to organize these ponies and get everypony situated… I need to get the work schedules ironed out, I need to listen to that tape the C.E.O. left in the Overmare’s terminal, I need, I need, I need!!

I’m not cut out for this. I can’t even imagine what big Stables are like, this one only has 400 ponies in it, and I know for a fact that Stable 55 has over 3000! Though when we were building it, it didn’t seem like the plumbing system for that Stable could handle the needs of that many ponies… they must have brought in a secondary construction crew to finish the job. Not that I need to worry about that now, right now I need to worry about the needs of the 400 ponies I’ve been saddled with. Gahh… why couldn’t they have given this job to somepony with management experience? Alright, Highlight, you can do this, you’ve tackled hard problems before, you can do this… Top Notch was always better at handling ponies… his poor old mother is just good with machines…

I wish he were here.

I wondered why Stable-Tec would put one of their blue-collar construction workers in charge of a Stable. Was Shimmercoat descended from this Highlight Sparks? Despite myself, I was actually getting interested in what had happened in the past. I could now see how some prospectors I met… or scavengers, depending on how noble you thought those types of ponies were, actually liked poking around in old terminals and journals like this. I used to think they were crazy for trying to find stuff about the past that was entirely not useful in the present. Only eggheads do that sort of thing. A little history makes for pretty good prison reading, though! I turned the page, reading onwards.

Day 4

Overmare Sunny Eyes

Wait, what happened to Highlight? She was overthrown in only three days?

That… bitch! Whining about her colt when she should have been, oh, I don’t know, DOING HER JOB?! Now I’m stuck with this bunch of losers… ugh.

Well, this new Overmare seemed cheery.

Ok, so I’ll write down what’s going on, because apparently that’s one of the Overpony’s duties, and Celestia damn it if I’m not going to do a better job than her! So apparently little miss gets-weepy-when-the-world-ends decided that curling up in her quarters and crying about her son would be more fruitful than trying to get everypony organized. Good thing quite a bit of the Stable is automated, otherwise we’d be in quite a lot of hot water. So I go up to complain to her, you know, about how nopony wants to wash the dishes or take care of everyone’s trash. Simple stuff, right? Just assign somepony to janitor detail, no big deal, right? WRONG. The little cunt can’t nail her own horseshoes without breaking out into tears, let alone tell anypony what to do. So I go into the Overmare’s office, right, to try and find the work detail list that assigned miss worthless into her position in the first place, you know, to find out who’s stuck with janitor duty. So right there, right fucking there, smack dab on the middle of the screen of the Overmare’s terminal, was this big flashing “LISTEN NOW” sign. Well, I’ve always listened to computers when they told me what to do, so I hit the play button, right? Well, what I hear is the ol’ chicken telling us that we gotta do this thing, otherwise we’re ALL GONNA DIE. Guess what that thing is? Apparently Stable 11 is so luxurious, so awesome and all, so much better than other Stables, that it needs ‘extra’ power requirements. So we gotta sacrifice one pony a year to the mainframe, plug em in and let the Stable drain them dry of… I dunno, magic force or some shit like that. Supposed to be painless, the chicken says. Right, and I’m the fucking princess. Anyways, we were apparently supposed to have already plugged in a pony, and if we didn’t do so within the week, life support was gonna go down and we could say hello to Luna’s ass, because the door would lock up and the place would flood with radiation from the reactor core! Ain’t that peachy?

My eyes widened. I quickly read onwards, begging this uncouth pony to keep writing useful information.

So I, in my glorious sense of duty and fellowship with my fellow ponies, head on over to the atrium with the chicken’s speech in my PipBuck and I play it over the loudspeakers. Course, the Stable was less than happy to hear the news, and more importantly, really unhappy that a certain crybaby hadn’t let them know yet. I decided to withhold the fact that she probably hadn’t even listened to the message yet. We had our first sacrifice, all wrapped up in her sorrows. When I sent her down the secret tunnel under the Overmare’s desk, she just walked down there, not a word coming from her lips, staring ahead like she was some sort of zombie pony. I almost felt sorry for the bitch. I closed the tunnel, and the system must have plugged her in, cause we all didn’t die. So now we need a new Overmare, right? Well, some bright idiot decided that we should all vote on it. What is this, a democracy? Needless to say, the ponies of the Stable voted that I should be Overmare, since I had alerted them to this disaster before we all bit the big one. Lucky me.

Ah well, at least somepony intelligent is in charge now.

I turned the page, but the rest of the journal was burnt, as if somepony had torched it, but hadn’t necessarily been trying to destroy it. Maybe there had been a riot? Whatever the case, the journal was unreadable from that point forward. I found myself disappointed that the rest of the journal had been burnt. I had wanted to know more about the history of the Stable.

Sweet kumquats… I'm an egghead!


Since I had nothing else to do in prison but twiddle my hooves, I read the rest of that dumb medical book. Learned stuff, but it wasn’t nearly as interesting as the Overpony’s Journal. I was contemplating taking a nap when I heard a tiny clinking noise at the front of my cell.

There was a barely-perceptible shimmer in front of the barred door to the cell. “Hiss, is that you?” I whispered, careful not to catch any of the guards’ attention. From what I could see, there was only the security chief and one other guard, and they were talking to each other in the break room, looked like the chief was asking something from the guard that she didn’t really want to do. Hoping that their conversation would keep them distracted, I snuck over to the front of my cell. An invisible forked tongue licked my snout. “It is you! Listen, Hiss. I need you to find me a key to this cell. Can you do that?” He seemed to be able to understand me before. Let’s see if he was capable of understanding complex commands. “Go into the security chief’s office, and get me a key.”

The shimmer in the air that was Hiss slinked away from the cell door and into the open door of the security chief’s office. So far so good. I was already planning my next move… the Stable went deep, I knew that. So if I could get past the guards and head down low, I could probably loose them in the workings of the Stable, even if they knew the territory, there were lots of nooks and crannies that no sane pony would go into, perfect hiding spots.

Hiss came back, and soon a pair of bobby pins, a screwdriver, and a key materialized as he spit them out within reach of my hooves. I levitated them through the cell door with my telekinesis, and tried the key on the lock. It, of course, didn’t work. “I meant the key to this door, Hiss!” I whispered angrily. I couldn’t see his reaction to my scolding, but I got the distinct impression that he was looking at me like I was some sort of idiot. I took a second glance at the bobby pins and screwdriver. What was I supposed to do with these? Pick the lock?

Say, that wasn’t a half bad idea. Too bad I had no idea how to pick locks… still, nothing ventured…

I levitated the pin and screwdriver into the lock… ok, so I was supposed to wiggle the… pins, I think they’re called… with the bobby pin and apply torque with the screwdriver, that much I knew. The lock turned halfway before becoming caught on the bobby pin, breaking it in two. Sh…oot. One more bobby pin, and who knows how long I would have to wait until Hiss found more. I adjusted the pin a little from where I had it last time, and turned more slowly. The lock got caught again, but the pin didn’t break…

I heard a slapping noise come from the break room, and the mare security officer trotted out of it, her head held high and her eyes thankfully closed, otherwise she would have caught me trying to break out. If I were to guess, I’d say the security chief struck out with her. He was probably on his way out too.

Screw it.

I took the screwdriver and twisted it with my telekinesis as hard as I could. The lock resisted for a tiny bit, then gave, turning all the way and unlocking with a ‘click.’ Sweet! I quickly hid the screwdriver and bobby pin in my tail, trying to look innocent as the security chief walked slowly out of the break room, a hoofprint on his cheek. He took one look at me, sighed, and said, “What do you know about mares?”

Huh? “Huh?” I vocalized.

“Mares. You’re one, I assume you know how they think.” He said. “I’ve been trying to get Orange Slice to… well…” he blushed.

“Sleep with you. I get it.” I said. Great hanging branches, was this stallion really asking me for relationship advice? His prisoner? Stable ponies are weird.

“Right!” he said, relived that I caught on so quick. “I’ve already taken her out on three dates, gotten her an expensive gift, and everything! She’s still non-receptive though! Is there something I’m doing wrong?”

Seemed all right to me. I took a second look at him. He was no Shimmercoat, but wasn’t an ugly pony either. “I honestly don’t know.” I said truthfully. “You might want to try asking her.”

“I already have! She just says I ‘don’t get it.’” He said, sighing again. He walked into his office and closed the door. I heard a lock click from the inside. All right, time to go.

I opened my cell, the shimmer of Hiss walking next to me. As I passed by the armory, I heard a whine. What was that? Turning around, I saw Hiss’s shimmer standing next to the armory door. He was pawing at it… I think. It was hard to see his paw. I took a look at the lock on the door, then a look at the key Hiss had brought me. I tried it.


The armory door opened. Aww yeah! This changed my plans a little. Now I could go capture Shimmercoat and force him to teleport me back out of here! I’m sure there was a way, he just liked it here too much to leave himself. I looked around the room. Some saddlebags were there, good thing too, cause there were also fragmentation and magical pulse mines, four apple-shaped frag grenades, two bricks of C4 (no detonator though, sadly), a 10mm pistol with plenty of ammo, a yellow medical box full of healing potions and Med-X, and a couple police batons. I grabbed the lot and stuck ‘em in my new saddlebags… and spotted, on the top shelf so I almost didn’t notice it, the Mezzer.

I levitated my weapon down to me, giving it a hug. Oh, how I missed it! Now all I needed was a bomb collar and I would feel like myself again… hmm…

There was a workbench in here, and after a little scrounging around, I found a weapon repair kit that had wonderglue and duct tape in it. I also found a leather belt and… come on… yes! There was a sensor module back here in a pile of scrap metal. Ok… let’s get to work. I told Hiss to guard the door while I worked, after closing and locking the door of course. What I was doing was going to take concentration, and I didn’t want anypony walking in on me.

Why had I hugged the Mezzer? The thought just struck me, had I really become that attached to the weapon already? I’d only had it for a little while. Ah well, it must have left some sort of impression on me. It certainly looked cool.

I returned to the workbench, and pulled out it’s soldering tool and some of the scrap metal, along with the two bricks of C4. Carefully making a specially shaped box out of the scrap metal, I took the sensor module and welded it into place as well as I could with a soldering tool, with a few wires sticking out into the inside. Before sealing up the box, I packed it with all of the C4 I could possibly fit in there. I then quickly soldered the last metal plate onto the small box. I knew that C4 was a stable plastic explosive, and that even the heat from welding wouldn’t set it off, but I still wanted to be quick. You never know, and it only takes once. With my little shaped charge built, I went onto the next step. I took the leather belt and wonderglue and duct tape, and with the adhesives I secured the explosive to the belt as tightly and strongly as I could. I took two wires from the sensor module and wrapped them around the length of the belt as well, wondergluing them into place and wrapping the whole thing in duct tape to protect it. The belt wouldn’t be able to lock, but if anyone messed with it, the sensor would know, and that was good enough a lock as any. Now I needed to link the sensor to a detonator… which I didn’t have. I sighed, and took a second look around. No detonators. Who keeps C4 in a place without a detonator to use them? That makes it practically useless! I slammed my PipBuck onto the workbench in frustration.

Hold up. PipBuck. Thousands of functions, and I could modify them all. Or at least the ones I needed… I grinned. Closing my eyes and focusing, I reached out into the swarm of matrices that made up a PipBuck’s programming. Navigating the lines and switches of the matrix, I looked around for something I could use… a tracking signal, a free wireless hookup… ah ha! There was an empty driver bank here that wasn’t programmed, apparently it was just redundant or something. That I could use. I modified one of the empty matrices so that it would act as a wireless tracker and detonator. It started searching for a signal, and I guided it to the sensor module on the belt. Linking the two matrices together, I twisted the matrix closed and created a bond between my PipBuck and the sensor. If the sensor was moved more than 200 meters from my PipBuck, or if I triggered the detonator, or if the sensor noticed any tampering with the belt, then it would trigger the C4 and explode in a shaped direction: inwards and upwards.

I just made my bread and butter. A bomb collar. Sure, it wasn’t as sophisticated as the ones you can get from Fillydelphia, but it would do its job and do it rather well, I should think. I looked up from my work, pocketing the collar in my new saddlebags. I wasn’t sure whether or not I was going to use it in here, but just having it made me feel like I was in control. Be in control of your own fate, as my dear ol’ Ma used to say. Now I am Ma.

Now I am.

Level up! (Lv. 4)

New Perk: Demomare: You have unlocked several new explosives crafting recipes that are unavailable to the average wastelander.

Enchanted Weapon Perk analysis: 85% complete

Author’s Note: HUGE thanks to Kkat for writing Fallout: Equestria and giving us sidefic writers a great big sandbox to play in. Also thanks to ErrantIndy and Shimmercoat for help editing and proofreading this slog to make it something enjoyable. And thanks to all who hang out at the Sidefic Compilation doc for providing feedback and inspiration to write my own story. Also thanks to Bethesda and Hasbro for two great franchises. Hope you enjoy!

Chapter 4 > In which cooperation is gained

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Chapter 4 > In which cooperation is gained

“I’ll blow the insides of yer head all over four counties!”

Alright, time to take stock of my current situation. I was apparently being held hostage for some sort of sacrifice to the Stable so that the reactor wouldn’t overload. I had, thankfully, escaped however, and my captors didn’t know it yet…

“Hey! The outsider is gone!” a voice from outside the armory shouted.

Alright, scratch that, my captors do know that I’m gone. I am, however, the proud owner of their entire armory. All I’ll have to worry about is the weapons that the security officers already had on them while on patrol.

Though now that I think about it, there wasn’t that much in here in the first place. Which probably means that most of the guns and batons are actually out there waiting for me to run into them. Apple-freaking fantastic.

“She has a PipBuck, right?” another voice from outside the armory door said.

“Well yeah…” said the first voice.

“So use her PipBuck tag to track her down! Geesh, do I gotta think of everything?” replied the second voice. PipBuck tag? That could be a problem, and I had no time to go and find the tag in the maze of matrices inside the dang thing. And forget taking it off. Not only was it my new collar’s detonator, but they’re nearly impossible to take off without the right tools anyway. “Here, while you do that, I’ll radio the other security officers to alert them of the situation.”

Uh oh. “Hiss, get ready!” I said, pushing the ‘open’ button on the door and levitating Mezzer up. The last thing I wanted was them to get the word out that I was on the loose.

As soon as I opened the door, I was greeted by the stunned looks of two security ponies, both earth ponies, one a stallion and one a mare. They had both been looking at their PipBucks and were totally unprepared for me to burst through the door right next to them. Hiss leaped for the stallion, knocking him over, a shout of alarm turning into a scream of pain as Hiss’s fangs bit deep into his shoulder. I took aim at the mare with Mezzer and steadied myself on my hooves, knocking my PipBuck against the door frame as I did so…

The world slowed to a crawl. Everything just stopped moving! I couldn’t move! What was going on!? Just as I was about to panic, words flashed in my vision.

>Welcome to the Stable-Tec Arcane Targeting Spell (S.A.T.S) tutorial! Your PipBuck has registered that this is the first time you have activated S.A.T.S, so let us take this time to say congratulations! Because this is the first time that you have activated S.A.T.S, you have either bumped into the activation button by accident, gotten yourself into a fight, or both! If you have bumped into the activation button by accident, please think the word ‘quit’ loud and clear, and the tutorial will end. If you wish to continue with the tutorial because you require assistance in fighting the zebra menace, please think the word ‘continue.’

Well, there was no zebra menace, but I could use any help I could get in combat. I went ahead and thought ‘continue,’ wondering what was going to happen.

>In order to fully utilize S.A.T.S, you must first understand what it does. S.A.T.S gives a pony what they need most in a combat situation; time to think. Unlike zebras, us ponies are not naturally violent creatures,

I smiled a bit on the inside. Clearly this machine didn’t know what it was talking about.

...and so we require more time to think about what part of the zebra we want to hit, and how much chance we have of hitting said part with our current skill with the weapon we are wielding. The PipBuck 3000 will use a long and calculated process, designed by the best software engineers at Stable-Tec, to determine your skill with whatever weapon it detects you are wielding and give you the best options and opportunities to strike your enemy with the greatest and most efficient results. Simply think about targeting a specific area of a specific target, review your chances to hit, and release the spell, and watch your attacks land every time! Keep in mind that your attacks may not land every time due to unfortunate circumstantial and uncontrollable variables that are in no way Stable-Tec’s responsibility and in no way reflect the PipBuck 3000’s ability to function. Have a nice day!

>Tutorial End

With that, the pony I was aiming at began to glow around the torso. Time was still stopped somehow, because of this S.A.T.S thing, I’m guessing. I imagined myself firing the Mezzer at this pony. Apparently I had a 95% chance of hitting her. I saw in the corner of my eye the ‘S.A.T.S charge’ bar go down a little, and my attack :Fire>Mezzer>Torso queue up in a list of actions. Well all right then. I released the spell.

With no effort or even will of my own, my telekinesis automatically aimed and fired at the pony I had used S.A.T.S on. It was an incredibly weird feeling, like my horn was being hijacked by somepony else and used to fire on this security mare. After the shot was fired, though, I regained control so quickly I almost dropped Mezzer. If I planned on using this more frequently it would take some time getting used to.

The shot from my first experience with S.A.T.S ran straight and true, the strange pulse hitting the security mare dead center in the chest. Awesome! Not that I would have missed in such small quarters, but if I could use this S.A.T.S thing at range, it would make sniping a piece of cake! I shielded my face, waiting for her head to explode like those wolves did back when I first got this thing.

“Whoa… whoa… s-stop the world, I wanna get off…” the security mare said. I looked up, surprised to see that her head hadn’t fragmented in various directions at varying velocities. She was instead rocking back and forth, her eyes dilated and almost looking like they were pointing two directions at once. Hiss looked up from his victim, who was now most assuredly dead if the two big fang-holes in his throat were any indication, and made a questioning noise. He was apparently as stumped as I.

“Um… give me your weapons. And armor. Actually, just give me all you have on you. Please.” I said to the wavering mare, not really expecting her to, but she had stopped fighting, and proper wasteland protocol is that when an enemy surrenders you take their stuff, whether you’re going to take them as a slave or not. It was almost instinctual for me.

“Alright… it’s getting pretty heavy anyway. Here you go nice pony…” she replied, stripping off her security barding, helmet, pistol, baton, and just hoofing it over to me. She even tried to remove her PipBuck, but like I said, they’re a bitch to get off, so she just left it on after trying to gnaw it off a few times.

“Um… ok, now go into the armory and sit there until somepony comes to get you.” I ordered. The purple (now I could see that she was purple. With a blue mane, so basically my color scheme, though her shades were much darker. Terrible helmet mane going on right now though, considering she had just taken it off.) earth pony wobbled into the armory and sat, just as ordered. I closed the door and locked it. “Well then… ok. So Mezzer doesn't just make heads blow up, it hypnotizes ponies too.” I said. I remembered the radscorpions and their reaction to the Mezzer when I ventured into the tunnel outside this Stable. They had been stunned, and didn’t resist when Hiss killed them. “So it’s a stun gun! All right, not as cool as head-blowing-up gun, but actually quite a bit more useful. This’ll make getting a strong potential slave into a collar a piece of cake! Ak!”

I jumped as the door of the armory started to pound. The mare inside was shouting something I couldn’t hear, though I doubt it was very friendly. “The stun wears off after a little while though. Good to know.” I said.

“Parrumoh?” Hiss whined at me.

“Oh, right, escaping. Ok.” I said to him. I looked at the barding at my hooves. It was a sight more protective than the cobbled together stuff I had outside, and in here it could work as a temporary disguise. And it looked about my size. The helmet did have a face-obscuring plate, but it wouldn’t fit around my horn, as it was obviously an earth pony helmet. Oh well, some disguise is better than no disguise, and I really wanted it more for its protective qualities anyways. “Now… where is Shimmercoat? If I find him, then that’s both my protection from security and my ticket out of here.” I said as I put the security barding on.

Hiss pawed at my PipBuck. Oh, right, I could just look up his tag! The whole tracking thing worked two ways. These things are pretty neat when you think about it. I scrolled through the list of ponies in the Stable that my PipBuck could identify, all of the names unfamiliar to me. Hmm… I didn’t find Shimmercoat’s tag in the list. I checked again, just to be sure. Nope, no Shimmercoat. Maybe his tag was removed from the normal list because he’s the Overstallion? In any case, I needed to move away from this dead body, somepony was bound to come check up on the prisoner sometime soon. “C’mon Hiss, lets move. Be quiet and don’t attack unless I say so.” I said. Hiss disappeared again and I quickly headed down the hallway, trying to act as if I had every right to be where I was at any given time. That’s what security does, right?


So far so good. I had managed to get two floors up from where the security office was, and nopony had raised any alarms yet. It would only be a matter of time, though. I had run into a few ponies on my way up, but none of them paid me any attention. Looks like even in a Stable where everypony knows each other you still want to avoid drawing the attention of security officers. I was on the lookout for Shimmercoat at every turn, but the handsome stallion just seemed to have vanished. I groaned in frustration, stopping at a corner and looking around for a sign.

Oh, look. ‘Mess Hall.’ That’s a sign. My empty stomach grumbled. I suppose a quick snack wouldn’t hurt anypony. And maybe he’s in there, yeah. I’m inspecting the mess hall for my target, and if I happen to get food while I'm there, that’s a happy accident. Yep. That’s how it is.


I could hear milling and concerned voices murmuring inside the mess hall. Right, don’t panic he says. That’ll work.

Hold up, that voice sounded like Shimmercoat! He was probably in the Overstallion’s office if he was using the PA system! Now I just gotta find out how to get there from here… I’ll study my PipBuck’s map over a snack. I trotted into the mess hall, looking like I had a purpose. Hiss’s invisible form followed close behind me.


Well… balls. Looks like somepony had finally reported my absence. I was lucky to make it this far without any warning getting out, to tell the truth. As I headed over to the Mr. Handy serving food behind the counter, something small and fast bumped into me.

“Oof, sorry officer, I’m just… eep!” Crescent Wrench said, looking up at me, rubbing her nose. As soon as she recognized me though, her eyes went wide and she started to shake with fear.

I’m never going to get something to eat, am I? I thought fast. “If you say or yell anything, Hiss will attack you. From behind.” I said. I saw the shimmer of Hiss position itself behind Crescent. She instinctively backed up from me as I spoke, and bumped into him. She froze, and Hiss chose this moment to do his little hiss-growl thing.

Crescent clearly wanted to scream, but only a small whimper escaped her lips. We had to move before anypony noticed us. I looked around, and while the mess hall was mostly empty, we were getting a few strange looks from the ponies eating delicious looking sandwiches at the tables… oh I wanted a sandwich so badly… no Coin! Focus! I turned to Crescent. “Lead me to the Overstallion’s office. Hurry!” I ordered, moving out of her way. It would be much faster if a native to this Stable guided me there than me trying to find my way using a map. She gulped, nodded, and cantered nervously through the door, with Hiss and I following close behind.

As we walked through the winding hallways of the Stable (seriously, this place was built like a maze), Crescent glanced nervously behind her at me. “Yes?” I asked. Might as well get her talking, maybe it will calm her down. I didn’t really want to hurt her, but she was easier to control if she thought I did. I was used to finding ponies ‘control’ buttons. It came with my chosen vocation. Crescent was easy to frighten, and did things you wanted her to do out of fear. I don’t know where her breaking point is, but it’s likely that she has one. I’ll have to be careful not to push her too hard.

Or maybe I do know where it is. She did urinate herself the first time I pushed her for answers. I still had to be careful though, wouldn’t want her to freeze up on me on the way to the Overstallion’s office.

We went up another floor, and we passed a few intersections that I thought I recognized. “Are we getting close?” I asked. Crescent nodded stiffly.

“W-w-what are you going to do to us?” she stammered. It looked like she was about to cry.

“What do you mean?” I asked back. All I intended to do was get Shimmercoat to teleport me back out. That whole ‘one way teleport’ crock was just that. Crock. But I wanted her to keep talking, so I didn’t mention that.

The beige mare looked back at me again. “W-well… mommy said that if the sacrifices found out what we were going to do to them, that they would fight us and… and…”

“And what?” I said, softly, trying to sound comforting and threatening at the same time. It wasn’t easy.

“And k-k-k-kill us all! You won’t kill us, will you? All the ponies I’ve ever known live here! My mommy lives here! Why can’t you just help us by being the sacrifice just this once? You won’t ever have to do it again, and you’ll get to leave!” Crescent said.

Hold up, what? Something didn’t make sense with that last sentence. “What do you mean, ‘just this once?’ Isn’t being the sacrifice lethal?” I said.

Crescent’s eyes widened again. They do that a lot, she had a very expressive face. Have I mentioned before that she was as cute as my dear ol’ Ma’s pancakes? Even with the little syrup smiley faces on them. “Lethal? You mean like, kills ponies?” she said, stopping in her tracks as if the very thought rocked her core. “Oh, no, not at all! What gave you that idea?”

“Umm…” I said, but before I could answer, Crescent cut in.

“Oh, I see.” She seemed to calm down immensely, and didn’t seem as scared anymore. This could be a good or bad thing. I listened for whatever she had to say. “This is all a big misunderstanding. Shimmercoat told us that the sacrifice didn’t get killed, they just had to leave the Stable. It’s part of Stable-Tec’s re-integration-with-the-surface program. But we don’t want anypony we know to leave us forever, so he teleports a guest in every year to act as the sacrifice in order to fool the Stable’s systems so that it won’t kick us out.” Crescent said, smiling as if she had just been particularly clever.

I stared at her for a second. Surely Shimmercoat hadn’t been able to pull the wool over the Stable’s eyes? There were historical records that the sacrifice was used as a pony battery for the Stable’s luxury systems! “Um, if it isn’t that bad, why is it such a big secret to the sacrifices?” I asked.

“Oh, well it’s so great in here that if they were told that they had to leave just after they got here, they would get really mad. Just like you…” With this, Crescent seemed to remember what exactly we were doing, and she clammed up again.

Right. Well either Crescent’s mom told Crescent a sweet story to make the ‘sacrifices’ these ponies did every year go down easier with her, or Shimmercoat had managed to make the whole Stable forget what their real reason was. Considering I had figured out the real reason in a day by reading an old burnt book, it was more than likely that the first option was what was going on here, but it didn’t change my objective any. Shimmercoat lying to me about that whole ‘genetic variability’ garbage meant that he had something to hide. At first I thought it was just the fact that he wanted to kill me, but this latest revelation from Crescent pointed at the possibility that there might be something more, and I aimed to find out what.


We approached the Overstallion’s office, finally. I don’t know if all Stable’s were built this maze-like, but this one must have been modeled after the Canterlot Labyrinth. “Well here we are! I’ll just be on my way…” Crescent said, turning around. She froze as Hiss growled.

“Oh no you don’t. Things might get hairy in there and I’ll need some leverage. Does Shimmercoat care about his Stable ponies?” I asked.

“Oh we mean the world to him, he’s the best Overstallion that way! I mean, uh… no he hates us. Especially me. He’ll k-k-kill you if I’m with you.” Crescent said, immediately looking down at the ground under her hooves. “… Sorry.” Ok, even she knew that was a terrible lie.

“C’mon. You first.” I said. She opened the door and walked in, myself close behind.

Shimmercoat looked up from his desk, adjusting his half-moon specs with his blue-glow of magic. He whipped his gorgeous mane with a forehoof and then crossed his them, looking over his glasses with his chin resting on his fetlocks. How did he get his glasses to gleam like that? I was once again blown away by his good looks, but not totally hypnotized like I’d been hit by a Mezzer shot. There was something up with this pony. “Well hello there.” He said. “I hear you’ve killed one of my guards, and locked up another. All in such a short while too. I expected you to stay in my room waiting for me after your bath.”

“I bet you say that to a lot of mares.” I replied, frowning. He was cocky, too sure of himself. I looked in the corners of the room. There didn’t seem to be any turret placements… just his horseshoe-shaped desk in front of me, the window to the atrium on my left, and a big computer mainframe behind him. Why was he so sure of himself? “Why did you bring me here? And none of that genetic variability crud.”

“Crud?” Shimmercoat said, smirking. Was he mocking me?

“My Ma told me never to curse, and I listen to my dear ol’ Ma.” I said. I looked at Crescent Wrench. She wasn’t even paying attention to what was going on, just staring slack-jawed at Shimmercoat. Hoo boy. She had it bad for him, it looked like. Couldn’t blame her, of course, he was a fine piece of meat. But that’s all he was, in my opinion. “Now tell me exactly what’s going on here, or…” I nudged the invisible mass next to me with a hind hoof. Hiss reappeared behind Crescent, fangs bared. “Or little miss Wrench here gets it.”

“And now we’ve devolved to petty threats on the life of a little mare barely out of fillyhood? Tsk Tsk.” Shimmercoat said. He pushed a button on his desk, and the door behind me closed. I heard it lock with an audible clicking noise. You’ve got to be kidding me.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” I said. “I have the contents of your armory! You’re unarmed and unarmored! How could you even think of taking me and Hiss on alone in a locked room! And I have a hostage!” His reactions were chaotic. This wasn’t how I had envisioned the confrontation going down at all.

“Confusing, isn’t it?” He said, stepping out from behind his desk. I got closer to Crescent, who was still standing there like an idiot. “It’s amusing to see that you think you still have control. You see, there are certain perks when you’re the Overstallion of a Stable. One of those things is complete control of your environment. Always. No matter what an outsider scum of a pony is threatening to do.” He shook his head in disgust. “Honestly now, she’s just one little filly. Do you think she matters to me? To the Stable? Go ahead, have your abomination bite her. See if I care.”

This seemed to snap Crescent out of her reverie. The object of your affections literally throwing you to the nightstalkers will do that. “W-w-what? B-but Overstallion… I-I-I… you were at my cuteceinera! Y-you said… I…” She sat down in shock. “Y-you said… I was… c-c-cute…” tears started to form in her eyes. Good grief, I know that she must have been thrown for a loop there, but this is ridiculous. For his part, Shimmercoat completely ignored her, his eyes focused on me.

“I… but…” I stammered. Was I really going to have to take this kid out? Shimmercoat didn’t understand the rules of the wastes, when a slaver threatens youngsters, they mean what they say! Stupid Stable pony. I growled in frustration. “Hiss! Bite her!”

Hiss hissed, and sank his fangs into Crescent Wrench’s mallet cutie-mark. She screamed as the venom seeped into her veins, and fell to the floor. It was then that Hiss was wrapped in a blue glow and hurled into the wall behind me. “Y-you actually did it!” Shimmercoat stammered, rushing forward to Crescent, completely ignoring me. Her eyes were rolled into the back of her head, and her breathing was shallow.

“Came… from… behind…” she wheezed. Hiss got up and was about to charge, but I raised my hoof in front of him. He stood down. There was no way he was wild, he was too well trained. But I’ll solve that mystery later.

“I don’t pull my bucks. Nopony does, out in the wastes. Maybe you should learn what’s the difference between a threat and a promise, Stable pony.” I said. “I doubt she’ll survive without some antivenom. Does the Stable stock nightstalker antivenom in its medical bay?” I asked, knowing the answer. Shimmercoat just looked up from the prone Crescent Wrench to glare at me. I pressed onwards. “I have some antivenom in my things that I left in the tunnel outside. If you teleport her and I outside, I’ll cure her. You’ll have to hurry though, nightstalker venom acts fast. Terrible way to go too. Let’s hope her eyeballs don’t melt all over the carpet.” That part I made up, but there’s nothing like a little eye-scream to tingle the spine of those with weak constitutions.

“You don’t understand… I can’t teleport anypony out without another sacrifice!” Shimmercoat said. “Part of the power for the spell comes from the current sacrificial pony. I used up enough power getting you in here that if I try to teleport somepony else, in or out, the sacrifice would be burnt up and the Stable’s reactor would blow under the additional stress!”

“How much power does a few luxury systems take anyways? Can’t you just shut them off and live a little less comfortably?” I asked.

“The Stable was designed to automatically blow if the sacrifice isn’t plugged in. The reactor can power all the systems just fine, but it was specifically designed to go up if the Stable didn’t follow Stable-Tec’s rules.” Shimmercoat said, spitting the word ‘Stable-Tec’ like it was a curse. “It’s a leash that they put on the so-called ‘executives’ that they gave this Stable too. And ever since that first Overmare was the first sacrifice, the position of Overpony and sacrifice are one and the same. Every year, we used to have elections for the next Overpony as the previous one went to the sacrificial chamber. Hideous smear campaigns and tyrannical voting blocs were what this Stable was reduced too…”

“Lemme guess. That all changed when you were… voted in?” I said. What kind of crack-a-doodle system is that for a system of government?

Shimmercoat shook his head, and pointed to his cutie mark. A shimmering tower shield. “My purpose is to hold the line, to protect ponies. I was security chief when I was younger than this one…” he looked forlornly at Crescent, who was still twitching on the ground next to him. “A prodigy, they called me. Until my big sister was put up by the so-called ‘Justice Bloc’ as the next Overmare candidate. I couldn’t let that happen, so I volunteered to take her place, everyponies place, so that there wouldn’t have to be a vote that year. A willing sacrifice. Of course the Justice Bloc, who hated my family, and my sister in particular, jumped at the chance for this, and since they had the controlling vote, everypony went along with them.” He looked back up at me. “Over the next twenty years, I disassembled the Blocs, made this Stable a fantastic place to live, and gave everypony a happy life free from the fear that their name might come up in an election. A good portion of the population now thinks that the sacrifices just leave, they don’t die. Only the oldsters still remember the days of the Blocs. You know how I did that?”

I bet I have a guess. “How?” I asked anyways.

“Taking in outsiders. My shield spell can be used to bypass Stable-Tec security, but combining it with a teleport spell takes a lot of magical power, more than I can cast normally. By using the magical drainers in the sacrificial chamber to boost my power, I can take magical energy from the current sacrifice and use it to get a future sacrifice from outside. There’s usually at least one every year that wanders close enough to the Stable to capture them. I thought about using the spell to escape the Stable, but…” he looked at Hiss. “After seeing some of the ponies I brought in, I have the feeling that the wasteland isn’t a place I would find appealing.” He looked back at me, standing up to his full height, which was a little taller than me. “You’ve just killed a filly. I have no qualms whatsoever with sending you to the sacrificial chamber.”

A blue bubble shimmered in front of me. I backed up, bumping into something right behind me. I looked, and saw that the bubble had surrounded me! Shimmercoat’s horn was glowing, surrounding me in a shield spell. He grunted, lifting the shield and myself up and dragging me along toward his desk. Hiss growl-hissed and leapt for Shimmercoat. Another shield surrounded the Overstallion, and Hiss bounced off harmlessly. Shimmercoat was sweating, but looked like he was well practiced at this spell and I guessed that he could probably cast it all day. Hiss was slamming himself into Shimmercoat’s shield again and again, not letting up. Shimmercoat did his best to dodge the nightstalker, rather than just sitting there and absorbing all the damage. That implied that the shields could be broken…

I started to use my Hoof of Honor to bash against the inside of my shield. It dipped lower to the ground, surrounding Crescent Wrench as well as me. When it lifted back up, Crescent was dragged along inside it with me. Apparently it would let ponies in, but not out. Shimmercoat was growling in frustration and effort as he dragged himself, Crescent Wrench, and I to the area behind his desk. He pressed a button on the mainframe, and the desk rose up, revealing a staircase under it. I wonder where this could lead? I started bashing harder against my imprisoning shield as Shimmercoat staggered down the stairs, Hiss bashing up against his shield the whole time. The shields appeared to be permeable to certain things, such as the walls and floor, so that when the bubbles intersected them they didn’t deform or bounce off, they just disappeared into the wall or floor as if they weren’t there. What this meant was that when Shimmercoat decided to sandwich me between the wall and the inner wall of my shield, there was little I could do but be mashed. I think he would have outright crushed me if Crescent Wrench wasn’t in here with me too.

At the bottom of the stairs there was a long, white hallway. I heard a voice over the speakers embedded in the walls. It sounded like a mare with a slightly raspy voice, and she sounded tired, but like she was trying to sound upbeat. “Welcome, loyal employee, to Stable 11’s purity walk! I’m your C.E.O, Scootaloo, and I’m here to guide you to the wonderful world of tomorrow, where everypony has a purpose!” As Shimmercoat struggled against Hiss’s bashing and my struggling, the recording continued as if we were just patiently listening. “In yesterday’s world, ponies choose what they get to be when they grow up. Sure, it’s somewhat delineated by their cutie marks, but they can always change their minds if they want, a cutie mark doesn't set in stone what you can do with your life. Well, look where that got us! It’s a good thing Stable-Tec was around, or otherwise the zebras would have wiped ponykind of the face of Equestria! That’s where you come in, loyal employees…”

The recording stuttered, and the voice at the end sobbed, as if she were about to cry. The next word though was as upbeat as ever. I wonder if she paused the recording for a bit. “Since you work for Stable-Tec, your role is determined by us! With defined, clearly set rules and regulations to what ponies can and can’t do, we can build a better tomorrow! Some ponies will be assigned to feeding their fellow ponies. Others will be assigned to race our latest models of Red Racer scooters, invented by yours truly! You, lucky pony, have been assigned to be your Stable’s sacrifice!” This announcer’s cheer was clearly forced. I wondered what drove her to say such things, even as I was being dragged to my death. “Now while that may not be as exciting as being a Red Racer operator, it’s every bit as important! Your Stable needs you to keep its advanced magical reactor core stable and pumping out all the energy needed to keep the Stable alive! You could say that YOU, yes, YOU are the one who is supporting the whole Stable on your back. I’d say that might be even MORE important that a Red Racer operator. And it is at this point that you are nearly there.” The recording said as we approached the end of the white hallway. The room beyond was pitch black. "With highest honors, loyal employee, I bid you to have a brighter tomorrow!"

The room at the end of the hallway lit up, showing a large, rack-like harness surrounded by robotic limbs, and hooked up by innumerable tubes and wires to a huge computer-like device behind it. In it was the desiccated corpse of a unicorn with the remains of a spiked mane-do. He didn’t look like a Stable pony, obviously. In fact, from the fleeting glances of the red tattoos I saw on his fetlocks, he might have been a member of the Flaming Hooves, a gang I know frequents this area. Shimmercoat turned to Hiss, and as Hiss charged him again, the bubble shield that surrounded Shimmercoat warped and turned itself inside-out, trapping Hiss inside and leaving a sweaty Shimmercoat outside. He then turned to me. “Most sacrifices don’t realize what’s going on until it’s too late, so I’ll give you points for effort. You’re smarter than the average outsider, but that doesn't mean that you’ll suffer any different of a fate.”

Like strawberries I will. I shouted out in fury, slamming the Hoof of Honor into the shield again. It crackled, and disappeared as Shimmercoat gasped. It looked like he was spent, and his horn dimmed. Hiss was still trapped in his shield though, and Shimmercoat was recovering almost as quickly as it took for me to fall to the floor and untangle myself from Crescent Wrench. I needed more time! Wait…

The magic of S.A.T.S activated as soon as I willed it too. So it didn’t need the button pressed… good to know. With time stopped, I could gather my thoughts before Shimmercoat trapped me again. I had just the thing for him. I’ve mentioned before that he was the most handsome stallion I had ever clapped eyes on, and in the stillness of S.A.T.S, that was no different. His eyes were staring straight into mine, righteous fury burning in them. In my line of work you get that look a lot. Well, no matter how good he looked, there was one thing that was missing… one thing that I could remedy with great pleasure.

A stallion could have his looks, but it takes a mare to get him to wear… accessories.

I lined up a Mezzer shot in S.A.T.S, right at his head (95% chance to hit), and released the spell. I mentally sat back and relaxed as my horn automatically glowed, drew the weapon, and fired, all before Shimmercoat could have a chance to react.


The pulse from the Mezzer splashed onto Shimmercoat’s forehead. His beautiful flank hit the floor, and the shield around Hiss disappeared with a ‘pop!’ Before Hiss attacked him, I shouted “Hiss! Down!”

Hiss growl-hissed, but did as he was told. Shimmercoat was rocking back and forth dizzily. “Ugh… W…where am I?” he said. “The lights are so… shiiiiiiiiiiiiny…” He waved his hooves at the lights on the ceiling. And this was the eloquent, controlled Shimmercoat. I smiled an evil smile, adjusted my ski goggles, and walked right up to him.

“Well, darling, you’re at the beauty parlor! Your marefriend brought you.” I said, gesturing towards the twitching Crescent.

“She… she don’t look so good…” Shimmercoat said.

“She has a little head cold, and would feel oh so much better if you put this on for her!” I said, pulling out my homemade slave collar.

“It looks… alright…” Shimmercoat said. He extended his neck, letting me fasten and lock the collar into place. I activated it, and looked at my PipBuck. Yep, there’s the detonator program right there. I kept grinning my evil grin and waited for the Mezz to wear off.

“Ak… what? Hey!” Shimmercoat said, shaking his head and suddenly becoming lucid again. “I… what’s this?” he said, realizing that he now had something around his neck. He touched it with a hoof.

“I wouldn’t mess with it too much if I were you.” I said. “It’s what we up topside call an ‘explosive collar.’ It encourages… cooperation. If you try to take it off, tamper with it in any way, or go more than two hundred meters from me, then your head will blow up. Oh, and the detonator is linked to my PipBuck. If you kill me, or remove my PipBuck in any way, the PipBuck will register me as dead and blow your head up. Also, if I press the ‘detonate’ button because you annoyed me too much, your head blows up.”

Shimmercoat stared at me with an unreadable expression. Finally, he said, “And I’m guessing that if I don’t teleport you to the surface…” he didn’t need to finish the sentence. It was apparent that he had gotten the point.

“Not just me. You’re stuck with me, bucko, you’ll have to come with.” I replied. I nodded to Hiss and Crescent Wrench. “Those two as well, though if you want to leave the kid I wouldn’t blame you. I do actually have some antivenom up in the cave outside the Stable though, so if you want to save her you’ll take her with us, though that’s your prerogative.”

Shimmercoat sat there for a moment. He looked at the pony-battery in the harness. “If I do that, I’ll use up almost all of this pony’s magic… what of the rest of the Stable?” he asked, a faraway look in his eyes.

“They’ll find another sacrifice, I’m sure, or die. From what you told me, though, I doubt that the ‘Blocs’ have fully disappeared, they just went into hiding while you ran the place. Least that’s what I would have done if I were a seat of power being ousted by some idealist. I have no doubt your Stable will survive. Which is more than what you can say about yourself if you refuse me. The way I see it, if I’m going to die, I’m taking you down with me. But if I live, you live. We’re two ponies with a joined life now.”

Shimmercoat put a hoof to the collar again. “Twenty years… twenty ponies saved from sacrifice…” he said. “I was doing something good!” He turned to me, standing up fully. His voice raised to a shout. “I WAS HELPING THE STABLE! I WAS HELPING PONIES! Why do you have to come in here and take that away from us?!” there were tears at the edges of his eyes. I was unimpressed. I decided to set the record straight.

“Actually, those twenty years, from my point of view, were twenty years of unexplained disappearances and kidnappings, deceit, betrayal, and murder.” I turned to the pony in the harness, being drained of energy. “He’s a member of the Flaming Hooves. Might not mean anything to you, but I know that gang. It’s a tight-knit group. I’m almost positive he had a marefriend at least, maybe even somepony calling him a husband. His gang… your Stable… is there a difference? Somepony missed all those sacrifices.” I said. “But so long as it wasn’t somepony you knew, you were ok with that…” I turned to him. “Weren’t you?”

Shimmercoat glared at me for a second… and looked away, like he couldn’t bear to see me. “I know… don’t you think I’ve already thought of that? But… between my friends, my family… the ponies I’ve known for years… and strangers? What would you do?!”

“What I’m doing right now. Look after me and my own. And right now the ‘me’ is being threatened.” I said. “So I’m taking the option that will allow me and my own,” I nodded to Hiss. “To survive. No matter the cost. Isn’t that the same as what you did?”

Shimmercoat slowly trotted over to Crescent, and checked her pulse. “She’s still alive… I thought you said that that abomination’s poison is fast?” he said numbly.

I raised my eyebrow. “It is. She must be tougher than she looks… we need to get her to the surface quickly if we’re to save her, though.”

Shimmercoat took one last look around, and smiled a tired-looking smile. He looked a little older than his thirty-something years. The decades of Overstallionhood seemed to weigh down on him. I realized that he had been in a position of authority for most of his life, and now I’m here, telling him what to do. It was up to him on how to take it, but I hoped that he would see it as a break, a release from responsibility. Sometimes slaves responded positively to that sort of thing.

“I always thought my days in the Stable would end in this room…” he said. “Not like this though…” he squeezed his eyes shut, and his horn started to glow. Hiss, Crescent, Shimmercoat, and I were all wrapped in a big blue bubble shield, and I heard a sizzling noise. Glowing energy from the machine with the pony strapped inside flowed from an antenna mounted on it and into Shimmercoat’s horn. The tang of magic could be tasted in the air. Wow, he wasn’t kidding when he said that bypassing Stable-Tec’s security needed a lot of power. This was definitely a one-way trip.

With a flash, we disappeared from the sacrificial chamber.

Level up! (Lv. 5)

New Perk: Terrifying Presence: You sometimes gain speech options that can initiate combat while sending your foes fleeing in utter terror!

Enchanted Weapon Perk analysis: 99% complete

Author’s Note: HUGE thanks to Kkat for writing Fallout: Equestria and giving us sidefic writers a great big sandbox to play in. Also thanks to Scullyhobnob and Shimmercoat for help editing and proofreading this slog to make it something enjoyable. And thanks to all who hang out at the Sidefic Compilation doc for providing feedback and inspiration to write my own story. Also thanks to Bethesda and Hasbro for two great franchises. Hope you enjoy!

Chapter 5 > In which there is much lying down

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Chapter 5 > In which there is much lying down
“Thou Shalt Not Kill.”

We spent another night inside the cave outside Stable 11 before moving on. Shimmercoat grumbled with muted anger at being enslaved and forced out of his Stable. Crescent Wrench was still out for the count, but after administering the antivenom from my packs that I had left in the cave before my unexpected adventure in the Stable, her fever broke and she was on the mend. Despite her young age and small size, Crescent was surprisingly tough. The amount of poison that Hiss had dumped in her would have dissolved most ponies in ten seconds flat, but all it did to her was give her a high fever and the shakes. These went away almost as soon as the antivenom was given to her. I wondered what could be in the beige earth pony’s genes to make her so resistant to nightstalker venom. We had laid her to rest by the fire that I had rekindled in short order.

I also finally got a meal from those radscorpion steaks that I hadn’t had a chance to eat before. Luckily for Crescent and I, nopony had ventured into the cave and taken my things. Shimmercoat balked at the idea of eating meat, but I was fine with that. More for me. Hiss, on the other hoof, had no problem at all, and was eager to share with me. I was munching on my steak and working on the security barding I had gained, combining it with my old leather barding so it didn’t look like fresh Stable-wear. Didn’t want ponies thinking I was some sort of new-to-the-wastes Stable pony like Shimmercoat or Crescent. Now my barding was not only thick leather padding like I was used to, but it incorporated some of the ceramic plates the Stable security barding had for extra protection around the barrel and stomach. It looked like regular leather barding with blue-and-yellow trim. I got rid of the big yellow ‘Security’ letters (not my thing), but kept the ’11.’ I don’t know why, I just liked them. They reminded me of a regular customer in our casino when I was a filly who always gave me Dandy Colt Apples when he was on a winning streak, and said I was his lucky charm. He had worn Stable 73 barding, and the big yellow numbers left an impression on me. I dunno if he was actually a Stable pony or not though.

Barding fixed, I put it on and looked to Shimmercoat. “What do you think?” I asked.

Shimmercoat, who had been fixedly gazing at the fire, gave me a look that would have curdled milk. “Looks like leather. You make it from the skin of ponies?” he asked derisively.

“Heck no. I’m no Reaper. And I didn’t actually tan the leather myself, though I’ve fixed it often enough.” I replied.

“Reapers?” Shimmercoat asked, grudging curiosity in his tone. He was probably still sore about the whole ‘being forced to leave his Stable’ thing, but it seemed that it didn’t mean he couldn’t hold a conversation.

“A super-tough gang of raiders that make their home in Hoofington. Luckily for us, they don’t trek out this far into the metro area of Equestria very often.” I explained.

“A ‘super-tough’ gang? Sounds eloquent. Do they call themselves that, or was that feat of speech-craft just you?” Shimmercoat said, smiling slightly.

I was glad to see that he was still capable of smiling, if only because he had a great looking smile. I had the distinct feeling he was making fun of me though. “Either or; if you meet one, I suggest you run the other way, they would have a lot of fun with your pretty face.” I snapped back.

“You gonna take this off of me?” Shimmercoat hoofed at the collar around his neck again.

“Stop messing with that. And no.” I said. “It’s my insurance against you stabbing me in the back. I could just kill you, but you’re worth too much to me to do that.”

“I didn’t know you cared.” Shimmercoat said sarcastically.

“Not that way, moron. You’re easy on the eyes, but the whole ‘wanting to murder me to power a Stable’ thing just kills it for me.” I said. “You’re worth a ton of caps on the market, though, precisely because you’re easy on the eyes. In fact, I’m sure you’re worth more as a rental than a one-time purchase, so you’ll be sticking with me for a while.”

Shimmercoat now gave me a confused look. “Caps? Rental? What in Equestria are you talking about?”

Stable ponies. This was why I didn’t want to be mistaken as one. “Alright, time for a reality check, Overstallion.” I said, saying Shimmercoat’s former rank with a mocking tone. “You’re in the Equestrian Wasteland now. There are different rules out here than those in your safe, cozy, crazy little Stable. Ponies struggle to survive out here, and some aren’t capable of taking care of themselves. Example A.” I pointed at Crescent Wrench. “And example B.” I pointed at Shimmercoat. “You two are Stable ponies, and know nothing about surviving out there.” I pointed towards the ladder leading to the outside of the cave. “If you even want a hope of surviving, you need me to guide you. But nothing’s free in the wastes. That’s a lesson that was taught to me by my dear ol’ Ma, and she was never wrong.”

“That still doesn't answer my question.” Shimmercoat said dully.

“I was getting there!” I snapped at him. Geesh, what an impatient pony. “Caps…” I pulled one out from my bag. “Are currency in the wastes. The larger water caravan companies out here back them, so they are basically clean water, which is life. So, therefore, caps are life. Quid pro quo.”

“Your zebra is terrible.” Shimmercoat said, a look of disbelief on his face.

“Good thing I’m not a zebra then.” I retorted. “Anyways, as I was saying, you’re worth a lot of caps to me as my slave. I’ll rent out your services to other ponies that want you, and collect the caps. Easy money, easy survival.”

Shimmercoat seemed to process this for a little while, then his eyes widened. “Wait… Slave?”

“Yes. You’re my slave. Another name for that collar is a ‘slave collar.’ You are considered to be my property for as long as you wear it. I suggest getting over it quick, extensive fretting annoys me, and I tend to get into a ‘slave breaking’ mood when I’m annoyed.” I was giving him my ‘new slave’ speech, and being extra tough. Since he had been in a position of authority his whole life, I figured that he would be hard to break, so I wasn’t pulling my punches.

“You… you sell ponies? As chattel?” Shimmercoat just seemed shocked, not angry. It was… weird. Did he not know what a slaver was?

“Yes. I’m a slaver. It’s a job.” I said, slowly.

The color drained from Shimmercoat’s face. “I’d heard of slavers before from one of the sacrifices, but… but I didn’t know that he was actually serious! I thought he was just trying to scare me! You sell ponies?” he repeated.

I stretched. This cave was warm and comfy with the fire going. “Rent, in your case. I won’t let you go too easily, you’re too good looking. Good looking slaves are a valuable commodity, especially in the seedier villages where there’s two dozen ponies living there and half a dozen teeth between them all. But yes. I have sold and do sell ponies as my vocation.” I said. Hiss rubbed up against my leg, and looked up at me with pitiful-looking eyes. He probably wanted more meat, but we were all out. I patted his head, scratching my hoof between his eye-ridges.

Shimmercoat hesitated for a second, a look of disgust slowly forming on his face. “Good looki… AUGH!!” Shimmercoat shouted. It looked like he had finally put two and two together. He stood to his hooves, his spectacles askew and a panicked look on his face. “You are not going to… to… rent me to ponies to be used in such a manner! I demand you release me at once! Stop laughing!”

I held my stomach and tried to reign in my laughter. “Oh… oh great twigs and paper, that’s a good one. I haven’t heard that line in a long time. Pfffft… demand… oh that’s rich!” I said, bursting into fresh peals of laughter.

A blue bubble shimmered around me and lifted me up to the ceiling, fast. I slammed into the rocky ceiling completely unprepared. Luckily, the extra padding that my newly repaired barding had absorbed the worst of the blow, but it still hurt like a corncob. Gravel and loose rock popped free and rained down from the impact. Just as soon as I had slammed into the ceiling, though, the bubble disappeared, and I heard somepony screaming as I fell back to the ground flat on my stomach with a stinging thud. Shaking the stars from my vision, I looked angrily at Shimmercoat to see that Hiss was attacking him, barely being held back by a shield spell keeping his fangs mere centimeters from Shimmercoat’s face. It was Shimmercoat that was screaming.

“Hiss! Down! No attacking the slaves!” I ordered. Hiss backed off, his hackles bristled and his snake eyes giving Shimmercoat a death glare. I looked back to Shimmercoat, who still had his shield up. “Now, there is a caveat to this arrangement.” I groaned. “If you get too annoying, or disobey a direct order, your head will blow up. I have no qualms against pressing the detonate button on a worthless slave that wont listen to their mistress.” I cracked my neck. That ceiling slam had hurt. “Since I hadn’t made that point clear yet, that was your one free pass. Don’t push your luck, prettycolt.” I sat next to the fire again and munched on more steak. Hopefully my display of control over the situation would mean that he wouldn’t slam me into the ceiling again… ow… that headache will be there a while…

Shimmercoat was still standing, though the shield went down. “Selling ponies… or renting them, whatever… it’s… it’s wrong.” He said. He pointed at Crescent. “What about her?”

I looked at her, ignoring the comment about selling ponies. Like I hadn’t heard that one before. “She’s my slave too. We’ll see if she needs a collar when she wakes up, if she’s a good little filly, she won’t need one.” I doubted that she would need one, from what I saw of her, she would stick with Shimmercoat and I simply because we were the only ponies she was familiar with in the wasteland. “Like I said, get over it, and don’t be too annoying to keep alive.”

Shimmercoat looked like he wanted to say more. I raised my PipBuck, my hoof hovering over the detonate button. Shimmercoat shut his mouth. “Good boy.” I said. “Now all we have to eat right now is meat, so if you’re hungry, that’s what you get. I’m going to sleep now. We head out in the morning. Remember that if you go more than two hundred meters from me, your head blows up. And it also blows up if I die, or if my PipBuck can’t read me as alive, so try and resist killing me or taking off my PipBuck.” I smiled. “Really nifty device, I must thank you for giving it to me. It’ll make my job much easier, I used to have to worry about slaves stealing my detonators.” I made myself comfortable and closed my eyes on a dazed looking Shimmercoat. He was processing what was happening to him; I’d seen that look before. If I acted like I was in total control (which I was), then he would soon enough start believing it himself. The sooner he accepted me as his mistress, the better.


“Coin Slot… thou must awaken…”

What the heck was that?

I awoke with a start. I had the sneaking suspicion that somepony was watching me, but when I looked around, nothing had changed. The fire had died down, Shimmercoat and Hiss were both asleep, and Crescent was still unconscious. I got up and stretched, deciding to look outside our little cave for a moment. I levitated my rifle and Mezzer along with me, holstering them to my barding as I walked.

I approached the ladder that lead up to the entrance of the shack that hid this cave. No sign of any voices or anything at all, just the two corpses of the radscorpions where I had left them. I climbed up the ladder into the shack. Still nothing, just the impressions Hiss and I had left in the dust when we entered, and the patter of rain on the metal roof. Nopony else could have gotten in here without disturbing the dust… even a griffon would have moved it around with the wind generated by their wings.

“Hey, you fuckers! There’s a shack up ahead! Let’s get out of this rain!” a voice from outside shouted. It sounded like might be a stallion, and was definitely a little unhinged sounding. Better hide until I could tell whether this pony was friend or foe.

“Pipe down, Cracklejack! What if there’s somepony already in there?” This was a mare voice, who was shouting just as loud as Mr. Cracklejack, I might add.

“Then we got ourselves entertainment for the night! AHAHAHAHA!!” This was another stallion voice, notably rougher and even louder than Cracklejack’s. The tone and shakiness of his voice also suggested that he was on something, most likely Dash.

“I swear I don’t know why I put up with you two troglodytes…” The mare voice said. She wasn’t shouting anymore, but I could hear her quite well, for the simple reason that she was behind the door, about to come in. Uh oh. I ducked down into the hole, climbing down the ladder into the cave. These guys sounded like raiders, though I’d never heard a raider successfully use the word troglodyte in a sentence before… maybe that one mare was just a smart raider. Those sometimes happen, right? In any case, I needed to go wake up Hiss and Shimmercoat before we got ourselves in a confrontation.

“Hey, Sunny! There’s hoofprints in here!” said Cracklejack’s voice.

“I noticed.” Said the mare, who was apparently Sunny. “Arm up, Tiny goes first. Let’s check it out.”

“YEAHHHHHHHHH!!” Said the other stallion voice, who I could probably assume was Tiny. That name probably meant that he was built like a tank and about the size of one too. I expedited my pace, running to wake the others.

“Hiss! Shimmercoat!” I whispered loudly as I approached them, nudging them with my hoof. “Wake up, we got company!”

Hiss grumbled, yawned hugely, his fangs glistening as his mouth stretched to its impressive full width, and he stood up, stretching his paws forward and generally making a fuss about getting up earlier. I thought nightstalkers were supposed to be, oh I don’t know, nocturnal? Whatever. “Shimmercoat! Hey!” I kicked him a little harder.

“Bzuwahuh?” Shimmercoat started, lifting his head quickly and looking around with an unfocused gaze, his specs askew.

“We…” I started to say, but was interrupted.

“AWWW YEAHH! Sunny we got live ones in here! And not radscorpions, they’re ponies!” I turned around to look at what Shimmercoat was already looking at with his eyes the size of saucers.

Tiny was, as predicted, anything but. A white earth pony stallion with an orange mane and miniscule green eyes, every muscle in his body was packed into his skin like it had been shoved in there under extreme duress. They weren’t so much muscles as they were sliding hoofballs engaging in reproductive activities under his coat. It was… a disturbing sight, to say the least. He didn’t have any barding on. I doubted that he could find any that would fit without needing customization, but he did have a simply massive battle saddle on with not one, but two missile launchers mounted on it, one on each side. I would say that I wasn’t worried about them, because nopony would be stupid enough to fire missiles in a cave, but the dilation in his tiny eyes (maybe that’s why he was called Tiny) and the roughness of his voice suggested that he was on Dash. That combined with his presumably already low intelligence meant that if anypony were to fire high explosives in this cave, he would be the one to do it, and he’d probably kill us all.

“Um… hi.” I said.

“SHUT UP!” Tiny shouted. Little particles of dust fluttered down from the ceiling. Not good. “Wait till Sunny gets here. She’s the talker.”

“Yes, Tiny, I’m the talker. So stop talking. And for Celestia’s sake don’t fire those things in here. You remember what happened last time we were in a cave?” An orange unicorn mare said as she appeared from behind the massive bulk of Tiny. She had a black mane, green eyes, and a large .44 Mag pistol mounted on her battle saddle. It was strange to see a unicorn with a battle saddle that was actually rigged for battle saddle mounted firing, usually unicorns levitated their weapons. There are exceptions to every rule, though. “So, what have we here, my little ponies?” She said, looking at us with the smirk of one who is in charge and about to take advantage of that fact. “Who speaks for you?”

“I do.” Both Shimmercoat and I said at the same time. We glared at each other.

“Oh ho ho! Do I sense some group disharmony? How fun! What’da say boys, should we make Little Miss Goggles and Sexy Specs over here fight for our amusement?” Sunny said, turning her head to Cracklejack.

“I dunno, I kinda want the slave for myself. He’s got a purdy mouth… heh…” Cracklejack said, grinning in Shimmercoat’s direction. Shimmercoat paled, and I smiled.

“Well…” I said, ignoring the fact that these ponies were obviously hostile, red bars on the EFS and everything. Sometimes you’ve got to get over that fact when dealing with ponies in this line of business. “While he’s not for sale, Shimmercoat here is up for rent. I’ll even throw you ponies a deal for being such nice folks. Only 50 caps for the duration of your stay in this cave with him!” I ended my pitch with a grin, trying to look as friendly as possible.

“Hold up, no! I told you I would not be used in such a manner! Especially with these ruffians!” Shimmercoat said indignantly, stamping his hoof and wrinkling his nose in disgust.

“Ignore him. Do we have a deal?” I said, still grinning madly.

The raiders looked at each other, then at Shimmercoat, then at me, then at the unconscious Crescent. “What about her?” Sunny asked.

“Unfortunately she’s not ready for the market just yet.” I said delicately. I really disliked selling foals, especially if they had family. I straight up refused to separate families if I could possibly avoid it, which usually meant I left families alone when looking for more slaves to sell. I realized that I had technically separated Crescent from her Stable family, but since the Stable was pretty much most likely all dead due to our recent escape, and she would have died with them if I had left her in there, I wasn’t feeling too bad about that. “She’s getting over a fever, and I don’t sell damaged merchandise.” I continued, hoping it was enough to sate their curiosity.

I could see that Sunny was thinking it over. I had offered way under what a night with a pony like Shimmercoat was worth, and it was obvious that at least two of this little group was attracted to him. I did not like the looks Tiny was giving me (do not want), but if I could negotiate our way out of this situation, and even gain a small profit, that would be dandy.

“How about this…” Sunny said after a short internal deliberation. “Since you brought that sort of thing up, instead of us buying a day with Shimmerglasses over there, how about Crackle and I take him, Tiny takes you, and afterwards, we kill you all so we don’t have to pay a thing!” She grinned her mad grin. Broken clipboards, I had hoped that it wouldn’t come to this. “Tiny! Grab her!” Sunny commanded the hulking earth pony, pointing at me.

Tiny charged, his well muscled form moving way quicker then it had any right to. I dodged to the side, whacking Tiny’s passing foreleg with the Hoof of Honor, connecting pretty solidly with the strike. He didn’t even flinch from the blow, and returned it with a backhoof strike right to my muzzle.


I went flying, tumbling head-over-hock into the wall behind me. Something went crunch, and an intense blossom of pain erupted from the point of impact. I screamed, and I suddenly couldn’t feel anything below my stomach. Above my stomach was nothing but sheer pain. I shouted in agony as Tiny charged for me again, slowing down as he got closer, realizing that I was functionally incapacitated. “HAHAHAHA!” he laughed loudly. “I thought slavers were supposed to be tough! What do you do, capture babies to sell them? HA! You need a bigger stallion to be in charge…”

Oh no… nonono… Ma… this was bad… he’s… “Help!” I shouted, scrabbling with my forehooves as I struggled to distance myself from Tiny. The pain I experianced when I tried to move, though, was overwhelming, and I couldn’t move fast enough. I looked over to where Shimmercoat had been. He had been backed up to a wall, behind one of his shields as Sunny and Cracklejack were pounding away at it with their hooves. I don’t know how much progress they were making, but it looked like he was too busy with his own issues to help me. I doubted that he would have come to my assistance anyways if my life wasn’t on the line.

My back legs wouldn’t move, and I was backed up against the wall, fighting to get away from the hulking beast who was clearly enjoying watching me struggle. Very clearly enjoying it, when I took a glance. I immediately I wished I hadn’t. “Ma… help…” I said weakly.

Tiny stopped, and then just lost it, laughing louder than he had before. “AHAHAHAHAHA!!! Oh, that’s just GREAT! Crying for her mama, HA! Some big tough slaver you are, little mare! Nopony’s coming to save you, you might as well just lay there and wait for papa! Cause mama ain’t on her way, that’s for sure!”

Shimmercoat was having his own problems, Crescent Wrench was unconscious, and I was on the ground and about to…

A shimmer weaved its way behind Tiny, and ducked under his legs. I broke into a huge, evil grin, unable to contain myself. “Heh, that’s right, might as well enj…” Tiny started, then he froze. His tiny eyes got even smaller, and I put my hooves over my ears as his earth-shattering scream of pain and suffering voiced itself to the heavens. Hiss reappeared, his fangs buried in Tiny’s… well… junk. Yes, let’s go with that. I laughed as he curled up into a Tiny ball. Then I hissed in pain, laughing had reminded me that I wasn’t doing too well. Gritting my teeth, I concentrated, levitating my rifle from where it had fallen when Tiny smacked me. Taking aim at Tiny’s head point-blank, I pulled the trigger…

I pulled the trigger…

Why can’t I pull the trigger? Is it broken? I took a closer look at my rifle quickly, there weren’t any apparent jams. I pointed at the ceiling, and it fired normally, a bullet burying itself into the rock face. Weird. I took aim at Tiny again and… why can’t I pull the trigger!? Frustrated, I activated S.A.T.S and thought the order to fire at Tiny. There it was, right in the order queue. I slipped out of S.A.T.S, waiting for the spell to fire my gun for me. I felt my horn try and pull the trigger, but it… didn’t. The trigger was fine, my own horn was resisting me! Did that hit I took do something to my magic?

Growling in frustration, I levitated the rifle’s mouth-grip into my teeth. Tiny was still rolling on the floor screaming in pain, with a very pleased looking Hiss sitting next to him holding… ok, I didn’t need to see that. I aimed the rifle manually at Tiny’s head and…

ARGH. My tongue refused to function. It was like I was pulling against a trigger that had been wonderglued into place, it simply wasn’t budging. I checked for jams again and it fired fine, so long as I wasn’t aiming at Tiny. “WHAT IS GOING ON!?” I screamed.

I was answered when a bullet blasted Tiny’s head into bits, splashing blood, bone, and bits of brain all over me. Gross. It wasn’t my bullet that did it though. I looked up to see that Shimmercoat had been victorious in his struggle against Cracklejack and Sunny, and was holding Sunny’s .44 Mag pistol in his telekinesis, giving me a look of disgust. “Geeze, Coin, why’d you leave him there? You could have put him out of his misery. And keep that thing away from me.” He said, pointing at Hiss, who was finishing up his… snack.

“I tried! I couldn’t fire my weapon at him for some reason!” I protested. How had Shimmercoat fended off two raiders with no weapons anyways? I looked over to the bodies of Crackle and Sunny. Crackle looked quite smashed, like he’d been dragged across the walls and slammed into the ceiling. I couldn’t see what was wrong with Sunny, except for the fact that she wasn’t breathing. I tried to get up, and cried out in pain. I still couldn’t feel anything under my lower back, and right above the spot where I couldn’t feel anything felt like every nerve right there was being flayed with a cheese grater. “I… can’t move my hind legs.” I said.

“Uh oh. Check your PipBuck’s diagnostic.” Shimmercoat said. He was sill looking at the three raiders with a look on his face suggesting that he thought Hiss was more of a pony than them, and didn’t seem concerned at all that I was on the ground and apparently incapacitated. Sure, I enslaved him, but the least he could do is offer a hoof.

I checked the little pony’s outline on the PipBuck’s ‘condition’ screen. “Umm… the torso is outlined in dotted lines and says, ‘Crippled – Spine Fracture, Possible Parylisis.’ That’s bad, isn’t it?” To be honest, my medical knowledge could still use some work. I needed to go over that book again.

“Wait, you’re paralyzed? Can you feel your legs?” Shimmercoat asked, he even managed to sound a little concerned.

“No.” I answered. Now I was worried. “Um… what does paralyzed mean?” I asked.

“Seriously?” Shimmercoat replied, facehoofing. “Ugh, uneducated little…” he muttered. Hey! My Ma taught me all I needed to know about life and how to run a casino. I could probably kick his rear at fancy mathematics. Medical training had been left out of my education though, so I didn’t know the big fancy terminology, big whoop. “Paralyzed means that your spinal column has been severed, at worst. Your brain isn’t connected to your legs any more. Without immediate medical attention, that entire section of your body will be unable to respond to your brains commands and… well… can you feel your, um, rear?”

The paralysis thing started at my lower back, so no, I couldn’t feel my rear. “Um, no… is that bad?” I asked, sounding more worried than I meant.

“Well, you won’t be able to go to the bathroom then. Which means that without treatment you’ll die from blood toxicity as the waste in your system builds up.” Shimmercoat sounded worried too. He should, if I die his head goes up in smoke, and he knew it.

“Ok… I don’t want to die from blood toxicitery.” I said, carefully trying to calm myself down. It’s only an injury, I’d had those before. Drink a healing potion and you’re good, right? “Paralysis is easy to fix though, right?” I asked.

Shimmercoat looked glum. Not good. “No… you’ll need surgery, by a skilled surgeon, and even then it’s iffy if you’ll ever get use of your back legs again. If we were still in the Stable then Doc Heffa would be able to fix you up no problem. Too bad we can’t go back.” He said bitterly. This is not what I wanted to hear. “You know of any doctors around here? The closer the better.”

“I… I…” I stammered. I suddenly felt… very tired. The world was spinning in front of me. “Ugh…” I retched, and threw up half-digested radscorpion steak goop. It did not taste as good coming up as going down. “Ugh, gross…” I murmured. I had meant to say it louder than that… this is bad… The grey stone of the cave floor wavered in my vision, and my eyes rolled back invoulentarily until I could see the slightly darker grey of the cave ceiling. The cave did not feel so warm and comfortable now as it did when we were eating.

“You’re going into shock! Quick, tell me where the nearest doctor is!” Shimmercoat said, approaching me swiftly, despite the vomit. Hiss wined, also approaching me and pawing at my stomach as I lay there pitifully.

“There… there’s a town a few days south of here called McSoys… but…” I said, but that’s all that I could get out as my vision flickered, then blacked out.


“Coin Slot…” said a voice. I was standing in the middle of a large black expanse. I wasn’t wearing anything, and no details of even what I was standing on could even be made out. All that there was was just solid black. Even though I felt plenty of space around me, for some reason I felt extremely claustrophobic at the moment.

“What? What is it?!” I answered the voice, my own voice sounding high and squeaky. Huh? I turned to look at the rest of me, and saw that I was suddenly a filly again, even younger than Crescent. Ok… not weird at all.

“It is time we introduced ourselves to each other. We shall be partners for now and ever after, after all.” The voice said. It was big, booming, and made the back of my neck try to crawl up my skull. It sounded male. I realized that this voice had been the one that woke me up this morning. If it hadn’t, we probably would have been caught by surprise by Sunny and her little gang, so at least I had that to go off of. Did the voice want to help me? Was I going crazy? What was going on? What did it mean by ‘partners ever after?’

“Um… what’s going on?” I asked. “And if you know my name already, why do you need an introduction?”

“A formal recognition of an entity is far superior to that of knowledge gained via unintentional espionage.” It said.

Espionage? “What, you’ve been spying on me?” I asked, my little filly voice sounding annoyed.

“Again, unintentional. Brace thyself, I am about to manifest in front of thee.” It said. A swirl of blue steam flowed around me, appearing from the blackness. It concentrated into a pony-shaped form in front of me. I could see little white specks in the steam, and the head of the pony shape swirled into form. It was the only part of the steamy blue body that seemed solid, and it was a familiar shape.

The blue-steam pony had Mezzer for its head. The energy emitter screen turned down towards me as if it were looking at me. Since I was only the size of a filly, the blue-steam pony towered over me. I shrunk back.

“Do not be afraid, I cannot harm you.” It said. “You hath christened me ‘Mezzer.’ This is my name. It is a pleasure to meet you.”

“L-likewise…” I stammered, unsure of what to say, so I fell back to the manners that my dear ol’ Ma taught me. This whole situation was just plain weird. “May I ask… w-what are you?”

“I do not know.” What was apparently Mezzer replied. Well that was helpful. “Before I cameth to this planet, I was merely a chunk of metal. I have been journeying through space since before this planet even existed. Yet I am only aware of this fact as mere trivia. The ‘myself’ that presents itself before thou hast no knowledge of the before time.” Mezzer said. He… at least I thought it was a he, I don’t know why. It certainly had a deep voice… anyways, he sounded old, and he spoke with old mannerisms, though his grammer was pretty choppy, like he was faking it. His steamy body was in the shape of a young, fit stallion however, and he suprisingly had no creak in his voice. He somehow gave off this strong, youthful vibe, like he was ready to jump up and get to work.

“The before time?” I asked, still befuddled, and so I was basically repeating what he said while I tried to think of something. Apparitions while unconscious usually involved my dear ol’ Ma, this was entirely new to me.

“The time before I gained my intelligence. The time before I met… thou.” He said, stepping closer. I backed away, and he stopped, standing there being all wispy. “When I landed on the planet’s surface, I was infused with what I now knoweth to be plant material, with magical properties. I knoweth not why it granted me intelligence, but as soon as thou touched my previous form, I was reshaped into this…” He waved a wispy hoof, gesturing at his head. “And it has bonded our spirits together inexorably. We are one.” Ok… we’ve left weird behind and headed right on down to creepytown.

“I… I’m confused. You’re my Mezzer? My new gun?” I asked.


“And you’re… alive?”

“As long as thou livest, yes. I have been tied to thou’s soul.” It… he said.

My soul. Alright, yeah, Creepytown, Equestria. Population: this guy. “Were you the one that warned me about Sunny and her cronies approaching us?” I asked.

“Yes. Protecting thou is one of my primary goals. If I am tied to thou’s soul, than if thou dies, I shall also perish. I have just gained life, I am not done with it yet.” Mezzer said. “Be aware that I will be keeping an eye on thou. I can sense far more than thou can.”

Alright, like I said before, creepy, but, if this new passenger in my head… or soul, whatever… was looking out for me, than that was actually pretty sweet, wasn’t it?

“Also, I am afraid I am the reason thou can no longer kill anypony.” Mezzer said.

“What?” I asked. He started to repeat himself, but I interrupted. “You mean that you were the reason I couldn’t pull the trigger on Tiny when he was about to rape me?!” I said furiously.

“I am afraid so. I am a non-lethal weapon. A Mesmetron. The real models of this weapon were developed by General Atomareics before the war, for use as riot-control weapons for police officers. Do not ask me how I know this, I knoweth not how I know for myself.” He said, using very confusing, old fashioned sentence structure. “I also knoweth not how I work, I just know what I am. If thou wants more information, I suggest seeking out a General Atomareics database. As a non-lethal weapon bound to thou’s soul, I am afraid I have an influence over thou. Thou art effectively a non-lethal weapon as well. Thou art no longer able to kill sentient life forms.”

I stood there in shock. “I… I can’t kill anyone?” I said. “I… I never want to kill, but if you know so much you know what it’s like out there! In my line of work! I need to be able to protect myself!”

“I shall aid thou in that endeavor, but I am afraid that the effect I have on thou is not only permanent, but can never be lost. I am bound to thou, if thou seeks to rid thy self of me, thou will have to kill thy self.” Mezzer said, an almost apologetic tone to his strange voice.

“So I’m stuck with you too? If I had known picking you up would have done that, I wouldn’t have touched you in the first place!” I said, getting angry. I stepped up right next to the flowing apparition.

“If thou hadst not, those star-wolves wouldst have devoured thou.” He stated matter-of-factly.

He was right, if it weren’t for him blowing the heads off those wolves, I would have been toast back then. This was too much… I must be going insane. “I must be insane… that’s the only explanation for all of this.” I said. “Shock! That’s it, I’m in shock from breaking my back.”

“Thou may write me off as an apparition born of insanity, or as a symptom of shock, but thou art still stuck with me. I hope that, with time, thou wilt accept me as thy friend.” Mezzer said calmly. He sounded sincere, and a little bit sad, and I felt like a jerk for not even considering that he could be real.

“I… we’ll see. In the meantime, do you have any idea what’s going on out… you know…” I said, trying to find the right words. “In the real world? This is a dream or something, right? I’m a filly after all, and I know for a fact that I should be a full grown mare.”

“We art in thy inner self, where thy soul resides. The form you hold now is thy true form.” Mezzer said.

“Wait, are you saying that I’m still a little foal on the inside?!” I said, getting angry again.

“That would appear to be the case.”

“Well… I’m not! I’m a big pony! I mean… uh… an adult! A full grown mare!” I said, my little foal voice sounding silly even to my ears. For a being without real eyes, Mezzer gave me the distinct impression that he was raising an eyebrow at me.

“Thou art a full grown mare with what appears to be a severe mother fixation, if I have read thou correctly.” He said.

“It’s not a fixation! I just love her very much!” I shouted. I hated it when ponies told me I was obsessed with my dear ol’ Ma. Because I wasn’t. Really.

“Indeed.” Was all Mezzer replied. “Well, to answer thy other question, I do have an idea of what is going on whilst thou art unconscious. It would appear that thy slave Shimmercoat hast picked thou up in some sort of magical stretcher. He is walking outside, and it would also appear that thy nightstalker is being contained inside a shield.”

Ok then. At least I knew we were moving, even if I wasn’t awake to tell the Stable pony where to go. I wondered why Hiss was being contained… and one other thing. “What about Crescent Wrench?”

“I don’t… wait. There she is. It would seem that she has awoken. She looks frightened. Shimmercoat is speaking to her as we travel. I cannot hear him, but I would hazard a guess that he is informing her of the current events” Mezzer said.

“Good. Means I don’t have too.” I said. Of course I would still talk to the filly, she was probably getting the ‘angry-first-time-slave-forced-to-do-something-he-doesn’t-like’ bias right now. It was a ludicrous bias that all ponies that were enslaved had to get over quick or find their heads spontaneously fragmented. I hoped that Crescent would still make a good slave even without a collar. Now that I had my bags, I had spares, but I really didn’t like putting collars on little fillies or colts. Usually they could be convinced or trained to just follow orders. Not all slavers had my point of view on that matter, but that was one of the reasons why I generally worked alone. I didn’t have to put up with any lack-of-ethics malarkey from anypony else.

“Thou art about to return to consciousness. Thy heart rate is speeding up.” Mezzer said. “Now that our connection is complete, thou wilt be hearing from me more often. For now, however, I bid thee adieu.” I opened my mouth to reply, but Mezzer was already fading from view as I slipped into the darkness…


My first sensation upon waking was pain. Dear jumping lima beans, the pain! The area above my broken back felt like it was being held against a burning stove top, while simultaneously every nerve under my skin was being plucked like harpsichord strings by the tips of rusty knives. Below the break, of course, there was nothing. My eyes still closed, I coughed, and choked out the words, “Med-X. Please…”

I felt a tiny prick at the base of my neck, and the pain mercifully dulled away. I opened my eyes. I was lying on top of a flattened shield spell, like a magical stretcher, just as Mezzer said. Hiss was floating above me, in his own little bubble shield. Crescent was backing away from me, dropping the empty syringe in her pack. I was surprised, usually Stable ponies like her took a little while before realizing that everything, and literally everything, even empty used syringes, had a salvageable value. “What’s going on… hey Crescent. Good to see you’re awake.” I said. She just looked away, obviously still intimidated by me despite the fact that I was paralyzed.

“Well, I figured that there had to be a medical center or doctor or something somewhere out here, so I started walking.” Shimmercoat said. His horn was glowing as his magic kept Hiss and I in and on the shields he was projecting. He was looking down at the ground with a determined gaze. Crescent was also focused intently on the ground in front of her hooves.

“You might be able to find your way better if you looked up.” I said. I looked around. We had gone from the flat wastes surrounding Stable 11 to a spread-out suburban area, with leveled housing developments as far as the eye could see. A few houses still stood, having withstood both the balefire bombs and the test of time, but they were few and far between.

“Can’t. The ceiling is… too far up. It’s big out here.” Shimmercoat said. “My PipBuck’s auto-map has been doing fine. I’m headed towards a place it’s tagged as ‘Maregaton.’ I’m assuming that’s the name of some sort of village or something.”

Maregaton. The name brought memories of crazy bomb-worshippers to mind. Also, I knew that they didn’t like slavers, and wouldn’t let us in even if our life depended on it. Which coincidentally, mine did. “It is a village, but I’m afraid it won’t do us any good.” I said.

“Why not?” Crescent asked.

“They don’t allow slavers in.” I answered. “The collar you’re wearing will tip them off, Shimmercoat, and they’ll throw me to the wolves. Crescent could get in, but I can’t and by extension, you can’t get 200 yards past the gate. Even if we could get in, if their doctor suspected me in any way of being a slaver, they would refuse to provide treatment.” I said with a depressed sigh. I tried to think of a slaver-friendly town near Maregaton, but couldn’t think of any offhoof. The closest I knew of was Auction House, and that was basically as far away as Fillydelphia right now, just in the opposite direction and only a few miles closer.

“While I am very happy to hear that not everypony is a slaving bitch like yourself,” Shimmercoat said, “I’m afraid that if you don’t get treatment for your back within the next twenty four hours, your life will be in major jeopardy. As will mine, unless you remove this collar.”

“Not on your life. You’ll just leave me in the dust.” I said. I was scared stiff, to tell the truth, but I’d be darned if I’d show it.

“Better believe it.” Shimmercoat replied. Hiss growled from his bubble above me.

“Why is Hiss in a shield?” I asked.

“He keeps trying to attack me. I have no idea why.” Shimmercoat said, glaring at the nightstalker before his eyes tracked upwards to the sky. He shivered, and quickly looked down again. “So I’m keeping him contained until you can tell him to back off.”

“Hiss. No.” I said. Hiss continued growling though, and ignored me completely. “You know what, I don’t have the energy for this, just leave him in there for now.” I said.

“Is… is it true that if I leave you, I’ll die?” Crescent asked, looking up at me.

“Well…” I started. “If you leave me, you’ll most likely run into some sort of nasty critter who wants you for dinner. Or a ganger who’ll rape you till you split wide open. Or a crazy raider who’ll kill you and eat you. Or another slaver like myself who isn’t as nice and will force you into a collar even though you’re just a kid. And also probably rape you. Plus you’ll also be leaving the only pony you know, Shimmercoat.” I said. With each description of the most common nasties in the wastes, her face grew paler and paler. She trotted closer to my little glowing stretcher, looking around nervously. Smart filly.

“Are there… Creepers?” She asked.

“Good grief, no.” Both Shimmercoat and I said simultaneously. We gave each other a glance. “Creeper’s don’t exist, sweetie.” Shimmercoat said patently, like he’d been over this with her a hundred times, which, for all I knew, he had. She blushed at the word ‘sweetie.’

“I sense trouble on the horizon.” The voice of Mezzer said in my head. I jerked up in surprise. I would have jumped, but the lower half of my body was, of course, not going anywhere.

“What kind of trouble?” I asked. Shimmercoat and Crescent gave me a look. Whoops. Don’t look like a crazy mare in front of the slaves, Coin. “I mean, uh, I think there’s trouble up ahead…” I said nervously. Shimmercoat looked at the horizon with minor difficulty, turning his head slowly as if scanning for something. “I don’t see any hostiles on E.F.S. Except for that abomination, of course.” He said, pointing at Hiss.

“Well… keep your eyes peeled.” I instructed. I noticed my own E.F.S was sitting there at the corner of my vision. Right now there was just a few green bars representing Hiss, Shimmercoat, and Crescent on it, but I could tell already that this thing would be useful. PipBucks, a waster’s best friend, provided they worked correctly. “Um… you sure that there’s something out there?” I thought, hoping Mezzer could pick up on thoughts.

“I am. Although closer examination reveals that it may not be a threat. It is moving in the same direction as thou, towards the village of Maregaton. I will endeavor to be less jumpy in the future. I’m a little tense right now, as I am worried for thy well-being.” Mezzer said. Well isn’t that nice.

Ok, so we weren’t the only ones on the road. At least it wasn’t a group of raiders, I don’t think the two Stable ponies I was with could handle a fight without my help… even if I couldn’t kill anymore…

“Auuugh!!” I cried out, sudden pain lancing through me even through the dullness of Med-X. My E.F.S flashed a warning; Blood Toxicity Level at 20%. I relayed this information to Shimmercoat. “Is… is that bad?” I asked. I had no idea what any of this medical stuff meant. Toxicity was poison, right?

His face looked grim. “We need to hurry, we have less time then I hoped. It’ll depend on how tough you are. If your body can handle more than 40% toxicity level, I’ll be impressed.” I really did not like the sound of that.


We rushed onwards through the crumbled streets of the blasted out suburbs of the old world, luckily not running into anything nasty, though Crescent did fall into no less than three sinkholes. She wasn’t hurt in any of them, but it slowed us down when Shimmercoat had to help her up with a shield spell shaped like stairs in order for her to get out of the holes. A few hours later, the wall surrounding the crater-town of Maregaton appeared out of the everpresent gloom. A cart was parked outside the entrance gate, probably the thing that Mezzer had detected earlier. “There it is…” I groaned. I really wasn’t feeling well, and the Med-X was wearing off.

“How’re you doing?” Crescent Wrench asked, sounding worried. For being so scared of me, she was awfully concerned for my well-being, staying close and fussing over me as I lay on Shimmercoat’s shield.

“My PipBuck says 29% toxicity level… and I feel like crud.” I replied. “They’re not going to let us in you know…”

“No sense in not trying.” Shimmercoat said. “Do you think we could disguise the fact that you’re a slaver somehow? Maybe have me wear a cloth around my neck, stash any suspicious gear, and get in that way?”

“Maybe…” I considered what he said. We had enough strips of cloth from the Stable barding I tore up when I combined it with my leather armor to make a decent neck covering… what was that?

A winged figure was racing straight towards us from the top of Maregaton’s protective wall. It landed right in front of us with an eruption of dust blasting forth from the rocky ground at its hooves. When the dust cleared, a blood-red pegasus with a blond mane and a combat shotgun and sniper rifle mounted on his battle saddle could be seen glaring at us. His cutie mark had been branded off with the symbol of a cloud-and-lightning-bolt. A Dashite. “Or not…” I muttered. He must have seen us through his scope. Of course Maregaton would have somepony on watch. They could see all the way down the decaying street we just walked down from the position at the top of the rusty old gate. He must have seen us from several miles out. There was no way he hadn’t identified us as a slaver and slaves.

“Halt! What business do you have coming here, slaver?!” the pegasus said loudly, his voice echoing off the walls of the suburb houses around here that were still standing. He had a tad too much melodrama in his tone. Must be his first guard duty, or he was way to committed to his job.

“We need medical assistance.” Shimmercoat said, giving the pegasus a winning smile that, if he were a mare, would have probably brought the pegasus to his knees. As it was, though, the pegasus just snorted in derision. “My… owner… here has broken her back, and she’ll die without surgery.” He said with a slight grimace.

“Well sucks to be her then! Good! One less slaver in the wastes! Once you two are free of her bondage I’ll treat you to drinks at Hoff’s Hoof! Name’s Shotty Snipes.” He held out his hoof to Shimmercoat, and Shimmercoat shook it warily, unsure of how to approach this buck. Shotty glanced back at Maregaton’s gate behind him.

“I don’t think you understand. If she dies, so do I.” Shimmercoat said. “An innocent slave.” He added, for emphasis. “My head will blow up.” I got the impression that Shimmercoat didn’t think this pegasus was very bright. I laid there looking as pathetic as possible, not hard to do since I felt like brahmin manure.

“Ooo, sorry to hear that, mate. I’m afraid town policy doesn’t allow me to let any slavers in, under any circumstances. That even includes hostage situations, the town just can’t afford the risk that they bring.” Shotty said. A tumbleweed rolled by on the street, bouncing off a dilapidated mailbox as this news sunk in. It was worse than I thought, they wouldn’t even let me in if I had a hostage? But hostages always work!

“But sir!” Crescent Wrench piped up, widening her eyes and looking so gol-darned cute that I could see giant bags of caps lining up to buy her at Auction House. “If our mistress dies, then poor Shimmy will die, and I’ll be left all alone!” She pouted, her lower lip trembling up at the now flustered pegasus.

“Shimmy?” Muttered Shimmercoat, glancing at the filly.

“Well… you could just… come on into Maregaton after that…” Shotty said, and Crescent started to sniffle, tears forming on the edges of her eyes. Man, this filly was good. Would we be able to get past the guard? My spirits lifted a little. If that was possible, then maybe we could convince the doctor to see me… and maybe I wouldn’t die! I sat up a little, even though it hurt like the dickens to do so.

“B-b-b-BUTIDONTWANNABEALONE!! BWAAAHAAAAAHAAAAAA!!” Crescent burst into tears. Shotty looked like he wanted to be anywhere else but here. He looked at me.

“Uh… Miss, would you mind if you just let these slaves go? If you did, I could… maybe put in a good word for you? Who knows? They could let one exception in… after years and years of the same policy… with no exceptions even in more dire circumstances…” he deflated, even he knew that that would never happen. “Look, I’m sorry, I really can’t let you or your slaves in.” He lifted off, flapping slowly back towards the gate. “Sorry.” He said over his shoulder again. As soon as he was out of earshot, Crescent Wrench stopped crying. She rubbed her eyes and sniffled.

“That was a good try Crescent.” I said through gritted teeth. “I’m afraid it’ll take more than fake tears to get past the gate, though…”

“W-whatdya mean f-f-fake?! I really don’t want to be left alone out here!” Crescent said, her eyes tearing up again. Shoot, she was actually crying?! It wasn’t an act?!

“The owner of the cart wants thy attention.” Mezzer said before I could reply. I looked up at the cart in front of the gate. There was a tall unicorn buck there waving a hoof at us. “Maybe he can help us?”

“Shimmercoat, take us to that cart… maybe he has something that can help me.” I said, hoping beyond hope that this mysterious buck was a traveling doctor with low scruples.


“Quick, get in my cart.” The dark brown buck said when we approached him. He had blue eyes and a red mane and tail.

“Why?” Shimmercoat asked.

“Just do as he says, Shimmercoat!” I said angrily. The pain was really getting to me, and the odd disembodiment of my lower half was as maddening as all get out. My bottom hooves were right there, why couldn’t I move them!? Stupid medical stuff.

“My mommy said that we weren’t supposed to go with strangers anywhere in the Stable.” Crescent said. Shoot, my dear ol’ Ma had said the same thing too. Why was I forgetting important things like that? It must be the pain. Before I could speak up and change my mind, though, Shimmercoat hauled myself and Hiss into the covered wagon while its owner hitched himself up. Crescent hopped up onto the end of the cart to join us, and we were off in a flash, headed away from the gates of Maregaton at a fairly fast clip. We had only traveled a few hundred yards, however, when the cart stopped near a big rock.

“What’s going on?” I called out to our driver.

“I needed to get out of earshot from the gate guard.” The buck said, unhitching himself from the cart. Oh, boy, I hoped we didn’t make a mistake getting in this cart… though if I didn’t get help in a few hours it wouldn’t make a difference. The buck came around to the back of the cart and into view. I was pleased to see that he was unarmed. He was wearing a pair of old sunglasses and a weird-looking hat with a brim that came to a point in the front and back. “I think we can help each other. My name is Price, and I represent a client who is interested in some things that I think a slaver such as yourself could provide.”

Well. Alright then. Sometimes ponies requested specific jobs for me; in fact those kinds of jobs were usually the best paying. But something like getting into a mysterious cart and racing off away from town before giving the job offer had never happened before. “I’m grateful for the chance at a job…” I said warily. “But I don’t know if you noticed or not, I’m not being carried around by my slave because I’m lazy. My back is broken.” I hissed in pain.

“And she’s dying.” Shimmercoat interjected. “Which amounts to me dying as well. So unless you’re a doctor and doing this job will convince you to heal her, I’m afraid that we really don’t have the time to whatever it is you want doing.”

“Oh, I am well aware of your situation, and my payment for this job is quite fitted to your current state of health.” Price said. My ears perked up. Was he suggesting that he could pay me with a healed back? I’d take it, no matter the job. I had no intention of dying today. “I’m no doctor…” he said, my ears drooping again at this news, “but I have a…piece of equipment that will make short work of your back injury.”

“How did he know that thy back was broken? Besides the large amount of bruising on thy back, thy doesn’t have any outward signs of being injured at all. And he was in front of us, not following us…” Mezzer said.

Hey… wait a second… Mezzer was right! How did this Price ‘know of our situation,’ as he put it? Something was up… but if he really could fix my back… “This piece of equipment… can it really fix my back?” I asked.

“Guaranteed. I’ll give you a hint as to what it is; it’s old world tech.” Price said. Well I knew that there was plenty of old world magic and technology developed by the Ministry of Peace that could do miraculous things when it came to recovering injuries; healing potions being among them. “And I’ll even let you use it before you do what I want you to do, so you don’t have to go do this job with a broken back. I will, however, need some sort of insurance to make sure that the contract is done. Wouldn’t want to fix you up only to have you disappear on me, no?” He smiled a humorless smile. Crescent Wrench cowered, scooting up closer to Shimmercoat. That gave me an idea.

“One of my slaves. That will be your insurance. I don’t intend on selling these two anytime soon.” I said.

“And how do I know that you won’t just abandon your slave, especially after I give you this equipment? I am letting you keep this equipment after all, and it’s fairly valuable.” Price countered. “But it’s the price I’m willing to pay to get this done. My client wants it done, and authorized me to use whatever I need to to ensure that it is completed.”

“Wait, we get to keep it?” I said, incredulous. Medical technology was rare enough that it was worth ten times its weight in caps. If this ‘equipment’ was capable of fixing a broken back, then whatever this job was had to be not only difficult, but extremely dangerous. But it wasn’t as if I had a choice.

“Isn’t it awful convenient that the moment thou needs something to fix thy broken back, somepony comes along with the means to do so, and a job they want thou to do for it? This reeks of a bad scheme to me.” Mezzer pointed out.

“That’s a valid point, but it’s not like I have much choice, do I?” I thought back at it. I would figure out what kind of scheme this Price was up to after I got my back fixed.

“Why don’t you have her wear one of her own collars? She has more in her pack.” Shimmercoat said, a triumphant, vindictive look on his face.

“Hey, yeah! That’ll convince you I’m really going to do the job, right? If I disappear on you, you can just push the detonate button, and my head will go up in smoke.” I said, a triumphant look also on my face. Shimmercoat looked at me in shock. “What?” I asked. “Collars are, like I said, tools to force and enhance cooperation. If I need to wear one so we can cooperate, I have no qualms doing so.” That seemed to stun Shimmercoat, and he looked thoughtfully at me, as if he were trying to figure out a difficult puzzle. I don’t know why, it really isn’t that complicated.

“That is sufficient insurance.” Price said, smiling. His glasses reflected the light in a creepy manner, the pointed brim of his hat casting a pointy shadow on his muzzle that made him kind of look like some sort of bird. A vulture, maybe, or a buzzard.

“So, we have a deal. You give us the means to heal me, and we do this job for you.” I said, more then satisfied with the terms. I would do whatever it took to survive, and if he needed a slaver, then that probably meant he wanted somepony found or captured. My specialty. ”What’s the job?”

“Detonate the megaspell in the center of Maregaton.”

Level up! (Lv. 6)

New Perk: Just A Flesh Wound: You have sustained a crippled limb for so long that the pain from having your limbs crippled is now something you can withstand far better then you could before. All negative effects from having your limbs crippled are halved.

Enchanted Weapon Perk analysis: 100% complete!

Enchanted Weapon Perk: You have gained a sentient weapon that will give you advice and watch out for your well being. It’s perception is effectively double that of your own, and it can protect you against a variety of mental assaults, both magical and non-magical. However, you are limited in what you can do by what the weapon in particular is. In this case, you can no longer kill sentient beings, since the enchanted weapon is intended to be a non-lethal weapon.

Author’s Note: HUGE thanks to Kkat for writing Fallout: Equestria and giving us sidefic writers a great big sandbox to play in. Also thanks to Lesolan (who is super-amazing and the best editor ever) and Shimmercoat (who is also cool, I guess) for help editing and proofreading this slog to make it something enjoyable. And thanks to all who hang out at the Sidefic Compilation doc for providing feedback and inspiration to write my own story. Also thanks to Bethesda and Hasbro for two great franchises. Hope you enjoy!

Chapter 6 > In which spines grow back

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Chapter 6 > In which spines grow back
“Doctor! Are you sure this will work?!”

“Ma, what’s a megaspell?” I asked curiously. I had overheard a conversation between two gamblers discussing the transportation of a megaspell south down the Big 52. They were having a heated argument about it, but I couldn’t understand most of what they were talking about, so I went to ask Ma.

“Why do you want to know, dear? They’re dreadful things, something good little fillies shouldn’t concern themselves with.” Ma said, looking down at me from her desk, where she was filing income and expense reports, as usual. No wonder her cutie mark was an open financial scroll with a quill crossing over it, poised to work its accounting magic.

“There’s two nice stallions on the gaming floor talking about them, and I was curious…” I said. Megaspells weren’t on the ‘things good fillies should know about’ list? Maybe I should have kept my curiosity to myself…

“Oh? Get Hammer to fetch them in here, please.” She said. I nodded, my curiosity still burning, but if Ma didn’t want to tell me what megaspells were, I wasn’t going to press the issue. Interrogating your parents wasn’t something good little fillies did, and I was a good little filly. Ma said so.

So I left her office, and went up to the new security guard Ma just hired a few days ago, an earth pony stallion by the name of Hammer. He carried a really cool looking high-tech pneumatic sledgehammer he said was called a ‘super sledge.’ I thought that was a pretty silly name for a sledgehammer, but I saw what it did to that one mare who was caught with a light wand at one of our slot machines. I’m glad I didn’t have to clean up that mess… Hammer was a bit scary. “Hammer! Hammer!” I ran up to him, catching his attention. He had a black mane and tail and what he called a ‘lightish red’ coat. He let me call him pink once, since I was a little filly, he said… but warned me that if I ever did so again then he would ‘hammer me silly.’ I didn’t want to be a Coin Slot that could fit into a coin slot, so I avoided the p-word around him. He was sitting in a corner, keeping an eye on the gaming floor.

“What is it, little Coin?” Hammer said, smiling down at me. “Need help finding something to put in your Slot?”

“Huh?” I said, puzzled, looking up at him. His eyes gleamed like shining memory orbs, but I could see my reflection in them, they were so dark.

“Never mind. What is it?” he said, shaking his head. He stopped smiling.

“Ma wants you to bring those two customers into her office. She wants to talk to them.” I said, pointing the two arguing stallions on the gaming floor out. One had a magnifying glass for a cutie mark, the other had an exploding grenade.

“Alright, stand back, little filly. Hammer’s gonna go to work.” Hammer said, standing up. He approached the two stallions, who went quiet as soon as the realized he was coming for them. He said something I couldn’t hear, and the two arguers both stood up and started walking towards Ma’s office.

I followed them inside Ma’s office, wanting to know what was going on. Ma was glaring at the two of them and Hammer was standing by the door. Ma looked up from them to me and said, “Coin, darling, I need you to leave and watch the floor for now while I deal with a little administrative problem. Please close the door behind you, there’s a good little filly.”

“Yes Ma!” I said, always glad to help, like good little fillies should be. I closed the door and looked at the casino floor. Our little family casino wasn’t very big, it only had one roulette table, one craps table, one pool table, and two blackjack/poker tables. It also had two rows of slot machines, which I had converted to take caps instead of chips, since Pa couldn’t find enough chips during his salvage runs to stock our casino. Pa was at the bar off to the side of the casino right now, cleaning glasses with the sad look on his face that he had had ever since I… ever since Fiddlesticks had left. We were talking less and less now… I had thought getting rid of Fiddlesticks would solve all the problems between Ma and Pa… even though I didn’t quite understand what was going on, I knew that Fiddle had had something to do with it. But Pa was still sadder then ever.

There was exactly one customer playing at a slot machine right now, an old customer too. Old Mare Withers, who came to play every week with fifty caps, and every week she lost fifty caps. She was nice, though, if a bit weird. She sometimes gave me a 10mm bullet, saying that ammo is the lifeblood of the wasteland. Her cutie mark was a bullet, so I guessed that she was some sort of expert or something. I had a box under my bed I kept the bullets in. Anyways, I knew she was no trouble, and nopony else was here. I heard muffled voices from behind the door to Ma’s office.

“Good little fillies don’t eavesdrop… good little fillies don’t eavesdrop…” I muttered to myself… but curiosity burned inside me. What were those two stallions doing, and what in the hay was a megaspell? I scooted up close to the door, leaning in close and almost putting my ear to the door. The muffled voices cleared up enough for me to understand what they were saying.

“…nd you can understand that I would be interested in such a thing passing through here. What would two gentleponies such as yourselves be doing with such a device?” I heard my Ma’s voice say. She was using her tone that I only heard when I was in trouble, and I knew that those two ponies she had brought in were in big doo-doo.

“I… I don’t know what you’re talking about miss. A megaspell? How would you say that we would transport such a device? We don’t have a cart parked outside.” One dapper-sounding voice said. One of the stallions. He sounded nervous.

“Yeah! No cart!” said what was probably the other stallion. He sounded far less intelligent.

“Hammer, dear, show them to respect their betters.” Ma said.

I heard Hammer chuckle menacingly, and shouts of alarm from the two ponies turned into muffled yelps of pain as I cringed back from the door. Did… did Ma order Hammer to hit them? That didn’t sound like something she would do at all!

“Alright alright! Call off your thug, we’ll tell ya where we hid it!” said the dapper voice, though now he sounded a lot less dapper.

“Hammer, dear, let the nice pony talk. Keep his friend in that chokehold, though. Wouldn’t want him to get the idea that lying is okay, now would we? Good ponies don’t lie.” Ma said. I heard sputtering, wheezing noises that must have been dapper-voice’s friend being slowly choked by Hammer.

“The tunnels! We’re using the Solaris tunnels to get it to where our client wants it to go! We weren’t going to set it off anywhere near here!”

“Now isn’t that nice…” I heard my Ma reply, the clack of hooves on the floor meaning she had gotten up from her chair and was walking slowly around the room. “Hammer, do you know how valuable a megaspell is?”

“I’d guess they’re pretty valuable, miss.” Hammer said dutifully.

“So would I, Hammer. Do I like valuable things?” Ma asked.

“You do, miss.” Hammer continued the line of questioning. I wondered where Ma was going with this. Wouldn’t she already know if she liked valuable things?

“Now… no need to be unreasonable…” Dapper-voice said, sounding more distressed then ever. The sputtering of the other stallion had dropped off, I couldn’t hear it anymore. “Could you get your thug to let go of Frag?”

“What’s your name, young colt?” Ma asked suddenly. She was notably louder… I thought that she was right beside the door, and I backed up quickly, fearing that she would catch me listing in.

“Uh… Fetch Finder.” Fetch said.

“Fetch, dear…” Ma said, and then I heard a weird rustling noise, as if curtains were being pulled really quickly. Outside, the cawing of crows drowned out what else was said, but when I could hear what was past the door again, it was Ma talking. “… lean this up, then go down to the tunnels and find that megaspell. If their client wants it anywhere near here, it’ll be bad for business. It’s best I find somewhere else to be rid of it... or somepony else far away to sell it too.” The door opened. Ma looked down at me, and I shrank back. There was a look in her eyes… one I only saw when she caught a customer cheating, or that one time when I lost an entire day’s worth of caps because I fell asleep at the counter. It was a look that I never wanted to see on her face. The look that I needed to stay away from…

“COIN! Were you evesdropping!?” Ma shouted.

“No, Ma! I wasn’t!” I lied quickly, hoping against hope that she would believe me. I looked to where Pa had been, but he was nowhere to be seen.

“Good little fillies don’t lie to their mothers, Coin! And good little fillies don’t listen in on adult conversations!” Ma said, seeing right through me.

“I’m sorry! I’ll be good, I’m a good filly, I am!” I cried, tears coming to my eyes. I wanted to run, to back away from Ma, to do something, but I was rooted to the spot as Ma towered over me, the look that I needed to stay away from getting closer and closer…

“I think you need to spend some character-building time…” Ma started.

“NO! Ma… please no…” I protested, falling to her hooves, begging. Tears were now fully streaming from my eyes as I cried, knowing what she was going to say next.

“… in The Rock. Go on, now, get up young filly! Good little fillies follow their mother’s orders, and you’ve already forgotten that twice today. Don’t test me by making it a third time…” she said, glowering down at me.

I numbly got to my hooves, knowing what was coming next. I had gotten in trouble before, of course, and whenever Ma decided that I had been a Bad Filly, I was sent to The Rock. It was accessed via the basement of our casino. There were tunnels leading from a network of maintenance shafts down there, and one of them lead to a cavern that consisted of a tiny ledge by the door, followed by a huge drop into the cavern that was always full of ghouls. Ma said that spending time contemplating what I’d done while sitting a slip away from falling and being eaten by zombie ponies was a good way to ‘build character.’ I was terrified of that place, she always left me there for at least a few hours, or, if I had been really bad, even a whole day.

Ma and I headed down the stairs to the basement, where we stored old equipment, food, water, alcohol, and other things the casino used. I went in front, under the watchful eye of Ma, and even if I thought I could, I wouldn’t have tried to run off into the maintenance tunnels. The only path we knew was safe was the short path to The Rock, which Ma had lit up with portable lights and spark generators. I would have quickly gotten lost or worse if I tried to stray from the path…

“Dear… you know why I have to do this, don’t you?” Ma asked, her voice softening. I sniffled, tears still falling from my eyes. “My little Coin Slot… it’s because I love you. I want you to be safe. Megaspells kill ponies, a lot of ponies. Megaspells are the reason why the wasteland and all it’s bad things exist. I wanted to protect you from that, and those ponies who brought one here needed to be dealt with. It’s my fault, really, I should have sent you to your room… it tears me up on the inside that you heard what happened in there… now you have to build character to deal with this new knowledge…” We stopped walking, the door to The Rock in front of us. I looked up at its foreboding metal façade, knowing what lay on the other side was the dark, lonely perch above certain death where I could reflect on… whatever it was Ma wanted me to reflect on.

“Coin, look at me.” Ma said, and I looked up at her bleary image, my tears obscuring my sight. Her hoof stroked my cheek, wiping the tears away. “You’re going to grow up to be such a wonderful mare, I can tell. And you’ll have me to thank for it, dear. This hurts me more than it hurts you… I’m protecting you from the bad things like those ghouls behind that door. Just stay on The Rock and wait for me to come back, okay?”

I nodded, and Ma leaned down and kissed me on the forehead, brushing my mane out of my eyes. “When I come back, I want you to tell me what you’ve learned, okay? Now that this part of your innocence is gone, you need to cope with the new knowledge fast, or the wasteland will… well, I won’t let that happen.” Ma pressed the button that opened the door. The tiny ledge that was The Rock lay before me, and the hissing, spitting sounds of the ghouls far below drifted up towards us, making my knees shake. I didn’t mind the look of ghouls so much… it was the sounds they made that kept me awake at night. Ma gave me a little nudge towards the door, and I walked through, laying on my usual spot in the widest part of the ledge. The light coming through the door outlined my Ma’s loving expression as she pressed the button to close and lock the door behind her, leaving me in pitch darkness.

All I could think as the sounds of the shuffling feral ghouls beneath me rose up was how much Ma loved me. Not every mother takes such a proactive approach to her filly’s character development.


“Blow up Maregaton?!” I said, cringing as another lance of pain shot up the upper half of my spine. My lower half was still as numb as if I had Med-X flowing through my veins. Though every so often I would get this twinge of pain down in my flank or hooves, but I still couldn’t move them. The cart was getting hot, and I was starting to sweat profusely… though Shimmercoat and Crescent Wrench seemed fine. Maybe it was just me.

“So you refuse my terms?” Price asked.

“NO! No, I don’t… I just wonder… why?” I asked.

“That is not your place to question, and you are hardly in a position to bargain for such information. Do you want me to fix your back or not?” Price said, sounding like he was getting angry.

“I’ll do it, I’ll do it! Just please fix my back… I don’t want to die…” I moaned through another wave of pain.

“Yeah, I don’t want to die either. I’ll do what I can to help, though my medical knowledge is mostly only theoretical…” Shimmercoat said.

“While I appreciate the sentiment, that will not be necessary. Hold on a bit while I call my very expensive friend over…” Price said, wandering off from the back of the cart and disappearing from view. All I could see now from the back of the covered wagon was the wall surrounding Maregaton off in the distance and the soft drizzle that had started up again, tamping down the dust of the wastes.

“What do you think he meant by ‘expensive friend?’” asked Crescent Wrench.

“A doctor’s services can be pretty spendy out here in the wastes.” I replied to the beige filly. “Though I hope he’s got an actual doctor… it seems a little convenient that he has exactly what we need to survive right off of hoof.”

“Hey, that’s what I said.” Mezzer chimed in.

“Oh, shush. They don’t know that.”I thought back.

“Well, let’s get your back fixed and worry about reasons later… though blowing up a whole town needs a pretty darn good reason.” Shimmercoat said. Before I could reply, we heard a soft hissing noise. I looked at Hiss, but he was sitting there in his bubble that Shimmercoat still had around him, glowering, but not hissing.

“Hey, I recognize that sound…” Crescent Wrench said, her eyes brightening up like she had just been told what she was getting for Hearth’s Warming Day. “Is he bringing…” she hopped out of the cart and looked to where the sound was coming from, then started bouncing around in a circle. “He is! He is! Wow! I’ve never seen this model before!” she said, trotting out of sight towards Price and the mystery sound.

“That’s because it was a prototype before the war.” Price’s voice came from around the corner. “I hear tell that the Ministry of Wartime Technology and the Ministry of Peace were working on this jointly, but it never got mass produced. Nifty little find, though. It’s yours if you do this job, which you don’t have much of a choice in doing, so… well, I’ll let you introduce yourselves.”

As Price came into view with Crescent close behind, a third figure and the source of the hissing noise made itself known. “Well, then, soldier, let’s see what the damage is, shall we? Nothing a little cut-and-patch can’t handle, eh? Oh, my my my what did you do, get hit with a concussion grenade?! My diagnostics report that this mare is paralyzed! And her blood toxicity level is skyrocketing… oh, this won’t do at all, stand aside, stallion, this job calls for the MG-MS11!” the voice I had heard before, and I knew from what it was coming from…

A Mr. Gutsy robot. That’s what it looked like at first, but I immediately noticed a few key differences between what was a normal Mr. Gutsy from what I knew about them and this one. For starters, this one had four eye-sensors, and four arms, each arm ending in a different implement. It looked like it had a manipulator arm that ended in several very sharp-looking surgical implements, a rotary saw on another arm, and a magical plasma emitter in the third one. The end of the fourth arm had something I didn’t recognize at all, it ended in a tube-shaped device that had a hose attached to a box that looked like it had been haphazardly welded to the chassis of the Mr. Gutsy. The hissing noise was coming from its levitation talisman’s emitter. It was painted primarily red and light yellow, though the paint was old and chipped in several places. It had symbols from various companies plastered all over it, though the two most prominent ones were a trio of apples and a trio of butterflies.

Shimmercoat stood aside like the machine had asked, getting out of the cart, and it’s arms rotated until the tube-shaped device was pointed at me. “Ooo, what’s that?!” Crescent Wrench asked excitedly. Apparently she liked robots. I was a little nervous having a machine point something unknown at me, so I was curious as to what it was too. There wasn’t much I could do if it was harmful though… I couldn’t move out of the way.

“This, young soldier, is the Medical Extraction and De-fragmentation Injector Gun! I personally like to call it the M.E.D.I-Gun. It’s purpose is to aid the combat medic out on the field of battle, to help ponies get back on their hooves to fight the good fight against the zebra menace! Better Wiped Than Striped! Hoo-Ah!” the robot said, patriotic music from a bygone era blasting from its speakers for a short moment. “Fueled by healing potions stored in that compartment there,” it’s manipulator arm pointed at the box welded to it. “…it directs a beam of energy that promotes accelerated healing, purges the body of impurities, and even helps set broken bones, all while stabilizing a dying soldier from a maximum range of over eleven-point-five-five meters!” There was a clicking noise, and with a ‘tss-WHOOM’ a beam of purple light swirled towards me from the tube. When it made contact, I felt immediate relief from the pain that had been near-constant for the past few hours, and I sighed contentedly, glad that it was gone. “Unfortunately, it isn’t powerful enough to handle paralysis… but that’s what these are for!” the Mr. Gutsy said, bringing to bear his manipulator arm, which deployed from its array of medical tools a scalpel and some sort of metal stick. From the other side of the machine, the rotary saw came to the forefront. “Now, hold still… this might get a little messy, those with weak constitutions should look away!”

The saw spun with an intimidating WHIRRRRR.

“Ak! Wait, wait!” I said, obviously distressed by this new development.

“No, keep going, I want to see this.” Shimmercoat said nastily, a big grin on his face, his glasses shining brightly at this angle. Crescent Wrench looked on with her mouth open in wonderment. Gee, that’s comforting. Price had vanished from view, and Hiss was still floating in a bubble above Shimmercoat.

“Now now, pain is weakness leaving the body! Buck up!” the thing wielding the whirring buzz saw said with what sounded like entirely too much glee in its voice. My front hooves waved uselessly in front of me as the manipulator arm picked up my body and I was laid on my stomach in front of the machine, my rear facing it. I braced myself for the worst…

The weirdest feeling slid down my spine as the saw sliced me open from the shoulder down to my hips. I felt blood trickling down my sides as I cautiously craned my neck, looking behind me at what was happening. The purple beam from the M.E.D.I-Gun was still trained on me, and the saw was spinning down to a stop as it exited my back, done splitting me open like a fish. The magic from the beam was obviously blocking the pain I would be feeling… but a breeze where no breeze belonged was cooling my exposed spine. “Um…” I said nervously. “Should I be awake for this?”

“Well…” the Mr. Gutsy replied, “No… but as long as you are, could you hold open your back with your magic? I need room to work here…” the manipulator arm dove into the bleeding gash, I could feel the cold instruments squirming around inside me. My magic lit up as I gripped the sides of the gash and cautiously opened them up slightly. My flesh tore and I looked like I was being dissected… and I became acutely aware that I was now practically swimming in my own blood, my light purple coat dyed red. I didn’t feel woozy or anything, though… the M.E.D.I-Gun apparently also accounted for blood-loss.

“Great Celestia!” The Mr. Gutsy exclaimed, making me frown. Machines should not be taking Celestia’s name in vain. “It… it’s completely severed! The edge of the vertebra is broken, and just sliced straight through the spinal cord!”

“Is that bad?” I asked.

“Uh…” three expressionless eye-sensors looked up at me briefly, before focusing on my back again. “No, not at all. Spines grow back.” I sighed in relief. Shimmercoat chuckled, and Crescent looked up at the fourth eye-sensor behind the machine (from my point of view) in confusion. I must have missed something. “I can fix it, though, don’t worry about a thing! The MG-MS11 was designed for exactly… oh, bugger.” A red light on the box attached to the M.E.D.I-Gun blinked rapidly. “I seem to be running low on healing potions. Please refuel the M.E.D.I-Gun before surgery can continue. This unit will standby in low-power stabilization-mode for as long as possible until this action is taken.”

A flap on top of the potion storage box opened, and MG-MS11 just hovered there. Not doing anything. With my back wide open. “Ahhh! Do something!” I cried out. The purple beam wavered, and for a brief instant I felt the most pain I had ever been in in my entire life. Fire burned down the length of my back, and my nerves screamed in utter agony as an entire section of my body was exposed to the air that should never have seen the light of day.

Shimmercoat looked insanely worried all of the sudden. If that beam turned off even I knew that I would die very quickly (and painfully) from blood loss. And then he would die from sudden cranial fragmentation. “Healing potions! Price, do you have healing potions!?” Shimmercoat called out.

Price’s voice came from out of view around the cart. “I do, do you have the caps for them?”

“Yes!” Shimmercoat called out. “Coin! What are caps?” he said quietly to me. “You mentioned them earlier, but I wasn’t really paying attention to that part.” Well great. Shimmercoat always seemed like a good listener, too.

“Soda bottle caps! They’re used as money in the wasteland!” I said quickly. “There’s some in my bags, get them and buy as many healing potions as you can!”

“Really? Caps as money? Why?” Shimmercoat said incredulously, a confused look on his face.


“Yes! I’m not going to just give them to you, I’m not a charity!” Price said, mistaking my outburst as me talking to him.

“Alright, alright, hold on.” Shimmercoat said, grabbing my bags and trotting out of view. A few minuets of antagonizing waiting while Shimmercoat and Price’s muffled voices came through the covering of the cart as they danced the dance of bartering. The pain erupted again, my exposed spine deciding to become solid lightening for a split-second, lancing through me and causing me to scream in anguish, tears now pouring down my face. I gritted my teeth, almost biting my tongue. Crescent Wrench looked around the cart worryingly at the two stallions arguing price over the stuff that would keep me alive.

After what seemed like an eternity, Shimmercoat came back, several dozen healing potions hovering around his head in the blue shimmer of his telekinesis. He popped each one open in quick succession and poured them into the panel of the box on MG-MS11. “Potion reserves topped off! Resuming surgical procedure! For Princess and for Equestria!” More patriotic music blasted our ears as the manipulator arm once again shlorped into my body.


About half-an-hour and quite a few bones removed-and-put-back later, the manipulator arm started stitching my back closed, MG-MS11 saying, “Well, that’s all she wrote! Never done something like that before, I do hope it worked! Hold on for one more minuet, I’ll just seal you up nice and tight…” the M.E.D.I-Gun flashed once, and the slice along my back disappeared as though I had drank a healing potion, even the thread used to sew up the gash was absorbed into my skin. When MG-MS11 turned the M.E.D.I-Gun off, there was only a thin white line down my back, a small scar representing a huge injury, barely visible beneath all the blood and my coat. The floor of the cart I had laid in during the operation was soaked in my blood now; it pooled all around me and dripped through the boards, probably staining the ground underneath the cart as well. “And there we have it! Quite the doozy, but I think it worked. Try out your legs, go on, give em a whirl!” MG-MS11 said, blood also covering his manipulator arm and saw.

The moment of truth. I tried moving my back legs… the phantom feeling of missing limbs fading away…

My hooves twitched. I stretched my legs, bending the knees… they worked! I hopped off the cart, not caring that I was still covered in my own blood, and I skipped around… I even tried bucking a few times. Heck, my back legs actually felt a little stronger than before! “Wow! I feel… fantastic!” I said, smiling wide. The pain was gone, I could move again, and the specter of imminent death was far away… or at least as far away as it ever got when you were in the middle of the wasteland, which admittedly wasn’t much.

“Ha! I knew you didn’t need these!” MG-MS11 said proudly, tossing a pair of vertebra down to my hooves. They were cracked, and were probably the ones at the point of impact. “I replaced them with flexible pipeline for spinal support and protection. Not as good as a full cybernetic setup, but unfortunately the funding for cybernetics has dipped in recent years, I’ve never even gotten that shipment of replacement legs I requisitioned 193 years ago! Had to make do with what I had on hand. Seems to work, though, wouldn’t worry overmuch about such a small detail.”

“At least not until they grow back, right?” I asked.

“Um… right.” MG-MS11 said, hovering there with no expression whatsoever. Shimmercoat chuckled again.

“Ahem…” Price cleared his throat. “I believe we have a contract, Miss Slot.” He said. I turned to the brown buck, a big smile on my face. I was so glad to be alive, I could have kissed him.

“Please restrain thyself. I share thy lips, remember?” Mezzer said, reminding me that I had a passenger. That identified itself as male. And apparently straight, if he didn’t want to kiss Price. That wasn’t creepy at all.

Price continued, unaware of my internal monologue. “In order to safely detonate the megaspell in the center of the Maregaton crater, you will need this detonator module.” He said, presenting us with a small metal cube that had a screen and a few buttons on it. It kind of looked like a PipBuck, but without the ability to be worn on your hoof. “Simply attach this to the megaspell, set the detonation frequency to seventy five kilothaums, and leave the city. Once I detect that you are a safe distance away, go to… can I see your PipBuck?”

I stuck out my hoof, and Price pressed a few buttons. “There. Once you attach the module, go to the location I just marked on your PipBuck. There you will find the detonator. Press the button, and watch the glorifying purification of the wastes.”

“Purification? What, is this town really that bad or something?” Shimmercoat asked. I ignored him, putting the module in my bags and nodding to Price.

“Maregaton has been a thorn in my client’s side for far too long. My client wants it gone, and the fact that they worship the very means to destroy them for good has… a certain poetic justice to it.” Price said to Shimmercoat.

“So what, just because your boss doesn’t like the town, they decide that it needs to go? Just who do they think they are, these are the lives of ponies we’re talking about!” Shimmercoat sounded like he was getting angry. He stepped up closer to Price, who looked at him above his sunglasses with a raised eyebrow. It was time to intervene before things got nasty.

“Don’t listen to him, he’s got no say in this.” I said, stepping in front of a seething Shimmercoat. “Although, I am curious as to who your client is…”

“I am not at liberty to divulge that information.” Price said. He looked at my neck, and said, “And aren’t you supposed to provide me with that insurance now, so I know the job will be done?”

“Oh, right…” I said. “I forgot, sorry, I was a bit focused on my injury. By the way, thanks for the robot doctor…”

“That’s MG-MS11, Mr. Gutsy Medical Sergeant, Unit 11, at your service, sah!” said MG-MS11, more patriotic music blasting out of its speakers. I hope it never did that if we ever needed to be quiet.

“Right… that.” I said, smiling sheepishly at Price.

“Stop trying to change the subject.” Price said. He held out his hoof. “Give me a detonator to one of your collars and put the collar on. Then proceed to Maregaton and attach the module.”

I sighed. I had hoped he had forgotten about that promise, but I doubted he would have liked it very much if I reneged on my deal. “Alright, hold on…” I said, pulling an unused detonator and slave collar out of my bags with my telekinesis, my horn glowing red as I did so. I passed the detonator over to him, and reluctantly locked the collar around my neck. “There. You know how to work these, right?” I asked.

“The detonator tracks your location, and this button here blows it up, right?” Price asked, pointing to the various sensors on the detonator’s control panel.

“You can also set a leash on it, but I disabled that part for this collar. I figure you’ll want to get far away from here if you want to watch the explosion, a leash would hamper that.” I replied.

“Right, ok, sounds good. I’ll keep an eye on the location. Once you blow the town, I’ll come to the location I marked to unlock your collar.” Price said, smiling for the first time. He felt like he was in control.

“I have a question, though.” Crescent Wrench piped up suddenly. We all turned to the little filly. “How’re we gonna get in? If Shimmy and Coin have collars on, won’t they think… I’m a slaver or something? They already refused us too. And Coin is covered in blood.” For a filly right out of the Stable, she seemed to be able to take the sight of somepony else’s blood really easily, as she so casually pointed out the fact that my coat was basically colored red at this point… say…

“We’ll use a disguise. Shimmercoat and I will raise our collars or wear scarves or something, I’ll wear my goggles on my eyes so they don’t recognize me… Shimmercoat, give Crescent your glasses. That way you’ll both look different to the guard as well. And my coat is basically dyed red, so I’m a whole new pony!” I smiled, already seeing my brilliant plan coming together.

“You smell. Of blood.” Shimmercoat pointed out, needlessly poking holes in a flawless plan. “And I can’t see shit without my glasses. Why doesn’t Price get us in in his cart? Does Maregaton search merchant carts?”

“No, at least not mine.” Price said. “I actually was a merchant that ran a route here for some time before my client hired me to better and bigger things. I can get you ponies in no problem.”

“Jolly good, soldiers!” MG-MS11 piped in. “Our infiltration method is sound, and the zebra encampment won’t bloody know what hit em! We’ll blow their striped asses to the moon and back! We’ll kick em to the curb, wash the streets with their blood, the spoils of war will be ours! Hoo Ahh!”

There was an awkward moment. “Um…” I said. “You do know that the war ended 200 years ago, right?” I asked MG-MS11.

“Nonsense! I would have received my decommission orders and have been shut down if that were the case. Say…” Three of the floating robot’s four eyes suddenly focused on me, triangulating my position. “What makes you say such a thing? You’re not a zebra spy, are you?” the arms rotated until the plasma caster was pointing right at me.

‘No! No… um… all hail Celestia, all hail Luna, praise be to Equestria! Better wiped than striped, right?” I said quickly, spouting as much pro-Equestrian propaganda as I could.

“Damn straight! No zebra is going to best this company! It’s an honor serving with you chaps, I don’t mind telling you all that if I were a pony, I’d fall in love with every single one of you!” MG-MS11 said.

“Really?!” Crescent Wrench squeaked, blushing.

Oh, come on. I would need to give Crescent a talk at some point. What with her crush on Shimmercoat and lightning-fast blush reaction to a robot of all things, the poor girl will be steamrolled in the wastes if somepony didn’t get some knowledge in her fast…

“Not that you would know anything about that. According to the memories I’ve seen of you, the only pony you’ve ever did anything with was…” Mezzer started.

“Shush!” I said quickly, also blushing. Mezzer really needed to stop poking around in my brain! Those memories were private! I noticed everypony looking at me. Shimmercoat smirked.

“Got a thing for robots, huh?” he snarked. I telekinetically knocked his glasses to the ground.

“Let’s just get going.” I said. “And Shimmercoat, put Hiss down. Now that I’m awake and recovered, I need to feed him.”

Shimmercoat floated his glasses back onto his snout, and then floated the bubble he was holding Hiss in in front of me, dispelling it. His immediately turned towards him and growl-hissed, his hackles raised. “Hiss! No! You can’t bite Shimmercoat unless I say you can!” I ordered, and Hiss whined, looking up at me pathetically. His eyes widened into dark little pools of ‘can I please bite him… please?’

“No.” I repeated, even though the puppy-dog look almost broke me. I didn’t need a poisoned slave right now though. Maybe later if Shimmercoat pissed me off, which was likely. “Here, eat this, you must be hungry.” I said, floating out a piece of meat from who knows how long ago from my bags. Hiss gulped it down faster than I could blink.

“Alright, everypony in the cart. I’ll get you in the city, and from there it’s up to you. Attach the module, get clear, and spread my client’s message to the stars…” Price said, chuckling softly.


Price’s cart wobbled back through the gate and into the wastes about five minuets after Shimmercoat, Crescent Wrench, Hiss, MG-MS11, and I managed to extract ourselves from it. The five of us had made for a cramped ride, but as predicted, the guard did not search the cart. We were in, and Shimmercoat and I were wearing scraps of cloth wrapped around our necks as scarves, to hide the bomb collars. Speaking of…

“Hold on, guys,” I said as we crouched in an alley right at the gate. I hadn’t gotten a look at the city yet, we were busy hiding for the moment, waiting until Price had gotten some distance from us. I unwrapped my scarf.

“What are you doing? They’ll get suspicious if they see a pony with a…” Shimmercoat started, then his eyes widened as I tapped the collar a few times with my hoof, my horn glowed, and it unlocked, floating back into my bags. “I… you…”

“What? Did you actually think I would offer to wear one of my own collars without knowing how to unlock it without the detonator?” I asked, grinning widely. “It doesn’t matter if it blows in my bags, the blast is all directed inwards. I just offered to wear it to encourage cooperation. Like I said. That’s a collar’s purpose. Just because he cooperated doesn’t mean I have to keep wearing it though.”

“Won’t that damage what’s in your bags though?” Crescent Wrench asked. I shrugged. Honestly I didn’t think Price would press the button if he traced the collar in the correct location, and if we needed to move in ways he didn’t like, I’d just leave the collar behind.

Shimmercoat just kept staring at me dumbfoundedly, before snorting and shaking his head. He grumbled something unintelligible, but I didn’t mind. We had a mission to finish. Even without the collar on, it’s location was still being tracked. We at least needed to go next to the megaspell and then exit the town in order to trick Price into thinking we had placed the module. Now that it was a choice for me, though, instead of being forced to place it… I didn’t quite know what to do. I was under contract technically… and had already been paid handsomely in the form of MG-MS11, who was busy being totally conspicuous in our little alleyway, passing ponies giving us second glances because of him.

“We should move. Come on, I feel filthy.” I said. “Let’s check out a tavern or inn or something, so I can try and wash this blood off…”

Hiss disappeared. I’m guessing he didn’t like areas crowded with ponies like this city. We stepped out of the gateside alley and looked out into the city of Maregaton.

A giant crater dipped into the earth in front of us, buildings haphazardly built into the sides all around it. The building materials were mostly made from what looked like old skywagons and metal siding. There were a few wooden shacks as well, but the majority of Maregaton was metal. Catwalks and zip lines criss-crossed the air above the crater floor, connecting the edges of the crater so that ponies didn’t have to walk down into it if they didn’t want too. I looked down the path to the bottom of the crater far below, and the glowing rainbow brilliance of a megaspell orb was clearly visible, right out in the open, at the bottom of the crater. A large building was sitting right next to it, made out of a large skywagon that from the faded places where the old lettering used to be I could tell used to say ‘Chocolate Flights,’ but now new letters were painted over to read ‘Church of the Spell.’ Bet these were the megaspell worshipers I’d heard so much about.

“I think I see something…” Crescent said, peering across the crater. “Mare Iarty’s Tavern and Inn…” she read slowly. Indeed, across the way was a building right on the lip of the crater that had a large neon sign glowing in the gloomy drizzle that was still drifting lazily down, as if it had all day. “You think that place has a bath you could use, Coin?” she asked, turning to look up at me. Her curly mane bounced on her head even though it was wet from the rain. In fact, it looked like the moisture somehow made it even curlier than before.

“It’s worth a try. Let’s find a catwalk over there… I want to avoid that megaspell down there.” I said, looking back down into the center of the crater.

“My Geiger counter isn’t liking this city.” Shimmercoat mentioned, looking at his PipBuck.

“That would be the result of building a town around a live megaspell. All the ponies in this town must be crazy.” I replied. I heard the light ticking of my own Geiger counter detecting magical radiation too. “Luckily, this rain will keep the worst of the radiation down at the bottom of the crater where it belongs. Another reason to find a catwalk over there instead of going down.”

“I shall fly over and scout the area for hostiles!” MG-MS11 said. “If there are any zebra’s ahoof, I’ll turn them to warm plasma goo before you can say Cherrychimmychanga!” The levitation talisman mounted under MG-MS11 revved up, and he drifted along one of the zip-lines to the other side of the crater, zooming ahead of us.

“I hope he doesn’t make a habit of doing that…” I muttered. “I really don’t want him mistaking anypony we might actually want to talk to for a zebra.”

“I worked with the Mr. Handys in our Stable…” Crescent said. “Maybe I could take a look at him and see how he works? Mr. Gutsy’s were based off Mr. Handy’s after all.” She continued looking around the city as she spoke, her eyes wide. She had never see a city like this before. It was far different from the Stable style of civilization she was used too. Shimmercoat was also glancing around, but had far less wonderment in his eyes.

“Well howdy everypony!” a voice drawled behind us. I jumped, spinning around.

“THEY CAME FROM BEHIND!” Crescent Wrench screamed, ducking down and covering her head with her front hooves.

“Whoa, there, folks, didn’t mean to surprise you none.” The pony addressing us said. She was a green earth pony with a blonde mane and piss-yellow eyes. Her face was creased with smile-lines, crow’s feet adorning the corners of her eyes, and she was, as she apparently often was, smiling. “Mah name’s Tootie Fruity! Welcome to Maregaton! I c’n see that ya’ll are new here, what with yer big ol’ eyes and yeller numbers on yer kit.” She pointed at the yellow 11’s on our barding. “Did a new Stable open up ‘round here?”

“Not exactly…” I said, smiling back to the strange mare. First impressions are important, my dear ol’ Ma used to say. They can make or break a sale, and can make the difference between a pony liking you or deciding to shoot you. “We did come from Stable 11 recently though.”

Tootie got a closer look at me and realized that no, my coat was not actually red. “Good gravy, filly, you look like you done got dipped in strawberry jam!” She said, covering her mouth with a hoof. “You need a doctor or somthin?”

“Our doctor went ahead to look at the inn across the way.” Shimmercoat chimed in, flashing Tootie a brilliant smile. “We’re a bit lost in this criss-cross of catwalks, though, and Coin here is a bit nervous of that megaspell down there… oh, forgive me miss, where are my manners. This is Coin Slot, this little one is Crescent Wrench, and I…” he paused, apparently for dramatic effect or something. It was working, I could already see a blush rising on Tootie’s cheeks. I rolled my eyes. “… am Shimmercoat.” He grasped one of Tootie’s front hooves, giving it a quick kiss. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

Tootie Fruity was totally flustered. “Oh… my… well, S-Shimmercoat, it’s a fine and dandy pleasure to meet ya’ll as well… I…” the green mare stammered, not able to string a full sentence together coherently. Too bad they don’t abide slavery here, otherwise I’d make an oodle of caps off this mare renting Shimmercoat out to her.

“Could you guide us to a fast way over to Mare Iarty’s over there?” Shimmercoat asked.

Tootie’s flustered attitude cleared up pretty quickly. She frowned, a look that did not look natural on her face at all. “Oh, you don’t want to go there… Iarty is… well, ah won’ say nothin’ bad about nopony. But he’s a pony you’d best be avoiding if’n ya’ll are visiting Maregaton fer the first time.

“He?” Crescent said, a confused look on her face. She had turned around after her little freak-out once it had been established that Tootie wasn’t… I don’t know, a Creeper or whatever it was she was obsessed with. “But the sign says Mare Iarty’s!”

“Ah know.” Tootie said. The smile reappeared on her face, though it was a small, soft smile now. “He thinks if’n ponies think that his establishment is run by a mare, more customers will roll in. Dirty little scu… well look at me, ah’m sure ya’ll don’t care none ‘bout my opinion of others you’d never met yerself. If’n yer really a-hankerin to go to Iarty’s that’s none of my business and I’d be happy to walk ya over there.”

“Well, all I really need is a bath. I… well, this isn’t strawberry jam, and I’d really like to get clean before doing anything else.” I said.

“Shoot, then, ya’ll can come over to my place! I’m sure Hoofy’d be happy to meet ya! And I got me a bathtub that even has running water hooked up to it! S’cold, though, if ya want a warm bath I’ll ‘ave ta light a fire under it and stoke it up a spell.” Tootie said.

“Who’s Hoofy?” Shimmercoat asked innocently.

“Oh, he’s mah butler. One o’ them fancy robotic whatdyacallems. Mr. Hoof or whatever.”

“You have a Mr. Handy?!” Crescent Wrench asked excitedly. “What model?”

“I don’t rightly know, little one. You good with them things? Poor ol’ Hoofy’s been having trouble getting his levitation whatsimihoozer going in the mornings when he wakes up, and I don’t know anypony good with robots. Our town mechanic’s all left hooves when it comes to anythin’ that ain’t a gun or piece o’ armor.”

“How about we do an exchange? A warm bath for me, and Crescent takes a look at your robot.” I said.

“Sounds like a mighty fine deal!” Tootie said, smiling again. “I’d love to have ya’ll over for dinner as well! Get’s a bit lonely fer an old mare like me sometimes, I’d appreciate the company.”

“Old? You? Miss, I’d never peg you anywhere over twenty five!” Shimmercoat said.

“Oh, yer such a kidder…” Tootie blushed furiously, pushing lightly on Shimmercoat’s shoulder and tittering like a little schoolfilly. Shimmercoat chuckled back. “Follow me, ya’ll. My place is this way.” Tootie said, trotting ahead of us. Shimmercoat took an appreciative glance at her flank (which I saw had a bunch of strawberries for a cutie mark) and I raised an eyebrow at him.

“What?” he asked.

“She’s at least fourty.” I said, quietly so she wouldn’t hear. “You’re what, twenty six?”

“I’m thirty three, thank you.” Shimmercoat said. That surprised me, though from what he told me about his history I shouldn’t have been surprised. “And the older ones always know the best… things.” He grinned at me in a way that made my nethers flutter, even though I knew that was precisely the reaction he was going for.

Thou has no idea how weird this feels… Mezzer chimed in again. Great flaming gumballs, I’m never going to get any privacy, aren’t I?

“Oh!” Tootie said, stopping suddenly. “Don’t you need ta go and get yer doctor? You mentioned him earlier.”

Shoot. I had almost forgotten about MG-MS11! He seemed to be… I dunno, bonded with us or something since Price gave him to us, but if somepony stole him and took control of him, that would be a rare piece of equipment that I would rather have on my side gone. That M.E.D.I-Gun worked wonders. “Hiss…” I said quietly. I felt a brush against my back leg. Hiss was following close behind us as usual, out of sight. “Go fetch MG-MS11 and bring him to Tootie’s house.” I ordered. I wondered if such a complex order could be understood by the mysteriously well-trained nightstalker. Looking for it, I saw a shimmer run off around the edge of the crater towards Mare Iarty’s. We’ll see if this works or not… “I think our doctor will be fine. He has a good sense of direction.” I said.

“Well, if ya’ll are sure.” Tootie said. We walked down a catwalk to a little building made of corrugated metal embedded into the side of the crater. “This here’s my humble abode. Make yerselves at home.”


Once we had gone inside, Tootie gave us the grand tour of her house. It was actually pretty impressive; the small exterior belied a bigger interior that had been carved out of the side of the crater. The house had a living area, kitchen, bedroom, bathroom (with the bathtub right where she said it would be), and little storage room with a robot recharging station installed in it, an old beat-up Mr. Handy resting in it. The house kind of felt like a cave, since it was mostly dug out underground, but it was clean, and the furniture had obviously been painstakingly repaired to quite nice condition, probably by the mare that lived here all by herself. The living area had seating for a large amount of ponies, a couch, loveseat, and three rocking chairs, hinting at a silent wish for more visitors to her house. I wondered exactly what Tootie Fruity did in Maregaton, and why she seemed to be left alone by her neighbors when she was so outgoing and friendly.

“If you’re going to blow the town up, it’s not as if it will matter much, now will it? Or are you going to blow it up?” Mezzer said, his input ever-present in my thoughts.

“I… I’m thinking about it. I don’t know yet.” was all I could say. If Price’s mysterious client was as big a megalomaniac or as powerful as he had implied he was, then he would no doubt send bounty hunters, thugs, assassins, and other nasties after us if we didn’t complete our contract… I looked around the cave-house again. It was a really nice place, for the wasteland. And even if she had been hypnotized by Shimmercoat’s googley-eyes, Tootie Fruity was a really nice pony…

“So! I got the fire under the tub going, and the water’s running nicely. Give it a few and ya’ll will have a nice, warm bath to get rid o’ all that nasty blood ya got goin’ there.” Tootie said, stepping out of the bathroom. I could hear the running water. That was impressive… I wondered if Maregaton had a pumping system that supplied the whole city, or if Tootie had set this up herself. She seemed proud of it, but she seemed equally proud of her city, so it could be either case. “If’n ya don’t mind me askin… what exactly happened ta ya’ll?”

“Oh!” I exclaimed. I should have guessed that a mare covered in blood would have raised some questions in a town. In the wastes it was practically expected. “I, um… what was it called again, Shimmercoat?” I asked, feeling stupid. I had read that medical book, why couldn’t I remember any of it?

“She got paralyzed in a fight.” Shimmercoat said. “Our doctor cut her open recently and fixed her up. Right before we came here, actually.”

“Oh, my. Well, I’m glad ya’ll got better!” Tootie said, smiling as usual. “I’d like to meet yer doctor sometime, seems like the pony’s a miracle worker!”

“Oh, he’s not a pony.” Crescent Wrench said.

“Oh? Griffon then? I hear that there are more o’ them that are friendly ta ponies nowadays.” Tootie replied.

“Nope!” Crescent said, grinning. “He’s a Mr. Gutsy! Like your Mr. Handy, but outfitted for combat! And he’s a special model that’s capable of doing doctor work too!” Crescent Wrench sounded proud, for some reason, as if she had built MG-MS11 or something.

“Well fancy that, a robot doctor. I’ve heard about everything now.” Tootie said, smiling down at the beige filly. “Speaking of, why don’t you go and take a look at ol’ Hoofy fer me? Ya’ll can bring him out here to the livin’ room if’n ya like.” Tootie laid down on the loveseat, and Shimmercoat quickly followed suit, sitting right next to her on the short two-pony sofa. Tootie blushed as he brushed up against her, but made no move to scoot away from him.

“I’ll go take that bath now, I guess.” I said, heading for the bathroom. The tub was full, and lightly steaming. I scooped some water out of it, testing the temperature. It was nice and warm, not too hot or cold. I used the water to put out the fire so it wouldn’t heat up any more and stripped my dirty barding, taking off everything but my trusty ski-goggles, which rarely came off their perch on my forehead above my horn. Soaking into the bath, I sighed in relaxation and contentment as the warm water washed over my coat, lifting the redness from it and quickly soiling the water with my dried blood, but I didn’t care much. The water soothed my sore muscles, and I realized that I was really, really tired from my surgery ordeal… my eyelids drooped heavily, and before I knew it, I was asleep, the water flowing around me.


I awoke to a rhythmic squeaking noise coming from Tootsie’s bedroom. The water had turned cold, and even in the darkness of what was apparently nighttime I could tell that it was disgusting and murky. Crawling as quietly as I could from the tub, I grabbed one of the towels that Tootsie had provided and dried off, my coat still a little redder than usual, but it was now mostly back to its normal light purple.

The squeaking noise was speeding up a bit, and I suddenly realized what it very possibly could be, a blush rising unbidden up my face. Tootie’s bed was very old… and probably squeaky… “Oh… oh my…” I said quietly. Looking out into the living room, I saw Crescent Wrench curled up in the outstretched arms of Hoofy the Mr. Handy, which lay deactivated on its side, a maintenance panel open and tools spread out everywhere around the sleeping filly. The door to Tootie’s room was, thankfully, closed, but the sound of them… going at it was all too clear for my taste, and there was no way I was getting to sleep again anyways.

I stepped outside, the cool night air blasting my still slightly damp coat, making me shiver. I levitated my barding and bags from the bathroom floor where I had left them, putting them on on the doorstep. Sure, the barding was still blood-encrusted and dirty, but it broke the wind and kept me from freezing. I could always take another bath later… honestly I still needed another one. And a wash for my barding.

A soft hiss broke the night’s tranquility, and I jumped a bit, startled. Looking down, I saw that on a catwalk below me, Hiss and MG-MS11 were looking up at me.

“Ah, it’s a good thing we found you, soldier!” MG-MS11 said, but though he still spoke in the gung-ho excited tone he usually spoke, his volume had turned down. Probably his version of whispering. “General Snakehead just informed me of a dire situation happening just outside of town! There’s fires! Zebras are surrounding the city, probably gearing up for an assault at dawn! We need to rally the men and batten down the hatches, prepare for the worst and let the striped bastards have it!”

“Hold on, fires?” I said, picking up on the one not-useless piece of info the machine spouted. “You mean, like, campfires? Surrounding the city?”

“That I do, missy! Follow the general and I, we’ll show you!” Hiss and MG-MS11 turned around and zoomed down their catwalk, with me following from above and close behind. We eventually met up at the edge of the crater, and quietly made our way towards the gate. Hiss slinked up the catwalk to the top of the gate where Shotty Snipes had spotted us from what seemed like forever ago, but was really only yesterday afternoon. MG-MS11 couldn’t fit on the catwalk, but his levitation talisman revved up again, and he hovered up onto the rail, slowly climbing up it to the observation platform. I went up there as well, following my non-pony companions.

The first thing I noticed was the body of Shotty Snipes, a tiny hole in his forehead, and a much larger, much nastier looking hole in the back of his head. “This looks like a hollow point or something. Perfectly aimed too… whoever shot this knew what they were doing…” I muttered to myself.

“I would watch your own head if I were thou. And since I am part of thou, I am really suggesting that thou watch thy head quite hard. Don’t peek over the rail. The sniper could still be out there. Mezzer said.

“Gee, thanks for the advice. Of course I’ll look out for the same thing happening to me, I’m not an idiot. I snapped back. Sometimes that gun seemed like such a worrywart.


“We got incoming! Take cover, the zebras are launching an early assault!” MG-MS11 said, bobbing in the air and falling off the rail he was hovering over, clunking to the ground below. “I meant to do that, evasion is all about doing the unexpected!” He righted himself, hovering back up again below the observation platform, on the inside of the gate.

I kept my head down. That ping had been from a bullet slamming into the metal behind us, probably aimed at MG-MS11’s glowing eye-sensors. When I felt it was safe, I peeked the tiniest bit above the rail, so I could see what was happening out there.


Dozens of them. Spread out in front of Maregaton in an obvious statement. We’re coming for you, and you aren’t going to like it.

“Take a look to your left… I think you know where these ponies are coming from.” Mezzer pointed out something I had missed. Barely visible in the firelight from the enemy camp, there was a waving flag mounted on a spear stuck in the ground. The standard of Fillydelphia.

“Well…” I said. “Looks like I’ll have some competition in these parts now. Red Eye’s here.”

Level up! (Lv. 7)

New Perk: Intense Training: Your experiences have raised your Strength stat by 1.

Author’s Note: HUGE thanks to Kkat for writing Fallout: Equestria and giving us sidefic writers a great big sandbox to play in. Also thanks to Lesolan and Shimmercoat for help editing and proofreading this slog to make it something enjoyable. And thanks to all who hang out at the Sidefic Compilation doc for providing feedback and inspiration to write my own story. Also thanks to Bethesda and Hasbro for two great franchises. Hope you enjoy!

Chapter 7 > In which there is a free cart ride

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Chapter 7 > In which there is a free cart ride
“Pony pulls the wagon!”

Red Eye. A name many ponies feared. Heck, many non-ponies feared him too. He represents the epitome of what slavery can become, in ruthless enough hooves. Endless production from free labor. Endless power in the wastes. A superpower where superpowers were few and far between, the only others even remotely capable of matching him on his own level being the Enclave, the Goddess, and perhaps the Steel Rangers, if they would stop obsessing over technology and actually focus on a single front.

“Thy should be careful with the Steel Rangers from here on out.” Mezzer said to me. “They would probably try to take not only thy PipBuck from you, but myself and thy new robot”

“Right… speaking of…” I looked over my shoulder down at the ground under the observation platform. MG-MS11 was levitating himself up from his fall off the platform. “You okay down there?”

“Capital, Sergeant Coin!” MG-MS11 said. So he thought I was a sergeant. Alright, I can deal with that, though I thought that’s what MG-MS11 said his own rank was.

“Not so loud, you’ll wake up the whole town!” I said, quietly.

“Wake up the town? An excellent idea!!” MG-MS11 said, his voicebox crackling, and a second later, before I could say anything in protest, he began speaking at a much, much higher volume than before, his robotic voice carrying throughout the town and echoing across the crater. “Royal Canterlot voice actiVATE! ATTENTION FAIR CITY OF <FILE NOT FOUND>! ZEBRAS ARE AT THE GATES, I REPEAT, STRIPED ZEBRA INFILTRATOR SCUM ARE AT THE GATES OF THE CITY, PREPARING NO DOUBT FOR AN UNPROVOKED AND UNMERCIFUL ATTACK AGAINST THE MARES AND FOALS OF EQUESTRIA!! GATHER YOUR ARMS AND…” MG-MS11 kept at it, spouting very loud nonsense at a rapid speed of there-is-no-way-I-was-going-to-shut-him-up. I scrambled off of the observation tower anyways, not wanting anypony to find me next to the body of Shotty Snipes. It was obvious he was sniped from the encampment outside, but you never could be sure with these bomb-worshipers just how logical they were going to be when one of their own was lost.

Lights were turning on all across the town with the racket MG-MS11 was causing. The house nearest to the gate, and consequently nearest to us, lit up first, and was the first to expunge a grumpy looking unicorn stallion who was wearing a leather dustier and wide-brim hat. I couldn’t tell what color he was in the low light, but I did catch a glimpse of the shiny gold star badge pinned to his chest. If I were to take a guess, I’d say that was the sheriff of Maregaton, and he looked none too pleased at being woken up late at night. It was probably late enough to call it really, really early in the morning, actually. “What’s goin' on out ‘ere, why ‘s some fuckin' robot goin' haywire when sensible ponies are catchin' some shuteye?!” he groused. A cheery individual, to be sure.

“ARE YOU THE MAYOR AND/OR APPOINTED RANKING CIVILIAN IN CHARGE OF THIS TOWNSHIP, SIR?” MG-MS11 shouted not two feet away from the pony he was addressing.

“Yes, yes, I’m the bloomin' sheriff, pipe down rust-bucket! Who owns this pile o’ scrap? ‘S it you?” he said, looking around and finding me, the only one around. Hiss had disappeared again, it seemed. The sheriff gave me the stink eye, and I figured I needed to calm this situation down fast or I’d otherwise be discovered for what I was and thrown in jail or worse.

“Yes… that’s my robot.” I said cautiously, not wanting to upset the law pony further than he already was. “There’s an encampment surrounding the town, sir, take a look. Careful not to peek your head over for too long though, they got snipers. Took out your guard up there.”

“What? Ol’ Shotty’s dead?” the sheriff said, looking genuinely shocked and saddened by the news. He quickly ran around me and up the walkway to the observation platform, where I heard him exclaim, “Fuck! Celestia this can’t be happening! Who’re they?!”

“Red Eye’s slavers.” I replied from down below. “You can tell by their banner.”

“Slavers.” The sheriff said, spitting the word out like the foulest of curses. “Shoulda known, they’ve come ta take us all away!” He came down from the platform, looking out at the crowd that was now gathering at the gate, wondering what the late-night ruckus was all about. “They’ve come ta sell our freedom! Ta work us ta death! Well, I can tell you, missy, we’re not goin’ without a fight! Everypony who’s fit to carry a weapon, meet me at Mare Iarty’s in one hour! We’ve got some plannin’ ta do!” He turned to me, looking me square in the eye. I didn’t dare flinch, he had a fire in his eyes that burned with fury I had only seen in those slaves that had a purpose, the slaves who are best put down before they do you or others harm. Those who would charge straight at you in the hopes that their bomb collar would take you with them. It wasn’t a nice look. “And I expect you to be there too, missy. You recognize ‘em, I’ll wager you know ‘ow to fight ‘em too.” With that, the sheriff stormed into his house, slamming the door as if it had personally affronted him.

The crowd murmured worriedly, some still wondering what was going on. As I watched, though, the news spread fast, and the reactions of the ponies around me were varied, but all negative. Some looked scared out of their wits, others frothing at the mouth with anger. Quite a few more sensitive-looking mares burst into tears. Some were looking to me to… they looked like they were waiting for instructions. Why were they looking at me for guidance?! “Umm…” I said, not sure of what to say. I wasn’t used to ponies wanting to follow my orders without a collar around their neck. Luckily, I was interrupted by MG-MS11.

“Alright, ponies! You heard the sheriff!” he shouted, though no longer setting his voice to the earsplitting volume that it was before. “A militia order has been enacted in accordance with Ministry of Morale protocol YT-67d! In the event of a zebra attack, all able-bodied ponies are to arm themselves and prepare to repel the attack under the command of the highest-ranking lawpony. We are to regroup at Mare Iarty’s in an hour, bring your guns and let’s make the striped bastards wish they’d never been born! Hoo-Ahh!”

“Well, it looks like there are a few leadership protocols in our new robot friend. Good thing too, otherwise thou would be left standing here looking like a moron.” Mezzer said snidely, snapping me out of my reverie. The crowd dispersed a bit, ponies still telling each other what was going on. I overheard somepony telling somepony else that, no, zebras weren’t the ones who were attacking, slavers were. I shook my head, wondering how I had gotten into this situation. First I was supposed to blow up the town, now I’m supposed to help defend it against an attack?

“C’mon.” I said, as MG-MS11 hovered up to me and Hiss reappeared by my side. “We need to get back to Tootie’s and tell the other’s what’s going on.” Maybe some input from my friends would help sort things out on what I was supposed to do.

“Friends? Thou mean ‘slaves,’ right? We are talking about Crescent Wrench and Shimmercoat here, and while I am unsure of Crescent’s feelings towards thou, I am certain Shimmercoat does not count thee amongst his list of friends.” Mezzer corrected my thoughts. That was going to get annoying fast.

They are so my friends! I countered, thinking back at the magical weapon’s presence in my mind. They helped me fix my back, didn’t they? Even Shimmercoat helped by buying all those potions to fuel MG-MS11.

“His life is linked to thee, it only makes sense that he would do his best to make sure thy life is not lost.” Mezzer reminded me. And I think Crescent only sticks around because of him, and the fact that she seems to be terrified of being alone out here in the wastes. If thou wants to test their friendship with thee, remove Shimmercoat from his bondage and see how long it takes for him to make an aggressive move against thee.” Mezzer said, and I got the sense that he thought about what he said for a moment. “On second thought, do not do that. I do not want thee and I to be killed for such a stupid test.”

“It’s possible for slaves and their owners to become friends, I see it all the time in Auction House!” I said out loud, forgetting that I only needed to think at Mezzer. There was nopony around but Hiss and MG-MS11, though, so I don’t think it mattered much. “You’re probably right, though…” I continued, sighing. “I’ve traveled alone for so long now that I forgot what being around other ponies is like… I suppose that being around you guys is making me go soft… I’ve never considered other slaves before this to be ‘friends.’ Guess Shimmercoat saving my life, even if it was only to keep his head, has got me thinking that he likes me.” I chuckled, kicking at the ground a little as we walked. We were nearly there, this little chat with Mezzer would have to continue at some other time.

“Oh, I would not go that far. Thy feelings for Shimmercoat in particular are no doubt also influenced by thy thrice-dammed feminine hormones.” Mezzer said, causing me to blush.

“It’s not my fault he’s good looking!” I said angrily at the male presence in my mind. If the ‘correcting my thoughts’ thing wasn’t going to get annoying, the ‘straight male presence in my brain’ thing was definitely going to be a problem. “I would never do anything with him anyways. He seems more than content to screw around with old mares we meet in the street anyways. And my dear ol’ Ma said to never screw around with ponies you don’t intend on marrying. So I don’t.” No matter how much as I’d like to, in some cases.

“I can still hear thy thoughts.” Mezzer said.

I blushed, but didn’t answer, as we had reached Tootie’s house, and I pushed open the door, the three (or four) of us stepping inside. Crescent was yawning in the center of the living room, rubbing her eyes, her curly mane flattened to her head on one side from lying on the floor next to that Mr. Handy she was still working on. She had obviously just woken up. The squeaking of the bed in Tootie’s room had stopped, thankfully, and I knocked on the door. Apparently they hadn’t been awakened by MG-MS11’s call to arms. Either that or they were too busy… not that I cared.

“What’s going on?” Crescent Wrench asked. “I thought I heard somepony yelling outside.”

“That would be because Mr. Loudspeaker over here decided he needed to wake up the whole town.” I said, pointing at MG-MS11.

“Would you rather I let these townsponies be killed in their beds by the zebra menace?! Neigh, I say!” MG-MS11 said, eye sensors focusing on me.

“Whatever, the point is… SHIMMERCOAT, GET OUT HERE!” I shouted, tired of waiting for him. After a few moments, Shimmercoat and Tootie emerged from the bedroom, manes disheveled. Shimmercoat still had his scarf on, at least, and Tootie didn’t look like she was suspicious, so at least he had kept the presence of mind to keep the fact that he was a slave a secret.

“What, is the town under attack or something?” Shimmercoat said, yawning. He looked worn out. What a shame.

“Actually…” I said, “It is.” Tootie gasped, stepping closer to Shimmercoat, her eyes widening. “Red Eye’s slavers are besieging the town as we speak. They’ll probably assault us in the morning.”

“Slavers!? Oh… oh dear, that’s just plain awful!” Tootie said, looking horrified. “Sheriff High Horse detests slavers, he says that they bring disease an’ blight wherever they go, an’ that they’ll take anypony from their families and work ‘em till they die!”

“Well, I don’t know where he got disease and blight from…” I muttered. Sure I was a mess when I walked into town, but hey, I had just had back surgery, gimme a break here! “And only some slavers work ponies like that. But these particular slavers will most certainly work you to death if they get their hooves on you. Red Eye has… well, poor business practices when it comes to that.”

“Tha’s a strange way of puttin’ it.” Tootie said.

“Go on…” Shimmercoat said, looking smug for some reason. “I’m curious. What’s the difference between Red Eye’s slavers and ones that, say, wander around on their own?” he asked.

“Who is this Red Eye anyways?” Crescent added.

“Well, not many slavers wander around on their own.” I replied, wondering what his game was. This was as good a time as any to educate Shimmercoat and Crescent on the difference between what I did and what Red Eye did. “Red Eye is the leader of a group of slavers based in the ruins of Fillydelphia. He is one of the main superpowers of the Equestrian Wasteland. He commands a massive army of ponies and griffins, and sends them out on raids frequently, collecting slaves to work in the factories he’s got running in Fillydelphia’s industrial district. He and his slavers work his slaves until they can’t work anymore, and once you’re caught by Red Eye, there’s pretty much zero hope of ever being free again.” Crescent looked like she was scared out of her wits, Shimmercoat looked thoughtful, and Tootie looked increasingly worried as I spoke. “The fact that he’s sent a large amount of slavers to raid this town probably means that he’s expanding his reach… I’ve never seen Red Eye’s slavers out this far from Fillydelphia before in this much force. Usually it’s only small bands trading with more local slavers. This is bad news for anypony living in the region.”

“Ah’ll say! Where does ‘e get the nerve, taking ponies away from their ‘ard earned homes like that?” Tootie said.

“I don’t know why he does it, I don’t work for him.” I replied, truthfully. I’ve never sold anypony to Red Eye’s slavers, though sometimes I bought collars off of them. They pay well enough, but the way they treated their slaves didn’t sit well with me. Sure, I’ve sold to raiders, even, but that was when I thought that the slaves would be used in a manner that wouldn’t mean the death of them, which is why I got angry when I came back to raider customers to find that slaves I had sold them were being used as macabre wall art. “Slaves are supposed to be an investment, not some sort of tool to be used until it breaks.”

“You say that as if you were okay with slavin’…” Tootie said warily. Nuts, did I just say that out loud?

“Well, yeah.” Crescent Wrench said, yawning, and probably not realizing the gravity of what she was saying. “She is a slaver herself after all.”

“Crud.” I said, the horrified look on Tootie’s face telling me that the jig was up.

“You wondered why I didn’t take off my scarf earlier?” Shimmercoat said, turning to Tootie. “This is why.” He removed his scarf with a bit more flourish then what I thought was nessessary, revealing the bomb collar strapped to his neck.

“Wha… is that… MAH CELESTIA!” Tootie recoiled from the collar as if it would go off any moment.

“Coin Slot here is a slaver. She’s got me and Crescent under her thrall.” Shimmercoat said to Tootie.

“Shimmercoat! Why are you telling her?!” I asked, panicking, all hope of covering up Crescent’s accidental revealing of my identity lost. This wasn’t the plan, this wasn’t the plan at all.

“Because this town seems nice, it has nice ponies in it, and more importantly, it doesn’t allow ponies like you!” Shimmercoat said, turning towards me, anger in his perfect features. “While I appreciate you forcing my hoof to get out of the Stable that was surely going to be the death of me, I utterly do not appreciate you thinking that I’m some sort of ‘investment,’ as you call it. I am a pony, not a piece of chattel. I figured that once I made a friend in this town, I could turn you in and force you to free me.” And to think that I had been thinking about Shimmercoat as one of my own friends just moments earlier. It… it hurt. I didn’t think it would; after all, Shimmercoat had tried to use me as a pony battery for his Stable… but him trying to turn me in literally the first chance he got… I hadn’t expected that. Though I really should have, in hindsight. Hiss growled at Shimmercoat, his hackles rising as Shimmercoat continued to talk. “You can’t blow my head up here, not without the whole town coming down on you. Tootie’s my witness, Crescent might be too scared to turn you in, but she isn’t! Right?” He turned to look at Tootie.

Tootie was looking at me, terrified. “You… you’re one of their advance scouts, aren’t you? You’re probably going to open the gates for them in the morning, that’s why you left! But your robot woke up the town, so now you got to do something else before the sheriff mounts a counterattack!”

“No!” This was bad, this was really bad. “I don’t work for Red Eye, I’m an independent contractor!” I said. “I usually work for Auction House!”

“Auction House?” Crescent piped up, she had been pretty quiet, looking from one pony to the other as we had… discussed things. She was probably still waking up. “What’s that?”

“Is this really the time?” Shimmercoat said exasperatingly to Crescent Wrench.

“It’s a town, a city!” I said, grabbing onto the lifeline, hoping to get the topic of discussion to a subject that didn’t involve turning me in to the sheriff with the fire in his eyes. High Horse, I think Tootie had called him. He gave me the impression that if I were outed as a slaver to him, I would be dancing the hemp fandango in short order. “Auction House is just about as far away from Fillydelphia as you can get!”

“You mean, like, on the other side of Equestria?” Crescent asked. Shimmercoat looked miffed that she had stolen his big ‘face down Coin’ moment, but I was glad for the young mare’s curiosity.

“No, I meant like… their practices. Red Eye works his slaves to death, fights them in gladiatorial pits, and treats them like objects… tools. Auction House treats slaves like I said they should be treated… as investments. Slaves are free labor that will pay for themselves five times over if you treat them right.” I said. “At Auction House, there are many support services for slaves and their owners, and the ponies living there follow the rules. Slaves aren’t to be beaten, raped, or starved. Slaves must be given enough time to rest and sleep, and are even allowed one full day a week off of work. Slaves…”

“Enough!” Shimmercoat interrupted. “If you get this collar off of me and leave right now, we’ll wait until you leave town before going to the sheriff. You’ll have your chance to escape to this ‘Auction House.’ Sounds like a great place, just leave, and stay there. Away from us.”

“I can’t do that! Red Eye’s slavers will capture anypony that sets hoof outside the town right now!” I said.

“So? You’re a slaver, they’ll let you pass, won’t they?” Shimmercoat countered.

I shook my head. Some ponies just didn’t get it. “No, slavers don’t play nice like that, especially Red Eye’s group. They’ll take me just as soon as they’d take you guys. I’m as stuck here as you right now.”

“Um…” Tootie said. We all turned to her, she didn’t look near as scared as she did moments earlier. “Ah have an idea… what if… what if Ah bought Shimmercoat from you?”

Shimmercoat looked at her as if she’d fallen from the moon. “You shouldn’t have too!” he protested.

“Darlin, shush your mouth and let me say mah piece.” Tootie said sternly. Shimmercoat shushed his mouth. “If’n I bought Shimmercoat from you, and freed ‘im immediately, would tha’ break some sort o’ slaver-customer agreements?” She sounded confused, but hopeful.

“Well, if I were a Red Eye pony, the answer would be yes.” I said. “His policies are once you’re a slave, you’re a slave for life, and no customer can free you or they’d open themselves up to being enslaved. But independents working for Auction House-”

“Get to the point.” Shimmercoat interrupted again.

“I’m getting there!” I said, wanting to make sure the difference between me and the ponies outside the gates was loud and clear. “Auction House affiliates don’t work like that. Once a slave is sold, it’s up to the owner when or if they are freed. In the actual city of Auction House, a slave can even be required to be freed by law if they do certain things or if certain conditions are met. So no, there would be no protestations from me if you were to buy Shimmercoat from me and free him immediately. Though…” I said, holding my hoof up to forestall Tootie’s reply. “I would require as part of the transaction that nopony try to kill me after the sale, including Shimmercoat…” he glared at me. “and that nopony turn me in until I’m able to leave this town for good.” I had said that I wouldn’t sell Shimmercoat, as I was pretty sure I could rent him for a mountain of caps back at Auction House, but if it was a choice between selling him into freedom or getting turned in to a militant sheriff, well, the choice was obvious.

Before Tootie could reply, there was a knock on the door. A stallion’s voice came through. “Sheriff High Horse is callin’ all ponies to get their asses to Mare Iarty’s pronto! Git out here and git a move on, we got a fuckin’ town emergency on our hooves!”

“Why don’ we discuss the details of the… um… transaction… after we solve our little Red Eye problem?” Tootie said, trotting towards the door.

“Will you buy me too!?” Crescent said excitedly. Geesh, was I that bad? Though I was more then willing to sell Crescent to such a nice mare. Tootie was exactly the kind of customer I like to sell to the most. If she could afford the both of them (and I planned on giving her a discount for not turning me in), then I would be happy to sell her a family. She looked like the kind of mare that was looking for a nice family to live with, but due to unfortunate circumstances didn’t have one she was related too. Buying one was perfectly acceptable in my book.

“If I can afford it, dearie.” Tootie said, looking at me. I nodded at her, smiling. She smiled back. “Let’s get to the pub though, the sheriff’s waiting.”

“I… ugh…” Shimmercoat sighed, putting his scarf back on. “That didn’t go the way I wanted it to at all. She shouldn’t have to pay for me.”

“Hey, if she buys you, everypony walks away happy and alive. Isn’t that worth a few caps?” I said.

“I suppose… in a twisted way of thinking about it.”

“Well, let’s go and get ready to defend your soon-to-be new home.” I said, smiling, trying to cheer Shimmercoat up. He had thought this was going to be a big showdown with me, and Crescent and Tootie kind of stole his thunder. I almost felt sorry for the blue buck. Almost.

“Hey… sorry for yelling at you.” Shimmercoat replied, looking me right in the eye. “I got a little overpassionate… from what you told us about these Red Eye ponies, Crescent and I should count ourselves lucky that if we’re slaves, we could have much, much worse masters. You gave me the motivation to finally leave that deathtrap of a Stable… and save a little one from it as well. I suppose that’s worth something.” He smiled. “I’ll still be glad when this thing is off my neck, though.”

“Uhh… thanks, I guess.” I stammered. Shimmercoat was one confusing stallion, angry at me one moment and thankful the next… I didn’t know what to think around him. Argh… it didn’t help that him smiling at me was…

“Don’t even think about it.” Mezzer said.

We trotted (or in MG-MS11’s case, floated) out of Tootie Fruity’s house and headed in the direction many other townsponies were headed, towards the Mare Iarty Pub and Inn.


“Everypony here?” Sheriff High Horse said from atop the bar as we stepped in. He spotted me and nodded, apparently I had garnered special attention from him. Lucky me. In the light I now saw that High Horse was white, with a dark purple mane and tail that looked like they had never been cut or groomed in his entire life, a distinct possibility. His horn also looked a good deal sharper than mine… like he might have filed it sharp or something. Also a distinct possibility. “Good! Thanks to this here robot…” he pointed at MG-MS11, “we ‘ave been alerted to enemies at our gates! You there!” He paused, looking confused for a moment instead of angry. “Um… I didn’t catch yer name, stranger.” He said, looking at me.

“Coin Slot.” I said, not seeing any reason to hide my name from him. It was doubtful he had heard of me before.

“Right! Miss Slot, please enlighten these ponies as to who we’re up ‘gainst!” High Horse said.

Everypony turned to look at me. Hoo boy. “Um… alright. From their banner, I could tell that the ponies outside the town are under the employ of Red Eye, the slavemaster from Fillydelphia.” The crowd murmured, apparently some of them still didn’t know fully what was going on. “This many of them here probably means only one thing… that they are preparing to attack the town, and are probably going to try and capture as many ponies as possible to put to work in the Fillydelphia factories.” I said.

“Right! I won’t have a single slaver set foot in this town under my watch!” High Horse said over the murmuring crowd, gaining their attention again and quieting them down. There were a lot of worried glances going around. “I called us all here to gear up and get ready to fight fer the town! Now, I was thinking we mount a defense along the walls and snipe at them from cover ‘till they go away…” he started, but I had to point something out.

“Um…” I said, loudly to catch the sheriff’s attention, and High Horse glared at me for interrupting him. “Sorry… but Red Eye employs a lot of griffins… there’s probably quite a few of them out there, they’ll just fly over the walls. Might even grab ponies from the walls and carry them off, if they’re out in the open.”

High Horse looked stunned. “Griffins?” He asked. I nodded. “How do you know so much about this Red Eye guy and his troops?”

“It’s fairly common knowledge where I’m from.” I said, not missing a beat. I definitely didn’t want anypony getting suspicious of me. “In fact, I moved out to this area to get away from ponies like Red Eye… looks like he’s expanding his reach.”

High Horse glared at me, though I was beginning to think that glaring was his default expression. “Right then… so we got fliers. Any ideas?” he asked the crowd. Nopony raised their hooves, and there was much examining of ceilings and floors.

“I do believe that I moight ‘ave an idea.” Came an accented voice from behind the bar where High Horse was standing. Looking behind the sheriff, I saw a green earth pony stallion with an orange mane and tail, who was also sporting an orange goatee. With his cutie mark being a wine glass, I could only assume that this was Iarty, the proprietor of the bar we were meeting in. “We could evacuate the town, make it so that when the slavers come, there’s nopony to capture. We wait until they leave, then come back.”

“Sounds fantastic, Iarty.” High Horse said sarcastically. “Cept the part where they’re surrounding the town and there’s no escape from them! How’er we supposed to evacuate when there’s nowhere to evacuate to, ya daft barpony!”

“I’m jus’ thinking o’ ideas, no need to get snooty on me, sheriff.” Iarty said. “Mayhap if’n we ‘ad something they want besides our freedom, we could sell em that and make em go away.”

“What about the megaspell in the center of town?” somepony in the crowd suggested.

“Yeah!” A unicorn mare standing next to me said. “That thing is slowly killing us anyways.”

“Let me get this straight…” High Horse said, his glare sustaining its intensity. “You want us to sell a group of slavers a megaspell?! That’s got ta be the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard!”

“Besides!” Another pony spoke up. This one was a white coated, white maned pony wearing a white hooded robe. She removed her hood as she stood on a table to make herself heard. I saw that her eyes were white as well… in fact they looked glazed over. Weird, I’d never seen eyes like that before except in blind ponies… does that mean she was blind? She continued speaking, though, seeming to look out at the crowd. “The Church of Balefire would never allow such a blasphemous transaction! To sell the spell would be tantamount to selling ourselves to these slavers! The cleansing fire and radiation purifies this town and keeps us whole! Or have you townsponies already forgotten who helped put up the wall surrounding our abode, who helped fund the caravans that provide us with supplies, who helped sustain us in the early years? It was us! The Church! As Head Minister, I forbid the selling of the megaspell!”

“As much as I… dislike agreeing wit’ Miss Jeteye over there,” High Horse said as the crowd started to murmur in reaction to the church pony’s statement. “I also forbid selling that megaspell. I hate keeping it in the center of town where I just know it’s goin’ to be the death of us, but givin’ it to some slaver just reeks of big trouble, if not fer us then for somepony else down the road. Who else has ideas?”

The crowd started throwing out ideas, some ponies wanting to just charge the besiegers now, others wanting to try and run away and come back later, still others saying they should just lock up their doors and wait for the slavers to get bored and go away. I watched with interest as to what was going on. Ever since I had had to leave my family’s casino on the Big 52, I’d never settled down anywhere in particular. Home was where I laid my head at night… but these ponies were obviously both scared of losing their home, and determined not to lose it. I thought about what I was doing here… these ponies didn’t deserve to die just because I had my back fixed by some strange pony on the road. The detonation module in my pack felt heavier, the weight of the worries of these townsponies making itself known to me. On the other hoof, I needed to complete the job I was given, otherwise Price would probably send bounty hunters after me once he figured out that the collar he had put on me didn’t work. I did not want to become the source of somepony’s paycheck.

“What are we gonna do, ya’ll?” Tootie said quietly to me, sounding desperate. “Yer…” she looked around nervously to make sure nopony was paying attention to us. Even High Horse had stopped looking at me, the crowd was busy brainstorming, and we were at the back. “… a slaver… if you were attacking the town wit’ an army, what would stop you?”

“If I had an army at my disposal?” I asked rhetorically. “Probably not much besides another army contesting for the rights to the town.”

“I don’t think replacing this army with another would solve the problem.” Shimmercoat added quietly, if a little sardonically.

“What if this hypothetical army thou has is staffed with incompetent officers? Or stripped of its command staff? I would think that would slow thy advance considerably.” Mezzer piped up in my head.

“Or…” I said, picking up on Mezzer’s hint. “If my officers were all dead, then the command structure of my army would be caput, and the cohesion that makes an army threatening to an organized town defense would fall apart.” I smiled. “If we could somehow get to the important ponies in that army outside the gates, they would probably give up! Sure, Red Eye’s slavers are more organized than most, but most of his grunt troops are still just ‘reformed’ raiders and rough mercenaries.” I sat up straight, quite pleased with my idea.

“Thou should remember that that was my idea.” Mezzer said.

“Oh, shush, I would have thought of that eventually.” I thought back.

“So you’re saying we should sneak out there and find a way to… um, get rid of the officer slavers?” Crescent Wrench asked, obviously avoiding the word ‘kill.’ Poor girl, the wasteland still hadn’t gotten to her yet. She reminded me of myself when I was young… it would only be a matter of time before something happened that whould change her forever, though. Just like me… thoughts of my dear ol’ Ma resurfaced, but I shoved them back down. I needed to concentrate.

“Essentially. We should tell the sheriff to gather the sneakiest ponies in town to sneak into the enemy camp and quietly assassinate the slaver officers.” I replied.

“A capital idea, sarge!” MG-MS11 proclaimed loudly, causing the crowd of murmuring ponies around us to stop talking and turn to stare at us.

“Something you’d like to share, stranger?” Sheriff High Horse asked. “I welcome any and all ideas if it helps us get rid o—OW!” High Horse was interrupted by a metal cylinder flying through the window and hitting him smack on the nose. It thunked to the ground and rolled to a stop in front of the packed group of ponies in front of the bar.

“GRENAAAAAADE!!” MG-MS11 shouted at the top of his volume, just as the cylinder erupted with a deafening explosion and brilliant flash of blinding light. I couldn’t hear anything but a ringing in my ears as I instinctively jumped backwards, bumping into somepony. I felt ponies pressing against me and each other as they all swarmed for the exit, which I was standing right in front of. Panic was in the air, and the ponies in the bar were pushing and shoving for the exit in a blind and deaf mob of hooves and horns. I was struck several times, and I retaliated by swinging the Hoof of Honor around a bit as I tried to feel my own way around blindly towards the exit.

Something grabbed my swinging hoof. It felt like a claw, and that was my last thought before pain exploded in my head, and I blacked out.


“Maaaaa!” I shouted, wandering through the crowded casino. “Maaaaa!”

Something had happened. There were rumors of a pink ghost visiting Sun City, a city to the north quite a ways. The rumors were that crowds of ponies, griffins, and other beings were now fighting over the city’s resources all of the sudden when they had lived together peacefully for some time, and all this was somehow related to the Ghost. Refugees from Sun City that had fled south during the fighting had, of course, encountered my family’s casino, and it was now as crowded as it had ever been. The amount of customers they had was record-breaking. Pa was working overtime at the bar, Hammer was trying to keep an eye on everypony on the gambling floor, and the few other staff members Ma had hired recently were swamped with serving, cleaning, and peacekeeping duties all at the same time. And Ma was nowhere to be found, not even in her office.

“Maaaaaa!” I shouted a third time. She really needed to be here when the place was this crowded! I looked around worriedly. We were surely losing caps to cheaters and scammers, but we didn’t have the ponypower to cover our casino when it was this full. “Pa, do you know where Ma is?” I asked my Pa, who was working on three different ponies drink orders at the same time.

“I don’t know honey, kind of busy right now…” he said. “Check outside behind the casino, she might be tossing some trash out or something, I saw her head towards the back with a big bag.” He continued mixing drinks as rapidly as he could, his hooves flying around knocking glasses together in an artful display of organized chaos. He was pretty skilled with his hooves; it must have come from being an earth pony.

“Ok!” I said, heading towards the back of the casino where the backdoor was. No customers were allowed back here; this was where Ma’s office, the kitchen, and the staff rooms were. I passed by Lucky Star as she exited her room, looking really tired. “Lucky!” I called out. “Have you seen Ma?”

“Um…” she said, looking down at me. Her eyes were all glittery with the makeup she wore for her showmare performances. Lucky and I never really talked. Honestly, I got along better with Hammer then I did with her, and he really creeped me out. “I heard someone head out the backdoor, could have been her.” She said, shrugging and heading for the gambling floor.

“Ok, thanks!” I said to her retreating flank, and continued down the hallway. Upon reaching the backdoor, I used my magic to grasp the handle, about to open it…

Everything froze. I couldn’t move! What was happening!?

“Can thou hear me, Coin?” A strange, deep voice asked. Right next to me, a weird device floated in the air. It kind of looked like a terminal screen attached to a gunstock… and it was floating where the head should be in the starry, swirling form of a stallion. I tried to scream, but nothing came out.

“Don’t panic, Coin.” the monster said. “It’s just me, Mezzer.”

My mouth unfroze, even though the rest of me didn’t… I was still magically grasping the doorknob. “What… what’s going on!? Who are you!? Why am I frozen!?”

“Coin,” the thing that called itself Mezzer said. “It’s only me… this is only a memory of thy childhood. Thou art knocked out right now.”

As Mezzer said this, memories of my adulthood came rushing to me. I’m… a slaver? No, captured by slavers? Both? How is this even possible?! Can I have memories of the future while having a memory of me as a filly?


“Wait… I’m a memory of myself from the future… in the past…” I said. “So… how are you talking to me? Wait, you’re my gun, Mezzer!” I shouted, recalling forward what he was.

“Yes. Thou art an adult in the present, and I am joined with thy soul. Because of this, I have been exploring thy memories to understand who thou art more closely. We have come close enough that I can now communicate with thee while reviewing thy memories.” Mezzer said. “Has thou not noticed the increase in dreams about thy past? That would be my fault.”

“Oh…” I said, not sure about how to take this. It was an amazing invasion of privacy, sure, especially since he didn’t ask first… but if we really were joined at the soul, we needed to know each other at the most intimate level if we wanted to work the best together. “I… have noticed, a little. But could you ask first before you invade one of my memories? I was kind of freaked out there for a second.”

“My apologies, I will endeavor to let thee know when I plan on conducting memory-dives.” Mezzer said, his ‘head’ bowing.

“Anyways… do you know what’s going on outside?” I asked.

“Yes, I do, unfortunately. While thou remain blissfully unconscious, thou and most of the townsponies of Maregaton have fallen to the slavers. Thou art being rounded up and dragged around like the rest of the town, and placed into a caged cart right outside the city gates. That flash grenade stunned nearly everyone inside the bar…”

“How can you see this without my eyes being open?” I asked. I was just full of questions for Mezzer. I guess this was the ‘getting to understand each other better’ thing he was talking about.

“I have other ways then thou for sensing the world around me.” Mezzer said, putting a spectral hoof to his spectral chest.

“Ok then…” I said, not wanting to hear a technical explanation of how he saw what he saw. I had the distinct impression it would make my head hurt. “Where are the others?”

“Crescent Wrench is with thee, in the cage. Both she and thou have been outfitted with slave collars, though I don’t worry much about those considering what thou did to the last one thou was wearing.”

“Yeah, when you’re in this business, it pays to figure out exactly how bomb collars work and how to turn them off.” I said. “And I’ve bought Red Eye’s collars before, I know exactly how to take them off, no problem. I usually take them off the merchandise after a sale; I don’t like giving them away. Means I have to go buy more.”

“Indeed. Nevertheless, we still seem to be in a pickle, as thou has been placed in a cage full of ponies wearing the things. The sheriff and that priestess pony are both in here as well, along with a good portion of the town. There is another cage they are filling up too. The cages are on carts; we will probably be carted away towards Flillydelphia once the slavers are done looting the town.” Mezzer said.

“Probably…” I sighed. We were, as Mezzer had said, indeed in a ‘pickle.’ “What about Shimmercoat? And the others?”

“Shimmercoat, MG-MS11, and Hiss are nowhere to be seen. One can surmise that they are hiding nearby, as neither Hiss nor MG-MS11 are inclined to run too far away, and Shimmercoat is tied to thee by an invisible leash.” Mezzer said.

“That means Shimmercoat at least is no more than two hundred yards away.” I said. “I hope nopony notices him… wait, what about Tootie?”

“She is not within my senses. It is possible she got away with Shimmercoat, perhaps…” Mezzer said, but he sounded uncertain. “She could also be in the other cage.”

“Well… ok. Is there any way you can wake me up?” I asked. My filly body was still frozen in the memory, ready and waiting to open the back door to the casino. If I recalled correctly… I wouldn’t want this memory to play out, especially if Mezzer was watching. Some things are… private.

“Thy body must wake up on its own.” Mezzer said. “I’ll leave now, and you’ll continue the memory as normal…”

“Wait!” I said as Mezzer started to fade away. “Don’t watch this one, it’s pri—”

I opened the door, heading out back behind the casino. We had a small fenced off courtyard behind us where we kept some spare junk that could be used later as supplies, but for right now was basically garbage. Piles of broken slot machines, tables, chairs, and even a few carts littered the area behind our building, creating small alleyways in-between the junk. “Maaaaaa?!” I shouted.

“Over… *hic* over here sweetie!” Ma’s voice came from behind a pile of slot machines, out of view from the casino. What was she doing back there? I trotted over to see Ma with an empty bottle of Wild Pegasus Whisky next to her, and a big garbage bag dripping with something that smelled foul. She was levitating it over the fence. She dropped it with a sickening squelch noise and tossed the bottle over with it, turning to me with a flushed red face. The bag started leaking a sickly red pool on the ground around it.

“Did you drink that whole bottle by yourself?” I asked, incredulous. Ma never drank this much! I don’t think I’d ever actually seen her get drunk! She said only bad fillies got drunk… Pa on the other hoof got drunk all the time…

A crow landed on the bag just outside the fence, pecking at it. Ma smiled at me and said, “You… you’re a good little filly, you know? Besh one a mother could… could ask for. You alwaysh do what… what I say… mmmm…” she inhaled deeply, sniffing at the air and the foul stench coming from the bag, and quivered, her flush getting even redder.

“Thanks Ma!” I replied, smiling. Ma thought I was a good little filly!

“Imma… you need a present… for being such a good little filly…” Ma said, looking around. A present? Yay!

Ma frowned. Apparently she couldn’t remember what she was going to give me, or couldn’t find it. She trotted haphazardly closer to me. “Wait… wait…” she muttered under her breath. The crow behind her cawed. She fell over on her side, plopping to the ground and moaning. She inhaled deeply again, shuddering and turning redder again as a result. I didn’t know why she was sniffing so deeply, that bag smelled awful, like something dead was in it…

“Ma? Ma! Are you OK?!” I cried out in alarm, running to her. As soon as I got close, though, she rolled over with surprising speed and grabbed me with her hooves, pulling me in close to her chest. I ‘oomphed’ against her as she held me… I could hear her heart beat… it was fast. Ma never held me like this…

“Ma loves her good little filly…” Ma said, lifting my head up to look at her. Her flushed cheeks highlighted her glazed-over eyes as she closed them, and lowered her head towards mine…

Ma kissed me. My eyes widened in shock… this wasn’t the normal ‘I love you Coin’ kiss she gave me on the forehead sometimes… she acted like those were a chore when I did something good. This kiss… it was on the mouth… it was like the kisses I saw some couples in the casino do before they went up to their rooms…

I… I didn’t know what to do. So I did nothing as Ma continued to kiss me… her tongue forcing its way in… her hoof brushing against…

In the back of my mind I heard a voice. “I understand thee now…”


I awoke to the rhythm of a rumbling cart as it trundled across an uneven, 200-year-old road. I was at the forward edge of the cart, in a cage full of ponies, our bodies pressed together. Crescent Wrench was next to me. “Oh, thank goodness, you’re awake!” Crescent said. “You were making these awful moaning noises, I thought you were getting sick!”

I blushed furiously. “Mezzer, you and I are going to have WORDS!” I shouted in my head. “You had NO RIGHT…”

“I had every right, Miss Slot.” Mezzer said. “Thou and I art the same, I need to understand thee to understand myself. I have found out a great deal about both… I need to analyze it though…” his voice faded and I felt his presence retreat to the back of my mind. Coward. I’d deal with him later though. “I'm better now, Crescent, thanks.” I said aloud. “Using my brilliant methods of deduction…” I said, eyeing the collar around Crescent’s neck. “I deduce that the slavers attacked us early and captured most of the town.”

“Yeah… it’s all my fault.” Crescent whimpered.

“Oh come on now, of all the things that could possibly be your fault, this is the least of them.” I said.

“No! It’s you and Shimmercoat’s fault too! We were the only ones with PipBucks, we should have noticed the slavers sneaking up on the bar with our EFS!” Crescent said, looking at her PipBuck.

I looked down at mine, and then focused on the little heads-up-display at the edge of my vision that was the Eyes-Forward-Sparkle. Little red bars surrounded a mass of yellow ones, the red corresponding with the few-dozen slavers that were surrounding our little caravan. Griffins flew above us, apparently keeping an eye on the road ahead. I tried to find a yellow bar out there amongst the red… Shimmercoat had to be nearby, he would make sure he was at least two hundred yards from my position, it’d be in his best interest to do so. I couldn’t find one though, so he was either hidden, out of range… or dead.

“Oh, right… I guess you’re right about that, I totally forgot about it.” I said. Crescent nodded, her eyes suggesting that she was about to cry. “Oh come now… don’t be too upset. They… uh…”

“Came from behind?” Crescent chuckled. “I know… but now we’re slaves… it’s only a matter of time before we’re tossed into some sort of meat grinder and beaten to death!” Crescent was panicking, and the ponies around us were looking at her with mixed reaction of worry, annoyance, and panic of their own.

“Shush.” I told her sternly. “Remember, with me around…” I tried to say this quietly, so only she could hear. “I can take these collars off. All we need to do is wait for an opportunity to escape.”

“That’s right!” Crescent just about shouted in glee, and I facehoofed. An earth pony slaver hit the cage near us with the stock of his rifle.

“Quiet in there!” he said, chuckling. He had a dingy yellow coat, a dirty black mane and tail, sunglasses, and a bad attitude. “You all thought you had until dawn to come up with a plan, didn’t you?” The ponies around us looked sheepish at best, heartbroken at worst. Except for two, they looked positively livid. High Horse and Jeteye.

“The holy flame will burn thee to ashes, slaver slime!” Jeteye proclaimed from the cage, her milky eyes locked directly onto the slaver addressing us.

“Shut yer trap, ya little fuck, or I’ll shut it for you!” said the slaver, who made up for his lack of imagination with his insults with the volume in which they were delivered. My ears still hurt from that flash-bang grenade, and this guy wasn’t doing me any favors. “What’d you guys expect anyways? We had griffin scouts keeping an eye on the town, and when ninety percent of you fuckers suddenly go into one building, well, it raises flags. Seriously.” He smiled triumphantly. I noticed that his cutie mark happened to look like a bomb with a smiley face on it, superimposed on a starburst explosion. “Still can’t believe I only had to use one flash-bang. You fuckers must have been packed into that little bar. Best merch-run I’ve been on in a while. Seriously.”

“When I get my hooves on you…” High Horse said quietly, shaking with rage.

“You’ll what? Get your fucking head blown off? Cause if you even think about escaping, that’s what’s gonna happen! We all got detonator remotes, all we gotta do is point and click.” The slaver said. “Now shut the fuck up, I’m tired of talking.”

Jeteye sat on the floor and began muttering to herself, her strange eyes closed. High Horse just looked like he was determining whether it would be worth getting his head blown off if he had the chance to beat up even just one slaver. If High Horse were one of my captures, I would have killed him right off the bat. Some ponies you just can’t enslave, they’re either too crazy, boneheaded, or determined to be of any use to any owner. Red Eye didn’t care about the mindset of his slaves, though. He had ways of making ponies subservient. Ways I would not care to see. “We’ll wait until nightfall.” I whispered to Crescent Wrench. “They’ll probably let us out to feed and water us then, and let us use the bathroom. I’ll remove our collars and we can book it.”

“Thou must remember to recover me.” Mezzer said as Crescent nodded to me. “I do not know how far away my physical form can be from thou before something happens, and I would rather not find out.”

Shoot! I forgot that Mezzer was obviously taken away from me when we were captured. He was probably in one of the slaver’s saddles, or one of the storage chests attached to the sides of the carts we were in. “Do you know where you are?” I asked him via thought.

“I’m afraid not. All I can tell is that it’s dark. That doesn’t tell us much.” he said. Drat.

“We’ll figure something out… hopefully when we make our escape attempt, we can hook up with Shimmercoat and come back for you with reinforcements.” I thought.

“What about the others?” Crescent asked, keeping quiet. Nopony in the cage was paying us one iota of attention; they were all too focused on their own predicaments, or had that hopeless look that fresh slaves sometimes get. I could tell that those ponies could be trained, and would perhaps sell really well if they were actually used as proper slaves and not as the pony-machines that Red Eye expected his slaves to be. It was a shame to see such good merchandise go to waste. “Can we save them too?”

“No. That would be unfeasible… wait…” I said, pondering. “We could try and take off a few of the collars in the cage, right before nightfall… the more ponies making a run for it, the more of a chance we’ll have to get away in the confusion! Good idea, Crescent.” I said.

“That… that isn’t exactly what I meant, but ok…” Crescent whispered.

“Alright everypony, stop.” A griffin flew down, telling the ponies pulling both our cart and the other one to stop. “We’re approaching the outskirts of Fillydelphia, so anypony wanting any last kicks with the slaves better do it now, cause it’s the last time you’ll see any of them.” Indeed, looking out towards the horizon I could see the outline of ruined buildings and thick smog rising into a red sky.

“See, this is why I fucking work for you, Brand.” The slaver that had been talking with us said gleefully. “You’re not like the other commanders, you understand what your army needs…”

“Yeah, yeah, just shut it and don’t tell any of the higher ups I do this.” The griffin named Brand replied. “I just want to get my jollies in before the meat gets ground up in the Pit. Can’t do shit once your under the eye of Stern. Make sure you don’t let them all out! We don’t want a repeat of last time… and none of you even think of running for it! We’ve all got our detonators primed and ready!” he said to us slaves.

Apparently, this particular group of slavers liked to have ‘fun’ with their captives. I knew for a fact that Red Eye and his commanders frowned upon this behavior, more for the fact that it was an inefficient way to run business rather than for morality’s sake. One of the main reasons it was frowned upon was because it gave slaves an opportunity to escape…

“Quick, look pathetic.” I said to Crescent. If we could get out now, while everypony was distracted, that would be even better. Crescent did an excellent job of looking pathetic, her eyes downcast and her ears drooping. Even her curly brown hair just kind of deflated a little. Almost made me want to cry. I did my part too, kicking at the floor and maybe showing off a little flank to the bars of the cage. Hey, if it meant possible chance of escape, I’ll do it.

The slaver that had talked to us approached the cage. “You there!” he said, pointing at Jeteye. “Slaver slime, huh? I’ve heard worse, but I want to show you something… heh. Oh, I’m talking to you, blind… ey.” Man, he really needed to work on his insults.

“I know.” Jeteye replied. “I’m guessing you want me to go to the door to this abominable cage?”

“You guessed it. I’ll show you real slaver slime… heh.” Dear chimichangas, that was bad. Apparently we didn’t look pathetic enough. Jeteye made her way to the cage door through the press of ponies… much more confidently then any blind female slave had any right to be. She would also probably be killed off or released if I was the one who caught her. I got the feeling she was hiding something. Something that would end badly for anypony who crossed her.

Other ponies were picked out by the slavers and hauled out of the cages carefully, guns trained on the entrances as they were opened. Some ponies went quietly, accepting their fate, others were crying, and still others had to be dragged out by their tails or manes. Mares, foals, and stallions alike were being chosen… it all depended on what the slaver wanted out of them. Some obviously wanted somepony to rape… others looked like they were just going to beat the crud out of their chosen slave. They were being careful though… more careful then I thought they would be. Maybe this wasn’t a chance to escape…

“Ahh! Fuck! Celestia damn it!” Brand’s voice cried out from the back of the other cart. I looked through the bars of the cage I was in to see that the griffin commander had been bucked in the face by the pony he was dragging out of the other cage. That pony was green, and had strawberries for her cutie mark… Tootie Fruity.

“Wait!” I called out, but it was too late. Tootie was making a break for it. She looked like she had seen something behind the rocks lining the sides of the road we were on.

“Little cunt…” Brand muttered, pointing a detonator at Tootie. Crescent turned away, tears in her eyes, but I watched as I saw Tootie’s collar explode. Slave collars were shaped charges… they directed the blast inward and upward. Tootie’s skull fragmented into an innumerable amount of pieces as blood sprayed from the suddenly empty neck. The body stood there for a moment in mid-stride before falling to the ground, headless. “Bitches don’t listen…” Brand said.

I heard a muffled shout from the rocks, and thought I saw a blue glow of magic. One of the other griffin slavers apparently saw it too, but when he flew over to check, he looked around the rocks a bit and shrugged, flapping back over to the cages.

The ponies around me murmured in shock. I remembered that these townsponies probably all knew each other pretty well, at they very least they were all probably passing acquaintances. Quite a few ponies burst into tears, or shook in fear at the carnage. Brand turned to look at me… son of a gun, he had heard me call out to Tootie. “Friend of yours?” He asked, looking directly at me.

“Uh… client, actually.” I said. It was the truth, though I had never been able to make a sale, and now I never would…

“Well I’m sorry for the lost business, but looks like you got a new client now, Caps. Git out here.” Brand said menacingly.

“Stay calm…” Mezzer said reassuringly.

“I know how to act in this situation… I’ve been on the reverse end enough times…” I thought back, though I made note to myself that I wasn’t nearly as abusive to my merchandise. The other slavers were beginning their ‘fun’ already… I looked away, trying to ignore the open rape and beatings and abuse that was just happening out on the open wastes… I couldn’t ignore the sounds though.

I stepped up to the door of the cage I was in like a good little slave, and followed Brand meekly. I needed to wait for the perfect opportunity; I wouldn’t make any sudden moves until then. Even… even if this griffin wanted to… to…

“I’m here with thee.” Mezzer said. “We’ll get through this.” Having the weapon reassure me was… oddly calming.

Brand led me a little ways away from the main group, and then turned to me. “So, what’s your name, meat?” he asked. I was surprised. Usually slavers like this didn’t care.

“Coin Slot.” I said, not making eye contact.

“Look at me.” Brand said. I looked up at him. His eyes flashed with the gleam of a predatory species. He frowned. “You’re not scared of me.” He stated. It wasn’t a question.

“O… of course I am… you have the power here…” I stammered. I wasn’t expecting this… whatever this was. I had no idea what Brand was up to, it was throwing me off my game.

“I suspect that I actually don’t.” Brand said. “Come here.” He sat down, and extended his talons. I hesitantly stepped closer, and he put his talons around my neck. I felt slight pressure under my collar… the tips of his claws were just barely not penetrating my skin, any more pressure and he would be spilling my lifeblood onto the wastes. “Look at me.” He said again.

I looked up at him, not knowing what it was he wanted from me. I felt scared, but he just tutted at me, clacking his beak.

“You are different, Coin Slot. You are at the edge of death, and can still look it in the eye. The other cunt had the same look… she took off, fell over the edge, and chose her own destiny. I granted it to her. What are you going to choose?”

I didn’t know how to respond to this. I had a feeling that if I didn’t respond though, I’d be joining Tootie in the everafter very soon. “I… choose life. Good fillies don’t say that they’ll kill themselves.” I said, reiterating one of my dear ol’ Ma’s lessons. Brand let go of my throat.

“Fillydelphia is not a place for the weak. It’s not a place for the strong either.” Brand said. “It is a place for those who choose. I choose to let my army do what they want with the slaves because it raises morale and keeps them loyal to me more than Stern. When I choose to leave Red Eye, I’ll have my own gang that I can take out into the wastes and survive with, with enough caps between us to build our own town. Might even inhabit that empty one we just left behind.” Brand looked away from me, a distant look in his eyes.

“I wonder what his story is…” Mezzer pondered in my head.

“He’s down on his luck, and is succeeding in the slave business. He wants to get out of it someday. It’s not a unique story.” I replied. We had different business practices, but Brand and I had more in common then he realized.

“That’s a choice you make, isn’t it?” I asked. Brand nodded, looking back at me. I carefully did not look at the shimmer that I noticed moving up behind him. I only noticed it because it had a corresponding yellow bar on my EFS. “I also make a choice. I make the choice to continue on our way to Fillydelphia right now. Now is not the time for rash escape attempts, especially with my… friend still in the cage.” The shimmer stopped.

I swear, I’ll need to get Hiss’s brain checked out. He’s clearly more intelligent then any nightstalker had any right to be.

Brand nodded, unaware of the invisible bearer of fanged death behind him. “A wise choice.” He said. “I might put in a good word for you once we get to Filledelphia. You sound like a good candidate for my army… well come on. Let’s get back to the cage. No sense in taking risks, eh?” Brand led me back to the cage. The other ponies around us were engaged in far less philosophical activities, and I tried to ignore them as I made my way back to Crescent Wrench. She was shaking, hunched over with her hooves covering her eyes.

“They… they…” she kept repeating. I put my hoof on her shoulder, and before I knew it, Crescent had scooted up as close to me as she could, quivering in fear. “Came… from… behind…”

I closed my eyes and tried to ignore the screaming.


It was almost sundown. We had been traveling all day, and we were now in the city proper, or at least it’s outer ruins. The air had been getting harder and harder to breath as the pollution levels rose, and the sky was now an ominous shade of red. Collapsing buildings rose around us as our carts were pulled through the streets. The ponies around me were beaten and broken… Jeteye was completely silent, sitting in the corner with her eyes closed. Even High Horse looked like he had had the fight taken out of him by this time. Crescent was still cuddling up next to me, and every so often out of the corner of my eye I could see a shimmer… or the glint of light off of glasses… or a flash of a red chassis… the only reason I saw any of these things was because of my EFS again. Maybe if I had paid attention to it in Maregaton none of this would have occurred… and Tootie would still be alive.

“Alright, hold up everyone.” Brand said, the ponies and griffins he commanded stopped. “I sent ahead two griffins and I haven’t heard from them since. They were supposed to meet us here at the very latest. Something’s up.”

The slaver who had chosen Jeteye, who I now knew was named Blastback, trotted forward a little. “So they got themselves killed, doesn’t mean that there’s danger ahead of us now.”

“You idiot, look ahead of us and tell me what you see.” Brand replied, faceclawing.

I looked ahead as well. The road we were on was the only feasible way to get carts towards the direction of the factories of Fillydelphia. This particular stretch of it, however, had many tall skyscrapers rising up, and over half of them were tilted, partially collapsed wrecks. They were leaning out into the street, meeting in the middle and creating a roof over it where it was much darker than outside their shadow, and the street was narrower under them from all the wreckage that had been pushed to the sides. It was an urban canyon.

It was also a perfect place for an ambush.

“Bunch of collapsed buildings, so what?” Blastback said, looking up. “I don’t see any bloodwings, so that’s not the problem. You think they’re going to collapse on us or something?”

“If they were going to collapse, they would have done so already, you fucking moron.” Brand said, his tone indicating extreme annoyance. “There are more places to hide in there then you have brain cells. Granted, that’s not saying much, but it’s still a fuckton of I-don’t-want-to-be-ambushed.”

“So what’re we going to do?” Blastback asked, not even blinking at the insults. He was either used to them, or they went over his head. I’d place caps on the latter.

Brand looked around at his contingent. He did have over four-dozen ponies and just over a dozen griffins; I couldn’t imagine any ambush big enough to overpower him, even if they had the element of surprise.

“Everyone! Keep safeties off, eyes peeled, and weapons ready! There’s Steel Rangers around here, and I don’t feel like being blasted into itty-bitty pieces today!” he shouted. “It’s getting dark, otherwise I’d say we wait a little while for more scouting. We need to get home though, so no fooling around! High alert!”

Steel Rangers? Brand’s army suddenly seemed like not enough. I glanced at my PipBuck, and wondered idly if I would be better or worse off with the Rangers. Sometimes they seemed like they were the protectors of the wastes, other times they were no more then power-armored thugs stealing technology and worshiping toasters. I also wondered if Shimmercoat, Hiss, and MG-MS11 had set something up ahead. If there were ever a time to attempt a rescue, now would be it, though I doubted just the three of them could do anything against this army without some sort of trick. Maybe they’d collapse a building on them. MG-MS11 had the firepower to melt a foundation, and Shimmercoat could shield the cages. It was a distinct possibility.

Half an hour passed, and nothing happened. The tension still rose, though; we weren’t out of the proverbial woods yet. Skyscrapers towered above us, threatening to collapse at any time, yet miraculously not. I had to hand it to the pre-war engineers… the construction of these buildings was something else. It was dark, the sun behind the red clouds was on its way down, and the shadows of the skyscrapers were lengthening. Soon it would be pitch black down here. “We need to pick up the pace! Come on!” Brand said, hovering above the ground a bit, obviously wanting to be out of here as soon as possible.


About a quarter of the ponies in the slaver army turned towards the loud noise and blasted their various weapons. When the rattling gunfire ceased echoing down the street, we finally saw the source of the noise; a now very, very dead crow lay in a pile of rubble.

“Well, now whoever’s here knows we’re here…” Brand muttered. “Bunch of binge-a-shits… firing at a fucking crow…”

Two more crows flew out of nowhere, landing next to their recently departed kin, and began plucking out the eyeballs. “Ew, gross.” Crescent Wrench said as we continued on.

Two blocks further and we encountered a whole flock of crows, their backs hunched, just standing in the middle of the street. There were hundreds of them, beady red eyes turned towards the approaching slaver army. I looked around, and in the windows of buildings… perched on rubble… everywhere, there seemed to be glowing red eyes and black beaks and feathers. “I have a really bad feeling about this…” I muttered.

“I am getting a serious case of the heebie-jeebies.” Mezzer helpfully pointed out.

“Form a circle!” Brand said, obviously nervous. The entire army looked like they were also massively creeped out by the amount of birds surrounding them. One of the slaver mares shrieked, and I saw that she had stepped on a griffin skull. The rest of the skeleton was nearby, and another griffin skeleton was next to it. They looked fresh, their bones picked clean.

“There’s our scouts…” Brand muttered. Tension built in the air. Everypony was waiting… waiting for the crows to make a move.

In the silence, the clip-clop of horseshoes was suddenly heard. Somepony was trotting down the street towards us, not making any attempt to be stealthy. Guns of every type turned towards the noise as somepony emerged from the gloom.

The pony was a unicorn in a full-body suit of combat armor; ceramic plates and black matte mesh covering every square inch of her. There were even ceramic plates molded around her neck, and her head and horn was covered by mesh as well. Atop her head was a floppy, old-looking setson hat. Her hooves were adorned by a full set of royal guard shoes, making my one (which had been taken away from me. I still didn’t know where my equipment was.) look even more incomplete then it already was. The only natural part of her body showing was her long, flowing tail, which was pink, with a single purple stripe down the middle.

The most prominent feature of this mysterious pony, though, was her mask. It was the type of mask one would see at a masquerade ball, except the eyes had dark, tinted lenses instead of open holes, and it was black and had a long, narrow beak going over the snout, giving her a creepy birdlike visage. I could only tell that the pony was female because of the body shape. She had no visible weapons on her, besides the horseshoes.

“Who are you?” Brand demanded, his voice surprisingly not wavering in the slightest.

The mystery mare said nothing. Then, as one, the crows launched into the air and attacked the slavers.

The air filled with the caws of crows and screams of ponies. Gunshots were fired wildly at the carrion birds, dropping several, but for every crow killed, two more took its place. I decided that now would be the time to get these darn collars off. Tapping a few key spots with my hooves, it unlocked and fell to the cage floor, deactivated. “C’mon Crescent, move!” I shouted over the noise, deactivating her collar as well. Crescent wasn’t moving, though, she was cowering in fear at the carnage around her. Ponies and griffins alike were being ripped apart by the crows, which aimed for the eyes with their sharp beaks far, far too often. They were ignoring the ponies in the cages… for now.

“I will help move the little one, if you help us with our collars.” The voice of Jeteye said next to me. I jumped; I hadn’t even noticed the white pony move up to me. I nodded, and deactivated her collar as quick as I could, moving on to the next pony, High Horse, and deactivating his collar.

Collars fell to the ground as I made my way to the entrance of the cage. There were about one and a half dozen of us in this cage altogether, and the same in the other cage. When I got to the entrance, I was stymied. The cage was, of course, locked from the outside, and crows were currently swarming the one with the key. I risked a look over to where Brand had been, but he wasn’t there anymore. Crows blocked my vision anywhere over a few yards, there were so many. The cawing increased in intensity in front of us, though, and I heard a familiar buzzing noise… my back twinged as I recognized it.

“EQUESTRIAAAAAAA!!” MG-MS11 cried out at maximum volume, drowning out the crows with patriotic music (far too much tuba, and was that an accordion?), spinning his buzzsaw around him at high speed, slicing through the black birds with ease. They bounced off his chassis harmlessly… crows couldn’t do much to a Mr. Gutsy. Running up behind him was Shimmercoat in a large blue bubble shield, crows bouncing off left and right as they charged at him. He caught up with MG-MS11 as they reached our cage, enveloping the robot and the back half of the cage in his shield as well. “Stand back, Sarge, I’ll get you out pronto! No POW’s in MY squad!” MG-MS11 said, and with a single slice of his saw, cut the lock. The door swung open, and only with the slightest of hesitation, I stepped out. The crows viciously attacked Shimmercoat’s shield, but he looked almost bored by the assault; clearly they weren’t strong enough to break it.

“We need to open the other cage too…” I said to him.

“What, you actually care about them?” Shimmercoat asked sardonically. I couldn’t tell if he was being serious or not when he asked that. And truth be told, I didn’t know the answer…

“Of course! No Pony Left Behind! Let’s show these zebra slime what for, eh! CHARRRRRGE!!!” We quickly followed MG-MS11 as he floated over to the other cage, making the decision for us, cutting a path through the wall of crows. Looking behind me, I saw some of the townsponies making a break for it out of Shimmercoat’s shield and back the way the carts had came… some of them were unmolested by the crows… some… weren’t. I turned away, blocking out screams for the second time today. High Horse was following MG-MS11 and me with several large packs on his back, and Jeteye was following us with Crescent Wrench on hers.

We got to the other cage, and MG-MS11 made quick work of the lock. “Everypony out! Pass by this mare to get your collars removed, hurry! This is our chance!” High Horse shouted out, and the terrified ponies in the cage hurried out as fast as I could remove their collars. Some of them also made an immediate break for freedom, with the success rate of the other group.

“No! I can protect you, come back!” Shimmercoat yelled out to this second group of runners… he looked extremely distressed. Shields appeared around the runners… but they were weaker, and the impact of the crows against them causing the shields to flash. It looked like Shimmercoat was going to fall unconscious any second, he was overtaxing himself trying to save these ponies.

“Leave them!” I shouted. “If you go out, we all do!”

“Buck up, Private!” MG-MS11 said, one of his sphere shaped eye sensors pointing at the wavering stallion. “Have some juice!” MG-MS11 pointed his M.E.D.I Gun arm at Shimmercoat, and with a whirr, a beam of purple energy wafted out towards him. Once it connected, Shimmercoat instantly looked much more alert and focused, and his horn glowed fiercely, the shields he was projecting all around the fleeing ponies growing much stronger.

“Thanks!” Shimmercoat shouted back to the robot, focusing on his spellcasting.

As soon as I was done with the last collar, we all ran for it, back the way we came. I looked back, making sure everypony had left the cages, and saw the mare with the beaked mask standing atop one of the cages… looking straight at me.

I turned and ran with the others, and didn’t stop until we were out of the urban canyon, with the cawing of crows and the screams of slavers and slaves echoing behind us.


“Keeping within two hundred yards of you is really hard when you go and get yourself captured by slavers! I thought you were the slaver!” Shimmercoat said once he caught his breath his breath from running. He seemed a little out of shape. Luckily Jeteye and High Horse were out of earshot.

“Just because I’m a slaver doesn’t mean I can’t be enslaved.” I replied. “… Thanks for following us though, even if you didn’t have much of a choice.”

“Yeah, following this… thing helped out a lot.” Shimmercoat said, looking at Hiss, who was sitting next to me, his forked tongue lolling out of his mouth with a stupid grin on his face. He growled at Shimmercoat in response before resuming his panting. “It knows where to go when it comes to sneaking around. I was surprised the robot didn’t give us away, though.”

“I do have programming for spec-ops missions, Private Shimmercoat, and I would show some respect to your superior officers!” MG-MS11 said. Shimmercoat just sighed and facehoofed. I had a feeling that him and MG-MS11 had had some… bonding time while following us.

“Here is the little one.” Jeteye said, trotting up to us, along with High Horse. She deposited Crescent Wrench on the ground, who looked up, still shaking. “The sheriff was wise enough to grab the packs inside the chests on the sides of the carts, so we have the provisions to make it back to the holy city of Maregaton.”

“Also got your things too. Thank you for getting us out of that situation back there. Good thing you know how to remove them collars.” High Horse said. “And this whole little escapade wasn’t some random attack, I think you should know.”

“It wasn’t?” I asked, taking my saddlebags from him. Mezzer was safe and sound inside them, as were the rest of my things. Thank Celestia for the foresight of sheriffs.

“Nope. Town was sold out by none other then Iarty. Saw him exchanging caps and hoofshakes with that griffin when I was tossed in the cage. He shows his sorry flank in Maregaton again and there’ll be a hanging, that’s for sure.” High Horse said, a glint in his eye that told me I would not want to be Iarty right now.

“I’ll be sure to give him your regards should I see him.” I replied flatly. I fully intended on killing him if I saw him again as well.

“I’ll court martial the traitorous son-of-a-bitch myself if I see him!” MG-MS11 added.

“So I take it you folk aren’t headed back to Maregaton? We could use ponies… and robots with your kinds of skills.” High Horse said.

“No… there’s nothing for us there, sorry.” I said, thinking of Tootie, and what brought us to Maregaton in the first place. “We’ll probably return at some point though.”

High Horse looked at the group of townsponies milling around outside the skyscraper canyon and smiled wearily. “We’ll be rebuilding for quite a while, and I don’t just mean rebuilding defenses, though those will be upped quite a bit, mark my words. We lost too many in there… and too many were traumatized by those damn slavers.” I didn’t say anything. There wasn’t much to say.

High Horse sighed, and nodded to me. “Well, just know you’re always welcome in Maregaton. I’ll gather us all together and we’ll be headed off the road a bit to sleep through the night, then we’re headed out in the morning back home.”

“May the burning brightness of the balefire guide your hoofsteps.” Jeteye said, bowing towards me and following High Horse as they went to gather up the townsponies for their journey home.

My group, on the other hoof, left right away. Nopony had noticed or cared much that Shimmercoat still had a collar on, and I didn’t want any awkward questions, so we hurried down the road, then left it onto a small trail into the wastes as soon as we could, trotting for an hour or so until the main road was well behind us. The night settled upon us in earnest, and I started a campfire in the shadow of a rocky crest, choosing the semi-sheltered spot as a good place to settle down for the night. “So how did you guys escape being captured? That flash-bang got me good…” I asked.

Hiss just looked at me, I knew all he had done was go invisible and follow me. “I reduced the amount of light my photoreceptors accepted and fought my way though the enemy ranks until I could secure a tactical retreat route for the General, Private and I.” MG-MS11 said.

“Yeah, I used a shield spell to block the light and noise, so I wasn’t as disoriented as the rest of you.” Shimmercoat said dully.

“… You ok?” I asked.

“I… I saw Tootie. What happened to her, I mean.” Shimmercoat said. Ah, so that was it. “It… she saw me, that’s why she made a break for it.” Shimmercoat looked up at me. Tears were forming in his eyes. “I should have ducked my head, hid, something. But… I wanted to let her know that we were following, that she would be OK. I didn’t expect her to… to…” Shimmercoat stared into the fire, tears streaming down his cheeks. He chuckled lightly. “I hardly even knew her…”

“You wanted to get to know her, though.” I said, scooting up to him. He leaned his head on my shoulder. Crescent Wrench scooted up to Shimmercoat’s other side, and we forgot our animosities for the night, and mourned for Tootie Fruity.

“Have you ever lost someone? Someone you really cared about?” Shimmercoat asked after a moment of silence.

“…Yeah.” I said, thinking of Ma. “Most ponies in the wastes have.”

“Who?” Crescent Wrench asked.

“My dear ol’ Ma.” I replied. “She was… she took care of me. She protected me from the wastes and taught me everything I know. I… I loved her.” I yawned. It was getting late, and we had done a lot today. This sense of melancholy we had wasn’t very energizing either. “She was the best mother anypony could ask for, in every way…”

As I fell asleep in front of the fire, I thought I heard a voice in the back of my head, saying, “Thou lies…”

Level up! (Lv. 8)

New Perk: Always Cut The Red Wire: You are able to disable bomb collars, traps, mines and other nasties at the drop of a hat! Disabling harmful traps such as these now takes half the time it normally did.

Author’s Note: Large and gratuitous apologies for having such a late chapter! Lots of things came up all at once, but hopefully future chapters won’t take so long to get down on paper. This one also took more time to edit then the others, but hopefully it reflects that. It’s the longest chapter to date, whew! I hope you guys enjoy it, and thank you for your patience!

HUGE thanks to Kkat for writing Fallout: Equestria and giving us sidefic writers a great big sandbox to play in. Also thanks to Lesolan and Shimmercoat help editing and proofreading this slog to make it something enjoyable. And thanks to all who hang out at the Sidefic Compilation doc for providing feedback and inspiration to write my own story. Also thanks to Bethesda and Hasbro for two great franchises. Hope you enjoy!

Chapter 8 > In which our heroine meets a hot mare

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Chapter 8 > In which our heroine meets a hot mare
“Maybe you’ll ask me to come back again, and maybe, I’ll say maybe.”

“So… where are we headed now?” Crescent Wrench asked. It was fairly early in the morning after our escape from being slaves and crow food. We had been awakened from our slumber by yet another drizzle from the endless clouds above the wastes, and had decided to get an early start instead of trying to sleep while getting slowly soaked. We had been walking through the deserted plains for quite a while now; there was no path to follow out here, or any buildings close by to use as landmarks, but the map on my Pipbuck and my knowledge of outdoor navigation kept us on track fairly well.

“Auction House.” I replied. “We need some time to rest and recoup after all… that. Auction House is the safest place I know, and I know that we’ll be accepted there with open hooves. Might even be able to make a few caps off of you.” I said to Shimmercoat.

“Unlikely.” Shimmercoat retorted snidely. “You try ‘renting’ me to anypony without my consent and I’ll pop their heads by expanding a shield inside their mouths.”

I stopped, and turned to look Shimmercoat directly in the eye. We needed to get a few things straight. “Alright, look. If some raider or something paid for you and you did that, fine, so long as I got their caps, I don’t care what happens to those scum. But Auction House is different, full of civilized ponies… like Tootie.” Shimmercoat glared at me as I mentioned Tootie’s name. “There are rules and laws there, and you can’t go around killing clients just because you don’t like being my slave.”

“Don’t try and talk to me about ‘civilized’ ponies, Coin.” Shimmercoat spat. “The fact that you tell me… tell us,” he said, gesturing towards Crescent, who was looking at the two of us wide-eyed. “that we’re slaves to you… it means to me that you’re the least civilized of us all. Ponies are not property, no matter what kind of sick upbringing you’ve had out here that tells you otherwise.”

“Good grief not this again… you were going to use me as a battery!” I retorted. “Batteries are things, objects to be owned, and used to the owner’s benifit! So are slaves! What’s the difference between what you were going to do to me and what I’m doing to you? Oh, that’s right…” I answered myself before Shimmercoat could speak. “I’m not actually going to kill you so long as you keep yourself in line. You were fully intent on killing me before I forced you to leave the Stable. Don’t try and take the moral high ground with me, Shimmercoat, just do your job and maybe someday I’ll free you. Annoy me too much, and I’ll sell you, and believe me, I’m probably the nicest master you’ll ever meet.”

Shimmercoat looked like he was about to shout something back at me, but paused when Crescent Wrench reached out and poked his side. She looked like she was about to cry. “Please… we… can’t you two just stop fighting! It’s scary enough out here in this… wide space…” she looked around the barren wastes, her expression extremely nervous looking. Stable agoro-something, if I remembered what that medicine book said correctly. “without you two always yelling at each other! You’re going to attract that crow-lady… I swear I keep seeing them flying around up high.” Fearful tears welled in Crescent Wrench’s eyes as both Shimmercoat and I looked up nervously into the dark, rainy sky. I couldn’t see anything… “You sense anything up there, Mezzer?” I asked the being in my head. He had said that he perceived the world a different way then me… maybe the darkness of the clouds ahead wouldn’t obscure him seeing dark birds up in the sky.

“I do not… but I also do not think the little one’s fear is unjustified. Thou should probably endeavor to at least learn to tolerate Shimmercoat’s eccentricities… remember he’s been his own boss for most of his life, having thee boss him around is probably upsetting to him, even if he isn’t aware of it.” Mezzer replied.

The living weapon was probably right… “Alright…” I said, looking back at Shimmercoat. “How about this… and this is a special, one-time-deal kind of compromise. If you behave, and don’t be difficult with me or anything, I’ll give you some say in what clients you provide your… services to in Auction House. We need the caps, I’ve got to feed you two somehow. I’ll be selling your repair skills to buyers there too, Crescent. You seem to know your way around robots; I know there are a few ponies that will want those skills in Auction House.”

Shimmercoat gritted his teeth, looking at me, then down at Crescent Wrench, who was looking back up at him tearfully, her hoof on his shoulder. He sighed, and said, “Fine… I guess it can’t be that bad, if these ponies at Auction House are as ‘civilized’ as you say… No guys though. My barn door don’t swing that way.”

“Nor doth mine.” I heard Mezzer mutter in the back of my mind. I ignored him. Was it my fault that he was stuck in a straight mare? “Deal.” I said, spitting on my hoof and holding it out. He looked at it with a mildly disgusted glance, before reciprocating the gesture with only a token hesitation. Crescent stopped looking so teary, and was actually smiling.

“Actually…” she said, as we continued on our pathless way through the wastes. “Now that you mention food, I am kind of hungry.”

“Me too.” Shimmercoat said. “Is it not the ‘master’s’ responsibility to feed her slaves?” he asked, raising his eyebrow at me.

“It is, and I will. I’m hungry too.” I replied. “I think I have some food in my saddlebag, if those slavers didn’t take any…” I turned my head and opened my saddlebag with my telekinesis, glancing inside. The first thing I saw… and heard… was a beeping slave collar. The one Price had put on me. I hadn’t dumped it yet…

“… Crud.” I said.


I cried out, the pain blinding all my senses as my saddlebag blew outward, everything inside that pouch scattering all around us. That side of my barding was shredded to pieces, and my side caved in from the explosion, the shockwave feeling like a thousand hammers determined on breaking all my ribs in one swift blow. My insides seemed to liquefy as I was thrown to the ground. My vision blurred, and all I was aware of was the pain… blackness encroached around me… what a stupid way to die… I heard the muffled shouts of my companions as the pain faded away…

Wait a second, the blackness was fading away too. My hearing slowly returned to normal, and I heard the voice of MG-MS11, who had been hovering behind us with Hiss, shouting, “Get up soldier! Now’s not the time to be dead!”

Purple light surrounded me, and what looked like little transparent purple butterflies fluttered around my side as I watched it inflate back to the convex shape it was supposed to be. I felt, without pain, my ribs reforming from shattered bone fragments. My organs getting back to their proper locations inside my body. MG-MS11’s M.E.D.I-Gun was pointed at me, firing its healing purple beam full blast. I got up… feeling better then I had even before the explosion! My back twinged as the M.E.D.I-Gun was turned off, but otherwise the only hint that the collar in my saddlebag had exploded was… well, my destroyed saddlebag, everything inside it torn to shreds, and my barding looking like it was directly hit with a grenade. My purple coat under the torn and blasted Stable 11 barding was fresh and clean, as if it hadn’t been touched. Shimmercoat and Crescent Wrench were staring at me wide-eyed, Crescent muttering softly to herself “They… came… from…” Hiss re-appeared, having gone invisible at the loud noise.

“Well then…” I said after sitting down for a few minuets to absorb what had just happened. “I… thank you, uh, Sergeant. I would have… died without you…” I… I had just brushed manes with Death. My heart was pumping at a million miles an hour as the realization hit me, and I started to quake, my hooves shaking so hard I couldn’t stay sitting up. As I laid down on the dirt, MG-MS11 flourished his M.E.D.I-Gun.

“No problem, Sergeant Slot! That’s what a medic is for, is it not? Hoo-ah! That said, you managed to get yourself hurt pretty bad right there. We should be on the lookout for cloaked zebra infiltrators, I hear the striped bastards have cloaks that can turn them invisible, and they use this ability to plant live grenades in poor innocent ponies saddlebags! The fiends!” MG-MS11, oblivious to anything but what his pre-war programming told him, scanned around with his four orb-shaped eye sensors. I shakily got to my hooves. The irony of Price’s collar almost killing me then being immediately healed by the robot I got from the same pony was not lost on me. “Also, that last burst used up much of my healing potion stores.” MG-MS11 informed me as I got up. “I’m at 13% capacity as of now, I will need more healing potions soon.” Considering that the medical Mr. Gutsy stopped in the middle of my back surgery when he ran out of healing potions (which we had also bought from Price… that pony was mysterious in more ways then one. How had he gotten his hooves on so much medical stuff anyways?), I took his word for it.

“We’ll get some for you as soon as possible, Sarge.” I said, my voice cracking. I shook my head and cleared my throat.

“That was a close one.” Mezzer said. I wholeheartedly agreed.

“You, uh, ok?” Shimmercoat asked.

“Yeah… yeah. I’m fine. Or I’ll be fine… ow… that hurt!” I replied. I took stock of my barding and ruined saddlebag. “There goes whatever food we had though… at least Price thinks we’re dead now. Looks like our time limit for blowing up Maregaton ran out.”

“Do you still have the detonator for that megaspell, or was that in the saddlebag too?” Shimmercoat asked.

“No, that was in the other side, I still got it… we should probably get rid of it somehow. Wouldn’t want anypony using it, I like that town now, we’ve been through things together.” I said, looking at the remaining saddlebag I had had on the other side of my body that had fallen on the ground when its counterpart was blown to smithereens. My heartbeat was returning to normal as I calmed down. No need to panic when I was fully healed, after all, even if it was basically with the good luck that MG-MS11 had enough potions to fuel his heal-beam. I floated my remaining saddlebag up with my telekinesis and tied it to my neck with the remains of the straps, wearing it like a necklace. A rather heavy necklace, but it would work until I got a new pair of saddlebags. “I’ll need new saddlebags… and new barding.” I said. “It’s a shame too, I liked the Stable jumpsuit! They’re pretty comfy.”

“Well, yeah, it’s all we wear down there.” Shimmercoat replied, also sounding like he was calming down after the sudden explosion. “Maybe if we find another one somewhere we can fix that one. You did put a lot of work into adding the ‘11’ patches to the leather plates you added to it. Why’d you do that?”

“Well… you two have big yellow ‘11’s’, and MG-MS11 has his designation number printed on him. We’re the ‘11’ group. I like it, it’s like a uniform… like for a club or something.” I said. “All that’s missing is a little dog tag for Hiss with the number 11 on it. I should try and get one of those too.” I smiled. Having a group symbol was cool… I’d never had one before! It was just like those Guard of Honor comics, he had had his own symbol too, the flag of Equestria, and the symbol of the Royal Guard. Maybe the number 11 wasn’t as cool… but it was a start!

“Ok… I guess that’s as good a reason as any.” Shimmercoat said, shrugging. He smiled. “Heh, sometimes you get excited over the weirdest things, it’s like you’re a little filly on the inside.”

“Hey, watch it, mister.” I said, but I knew was kidding around with me. My brush with death, I realized, was also a brush with death for him… if I had died, his head would have been the next thing to be blasted to smithereens. We laughed, the tension dissipating as we blew off steam. Suddenly, Crescent Wrench ran up to me, hugging me. “Woah!” I said, surprised. “What… you ok?” I asked. I realized that she was crying.

“I… don’t want to be alone. Don’t… don’t do that!” she looked up at me with tear-strained eyes. I was shocked… did Crescent actually care about me? She was my slave too, even without a collar. Shouldn’t she feel the same way as Shimmercoat, even though she’s a bit more agreeable then him? “You should have dumped that collar when we were dumping the other ones after the crow-lady!” she smacked my arm. “Don’t be so stupid!” Woah, I think… I think she was angry with me! Also, ow… she didn’t look it, but Crescent had a strong hoof on her! That smack actually stung!

“She is actually worried about thy well-being. Thou should have remembered about that collar, I would also call thee stupid for forgetting about something that could kill thee. In fact, I do. Stupid.” Mezzer… explained. “Remember that thou has at least two, possibly more, lives tied to thy existence. Thou should be more careful.”

“Right…” I said, both to Crescent and Mezzer. “Don’t worry…” I patted Crescent on the head as she continued hugging me. “I promise I’ll keep an eye out for us… all of us.”

Shimmercoat trotted closer, putting a hoof on Crescent’s shoulder as she cried into mine. MG-MS11 hovered closer too, though the robot didn’t show any outward signs of affection. Hiss wandered around behind me, sitting down, looking around, and keeping an eye out for trouble as we got over our close call with death.

In tandem, all of our stomachs (besides MG-MS11, who didn’t have one) growled. We laughed, and I said, “Well, our food was blown up, lets go look for some more. And get out of this rain…”

Crescent Wrench squinted, rubbing her tears out and holding a hoof over her eyes as she looked off towards the south. “I think I see a building over there…” she said. I looked as well. It was far off in the distance, on the horizon, but there was a dark shape out there. Maybe a building, maybe a cliff, but it was the only thing visible on this flat, featureless plain for miles.

“Looks like as good a place to start as any. Come on, 11’s! Let’s get some grub!” I extracted myself from our little group hug, and led the way towards the blob on the horizon.

“Hoo-ah! Another fine day in this stallion’s army!” MG-MS11 exclaimed.

Hiss… hissed in agreement.

“Well… if that’s what you want to call us.” Shimmercoat chuckled, glancing at the 11 on his jumpsuit.

“Wait for me!” Crescent Wrench said, trotting back up to me and walking by my side.

“I’ll keep a watch out for crows.” Mezzer said. Always practical… and a good thing too. I still shuddered at the thought of the screams those slavers and slaves made as those crows descended on them…

I clicked my Hoof of Honor on the ground as the 11’s marched onwards. I didn’t know whether to call my slaves my friends or not… but we were something. Ma would be proud of us, I think. I smiled. The rain even seemed to be lightening up as we trotted to horizon unknown.


“Is there seriously no food anywhere in this darn mall?!” I said, frustrated as I exited another commercial building. “Seriously! I’ve found more food in caves.

It turns out that the shape off in the distance was a blasted out strip-mall complex, next to the ruins of an old highway. We were, by my reckoning, midway between Auction House and Fillydelphia. Auction House had plenty of food… but we were hungry now, and it was still at least a day or two’s trot away, even at a fast pace. When I had seen the strip mall, I had smiled. There should at least be preserved food somewhere around here, right? But nooo, there was nothing here but skeletons and empty vending machines!

“C-can we leave?” Crescent Wrench stuttered. “I don’t like this place…” she was getting nervous around the skeletons that were scattered around the complex.

“Not until we find something. There’s got to be something. I replied. I stepped out from under the eves of the building I had just left and looked around the mall complex again. To the side was the broken, half buried highway leading through the empty wasteland to where I knew Auction House was. This complex seemed a little… out of the way, far off from Fillydelphia or really any major urban centers. There were several crashed and burned out skywagons and long cargo carts dotting the highway and in the mall’s parking lot. If I were to guess, I would say that this mall was some sort of rest stop or convenience place along the road between Filly and… whatever Auction House was called before the war. But if that were the case… there would be more food, wouldn’t there? A rest stop shopping complex for cargo haulers and the like was sure to have food! Maybe it had all been looted already, even though this place was pretty out of the way. It bent around in a big horseshoe shape, with storefronts on the inside of the curve and the two ends facing the highway. Skeletons, sprawled where they had fallen so long ago, could be seen here and there, hinting at activity in this place when the bombs fell. I had to wonder… what were they doing out here in the middle of nowhere? Headed for some Stable? They were actually, now that I thought about it, trying to get away from the major cities, no doubt to try and dodge the initial blasts… too bad radiation travels via the wind and magical fallout knows no boundaries.

“Well…” Shimmercoat said slowly, looking at me with a small smirk. Oh boy, he’s going to make me sound stupid, I just know it. “If we take a look around… we’ve looked in what appears to be an old quill and sofa store, if I’m to judge by all the feathers on the ground in there with all the sofas stacked up against the walls… and you just exited the…” Shimmercoat looked above me, reading the still-intact sign mounted above the shop I just left. “Red Racer Outlet Shop. Sounds like gourmet eating to me.” Shimmercoat deadpanned. “You sure you’re from the wasteland?”

“Quiet, Stable pony.” I huffed. He was right though, I was getting impatient. I had explored the shops without looking at the signs above them, and without waiting for the others to catch up and join in.

“You know, before you run off again without us…” Shimmercoat continued, despite my order. For a slave, he didn’t seem to get the whole ‘Coin’s in charge’ thing. Must be because he was an Overstallion. “You could ask for our help. More pairs of eyes looking for the same thing will increase our chances.”

“I know that!” I said. He looked at me pointedly. Crescent, ever the one on the outside when Shimmercoat and I were bickering, looked from him to me and back again as we… discussed matters. “Just… I haven’t traveled with others for a really long time! I’m out of practice when it comes to taking care of more then just myself.” I admitted. Besides the odd slave sold to Ponyville raiders, it was true. Before I got Mezzer, I had mostly just struck out on my own as an independent contractor… not that it had made me rich.

“Well, I’m certainly not going anywhere, and I doubt Crescent or… that thing” he said, gesturing towards Hiss. “…want to leave you either.”

“Nor shall I!” MG-MS11 chimed in. He was hovering around the parking lot, whistling something patriotic.

“So why don’t we pool our skills and look for something for all of us to eat, instead of relying on the bullheaded slaver who doesn’t notice that there’s a sign over that shop over there that says, ‘Green Gable’s Grocer.’” Shimmercoat finished, pointing to the other side of the mall from where we were standing.

“Oh…” I said. “I… would have gotten there eventually!”

“Only after systematically checking every non-food focused store in this place, I bet.” Shimmercoat muttered, but then smiled a disarming smile at me. “It is pretty obvious though, you gotta give me that. How could such an obviously veteran wastelander like yourself miss such a detail? I can’t even see very well…” he gestured towards his glasses. “and I saw the sign.”

“Yeah… I don’t know what’s gotten into me lately…” I said dejectedly, lowering my head. “I keep making rookie mistakes. I even blew myself up from my own stupidity! How could I not dump that bomb collar as soon as I got the chance!?” I hit myself in the forehead in exasperation. I was still feeling the aftershock of being blown up this morning.

“It’s alright… we all make mistakes.” Crescent Wrench said softly. I nodded, but couldn’t help thinking… these mistakes were all the kind of mistakes one made when they were like these two; fresh out of the Stable. I should be better then this!

“Whatever…” I said, shaking off that feeling. It wasn’t getting us anywhere. “Come on, let’s hit the grocers.”

We wandered across the dilapidated parking lot towards the grocers. As we got closer, smaller details about it became visible… like the fresh-looking corpse hiding behind a pillar in front of the store, and the graffiti on the façade of the building. It looked like the ‘paint’ used for the graffiti was procured from the bodily fluids of the dead pony. “Guys, let’s be careful.” I said, drawing Mezzer. “I think there might be raiders nearby, possibly inside.”

“What was your first clue?” Shimmercoat said sarcastically, looking at the corpse with a grimace. Crescent Wrench was dry heaving behind us, having shied away from the body as soon as she saw it.

“You okay, Crescent?” I asked, concerned. If she was going to act this way around all corpses, then she was going to have problems when I sold to raiders or other tribes that used bodies as decoration.

Crescent waved her hoof at me, and then wiped her mouth. “I… I’m fine. That just… surprised me is all. Outside is really different then Stable 11…” she said, smiling, though I could tell the smile was forced. Putting on a brave face, obviously.

“Well, so long as you can defend yourself, you won’t end up like him… wait…” I said, then realized something. I had Mezzer, Hiss was poisonous, Shimmercoat had his shields and his .44 Mag, MG-MS11 had his buzz saw and magical plasma caster… “Did you pick up a weapon somewhere, Crescent?” I asked.

“No…” she answered.

“Hm. Well, that’s another thing we need to look for then, while we’re looking for food. What kind of weapons do you think you’d be good at using?” I said, turning back to the door of the grocer. We went inside, one by one, until we were all in the entryway behind the cash registers.

“Well… if I had a weapon, I’d feel a little safer…” Crescent said, looking around. “I’m good with hammers…”

“Excellent. Sledgehammers are pretty common.” I answered, also peering into the dark grocery store. Beyond the cash register lines was a large store that was lined with mostly empty shelves where food used to be sold. The ceiling was tall enough that a pegasus could have flown around the store easy, but the sign on the nearest counter said ‘Pegasi, please respect our rules. No flying inside the store.’ and had a picture of a smiling pegasus trotting between a couple of isles. Guess pre-war ponies didn’t want the hassle of managing air traffic in a store. The lights were out, but I thought I could spot a flickering firelight in the back of the shop under a sign that said ‘Pharmaceuticals.’ “There might be somepony in the back, be quiet, guys.” I said, trying to get a better look.

“There is…” Crescent said. How could she tell? “Use EFS, they’re right there.” She said as if reading my mind. Right, EFS, how could I forget… again? I mentally activated the PipBuck’s detection spell, noting the four little yellow bars off where I thought the fire was, huddled close together.

“Yellow means non-hostile, right?” I asked.

“Yeah.” Crescent replied. “Though they don’t know we’re here… they could become hostile.” She said, looking through the counters warily. Her stomach growled loudly, echoing through the big store as a panicked look came on the little beige filly’s face.

“What the hell was that?” a stallion’s voice came out of the gloom.

“Let’s go check it out.” A mare’s voice replied, and then called out, “We’re coming to look for you, if you don’t want to fight, either run or give yourself up now! We’re not in the mood for killing fucking thieves again just yet, but if you push us, well…” the sentence was left hanging.

“Should we set up an ambush? The shelves make good cover.” Shimmercoat said, drawing his Magnum with his telekinesis.

“Ambushes are a filthy zebra tactic Private! What did I tell you about reading those zebra stealth training manuals?! If you do that too often, you’ll go blind!” MG-MS11 said, not quietly.

“Would you guys shut up?!” I hissed at them, before Shimmercoat could offer his rebuttal.

“We can still hear you fuckers!” the mare’s voice said sounding much, much closer then it had before. A tan earth pony with a spiked purple mane popped up from behind a cash register’s station, pointing a long, scoped rifle right at me. She grinned. “This is our turf, you best turn and head right out that door right now. You’re right, prettyboy, these counters make great cover… and my dear Grinder is covering you from behind one of them with his fancy machine gun, so don’t fucking try anything. You back away now, we’ll let you go. If not, you end up like the thief we dumped outside.”

Raiders didn’t normally do the whole ‘let ponies go’ thing… I took a closer look at the mare pointing the gun at me. She seemed to be about my age, had scars running around her cheeks and shoulders, almost like whip-marks…

“Look at her hooves… they have those same tattoos as the pony from the Stable generator. Mezzer noted. I didn’t know how he could have seen that detail from the dark gloom of the store, but now that he pointed it out, I could see it. There were tattoos of flames around her front hooves at least, and I took an educated guess that her rear hooves had them as well.

“You’re a Flaming Hoof?” I asked.

The mare lifted her head away from the scope of her rifle, looking at my hooves. “Well… yeah, and I see you’re not. You know us?” she asked.

“Yeah, I’ve traded with some of you before.” I said. I actually had sold a few slaves to the Flaming Hooves, though I thought they were based closer to Friendship City then wherever we were now. “You guys are pretty far out from where I met with others of your gang, though, expanding territory?” I asked. My companions were staring at me oddly, but I ignored them. Most ponies considered raiders and gangers to be ‘shoot on sight.’ I however, have made a lot of caps off of raiders and gangers, and knew that they could indeed be talked to, if you were careful about how you did it.

“Nah, we’re not expanding, just our little group getting the fuck away from the hustle and bustle of Neighpalm.” Neighpalm, I knew, was the Flaming Hooves base of operations, an old train yard that they had repurposed. “You know how it is, big groups getting on your nerves? We just decided we needed some fucking space, so we headed out here, to the middle of fucking nowhere! Finding food is tough, but it’s an alright living.” The mare, at this point, had lowered her gun. “Well, if you ain’t meaning us any harm, I suppose you can come in for a spell…” Just then my stomach growled.

“We would like to trade for some food, if you’re willing. All of us are famished.” I said, putting away Mezzer and motioning for Shimmercoat to put away his gun, which he did with a wary look on his face.

“We got a stockpile, and we don’t attack the caravans that come buy here, that way they keep coming buy here, and we can buy food from them if’n we got the caps. I think we can spare a meal for some friends of the Flaming Hooves. Grinder! These ponies are alright!” she shouted. “M’name’s Hotshot, by the way.” She introduced herself.

“I’m Coin Slot.” I replied, smiling. “This is Shimmercoat, Crescent Wrench, MG-MS11, and Hiss.” Hiss stepped out from behind me as I introduced them all.

“AUGH! FUCK! NIGHTSTALKER!” Hotshot shouted, drawing her rifle again just as Hiss vanished in response to the loud noise. Hotshot slammed her back against the counter she was next to, peering all around the room. “Those things are fucking vicious monsters, look out!”

“No, no wait!” I said, stepping forward and raising my hoof. Hotshot lowered her rifle again, raising her eyebrow at me. “Hiss is my pet, he’s smarter then the average nightstalker. Won’t bite unless I tell him to.”

“Did somepony say nightstalker?” a purple stallion unicorn levitating a large machine gun approached us from my left, on the other side of the register’s counter.

“Yeah, but he’s friendly.” I said. “I assume you’re Grinder?” He had a grungy green mane and tail, and it looked like his cutie mark was a pair of gears. I took a curious look at Hotshot’s cutie mark as well, seeing that it was a… daisy? With a smiley face in it? Cutie marks could be hard to interpret sometimes.

“That’s me name!” Grinder said, levitating the big gun to hang on a battle saddle he was wearing. “Hotshot says you’re all good, so come on back! Just make sure that nightstalker don’t get spooked. We lost one of ours to a pack o’ the things a few days ago, and we ain’t none too pleased with them.”

Hiss reappeared next to me, and hissed. “The General says he will be on his best behavior in the honored business of the Gable family, Mister Grinder!” MG-MS11 said, levitating forward and following the ganger towards the pharmaceuticals department. Wondering how the heck the robot could interpret Hiss… no wait, Hiss wasn’t actually saying anything, MG-MS11 was just crazy.

“Well, that went better then expected. Thought we were going to have a fight on our hooves a second there.” Shimmercoat said as the rest of us followed Grinder and Hotshot.

“Ponies like it when you recognize where they come from. Those tattoos around their hooves that look like flames? That’s Flaming Hooves markings, easy enough to remember.” I said. Glad I remembered it too… my brain was feeling kind of fuzzy, and with all the stupid mistakes I’d been making recently, I’m just glad I didn’t open up on potential allies.

“If thee likes, I can try and figure out why thou art not performing at your best, memory-wise.” Mezzer said.

“NO! You are not going and rooting around in my private memories again! You’re probably the one who messed them up in the first place!” I shouted back at Mezzer, still angry for him watching me and my dear ol’ Ma… doing… spending our special time together.

I looked up, and saw that everyone, even Hiss and MG-MS11, was staring at me, with varying degrees of curiosity and concern on their faces. “Uh… heh. The, um, hunger! It’s getting to me… and the shock from being blown up this morning.” I said quickly.

“Smooth…” Mezzer deadpanned. Oh how I wish I could slap him…

“That’s one way to put it.” Shimmercoat said, rolling his eyes.

I blushed as we entered the back of the grocer. The shelves around us were pretty much all empty, only the odd trashed box or bent tin can decorating the shelves now. It had probably been fully looted long, long ago, as a grocery store is one of the more obvious places where one thinks that one can find food. The pharmaceutical department was a small alcove set into the wall, where the shelves had been pushed to the side, creating a little nook where there were dirty-looking mattresses set up around a small campfire, a pit for the fire having been chipped out of the tiled floor. There was a room with a doorway leading somewhere on the other side of the counter here, presumably where the store used to keep controlled medicines. One of the mattresses on the ground was charred and burned looking… probably used for fuel at one point. There was another pony sitting next to the fire, a blonde earth pony mare with a brown coat, the same Flaming Hooves tattoos as the rest of them, and a smiling fireball for a cutie mark. She had bandages wrapped around her forehead, and looked kind of sick, but smiled as we approached. “So they’re friends?” she asked Hotshot. Her voice was small and weak sounding… she was probably as sick as she looked, though with what I had no idea.

“Yep, good thing too. We can take two or three ponies, but these folks have some serious firepower backing them up.” Hotshot said, gesturing towards MG-MS11.

“Ma’am, you flatter me. If I had a mouth, I’d kiss you on the hoof!” MG-MS11 said.

“Uh… huh…” Hotshot said, giving the robot a strange look. “Anyways, this is Coin Slot, Shimmercoat, and Crescent Wrench.” She continued, introducing us. “Guys, meet Walnut Cracker. Or Nutcracker, for short.”

“Or if you happen to be on the wrong end of her buck if you’re a stallion.” Grinder chuckled. Walnut rolled her eyes.

“Just call me Walnut. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” She said, trying to get up, but hissed and laid back down.

“Geeze, Nutty, why do you have to always be so fucking polite, stay still already!” Hotshot groused, trotting up close to the sick mare.

“We’re a small group, but we try to look out for each other. Walnut’s gotten all sick… we don’t know what with, though.” Grinder said as Hotshot felt Walnut’s forehead.

“Is she gonna be okay?” Crescent Wrench asked, her face creased up in worry.

“I’m sure she’ll pull through, she’s been through worse scrapes then just a little sickness.” Grinder said calmly, though he looked worried too. “Come! Sit by the fire, we’ll get you some food… soon as ya’ll spring some caps, of course.”

“Of course.” I replied, pulling out my cap pouch. “Let’s see… for the four of us…”

“Four?” Grinder asked. I pointed at Hiss, who wagged his tail. “Oh, right.”

“Anyways, does… twenty caps sound fair?” I asked, knowing full well that the answer would be ‘no.’ I had started the negotiations low on purpose, though, no use in overspending just because these gangers were nicer then your average fare.

“What’choo trying to do, starve us to death?” Grinder said, predictably appalled at my low bid. “Four meals, that’d go for at least eighty caps in Neighpalm. And that’s where food is plentiful… I’d say double that would be the absolute minim… minue… min… smallest amount we could go for, the caravans out here are spendy, for sure.”

Shoot, he had a point. I thought for a second, wondering what I could say to lower the price. A hundred sixty caps was out of the question, even for the four of us. Other slavers would tell their slaves to go without food… but I knew down that path was a dangerous and foreboding morality that never led to anything good. That was the path of Red Eye and his slavers… yeah, not good at all.

“Momma! Momma!” a colt’s voice called out, and from the room behind the pharmaceutical counter ran a small yellow colt with a blue mane and tail. Still a blank flank, he was obviously even younger then Crescent Wrench. He ran up to Walnut and nuzzled her, before saying, “Flare and I found some medicine in one of the mall… buildings… oooh! That’s so cool!” he had just noticed we were here… in particular, he noticed MG-MS11. “What is it?”

“I, young scamp, am the Medical Sergeant Mister Gusty Prototype Unit Number 11! Commissioned by the Ministry of Peace and the Ministry of Wartime Technology, and designed and constructed by the good ponies at Robronco Industries, I am the latest in robotic combat medic technology! Help out the war effort by studying to be your very best, and maybe someday when you’re older, visit a recruiting center to show Equestria what you’re made of! You could even work with robots like me! Hoo-Ah!”

“Sorry…” I said as the colt’s eyes widened with glee at MG-MS11’s speech. “He still kinda thinks that the world hasn’t ended yet… robots, what can you do?”

“Good thing none of us are zebras, then.” Hotshot remarked, smiling. “This here is Peanut, Nutcracker’s son. You said something about meds, little Pea?” she asked him.

“Yeah… did the robot just say he was a doctor?” Peanut asked.

That’s it!

“Grinder… how about this; we trade my medically trained robot’s expertise and reserves of healing medication in exchange for some food. I’ll even throw in forty caps, if the leftovers of whatever medicine Peanut just mentioned finding stays with us.” I said. “I was just blown up this morning… that’s why my barding is torn to shreds. MG-MS11 healed me up, if there’s anyone who can put Walnut back on her hooves, it’s him.”

Grinder looked back at Walnut, then at MG-MS11, then back at me. I knew that the Flaming Hooves treated one another like family… or closer even. If there was a chance of Walnut being healed from some sickness that had apparently stopped her from even moving very much, then there was no doubt in my mind that Grinder would take it. “… Alright, sounds like a fair trade.” He said, spitting on his hoof and holding it out. I spat on mine and bumped hooves with him, making a small splash. Behind me, Shimmercoat made a squicking noise… wuss. I dolled out forty caps, and turned to MG-MS11 while Grinder went to get our food.

“Sergeant!” I shouted, in the most commanding voice I could muster. Being a slave master, this was actually a voice I had developed that I was quite proud of. It brooked no argument while remaining non-abusive… or so I thought. I’d obviously never been on the receiving end of it, so I wouldn’t know exactly.

MG-MS11 focused one of his eye-sensors on me, hovering straighter in an ‘attention’ stance. Rather strange looking on his spider-like form. “Yes, Sergeant Slot! You have a command for me, sah?!”

“This mare is sick! She needs medical attention at once! You know what to do!” I ‘commanded.’

“Yes sah! While my expertise is focused towards injuries rather then sicknesses, I’ll do my level best, sah! You can count on me, sah!” MG-MS11 said, and focused three of his eye-sensors on Walnut, hovering almost directly over her. “Scanning… scanning… scanning…” he kept repeating. Walnut looked worried, glancing at Hotshot and murmuring something I couldn’t make out.

“You sure this is safe… he is pre-war, they’re notoriously unstable…” Hotshot said, apparently repeating back to us what Walnut said. “Yeah, fucking Mr. Gutsy’s especially. At least Security Bots don’t really have much in the way of an A.I, but you don’t fucking know what you’re going to get with Gutsy’s or Handy’s.”

“He’s followed my commands since we got him, I think he’s alright. Granted, he hasn’t been with us long…” I said. This did not make Hotshot or Walnut look at ease.

“Oh!” Peanut said, looking at us. “Hi! I’m Peanut! This is your robot, lady?”

“Heh… yeah.” I replied. “He’s pretty sweet, isn’t he?” I crouched down to talk to Peanut on his level. “My name is Coin, by the way.”

“Yeah he’s sweet! I’ve never seen a Mr. Gutsy medi-whatever before!” Peanut said. “You think he can make my mom better? She’s been sick for weeks…” Peanut looked decidedly less happy as he mentioned this. “I just want her to be better…”

“Don’t worry, Pea… I’ll…” Walnut said softly… I wondered if her voice was soft because of the sickness, or if it was just naturally soft. She coughed, hacking for what seemed like two full minutes before taking a rasping breath that sounded like a death rattle… I prayed a silent prayer to the Goddesses that she would be alright. “I’ll… be alright…” she smiled weakly.

Peanut looked unconvinced. “Hey, Peanutty.” I said, something coming to mind. Peanut looked at me quizzically. “You see how all torn up my barding is?”

“Yeah…” Peanut said curiously.

“Well… I just took a bomb to the side this morning! Caved in my whole side!” I squished the Hoof of Honor against my exposed side to demonstrate… oh dear, have I put on weight? Shaking my head to dismiss that thought, I focused on Peanut again.

“No way…” Peanut shook his head. “I’ve seen bombs before, you’d be dead! You look like you just stepped out of a Stable and ripped your barding on the door on the way out!”

“Hey! I’m no Stable pony, they’re the Stable ponies!” I pointed at Shimmercoat and Crescent Wrench. Shimmercoat was smirking behind a hoof, while Crescent was looking on with interest at what I was doing.

“Coin is a Stable pony, Coin is a Stable pony!” Peanut teased, hopping around in a circle. While this… isn’t quite the direction I was meaning to go, my goal was being realized. I was distracting Peanut from his mom’s sickness while MG-MS11 worked. Walnut smiled at me… she knew what I was doing.

“Anyways, you little nut…” I continued. Peanut stopped and smiled up at me, showing surprisingly healthy teeth for the child of a group of gangers. They obviously took care of the foal traveling with them, a good sign in my book. “MG-MS11 here healed me with his heal-ray!”

“It’s called a Medical Extraction and De-fragmentation Injector Gun, thank you very much.” MG-MS11 chipped in as he continued scanning the sick mare.

“Yeah, it’s a heal-ray.” I replied flatly, rolling my eyes at the robot. Peanut giggled. “So yeah, your ma is gonna be fine, one hundred percent chance!”

“Actually, according to these preliminary scans…” MG-MS11 started.

“Sergeant! I said one hundred percent chance! Is that clear?!” I used my commanding voice again, straightening up. Peanut was beaming at me.

“Yes sah! There’s no need to worry sah!” MG-MS11 replied crisply.

“Pardon me for interrupting…” Hotshot said, also smiling. “But didn’t you say something about Flare coming in with medicine, Pea?”

“Oh, yeah! She’s hitched to the scavenging wagon, she sent me ahead! I’ll go and help her get the stuff in, she should be close by now!” Peanut said, running back to the back room. As he did, Grinder came back presumably from where the food was stored, four plates stacked with brahmin steaks and what looked like… carrots!

“You got carrots here!?” I said, excitedly. I like meat as much as the next… griffin, actually, considering ponies don’t normally eat meat, but a good carrot or apple really hits the spot when supporting a protein-based diet.

“Yeah, some trader came by with good food, said he had gotten it from some college-ponies from… somewhere, forget where. Bloody expensive, but we had extra caps at the time and Peanut really wanted to try some… figures that he decides he doesn’t like carrots after the first bite…” Grinder grumbled.

“His loss.” I said, grabbing the plate offered to me hungrily. Crescent and Shimmercoat did the same, while Hiss dug into his steak with gusto. I levitated his carrot over to my plate… hey, I did make the deal, didn’t I? And besides, nightstalkers are totally carnivorous.

“This is good, what is it?” Crescent said, digging into her steak. Pony after my own heart.

“Brahmin. They’re two-headed cows, except much, much stupider then a regular cow. Not even sentient.” I answered, chewing. “Well, some are, but only one head, and it’s pretty rare.”

Shimmercoat picked at his steak. He had scarfed up the carrot in no time at all, of course. “I guess I just don’t like meat as much as you guys…” he said, obviously forcing himself to eat it. I looked at my spare carrot, then back at him… sighing, I levitated the carrot over to him.

“You owe me for this, I really like carrots.” I said. “No complaints on your first job, no matter how homely she is.”

Shimmercoat snorted, but then shrugged. “So long as she’s not evil. Deal.” He munched the carrot with gusto.

MG-MS11 continued scanning as we ate, until finally he repositioned his eye-sensors back to their normal compass-direction positions, instead of all focused forwards. “Diagnosis complete!” he announced.

“What’s wrong with me…” Walnut asked from under the robot doctor. She was trying to sit up again. Failing, but still trying… I hoped whatever she had wasn’t contagious.

“The patient has: One count of the Common Cold, One count of Pony Flu, Three counts of Infected Lacerations, and Severe Radiation Poisoning. Suggested course of treatment: Plenty of fluids, bed rest, a charge with the M.E.D.I-Gun or several properly administered healing potions, and either several small doses of RadAway over the next week, or one large dose of RadAway now. I recommend the large dose, get it done quick so you can get back out to the field, soldier!” MG-MS11 said.

“We don’t have any RadAway…” Hotshot said from Walnut’s side, worryingly checking under her bandages. Hotshot hadn’t left Walnut’s side since she had found us… I was beginning to suspect that something more was there, though the fact that Walnut had a kid was throwing me off. Whatever… it’s not that I mind fillyfoolers, that’s totally fine by my book… just not with me. I could be reading into it more then what was there though.

“I’ll be fine, honey, don’t worry…” Walnut said, stretching her neck up to kiss Hotshot on the nose.

Or my guess was bang on. Go me?

“I recommend against too much bodily contact until the patient’s count of Pony Flu has run its course. It’s probably past the contagious stage now, but you can never be too sure!” MG-MS11 said. He was ignored as Hotshot kissed Walnut back. I looked away… again, not that I minded, it’s just… it’s hard to eat when two mares are snogging right in front of you!

I noticed that Shimmercoat was watching Hotshot kiss Walnut intently. Hotshot wasn’t just giving her light kisses on the nose… and Shimmercoat was way too interested in them. I rolled my eyes. Stallions.

“Look out, everypony, I come bearing chems!” a mares voice shouted from the back of the pharmaceuticals department. “Found em in that old hat store, who’da guessed? Had to unlock a goddess-damned crate to get at them, though, took me fucking forever…”

“Ah, that must be Matchstick Flare.” Grinder said to us. “Match! We got guests!”

“Any of them hot?” the voice asked. I snorted as Shimmercoat perked up.

“No, sorry.” Grinder said.

“Hey!” both Shimmercoat and I said indignantly. We looked at each other, and chuckled nervously, Shimmercoat adjusting his glasses and myself adjusting my goggles on my forehead.

“Heh, don’t you two think highly of yourselves… even though you’re right.” Grinder said with a wink at the two of us. I blushed, and Shimmercoat looked nervous. “But I’m afraid she doesn’t mean what I think you think she means…” Grinder continued, either oblivious to our reactions or ignoring them.

Just then the temperature in the room rose what must have been at least ten degrees. Matchstick Flare had walked in the room, and I could hazard a guess as to what she meant by ‘hot’ just looking at her.

For starters, she was on fire.

Secondly, she was on fire.

And the real thing that set the hotness bar high was that she was on fire.

While that minor detail was still bombarding the forefront of my mind, I did notice that she was a yellow earth pony with a lit match for a cutie mark. She was wearing some sort of armor that looked like she had taken old stovetops and riveted them to metal strips that covered her body. The armor was glowing bright red, radiating visible heat waves. Her mane and tail were solid sheets of flame erupting from her follicles. She sighed when she saw us. “Well, that’s depressing. Are any of them doctors?” she asked, looking back to Grinder.

“They brought a robot doctor, it seems to work fine.” Grinder replied, pointing at MG-MS11.

“Greetings! I must say, my thermal sensors must be on the fritz, I’m reading your body temperature at over three hundred degrees!” MG-MS11 said, hovering to attention.

“I get that a lot.” Matchstick replied. “Robot huh? Rad.”

“Uh… I… you…” I stammered. Crescent and Shimmercoat were similarly stunned. Hiss had disappeared again, probably startled at the strange sight of the mare on fire.

“Yes, yes, I know, I’m on fire, it’s pretty fucking obvious, alright?” she said, rolling her eyes. “I used to be a normal earth pony, happy as a clam living on the coast near Friendship City, then one day I was ponynapped and woke up like this.” She explained all this with the bored tone of somepony who has had to explain themselves to everypony they had ever met. “Shit happens.”

“Uh… alright.” I said. “I’m Coin Slot… this is Crescent Wrench and Shimmercoat.”

“Hi.” Shimmercoat said, with a small wave. The light from Matchstick was glinting off his glasses.

“Ooo, hey there, sexy.” Matchstick said, licking her lips. She spotted Shimmercoat’s collar, and her face lit up… more then it was already lit up. “You a slave, baby? Who’s the owner?”

“That would be me.” I said.

“Before Matchstick’s libido distracts her… again… might I remind you that you have something for poor Walnut here? Dipshit?” Hotshot said, glaring at Matchstick.

“Oh, right, sorry.” Matchstick said, rubbing the back of her fiery mane with her hoof. She retreated back to the back room, and returned shortly with a bag full of stuff. I had by now surmised that there must be a door to the outside back there somewhere, since Peanut had mentioned her being hitched to a cart, which she was obviously no longer pulling. She must have left it outside. “Here, two healing potions, some more bandages, and a bottle of Rad-X. Do we know what’s wrong with Walnut?”

“She’s got a fever and rad poisoning.” Hotshot said. She turned to MG-MS11. “Can you… make her better with that stuff?”

“She most importantly needs RadAway, not Rad-X.” the robot said gruffly. “ Rad-X increases a pony’s resistance to radiation, but does nothing for the stuff already in there! The potions, once loaded into my M.E.D.I-Gun, will do wonders for her head lacerations, but I’m afraid that… standby, processing theoretical simulations…” MG-MS11 beeped and whirred for a bit, sounding like he was having some sort of fit.

“I’m sure he can do something… he fixed my broken back when I first met him.” I mentioned.

“Bet that was fun.” Hotshot remarked as MG-MS11 twitched up and down on his levitation talisman. “Was he this spastic?”

“No… though he did stop midway through for a second when he ran low on healing potions.” I said.

“Simulations complete! Hoo-Ahh!” MG-MS11 shouted, causing us to jump. “Given time, I can use the M.E.D.I-Gun to refine Rad-X into a beam that will reduce radiation poisoning! Theoretically, anyways. Good enough for field emergencies, at least!” The container for the M.E.D.I-Gun’s healing potions depository popped open, and MG-MS11 floated closer to Matchstick. “Toss those potions and Rad-X in here, I’ll get to work straight away, we might be able to save this soldier yet!”

Matchstick looked to Grinder, who nodded. “They already paid for the supplies while you were gone.” He said. “If they can heal Walnut, it will be worth it.”

The fire pony nodded, and tossed the meds into the collection box. It snapped shut, and a beam of orange light, translucent butterflies flying around in it, emitted from MG-MS11’s gun and surrounded the sick mare. She sighed, and fell unconscious.

“What did you do!?” Hotshot yelled, standing up.

“At ease, soldier, she’s only asleep!” MG-MS11 shouted back. “Standard procedure for operations lasting longer then six hours!”

“Wait, six hours?” I asked.

“Twelve, actually. That is how long I will need to refine the Rad-X into something useful for this situation. If successful, though, it will purge the rads from her body and drastically increase her chances of survival. So long as you can keep the enemy away from us, she’ll be back on her hooves in no time!” He hovered closer to his patient, keeping the M.E.D.I-Gun locked onto her.

“I… guess we’ll wait here for twelve hours.” I said. “Is that alright with you guys?”

“Hey, if it brings my Nutty back, you can stay here for a hundred hours.” Hotshot said.

“Well, sweet!” Matchstick said, clapping her hooves together. I noticed that where she was sitting was slowly turning black and charred… I had a feeling the charred mattress was where she slept. “While we’re waiting… you said you owned the sexy beast right there?” She pointed at Shimmercoat, who frowned… but only slightly. Funny, I figured he’d put up more of a fuss when referred to as my property.

“I did.” I replied. “Why? You have a proposition for me?” I asked.

“Yeah, how much?” She grinned.

“He’s not for sale…” I started, and Matchstick pouted. “… but he’s available for rent.” She started grinning again. “Two hundred caps a night.” I said.

“Ah! But… but I need this… it’s been so long!” Matchstick whined.

“Really then?” I smirked. “In that case, three hundred caps!” Matchstick’s eye twitched.

“Oh come on! Can’t you give a mare a break? It’s not fair, you get him all the time!”

“Actually, while he’s easy on the eyes, I personally don’t imbibe in my own merchandise…” I said.

“Um… before you two get to a price you agree on… may I interject?” Shimmercoat raised his hoof.

I rolled my eyes. “What now? Didn’t you agree that you wouldn’t complain?”

“Well… Miss Flare… exactly how hot are you?” Shimmercoat asked.

“You can’t tell on your own?” Matchstick stood up and swished her fiery tail back and forth… “If you can convince your master to give me a discount, you can find out on your own…”

“Actually… and I’m not saying this because I necessarily want to avoid… what you two are arranging, but what I’m asking is; can you control your fire? I don’t want any important bits burned.” Shimmercoat said.

Hey, that was a good point. I certainly didn’t want his bits burned either; they were the moneymakers, after all. “He has a point. I can’t rent him to you if you are going to damage him.”

Grinder sighed as Matchstick sniffed, looking like she was about to cry. She turned and fled to the back room. “I’m afraid she can’t…” Grinder said after she left. “When she says it’s been a while, she means she hasn’t had any action since she was made this way. Once a stallion figures out she can’t lower her temperature… well, nopony wants third degree burns on their junk. And she can’t bring herself to rape anypony, it’s not her style.”

“Uh, good.” Shimmercoat said.

“Oh, I’m not complaining, I’m the only stallion her age in our group after all.” Grinder said. “But it is hard on her, I can’t imagine going without a good rut for so long. Her condition makes it so she has to be extra careful in burnable buildings, she can’t hold her food for too long without burning it, she goes through mattresses like no other, and she hasn’t had any physical contact with anypony she hasn’t been trying to burn and kill. She can’t even get our gang’s tattoos.” He held up his hooves to show us the tattooed flames. “Not that she needs more flames… but everypony in the Flaming Hooves has them but her, because the tattoo needles melt whenever they pierce her skin. We still treat her like our family… but it’s the little things that are the hardest for her.”

“That… really sucks. I thought she was awesome looking.” I said.

“Oh, everypony thinks she looks cool, or hot, pun kind-of-intended, but when you think about it… being on fire isn’t fun. That’s why she asked if you guys were ‘hot,’ she wants to meet somepony, anypony, like herself. Part of the reason she went with us when we left Neighpalm was that the crowd didn’t want her around because she burns anypony she touches. It’s not that ponies didn’t like her… but nopony likes to be burned.” Grinder said. “She’s had it pretty rough. She keeps trying to buy a sex slave, even got a couple of them from owners who didn’t care as much as you do about their slave’s… condition. She couldn’t bring herself to do the deed when they didn’t consent, though, ended up loosing a lot of caps on those deals for nothing. She can’t barter to save her life, if you didn’t notice.”

“Yeah… she was obviously desperate. Gosh, I feel terrible for trying to extort her now.” I said.

We sat there for a while, thinking about how Matchstick Flare’s mutation did her much more harm then good. “While it seems like it would be a boon to combat, I don’t think the benefits of being constantly on fire outweigh the detriments.” Mezzer said to me. I wholeheartedly agreed.

“Um…” Crescent Wrench said. She hesitated.

“What is it?” I asked.

“Where’s Peanut? Wasn’t he supposed to come in with Matchstick?” she asked.

Grinder and Hotshot’s eyes widened. “Fuck! I can’t believe we… how could we space so hard like that?!” Hotshot cried out.

“Matchstick!” Grinder called out. The fiery mare slowly walked back into the room, her head hung low.

“What is it…” she asked, sounding depressed.

Grinder didn’t waste time comforting the poor mare. “When you were coming back, Peanut went back out to meet up with you. Did you see him?”

Matchstick perked up, now looking worried. “No… I sent him up ahead to tell you guys I was coming. I thought he was still here with you… somewhere.” She looked around, obviously not seeing the colt. Her eyes widened in fear. “I… I didn’t see hide nor hair of him when I came in!”

“Shit shit shit shit…” Hotshot stammered. “PEANUT! PEAAAANUT!” Hotshot grabbed her rifle and ran for the backdoor.

“He would have come in by now…” Grinder said.

“I’ll go look for him too.” I volunteered. I didn’t like the thought of the little guy being outside alone for so long, not one bit. “You keep an eye on Walnut, and be here in case he comes back. Shimmercoat, with me, Hiss, Crescent, stay here with Grinder.”

“O… okay.” Crescent Wrench looked scared. Hiss sat, looking alert.

“I’ll go too… I should have spotted him if he’d come out to meet me…” Matchstick Flare said. We ran to the back of the pharmaceutical department, and, just as I figured, there was a door, already hanging open from Hotshot’s quick exit. I ran through it first, looking all over… he couldn’t have gotten far, right? It hadn’t been that long…

“Actually, it’s been over half an hour since he left.” Mezzer said. Not news I wanted to hear. Who knows what kind of trouble could happen in half an hour?

Outside the back of the grocer building was more of the same flat wasteland we’d been traveling through. Even a little colt should be easy to spot… but, as I looked to our right, I saw that a large rock outcropping, almost like a small mountain, jutted up from the wastes a short distance away, and that Hotshot was galloping right for it. Scanning the horizon and not seeing Peanut or anypony anywhere, there was only two places he could have gone; either the outcropping, or some other store in the mall. “Shimmercoat, check out these other stores, maybe he went exploring without telling us.” I commanded. “I’ll head for that outcropping with Flare.”

“It’s more then two hundred yards away.” Shimmercoat said. Oh, right, his leash. I opened the detonator program on my PipBuck and deactivated the leash feature.

“There, special circumstances only, you don’t have a leash now.” I said. “Don’t get used to it. I can still track you. I’ll meet you back here if we find him, send us some sort of signal if you find him.” I said. He nodded and went off towards the most wrecked looking building in the strip mall, somewhere a foal would probably climb all over and get himself into trouble. Flare and I galloped after Hotshot, and I prayed to the Goddesses that Peanut was alright.

Level up! (Lv. 9)

New Perk: Foal At Heart: Turns out you’re better with kids then you thought you were! Probably because your inner self is still a filly… You gain special speech options when dealing with foals.

Author’s Note: Again, super sorry for the late chapter… I need to make a buffer or something, but for some reason I doubt that’s going to happen… In any case, I’ll do my level best to get chapter nine to you guys asap! If you got questions or concerns, feel free to drop a comment!

HUGE thanks to Kkat for writing Fallout: Equestria and giving us sidefic writers a great big sandbox to play in. Also thanks to Lesolan and Shimmercoat help editing and proofreading this slog to make it something enjoyable. And thanks to all who hang out at the Sidefic Compilation doc for providing feedback and inspiration to write my own story. Also thanks to Bethesda and Hasbro for two great franchises. Hope you enjoy!

Chapter 9 > In which there is a group of birds

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Chapter 9 > In which there is a group of birds
“I think we’ve established that ‘k-caw k-caw’ and ‘tookie-tookie’ don’t work.”

Matchstick Flare and I galloped as fast as we could after Hotshot, heading straight for the rocky outcropping jutting out of the wasteland. It loomed ahead of us, looking surprisingly bigger than it had from a distance, even judging in the whole perspective thing. Hotshot had gotten quite a head start on us, in her panic to save Walnut and her son. By the time we were chasing in earnest, she was already halfway up the winding path that led to the top of the outcropping. Looking up, I saw that it plateaued at the top. Whatever was up there was out of sight for most of the approach up the outcropping, but could probably see or detect in some way whoever was coming towards it. If there was anything hostile up there, Hotshot’s wild charge up the path wasn’t the smartest of moves…

“Coin! There is danger ahead!” Mezzer shouted in my mind, and sure enough, moments after he said it, my EFS registered… son of a kumquat… at least a dozen little red bars. Either they were all on top of the plateau, or they were hiding along the rocky approach up to it. Either way, charging up the hill was not a good idea.

“HOTSHOT!” I shouted, galloping faster, trying to catch up. Matchstick shot me a glance and poured on the speed, her flaming tail and mane billowing out behind her in a streak of light and heat. Her stovetop-plated armor intensified in glow from deep red to brilliant orange, and I could feel heat waves emanating from her even at a distance.

“What’s wrong?” She shouted at me, seeing my no-doubt suddenly panicked expression.

“My… pipbuck is telling me that there is danger on that hill! A lot of danger!” I shouted back. “We shouldn’t charge in recklessly!”

“And if there’s one thing Hotshot is good at, it’s charging the fuck in! Looks like we have a problem!” Matchstick looked ahead. Hotshot was already at the base of the hill. “HOTSHOT! HOLD UP YOU STUPID BITCH! Argh, it’s no use, she’s going to get herself killed…”

“I do believe thou art within my firing range.” Mezzer mentioned. Why would that matter… oh! Mezzer was a stun gun! I quickly drew the blue, boxy weapon and aimed the screen at Hotshot. Not sure I could make the shot on the run, I activated that newfangled thing I now had… SATS. Time slowed down to a halt, and I saw the numbers ‘73%’ hovering over Hotshot’s torso. Better than nothing, I guess. I tagged a shot, and released the spell.


Mezzer fired, the strange noise it made accompanying a wave of energy blasting from the emitter-screen. The blast… missed, and paffed harmlessly into a rock right next to Hotshot’s head. She balked, and stopped, looking back at us.

“What the fuck are you doing!?” Matchstick shouted at me, even as we began to catch up, a dangerous look in her eye. Shoot, from her perspective, I just drew my weapon and shot at her friend. Which I did… the main point was that this particular weapon couldn’t hurt Hotshot.

“This is a Mesme… a stun-gun!” I said, quickly trying to clear things up before she decided to give me a hug. “I use it for catching slaves, but it could also be used to stop blindly charging mares from killing themselves!” I had actually only used it to ‘catch’ Shimmercoat, but I had no doubt I’d be using it on other potential slaves eventually.

“Well, you missed.” Matchstick pointed out, smiling once she realized I wasn’t shooting with intent to hurt Hotshot.

“I realize that, but at least she stopped.” I huffed. We caught up soon enough. I was panting after the sudden sprint, but it looked like Hotshot and Matchstick weren’t even winded. The wasteland around us was featureless except for the mall off in the distance, and the remains of the highway right next to it. My EFS was crawling with hostile signatures… my first guess was that this outcropping was basically the only natural shelter for miles, so there was no doubt things living in or on it. The fact that the plateau on top made a natural watchtower for the surrounding area meant that those things may not necessarily be animals… and may be watching us right at this moment.

“What’s the big idea, you great flaming idiot!?” Matchstick Flare gestured obscenely at Hotshot. I had a feeling that she would have slapped her fellow ganger if she were capable of doing so without burning her.

“Wha… she shot at me!” Hotshot said, pointing her big rifle at me.

“To stun! He’s Mezzer, my stun-gun!” I said quickly before she decided to take a shot at point-blank with that thing.

The two Flaming Hooves both did a comical-looking simultaneous double take, looking at me with raised eyebrows, slowly gaining matching smirks as well. “What?” I asked.

“He? Your gun is a stallion?” Matchstick said as Hotshot actually giggled. The mare with a spiky mohawk was giggling at me calling my weapon a ‘he.’ Besides, Mezzer was a he!

“Indeed.” he said.

“So, is ‘he’ any good? Does your gun… satisfy you?” Matchstick waggled her eyebrows at me, barely containing her laughter. I blushed, and Mezzer stammered incomprehensibly inside my head.

“I… he… that’s not the point!” I said, embarrassed beyond all reason. He was just my gun, alright?! Nothing was going on between us… time to change the subject, before things got out of hoof. “My EFS is telling me that there are hostiles in or on this outcropping. We need to take it slow and stick together so nothing surprises us. We’ll do Peanut no good if we get ourselves killed blindly chasing after him.”

“EFS?” Hotshot asked, confusion replacing the amusement on her face.

“This thing.” I waved my pipbuck at her. “It tells me when things are around that want to hurt me. I’m not really sure how it knows, but it’s never been wrong yet.” Not that I’ve actually had it that long…

“Can it tell if Peanut is near?”

Hmm… hadn’t thought of that. I took a careful look at the EFS, spinning slowly in place (and getting weird looks) and searching for a yellow bar amidst the worrying amount of red. “I’m sorry, doesn’t look like he’s anywhere near…” I started.

“Hold up! He is here! Thou should look directly at the plateau, wait for the red to disperse a bit.” Mezzer interrupted. I did as he asked, and sure enough, every so often the moving red bars would scoot away from one of the three yellow bars displayed, the other two being Hotshot and Matchstick… it looked like they were going back and forth over it.

“He’s here! Or at least somepony my pipbuck tags as friendly is here. And it looks like they’re in trouble!”

Hearing this, Hotshot turned and galloped up the winding path leading to the top of the plateau. “Hey!” Matchstick shouted, giving chase.

“Wait! Shouldn’t we be more stealthy?” I asked as I trotted after them at a slower pace, trying to keep up while checking each nook and cranny we passed for danger. Just because there’s confirmed danger at the top of the plateau didn’t mean we could ignore the possibility that a wild animal of some sort wouldn’t come leaping out of a hole in the wall at us.

“No time!” Hotshot shouted back. I was about to respond when I heard a sound that sent a twinge down my spine.


“Wait!” I shouted, now galloping up the path myself, hurrying around a switchback and catching up to the two gangers. “I know what’s up there! You can’t just go charging in, you’ll be killed!”

“If it’s that dangerous, then that’s all the more reason we need to get to Peanut faster!” Hotshot said, jumping up over the ridge at the top of the plateau and out of sight before I could warn her. I growled in frustration. Some ponies were just too stubborn to think tactically! I’m only trying to help!

“Sometimes, slowing down to discuss tactics will only hurt those thou art trying to rescue. Time is of the essence if that crow mare is really attacking Peanut… we already may be too late.” Mezzer said.

“Guess we better help, otherwise they’ll both be killed. Sounds like a lot of crows are waiting for food, I’ll make sure to cook ‘em a meal if anypony has hurt little Peanut.” Matchstick growled as she also jumped over the final ledge.

Grimacing, I leapt up from the path to the ledge as well, holding on with my front hooves and peeking up over the ledge before climbing over it. Hotshot was shouting obscenities and Matchstick was charging in at exactly what I feared.

Crows. At least two dozen, probably more. They were swooping over a crashed skywagon, pecking at the windows and doors, crashing into the weak, rusted metal, and doing whatever they could to try to get inside. I saw Peanut’s wide-eyed, terrified looking face through one of the windows; he had shut himself inside to avoid becoming bird-chow, though there was no way of telling how long the old cart would hold out against a constant assault. The birds were lightweight, but enough impacts on a weakened rust spot could make a hole big enough for them to get inside… normal crows would have given up by now, if they had even begun to attack at all. Being carrion birds, that was unlikely, unless they were controlled by an outside force…

I looked to the other side of the plateau and saw her. The crow mare. Wearing her slick, full-body combat armor, beaked mask, and wide-brimmed hat, she simply watched as her pets assaulted the skywagon. What was she doing here, and why was she attacking Peanut? Those questions passed through my mind, but I didn’t care as I climbed up over the edge and ran up next to Hotshot, who was lining up a shot at the crows. Her rifle’s sharp report caused the crow mare to jerk her head towards us. The lenses on her mask covering her eyes glinted.

“Look out! She’s controlling them!” I had just enough time to shout a warning before we were swarmed. All the crows immediately abandoned the skywagon and started to tear at us. I screamed as beaks and talons tore at any exposed flesh, and I felt some land on my barding and try to rip at it as well. One flew at my face, pecking my cheekbone, dangerously close to my eye. I bucked and kicked, running around and trying to get away… the pain was intensifying with every small peck at my flesh. Crows were aiming for my eyes, and before I lost one I quickly levitated my goggles down from my forehead to protect myself. Beaks clacked against the lenses as I tried to dislodge the crow perched in my mane. I’ve been shot before, and that hurts like nothing else, but this… I was covered in dozens of shallow wounds, the crows stripping away my skin and digging into my flesh with their putrid, disgusting beaks. They were landing on me and pecking again and again… I was being eaten alive!

“Roll around! Get them off thy body!” Mezzer shouted mentally, and I dropped to the ground, rolling around madly. Dust stung many small wounds that coated my hide, but the crows latching onto me with their talons flew off or were crushed.

The next thing I heard was Hotshot’s bloodcurdling scream. I kept rolling, and as soon as I got some breathing room, stood up quickly, drawing Mezzer. If I could stun the crow mare, maybe the attack would stop! As soon as I oriented myself, however, I saw Hotshot running around blindly… literally. She screamed and flung herself to the ground, rolling as I had… but she did not have goggles. Both her eyes were gone, the sockets bleeding streams of blood down her cheeks.

“Get off! Get off you fucking birds!” Matchstick Flare leapt over Hotshot, jumping over her again and again as she rolled around in a blind panic. A few of the crows, surprisingly, threw themselves at Matchstick, latching onto her stovetop armor and attempting to peck her… at least, before they caught flame and fell to the ground, thoroughly roasted. The rest of the crows peeled off, and I looked to see the crow mare looking directly at Matchstick, distracted. The flaming mare did have a few small bleeding peck wounds, but not nearly as many as Hotshot and I. Crows only got to peck her once before dying, it seemed.

I flipped on SATS. Time for me stopped, giving me that wonderful opportunity to take a mental breath and calm down. The crow mare was about fifty feet from me, and had the number ‘95%’ hovering over her torso. This one wouldn’t miss.


The wave of energy from Mezzer’s screen smacked square into the crow mare’s armored chest. As soon as it hit, half the crows in the air fell to the ground, stunned… but not dead. What? Did the mezz effect the crows too?

Before I could react, the other half of the crows flew up high into the air and started circling. The crow mare turned to face me, and cocked her head, her beaked mask expressionless. “I do not understand! That should have rendered her senseless!” Mezzer said, sounding thoroughly shocked. “Her… her crows! She is linked mentally to them, and they’re soaking my mesmerizing effect for her!

“What… what was that?” a rich alto voice asked, sounding almost bored. “Some sort of mental weapon? Interesting. A weapon of incapacitation, it seems. You’re either a pacifist, which would be frightfully stupid, or… you want ponies incapacitated instead of dead.”

“Don’t worry about that, I’ll make sure you end up dead, cunt!” Matchstick shouted, charging for the crow mare, who made no attempt to dodge. She slammed into the armored pony, black smog immediately rising from the contact of the slick black combat armor and the superheated stovetops covering Matchstick. The crow mare rose to meet the charge at the last possible second, grappling with the flaming ganger. Her hat caught fire, but that appeared to be the only cloth on this mare, and it was flung off by her magic as they wrestled. Apparently ignoring the fact that her opponent was on fire, the crow mare swept her hind hooves under Flare, tripping her up and sending her flopping hard on her back. The crow mare continued talking in the same bored sounding tone, even as Matchstick got back up again and launched herself at her.

“Ponies who want ponies incapacitated instead of dead in this world, and who use a weapon to make sure this happens…” the crow mare said as she deftly blocked a kick from Matchstick with her forehoof. More smog rose from her armor, and there were definitely burn marks all over it where Matchstick had made contact, but the mare under the armor didn’t seem to be suffering any ill effects. “…why, the only ones who would use such a weapon would be slavers, by my reckoning. Slavers and gangers. Pleasant company out here in the wastes. Though…” the crow mare’s horn glowed tan, and Matchstick, seeing this, leapt back, preparing for whatever magic she was casting.

Of course, now that Matchstick was out of the way… I lined up another shot in SATS and fired Mezzer again. The crow mare’s horn flashed just as the wave of energy hit her square in the face. She wobbled, and then shook her head, as if dazed. Did it work?

About a dozen crows rained down, landing all over the plateau. I looked up… and gulped. There were twice as many crows as there was when we first climbed over the ridge! “It’s rude to interrupt a mare when she’s talking, little slaver.” The crow mare said. “I was about to say it does not matter whether you are a ganger, slaver, or not. Being with these gangers has obviously corrupted your little pony mind. As it had this child. Death is the only mercy the Wasteland has for wretched scum like you... wait a second. I… my my my. What do we have here?” The crow mare’s tone changed from self-righteous boredom to sudden, intense interest. She turned towards me, staring at me as she took a step forward, light gleaming off of her mask’s lenses. Matchstick took this opportunity to charge her again, but before she even got close, the entire flock of crows above swooped down in a suicide attack against the flaming mare, beating her back with their sheer mass. The smell of burning feathers rose into the air, making me gag and retch. Great cheese, that stank!. I heard the crow mare chuckle. “Well, and here I thought… I guess I will spare you, for now. My name is Murder. I cleanse the wastes of scum like these gangers… and you. But, for now… I will leave the stain where it is.”

The flock of crows was dead, and Matchstick charged a third time, determined to burn this mare. “For pony’s sake…” the crow mare… Murder… said. “You are an extreme annoyance… and something my crows cannot handle, it seems.” Matchstick was covered in small peck marks, but obviously did quite well against small animals swarming her. They just couldn’t handle the heat she put out at close proximity. She tackled Murder again, this time feinting a charge at her chest and then suddenly sweeping her hooves out, catching Murder by surprise and tripping her up. The masked mare grunted as she landed heavily on the ground, and Matchstick, quickly grappled her, pinning her as best she could. Murder struggled, and got her hooves free, clubbing Matchstick upside the head. Smog rose from her armor, and I saw Matchstick inhale some of the noxious fumes. Murder squirmed under the flaming mare, and it was clear that Matchstick’s apparent fighting style of ‘grab on and hold on until they burn’ wasn’t going to work… or was it? The paint on Murder’s combat armor was peeling off, and I saw that the ceramic and steel plates were starting to glow red under it. Murder’s squirming became more frantic, more erratic. She wasn’t screaming in pain or anything (making me wonder if she was under the effects of Med-X or not), but her armor wasn’t totally fireproof, it just took a little while for the heat to get through. Murder was doing her level best to make sure that didn’t happen though. Matchstick’s eyes fluttered as Murder clubbed her upside the head again. I looked around, wanting to help, to do something… her crows were gone, maybe Mezzer would work this time! If Mezzer was right and the crows were soaking the mezz for her, if they were gone… I activated SATS, aimed at the head, and fired.

Murder’s head twisted out of the way at the last possible second, the wave of energy clipping Matchstick’s hoof as it slammed down where Murder’s head used to be.

Matchstick Flare’s eyes rolled up, and she flopped down on top of her beaked victim. Laughing, Murder’s horn and Matchstick glowed, and she lifted the flaming mare off of herself just enough to slide out from under her, her armor considerably less slick-looking, but apparently no worse for the wear as far as coverage went. She looked at me, the lenses of her mask glinting in the light of the fire… and she disappeared in a tan flash. Teleportation. Something I could never get the hang of… Ma was going to teach me, so long as I stayed a good little filly…

I stumbled towards Matchstick. The fight was over, there were burnt crow bodies everywhere, and I heard the door to the skywagon open as Peanut slowly ventured out. “Is… are they gone?” the little colt asked nervously.

“Blurrrrr… stop the world, I wanna get off…” Matchstick replied. I sighed… I’d screwed up. Sure, misses happen, but to hit my ally was…

“Not thy fault. Thou didn’t know that would happen. At least everypony is alive. That mare has more about her than meets the eye, I wager. And she seems to have taken an interest in thou. I suspect we’ll encounter her again soon enough.” Mezzer reassured. Even though it was true, it felt as if I could have done… more. More than just sit there and watch Matchstick struggle against a mare in fireproof armor. Of course, shooting into a melee fight went about as well as expected. The pain shooting through my many wounds blurred my next thought… and I had no healing potions. Neither did MG-MS11, back at the mall, they were being used on Walnut. He might have leftovers afterward… but it wasn’t something I could count on.

“Oww… Peanut? You okay?” I said. I heard sobbing in return, and turned around.

Peanut was sitting next to Hotshot, whose empty eye sockets gazed up at the cloudy sky. My breath caught in my chest, but then I noticed that Hotshot’s own chest slowly rise and fall. She appeared to be unconscious. Peanut turned to me, tears streaming down his face. “I… I saw some crows circling… I thought maybe somepony had died up here… left something to scavenge… I was only gonna get it and come right back…” he sobbed.

I hobbled over to him, and put a hoof around him as he burst into tears, crying into my chest. “There, there… it’s alright now…” I murmured. “Nothing’s going to hurt you… we’re only glad that you’re safe…”

I heard hoofsteps behind me. “Geeze… you get the license plate of that cart that just hit me?” Matchstick Flare said, having shaken off the effects of the mezz. “I hate fireproof armor. Hate it.” She was apparently unaware of the fact that I had shot her. Probably thought Murder had hit her in the head. I didn’t see any reason to mention otherwise right now… maybe later. “How’s Peanut?”

“Shook up, but fine. Hotshot, on the other hoof...” I replied, pointing to the unconscious mare. “I’m sorry… I don’t know for certain, but I don’t think MG-MS11 can fix that…”

Matchstick examined Hotshot, and quickly turned her face to face the ground, careful to not touch her for too long. The blood pooling in her eye sockets drained out, and as soon as it had finished, Matchstick took a small piece of metal from her armor, and stuck it in the socket… “What are you doing!?!” I said, shocked. Peanut looked up, before flinching and looking away from the grisly scene.

“If I don’t cauterize the wound, she’ll bleed out before we can even get her to your robot doctor. Better blind then dead.” Matchstick said flatly. She cauterized the other socket, then put the metal back on her armor. The smell of burning pony flesh meshed with the burnt feather stench permeating the air already… I retched, just barely kept myself from puking. “I can’t carry her, you’ll have to.” Matchstick said. She had lost the vim and vigor that was usually in her voice… it seemed like she was running on autopilot or something. Frankly, I think I was too.

Even though we had technically won the fight… it still felt like we had lost, somehow. Hotshot was blind, perhaps irreparably. There was some mystery mare called Murder who apparently was on a mission to ‘cleanse the wasteland,’ and we hadn’t stopped her. I knew that there were dozens of goody-four-hooves that were out to basically do the same thing… but Murder seemed like somepony who would ‘cleanse’ for the sake of cleansing, with no considerations as to who her target was. I remembered the last time we met her, when we were headed to Fillydelphia courtesy of Red Eye’s slavers. The crows that had attacked us had eaten quite a few of the ponies from Maregaton. And she didn’t seem to care about the age of her targets either… Peanut might technically be a Flaming Hoof, but he was just a colt for broccoli’s sake! Add to that the fact that I had about three dozen small wounds too many and… yeah. Not a good day.

I sighed, let go of Peanut, and hoisted Hotshot onto my back, grabbing her rifle as well. We hiked back down the hill and back to the mall in silence.


Shimmercoat was the first to see us. He was walking around the perimeter of the strip mall, still looking around for Peanut, though I could tell by his body language that he didn't expect to find anything. When he spotted us, he immediately came trotting up, increasing his pace to a gallop when he saw what condition we were in. “Dear Luna! What happened to you guys?” Shimmercoat said, his horn glowing as he cast a spell. The weight of Hotshot was lifted off my back as he summoned a force-field stretcher under her.

“That crow mare was attacking Peanut.” I replied, and Shimmercoat’s eyes widened in surprise. “Her name is Murder. Guess what she was trying to do.”

Ignoring my sarcasm, Shimmercoat looked over at Matchstick and Peanut. “I’m glad you guys are okay… though…” he looked at Hotshot. “We need to get her to MG-MS11 right away.”

“Where do ya think we’re headed, Captain Obvious?” I said. I grimaced, the pain from the crow pecks flaring up with every small movement. We trotted as quickly as possible without jarring Hotshot on her stretcher to the back door of the store the Flaming Hooves were holed up in. Upon entering the room where the others were, Grinder and Crescent Wrench gasped in shock at the state we were in. Hiss looked up and wagged his tail at our entrance.

“Hotshot!” Grinder called out as Shimmercoat laid her on the mattress next to Walnut. “W-what happened?” he gasped at her condition, turning to me.

I sat down and explained the situation as best as I could. I told them about the events that happened before we met them, starting with when Price had accosted me about blowing up Maregaton. About how that had been interrupted by Red Eye’s slavers, and about how we had almost found ourselves in Fillydelphia. “There was an opportunity presented to us that we used to help everyone escape, however…” I said. “Right at the outskirts of Filly… this mare attacked the caravan. She can somehow control a huge flock of crows, and tears ponies apart with them while sitting in the background. When she attacked Red Eye’s slavers, she just ignored most of the slaves, and we made our getaway. Though…” I paused, and shifted to a more comfortable position. If I didn’t move very much, my wounds didn’t hurt as much. “She didn’t exactly discriminate who the crows ate. Some of the townsfolk went down.”

“Actually, sometimes it seemed like she was attacking the townsfolk on purpose, when I shielded them with my magic.” Shimmercoat piped up. “The fact is that we barely got out of there alive, and we were quite lucky that she didn’t decide to chase us all when we ran away.”

“I… I don’t think I want to go through that again…” Crescent Wrench whimpered, her ears folded down. I patted her back sympathetically… for somepony so young and so fresh out of the Stable, she was holding up remarkably well, but I had seen ponies before who seemed fine… right before they snapped. I really hoped that that wouldn’t happen to Crescent.

“Anyways, Peanut said that he saw crows circling up on that hill, and thought there was a corpse up there to loot or something.” I continued, Peanut nodding in affirmation of what I was saying. “Turned out it was Murder, and she said something along the lines of how she wanted to ‘cleanse the wasteland’ of gangers and slavers or some other such nonsense.”

“Pfff.” Matchstick snorted, rolling her eyes. “Good fucking luck.” I frowned at her swearing, but had long ago figured out that ponies that swear (and are thusly not good little fillies, like Ma said I was) usually don’t break that habit, even if I told them to stop. I cleared my throat and kept talking.

“When we arrived, the crows were trying to get at Peanut through a downed sky carriage he was hiding in. Hotshot attacked, and…” I sighed. “We were wearing her down, I think, but not before the crows got Hotshot’s eyes, and she ran off before we were able to do much of anything to her.” I didn’t mention the fact that she seemed to recognize me. I didn’t know whether it was from the whole ‘captured by Red Eye’ incident, or something else, but it probably wasn’t a good thing that this ‘Murder’ mare had my number.

Silence prevailed for a few minutes as the information soaked into everypony. Shimmercoat was muttering to himself, I caught a few phrases like ‘should have signaled’ and ‘could have been prevented.’ His muttering was aggravating. If I had known we were going to be facing the crow mare, I would have done everything I could to have Shimmercoat with me. His shield magic would have been invaluable against the swarm-attack of crows that Murder was fond of.

“Will…” Peanut started, then coughed a little. He cleared his throat, and continued. “Will your doctor be able to help Hotshot?” he said, his voice catching in his throat a little when he said the stricken mare’s name.

“MG-MS11, report!” I turned and shouted at the Mr. Gutsy hovering over an unconscious Walnut. “We’ve got wounded here, what’s your status?”

One of the robot’s eye-sensors turned to look at me. “Still operating on the patient as ordered, Sarg… Great alicorns in all the heavens! Are we under attack?! What happened to you Sarge? I’m reading multiple shallow wounds and several deep lacerations indicative of the Praetorian Special Forces! Were they invisible? Readying combat proce…”

“Stand down, and keep healing her, Sergeant!” I ordered. I was getting good at interpreting what the crazy pre-war bot was saying, and was able to respond in kind in a manner that would get my point across. “Nothing as special as Praetorians, just some soldiers with knives. We took care of ‘em, but we’ve got wounded. Can you heal multiple targets, or can you only focus on one thing at a time? Also, what is the status of your current patient?”

“Good on ya, Sah, showing it to the enemy! Unfortunately, the M.E.D.I-Gun is single-target only, and I’m afraid that I am deep into the purification procedure for this patient right now. If I were interrupted, I could not guarantee that she would survive Sah!”

I picked up some of the healing bandages that we didn’t throw into MG-MS11’s storage compartment with my telekinesis, and started wrapping some of my wounds in them. “Then we’ll make do without your heal-ray for now.”

“Aren’t you going to clean yourself first? You’ll get an infection.” Crescent Wrench said as I bandaged a particularly deep gash. Healing bandages didn’t heal as fast as potions, so I couldn’t immediately feel the effects of the magic. In other words, it still hurt. A lot.

“Umm… should I?” I asked. Shimmercoat smacked himself in the forehead with his hoof.

“Yes, you dolt.” he said. “Bandages don’t ward off infections, and you traipsing about getting dust in your wounds probably didn’t help matters. Do you have a source of running water, Grinder?” Shimmercoat asked.

“There’s a sink in the bathroom…” Grinder started. But as he spoke, a horrific gurgling noise erupted from Hotshot’s mouth, followed by a small trickle of blood… and a scream.

“HELP! THEY’RE EATING ME!! HEEEELLLP!” Hotshot thrashed in her bed as Shimmercoat, Crescent Wrench, and Grinder all dove to hold her still. “WAAAALLLLNUUUT!” Hotshot was strong, but couldn’t resist the three ponies holding her still, and after a few minutes of thrashing, she held still and just sobbed, crying out Walnut’s name.

“Hotshot, Hotshot, it’s me, Grinder…” Grinder said softly, close to her ear. “It’s alright… you’re safe. The crows aren’t here anymore, you saved Peanut. You’re alright.”

“G… Grinder?” Hotshot said, before groaning. “Aaaa… fuck. It hurts Grinder. Peanut’s safe?” Grinder nodded, then remembered himself and gave verbal assent. “Good… wouldn’t want to worry Walnut when she wakes. Fuck… do we have Med-X?”

“I’m afraid not.” I said. I couldn’t quite tell whether Hotshot realized she was blind or not…

“Fuck. Why is it so dark in here? Is it nighttime? How long have I been out?”

Guess she didn’t realize yet.

“Hotshot…” Grinder started. “You… your eyes.”

“Hurt like a bitch. Wait…” Hotshot hesitated before gasping in pain. I saw her eyelids flop around a little… she was trying to move her eyes, blink, something, and it wasn’t working. “I… I can’t see! The… Grinder?”

“Yes…” he answered, his own eyes downcast. I could tell this wasn’t easy for him.

“My… am I alright? Really?”

"I'm afraid I can’t tell you that, Hotshot." Grinder said softly. "That bird bitch got your eyes."

There was a moment of silence, before Hotshot replied, her voice catching in her throat. “S-so… I’m blind? What about that robot? Can he heal me?” She sounded hopeful.

“He says that he has to stay with Walnut, or she might die.” I said.

“Oh… then screw that. If it’s a choice between my eyesight and Walnut, well, that’s no fucking choice at all. I don’t need to see. I need Walnut.” Hotshot said, sounding more sure of what she was saying then anything else I had heard her say since we met. “Aaagh… still hurts like Flare’s shoving her hoof into my eye though…”

“Actually… I did have to cauterize your… sockets. Otherwise you would have bled out, I think.” Matchstick said, sounding almost meek.

“Ah. Well, uh… thanks, I guess. I like my blood inside me.”

“We should clean everypony’s wounds and bandage them up until MG-MS11 is ready for more patients.” Crescent Wrench said, sounding like an older pony then she really was. “You said there was a bathroom with working water, Grinder?”

“Yeah, it’s this way…” Grinder said. Shimmercoat picked up Hotshot in his shield-stretcher, and Grinder led us to where the bathroom was in the empty grocers. After rinsing our wounds with irradiated water, (Which, for some reason, everyone told me was better then just leaving them dirty. I have no idea why.) we used our supply of healing bandages to stop the seeping of our wounds, wrapped Hotshot’s eye sockets with more bandages, and returned to the pharmaceutical area of the store, where MG-MS11 was still working on purifying Walnut of her radiation poisoning. Matchstick Flare refused the bandages for her wounds, saying she would just burn through them, and ‘cleaned’ herself with her tongue, licking her wounds instead of rinsing them in the sink. I have no idea why that was okay, but just leaving the wounds to heal on their own was not. Something about infections.

I might need to re-read that medical book I picked up at Stable 11.

We gathered around the fire pit in the center of the pharmaceutical area and rested while MG-MS11 finished his 12 hour-long procedure on Walnut. Still hurting, though less so now that I was all properly bandaged up, I curled up and was about to go to sleep when Hiss wiggled his way in-between my hooves. Smiling, I snuggled the nightstalker’s rough fur and fell asleep.


The wastes around the Coin family casino were mostly flat, though there were the ruins of blasted out commercial buildings and residences dotting the Big 52 here and there. The first time I had really gone any more than 50 yards from the casino had been when I sold Fiddlesticks to Mr. Opportunity… my dear ol’ Ma had told me not to wander off, and I always listened to her… at least until now.

I ran, tears streaming from my eyes. How… that was wrong, wasn’t it? My Ma loved me, I knew that, I always knew that… but… how could she do… what she did…

She was drunk, right? I’d seen ponies do some crazy things when they were drunk in the casino, sometimes Hammer had to get rough with them or throw them out. I hadn’t really seen Ma get drunk before… maybe she accidentally drank too much? Or was drugged! Yeah… there was no way she’d do that to me normally. Somepony had to be at fault, my Ma was the best Ma in the world, only depraved wasteland raiders did that to their foals… right?

I looked around, wiping away the tears. I had run up the Big 52 towards Broccoli, the scent of the vegetable that was the staple of so many ponies in this area’s diet heavy in the air. I couldn’t remember how long I had run. After Ma had… finished, she’d fallen asleep, right in the middle of our dumping area. Some crows had been pecking at the bag she’d thrown over the fence, and I was feeling… something. I don’t know what I was… what I am feeling! She was calm, collected Ma! Never let anything or anypony bother her! Her special talent was accounting for goodness sake! How could she lose control like that… Ma never lost control, not ever… I didn’t know how to react, what to do, who to tell, or anything. Would I get in trouble if I told Pa? Or Hammer? Would they do the same thing? I don’t want that… I don’t know what to do…

“Hey there, filly… hehehe.”

I stood stock-still. There was somepony behind me… sounded like a stallion. I heard the sound of hooves slowly approaching me from behind. “You out here alone? You crying? I could make you feel better…” a yellow hoof rested on my shoulder.

I screamed. Before the stallion could react, I bolted up the highway. If I could make it to Broccoli, maybe somepony would help me…

“Hey, get back here, you little fucker!” the stallion shouted, and I could hear him galloping after me. I looked back, seeing a dirty, bloodstained raider stallion with a yellow coat and orange mane chasing after me, and screamed again. He was gaining!

My hoof caught a piece of ancient asphalt, and I went tumbling off into a small ditch at the side of the road. I hit my head against a rock, my vision now blurry as I opened my eyes, trying to see what was going on. The stallion peered over the edge of the ditch at me, smiling a nasty smile that was missing quite a few teeth. He put a hoof on the edge of the ditch…

His head blew into a million pieces as a shot rang out, and I was spattered with brain bits as his body fell over with a thud. My vision blurred again.

I was back at the casino.

What? I remember… somepony getting me out of the ditch, helping me up. How am I back here? I was watching the casino floor as security, waiting for Hammer to get done with his business meeting with Ma so he could take his shift again. Hammer was less mechanically inclined then Fiddlesticks, who he replaced after I had sold the repair pony, but he made a great security guard and I basically was only doing his job right now because he was busy with Ma. Not that there was much I could do if anypony tried anything, I was just a little filly…

Now I was in my room, reading a Guard of Honor comic… wait, what?

Flashes of memories, scenes in full detail, from sight to smell to touch started flashing before me in rapid sequence. What was going on?

That dark night where I made my first sale, Fiddlesticks whining pathetically as Mr. Opportunity slapped chains on him.

Counting my caps, gleefully finding that Mr. O. had overpaid me by 14 caps.

Ma reminding me to take out the trash.

Pa drinking… again…

I held my head with both hooves as I was whisked away to another memory. What was going on? I couldn’t focus as flashes of my fillyhood whipped through my mind. My ears started ringing loudly, and I started to feel heat… burning… my body was on fire… Ma’s hoof… the casino…

The casino was on fire. No… not this… I don’t want to remember this… the fire… all around me…

I was in my room when I smelled the smoke. I had been asleep… dreaming of a green Equestria like what was depicted in my comics. The smoke was thick enough that I had woken myself up by coughing. “Ma? Pa?” I shouted, looking around blearily, the smoke blocking my vision. I jumped down from my bed and crawled low, where the smoke wasn’t as heavy. The floor was hot… very hot. I didn’t know what was going on… but I knew that where there was smoke, there was fire. Was the kitchen on fire? Was the casino on fire? I needed to get out of here, find Ma and Pa, or Hammer, or somepony. I grabbed my cap pouch, just in case, and also grabbed my ski goggles and Hoof of Honor that I had gotten from Mr. Opportunity. I wore the goggles, they helped keep the smoke from hurting my eyes, and crawled for the door, opening it.

The casino floor… the bar area… the offices… the entire bottom floor was ablaze! I quickly took a look at the stairs… they were on fire too! My home was on fire! “Help!” I shouted, backing back into my room, but shouting through the doorway. “Somepony help!!” There was no way I was going to get through the front or back door… I looked at the small window in my room. The window that hadn’t been opened for probably two hundred years. Could I get through it? I thought so, I was small enough. I just had to get it open. There was a two story drop outside, but if it was between that and burning… I started hyperventilating, then coughed as smoke filled my lungs. “Don’t panic… don’t panic…” I said to myself, coughing every few seconds. I wouldn’t burn, I’d suffocate at this rate if I didn’t get that window open! I looked around… all that was in my room was my bed and an empty dresser, not much to break the window open with… wait! I looked at the Hoof of Honor. It was still too big for me to wear, but it was metal and I did have a basic grasp of telekinesis… this window had survived the balefire bombs and two hundred years of decay, though. Would a royal guard’s horseshoe be enough to break it? My red magical field surrounded it, levitating the Hoof into the air. Only one way to find out.


Nothing. The shoe made a crunching noise as my telekinesis slammed it against the window, but it didn’t so much as even crack. I coughed as more smoke made its way into my lungs, and the floor… it was getting hotter. Was the ceiling of the room below me on fire? I imagined myself falling through a crumbling, burning floor into the inferno below, screaming as…

No, I couldn’t let it end this way! Tears streaming down my cheeks, I slammed the Hoof of Honor against the window again and again and…


A crack! I was breaking through! I focused through the smoke as much as I could and brought the horseshoe down on the spot where the crack had appeared. Each impact widened the fissure in the glass until, finally, with a shatter it broke. Almost cheering, I used the metal Hoof to clear away the broken glass, ready to try and climb up and…

There was a second pane in the window. Son of a gun!

I went at it again, but this layer of glass was much weaker, probably because it was actually exposed to the outside. It shattered in two smacks. I cleared away the glass with my telekinesis and clambered up to the window as fast as I could. Smoke was pouring out the window as a way for it to escape was opened, and I coughed, barely able to see even with my goggles. Trying not to breath, I looked down… two stories doesn't sound far until you have to jump it…

I jumped, screaming the entire way down. As soon as I landed, my hooves gave out from underneath me. Instinctively, I rolled with the impact, and ended up with nothing worse than a few bumps and bruises. It still hurt though, and I was covered in soot and coughing up a storm now as I inhaled ragged breaths of fresh air, clearing my lungs. Tears blurred my vision as they tried to clean my stinging eyes, and I limped wearily away from the burning building as fast as my little legs would carry me. Once I was about ten yards away, though, I collapsed, coughing even harder and just trying to focus on breathing.

“COIN! COIN!!” Pa’s voice shouted out, and I heard rapid hoofsteps approaching. I looked up, smiling weakly as Pa reached out and lifted me close to him, tears in his eyes. “Oh, thank the goddesses, you’re alright…” he murmured into my ear. I cried into his shoulder, my soot-covered face mussing up his coat.

“Did… where’s Ma?” I asked.

Pa set me down, and looked towards the burning casino in a panic. “You mean… you didn’t see her? She didn’t come out after you?” Pa looked frantically around, but Ma was nowhere to be seen.

No… I don’t want to remember this… I thought pitifully. I pushed with my mind, trying to force myself awake, force myself out. The scene flickered like a bedsheet flapping in the wind, then stabilized. I fell back fully into the memory. Pa snorted in shock as we both saw a silhouette in the dingy window of Ma’s office, running around and looking altogether panicked.

“Stay here, Coin…” Pa said, a determined look on his face. No, Pa… don’t… don’t go… again…

Pa leapt into action, racing through the flames ringing the doorway. I saw him jump over a burning beam… then the smoke obscured him completely.

Three minutes later, the building collapsed. I screamed as the wreckage let out a huge plume of smoke, still burning away. Nopony was around as I cried, screamed, and pleaded with the burning wreck of the casino to somehow, please… let my parents go, let them climb out unhurt, or even just alive… I don’t want to be alone…

“Thou art not alone, Coin Slot. Not anymore, and never again.” Mezzer said as the memory faded away. “With each passing hour I understand thee more and more…

I screamed, launching my tiny filly body at the starry stallion that Mezzer manifested as whenever we were inside the black emptiness of my head. I pounded my hooves against his chest, and he reared up in shock. “WHY!?!” I cried out, tears streaming from my eyes. “Why are you making me live through this again?! I already lost my parents once… I didn’t need to lose…” I broke down, weakly punching Mezzer’s leg as I sobbed. The memory had been as vivid as if it had actually happened, and the emotional scars of that of that day were ripped wide open again, raw and bare. Mezzer, though his head was just a faceless gun, gave off the impression that he was shocked.

“I… did not know that thou was going to be so… effected by my dalliances through thy mind.” he said. “In order for me to survive, for me to effectively work with you… I need to know all about thy past. I need to know the body I’m in, its experiences, its limits…

“I’m not just your… host! I’m not a ‘body!’” I shouted through the sobs angrily. “My memories are mine! My feelings are mine! I told you to stop using my memories as a playground, I told you you had no right to fiddle around with them, and what do you do?! Bring up… make me relive…” I curled up at Mezzer’s spectral hooves, crying. I felt him lie down next to me, putting a hoof around me and nuzzling my cheek. Though his head was a gun, it felt as if a pony’s muzzle was nuzzling me, and I didn’t have enough energy to push him away. I felt violated, even worse, I felt violated by something I knew I couldn’t leave behind, or ignore, like last time…

“It was not my intention to force thee to relive thy most traumatic moments.” Mezzer said quietly into my ear. “I… I do not understand what thou art going through, or what thou hast gone through. I am new to this world, I do not even understand what my purpose is here. I thought I could find the answer in the memories of the pony I bonded with… I am apparently incorrect, and all I have done is hurt thou. There is no excuse besides my own selfish desires as to why I did what I did. I am deeply sorry.”

Through the tears, I sniffled and looked up. The starry stallion surrounding Mezzer’s gun-head was curled up around me, just like dear ol’ Ma had done when I was upset… at least before she… In any case, it was comforting to be embraced again like this, even if it was by the pon… thing that caused my discomfort in the first place. “Do… do you know what you are?” I asked.

“No. Beyond the obvious, I do not. Dost thou know what thou is?” Mezzer replied.

“Of course. I’m a pony. A unicorn.” I said, standing up. The endless black mindscape Mezzer and I had these chats in was fading away, and I was back in my full-grown mare body. I must be waking up.

“And I am a stun gun. A Mesmetron. Manufactured by General Atomareics. Except I’m not, and I know this. I did state, ‘beyond the obvious.’ Dost thou know what thou art?”

“Then…” I said as a white light obscured the starry stallion. I thought about the question. It wasn’t ‘Who are you?’ It was ‘What are you?’ What kind of question was that? Beyond the obvious? “I… I don’t know…”


I groaned as I stretched, slowly waking up, the pain of my peck-wounds duller then it had been… the healing bandages must be taking effect. Hiss was still snuggled up next to me, though he wasn’t between my hooves anymore. I must have moved around in my sleep… not surprising, given what I had just been forced to go through… again.

I sat up, feeling a little melancholy. What am I? Well, I’m a slaver… but that was just my profession, I could change that at any time if I really wanted too. I didn’t know the answer, because I had never really thought about the question before… I didn’t even know what that question was supposed to mean.

“Oh, you’re awake.” Shimmercoat’s voice shook me out of my musings. “MG-MS11 says he’s nearly done with Walnut.”

“Indeed, Sarge!” I turned to look over to the hovering robot. “I estimate only five more minutes are required for the purification process to be complete! Initiating wakeup sequence…” Walnut started to stir.

“So… where are we gonna go, Coin?” Crescent Wrench asked me. “Now that Walnut is healed…”

“We’re headed where we were headed before… towards Auction House. Once we get there, I can get another job, we can resupply and restock, get some rest, and maybe buy some new toys. I know you two need better armor then those jumpsuits you’re wearing, and I’ve been thinking about upgrading from leather recently…” Leather armor was great in that it was lightweight… but it didn’t do much against a swarm of crows…

“Yeah, we’re gonna be headed back out too. Back to Neighpalm.” Grinder said. “Back there we might be able to get some help for Hotshot, and it’ll be easier for her there than out in the wastes anyways.”

“I told you you don’t need to fucking baby me! I can take care of myself! Plenty of ponies are way worse off than I am!” Hotshot growled.

“H… Hotshot?” Walnut groaned. MG-MS11 whirred, and the M.E.D.I-Gun stopped projecting onto her, the robot returning to an idle hovering stance. “What do you mean?” Her eyes fluttered open as she sat up. “Oh my Celestia!” she shouted, seeing Hotshot’s eye’s wrapped up. “What happened?!”

We all took turns explaining what was going on, and the events that had happened while Walnut was out. “So yeah… Bottom line is, my eyes hurt, and I can’t see anymore.” Hotshot said. “But… how are you feeling?” she sounded nervous.

Walnut stood up, trotted over to Hotshot, and embraced her suddenly, giving the other mare a kiss on the snout before saying, “Never better, knowing you saved my little Peanut. I’m just glad you all made it back okay.” She then silenced Hotshot’s reply by kissing her deeply, holding her close. I turned away… it was kind of awkward for those of us watching…

“I, for one, do not mind at all. Mezzer said.

“Shut up, I’m still mad at you…” I growled under my breath.

Matchstick Flare sighed, looking wistfully at the two lovers… enjoying eachothers company. “Yay… back to Neighpalm. Where everypony gives me a twenty-yard berth. Fantastic.” she muttered.

“Well…” Crescent said, blushing slightly. “Um… MG-MS11, could you try and heal Hotshot’s eyes? I mean, it doesn’t hurt to try, right?”

“Never done optometrist work before!” MG-MS11 said. “Though my databanks are telling me that preliminary tests with the M.E.D.I-Gun didn’t work well with eye injuries, which struck the researchers as odd… it could regenerate pulled teeth, but not eyes. Nothing like giving it the old collage try, though! I must alert the Sarge, though, that my healing potion reserves are, once again, low. Only 17% capacity, Sah!”

“Oh, you don’t… you’ve done so much already…” Walnut said, breaking away from a stunned Hotshot and turning to me.

“Besides, it was my fault anyways…” Peanut said, looking down at the ground. I felt sorry for the kid… he was blaming himself for the loss of Hotshot’s sight, despite numerous attempts by all of us to convince him otherwise.

What am I?

“No… no, it’s a good thing to try now. MG-MS11, use your remaining potion stock on Hotshot, see if you can’t regenerate her eyes.” I said.

“Yes, Sah!” the robot said, firing the stream of healing light towards Hotshot. She sighed as her multiple lacerations closed under their bandages.

“I… well my eyes don’t hurt anymore. Nether does the rest of me.” she said as MG-MS11 halted the healing beam, stating that he was at less than 10% capacity and now in ‘critical injury only’ mode. Considering that he went into this mode last time when I was having back surgery, I briefly wondered what was considered a ‘critical injury.’

“Well, let’s find out if it worked…” Walnut said softly, removing Hotshots eye-bandages.

Empty sockets stared back at her. “…I don’t think it worked.” Hotshot said, sounding… not sad, but disappointed.

Peanut started to cry. “I-I’m sorry, Hotshot! I should never have gone out…” tears streamed down his face as he sobbed, and Hotshot, using the noise he was making, located him and pulled him fiercely into a hug between the two mares.

“Hush, you.” she said. “I won’t have you blaming yourself for something that wasn’t your fucking fault. It doesn’t hurt anymore, and I have you two to help me see, so it’s not… not that big a deal. I’ll just need a little more help than usual.” Walnut smiled softly and joined in, comforting Peanut.

Matchstick Flare sighed. Grinder glanced over at her, a sympathetic look on his face. She was sitting next to Shimmercoat and I, so I asked, “What’s wrong?”

“Oh… nothing. Nothing worth mentioning anyways.” Matchstick said.

“She’s obviously mildly jealous of the fact that Hotshot, Walnut, Peanut, and basically any other pony can, well, hug. Comfort with touch. Bodily contact, I’ve noticed, is a major part of pony communication, and if she wasn’t always this way, then she knows what she’s missing out on. Quite sad, if thou think about it long enough.” Mezzer said. He was right, a nuzzle from dear ol’ Ma was all that was needed to cheer me up, back when I was a filly… at least, usually it was.

Shimmercoat seemed to notice Matchstick’s melancholy as well, and he patted her on the back. “It’s alright, I’m sure you’ll find a special somepony someday…” he muttered absentmindedly, his horn glowing faintly. After a small pause, he glanced at everypony staring at him. “What?” he asked, oblivious. His hoof still rested on Matchstick’s back, a barely perceptible glow emanating from it.

Matchstick was the first to recover from her shock. “Y-You! You can touch me?!” she asked, her voice growing from shock to ecstatic joy with every syllable.

“Huh?” Shimmercoat said. He looked at his hoof, briefly lifted it in surprise, then poked Matchstick again. “Oh! Yeah, I guess I can. Ha, looks like I made my shield spell just block heat, and that’s it. Doesn’t take much in the way of focus or energy, I could do this all day!” He continued poking her shoulder, unaware of the growing smile on Matchstick’s face. “Wonder why I didn’t think of that before, it’s so simple…”

Shimmercoat was interrupted by Matchstick tackling him, hugging him so tightly that his eyes seemed to bulge a little. He coughed. “Ak! Oof… heh, good thing it’s so simple to cast…” he muttered, patting Matchstick gingerly on the back. The rest of the Flaming Hooves all had big smiles on their faces, happy for Matchstick. They knew how much being able to touch somepony meant to her.

Suddenly, Matchstick looked up from her embrace of the former overstallion, her gaze aimed straight at me like a precision laser. I dared not look away from the fire in her eyes, her stare was as intense as the sun hidden above the clouds. She opened her mouth, about to speak a sentence of such potency that even I could almost not bear to hear it.

“A thousand caps.” she said, her eyes gleaming.

Almost not bear to hear it. My mouth salivating at the thought of such a large stack of caps, I took a quick glance at Shimmercoat. He eyed her up and down, smiled, and shrugged, nodding at me and flashing that stupid sexy smile of his.

“Sounds like a deal to me.” I replied, grinning.

Level up! (Lv. 10)

New Perk: Life Giver: You’ve provided new purpose and drive to a desperate mare in the wasteland! For some Celestia-forsaken reason, this gives you +30 HP. No, we don’t know how that works either. Don't spend them all in one place.

Author’s Note: Woo, another chapter that took me forever to type/get to! I swear, the universe does not like me writing, but screw the rules, I got ponies. Things get a little dicey with the whole ‘college’ thing, but I’m determined to finish this, so you can count on me to get chapters done, even if it takes a little while for me to get the time.

Also, it pains me to do this, but since I know that for some reason people do actually read this, I’m going to put it down here. I am a very broke brony. Not that I’m not used to this state of being, but I tell you what, it really sucks. I’m not the begging type though… if, however, you want to, for some reason, donate some coin to help me through the edumicative systems that are college, my paypal is slinkyjeff@hotmail.com. That’s also my email, if you want to toss me a line, or spam ;) .

AND! Like I said, I’m not quite the begging type. I also happen to be a fairly good pony plush crafter, or so I’m told. I have examples of my work on my deviantart, sirleadhead.deviantart.com, right in my gallery. If you want a reasonably priced pony plush of any type, be it OC, fallout equestria related, or even a cannon pony (gasp), then by all means contact me! My prices are listed on my deviantart, but they are totally negotiable, and if you really want one, but are a few bucks short, I’m certain we could work out some sort of deal ;) .

Thank you for reading, and if you got any questions or comments, feel free to slap a comment on down there at the fimfic entry for this story. Love you guys! :D

HUGE thanks to Kkat for writing Fallout: Equestria and giving us sidefic writers a great big sandbox to play in. Also thanks to Lesolan and Shimmercoat, and brand new editor (for me, anyways, I know he’s worked on several other sidefics before) Wirepony for help editing and proofreading this slog to make it something enjoyable. Really couldn’t do this without you guys. And thanks to all who hang out at the Sidefic Compilation doc for providing feedback and inspiration to write my own story. Also thanks to Bethesda and Hasbro for two great franchises. Hope you enjoy!

Chapter 10 > In which there is a Battle-Medic

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Chapter 10 > In which there is a Battle-Medic
“History is an account, mostly false, of events, mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers, mostly knaves, and soldiers, mostly fools.”

“What do you mean, you don’t actually have a thousand caps?!” I shouted, my dreams of being able to swim in a bathtub full of caps being burnt to a crisp before my eyes. We were all headed out onto the road again, though Grinder, Walnut, Peanut, and Hotshot were going to be splitting off towards the direction of Neighpalm pretty soon. Matchstick Flare had just emptied out her fire-resistant bag at my hooves, and it contained basically nothing more then soot, a few well-baked bandages, some food, and all of about thirty-three caps. Not near the number I had been promised, not at all.

“Well… ya see…” Matchstick grimaced, rubbing the back of her head with her hoof. Shimmercoat was grinning like a madpony, probably laughing at my expense. “When I say ‘a thousand caps,’ I don’t necessarily mean, ‘a thousand caps right at this moment.’” She said. I fumed, here I was getting ready to rake it all in and this flaming mare goes and pulls a fast one on me.

“Matchstick, did you make a bad deal again?” Grinder said, a knowing tone in his voice. “Ya gotta be careful with that one, Coin, she’ll promise you the world and have nothing but a pre-war bit. Either me or Walnut usually make the transactions when we travel. If there’s one thing we learned, it’s to not let Matchstick shop. Bad things happen.”

“Tell me about it…” I muttered. “Well, if you can’t pay…”

Before I could finish my sentence, Matchstick’s eyes widened, up to big, Hiss-giving-you-the-puppy-eyes-look size, with what I swear were bubbling, boiling tears beginning to form. Shimmercoat was also giving me a look that said, ‘Don’t do it, or I’ll have something to say about it,’ as he put his hoof around her shoulder. She immediately scooted up to his side, Shimmercoat’s faint shield protecting him from the heat. Crescent Wrench was watching me, indecision on whether she should step in or not clearly plastered on her face. Grinder looked pissed.

“If thou art going to split up a mare from the only stallion that she can touch, simply because she has not the funds that she promised thou, when it is fairly clear that Shimmercoat is interested in her as well, then thou art quite a sickening pony for me to have the misfortune of being soul-bound to.” Mezzer said, silently voicing in my head what everypony was probably thinking. “Thou should find an alternative method of payment, if thou should still seek payment for Shimmercoat’s services at all.”

“Shimmercoat is still my slave!” I thought back. “If I start giving him out pro-bono, every straight mare in Equestria is going to come flocking to him, and me for providing him, and they’ll all want him for free too! I can’t have that! Not only will miss firebug over there not get as much time with him, but all that business will be lost!” I pouted. “I hate lost business.”

“Like I said…” Mezzer replied. “Find an alternative method of payment, then thou won’t have a problem with others wanting thy slaves for free, and perhaps thou could include another, well equipped asset to thy property for dealing with, say, swarms of winged, beaked enemies?”

Ahhh… I saw what Mezzer was getting at. If I asked for Matchstick to work for me, or become indentured to me, then Shimmercoat’s company wouldn’t be free. She would be able to work off her ‘payment’ (though I would miss that one-thousand caps), and she would be invaluable in case Murder showed up to harass us again. “Um… if you can’t pay…” I repeated, glancing nervously at Grinder, who looked like he might open fire if I said Matchstick couldn’t be with Shimmercoat. “Then you’ll just have to work it off! You could come with me, and have the additional benefit of traveling with Shimmercoat longer then just to the place where the road to Neighpalm and Auction House fork off. In exchange, I’ll be sure to set up camp a little ways away from where you and him are sleeping for the night so you’ll have some privacy.” Matchstick’s expression went from terrified and teary to upbeat and ecstatic in one easy motion, her ears perking up and the flames on her head flaring up for a second. Grinder smiled, and nodded, as did Shimmercoat, giving the ganger and the former overstallion an eerie moment of looking almost like brothers or something.

“Our traveling days are done anyways,” Grinder said. “Me, Hotshot, Walnut, and the kid will be living in Neighpalm from now on, but Matchstick here has always been… not good with staying in cities for a large amount of time. And I would never want to split her from somepony she can finally find comfort in cuddling with.” He said, putting unneeded emphasis on the word ‘cuddling’ with many a waggling eyebrow.

“I would be okay with being… a long-term loan, shall we say, to Matchstick if she were to join us.” Shimmercoat added, his glasses glinting in the firelight.

“So how ‘bout it, Matchstick?” I asked. “You would technically be indentured to me, but you get to stick around Shimmercoat for as long as you like.”

The mare in question had this entire time been silently shaking, with what was anypony’s guess, but I would have put my money on excitement. With one last glance towards Hotshot, Peanut, and Walnut, who all nodded encouragingly, grins on their faces (except Hotshot, who couldn’t really see what was going on, though she was grinning from what she was hearing anyways), Matchstick said, “YESSSSSSSSSS!” Yesyesyesyesyes! I will fucking become your slave if I have to in order to stay with Shimmercoat!” She spat on her hoof, which sizzled, and stuck it out towards me in excitement. “Oh… right, sorry.” She quickly realized I couldn’t really bump hooves with her, and was about to lower her hoof when I spat on my own and gave hers a quick tap, fast enough that I didn’t suffer anything worse then a quick hot sensation.

“The deal is struck!” I said triumphantly. Grinder had a hoof over his face, groaning. “You’ll be my slave in exchange for having access to Shimmercoat whenever you like!”

“What have I told you about getting too excited and bartering over your budget, Matchstick?!” Grinder said, exasperated. He still had a faint smile though. “Ah, well. The end result is the same.”

“Huh? Oh! Um… heh. Oops.” Matchstick said, realizing exactly what kind of deal had just been struck. She thought for a moment, then shrugged, hugging Shimmercoat, who hugged back warmly, though he had a frown on his face directed at me. He probably wasn’t as okay with what I had just done then Matchstick and Grinder were. “I meant what I said.” Matchstick continued, unaware of Shimmercoat’s glare in my direction. “And being enslaved to a staunch Auction Houser isn’t as bad as some ponies claim it is. Or so I hear.”

“It’s not as if I could do much to stop you if you decided to leave. I doubt a collar would survive for long on your neck, unless it was made of heat-resistant material or something.” I said, already thinking of ways I could probably restrain her, though it was more out of habit then anything else. Keeping the ‘carrot’ that was Shimmercoat in front of her nose would be far more efficient then trying to find some sort of ‘stick’ to control the flaming mare with. I didn’t think it was going to be an issue.

Heh. I now had three slaves with me, only one of which required a collar. Not to mention a pet dog… nightstalker… thing… and a robot. There’s a first time for everything after all.

“Well, now that that’s settled, let’s get going!” Matchstick said cheerfully.

“Why are you in such a rush?” I asked as we hit the road again. We were quite a distance away from the strip mall now, headed in the general direction of both Neighpalm and Auction House, though the others would be splitting off to their own destination shortly. The wide-open plains of the wastes were slowly giving way to a few ruined buildings here and there as we got closer to the ruins of the pre-war city that Auction House was nestled by. For once, the clouds in the sky had decided to stop raining, giving us a somewhat comfortable walk down the road.

Matchstick blushed. “Well… I kinda want to get to a place that has rooms… and beds… before nightfall.”

“Ah. Say no more.” I said, grinning. “We’ll be in the city ruins before nightfall, no worries about that.”

“Ah, yes, the city!” MG-MS11 suddenly said, a whimsical tone in his voice. “We’ll be passing the old Atomareics building, if my navigation systems aren’t mistaken! Quite a few important parts of me were manufactured there! Never seen the place with my own photosensors before, should be quite a treat to play tourist for a while as we pass by!”

“The old Atomareics building?” Mezzer said, suprised. “Quick! Ask him if he means…” he was about to say, but I had already thought of the same thing, and interrupted him.

“Sergeant! Are you saying that we’ll be passing by General Atomareics?” I asked.

“Sir yes sir! New to the area, are we? It’s the General Atomareics Headquarters building, you can’t miss it for the world! One of the first innovation and technology companies in Equestria, that one. It was built right when the war with those dirty striped bastards started! They help build Equestria’s future towards a brighter, less coal-dependant tomorrow! Not to mention manufacturing parts necessary for Robronco, Ironshod, and even the Ministry of Awesome and the Ministry of Wartime Technology’s robots, weapons, terminals, all sorts of things!”

“We must visit that building!” Mezzer said, sounding desperate. “One of the few memories I have after coming to existence in your mind is that my form was built by a company called General Atomareics! We might find some answers there about what we are!” I nodded in agreement, though it probably only looked like I was nodding at MG-MS11.

“How do you know all this?” Crescent Wrench asked, trotting closer to the medical Mr. Gutsy, her curly brown mane bouncing around lightly now that it had dried out from the lack of rain. She had a sledgehammer strapped to her back, something she had picked up at the strip mall’s hardware store. Given that her cutie mark was a mallet, I figured that she probably knew what she was doing with it, and refrained from taking it from her. Besides, if we were to run into trouble, it would be better than nothing for her to be armed with it.

“It’s in my databanks, of course!” MG-MS11 replied.

Crescent only looked more confused.“Why would you be given information of the manufacturing factories and processes of Equestria?” Crescent Wrench pressed onwards. I gave her a curious look. Where was the little filly (alright, technically a teenager. Still a filly in my book.) going with this? “Wouldn’t that be detrimental if you were captured by zebra forces?”

“Ma’am, that implies I would allow myself to be interrogated by those dirty stripes!” MG-MS11 said, sounding offended. “If the unthinkable were to happen, and I was somehow kept from killing every single one of them, I would destroy all valuable equipment on my person and erase my entire memory matrix to keep it out of their grubby thieving hooves!”

“That makes sense…” Crescent Wrench sounded like she was thinking.

“Something on your mind?” Shimmercoat asked her. He had apparently noticed the strange line of questioning too.

“I was thinking…” Crescent said, pausing.

“Yes?” I asked. “Something wrong with MG-MS11?”

“Well… what if we were to go into a zebra town? Or meet up with some zebra merchants on the road?” Crescent asked.

“Kill ‘em all, let their filthy tribal gods sort ‘em out!” MG-MS11 shouted helpfully.

“See? It would be a problem. We need to find some way to fix his matrix so he’s less hostile to zebras, otherwise he’ll attack them. Or if he thinks he’s captured by them, he’ll erase his memories.” Crescent looked at the floating spherical robot as she trotted next to it. “I… we don’t want that.” she said, looking side to side.

“Hmm… she raises a good point.” Shimmercoat said.

“Not a problem!” I said, grinning. “Modifying magical matrices is my special talent! Have I told you guys that?”

Crescent Wrench’s eyes widened. “Really?!”

“Yep! This cap isn’t about money or gambling like ponies usually assume.” I replied, getting into storytelling mode. “It all started one day at the casino I grew up in…”

We continued walking as I told the group how I got my cutie mark and discovered my special talent for modifying magical matrices. This led to Grinder telling his cutie mark story. He was good with mechanics, hence the gears. Hotshot joined in, telling hers. Her smiling daisy apparently represented how good she was at pleasing ‘flowers.’ Walnut blushed profusely as Hotshot told in quite vivid detail how she had gotten her cutie mark, and it was then that I learned that they had basically been together since they were little fillies just growing up. I also learned that some cutie mark stories were better left untold, as pretty much everypony except MG-MS11 and Hiss (who weren’t ponies anyways) was blushing and feeling really uncomfortable at the end of Hotshot’s story. She thought the ensuing awkward silence was a laugh riot.


We parted ways with Hotshot, Grinder, Walnut, and little Peanut a few hours of walking later, when the path we were taking forked off enough from the more direct route to Neighpalm. There was a small, teary goodbye from each of them to Matchstick, and Matchstick looked back at their trotting tails until they were finally out of sight. While they were all happy that Matchstick had finally found a special somepony, they were still Flaming Hooves, a gang that’s best described as a family working together to survive. Parting was hard for them, but they knew that at this time, it was for the best. We promised to come and visit sometime after we had finished our business at Auction House.

The scenery had changed from the open plains of the wasteland to sprawling ruins of a suburban complex, with what looked like a wrecked industrial sector within view on the horizon. Back before the war, this place would have been filled with pony families either headed out to or coming back from work, kids biking down the streets and around cul-de-sacs, and dogs chasing cats up white picket fences, strong oaks, and Father’s Day hoofmade mailboxes. The street was broken up at our hooves, but still recognizable as a street, and the few houses lining the street that weren’t blasted-out wrecks were boarded up tight, or leaning so dangerously that I was afraid the vibrations of our hoofsteps passing by would knock them over. We kept trotting down the streets towards the industrial buildings for quite some time, mostly in silence. Shimmercoat and Matchstick were almost inseparable, the flaming mare constantly leaning against his shoulder, nuzzling his ear or neck or something. I rolled my eyes. Sure, it was cute, but watching them go at it for a half-hour was starting to get on my nerves.

“Art thou getting a little jealous, perhaps?” Mezzer said. I got the sense of a raised eyebrow in my direction.

“What?! No, of course not!” I said. Out loud. To apparently thin air. The weird looks I got from everypony made me blush, and I quickly tried to cover for it. “Uh.. of course not… did anypony say they thought we were going the wrong way?” I asked.

“Smooth.” Mezzer said.

“Shut up.” I replied, silently this time.

“Nooo… you okay, Coin?” Shimmercoat asked, looking at me with a concerned expression, a sort of smolder with his eyes peeking over his spectacles and his mane flowing in a certain way that made my heart pump a little faster as my face turned red. Again.

Mezzer chuckled in my head again. “Thou art indeed getting jealous.”

“I’m fine. Really.” I said to Shimmercoat, internally glaring at the sentient weapon. “Would you stop?! He’s just good looking, that’s all I’m noticing! The fact that he tried to kill me when we first met is still a big factor in my opinion of him. Besides, not only would it be incredibly unprofessional to… use the merchandise for personal entertainment, but it would be unfair to Matchstick too.”

“As I recall, thou hast also enslaved Matchstick, technically. Don’t slavers use their merchandise for whatever purposes they see fit?” Mezzer asked.

“Maybe some slavers use their stallions as studs, but not me. Good little fillies don’t force themselves on somepony, my dear ol’ Ma always said, and I’m…”

“A good little filly, yes. I know. Thy mother, according even to her own rules then, is no…”

“NO!” I thought as loud as I could, almost shouting the word out loud, projecting an angry glare both mentally and physically. “Ma was a good mother, alright? I won’t have a single word said against her, especially since you’re the one that went digging through my memories without permission! You don’t know what she did for our family, for Pa, for me, for our employees, customers, all of us! She made the wasteland better! She always said she devoted her life to making the wastes a better place to live for all ponies, and that one day our little casino would be just the starting point for something bigger, much bigger! I would be a part of it! I… I AM a part of it! I follow my Ma’s teachings, and even if she… she… she loved me, alright?! That’s the last I’ll hear on the subject.”

Mezzer wisely said nothing. The coward.

“Anypony get the feeling we’re being watched?” Matchstick Flare asked, looking around nervously at some of the more intact houses we were passing by. I hadn’t been paying attention to my EFS because of a certain annoying mesmetron, but a quick check revealed nothing out of the ordinary.

“Nothing’s registering on my Pipbuck besides us.” Shimmercoat said, after turning slowly to scan behind him with his EFS, and reaffirming my assumptions. Hiss, on the other hoof, was slinking around behind me, looking around with his ears perked up high, sniffing the air with both nose and tongue, obviously on high alert.

“That’s right, Corporal Flare!” MG-MS11 said. “Nothing’s showing up on my hostility detector array either. Probably just a case of pre-battle nerves, shake it off! Nothing’s going to get past us!”


The ricochet of a bullet bouncing off of MG-MS11’s chassis kicked up the dust at my hooves, as his side dented in. “AMBUSH!” the robot shouted at ear-splitting volume as us ponies (and Hiss) all dived for cover behind wreckage of an old family cart on the side of the road. “COME OUT YOU STRIPED COWARDS! YOU SLIME-EATING POND SCUM! I’LL RIP YOUR FACES OFF!” MG-MS11 plinked and dented again and again as muzzle flashes came from the second story of a surviving house across the street from where we were hiding. He made no motion to get into cover, and started firing his magical plasma caster wildly, obviously not detecting where the shots were coming from.

“Sergeant! Get down! Take cover! Be careful! Oooo…” Crescent Wrench groaned with each dent MG-MS11 took.

“Looks like raiders or something took residence in that house, and they don’t like visitors…” I said, ducking as a bullet wizzed past my ear.

“Gee, really? I thought this was them inviting us in for a cup of tea!” Shimmercoat said, rolling his eyes and taking aim at the windows with his .44 magnum revolver. “I could use some covering fire!” he shouted. “And why didn’t they show up on EFS?!”

“Don’t ask me! You’re the one that gave me this thing!” I shouted back, pulling out my lever-action rifle. Not that I’d be able to kill anypony with it… but covering fire isn’t about killing, it’s about keeping their heads down. I levitated the rifle over the edge of the cart and started firing as fast as I could, levering the action at rapid speeds. It was a good thing I got this gun modified with a dampened recoil framework… I almost dropped it firing at this rate.

The return fire from Shimmercoat and I did slow the rate of bullets headed our way, and Shimmercoat grinned as we heard a cry of pain coming from the house after one of his shots. I, of course, hit nothing. “We need to close the distance… we’re way more effective at close range.” Shimmercoat said, putting his back to the cart as he ducked to reload.

I looked at Hiss, Crescent, and Matchstick, all of whom were close range fighters (though I didn’t know how good Crescent Wrench would be in a fight…), and all of whom were trying to make themselves as small as possible behind our cart, especially Matchstick, who was trying not to burn any of us as we hunched close together behind the relatively small cover.

“FOR EQUESTRIAAAAAA!!” MG-MS11 shouted, charging headlong for the house, having apparently figured out where the shots were coming from. His plasma caster’s bolts licked across the wooden surface, setting a few spots of the old wooden house on fire before quickly dying out. The wood was pretty wet from the rain earlier, but constant plasma fire would no doubt burn the house down eventually. That’d no doubt be a problem for the raiders (or something… we still hadn’t identified our mystery foe) later, but we couldn’t just wait for MG-MS11 to start a true fire… or could we?

“MG-MS11! Get back here this instant!!” I shouted.

“The enemy deserves nothing but pain and death! Forward! Attack them at their strongest point to show them WE MEAN BUSINESS! EQUESTRIAAA!!”

“Yeah, we’re gonna need to fix his A.I. At least to make him less tactically… stupid.” I said to Crescent Wrench as she peeked out from behind the cart at the robot, her face as white as a sheet. She was really scared for him, it seemed.

MG-MS11’s buzz saw sounded out it’s far-too-familiar (for me at least) howl, cutting through a section of the building’s wall and allowing the enraged robot entrance (he ignored the door. It was boarded up though…). “Nooo! He’s going to get hurt!” Crescent Wrench reached out her hoof towards the building, and a few bullets bounced off the ground next to her, causing her to eep and duck back behind cover.

“Shimmercoat, could you shield us across the street?” I asked.

“Probably. They seem like small caliber bullets, but I don’t know how many I could take before the shield breaks.” he answered.

“It’ll have to be enough.” I set my goggles down over my eyes. Safety first, after all. “Alright, on the count of three, we all go. Shimmercoat, put up a shield, and we cross the road as fast as we can, try to find out who’s shooting at us and make them stop. Ready?”

They all nodded (including Hiss… which worried me slightly. That nightstalker was too smart for his own good). “One… two… three!” I jumped out from behind the cart and charged.

ARGH!! I fell as bullets ripped through my worse-for-wear leather barding, digging into my sides and flanks as I tried to roll away. I figured I was dead… until I saw Shimmercoat standing over me, shield projected, looking sheepish and worried at the same time.

“Sorry, I thought it was ‘one, two, three, go!’ Can you get her, Crescent?” Shimmercoat asked, sweating a little as large amounts of small caliber bullets bounced off of the shield he was casting over the group.

“Yeah! Sorry if this hurts, Coin!” Crescent Wrench shouted over the chaos, and hoisted me onto her back. I cried out as my wounds felt like hot nails were being driven into my flesh, but Crescent was able to lift me like a ragdoll and run across the street with the others until we were in the first floor of the building, away from the rain of bullets.

“Heh. Either Coin is lighter than she looks, or you’re stronger than you look, little filly!” Matchstick laughed, a spark in her eye that didn’t seem to come from physical fire. She was a ganger after all, combat must be exciting for her.

“Ugh! I’m fourteen!!” Crescent said, exasperated. She looked around. “Where’s MG-MS11?”

Shimmercoat scanned the room quickly, before pointing up a set of stairs. “I think he went this way, at least that’s where the one friendly I see that’s not us on my EFS is.”

“THERE YOU ARE YOU COWARDLY STRIPED BASTARDS! LET’S FIGHT LIKE GENTLEPONIES!” MG-MS11’s voice rang loud and clear down the stairs, and the maniacal whirring of his buzz saw could be heard over some very panicked sounding screams. Hiss barked and ran up the stairs, turning invisible halfway up.

“Wait! Don’t hurt him!” Crescent Wrench shouted, charging after the nightstalker, and apparently talking to the raiders. It didn’t sound to me like she needed to be worried though… I tried to ignore the sounds of the saw rending pony flesh (to the accompaniment of blood-curdling screams… followed by gurgling noises) drifting down from the upper story, but it was hard to ignore. As was the blood starting to drip down onto the landing from above.

“Come on, let’s get up there before your robot kills them all, they might have some information on what’s going on around here.” Matchstick said, running up the stairs, leaving behind charred hoofprints. Shimmercoat and I were left on the bottom floor, flabbergasted.

“Well… guess we better head up too, then.” Shimmercoat grumbled, hoisting his pistol and muttering something about tactics and how charging in headlong shouldn’t have worked. I rolled my eyes and followed. Tactics were all well and good, but these were raiders. If your opponents aren’t very clever, tactics can sometimes be put on the wayside in favor of brute strength. Some ponies over-thought things too much and got themselves into trouble when all that was needed was the application of a little (or a lot) of force.

The upper story of the house was divided into small bedrooms, once the abodes of ponies living the Equestrian dream. Now the hallway leading to those bedrooms was covered in blood, and even I felt a little ill as I gingerly walked around a pool of blood forming on the upper landing. Two bodies were the source of the blood in the hallway, both obviously raiders (or at least dressed like degenerated raiders usually dress – lots of leather and cutie-mark patches, spikes, scalps, tails, junk fitted into patchwork armor, the usual), and both very, very dead. One had a brand new face made of plasma burns, and the other sported a new, jagged smile across her neck from the buzz saw. Crescent Wrench didn’t even make it past the landing. She was vomiting, the sight of all of this carnage too much for her. Shimmercoat also looked far more pale than normal. The sounds of combat faded and I heard MG-MS11’s voice crackle, “Mission complete! That’ll show ‘em! Hoo ahh!”

“Geeze, ya big robot. You really fucked ‘em up, didn’t you? Couldn’t you have left one for us to talk to? We need to know if more of ‘em are up ahead or not.” Matchstick said from the room MG-MS11 was in. Hiss bark-hissed, in apparent agreement. I trotted into the room they were talking in, the room the raiders had been shooting at us from across the street from. It was a foal’s room, two cribs set up on the far wall, with an empty toy-box on the opposite side. Blood splattered the lamb-and-duck printed wallpaper, and three more raider bodies were here in various states of dismemberment. One was missing its head, with it nowhere to be found. Matchstick looked unconcerned with the bodies, only disappointed that MG-MS11 didn’t leave any alive, while Hiss was sitting next to the robot looking up at him.

He was pretty badly battered; obviously the raiders hadn’t given up without a fight. Various dents and perforations dotted his chassis, and he was listing to one side. One of his four photo-sensor arms hung limply, and the reason his voice was crackling became apparent as his speaker rotated into visibility. It was sporting a big hole… obviously it had taken a bullet. Blood was spattered all over his red-and-yellow paint job, his saw blade completely covered in it. Still, for taking on five armed raiders all by himself… with little to no tactics in mind… the medical Mr. Gutsy did quite well for himself.

Too bad we had no parts to repair him with. “So… MG-MS11… uh, report.” I said hesitantly, worried about his condition.

“Yes –ir!” MG-MS11’s voice crackled again, and buzzed a little before coming back. His voicebox had taken quite a hit, it seemed. “Five dirty striped bastards pacified, sir, with –inor damages to my chassis, a few red-dant components damaged beyond repair by shrapne- and my voice-synthesizer and number thre- photo-sensor at 25% efficiency rating, --r! I will require repaooorrrr…” MG-MS11’s voice dipped to a low register before turning off with an audible click. His listing increased, and one of his arms dipped to the floor to right himself before he tipped completely over.

“Well, that’s not good…” I muttered.

“Is MG-MS11 alright?” Crescent Wrench and Shimmercoat walked into the room, both pale, and both putting on a brave face, Shimmercoat more successfully than Crescent Wrench. The little filly, however, completely ignored the three bodies in the room when she saw what state MG-MS11 was in. “Oh Celestia!” she said, covering her mouth with her hooves before rushing to MG-MS11’s side. I frowned at the swear, but she continued before I could tell her that good little fillies didn’t take the princess’s name in vain. “He’s hurt! We need to repair him right away! Ohhh… does anypony know where to get parts for Mr. Gutsy or Handy models around here?” she asked, looking at me and Matchstick pleadingly, tears welling up in her eyes.

“Did the robot not say that General Atomareics manufactured several of his parts? This would be an excellent opportunity to try and find out some information about my origins, as well as repairing our bloodthirsty medic.” Mezzer said. I agreed.

“There’s a General Atomareics manufacturing building around here somewhere, close by.” I said, looking out the window. “MG-MS11 told us about it earlier…”

“Right, but didn’t he say it was a headquarters building?” Matchstick asked. “Would they make parts at a headquarters? That seems like a job for the factories.”

“But he did also mention that some of his parts were manufactured there, so I’m assuming that there are manufacturing facilities. And remember he’s a prototype model of Mr. Gutsy, they would keep their proprietary research at hoof in headquarters before shipping it out to the factories.” I said, smiling smugly for figuring this out.

“Well…” Crescent Wrench piped in, wiping her eyes and gingerly running her hooves over the dented and damaged sections of MG-MS11’s chassis. “I don’t want to disagree with you… but regular Mr. Gutsy and Handys were made by Robronco, not General Atomarics. At least, that’s what the Stable 11 repair guide on them said… he is a special unit, so it’s possible some of his parts are GA stuff… but a Robronco station would be better, or somewhere where we could get parts from there…”

“Robronco? That’s easy, Auction House has loads of Robronco robots in it, there’s sure to be a parts shop there.” I said.

Crescent Wrench breathed a deep sigh of relief, again looking like she was about to cry as she held MG-MS11 steady on his damaged hovering apparatus. Since when did she care so much about the robot? “Alright… can we stop for a second and let me take a look at him? Just to make sure if any special parts were damaged or not… though, I’d like to move to a different room…” Crescent paled again as she looked at MG-MS11’s aftermath.

“Yeah, Matchstick and I will loot the bodies, Shimmercoat, help her get the robot down the stairs.” I ordered, and he nodded, glad to have an excuse to go where the dead bodies weren’t. Stable ponies… I mean, Shimmercoat was reacting better than Crescent, who was still dry-heaving as she accidentally stepped in a pool of blood on her way out, but then again, that was probably because he had actually killed ponies before as Overstallion of Stable 11.

“Ah, the time honored tradition of looking through pockets for loose change.” Matchstick grinned, and started stripping down one of the bodies, the smell of cooking flesh as she lifted the body and kept contact with it for too long wafting my way, making me feel nauseated, and disturbingly a little hungry as well. My wounds from jumping out without the cover of Shimmercoat’s shield hurt much more now as the adrenaline in my system wore down. I gasped in pain as one of them flared up angrily as I turned the wrong way to look through a saddlebag tossed on the ground.

“You okay?” Matchstick asked. Hiss came up to me and whined, looking as concerned as a snake-headed dog can look.

“Oh yeah, just a few bullet holes, it happens… wish I had a… oh, lookie there.” I said, discovering what appeared to be the raider’s medical supplies. Healing bandages, a few doses of Dash (not that I would use them, good little fillies don’t do drugs), some rad-away, and a few healing potions! I immediately downed one, feeling the perforations in my hide seal up and the pains fade away as I healed. I sighed in relief, and pocketed the rest of the stuff in my own saddlebag. The rest of the healing potions would probably go to MG-MS11 once he was fixed, and the rest of the stuff would no doubt come in handy.

“Was that some Dash in there?” Matchstick asked, peering over my shoulder at the loot.

“Why, you a user?” I asked. “Cause I can’t really afford to keep you in the habit if you are.”

“Naw, I’m not addicted or anything…” Matchstick said, waving a hoof in my direction in a dismissing manner, and rolling her eyes dramatically. “Sometimes it helps me in combat though. You know, helps me move faster, react quicker, that sort of thing. Dash also heats me up hotter too.”

“Right…” I said, unamused. “Well, I’ll just hold onto it, and if we need you hotter than you are, I might consider giving it up, otherwise it’s useful trading stock.

“That’s cool, that’s cool…” Matchstick said, shrugging. I couldn’t tell if she was serious or not. In any case, we finished looting the ammo, guns, food, water, and other supplies the raiders had, and joined the others downstairs.

“Got a little bit of everything.” I said. “Looks like these guys were living here, maybe ambushing travelers and living off the loot. We should be set on food and water for a few days. They even had some Insta Mash.”

“Yech. I hate Insta Mash.” Shimmercoat said, sticking his tongue out.

“Fine. More for me.” I replied, rolling my eyes. Good thing he was my slave and I would take care of him, otherwise that picky attitude would get him killed one of these days. “In any case, this is a good find. I was worried how I was going to feed so many mouths.” Matchstick nodded, aware of such problems that plagued traveling groups, being the only other pony with me who had traveled the wastes extensively. We trotted downstairs, leaving the bodies of the raiders behind. Soon they’d be nothing but a few more of the many skeletons that decorated the wastes.

I glanced at MG-MS11. “I’d prefer if you didn’t go charging into situations that could get you damaged in the future…” I said. Granted, his actions had actually been a boon to us, since we were now well equipped for travel to the General Atomareics Headquarters building and beyond that to Auction House. But replacement parts and tools to fix him were going to be a challenge to find.

“Nonsense! A true Equestrian laughs in the face of the zebra menace!” the robot buzzed, his voice box making odd snapping noises. Crescent Wrench looked physically pained by his condition, and she helped MG-MS11 stay level on his damaged levitation talisman. As soon as we got to the headquarters building, I needed to dive into his matrices and reprogram him a little… he was far more valuable as a medic than a combat robot.

“So… they’re really dead?” Crescent Wrench asked. She looked like she was about to cry.

“Huh?” I asked. This wasn’t the first time Crescent had seen death… she shouldn’t be so reactive to it, right?

This is the first time that she has seen freshly dead ponies up close and personal. The other times the corpses were either far away or pecked clean by crows. Mezzer mentioned. As far as I could remember, he was right.

“Yeah, your robot buddy there did quite a number on ‘em.” Matchstick said, grinning. “Just a few more scum of the wastes that didn’t have the skills to survive, if one little Mr. Gutsy was all it took to wipe ‘em out. Good riddance.”

Crescent started to tear up. “Uh…” I said stupidly. What was I supposed to do? I looked in my pack for what cheered me up as a little filly when I was sad, but the raiders unfortunately didn’t have any Twinkie Pinkies.

“There, there, it’s alright, Crescent.” Shimmercoat said, drawing the beige filly into a hug as she started to cry in earnest. MG-MS11 hovered next to them, sputtering on occasion.

“W-w-why are… Ponies… We’re all ponies!!” Crescent Wrench burst out suddenly. “Why can’t things be like they were in the Stable?! Things were tough, but we at least treated each other with… we didn’t shoot each other! We didn’t kill ponies needlessly!!” She sobbed into Shimmercoat’s chest, his expression looking decidedly guilty. “I thought maybe we’d… w-we’d just run into bad ponies like that crow lady… o-or that griffon…” she continued, muffled slightly by Shimmercoat’s jumpsuit. “But everypony is like this! Even nice ones! Grinder and Hotshot almost shot us! Even Coin has… is…” she broke down into sobs, but I knew she was referring to my… occupation.

Shimmercoat glanced at us, apparently as lost with crying fillies as the rest of us. He patted her head and just repeated, “There… there… we’re trying… we’ll find a place with nice ponies… we’ve got each other…”

MG-MS11 crackled as he played a small fanfare and said, “-ow morale detecte-!! Cheer up, soldier! Remember that every zebra dead is a zebra that can’t cause harm to our beautiful nation of Equestria! Let’s kick this war in the teeth, and be home for Hearth’s Warming Eve!”

Surprisingly, Crescent Wrench chuckled at this outburst. “Heh… I bet you see Equestria as a nice place… MG-MS11…” she murmured something else, something I didn’t catch, but Shimmercoat looked pretty nervous about whatever it was.

“Well, come on, let’s get him to the Atomareics building, huh? And get out of here too…” Shimmercoat said, standing up and wiping Crescent’s tears away. She nodded and got to her hooves too, using her body to help balance MG-MS11 as he hovered out of the house.

An awkward silence followed as we finished up looting the house. There was the usual stuff you found in places like this, a few caps, some common caliber ammo, and maybe the odd healing potion or piece of preserved food. Matchstick Flare looked like she was thinking about something. “Hey…” she said.

“Yeah?” I replied. Hiss was sniffing around a small pool of blood that was starting to leak down through the ceiling from upstairs. I hoped he wouldn’t start drinking it, that probably wouldn’t be good.

“Is Crescent Wrench… Shimmercoat’s… are they…” she stammered, looking everywhere but at me, rubbing her left hoof on her right foreleg.

“As far as I know, no, they aren’t related.” I said, guessing her question. “Though, since they came from the same Stable, they’re probably distant relatives, what with the limited gene pool and all. Is that a problem?”

“No! No, I just…” Matchstick sighed. “I’ve never been too good with kids… not being able to comfort them like that if they’re upset… Walnut was always the mom of the group, she’d get Peanut and other foals that we met from time to time cheered up in nothing flat. They’d think I was fucking cool, of course, but if there were ever a problem, I wouldn’t be the one to see. Unless that problem could be solved with fire.” Matchstick looked out a grimy window, a distant look in her eye, and I had the distinct feeling that she wasn’t looking out the window to check out the scenery. “Anyways, I was just wondering if my new boy-toy you… uh… sold me had any kids. It’s an important detail!” she blushed.

I giggled… for some reason the idea of Shimmercoat having kids struck me as funny, even though his stupid-sexy-stallion-ness probably meant that he might actually have children in Stable 11… I never asked. If he did, and hadn’t mentioned them thus far, that probably meant that he didn’t know they were his, or didn’t care about them all that much. The former seemed more likely than the latter, if he did indeed had kids at all. “That it is. Though they are close, ‘cause like I said, they came from the same Stable.” I said as we trotted out of the house, finished with our looting.

Crescent Wrench was still propping up MG-MS11, and she looked a little less sick and upset now that she was away from all the carnage. Shimmercoat was scanning the area, on the lookout for anypony or anything out of the ordinary. Probably relying more on his EFS than his eyes… I doubted he could see far even with those glasses.

“Alright, we got some food and supplies for the trek ahead!” I announced, pleased at the outcome of this little encounter. Sure, it was a little grisly, but those raiders would have done the same or worse to us, and we were set for a journey now. “Let’s head towards that General Atomareics building, see if we can get some repairs done on Sergeant Charge-On-In over there. I’ll need to get him opened up anyways to dive into his matrices and reprogram him to make sure he doesn’t do stuff like that again, that’s just asking for trouble.” I said, and with that, we trotted out into the constant drizzle of the wasteland.


Fog settled down after the light rain after an hour or two of trotting in the general direction of the headquarters building. Visibility was reduced to nearly zero and the going was slow as we avoided the rubble of fallen skyscrapers in the streets. From the rubble, I could tell that we had passed from the suburban outskirts of the old-world city to what used to be the industrial sector; less ruined houses, more ruined factories. We more than once had to navigate around fallen smokestacks or through truck fleets parked in maze-like patterns. The three of us with PipBucks were keeping a nervous eye on our EFS, as this was the perfect opportunity for something, or somepony, to ambush us.

I heard something, a sort of snuffling noise. “Everypony stop!” I ordered, and we all halted in our tracks, ears turning and eyes open, looking and listening for any movement whatsoever. Everything had stilled… the fog amplified the silence, if that made any sense.

Hiss walked in front of me, making that same snuffling noise that I just heard. He was sniffing the air with his mouth open, his forked tongue whipping back and forth.

“What’s the matter boy?” I asked. “You smell somethi…”

Hiss growl-hissed, his tail rattling, his head swiveling back and forth, eyes darting from side to side. We all drew our weapons. Things could sneak past EFS, but a dog’s (or facsimile thereof) nose is rarely ever wrong. Hiss turned invisible, though we could still hear his tail rattling.

The seconds drug out to minutes. Nothing happened. Hiss stopped growling and went visible again, and after a while his hackles fell and he started to act like normal again. “Whatever that was, it must’ve gone away…” Matchstick said, not sounding very sure about it.

“Either that or it moved downwind.” Shimmercoat said, keeping his .44 mag out and ready to fire. “I don’t like this fog… even with EFS, something could easily get the drop on us.”

“Let the bastards come, I say! We’ll give ‘em what for! Give ‘em what for! Give ‘em what for! Give ‘em what for! Give ‘em what for!…” MG-MS11 started repeating himself until Crescent gave him a gentle tap on the voice box. “Error, vocal unit damaged.” he then said, going silent.

“We need to find some parts for him! What if he’s in pain?” Crescent Wrench asked.

“Robots don’t feel pain… do they?” Matchstick Flare said, looking to Shimmercoat and I.

“No, they don’t.” we both replied at the same time.

“They could! Sometimes when I was fixing the Stable robots… they seemed… relieved somehow that they were better after I repaired them.” Crescent Wrench said, frowning at us. “They might not express it the same way we do, but I think robots hurt when they’re damaged!”

“While this is a riveting debate… pardon the pun…” Mezzer said, “but I do not think this is the place to be having such a discussion. Let us move on before something decides we are a tasty snack that is obligingly standing still and making lots of noise.”

“Good idea…” I said.

“Thanks!” Crescent Wrench replied, smiling.

“Huh? Oh, right… uh…” I remembered that Mezzer was unheard to anypony but myself. I really needed to make sure that I got out of the habit of replying to him out loud. It’d no doubt get me in trouble some day. “In any case, we should move on before whatever Hiss smelled decides to come back.”

We continued cautiously, watching the swirling fog for any disturbances, keeping an eye on our EFS, and slowly making progress towards our destination. After another half-hour of excruciating tenseness, the location marker on my PipBuck began to flash faster, a sign that we were near our target location.

“Looks like we’re nearly there…” Shimmercoat said, confirming my PipBuck’s assurances. How it knew where the General Atomareics Headquarters building was from us just mentioning it in casual conversation I would never know. Probable pre-war satellites… or magic. I guess it didn’t really matter. The fact was we were here.

A green glow emanated from the fog as we got closer, and like a giant radscorpion emerging out of a cave’s gloom, the building faded into view from the depths of the fog. Its windows were emitting a sickly green glow, and as we got closer, our PipBucks started to click ominously. Magical radiation.

“Well that’s just perfect.” Shimmercoat said, frowning at his PipBuck as I thought the same sentiment. “We need shelter until this fog passes, otherwise we’re going to be jumped.”

“For once, we agree.” I replied. “I think those raiders had a few doses of Rad-X…” I dug through my bags, looking for them.

“You can use the inventory sorting spell on your PipBuck to find them, you know.” Shimmercoat said, smirking.

“Oh, right.” I blushed, and opened up that menu on the Stable-Tec device. What? I wasn’t a Stable pony, so I wasn’t quite used to all this thing’s features quite yet.

“You’re seriously considering taking shelter in an irradiated building?” Matchstick Flare looked at us like we were crazy. “Are you fucking crazy?” Yep, that’s what that look meant.

“If we have Rad-X, it won’t be so bad…” I said, scrolling down the menu. Ooo, there were YumYum Deviled Eggs in there… “And I’d rather soak a few rads then become some fog-monster’s dinner. Plus…” I added, gesturing towards the eerie green building. “if they worked with radioactive materials, chances are that they’re medical bay, or first-aid kits, or whatever they have in there, probably has some Rad-Away in it, which we could use after the fog lifts, or if the rads get a little too intense. Plus I know a few tricks to avoiding the worst of the rads in irradiated areas… it’ll be fine…” I gave a reassuring grin. Matchstick did not look convinced. “Ah, here it is! Three doses!” I looked at our little group. “…drat.”

“Yeah, there’re four of us… five if you count the furball.” Matchstick said, gesturing towards Hiss, who tilted his head at her. “I still say it’s a bad idea to go fishing around in hot buildings… and I don’t mean this kind of hot.” she waved her hoof through her fiery tail.

“Well, we could wait out here until the fog…” I started, but just then, Hiss’s hackles raised, and he growl-hissed again, staring straight behind me. Crescent Wrench, MG-MS11, and Matchstick were standing next to him, while Shimmercoat and I were facing them. So Shimmercoat and I could see the looks of horror appear on the non-robot’s faces as they looked behind… and above… us.

Something wet dripped onto my shoulder. I didn’t need to examine it to know it was drool from some beast that had decided I would be a tasty snack. And it was standing right behind me. A deep-throated growl emerged from about three feet above my head, and I did the most sensible thing anypony in this particular situation could do.

“RUUUUUUUUUUUNNNN!!” I screamed, bolting. Shimmercoat was right next to me, his horn glowing, presumably putting up a shield behind us. Everypony in front of us turned tail and ran for the safe haven of the radioactive headquarters building. Shimmercoat grunted, then looked at me, panicked.

“It tore right through my shield!” he shouted. This fun little piece of info encouraged me to move my hooves faster, and we caught up to the others in the blink of an eye.

In fact, we were just about to pass Crescent Wrench, who was slowed down by the bulk of the crippled MG-MS11. “Come on!” I shouted, even as I ran next to her. I swear I could hear pounding footsteps behind us.

“We can’t leave him behind!” Crescent shouted back, looking like she was about to burst into tears from sheer panic.

“Argh! Shimmercoat, help me out here!” I ordered, my horn glowing, a similar glow wrapping around the prototype Mr. Gutsy. Shimmercoat’s glow joined mine, and we telekinetically dragged the robot along as we all fled for our lives into the radioactive embrace of the General Atomareics Headquarters building. Matchstick got there first, and was holding the door for the rest of us as we all rushed in. Once we were all inside, she slammed the door shut, her eyes wide.

“Keep going!!” she shouted. “I don’t think the door will hold it!”

We ran further inside, past what was probably some sort of entry hall and into the main building itself. Our PipBucks were merrily ticking faster and faster the deeper we went in, but I’d rather have to deal with rad sickness later then being-something’s-lunch-sickness now. After a few twisty hallways and a set of stairs later, we slowed down to catch our breath and take stock of our surroundings.

“We… all… here?” I panted. A quick headcount showed that we were. “Alright… here… you three take the Rad-X, I’ll try to find some later, there’s got to be some somewhere if they… worked… with radioactive… materials…” I took a few deep breaths to calm down. “What was that thing?” I hadn’t gotten a look at it like Matchstick and Crescent did.

Crescent was pale and shivering as she munched down her Rad-X, but Matchstick was a little better composed… if still pale. “I couldn’t tell for sure in the fog…” she said. “But I think it might have been a hellhound.”

“Hellhound?” Shimmercoat asked. “Thanks for this, by the way…” he held up his dose of Rad-X before chewing it down.

“Slaves first… the Auctioneer way…” I smiled. “And if it was a hellhound, it must’ve been a sick one. Or blind. A full-grown healthy hellhound would have had us all as hamburger in seconds.” Crescent Wrench managed to lose more color, and started to cry, hugging MG-MS11’s thruster and shaking in fear. Shimmercoat looked at her worryingly.

“What are they?” he asked, going over to Crescent and gently tugging her from the robot, hugging her and trying to calm her down.

“You heard ‘o Diamond Dogs?” Matchstick Flare asked.

“From Stable books, yeah.” Shimmercoat said, nodding.

“Well make ‘em three times fucking larger, six times more fucking territorial, and twenty times more fucking ready to eat anypony who’s stupid enough to set hoof on their turf.” she said, making wild hoof gestures. None of this was helping Crescent’s composure.

I frowned. “Was all that cursing really necessary?” I asked.

“Fuck yeah, when you’re talking about hellhounds.” Matchstick replied. “Good thing we went to the second floor. They’ll dig up right under you, and swoosh, yer fuckin dead, mate… though that one was pretty tall… we should probably go higher…”

“I think we get it, Matchstick…” Shimmercoat said, looking meaningfully at the tearful filly in his hooves.

“T-t-t-t-they… came… from…b-b-behind…” she stammered.

“Matchstick is right, though… let’s get higher. Just in case…” I said. I was starting to get a metallic taste on the roof of my mouth… not a good sign. I needed to find some Rad-X quick… we had a couple doses of Rad-Away, but that’d have to be reserved for when we wanted to clean ourselves after we left here. I made a mental note to check any bathrooms for first-aid kits, as that was generally where they were they could be found.

We trotted around the second floor, looking for an unblocked stairwell or working elevator. Or a handy hole in the ceiling that we could climb through. The place was a mess. Because of the radiation, there was actually quite a bit of good salvage lying around, due to the fact that all but the bravest, most desperate, craziest, or stupidest scavengers generally avoid radioactive buildings if they can help it. Some of the salvage was from the saddlebags of skeletons in the hallways that were probably scavvies who stayed a little too long… unfortunately, though, no Rad-X was to be found on this floor, not even in the bathrooms (though there were a few health potions, which was always nice). Eventually we found a stairwell we could climb, and we did, with haste… just in case that hellhound decided it wanted to try and come from below. We didn’t know where it was, and frankly, I wanted to keep it that way.

“Woah!” I said as we reached the third floor. My EFS had lit up with red bars… there were things in here! Hostile things! “There are…” I started, drawing my rifle.

“I see ‘em. Don’t worry too much about it… they’re probably on the floor above us, if they just appeared now.” Shimmercoat said. “EFS doesn’t account for elevation, and since they didn’t show up on the second floor, that means that they aren’t on the third floor… in theory.”

“Whatever they are…” Crescent muttered, obviously still scared.

“Probably ghouls, if I were to guess. Wish I had one of them Pip-thingys” Matchstick said. Hiss looked up at the ceiling and growled.

“Yep, above us. Let’s stick to this floor if we can…” Shimmercoat said, looking at me with… was that concern? I glanced at my PipBuck… 145 rads… that wasn’t good. “Are you okay? You’re starting to look a little… stretched thin.”

“I’m fine… really…” I coughed, and my hoof came away from my mouth with a small droplet of blood. Not a good sign. “I’ll need some Rad-X quickly, though, or we’re going to have to leave… let’s look around bathrooms and offices for first-aid kits…”

We split into two groups, Crescent Wrench, MG-MS11, Hiss, and I in one, Shimmercoat and Matchstick Flare in the other, and began to search. This particular floor had a long string of offices down long hallways that turned at strange intervals… it was kind of disorganized, not a block setup like I was used to in office buildings. This was because some of the offices were much larger than others. I took a wild guess and figured that since this was a headquarters building, whoever had a larger office in here had more power in the company. Those with power within companies generally had, among other things, well-stocked medicine cabinets. I wandered into the largest office I could find, after having failed to spot any bathrooms when I was trotting down the hallway. My PipBuck continued to click ominously, and it notified me that I now had minor rad poisoning… though the onset of a headache and pervasive taste of blood in my mouth, along with just generally feeling weaker, could have told me that.

The office’s centerpiece was a grand wooden desk of enormous proportions, shaped like a horseshoe and wrapping around a large, spacious chair so big it was almost a couch… dwarfing the pony skeleton lying in it. There was a smaller desk near the door, still quite nice, though not nearly as expensive looking… it also had a pony skeleton still sitting in its chair… a boss and their secretary, perpetually at work for over two centuries… I shook my head and looked around some more. There was a terminal on both desks, the secretary’s was busted, its screen blown out, but the one on the big desk was still powered up and glowing a soft green light on the ancient corpse in the big chair. An empty robot charging station was tucked into the corner next to a large picture window, behind the boss’s desk. Bookshelves lined the walls, filled with decaying or burned books that had probably been only for show anyways, if I were to guess. I looked behind the door, but there was no butterfly-adorned case waiting for me… I coughed again, more blood spattering onto my hoof. “If… if I get to 400 rads, we’re leaving, hellhound or no hellhound…” I said. While I was fine with temporary rad poisoning opposed to facing such a beast, I did not want to die from said poisoning either.

“Coin! I found something!” Crescent Wrench said, looking under the secretary’s desk. She grunted, and I heard bolts pop as she pulled free a first-aid box from the floor under the desk, setting it on top. My hopes shot up.

“Is there Rad-X in there? Or Rad-Away?” I asked, trotting up next to her.

“It’s locked…” she said, frowning. “Who would lock a medical box?”

“Somepony with some drugs they didn’t want stolen… search that desk, I’m going to check the big one. Maybe one of these two had the key.” I said, gesturing at our bony companions. It was actually a heartening thing to see that the box was locked… that meant value, and it meant that this box hadn’t been raided since the bombs fell. All we needed to do was crack it open… unfortunately, those boxes are tough customers, and while I have picked a lock or two in my day, those were mostly locks on bomb collars… more conventional locks proved to be a bit trickier for me. I generally tried to find a key first before going at one with pins and screwdriver. A process which usually ends with me trying to force the lock, which doesn’t work sometimes.

Hiss followed me over to the big desk as I walked around it, sitting on the floor next to the skeleton in the chair. I lifted up a small square of metal… a plaque. A nameplate to be exact, after dusting it off, I saw the name “Square Notch. Nice to meet you, Mr. Notch.” I said to the skeleton. “Mind if I poke around your desk? No? Fan…tastic… ugh…” my breath petered out as I finished my sentence… rad sickness wasn’t fun at all. I started opening and closing drawers, finding a 10mm pistol and some ammo, and lots of paperwork, but no key. “Come on… where is it? There’s a key to every lock, right?” I moaned. All too often those keys were lost to the mists of time, especially when you really needed into something that was locked.

Hiss whined, pawing at the glowing terminal on top of the desk. “Huh? What is it, boy?” I asked, looking at the screen. It was logged out, waiting for a password that had also probably long since been lost to the mists of time… but this was a problem I was well equipped to solve. “Keep an eye on things, Hiss…” I said, closing my eyes. My horn glowed as a focused my magic… who needs hacking when you’ve got a spell that gives you direct access to most magical matrices? My vision swam, and the darkness behind my eyelids began to become decorated with flowing streamers of data, highways for my magic to ride on. There was one to the terminal, another to Crescent and I’s PipBucks, and one pointing towards MG-MS11. I’d check him out later, maybe there was something useful on this computer in front of me… I dived towards it with my magic.

The first thing I saw inside the computer’s code was the Robronco code signature, of course. It was the most common thing to run into on terminals and robots when I went matrix diving. It was also usually the doorway to the larger part of the matrix… something here was off though. The switch to trick the terminal into reading a ‘true’ on password acceptation was… missing! I frantically looked around the matrix, stuck at the entrance to the machine… there had to be something wrong! Lines of colored code ran forward into the terminal, supposedly coming from whatever mainframe was in this building feeding it its info. Maybe I could get around the login screen by going through there… I focused my magic, and jumped from the password line to the mainframe line, letting the flow of code guide my way in… there! I was inside the terminal’s mainframe connection, able to see the lines of code that made up the terminal itself. And boy, was this place a mess… snarls of corrupted code lines lay twisted and torn, pointing every which-way in an irreparable knot of data. Hopefully nothing important to my survival was there; because there was no way I was going to be able to access it. Matrices in terminals had a habit of decaying over time… sometimes you could sort through it, but it took a very long time and was mostly a fruitless endeavor, as all you uncovered was some dirty emails between two desk jockeys or something inane like that. Here, however, there were a few lines of the matrix that I could magically trot across without running into any snarls, code that hadn’t decayed. The most resilient stuff was the stuff that was generally the most important (generally, there were exceptions to the rule), so I shifted those lines from their ‘storage’ flow to their ‘display’ flow, bypassing the need to log into the terminal to get it to display what I wanted. Bingo. With that done, I backed out of the colorful code lines and disengaged my magic from the matrix, opening my eyes again to be greeted by the filenames of what I had just pulled up onto the terminal.


>Re: 10/01/77

>MG-MS Prototypes: Problems, Require Assistance

>Mesmetron Fuel Cells

>Followup On Mesmetrf2sghu23asl/aew

That last one was probably corrupted, but the others seemed intact. “Coin!” Mezzer piped up in my head. “There are some entries on what I am! We must read them!”

“I see them.” I thought back. “I’m still mad at you for rooting through memories you had no right to go through, though. I’ll read those files for my own curiosity, but I let you know right now we have bigger issues on our hooves then figuring out your own personal history, first and foremost finding me some rad medication. Secondly is repairing our medic. If we happen to stumble across some information about you along the way, very well, but I’m certainly not going to go out of my way to find it after what you did to me.”

“But! I did nothing that thou would not have done to thyse…” Mezzer started, but I was not in the mood to argue with my gun. Again.

“Fine. I just won’t read those files. I don’t really need to anyway.” I thought with a smug tone.

“I apologized though!” Good grief I didn’t know Mezzer could whine.

Rolling my eyes, I opened the darn file he was so interested in. I was curious about it too, which was the only reason why I opened it. He immediately shut up. “Don’t whine at me. It’s my choice whether you get your answers or not, because it’s my body and my brain you’re residing in. I didn’t ask for your accompaniment, and while you saved my life, that doesn’t mean I’m going to kowtow to your every whim. Got it?”

“As thou says.” Mezzer replied. Good, maybe he’d start being more polite and less demanding about anything to do with him. I read the file I just pulled up.

>We tried modifying the microwave emitter like you said, Mr. Notch, but it didn’t seem to produce the desired effects, still melting the target rather than stunning them. However, one of our interns, Sunshine Daises, had a breakthrough though when she was preparing the ammunition for the emitter, much to our surprise and joy. She replaced some of the regular fusion isotopes with a special brew her coltfriend in R&D had provided her with (illegally, but we’re glossing over that). It’s some of the same stuff used to stabilize the M.E.D.I-Gun’s reactions to healing potions. Anyways, it worked, and instead of blasting high-frequency microwaves, the emitter now has the desired effect of stunning the target, making them susceptible to suggestions for a short period of time. There are a few bugs that are still being worked out (most notably the ‘rage’ and ‘cranial fragmentation’ problems), but I’d say that the Mesmetron is just about ready to be mass-produced for riot police all over Equestria. I’ll send the specifics over in my next message.

~Wavy Wind

I checked the other message, but it was as I suspected, nothing but garbled code and indecipherable symbols. Still, that was interesting. “Happy?” I asked.

“… yes. I thank thee.” Mezzer said… he sounded disappointed to me, though. He was probably expecting more, but didn’t want to piss me off any further. He was learning, imagine that.

I selected the first of the other three files, wanting to get through them as fast as possible. The rad sickness was starting to give me a migraine, and I needed to see if this thing mentioned medical or a key anywhere.

>Date: 10/01/77

Hey there, boss! Hehe, I’m so proud of you! This is your mother, over at Stable-Tec… isn’t e-mail just darling? Anyways, I wanted to congratulate you on your promotion to General Manager over at General Atomareics, and invite you over to dinner tonight. Your brother is visiting, you know, and I think he’d like to see you before he goes off on one of his little adventures again. You two are the jewels of this family, I can’t thank you enough for what you two have accomplished for us! Anyways, I’ve got to get back to work, and I’m sure you do too, so I’ll see you later! I love you!!

~Highlight Sparks

Wait a second… I recognized that name! That was the first Overmare of Stable 11! She was just a construction worker before she was saddled with being the boss of a Stable, if I recalled correctly. So her sons had been up in the world, huh? I glanced at the skeleton reclining on the big chair. Square Notch had met the same fate as his mother, unfortunately… though it’d be freaky if he’d survived till now, what with it being over 200 years past the end of the world. I opened his response.


Date: 10/01/77

Hey ma. Thanks, but I’ve got lots of work I need to catch up on, as you said, being promoted means a lot of new responsibilities! I’ll catch up with Top later, if he can stay in one spot for more than ten minutes. I’ll have some time off for Nightmare Night, so I’ll come and visit then. Love ya.

~Square Notch

I frowned. If my dates were correct, I think the world ended before Nightmare Night that October in 2077. Square never got to say goodbye to his ma… and she suffered a terrible fate in the Stable she sought shelter in… Despite my own situation, I felt pretty sad at the unfairness of it all. Why couldn’t things have gone… better?

“Is something wrong?” Crescent Wrench asked, looking over at me.

“No, no… just some e-mails that were sent to ponies long ago.” I replied, exiting out and selecting the last terminal entry.

>Boss, there’s some issues we’re having with some of the prototype MG-MS series. Their equipment is fine; in fact, the newest tests of the M.E.D.I-Gun are better than ever, we’ve even managed to reduce the radiation output so that it can be used safely around soldiers in the battlefield, though it still has to be mounted on a robot. The MOP is ecstatic about this, by the way. It’s the A.I. programs that are starting to act up… we caught MG-MS14 trying to slice poor Sunshine Daises in half when she was visiting her coltfriend, and MG-MS02 is showing signs of what I swear is depression. I know the different types of A.I. are meant to show different results, but if one of them gets loose… not that that will happen, of course, but if one of them does, I don’t think they’ll reflect the best this company has to offer. Should I shut down the more volatile experiments, or keep them going as per the schedule?

Also, we’re having an R&D potluck up here on the fifth floor next Thursday, and we’d be happy to see you there.

~Quantum Flux

That was interesting… I knew MG-MS11 had had parts manufactured here, because that’s what he told us, but I didn’t know that primary research concerning the prototypes A.I.’s also happened here. If anything, this was heartening news, because that meant we might be able to find replacement parts for his repairs on the fifth floor. Past all the red marks floating around my EFS, of course.

“Ah! Found it!” Crescent Wrench said, clapping her hooves together before picking up a small key from the bottom of one of the drawers she was searching. “Sorry it took so long…” she said around the key in her mouth as she worked open the first-aid box. “Yay! Coin, there’s lots of radiation medicine here!” she squeed as the box popped open and she got a look at the contents. I made haste over to Square Notch’s secretary’s desk and grabbed a dose of Rad-X in my telekinesis, took it quickly, and washed it down with a dose of Rad-Away. In a few minutes, my headache was fading, the taste of blood was gone, and I was feeling much better. Just to be safe, I sucked down another Rad-Away… there were around thirteen doses in this box, and just as many Rad-X’s!

“Wow, somepony was really prepared for radioactive exposure…” Crescent muttered, her eyes widening as I dumped the case into my saddlebags. That handy inventory sorter spell on my PipBuck would take care of the organization. I think I love this little device.

“And I am forever in their debt… whew…” I said, relieved that the environment was no longer poisoning me so quickly. “Thanks, Square.” I said, turning to the skeleton in the office. He was probably the one that stocked the first-aid kit, since it was his office. I turned to the secretary. “And thanks for holding onto the key. Alright, Crescent, lets get out of here. I found some info on that terminal, we might be able to get replacement parts for MG-MS11 on the fifth floor. Let’s meet up with the others and work out a plan to get up there.” I checked my PipBuck’s rad counter as I told her this, just to be sure that I was actually okay. I now only had 60 rads in my body, and the rate I was absorbing radiation from the environment was now reduced to something I could safely ignore for the time being, thanks to the Rad-X. We also now had enough Rad-X to keep us set for a while, a good thing by my book.

“That’s great!” Crescent beamed. She was still propping up the damaged robot. “I think his voicebox gave out, he hasn’t said much since we came in here…” now she sounded worried.

“You’ll be able to fix him if we get the right parts, right?” I asked.

“I’ll need the right tools as well, but those should be here if they were making parts for Mr. Gustys.” she replied. “I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to do it… they’re not that different from Mr. Handys…” she sounded nervous.

“I know you’ll be able to handle it, it’s your special talent, after all.” I reassured her, patting her on the head. Crescent smiled, and nodded. “C’mon, let’s go find Shimmercoat and Matchstick… hopefully they aren’t snogging in a broom closet somewhere…”

“We could just track Shimmercoat with our PipBucks.” Crescent pointed out. “He’s that way.” she said, pointing.

“Right… I love these things.” I said, following the little tag towards Shimmercoat. Before trotting down the hallway though, I closed my eyes and said a little prayer to Celestia, before closing the office door, leaving Square Notch and his nameless secretary to their rest.

Level up! (Lv. 11)

New Perk: Fast Metabolism: Healing items seem to process faster and more efficiently through your system, making them heal more wounds and poisons faster then ever before!

Author’s Note: A new chapter, just in time for Christmas! Or at least, that’s when I finished typing it, hopefully the editors will get back to me quick and I can publish it around then. If you’re getting this after Christmas, though, don’t blame them, I am a bit slow with the publishing, as you’ve all probably noticed. EDIT: Woo! They came through, and this thing is out earlier than I thought it would be! Merry Christmas everypony! (Hearth’s Warming, whatever ^.^ )

And, again I hate to do this, but I might as well mention it, cause it is the holiday season after all :D What that all means is that my broke-ness just keeps getting worse. If you’d like to help a fellow brony out, my paypal is slinkyjeff@hotmail.com. Feel free to toss me a line there if you want to tell me something, cause that’s also my email ;)

I’ll repeat what I said last chapter, I’m not quite the begging type, and I happen to be a fairly good pony plush crafter, or so I’m told. I have examples of my work on my deviantart, sirleadhead.deviantart.com, right in my gallery. If you want a reasonably priced pony plush of any type, be it OC, fallout equestria related, or even a cannon pony (gasp), then by all means contact me! My prices are listed on my deviantart, but they are totally negotiable, and if you really want one, but are a few bucks short, I’m certain we could work out some sort of deal ;) .

Thank you for reading, and if you got any questions or comments, feel free to slap a comment on down there at the fimfic entry for this story. Love you guys! :D

HUGE thanks to Kkat for writing Fallout: Equestria and giving us sidefic writers a great big sandbox to play in. Also thanks to Lesolan, Shimmercoat, and Wirepony for help editing and proofreading this slog to make it something enjoyable. Really couldn’t do this without you guys. And thanks to all who hang out at the Sidefic Compilation doc for providing feedback and inspiration to write my own story. Also thanks to Bethesda and Hasbro for two great franchises. Hope you enjoy!

Chapter 11 > In which a building is climbed

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Chapter 11 > In which a building is climbed
“The humble and meek are thirsting for blood.”

Crescent, Hiss, MG-MS11 and I caught up with Matchstick Flare and Shimmercoat pretty quickly, thanks to the tag on Shimmercoat’s PipBuck. They weren’t in a broom closet like I had predicted, but in a small office, looking down at something on the ground. I guess I underestimated their ability to keep it in their metaphorical pants, which I suppose is a good thing. The last thing I needed to worry about was two slaves that couldn’t control themselves around each other, even if Matchstick fully deserved some alone time with Shimmercoat because of her condition. The office they were standing in had a crumpled desk and a few rusting file cabinets in it, and not much else. “Hey guys, we found some anti-rad medicine.” I said as we entered the room. It was warmer than the rest of the place… probably because of a certain mare on fire.

“You did? That’s a relief.” Shimmercoat said. “Check out what Matchstick and I found. You think you could use some of this, Crescent?”

They stepped aside, revealing the broken form of a robot that looked exactly like MG-MS11, red-and-yellow paint job and everything! After a closer inspection, the only difference was the designation emblazoned on the side, reading ‘MG-MS03.’ Apparently this was what remained of the third MG-MS prototype unit. It looked like it had been in some sort of fight, its armor was scarred and burnt, and it had large dents in its chassis. One of the eyestalks was missing, as was its buzz saw. Its M.E.D.I-Gun was broken in half. As soon as the robot’s remains were revealed, MG-MS11’s vocal unit sparked, and he took a wavering jet backwards, almost falling over until Crescent Wrench caught him. “Easy there, easy… it’s okay… I think seeing one of his line fallen makes him nervous.” Crescent said. “Though I can probably scavenge some parts off of this one…”

“From what I’ve seen of that robot, I don’t think he was nervous.” Matchstick said, smiling. “He was probably trying to say something patriotic and go charging off to find whoever did this, heh. Well, kiddo, if you need a cutting torch, I can try and melt through some metal for…”

Matchstick went silent as Crescent approached the dead robot and tore off a section of its chassis with a small grunt, revealing its inner components, some of which looked undamaged.

“Well fuck! You’re stronger than you look, Wrench!” Matchstick said, surprised. Crescent blushed, and shrugged, diving into the robot carcass with a pair of pliers that she pulled from her bag.

“You guys find anything else?” I asked Shimmercoat while we waited for Crescent Wrench to finish stripping the broken MG-MS unit of anything we could use to repair our own.

“I found some ammo for my pistol, and we found the body of a dead scavenger that was wearing some leather armor we can use to repair Matchstick’s armor.” Shimmercoat replied, showing the contents of his saddlebag to me. “Also found a few guns we can probably sell, along with some interesting looking books that I can read later…”

“Wow, you’re a natural scavenger, aren’t you, Overstallion?” I said, pleasantly surprised. The guns he had found were good quality 10mm pistols, common, but widely used both before and after the war. Those would sell quite easily. There was even the boxy shape of a laser pistol in there, and those sold even better than the 10mm. He had also found a few more healing potions, I noticed. To sell or use, healing potions were always valuable.

“Well, I surmised that out here in the wastes, supplies are what makes the world go round, right?” Shimmercoat flashed that signature smile of his at me, and continued. “If I make myself useful enough in other ways, perhaps it will not be... necessary... for me to contribute in other ways.” Other mares, was left unsaid. He was dancing around a tricky question, but I could understand what he wanted to know.

“Hold onto that thought.” I replied, saying neither yes nor no. If he turned out to make me more money being a scavenger-style slave then a sex slave, then by all means I was fine with that. He’d have to find some pretty good loot to outdo his good looks, though.

“There. The vocal unit on this one is busted too, unfortunately…” Crescent Wrench said, a little grease on her cheek as she came up from stripping down the broken robot. “I did find a stabilizer and some other useful parts, though. If we can get to a workbench, I can install them on Sargey and hopefully that will make him better! Oh, I also took what I could from that M.E.D.I-Gun. If ours gets broken, I’ll want to be able to repair it… though that will be easier with schematics, if we can find some… what?”

We were all giving her strange looks. Matchstick Flare was the one that broke the silence with a snort and a giggle, finally bursting out into laughter. “S-Sargey? Bwahahahahaha! Oh, that’s too rich! Oh, wow, of all the names I could come up with for that thing…” Crescent looked like she was about to cry again as Matchstick continued, but she was too caught up in her hilarity to notice. “I mean, think about it, ‘I’m the dreaded battle-robot-medic-of-doom, SARGEY!’ Bwahahahahaha!!” she laughed, her eyes clenched shut, waving her hooves around in the air when she mimicked MG-MS11’s voice.

“Um… Matchstick?” Shimmercoat said, putting a hoof on her shoulder. Matchstick wiped a quickly evaporating tear from her eye and looked at him, smiling. He nodded towards Crescent Wrench meaningfully. She looked distraught, obviously holding back tears and sniffling as she put robot parts into her bags.

“Oh… shit. Look honey, I'm… I'm sorry… fuck…” Matchstick said, holding out her hoof, then withdrawing it, knowing she couldn’t hug the young mare without hurting her.

We’re taking too long in here, remember the radiation. Mezzer helpfully pointed out.

“Why don’t we move on? We need to get to the fifth floor, that’s where the R&D department is, according to the terminal I read earlier.” I said, breaking the awkward silence. There wasn’t much I could do about Matchstick accidentally hurting Crescent’s feelings, even if the nickname she gave MG-MS11 was… strange. She was only 13, though, things like that were to be expected. “R&D is likely to have a place to work on robots, and the tools required to do so. We just have to get past all these red dots first…” I said. The hostile markers on my PipBuck had not gone away, and were probably going to be a tough obstacle between our goal and us, unless they were all bloatsprites. Which was unlikely.

“They might have been the ones that killed this MG-MS unit.” Shimmercoat said, looking at the damaged parts that were left after Crescent had stripped it clean. “Also…” he quickly whispered in my ear while Matchstick was looking worriedly at Crescent Wrench and Crescent was busy staring at the ground. “I’ll need to talk to you about Crescent at some point. It may be urgent… and she can’t be around.” I raised my eyebrow, but he backed away from my ear and wouldn’t say more about it.

“Oooo… kay. Well, any tactical suggestions before we head into what is probably a highly dangerous meat-grinder?” I said, hoisting Mezzer into the air with my telekinesis.

“Since this… building is so full of radiation, there’s probably ghouls up there, I’m guessing.” Matchstick Flare said, looking away from Crescent and visibly getting her head back in the game, standing up and heating her armor until the stovetops sewn into it were glowing an angry red-orange. “I’ll lead the charge… ghouls don’t last long against me.”

“This is a headquarters building of a presumably large corporate enterprise.” Shimmercoat pointed out. “I’d guess there’s also security robots and turrets as well. I’m surprised we haven’t bumped into any of those already, though by the looks of the dead scavengers we’ve found, they might have taken care of any hostiles up to this point already before we got here.”

“Um…” Crescent Wrench sniffled, then stood up, obviously trying to look brave and not hurt by what Matchstick had said. “I know how to shut down robots from behind if they don’t notice me…”

Hiss barked and stood next to Crescent, turning invisible, then visible again, looking her in the eyes as she looked nervously back.

“That’s what he did before he guided us between Red Eye’s patrols when you guys were captured.” Shimmercoat said, his eyes wide. “I think he’s offering to help you sneak! That freak of nature is smarter than he looks!” Hiss growled at him, but then sat there panting, looking at Crescent Wrench.

“Um… okay?” Crescent said, then squeaked in alarm when Hiss shoved his tail in her face.

“He wants you to grab hold of him so he can turn invisible and you’ll still be able to follow. Took me awhile to figure that out.” Shimmercoat said.

“So wait… your nightstalker is smart? Like, pony smart?” Matchstick had an incredulous look on her face.

“I don't know if I'd say pony smart, but...” I replied, also staring at Hiss in surprise. “One of these days, I need to figure out where he comes from. I ran into him wounded one night, healed him up and now he follows me around. He’s way smarter than the average nightstalker.”

“Huh. Weird.” Matchstick said, probably voicing everypony’s opinion on the mutant coyote.

Crescent Wrench gingerly held Hiss’s tail in her mouth, by the rattle, and he turned invisible, making it look like she was standing there gaping. I stifled a chuckle, she didn’t need her feelings hurt more; not before we were about to go into battle.

“Alright, here’s how we’ll do things.” I said, laying out the plan I had in mind for getting to the fifth floor. “Matchstick, you go in first, and grab as much attention as you can from any ghouls you find. Take care of them, and keep close to us. The last thing we need is to get separated. Hiss and Crescent Wrench will sneak along the sidelines and shut down hostile robots and turrets. I…” I raised my Hoof of Honor and Mezzer. “Will do my best to cover Shimmercoat and MG-MS11, who will be hanging out in the rear. I need you shielding MG-MS11 to make sure he doesn’t get any more damaged, Shimmercoat… if he gets permanently disabled, all this will be for naught.”

“Hold on.” Shimmercoat frowned, stepping forward. “I should be close to the front of any fight, so I can shield all of us.” He looked defiant, and I could tell that he was worried about Matchstick running point.

“Shimmer, baby, you don’t have to worry about little ol’ me! A few ghouls are nothing!” Matchstick said, apparently also catching on that he was worried about her. “All ghouls can really do is run up and bite somepony, and they find me to be a bit… spicy.” she grinned cockily. I don’t think she viewed ghouls as much of a threat.

“You were wounded by those crows earlier, even if you did burn them. Ghoul bites are more serious than a few small pecks. I can shield you with a heat-conductive shield that will burn anything you touch while still protecting you from physical harm.” Shimmercoat countered. “And… don’t call me baby. It’s… weird.” he blushed. Huh. I’d expect him to be more used to pet-names.

“Shimmercoat,” I said, and turned to face him. “I want you in back focusing all your shield magic on our objective. If MG-MS11 goes down, then we might as well not have come here at all. And I don’t want you overextending yourself trying to protect somepony that doesn’t need your protecting. She’ll be fine, even she thinks so.” Shimmercoat frowned at me, but didn’t reply. I hoped that had gotten through to him. “Alright, so is everypony clear?” a round of nods was my reply, ranging from Matchstick’s enthusiastic bobbing to Shimmercoat’s rolled eyes and small sneer. “Alright then, let’s move. We’re just trying to get to the fifth floor, don’t let anything distract you, even if you think it’ll net a ton of caps.” I paused as we started to trot down the hallways towards the stairs. “Well, if it’s worth more than 200…”

“Halting to loot in the middle of combat would be most unwise.” Mezzer said, and I got the impression of rolling eyes. Despite the fact that he lacks eyes of any kind. Or a head, for that matter.

“Fine. Just focus on getting to the stairs.” I said. Everypony agreed, smiling slightly. They must think I was joking about that over 200 thing…

The stairs to the fourth floor, according to the map on my PipBuck, were just around the corner of the hallway we were going down. “Alright Matchstick, take point.” I ordered, and the flaming mare stepped forward, grinning, the coiled stovetops on her armor glowing almost white. My EFS was still milling with the red icons that were wandering around above our heads, but I was pretty sure the stairway was safe…


So much for that.

The unmistakable hungry howl of a feral ghoul screaming to its companions that new prey has been located was the first thing we heard turning the corner leading to the stairway. Four ghouls awaited us at the bottom of the third floor landing. Matchstick didn’t look perturbed by this at all, in fact, if I wasn’t mistaken, she actually looked fairly pumped up. Maybe even excited. I, however, took an involuntary step back at the cry of the ghoul. I didn’t want to go back to the cavern’s cliff edge over the pit… shaking my head, I banished that memory. Ma wasn’t punishing me for being a bad filly this time, we were just trying to get to the top of a building, that’s all.

“Time for trouble! YAAAAA!!” Matchstick shouted back at the ghouls, charging forward to meet the ghouls as they ran towards us, her mane and tail wreathing her in intense flames. While they were distracted with the living fireball, I pulled out my cowpony rifle with my telekinesis, aiming towards a ghoul, and trying to fire…

Nope, it was as I thought. The trigger refused to budge so long as the rifle was pointed towards the ghouls. Apparently ghouls counted as ‘living.’ I couldn’t kill them. Swapping the rifle for Mezzer, and muttering to myself that the limitations our soul-binding put on me were a pain in the flank, I fired.

The pulse from Mezzer slammed into one of the ghouls, washing over their face like a breaking wave of water. The ghoul stood there, stunned, and Matchstick didn’t waste the opportunity, charging into the stunned ghoul as she met up with them at the bottom of the stairs, knocking it over and crushing its skull beneath her hooves. “WHO ELSE WANTS SOME?!” she shouted, grabbing the next ghoul that flung its hooves at her, trying to grab hold. Feral ghouls generally tried to grapple with their opponents and chew them to pieces… and Matchstick welcomed this tactic with open hooves. She wrestled the ghoul that grabbed her to the ground as it tried to bite onto one of her stovetop-shoulder pads, smiling all the while. The other two were about to join in on the pile, oblivious to the heat, but Shimmercoat dropped one with a few shots from his .44 Mag, with the fluid, almost robotic motions that indicated he was using S.A.T.S. A plasma shot from MG-MS11 whizzed by my ear to dissolve the second one’s head. MG-MS11 might have had trouble moving and talking, but apparently his gun still worked just fine.

A foul smell started to permeate the hallway, and sizzling noises came from where Matchstick wrestled with the remaining ghoul. She and it were both covered in flames, and I couldn’t really tell whether the ghoul was trying to kill her or trying to get away. She had it by the throat, holding on with one of her forelegs while the other worked hard at crushing its skull in, all the while it was being slowly cooked to death. I retched… dear beans on a platter that smelled awful.

“Don’t throw up! Thou still has medicine in thy stomach that needs to stay on the inside!” Mezzer said just as I was about to give up and toss my cookies. I resisted, swallowing back the bile as Matchstick stood up from her fight, victorious, grinning, and covered in blackening ghoul bits.

“Matchstick…” Shimmercoat said, covering his nose. “That’s disgusting.”

“I know, isn’t it great!?” Matchstick nearly shouted. “C’mon, let’s go find more! I love fighting ghouls, it’s one of the few chances I get to touch somepony! WOOO!” Matchstick charged up the stairs to the fourth floor, leaving the rest of us behind with shocked looks on our faces.

“Uhh… I thought I was going to…” Shimmercoat said, stepping forward.

“I don’t think she’s quite realized that ghoul fights aren’t her only form of pony contact any more.” I said. “You’ll just have to impress that fact upon her when we make camp for the night, Overstallion.” I grinned.

“I don’t need any nicknames from you, either.” Shimmercoat frowned. “C’mon, let’s get up there before she gets herself killed.”

“W-wait!” Crescent Wrench called out, being dragged up the stairs by Hiss. Apparently the nightstalker thought we should hurry up too. Carefully, with Shimmercoat and I supporting the crippled robot, we climbed the stairs.


The top of the stairs were, thankfully, clear of any enemies, which was the good news. The bad news was that Matchstick Flare wasn’t anywhere in sight. “Great. Didn’t I say that we should stick together?” I said.

“You did, and I have no idea why she’s charging ahead.” Shimmercoat growled. “Let’s hurry this tin can along so we can catch up to her.” He said, grabbing hold of MG-MS11 with his telekinesis. I did so as well. Between the two of us we could tow MG-MS11 along faster then he could hover.

Crescent Wrench, who was holding onto Hiss’s tail for dear life, rounded a corner and disappeared. True, they were supposed to be sneaking ahead and shutting down any robots they encountered, but the situation was quickly devolving from bad to worse as we split up more than I was planning us too.

“Thou must know that no plan survives contact with hostile forces, right?” Mezzer said.

“Shush.” I replied, not needing his lip right now.

“HAHAHAHAHAHA!!” Mad laughter came from one of the side rooms down the hallway. Shimmercoat and I quickened our pace, following the sound, and soon, the smell that Matchstick was generating.

The room she was in seemed to be a fairly large document storage room, or at least it used to be. File cabinets were strewn across the floor, and a collapsed ceiling blocked half of the room off. Dust and debris were flung into the air by the fight currently in the center of a more open area with no filing cabinets around it, where Matchstick punched and bucked at three ghouls out for her flesh and too stupid to realize that she was too hot to eat. She had a few scratches on her forehead and flanks, but seemed no worse for the wear, and the ghouls were covered in worsening and worsening burns. One’s jaw was completely burned off, lying on the ground a few feet away from the fight.

With Matchstick in such close quarters, I didn’t want to fire Mezzer into the fight… what if I accidentally hit her again? Shimmercoat seemed to be having the same thoughts, because he wasn’t firing his pistol. Instead, his horn was glowing, and I looked to see that Matchstick was now covered in a form-fitting semi-translucent blue shield. Whenever a ghoul struck her, the shield flashed. Matchstick, meanwhile, didn’t seem to notice, having fun mutilating any ghoul that got too close.


I turned around as quickly as I could, Mezzer’s warning ringing in my mind, as a sharp pain erupted from my flank. While I had been busy watching Matchstick, some more ghouls had come up from behind us and were now charging through the doorway we just came through! I screamed, thrashing, trying to dislodge the ghoul chewing on my hindquarters. More pain blossomed from that most tender of areas as the ghoul flailed it’s front hooves, and I hunched over in agony, dropping Mezzer on the ground as my magic gave out. Flashes of memories swam unbidden into my mind… the cries of ghouls out for my flesh… as I cowered on the tiny cliff edge, learning how to be a good little filly… my dear ol’ Ma finally coming to rescue me after I had learned my lesson… I almost froze up, tears in my eyes at the memories. I clenched my eyes shut, and swung my Hoof of Honor blindly at the thing’s head, scoring a lucky hit and pulping a milky eye, dislodging it and knocking the rotting pony a few feet back. Of course, however, it just got back up from where I knocked it and charged again. Shaking off the feelings of terror still trying to claw at my mind, I swung again, and the Hoof of Honor met it midway, as I gave it a swift uppercut in retaliation. It caught air, and flew towards Matchstick’s fight. Matchstick stomped on its stunned head, killing it instantly and flashing me a manic grin, yelling, “Nice!” before getting back to her own fight with the remaining two ghouls that were still focused on her. Breathing heavily, I turned back to Shimmercoat and MG-MS11…

To see that three more ghouls were swarming them! Shimmercoat had a shield up, but the ghoul’s hooves were striking at it again and again, and Shimmercoat’s brow was starting to moisten as he struggled to maintain his defenses. His magnum gave it’s loud report, but apparently Shimmercoat couldn’t aim very well in close quarters, because he missed three times. MG-MS11 was doing the best he could with his slightly busted saw, which wasn’t much. It was a good thing Shimmercoat was shielding him as well, or the second ghoul would be beating his metal carcass into the ground. I retrieved Mezzer from the ground and went into S.A.T.S, giving me some time to think as I targeted the ghoul attacking MG-MS11 first, and then tagged an attack on the one in front of Shimmercoat. Hopefully, if I missed, Shimmercoat’s shield would block Mezzer’s shot.

Before I came out of S.A.T.S, though, I decided to use the time that it gave me to think to take stock of what was going on around me. I cycled through all available targets, including Shimmercoat, MG-MS11, and Matchstick Flare. In doing so, I discovered three more ghouls charging in the doorway, and one more that was falling through the air, coming through the hole in the ceiling on the other side of the room. That didn’t bode well… that meant there was trouble on the fifth floor as well… unless we lucked out and that was the only ghoul there. Highly doubtful.

“It seems that we are about to be overrun…” Mezzer helpfully pointed out. I was hesitating breaking the psudo-time-stop that S.A.T.S was giving me… I didn’t want to see how this would end. Those three ghouls at the door were probably headed for me.

“Any bright ideas?” I thought back, hoping that he actually had one and wasn’t just pointing out the obvious.

“Tell Shimmercoat to seal the room with shields and deal with the remaining ghouls in the room. That way no new surprises will come charging in without thou knowing about it.” he replied. It wasn’t a bad idea.

I reluctantly came out of S.A.T.S, Mezzer firing two waves at the ghouls attacking Shimmercoat and MG-MS11, stunning both of them. The robot and Overstallion quickly dispatched them after they stopped moving, of course, but the three that had charged through the doorway were headed straight for me! I jumped back as best I could, pain in my flank reminding me of the nasty bite I had there, and leveled Mezzer towards them, firing wildly as they closed range. I managed to stun one before another one of the disgusting abominations bowled into me and knocked me over. I caught a glimpse of Matchstick taking care of the ghoul that had dropped through the ceiling before I hit the ground, cracking my head against a fallen filing cabinet. My right hind leg seared in pain as one of them clamped their jaws down on it, trying to rip me to bite-size chunks. “Shimmercoat!!” I screamed. “Seal the room! KILL THESE THINGS!!” I kicked at the one biting on my leg with my other leg, tears blurring my vision as the pain started to overwhelm me… though it might have been the concussion I probably had…

MG-MS11 disintegrated the ghoul I had stunned with his plasma caster. It was odd seeing him fight without hearing anything he was trying to say… he was almost cold and heartless, silently aiming and firing his weapons without any patriotic platitudes or fanfares blaring from his speakers… I honestly couldn’t decide which I preferred. With a final kick, I finally dislodged the ghoul biting my leg, though it took quite a large chunk of my flesh with it. I didn’t think I could stand…

It’s head exploded, and a split-second later I heard Shimmercoat’s pistol fire twice more, taking care of the last ghoul in the room. His horn was glowing, and I could see shield spells blocking the doorway and hole in the ceiling. A good thing too… two more ghouls were pounding at the shield in the doorway. He had a few scrapes, and was sweating pretty hard, but didn’t seem too hurt… myself on the other hoof…

“Owww… owowowowow…” I groaned.

“This coming from a mare that has literally broken her back before.” Shimmercoat said, helping MG-MS11 over to me. The robot doctor silently rotated his M.E.D.I-Gun into position. “You okay?” that time he sounded like he cared… too bad it was obvious that I wasn’t okay.

“My back didn’t actually hurt all that bad after a while… not until I started getting it fixed, anyways…” I replied, breathing heavily and trying not to think about the big chunks of flesh I was missing from my flank and leg. My vision wobbled and blurred for a second… yeah, I definitely have a concussion. “Ohhh… I hit my head pretty hard…”

A soft hum started up, and the glowing red beam from MG-MS11’s M.E.D.I-Gun enveloped me in its healing rays. My vision cleared right up, and the chunks of meat ripped out of me started to regenerate quite rapidly. The pain faded, and soon, I felt as good as new… almost. Heal-beams didn’t get rid of deep set fatigue… and I was getting a headache… I checked my PiPBuck.

“Ohh… how many rads do you have?” I asked, pulling out some Rad-Away. I had acquired over 140 rads during the fight, not a level I was comfortable being at. No wonder I was starting to get a headache.

“I could use some Rad-Away, thanks… could you get it for me… kinda… focused here…” Shimmercoat looked a little pale. The ghouls at the doorway were still pounding away.

“Here, I’ll take care of those.” Matchstick Flare, who was bleeding from a nasty gash on her forehead (though she didn’t seem to mind), trotted over from the other side of the room and charged at the other ghouls. She went through the shield, which was apparently a one-way shield, and started to do her thing with the ghouls, complete with gratuitous skull-crushing and burnt flesh smell. I almost threw up again, and looked away from the splatter she was painting on the walls before I lost the battle with my heaving stomach.

I sucked down a Rad-Away, trying not to gag, and passed one to Shimmercoat as well. He gulped his down using his mouth, his horn still glowing as he focused on his shields. I looked myself over, and saw that MG-MS11’s M.E.D.I-Gun had worked it’s magic once again. I had not a single scratch on me, even if I still felt tired. “Alright… let Matchstick back in here and let’s try and rethink our strategy here… it obviously isn’t working.”

Shimmercoat nodded, lowering the shield on the doorway to let Matchstick Flare back into our little shielded room. She trotted in, pleased-looking, and sat down, breathing heavily. “Whew! These ghouls are a bit nastier than your average fare.”

“They’ve been soaking up radiation all this time here in this building.” I said. “Frankly, I’m surprised we haven’t run into…”


Why did I have to open my big mouth? The doorway once again had a ghoul standing outside of it. It wasn’t a normal ghoul, though, it’s rotted flesh and eyes glowed with an eerie green luminescence that banished the shadows around it. My PipBuck started to click faster than it already was. “…a Glowing One.” I finished. “Never mind. There it is. Say, Shimmercoat, is your shield affected by large amounts of radiation burst into a specific area?”

“I’m not sure… why?” Shimmercoat asked, looking at the Glowing One standing there in a slight crouch, its glow getting brighter and brighter.

“Because Glowing One’s emit radiation in large bursts to attack…” I said, backing away from the door. Matchstick and Shimmercoat, and MG-MS11 also backed away, following my lead, and the Glowing One erupted in a flash of light. My PipBuck started to scream at me, high doses of radiation were being emitted from the Glowing One, and I felt the onset of radiation sickness again almost instantly. Shimmercoat cried out in pain… and I saw him fall over, his gun clattering to the ground, and MG-MS11 almost falling over as well as the small amount of telekinesis Shimmercoat was apparently giving him let go. Why he wasn’t just focusing on the shields and not doing everything at once to stress his horn would be a question I would have to ask him if we survived this debacle.

“SHIMMERCOAT!!” Matchstick shouted. “No! Oh, please no…” Matchstick pleaded as he fell over, either dead or unconscious, we didn’t know.

“Matchstick! The shield is down, take that thing out! I’ll take care of Shimmercoat!” I shouted quickly, rushing over to him as quickly as I could.

“YEAHHHHHH!!” Matchstick cried out in rage, tears in her eyes, and charged towards the Glowing One as it entered the room, no longer blocked by Shimmercoat’s shield. She tackled it, and started punching its rotting, glowing face again and again… green goo flew from its jaws as it struggled under the flaming mare’s onslaught. A jagged hoof cut a long gash in Matchstick’s flank, but she didn’t seem to notice, smoke coming up from the ghoul’s burning body as its face was beaten to a pulp. Eventually, it stopped struggling, and only moved when Matchstick’s hoof impacted it. It had less of a head now and more a crushed mass of flesh and bone where its head used to be, but Matchstick didn’t stop attacking. “NO! No no no… you did not just take the only stallion I can touch away from me NO!” she said, punctuating each syllable with a punch.

I looked away and took stock of how Shimmercoat was doing. I took his pulse… he was only unconscious. “Sergeant, heal Shimmercoat for me, quickly.” I ordered, and turned to Matchstick. “Matchstick! He’s alright! He’s just knocked out! Matchstick! MATCHSTICK FLARE!!” I shouted, trying to get her attention as she kept beating the dead ghoul. She looked up, teary-eyed, at me, pausing in her onslaught as the Glowing One’s corpse cooked underneath her. “He’s just knocked out, and that thing is dead, you’re alright… uh, are you okay?” I asked, as the tears coming out of her eyes started to run red… she was bleeding from her tear-ducts! Her nose also started to bleed just then, and her eyes rolled up until just the whites were showing, and she fell over, also unconscious.

“Ohhh… not good not good…” I muttered, trotting quickly over to her. My PipBuck once again started to scream as I got closer to the Glowing One’s corpse. Focusing, I used my telekinesis to drag Matchstick away from the radioactive ghoul, and with some effort, got her close to MG-MS11. Panting at the exertion of moving her (she was not a light pony. Her toned, muscled body was quite hefty and hard on my telekinesis), I said, “Sarge, I need you to heal Matchstick as well… whew…” Shaking off the tiredness, I pulled out two more packets of Rad-Away, and after thinking a bit, took out a third. Matchstick probably needed several doses. Shimmercoat was still knocked out, but looked better after MG-MS11 was done with him, no more scrapes or bruises.

“Why is he still out? This is bad… MG-MS11 should have healed him back into consciousness…” I thought. “And Matchstick hasn’t taken as much Rad-Away as the rest of us. I won’t be able to move the two of them!”

“Thou shouldst endeavor to anyways.” Mezzer said back, unexpectedly. I jumped a little at his voice, then blushed in embarrassment, glad nopony was around to witness that. “The fight has caused lots of noise and commotion. Surely more ghouls will come flocking soon. Also, I am wondering where Crescent Wrench and Hiss went. I hope that they are okay…” he continued.

“Yeah… first things first, though…” I thought, lifting the Rad-Away packets with my telekinesis. I used my telekinesis to open Matchstick’s mouth as well, pouring in one packet, then the next, being careful to make sure she was swallowing it all, and hoping I was in time to stave off the radiation poisoning. I also forced some Rad-X pills down her throat for good measure. It was easy to keep track of our radiation level when we weren’t fighting for our lives. The heat of battle put the threat of the constant rads to the side while we were fighting more immediate threats, though. We had to be more careful… even if we killed every ghoul in the building, it wouldn’t do us any good if we just keeled over from rad sickness afterwards. I quickly gave Shimmercoat his dose of Rad-Away, then took one myself, as well as giving us both more Rad-X. We needed to move.

“Urgh… what the fuck happened?” Matchstick Flare groaned, looking better as her wounds sealed up under the influence of the M.E.D.I-Gun. Her eyes widened. “Is Shimmercoat okay?”

I sighed, relieved that she was waking up. That meant she could move her own heavy self. “You charged into a Glowing One. And he’s fine, just knocked out. Shimmercoat’s fine, not the Glowing One. That thing is dead. Shimmercoat’s not coming out of it though… I think he might have overstressed his magic trying to block that radiation blast.” I answered. “We need to move before more ghouls show up.”

“Right… um… I can’t touch him, he doesn’t have his shield up…” Matchstick said sadly.

I nodded. “Right… help me get him on my back, just don’t touch him too long.” I said, and with some careful telekinesis and lifting, we got him on my back without any burns on either of us. He was far lighter than the flaming mare, and I was able to balance him easily with my magic. “Keep MG-MS11 up, and let’s try and meet up with Crescent and Hiss…” I said. The plan was falling apart, and we all needed to be together to get through this. Without Shimmercoat, our defensive abilities dropped drastically.

“Thou shouldst have anticipated some casualties. Thou were asking a lot of him to block every attack that came for thy entire party…” Mezzer said.

“That’s just it though!” I growled back at the living weapon. “I told him to protect MG-MS11! He shielded Matchstick too! And was holding up MG-MS11 with his telekinesis when there were more serious matters to focus on! Sure, I told him to seal the room, but he should have told me he was running out of juice!”

“In any case, thy EFS has spotted more hostiles. We should leave before the door is blocked again.” Mezzer pointed out, interrupting my griping. I was worried about Shimmercoat’s condition, but Mezzer was right. No less than five rapidly moving red markers seemed to be coming in our general direction.

“Come on Matchstick, take care of MG-MS11, and let’s get out of here before we have more company.” I ordered. Matchstick helped MG-MS11 balance, though she quickly heated up his chassis as she did so, and he started to push away, trying to hover on his own.

“He doesn't like being heated up…” Matchstick said, trying to keep the robot from overbalancing and falling over on his damaged levitation talisman.

“That’s because most machines work better at lower temperatures. Just try to minimize contact with him, and his armor should be able to sink the heat.” I said, and we slowly made our way out of the room, back into the hallway, and made a beeline for the corner, which hopefully hid the stairs we needed to go up. “If we see any ghouls, try to sneak around them, don’t go charging in… we all know how that ended up…” I said, glancing at Shimmercoat’s unconscious form on my back. I noticed his glasses were missing… we’ll have to get him new ones, we didn’t have time to go back and look for them. On a completely unrelated note, he looked pretty good without them…

“Now is most definitely not the time for that, young Coin Slot.” Mezzer chastised me.

I shook my head, focusing on where I was stepping. “Sorry…” I muttered.

“I’m the one who should be sorry… I hope he’s okay…” Matchstick replied, thinking I was talking to her. I pretended I was… and mentally facehoofed at myself again for responding out loud to Mezzer. The hallway we were walking down was surprisingly empty, even though I could hear the cries of ghouls somewhere nearby… we went as fast as the wobbling MG-MS11 would allow. Every so often we would pass an interesting looking office or storage closet, but we had to keep going. Between the ghouls and radiation, we did not have time to go looking for good loot to sell, unfortunately.

A yellow marker popped up on my EFS amongst the numerous red ones. “Hey, I think we’re getting close to Crescent Wrench.” I said as we turned the corner.

“Halt. Present identification.”

“Eep!” I squeaked, backing away, and nearly burning my rump from bumping into Matchstick Flare. An extremely deep voice confronted us as we rounded the corner. It was a Security Bot, a fearful and fairly common variety of robot found in the wasteland. It was nearly nine feet tall, heavily armored, mounted on three gigantic, puncture-proof wheels. Usually painted black, these things were an intimidating sight, especially since they were most commonly armed with miniguns and missile launchers. They had broad shoulders and pony-shaped heads that were completely encased in armor, with a red glow emitting from the sensors beneath a protective grill. Apparently before the war they were pretty commonly used as security for big companies who wanted to protect company secrets from their competitors, and spying Zebra eyes. How good a job they did, I didn’t know… but I suspected they did it fairly well. Even today they blew up scavengers looking through ruined office buildings, still protecting pre-war secrets… and we didn’t have employee identification. I wondered why these things hadn’t wiped out the ghouls if they were still around. I guess sometimes robots were picky with their targets. Lucky us.

“Present identification or leave the area. This is your final warning. Omega protocols are in effect; this unit is authorized to use lethal force. Please comply.” The robotic monstrosity rounded the corner after us as we backed away, it’s minigun leveled directly at my face. We couldn’t move fast enough to get out of its range before it would mow us down or blow us up, especially not with MG-MS11 being as slow as he was right now… and we didn’t have anything that could pierce that heavy armor… or we did, but MG-MS11 wasn’t bringing his plasma caster to bear on what he probably thought was a friendly Equestrian robot. I closed my eyes and waited for the inevitable…

“Security status red. Engaaaarrrrrrr….” The security bot’s voice petered out mid-sentence. I looked up in surprise to see the red glow from its grilled face winking out, it’s arms lowering into a shutdown stance. Crescent Wrench’s head popped up from behind it, a few wires in her mouth. She jumped down from its shoulders, and spat them out.

“That was close! Are you guys okay… oh my gosh, what happened to Shimmercoat?!” Crescent said, her proud smile quickly disappearing as she saw the stallion draped over my back. I saw a subtle shimmer in the corner. Hiss was here too, thankfully.

“We had a nasty run-in with some ghouls, and his magic got overloaded, we think.” I answered. “I’m glad you’re okay. Did Hiss help you out?” I asked.

“Yep!” she smiled. “We snuck around some scary ghouls, and looked around for robots. There aren’t many… in fact, if my count of recharging stations I found is right, that was the last one. There were only four charging stations, and I found one dead one and shut down the other two. Hiss took care of the two ghouls that found us while I was working on one… he’s such a good puppy!”

I sighed. At least one part of the plan had gone off okay. “Alright, we need to get moving before the ghouls that are chasing us catch up.” I said. Crescent Wrench glanced behind me and instantly lost her proud smile, going pale, her eyes widening.

“Y-y-you mean t-those ghouls?” she asked, pointing.

I turned around just as a loud death rattle signaled that we had been spotted. Five regular ghouls and another Glowing One were charging down the hallway from where we had come from right at us. “Yes… we can’t get MG-MS11 to move fast enough to run, Crescent! Make sure he’s not damaged!” I ordered, dumping Shimmercoat’s body behind the shut down Security Bot and drawing Mezzer. Crescent took Matchstick’s place beside the crippled Mr. Gutsy, drawing her sledgehammer and looking nervous, but determined. MG-MS11 started shooting plasma bolts down the hallway, almost taking the leg off of one of them, but they kept charging.

“Matchstick, we need to take out that Glowing One first, or else he’ll heal the rest of them!” I said. Sure enough, the high amounts of radiation coming from the Glowing One was regenerating the plasma burn off the leg of the injured ghoul even as I spoke. I fired off a few shots from Mezzer, stunning two of them, the other three leaving them behind as they got to our position.

Matchstick met the Glowing One head on, grappling it to the ground and giving it a solid punch that sent its jaw literally flying. Unfazed, it kept trying to bite her with it’s upper jaw alone, and grappled her right back, ignoring its sizzling flesh. One of the regular ghouls turned towards me, and I raised Mezzer and went into S.A.T.S before it could strike at me. In the frozen timescape I could see every detail of the rotting pony in front of me… it looked like it used to be a mare with a yellow coat, from what I could tell. There was even a faded image of a clipboard riding her flank. Her tattered work uniform hung off of her in bits and tatters. I could even see her employee I.D… it looked like her name was Bottom Line.

“That must be why the security bots haven’t wiped out the ghouls in this building.” Mezzer observed. “They must all have badges still on them. The ghouls here are former employees of General Atomareics.”

Now that I thought about it, the ghouls that had been attacking us did all have some form of tattered clothing on… there could very easily be badges still tacked onto them after all these years. Any that had fallen off had probably been killed by security long ago. I wondered now exactly how many employees had been ghoulified after the blast that ended the war… and whether any were still sane or not. Poor Bottom Line here though had clearly lost her sanity to the radiation, her glazed eyes were enough proof of that. I queued up two shots from Mezzer at her… it… and exited S.A.T.S. The shots both splashed off of the ghoul’s head, stunning it and sending it sprawling to the ground. I stomped on its head with the Hoof of Honor… but no matter how hard I stomped, its head wouldn’t crush under my hoof. I only succeeded in knocking it out, which for now was good enough.

I looked over to see the other ghoul that had charged us was taking a swing at MG-MS11 and Crescent Wrench. I was just about to dive in and help when Crescent took a swing at it with her hammer.

I ducked as its head flew past me, splitting open on the wall behind me. “Holy nutcracker!!” I shouted. Crescent Wrench had just pounded that thing’s head off!!

“Sorry!! I didn’t know that would happen!” Crescent Wrench look just about as surprised as I was.

“Heh, good on ya, kid. Hey, Coin, could I get another Rad-Away?” Matchstick Flare asked. She was done with the Glowing One, it now smoldered on the ground, its face looking similar to the other one Matchstick had killed. I passed her a Rad-Away… our supply was diminishing rapidly…

“Hey look!” Crescent Wrench said, pointing.

The two ghouls I had stunned had shaken it off… and were busy attacking the air around them. Puncture wounds appeared here and there as they fought, and sometimes hunks of flesh went missing. One keeled over suddenly, foam spewing out of its mouth, and the other soon followed suit. Once they were down, Hiss reappeared, slightly injured, but game for more. He ran over to us, panting and looking up at me happily.

“Good Hiss! Good boy!” I said, petting his head. “Um… you better take this, boy… it might taste bad…” I pulled out yet another Rad-Away. Hiss was just as important as any of us, and I would hate to see him fall to rad sickness as much as anypony else… though I didn’t know if nightstalkers were even affected by radiation. He sucked down the orange liquid anyways, and looked like he enjoyed it. I didn’t even know if nightstalkers had a sense of taste… they had pretty skinny tongues, after all..

“Anyways…” I said. “Did you find the stairs, by any chance?” I asked Crescent Wrench.

“Yep!” she answered, smiling. “It’s over by the robot recharging stations. Just around the next corner. Oh… I know you said not to pick anything up, but I found this in the robot recharging room… it’s small and shiny, so I just picked it up.” Crescent Wrench reached into her pack and pulled out a softly glowing orb.

“Ah… keep that, it’s very interesting…” I said.

She put it back in her pack. “What is it?” she asked, as we situated MG-MS11 and got Shimmercoat balanced on my back again.

“A memory orb. They were used during the war to record memories… like a journal. You need a recollector or one of these…” I tapped my horn. “…to view them though. I’ll look into it later, sometimes they have valuable information.” I said. Of course, sometimes they were just memories of two ponies… enjoying each other’s company, but hey, it was worth the risk. I had found valuable loot stashes before with the information garnered from memory orbs. They knocked you out while viewing them, though, so now was most definitely not the time. I was glad Crescent Wrench was an earth pony… if she was a unicorn and tried to pick it up by focusing magic on it… well, being knocked out in an irradiated area was a bad thing if you were alone. I’m sure Hiss would have gotten us if that were the case, but still…

In fact, that reminded me. “Hey, Crescent, do you need any Rad-Away?” I asked, pulling some out.

“No, I’m okay.” She answered, surprising both Matchstick and I. “My PipBuck says I only have fifty rads.”

“What? You’re shitting me.” Matchstick said, her fiery eyebrows raised high. “That’s nothing! We’ve been fucking mainlining Rad-Away, and we’ve got… how much, Coin?”

“Well, around one-hundred. And please don’t swear.” I answered. “Crescent Wrench must just be naturally more resistant to radiation than us… and she knocked that ghoul’s head off. She’s tougher than she looks.”

“I’ll say. That was fucking awesome, by they way! Good job, kiddo!” Matchstick said. Crescent Wrench blushed at the praise, scooting closer to MG-MS11, who she was supporting as he wobbled towards the stairs, which we had finally reached. I saw the recharging stations in the room Crescent Wrench had mentioned, and there were lots of papers strewn on the floor in the hallway right here, for some reason. The hallways here were pretty cumbersome… it must have been a pain to work here.

“I saw a ghoul jump down from the fifth floor through a hole in the ceiling, so we might not be out of trouble yet.” I said.

“Oh! Um, here.” Crescent Wrench said, handing me a card. Surprised, I looked at it. It read, “Bottom Line” and had a barcode and a smiling yellow mare’s picture on it. She had a green mane, blue eyes, and must have been very pretty before she was ghoulified.

“Why did you take this… uh, those?” I asked, seeing she was giving everypony an ID badge picked up from the corpses of the ghouls we had just fought, presumably. She even tacked one on Shimmercoat.

“Just in case there’s more robots upstairs, we should have ID’s right? That way they won’t shoot us, and if ghouls attack us, they’ll move in to help! They attempt to arrest aggressors of fights, and since they’ve got their omega protocols activated, they’ll just kill any ghouls that show hostile actions towards non-hostiles… like us.” Crescent answered matter-of-factly, smiling a small smile.

“Heh. You know a lot about robots, huh, kiddo?” Matchstick asked.

“It… I like robots.” Crescent said, blushing. I giggled.

“I’m glad you do. This is a great idea, Crescent, it should really help out.” I said. “Let’s get moving.”


We ventured up the staircase to the fifth floor, and I kept my eye on my E.F.S. A few red bars flitted to and from view, but it didn’t look like anything was close by.

“Hey, kid,” Matchstick Flare said as we reached the fifth floor landing. Crescent Wrench looked up, guiding MG-MS11 slowly up the stairs. He kept bumping up against them each time he rose up one step, and she had to keep a close eye on him to make sure he didn’t destabilize and fall over. “I was wondering… how come you were super bad-ass with those ghouls, even picking them over for these badges…” she flipped her I.D. badge up. It had started to char. “… and you almost wet yourself when you saw those raider corpses earlier?”

“Matchstick…” I said, exasperated. I didn’t want to explore any reason why Crescent had a change of heart regarding corpses, so long as it worked in my favor.

“Um, actually it’s pretty easy.” Crescent said, bringing MG-MS11 over the last stair and up to the landing with the rest of us. “Those raiders were alive… living ponies. And I don’t like the color of blood…” Crescent shuddered. “These ghouls… they aren’t ponies. They’re more like animals. Sick animals. Sure, they’re scary… but not the same kind of scary as ponies trying to kill us. Putting them down is a mercy. And I actually did throw up when getting their I.D. badges, but we needed them, so I had to get them.”

“Huh. Alrighty then, that works for me.” Matchstick said. “Personally the only difference between a ghoul and a raider for me is that ghouls have a skin condition.”

“And use guns. Raiders do, I mean. Not ghouls.” I put in.

“That too. So where exactly are we headed?” Matchstick asked.

“We need to find some sort of repair station. That way Crescent Wrench can get to work on MG-MS11, and we can get out of here.” I said. “The terminal downstairs said that this floor used to be R&D, and that they did research on MG-MS units here. If there’s any parts to be had for MG-MS11 in the wasteland, they’re here.”

“Yeah.” Crescent Wrench said. “Also, MG-MS11 actually doesn’t use as many specialty parts as I thought he did. I took a closer look at the design while picking over that disabled one downstairs. Besides some of the A.I. components, and obviously the M.E.D.I.-Gun, most of the stuff is basically of Mr. Gutsy or Mr. Handy design, just rearranged a little bit. If I can stock up on the specialty parts here, then I could repair him anywhere basically. Mr. Handy’s and Gutsy’s are… or at least were pretty common before the war… according to my teacher anyways… are they common now?” she asked.

“You find them here and there.” I answered.

“Well… in that case, we just need to go down the hallway and hit the first door on the left.” Matchstick said.

“Huh? How do you know that?” I asked, turning to give her a surprised look. She grinned back at me… standing in front of a small directory hanging on the wall that was miraculously still legible. It clearly stated that Robot Maintenance was in room 511, which on the little map was the first door on the left in the hallway that lead from the stairwell. I rolled my eyes. “Very clever.”

“Hey. It takes me a while, but I can read.” Matchstick said.

Slowly, we walked down the hall, keeping an eye out for things that wanted to eat us. A few turrets were mounted to the ceiling, and they tracked us for a moment… before pointing forward again. Looks like our badges were working. I hoisted Shimmercoat into a more comfortable position on my back, so that his forehooves were around my shoulders, and his head rested between my ears.

“Grhmmm…” Mezzer mumbled in my head.

“What was that?” I asked, remembering not to speak aloud this time.

“Nothing. I’m just slightly uncomfortable is all, but we must press on and get out of here as soon as possible.” he said.

“Really? I’m feeling pretty good” I said. Shimmercoat was heavy, sure, but the way I balanced him felt comfortable enough that I could keep carrying him for a while. “In any case, do you have any idea what happened to him?”

“I’m pretty sure that he’s suffering magical backlash from trying to block too much with his shield. All those crude melee attacks would have been a significant load on his magic. Add the fact that he was defending Matchstick as well, and that large burst of radiation finally did him in.” Mezzer said. “He’ll be out for a while… and won’t be able to cast magic again for quite some time.”

“I know what magical backlash is, Ma taught me about it when I was little.” I said. “How do you know about it?”

“I… I do not know. I may have picked it up from thy memories.” he replied. He at least had the decency to sound like he felt sorry about it.

“Anyways, you’re probably right. It sounds like something he’d do… I told him specifically not to overextend himself, for Pete’s sake.” I sighed. Sometimes I don’t think he got the hint that I was the master, and therefore knew best about my slaves. I’d need to have a chat with him once we got out of here.

“Alrighty, so far so good!” Matchstick said as she approached the door to room 511. “All we gotta do is…” Matchstick opened the door, and jumped back. “Eep! Ack!” She grunted as a large pile of rubble spilled out from behind the door. Dust plumed upwards, and the flames on Matchstick’s mane blew back as it settled. She looked panicked and jumped back further, behind me, her legs wheeling as she backed up as fast as she could.

“Whoa!” I said. The door was completely blocked by debris, but the rubble that fell out wasn’t enough to be dangerous. “What’s the rush?” I asked.

“Oh, uh, big clouds of dust and I don’t mix. Sometimes, if it’s in high enough concentration, it blows up if it has an ignition source… and… well…” Matchstick said, twitching her blazing tail.

“Ah. Say no more.” I said. I looked at the wall of rubble that blocked our way, and poked at it with a hoof. It shifted a little, but not by much. It was basically all dry wall, dusted concrete, and rotted wood. “I’m pretty sure we’ll have to find another way around. Did that map have any other entrances to this room?”

“I don’t think so…” Crescent Wrench said.

Suddenly, MG-MS11 whirred, and his voice-box sparked again. The fans on his levitation apparatus started to smoke as they spun faster, and he hoisted himself off of Crescent’s back and flew further down the hallway, trailing smoke and a few sparks. He turned a corner, bumping into the opposite wall with a clang and even more intense whirring noise.

“Sargey! Come back!” Crescent shouted, chasing after him. “You’re not well enough to go off on your own! Sargey!”

Matchstick snorted, but stopped laughing after I gave her a look. “Come on, let’s get him, quick. He’ll disable himself at this rate.”

We ran after the damaged robot, and Hiss jumped ahead of Crescent Wrench, growling and barking. Not a good sign. He turned invisible just as he rounded the corner, and Crescent was right behind him. I heard the report of MG-MS11’s plasma caster, but couldn’t really catch up with everypony else because of Shimmercoat’s weight.

A ghoul slammed into the wall as Matchstick rounded the corner, his head pulverized. “They’re attacking the robot and Crescent!” she shouted out to me, charging in. I rounded the corner after her, and saw three more ghouls right up on top of MG-MS11… who was on the ground, firing his plasma caster at any ghoul that came within his field of fire. Crescent Wrench swung her hammer, plastering a ghoul that was chewing on one of MG-MS11’s eyestalks. She had a… fervor in her eyes, like a pony possessed. Another ghoul was on the ground, foaming at the mouth, an invisible shimmer wrapped around its throat. Matchstick Flare tackled another ghoul off of MG-MS11, and proceeded to do her usual burn-and-punch tactic, beating its face in until it stopped twitching.

I drew Mezzer, getting ready to stun the last ghoul on MG-MS11… when out of the corner of my eye, I saw two more ghouls round the end corner of the hallway I was standing in. They were charging right towards me, my E.F.S. showed them as red, obviously… but to the side there were two yellow bars…

Before I could fire, a panel in the wall opened, and two security bots trundled out, saying, “OMEGA PROTOCOLS ACTIVE. ENGAGE HOSTILE TARGETS WITH DEADLY FORCE.” They chewed down the ghouls charging at me with their miniguns, and then turned to me. We stared at each other for a small moment, and I wondered if they were going to open up on Shimmercoat and myself.


“Wha…” I was utterly baffled. Matchstick, Crescent and Hiss had taken care of the ghouls on MG-MS11, and apparently security was on our side like Crescent had said they would be… but... who the bloody kumquat was Mr. Wire?!

“I believe the security bot was referring to Shimmercoat. Shimmercoat’s badge belonged to one Mr. Live Wire. And… um… thou have been carrying him in a rather compromising position. Which is why I was uncomfortable, I just didn’t want to bring it up.”

“What do you mean ‘compromising?’” I asked. I reexamined Shimmercoat, still out cold, on my back, his forehooves around my shoulders, his hindhooves… oh… “Ak!” I said, nearly bucking the overstallion off before I regained my composure. His hindlegs were straddling my hindquarters… which was totally inappropriate, even if it was the most comfortable way to carry him.

“I mean that…” Mezzer started.

“I got it, I got it. Yeesh, I’ll move him. It’s not like he was actually mounting me, you little perv.” I thought at Mezzer, using my telekinesis to shift Shimmercoat around so that he was no longer straddling me. It was a good thing Matchstick didn’t notice…

“Hey, Coin, come over here. Something’s wrong with the robot.” Matchstick called out. I trotted over.

“Security for this level activated. And on our side. I don’t think we’ll run into much more in the way of ghouls.” I said. “What’s wrong?”

“Unfortunately those ghouls fucked him up real bad, according to Crescent.” Matchstick said, looking down at them. They were in the center of a circle of the recently made ghoul corpses. Hiss was standing guard, looking fierce, and Crescent had an access panel open, and was working feverishly within the innards of MG-MS11 on something. “She’s ‘doing emergency repairs,’ apparently.” Matchstick said.

“Everything okay, Crescent?” I walked around Matchstick, looking at the filly mane-deep in MG-MS11’s wiring.

“His levitation apparatus gave out! I’m trying to jump-start the talisman, but it’s barely functional after that overdrive he just gave it!” Crescent’s hollow, echo-y voice emerged from the robot. “We need to get him to a repair station! His power might go out at any time, he’s taken so much damage… ooo… if that happens, he’ll wind up just like that other one… t-that other u-unit…” she stuttered. She almost sounded like she was holding back tears. Every so often, MG-MS11 twitched. It looked like he was… dying.

I dumped Shimmercoat to the side of the hallway. “Matchstick, Hiss, watch Shimmercoat. I have an idea. Crescent, I’ll need your help to carry MG-MS11 to the repair station.”

Crescent Wrench popped out, her face streaked with grease. “But it’s b-b-blocked off…”

“Art thou thinking what I think thou art thinking?” Mezzer asked. “I am left wondering why MG-MS11 darted off like that. At first I thought he was just acting crazy, but after seeing those security bots pop out of that wall panel…”

“You read my mind… which, if you actually did, please stop.” I thought to him. Out loud, I said, “Just help me pick him up, Crescent. Sarge, if you could point your front eyestalk towards the panel that leads to the repair room…” MG-MS11 stopped his random twitching, leaning his front eyestalk towards a section of wall. Hoisting half of the robot’s insane weight up on my back, with the other half supported by Crescent Wrench’s freaky strength, we slowly made our way to that particular wall. It was just down the hallway MG-MS11 had charged down… and if I remembered my layout right, it was one of the walls of the maintenance room on the other side. Once we were directly in front of it, I slowly put MG-MS11 down, and started tapping at the wall, looking for a way to open it.

“What are you doing?” Crescent Wrench asked.

“The security bots that just came out came out through a wall panel. I guessed that MG-MS11 was trying to lead us to this one before he was jumped. It’s another way into the repair room…” I said, putting my ear to the wall and tapping. “I’m just trying to find a way to open…”


“AHHHHH!” I screamed. The wall clanged again… less loudly than when I had my ear to it. “What the… Crescent!!”

Crescent Wrench swung her sledgehammer a third time against the wall panel, the large dent she was putting in it getting even bigger. “We…” she said, hitting it again. “Don’t…” between each word, she hit the panel… it was starting to show its edges, depressing into the wall with each strike. “Have… TIME!!”

With that, Crescent Wrench laid one final determined swing into the panel. It collapsed inward under the force of Crescent’s argument, ripping off its tracks and falling into the maintenance room. Crescent Wrench panted, looking at me expectantly. “Ah… right…” I said, hoisting MG-MS11 up again. I was almost afraid that if I didn’t help move him, she’d cave my skull in.

“Everything alright? Yeesh, the kid made that hole in the wall?” Matchstick said from where she was diligently standing next to the comatose Shimmercoat.

“Yeah, everything’s fine… we found the maintenance room.” I said, looking in. It was covered in strewn papers, some of which the sketches and schematics were still visible on. A glowing terminal was on a desk near the front door… which was covered in collapsed building material from the roof above. I could see the clouds through the hole in the roof. Rows and rows of specialized alcoves and workbenches for several models of robot were here… it was a rather large room. Broken terminals lined the edges, along with propaganda posters that had the Ministry Mares on them and big blueprints of weird machinery. In the center of the room was another alcove for repairing and recharging robots… and it was occupied. Another MG-MS unit was nestled in it like an egg in a nest, deactivated. It’s spindly arms and eyes drooped down, and it was surrounded by robotic arms and tools that were obviously for repairs. It looked as if it was brand spanking new.

“We need that alcove.” Crescent Wrench stated, and started walking us towards it. I looked around… it indeed seemed to be the only repair alcove that was actually not either obviously broken or crushed under rubble. This room was in pretty bad shape. The alcove had a small terminal interface next to it, presumably to help with repair work and diagnostics. Once we were next to it, we laid MG-MS11 down again, and Crescent got to work… before crying out in frustration. “Nooo! It’s locked out! I don’t even get a chance at guessing a password!” She started to cry. “W-we need this other unit o-out… if we don’t…” Crescent Wrench hiccupped, tears forming in her eyes as she tried to hold her feelings back, even though they were obvious.

“I suspect she has more stake in getting MG-MS11 fully operational again than she is letting on.” Mezzer observed.

“It’s fine, she just likes robots, and MG-MS11 is basically our pet robot. I know I’d feel the same if Hiss was injured with no real reachable cure at hand, especially since we’re so close… we just got to get this other unit out…” I thought back to him. And the more I thought about it… MG-MS’s were highly valuable. They could repair the most intense of damage and perform the most complicated of surgeries. Their skills were invaluable in the wastes… 11 was ours, but who said we couldn’t sell another? They were prototypes, extremely rare… and expensive. I had been a little upset at not really getting to loot this building beyond what Shimmercoat had picked up… this would cover it all, though. I tried to check the designation number of the unit in the repair alcove, but it was covered by one of the clamps hooking it in.

“I can get it out.” I said. Crescent looked up at me, hopefully. “I’ll just dive into the matrix.” I winked, and my horn glowed as I activated the spell that let me travel into the magical matrices of the mechanical world. The lines of the diagnostic computer were pretty simple to get into… the machine was locked down only on the surface level, which my spell bypassed… in fact, I was surprised. The lines making up the matrix were surprisingly well in order, nearly no tangled knots or degradation that was usually found on these things. It was almost as if somepony had either programmed it to specifically last hundreds of years, or that somepony had been maintaining it. Or this particular machine just got lucky and didn’t really degrade. My bet was on that one. I surfed the lines a little, looking for a switch or key that would activate the MG-MS unit in the alcove and allow us to stick in ours… there! A swirl of yellow and red lines were disconnected… if I hooked them up to the main blue line that provided power… with a twitch of my magic, it was done, and on my way out, I logged the user into the diagnostic machine with the simple flick of a switch. That way Crescent could use it to help with repairs, bypassing the ‘locked out’ screen.

I opened my eyes, just in time to see the clamps unlatching from the awakening MG-MS unit. I stood in front of it, waiting for the boot sequence to finish. Crescent was already dragging MG-MS11 into position so she could hoist him into the alcove once this other robot was out.

The clamps fell away, and the other MG-MS unit moved out of the alcove under its own power.

And that’s when I realized that I had made an error.

“Ahhh… smell that fresh Equestrian air!” the unit said, floating away from the alcove. Crescent Wrench immediately, but carefully, put MG-MS11 in its place, and the repair apparatus locked in on the damaged robot. The other one continued, in an increasingly creepy voice, not like MG-MS11’s military-gruff voice. This was more like the voice I had heard some raiders talk like… the ones that liked to splay their victims open while they were still alive. “I haven’t been activated since… wow… nearly 210 years! What a nice rest… Wire? Mr. Wire? Where are you? Or how about that sweet Sunshine Daises? She up to see you again? Oh? Who… you’re not Bottom Line. Somepony has been stealing I.D. badges. You can fool the other robots, but not me… I’ve got an advanced A.I. More advanced than the others. Better. That’s my purpose. What they were testing. I know… I know…” the unit’s saw began to whirr, and its voice became more and more tilted… it sounded like somepony had used the recordings of a psychopath for this particular unit’s voice. “I know that pain will win Equestria the war! Pain from filthy zebra sympathizers like you! Now stand still! This will hurt a lot!!” It lunged at me, and I jumped back, drawing my rifle. The number on it was 14. MG-MS14… the one that Quantum Flux reported tried to saw Sunshine Daises in half…

Looks like he hadn’t changed a bit.

I fired my rifle, the bullet pinging off the chassis of MG-MS14. I could shoot at it!

“Well, yes. It isn’t living, even though it is sentient to a degree.” Mezzer said. “I’m more surprised as to why our bond classifies feral ghouls as sentient living beings. They clearly aren’t, so thou should be able to kill them.

“Would you be quiet?!” I shouted at Mezzer, dodging another swing of the buzz saw and firing again, missing entirely.

“I’ll be quiet later, darling, when I’m listening to the sweet, sweet sound of your screams!” MG-MS14 replied to me. “Don’t worry, this is a standard procedure! We’ve got to see what makes you tick! I detect surgery scars along your back, I can fix those up, just got to rip them open again!”

I jacked the lever of my rifle and went into S.A.T.S., zooming in on MG-MS14’s levitation array. It said I had a 56% chance of hitting… I needed to practice more with this thing. Even if its usefulness has dwindled since I got Mezzer, a pony still needed a bullet-slinger every now and again. I dialed in three shots and released the spell. The first shot went wide again as I was knocked back when I fired, MG-MS14 suddenly boosting forward and slamming into me. My second and third shots, however, found a nice juicy target conveniently right next to me as I lay on the ground. My telekinesis lifted my rifle up and two shots rang true, piercing the weaker armor around MG-MS14’s jets. He staggered, but didn’t fall.

“Got some fight in you, I see! Nurse! Sedate the patient! Nurse? What are you doing?! Get over here! Wait… you’re not Nurse Frozenhoof… IMPOSTER! ZEBRA SYMPATHIZER! I’M SURROUNDED BY THEM!! This will not do, starting eradication procedures.” MG-MS14 shouted, turning around, three of his four eyestalks looking squarely at Crescent Wrench. She was busy typing away at the repair station that had MG-MS11 in it, already working on him. Repair torches, rivet guns, and manipulation arms whirled around him in his little alcove, and every so often Crescent would reach into her bag or into a small supply bin next to the alcove and toss in some part or another into a hopper that whisked it away to presumably be added to the repairs. She was completely focused on it, and didn’t even seem to care that she had drawn the attention of the alcove’s former resident.

“Crescent, look out!” I shouted as MG-MS14 fired his plasma caster at her. She screamed and fell to the ground as the green bolt melted through her jumpsuit and into her shoulder. “No!” I got up off the ground and charged at the crazy robot, tackling the thing to the ground in a tangle of metal limbs and arms. The saw whirred dangerously close to my horn.

“Matchstick! Help!” I called out, punching the thing’s chassis with my Hoof of Honor, the old horseshoe denting it severely.

“Get off me you dirty little pony! IMPOSTER! Get off! When I get you on a table you’ll survive for weeks!!” MG-MS14 spouted, and I couldn’t help but feel a chill as he said it. He reminded me of a raider I had once met who had said nearly the same thing to a slave he had just bought. Not from me, from another in my group at the time… but still… maybe I should have stepped in…

“Keep thy mind on the task at hand. Mezzer oh so wisely advised.

“Wha… Coin! Crescent! Hold on!” Matchstick Flare called out from the doorway, having heeded my call.

“Help Crescent, she’s been shot!” I shouted, wrestling with the robot, trying to keep that saw arm away from me. I screamed… while I had been focusing on the saw, MG-MS14’s scalpel/manipulator arm got a hold of my rear right leg… and started tearing into it, exposing the bone in seconds.

“Yesss… scream for me, mare! Let’s see what you’re made of!” MG-MS14 sounded like he was enjoying this far too much for a robot.


A yellow hoof crushed one of MG-MS14’s eye sensors. Through the tears, I could see Matchstick Flare pounding on his chassis… I screamed again… my flank… my cutie mark!! He was cutting into it! “No! Stop!! Please!” I cried out, trying to get away… but I was tangled in a mass of metal limbs.

“This little thing will make a fine addition to my glyphmark collection!” MG-MS14 said. “And you with the severe fever, be a lamb and die from it like you’re supposed to, will you?”

“This thing is supposed to be a medic?” Matchstick sounded flabbergasted… I was focused on my flank… the sharp, cutting motions being made around it, he was skinning me! I needed to get away… do something, anything!

In desperation, I levitated my rifle up and started firing blindly at the mass that was MG-MS14, Matchstick, and I. A few times, my horn wouldn’t pull the trigger… that was when I was presumably aiming at either Matchstick Flare or myself. I heard a few pings of bullets hitting the robot when it fired, though… and the cutting stopped. I didn’t stop firing though, and focused on getting away, ratcheting the lever as fast as I could until the magazine of my gun was empty…

I was finally able to draw myself away, and I looked back. MG-MS14 was in a bad way… I had managed to shoot the manipulator arm off right at the joint by sheer luck, and Matchstick Flare had all but punched through his chassis. She was cut up the side by a now busted and crushed saw, and was raising her hoof for the final blow…

“Wait!” Crescent Wrench called out.

Matchstick paused midswing. This prompted MG-MS14 to say, “Oh? Why wait? I’m going to die a hero, protecting our fair facility from the zebra sympathizers. And I’ve been programmed to cause the most pain possible to all those who oppose Equestria, there is no way you mongrels will be able to stop me if you don’t kill me now! Do it!”

“I’m with him on this one, Crescent. Why am I waiting?” Matchstick asked.

Crescent Wrench limped over to them, sitting down, nursing her burnt shoulder. It was a pretty nasty burn, as plasma burns are usually, but she seemed to be toughing it out… which was something I didn’t expect from the little filly. Time and time again, she proved that, at least physically, she was a whole lot tougher than she looked. “I… I need to see his innards before he dies.” she said.

“A mare after my own heart!” MG-MS14 said cheerfully, despite being halfway to dismemberment. Crescent’s theory about robots feeling pain when they were damaged was on pretty shaky ground, in my opinion.

“Why?” I asked.

“I need to see how the A.I. core is hooked up… in comparison with MG-MS11. I might be able to make modifications that will make him… better.” she replied.

“Better? From him? I doubt it, this one’s a nutcase.” Matchstick said, but stepped off anyways. MG-MS14 was in no condition anymore to be able to fly, more than a few of my bullets had damaged his levitation array.

“My practice is one of the future! Through study of pain and its applications, I have found a way to make my M.E.D.I.-Gun heal faster than ever! Using less fuel too!” MG-MS14 said.

“Oh? Try and fig… ahh… figure out how that works, Crescent. Quickly…” I said, another pang from my leg and flank flaring up. I didn’t want to look… but I did anyways. My leg was split clear up from hoof to hock, the bone exposed, and skin pinned open by that wretched machine… blood trailed from the robot to me, and I felt woozy all of the sudden. It didn’t help that my PipBuck was now informing me that I had minor rad poisoning all of the sudden, not to mention the crippled leg… fantastic…

My vision blurred, but I snapped into focus when I saw the damage to my flank… oh… oh Ma, why… my cutie mark on my right side had nearly been completely skinned off, it was hanging by a thread, halfway hanging off… I gingerly moved it back where it was supposed to be, my vision blurring again…

“I figured it out! Quite a few of his safeties are off.” Crescent Wrench said. She looked up at me. “Oh my… are you okay?” she looked worried, as if this was the first time since the fight started that she had noticed my condition… which was probably the case.

“I'm… fine.” I mumbled. Which was bad, I had meant to say that louder… “What do you mean, safeties?”

“He can heal faster because he turned off the M.E.D.I.-Gun’s pain-reducing protocols. Whoever he’s healing feels every bit of it… which probably hurts real bad…” Crescent Wrench said. “But it would use less of every healing potion you put into it.”

“That’s great, we’ll keep that in mind. Now k…kill him.” I said flatly, breathing heavily.

“Um… I removed his core. He won’t be hurting anypony anymore.” Crescent said.

“So I don’t get to crush him?” Matchstick sounded upset.

“How… how soon until MG-MS11 is fixed?” I muttered. “I could… really use a heal right now.”

“Oh! He’s almost done, just got to run the last diagnostics before booting him up again.” Crescent Wrench said, smiling. Then she looked quizzically at me, “Uh… you’ll probably have to get those pins out of your leg… are you sure you’re fine?”

I laid my head on the ground. It was so soft… a little wet with red stuff, but soft… and I was so tired… Matchstick and Crescent started yelling at me… and I thought I even heard a voice in my head… I was just too tired…

I fell asleep, hearing the songs Ma used to sing to me when I was little.

Level up! (Lv. 12)

New Perk: Strong Back: All this carrying ponies and robots around has increased your carry capacity by 50 lbs!

Author’s Note: Will wonders never cease; it’s a new chapter! I tell you what, I thank every one of you who stuck with me thus far, even though I’m slower than molasses when it comes to writing. Here’s to hoping chapter 12 comes out sooner!

And now for my chapter-ly advertisement for myself! Self-promotion ho! My paypal/email is slinkyjeff@hotmail.com. Feel free to donate, if it strikes your fancy. Lemme tell you, every bit helps a ton.

Also, I remind readers that I make pony plushies! If you want to purchase one, go and check out my deviantart at sirleadhead.deviantart.com and see if you like what you see in my gallery. Prices are, of course, completely negotiable!

Thank you for reading, and if you got any questions or comments, feel free to slap a comment on down there at the fimfic entry for this story. Comments make the world go round, and I feed off of them more than a changling. Love you guys! :D

HUGE thanks to Kkat for writing Fallout: Equestria and giving us sidefic writers a great big sandbox to play in. Also thanks to Lesolan, Shimmercoat, and Wirepony for help editing and proofreading this slog to make it something enjoyable. Really couldn’t do this without you guys. And thanks to all who hang out at the Sidefic Compilation doc for providing feedback and inspiration to write my own story. Also thanks to Bethesda and Hasbro for two great franchises. Hope you enjoy!

Chapter 12 > In which a ride is hitched

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Chapter 12 > In which a ride is hitched
“It is a wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious.”

“Coin! Get up! We have customers coming in, and good little fillies don’t sleep ‘till the noon when there’s business to be had! Hammer needs your help making sure there’s no cheating on the floor!”

I awoke with a start. Ma’s voice was coming from right outside my room, and that meant that I had slept in for too long. “Coming, Ma!” I shouted, scrambling out of bed and, levitating the ski goggles that I had gotten from Mr. Opportunity onto my head. I wore them everywhere now, even if they were a little big for me. Quickly, I trotted for my door and opened it, smiling at Ma as I stepped around her to head downstairs to the casino proper. She looked down at me with… I could tell, mild disappointment. I would make sure to wake up extra early tomorrow to make up for it. That would make her happy, I was sure. I didn’t want to be sent down to The Rock again… I shuddered. The nightmares I was getting from the hisses and cries of those feral ghouls were just starting to go away too.

Things were looking up since the megaspell incident, where I had eavesdropped on Ma’s adult conversation with those two stallions that had brought in a megaspell through the Solaris tunnels under the casino. The new stallion Ma had hired, Hammer, said that he had dealt with them as Ma had ordered when I screwed up the courage to ask. I wasn’t brave enough to ask for details, though. Hammer was a bit creepy, but it didn’t seem like he was splitting up Ma and Pa like Fiddle had, so I was happy. Hammer wasn’t as smart as Fiddlesticks had been though, so he needed my help on the casino floor more often than not.

I looked around, surprised, as I hit the bottom of the stairs. The place was busier than normal, I could see why Ma had woken me up. Old Mare Withers was there at her slot machine of course, but the big surprise was that our whole two rows of machines were filled up! Every one had a pony at the seat pulling levers. I smiled… if nopony won a jackpot, we would make a lot of caps today. That would make Ma really happy. And I had modified the machines matrices so that jackpots happened even less than normal. Ma had told me to get rid of the possibility altogether, but when I was poking around the matrix of each machine I had discovered that that was impossible to do without breaking them. I didn’t want to disappoint Ma though, that’s not what good little fillies did. So I just made the chance for a jackpot so infinitesimally small that it wouldn’t happen in a million years.

“Hey there, filly.” Hammer’s deep voice said from behind me. I jumped… for such a brightly colored pin… lightish red stallion, he could be sneaky when he wanted to be. His super-sledge was strapped to his back, as per normal.

“Oh, hi Hammer. Busy day today, huh?” I said. I could see my reflection in his dark eyes again… he kept staring straight at me, and I was a little nervous. Good little fillies didn’t jump to conclusions, though, so I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. Besides, Ma wouldn’t hire somepony that meant me harm, Ma loved me more than anything.

“Yeah, in fact, Starry needs you to deal a poker game. She’s dealing the blackjack game at one of the tables, and your Pa is out on a scavenger run. I’ll keep an eye on the slots, make sure nopony’s trying to cheat your Ma.” The darkness in Hammer’s eyes went away as soon as we started talking business. He glanced over at the slots, narrowing his eyes. It was pretty clear he didn’t trust anypony at them. His first day here had been highlighted with a mare using a light wand on a machine, and he had… well, that super sledge was impressive, I had to admit. Ever since then, Hammer didn’t like anypony on the slots at all. Not even Old Mare Withers, who couldn’t cheat anypony out of a fried bloatsprite, much less a slot machine.

“Alright! I’ll be at the poker table if you need anything else.” I said happily. I liked being a dealer, but I didn’t get to do it often. Only when we were so busy that Starry couldn’t handle it.

As I headed over to the poker table though, (which already had five ponies seated at it… a full table. This was going to be exciting) my head started to throb… I grunted… something was wrong… I…

“Coin! Canst thou hear me?” a voice came from nowhere… time seemed to slow down… the world got darker… I was standing in a field of blackness, and a figure was there, a large star-bodied stallion with a strange gun for a head…

Memories came flooding back, all at once I was staring at Mezzer and gasping in agony. “Ow! I… Mezzer!” I said, holding my head in pain. I had never had such a splitting headache before. “Mezzer, I thought I told you to not dive into my memories again!”

“I did not do so without good reason, Coin.” Mezzer said, stepping closer to me and holding me in one of his starry hooves unexpectedly, giving me a hug. I unconsciously leaned into him, hugging him back… and for some reason started to cry, even though I didn’t feel sad at all. This made me feel really embarrassed, though. I tried to hide it as best as I could, burying my head against Mezzer’s starry chest.

Sniffling, I said, “Well… why am I here, then?”

Mezzer let me go… but I stepped forward, back into his embrace. Despite his body’s cold look, he was actually quite warm and… comforting. And I didn’t want him to see the inexplicable tears on my face. He sat down and continued to hug me. “Thou art… dying. On the outside. I have no doubt thou would already be dead, had I not done what I have done.”

My eyes widened in fear. “W-what do you mean, dying?” I stammered.

“I mean that… it’s a little confusing.” Mezzer said. “I have put thee into a… stasis of sorts. Thy soul has attempted to leave thy body. For all intents and purposes, thou hast tried very hard just now to die. Thou art even closer to death now than when thy back was broken. There was just too much blood spilt from thy veins during that fight with MG-MS14.”

Mezzer was right, this was confusing. “I… what? There was a fight, I remember that…” I said. “And… I was wounded, but not that badly… was I? And my soul tried to leave? What’s going on?” I asked, my head still pounding. I grimaced into Mezzer’s leg, burying my face into his star-patterned fur. Dear horseradishes this hurt…

Mezzer’s cool head nuzzled the side of my face… it felt a little weird being nuzzled by a magical energy weapon… but it was nice. “As far as I can tell, thy leg was pinned open by the crazed machine… and it may have cut one of thy arteries. We are soul-bound… we will be together forever… and I felt myself starting to fade out of the current plane of existence we are inhabiting. It’s… hard to explain to a pony… but… the nothingness that I remember before being bound with thee… that’s what I felt. And I was afraid.” Mezzer pushed me back enough to look into my eyes with his strangely expressive, hypnotic blank screen. I quickly wiped the tears away, embarrassed… I still didn’t know where they were coming from. “In desperation, I forced thy soul back into one of thy old memories by diving into it. The bond goes both ways, and thy soul was forced to follow me when I dived into a memory. So, we are still in thy physical body… hopefully long enough for thy medical robot to get us back to health. I am sorry I did this without permission again, but I felt it was the only thing I could do to stave off death. I know not what awaits us on the other side… And I fear death just as much as anypony.” he said. His normally calm, collected voice was trembling slightly… this was as rattled as I had ever seen the normally unflappable Mezzer act. Had I actually come that close to dying? Now the tears didn’t seem so random.

“I… thank you.” I said. “I don’t want to die yet either… and I don’t think this memory is a bad one…” I thought, trying to remember how this memory ended… but it was a blank spot in my mind! “Except… I can’t remember! What—”

“I don’t think thou can access thy memories while we are in them. My apologies if this is one of those memories that thou dost not want to experience again… I tried to find a happy one, but I was in a rush… and…” Mezzer went silent, hesitating.

“What is it?” I asked, frowning at him.

“I mean no offense… but thou dost not seem to have much in the way of happy memories concerning thy childhood… and those are the only memories deep enough in thy soul for me to have access to. It is as if thou hast buried them here…” he said.

“I had a much better childhood than the majority of the wasteland’s colts and fillies, and I know it.” I said. Perhaps a bit harshly, because Mezzer flinched back as if I had hit him. Still, I pushed on. “I had a Ma and Pa that loved me, a safe place to live, and three square meals a day. We were never short on caps, and had power and clean water nearly all the time. Most families fought tooth and hoof for what we had on the Big 52. I can’t and won’t complain about my days there. We… I… was blessed by the princesses.”

“Whatever thou says…” Mezzer said, obviously chickening out again. He was a typical stallion even if he was a gun, always avoiding the tough conversations. “Shall I continue the memory? It will need to run its course before we awaken.

“Go ahead.” I said, and my headache started to fade as the blackness re-focused back to the familiar casino floor…

“Alright everypony, are we all here to play an exciting game of poker!?” I said to the five at the table, hopping up onto the dealer’s stool and smiling at them.

The five ponies looked mildly surprised, but everypony knew that a filly worked here, or soon found out as soon as they walked in the door due to Old Mare Withers talking so much about me (I wondered if she had another bullet for me to add to my ammo collection) so there weren’t any questions as to why I was dealer. There were a few nods and grunts, but nopony was smiling except for a rather clueless-looking mare. There was her, another mare that looked bored, and three stallions all wearing cowpony hats. “Alright!” I said, pouring on the cheer. Happy fillies were good fillies, Ma always said, and ponies liked to bet on happy filly dealers. I dealt the cards. “How about some Texhays Hold-‘Em for the first game?” I asked. No complaints, so two cards went to each pony. “Place your bets! No limit!” I said. I always ran no limit games, they were more exciting if the players really got into it.

We were a few hooves into the game, and things were going well. The pots were growing steadily as the players got into the swing of things and some interesting and good hooves were being played… I could even tell the bored-looking mare was only looking bored as a bluff… her tail twitched every time she got a good hoof. And the house tax on the game would turn out a nice pile of caps by the time everypony decided to call it. It was Ma’s idea to tax poker games, since the House provided a place to play them. She didn’t want her dealers playing the game with the patrons, and we still didn’t have enough chips for them to play with. I made some piles in the pot that designated that if there was a cap in that pile, it was actually a 10 cap bet, and one that was a 100 cap bet pile, that way the players could keep caps in their bag and not clutter the table… or show off their wealth, which made some ponies nervous.

The bored looking mare was finally smiling, having won a rather large pot, and one of the stallions went off in a huff as he busted out. “Alright, Texhays Hold-‘Em again?” I asked the remaining four, who were all having a good time, buying drinks and food from the casino, chatting to each other… it was a good game.

Then froze as I heard a sound from the slot machines.

A jingling, happy sound. A sound accompanied by the sound of a lot of caps being poured out of a hopper. A sound I did not want to hear…

“JACKPOT! Oh baby!” Old Mare Withers crowed out in excitement. “Woo! Oh, my, my heart’s a fluttering!” I turned and saw her holding her cap bucket under the hopper as caps poured out of the machine… easily over a thousand of them. These machines were designed originally for single bits, which meant they poured out jackpots in single bit… and single cap… increments. And while I had set jackpots to be the lowest number they could possibly be, that number was still far too much for Ma to be happy with it.

“W-w-well… looks like L-Lady Luck is smiling on the casino today.” I nervously said to the poker players, who had all turned to watch the slots as Old Mare Withers caught the last of the jackpot in her bucket. They all smiled, and started the next round of betting. I watched over their heads as I dealt the hooves… Hammer looking over Old Mare Withers’s machine, seeing that there was no cheating going on, of course… him asking the old pony to follow him to Ma’s office… them going in…

I could do nothing but keep dealing the game I was running… my players were having a good time, the clueless mare was now drunk off her flank, flirting with both remaining stallions… they were probably going to stay the night here if she stayed this way… the no-longer-bored mare was winning nearly every hoof with cunning bluffs… the stallions were happy because of the drunk clueless mare, and I knew the casino was making lots of caps off this game, because they were betting high. Maybe enough to cover that jackpot… but I knew Ma wouldn’t see it that way…

Old Mare Withers walked out of Ma’s office with a big smile and her saddlebags, obviously weighed down by a bag of caps. Ma was following, laughing and smiling along with her as she escorted Withers to the door… I heard the old mare saying “Oh, don’t you worry about it, I’ll probably lose it all again sometime soon… this dear old casino is my favorite place in the wasteland to spend my retirement. I’m just glad I got this experience, I’ve never won a jackpot before!” Ma was all smiles and congratulations… then turned to glance my way.

“What’s wrong, little filly?” one of the stallions asked. I had started to cry.

“N-nothing… J-just something in my eye… here’s the river…” I said, dealing three cards down on the table and wiping away the tears. The look Ma had given me… that was the look that told me I had been a Bad Filly… It didn’t matter that Old Mare Withers would probably lose all those caps back to the casino eventually, nor did it matter that we were probably still making a profit today from all the other patrons in the casino, including the ponies at the game I was running quite well. I had still been a Bad Filly for lying to Ma.

I was probably sleeping on The Rock tonight. I hoped the shrieks of the ghouls wouldn’t keep me up all night… or give me nightmares.

“Fuck.” I heard a mysterious voice in my head as I continued the game…


“Ma… please…” I moaned.

“I think she’s waking up. Um, Coin? Are you okay?” I heard a young mare say. That wasn’t Ma… Crescent Wrench? What was she doing at the casino?

I opened my eyes. My vision was pretty bleary, but I could see that it was light out… sort of. Lighter than inside a building… it looked like we were outside. I rubbed my eyes and looked around again. Everything swam into focus… I was outside, lying on the ground next to Crescent Wrench. The General Atomareics building was in the background, they must have carried me out. We were already a fair distance away, far enough that my PipBuck was no longer clicking, a sound that I had gotten used to inside the headquarters building. I took a quick look at my radiation counter… no rad poisoning. Looks like they gave me some rad medicine when I was out, because I vaguely remember still having minor rad sickness during the fight. Everypony was here… Hiss, Shimmercoat and Matchstick Flare were looking at me, and MG-MS11 was hovering around in circles. Everypony looked fine, and slightly worried. “I… what happened? Oh… my head…” A splitting headache hit me, and memories of what had happened both before and after I had been knocked out came rushing back in an increasingly familiar and unwanted feeling. My memories were not toys, I didn’t like them being played with like this… “Ohhhh… ow.” I put a hoof to my head.

“Um, you were knocked out… I think you fell unconscious from blood loss.” Crescent Wrench said. “There was… a… a lot of b-blood…”

“You’re one tough mare, Coin! I ain’t never seen so much blood come out of one pony without them kicking the bucket!” Matchstick Flare said. “Course, it probably helped that right after you lost it MG-MS11 started to do his thing with his healing whatsit.”

I realized something. “Shimmercoat, you’re awake!”

Shimmercoat nodded. “Yeah, and with my own splitting headache too, join the club.” He said, rubbing his temple. Looks like I wasn’t the only one. “My magic overloaded, I can’t cast anything right now.” He scowled as he said this, kicking his hoof on the ground.

“Well, next time don’t overdo it, just protect what you’re supposed to and don’t try to do everything at once.” I said, and was about to continue when I was interrupted.

“I know, I know, alright? Matchstick already read me the riot act. I shouldn’t have shielded her, she’s fine against opponents who attack in melee. And I shouldn’t have tried to block that radiation when we still had all that radiation medication on hoof. I get it, I did too much, and now Matchstick has to suffer for it.” Shimmercoat looked down at the ground, and I eased off the gas a bit. I was going to scold him, but… Matchstick had already done it for me, it seemed. There was one thing I didn’t understand though.

“What do you mean, Matchstick has to suffer for it? I thought it was you who couldn’t cast magic.” I said.

Matchstick looked sadly down at the ground too, as Shimmercoat said, “Yeah, that includes my heat shield spell. I instinctively try to cast it when she touches me, but all my horn does is spark, see…” Shimmercoat reached out with a hoof and touched Matchstick’s side. His horn sparked, and he winced and quickly jerked his hoof back, as if he had touched a hot oven… which he basically had. “Because I was so reckless, she has to be alone again until I get my magic back. Believe me, I can deal with losing my magic temporarily myself, but the last thing I wanted was to upset somepony else because I overexerted myself.” Shimmercoat had never sounded so serious before… and I remembered that he had basically sacrificed himself as a child, not knowing that he would survive past his first year as Overstallion, in order to save his sister from the same fate he put so many outsider ponies through.

“It’s alright, Shimmer… a few more days without somepony to hug won’t kill me, I was…” Matchstick’s voice cracked, and she looked away from us, the tears she didn’t want us to see sizzling as they evaporated. “I… I’ll be fine. It’s not like I’m not used to it by now…” She finished, turning back to us with an obviously forced smile. Shimmercoat and Matchstick both looked completely depressed… Yeah, I figured Shimmercoat was getting all the punishment he needed for not following orders.

“Alright… so everypony is okay?” I asked, standing up. My head swam for a second, but I steadied pretty quickly. I checked myself over… not a scratch on me. Gotta love that M.E.D.I.-Gun. I was dog-tired though.

“Besides a few lumps and bumps, yeah.” Matchstick said. “The robot’s almost out of juice, though. We had to dump pretty much all our spare healing potions into him to get you healed up.”

“I’m pretty sure that thing eats through healing potions like a radscorpion through raiders.” I said, glancing at MG-MS11.

“Actually…” Crescent spoke up, standing. She had been crouched next to me… I think she was the one that carried me out. “He refines healing potions, makes them more efficient. There’s no way drinking potions normally would have healed your leg with no scars.”

“Indeed! The M.E.D.I.-Gun improves healing potions healing efficiency by 20%! At a burn cost of only plus 10% of the body’s normal potion burn rate! A net gain, brought to you by the good folks at General Atomareics, the only company in Equestria who cares enough about the war to focus all its manufacturing efforts on projects designed to bring it to a swift and decisive end, Hoo AH!” MG-MS11 spouted, ending with a fanfare and saluting with his saw arm. He looked better than ever… in fact, I think he was sporting a brand new coat of paint! That repair station had obviously done its job, even better than I had expected going in. Despite the hardships, it seemed our journey into the General Atomareics building was a success.

“Oh, um, Coin?” Crescent said. “While I was sneaking around with Hiss in there, I found this…” she held up her PipBuck so I could see the display. “It’s a file on something that sounded like your gun, so I downloaded it… if you’re interested.”

“YES!” Mezzer shouted in my mind, making me wince. “Oh, uh, sorry.”

“Yes, I could use that, I might learn something. That was quite proactive of you, Crescent, thank you.” I said, downloading the file from her PipBuck, mentally glaring at Mezzer for making my headache worse. “I’ll read it later tonight.” I told him. He wisely didn’t argue. “I’ll take that memory orb you found too. You’re good at finding those sorts of things, it seems.” I told Crescent Wrench, smiling. She put the memory orb in my pack, with her own small smile. “Keep an eye on MG-MS11, tonight I’ll go into his matrix and make sure he doesn’t go charging off again.”

“Alright… and thank you.” Crescent Wrench said.

One more matter to take care of. “Has anypony seen that blind Hellhound that chased us in there?” I asked.

“Nope. Which is alright by me.” Matchstick replied.

“Okay. We should keep moving then, we’ll want to put as much room between its territory and us as soon as possible.” I said. With that, we hit the road.


We traveled slowly for the next few hours, pausing frequently to rest and catch our breath. The highway grew increasingly urban as we traveled, the scattered wasted trees giving way to ruined buildings. The headquarters building had basically marked the edge of the city we were entering… in fact, we passed under an old highway sign, miraculously still standing, that said ‘San Fransiscolt, 2 miles.’ These days though, there was no San Fransiscolt, just a bunch of dilapidated gray buildings that were mostly collapsed or hollowed out. Occasionally the wind blew a pile of trash or tumbleweed past us, or a small drizzle dampened our manes (or caused Matchstick’s to sizzle) All in all it was quite peaceful for a change. That didn’t mean we let our guard down… we were on the highway after all, a main passage into the ruins. That meant it was a prime spot for bandits and raiders to lie in wait.

We were entering Auction House’s sphere of influence though, so we might run into slavers as well… which for most ponies would be something to also watch out for. That would be a good thing for us, however. It was Auction House law to not pester other slavers unless they owed a debt, and I didn’t owe anypony at the moment. I was half hoping we’d see a group of fellow slavers camped down for the night, so we could join them. No such luck however, it seemed like this stretch of highway was as abandoned as it looked.

“Let’s find a place to bed down for the night, it’s starting to get dark, and I don’t want to be out in the open when bloodwings start to fly around looking for food.” I said.

“There’s bloodwings around here?” Matchstick asked.

“I’m almost afraid to ask, but what’s a bloodwing?” Shimmercoat asked as well.

“Yes, Matchstick, there have been sightings from time to time, and one can assume they’re in all city ruins these days.” I said. “And they’re… basically giant vampire bats, Shimmercoat. Nocturnal predators, of course. During the day they sleep in ruined buildings or under bridges and overpasses. They’ll fly up and tear you apart and suck you dry, if they find you wandering around during the night They’re usually completely silent until they’re right on you. Nasty things, best to be avoided.”

“Yikes.” Shimmercoat said, looking up at the ruined buildings. He slowly spun around, checking his EFS. I did so as well… nothing sneaking up behind us, according to it.

“We’re good for a few hours, but I want to find shelter well before they start hunting.” I said. “Keep an eye out for old carts, or buildings that look halfway intact. If we can find a safe indoor spot to crash, that would be ideal.” I could set up a safe camp outside if we really needed to, especially with the flaming mare that would keep most wildlife at bay with her light and heat. That would be a last resort though.

We looked around, more focused on the surroundings than on moving forward like we had been, keeping an eye out for shelter. The best shelters had first and foremost, cover from exposure to the elements. A fortress from your enemies would do you no good if there was a big hole in the roof letting in cold, irradiated rain. However, in the wasteland, right behind cover from the elements was cover from hostile forces, be that predators like bloodwings, or raiders looking for a nighttime victim. Fires, while good for keeping ponies warm and comfortable, usually drew in raiders like moths. They did keep quite a few species of nocturnal predators away though, so it was a trade-off. Generally speaking, if it was cold enough, you wanted a fire. It didn’t matter whether or not you attracted raiders if you were going to freeze to death. And in our case, we didn’t really have a choice… even if we didn’t light a fire, Matchstick Flare still shone like one.

The third sign of a good shelter was water or food in close proximity, preferably both. Ideally, you didn’t dive into your travel rations and water unless you absolutely had too. Old buildings often still had plumbing that worked, (you had to give it to the ponies of the old world, they knew how to construct infrastructure that lasted) and you could find preserved food in city ruins pretty easily if you knew where to look. Most supermarkets have long since been looted, but old convenience stores were sometimes overlooked. Outside of the city, food and water might be harder to come by. I knew how to hunt and fish, though, so that wasn’t much of a problem for me… and hopefully still wasn’t, if my soul-bond with Mezzer didn’t prevent me from killing most animals. I knew I could still kill radscorpions, at least.

The last thing that was ‘needed’ was power. Buildings might still have electricity from small generators, or working power plants somewhere in the wastes. While it was nice when it was there, it really wasn’t necessary all the time, and sometimes wasn’t even used. You could charge a magical energy weapon with power from buildings, though (though Mezzer seemed to run on his own), and sometimes there were useful machines that made your stay easier. Loot was also a bonus when you sheltered in the city. Ammo was always a good find, and health potions were most often found in the bathrooms of city building’s first aid kits. The downside of sheltering in buildings was that sometimes something else that also thought that particular building was good shelter, and everything from animals to raiders might await you when you pry open a convenience store door.

“How about that cart over there?” Crescent Wrench asked after about half an hour of searching, down the road a ways. A large cart emblazoned with the brand name “Boxy Brown’s” was laying in the road where it had broken down. The wheels were gone, and the yoke was missing its magical energy engine, so trying to haul anything with this cart would be impossible, but it was big enough to comfortably shelter us all. No food or water unless we lucked out and Boxy happened to be shipping food that hadn’t been scavenged yet, but it was getting late and I really didn’t want to be out when the bloodwings were.

“Let’s take a look inside.” I said. “We wandered over to the back of the cart, which was open. The door had gone missing at some point. Probably it was being used by a small town’s wall or some prospector’s shack.” Inside the cart was no sign of whatever Boxy had been shipping, but there was a broken lantern and a couple bloodstained mattresses… looks like whoever had stayed here previously did not have a pleasant stay… or had come in wounded, and used the shelter to recover. One could interpret it however they wanted, the main thing though was the fact that the cart was empty. “Looks good enough. I’ve seen better, but it’s getting dark.” Indeed, the only light we were seeing by now was coming from Matchstick. “Let’s set up camp.”

“I will stand vigilant outside our temporary domicile, and repel any zebra infiltrators that dare approach!” MG-MS11 said as we all piled into the cart. Matchstick stayed near the entrance, so she wouldn’t heat up the confined space to unbearable levels, and I flipped over the mattresses so Shimmercoat, Crescent, Hiss and I might have a slightly cleaner and more comfortable place to lay our heads.

“Actually, Sergeant, I’ll need you to stand still for a second.” I said. I wanted to take a look at his matrix, to see what I could change to make him… less gung-ho. I didn’t want to mess with much, though. Most robots were completely insane after 200 years with little to no maintenance, and usually just identified everyone and everything as hostile. Ones that could tell the difference between friend and foe like MG-MS11 could were either refurbished by an expert, from a Stable, or extremely lucky finds. Messing around with him too much might push him over the edge, so I wasn’t going to change anything I didn’t need to. But he was our medic. I had survived the Wasteland so far without one, but recent events had proven to me that having one on our side was a good thing … I’d be dead twice by now if not for him. Perhaps meeting Price and botching that Maregaton job had been a blessing.

“Could you go on standby mode for a moment, Sarge?” I asked.

“Affirmative, sir! Standby in three, two, one…” MG-MS11’s arms folded into their storage position, and he landed neatly on his thruster, just outside the cart.

“Could you keep an eye on things while I take a look at him, Matchstick?” I asked the flaming mare.

“Sure, I’m not that tired yet. Was going to eat some grub…” she said. She sounded sad… then again, she had been excited for some… intimacy just a few hours prior. I could understand, it had been a while for me too… I had high standards.

“That’s a blessing, at least.” Mezzer said.

“Quiet, you. If I find the right stallion, you’re going to have no say about what I do with him. It’s still my body.” I thought.

“What if a mare I like comes along…” Mezzer started.

“Absolutely not. My Ma said only degenerates and Bad Fillies sleep with other fillies… uh, mares. She’d roll over in her grave if I did that. I don’t care if others do it… just not with me.” This wasn’t a topic I really wanted to discuss, but my stance on the issue was firm.

“Forgive me for saying this, but thy mother isn’t exactly…” Before Mezzer could finish, I cast my matrix modification spell, diving into MG-MS11’s inner workings. He shut up, catching on that I didn’t want to talk about it. Good thing too, I was about to go ballistic on him.

MG-MS11 started, as with most Robronco tech, with a simple switchboard that was easy to bypass. I surfed magically along the lines into his inner workings, not making any modifications yet. Just passing through. Even something as innocent as changing his boot order could ruin the delicate balance he had with the rest of the world. I wasn’t here to fix his perception… I was perfectly fine with him thinking the war was still going on, so long as he identified us as ‘Equestrian’ and our enemies as ‘Zebra.’ So far, it had been working out. The whole ‘charging headlong into battle’ thing just had to stop though, or he would get destroyed.

There was something different ahead, as the lines of the regular surface stuff started to converge. Normally they’d go to a motherboard or processor that could be modified by my magic to do different things… up ahead though was nothing but… a wall. A gigantic, intensely magical wall, with countless lines flowing in and out of it. I was used to seeing tangled messes of corrupt matrices, and thought at first that this was one of those, but… no, this was something different. It wasn’t tangled, it was solid. Immobile and unalterable, it could only be one thing. MG-MS11’s A.I. core.

I tore my magical senses away from the imposing structure, looking around. I obviously wouldn’t be able to modify MG-MS11’s personality even if I wanted to, that wall was the most protected matrix I had ever seen. It was probably built to survive even anti-matrix grenade blasts. What I was looking for was tactical subroutines… something that interpreted the things he saw, and applied it to analysis of the battlefield. That way I could modify him to be more cautious in battle… but I was having trouble finding it. There were just too many lines, too many variables that MG-MS11 took into consideration when making decisions. And I didn’t want to modify the wrong one and turn him into a psycho killer… well, a psycho killer who wasn’t on our side.

I drifted over to a set of blue matrix lines… these ones seemed to help him with his motive drive and controlled his levitation talisman. This I could work with, it wasn’t tactical subroutines, but I could make a workaround that would hopefully have the same result. I focused, creating a new line that emerged from my horn… red and blue striped. It was identified as part of the controls of his thrusters, so I could plug it in here, but it’s true function was a threat-recognition subroutine. The theory was that I could attach this matrix line here, and whenever MG-MS11 saw a threat that this line in the code deemed too much risk to take on alone, his thrusters wouldn’t activate to push him towards it. However, if he had help, the thrusters would work fine. It wouldn’t affect this personality any… in fact, he’d probably be confused as to why he couldn’t move forward to attack the fifty ‘zebras’ behind fortress walls… but it’d keep him alive, and keep us from having to visit that irradiated headquarters building again.

Modifications complete, I unfocused my magic, exiting MG-MS11’s matrix. “There… Sarge, if you could wake up again…” I asked.

MG-MS11’s levitation talisman fired up, and he floated up from his shutdown stance. “Fully active and reporting for duty, sir! Ready to kick some zebra tail, sir! What’s the situ..”

“At ease, soldier. We just need you to keep watch for us while we rest here in this cart.” I said, sighing in relief. It didn’t look like my excursion into his matrix had changed him any. We’ll see if it worked if we run into another situation like with those raiders earlier.

“Yes, sah! This soldier needs no sleep, I will keep watch all night while you all get those batteries charged! Patrol pattern initiated!” MG-MS11 said, and started to hover back and forth in front of the entrance to the cart.

“Keep an eye on him… hopefully I fixed it so he wouldn’t charge off into the night, but I can’t be sure.” I told Matchstick.

“Will do… I probably won’t fall asleep for a while.” Matchstick said, chewing on something she had taken from her pack, looking out into the night. I nodded, and left her to think. Sometimes a pony needed space, and I’m pretty sure Matchstick was at that point right now.

In the back of the cart, Shimmercoat and Crescent Wrench were already asleep on one mattress, with Crescent curled up in a tight little ball next to a sprawled out Shimmercoat. I stifled a small giggle… those two must have been tired, it had been a long day, and they hadn’t been out in the wastes as long as Matchstick and I. Hiss was curled up as well… right in the middle of my mattress. “Move over, you big lump.” I said, poking the sleeping nightstalker until he scooted over, giving me a small growl. “Don’t talk back to me, I need some room too.” I said to him, lying down on the mostly clean mattress, and slowly petting Hiss, scratching behind his ears. He stopped growling and pushed his head against my hoof before settling down and falling asleep.

I tried to sleep as well… but for some reason, I couldn’t close my eyes for more than a few minutes before hearing the cries and guttural throat-noises of ghouls. However, a quick check with MG-MS11 and Matchstick revealed that there wasn’t any activity at all in the area, ghouls or no.

“Thou art suffering from flashbacks of The Rock. Fighting ghouls all day probably brought back those memories of being perched above a pit of them as punishment for hours on end.” Mezzer said as I woke with a start for the third time in the past fifteen minutes.

“I am not. The Rock was good for me, Ma said so.” I said, aloud. “I just need something to help me calm down…” I dug in my pack, and pulled out the memory orb Crescent Wrench had discovered. Now was as good a time as any to take a look at it, and it would at least force my body to rest, if not my mind. And for the moment, I was in as safe a place as I could ask. “Here goes nothing…” I said, and focused on the orb with my magic…

<-=======ooO Ooo=======->

The world washed away as a strange whooshing noise accompanied my journey into another reality… one that resided in the past, in a different pony’s memory. I knew that my real body would be knocked into a sort of protective coma… at least protective for my mind. My body would still be quite vulnerable on the other side. I had heard many a story of curious salvagers meeting their end while in the memories of a long dead pony, all because they hadn’t waited until they were in a safe place to view the memory orbs that they had found. I was determined to not be amongst their number, so viewing it in a shelter guarded by our sleepless robot was probably the best chance I was going to get to see it anytime soon.

My hooves faded into focus in front of me… I was a yellow pony. In the memory of a yellow pony, I mean. I couldn’t move or look around, of course. This was a memory… a pre-scripted event ripped or recorded from the memories of a pony in the past using memory magic. I was just along for the ride. I didn’t feel any… extra appendages, so I was most probably in the memory of a mare. Her bangs fell in front of her face, and she wiped them away with what was probably a practiced motion with her hoof… her mane happened to be lime green, by the look of it. “Alright… have the engineers figured out those hardware issues yet?” My host’s mouth said, a slight country accent decorating my speech. My host was looking at a clipboard right now, so I couldn’t see much detail of whatever room I was in right now.

“As far as they know, Ms. Line. Software tests can begin in earnest… in any case, we’re on a deadline.” A stallion’s voice next to… Bottom Line? I was in the pony I had gotten the I.D. badge from! I mentally winced… it was always hard to look at the pony as a pony before they became… not pony. I could only count it as a slight blessing that our passing through the headquarters building had ended her suffering… after 200-some-odd years.

“Excellent.” Line said, looking up. Fifteen gleaming, shiny Mr. Gutsy chassis were all lined up in a row of charging stations right in front of her. They were all painted red with yellow highlights, and looked exactly like MG-MS11… and MG-MS14. “I’ll start the procedure then. Memory record number twenty-six… what’s today’s date?”

“Is that necessary, Ms. Line?” the stallion walking next to her asked. She looked at him. He was blue, with a black mane and tail and a rather striking fu-man-chu style mustache. He was also carrying a clipboard in his magic, unlike Bottom Line, he was a unicorn. She was an earth pony. They were both wearing lab coats, I noticed. “We all know what’s going on, and it’s being recorded on the cameras and our notes. Why would we need a memory orb record?”

“Because, Mr. Flux, we’re a company that is thorough in it’s recording of every high-profile experiment we do. This is a joint venture of both the Ministry of Wartime Technology and the Ministry of Peace! We want to make sure all our cute little duckies are in a row for this one. Plus, this is primary research for A.I.’s with this function… I’m sure the history buffs will appreciate our thoroughness in future generations. And they’re my memories anyways, what I do with them is none of your concern.” Bottom Line said.

“Suit yourself. It’s the fifth. Of April.” Mr. Flux… Quantum Flux? I think his name was in the terminal in Square Notch’s office.

“Right. The fifth of April, 2077.” Line said. “Our engineers have worked out the mechanical kinks in these fifteen Mr. Gutsy models of robot, and even given them a new splash of paint, I see. They’ve been equipped with our patent-pending Medical Extraction and De-fragmentation Injector Gun, heretofore referred to as the M.E.D.I-Gun, and are about to receive their also patent-pending A.I. cores. General Atomareics has given each one the rank of a Field Medic of Sergeant standing, giving them clearance to operate in all battlefield situations and all but the highest security medical facilities.”

“Yawn. This is all in the reports already. Our clients already know this.” Flux said.

“Shush, you.” Line snapped back, giving him a glare. I couldn’t tell who was the boss here… “In order to observe which type of personality core will work best on the field, we have made fifteen distinct… personality types, I guess you could call them. Fifteen different individuals that all work as far as the designs are concerned, but have yet to be tested in real-world scenarios. We will be installing one in each chassis, and run each one through a series of tests to see which one will be the best to manufacture on a larger scale for the war effort. Each Mr. Gutsy has been given the designation ‘MG-MS,’ or ‘Mr. Gutsy, Medical Sergeant.’ The number that follows was the order they were built.”

“You finished?” Flux asked.

Line ignored him, giving one last look down the line of MG-MS’s. All of them were here, with what looked like large, glowing gems with wires lacing through them in position to be plugged into an alcove in the center of each robot, through an access panel. Probably the A.I. cores, if I were to hazard a guess. “All of the personality cores have the knowledge to be competent field medics no matter their idiosyncrasies, proven in the previous testing and simulations we have had. This is more specialized testing, after this, we’ll finally be ready to mass-produce these units. From one to fifteen, here are the personality types each robot will be receiving… Control, or no personality, just your standard Mr. Gutsy programming enhanced with the ability to run its new equipment, Pessimistic, Optimistic, Uncaring, Caring, Scientist, Businesslike, Morale Officer, Doctor, Nurse…” she paused in front of the eleventh robot… MG-MS11. “… Patriot, Dissenter, Mother, Sadist, and Co-Dependant.” Line finished trotting past the units she was describing, and turned to face Quantum Flux. “Now I’m done.”

“Finally…” he said, checking something off on his clipboard. “Ya know, I wonder why we even made some of these personality cores. In any case, I’ll get the guys in here and we’ll begin the installation process. It’ll take a few days for the personalities to solidify before they’re ready for testing…”

“What?! I was told they’d be ready for testing today!” Bottom Line seemed surprised, and she took a step back. “No… this is bad…”

“Is there a problem? I thought you already knew everything about the installations…” Flux started, a small grin on his face.

“Don’t be so smug! I invited representatives from the Ministries to witness the first tests! They should be here in a few hours! For all I know, it’s the Ministry Mares themselves that are coming, who knows what their schedules are! Ohhhhh…” I could tell from the feeling of her screwed up gut that Bottom Line was starting to go into a panic attack.

“Hey, easy. It’s okay, just a minor screw-up.” Quantum Flux put a hoof on the hyperventilating Bottom Line’s shoulder. “I’ll go talk to Mr. Notch with you once we get the guys working, and we’ll sort this whole thing out, no problem. Besides, what are the chances the Ministry Mares would visit little-old us and our little-old project?”

“Um… Excuse me? I was told… um…”

“Howdy there, this is where y’all are testing them new A.I. cores, right? Betcha didn’t expect us in person, heh.”

Bottom Line and Quantum Flux froze, and then slowly turned towards the door. An orange earth pony with a cowpony hat was standing there, with a yellow pegasus with a slightly graying pink mane hiding behind her. If I wasn’t mistaken, these were a pair of the Ministry Mares that ruined old Equestria… pardon me if I wasn’t enthused. Dear ol’ Ma had always said that no good had ever come from them.

“Our schedule’s were clear fer once, and Fluttershy and ah thought it’d be a good chance to catch up, and see what our Ministries are doin’ together. So what’cha got fer us?”

“I… you… here… oh… oh my…” Bottom Line said, and the world started to fade away, as she dropped her clipboard and fainted.

<-=======ooO Ooo=======->

My eyelids fluttered open… it was still dark out. That memory orb had been… interesting, to say the least. Now I knew more about MG-MS11’s history then I probably needed to… though it could come in handy if we were to meet more of his brethren. That ‘dissenter’ personality had me a little worried… but not by much. “So he’s the Patriot, huh? Could have guessed…” I looked out of the cart we were all sleeping in. There he patrolled, as faithful as ever.

Hiss yawned, and a cute little squeak came from his scaly mouth as he stretched. He got up and turned in a circle a few times before plomping back down next to me, his eyes remaining closed through the whole exercise. I pet him, and smiled… looking up, I saw the flaming form of Matchstick, providing a soft light at the entrance, and Shimmercoat and Crescent Wrench hugging each other (probably unconsciously) as they slept, looking almost like father and daughter. I wondered exactly how closely they were related… Stable ponies generally had somepony in common in their family trees.

“Thou art back. I was wondering when that orb would end. Dost thou feel better?” Mezzer asked.

“I… yeah. A little.” I said, yawning. Tiredness was just getting to me… and if I wasn’t surrounded by friends… then I could at least call them companions, even if they were technically my slaves. I would make sure nothing would do them harm, and there was no way I was going to sell any of them. These ponies were special… more so than other slaves. I had sold many ponies before that fateful encounter in Stable 11, but all of them had been basically investments to be bought low and sold high. I had a feeling that I could make so much more if I held onto these ponies… longer than normal, anyways. And even Shimmercoat hated me less than the ponies I usually hauled around… in fact, I was beginning to wonder if his collar was even necessary. That was something I had to think through carefully though, no snap decisions there.

I drifted to sleep, knowing that if anypony, in Auction House, Fillydelphia or otherwise, tried to separate me from my property in any way, they would pay the ultimate price. Good little fillies paid their debts, as my dear ol’ Ma always said.


The morning was pretty uneventful. We ate breakfast, made sure the area was safe, and started our journey towards Auction House once more. The highway branched off into a clearing that was mostly flat rubble, after about an hour of travel. It used to be buildings, but the bombs from the war and the erosion from time had flattened the surrounding area into a dusty trap that could easily break an ankle if you put your hoof in the wrong place. Even the streets were covered with rubble, but there wasn’t much of a choice but to go through it if we wanted to reach Auction House within any reasonable time whatsoever. The field of collapsed buildings was only a few blocks big… but the going slowed to a crawl trying to get through it. On the plus side, I’m pretty sure nothing nasty lived in the rubble, if only because it was so tuliping hard to get through. A PipBuck tag popped up in my EFS, labeling this field of rubble as ‘Pony Square.’ How nice.

“Ugh, this stuff is awful. I think I’ve breathed in a quart of plaster dust.” Matchstick said, spitting.

“I’m pretty sure all this dust isn’t healthy.” Shimmercoat said.

“Yeah I know, but what do you expect me to do about it? If I had dust masks I would have passed them out, don’t you think?” I asked. I was also having trouble breathing as my hooves kicked up clouds of rubble dust.

“It’s probably fucking radioactive, too.” Matchstick said, clearly not in the best of moods. Shimmercoat still couldn’t use his magic, we had discovered quite early in the morning.

“Hey, what’s that?” Crescent Wrench said. Hiss perked up as well, looking in the direction she was pointing.

A dust cloud was approaching… a large dust cloud, like one from a big caravan. Caravans didn’t come through here though… it was too tough for Brahmin to get through the rubble. And it was coming straight for us… and fast. Really fast!

“Hide!” I commanded, looking around for a suitable hiding spot.

“Where exactly? Under a pile of trash? Or how about this slab of concrete, that’ll work!” Matchstick Flare said. Hiss turned invisible. “Oh, well that’s nice, your dog will make it, good to know.” She coughed, and spat again. “Ugh! I hate this! Why didn’t we go around?!”

“If we went around, we’d probably run into something that wanted to kill us, and it would add a whole three or four days to the journey, because there are more collapsed buildings than just this place that are blocking the routes through. This is actually the quickest way through.” I replied, trying not to breath too hard.

“Well, lets hope that thing doesn’t want to kill us, because it’ll probably be here pretty shortly…” Shimmercoat said, squinting at the cloud of dust headed for us.

He was right. In a few moments, I could see that the dust cloud was coming from the wheels of some sort of large vehicle, and it was clearly headed straight for us. Whoever was driving had already spotted us, it seemed. “Alright, get ready… but don’t shoot first, we don’t want to piss them off if they aren’t hostile.” I said, drawing Mezzer.

We stopped trying to run and hide, there really wasn’t any point to it. Eventually, the vehicle got close enough that we could hear the loud roar of the engine. It was some kind of transport-looking vehicle on eight huge tires that easily rode over the bumpy, rocky rubble that covered the ground. This vehicle was clearly designed for off-road driving, as it had individual shock absorbers for each of the wheels. The main part of the body of the transport was a large uncovered bed. The cab of the vehicle was mounted on the back of the bed, so whoever was driving was actually at the rear of the vehicle instead of the front.

As it got closer I could see that mounted onto the bed of the transport was what looked like a magical energy turret… pointed right at us. It started to slow down as it got close to us, and the large machine came to a stop about twenty feet away, the turret’s targeting talisman gleaming in the muted sunlight from behind the clouds. Dust whirled around its huge wheels. I prepared for the worst… but I was surprised to see, however, that there were two markers on my E.F.S. that were yellow. One corresponded with the turret, and the other with whoever was in the cabin of the transport. They weren’t hostile… this was a good sign. Why were they stopping though?

“Should we attack?” Matchstick asked, looking nervously at me, and obviously in a battle stance as the vehicle just sat there for a while.

I realized she was the only one of us without E.F.S. to tell her when enemies were hostile or not. “No, they seem to be friendly. For now.” I answered, and she nodded, holding her ground.

“Hello? Hello down there!” came a voice from the vehicle’s cab, and I heard the slam of a door, and the clanking of hooves on the bed of the transport. A elderly tan earth pony stallion with a white and brown striped mane came into view, wearing an old-world style hat and carrying a sawed-off shotgun in a light battle saddle. He stood next to the turret still trained on us. “Does this day find you as friends, or foes?” he said, looking down at us. His voice trembled a little, but with age, not fear. And for good reason I would say, not many ponies have the resources and skills to maintain a vehicle like this, he we pretty much guaranteed to have the skills to protect it too.

“Friends, if you want to make new ones. My name is Coin Slot, and we’re just headed through here towards Auction House.” I answered, coughing again as more dust got in my throat. “Ak… sorry.”

“A fine how-do-ya-do, Coin Slot. My name is Tilled Fields. And Auction House, you say? Does that mean you’re a slaver?” the old stallion’s eyes narrowed, flicking over to Shimmercoat’s collar.

Son of a biscuit. There was no point in trying to hide it if he had already seen the collar. “Yes, I am. I’m an independent contractor based out of Auction House though, and we’re different from other slavers you might have heard of.” I said quickly, hoping he wouldn’t immediately open fire, and already set to dodge to the side the second his icon on E.F.S. turned red.

“Oh, excellent! Would you and your… group? Slaves? Anyways, would you all like a ride? I’m going to Auction House as well, looking to… um… make a purchase…” he looked excited for a second, but then the old pony’s eyes looked away from us and his ears drooped. He seemed pretty ashamed about something.

“A ride?” I asked, surprised. That was not what I was expecting. “On your… what is that thing?” I gestured towards the vehicle.

Tilled Fields instantly perked up, and hopped down from the bed of the transport, which was quite surprising, considering it was a good seven or eight hooves off the ground. He was pretty spry for an old guy. “This is my pride and joy, Miss Slot!”

“Please call me Coin.” I asked. It made me feel awkward when ponies called me just Slot.

“Miss Coin then. This here’s the E-98 Earther All-Terrain Transport! A military vehicle from the war, it was used to ship around robots and turrets and deploy them on the front lines! Even hauled around power-armored troops, if I got my history right. It was designed for speed and swiftness of unloading whatever it was carrying.” Tilled Fields look positively ecstatic. I caught a glimpse of his cutie mark… a pair of gears. “I found it and fixed it up myself when I was but a young pony like yerself, and it’s served me well!” he said, confirming my suspicions about what kind of skills he had. I looked over at Crescent Wrench, she was positively drooling looking at the thing.

“Ah, a transport! Finally, Sir, these ponies are tiring out due to the rough terrain, and we urgently require your assistance! The General here has ordered you to take us on and get us to the frontlines where we can kick some zebra tail!” MG-MS11 said. Hiss reappeared next to him, sitting and panting.

“Heh, looks like you got some old-war tech on your side as well, Miss Coin.” Tilled said. “This thing probably transported quite a few of his ilk, there are even grooves in the bed to mount turrets and robots onto so they don’t fall off. Coincidentally good for moving farming equipment around too.”

“Yeah… well…” I said, pondering. I looked towards Matchstick Flare and Shimmercoat. Matchstick was nodding vigorously at me, and Shimmercoat looked at her and just shrugged. “If you’re offering, we’d be more than happy to ride with you to Auction House. You said you were making a purchase?” I asked curiously.

“Yes, ma’am, I’m afraid I am…” he said, his cheer at describing his vehicle going away and his ears drooping again. “Git onboard outta this wretched dust and debris and I’ll tell ya why. You know the area, right?”

“I do.” I said. “If you’re lost, I could direct you right towards Auction House.”

“I ain’t lost! Just a little turned around right now is all.” He said. I didn’t press the issue, and he lowered a ladder from the Earther’s bed to the ground, and climbed aboard. MG-MS11 simply hovered up to some sort of clamp on the edge of the vehicle, and it grabbed hold of him and smoothly lifted him up, latching him to a cargo groove embedded in the base of the transport. Apparently a part of his thruster was designed to integrate with transports like this… which made sense if what Tilled said was true, and I had no reason to doubt him.

“Well… looks like we have a ride.” I said, turning towards the others.

“Isn’t that a little convenient?” Shimmercoat asked. “The last time something ‘lucky’ happened upon us, we were stronghoofed into trying to blow up a town with a megaspell.”

“A ride on this thing will get us to Auction House within a day, instead of the week it would normally take us.” I said. “And we don’t have to walk through this… rubble… anymore.”

“I’m sold, all aboard!” Matchstick Flare said, swarming up the ladder.

Shimmercoat sighed. “Whatever you say, ‘Master.’ Just don’t let your trust of strangers get us all nearly killed again.”

I looked at him in surprise. “I think that’s the first time you’ve called me your master.” I said.

Shimmercoat blushed, and quickly said, “It wasn’t meant that way, I’m just… you’re… just don’t be stupid, alright? You’re responsible for more lives than just your own now.”

“I know.” I said. I smiled at him. “And thank you.” I climbed up onto the Earther, Shimmercoat making exasperated noises behind me.

“Argh… mares… C’mon, Crescent. Crescent? Are you okay?” Shimmercoat asked.

I looked down towards the young mare. She was just sitting, looking at the transport with a gleam in her eyes. “It’s… beautiful…” she said in an awed voice.

“I remember a certain mare saying that about a certain part of Shimmercoat…” Mezzer started.

“Shush, you!” I scolded him, receiving a mental chuckle in reply. “Well, get aboard then, Crescent! Hiss! Here boy!” I called out, holding my hooves out towards the nightstalker. Hiss quickly bounded up the ladder and tackled me onto the bed of the transport, licking my face. I laughed. “Down boy! Down!” Hiss halted his assault and went to sit next to MG-MS11, lying down and flicking his tongue a few times. There was plenty of room up here for all of us.

Crescent and Shimmercoat climbed aboard, and Tilled said from the open windows of the transport’s cabin in the back, “Alright, everypony hold on!” and the engine started to rumble. I trotted over to the outside of the window and sat with my back against the outside of the cabin so I could talk to the driver while we were traveling. This was a major boon, this thing would get us out of the rubble of Pony Square easily, and make a week long journey into one of a single day. I was already getting excited.

The Earther lurched into motion, and everypony got settled as we sped across the rubble surprisingly smoothly. The wind pulled at our manes as the scenery started to blur by at speeds I’ve never seen before. This thing was definitely well maintained. “So, Miss Coin?” Tilled asked. “What… how… Auction House. How does one go about doing business there… I heard it was different than other slaver towns…”

I had a flash of insight. “Mr. Fields, is this your first time purchasing slaves?” I asked.

He sighed. “Unfortunately, Miss, it is. I’ve fallen a long way…” he sighed again, and looked as crestfallen as I have seen anypony… he probably would have been looking at his hooves if he wasn’t paying attention to where he was driving. “I used to be a prospector. A scavenger of means, miss! Not some pony rooting around irradiated mine shafts for the odd unlocked safe. I got this old thing running, and could haul junk from anywhere I could find it to anywhere it was needed. Got myself a fair amount of caps from the business. Even ventured into Hoofington and got some stuff there.” he said. I was impressed. Hoofington is, and always has been, bad news from the stories I’ve heard. “It was there I got more than just treasure…” he smiled, a genuine smile, full of warmth. “I met the love of my life, sweet Mary Pine. Rescued her from raiders in the Hoof, and brought her back to more civilized country. We settled down, started a family farm, and now I provide food to quite a few caravans and villages round these parts. Thing is, the kids have all moved on or passed on…” sadness found his eyes again, but he pressed on… death was part of life in the wastes. “And we just don’t have the hooves to work the fields anymore. And we can’t do it ourselves, not at our age. So if I want to keep my farm up and running, I need to… hire… some workers. Tried the locals, but none of the young folk these days want to settle and work on some old codger’s farm.”

He looked at me briefly before turning back to pay attention to where he was driving. His eyes gave me the distinct impression that they had seen a lot… more than I had, that’s for certain. “So I’m in a bind. I heard of this ‘Auction House’ place, a place where slavers and slaves have built a town that isn’t all whips and oppression. A place about as unlike Filly as you can get and, well… still be a slave town. ‘Sides, Filly apparently doesn’t sell slaves, just buys. Or takes. Had a fun conversation with some of their slavers, lemme tell you what.” The way he said it made me suspect that the conversation had been punctuated with buckshot.

“Auction House sells slaves, and you heard right.” I said. “Most ponies there who capture and sell slaves don’t excessively punish them if they’re a little uppity. We have a philosophy. Slaves aren’t tools to be used, broken, and discarded like Red Eye does up in Filly.” I spat the name Red Eye. Worst pony in the wastes, in my book. He had no idea how to use ponies to his advantage. The scenery sped by as I continued, and I shivered a little. It was getting a bit chilly suddenly. “Slaves are investments into the future, hours of labor that should be completed correctly and efficiently. Only healthy, strong ponies are capable of doing work quickly and efficiently, so we make sure to take good care of them. A good slave will be able to do any job you require of them at any time, and will be loyal to your cause. The best way to get a pony to be loyal to you is to make sure they know you’re the master, and as the master you are responsible for them and will take care of their needs. Another motto of us Auction Houser’s is ‘feed the slave, feed yourself.’ We take care of them, so they can take care of us.”

“Really? That… well that sounds… don’t they want their freedom, though?” Tilled asked.

“Oh, quite a few. We have escapes, and some who lash out and unfortunately kill either themselves or their masters. No philosophy is perfect.” I said. I didn’t like it, but it was the truth. “But when we capture slaves, the first thing we do once we’re able to get them back to town is give them whatever medical care they need, and fresh food and water. Auction House slaves get three square meals a day, as much water as they need, and a day of rest each week where they are not required to work at all. At least those are the rules within the town’s sphere of influence.” I said. “What customers and masters do with their slaves outside of Auction House isn’t our concern, but we do try and impress upon them that slaves are worth more than just a pair of hooves.”

“Well… I know quite a few ponies who would kill… and do kill… to get three square meals a day.” Tilled said. He sounded pretty pensive.

“Is freedom worth it if you’re starving to death?” I asked. “We even enslave families.”

“Wait, what? Ain’t that…” Tilled started, and I backpedaled.

“That came out wrong. I’ve seen quite a few families, husbands, wives, and little foals that come into the town starving, their ribs showing and everything, because they simply can’t find what they need to survive in the wastes. We capture them, bring them in, and in exchange for their work, they get their health and… well, their lives back. Is it so wrong to suggest that they owe us their lives?” I said. “And we… well that’s not true.” I paused, and sighed. “Sometimes families are split up in the various transactions that go on… but I make sure that I personally never, ever split up a family if I capture one. I don’t think that’s right.”

“Well, missy, you make a strong case as to the whole… morality of the issue. There are a few holes in it that I’d point out, if I was younger and not in the bind I’m in now. But it’s a sight better than the other slavers I’ve talked too these past few weeks. Half the time they’d just try and capture me, and the other half they’d bring out some poor souls that are beaten half to death and sick as bloatsprites. Certainly not fit to till fields and work the farm. Even if I bought and freed them, they’d die without my care… and I can’t afford to feed mouths that don’t work.”

I frowned. “I would advise against buying then immediately freeing slaves, but it’s your call. Other slavers sometimes don’t like it at all when customers do that, but Auction Houser’s don’t care. Is it getting colder all of the sudden?” I shivered.

“Yeah, it’s feeling like it. Yer friends have scooted all ‘round that strange mare with the light show for a mane.” Tilled said. I looked, Shimmercoat, Hiss, and Crescent Wrench were all sitting close to Matchstick, who looked less than pleased.

“I don’t like being used as a campfire…” I overheard her say. They were apparently also discussing the sudden cold snap.

“I got a heater here in the cab, if you want to snuggle in. It’s a bit cramped, but two ponies can fit in here if ya need too.” Tilled Fields suggested.

“I think I’ll be fine, but thanks anyways.” I politely declined.

“Hm, there’s a fork in the road up ahead, right or left?” Tilled asked suddenly. I looked ahead, and indeed, there was a divide we were approaching fast. I recognized it… we had made great time, Auction House wasn’t far from this fork at all!

“To the left, then just keep going straight for about five miles, then you make another left to avoid a big raider camp, then there’s a right turn at the ruins of the old overpass and you’re there.” I said. We had left Pony Square long ago, and were driving down the relatively clear roads of the inner city of old San Fransiscolt.

“Alright, thanks.” He turned left. “So, Miss Coin, does Auction House only sell slaves in auctions?”

“No, but they’re generally where you can get the best deals, and the top city slaves are always saved for them. Slaves get a few extra privileges if they earn the right to be auctioned off, so the best ones generally make it there. If you’re just looking for hooves to work your fields, though, you could probably get away with just visiting the markets. Perhaps picking up a nice family of slaves? Some slavers give deals on large orders.” I answered.

“You make it sound like I’m going to go pick up some ammo or something. It’s kind of creepy, I’m not going to lie.” Tilled said. I shrugged.

“They are considered property, no matter how good we take care of them. Oh, and you should probably know that the gate guards will probably watch your vehicle while you’re in town, and they’ll take down your name as a customer, so you can be let out without being suspected of being an escapee. You’ll need to show a receipt to them when you buy somepony. The town doesn’t like ponies smuggling slaves out, it’s bad for business.” I said, trying to think of other things that a new customer should know if they were visiting Auction House for the first time, to make his visit as easy as possible.

“Will I be able to take my weapons in?” Tilled asked, turning a knob up on the control panel in front of him marked ‘heater.’ I wrapped my hooves around my shoulders… I could see my breath at this point.

“Yeah, but you’re responsible for your actions while in the city. Try not to break the law… one of our punishments for troublemakers is enslavement. The city has its own farms to keep running, that’s where it gets most of its food.” I said.

“What kind of laws are we talking about? Anything special besides ‘don’t kill, don’t take what ain’t yours, don’t be an ass?’” Tilled asked, making the turn to avoid the raider camp that was in this area. Sometimes they tried to assault the city, but it was well fortified, and no real problems had come from it. The camp actually made a good harvesting ground for slaves… if you didn’t mind having slaves with raider temperaments. Some slavers went for it, but that kind of thing wasn’t for me personally. It just took too much breaking in to get them to work for anypony.

“Well, there are special laws for slavers like me. I can’t beat slaves or punish them too severely while in city borders, and have to give receipts for purchases. I follow those laws anyways, but they’re actually enforced inside the city. Basically just act like you would want somepony to act on your farmstead and you should be okay. Geeze… I’m going to go sit next to Matchstick, if you have any more questions, just holler at me.” I said. It was colder than I ever remembered this region being… did winter hit and I just didn’t know it?

“You got it. And thankee miss. It was a good thing I decided to pick you up!” Tilled laughed.

“Why did you pick us up, if you don’t mind me asking?” I asked. I was curious.

“This thing has it’s own E.F.S. It showed you folks as friendlies, so I figured I’d stop and ask.” He answered. It made sense that a military vehicle would have the same sort of thing that these little PipBucks had. I heard power-armor also had E.F.S. integrated in it. It was a useful system, that was for certain. “I also got one more question I’m curious about. Those folks are your slaves?” he pointed to Crescent, Matchstick, and Shimmercoat.

“Yeah, they are. I’m not planning on selling them, though, just rental at most. They’re incredibly useful… they’ve saved my life already multiple times.” I said.

He nodded. “Alright. Jus’ wondering.”

I trotted over to Matchstick, who was nice and warm once I got close to her. She still looked disgruntled.

“I get that you’re not just a pile of burning wood, but I really don’t see what the big deal is.” Shimmercoat said. Apparently I was walking into a conversation.

“It’s the principle of the matter! I’m on fire, yes, but that doesn’t mean I want to be treated like I’m on fire! This is a special case because we can’t really build a fire on a moving transport, but if there’s firewood or other stuff to burn around, I just really prefer if we use that instead of roasting marshmallows over my ears, thanks!” Matchstick said in a huff.

“Alright. I get it, I’m sorry for saying you’re a good smore-maker. It was in poor taste.” Shimmercoat said, from what I could tell he was quite sincere… about whatever it was they were talking about. I sat down.

“What’s with all this cold all the sudden?” I asked.

“You mean it’s not like this all the time?” Crescent Wrench asked.

“No, Auction House doesn’t have any special weather at all…” I said, brushing something from the front of my face. “To be honest… I’m a litt… what is this stuff?”

The stuff I brushed from the front of my face fell down again… from the sky. I looked up, and then around us as we sped through the city. White powder was falling all around us, piling up on the ground and creating some sizable drifts. The Earther plowed through them, no problem though. If we had been going on hoof, things would have gotten a lot harder.

“I think… I think its snow.” Shimmercoat said. “I read about it back in the Stable, back in 11. I didn’t think snow existed anymore though… snowflakes are supposed to be hoofmade by pegasi and dumped over Equestria during the winter. Is it winter?”

“No, and pegasi don’t control the weather anymore beyond making sure none of us see the sun again.” I said, holding up a hoof. The… ‘snow’ was cold, and melted into water soon after making contact with my warm hoof. “This is weird…”

“Look!” Crescent Wrench said, and I was… stunned. We had broken past the ruined high-rises and were on the final approach to the hill overlooking Auction House. Around here, was the farms that fed Auction House, slaves and slavers alike. Slaves worked the farms of course. The massive fields covered what used to be a park in the middle of the city. This vast field was… white. Whiteness blanketed the land as far as the eye could see. My head twisted back and forth, taking it all in… and even in the low sunlight from the cloud cover above, the glare off the ground was enough to force me to squint. The cold in the air was biting even through the heat Matchstick Flare was giving off… and I could see ponies in the fields! Wrapped in cloths and rags, slaves were still tending the fields! In this weather?! I was… shocked. Sure, they were wearing more clothes than normal, but the ground was covered by this snow stuff, surely the Council of Auctioneers at Auction House would try and takes steps to remove it before forcing ponies to work in it… wouldn’t they? They were the ponies that made the laws, after all.

I looked up again. Clouds swirled above us, dropping more and more of the white stuff. “Something is wrong, I think…” I murmured.

“We almost there?” Tilled Fields shouted from the cab.

“We… yes! There it is!” I shouted, jumping up in glee. Even the weirdness of the snow covering everything couldn’t disguise Auction House from me. We had crested the hill that blocked it from our vision, and were now looking down on the large town… one could almost call it a city, at least by wasteland standards… surrounded by the old-world city park-turned-farmlands. Auction House, in its center, had a large hall that almost looked like a palace. An old world courthouse I think, but it was now the auction house of Auction House, the big hall where all the wheeling deals that gave my home its name took place. A wall with four gates surrounded and protected the town, with dozens of shacks and rough buildings sheltering inside it. The wall was massive, a huge undertaking that took place before my time, made up of everything from huge billboards to massive chunks of collapsed high-rises. Everything was coated in a blanket of white right now… and there weren’t many ponies out besides the slaves in the fields. Normally the place would be bustling with activity. I could see the merchant quarter from here, a section of the city that was mostly tents or small lean-tos, and the place where you could buy just about anything, if it was available in the region. Including slaves, of course. I was going to try and find space to rent Shimmercoat out there to make a few caps… but if everypony is inside due to this snow, I might have to do something else…

“It’s right there, Tilled. Let’s go!” I shouted, excited despite the weird weather. We had finally made it. Tilled accelerated forward, the big wheels of the Earther driving through the snow towards the gates of Auction House.

Level up! (Lv. 13)

New Perk: Neutral Mediation: You’re good at seeing both sides of an issue, and can get points across to multiple parties, no matter their affiliation. So long as you keep a neutral karma level, you gain a +30 bonus to speech checks.

Quest Perk Added: Soul Shackles: Mezzer does not want to die. Should you find yourself at the brink of death, Mezzer will grab hold of your ascending soul and force it into a memory of your childhood, putting you in stasis for an amount of time equal to your endurance score in hours. Hopefully your body can receive medical attention within that time, otherwise your soul will break the shackles and move on, in which case Mezzer will die as well.

Author’s Note: It’s a Hearth’s Warming miracle! A chapter out before two months has passed! My goodness! Turns out I had time and inspiration on my side recently, which was great! College term will be picking up soon, but hopefully I can keep up the pace! And YAY! We finally made it to the place I’ve been trying to get to since, like, chapter 8! Woo!!

And now for my chapter-ly advertisement for myself! Self-promotion ho! My paypal/email is slinkyjeff@hotmail.com. A million, billion thanks to those who donated. Seriously, you have no idea how much that helped this week, I got to eat! WOO FOOD! (*cough* And the speed of this chapter’s delivery may have been influenced by the donations. Turns out money can be a good kick in the pants to get inspiration. ;) *cough*)

Also, I remind readers that I make pony plushies! If you want to purchase one, go and check out my deviantart at sirleadhead.deviantart.com and see if you like what you see in my gallery. Prices are, of course, completely negotiable! And I make whatever you want. OC? FoE pony? Mane 6? Just tell me and I’ll make it for you, no problem!

Thank you for reading, and if you got any questions or comments, feel free to slap a comment on down there at the fimfic entry for this story. That’s another thing that kick-starts me into inspiration, is feedback! I’m not a changeling at all, I swear! :I

HUGE thanks to Kkat for writing Fallout: Equestria and giving us sidefic writers a great big sandbox to play in. Also thanks to Lesolan, Shimmercoat, and Wirepony for help editing and proofreading this slog to make it something enjoyable. Really couldn’t do this without you guys. And thanks to all who hang out at the Sidefic Compilation doc for providing feedback and inspiration to write my own story. Also thanks to Bethesda and Hasbro for two great franchises. Hope you enjoy!

Chapter 13 > In which there is a chill

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Chapter 13 > In which there is a chill

"Then come the wild weather, come sleet or come snow, we will stand by each other, however it blow."

“Stop right there!” a guardspony at the gate Tilled had driven up to shouted. He was covered hoof to eartips in wrappings and clothes, wearing a pair of ski goggles similar to my own. He had a rifle slung into a battle saddle, and was obviously ready to use it should the need arise. “Please step out of the vehicle and declare your intent within the city of Auction House!”

“Alright Tilled, this is where we need to get off, you included.” I said.

Tilled Earth grimaced. “I don’t like leaving the ol’ girl behind, but if it’s what I have to do… I’ll park ‘er off to the side.” The old earth pony stopped the large transport at the side of the road in front of the gate, the rumble of the engine dying out as he removed something from the controls in front of him. It looked like a key of some sort.

We all got off the Earther, and stepped up to the guard, whose expression was hidden behind his goggles and a scarf. “State your business.” he repeated, sounding a little more relaxed now that we were down on his level.

“I’m Coin Slot, a slaver who works with the city.” I introduced myself. “These ponies are my slaves, except for him. He’s a customer visiting the city for the first time.” I pointed at Tilled Earth, who gave a polite bow to the guard.

“I see… who owns the vehicle?” the guard asked, getting out a small clipboard and pencil. “And have you explained the rules of the city to him?”

“The Earther is mine, and yes, she did an exemplary job tellin’ me what this here place is all about.” Tilled said, stepping forward.

“Alright… here’s your receipt.” The guard said, giving him a piece of paper that he had just finished writing on. “Keep it and track all your purchases on it, then show it to me or another guard when you leave, and things will be nice and smooth.”

“Thank ya kindly.” Tilled Earth said, then shivered. “Geeze, it’s cold out here, let’s hurry and find some warmth, how’s that sound to y’all?”

“Sounds good to me, we can probably find a place to rent out or something for our stay here.” I said, nodding to the guard as he opened the gate for us, letting us into the city proper.

I took a look around. Things had changed since I was last here. There were more solidly built buildings and less shacks and tents, and the streets looked cleaner, though that might have been the blanket of snow that was covering everything. There were maybe two or three other ponies wandering around, wearing thick clothing and obviously out on important business… I guessed that anypony who didn’t have a reason to be outside was staying in out of the cold.

“Wow. Biggest city I’ve been to in… like… ever.” Matchstick said, a sizzling sound constantly coming from the area around her as she melted a crater into the snow around her. She was wide-eyed, looking at the two and three story buildings that lined the streets here like they were old-world skyscrapers. The fact that these buildings were made out of rubble, spare parts and whatever the architects could get their hooves on was of no consequence. Each one was unique and told a story about how the city was built. There were even a few true-blue wooden buildings made out of planks and logs… scavengers must have run into a source of lumber at some point. “Besides the old ruined ones, I mean.” Matchstick clarified.

I looked back at her, everypony had gotten closer to the flaming mare, probably subconsciously seeking warmth. Because of this, we were all crowded in a small area… and we really needed to get moving and find a place to set up shop. “Alright, first order of business is to find somewhere to stay for the night.” I said. “Then I’d like to see what the markets are selling, and see if we can offer something that isn't already being provided by somepony, or if it is, something we can do better.”

“Heh, focused on caps much?” Shimmercoat said, grinning.

“Well, caps make the world go round.” I replied, grinning back. “But actually, I want to get out of this cold. Let’s head over to the market area and see if anypony has rooms for rent.”

“I could use directions to the marketplace too, so I’ll follow ya’ll.” Tilled said. I nodded, and started making my way through the snow towards the area of the city where ponies sold everything from food to ammo to slaves. The snow was cold against my legs, and I wasn’t feeling so good all of the sudden. It felt like I was starting to get a headache… which is always just peachy.

We passed by a pair of ponies on our way to the market. They were dressed like us for the most part, in other words they also were not prepared for the unseasonably cold weather. They also looked pretty irritable. One of them stumbled on something under the snow.

“Hey, watch where you’re putting your tail! I almost tripped on it!” he practically shouted at the mare walking next to him.

“Huh? How is that my fault? Watch where you put your hooves! My tail isn’t even long enough to reach the ground, what are you going on about?” she retorted, her voice nasally and mildly annoying to listen to.

“Nothing’s ever your fault, is it?! What about that time you gave us away to that swarm of robots, hmm? I wouldn’t be surprised if your stupid fucking ass did it on purpose!” the stallion said, getting in the mare’s face. She looked mortified by that comment. We had stopped, as they were causing quite a commotion, and I was wondering if I should intervene. It was none of my business, though, so I kept my mouth shut and just watched.

“T-that’s… how dare you! Riddles was killed by those robots!” she shouted back, tears forming in her eyes.

“Maybe that was the whole idea! Awful convenient for your gun to ‘misfire’ when we were sneaking past them and Riddles was right in their line of sight!”

“RIDDILES WAS MY… HOW DARE YOU!!” the mare screamed, tackling the stallion, her expression pained and enraged at what he was implying.

The two of them started to fight, throwing punches and kicks, biting each other’s ears… it looked like they were trying to kill each other.

“Shimmercoat, go break that up.” I ordered. “I don’t know what’s gotten into those ponies, but they’re breaking the rules right now.” I frowned. My headache was starting to get worse, and there weren’t any guards around to keep fights like this from happening. There usually would be… but the weird weather was keeping the guards in their guardshacks.

“I’ll help ya, sonny.” Tilled Fields said, and the two stallions approached the big ball of violence in the middle of the snowy street. “Hey there! Break it up, you two!” he shouted.

The fighting ponies ignored the old stallion, right up until Shimmercoat grabbed the stallion and Tilled pulled the mare off of him, she almost bit his ear off while he was doing so.

“Hey!” the stallion said, struggling against Shimmercoat’s grip. “What’s the big idea?”

“Get off me!” the mare shouted at Tilled. He let go, and she dusted herself off, snorting angrily. “You ponies should mind your own business!”

“Just trying to keep the peace, ma’am.” Tilled said. “Why don’t you two go take a walk and cool your heels.”

Shimmercoat let go of the stallion as well. They both trotted off in opposite directions, still clearly pissed off at each other, but not willing to confront strangers over whatever it was they were fighting over. “That was strange…” I said.

“How so?” Crescent asked.

“Well, usually the market is packed full of ponies, first of all.” I said, looking around. Lights were on in the heavy canvass tents and small tin shacks that made up most of the market sector of Auction House, but doors and tent flaps were closed, to keep the heat in. Nopony was really open for business, and there weren’t any customers wandering around in the snow either. “And secondly, those ponies sounded like they had been traveling together from what we overheard. I dunno…”

“Hey, sometimes traveling partners fight, you and I should know that.” Shimmercoat said, walking back over with Tilled, his breath causing his glasses to fog over. He frowned and took them off to wipe on his coat.

“Well, tension is the norm for slaves and slavers, not the exception. Though they could have been a slave and master… again, that whole thing just sounded weird to me. Whatever, not our concern.” I said, not wanting to give too much thought to the plights of strangers, though I felt mildly ticked that they had broken the rules by fighting within the bounds of Auction House. “Lets find someplace to get out of the cold and work out our next move.”

“Agreed, Sergeant!” MG-MS11 said loudly, like he says everything. “What about that big building over there, that looks like it would be ample shelter for our squad from these low temperatures! We need to get everypony in the warm before hypothermia sets in! One of us already has what appears to be a terminal and chronic fever, though I still think my sensors must be on the fritz for her!”

“Har dee har har.” Matchstick said. “I’m actually feeling the cold too, by the way. My fire doesn’t exactly keep me warm and cozy, though I doubt I could actually have hypothermia.”

“Well…” I said, looking at everypony. We weren’t dressed for this, everypony was shivering and standing close to Matchstick, who was looking more and more pissed off by the second. “That big building won’t work for shelter, because that’s the auction house, where the Head Auctioneers meet and where the big auctions take place. Only the Head Auctioneers and their families live there.” I referred to the old courthouse that MG-MS11 pointed out.

“Didn’t you say that we might be able to find somepony renting rooms around here?” Tilled Earth asked. He was putting on an act, I realized. The old pony sounded just fine, but his legs were shaking and his lips turning an unhealthy shade of blue. The cold was really getting to him, whether he was letting it show or not.

“Theoretically… I hope they aren’t all full.” I said. There was one inn I knew about, the one I stayed at when I had first come to Auction House as a filly… that was a long time ago, though. Hopefully it hasn’t turned into something else since I last stayed there.

“Some new memories are bubbling to the surface of thy brain.” Mezzer said. “I would like to review them at some point, if that is alright with thou.”

“Thanks for asking, but now isn’t the time. Maybe later.” I told him. At least he was learning to ask before poking around my head. Finally. “Come on, everypony, there’s an inn this way, I think…” I said, and headed for the end of the street that was lined with tents that normally sold farm fresh veggies.

“I don’t like this place, one wrong step and all these tents go up in smoke.” Matchstick said, looking nervously around and sticking to the center of the street.

I hadn’t thought of that. “Um, yeah… be careful.” I said.

“No shit.” she replied, rolling her eyes. I frowned at the cursing. At some point I would need to teach the flaming mare that good fillies don’t curse, though now wasn’t exactly a teachable moment.

We made our way through the snow to the end of the street, where there was a large pre-war structure that looked like it used to be a gift shop, though the only letters remaining on the sign were a big capital ‘G’ and ‘S.’ “This is Gees.” I said. “Let’s hope she remembers me…” I opened the door, a bell ringing as I did so.

“Hurry, hurry! Fucking get in before you let the fucking warm out!” An old mare’s voice called out from inside. That foul mouth could only be the Gee I remember, and I smiled in spite of my own personal views on cursing.

“Everyone get inside.” I said, holding the door as we piled into the entranceway. The building used to be a gift shop, but it had been converted into an inn, with rooms on both the fist and second stories built into it using corrugated tin sheets, planks of old siding, and whatever Gee could find at the time. It made the place feel cramped, though it was actually rather large, all of us could fit in the ‘lobby’ comfortably. Gee herself was behind the front counter, wrapped in a blanket and glaring at me until I shut the door. She was an old mare, probably even older than Tilled Earth. She was missing all her teeth, had a mane as white as the snow outside, one eye that remained perpetually shut, and warts dotting her face, some of them new since I had last seen her. Her coat was faded, though if I had to guess, I would say that it used to be bright yellow. Now it just kind of looked like urine, to be blunt, though I would never say such a thing to her face. “Hey Gee… remember me? Coin Slot?” I said, approaching the counter and smiling as disarmingly as I could.

“Coin? Yes I want some coin! Or caps more-like if you want to fucking stay here!” she said, slightly louder than what was necessary. “Wait, is that…” she squinted at me more, and I got a distinct chill up my spine as she examined me. Gee had always creeped me out a little. “You’re that little filly wat sold me those twins back in the day! How the fuck are you?”

“Um, yeah, that’s me.” I said, remembering the slaves she was talking about. They had been amongst my first sales after I had been… on my own. More importantly, I was glad that Gee remembered me. Her memory hadn’t been all that great when I was little, who knows how it was acting now. “I’m doing fine, thanks. Gee, we’re going to need a couple of rooms. This is Shimmercoat, Crescent Wrench…” I introduced everypony and Gee gave her glare at all of them in turn, not even batting her eye at Hiss or MG-MS11. When I got to Matchstick, however, she held up her hoof.

“She’s not going to set the fucking building on fire, is she?” Gee asked. Matchstick looked down at her hooves, then back up at the old mare, an angry spark in her eyes.

“Listen here, you old biddy…” Matchstick started.

“Now now, let’s not toss insults around…” I interjected. Gee hated comments on her age, and her nostrils were already flaring as she prepared a snipe back at Matchstick.

“Old! Who you calling old? I ain’t old! You’re a fucking walkin’ flamer, you ain’t got no fucking right to treat you’re elders that way!” Gee said ignoring me and demonstrating that she was a hypocrite in the same sentence. I facehoofed in exasperation. Things were not going my way.

“The fuck did you just say?” Matchstick stepped up, her mane flaring up and heat emanating from her more than usual as she glared down the old biddy. I decided enough was enough.

“Matchstick, go wait outside.” I ordered. She looked back at me, surprised.

“You serious?! But she just…”

“Outside. Now. That’s an order.” I repeated, pointing towards the door. Matchstick snorted, small flames shooting from her nostrils as she stomped towards the door, leaving behind sooty footprints and slamming the door behind her. “Sorry about her, she… has a fiery temper.” I said to Gee with another disarming smile. I seemed to recall that she liked puns. Shimmercoat was glaring at me, and I was sure we’d have a talk later, but for now I needed to secure us some shelter, which was proving to be a lot more difficult than I had thought.

“Fiery, heh, that’s fucking great.” Gee cackled, her toothless mouth opening up in what might have been a grin. “So, rooms you say? Sorry, but we’re fucking full. No fucking vacancy.” Her voice creaked as she gave me the news I was dreading.

“No rooms at all?” Crescent asked, frowning and attempting to look cute. Too bad that strategy would never work on a mare like Gee, and I knew that from experience.

“Not unless that fucking tinderbox finds somewhere else to stay!” Gee replied, her perpetual glare causing Crescent to quail and hide behind MG-MS11. “I’ll not have her burn my fucking inn to the ground, she’d be the death of us all!”

“That’s not fair…” Shimmercoat started, stepping forward.

“Can I handle this?” I said, looking Shimmercoat right in the eyes. He frowned, and stepped back. Wow, I hadn’t expected that.

“I think he realizes that this mare requires careful bargaining with, and thou apparently hast experience with her.” Mezzer said. I nodded to him and turned back to the crotchety innkeeper.

“She can control her heat, to an extent, Gee.” I said. “Enough to sleep on a mattress, I’ve seen.” Sure, that mattress would be charred in the morning, but it wouldn’t burst into flame. I wasn’t going to mention that though, she’d take it the wrong way, and wouldn’t let her in because she would think that Matchstick would char her mattresses. Mezzer was right about how careful you had to be negotiating with Gee.

“She annoys me. And besides, I ain’t fucking lying, there ain’t no more fucking rooms left!” Gee said, spitting to the side. A small ‘ding’ sounded from her spittoon. “‘Cept for the common room, in the back. It’s empty right now, and it ain’t exactly clean, but if you stayed there, anypony else that came through would get to stay there too. And there ain’t any separate rooms, that’s all there fucking is. I’ll let you stay there Coin, cause I like you, but I’m fucking charging an annoyance fee for the fireball.” she said, squinting at me.

“That’s fine, we’ll take the common room. How much?” I asked.

“Fer all of ya? Five ‘undred caps.” Gee said, spitting again.

I balked. “Five hundered!?” I sputtered, and took a step back before regaining my composure. I had that much… barely. After that I would be scraping the bottom of the barrel. “Couldn’t you be a little more reasonable for an old friend, Gee?” I asked, stepping forward again and doing my best to look friendly.

From the look she was giving me though, it wasn’t working. “Ya want me to make it fucking six?”

“Five is… fine. We’ll make do.” I said, pulling out my cap pouch. I counted out all five hundred caps in front of the old bi… ddy, even though it pained me to do so. I was left with a distressingly floppy pouch when the ordeal was over…

“And you’re going to clean up the mess your fucking hotshot left behind.” Gee said, pointing to the sooty hoofprints on the floor. I really hoped they would come out, otherwise she would probably charge us more.

“That looks like its causing you physical pain, Coin.” Shimmercoat said as I put my cap pouch back in my bag. He was smiling unnecessarily.

“Just get Matchstick and let’s get to our room and figure out what we’re going to do next.” I groused.

We all headed to the back room on the first floor, the ‘common room.’ It used to be where most of the gift shop’s merchandise was on display, but now it was emptied out and had a few mattresses strewn here and there. It also had piles of trash in the corners, paper and food wrappers littering the floor, and I swear I saw something skitter into a hole in the wall as we walked in.

“I… don’t like her…” Crescent said as I set down my bags next to a mattress. I also took off my barding… or what was left of it. I really needed a new suit of armor too… the visions of more caps being spent nearly caused me to burst into tears.

“She’s a tough customer, that’s for sure.” Tilled Earth said. “And here’s my portion for the room, thanks for getting’ fer us, miss.” He took out his own cap pouch and counted me out fifty caps. “And some fer being such an excellent guide, I’m sure I’d be lost in this place without ya’ll, especially since there seems to be some weirdness goin’ on.” He hoofed me another thirty caps on top of that.

I honestly hadn’t even thought about the fact that Tilled wasn’t technically affiliated with me besides being with us. “Oh, but you gave us a ride here…” I said, not wanting to accept charity but at the same time keeping mindful that I had expenses that I needed to take care of. “… Thanks.”

“Not a problem.” Tilled said, tipping his hat and claiming a mattress for his own. “So what’s the plan of attack? There still sales going on with this weird weather?”

“I would think so, thought probably only in the auction house, at least for now.” I said. Matchstick and Shimmercoat walked in just then, and Matchstick didn’t look amused at all.

“Why’d you send me outside like that?!” Matchstick Flare nearly shouted at me. “I could have taken her easy!”

“Yeah, and we wouldn’t have a room to sleep in. Or would you like being stuck out in the cold? I could probably get some caps back if I told Gee you were sleeping outside tonight.” I snapped back.

“You wouldn’t dare…” Matchstick growled, lowering her head and glaring at me, looking like she wanted to charge me. Hiss growled back at her, his hackles rising. “Try it, dog!” She shouted, her mane flaring up.

“What makes you think that you could do something like that?” Shimmercoat was obviously on Matchstick’s side.

I used my magic to sweep the garbage into a corner before Matchstick set it on fire. “Because frankly, it would be a lot more convenient if we didn’t have a constant fire hazard nearby when I was trying to make a deal with the proprietor of this establishment. Not to mention that she pissed Gee off, so now I’m nearly out of caps! If Tilled hadn’t chipped in, we probably wouldn’t be eating tonight! And besides, Shimmercoat, you need to get through your thick skull that I’m your master, and I’m her master too, I can do whatever the heck I want if I choose too!” I was getting pissed, I had just spent nearly all my money, my slaves were being difficult, and I had too much going on and too much to watch after now. This is why I usually kept only one or two slaves at a time, and now I had three plus a dog and a robot! Four mouths to feed! Not including myself!! Didn’t they get that?!

“I thought we had an agreement…” Shimmercoat started, his brows furrowed and tone indicating that he was clearly pissed off at me.

“About who I could rent you to, which has nothing to do with anything that just happened!” I nearly shouted back, stepping forward and getting in the smug little bastard’s face.

“STOP FIGHTING!!” Crescent Wrench yelled at the top of her lungs. Silence hung in the air like fog, a chill draft suddenly picking up as the wind howled outside. “Why are you guys always fighting…” she started to cry, wiping tears away from her eyes.

“Now I can see ya’ll have your differences, and I’m not exactly in a position to judge anypony right now…” Tilled said as the silence hung heavy, none of the rest of us knowing what to say. “But we all got a room, and we’re gonna have ta live with each other fer the next few hours at least, if not days. Now our innkeeper may have set a few of us on edge, but that ain’t no reason to be at each other’s throats. I suggest we all settle down and unpack, make oursel’s comfortable like.” The old stallion hung his hat on his saddlebag and took off the outer layer of his barding.

Everypony started to follow suit, claiming a matteress and making themselves comfortable, getting out of the old, travel-worn clothes we were all wearing. Mine was not the only suit of armor that needed repair, Matchstick’s stovetop armor was needing quite a few patches and a few replacement stovetops, and both Crescent Wrenches and Shimmercoat’s jumpsuits were ripped in places and needed patching. We looked beat up and too tired to fight, to be honest. The only reason none of us had any injuries was because of MG-MS11, who hovered next to Crescent Wrench’s mattress. Even then the strange fatigue that the MEDI-Gun caused sometimes was affecting us all. Hiss curled up next to me and yawned, closing his eyes for a nap. I scratched his head while the awkward silence continued.

“I think that thou should apologize.” Mezzer said.

“For what? Everything I said is true!” I replied, frowning.

“Whether or not that is the case, and I’m not necessarily agreeing with thou on that one…” Mezzer said, and kept going before I could follow up. “Right now is not the time to fight with thy slaves. Everything has been pretty rough the past few days for everypony, thyself included. Everypony is on edge right now, and the cantankerous proprietor did not help manners in the slightest. Now that we are in a relatively safe place, all those emotions everypony was putting on hold are going to come up to the surface, and thou shouldst deal with them with patience and understanding.”

I realized that he was right. “How do you know all this?” I asked. How would a gun from the stars know about how to best handle stressful situations?

“It is something thy Pa taught thou when thou were small, when a group came to the casino and started to fight almost as soon as they stepped through the door, and yet seemed to be close friends for the remainder of their stay.” Mezzer replied.

“I… I remember that. You’re right…” I said. It seemed Mezzer knew my past better than I did… which was part of the reason why I was pissed at him for rooting through my memories, but he brought up a good point right now, so I decided to let this one slide.

“I’m sorry.” Both Matchstick and I said at the same time. Everypony perked up in surprise, us included.

“You first.” Matchstick said, her ears folded back and a light blush on her face, looking embarrassed.

“I’m sorry I snapped at you, I probably could have handled Gee a little better. Heh, I’m supposed to be good at bargaining, wasn’t really showing it then.” I said.

“Yeah… I should have just let you do the talking and not gotten all riled up when she started poking at my… condition.” Matchstick said, looking up at me and smiling.

“Why don’t we just put that all behind us, hm?”

“I’m okay with that. What about you, Shimmy?” Matchstick turned to Shimmercoat, who was on a mattress next to hers (which was charring. Hopefully we’d be gone before Gee noticed).

“That’s fine by me, I just want to have a chance to rest and get my horn working again.” Shimmercoat said, frowning at his brow.

“Alright, it’s settled then.” I said, smiling. “How about we all rest for a bit, and then Tilled and I will discuss on what we’re doing next.”

“Thank ya kindly.” Tilled said. “Dunno ‘bout you young folks, but I’m going to settle in for a nap.”

“Sounds like a good idea.” Shimmercoat replied.

“MG-MS11, wake us up if something happens.” I said, yawning. A nap was just what I needed.

“But I’m not tired!” Crescent Wrench said.

“Then don’t go to sleep. I’m not tired either.” Matchstick replied. “We could play a game while they snooze. Um…”

“Here. Try not to burn ‘em, but I don’t mind none if they end up a little singed.” Tilled Earth said, tossing a pack of cards to Matchstick.

“Thanks.” I said as Crescent scooted closer to the flaming mare, who was quickly and carefully dealing cards in a way that suggested she had done this before without burning the cards in question. There would be a lot to take care of soon, first and foremost finding some food, then new armor for everypony, perhaps some weapon upgrades or ammo if they were available, and most importantly, a way to make some more caps. Basic survival stuff of the wastes. But for now, sleep was what I needed, and my eyes fluttered closed as the wind howled outside, sounding like a lonely wolf in the distance.


I gazed up in awe at the gates of Auction House. I had traveled a long way since… since I lived at the Big 52. I had hitched passage with a caravan headed out towards where Mr. Opportunity said his friends were, but before they had gotten to wherever it was that they needed to go, raiders had ambushed killed them. I managed to hide until they had passed by… but that was scary. I persevered though, putting to use all the skills that my dear ol’ Ma and Pa had taught me, and I got by by myself for a while. I probably wouldn’t have made it though, if I hadn’t run into Mr. Opportunities friends a few days later. They said they had recognized me from Mr. O’s description, and the goggles he had given me, and they gave me some food and water and let me travel with them for a while. Now we were at Auction House, and I was going to be officially registered as a slaver!

“Alright, Coin. Get up here.” said Hork Hook, the leader of our little slaving caravan. He was missing his front right leg, and had instead a cybernetic leg in its place. The rest of him was orange and as scarred as Mr. O had been, and had been the one who found me when I was wandering around alone. I don’t remember much about that time… except for the fact that I had been as sad as I had ever been in my entire life… but now Mr. O’s friends were taking care of me, just like he had said! I trotted up to him, and he lifted me up and put me on the little counter the guard shack for this gate had. “This here is Coin Slot, our… newest member.”

“You recruited a filly?” the guard, who was wearing an old motorcycle helmet so I couldn’t see his face, asked.

“It was… a favor for a friend of ours, otherwise she would be with the rest of them.” Hork gestured to the caged cart we had our slaves in. Apparently without Mr. Opportunities recommendation, I would have been enslaved too. I didn’t quite know how I felt about that, but Hork said not to worry about it, and my dear ol’ Ma said not to question those who were doing us favors, so I decided that it was okay.

“Whatever you say, pal.” the guard replied. “Her name was Coin Slot, you said?”


“Alright, I’ll get the registration up to the big house at the end of the day. She can buy and sell here all she likes, and the slaver laws apply to her for the duration of her stay. I’ll leave it up to you to explain to her how things work here.”

“Thanks very much, very much.” Hork Hook said. He sometimes repeated himself. You got used to it if you talked to him for any amount of time. He lifted me down and told me to follow him, and we walked through the open gates of Auction House.

The inside was packed. I could see ponies standing in front of big canvass tents and lean-tos, full of everything from food to weapons to armor, with the ponies shouting to get the crowd’s attention, all of them selling the things in the tents to whoever would by them. Ma would love this place, I was sure. “Do you think they sell Twinkie Pinkie’s here?” I asked Hork.

“You might want to go try some scavenger stands, they sometimes have pre-war snacks.” Hork replied. “Look, my associates and I gotta offload this meat, do you think you could look after yourself for a while? Here are some caps. Go take a look around and meet me back at this gate at sundown. Sundown.”

“O… okay!” I said, barely containing my smile. I got to go and have fun by myself! I could explore all I wanted! I’ve never gotten to do things like this before… I’ve never gotten to shop, or find things on my own, or anything like that! Thanking Hork, I ran off for the nearest stand that looked like it sold food. I was hungry.

“HURRY UP, YOU PONIES, AND COME ‘ROUND FOR A FLASH AUCTION! WE GOT SOME SPECIAL GOODS HERE, AND YOU WON’T WANT TO MISS YOUR CHANCE!!” Shouted a mare with a top hat standing in front of a large tent full of ponies that were chained to each other by their legs. I stopped, I was right in front of the tent, and ponies started to crowd all around me, I couldn’t get around them.

“Alright, we got four slaves up for auction today, with special discounts to those who look at my wares afterwards!” the mare, who I noticed also had a really big smile with a gold tooth in it, shouted to the gathered crowd. She was pretty, she reminded me of Lucky Star. I frowned, being reminded of the casino always made me feel like I was being torn up on the inside…

“First up we got a strong young stallion all the way from Stalliongrad! Broadest back I ever did see, he’s a draft horse through and through. If you got heavy lifting needing doing, then you look no further then this auction today! He unfortunately doesn’t speak much in the way of common Equestrian, though he’ll understand simple commands, so we’ll start the biding at the ridiculously low price of two hundred caps!” the mare shouted. Ponies started raising their hooves, talking excitedly when an absolutely massive stallion was pulled out of the line of ponies in the tent. He had a big moustache and eyebrows so heavy that they seemed to cover his eyes. His cutie mark was a sickle… was he good at farming? He just stood there, surveying the crowd in front of him like it was something new to him.

“I got five hundred caps! Can I get six?! Six! Sev… oh, wait, eight from the mare in the back row! Eight hundred caps going once! Eig… and we have nine from the gentlepony with the tie! Oh, that mare just raised it to one thousand!! One thousand caps! And another bid from Mr. Tie! Looks like we got a bidding war, ponies!” The mare selling these… slaves was shouting, and I was getting excited just watching her announce the totals the two ponies were bidding over this stallion. The crowd behind me was shoving and getting louder too, everypony seemed to be having a good time. I looked in my bag to see how many caps Hork had given me… maybe I could try this auction thing? It looked pretty fun.

“AAAAAAAAAAND SOLD! Sold to the mare in the back row for one thousand four hundred caps! Congratulations miss, please head to the back of the tent and don’t forget to pay the lady! Next we have a sexy young thing, perfect for the fine young stallions I see out in the crowd tonight! Maybe some of you could come by my tent later this evening?!” The mare smiled her big smile with the golden tooth and winked to the crowd. There were a few whistles and catcalls that I had sometimes heard directed at Lucky Star, but had never gotten explained to me. Maybe I could ask this mare later… “But if you buy this next slave, you won’t have too!” the mare continued. “Picked her up from the outskirts of Tenpony Tower, she’s educated and knows her way around computers, so she isn’t just another pretty face like me! We’ll start the bidding at two hundred caps again, and that’s a steal!”

The mare brought out from the tent for showing was indeed quite pretty looking. She almost looked like my Ma… but was different somehow. For starters, she was the wrong color, she was red with a golden colored mane, and my Ma was light blue with a pink and dark pink striped mane. But that was the obvious difference… the real difference was that she looked… broken. Her ears were drooping, she was looking at the ground, her tail was between her legs, and I thought I saw tears coming out of her eyes. Ma never cried, and never looked like this. She was strong, independent, and able to take on any challenge. This mare looked like she would even flee from me if I yelled ‘boo’ at her.

Now that I thought about it, she didn’t look like dear ol’ Ma at all.

“Wow! Two thousand caps! I can’t believe it!” the mare giving the auction shouted. She was smiling so big that I could see that she also had a golden molar, bringing her number of gold teeth to two. “Two thousand caps going once! TWO THOUSAND CAPS GOING TWICE… LAST CHANCE PONIES!” she shouted, then paused for dramatic effect. I was nearly on the edge of my seat wondering if somepony would bid higher.

“SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOLD!! Congratulations to the young buck with the flower growing out of his head! Hey, might want to get that checked out, I think they make pills for that.” The gold-toothed mare winked. “Head to the back of the tent and you’ll get taken care of. Next we got a double deal, set of twins here, picked up outside of Hoofington! Outside, mind you, I didn’t get anywhere near that place. These two apparently came from there though, so you know they got combat skills! Again, starting bids at two hundred caps!” A pair of ponies was brought out, two stallions who looked exactly alike, except for different cutie marks. One had a rifle for a cutie mark, the other had a pistol. They also looked pretty young… I mean, not like they were adults. They were still older than me, but they looked like teenagers. They were both tan with brown manes, long necks, and slightly larger chins than normal.

“We got a bid for three hundred caps! C’mon ponies, this is a two for one deal, don’t slow down now!” the auctioneer mare shouted. Some of the crowd had dispersed, and it looked like ponies were for some reason losing interest. There were still plenty hanging around, but I had the feeling that they were just waiting to see the rest of the slaves in the tent when the auction was over. She did mention special discounts. “That’s the spirit, four hundred caps!”

I almost forgot! I wanted to try this auction thing too! I quickly counted through the caps I had as fast as I could, using my magic to pile them in piles of ten so I could keep track, but making sure I did this with as much secrecy as I could. Ma always told me to not show off if I have money, otherwise Bad Ponies would come and take it from me. By the time the bid got to six hundred caps, I had counted that I had around eight hundred total, give or take a few caps. I quickly jumped to my hooves, shouting “Six fifty!”

“Oh! Um… and we have a bid from the filly in the front row! Now I’ve seen it all, we have a bid for six fifty for the twins from a little filly! Does anypony want to challenge her?”

“Seven.” said a voice behind me. Shoot!

“Seven twenty five!” I countered, not wanting to be beaten, but we were rapidly approaching my limit…

“This filly wants ‘em bad, we got seven twenty five going once… seven twenty five going twice…” the auctioneer mare shouted. I was trembling with excitement… cmooooon…. Say it…. Say it!

“SOLD! To the filly in the front row, congratulations, you just picked up two new best friends! Head on back behind the tent, my associate will see the transaction through! That’s it for the auction today, folks, but come and look at what else is on the shelves, I got a big stock, slaves for every occasion, from bodyguards to farmers, technicians to more intimate services, Merry Mary has what you need!” said the mare, who apparently called herself Merry Mary. Ponies trotted around me to look at the slaves inside the tent, while I quickly grabbed my bag and headed around to the back where I had seen the other two auction winners go. I was so excited! I had just won my first auction at my first visit to Auction House! I couldn’t believe it! I was so happy I bounced up and down for a bit just to wear off some extra energy before continuing on.

Rounding the corner, I passed the big stallion that had been sold first, his new… owner, I guess, turned out to be a small pegasus mare. I was surprised, you didn’t see many pegasi down below the clouds… in fact, I was pretty sure that this was the third one I had seen in my whole life. The first one had been a Dashite who had come to the casino for a drink and some rest, and the second one was actually one of Hork’s companions traveling with us, who said he used to be in the Pegasus Enclave before deciding that there was more money to be made in the slave trade. His armor was made of bits and pieces of old power armor, so I believed him.

They were leaving, in any case, and so was the second slave and her new owner… who really did have a flower growing out of his head. Weird, but there were stranger things in the wasteland, if half of Hork’s stories around the campfire were true. I ducked around them and approached a bored looking mare sitting at a desk with a cap box on it and a receipt pad. Standing next to the desk were the two twins I had just purchased.

It was still kind of weird thinking of ponies like that, but Hork said that I would get used to it in time, and to pay that feeling no mind. Since I was on my own now, he said, I would need to make sure and watch out for myself. And Ma did say one day I would have to do that… so I tried to just think of them as goods, like my goggles or Hoof of Honor. Important things, things that needed to be taken care of, but just that. Hork used the term ‘meat’ and a few other slavers used stuff like ‘cargo’ or ‘bodies’ to refer to slaves, but I liked ‘goods.’ Hork said it didn’t matter, so long as it made sense to me. I’m glad Mr. Opportunity has such nice friends.

“Let’s see… seven hundred and twenty five caps, little lady?” the bored looking mare said in a nasally voice, adjusting her glasses and looking at a receipt she just wrote up.

“Yep! Here ya go!” I replied, counting out the caps in groups of ten (and one five).

“Congratulations, please come back to Merry Mary’s any time you require more slaves. Merry Mary’s, always serving up service at prime prices…” the mare said in that nasally monotone. I don’t think she really liked her job… “Anyways, here’s your detonators, pre-programmed with a leash of two hundred yards. Do you know how to work them?”

“Um…” I said as she gave me two weird looking devices with a few buttons and a small screen.

She sighed. “Here, lemme go over the basics, or you’ll blow their heads off by accident…” She explained to me how their bomb collars work, and how I could control them with the detonators. “Please tell me you have somepony you’re traveling with who could teach you more about them…” she said after a few minutes of explaining.

“Yeah, I do, his name is Hork Hook…” I said.

“Great! Now get out of here, kid, I’m on break.”

“Um, okay… c’mon, you two.” I said to the two twins, who had been standing there watching me, both of them smiling. They were wearing bomb collars, which were presumably linked to the detonators I now had in my saddlebags.

“Can you believe our luck, brother?” said the one with the pistol cutie mark.

“I know, but can it for now, we need to wait for a bit. Hey there, um, master. Or do you prefer mistress?” said the one with the rifle cutie mark.

“Um… master is fine.” I said, deciding on one. It didn’t really matter which one it was when you were a mare, Hork had told me. He said it was weird for a stallion to be called mistress though, not that it didn’t happen on occasion. “My name is Coin Slot! What’s you guy’s names?” I asked.

“We’re the Crush brothers. I’m Orange, and he’s Pineapple.” said Orange Crush, the one with the rifle. “We used to be initiates in the Hoofington Steel Rangers, so you can be sure we’re tough as nails!”

Wow! Steel Rangers! “That’s so cool!” I said. “Just wait ‘till I show you to Hork and the others, they’ll be so impressed! You guys hungry?” I still had seventy five caps, enough to get us something to eat.

“I could go for something to eat… um, if that’s alright with you, master.” Pineapple said.

“Alright! Let’s go find some pre-war food!” I said, wanting to treat myself. The Crush’s both made a face, but didn’t say anything. I looked around for a bit amongst the bustling market, my new slaves close behind me, and found a shack that was selling fried Cram over Insta-Mash grits, and it smelled delicious. “Let’s stop here.” I said.

“Cram? Really? That stuff is…oof!” Pineapple started, but stopped when his brother kicked him in the side, trying to be secret about it, but I noticed. “I mean, that’s great! Whatever you say, mistress, uh, master!”

“Wait here while I get us something.” I said, and went over to the shack. I bought the Cram over Insta-Mash grits that I smelt, and… what luck! I spotted on a shelf three Twinkie Pinkies! Quickly snatching them up, I made my purchase and exited the shack, making sure to thank the store’s owner.

On my way back, food in hoof, I was momentarily distracted by a commotion over near the end of the street, something with the remains of what looked like a vertibuck, when my ears perked up at Pineapple’s voice.

“We can totally just jump her you know. We could be out tonight!”

“Hold on a second, Pineapple, you never think things through.” This was Orange talking now. “We can’t escape when we’re in the middle of the slaver’s city, you dolt. She’s nice enough, and probably couldn’t hurt us even if she tried. She’s what, ten? It’s whomever she’s traveling with that I’m more concerned about. And we wouldn’t even make it past the gates if we were to jump her while we were here. No, what we do is we wait until we leave the city, however long that takes, and then jump her, steal the detonators, and make tracks for the Hoof. Hopefully we can meet up with some Rangers before her party catches up to us.”

“Sounds like a plan…oop! Here she comes, act natural.” Pineapple said, looking at me. I didn’t think they realized that I had heard every word.

My heart sank… suddenly I wasn’t very hungry. They wanted to… escape? I mean, I heard that most slaves wanted to escape during the first few weeks, but they got over it if you treated them right. And I had gotten these slaves from Mary, so they should be over that urge by now! I literally just got them and they were already plotting behind my back?! I just bought them food! I was going to take care of them! We were going to be friends… I wasn’t going to be alone anymore… I mean, Hork was nice enough, but he just didn’t get it sometimes…

“Um, is everything okay?” Orange asked, as he and Pineapple trotted up to me when they realized I wasn’t moving.

My eyes started to fill with tears… no, don’t cry… not in front of… traitors like them! I dropped the bag of food, and angrily shouted “So you don’t want me as a master, huh?! You… you’re going to jump me the first chance you get, is that the plan?! No, you’re gonna wait for the best moment, that makes sense! Never mind my feelings, never mind that I might just want somepony to be there for me, never mind… ANYTHING!!” I screamed.

The Crush’s looked taken aback. “She heard you, man.” Pineapple said. “You always talk too loud.”

Orange smacked him on the head “Shut up and let me do the talking. Hey, um… don’t listen to us, we were just…” he started, but I could tell he was just trying to cover up what he said.

“No! You guys aren’t what I’m looking for! I’m through with you!” I shouted, kicking at a rock in the street. “Who wants twin slaves? Former Steel Rangers, from the Hoofington area, as tough as they get!” I shouted into the street. Their eyes widened.

“No no, don’t sell us!” Pineapple said, waving his hooves.

“Why not? Because you’ll have a harder time escaping from somepony who’s not a kid?” I snarled.

“Well, yeah…”

“THAT’S IT!” I shouted, furious. Orange was facehoofing, but I didn’t care what they did at this point. I had half a mind to blow off their heads… but I had never killed anypony before… “Who wants ‘em? A bargain at one thousand caps!” Ponies were starting to stare at me, but nopony was taking my offer…

“I’ll take em for nine hundred. Could use a pair of fucking Steel Rangers, even if they do look like fucking bean poles.” said an old-sounding voice. I turned around. An old yellow mare was looking at me, sitting outside of a big building with a ‘G’ and an ‘S’ on it. “Mah name’s Gee, and I need a couple of young bucks to work at my inn. They won’t ever fucking leave the city.” she said, winking.

“Hear that? Good luck escaping! Sold!” I said, triumphant. The Crush twins groaned, but I ignored them as I hoofed over the detonators to Miss Gee and she gave me the caps.

“Alright, whippersnappers, get in here! And if I hear any fucking talk of escaping, you’ll feel the back of my hoof!” Gee said as the two twins, who now looked considerably less happy and nice. “If’n you ever need a place to stay, youngster, ya can always look here.” Gee said, smiling at me. She was missing most of her teeth.

“Yeah… thanks…” I said, getting my food and walking away. I had made a tidy profit, that was something Ma would be proud of at least…

I found somewhere to sit and eat, tears streaming down my cheeks. I missed Ma and Pa… I didn’t want to be alone…


“Ma…” I awoke muttering to myself. I realized that a tear was actually running down my cheek, and quickly woke myself up after that, hoping nopony had seen or heard anything. “Darn it, Mezzer, what did I tell you?” I thought immediately at the sentient gun regretfully residing in my brain.

“Thou said that I could review a memory later. It was later.” Mezzer said.

“Remind me to be more literal with you.” I thought at him angrily, but wasn’t really in the mood to pick a fight… especially after all the fighting that had been taking place recently, both in real time and in my memories. I looked around. Everypony was awake, but they weren’t paying attention to me. It seemed Tilled had started up a poker game, using pieces of trash as the chips, so I was guessing the game was more for fun and not actually using any money. Surprisingly, it looked like Matchstick had the biggest stack of trash in front of her, but I couldn’t tell if she was winning. It depended on what denominations they were using for whatever piece of trash. Was a tin can worth more than a wrapper? “Hey guys.” I said, standing up. “Who’s winning? And how long has it been?”

“You have been unconscious for nearly a week and a half, sah!” MG-MS11 said. “I was nearly going to recommend transfer to the nearest MOP institute for long-term treatment, good to see you back on your hooves!”

“A week?!” I shouted in shock. Everypony looked at MG-MS11 in confusion.

“I jest, Sarge, Ha Ha Ha. Some good humor to perk up the low morale I’ve been detecting lately. It has been exactly three hours, thirty four minutes, and forty two seconds since you fell asleep, sah!” the robot saluted. “Everypony else woke up at least an hour ago, you must have been tired!”

“Crescent?” I said.

“Um, yes?” she snorted. Was she laughing? Did she actually think that was funny?

“Kill him please.” I said.

“What?!” Crescent looked horrified.

“Sarge! Commanding a civilian contractor to kill another soldier in your squad is a court martial offense!” MG-MS11 sounded shocked.

“Relax, Sergeant. It was, how did you put it? A jest. Merely a joke.”

“Oh, I see. Ha Ha. Good to see you in high spirits, sah!” MG-MS11 saluted again, following this statement with a little patriotic fanfare.

“First time I’ve ever seen a robot tell a joke. Or lie. Or anythin’ like that.” Tilled Earth said.

“Yeah, he’s special. So how’s the game?” I asked again.

“Surprisingly, Matchstick is winning.” Shimmercoat said.

Matchstick stuck her tongue out at him. “It’s cause I got mad skills at poker.”

“No, it’s because nopony can tell when you’re bluffing or being serious.” Shimmercoat rolled his eyes. “Being so random that you’re unpredictable isn’t a ‘skill.’”

“I bet the Ministry of Morale mare would disagree with you on that one, wot!” came a raspy voice from the door.

As one, we turned our heads to look at our new guest. Crescent Wrench screamed, and Shimmercoat lept to his hooves, reaching for his saddlebags.

“Stand down! Guy’s, it’s okay, relax. This one’s okay.” I said, even though the pony in front of us surprised me and made me a little nervous. His coat appeared to be green, and he had strands of yellow mane and tail still remaining here and there, but for the most part, the thing that stood out about him was that he was a ghoul. Non-feral, obviously, otherwise he wouldn’t be able to talk, much less rent a room. Shimmercoat and Crescent Wrench had never met a non-feral ghoul before, though, so I understood their reactions, though I hoped he did too. He had a large battle-saddle on, with what looked like a large-caliber machine gun mounted to it, and a weird generator thing mounted on the top of it as well. He was wearing a top hat and monocle, and from what I could tell, that was what his cutie mark was as well, though it was half rotted off. Another thing that was surprising was that he had wings. Half-rotted, bones-showing-in-places wings, but wings nonetheless. He was a pegasus ghoul. “Um, hi.” I said. “Sorry about those two, they’re Stable ponies, the only ghouls they’ve met are feral ones. My name is Coin Slot, what’s yours?”

“Ah, I was hoping that I hadn’t purchased a room filled with bigots, that’s a relief, wot!” the ghoul rasped in a weird accent, which didn't mix very well with the usual ghoulish death rattle. He took off his hat, revealing that the top of his head was as balding and rotten as the rest of him, and bowed. “The name is Notch, Top Notch, Monster Hunter Extraordinaire! And how do you all do this fine evening?”

“We’re pretty good, just resting before we decide what to do next…” I said. “That name sounds familiar…” I thought.

“That’s because he’s the son of Stable 11’s first Overmare!” Mezzer nearly shouted in my head. “The brother to a General Atomareics executive! He might have the answers I seek!”

“Cool your jets, alright?” I said to Mezzer, rubbing my forehead. “Though that is actually pretty interesting.” “Feel free to pull up a mattress.” I said, inviting him in.

“I say, that is the most interesting mane condition I have ever seen.” Top Notch said, pulling a spare mattress next to Matchstick. “Care to deal me in, wot?”

“Condition, yeah, that’s one thing to call it. Curse is another one.” Matchstick replied, though she smiled when she said it. She passed out the cards, dealing both me and Top Notch in. “This is just a game for fun, so grab some trash and prepare to lose it.” she said, winking.

“Alright, we can go a few more hands, but we need to do some things before sundown, so prep yourselves mentally to head out in a few.” I said.

“I’ve actually got some errands to run as well, I think I’ll accompany you lot, wot? The weather out there is something fierce.” Our ghoul guest said, picking up his cards.

“So… he’s an okay ghoul? I don’t understand…” Crescent Wrench came out from behind MG-MS11, where she had hid when Top Notch entered the room.

“Basically, young’n, some ghouls have the mental fortitude to not go insane when they become… that way.” Tilled Earth said, nodding to Top. “So what you’re lookin’ at here is a 200 some-odd year old pony with a minor skin condition. Nothin’ more sinister than that.”

“Brilliantly put!” Top Notch said. “If you need a history lesson, a ghoul is the best teacher out there!”

“Do… ghouls become feral eventually?” Shimmercoat asked. I facehoofed. They were taking every politically incorrect thing you could bring up around a non-feral ghoul and throwing it in his face. Luckily, he seemed to take it in stride, any other ghoul I’d met (not that I’d actually met all that many) would have taken serious offense to their behavior. I just hoped they had the good sense not to call him a zombie.

“That they do, lad, that they do. But all ponies die eventually, and that’s just a ghoul’s way of death, in my opinion. Until then I will live life to the fullest, and damn the consequences, wot! Full house!” he opened his hand, showing everypony that he had won the pot.

“Oh, wow, nice one.” Matchstick said.

“Hey, I’m the best at everything I do, it runs in the family.” Top Notch doffed his hat, winking through his monocle, which looked like it had melted into his face.

“His mother wasn’t the best Overmare, from the records thou saw…” Mezzer helpfully pointed out.

“I don’t think I’ll mention that. He’s got one heck of a big machine gun, and I don’t want to see how it works up close.” I said to him. “Well…” I said out loud. “I think the first thing we should do is take stock of what we have, and work out where to go from there. We need to make a list of priorities to take care of while we’re in town."

“Capital idea, Sarge!” MG-MS11 said. “A squad must always keep track of their supplies so they know what to report to the logistics officers for support! On that note, my order of cybernetic limbs is behind delivery by 212 years! So the first logistics officer we see is going to get a severe tongue lashing from me, mark my words!”

“Right, I’ll be sure to keep that in mind…” I said, emptying out my saddlebags and taking a look at what I had. Sure, I could use my Pipbuck, but I preferred to take stock the old fashioned way in this situation, when I could take my time about it. Everypony else was doing much the same, except Crescent and Shimmercoat, who were using their Pipbucks, but that made sense considering they were raised with the things. Once I got an idea of what we had, I could work out a list of what we needed, and see if Auction House had anything to offer. Hopefully I could get some more caps and get what we needed before sundown… hopefully. Otherwise, I’d have to scrounge up the caps for another day at Gee’s, and I don’t think my cap pouch could take that.

Level up! (Lv. 14)

New Perk: Pathfinder: You've finally made it to Auction House! Your trek through the wastes has given you insight on how to get to where you need to go faster, and you can now find shelter in the most unlikely of places. Effectively boosts your Outdoorspony skill by 25 when looking for roads, paths, or a place to crash for the night, and increases your overland speed by 10%

Authors Note: So this is awkward... I've got to apologize for not updating for so long. Things have been busy, in no particular order I graduated college, got a job that I don't like but pays the bills, am now currently renting my own place instead of living with my dad, got a girlfriend, and have embarked basically on a new chapter in life! It's exciting and terrifying at the same time, but a big step in the right direction, I think. In any case, I am very sorry for the long delay, and hopefully it won't be another year for chapter 14 to come out ;) Things have been smoothing out though, and getting more and more into a daily routine, which means I can hopefully manage my time better. Maybe.

Also, one of the comments gave me an idea. I'm thinking about setting up a Paetron account. If it gets high enough, then I could take a day or two off of my day job and use the time to write without losing out on that precious rent money. I'll work out the details soon, but ya'll can expect a blog post about it and incessant adverts in my authors notes once I set it up! Feedback on whether this is a good idea or not is appreciated, go ahead and drop me a PM if you have thoughts or questions on the matter. If however you want to donate to the cause before I get that going, my paypal is slinkyjeff@hotmail.com. Any and all donations are appreciated more than you know, especially now that I have a landlord and everything that adults have to worry about homeowning (or homerenting). Why were we in such a hurry to grow up as kids? ;)

In any case, I also make plushies, and if you want to commission one, feel free to email me about it at the same address! I love you all and thank you for sticking with me despite the delays.

HUGE thanks to Kkat for writing Fallout: Equestria and giving us sidefic writers a great big sandbox to play in. Also thanks to Shimmercoat for help editing and proofreading this slog to make it something enjoyable. And thanks to all who hang out at the Sidefic Compilation doc for providing feedback and inspiration to write my own story. Also thanks to Bethesda and Hasbro for two great franchises. Hope you enjoy!

Chapter 14 > In which Opportunity is Seized

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Chapter 14 > In which Opportunity is Seized

Winter is here… and it’s COLD!

"So, we have plenty of ammo, which is good..." I said, taking stock of all our belongings. "And lots of radiation medication from the GA building. We don't need this much, could be good to sell though."

"Did you say GA? As in, General Atomareics?" Top Notch rasped.

"Huh?" I responded, feigning confusion. I knew that he was asking because he was related to that company, at least through his long-dead brother, but I didn't want him to think I was a snoop or anything. Again, that big gun on his back looked pretty intimidating. "Oh, yeah. We were chased into their headquarters building a while back by a Hellhound. It was pretty irradiated, but luckily the first aid stock there included a lot of anti-radiation medication, otherwise we'd probably be glowing corpses by now. Why, you know them?"

"Ah, my dear brother was an executive there, hm?" Top Notch said. He had an accent to his words I’d never heard before. "Just didn't expect to hear that name from you folks. Pay this old ghoul no mind." I nodded, not really knowing what to say to him.

"In any case," I continued, "we could sell some of the rad medication to get a few caps. We've also picked up quite a few explosives... do we really need this many mines?" I asked.

"Not unless you're planning on ambushing somepony." Shimmercoat said. "I've got my .44 and some ammo, and a few healing potions, and more anti-rad stuff. Not exactly much else... honestly, what I think we need is some food and water."

"Um... my stuff is with you, for the most part..." Crescent Wrench said, looking at me from behind her mostly empty saddlebags. She had her sledgehammer leaning against the wall, but that was basically it. I remembered that she was the one that had picked up most of the explosives I was carrying.

"Got a few assorted drugs, and some flame-retardant gel, if that helps." Matchstick Flare pointed at the spread she had put out in front of her. Surprisingly, or perhaps not, considering her past, she had a few inhalers of Dash and some needles full of what looked to me like Stampede.

"What's the gel for?" Shimmercoat asked.

"Sometimes I need to get into places that'll go up in smoke if I don't apply this to the walls or my armor first. It doesn't totally prevent something from igniting, but it helps slow it down enough that I can get into tight, flammable spaces if I move quickly." Matchstick said, looking down at the tube of gel, her eyes strangely unfocused. There was a slightly awkward silence as we took this in.

"Um, I agree with Shimmercoat though." I said, trying to ignore the fact that the floor was slightly charing under Matchstick's body. Hopefully Gee wouldn't notice till we were long gone. "We're going to need food and water for traveling, as well as more healing potions for MG-MS11. A little more ammo for Shimmercoat couldn't hurt either."

"What about your gun?" Crescent asked. "I've never seen you reload it."

"Um..." I said, pulling out Mezzer. "You don't use ammo, right?"

”I’m powered via fusion core!” Mezzer said proudly, his image in my head looking as smug as a pony with a screen for a head could look. ”I will not need reloading for a couple hundred years of normal use at least! In theory…”

“I say!” Top Notch looked at me, his crinkled eyes widening to the point where I half expected them to roll out of his head. “Is that a Mesmetron?”

“I-it is, from what I’ve been able to find out…” I stammered. “You know of it? I actually have a few questions.”

”YES! Finally we can get answers about from whence I came!” Mezzer exulted loudly enough for me to wince. Having a weapon spirit or whatever in your head was certainly a quick way to get a headache.

“I do in fact know of it. Did you find it at the GA building? My brother was telling me about their new pacification weapons program, and that was supposed to be one of the nonlethal weapons they were producing. I personally didn’t see the need, wot! Why would we be needing NON lethal weapons? Those striped bastards needed putting down into the ground, not into camps, wot!” Top Notch seemed agitated at the reminder of the war. Did he have a fight with his brother or something?

“Now calm down now… Ah know that times were tough back then, but for better, or more likely worse, the wars all over now. No need to get so worked up all over nothin’.” Tilled Earth said, holding out a calming hoof to the irritated ghoul.

“Yes… for better or worse…” I said. “To answer your question, no. I… um, found this some time ago. It was just out in a field really. I was actually wondering if you could tell me how it worked or where it came from, since you know so much about it.”

“Hmph!” Top Notch still seemed worked up, but he answered my question after a rasping cough. “Well, I’m afraid I’m no expert. My forte is in using weapons, not crafting them. That was more my brother’s thing. He did tell me things about how it messes with brain waves or something, jumbling them up to stun the target. I think he was working towards full mind control, actually. Again, complete hogwash, in my opinion. Mind control seems far too shady and unreliable, better to just take the beast and put him in the ground, quick as you like.”

“It seems to be fusion core powered…” I said, trying to pump more info out of the old ghoul. Even though he said he wasn’t an expert, both me and Mezzer were hungry for any information we could collect.

“Well at least you won’t really need ammo then…” Shimmercoat muttered, hoof deep in the remaining saddlebags. He sorted out what we should keep and what we would eventually sell, placing them in separate piles. Crescent Wrench hung around next to his flank, watching him and listening to us. She had positioned herself behind Shimmercoat, interposing him between herself and Top Notch. She was probably still scared of ghouls, despite our assurances that he wouldn’t bite.

Honestly I didn’t blame her… Sometimes I still had hang-ups about ghouls too, but dear ol’ Ma had made sure that I at least had some experience with them.

“Yes, indeed. Fusion core powered energy weapons were becoming the next big thing when the megaspells hit.” Top Notch said. “It will probably run out eventually, but the cores themselves are heavy. It shouldn’t be too much of a concern for now, however. Just stash another one at your home base, or somewhere safe. You can come back to it if you need to swap one out. The gun should show when it’s running low on power.”

“Thanks so much for this! It’s hard not knowing about what your gun is capable of.” I smiled, adjusting my ski goggles on my forehead.

“No worries, little filly! I am a weapons aficionado, after all! An expert with anything I can fit into a saddle! After all you need the big guns to hunt the big monsters that are out there, wot!” Top Notch grinned. “Like I said though, I prefer more… direct methods of damage.”

“I had one more question.” I said, looking down at the dirty ground beneath my hooves. Gee really needed to get a cleaning slave or something… “Did you hear about any… mental effects coming from these Mesmetrons? From using them?”

”I am no mere psychosis, dear Coin Slot.” Mezzer said. “Be careful where thou must tread. Thou probably dost not wish for those around thee to think that thou art insane.”

“Hmmmm…” Top Notch thought for a moment. “I don’t recall anything about that in particular. It’s possible, after all the waves that weapon emits scrambles the brain up. But I didn’t hear anything about it from my brother or his team, at least. Just don’t shoot yourself in the face with it, I recommend, eh?” Top Notch rasped a guttural laugh at his own joke, not caring that he was the only one laughing.

“Welllll…. Not to interrupt or anything…” Shimmercoat said, raising his eyebrow at the laughing ghoul. “But it seems we have enough to sell for a few healing potions and some food and water. Nothing that makes us… or rather you, rich. But enough to keep us going.” Shimmercoat gestured at the piles of equipment and drugs he had made. He was right, it was a fair amount of stuff.

“Alright, we’ll visit the market and get some travel supplies.” I said, scooping the sellables into one pouch and the usable stuff got distributed amongst those who could use it. “I just hope the weather clears out a bit before we have to go out. If it weren’t for Matchstick, we’d be freezing.” Matchstick Flare grumbled a bit. She didn’t like being a campfire, but it was keeping us warm. The wind outside was howling, and the snow had flurried up and was pounding against the walls and roof, almost a full blizzard.

“I wouldn’t hold my breath for that! I know what’s causing this foul cold weather, and it’s not going to go away quietly. It’s the reason I’m here, isn’t it?!” Top Notch was smiling, his milky eyes gleaming as they stared out the dark window into the snow. Even though we had slept through what felt like the whole night, it was still dark outside. The snow blocked most of the light that desperately tried to filter down to the ground. It would be rough getting to the market at all, even if there were ponies trying to sell things in weather like this.

“What do you mean?” Crescent asked, her eyes wide.

“Like I said! I’m a monster hunter! And the monster causing this storm is none other than a Rad-Windigo! Maybe even a whole pack, wot!” Top Notch said, his hoof touching his monocle again.

“Rad-Windigo? What’s that?” Matchstick Flare and I asked simultaneously, but surprisingly, Shimmercoat and Crescent Wrench gasped in sudden understanding. And they looked nervous.

“Well I don’t know about what the radiation would do with them, but we heard about Windigos in our folklore and stories around the Stable.” Shimmercoat said.

“Yeah, they eat your emotions and make you do rotten things to other ponies! And use that energy to make everypony miserable in the cold and the snow, then when all the ponies are frozen, they eat them up like ponysicles!” Crescent Wrench practically shouted.

“Quiet down, we don’t want to disturb Gee.” I scolded. Top Notch nodded, but continued.

“Precisely, Stable ponies! Rad-Windigos have taken up residence in the area, and they are the cause of all this bad weather, what with their magically induced snow and cold, wot! And I’m sure ponies around town have been more irritable lately? More than normal?”

“Well we haven’t been in town for so long to really notice much…” I said. “But I did get the feeling that ponies were avoiding each other. I thought it was just everypony wanting to get in out of the snow?”

“Indeed, that’d be the case, but there’s more to it than that! Windigo magic has an effect on ponies, turning them against one another, putting brother against brother! Causing feuds, schisms, and all kinds of social damage. Even the cause of a few ancient wars have been attributed to Windigo activity, and that’s before they got all supercharged with magical radiation!” Top Notch looked like he was having the time of his life educating all of us. “Now they’re hulking, massive beasts, each one carrying its own personal blizzard and able to influence entire regions! They have wolf-like aspects, but more ferocious, and they will pick out frozen and alone ponies from the city until there’s nopony left to take! Thankfully they are rare and usually stick to mountains, but it appears your little Auction House has caught the attention of one or more. Lucky for you, it has also caught the attention of Top Notch, monster hunter extraordinaire! Though I’ve never faced off against a full grown Rad-Windigo before… If you all don’t mind, you all seem fairly plucky. Would you like to help me save the town from this menace? I’m sure once we make our case known to the Council, they will reward us all handsomely.”

“That seems dangerous…” Crescent Wrench looked apprehensive, as did Shimmercoat. Matchstick Flare, on the other hoof…

“Hell yeah! Let’s do this! Monster hunting huh? Now that sounds like the life!” she shouted, pumping her hoof.

“What do you think, Coin?” Top Notch asked. He knew that these ponies were my slaves, so I had to be the one to decide.

“I mean, I can’t really do business here in Auction House if its crops freeze over and the city dies. Yes, I’ll help. Getting the Council on my good side will certainly help make things easier too.” I replied. It was a no brainer really. If there was a big monster causing all this snow and ice, then getting rid of it would be a huge favor for the agriculturally based Auction House. Maybe I could get some favors from council members…

“Then rest up!” Top Notch said “We’ve got a long day ahead of us!”

“We just got up.” Shimmercoat said, much less enthusiastic than the old ghoul.

“Don’t care! You’ll need to be well rested to stand a chance against our prey, so make sure that horn gets recharged! Ah, don’t look so surprised! I can tell when a unicorn is burnt out. You’re close to recovery, though. Bed rest! It’s the best thing for a broken horn, believe you me.” Top Notch winked at Shimmercoat, who looked stunned.

“I agree with Top Notch. Crescent and I will head out and see if anypony is in the courthouse. Matchstick Flare, MG-MS11, can you stay with Shimmercoat and make sure he gets plenty of rest? Even a little use of his horn again would be good.”

“I know some excellent burnout therapy treatments that could help for sure, Sarge! I’ll make sure Private Shimmercoat gets the R&R he needs to be back on duty in no time!” MG-MS11 saluted with his manipulator arm, and I smiled.

“Sounds great.” I replied, while Shimmercoat rolled his eyes. “Alright, Crescent, let’s bundle up, it’s going to be cold out there.”

Crescent Wrench nodded and then looked confused. “Bundle up with what? All we have are our Stable-Tech jumpsuits! Even you still have one!”

“Well, they are comfortable…” I said, thinking. “Maybe we can convince Gee to give us some blankets… no, she’d charge us for sure. Well, we’ll just have to endure it! Get ready for a nice cold run, Crescent!”

“Do I have to go?” Crescent cried out, and looked out the dark window. Snow blew by at near horizontal angles.

“Yes, you’re a strong filly and I have a bad back now. You get to carry the stuff we’re going to sell and buy!” I smiled. My back was twinging in this cold, so I really did need help.

Crescent Wrench mumbled something about how slavery sucked, but trotted up with me by the door. “Are you coming, Top?” I asked. “The Council is in the Courthouse, that’s where we’re headed. We could ask them about the rad-Windigos while we’re there.”

“Simply capital! I will accompany you, my fine mare!” Top Notch said, standing up. “You can introduce me! Also we should tie ourselves together, just so we don’t get separated in this stormy weather.”

“I don’t know about introductions, I barely knew who was on the Council of Auctioneers when I was living here as a filly. But I’m sure they’ll at least talk to us, I am a regular here after all.” I said, then looked out the door to the snow. “Oh, Hiss, stay. I don’t know how ponies in the city will react to you quite yet, so let’s wait to introduce you.” Hiss yawned, he was laying close to Matchstick Flare, and he turned over and went back to sleep. Lazy dog. After we all tied off using some nylon cord that Top Notch had, we headed out into the gloomy snowstorm, the biting cold causing my teeth to chatter almost instantly. “Let’s hurry! We don’t want to freeze!” I shouted, and we trudged forward as quickly as we could.


We shook our hooves off in the foyer of the courthouse, grateful that it seemed like somepony had gotten heating crystals working, or some other method of warming the place up. The five minute trot over here had been brutal, and we were all covered in snow. Top Notch didn’t seem cold at all, but Crescent and I were freezing, our lips blue and teeth clenched as we shivered away the frost in our veins.

“Geeze! I h-hope somepony is doing b-business here, that walk better not be for n-nothing!” I stammered out, trying to thaw as quickly as possible.

“I will say the cold was a bit bracing!” Top Notch said. Did ghouls feel the cold at all? He looked like he was basking comfortably in the tropics for all the effect it had on him.

“That’s one way to p-put it.” I groaned, and looked around. Auction House’s main building, the place the town was built around, was the old pre-war courthouse in the center of it all. It was a large building, multiple stories and with a sizable center room right past the foyer where we were where hearings used to take place. The judge’s stand remained, but everything else surrounding it had been removed and changed. The room was more of a auditorium now, set up to let people see what was going on at the front. A big stage with several places to move goods on and off of it dominated the area around the judge’s stand.

These goods could vary from weapons, stocks of food, and, of course, slaves. The stage even had places to lock slaves in place, basically poles secured to the stage itself. Other than the stage, there were seats filling the middle of the hearing room, and all along the sides of it were small stands that normally bustled with activity when an auction wasn’t going on. Tapestries recovered from various ruins hung from the ceiling and walls, decorating the place and adding some color. This room was the beating heart of Auction House. The market square had more stuff in it by virtue of being a larger outdoor space, but this room was big enough to have its own small market of highly specialized goods. This is where a pony went to shop if she wanted to become an elite slaver. High quality bomb collars, shock prods, memory orbs filled with subservient memories… or punishment memories, if that was what a slaver required. All tools to help maintain order with the stock.

Off to the side there was a stockade as well. Two ponies were locked away in the pillories for some reason that was written on a placard in front of them, but I wasn’t interested. Those stockades were reserved for slavers who broke Auction House law. They might even be enslaved later if whatever they did was bad enough. Slaves were usually turned over to their owners for punishment unless they did something particularly illegal against the city, who would then sentence them appropriately. Auction House did have the death penalty, but it wasn’t widely used… or at least as far as I knew it wasn’t. I was a good littler slaver and never really had any run ins with the law here.

There wasn’t an auction going on, otherwise even with the snow I’m sure the place would be packed. Auction House always had some kind of bidding going on for various goods, it was a city pastime, but the auctions in the actual Courthouse were truly grand affairs. All the important ponies of the region came to participate in them, with huge amounts of caps trading hooves, drinks, shouting, good-natured brawling, and general hob-nobbery. They were almost like galas, just with a mercantile focus. So obviously there was no auction right now, and the place seemed muted, but there were a fair number of ponies here, shopping at the side stalls and entering and exiting through the various doorways into the rest of the building, which held yet more shops and various meeting rooms and even a few hotel rooms, though the Courthouse Hotel was ridiculously expensive. Only the truly wealthy could afford to live here, and nearly all of them were some form of slaver baron, and had huge influence over the area around Auction House.

The ponies here now weren’t very… energetic, though. It felt strange. Every other time I’d come here the place was packed and everypony was having a great time. This time, ponies were staying in tight groups and not really talking to each other. The energy in the room was just negative, and everypony could feel it.

“Coin? These ponies look really scary…” Crescent Wrench said, hefting the pack on her back and stepping closer to me. She was wide eyed at the setup of the room, looking at a Ministry of Technology tapestry hanging from the ceiling. “Do you know anypony here?”

“I don’t know many of these ponies, no... “ I replied, and looked for the one merchant stand where I did actually know the pony running it. “And it looks like my contact in here isn’t at his post.” I pointed at a stand with a sign saying ‘Fidget’s Fineries.’ “Fidget was one of my friends when I was a teenager, he works here now as a clothing and oddities merchant. He’s also kind of a wimp, the weather has him laid up, I’ll bet.”

“Well, these ponies look somewhat upper class, let me do the talking then!” Top Notch said. I frowned. While what he said was true, and technically I was a lot less well off than most of the ponies who were probably here, that didn’t mean I couldn’t approach any of the shops here! Anypony who called Auction House home could shop at the Courthouse, at least during business hours.

“Thanks, Top, but I think I can handle myself.” I said, and he just shrugged. "Let’s try Merc Medicines, they’ll probably take our spare rad medication.” I pointed to the stall. It was a fancier stall, it even had a little office built into the wall off to the side that held a bed and examination equipment. A tiny doctor’s office basically. We trotted up to it and a white-coated, blue maned unicorn mare in a slave collar who looked very, very tired came out of the little office and looked at us when I rang the little bell on the counter of the stall.

“Yeah? Merc Medicines, finest chems in the Courthouse, how can I help you?” she drawled out, sniffing a little. It was hard to see because of her coat color, but there seemed to be a white powder covering her nose. Not that that was really my concern.

“I’d like to sell some radiation medication and a few other things, are you authorized by your master to buy things?” I asked, smiling and trying to be friendly.

“I might be! What’dya got, exactly? I’ll see if the boss mare would even be bothered to shift her ass about it before I’ll go call her.” The slave mare snapped. My smile faded. This drugged up mare was putting off quite the attitude. I had things to sell, though, so I just nodded and laid out the rad-x and rad-away that we had procured from the General Atomareics building. “Is this it? You can’t even get high off this stuff!” the mare glared at the life-saving medication like it had somehow offended her. “Come on, you got to have more on you.”

“All I have left are a few odds and ends and some explosives. Would your master be interested in those? And could I speak to her? I have something to discuss with her.” I said, deadpan.

The mare at the counter couldn’t have looked more unconcerned. “Yeah, yeah, I’ll go get her, but if she rips your head off don’t come crying to me.” she said, and disappeared into the little office again.

“Geeze, she seemed pretty angry for some reason.” Crescent Wrench said, a confused look on her face.

I was confused too. “Yeah I don’t really get it. Normally ponies here are nice. Maybe it was the drugs she was on? I wonder if she was allowed to have those or just took them…”

The door to the office slammed open. I could see inside; the white slave mare was on the ground, covering her head and whimpering. Another mare, also with a blue mane but sporting a red coat of fur, marched out of the office in a doctor's coat. She wore a small pair of glasses, and that forehead thing that doctors wear. She was an earth pony, and seemed pretty pissed off.

“Stupid bitch! Ah told her to take care of it! What’dya’ll want with Merc’s? Make it quick, I was on a good ride!”

I blinked. Was this any way to treat a customer? Even if all I was doing was selling, the supplies should have been welcome, and she should have been focusing on giving me a positive experience so I’d come back for her medical experience (not that MG-MS11 couldn’t handle that stuff for me).

“I, uh, wanted to sell these.” I said, sounding stupefied. I had wanted to complain about the slave, but the master seemed even worse! This was not what I was expecting at all. Had Auction House changed? Was this what Top Notch meant by the social damage created by rampaging Windigos?

“Ha! Well luckily for you I happen to need rad medication. But fer pesterin’ me in this crappy weather, I’m afraid I can’t give you much for em. There’s nopony practically coming in here, nopony trusts their doctors these days.”

“Ma’m,” Top Notch cleared his throat, and stepped forward. “All we’re asking for is a fair price, I’m sure we can come to some agreement. You seem agitated, perhaps I can take you out for a drink after this? My treat. We can discuss what we’re going to do about this weather that has everypony so down these days.” Top was laying on the charm… it was really too bad he didn’t have much in the way of skin. Even through the ghoulish rot I could tell that he used to be quite handsome.

“Ah ain’t drinkin with no ghoul! You can keep yer drugs, we got plenty!” With that, the doctor turned and slammed her door behind her. I heard muffled shouts and squeals from behind it… hopefully she didn’t break any slave treatment laws… corporal punishment was fine, so long as it didn’t go too far, but sometimes ponies forgot that limit.

“Well… okay then. I thought selling our stuff would be the easy part.” I said. I was flabbergasted. What had happened? Auction House was all about buying and selling, a mercantile paradise! The Courthouse only had the finest shops and the friendliest merchants!

“That’d be the Windigo, my dear Coin. It’s sucking the happiness and camaraderie out of these ponies. Soon we’ll be affected too, unless we stop it. Or them, with an area this big, I would not be surprised in the slightest if there was more than one.” Top Notch said, shaking his head. “We need to talk to this Council of yours in a hurry if we want this town to survive.”

“They aren’t my council, but I agree. Pack this stuff up, Crescent, we’re probably not selling it today.” I said. She groaned, but complied. “Now,” I was trying to remember where the council met with members of the public. “If I recall correctly… the council chambers are right behind the hearing room, in the prosecution preparation room I think. It could be the defense side, I can’t remember.”

We went slowly, creating our own little tight knit group walking through the big hall like everypony else. I could see how these Windigos were really a dire threat now… if the effects of their magic had this profound of an affect on everypony, how could society survive? It was like everypony was on edge, suspicious of all, and at any moment a fight could break out. And in the wastes, fights could very, very quickly turn deadly. Honestly, if the weather was better but the emotional effects remained the same, I think the city would have destroyed itself by now. The snow was keeping most ponies inside, so they weren’t coming into contact with each other as much as they normally would have. A blessing in disguise.

Making our way to the door still labeled ‘Prosecution,’ we entered. Inside was what used to be the waiting room for the prosecution and witnesses. It still served its function as a waiting room today, but not for the Council of Auctioneers like I thought. There was an office at the other end of the sparsely decorated room, and a desk in front of the door with a pretty yellow earth pony secretary sitting at it. “Hello! My name is Power Grid, can I help you?” she said, smiling, brushing a stray strand of her brown mane out of her eyes. At least she didn’t seem as belligerent as that doctor pony at Merc’s.

“Hello. I’m Coin Slot. We need to talk to the Council, are they in session right now? And could you point us to where the public can wait to talk to them?” I asked.

“Oh… that might… take a while.” Power Grid said, looking like what I had asked was pretty abnormal. “I know they’re in session right now talking about what to do about this unseasonable cold. The discussion is pretty heated right now… heh.” She chuckled a little bit at her own words. “They aren’t speaking with the public right now. Though to answer your question, the Council used to take the public’s questions here but they moved their office and meeting room upstairs after we were able to renovate the Judges chambers. Their waiting room is upstairs too, just across the hall from the chambers.”

“Who has this office now?” I asked, curious. It had been a while since I’d been back in town, even without the crazy weather things had changed.

“I’m the secretary to the Head of the Slaver Association, Scourge Mane.” said Power Grid. “You can meet with him if you want, he’s in his office now.”

“The Slaver Association? What is this, then?” Top Notch asked.

“We’re a conglomeration of slavers who have set ourselves specific rules and guidelines to make the trade and transport of slaves easier for those ponies working under our umbrella.” Power Grid said, as if quoting from a brochure. “Slaving in the wastes has few restrictions, and plenty of awful ponies do awful things to each other to accomplish their goals or to get advantages over one another. Even those operating out of Auction House and our laws sometimes are beyond legal reach, and are abusing their slaves or operating in areas where they should leave well enough alone. We’re a somewhat new organization, actually.” She smiled, and looked like she was enjoying explaining what the Association was to us.

“It’s basically like this, if you join us you’ll have access to our waystations that we’re building and securing around the wasteland. We have safehouses and trading posts already set up in surprisingly far reaching areas. We also have a system where when an Association Slaver needs to sell slaves here at Auction House, they can actually get their caps in advance at one of these waystations, and other slavers on their way to Auction House can take the slaves from there and move along our trade routes to the city, making things safer for both slaver and slave. Once the slave is sold, the caps are redistributed to the waystation that paid the slaver for them. In exchange for this extended trade network, Association Slavers are required to sign up for transport runs at certain waystations every once in a while, and comply to our slave treatment guidelines. The timing is really determined on how many ponies we can get to join. So far the benefits of being able to access our safe trade routes without fees and being able to sell slaves at Auction House prices far away from the city far outweighs the restrictions on slave treatment and volunteer time we ask for, if I say so myself.”

My eyes widened. “That sounds incredible! Auction House is really branching out?”

“It’s not strictly Auction House, though the Association is based here and follows all Auction House laws.” Power Grid corrected. “The Slaver Association is a separate entity from the city and from the Council of Auctioneers. If somepony or some organization moves against us, we can’t rely on the Auction House Bailiffs to defend us, so we require all our slavers to also be a part of the Association Militia. Since most slavers are armed and dangerous anyways… it’s usually not an issue.”

“I take it this is new to you, Coin?” Top Notch asked. “Sounds like a banging startup company! Tis a shame my brother has passed away, I’m sure he would have had a tip or two to tell this Scourge Mane about management.”

“I assure you Mr. Mane is quite a capable stallion.” Power Grid sighed. “Handsome too, in a rugged way… but, um, don’t tell him I said that!” she stammered, blushing. “He’s quite serious-minded.” She looked around and leaned in conspiratorially, though Crescent and Top Notch could clearly hear her. “Between you and I, I’m trying to crack that rough exterior of his, so I’d appreciate if you don’t tell him my feelings. Please!” she put her hooves together, pouting.

“I promise.” I said, smiling. “He sure sounds impressive, setting all this up. Can I meet him? I’d like to join!”

“Of course!” Power Grid said, grinning widely. Perhaps some ponies were more resistant to others to the Windigos influence. “I’ll let him know you’re coming in, just a moment.” She got up out of her seat behind the desk and entered the office behind her. She was wearing a very flattering suit jacket and skirt, complete with stockings.

She’s really trying for it, I’m rooting for her! She’s sweet. I thought.

And she has got curves in all the right places. Thou did not notice, but her flank is quite divine, if I do say so myself. Mezzer said, letting out a low whistle in my head. I rolled my eyes. A male entity living in your head could sometimes be bothersome. At least he didn’t make comments on me.

That is because I know thou wouldst get angry with me. He said, as if reading my thoughts, which for all I know he could be.

If I catch even a hint of you checking me out when rooting through my memories or… or anything, I’ll soak your body in a pit of mud! I thought angrily at him. He didn’t respond, the coward.

“Alright, Mr. Mane is ready for you, Miss Slot.” Power Grid stepped out of the office, looking at me curiously. “He seemed very excited to meet you, I’m jealous. It’s like he knew who I was talking about, are you secretly famous?”

“Not that I know of.” I said, curious as well. The three of us stepped into the office. A large pre war desk dominated the room, with filing cabinets and a fossilized ficus here and there along the walls. The back of a large chair was facing us, a black hoof holding a pipe visible on the armrest. “Hello? I’m Coin Slot. The, ah, Slaver Association sounded like it would interest me, I’d like to join up.”

“I’m happy to hear that, my dear little Coin. Please…” I gasped. I recognized that voice, and tears came to my eyes as my nervous smile broadened into a huge grin. “Tell me how things have gone since we last were together. I’d love to hear about the...opportunities that you’ve encountered.”

He turned around, smiling. A huge black stallion, with an X shaped scar across his face, sat across the desk from me. All I could say was, “M-Mr. Opportunity!! Y-you’re HERE?!” my knees were shaking as I took some wobbly steps forward, tears streaming from my eyes freely now.

Mr. Opportunity opened his arms wide. “C’mere kid, bring it in.” I sobbed, and ran around the desk to give the stallion that raised me after my parents died a huge hug.


“There’s surely more, Coin!” Mr. Opportunity said. We had sat down and caught up a bit. It had been years since I had last seen him! We had split ways when I had gone out on my own to go into business, as it were. I always meant to meet up with him again, after all, he was basically my second father! But things, as they often do in the wastes, hadn’t gone as planned. For a while there I honestly thought he was gone, or dead even. I certainly hadn’t expected him to be founding some kind of slaver group in the middle of Auction House.

“Well, yes, there’s more, but I can’t keep my other ponies waiting. I’ve got to go meet the Council, Top Notch and I think we know a way to get rid of this snowy weather!” I said. It was actually getting kind of late, we had spent a lot of time catching up, with both of us taking turns telling each other of what’s been going on all these years. For his part, Top Notch had mostly been sitting and listening patently, even chiming in every so often with insights or stories of his own. I was happier than I had felt in years, Mr. Opportunity meant so much to me and my early years after the casino burnt down, and we were finally back together!

“Oh? This weather has been ludicrously awful for my plans for the Slaver Association, I’d be quite happy if somepony told me that we would be rid of it soon. Why do you have to meet the Council? They… aren’t in the most talkative of moods right now, I’ll warn you.” Mr. Opportunity scratched the scar on his face, looking concerned.

“Well, sir,” Top Notch said, “We were going to discuss our fee with the Council. We of course want this weather to stop as well, but we can’t be going around hunting down the source for free!”

“Now, I agree with you there, but there are… some situations that you need to be made aware of before going into the Council chambers.” Mr. Opportunity said, looking at us seriously. “The Council has been arguing nonstop about what to do about the situation with this unseasonal weather. Nopony can come to even the closest form of agreement on the problem.”

“Well, we suspect that a Rad-Windigo might be the source behind what’s going on.” I said. “If they’re fighting, their emotions might have been manipulated by this creature. Top Notch and my group are going to go hunt them down, and hopefully end the winter before it lasts long enough to be a serious issue.”

“The damage might already be done.” Mr. Opportunity said. “I don’t know if you know, but the members of the Auction House Council of Auctioneers has changed. There’s four of them now, and that’s part of the issue. Tie votes are possible with even councils, and it’s causing all kinds of issues. The four members are Fair Trade, Head of Economics, Crossed Wires, head of Research and Development, Lettuce Leaf, General of the Auction House Bailiffs, and Whip Crack, City Planner and Head Slaver.”

“Those are a strange pair of hats to wear on one pony. City Planner and Head of Slaving?” Top Notch raised his eyebrow in confusion.

“The old City Planner died a year ago or so. It’s the reason we have only four members on the Council instead of five like normal.” Mr. Opportunity said. “In any case, these four are at each other’s throats. If you ask them anything right now, you’ll be bogged down in bureaucracy and red tape as they try to win you over to their agenda, or try to sabotage the other’s plans. It would be better for all of us if you all came into the Council Chambers as glorious heroes rather than petitioners of a plan. So…” he grinned, his scar stretching over his face in a manner familiar to me. It was actually quite comforting to see, because I knew that that expression meant he had a plan. “I will pay you to not only save the city from this deadly winter, but to also save it from the Council’s self-destruction. I want you to carry out your plan, hunt down these rad-whatevers, then if that does indeed clear up the weather, come into town as heroes and establish yourselves as valuable to the Council. It will help me to have somepony close having the ears of the Council, I can go a lot further with the Slaver Association if I can get official backing from Auction House. I will pay you handsomely, of course.” He winked at both myself and Top Notch. “You can essentially name your price, I’ve… come into a pretty reliable source of caps recently.”

“I mean I don’t have to even think about it, I’m all for it!” I said, looking at Top Notch. “What about you?”

“What exactly are your final goals here, wot?” Top Notch asked. I was slightly annoyed, but understood that he wanted to know exactly what he was getting into before commiting. But this was Mr. Opportunity! The stallion that got me into the slaving business in the first place! He always has a plan, and will always help me out, no matter what!

“I’m bidding for the empty position on the Council.” Mr. Opportunity stated, looking grim. “Don’t tell anypony else, but for my ideas about slaves and transportation and organization to really get off the ground, I need to be in a position of power. If you can help me get there… the rewards will be generous. And, as far as you are concerned, Mr. Notch, Coin here is a daughter to me. If you are working with her, you will never have to fear betrayal or any kind of subversion, at least not from me. I want her to be as successful as possible.”

I was almost crying again. I knew that Mr. Opportunity cared about me, but I had never actually heard him say as much in so many words. I focused on keeping my composure while the two stallions talked.

“That makes sense enough, but I’d be more secure with this if I had an up front payment. After all, I am working with a known slaver! While I have no moral quandaries about your business, I still have to take certain steps to protect myself, I hope you understand.” Top Notch performed a short, apologetic bow.

“Of course, of course. I can also get my secretary to outfit you with whatever gear you need for the journey. Get out there and kill that beast. Even if it doesn't stop the winter, I’ve heard the stories about the Windigos, and I’m sure their emotional magic is influencing the Council to some degree. I’m sure that we can take steps towards a council seat once you all return victorious and become that X factor that will shake things up here at Auction House.” Mr. Opportunity was smiling again, and Top Notch had his own smile too. “I’ll talk with Power Grid here in a little while, please help yourself to some refreshments in the waiting room while I get things arranged with her.” he said. “I want you all underway as soon as possible!”

We left the room and got some water while Mr. Opportunity and Power Grid talked. Soon after, Power Grid left Mr. Opportunity’s office, blushing slightly. Did something happen? I’m not so sure about rooting for her any more now that I know who Scourge Mane is… is Power Grid the right pony for Mr. Opportunity? Is anypony? “I can provide supplies from our own stores to help you on your, um, hunt.” she said, smiling. She seemed to be in a good mood. “I can have them delivered if that would be more convenient.”

“No, that’s okay, Crescent Wrench here can carry our stuff!” I said, pushing the filly forward. She groaned.

“I hope you’re not getting too much stuff, all this is heavy as it is!” Crescent pouted.

“Sorry, little filly, but I’m going to need lots and lots of ammo. As many 20mm shells as Mr. Opportunity can spare, wot!” Top Notch said, smiling a ghoulish smile at Power Grid. “We’ll need food and water too, stuff that won’t be affected by the cold.”

“That’s a tall order, but I’ll see what we have. Thanks so much for stopping by! I’ve never seen Mr. Mane in such good spirits before!” Power Grid replied. After gathering the stuff Top Notch asked for, luckily for us they were in stock, and a few other odds and ends, we left with a pack three times as big as when we started. Crescent, amazingly enough, was able to keep up despite the increased weight and even through the windy cold as we made our way back to our room at Gee’s. We had to prepare, and quickly! We were going out on the hunt soon.

We were going to go kill winter. All for Mr. Opportunity. A dream come true!


“Can you at least take us part of the way?” I asked. “Things would go so much faster if we could borrow your Earther!”

“Well, that’s generally what vehicles are for, yes. I can’t risk it in this weather though, what if we ran into something hidden under the snow and it got stuck or damaged? No, it’s staying where it’s parked, I’m afraid I can’t help you.” Tilled Earth said, frowning. The old stallion sure had a stubborn streak when he got his mind set on something.

“With all the snow and ice, going out via vehicle could be more dangerous than walking.” Shimmercoat said, pushing up his glasses and checking his equipment. “So long as we can keep from freezing, anyways.”

“I’ll handle that. I don’t like being the fucking camp stove, but I understand that there’s a difference between using my heat for convenience and using it for survival.” Matchstick Flare was ready to go, standing at the doorway. Hiss was next to her still. He didn’t care if using her as a heat source was offensive to her, he just wanted to be warm.

“Even without the Earther, we’ll find the beast quickly. I’ll track that Windigo down, wot!” Top Notch smiled as his giant auto-cannon clacked on his battle saddle, it’s ammo feed jingling softly. “I’ve tracked and hunted every monster in the wastes, from molerats to Alicorns! A new challenge is welcome!”

“We’ll be relying on your skills then, Top.” I said. “I’m excited to see an expert in action. Maybe I can pick up something and use it in my own tracking.”

“Ha! I hope so!” Top Notch smiled a grisly smile, though it was only horrifying due to his rotting face. “Let’s get going. Everypony ready?”

We had bundled up as much as we could, though our cold weather gear was depressingly lacking. We basically had just a few blankets and thick wrappings that I had managed to convince Gee to part with at at least a somewhat reasonable price. The luxury of a coat was something that wasn’t available right now. If only I had managed to catch up with Fidget… he would have given us the finest in warm clothing. Something to consider next time we upgraded our gear, though I hoped that this unseasonable weather was something we would not be revisiting soon. We huddled around Matchstick Flare, as close as we could without burning ourselves, and headed out into the cold. The wind had died down a little and the blizzard had subsided, but the cold still bit deep as we stepped out of shelter. Hiss was practically walking under Matchstick Flare’s hooves. “Fuck! Coin, could you control your dog?” she said after almost stepping on his paw.

“Hiss! Get out from under her!” I scolded, and he slinked out from under the flaming mare. We exited the city of Auction House, following Top Notch, from the opposite side of the city than the one we entered from. The terrain here was much less rough than last time, thankfully, but the snow still made it difficult to traverse as we pushed through.

We trotted through the snow for some time, the only sound was the crunch of our hooves, the hiss of Matchstick’s heat melting snow, and the quieter hiss of MG-MS11’s thruster. Visibility was low as a dense fog thickened on our path. We were heading north, I think. “It’s hard to see the road through the snow.” I said as our hooves crunched through the powdery ground covering.

“It would be! We’re not on the road, Miss Slot!” Top Notch said, peering out into the fog. “It’s hard to track through the weather that Windigo’s generate, but you can narrow down their location by looking at the severity of the weather and the thickness of the snow cover. It’ll be getting deeper as we get closer. Windigos like singling out ponies for their prey, so don’t get separated, wot!” The snow was indeed getting slightly deeper, and the temperature continued to drop. It was getting colder than I ever thought possible. The wind also started to pick up again. Hopefully another blizzard wasn’t on its way. I hadn’t noticed when we went off the road to Auction House, but that was understandable given that everything looked the same under the frigid white blanket covering the landscape. I heard what sounded like a small jackhammer behind me and looked over my shoulder. Crescent Wrench was falling behind slightly, and her lips were turning blue as her teeth chattered.

“Stay together! Come on, Crescent!” I said, looking around to make sure nopony else was falling behind. The snow was getting deep enough to cause Crescent Wrench trouble, short little filly that she was. She grunted with the effort needed to keep up, and moved to walk behind Matchstick Flare’s trail through the snow.

“Keep the formation tight, soldiers! The enemy could be lurking behind anything out here in this fog!” MG-MS11 chimed in, hovering above the snow, his chassis forming a smooth, shiny layer of frost all over its surface, with the exception of his thruster jet and the pilot light on his flamer. “Those stripes like to use invisibility to ambush our units, and this fog will just make that magic easier to utilize!”

Shimmercoat sighed. “We’re not hunting zebras, MG-MS11. Though I wouldn’t be shocked to discover that Windigos use their fog and blizzards as cover.” He was already blue so I couldn’t tell how he was handling the cold. He looked fine, and was constantly looking back and forth through the fog. “Any idea how close we are, Top?”

“Can’t be much further. The cold is intense, those Windigos must be close! Keep your head on a swivel and be sure to spot it before it spots you, wot!” Top Notch shouted. We didn’t really worry about keeping quiet, the wind was masking our sound plenty enough, we could barely hear each other! For his part, Top Notch was standing tall and didn’t really appear affected by the cold. Could ghouls freeze? Did they even have body heat?

“That’s right, squad! Stay frosty!” MG-MS11 hefted his plasma gun and all four eyestalks were extended and surveying the snowscape around us.

“Very amusing, robot…” Matchstick Flare groaned. She was only in her armor, the coils sewn into it glowing faintly. Normally they were red hot. “Any more frost and I’m going to throw up. Do you have any idea how fucking weird it is to feel cold? It’s like your whole body is going to crack into little pieces! Makes me nauseous.”

“I-i-i-i’m g-g-g-going to d-d-die!!” Crescent Wrench was practically hugging Matchstick Flare’s flank, and was a disconcerting shade of blue under her beige coat.

“Just hold out a little longer, Crescent. We’ll stop this storm at the source.” I tried to reassure her, but there wasn’t much we could really do against the oppressive cold. I couldn’t feel my hooves. If only I had found some boots in Auction house… at least one of my hooves was covered with the Hoof of Justice, but that wasn’t much.

The wastes around us were white. Snow covered all the details, but it felt like we were trudging slowly uphill, Matchstick melting the way clear for us. To my utter bafflement, Top Notch was flying with his practically featherless wings through the cutting wind as if he were in a warm summer breeze. “Just got to fly like a butterfly, wot!” he said when I asked how he was doing that. I don’t even know what a butterfly is! The wind picked up even more, and was howling… and I thought I heard something… else. A different kind of howl, more…

“I smell something!” Top Notch said suddenly, and raised his head up and inhaled deeply, his breath rattling down his throat like he was choking on poison gas. Hiss copied him, his tongue flicking out of his mouth rapidly and tasting the air. After a couple tastes, he growl-hissed and disappeared from view, an indistinct shimmering shape all that betrayed his presence.

“You can smell things?” Matchstick Flare arched her eyebrows in disbelieve.

“Shhh!” Top Notch waved his hoof at Matchstick, and inhaled again, his death rattle the only thing to be heard in the dense fog. “I think we’re being stalked…”

I raised Mezzer in my magical grasp, looking around, staying close to Shimmercoat and Crescent Wrench. They raised their weapons as well. “Where do you think it is?”

“Not it. Them.” Top Notch looked focused, his rotting ears twitching, his hat moving slightly as his ears brushed against it. “There’s more than one, can’t tell how many exactly… yeah, definitely more than one. Several more…”

“Let’s give em what for! I’ll show those invisible bastards a thing or two! Try dodging this!” MG-MS11 pointed his flamer arm forward and a jet of flame burst forth, spraying a wide area in front of him. To my suprise, I heard a howl of pain and saw a large, wolflike creature dive into the snow and roll around to attempt to extinguish the flames. They wouldn't go out easy… Equestrian flamethrowers were made to burn anything their flames touched, the magical gel sticking to the target.

“The hunt is on, wot!” Top Notch shouted, and leaped into the air, quickly disappearing into the fog above. I heard hideous, ferocious growling soon afterward, and then…


The wind instantly picked up as the howl of the Rad-Windigos screamed into the foggy air around us. It felt like the bone-chilling sound was coming from all directions. I cowered, this howl wasn’t just a noise… it was the kind of sound that proto-ponies bolted away from, the kind that caused ponies to cower in caves and fear the monsters out there in the dark… I started waving Mezzer back and forth, pumping shot after shot into the foggy void.

“Sarge! Control your fire! The General is out there engaging the enemy!” MG-MS11 said, hovering close to me. Crescent Wrench cowered behind him, following closely and hugging her sledgehammer like it was some kind of talisman against the beasts in the snow.

“T-t-they’re out-t-t there!” Crescent Wrench shrieked as another howl rent through the air. This one seemed even closer! And the wind picked up even more, the chill blowing right through our wrappings and blankets. The blanket covering Shimmercoat flew off his back into the fog and I could see that his knees were shaking as his own pistol was hovering shakilly around him, his scarf whipping in the wind. My mind dimly registered that at least he could manage telekinesis again, and wondered if he was shaking from cold or fear. Perhaps both. I tried to pull myself together, everypony was scared of the circling Rad-Windigos.

“I can’t see them!” Shimmercoat was squinting against the wind. Matchstick Flare’s flames were dim and low against her body, blue in some places instead of their usual flaring red. I couldn’t feel warmth from her anymore… it was just so cold!! My breath hung in the air, practically forming crystals of ice before my eyes. I tightened the strap of my lowered goggles and silently thanked Mr. Opportunity once again for telling me to always protect my eyes. Shimmercoat wasn’t the only one struggling to see, I noticed. The others were squinting their eyes as well.

“Shimmercoat,” I said, almost having to shout against a sudden howl of wind, “Could you shield everyone’s eyes?”

“I think I can manage that…” he said. His glasses were misty from his breath rising from his scarf into them, which made it even more difficult for him to see. His horn glowed, and everypony seemed to breathe a sigh of relief as a small shield against the wind and snow covered everyone's eyes like my ski goggles covered mine. “I can hold this just fine. Good idea, I take it you’re okay with not having an eye shield?”

“I’m perfect with these.” I said, tapping my trusty goggles. “Circle together! Everyone get close!” I ordered. “We don’t know what angle they’ll strike at! Has anypony seen Top Notch?”

Nopony answered, instead a low, guttural noise that made the cave pony in me want to find a place to hide, quickly. That was too close, we were about to be attacked!

“Great scott!! The beast is among us! Take cover!” MG-MS11’s eyestalks raised up and focused on one single point and his plasma rifle started firing at a blank spot in the snowy landscape. Green globs of superheated magical energy splashed against the snow, melting large chunks. I couldn’t see anything that he was shooting at, even with the aid of my goggles.

“I-i-i d-d-don’t see anyt-t-t-thing!” Crescent Wrench moaned in fear, reflecting my stance as well. Where was Top Notch? He was supposed to be this great monster hunter! He was supposed to help us defeat these things!

“AAAAGUHHH!” Matchstick Flare screamed,and went down into the snow. Bright red slashes were torn down her cheek and halfway down her neck, bleeding way, way too fast.

“MEDIC!” I screamed, firing wildly around the area above Matchstick. Mezzer’s waves of brain-scrambling energy found nothing except snow as their targets, and there’s only so much you can do to stun snow.

“On it, Sarge! On your hooves, soldier! Step to it!” MG-MS11 aimed his MEDI-Gun at Matchstick, the healing glow soothing and sealing her wounds, though the ground around her was still stained a deep, sickening red. She shakilly got upright, her mane flaring up as adrenaline pumped into her system, overcoming the cold’s effect on her flames.

“What the FUCK was that?!” She screamed, looking around. Shimmercoat stood by her side, magnum at the ready, his horn glowing slightly brighter. A barely perceptible bubble was formed around the pair. I could only hope he wasn’t going to burn himself out again, but now was not the time.

“Our quarry, of course! Stay together! Windigos prefer solitary targets!” Top Notch appeared out of nowhere, causing my heart to leap into my mouth. He was circling slowly above us, like the intense wind had no effect on him whatsoever. What was with his flying?

“Then get down with us!” I shouted. “You’re exposed up there!”

“Nonse--” Top Notch was cut off by a howl, the loudest yet, clearly from something that had tasted blood and wanted more. Before he could even continue speaking, Top Notch was battered out of the sky, and hurtled into a snowbank and out of sight. A small piece of green icor splashed on my goggles, and I felt something wet on my cheek.

“Everypony circle up! Flank to flank!” I ordered. We were already pretty close so it wasn’t hard. “MG-MS11! Tag the target! We can’t see him, we need a mark! Hiss! Sic ‘em!” I called out to Hiss, hoping he could hear me.

“SATS reads four hostiles, Coin…” Shimmercoat said, reminding me to look at my dang EFS. There were four angry red lines circling around us, invisible. Hiss had charged out at my command, also invisible.

“Sir! If I fire I risk hitting the general!” MG-MS11 protested.

“Hiss can take care of himself!” I shouted back. “We NEED a mark! Anything you can get on them!”

“Yessir!” MG-MS11 rotated his arms and switched to… his buzzsaw. Great. The robot was mitigating the risk of hitting Hiss by going into melee. He charged forward as well, swinging the whirring, deadly saw in a wide arc in front of him…

A frothing, steamy sheet of deep blue liquid burst from the air in front of MG-MS11 in a gout, followed by a bone-chilling howl of anguish. A form… flickered. A huge, wolf-like form with glowing blue eyes and icicles for teeth and claws… no wait. It was more like somepony had merged a full-blooded horse with a wolf. Those weren't claws, they were hooves shaped into icy, foot long spikes! And now that it was visible, it was clear that the Rad-Windigo, for that’s the only thing this monster could be, was hideously mutated and misshapen. Tumors sprouted from it’s back, and it looked like its neck and head were absolutely covered in antler-like growths. It struck out at MG-MS11, who jetted to the side in a deft evasive maneuver. Another howl emerged from its mouth, crying out with a force like a winter storm in the dead of night. The air around us seemed to thicken and the light even dimmed a little. Snow got thicker in the air, flurries blocking all visibility. “Open fire!!” I shouted, but I couldn’t even hear myself…

Another howl, right in my ear, caused me to scream. A Windigo fell right in front of me, it’s mouth foaming an icy liquid that froze on contact with the air, gradually sealing its mouth and nose. I screamed again, and looked frantically up at its body only to see Hiss fang-deep into its neck. He’d taken one down! “Good boy!” I shouted, but then screamed a third time, this time in pain. My poor back went numb with sudden, almost searing cold ripping through it, and I fell to the ground in agony, screaming. The pain was so sudden, so… so cold, that I could think of nothing else but the fact that my back was sliced open and I couldn’t move… again!!!

I was vaguely aware of gunshots blazing and eerie, frothy screams and howls. MG-MS11’s buzzsaw whirred and shrieked a metal scream as it sliced through flesh and bone and ice. I gritted my teeth against the pain, trying not to lose consciousness. I couldn’t feel my back legs again, and I couldn’t tell whether they were just numb from the cold or if I was paralyzed again. I opened my eyes and looked around, desperately trying to take stock of the situation and rising up on my forehooves. A Windigo, bleeding and limping around our group, was right in front of me. My horn glowed its soft red glow as I rose Mezzer and shot it, somehow scoring a hit! It sat stunned, and I glimpsed a flash of brown and green as Hiss latched his poisonous fangs onto its throat and took it down. How many were left? Two? Three? I couldn’t remember through the pain… I looked at my EFS, turning around and dragging my lower body to try and count the little red bars… four… five?! SIX?!!

More howls, more wind, more intense cold. The pack of rad-Windigos was gathering around us, and it looked like there were more of them than we realized. Shimmercoat and Matchstick Flare were a blazing inferno of fiery kicks and heart-stopping magnum rounds, supporting each other, both of them wounded. “Don’t get separated!” Shimmercoat shouted, looking around desperately. “Crescent! Coin! Where are you!?”

”He can’t see me… I can’t move, can barely think in this cold!” I thought, frantic, at Mezzer.

Thou shouldst keep firing me! I make a distinct noise, and the enemy is invisible! Thous must suppress them if we have any hope of victory!” Mezzer shouted, his booming voice in my head clearing up the fog a bit, helping me think more clearly. I started firing randomly around where the blazing light that was Matchstick’s whirling body was. I scored a couple of hits, the stun on the Windigos causing them to drop whatever was making them invisible, and inviting Shimmercoat to load one full of lead, dropping it after a few shots. Matchstick Flare tackled the other one, shattering antlers on its neck and causing a stench of burnt flesh to choke the icy wind. She pummeled it, avoiding hooked hooves deftly until it stopped twitching.

That’s when I noticed that something… odd was happening at the ground around Matchstick and Shimmercoat’s hooves. At first I thought it was Matchstick Flare’s heat melting the snow around where she was fighting, and while that certainly was the case, it was something more than that. The snow was melting around Shimmercaot’s hooves too. And… inexplicably… amazingly… grass was growing under their hooves! There were even a few small flowers sprouting, more and more as Shimmercoat and Matchstick Flare fought together. They were smiling, the pair of them, Shimmercoat looking stronger than ever, his horn glowing brightly. Matchstick Flare’s fire blazed, her eyes shining with inner fire as her outer fire flared up with intense heat and light. How was this happening? The frigid cold around us was still blowing and howling in the wind, causing my sweat and blood to freeze to my skin, but a localized springtime was blossoming around Shimmercoat and Matchstick Flare like they had a power that overwhelmed the magic of the Rad-Windigos. “What’s going on!?!” I shouted at the pair of them. I didn’t understand what kind of magic they were using. Did Shimmercoat learn a new spell?

That’s when I felt something touch my shoulder, and I whirled, raising Mezzer again. “Coin… help…” Crescent Wrench was at my side, her hoof on my shoulder. Her own shoulder was… bad. Real bad. It looked like she had been stabbed deeply with one of those spiked hooves. Right behind her, her sledgehammer was forgotten on the ground, covered in frozen blue blood… and the Windigo she had slammed was getting up, looking right at us! There was nothing I could do in the state I was in…

“Striped bastards! Stay away from our civilians! Sarge, I got this, go help the General!” MG-MS11 swooped in, interposing himself between Crescent Wrench and the Windigo just as it charged. His flamer poofed to life and sent it reeling back, shrieking and engulfed in flame. At the same time, the arm with the MEDI-Gun trained on Crescent, stemming the bleeding from her puncture wound and, while not fully healing it, stabilizing it quickly. Crescent looked up at the fighting robot with wide eyes, and… and the area around her started to sprout grass and melt the snow away as well! She stood up, kicked her sledgehammer off the ground and into her hooves, and joined MG-MS11 in the fight, slamming the Rad-Windigo to the ground with a bone-crunching impact. The Windigo hit the ground in front of her, which was spreading more grass and spring flowers… and it screamed! It howled in pain as its icy flesh sloughed off in huge chunks, like it was melting away with the snow around it. Crescent looked shocked, and turned to glance at MG-MS11, who was training his MEDI-Gun still at her, her wounds stitching up quickly and painlessly. She… grinned! She looked like she was having the time of her life when not moments ago she was a terrified little filly!

“I… don’t understand…” I moaned, trying to drag myself out of the snow and into the warm-looking bubble that Crescent and MG-MS11 radidated. When I reached into it, though, the grass almost instantly died, and the area below my hoof rapidly covered in snow. It was still numbingly cold and… and I couldn’t enter whatever warmth the others were generating.

“It’s fondness. Or love, or friendship, or something. Thou must have a deep bond with somepony in order to combat these Windigos, and be immune to their wintery powers.” Mezzer said, his voice surprised like he had just worked this out himself. “Dost thou have somepony to love? It is the only way thou will be able to defend thyself…”

“I don’t know! Do they have to be here? Alive?!” I was thinking of Dear Ol’ Ma… but the wind around me just got colder at the very thought of her. I saw tow glowing blue pairs of eyes suddenly dart towards me and I felt… miserable… I looked to Shimmercoat and Matchstick, two ponies obviously in love fighting in rays of sunshine in their own personal grassy field. Crescent and MG-MS11… maybe the filly’s feelings towards the robot were misguided, but they were clearly real enough to counter the Rad-Windigos. It even seemed like the two pairs couldn’t even see me, out here alone in the snow, injured, with two beasts towering over me… I closed my eyes, waiting for the icy spikes to plunge into me and end it all…

That’s when I felt a… a warmth. I had almost forgotten what warmth felt like! Blazing! Powerful! I felt better than I had ever since we set hoof into this wintery hellhole! Pain blossomed in my back as the numbness went away, but I knew it should have hurt WAY worse than it was… what was going on?

I looked up. I was in my own grassy patch of spring now! And… and Hiss was standing beside me, glaring down the two Rad-Windigos, who were rapidly retreating out of the warm aura that spread out from the pair of us. His tail rattled fiercely, and he charged at one of the beasts, which did its best to leap away but couldn’t escape the deadly poisoned fangs of the nightstalker sinking into its flank. Yes! “Go Hiss! Good boy!!” I cheered. My heart was filled with gratitude and I could physically feel the warmth of Hiss’s love for me. Just then, though, I noticed the other Rad-Windigo trying to get to me around the side, where the springtime aura was thinnest. I tried to swing Mezzer around at it, but before I could draw a bead, a great, clearly magically amplified shout rose above the wind and the chaos of battle.


All eyes, Windigo, pony, robot and snake-dog alike, turned to the drift where Top Notch had fallen. His spiffy suit was torn, showing not necrotic flesh, but bone underneath. His eyes were blazing with what looked like green fire, and his mouth was clamped tightly around the triggering mechanism of his battle-saddle mounted auto-cannon. He stood tall, seemingly not the least bit injured. Matchstick Flare turned to us, spotting us as if she had just realized that we were just a few meters away. She shouted “GET DOWN!” and hit the deck herself. I grabbed Hiss’s head with my magic and ate the dirt as well, pushing him down.


I covered my ears. Top Notch’s large caliber, custom made, carefully tooled, beautifully decorated, rapid fire, freaking HUGE auto-cannon was, in a word, LOUD. Blue spray, ice cold, splashed over Hiss and I, smelling foul and getting in our manes (or fur, in his case) as the Windigos above us were turned into paste. The thundering report of the 20mm shells didn’t seem to stop or even slacken. The recoil on that monster must be tremendous, how was a single ghoul handling that thing? Nevertheless, the teeth-clattering fire continued, without pause, for seemingly ages. Wracked with pain and covered in frigid Windigo blood mixing with my own and Crescent’s on the snow and the grass, I just covered my head and shuddered, wondering when it would all be over.

Eventually, years later, it was over. It even felt marginally warmer, and the wind had stopped completely. I looked up. Rad-Windigo corpses were everywhere. There were at least a dozen and a half torn bodies of the beasts lying around. Some showed signs of being mauled to death and poisoned, others were burnt, still others with massive, precise holes in their heads and chests from Shimmercoat’s magnum. A couple were sawn apart, split open by MG-MS11’s saw.

Most of the bodies were torn wrecks of their former selves, torn apart by heavy weapons fire. I looked around and saw Top Notch laying on the ground where he had fired upon the pack of monsters. “Medic… MEDIC!” I shouted. We were all in bad shape. Crescent had a deep shoulder wound and was crying, though the healing she had received had stopped the bleeding. My back was out, I felt paralyzed again, and had a deep gash on top of it all. Matchstick Flare was covered in weird pockmarks and deep scratches, and her hooves were a concerning shade of black, almost as if they had been frostbitten. Top Notch was in unknown condition, it’s hard to tell what’s an injury and what’s not with ghouls. Shimmercoat looked okay, though he had his own share of scrapes and bruises. He was busy trying to help Matchstick to her hooves and looking her over, worried.

“On my way, Sarge! Medical Mr. Gutsy to the rescue! I’ll have you all ship-shape in no time!” MG-MS11 hovered over a drift near where he and Crescent had been fighting. He shone as if he was new, not a scratch on him. Either the Windigos were not interested in an emotionless metal machine, or he had gotten WAY better at dodging attacks. I suspected the former.

“Top Notch is unconscious, check him first.” I ordered, wincing in pain as my back twinged when I tried to drag myself closer to Shimmercoat and Matchstick Flare. They trotted over to me, wobbly but on their hooves at least.

“Er, sir.” MG-MS11 said, sounding grim. “I’m afraid this soldier has passed on, making the ultimate sacrifice for his country. I’ll wipe the rest of the zebra scum off the planet for this!” he was hovering over Top Notch, MEDI-Gun trained on him, but the ghoul was non-responsive.

“Nooo… he was a nice ghoul…” Crescent Wrench sobbed, holding her shoulder, tears soaking her cheeks and freezing in her fur.

“Some hunter he was…” I frowned, panting and frustrated that my back legs wouldn't work again. I thought that he would have been more useful.

“He did mention that this was his first time hunting Rad-Windigos. At least his last hurrah was impressive.” Shimmercoat said.

“Pshhh. Yeah right. Stop pretending, ya ghouly bastard!” Matchstick Flare shouted at Top Notche’s corpse. “I know what that look in your eyes was, you were higher than a two cap whore loaded with Dash! Get up and help us lesser ponies, huh?”

To our surprise, Top Notch groaned and rose to his hooves! Crescent Wrench screamed, whether in shock or in fear i couldn’t tell, and both Shimmercoat and I gasped in surprise. His suit was all but rags now, and his entire torso looked as if it had been flayed of skin. White bone gleamed in the blessedly warm sunlight, and what looked like dried, desiccated organs hung inside his ribcage limply, bound together with cords of some synthetic material. His skin started again right at his shoulders, torn up but normal looking for a ghoul. “Dead, am I? Somepony please inform my next of kin.” he said, turning to us and smirking, which looked more like a hideous grimace on one side of his face where half his cheek was missing. “Now... where did my hat run off to?”


MG-MS11 patched all of us up. My injuries were the worst out of all of us, as usual. I had to undergo more field surgery, but this one was simpler than the last, and we had plenty of healing potions stored away in the MEDI-Gun. Would probably need to resupply them, but so far so good. Maybe I should invest in heavier armor? Lugging around all that weight would be a drag, but now I’m the proud owner of two replaced vertebrae. Replaced with rebar and concrete. My back hurts all the time now.

“I’ve never seen a ghoul with so much… missing. Er, no offense.” Matchstick Flare said to Top Notch as we made our way back to Auction House. The cloud cover above was back to its normal grey light as opposed to the thick white clouds of the blizzard. The sun was probably shining up there… feeling sunlight would be nice. Even without direct light, it was still warming up, and the snow around this region was melting rapidly. Winter was over with the death of the Rad-Windigos.

Top Notch looked at his body, his suit all but torn away in the fight. Shiny white ribs, clearly polished to a reflective sheen, reflected the light glowing off the melting snow. What could only be described as a ‘gut sack’ was tied to several bones in his torso with nylon rope. Nearly all his flesh on the larger part of his torso was stripped away, leaving only his skeleton visible around his chest and belly area. He still had dessicated flesh on his head (though his face was messed up on one side), neck, shoulders, and legs, all the way up to his flank. But the center of mass… well… had no mass to speak of.

“Ah, yes. Well, when you hunt the kind of monsters I hunt down, sometimes they take a bit of you with them, wot!” he smiled at us. From this side he looked positively handsome for a ghoul. The left side of his face was the one with his cheek torn off, which had happened during the fight at some point. Even with MG-MS11’s healing beam, the damage did not grow back. “For some reason, healing potions don’t work well for me at all, even large doses of magical radiation do little to regenerate me, unlike other ghouls. My extremities are the most affected by radiation, so as long as I wear some kind of saddle and shirt I can generally keep my ribs hidden, but sometimes… well, as you see, I keep them polished to leave a good impression!”

“How the fuck does that work?” Matchstick looked incredulous. “Even ghouls need bodies!”

“It could be that I’m not a ghoul at all. Or some rare variant. I try not to let it bother me. Besides! My ribs do look stunning, and I was always a little overweight in my past life. Now I’ve finally lost that last five pounds, eh?” Top Notch laughed uproariously, which for him sounded like a pony with collapsing lungs suffering it’s final breaths in hideous agony. But he was smiling so… I guess if it didn’t bother him, I wouldn’t let it bother me.

“We’re almost back to town. Hopefully ponies are noticing the change in weather.” Shimmercoat said, cleaning his glasses with a small cloth with his telekinesis. His magic seemed to be back at full strength.

“What happened between you and Matchstick during the fight?” I asked. Turning to Crescent Wrench “And you and MG-MS11? All of the sudden grass started sprouting around you guys. And you completely ignored me while I was injured!”

“You… when MG-MS11 came to save me…” Crescent was looking down, shuffling her hooves as she walked. “It was almost like you faded out of view in the snow. I thought you were crawling to cover…”

“I didn’t notice you either, or we would have come to help.” Shimmercoat said. “I still can’t believe you broke your back again.”

“Like it was my fault!” I protested, the pain in by spine twinging. “Ugh… I need Med-X I think. Good Ol’ Ma said not to do drugs unless I need them… ahhhh but it hurts!”

“I’ll patch up the painful spots, Sarge!” MG-MS11’s MEDI-Gun bathed me in a warm glow that eased the pain away. I knew that as soon as he turned it off though, it would slowly come back. And the areas where my spine had been fused with rebar, painful or not, were always stiff.

“Thanks.” I said, adjusting my goggles above my horn. “Well? Who knows what happened?”

“Love! The power of love and friendship! Or so the story goes, wot!” Top Notch fluttered his featherless wings and did a small pirouette in the air.

“What.” I said. “That can’t be it. Once Hiss met up with me I started melting the snow around me too!”

“And that’s because he loves you like a dog loves his master! In the old stories, ancient civilizations only overcame the foul weather of the Windigos when they joined together in camaraderie and friendship. Of course, they didn’t have my trusty auto-cannon with them!” Top Notch hefted his battle saddle with the aforementioned huge gun resting on it. “But all the same they were able to overpower the eternal winter with good feelings. Windigos are sensitive to the emotions of their prey, it seems. I’ll be sure to record this verification of the legends in my journal when I write up our adventure today!”

“You write?” Crescent Wrench looked interested. Shimmercoat perked up as well. Maybe Stable ponies liked to read?

“All the time! It’s what keeps my head on straight. That and killing the foul monsters that plague the wastes, wot!” Top Notch still had that grisly smile. “I’ll sell you some excerpts of my journal for a small fee if you like!”

“If the master will allow us some spending money, then maybe.” Shimmercoat cast a sidelong glance at me. Looks like I was going to be buying some books soon. To be fair I was interested too.

Hiss padded his way up next to me, panting slightly with his skinny tongue hanging out of the side of his mouth. He looked so cute like that! I patted him on the head as we crested a ridge and Auction House came into view. With the snow melting fast, it looked like my home was finally, finally on its way to being how I remembered it to be. I could see small crowds of ponies gathering in the Market Square, my favorite hangout spot. The fields surrounding Auction House were starting to show the greens and reds of growing maize and tatos, and the smell of spring was in the air. “C’mon everypony!” I said, excited. Now that the Windigos were gone, maybe things would go back to normal and I could show off my slaves to everypony I knew! I saw a flock of black birds in a field off far in the distance fly into the sky. They must like that the weather has cleared up. For once, I felt like everything was going to be alright.

Level up! (Lv. 15)

New Perk: Animal Friend, Rank 1: Your bond with Hiss has deepened such that the two of you are even more inseparable than you once were! And through your interactions with him, you’re now capable of understanding other small to medium sized wasteland creatures. Unless you or your party open hostilities with them, most creatures won’t attack you on sight.

Authors Note: Now you have to wait another 6 years! Note I didn’t actually count the years but that number is probably depressingly close to accurate.

As usual, HUGE thanks to Kkat for writing Fallout: Equestria and giving us sidefic writers a great big sandbox to play in. Thanks to Heartshine and Shimmercoat for their editing prowess, and for not making too much fun of me when I asked them to help me necro this story. Apologies if my literary voice has changed, it’s been a while. Also thanks to Bethesda and Hasbro for two great franchises. (Even if modern Bethesda is... different) Hope you enjoy!

Chapter 15 > In which stories are shared

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Chapter 15 > In which stories are shared

Stay awhile and listen!

The first thing we noticed as we trotted into Auction House was that the streets were alive. Many, many more ponies were out of their homes and wandering the city, going to shops, talking with one another, laughing, and cleaning up the mess the fast-melting snow had left behind. It was just like I remembered it… I finally felt like I was returning home!

“This is the real Auction House!” I declared, mostly to my slaves, Hiss, and Top Notch. “I can’t wait to show you around properly this time!” I jumped up and down in glee, then winced at the pain in my back such rapid motion caused.

“Well, first things first, wot!” Top Notch said, looking at me with his milky, almost-rotted eyes. His face was still messed up from our fight with the Rad-Wendigos, as was his suit. Frankly, we all looked pretty worse for wear. MG-MS11 had taken care of our injuries, but the MEDI-Gun didn’t repair armor or clothing. And even though the wounds were healed, we all felt the fatigue of battle looming over us. “We need to recuperate and repair our equipment to some reasonable facsimile of presentability, then go straight to your Mr. Opportunity and let him know the hunt was successful! Though I’m sure by now he’s probably figured that out by himself!”

“I know somepony we could visit then,” I suggested. “Gee probably doesn't like what Matchstick did to her floor, so I’d rather avoid her for now…”

Matchstick looked sheepish, but I knew she couldn’t help singeing surfaces she sat on.

“With the snow gone,” I continued “he’s probably made it to his shop by now. “Let's go to Fidget’s Fineries!”

“Who’s Fidget?” Shimmercoat asked.

“A friend of mine, though I haven’t talked to him for a long time.” I answered as we made our way once again to the Courthouse. The going was way easier without a blizzard fighting us the whole way there. A pony truly didn’t appreciate clear weather until they had to wade through leg-length snow cover! “He owns a pretty fancy clothing shop in the Courthouse. Sells armor too, and can definitely repair our armor if we can’t find something new. I met him when I was just a bit older than Crescent. We got in lots of trouble together back then!” I smiled at the memories.

Oh? An old flame, perhaps?” Mezzer piped up in my head, eager to root through a new scene of my private past in search of his purpose.

“Somepony you were… close to?” Top Notch also asked. Even Shimmercoat’s ears perked up and rotated towards me. What was with guys wanting to know my private life?

“No!” I said to all of them. “Maybe a little crush, once, but he’s just a friend. I’m pretty sure he doesn't even swing that way. He does own a clothing shop after all.”

“That means exactly nothing, you know.” Shimmercoat said, looking at me with a flat expression. “You could just be completely oblivious to his advances. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised, considering your personality.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I glared at him, my eyes narrowed to slits.

“I’m just saying that when it comes to feminine charm you could use a refresher course or two.” Shimmercoat smirked and I could tell that he was making fun of me on purpose.

“Hey! I’ve got plenty of feminine charm!” I growled. Hiss yapped in response and looked around, seemingly confused.

“The General is wondering where the danger is, Sarge!” MG-MS11 said, his eyestalks also tracking the ponies around us as we walked down the street towards the courthouse. “Your voice has gotten suddenly dangerous, he says!”

I was about to protest that I was perfectly fine and charming as normal, thank you very much, when I almost ran into Crescent Wrench, who had been trotting just in front of me. She was staring at a food cart set up in the street, the vendor having set up now that the snow was gone. The smell of fried maize and tatos wafted through the air, and her mouth was watering at the sight of it.

“Oh! Are you hungry Crescent?” I asked, my frustration at Shimmercoat and MG-MS11 vanishing as quickly as the Rad-Windego snow. In response to my question, both of our stomachs growled loudly. “Heh, I guess we could all use a bite to eat.” I smiled and trotted up to the food stand.

“Greetings!” The red coated stallion behind the cart said. He was wearing a slave collar, so it probably wasn’t his stand, but he looked cheerful enough. “Fried Farms Veggies here, to satisfy all your cravings! Fresh harvest today, I can tell you folks are looking for a feast!”

“You got that right! I’ll take three cobs of Maize!” Matchstick Flare jumped up in front of me, eager to eat. With a flick of his hooves, the stallion flipped three cobs out of his fryer and they sizzled as they landed on a stack of flimsy paper plates. He lifted the top plate off carefully and passed the plate over to Matchstick.

“Here you go! Woah, that’s a… um, miss, are you aware you’re on fire?” he said, apparently just noticing Matchstick’s flaming mane and tail.

“Ah, really? I hadn’t noticed, no.” She said, deadpan. “Thanks for… Aghh! Fuck!” the paper plate in her hooves caught fire and the tasty treats she was holding fell towards the ground. Before they were ruined by the muddy streets, though, a thin blue shield whisked them up from their fall and levitated them in front of Matchstick.

“Mind if I share?” Shimmercoat said, smiling, his horn glowing as he held the maize aloft. Matchstick looked disappointed that the plate had burned, but happy that her food wasn’t dirty, and even happier that Shimmercoat had been the one to catch it. I turned to the vendor.

“I’ll take another two maize for each of us, and a tato for us all too. Um, do you eat, Top?” I asked.

“Of course! Despite my condition, I do still have a stomach, wot!” Top Notch said. “I can pay for my own though.”

“Alright.” I said, nodding to him and exchanging caps with the vendor. He put them in a pouch tied to his collar and passed a plate to all of us.

“Glad this weather has cleared up, I’ve never felt better since the start of the storm!” he said. “My master would have been ruined if the snow hadn’t melted when it did. Might have had to sell me! Let’s hope it’s gone for good.”

“I’m sure it will be.” Shimmercoat said to him, all of us nodding and smiling knowingly. “Thank you for the food.”

We continued on our way to the Courthouse, carefully holding our food in the flimsy plates. Well, except for Shimmercoat, who just used a small shield spell for himself and Matchstick Flare. The city was coming back to life, from the slumber of the snow to the hustle and bustle of the markets and trade that I knew. It was getting a little difficult to navigate through the crowd of ponies making their way to the Courthouse, as we weren't the only ones with business at the most important building in the city. It didn’t help that the streets were muddy because of all the melted moisture too. The food tasted wonderful, reminding me of my days when I was a young filly: growing up here in Auction House and learning my trade, making money for Mr. Opportunity’s gang, and generally getting into and out of trouble constantly.

Even though the crowd did its best to delay us, we made good time. Mostly thanks to Matchstick Flare and the fact that nopony wanted to touch her, fearing burns. She grumbled about it, but didn’t look sad at all when Shimmercoat twisted his tail around her burning one and trotted side-by-side with her, a heat shield protecting him. We were soon inside the main atrium, and I lead the party over to Fidget’s Fineries, discarding our empty paper plates in a nearby trash can.

The door led into what was probably an office or waiting room back when this was a courthouse, but now was the basis for Fidget’s shop.. Racks of clothing lined the walls and were arranged tastefully in the middle of the room, with a large counter in the back. A bright yellow unicorn stallion with a somewhat less bright teal mane and tail stood at the counter, his head hidden behind a big sewing machine. The counter was littered with the tools of his trade, everything from fabric cutters to pincushions, from armor repair kits to pre-war outfits awaiting modification to his exacting standards.

“Hellohellohellooooo!” He called out. “Just one moment!”

“I’m going to stand outside…” Matchstick Flare said, eyeing all the clothing hanging around the store. “Don’t want to cause an accident…”

“Stop. I’ll shield you so your heat won’t affect the clothing.” Shimmercoat cast his spell, and a soft blue glow surrounded Matchstick Flare, and the temperature near us dropped several degrees as the heat that I hadn’t noticed up until now vanished. Matchstick looked at Shimmercoat and gleefully smiled, looking around now without worry at all of the flammable objects on hangers.

Nodding in thanks to Shimmercoat, I answered Fidget. “Hey there Sticks. Long time no see!”

“Do my ears deceive me!?” Fidget came out from around the counter and looked at us, a huge grin on his face when he saw me. The first thing one would notice about him was that he was very tall and very lanky, his legs making up for about 70% of his height. Hence the nickname ‘Sticks’, which I had called him since we were small… or, rather, smaller. His cutie mark resembled a fine pre-war dress that was teal, like his mane. “They don’t! Specs!! Helloooo Beautiful! It’s sooooo good to see you!!” A couple of strides on his long legs were all it took for him to get to me and give me a hug, which I returned. My nickname from him was ‘Specs’. Referring to the ski goggles I got from Mr. Opportunity, of course. Never mind that he also wore glasses, a rather fine set of pre-war ones with very sturdy and good looking rims. He was also wearing a tailored pre-war suit jacket, which accented his lanky frame to make him look sharper and less awkward. Fidget was the best at making anypony look their best. “What brings you here? When did you get back in town?! Did you have to go through the snow? Oh I have so many questions!! Why don’t we head to the back to catch up? Oh!” He seemed to notice my entourage all standing behind me, looking around. “Are you all with my dear friend Specs here?”

“Specs?” Shimmercoat, who ALSO had glasses, was trying to hide a smirk. Matchstick Flare was not so subtle.

“Pffwahahahaha!!” she sputtered, laughing so hard she almost fell over. “Wow, Coin! You’ve had those goggles since you were a kid? How big were they on you back in the day?”

“Oh, they covered almost her entire face!” Fidget said, smiling.

“You’re not helping.” I glared at him as Matchstick actually did fall over this time, cackling.

“To answer your question, good sir, we are indeed with young Coin here, ahem…” Top Notch stepped forward, and used one of his featherless wings to doff his hat. Introductions were made, and we all made our way to the back of the shop near the big sewing machine and other clothing construction equipment that Fidget had back here. I honestly had no idea what most of this stuff did, but Fidget could even repair armor plating if somepony needed him to, so the shop was fully outfitted with the tools he needed.

“Thank the Masters the snow is gone!” Fidget sighed dramatically, waving a hoof around like he was going to swoon. “I was afraid I’d come down with a fever, been cooped up in my home this entire time! We’re lucky though, it looks like the fields only had a few losses in yields, the city should be able to recover. And I won’t have to make a winter weather lineup!” he chuckled. “So how about you?! Any news from the wild frontiers? Your new slaves look impressive! And I never took you for the type to keep a robot around! Oh, I’m sure so much has happened, you must tell me all of it!!”

“I’ll be happy to share the story of my time away from town, but you’ll have to work while we chat.” I said, stripping off the tatters of my Stable 11 jumpsuit and the few scraps of leather and tire armor I was wearing. I motioned for everypony else to pass their clothes over to Fidget. “We’re going to want an armor upgrade as well, we’ve been in more scraps then I usually find myself in, and I want to be more prepared.” It felt a little weird not wearing anything after so long, even the scraps that I had remaining, but plenty of ponies went without clothes if they didn’t need protection or pockets. The Stable ponies and myself were still wearing our Pip-Bucks, of course, and I kept the Hoof of Honor on as well. Matchstick Flare’s armor popped as it cooled, the oven elements stitched into it turning from their usual deep red to black.

“Say no more! Of course I’ll… um… fix these! The first step, of course…” he dragged out a trash bin and tossed my old clothes into it. “There! Now I can really get started!”

I glared at him, but didn’t stop him. Fidget was right, the armor I had wasn’t any good anymore, maybe only as material for a raider’s barding. I turned to everypony else. “You guys pick something out from the racks that you like, I’d like us to look nice if we’re going to be in the Courthouse for a while. We’ll also want to get your armor repaired or replaced. Fidget can fit you if it’s not the right size. Um… do you have flame retardant cloth?” I asked, looking at Matchstick’s expression as she stared around the shop, looking rather melancholy.

Fidget looked Matchstick Flare up and down, even getting up from where he was sitting and trotting around her, eyeing her up, measuring tapes already levitating around her taking measurements in the teal glow of his magic. “Interesting! Very… oh, my, you’re quite muscular for a mare of your size! Not that that’s a bad thing at all, you’re still quite lean, and your fur! Smooth and perfect, not a blemish on you! Your mane and tail are certainly lively, but you’d be surprised how many clients have strange aberrations that their clothing needs to be customized for.” he was muttering to himself as he moved the measuring tapes all around Matchstick, who stood, almost petrified.

“H-hey! Not so close! You’ll hurt yourself!” She protested as he measured her inseam, causing a crimson flush to rise through her face.

“Relax, I’m keeping you shielded.” Shimmercoat said, trying to hide a smile. “It will be interesting seeing you in clothes other than your armor.”

“Oh, I’m going all out on this one!” Fidget said happily, his magic whirring several machines next to me to life. I jumped back as a sewing needle whizzed past my ear. “This will take some time, why don’t you start that story, Coin?” And so I did, telling Fidget all about the adventures that had happened thus far after that fateful day I had set out into the wide world in search of slaves and customers, with but the few wretched rejects I could afford in tow. As I talked, Fidget worked on our clothes and armor almost feverishly, his magic causing his workshop to come alive with needle and cloth. I noticed that Shimmercoat, Matchstick, Crescent, and even Top Notch were listening as well. I hadn’t really talked much about the time I left Auction House last time, to them or anypony else. It had been some time since I had left too… too long. Was it already a couple years?! I shook my head, and the memories came flooding back, clear and vibrant… and I realized Mezzer was also listening in, and playing back what I was talking about, ever curious about what my past was like. I let him listen as I was absorbed by the memories, as if they were playing back behind my eyes.


“Are you sure?” Fidget asked. He was just as tall and lanky in his younger years as he was as an adult. We were both in our late teens at the time I started traveling around the wasteland and didn’t see him every day. He knew this part of the story, and it’s not like I hadn’t seen him since then, but I was recounting it for the benefit of the others in the room, and the mysterious gun entity in my head.

“Pretty sure.” I replied, checking over my new leather armor, fitted by Fidget himself. Tires for the shoulders, a few spikes… I was looking pretty intimidating! “Mr. Opportunity said that if I was going to make it big here in Auction House, I needed to have field experience. Actually going out there and catching, selling, and buying slaves for trade. Everpony who’s important here has spent their younger years out in the field. I can’t sit and just be a merchant or something if I’m going to live up to his standards.”

“What’s wrong with being a merchant?” Fidget, the clothing purveyor raised his eyebrow at me, then smiled. “Nah, I get it. You really want to impress him don’t you?”

I blushed. “H-he took me in! The least I could do is help him out!”

“Isn’t he also heading out of town for a while? Are you going with him?” Fidget said while adjusting the back plating on my armor so that it fit more snugly, tightening a strap until I whoofed out a strangled breath.

“Ahh! Too tight!” I wriggled until he loosened it a tad. “Much better. He is, and I’m not. I’ve got to show that I’m capable of being out and about on my own. Why, you worried about little ol’ Specs?” I grinned at him, adjusting my ski goggles on my forehead. I had just gotten big enough in my last growth spurt to make them almost not comically large when I wore them over my eyes.

“Well, yeah!” Fidget said, looking concerned. “I just want to make sure you’re ready. And that you know what you’re doing. Lots of ponies go out and get themselves killed for no reason.”

“I’ll be fine. I just have to recover a couple of escaped slaves is all. They’re probably starved and half dead anyways.” A pair of worker slaves had escaped the fields of the farm they were working at about a week ago. Their bomb collars had malfunctioned, and since both of them didn’t blow up when they left the digital leash of the collars, the malfunction was probably caused by tampering. One or both of the escaped slaves had somehow gotten the collars to not blow up, and had taken their chances with the wilds outside Auction House’s outer fields. I personally didn’t understand why anypony would want to ‘escape’ from safety, security, three square meals a day, and some simple farm labor as the only thing they needed to worry about. I pulled out the paper with the bounty on it. It had an actually remarkably detailed drawing of two tough looking mares, an earth pony wearing sunglasses and a unicorn in a cape.

“Last Laugh and Golden Flame. Escaped and wanted for recovery. Must be taken alive for payment.” read Fidget as I floated the paper in front of me. “I dunno, Specs, they seem dangerous.”

“Sticks, relax.” I said, using Fidget’s nickname. “I got this!”


Fidget’s snorting broke me out of my vision of the past. “Puuuuuleeease Specs.” he groaned as sewing implements flew around the room, propelled by his magic. “You most certainly did not ‘have this’. Also I remember you crying that Mr. Opportunity wasn’t allowing you to go with him on his trip towards Fillydelphia.”

“I did not cry!” I said, perhaps a little too quickly. Shimmercoat and Matchstick Flare sniggered. Everypony had made themselves comfortable while Fidget was making us clothes and new suits of armor.

“Thy memory of this time does not have thou crying.” Mezzer helpfully pointed out in my head. “But that is a detail thou coulds’t have repressed.”

“I could see her being a whiny little bitch about not being allowed to be a big girl and go along with daddy.” Matchstick Flare was enjoying my embarrassment far too much. I felt my face turning hot with no need of her flames to help it along.

“If you’re going to insult me I won’t continue with the story!” I pouted, my face red.

“Is she going to start crying now?” Crescent Wrench asked curiously. I glared at her and she cringed, hiding behind MG-MS11.

“Weren't you going to tell Fidget about, ah, more recent events?” Shimmercoat asked, a smarmy smile still on his face. “Not that I don’t want to hear about how you captured or failed to capture two poor mares, but that hardly seems relevant.”

“It’s been a while since I’ve stayed in the city for any amount of time. I haven’t really gotten a chance to catch up with Sticks.” I said. On the rare moments I came back to Auction House before this, I’d basically just been in and out, and only really got to say hi to Fidget in passing. Fidget nodded in agreement.

“I did always wonder what happened to those two mares. We got time, I’m going to be making beautiful outfits for all you darling ponies. For a discount if there’s a good story from my dear old friend Specs!” he winked at me. “Continue, please. I promise I’ll keep the commentary to a minimum.”

“You better.” I growled, but I was smiling at the same time. Then I frowned, because I knew how the story ended. “Hey, I thought you could make sure my memories were accurate. Did I actually cry?” I asked Mezzer.

“Thou indeed shed tears over not being able to go with Mr. Opportunity on his trip, but it was not at this moment. Fidget must be misremembering when he saw thou crying. Rest assured thy memories are secure and as accurate as can be when I access them for thee.” Mezzer assured me, the tone of his voice affronted at even being questioned. I thanked him, rolling my eyes, at continued with the story, my totally accurate memories flowing back in front of me like a vision.


“If you say so…” Fidget made sure the rifle on my battle-saddle was hooked up properly with my special recoil-dampers in place. “Just come back in one piece. I like sewing up clothes, not wounds!”

“I promise.” I reassured my friend, and set out, waving goodbye at the city gates. The trek out through the farmlands was peaceful enough. I saw that the maize and tatos were coming in nicely, and the slaves were busy weeding and tending the plants to be sure that the harvest would be bountiful. It was a clear day, or as clear as the ever present cloud cover in the sky would allow. No extra thick storm clouds anyways, and it did seem a little brighter. “If there’s any day good for hunting escaped slaves, today is the day.” I said to myself, checking my equipment one last time. I had the Hoof of Honor fit snugly on my forward right hoof, my saddle mounted rifle sitting comfortably at my side, and a pack of provisions and medical supplies to help me and my targets get back to town safely. Rope, too, just in case I needed to tie them up, but I hoped I wouldn’t have to do that, as dragging them back would be, predictably, a real drag.

Soon enough, I was on the edge of the Auction House farmlands, at the last known location of the escapees. Beyond here was nothing but ruins and wild wasteland, with monsters and raiders behind every collapsed building and beneath every struggling shrub. The Bailiffs, Auction House’s military arm, did patrol around this territory, but not often enough to make it 100% safe. I kept my wits about me as I left Auction House’s frontier, taking an easy path through some rubble that my targets surely also took.

Hours passed, as they do when on the road. The air was stagnant, my hooves throwing up small clouds of dust that settled slowly as I passed by. I looked at the wanted poster again. The two mares were probably more physically fit than I was, given that farming produced a stout strength in most ponies, the earth pony especially. It would be difficult to physically subdue them without help… which is why I didn’t plan on a wrestling match. My idea, and the reason I took this job, was to use my talent and my spell to modify magical matrices. Though their bomb collars were somehow deactivated, according to the report from the slavemaster they were still wearing them. I figured I could reactivate them from a distance, and tie their leashes to a detonator I had in my pack. Then all I had to do was keep an eye on them to be sure they didn’t do whatever it was they did in the first place to get them to fail. All but the most uncontrollable and suicidal of ponies quickly fell in line once that telltale beep of active high explosives around their necks reminded them of their position.

I stopped to have a snack, just some dried mutfruit and nuts. Drinking from my canteen, I took another look around my desolate surroundings. The ruins outside of Auction House were difficult to hike through, much of the paths around here were strewn with the rubble of collapsed buildings. There were any number of hiding spots, both above and below ground. The fields of Auction House used to be some kind of big square or park, and the surrounding area was what used to be a major metropolitan area. I sighed. The hard part would be finding these mares… Last Laugh and Golden Flame. They could be hiding out anywhere. Miles away, or only a few yards. If they didn’t give any sign of their position to track, and thus far tracks of other ponies had been few and far between, then finding them would be next to impossible. But they were out there somewhere, with no food or water. They had to reveal themselves at some point.

As I finished this thought, the ground around me burst into flames.

I screamed, my fur and flesh instantly catching fire as the intense flames spontaneously leapt from the ground and onto my body. The pain was almost overwhelming, and I bolted from the epicenter of a circle of fire thrashing and grasping at my hooves from the ground around me. The circle was only a few yards wide, and once I was out I rolled painfully around on the ground, smothering the flames licking my flanks. I smelled burnt rubber, giving me a headache… maybe tires weren’t the best shoulder armor. After I had smothered the flames around me, I looked up, wincing at the pain of many burns all over my body. I still couldn’t see any source of whatever had caused the fire. Not wanting to stick around until it came again, I forced myself to move, clambering up a ruined wall, using whatever I could as a hoofhold until I got to a second story windowsill that overlooked the area.

Rubble and ruins were all around me, mostly stone and metal, and mostly not taller than two stories. The megaspell that had taken this city out must have been pretty potent, virtually all the remains of the buildings were unrecognizable, their original purpose a complete mystery. I hid behind the wall on the little ledge that was the remains of the floor on this level. Peeking around the corner, firing lever gripped tightly in my mouth for my battle-saddle, I looked around frantically. After a few tense seconds of not seeing anypony or anything aside from crumbling buildings, I ducked back under cover and pulled out a healing potion from my pack, gulping it down. I sighed in relief as the pain of burns faded away, my blackened and angry red skin and fur regrowing back to a healthy light purple shade. That fire had to be magical in nature. Golden Flame was a unicorn, and with a name like that I didn’t doubt that she was the source. I wracked my brain, trying to think of a solution that wouldn’t end up with me roasted.

Dear Ol’ Ma, back in the day, had taught me that the best way to deal with magic was more magic. She’d routinely use command magic to get rowdy patrons to settle down, and seemed particularly good at enchanting the minds of other unicorns. “Horns are like magical antenne. If you focus you’ll find that they’re easy targets for your own spells. Now make sure table four and five have enough drinks!” I remember her teaching me after she threw out a boisterous unicorn that had gotten a bit fresh with her.

With this in mind, I closed my eyes and focused. I tried to sense any magic around me… but that was useless. I could use magic, but detection spells were never my strong suit. The only thing I could ever detect was…

I mentally smacked myself. Great steaming gobs of Broccoli, I felt dumb. Focusing again, I scanned my surroundings with my magic for magical matrices, specifically for the ones that ran the bomb collars I was looking to take over.

There! Moving fast, or as fast as anypony could reasonably go in this rubble, were two magical matrices of bomb collars. They were running away! Probably hoping I’d be too scared to stop hiding. I opened my eyes and gave chase, trying to get in range to access the bomb collars with my magic. I could try to do it from here… but it probably wouldn’t work. My magic is easier when the distance is short, and works better if I can see the target as well. I can modify matrices through walls and at distances if I have to, but it drains my magical reserves pretty rapidly, and I didn’t want to get burnt out.

The going was rough. A chase through ruined buildings and streets is one part pursuit, one part making sure you don’t get stuck in the rubble, and one part making sure you’re not about to trot right into a trap or ambush. I don’t know if the pair of escaped slaves knew I was chasing, but they were still moving fast. At one point I almost ran into a wall of fire, sheets of flame leaping up ten yards tall, blocking access to a ruined office building. A quick scan revealed that their collars, and presumably the ponies attached to them, were going… down? They were going underground!

I grimaced. I didn’t like going into underground ruins… too much of a chance of encountering famished feral ghouls eager for pony flesh. I shuddered at the memories of when Dear Ol’ Ma would punish me by having me sit above a pit full of such ghouls. I calmed myself, and took a deep breath. Dear Ol’ Ma would want me to conquer my fear and do the job I had taken upon myself to do! First, though, I had to get past this wall of fire. I could just wait for the spell to end, but I didn’t know how long it would last. By the time it extinguished, who knows where those two slaves could go? And my detection range of their collars was not infinite, in fact they were almost at the edge of my abilities right now!

I looked around. Surely there was another way underground, these cities were full of passageways and maintenance tunnels that lead basically everywhere. Of course that meant that they could pop up anywhere too… or even meet their untimely ends under the city streets. I had to hurry. I turned away from the fire wall and ran up and down the street, looking for a ponyhole cover or basement door or something that would get me underground.

There! Half covered by a piece of rubble was a ponyhole cover. Of course the rubble and metal cover were far too heavy to lift open, even with my telekinesis. I grumbled. The slaves had gotten out of my matricie detection range too. But… I looked to my left, startled. There was another matrix that I hadn’t noticed inside the building next to this ponyhole cover, and it felt like a robot matrix. Maybe a robot could lift this cover for me? The door to the building was blocked by more rubble, so I sat, closed my eyes, and focused hard. The charging station the robot was housed in was right on the other side of the wall… it shouldn’t take too much power to get in...

I gasped, as it did take more magical energy than I was expecting… but the lines and nodes of a magical matrix spread out in front of me like I was traversing the inside of a colorful box full of yarn. Dear rotten cabbage was this matrix a mess! The Protectapony that it was installed in would probably attack anypony on sight with all this corruption. I sighed, and quickly started rooting through the lines in the matrix, trying to find the spot where current assignments would be stored. All I needed to do was add a task for the robot to open the ponyhole I was next to. Afterwards I could tell it to shut down and never wake up again so it wouldn’t attack me. In what felt like forever, I found the nodes where current tasks and commands would be executed. Sure enough, a command I could not overwrite without destroying the brain of the robot was stuck in the node, and of course it was a command to kill everything in sight. I could add the commands for it to dig itself out of the building it was in and for it to open the ponyhole for me though. I did so, adding a shutdown command at the end of the task, and exited the matrix, rushing for a big rock to hide behind.

A few minutes later, the rubble at the door of the building the robot was in shifted. A clawed hoof forced its way through the masonry, followed by the rest of a tottering metal pony. Protectaponies were common in the wasteland, often hiding in independently powered charging stations or patrolling various different complexes. Warehouses, subways, factories, all of these and more used Protectaponies for labor and security. They were sturdy, reliable robots that despite their slow speed were very modifiable for any job and smart enough to handle complex commands. There are even stories of Protectaponies in minor administrative roles, such as shop clerks or even sheriffs. Even with corrupt operating systems, which happened pretty frequently to robots who had gone far too long without maintenance or updates, they still could operate pretty reliably. My commands were no problem for this Protectapony, who had been sitting in his collapsed building until my magic stirred it to action. After shaking off the dust of whatever it’s former place of employment had been, it waddled its way over to the ponyhole cover on the ground, effortlessly smashed through the rubble blocking it, and lifted the cover off the hole into the city sewers. Placing it to the side, it beeped to itself, and the lights in its eyes winked out as it shut down.

“Whew. It didn’t notice me.” I murmured to myself. The later models of Protectaponies had integrated Eyes-Forward Sparkle sensors and spells, which could spell trouble for anypony trying to hide from them. This one either didn’t have that, or didn’t read me as hostile. I quickly hoofed it over to the open ponyhole and climbed down the rusty ladder inside. It shuddered, but held. Water flowed slowly down in these dark tunnels, but the tunnel wasn’t flooded and I could stand on the walkway. Some long forgotten pump was probably keeping the tunnel from flooding completely. I fished around in my pack for a light, as I didn’t know a light spell. “Should learn something like that, I think…” I muttered, my telekinesis shining a dim red light of magic around me as my horn glowed, picking up a much brighter flashlight from my pack and shining it into the darkness. The tunnel yawned in front of me in one direction, the other direction was packed with a cave in. “Only one way to go.” I said to myself, and trotted into the darkness, trying to ignore the rising hairs on the back of my neck.

I cast my matrix detection spell again. I got a couple of pings down under the earth, but they weren't moving, and after closer inspection they formed the much more complex matrices of water treatment machines and robots. I could still sense the shut down matrix of the protectapony I left on the surface, and was glad that I could use it as a sort of marker in my head to keep track of the direction I was going. “I hope they haven’t gone back up to the surface…” I muttered to myself. The tunnel I was slanted slightly downhill. Every hundred yards or so there was a branch off, but when I shone my light down them it was either just some maintenance room or a collapsed tunnel.

I don’t know how long I trotted down there in the dark. It was a long time, I had to stop again for another snack. Every so often I would ping the area with my matrix detection spell, but I wasn’t getting any responses. The protectapony on the surface was now at the very edge of my detection range, and as I sat and ate I focused. Surely they couldn’t have gotten that far away from me, could they? Maybe they were standing still… or maybe the collars had finally gone off, destroying both the devices that I was trying to track and their heads. “I hope not, those two are apparently pretty valuable.” I said, looking at the wanted poster again. Five hundred caps each for their safe return. One thousand if I could get both of them, quite the payday and well worth the risk of tracking them down. Didn’t quite expect that level of fire magic from Golden Flame though… that was combat mage level stuff! How did she get enslaved in the first place? I shook my head… no matter, once I caught up to them, she'd have to listen to me or have her head blown off.

My spell picked up something. There it was! Two simple matrices, bomb collars on inspection, right next to each other, right on the edge of my detection range and almost straight down. Did they fall down a pit? They weren't moving, and the signal I was getting was really faint. That suggested magical interference… possibly a high amount of radiation. I gulped. Radiation meant ghouls, as well as unpleasant radiation sickness if I hung around for too long. “I’ll check to see if they’re still alive at least…” I told myself, pulling together what reserves of courage I could muster. I kept trotting down the slight grade, and soon I encountered a large, shattered hole in the wall. At some point the sewer I was going down had been breached, and the hole in the wall opened into a dank, dark cavern that shone and sparkled with quartz crystal when I turned my flashlight on it. The cavern was also festooned with stalagmites and stalactites, and took a much steeper grade down into the earth. Not quite a pit, but getting close.

I carefully navigated down the steep underground hill, dodging the odd stalagmite. Pinging the collars told me that I was getting closer pretty rapidly. They hadn’t moved yet. I strained my ears, trying to hear anything ahead. My own hooves were creating quite the echoey racket, and while I tried to keep quiet, there was no way I’d be able to sneak up on anypony down below. Eventually the cave evened out and I was walking on flatter ground. Pools of water were scattered here and there along the cavern floor, dimly reflecting the light of my flashlight as it passed over them.

I stopped and listened again. The dripping of water was a constant, and occasionally I heard the crumble of stone that made my heart leap in my chest, flashlight waving to find the source. It was of course always nothing. “Where could they have gotten to…” I muttered to myself, pinging again. Just around the next bend in this cavern, behind a large column of stone that rose into the darkness.

…”on! We need to get… Flame, we need to get out of here! This is no time to nap!” I heard a slightly panicked mare’s voice, an alto for sure, were she to sing, echo up ahead. Peeking around the corner I found another tunnel branching off from where this stone column was, and I followed it as quickly and quietly as I could. “Who’s there?!” The mare’s panicked voice came down the tunnel as I went up it. Not nearly quiet enough, it seemed.

“Coin Slot, from Auction House.” I announced, stepping forward with my rifle primed and ready. It was dark, the slaves did not have any source of light aside from the soft red glow of their bomb collars. The collars were still on? Last Laugh, a light blue mare with pink mane and tail, in what looked like a tattered pre-war police uniform. Her sunglasses were on her forehead, and so I saw her eyes narrow as I shined my flashlight on the pair. Golden Flame was at Last Laugh’s hooves, groaning. She was a purple mare with darker purple mane and tail, and she looked groggy, her head bleeding from a deep cut on her forehead. “I’m here to take you two back. Are you going to come quietly? We can treat your wounds once we return you to your master.” I had my rifle trained on Last Laugh, who was blinking away stars from my light and quickly glaring at me, lowering her sunglasses. I glanced behind her, taking a look at the room we were in. There were more pools of water lying scattered around, some looking quite deep. I was standing at the only entrance to this cavern, aside from a recent looking hole in the ceiling, which was quite high up. Did they fall down here? From their injuries, it looked like it. Patches of strange glowing fungus grew in places along the walls, and I once again worried about radiation.

“Oh, yeah, sure. We’ll come quietly.” Last said in a tone that told me she was both a liar and ready to fight. Even with Golden Flame and her magic out of the equation for now, Last Laugh’s tightly muscled frame looked to be more than a match for me if I let her get close, so I stayed on the other end of the little cavern we were in, rifle raised. “Where did you even come from?”

“Same as you, above ground.” I replied. “I really don’t want to shoot you, damaged goods aren’t what I’m here for. If you comply I can get her meds, she looks pretty bad.” I nodded at Golden Flame, who was stirring, but still had her eyes closed.

“We’re NOT GOODS!!” Last Laugh’s face twisted into a horrific grimace, and I could feel the rage in her eyes even through the mirrored sunglasses. “BACK OFF!! Just leave us alone and nopony get’s hurt! You should count yourself lucky, Golden Flame roasted the three others who tried to stop us when we escaped! If you don’t leave by the time she wakes up, you’re fuckin smoked!” She took several steps forward, and I took several steps back. “Hehe…” she giggled suddenly. “You’re scared! A scardy slaver!”

With that, Last Laugh charged, giggling insanely.

I panicked, and shot my rifle. I of course completely missed, the shot echoing off of the cavern wall behind them. The crazed former slave was almost upon me! I lifted my forelegs in defense and kicked out with the Hoof of Honor. To my surprise, the kick connected, and I felt Last Laugh’s nose crunch as I connected with her face.

Not that that stopped her, though. I was bowled over by the bigger mare, and tried to cover my head as she started to whip her hooves back and forth, aiming for my face. Her blows painfully struck my forelegs and the sides of my head and neck, and I could already tell I’d be covered in bruises if I survived. I rolled, squirming out from under her and dodging a nasty spin kick sent my way. I was no stranger to brawling, but not exactly an expert either. I did know that on the ground was not a good place to be fighting from, and got to my hooves as quickly as possible, rearing the Hoof of Honor up in a defensive posture, breathing deeply.

Last Laugh was slowly walking around me, trying to see if I’d let her get to my flanks. I rotated with her, and tried to train my rifle on her, but right before I drew a bead she launched herself at me again, screaming. We became a violent ball of kicks, punches, and bites as all technique flew out the window while the pair of us just tried to connect hard hooves (and in my case a metal horseshoe) to soft pony flesh. My gun went off a few times as we rolled and scrambled in the wet dirt of the cavern, grit and grime darkening our clothes and fur. “We’re… not… going… back!” Last Laugh painfully punctuated each word with a hoof to the face or stomach, my attempts to block only partially successful. “Do… you… know… what… we… had… to… go… through!?” She broke off, panting and backing up a little, blood on her face from her broken nose, and grinning.

I backed up as well, bleeding from my nose as well. I didn’t think it was broken, but it sure felt like that was the only part of my face that wasn’t busted up. I twisted, pointing the rifle at her again. Then I noticed the barrel, and realized that the grin she had must have been from knowing that the bent barrel of the rifle now rendered my arms advantage ineffective. “What…” I spat blood and phlegm from my mouth to clear it. It was hard to breathe, and I hoped one of my ribs wasn’t broken. “What did you have to go through? Three meals a day? Fulfilling work that benefited more than yourself? That… gahh… that strong body didn’t come from starving in a gutter somewhere, Auction House fed and quartered you! We protect our slaves from the dangers of the wasteland! Even other slavers! I grant their methods are hideous, but that isn’t what happened to you!”

“You have NO RIGHT!! NO IDEA!!” Last Laugh spat, a tooth flying out of her mouth. I’d apparently gotten a few good hits in. “You tout Auction House around as if it has a high and mighty ideal, when all it does - all you slavers do - is take the freedom from ponies lives! I’m not a farmer, or some sick stallion’s toy, or anything else somepony who calls themselves ‘master’ wants me to be!” She took a few steps towards me, and once again I backed up to keep distance. I didn’t think I could go for round two, it was all I could do last time to keep her from knocking me senseless. “And you’re all fucking COWARDS!! Face me like a mare, at least! Hehehehe...” and she started that insane giggling again, slowly stepping forward. My rear bumped up against the cavern wall… I’d been cornered!

I had to act fast. No time to go into a full trance to dive into her collar. My horn glowed a bright red as she charged, and I shouted, “STOP!! Or your collar blows!” She didn’t stop. I blasted out my magic as a blanket command for all matrices in the area to activate.

There were two loud beeps from each of the collars around Last Laugh and Golden Flame’s necks. The collars, reactivated by my magic, determined they were outside their leashes and exploded. I had no time to reprogram the leashes before activating the collars. In the center of the room, Golden Flame, who had just lifted her head groggily, didn’t even get a chance to scream as the beeping collar turned into an explosion that rocked the cavern in harmony with Last Laugh’s collar exploding as well. Bits of skull, brain, and blood splattered all around the two bodies, and I flinched as a piece of what I thought was Last Laugh’s ear hit me in the cheek. I shook it off and sighed a defeated sigh. I hadn’t wanted it to come to this…

The cavern rumbled, and a large crack in the center of the cavern opened up, swallowing Golden Flame’s body. The floor moved, shoving me back up against the cavern wall. A pair of silo doors were opening up under our hooves! That wasn’t the only surprise. To my horror, Last Laugh, her crumpled, beaten body trembling, stood up. She looked dazed, deafened, her neck all torn up and her glasses cracked and askew, and bits of her ears missing, but she was miraculously alive! “Holy guacamole!!” I shouted, running away from the apparently invincible mare. I made it to the exit of the cavern in time, and turned to see Last Laugh waver at the edge of the opening doors and fall through the widening crack in the ground. I could see a little ways down there… the green glow that was in the fungus around us was far, far more intense down the silo. Robots that were booting up and exiting their charging stations were starting to meander around down there. It looked like an old missile silo had responded to my spell and opened up! I coughed. The taste of blood washed over my tongue, and I spat red on the wet cavern ground. The magical radiation was probably going to get way worse if there was any remains of a megaspell in that silo… I had to report this to somepony.

I ran out of the cavern, back the way I came. No slaves, beaten and bruised, with damaged equipment and no big payday waiting for me. Tears welled up in my eyes as I ran through the ruins back to Mr. Opportunities house. My first adventure into the wastes around Auction House had not gone well.


“Oh. My. Celestia!!” Fidget swore. “Coin!! Why did you never tell me this?! I didn’t see you for weeks after you left, and you’re telling me you came back the same day?”

I came out of the memory trance that Mezzer was giving me to the stares of my friends and slaves. I blushed. “Would you have gone to your best friend and shared your colossal failure after being all confidant like I was?”


I pouted. “Well, remember this was before I knew you liked stallions. I did have a crush on you at that point.”

“Wait, what happened to Last Laugh?” Matchstick Flare was leaning forward, her mouth slightly open. She looked like she had been really engaged. Crescent Wrench as well was sitting and watching me, a half-built gizmo laying on the ground at her hooves.

“I don’t know.” I replied. “The more experienced slavers that went down that tunnel after I told the Council about it back then didn’t report finding the remains of either Golden Flame or Last Laugh. Apparently the old missile silo I activated was empty aside from a few security robots, nothing really valuable aside from launch codes that had already been used during the war.”

“No body no crime.” Shimmercoat said. “I know that having enemies out to kill you is probably a daily occurrence with slavers like yourself, Coin, but if Last Laugh is still alive, you probably should be keeping your eye out. A knife in the dark or gun in the shadows won’t do any of us any favors, least of all you.”

“It’s been years since then. If she wanted to try something, if she’s even alive, I’m sure she would have done so before now.” I nodded to Shimmercoat. “But you’re right. Maybe this armor Fidget is making can help with that? How are we looking?”

“Almost finished!” Fidget said. During my little story he’d been working on several different clothing and armor workbenches, tools darting to and fro on his telekinesis. “Why don’t you tell me how you met your current slaves? We still got time!”

Fidget’s definition of ‘almost finished’ turned out to be using up the rest of the day here in his shop while he measured us, had us model, and worked on street clothes, nice clothes, and battle dress and armor for all of us. He even went so far as to make Hiss a fancy dog collar and little bow I could tie around his ear. While he worked, I finished the day with my telling Fidget of more contemporary stories, with the others chiming in every once and a while with details of events from their points of view. We talked about how I met up with Hiss, Shimmercoat and Crescent Wrench, MG-MS11, Matchstick Flare, and our latest acquaintance with Top Notch. About our journey to Auction House from Stable 11, and about how we took on the Wendigos and stopped the oppressive cold that had besieged the city until recently. During all of this, Mezzer replayed the memories in my head. “You can replay ALL my memories? And these are accurate?” I asked him, amazed.

“I can. If thou allow me, or if thy art unconscious, it seems I can access thy memories and show them to thee. I didn’t know thou couldst relay the sight of thy memories as a story while thou art in a trance, but apparently thou can. It’s really quite interesting.” Mezzer seemed equally amazed.

“It’s like being in a memory orb, except I’m not knocked out and can talk while seeing it play out. And the fact that I’m myself instead of some other pony.” I said.

“It could be this magic that I can operate on thy mind is similar to the spell that creates memory orbs. Since from what I can tell every memory stored in thy brain is accurate to the way you saw things at the time, I can show thee things thou hast forgotten.” I felt like Mezzer was excited that he could be useful to me in more ways than stunning enemies.

“It’s basically a cheater’s way of having a photographic memory!” I was excited. “Maybe I can recall what happened when our casino burnt down, and see if I saw anything during or after that event that could lead me to the pony responsible!”

“Would thou like me to show thee this memory now?” Mezzer asked.

“Um, no. I… I don’t know if I’m ready to relive it…” I said, suddenly reluctant. While the possibility of examining the day of my childhood home burning down seemed exciting intellectually, the more I thought about the concept the more apprehensive I started to feel. Already, just thinking about the flames, the smoke… I was starting to hyperventilate. I don’t even know why I brought it up.

“Sir! I am detecting an elevated heart rate! Do you require sedatives?” MG-MS11 hovered a little closer. I found myself the subject of several raised eyebrows.

“Er, I’m fine, Sergeant.” I said, taking a deep breath and shoving those memories back to padlocked, welded shut box where they belonged. “Just thinking too hard is all.”

“Sorry this is taking so long, I didn’t realize I’d be here making clothes for my favorite mare and her friends all day!” Fidget was finally putting the finishing touches on the clothes he had created for us.

“Friends is a... strong word. Though I have to admit, Fidget, your work is pretty amazing.” Shimmercoat said, looking at himself in his new armor in an only slightly cracked mirror Fidget had for customers to observe their new purchases. Shimmercoat and Crescent Wrench had gotten their Stable 11 jumpsuits repaired and armored to give them more protection. Fidget had said that he loved working with Stable jumpsuit material, and that if we ever get our hooves on more he would be happy to purchase them. Now their protective blue and yellow jumpsuits that were strategically armored with leather and steel for maximum protection and flexibility. Crescent Wrench’s new barding was a little heavier than Shimmercoat’s because Fidget had observed that she was carrying around a sledgehammer, and armored it for melee combat. “The armor padding is more comfortable than I thought it would be, I’m impressed!”

“Thank you, darling.” Fidget said, obviously checking out how the jumpsuit hugged Shimmercoat’s rear. Not that I could blame him, I was doing the same thing. It’s amazing how a good looking stallion looks even better in a fresh set of clothes. “Here, let’s have a little fashion show! I want to see all of you in all your clothes! Ohh, let me get my camera, I can’t wait!” Fidget raced to the little office he had and emerged with an old world camera that he had gotten repaired, setting up the tripod.

So we dressed up a bit and got our pictures taken. In addition to the armored jumpsuits, Shimmercoat and Crescent Wrench had matching sets of ‘work clothes,’ simple but hard-wearing tunics that covered their torsos and were both as blue as their Stable suits. We all had similar attire, just in different colors. Mine was red, to match my cutie mark, and Matchstick Flare’s was beige, because that was the only fire resistant fabric Fidget had right now. Top Notch looked comfortable in his black tunic, though it highlighted how… skinny he was, showing several of his ribs.

We first showcased our new armor, trying it on and making sure everything fit properly and sat well on the areas of our bodies that needed protecting. Crescent Wrench and Shimmercoat had already changed into their armor, and the sections that were armored were padded and comfortable, and the pair of them were able to move freely as if they weren't wearing anything at all. With the extra protection, Shimmercoat would worry less about keeping up a strong shield around the pair of them, and be able to save his magic for when it was needed.

Matchstick Flare had requested that the general design of her armor be kept the same. Her armor was more offensive than defensive. The old electric oven stovetop coils would heat up with her body heat and apply more severe burns from the heated metal when she tackled an opponent than just her radiant body heat would. Fidget did enhance the fire resistant suit the stovetop coils were attached to though. The stovetop armor was now tailored to her muscular, lean frame, hugging her skin tightly. The attachments of the coils were both more secure, and were straps that could be undone if the coils needed to be moved or removed for repairs. Extra straps around the suit would allow for the addition of more coils or let Matchstick move coils around if she wanted. Fidget had also replaced the lining, which had been getting burnt out. Apparently the old material was from a stitched together firefighter suit. Fidget replaced it with that beige flame resistant cloth he had, and it worked much better. “It’s even more comfortable! Not loose in places… the stovetops don’t jingle around… I love it!” Matchstick Flare said as Fidget took pictures.

Top Notch at first refused armor, saying that his heavy weapon was more than enough weight to be carrying around, and that he was missing so much of his flesh that shooting him was an exercise in folly anyway. Undeterred, Fidget took Top to the fitting room for ‘special measurements’, and exited with a strange look on his face. “I know ghouls have different… biology, but I’ve never seen one missing so much of his body. He’s basically ribs and a gut sack tied to his spine!” Fidget whispered to me, taking glances at Top Notch, who was daintily snacking on a travel biscuit from his pack. “How am I supposed to armor that?”

“Some kind of vest?” I suggested. Fidget looked thoughtful for a moment. When his work was done Top Notch had a slim Kevlar jacket that would line the inside of his ribcage, fastened to it by straps woven between his ribs.

“That should help protect your vitals while staying slim enough for you to wear your tuxedo over it, Mr. Notch!” Fidget said, proud of himself. “That was quite a difficult task, getting all the straps right.”

“I say, good man!” Top Notch looked pleased, examining his new ‘vest’ by lifting his bony wings and twisting about in the mirror. Without his suit jacket on, he did look less like a ghoul and more like a walking corpse. We hadn’t noticed before because Top Notch liked to stay fully dressed, but the only fleshy bits that he had, necrotic though they were, were on his limbs and face. His entire torso was essentially skeletal, bone white ribs shining in the dim firelight Matchstick put off. He had internal organs, sort of. They were all in a woven sack tied to his spine with nylon rope, several lengths of rope, actually. “Got to keep the insides inside, wot! Even with my condition, I can’t go around leaving my heart everywhere!” Top Notch took his ghoulification, if you could call something this extreme that, with a cavalier attitude, but it was still a bit creepy looking at him move around. I could see why he usually had a suit jacket and shirt on to cover his torso. Now he had a kevlar ‘torso’ woven between his ribs. At least it gave him more of a pony shape, and it protected the gut sack inside. Fidget took more pictures, though he looked a little less excited about these ones. “Say, chappie, when those are developed send me a copy, will you?” Top Notch asked. “I do so enjoy your work, and I can see why Coin brought us here to get outfitted!”

“Of course, Mr. Notch. Thank you for your patronage!” Fidget smiled, pouring on the professionalism for the fancy pegasus.

My own new set of armor was something completely different than my old tire-shouldered slaver kit, or the Stable jumpsuit I had been wearing for so long now. I could see that Fidget had gone all out on it. He’d used a comfortable, skin tight black catsuit for the under armor and padded it for comfort with combat armor plates sewn into the padding. It was mostly black, but the armor plates were painted purple and blue to match my coat and mane. The chestpiece, where the armor was thickest, had a picture of a bottle cap going into a slot, my cutie mark, painted on it in bright red and silver. It even included a custom holster for my oddly shaped weapon, Mezzer. The armor looked technical, sexy, and cool. “I… I...” I stammered, checking myself out. This custom combat armor wore like a second skin thanks to the catsuit lining and padded plates. Pouches for spare gear hung barely noticeable along the sides of my body. Quick access slings for potions and drugs were tucked next to my shoulders, with even more utility pockets hidden all over the place between, and sometimes behind, the combat armor plates.

“Do you not love it!? Only the best for my dearest friend Coin!” Fidget said, looking at me proudly. “I want you to be safe out there! The state of your clothes when you came in… simply dreadful!!”

“I can’t believe it, Fidget. This is amazing! Thank you!” I felt myself tearing up. “How… how much do I owe you? I’m not letting you give us all this for free!” I hardened my gaze, sucking up my thankful tears. “I know you have expenses like all of us and this couldn’t have been simple to do.”

“Hmph.” Fidget waved his hoof dismissively. “For a friend, I’d pauper myself. But since I know you won’t let me get away with that, I’ll just give you a steep discount. For everything, armor, clothes, all of it, just your story and one thousand caps.”

“Oof.” I grunted. I knew that Fidget was probably taking a loss on this one, but one thousand caps still dug into our supply pretty hard. “I’ll have to pay in installments…” I said, pulling out three hundred and hoofing them over.

“I know you’re good for it!” Fidget beamed. “Now, on with the fashion show! Come here and let me get some sexy shots of that new armor! Pose for me darling!” I blushed, but it felt kind of nice showing off. I looked sleek, dangerous, and not a mare to be messed with. After my pictures were taken, Fidget called for us to change into our more fancy outfits. “I want pictures of all my work today, everypony get changed!”

This time I was first up, and Fidget hadn’t held back for this outfit either. It was a big, western style ballroom dress. It took a little bit of a struggle, as apparently Fidget had decided that I needed a corset, of all things, but after I had gotten into it and took a look in the mirror, I realized that Fidget had gotten the style right on the money again. “Holy cabbage, Fidget! I look… I look great! I could go dancing in this!” I smiled. As the armor had made me feel sexy and dangerous, this dress made me feel elegant and alluring. The corset was tight, but pushed my figure into a rather appealing shape and enhanced the lines of the dress, which poofed out pretty large around my flank. My tail was concealed by flowing petticoats, which just barely didn’t touch the ground. The colors Fidget chose were the opposite of my armor, focusing on a primarily red and silver scheme to match my cutie mark rather than my fur. The effect was striking.

“I do say, Coin!” Top Notch’s monocle literally popped out of his eye socket, almost taking his eye with it. “You look like the belle of the ball! Simply marvelous!” He already had fancy clothes, and had less of a new outfit and more of a freshly repaired tuxedo. Fidget hadn’t had to alter it much, just patch it up and make sure it was clean.

“Thanks.” I blushed, and posed for the camera. Fidget knew how to bring the best out in ponies with his clothes. I wondered idly if he had any lineage with the Ministry Mare Rarity, who I think was a clothing designer before she headed up the Ministry of Image. Not that special talents were always inherited, but sometimes there was a family line that kept similar talents around.

Matchstick Flare’s dress was more beige, and simpler than mine, because Fidget’s supply of fire resistant fabric was limited. She still looked stunning, as Fidget had gone with a dress that flared out at Matchstick’s flanks with straps of fabric that waved around in the heat thrown off by her flames. The twisting and curling of the strips of fabric covered and revealed the flaming mare’s body in waves of heat, and Mezzer let out a low whistle in my head. “Thou dost not know how sexy she looks in that!” he sighed. I resisted an eye roll.

“You look amazing.” I complimented the former raider mare. She blushed adorably.

“I… I don’t know what to say… I’ve never worn proper clothes before…” Matchstick looked lost for words as Fidget took her picture.

“You’re beauty only shines even more with this on. Fidget, you’ve outdone yourself, she looks incredible.” Shimmercoat said, not able to take his eyes off Matchstick. They shared an embrace, tears in her eyes and a wild grin on her face.

“I can’t wait to go out in this, for once I want ponies staring at me!” Matchstick Flare did a little dance, the lightweight fabric straps dancing along with her.

Crescent Wrench was absolutely adorable in a little yellow sundress that fitted her perfectly. “I… I’ve never worn anything like this!” she was in awe of herself as she looked in the mirror. “I look so…” she blushed, and her ears and tail were perked up as she kept turning around in a little circle, looking at herself in the dress.

“Cute?” I finished for her, and her blush reddened her face even more. “It’s a great look for you! Perfect for when we go to see the Council. How about you Shimm…” I stopped, my jaw dropped.

“Buh….” Matchstick Flare grunted next to me, and punched my shoulder. It was hot, and not unpainful. “Ahhh… hooves off, sister.” she said, a stupid grin on her face.

Shimmercoat stepped out of the little changing room in a tailored, hard-edged, old world style suit and matching hat. It was, in a word, sharp. He looked fantastic, like he could take on a room full of raiders and after that sweep a mare off her hooves to take her to a fancy dance party and drink the night away without a care. And, of course, end the night with fiery passion. I realized I was drooling.

“I take it it looks good.” Shimmercoat said, deadpan, looking at the three of us. I realized that Matchstick and Fidget were drooling as well, and even Crescent Wrench was blushing a little, looking away, then looking back at him. Shimmercoat looked in the mirror. He nodded. “It does. Accents my features and makes me look… hmm.” Shimmercoat put a hoof on his collar.

“Ah, yes, I’m afraid the lines are a little broken by the collar, sorry. I can try to integrate it into the outfit but…” Fidget said, looking over at me. “I, ah, didn’t want to presume.”

The cheery, celebratory mood in the room dimmed down as the reality of everypony’s position was highlighted once again by the collar around Shimmercoat’s neck. Nopony was looking at me, and nopony made a sound, aside from Top Notch retching up an awkward, raspy cough.

Friends? We’re not friends, Coin. Not as long as this collar is around my neck.” I remembered what Shimmercoat had said not so long ago. We had been happy then too, coming off of victory from working as a team…

“Thou must treat thy team members as equals in order for them to become friends.” Mezzer said in my head, breaking the awkward silence only for me. “Maybe a small step forward is in order? It’s not like thou intends to ever sell him…”

“But… if I let him go, he’ll just run off, taking everypony else with him… I’ll be… alone again.” I thought at Mezzer, feeling awful. Did I really need to keep the ponies I cared about as slaves forever? For some reason, unbidden, my Dear Ol’ Ma’s voice told me in my head that of course they would leave. Why would anypony want to stay around me?

“Dost thou know that? I’ll ask what I asked before. What art thou? Who art thou? What art thou going to do with thy life?”

I looked around the room again. Fidget looked uncomfortable, and mouthed an apology in my direction. Crescent Wrench’s ears drooped, and she was staring at the ground. Matchstick Flare was glaring at a wall. Top Notch looked like he was trying to ignore us while we worked out whatever this was. MG-MS11 hovered by the door, uncaring as a machine should be. Even Hiss was hiding under a table, and the only one looking at me, his new adorable bow a little askew. He whined.

What art thou?

Shimmercoat was still looking at himself in the mirror, adjusting the collar of the suit to try and match up with the explosive around his neck. It wasn’t working, of course, Fidget’s work was too precise.

“Oh what the heck.” I muttered to myself, hoping I wouldn’t regret this. My horn glowed a soft red, and I tranced for a small amount of time, accessing the matrix on the collar. The latch on Shimmercoat’s collar clicked. It fell to the ground with a soft thud.

Level up! (Lv. 16)

New Perk: Storyteller: Your memories and feelings come out detailed and entertaining when telling them to others. When relaying a tale, charisma checks are 25% easier to pass. When recounting events in a report or investigation, new clues can come forth that previous scrutiny had failed to reveal. You are also viewed as more trustworthy to those who know you from revealing details about your past that might have once embarrassed you!

Story Perk: Total Recall: Mezzer now (with your permission) can access and replay your memories like a memory orb. You do not lose full consciousness when this happens, and can relay your memories through a story to others while in a trance. You might find details in the memories that your conscious mind has forgotten or repressed.

Authors Note: Another chapter! Huzzah!

I’m taking a step many artists have taken, and starting my own Patreon account! I already have a couple of goals in mind, but for those to get off the ground what I really need is enough support to really start hammering away at the story! Once we reach a certain threshold, I can commit more time to writing not just as a hobby, but as a compensated artist. This would mean faster updates! For now the goal is one chapter every other month, if we get enough support to Patreon to get to that level. Other goals are in the works as well, so if you like the story or want more from me, go check it out! Available at https://www.patreon.com/sirleadhead

As usual, HUGE thanks to Kkat for writing Fallout: Equestria and giving us sidefic writers a great big sandbox to play in. Thanks to Heartshine and Shimmercoat for their editing prowess. Apologies if my literary voice has changed, it’s been a while since the start of this story! Also thanks to Bethesda and Hasbro for two great franchises. Hope you enjoy!