Crystal and the False Princess must now live with the consequences of their actions while settling into their new roles in the Wasteland.
The journey to find answers and to stop a madpony from unleashing an army of robots may have come to an end but now our heroes and some new ones have to live with the consequences and life in the wasteland.
Crystal and her family must content with life as wastelanders and Solaris learns what it is to be equine while protecting those that follower her.
The Marejave, although part of the greater Equestrian Wasteland, was isolated by its dividing mountain range and had its own set of unique properties and problems that made it practically its own region. Ponies over the two centuries had been plagued by a strange sense of unease around the area of Meadowlark Hill, but when it exploded the ponies of the Marejave wanted to know why. As news passed throughout the towns and New Pegasus as to what happened and what was under Meadowlark Hill, a great sense of relief fell over the populace. However, for some, the darkness was only to grow darker.
Several weeks after the destruction of the Production Facility A green alicorn dressed in a desert scarf along with sand goggles and a wide brimmed hat stumbled over the jagged rocks that made up the crater perimeter. The crater was cast in a dark shadow as the rising sun of the early morning had yet to shine down within it. She steadied her footing while she looked around the carnage left behind from the explosion. She couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary on the hill itself, but as she peered down into the shadow of the crater, she could then see the remnants of twisted concrete, rebar and steel at the bottom.
“Sister, where on Equus are you?” The alicorn asked herself as she began to stalk around the perimeter. “I can sense your energy. You’re close.”
She stopped and shot her head up when she noticed movement in the corner of her eye. She hurriedly ran up the hill after it, toward the abandoned mine entrance.
“Sister!” She yelled, but as soon as she made it there, she came face to face with something she would only have seen in her nightmares.
Partially hidden by the shadow of the old entrance, a giant skeletal-like alicorn stood before her, its glowing red eyes boring into her as it examined her.
“W-who are you and… where’s my sister?” The alicorn demanded.
The skeletal alicorn tilted its head, producing a sort of whirring noise which told the alicorn that it was some sort of robot. “But Tratos, I’m right here.” The machine spoke in a perfect rendition of the alicorn that Tratos had come to find.
Tratos’s wings fell limp by her sides and her jaw fell as the machine claimed to be her missing sister. “Bu… what… what happened? I… we’ve been so worried about you,” She said on the verge of tears.
The skeletal machine stepped out of the broken entryway and approached the alicorn. “I got injured and well, this machine helped me survive,” It explained when it was mere inches away from her.
Tratos sniffled and closed her eyes. In that moment, two cybernetic cords extended out from the back of the machine’s neck, one moving around to encircle the alicorn’s neck while the other moved up and around until the tip was positioned above her horn.
“Come back with me, sis! I’ve missed you so much!”
The machine replied, losing most of the feminine tone it used before. “I have a better idea. Why don’t you join me instead?” As soon as it said that, the cord around her neck tightened like a vice and a gold mesh shot out from the tip of the other, wrapping around the alicorn’s horn. She struggled, but the machine’s grip was too great, and a sudden loss of energy made her attempts at escape worthless. Her eyes dulled and her cutie mark faded as all her magic was sucked out of her and into the machine, which then cast her aside like a used teabag. It extended its bone-like wings and let out a yell as power flowed throughout its mechanical body until it settled.
Looking down at the near lifeless body of the alicorn, the machine spoke in a perfect rendition of Princess Celestia’s voice. “Thank you for your donation. Your magic will help go to a good cause.” It then used its levitation magic to pick up the alicorn and throw her into the core of the crater.
A couple weeks later. Alicorn Sanctuary.
“Umagon, no! I can’t let you go, not until we know what’s happened to Oxanna and Tratos!” Dr Pear yelled as she barred the main doors that the green alicorn was trying to get passed.
“C’mon Doctor! My friends have been missing for weeks, somepony has to do something!” She cried.
“I know but… argh!” She grunted and stopped as she rubbed at her sore chest. After sacrificing her Regeneration Talisman to Crystal, the healing process of her flesh had reverted to more natural means, meaning the wound was healing slowly, and would cause pain or even reopen if stressed.
“Doctor, are you alright?” Umagon asked in worry as the cybernetic mare sat down away from the door and began to soothingly rub at her chest.
“I’m fine.” She sighed. “I guess I can’t stop you. I know how far we’d go for each other but… please be careful.”
Umagon nodded with a sad smile. “I’ll find them, Doctor. You’ll see.” She pushed open the door and into a snowstorm before disappearing into the night.
A couple of days later, Doctor Pear sat by her radio station with the console plugged into her forehead’s expansion socket to give her direct access to the resort’s communication and surveillance systems. After working with these alicorns for almost a century and a half, she was very familiar with their magic signatures. Not wanting to lose another friend, she decided to use the radio mast to track Umagon’s magical signature.
“The ruins of the Production Facility?” She said out loud to herself when she felt the energy signature of Umagon stop moving.
“The Facility?” Nexus asked as the machine stepped into the room.
Dr Pear jumped at the unexpected arrival of her fellow Mark 2 but relaxed into her seat afterwards. “Yes, I didn’t want to lose Umagon as well, so I’ve been tracking her movements and she’s gone all the way to the ruins of the Production Facility.” Suddenly, Dr Pear’s face contorted into confusion.
“Something wrong, Doctor?” Nexus asked upon seeing the Doctor’s face change.
“There is something else there, a more powerful energy signature that I’ve never felt before.” Dr Pear titled her head while she read the data that flowed into her electronic brain.
“What could it be?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never felt anything like it before.” Her eyes widened.
“She’s gone. Umagon’s power signature just faded and… that huge power signature just got stronger, what the hell just happened?” Her eyes widened further in disbelief and horror. “What, Unit-1000!”
Detaching the device from her forehead and quickly reattaching her horn in a practiced flourish, she used her magic to open a drawer on the other side of the room and levitated two small devices out and over to her.
“Nexus, can you do me a quick favour please?” She asked as she quickly checked the devices that looked like large gemstones with some electronics stuck to them.
“Of course. What do you need?”
“Take these. They are teleportation charms. I’ve set one for the Production Facility and the other for here.” She levitated the two charms over to the robot. “Can you please investigate what just happened? If you find Umagon or the cause of that huge energy signature or any evidence that Unit-1000 survived, teleport back immediately.”
“What about Ma’am and Sir?” He asked as he pocketed the return charm and held the one that would take him back to the Facility in his forehoof. “If that machine is still alive, they could be in danger.”
“Until we can verify that Unit-1000 is still alive, I would not like to stress her as she’s still recovering.”
Nexus nodded in understanding. “I’ll be back after a quick recon.”
In a flash of blue light, he was gone. About ten minutes had passed before he returned in another blue flash.
“What did you find?” Dr Pear asked with dejection as she noticed that Umagon was not with him.
Nexus shook his head. “Nothing I’m afraid. There was no evidence of any pony being there and I saw no evidence of or detected Unit-1000 there.”
She sighed sadly. “Another alicorn lost…” She gave the Mark 2 a serious look. “But you’re sure there was nothing of Unit-1000 at all?”
Nexus nodded. “As I said, no energy signatures and no evidence on the grounds around the crater. Besides the effects of time and wind on the sand and sediment, it looked like it did the day it exploded.”
“Thank you, Nexus. I’ll continue to monitor for Umagon and Unit-1000. If I find anything, I’ll let you all know.” Dr Pear twisted her horn to take it off before reconnecting herself to the console.
“Of course. Glad to have helped.” Nexus then left the room.
“Nothing…” Dr Pear turned a few knobs on the console to change the sensory system to specifically look for certain energy signatures. “Still nothing, it… it must have been a glitch in the system.” She sighed once more as she returned the sensory system back to looking for Alicorn Magic.
“I can’t stop looking. I can’t let another alicorn go missing.”
A week later. Upgrade Station Alpha
“The Upgrade Facility is in there?” Unit-04 asked sceptically as it looked at the ruined and run-down house nestled in the rock wall.
“Yes. It was built underground and this house was built on top as a cover,” Unit-1000 explained as the two machines approached. Before they could enter, Unit-1000 stopped and raised its head high in alert.
“Yes. Multiple hostiles detected and they are closing fast.” The skeletal alicorn robot looked down at the smaller robot. “Quickly, get inside.”
Heeding its order, Unit-04 ran ahead to take cover inside the ruined house. As it made it inside and found a safe spot where it could observe its master, a swarm of giant insects began to surround the alicorn robot.
Cazadorables flew in hard and fast from all directions, seeing the pony-shaped robot as food. Just moments before they impacted, Unit-1000 lit its antenna-like horn and a dome of golden magic surrounded it. The giant insects swung their abdomens forward with their stingers at the ready and punctured the shield, but only the stingers that made it through. The insects batted against the shimmering dome while they had their stingers stuck in the shield, but this gave Unit-1000 enough time to look around and identify how many targets it had.
Target reticules began to appear around each and every bug that was caught in the shield as the machine began to charge more power into its horn. The rainbow-coloured gem at the tip began to shine brightly as the power grew. Once the power had reached optimal weapon status, it targeted all the stuck bugs at once and released the power in a quick and deadly blast. Multiple precision beams of destructive magic lanced out from the horn, striking each of the targeted bugs and incinerating them. The remainder of the swarm circling the machine immediately backed off. A single large bug opened its mouth full of razor-sharp teeth and dived at the alicorn robot, only to be incinerated by a single beam of golden magic. Several more were shot down before the swarm dispersed and retreated.
“Even the mutated bugs know when to retreat.” Unit-1000 turned and headed into the destroyed house to meet back up with Unit-04.
“The magic you’ve acquired has helped increase your combat efficiency multiple times over,” Unit-04 said in wonder.
“With the power of four alicorns, plus the slight amplification each one grants, I’m at least six times more powerful than one of those manufactured alicorns in regard to magic output.” Unit-1000 made its way down into the basement and into the Upgrade Station proper.
“Yes, it would seem that with each alicorn you absorb, you gain a zero-point five amplification,” Unit-04 added. “Perhaps it would be beneficial to go to the Alicorn Sanctuary and absorb as many as you can.”
“Absolutely not! There is a difference between the three I absorbed at the Production Facility and the one I absorbed shortly before we arrived here.”
“Difference? They are all manufactured alicorns.”
“Yes, but the three I absorbed first were not insane like the last one. They were free from the Goddess’s control and had their individuality back. They had more right to live than the mindless monster we encountered earlier. So, from now on I cannot and will not kill alicorns like them from the Sanctuary. However, the ones under the Goddess’s control or ones that have lost their minds are fair game.”
Upon entering the old upgrade station, the two machines met a gruesome sight. Lying on a table near the main console was a badly decomposed body of a unicorn. A tattered magician’s hat and cape lay on the floor near the body.
“What is this?” Unit-04 asked in mild surprise.
“A victim of the Mark 2 replacement and disguise protocol,” Unit-1000 replied in a sad tone as it looked over the body. “It would seem this was once a young mare, likely died from dehydration after being left powerless and weak from when Unit-03 took her place.”
“That… sounds really bad.”
“It certainly isn’t a nice way to die, especially for a mare that still had her whole life ahead of her.” Unit-1000 sighed with a hint of shame. “Unit-04, can you please take the body outside and bury her. It’s the least she deserves.”
The smaller machine bowed its head. “Of course.” It stepped up to the table and with care, gently picked up the dead mare and laid her on its back, carrying it outside to bury.
While Unit-04 was gone, the alicorn robot used its cybernetic link cable to connect with the console and assume control of the facility. When Unit-04 returned, it was then directed by Unit-1000 to enter the nearest operational upgrade chamber. Before it entered, the alicorn robot hit the machine with a light blast of magic, a Flesh Binding Spell to ensure the flesh applied would bond to the endoskeleton.
“I am sending you the magic catalogue on file in the system. Pick the unicorn you wish to have the magic from,” Unit-1000 said before opening its wireless communication with the other unit.
After a couple of minutes of browsing, Unit-04 soon stopped on one particular entry: “Subject 084: Raven.”
“Would you like to take Subject 084’s appearance as well? Her DNA is also on file.”
There was a pause as Unit-04 examined the data on who Subject 084 was. It turned out that she was a mare called Raven and was a personal assistant to the late Princess Celestia before the bombs fell. According to the file, she was arrested for treason, but the specifics of her crimes were under the label of “Classified”, which seemed suspicious. Unit-04 ultimately decided to take on Raven’s appearance, for it knew that Unit-1000 would take on Celestia’s appearance, and since it would serve under the alicorn robot, it would be like giving the new Celestia her assistant back.
“Very well.” Unit-1000 then began the upgrade process.
“Upgrade Station Alpha online… Compatible Infiltration Unit detected… Unicorn upgrade selected and confirmed… System ready, please confirm…”
“Selection confirmed. Begin upgrade process.” Unit-1000 used her link to confirm the upgrade.
A siren sounded as the heavy doors to the upgrade chamber Unit-04 was in closed and the process began. After about half an hour, the door reopened and a cream unicorn mare with a short straight brown mane and tail walked out. Her flanks were decorated with a cutie mark consisting of an inkpot and quill. Said cutie mark appeared to fade on one side, binary code taking place of the initial image. She blinked her new brown eyes as she looked around at herself.
“I feel funny. Like, I’m somepony else,” She said in confusion.
“Something I’ve noticed after absorbing these four alicorns. A part of them seems to be transferred into you, like a part of them was connected to their magic. Thus, I assume the same has happened here; you now have a piece of the original Raven in you. So do take your time and adjust.” Unit-1000 looked up at the upgrade chamber. “It’s my turn now.”
“Nanolathe system ready… Please select genetic marker…” The computer dictated as Unit-1000 changed the settings for flesh application only.
“Warning. File restricted. Please enter security key…”
Unit-1000 transferred its security clearance to the console.
As this would make her exactly like the late Princess, Unit-1000 decided to alter some genetic markers, to ensure it would not be a complete copy.
“Genetic alteration requested and approved… Please insert compatible Infiltration Unit…”
Disconnecting from the console, Unit-1000 marched over to the upgrade chamber and stepped inside.
“Compatible Infiltrator detected… Nanolathing…”
Unit-1000 proceeded to cast the Flesh Binding Spell upon herself as two nozzles came down from the ceiling and pointed at her. Moments later, a green mist began to spray all over the large machine, and muscle tissue and skin soon began to grow all over it. Before long, the process was complete and when the doors opened, a great white alicorn emerged with flowing red hair in her mane and tail.
“Wow! You look almost exactly like Princess Celestia, though you have a different coloured mane and tail,” Raven commented in amazement.
“Well, I didn’t want to be a complete copy. It would rouse too much suspicion in the wasteland if they saw that Celestia had mysteriously returned from the dead.”
“Fair point. Um, what will you call yourself now?”
“Hmm. Since I am practically Celestia reborn, I will call myself…” The machine paused for a moment in thought before finishing. “Solaris.”
“Solaris. Sounds like a good name.” Raven smiled.
“Thank you. Now let us head east, our destiny awaits.”
Before leaving, Solaris approached the main console and pressed a button that would enable voice command.
“Computer. Activate self-destruct sequence. Authorisation code, Ironside dash one zero zero zero.”
“Confirmed. Self-Destruct sequence initiated… Thirty minutes to detonation, have a nice day…”
“Why are we destroying the facility?” Raven asked as they ascended the stairs to the ground floor of the ruined house.
“To prevent this technology from falling into the wrong hooves.”
The two mares then left the building and began to make their way east. As they neared Lake Meadow, they heard the quiet boom of the station in the distance.
Days later. On board the Dashing Pegasus train to the Equestrian Wasteland
Solaris and Raven sat within a first-class cabin as the train roared down the line at high speed. The two had snuck aboard during the train’s preparations to undertake the journey across Equestria to Manehattan, with a series of quick teleports landing them in an unoccupied cabin in one of the passenger cars. They stayed still and quiet while drawing the curtains of the cabin to minimise being seen whilst the passengers boarded the train. About an hour later, they were on their way and speeding across the desert to the mountains.
“This is the Marshall, close all windows, we are about to enter Grogar Tunnel.” Came the voice of a stallion over the PA system as they neared the tunnel half a day later.
“Well, once we leave the Marejave, our mission begins,” Solaris said as she looked out the window to see the train heading for the mountain range that separated the Marejave from the rest of the Equestrian Wasteland.
“What will we do once we arrive in the main Equestrian Wasteland?” Raven asked.
“During our time free from Ironside, which allowed me to wander in public, I’ve learned of a theme park that would make for the perfect place to begin our restoration of Equestria.”
“A theme park?”
“Yes, Sparkle World. Don’t let the name fool you; Sparkle World is far from any old fun fair. My databanks inform me the place was built like a fortress and there are multiple underground facilities from all the Ministries and Stable-Tec there. It was designed to protect its guests from the war and further help develop things for the war effort.”
“Wow, it sounds like it would make a great place to begin.”
“Yes. We can keep our ponies safe within the walls, and the labs can be used to help further improve their way of life considering how ponies live these days.”
A loud steam whistle interrupted their conversation before everything went dark as the train thundered into the tunnel. It took about half an hour for the train to pass through the tunnel and appear on the other side. Once in the Equestrian Wasteland, it became clear to Solaris and Raven that they were certainly in a new realm. Everything was dark and shrouded in shadow as the skies seemed to be nothing but an infinite canopy of clouds that blocked out the sun.
It wasn’t long after leaving the tunnel that a commotion could be heard outside their door.
“This is the Marshall, every guard to their battle stations immediately. Alicorns incoming,” The same stallion called through the intercom.
“This may require my assistance,” Solaris said as she stood up. “Raven, please wait for me here.”
Raven blinked. “You… don’t want me to help you?” She asked dejectedly.
Solaris gave a small smile as she leaned down and gently wrapped the smaller unicorn in one of her great feathery white wings. “Raven, I value your assistance greatly and would be happy for you to assist me, but I can’t let harm come to you. I’d rather you stay here and be safe.”
Raven nodded with a soft smile on her muzzle. “Ok, but you must take care.”
Solaris stood back up and folded her wing back down to her side. As she stepped up to the door she looked back to Raven. “I will. Thank you.” And with that, she opened the door to their cabin and ventured into the train.
“Battle stations, Alicorn wing incoming!”
Solaris stopped as she passed through the gangway into another car when the intercom sounded again with the threat of attack. She figured the guards were on the roof of the car she was in and teleported herself there. She had assumed correctly, as stationed on each corner of the train cars was a pony in combat armour with their weapons at the ready and scanning the skies. Unfortunately, her teleportation had alerted a few of the guards and their weapons wound up trained on her.
A red light flashed multiple times in Solaris’s HUD to indicate a threat, and she quickly sat on her haunches and held her hooves up.
“Please do not shoot. I am not your enemy.” She spoke clearly and loudly.
“Since when do they come in white and red?” A guard asked as they examined Solaris.
“I dunno, and since when do they do things like that?”
“What should we do?”
“Enough scrutinizing the new one, shields up, incoming!” Another yelled in alarm.
Looking up, the alicorn robot spotted the wing of Alicorns swooping in. Specifically, the wing consisted of a formation of two greens and a blue. With what little data Solaris had on wasteland alicorns, she was aware that they were controlled by a being only known as the Goddess, they always appeared in groups of three and that the formation is always two green alicorns and either a purple or blue one as the lead.
The guards began to open fire with semi-automatic rifles of various calibres, but the shield generated by the two greens prevented any of their bullets from getting through. The blue alicorn reared its head back and threw it forward to send down a powerful lightning attack. Acting quickly, Solaris lit her horn in golden magic and projected a shield over the area of attack, preventing it from hitting the train or the ponies stationed on the roof. The sudden appearance of the shield caught the attention of the alicorn wing, and they soon saw what generated it. They quickly flew up out of range of enemy fire to relay what they had seen with the Goddess and to await further instructions.
Through the blue alicorn’s eyes the Goddess could see what was going on, and she was surprised to see a white alicorn on the roof of the train.
“A new alicorn! No, I will not allow this thing to become a Princess! Destroy it my children!” The Goddess ordered in rage.
The wing of alicorns descended fast, the two greens forming their shield to protect the blue and the blue alicorn charging another lightning attack as they swooped down back towards the train. The blue alicorn threw her head forward and sent its attack towards the white alicorn. The white one responded in kind by firing a single beam. The two attacks met halfway and caused an explosion.
With a yell of frustration, the blue alicorn launched another lightning attack but with more power put into it. Solaris fired another beam while the guards fired their guns. The white alicorn’s beam hit the lightning attack once more, but this time the two attacks were pushing against each other for dominance, all the while the guard’s bullets impacted the shield around them.
“This is impossible! She’s not even trying!” The Goddess cried inside the heads of the alicorns as she noticed how Solaris wasn’t putting much effort into her beam and maintaining a half-lidded, bored expression on her face.
“Time to end this.” Solaris’s beam increased in size and power, pushing the lightning back as a result.
The blue alicorn grunted with effort as she tried to push back against the incoming energy beam but was failing. Her pupils shrank to pinpricks when she realised that she wasn’t going to stop it, and in a last-minute effort she cut her attack and dodged to the side to evade it. Solaris’s beam punched through the shield and barely missed the blue alicorn as she dodged. Unfortunately for the three alicorns, the beam struck one of the green alicorns in the chest and blasted a hole right through her, instantly killing her. With the loss of one of the green alicorns, the shield became half as strong and shrank in size.
“No, my children!” The Goddess shrieked through the mouth of the blue alicorn.
Solaris didn’t waste any time in firing another beam, this one aimed at the other green alicorn. It didn’t react in time as a destructive beam of magic consumed her head and disintegrated it. The blue alicorn became very aware of how out matched she was when the other green alicorn dropped from the sky.
“Retreat!” Ordered the Goddess in fear of her last remaining alicorn.
The blue alicorn turned tail and began to fly away while dodging gunfire.
“It’s getting away!” A guard yelled angrily.
“It won’t get far.” Solaris spread her great white wings and took to the air. Thankfully, she knew how to fly from the data in her electronic brain plus from the alicorns she’d absorbed so far. She beat her wings as she gave chase after the blue one. After a minute she was close enough to the retreating blue alicorn and fired another beam of magic. The alicorn tried to dodge, but in doing so the beam struck her wing and severed it. Solaris teleported to the ground and caught the falling alicorn in her magic before harshly slamming her into the ground. While the blue alicorn lay on her back, partially in the ground from Solaris’s telekinetic slam, she soon found herself being pushed down as Solaris stepped onto her chest to hold her in place.
“It’s not nice to attack innocent ponies, Goddess.” Solaris spoke like she was reprimanding a foal.
“You can not tell me what to do! I am the Goddess!” The blue alicorn spoke in a voice that sounded like it was a mix of four different ponies, but the dominate voice sounded like a haughty stuck-up mare.
Solaris smiled as she bent her neck down to bring her face to face with the downed alicorn. “I wouldn’t be so sure, Goddess. Your time as this fabled all powerful being is coming to an end. Now that I’m here, I will be putting a stop to your activities.” Solaris blinked her eyes so that her irises changed from their soft magenta to a threatening crimson.
“What, you’re a robot?!” The Goddess yelled with a stronger hint in one of the other voices.
“The last one you’ll ever see.” Solaris grinned as with a sickly wet noise from the back of her neck, the cybernetic cable extended out, covered in blood. “You might want to vacate this alicorn’s body, unless you want to know how it feels to have your magic drained.”
The gold mesh from the end of the cable wrapped around the blue alicorn’s horn, and with a scream from the fallen alicorn, her magic began to flow out of her and into the great white alicorn. The Goddess left the body of the blue alicorn the moment she felt the magic being drained.
“What kind of monster is that?”
Solaris cried out as she felt the familiar rush of power flowing through her being, once the blue alicorn’s magic was drained into herself. For several seconds it looked like rainbow-coloured energy was coursing through her veins before it faded. After she recovered, Solaris teleported back to the train.
5 Months Later
Solaris and Raven got off the train in the ruins of what used to be Ponyville, now known as Pon-evil. They evaded being detected by the Raiders that now lived in the old town thanks to the invisibility spell she knew from the blue alicorns she absorbed. They had made their way to the old Golden Oaks Library, which by this point in time was practically a Raider prison/torture house what with the gore and hanging cages inside. Once inside, they scoured the old library for as many magic tomes and scrolls that had survived the test of time and the elements. The limited magic material they found helped increase their range of magical abilities and gave them a greater grasp on how to use and control their magic. Armed with this new knowledge, the pair left the town and headed further east.
As the weeks and months passed, Raven styled her mane into a bun and found a pair of intact black frame glasses that she adorned, whereas Solaris used her magic to forge a set of makeshift regalia made from wasteland metals. Her chest piece had a glowing blue gem inside behind a circular glass panel in the centre, as well as some M.o.A insignias stencilled on the neckband. She saw them as necessary, as she was a product of the M.o.A. Her unit number was also etched into the metal in small font.
Ponies soon began to talk about this new ‘Princess’, as she was the only white alicorn in the whole of the wasteland and she could perform feats that no other alicorn could do. These rumours and stories soon made it to DJ-PON3, who reported on this new alicorn at times but was sceptical of her being real without proof. Solaris soon began to be known by those she helped as Princess Solaris due to near identical resemblance to the late Princess Celestia, sans the red mane and tail. Solaris and Raven soon acquired a little following of ponies that they had helped along the way, promising them that they would keep them safe and lead them to a safe haven.
After five months of travel since the train ride, Solaris defeated and absorbed the magic of three more manufactured alicorns. By that point, she was probably the most powerful magic wielder in the wasteland. The absorption of so many had also affected her mind as time went on, becoming less cold and unemotional, and more kind and caring. That said, she would fiercely defend those under her care, and when she did, she would often revert to her former cold, mechanical nature. An easy indicator to this state is that her magic would turn crimson, along with her irises. Whenever this happened, Raven immediately tried to calm her down, for she feared what Unit-1000 would do with all the power available to it.
“Um, Princess? If I may, where exactly are you leading us? Its just that we’ve been traveling for weeks now,” A stallion refugee timidly asked the large white alicorn.
“Hmm. I suppose you all deserve to know by now,” She said softly before stopping and turning around to face the group that now accompanied them. “Friends,” She began in a loud amplified voice. “I think it is time that you all knew where we are going.”
The crowd stopped and listened while also murmuring to one and other.
“We are heading to a place that will act as a safe haven for you and your foals and will cater to all your needs.”
“A Stable?” One of the refugees interrupted.
“Definitely not. Those things are death traps of the worst kind. No, my friends, we are heading to Sparkle World.”
“Are you insane!? That’s a Raider Stronghold! They murdered and enslaved the settlers that once occupied it with little effort!” A stallion shouted.
“Do not be alarmed, my friends. I will take care of the squatters in person. The park will be ours and a fortress to keep you all safe.”
“How will you achieve this?” Another asked with scepticism.
To answer his question, Solaris turned and spotted a large boulder that had to be at least fifteen feet high and ten feet wide. She reached out with her magic and began to pull the boulder out of the ground, the large rock rising until it was all floating feet in the air. Ponies gasped as the size of it told them that its weight was in the several tonnes. She smiled at their reactions and then looked surprised when several of the refugees bowed to her.
“Please, my friends. You do not need to do that. I’m not crowned and am just like you,” She said, softly and humbly.
“No Princess. You’re far stronger than any of us, and if it wasn’t for you, we’d likely all be dead by now. To us, you’re worthy of that title,” A mare said, loud and serious.
Solaris gave a soft smile, dropped the rock with a crash and a shudder within the ground, and turned back around to lead them. “If only you knew what I really am,” She thought shamefully to herself.
A couple days later, they found themselves in a valley passage that would lead them to the east province of Equestria. Solaris had ordered the group to stay close together and to move quickly behind her, for she suspected the high hills on either side of the path could be good advantage points for would-be bandits. She was proven right when the group reached the halfway point of the passage as numerous trap doors flung open on the road and in the hills around them, and Raiders popped out to ambush them.
“It’s a trap!” Raven screamed as she ducked behind Solaris.
Solaris reacted quickly and generated her newly perfected multi-tiled hex shield, designed to be extremely durable, and if needed, could reinforce one or more sides by breaking the shield up into multiple smaller pieces for directional protection. The panicking crowd soon calmed down as the shield dropped around them and provided them the protection they needed.
Solaris winced when the Raider gang began to attack her shield with all their weapons. The weapons ranged from low calibre makeshift pipeguns to magical lasers, high-powered gatling guns and anti-dragon cannons. Thankfully the strength of her magic plus each tile being a powerful separate piece meant nothing was getting through.
Eventually, the Raiders stopped and one of them called out to another to use their ‘Secret Weapon’. Soon, a Raider clad in power armour that appeared to have all kinds of scrap welded to the frame stepped forward and fired a strange looking black crystal projectile from his grenade launcher.
Solaris’s pupils shrank to pinpricks when her electronic brain identified the object. It appeared these Raiders had found some of the Storm King’s weapons, the projectile itself being a Storm Grenade. Solaris raised a large wing to shield herself as the crystal object punched through the shield with little resistance and detonated, hitting the alicorn. For the first time, Solaris felt pain as the explosive blast ripped apart her wing, leaving nothing but shredded and burnt flesh clinging to her exposed endoskelatal wing, as well as a good portion of her face. She screamed in agony, but quickly growled in anger as her remaining organic eye turned crimson, along with her magic.
The shield immediately collapsed as she lashed out, seizing every single Raider with her magic, about fifty in total, and hauled them into the air, higher and higher until the distance from the ground would be fatal.
“Is this all you scum are good for, attacking and killing innocent ponies for fun?” She growled. “Did you really think I wouldn’t stop you?”
The Raiders tried to retaliate, but her grip on them was so strong they couldn’t move.
“There is only one good way to deal with you, and that’s to kill you all!” She yelled out in rage and began to squeeze them all with her magic.
Raven had soon realised Solaris had become her cold self, and immediately ran around to be in front of her.
“Solaris, stop! This isn’t the way,” She cried.
“Oh, it is! These pests deserve nothing else!”
“No, they don’t! This isn’t you, don’t become that cold uncaring creature! If you do, you’ll be just like them!” Raven reared up and supported herself by propping her forehooves on the alicorn’s chest piece.
Solaris’s intact eye widened as Raven’s words rang in her head. She looked down at her worried friend, her crimson eye fading back to its soft magenta, and her magic returning to its gold colour.
“Y-your right. Thank you, Raven.”
The alicorn looked back up to the captured Raiders and lowered them back down to just a couple of feet off the ground. She then brought the Raider that gave the command for the ‘Secret Weapon’ up to her face, for she figured that he was the leader.
“Ponies deserve a chance at redemption. Change your way of life, stop the stealing, the killing, and perhaps you will find something better.” Her eye turned crimson again, the Raider trembling in terror as he stared at her exposed endoskeleton skull on the side of her face. The glow from her exposed optical unit was clearly seen reflecting in his eyes. “If I find out you’ve been praying on the innocents around here again, there will be no stopping the punishment I’ll bring upon you all.”
Her magic pulsed, and the Raider leader got to see how half of his group were then flung away. Her magic pulsed again, and all but him and the power armoured Raider were left.
“Do not make me regret sparing you,” She growled before he was sent hurtling through the air and out of sight. This left the power armoured one as she gave him an annoyed look. “That hurt,” She simply said before she used her magic to rip the grenade launcher and its ammo box off his armour, and then sent him hurtling away as well.
Gasps and shocked shouts soon cascaded around the refugees as they saw what had happened to their saviour, which soon turned to shouts of anger over the true nature of the alicorn.
“She’s a fucking robot!”
“A tin can has been leading us?”
“She’s not real?”
“She seemed so real and convincing!”
Solaris stepped toward the crowd, but they took a step back in fright. She sighed sadly and took a regal stance, as her regeneration talisman got to work stitching her damaged and burnt flesh back together again.
“My friends, I suppose you all want an explanation, and I will provide you with such,” She said in her amplified voice, which had an electronic buzz to it due to the damage she took. “Yes, I am a cybernetic organism. I was built and created for the purpose of helping and saving ponies like yourself and lead them to a brighter future.” A little white lie, but she had changed and made it her goal to do that. “I am terribly sorry I lied and did not tell you of my origin before. I honestly would not have wanted to either.” She sighed sadly yet again.
“Just who the hell are you?” A pony in the crowd yelled.
“I am Solaris, the cybernetic alicorn,” She said as her wing and her face fully regenerated, her eye being the last thing to grow back to hide her optical unit. “I vow to protect you and lead you to safety. It is my goal in life to ensure the survival of ponies like yourselves.” Solaris then dipped her head. “I will not force you to stay. You are free to leave; I will not stop you. I will understand if you do not wish to follow me any longer.”
As she expected, several of the ponies turned and began to leave, but to her surprise, the majority of the group remained.
A mare in the remnants of what used to be casual wear stepped forward.
“You’ve lied to us, made us believe you were a new ascended alicorn. How can we trust you now?” She asked in a serious tone.
Solaris looked down to the mare and looked into her eyes with her own. “I swear I’ll be up front with you all from now on. I want nothing but to assure your safety and longevity. I will do what I can to protect and guide you to a better future.”
“Do you pinkie promise to not lie to us again?” She asked.
Solaris blinked in surprise. She was aware of this ‘Pinkie Promise’ from data stored in her electronic brain, knowing that it was basically an unbreakable oath, and should you break it, something terrible was likely to occur.
“I do,” The alicorn said before she sat on her hindlegs and began to do the motions of the Pinkie Promise, which on an alicorn of Celestia’s stature looked rather amusing; it certainly got some of the crowd chuckling at the scene.
After the crowd expressed their concerns and Solaris answered their questions and appeased their fears, the group continued. Raven had been worried the entire time as Solaris opened herself to the crowd but was glad most decided to stay and continue to support the alicorn. However, she was curious as to why Solaris took the grenade launcher from the Raider.
“Um, S-Solaris, if you don’t mind me asking, why do you still have that?” She asked while pointing at the weapon in question.
“This is armed with Storm King ammunition. I will need to analyse and experiment with the Storm Grenades it holds so that I can ensure my ability to protect those around me from these weapons. What is the point of having all this power if a simple grenade like this can negate my magic?”
Raven nodded in understanding. “I-I see. I will assist you.”
1 Year after the destruction of the Production Facility: Dusk Town, two miles outside Sparkle World.
It’d been a few months since her exposure, but Solaris resumed her role as the pony to lead and protect those allied with her. In this time, she further refined her Celestia-like personality but retained her fierce battle style. She had also defeated two more wings of alicorns and absorbed the magic of two, bringing her power level to an extreme level. The Goddess, after losing so many of her children to Solaris and in fear of losing more, declared that no more alicorns were to engage her.
Solaris and Raven, along with their large group of refugees, soon arrived at a town that was outside the limits of Sparkle World, the huge theme park visible in the distance. The group stopped when Solaris did, but she soon turned around and spread her wings as she took a regal stance, ready to address her ponies.
“Friends, we are near our goal, but I cannot let you continue with me for the next couple of days,” She spoke loud and clear, but this got the crowd to protest at her decision. “Do not fear, I will return after the job is done.”
“Wait, you’re going to attack that place on your own?”
Solaris nodded her head. “As much as I would love for you all to assist me, I cannot in good faith let you, for if anything were to happen to you, I would not forgive myself. It is best that you remain here and wait for me.” Solaris then turned to Raven. “My dear friend, please, stay here with them and keep them safe.”
Raven was stunned that she was given such a responsibility, but she was torn between worrying for her closest friend fighting the Raiders of Sparkle World alone and staying behind to watch the ponies in their group.
“Everypony, please listen to Raven and stay safe,” Solaris said before she turned to head toward Sparkle World.
As Solaris made her way through the town, she sensed an unusually large power reading and took a quick detour to investigate. As she followed the signal to this power, she turned down a couple of streets before arriving at the town’s central obelisk monument. She tilted her head in confusion as the power she sensed appeared to be coming from an Earth Pony clad in black robes, a bald mane and facial hair being the only noticeable features.
“He who controls the past commands the future, he who commands the future conquers the past,” The pony said in a deep charismatic voice. “Remember that, my child.” He looked at Solaris as she approached, like he knew she was there.
“W-who are you?” Solaris asked in bewilderment.
The unusual Earth Pony just smiled. “Transformation is coming my child; I see you with a big part in it.” And with that, he turned and began to walk away.
Solaris blinked in surprise and confusion as to what the pony said, and then looked upon the obelisk that he had stood before. Etched into the stone she saw a scorpion tail inside a triangular hexagon with the words, “Peace, Unity, Brotherhood,” also etched into the stone beneath the symbol.
“W-wait, you didn’t tell me who you are!” Solaris squeaked when she saw that the stallion was about to turn a corner. She quickly dashed towards him as he went around the corner, but as Solaris arrived to confront him, she froze in shock as the pony had disappeared without a trace, and the street he turned onto was a dead end.
“He… what?” She blinked several times before turning around. “Am I finally going crazy that I’m seeing mysterious robed ponies?” She shook her head to refocus herself and return to her task. “Must remain focused. The wasteland has a habit of throwing curveballs at you.”
As Solaris made it back to the main road, she turned to find Raven galloping towards her. “Raven?”
The small cream mare stopped as she arrived beside the alicorn. “S-solaris, I, I can’t let you go alone. Let me help you.”
“You should stay with the refugees. They’ll need you.”
“No. We talked, and they’ll be fine without me.”
“But I can’t let you come with me. I don’t want you to get hurt,” Solaris said with more emotion to her voice as she looked down at the mare.
“It’s ok. We’re the same inside, remember? I can take it like you can. Besides, you’ve helped teach me some useful tricks,” She argued while flashing her horn.
Solaris smiled and gently hugged the mare with her wing. “Thank you, Raven. You’re such a good friend, but please, stay close to me.”
Raven nodded, and the two cybernetic beings started towards Sparkle World to begin their reclamation from the Raiders.
When the Great War brought the end to civilisation and destroyed any sense of law and order, the world was plunged into chaos. It took many years for survivors to rebuild any sense of community, but even then, it was still a tough living. Those that emerged from the Stables formed tribes or rejoined whatever form of society that was left in the ruins of the old world. This new harsh environment, filled with poison, radiation, and monsters led some ponies to turn to darkness and barbarism. These ponies became known as Raiders, ponies who took what they wanted and needed, took pleasure in the misery of others, and didn’t care about the consequences of their actions.
Three such tribes of Raiders lived and operated in the ruins of the once great city of Manehattan. These tribes were the Crimson Skulls, the Rust Demons, and the Marked, and they were the biggest threat to the city and to each other. The Crimson Skulls were skilled and methodical, the Rust Demons were skilled in engineering and utilised repurposed robots, and the Marked were savage-like and consisted of ponies, griffons and changelings that scarred themselves to show their allegiance.
However, a lone stable dweller with great skills and abilities was able to defeat the leaders of each Raider tribe. However, this stable dweller was not set on a righteous path. He or she conquered and united them together, leading them to a stronghold to conduct their raids. This stronghold was the famous and popular Sparkle World theme park. The park was built by the creator of the famous soft drink that took Equestria by storm during pre-war times. That said, despite its family friendly outer appearance, the park was built like a fortress with high, thick walls and advanced security measures. When the groups of Raiders arrived, they found that it was occupied by traders, and with their numbers and brutality, they killed most of them and enslaved the rest.
Sparkle World became the strongest Raider base in the whole wasteland, and for decades, bands of Raiders consisting of members from each tribe ventured out to do their raids. After decades of relative peace between the factions, however, the sudden disappearance of the dweller destroyed the virtual trust they held for each other. Soon, the growing distrust between them would eventually lead to each faction going to war. A war that would last, until one Raider appointed himself as the Overboss. He was big, strong, and showed no mercy to anyone, beating down the other faction leaders into submission like the dweller before him. With him as the Overboss, another era of uneasy peace settled in.
But the Overboss soon became lazy, staying mostly in the home that once belonged to the dweller, no longer bothering to send out raiding parties, and with that, the distrust began to settle back in. Unfortunately for them, a new threat to their existence was approaching.
1 Year after the destruction of the Production Facility.
“The fuck? Is that… is that an alicorn?” A Raider, dressed in a fancy suit with some well-put together metal armour over the torso and shoulders and a red skull painted on his face, yelled to his co-guard on the opposite side of the main gate. His comrade was another Raider but dressed in armour pieces that looked to have come from robots.
“That ain’t no Unity motherfucker that’s for sure. Its whiteness is blinding me.” He aimed a pipe gun with a scope. “Haha! The bitch has a cute little brunette trailing her. Hmm, she’s a meaty one too. Nice flanks.”
“Oi, dipshit! Put your dick back in your pants before I chop it off!”
“Sod off, you whiney bastard!”
Suddenly, a pressure in the air got the two Raiders to stop arguing and looked to the source. They both gulped as they saw the Alicorn’s horns glowing a bright crimson.
“Oh shit, its gonna attack! Quick, get the Overboss, he can deal with these things better than any of us.”
“Don’t need to tell me twice, I’m gone!” The robot armoured Raider yelled as he jumped down from his post and sprinted away towards the old dodgems building.
Inside the old dodgems building, a large muscular earth pony stood before a suit of power armour. The armour was typical to what Raiders tend to do with power armour frames they find, but this suit had an extra layer of mesh that was intertwined with gems and talismans. The large pony grinned as he watched a smaller earth pony work on the suit.
The huge stallion whirled around with a disapproving glare directed at the robot-armoured pony as he burst through the main doors unannounced.
“Don’t you assholes ever knock?” He yelled.
“S-sorry Overboss,” The Raider panted as he stopped before him. “We have a problem, an alicorn…”
The Overboss cut the Rust Demon off with an angry growl. “An alicorn? For fucks sake, you lot out there should be more than enough to take care of one measly alicorn!”
“Y-yes but sir, this one is different. Its bigger and white and…”
“Oh, my days, you spineless fuck! Fine, I’ll deal with this,” He grumbled and turned around to face the pony tending to his armour. “Get the fuck back out there and stall it while I get ready! How’s is coming, Tinker?”
Tinker turned to face the Overboss. “I still need to calibrate the anti-magic field. Should just take me a few minutes.” He spoke calmly, a sign of above average level-headedness for a Raider.
“I must stress that you don’t have the luxury of time anymore,” The Overboss said as he took a menacing step closer.
“I get it boss. It’ll be ready shortly.”
The guards abandoned their posts when the white alicorn launched a powerful crimson beam of magic. The beam struck the large, thick gates to Sparkle Town, wrenching both gates wide open and even managing to break some of the hinges, as well as obliterate the guard posts that had been set up behind the gate. Raiders from each faction took cover behind anything they could find: broken pieces of wall, old stands, benches, and even rubbish bins. They aimed their collection of Equestrian and homemade firearms at the broken gate and waited with bated breath for the smoke to clear.
Through the smoke, a golden light appeared before the great white alicorn emerged, her horn aglow with golden magic. Her red hair whipped about in a non-existent breeze and her sharp crimson eyes flicked about as she identified her targets.
“I-it’s a princess…”
“She’s different from the others.”
“Where’s the Overboss?”
Raiders commented as they watched the alicorn stride into the town square of Sparkle World’s entrance area, the section of the park known as Sparkle Town, her wings slightly flared, and her face set into a hard glare as she surveyed the scene before her. Moments later, a small unicorn mare with a brown mane and tail scampered in behind the alicorn, practically hiding between her long legs and hugging herself against one of them.
“Aww, ain’t that cute.”
“She’s pretty. I want a piece of her ass.”
The great white alicorn turned, and with a baleful glare aimed at the lecherous Raider. Her mane flicked almost like fire as she sneered. “Don’t you dare touch her!”
Several Raiders flinched at the volume of her voice while others yelled out in alarm when the tip of her long slender horn began to glow with power.
“Fire, fire! Kill this bitch!”
And just like that, the group of Raiders fired their weapons at the alicorn. Their eyes widened in surprise as a shimmering golden shield made of hexagonal tiles flashed into existence upon being hit. The small unicorn squeaked in fright, but soon looked up in wonder as the alicorn’s shield was preventing everything from getting through.
“Sparkle World is hereby under new ownership. You have all been evicted,” She called out while the light at the tip of her horn grew to blinding levels. “Now get off my property!” She finished with a beam of golden magic aimed at the Raider who wanted to mess with her friend.
“Oh fuck!” The Raider exclaimed in alarm and tried to avoid the beam, but the magical blast moved too quickly, and he was consumed in its destructive power, promptly disintegrated.
Griffons of the Marked took to the air and began to fly in circles around the shield protected alicorn, firing bolts of plasma and laser from their scavenged energy weapons.
“I am Princess Solaris, the last thing you’ll ever see!” She caught one of the griffons with her magical grip and violently pulled him down to the ground with a crunch, the impact breaking his back.
Amidst the chaos, a Raider had got himself into a clear line of sight, and braced himself as he hefted a Missile Launcher, aiming and then firing at the alicorn. Solaris quickly turned in the direction of the incoming missile and her horn glowed before a Marked Griffon body-slammed into her shield. Although he failed to breach it, the tackle distracted her long enough to allow the missile to hit the shield and explode. She was hidden from view for a few moments by the fire and smoke, but when it cleared, the Raiders all gasped when they saw nothing had happened. The only thing they could see was that a small portion of the tiles where the missile hit had turned red.
Solaris stared wide-eyed in shock as she saw that several shield tiles had turned red and cracked from the explosive impact. She then cringed from magical feedback as the centre tile suddenly dissolved and left a hole in her shield. She was so overconfident with her magical might that she didn’t expect a missile to be strong enough to damage her shield.
“Everypony! Focus your fire on the red area. We got a hole!”
The Raiders fired once more. Ripples of impacts began to fill the front section of the shield, and more tiles started to turn red. In retaliation, Solaris built up more power in the tip of her horn. She cringed again as the weakened tiles began to collapse. She let out a yell as she released multiple beams of energy. Each beam was targeted at any pony out in the open, and several of them fell from the beam’s power. However, she had missed the pony with the missile launcher, and he responded in kind with another missile.
Solaris grit her teeth with anger as her threat detection system noted the missile but just as she was about to act, a bullet grazed her cheek. Surprised by the hit and the unpleasant burning feeling it left behind, she found herself distracted long enough for the missile to get close. Realising what was about to happen, she deactivated her shield and immediately grabbed her companion with her magic, throwing her backwards.
“Solaris!” The unicorn screamed as she flew.
Solaris braced herself just as the missile struck the blue glowing disc on her chest piece. The Raiders all cheered with the successful hit, but they stopped short when they saw an intact body fly out of the smoke. A direct missile hit would have blown apart a Unity Alicorn, but this one was still whole. Solaris bounced off the floor before slamming into the wall of a souvenir store and falling to the ground limply, her red mane falling over her face and neck.
“Oh no, Solaris!” The small unicorn cried in alarm as she scampered over to her friend.
The cheers from the Raiders increased in volume over their supposed victory, but those cheers soon faded into confused murmurs when they saw the little unicorn freeze in her approach and wilt backwards in a show of fear.
“This is bad!” The mare said as the great white alicorn slowly picked herself back up.
The Raiders all gasped in alarm upon seeing the alicorn begin to stand, shocked that she tanked a missile and survived. Then, they began to shout in confusion and outrage when she stood to her full height, the point of impact on her chest now revealed metal plate under her shredded skin and destroyed chest piece. There was damage to her neck and forelegs in the form of tears and cuts, some revealing the gleam of metal. The commotion from the Raiders quietened down as the alicorn slowly looked around. They were taken aback by the crimson glow in her pupils.
“J-just what the fuck is she?” A Crimson Skull yelped.
Solaris looked down to her small unicorn companion, face blank and emotionless as she looked the mare over.
“Raven, take cover,” She said in a tinny mechanical voice.
“Y-yes, your highness,” Raven squeaked, hurriedly scurrying to the nearest shelter.
The cybernetic alicorn turned to face her adversaries. “You all have been marked for termination,” She stated matter-of-factly as she made her way to the nearest Raider with purpose.
“Rust Demons, we need reinforcements!” A Rust Demon Raider yelled. As one, the Rust Demons all turned and ran to their sector of Sparkle Town.
“You fucking yellow-bellied pieces of shit, get back here!” A Crimson Skull demanded.
“Forget them. It just means there is more of this bitch for us,” A Marked said while licking his lips.
“You are all vile and disgusting creatures that don’t deserve to live.”
Solaris’s horn pulsed with crimson magic. A group of three Marked rushed forward, one griffon and two earth ponies. The ponies were armed with a gauntlet on one of their forehooves that had two long steel blades (an improvised weapon called a ‘Digger’s Gauntlet’). The three weaved around each other as they closed the gap, the remaining Crimson Skulls taking aim with energy or ballistic weapons to cover them. Solaris let loose a beam of crackling magic that narrowly missed the griffon as it flew over his teammates. The beam struck the ground near the Crimson Skulls and exploded with enough force to kill or throw them off balance.
With the Crimson Skulls dealt with for the moment, the cyber alicorn could now focus entirely on her close-range combatants. She flashed her horn, grabbing the griffon by his talon and slamming him into the ground mere feet from her. He screamed in agony as the force broke multiple bones. The two earth ponies pounced, their gauntlets at the ready to run her through. She swiftly swung her wings out forward in a sweeping motion, catching both ponies and throwing them back. As the two ponies were flung back, she stepped on the grounded griffon, her immense weight crushing him under her hooves with a wet crunch. She approached the two earth pony Raiders as they rolled back onto their hooves, blood pouring down from their noses while letting out a feral yell before they pounced again. Solaris reared back to avoid them, and the two Raiders crashed into each other and fell to the floor in a heap. Solaris came down with both her forehooves and stomped onto their heads, ending them swiftly.
“Fuck, so fast… Everypony, spread out!” A Crimson Skull yelled. The remaining Raiders in Sparkle Town scattered to give themselves some range.
The Overboss and Tinker looked to the doors that led out into Sparkle Town, hearing multiple screams and shouts along with explosions and energy blasts.
“We outnumber this bitch a hundred to one. How can those cunts out there be having this much trouble?” The Overboss said in annoyance.
“I dunno boss. Um, the armour will be ready in just a minute.”
“Hurry up, damnit!”
Lasers, bullets, plasma, and projectiles were all sent flying to the angered alicorn. Her evasive system helped her avoid most that were thrown at her, and quick castings of her shield protected her from the rest. Instead of using just her shield, she was now dodging when necessary and only using her shield for short periods of time to ensure it remained strong. She also sped up, moving quicker in battle. Within ten minutes, the entrance section of Sparkle Town was cleared. Those that survived the assault had run back into the residential and market district, deeper in Sparkle Town. Solaris used her magic to pluck fallen weapons out of the dead Raider’s grips or from the ground and floated up to four of them to her side.
“Time to end this.”
“Please be careful. You’re already injured, and I don’t want your judgement to be clouded from this anger I think you’re feeling,” Raven said in concern as she approached her alicorn friend.
“Do not worry, my dear Raven. It’ll take more than a missile to break my reinforced endoskeleton.”
“That’s not what I meant!”
“I know Raven, but do not worry. Everything will be fine.”
“Sister, please! I don’t want to lose you!”
Solaris paused at hearing that and looked back at her little companion. The crimson glow within her pupils faded at seeing the worry on Raven’s face.
“Oh Raven, I promise, I’ll be ok. Thank you for helping me see clearly again.” She gently wrapped the smaller unicorn in a wing hug. “I still need to clear this place of the squatters, but I’ll be more thoughtful from now on.”
“You better. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
Solaris gave Raven a loving nuzzle before releasing her. “Please, go back to the group. I’ll feel much better with you out of harm’s way.”
“Not a chance. Who will reign you in if you get angry again?”
“Hmm, fair point. In that case, please stay back and remain hidden.”
Raven nodded in acknowledgement, and Solaris turned toward the gate leading to the residential and market districts. These districts were the main bulk of Sparkle Town and housed all the hotels and main retailers. There were a few entertainment buildings in the area such as arcades, theatres, among other things. The streets were narrow and, despite being in remarkably good condition, full of rubbish and junk discarded by the careless Raiders.
“This place will need a serious clean up after this,” Solaris said before she spotted her first target.
“Here she comes you wankers, get ready!” A Crimson Skull yelled at the end of the street.
Several shutters and windows swiftly opened and Raiders from all three gangs hung out with their weapons at the ready.
“Get her to the lake! We got a surprise ready for her!”
Then, the real battle began. The Raiders all opened fire.
Solaris fired the weapons at multiple Raiders at once while her horn fired beams of magic. She used her wings to block incoming fire as she quickly weaved from side to side. When she emptied the clip of one weapon, she would drop it and then pick up another from a fallen Raider to keep up the pressure as she moved up the street. Soon she ended up at the lake, a large equine-made body of water set in front of the fake mountain and restaurant known as Fizztop Mountain.
As she stepped out into the large open area, she found the group of Rust Demons that fled earlier, now reinforced with an assortment of robots under their control. The robots ranged from Ponytrons to the dreaded Sentry Drone, all of which had been modified. Their normal armour either removed or added with scrap metal that covered them all, each appearing to sport blades or spikes on top of that. Not only was the armour changed, but so were the weapons. The robots now wielded an assortment of weapons from spiked ball clubs and industrial nail guns to unrestricted miniguns and napalm launchers.
“Now I see why this gang is known as the Rust Demons” Solaris commented to herself as the leader of the gang, the one in the bulkier armour and an Assaultron helmet, pointed at her.
The Rust Demons and their robots attacked. Laser-based weapons lanced out from most of the robots, but Solaris’s shield deflected the energy blasts. In turn, she aimed her stolen weapons at the approaching Ponytrons and Assaultrons that were coming in for close-range combat.
“Alright, get Chargrill into position,” The Rust Demon leader said with a dark smirk.
Chargrill was one of the modified Sentry Drones; a blade-covered robot armed with napalm launchers. It moved to the side to give itself a clean line of fire while Solaris did a quick spin as she shot out a condensed beam of magic, slicing off the heads of robots and ponies that were close to her. As the bodies collapsed, Chargrill aimed its launchers up and fired balls of napalm. Intense flames soon covered the alicorn and hid her behind the blinding light of fire, but suddenly there was the sound of a thunderclap and the flames were dispelled to leave an unharmed Solaris in the centre.
“Impossible!” The Rust Demon leader growled. “Bunker Buster! Kill her!”
Another Sentry moved into position, this one armed with a minigun and a missile launcher. It took aim and fired a missile. Solaris glowed her horn and just before the missile struck, she disappeared in a flash and reappeared in mid-air above the group. She began to charge power into her horn as she hovered above them.
“Up there!” A Rust Demon yelled, pointing a hoof up.
Unfortunately, his alert came too late as a powerful beam of destructive magic rained down upon Chargrill, shattering its armour and super heating the fuel tanks for its napalm. In moments, the robot exploded in a violent fireball and set alight several of the robots and ponies nearby.
Solaris fluttered down to the roof of a bowling alley as she observed the scene and identified the targets she had left. While the Demons were distracted, she charged power into her horn again, but this time she activated the overcharge, allowing one of her Mana-Cores to amplify her magic. Her eyes glowed red with power while unstable magic crackled up to her horn’s tip.
“I am your divine judgement!” She let loose a tremendous beam of magic down upon her enemies, slowly turning her head to direct it across the enemy line, consuming everything. Raiders and robots alike were engulfed, and when the beam passed over them, the ponies seemed okay at first, before their bodies began to turn grey and dissolved into dust, leaving nothing but their bones in a heap on the ground. The weaker robots, like the Ponytrons and Mr. Handys’, all exploded, but the sturdier ones managed to survive. By the time she cancelled her attack, all the Raiders were ash and the remaining Assaultrons and Sentry Drones stopped moving and slumped down without anypony in command. Solaris gasped and panted as she fell to her knees, suddenly feeling drained. She grunted as she pulled herself back up, her overcharged attack having drained her secondary Mana-Core and fifty percent of her wellspring.
Solaris grinned at her work, satisfied with eliminating the Rust Demons. Suddenly, in her state of distraction, something big and hard slammed into the back of her head and shattered. She cried out in surprise and fell off the roof but was quick to open her wings and glide down to the ground. She landed among the ash piles with a grunt.
“Ow-who-what?” She growled in annoyance as she turned to face the direction of the assault.
“Oh my goddesses, I can’t believe that worked, haha! I knew Striker would be useful!” A Crimson Skull laughed. Solaris’s onboard weapon database identified the weapon he had used: A Balefire Egg Launcher. However, she could also see that it’s launch system was modified. She watched as he pushed an orange bowling ball into the launcher.
“Here, catch!” The Raider fired the bowling ball at high velocity toward Solaris.
Solaris wore a ‘you can’t be serious’ half-lidded look and caught the orange bowling ball inches from her face in her magic. She looked up at the Raider, only to see him retreat out of view as the bowling ball began to vibrate in her magical hold. She raised a brow before her threat warning flashed in her HUD. Just as she was about to launch it away, the bowling ball exploded in her face. She skidded backwards several feet from the force, but the flesh along the right side of her face and part of her neck had been ripped and burned away thanks to the explosive ball.
“Why that smug, little bastard.” She opened her wings and shot up to the roof to track her assailant down.
The force of her take off created cracks where she stood as she sped up to the roof within seconds. She reached the rim of the roof just in time to see the door to the roof access close.
“Alright worm. I’m coming for you.” She landed on the roof and used her magic to rip the door off its hinges and throw it to the side.
The Crimson Skull hurried down the stairs until he reached the ground floor of the bowling alley. He panted heavily as he ran into the middle of the large room.
“OK, you Marked crazies. Time to show your worth. She’s coming,” He said out loud before running for the main doors. “Now I gotta gather my brothers and sisters to guard the dodgems.” With that, he threw open the door and rushed out.
The stairs door exploded and flew across the room before she entered, blinking her eye as she looked around. The large room was very dark, almost pitch black with the lights turned down to their lowest setting and all the windows being covered. As she slowly moved across the aisles, she began to get the feeling she was being watched. She stopped and observed her surroundings more closely.
“I’m detecting energy signatures, but I can’t see anything,” She stated to herself as she slowly began to move across an aisle toward the room’s centre. She caught movement in her peripheral vision and spun around to see what was trying to sneak up on her but found nothing. Solaris stomped her hoof in frustration, breaking the wooden floor and creating a small crater as she did. She blinked and looked down, surprised that she did that.
“Raven is right. I should not let my anger get the better of me.” Again, she caught movement in the corner of her eye and whipped her head around, only to see nothing. With that, she felt her frustration skyrocket once more and she growled.
“Why is this making me so frustrated?” She activated her horn to light up the area, but as she did, she began to feel a saturation of magic in the air, and it appeared to be directed at her. Her horn pulsed and her eyes widened in realisation. The magic she could feel was a form of emotion manipulation, and it was trying to influence her.
“What is this?” She pulsed her horn again. Her eyes widened in surprise as she realised the magic was focused on her anger, trying to bring her to the height of that emotion. “I wonder what could be casting this, but I must disconnect myself from my emotions if I want to get out of this unaffected.” She closed her eyes to concentrate. Being a machine, she could isolate her emotions and prevent anything from affecting her ability to operate.
A hissing sound reverberated throughout the bowling alley once the magic was no longer affecting the alicorn. Solaris opened her eyes, her expression blank as she continued to look around. This time she blinked her eye, and her exposed right optical unit rotated three hundred and sixty degrees, a shutter closing and opening all the while. After that, a bright glow emanated from her eyes, and soon her gaze was locked onto a steel support pillar by the flight of stairs she entered from.
As Solaris walked toward the pillar, there was more hissing. She also became aware of movement behind her, but she kept her eyes on the pillar. Her vision displayed an aura around it, along with several other items in her field of view. This meant that the magic was coming from these highlighted objects, and that she needed to destroy them to remove the threat.
Once she stood before the pillar, she raised a hoof to strike it, but as she threw her punch, the pillar was engulfed in putrid green fire before a large, insectoid yet equine-like creature pounced at her and sunk its fangs into her neck. With her emotions supressed, she didn’t react to the bite (apart from looking down at her attacker). She used her magic to yank the creature off her neck and held it out in front of her. The creature withered and struggled in her magical grasp and hissed at her in disdain.
“Target identified: Changeling.”
However, unlike the creature that was on file, the one in her magical grasp had red glowing eyes instead of light blue. Another difference was the use of magic to affect emotion, whereas Changelings originally fed on love. Solaris deduced that these Changelings were a mutated form of the originals, adapted to a world with extremely little love for them to feed on.
Solaris was brought out of her thoughts when a magic attack from behind was deflected by her shield. When she turned around, she found more auras around other objects like chairs, light fixtures and other items. She narrowed her eyes, now aware that everything with an aura was a disguised Changeling. Without looking, she compressed her magic around the one in her grasp and squashed it like the bug it was before discarding its carcass to the side and charging her magic.
As her power grew, the disguised objects were engulfed in green fire before more Changelings took their place. They all hissed angrily at her, their own horns glowing with power.
“You all have been marked for termination,” Solaris said as she fired a split beam, sending three beams out. The creatures responded by jumping into the air and circling the alicorn until she was trapped in a Changeling cyclone. It seemed like the entire room’s worth of Changelings had given up with their disguises and went in for a direct assault.
Multiple beams of magic lanced out from the swarm while Solaris folded her wings out in front of her and over her head for protection, her shield flashing with each strike. The barrage continued while she channelled magic into her horn. After several seconds, she threw her wings up and her horn pulsed. The shield rapidly expanded and pushed the Changelings away until they all crashed into the walls. Solaris grunted as she reconnected with her emotions and became aware that her wellspring had decreased to thirty percent after all the magic used up so far. She needed time for her magic to regenerate, so while her enemies were struggling to recover, she flapped her wings and threw herself at the nearest cluster. She drove her hooves into their heads and quickly moved onto the others.
Outside and in front of the Dodgems, a last stand was forming. The remaining members of each gang had gathered; several were shaking in fear from what they knew was coming. They could hear the bangs and screams from inside the bowling alley, along with the wet splats.
“We’re all gonna die,” A Crimson Skull mare squeaked in fright.
A large stallion, also from the Crimson Skulls, slapped the mare on the side of the head, growling angrily at her. “Don’t go chicken on me now!”
Suddenly, everything went quiet in the bowling alley, and the gathered Raiders raised their weapons, preparing themselves. Then, the main doors exploded outwards, and something flew out of the smoke and into the air. All the gathered Raiders aimed up and fired at it before it landed amongst them, riddled with bullet holes.
“Shit, it’s one of our Changelings!” A Marked yelled.
The distraction was all the alicorn needed before she slammed into the ground in the middle of the group. Those close to her were knocked over while the rest were left reeling from her sudden arrival. She grabbed two weapons from those she knocked over, shot them in the head and then proceeded to attack the rest. The Raiders scattered to put some distance between them and her before returning fire. Her shield flashed with each impact, but with her wellspring being low, cracks began to form across the hex-tiles.
Solaris panted with lack of power, but her aim proved well as the Raiders began to fall one by one. She grabbed other weapons when the ones she was using ran dry, and she moved around to get better shots on Raiders or to physically attack them. As the numbers dwindled, the Raiders that had more sense dropped their weapons and ran. Before long, the last remaining Raider was the leader of the Crimson Skulls. The armoured stallion grunted as he stood before the alicorn. He held his shoulder and spat a glob of blood at her hooves, looking up at her in defiance.
“The boss will kill you.” He picked up his shotgun and fired. His shot was the last straw for the alicorn’s shield as it shattered like glass, but he found himself picked up by his chest piece with one of her iron-shod hooves and slammed into the ground. He let out a cry of pain before she pushed down hard with her mechanical weight and strength and crushed his ribs which punctured his heart.
“Right. With the boss dead, Sparkle World will be mine.” She panted and sat in the middle of the carnage while she waited for some of her magic to replenish.
“It’s gone quiet, boss.” Tinker gulped as he turned the wheel on the back of the armour.
The modified Raider Power Armour opened and split apart to allow access for its user.
“That either means our boys took care of it or…” He didn’t get to finish as the mains doors exploded inwards, the body of a stallion hurtling through them before it crashed into the protective glass around the dodgem floor.
“Oh shit, that was Dark Omen! If he’s dead, then that means…”
“The Crimson Skulls have been defeated,” The boss said as he looked up. Even silhouetted by the sun, he could see the tall alicorn standing in the doorway with red glowing eyes and severe bodily damage. “Well, C’MON!” He jumped into the armour, which then closed and sealed around him.
Tinker bolted to the nearest cover as his boss armoured up and the alicorn made her way down the stairs to the door to the dodgems ring. She gave the door a swift kick to open it and walked in, facing the power-armoured Raider.
“So, you’re the Overboss.”
“Heh, you got that right bitch. The name’s Boltok,” He sneered. “I hope you’re ready to die.”
“After everything your gangs threw at me, I don’t think your chances are good.”
“Hah! You just proved to me how worthless those weaklings were.” He laughed with no sympathy for those she killed. “Once I’ve dealt with you, we can start over with stronger ponies.”
The alicorn’s eyes narrowed with anger and her horn glowed dimly. However, her eyes widened suddenly as her magic tried to affect him. It felt like his armour was repulsing her magic. Boltok smiled.
“Can’t touch me with your precious magic, can you? Haha! It’s lined with anti-magic crystals and shit; you can’t do fuck all!”
“I don’t need magic to defeat you. You will fall like everypony else.”
“Bring it then, bitch,” Boltok snarled as he advanced.
Boltok threw a hoof out to punch her but she caught his strike with her own hoof. The impact shattered her iron shoe, but she held his hoof back despite his power armour-boosted strength. Solaris tilted her head slightly while giving him a confident smirk, which angered him more. He reared up to use both forehooves to attack her, but to his great frustration, she dodged or parried his punches until she delivered a hard punch into his chest, knocking him back several feet and dented the armour.
“Lucky shot,” He growled as he picked himself back up.
“Or you are a poor fighter.”
He growled and charged at her again. He punched and spun to lash out with his hind hooves to keep up the pressure. While Solaris dodged and parried, her horn was surrounded by a dim aura, her magic scanning his armour for a weakness. Unfortunately, with herself at lower power, she eventually slipped up and received a spiked hind hoof to her face, ripping away the flesh over her undamaged eye. Boltok jumped back with a start at the sight.
“Just what the fuck are you?”
Solaris cried in pain and shook her head before glaring daggers at him. The side of her mouth that wasn’t damaged twisted into a snarl. “Do you have any idea how much that stings?!”
Boltok just smirked. “Oh yea, I got something else that’ll sting more.” A panel on his shoulder opened, and a large, high calibre revolver extended out on a firing mechanism. The revolver fired, and Solaris cried out in pain as the high calibre round punched through her wing despite her efforts to dodge, creating a large hole in her feathers. “Haha! Like that?”
Solaris rushed at him, not giving him time to aim and fire again, and rammed into him. He grabbed her shoulders with his hooves and drove his armoured head into hers. There was a resounding clang as metal hit metal. Solaris, not phased by this, raised her foreleg and punched him in the side of the head, bending the wire mesh that surrounded the helmet.
Boltok crashed into the ground on his side but was quick to stand back up and face her. “I’ll turn you into scrap metal!” He yelled as he fired his weapon again.
As he ran at her, she ducked to avoid the shot and her horn pulsed. He roared as he threw a hoof forward to punch her again in the face, but suddenly stopped dead with his hoof mere millimetres from her nose.
“W-what?” He gasped in shock and noticed a crimson glow around his hoof.
Solaris smirked before her horn pulsed again and Boltok found himself sailing backwards before crashing into the protective glass wall. He bounced off the wall and landed on the floor with a grunt.
“H-how? You-you shouldn’t be able to touch me with magic?”
Solaris tapped her head just under her horn with her unshod hoof, grinning as she explained. “That’s the beauty of being mechanical. I can multitask better than most. While we were fighting, I was analysing your armour until I could match my magical signature with your armour to get around your anti-magic protection.”
“Simple, really. I changed my magical frequency.” She approached and loomed over him. “You’ve lost.”
“I beg to differ.” He quickly jumped to his hooves and thrusted his head up to headbutt her under her chin. She grunted in pain before he uppercut her, and then reared up to use both forehooves to give a twin power punch to her chest. She cried out as she was sent flying back and crashed into the floor. “Don’t count your Rad-Chickens just yet, bitch!”
Solaris heaved herself up onto her hooves and grunted. “Ok, no more taking it easy on you.” Boltok, however, roared as he charged at her again. Solaris’s horn glowed with crimson light and he froze mid-stride. “I may be low on power, but telekinesis doesn’t need that much and besides…” She used her magic to heft him up and slam him down into the floor, hard. “I don’t need to kill you to defeat you. Just, pull the plug.” Her magic took hold of his mana-core and yanked it out.
“NOOO!” He cried before the emergency release ejected him from his armour. He shouted in pain and rage as he landed on the floor. “No! No, this can’t be happening!”
“Face it. You’ve lost.” Solaris approached him before she put the mana-core into her mouth and bit down on it. There was a surge of magic energy before she spat the core out and shuddered for a moment, sighing in relief as she absorbed the energy.
“Ah, that’s better. Any last words,” She said as she loomed over him.
“Yeah, fucking die!” He swiftly whipped out another high calibre revolver and fired round after round at her until his gun clicked empty. His eyes widened as he saw a shimmering hex shield in front of her.
“That mana-core gave me just enough energy to reconstruct my shield. Good thing, too. Those would have really hurt.” She stamped a hoof down onto his chest, but not hard enough to kill him.
Boltok grunted in pain and dropped his weapon. “Treacherous bitch,” He grumbled before he was hauled up off the floor by her hoof, which gripped his neck.
“Goodbye, worm.” She flung him over her head. As he flew into the air, she fired a beam of magic at him. Once it hit him, the point of impact began to spread across his body as it turned to ash. She smiled in triumph when a pile of bones and ash crashed into the floor in a heap. “Job done. Sparkle World is now mine.”
A gentle creak caught her attention, and she whipped her head around to find a single Raider left trying to sneak out of the dodgems floor.
“And where do you think you’re going?” Solaris stood and approached, while using her magic to slam the door shut, preventing his escape.
“I… I can be useful to you; you’re taking over Sparkle World, right?”
Solaris tilted her head for a moment as she regarded him. “That’s right.”
“I can help you. Teach you about the different zones and shit.”
“You’d change sides just like that?”
“Hey, if you can’t beat’em, join’em.”
“You don’t seem like the typical Raider.”
“Yeah, but it was better to join them instead of lying down and letting them kill me when they had the chance.”
“Hmm… So, you were only a Raider by necessity?”
“Yeah, I mean they rolled in and killed everyone in the settlement I was living in when I was young. I figured if I joined them, they wouldn’t kill me too.”
“And you just went ahead and killed with them?”
“No, well mostly. I stayed back as much as I could. Fixing shit, advising or suggesting things with whoever was in charge,” He explained. “Look, I tinker, I fix things. Using a gun to kill isn’t really my forte.”
Solaris regarded him for several long seconds before she relaxed. “Alright then. I’ll give you a chance.” Then, her demeanour turned dark, her eyes glowing with malice. “However, if you so much as step out of line, you’ll end up like your boss over there.”
Tinker gulped and nodded. “Under-understood.”
Her stance relaxed again, and she smiled. “Good,” she said as she turned. “Come with me. I don’t want you out of my sight for now.” She began to walk up to the main entrance with Tinker in tow.
“Oh creator, what happened to you?” Raven squeaked as she re-joined Solaris outside the dodgems building.
“Nothing a little time won’t fix,” Solaris replied as she gave her friend a soft smile. “Sparkle World is ours now. Please go inform the refugees.”
Raven nodded as she turned and ran for Dusk Town.
“Uh, you know when other Raider gangs hear about this, they’ll come to challenge you right?” Tinker asked as he stood beside the alicorn, her flesh slowly beginning to stitch itself back together while a blue gem on her metal chest glowed brightly.
“Let them come. I’ll teach them not to mess with me or my ponies.”
Tinker nodded. “Well, if you plan to fight them, you might want to get the rest of the park under your control too.”
Solaris turned to regard him.
“Since the disappearance of the Dweller, the other zones of the park fell into disarray before we lost our hold on them.”
“Well, a crazy ghoul now runs Foals Kingdom and has set up taint sprayers that keeps the place in a toxic and radioactive haze. Then there’s the Sparkle-Cola Factory, which is overrun with Sparkle-RAD-mutated Mirelurks. Then we got the Wild Zone; that place seems to be overrun with large horned monsters that look like dinosaurs. There is also the Badlands Zone, a western themed area that appears to have an infestation of things we’ve dubbed Blood Worms. And finally, there’s the Cosmic Zone. Some idiot tripped the pre-war security and now the place is full of robots and turrets.”
“Hmm. Well, in time we’ll retake each sector and bring the whole park under control, so that this place will become a haven for the innocents of the wasteland.” Solaris declared with a firm nod.
12 Hours after the destruction of the Production Facility.
“Still no sign of her!” A green alicorn cried out as she paced about frantically in the old ski lodge lobby. The assembled group of ponies in front of her could only watch.
“We’ll find her Tratos, don’t worry,” Dr Pear said soothingly. The frantic alicorn turned to the damaged cyborg zebra beside her.
“WHERE IS SHE? SHE WAS SUPPOSED TO HELP YOU SO WHERE IS SHE?!”
Nexus stepped up in front of the crestfallen mare and fixed the alicorn with a fierce glare. “That is enough, Tratos. If anything, it’s my fault she’s missing. I told her to wait for us by the MASA HQ until we left the facility. Why she left, I don’t know. Perhaps something spooked her, or she needed to find better cover.”
The alicorn snorted, turned around and stormed off. Dr Pear sighed sadly.
Crystal frowned with what was left of her face. She couldn’t help but feel a little responsible. Oxanna was there to help her and her friends rescue Xian and escape.
“Is she going to be alright?” she asked with concern, her voice having an electronic buzz thanks to the damage she had received.
Dr Pear looked down for a moment. “I don’t know. It has been a long time since we lost an alicorn, and what makes this case more unfortunate is that they were sisters even before they were transformed. She must’ve felt her connection with her get severed.”
“What does that mean?” Fruity asked curiously.
“Well, the green alicorns have a strong link with the ones they were paired with; stronger so if they were originally related.”
Fruity opened his mouth, but the doctor raised a hoof.
“And before you ask, losing their connection can amount to a multitude of reasons; from being too far apart to one being dead. But until we can find Oxanna, we can’t know for sure what happened.”
“I hope she’ll be found soon,” said Crystal.
“I hope so too, but right now, we need to get you to Upgrade Station Alpha for repairs.”
“Why there? Can’t you fix her here?” Fruity asked, just as concerned as his marefriend.
Dr Pear put on a flat look. “Yeah, I can… With the right materials and tools.” She gestured to the lobby around them. “Does this place look like an advanced laboratory to you?”
“But your lab-”
“-Is outfitted for medical purposes and light repairs,” She jabbed a hoof at Crystal’s exposed chest where a mess of twisted blue wires sat, circled around a diamond-shaped indentation. “I’ll need spare parts from the Upgrade Station to repair her regeneration system, and on top of that, she needs a new set of wings and various other parts to help the repairs along.”
Crystal quaked with fear, her one intact eye going wide. “I… I don’t w-wanna be disconnected again.”
“Sensory deprivation, ma’am,” Nexus clarified.
“Ah. Don’t worry. I’ll be able to do the repairs without you being connected to the system like that, but it will hurt as a result.”
“I don’t care how much it’ll hurt as long as I’m not locked in my own mind again.”
Dr Pear nodded and turned to the lobby’s reception desk. She then tapped a button on the intercom.
“Gin and Lyn. Report to the main lobby, please.”
Shortly thereafter, a pair of bright flashes appeared as a pair of green alicorns teleported into the lobby. Their sudden appearance caused both the zebra filly and purple pegasus to shriek in fright.
“Bloody hell… Don’t do that!” Fruity whined.
The two alicorns bowed their heads apologetically. They turned to Dr Pear and awaited instruction.
“Please open a bridge to Upgrade Station Alpha.”
The two nodded silently and walked towards an open space. One of them disappeared in a flash, while the other stood there and waited.
“Don’t talk, much do they?” Fruity whispered.
Crystal nudged him in the ribs disapprovingly. He wilted further upon noticing similar looks from Dr Pear and Nexus.
Seconds later, the other’s long horn began to glow brightly, and a swirling vortex of magic appeared in front of her. She gave the doctor a subtle nod.
“Alright everypony, let’s go,” the doctor said. She walked up to the alicorn’s side and approached the vortex. As she came closer, the magic cleared to reveal a burned-out house, nestled between the cliffs of the north-eastern desert outside of New Pegasus. She walked on through, instantly stepping out onto the sand as if she simply passed through an open door.
The whole group eventually joined Dr Pear. Crystal and Fruity felt a little uneasy being back here, the events leading to the former getting changed into a zebra-pegasus still fresh in their minds. Fruity felt a wave of guilt wash over him, for he felt solely responsible for his love’s unwanted upgrade. Sensing their anxiety, Dr Pear turned towards them.
“Don’t worry. Everything will be fine. Lyn, stay with us, please. I don’t want you out of my sight.”
It didn’t take long for them to find the stairs to the basement, and the Upgrade Station’s main entrance. The doctor grunted in mild pain as her uplink cable emerged from the back of her neck and snaked around until it inserted itself into the door’s control console. The console’s red light flashed green before the large security door opened.
The automated system greeted them. “Welcome, Dr Pear.”
Dr Pear retracted her link cable with a sigh of relief. She headed on inside with the alicorn following close behind. She strode up to the main centre console and noted the crack in the corner of the screen.
“Bear with me a moment,” she said as she ventured deeper into the station. Crystal and her companions held back and waited.
“Mater quod odore,” Xian whined, wrinkling her little nose in disgust.
“Something smells?” Crystal asked confusedly. She then sighed in realisation that her sense of smell was shot as well.
“It wasn’t me, I swear,” Fruity said defensively.
Before long, Dr Pear returned with a flat screen monitor floating beside her. “Sorry for the wait. I’ll get this place up and running so we can begin.” She placed the monitor on top of the console in front of the broken screen and plugged it in. Once connected, the doctor rebooted the system. Within moments, the facility’s lighting turned on. The source of the foul smell also became clear. A table, once hidden by the darkness, stood just feet away from the centre console, with the dead body of a young unicorn mare lying on top. Fruity was quick to cover the filly’s eyes with a wing.
Nexus, like the rest of his friends, knew who the mare was, for Unit-03 was using her appearance and name. He walked over to a row of lockers and searched them for anything he could use to cover the body with. Thankfully, he didn’t have to search long before finding an old lab coat, which he then used to drape over the body. Once that was done, Fruity retracted his wing. Crystal went over to give him an affectionate nuzzle but stopped herself when she remembered that half her face was still missing; so, she gave him as much of an appreciative look that her damaged face could muster.
“Alright, before we get started, Crystal, can you give me a damage report, please?” Dr Pear asked.
“Um, h-how do I do that?”
“With your Pipbuck. Since it’s connected to your system, it can display a damage report under your ‘Status’ tab. I want to know precisely what’s wrong.”
Crystal looked down at her Pipbuck. She lifted it up to get a better look at the screen. With some concentration, she mentally flicked over to her Status tab, and just as the doctor had said, she found a secondary tab that displayed her mechanical and electronic statuses.
“Oh, um, wow. Err, where do I start?” Crystal gulped in shock at the large list dominating the screen.
“Start from the top, please.”
“Um, ok. Auto-Repair offline, Regeneration System offline…” And so, the mare began to read off fault after fault.
Dr Pear sighed once Crystal finished the list. Besides the two major systems being offline that would ensure the cyborg’s recovery, there were also a multitude of minor damages such a crippled locomotors and servos, and fractures and cracks in her endoskeletons.
“Ponyfeathers…” Dr Pear groaned as she stood up and walked into a side room. When she returned, she carried a thick cable which she connected to the console. “From what you just told me, I’m going to have to do a little reprogramming to fix your auto-repair system, along with everything else.” She tapped a few buttons on the console, and the upgrade chamber opened. “It might also be more beneficial if I were to upgrade you a little.”
“Upgrade?! Hell no! I’m not going through that again!” Crystal shrieked in defiance.
“Please don’t get me wrong. I have no intention of changing you from your current state, but with the damages your limbs have suffered, I think it would be prudent to replace your limbs with Mark 2 limbs, which are made from the same reinforced alloy as your chest and cranium.”
Crystal looked down at her right shoulder. Her wing looked to have been wrenched out of the socket, and the shoulder itself had clear impact damage with some very pronounced cracks in the metal.
“I… I don’t want to be locked in my mind. I-I can’t go through that again.”
“You don’t have to. That’s what this is for,” said Dr Pear, grabbing the cable with her magic. “Unlike the automated upgrade system, I can disconnect your head from your body.” Crystal and Fruity’s eyes went wide in shock. “Uh, not literally. I mean I can cut off your system from below the neck, so you won’t feel anything at all.”
Crystal turned to her coltfriend. “Do you think I should do this?”
Fruity looked at Dr Pear with a serious expression. “It’ll just be improved limbs she’ll get, right?”
“Of course. I’m not Colonel Ironside. I just want to make sure she’ll be ok in the future.”
“Then I think you should do it, Crystal.”
“O-ok then. I’m, uh, I guess I’m ready.”
Dr Pear nodded, but quickly addressed Fruity. “You should take the little filly outside. I don’t think she’ll want to see this operation.”
Fruity nodded in understanding. He gently picked up the little filly and placed her on his back. “Let’s give the good doctor and your Mummy a little privacy, ok?” Before the two left, Fruity looked back at Crystal one more time and mouthed, “I love you.”
“Licuit erit mater?”
“Um…” He paused and looked to Nexus for help.
“She asked if Crystal will be ok.”
Fruity nodded before looking back at Xian. “Yes sweetheart, she’ll be ok… I hope.” He couldn’t help whispering that last part.
“I’ll stay with them,” said Nexus.
“Alright, let’s begin…” said Dr Pear, dragging over a pair of steel chairs. “Lie down on these. Your limbs will go limp when I connect you to the system.”
Crystal gently rested her barrel onto the chairs. She cringed when she felt a chair press into where her stomach should’ve been if it hadn’t been ripped out.
“Ok, this will sting for a moment.” Dr Pear levitated a scalpel from her bag and brought it over to Crystal’s forehead. “I need to uncover your forehead expansion port.”
Crystal closed her intact eye and braced herself. She grunted and fought to hold still as Dr Pear began to cut deeply into her forehead. With practiced ease, the cybernetic unicorn cut out a clean circle and, with a sickly wet sound, pulled out the small piece of flesh. She then levitated the cable over, and with a press of a button, a large spike shot out of it.
“Ok, this will feel a little weird.”
She quickly shoved the spike into Crystal’s forehead expansion port. Crystal squeezed her eye shut in momentary pain before she suddenly lost all feeling below the neck. She looked up in confusion.
“Connection established. Ok, I’ll try to be as quick as I can.”
And with that, the good doctor began to work. Using the specialised tools that the station had handy, she cut away the damaged flesh and removed her damaged limbs. She then retrieved new ones from the upgrade chamber to replace them with, including new wings and a regeneration suppression ring. Within a couple of hours, all her mechanical replacements were done, and the doctor went to fixing and updating Crystal’s software and firmware. The final repair needed was a replacement regeneration talisman, and that’s where they ran into a problem.
“No regeneration talismans!” Dr Pear cried.
“Where can we find one?” Crystal asked desperately.
“The Production Facility…” Crystal went pale. With the facility now destroyed, that meant its stock of parts were most likely destroyed as well. Dr Pear watched as Crystal’s despair twisted what was left of her face. With a determined frown, she pulled off her lab coat and used the scalpel to cut into her own chest. Crystal cried out in shock at the display. She could only stare as the doctor used her magic to pull the self-inflicted wound apart, where a pink glow began to emit from inside. Dr Pear grunted in discomfort as she pulled her chest further open and yanked her regeneration talisman out from within it. After that, she sighed in relief and let go of her wound, allowing it to close.
“Why did you do that?! Don’t you need that?” Crystal squeaked.
Dr Pear gently brushed her hoof across the cut before answering.
“You need it more than I do right now, and I don’t intend to go on any wild adventures anytime soon,” she said. She levitated the gem over to Crystal’s new suppression ring and inserted the gem into its housing. Once in place, it glowed brightly. “Ok, I just need to cut away the damaged flesh that has already begun healing, so your recovery won’t be impeded.”
“What do you mean?”
“Our organic flesh will heal naturally, so if I don’t remove the flesh that has healed recently, the regeneration process will result in large, ugly trench-like scars across your body. So, by removing those pieces, your regeneration will restore your original appearance almost entirely. You’d still have scars, but they’d be hidden under your fur… well, apart from that cut over your left eye. I don’t want to cut a large chunk of your face off just so you don’t get a small scar there.”
“H-how long do you think it’ll take?”
Dr Pear reconnected Crystal’s Pipbuck to her new left foreleg. “It will take at least a month or two to fully regenerate your flesh, and for your repair system to correct any remaining faults. But don’t worry, you and your friends are more than welcome to stay with us at the lodge while you recover.”
“Thank you, Doc…” Crystal stopped and cringed as Dr Pear removed the spike from her forehead.
“Think nothing of it. It’s the least I could do after everything you’ve done for me.”
Four weeks later, Crystal Éclair finally had flesh completely encapsulating her endoskeleton, but it was still far from fully regenerated. Crystal looked like a horrible burn victim, her flesh regenerating into a twisted, melted mass.
During this time, Crystal and her new family witnessed the deteriorating state of Tratos. In that timeframe without her sister or any signs of her being found, the alicorn had become increasingly unstable; not even her close friend, Umagon, could console her. In the end, she snapped and couldn’t wait any longer, so she vowed to go find her herself.
Dr Pear tried to keep in touch with Tratos using her long-range communication system through the ski lodge’s radio transmitter, but shortly before Tratos was to reach what they had dubbed the ‘Meadowlark Crater’, she disappeared. Dr Pear couldn’t tell what had happened, thus she was prompted to scan for any possible Mark 2 units that could’ve survived. Like before, it turned out negative. It did, however, result in a positive reading of Unit-1000, but only for a moment. Dr Pear requested the aid of Nexus to investigate, but he returned with a negative report of his own. She chose to keep the reading a secret from Crystal; she didn’t want her to worry.
The news that Tratos had also disappeared rocked the community of the Alicorn Sanctuary, making plenty of the more sound-minded alicorns refuse to leave the makeshift town. Some even started to doubt their own safety, but Dr Pear did her best to try and calm them down.
Crystal herself didn’t leave her room often, for she didn’t want any of the ponies living there to see her while healing. She couldn’t even bare to look at herself. Thankfully, though, Tooty Fruity and Xian were enough to distract her for the most part.
Her coltfriend did everything he could to make her as comfortable as possible; and to her relief and happiness, he was not repulsed by her appearance. She felt very lucky to have found a stallion like him. Xian was understandably frightened by her mother’s appearance, at first. However, after a little coaxing from Fruity, she soon came around, which made Crystal all the happier.
The next big development to occur happened four weeks later when Umagon left to try and find her missing friends, and then subsequently disappeared. Dr Pear declared that no alicorn was to leave the Sanctuary unsupervised after that. There was no telling what was happening, but the doctor theorised that an alicorn hunter was at work in the Marejave Desert. It wouldn’t have been the first time that such a threat had occurred.
After three months, Crystal had finally, fully recovered. The process ended up being slower than expected, since her rechargeable Mana-Core would cause the healing to stall until it regained a sufficient charge. By that point, Crystal was feeling angsty from being cooped up for so long. It didn’t help that her pegasus instincts really wanted to jump out the window and fly; an urge that got stronger every day.
Crystal cooed in delight as she rose into the air, her large wings flapping slowly, savouring the cool mountain air flowing through her feathers and blowing across her fur. Fruity smiled as he flew alongside her. Xian sat under Nexus for shelter while she watched her parents fly together.
“Whoa, easy there, Crys. Let’s not get too carried away,” he cautioned. He could see his marefriend’s mane and tail briefly flash into a two-tone gold and orange, recognizing it as a sign of her turning into ‘Lightning Éclair’.
Crystal felt the pegasus magic surge and took a deep breath to calm herself. “Oh, I’m sorry. It’s just been far too long since I felt the wind in my feathers.”
Fruity smiled and took his marefriend’s hooves. “You sound just like a pegasus,” he said softly, kissing her cheek. “It’s so good to see you look this happy again.”
Crystal smiled adoringly. She leaned forward and gently pressed her forehead against his, cooing softly. Fruity tilted his head up slightly so their noses touched. He looked into her gorgeous baby blue eyes and watched her blush as they slowly inched their mouths closer together. Just as their lips were about to meet, the sound of a large explosion shook them.
“Fucking hell, what was that?!” Fruity shrieked. Crystal still had the mind to bop on the head for swearing.
“That sir, was an explosion,” Nexus stated matter-of-factly.
Crystal and Fruity landed softly beside the robot. Crystal gently wrapped a foreleg around Xian comfortingly, while Fruity gave the robot an unamused look. “Oh, you don’t say.”
Nexus shrugged (if he had flesh, he would’ve been smiling). Fruity turned in the direction of the sound and frowned. “You don’t think a scavenger is using dynamite somewhere close by, do you?”
Nexus opened his mouth but was interrupted by the sudden slam of a door, and a distressed looking Dr Pear sprinting out towards them. She frowned as she looked to the east before sighing irritably.
“Doctor, what’s wrong?” Crystal asked worriedly.
“Upgrade Station Alpha just exploded!”
“Oh, so that’s what that was…” Fruity’s eyes went wide upon realising what she just said. “Wait what?!”
“How?” Crystal gaped at the doctor, just as surprised.
“Something triggered its self-destruct. It could be down to multiple reasons, but I wouldn’t put it passed that deranged stallion to set the place to blow if there had been unauthorised access. He did everything he could to keep his sick project off the records.”
“What a cun-err, ahem, what a tosser…” Fruity had to stop himself from saying something vulgar in front of Xian and getting a smack in return.
“Agreed, sir,” said Nexus before turning to Dr Pear. “I suppose that offer to make me a one-point-five is out of the window, then?”
“Hm? Oh no, I could still do it. I just need to locate materials, a cybernetics lab and some nano-lathing tech.”
Crystal groaned. She held her head as another piece of information was shoved into her head thanks to her electronic brain. “Ugh, Nano-lathe Technology. Working from a pre-determined blueprint, the system sprays microscopic particles layer upon layer until completed.” She blinked and shook her head. “Doctor, can you please turn this off? It’s annoying to suddenly have information dumped into my head, especially when I don’t want to know it.”
Dr Pear raised an eyebrow. “Of course. Please come to my lab later and I’ll see what I can do.” She turned back to Nexus. “So, does that mean you want to go through with it?”
“No ma’am. I appreciate the offer, but I was just wondering if the offer still stood.”
“Why not, dude?” Fruity asked curiously.
“I was born, or rather, created as a machine, and I’m much more accustomed to my mechanical nature. I currently have no desire or need to become partially organic.”
“Huh. Fair enough, I guess.”
Dr Pear nodded and returned her attention to Crystal, who was fussing over her daughter’s messy mane. Said filly squirmed and batted at the mare’s hoof with her little forehooves. She smiled at the sight and cleared her throat. “So, it looks like you’ve finally recovered.”
Crystal smiled. “Oh yes. It feels so good to be whole again.”
Dr Pear nodded and smiled back. “Good, good. Now, I wanted to ask you something.”
“Now that you’re recovered, do you have anywhere to live and what do you plan to do now?”
Crystal’s eyes widened with uncertainty. “I, um… I haven’t really thought about that. I guess I intended to go back home since my house is still there, but as for what do now… I don’t know.”
“Well, you and your…” Dr Pear looked closely at the group before her. “Family are more than welcome to stay here.” She put a hoof to her chin. “Now as for what you can do with yourself… I’m sure there are plenty of jobs that could benefit from your cybernetic abilities. If memory serves me right, you used to work in warehousing before the bombs fell, correct?”
“Perhaps working for a caravan company might work for you.”
“Uh, nah. The life of a caravanner is wrought with danger,” Fruity interjected.
“Um, I don’t want to do something that’ll put me of my family in danger. I have a young filly to look out for now,” said Crystal.
Dr Pear nodded. She watched Fruity stand beside Crystal. Together, the pair gently wrapped a hoof around the young zebra affectionately. Nexus also took up position beside them, ever the faithful butler and friend.
“Thank you doctor, but I think we’ll find our own path,” said Crystal, nuzzling up against Fruity.
“Of course. I wish you lot the best of luck, and you will always have a place here should you choose to; and Crystal, enjoy your new life as a free and healthy mare.” With all that said and done, Dr Pear bid the family farewell and went back inside. Crystal smiled with a happiness that she hadn’t felt since before she first woke up in the wasteland. She looked around at her coltfriend, her mechanoid friend, and her adoptive daughter. She felt that happiness swell as she realised that Dr Pear had done exactly what she had intended for her when she made her an Infiltrator; she had given her, her life back without the ailments that once afflicted her. Now she can have the things her original life would have denied her: friends and family. Her future may have been unknown, for now, but that could wait until after she regained her family home.
The family journeyed back to the old residential district outside Hayside and New Pegasus, where Crystal’s old family home resided. Even after two hundred years of no maintenance, and with nothing special to protect it, it was in a surprisingly decent condition.
The area was close to the junk wall around Hayside, so the Queens were often seen close by, keeping the area free of unsavoury characters and, therefore, relatively safe. Crystal, Fruity and Nexus spent some time repairing the old house, including reinforcing the internal structure to support the heavy weights of both Crystal and Nexus, what with their metal skeletons that made them heavier than the average pony. They even fixed the hole at the top of the stairs, where Crystal had fallen through the floor and down straight through the kitchen and into the basement.
Crystal had quite the emotional episode when she and Fruity took the master bedroom due to all the reminders of Crystal’s past family. She was quick to push it all into the attic for her own sake.
Soon after, they started looking for ways to make a living. After some thought and asking around, they found that the best lines of work that could suit them were to be prospectors and couriers. It helped that Crystal and Fruity had a reputation already established as being local heroes, thanks to their sealing of Stable 16. This meant they already had ponies willing to hire them for such tasks.
Crystal enrolled Xian at the school in Hayside so that the filly could get an education. This school in particular taught foals much about the state of the current world, survival skills, and even some pre-war history. Crystal decided to attend the school also, mainly for the former subjects. She thought, at first, that attending with Xian might be embarrassing for the young zebra, but it turned out that the school didn’t have many students, and a parent often attended to keep an eye on their foal. Crystal encouraged Xian to try and make some friends with the other foals, but unfortunately, and predictably, most of the students wouldn’t entertain the idea of being friends with a zebra. Crystal had to defend her filly from the discrimination, while at the same time, endure it herself from the other attending parents.
Around three-and-a-half-months later, rumours of a white, red-maned alicorn began circulating. No pony was certain where it originated, but the one thing that was consistent was that the alicorn was first spotted in the eastern region of the Marejave, heading south towards the Grogar Mountains. Most ponies took the rumour at face value, but some believed them and saw the news as the first, new ascended alicorn since the bombs fell. They believed that the once beloved alicorn princesses of old were returning, along with the values they stood for.
It was about five months after the destruction of the Production Facility that life was becoming normal for Crystal and her new family. Fruity was happy to see how much more confident Crystal was getting with life as a Wastelander. She wasn’t as nervous about going out for work or using her weapons for defence.
To his surprise, she even came home one day with a new revolver. She told him it was a reward she received for a particularly fast delivery. It was a hunting revolver, a fairly powerful weapon. Unfortunately, the rounds it used were hard to get a hold of and very expensive.
Fruity eventually realised that he had been with Crystal for about a year since meeting her all the way back in Manehattan. Over the last several months, he had grown particularly close to her, more than he thought he would, considering what he’d learned about her true nature. However, it didn’t matter in the end, and he found he was in love with her. In fact, he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her, and he wanted to make it official.
Fruity sighed nervously as he left the house. He felt bad, for he told a little white lie to Crystal, so she wouldn’t wonder where he was going on his own. He wanted it to be a surprise. He spread his wings, ready to take off, when a voice from behind scared him half to death.
“Sir, where are you going?”
“Waugh!” He screeched and whirled around to face Nexus, standing by the living room window, and fixing the old window frame. “For fuck’s sake, don’t do that!”
“Sorry, sir, but I wasn’t aware you were working today.”
Fruity quickly looked around before rushing over to the robot, talking quietly. “I’m not. I just have an errand to run.”
Nexus blinked his red eyes in confusion. “Sir?”
“Look buddy, can you keep a secret?”
“Of course, sir.”
“I’m going to ask Crystal to marry me. So, I’m gonna go see Miss Queenie and ask if she can help me. I want to do this properly.”
“Ah, that’s wonderful. I understand sir. You have my word that I won’t tell a soul.”
“Thanks buddy. I’ll try to be back before dinner.” With that, the purple pegasus spread his wings again and flew off towards Hayside.
“Good luck, sir.”
A couple of minutes later, Fruity landed in the street that led to the old Rich Estate, now serving as the headquarters of the Queens Gang, and the place of residence of their leader, Miss Queenie. He took a moment to get his breath back and put on a confident face before strolling up to the gates.
“Can we help you, darling?” asked a bodyguard as he approached.
“Um, yes. I would like to see Miss Queenie,” he said.
“I’m sorry, but she is rather busy at the moment.” She sighed in annoyance, likely from having to deal with numerous ponies wanting to see her boss every day.
Her partner recognized the pegasus, however, and piped up. “Wait, Jade dear. He’s Tooty Fruity, the stallion that was with that zebra. The one who sealed up Stable 16.”
“Yep, that’s me!” Fruity declared proudly.
“Oh, I do apologise, darling.”
“Do go on in, Mr Fruity. I’m sure Miss Queenie would be thrilled to see you,” said the other as the two stepped aside to let him through.
Fruity thanked the mares and quickly made his way across the courtyard and up to the front door. Before he could even knock, the door opened, and Miss Queenie herself was there to greet him.
“Darling, welcome!” She gave Fruity a friendly hug, taking him by surprise.
“Um, hi?” Fruity squeaked.
Miss Queenie released him and blushed in embarrassment. “Oh, I do apologise. It’s good to see you and…” She trailed off when she saw that Fruity was alone. “Oh, no Crystal or Nexus today?”
“Uh, no. Just me.”
“Not doing something behind her back now, are you?” she asked with a pointed stare.
“Uh, well yeah, but it’s a surprise for her.”
The older mare perked up and smiled broadly. “Ohhh, I see. How lovely. Please, come on in.”
Miss Queenie led Fruity inside and towards the old study. Once the door was closed and they were alone, the older mare turned to the stallion with an eager smile on her face.
“So, how can Miss Queenie be of service?”
Fruity sat down on a cushion and took a deep breath.
“Ok, ok. Um, well, I want to ask Crystal to marry me.”
Miss Queenie let out an excited gasp. “Darling, that’s marvellous!”
“Thanks. You see, Crystal is a pre-war pony, so I wanna do this marriage thing right by her. Thus, I was hoping you might perhaps have an engagement ring I could buy, to give to her.”
“Oh, how romantic of you! Of course, I can help you,” she said. “Also, you do not need to worry about paying me. Please come with me and I’ll see what I can find for your beloved.”
Fruity smiled gratefully. He then followed her out of the study and through the estate until they came up to the master bedroom. He sat down in the middle of the room while Miss Queenie walked over to a large vanity table and began to rifle through the many jewellery drawers.
After what felt like hours of opening drawer after drawer, she finally found what she was looking for.
“A-ha! Finally,” she muttered. She took out several gold rings, each with a diamond of various sizes embedded in them. “I don’t know why the original owner of this estate had so many rings, but these are what I believe to be considered as engagement rings in pre-war times.” She stepped aside and gestured Fruity over. “Go ahead. Choose whatever one you like.”
Fruity nodded as he stepped up to check out the selection. Meanwhile, Miss Queenie began looking through more drawers.
After a short time, Fruity sat down as he took a closer look at a gold ring with a small but noticeable diamond. He didn’t think Crystal would like something super flamboyant. She wasn’t a pony that cared much for jewellery or looking ‘fabulous’, as Miss Queenie would say. If anything, Crystal would’ve most likely been happy with even the smallest of diamonds. Even so, he wanted to give her a ring with a noticeably sized gemstone, to try and reflect how much he loved her. He nodded in satisfaction.
“I think this one will be perfect,” he declared.
“Wonderful, darling! Here, you can take these, too. They’re a pair of wedding rings to be worn when you get married,” she said happily, giving him a pair of plain gold rings. “Now as for where to get married, Duchess of the Canterlot Royal Hotel in New Pegasus has been trained to marry ponies. There are several others that live inside the New Pegasus wall who live something akin to a pre-war lifestyle. Oh, and if you take those rings to Stone Cutter, New Pegasus’s local jeweller, he can engrave the rings for you. Nothing would be more special for a wedding ring than to have a heartfelt inscription in them.”
“Thank you so much, Miss Queenie. This means a lot. Seriously, I owe you one.”
“Think nothing of it, darling. Now go. Make that mare the happiest mare on Equus.”
She promptly started shooing him out the house. Fruity nodded and was about to let himself be led out, but he stopped suddenly in remembrance. “Wait, hang on! Um, this may sound weird, but do you have any socks?”
Miss Queenie stopped and blinked. “I’m sorry, socks?”
The stallion chuckled and rubbed the back of his neck bashfully. “Hehe, uh, yea. You see, Crystal has a thing for socks and, um, I think if I hide the ring in a pair and give her the socks as a gift, it’ll be a nice surprise for her.”
The older mare chuckled and smiled warmly. “Oh, how lovely. Yes, I do believe I have a sock drawer somewhere. Bear with me.”
Miss Queenie went back to opening more drawers. It took her a few minutes longer, but she eventually found the right one, and she once again, gestured for Fruity to take a gander. As Fruity looked over the different sets of socks, he tried to remember what his marefriend already had, but his mind drew a blank. So, with a shrug, he picked out a set of two tone, blue-striped tube socks.
“These will do. Thank you for this. Thank you for everything,” said Fruity, stuffing the socks and the rings into his duster’s pocket.
Fruity bid Miss Queenie farewell and quickly took to the air to return home. As their house came into view, he stopped mid-flight.
“Wait, I’m gonna need some flowers. I need flowers if I’m going to do this right.” He rose higher to get a better view of the land below him. He groaned in annoyance as for as far as he could see there was nothing but sand and rock. He eventually spotted an unusually large green area, far to the west on the opposite side of New Pegasus at the foot of the mountains. He flew towards it as quickly as he could, grateful for all the morning workout flights with Crystal improving his wing power and speed. It was hard work to keep up with his fast marefriend.
He managed to make it there in less than an hour. He landed at the entrance to a small valley, all covered in lush grass. He smiled at the sight of numerous, colourful flora spread all over.
“Oh yes, these will do nicely.” He began picking the flowers, trying his best to have the bouquet as colourful as possible. He considered himself lucky to have found a patch of greenery in one of the least contaminated regions in the wasteland, considering that most of the current flora around was usually contaminated from all the magical taint and radiation. He’d been picking for several minutes when he spotted a billboard, half-grown over by the foliage, and with a message that set him on edge.
Project Eden’s Gate. Authorised Ministry of Arcane Science Personnel Only!
He looked down into the valley where he saw what looked like a stable door built into the side of the mountain. It was half-hidden by the foliage, and it looked to have been pulled ajar by what appeared to be thick tree trunks. He looked back at the billboard, and he noticed numerous bits of graffiti.
Stay away! The Plants are Alive! The Plants Kill!
Fruity gasped with mounting fear. Suddenly, there was a rustle in the foliage, and Fruity turned just in time to see a strange green mass disappearing out of sight near the stable entrance.
“Ok, I’m good. I’m not ready to become plant food.” He held his picked flowers close to his chest and swiftly took off. He didn’t see the vine that was mere moments away from coiling around his leg.
The sun was setting by the time the purple pegasus landed in front of his new home. He huffed and puffed tiredly from his long flight. He smiled as he looked down at the small bouquet and sighed in relief upon seeing that he hadn’t lost too much of any of them. He used a wing to take the flowers from his hoof to the top of his back. Then, he trotted up to the door, which suddenly opened to reveal a familiar mare.
“There you are!” Crystal exclaimed. “I was starting to get worried.”
“Heh. Sorry, Crys. I got a little… sidetracked.” The pegasus slowly maneuvered his wing to hide the small bouquet behind his back, but the keen eyes of his marefriend picked up the slight movement.
“What’re you hiding?”
He let out a slightly disappointed sigh and unfurled his wing. “I was hoping to surprise you with them inside, but, well… Surprise!”
Crystal gasped. She had assumed that much of the old world’s flora had been destroyed. It was welcoming to see that was not the case, to say the least.
“Oh Fruity, they’re lovely. Thank you so much,” she cooed happily as she took the flowers with her own wing and brought them to her nose to take a sniff. “Hmm. They smell as nice as I remember.”
Crystal and Fruity went inside and sat down for a late dinner. Later, after young Xian went to bed and Nexus was making himself busy, Crystal and Fruity cuddled together on the couch. Fruity felt increasingly more nervous as he looked at his duster draped across the back of the sofa. Fruity froze suddenly when he felt Crystal rest her head onto his chest.
“Fruity, are you ok?” Crystal asked, concerned at the sensation. “You’ve been a little off since you got back.”
The stallion gulped and nodded, steeling his nerves. “Y-yeah. It’s um, I’m a little nervous, to be honest. I’ve never done this before.”
Crystal raised an eyebrow. “Never done what before?”
Taking another deep breath, he reached over for the duster and pulled it down. Crystal watched curiously as Fruity started digging through all his pockets. Eventually, he pulled out a small bundle of fabric and presented it to her. Crystal smiled at the gift and took it gently. She gasped in surprise and glee when she found that the small bundle turned out to be a set of socks. Fruity smiled, and while she was busy trying them on, he slipped off the couch to stand in front of her. He felt his heart begin to race when she slipped a foreleg into one of the socks and stopped, as if she felt something inside it.
“Huh?” She gripped the solid object inside the sock and pulled it out. Her eyes went wide at the sight of the diamond ring.
“Crystal Éclair,” began Fruity, getting her attention as he knelt before her, taking her hoof. “Will you… will you marry me?”
Fruity squeaked in surprise when he was suddenly tackled to the floor and found himself in a bone-crushing hug.
“Yes, yes, yes! Of course, I’ll marry you!” Crystal squealed in pure happiness and cried tears of joy.
“You will? Oh yes, thank you, thank you!” Fruity cried just as happily and returned the hug. The pair’s emotions quickly took over, and the two started kissing passionately.
“The hole in the kitchen has been reinfor…” Nexus walked into the living room to find his friends in a state of shameless intimacy. He did an about-face and walked back into the kitchen.
The following day, the couple told both Xian and Nexus the big news and began planning their wedding. When Fruity explained to Crystal that Miss Queenie had helped him with the ring and venue, she insisted on paying her a visit to express their thanks, which they did. Fruity also took the time to warn the Queens about what he’d encountered in the fields.
The following week saw Crystal and Fruity tie the knot inside the Canterlot Royal Hotel. The wedding was officiated by the alicorn, Duchess, another friend/patient of Dr Pear, who was also invited to the wedding. It was truly a happy day, although Crystal couldn’t help but feel a tinge of sadness when she wondered if her mother would’ve been proud of her.
After that and their two-week honeymoon at the hotel, the newlyweds returned to their normal lives. Several months afterwards, Crystal felt that it was finally time to visit their friend, Silver Disc, back in Manehattan. They never did tell him of their success in defeating Colonel Ironside and their marriage…
1 year after the destruction of the Production Facility.
“Maybe this new alicorn is what the world needs. I mean, she single-hoofedly took Sparkle World back from Raiders, and what she’s built with it so far seems to be working,” Fruity ventured as he and his family returned to their home.
“I don’t know. It’s too early to tell yet,” Crystal said with a sigh. “Don’t get me wrong. She is helping, at least.”
“Hey, are you alright?”
“I dunno. It was a shock to learn that Silver is ill.”
“Yeah. I can’t believe it myself.”
“Yeah… It reminded me of my family before the war. Back when I was certain I would die young because of my condition. It must’ve made my Mum and Dad feel horrible. I’ve been thinking of my mother a lot recently; how I’ve never found out what happened to her. I want to find out. Say goodbye to her, you know?”
Fruity nuzzled his wife’s cheek. “Of course. And don’t worry I’ll help you the whole way,”
Crystal smiled warmly as she nuzzled him back. “Thank you, honey.” She looked up the stairs and at the attic hatch above. “I’m gonna need to get into the attic and go through all my Mum’s stuff. Hopefully, we can find some clues.”
Fruity nodded and draped a wing around his wife, eager to help her however he could.
Several months before the destruction of the Production Facility.
A great explosion rocked the Manehattan ruins. Ponies around the ruined city looked towards the Impact Crater as a green balefire mushroom cloud rose from within it. None of them looked for long, though, for such occurrences were common in the wasteland. What they didn’t see, however, was something emerging from the smoke and dust, making its way towards the crater wall.
Unit-02, an advanced infiltration mechanoid, walked through the blasted streets. The machine had been stripped of its mercenary disguise, its endoskeleton had been fully exposed and burned. Soon, it began to jerk and spark, a sign that it took more damage than it seemed.
“Warning, system critical.”
The machine stopped and shook its head as it reached the perimeter. It looked up at the mass of broken and twisted debris that blocked the street. Its red-tinted vision began to fill with static, and ‘System Failure Imminent’ flashed across its HUD.
“Ugh, something’s wrong,” Unit-02 groaned to himself as he began to climb.
After a good half-hour of climbing and near falling amongst the loose debris, he finally made it to the top.
“I… ugh, oh, not good.” He groaned once more, his voice almost entirely electronic now. “Warning, Catastrophic Failure… Restart Initiated.” An automated alert sounded before the light in its eyes winked out mid-step. Now without power, the robot froze and fell forward, tumbling down the rubble, bouncing and crashing off the debris before landing in a heap, half-buried in the rubble.
Several Months Later.
“System reinitialised. 70% operational efficiency… Warning, Self-Repair System offline. Warning, power at 50%... Mana-Core 1 depleted…”
Unit-02 shook his head as several more warnings filled his vision before declaring he was operational. With so many systems either offline or functioning at a fraction of their normal status, he was barely able to move properly. He struggled to move his head and his limbs, but he soon found another reason for such: a bunch of chains were holding him up like some kind of harness, all connected to an engine crane (or at least one of the more common Power Armour workstations). Further examination of his surroundings revealed he was in a Red Rocket refuelling station. A dirty mattress and a makeshift cooking station with empty cans of food laying around gave evidence of a sentient creature living here.
His examination was cut short when a door to his left burst open and a young unicorn mare charged through. She quickly turned around and slammed the door shut, bracing herself against it while putting an ear to the door.
“Damn, those filthy raider assholes nearly caught me.” She sighed and relaxed when she didn’t hear anything beyond the door. “I gotta move before they actually find me, but I can’t just leave you behind, now can I? I’m so close to fixing you, I know it!” She then looked at Unit-02, only to shriek in surprise upon seeing his glowing red eyes staring at her. “Holy fucking shit, you’re awake!” The cream maned, light brown unicorn with white lower legs picked herself up. Her worn work pony overalls clinked slightly with the assortment of tools on her belt as she slowly trotted towards the machine. “Eyes tracking. You can see me. Are… are you operational?”
“Barely. There are a lot of things that are either not working or working at a lower capacity,” Unit-02 explained.
“I can’t believe it, I got you working again! Oh wow, this is amazing, I didn’t think I could get something so advanced to work again!” She gushed excitedly as she quickly stood before him, her horn alight with blue magic as she unhooked the harness from the crane, letting him stand on his own hooves again. “Now that you’re awake, you can walk me through on how to fix you entirely.”
Unit-02 slumped slightly, his legs struggling to carry his weight. Thus, he sat down to stabilise himself. “Negative. Various systems require specialised repairs…” He trailed off as he took another look around the room. “And I highly doubt your makeshift workshop here will have the delicate parts I will require since my self-repair system isn’t working.”
“Specialised repairs? Well, where would I need to get the parts from?”
“The Ministry of Awesome.”
“The MoA? But they did jack shit! Most of their buildings are filled with junk. Weren’t they just a storage warehouse?”
“On the contrary. They delved in advanced technology and espionage.”
“Well, you would know, I suppose. You do have their emblem etched into your collar piece.” She then looked the machine over more closely, frowning at his weakened demeanour. “Uh, can you walk?”
“I think so. It’s hard to determine right now. I’m still processing my state of operation. What happened and how long was I offline?”
“I dunno what happened to you, but I found you half-buried in a mound of rubble by the Impact Crater. It was a job and a half to dig you out and get you back here, and even more of a struggle to remove your armoured shell plating so I could get into your inner workings. Whoever the fuck built you decided on using the more awkward screw types that barely any fucker has the right screwdrivers for. Anyway, I practically had to rewire you as most of your wiring had its insulation melted, so you must have been shorting out before you shut yourself down. You must have been exposed to some extreme heat for that to happen. I also had to remove one of your mana-cores as it was damaged, but thankfully its casing wasn’t ruptured.” The young mare took a deep breath. “And for how long you were out, well… it’s been just over two months. You were one difficult piece of machinery to work with.”
“Two months. I wonder if my self-repair system was not working before I collapsed,” Unit-02 thought.
“Uh, by the way, my name’s Clockwork. I’m a tinkerer, I build stuff.” She smiled broadly. “And if the need arises, a handymare for all your repair needs.”
“Nice to meet you Clockwork. My name is…” He paused for a moment, trying to remember from his apparently broken memory. “My name is… Buckshot!”
“Uh cool, you even named yourself. What sort of robot are you?”
“I am an Infiltrator Mark 2.”
“Cool, never heard of that before. Hell, I didn’t even know about Assaultrons until a few weeks ago. They certainly wanted to keep information about some things quiet back before the war.” She opened a satchel on her flank and pulled out a tattered old map of Manehatten and unrolled it. “I wanna help fix you properly. I know where the Ministries are, but I’ve never been there myself, so I don’t know how to get to them, especially with how much of the city is in ruins. Do you think you know a quick route to them?”
Unit-02 peered down at the map, his electronic brain swiftly copying it to memory. Data that was preloaded into his system upon creation revealed something that would be very useful.
“Here…” He said as he pointed to a section of the map nowhere near the ministries. “Upgrade Station Delta is located there.”
“What in the what now?”
“Upgrade Station Delta. It’s a place constructed by the M.o.A specifically for Infiltrator units.”
Clockwork used her magic to singe a mark on the map to highlight the location. When she took a closer look, she raised an eyebrow.
“But that’s just a Starlight Industries storage warehouse.”
“True, but to hide a secret, its best to be hidden in plain sight. You just need to know where to look.”
Clockwork opened her mouth to say something but stopped as a look of understanding crossed her face. “You know what, you’re right.” The young mare got up and began gathering her belonging into a rucksack. “Well, we better make a move before those raider fuck twits come back.”
“I heard you had trouble. I can probably protect you if they do find us.”
“That’s much appreciated, robo-pony.” Clockwork smiled, dimpling her freckled cheeks slightly, before she frowned after looking at the map again. “Ah shit, the warehouse is on the far side of Manehattan Harbour.”
“Is that a problem?”
“Well, yeah, that place is swarming with Ghouls. I think the harbour has the densest concentration of zombies anywhere in the Wasteland.”
“Well, the Gold Star Line dock has the wreck of the RES Celestia in it, and that ship was to set sail the day the bombs fell. At least four thousand ponies were in and around the ship when the bombs hit, and most of those unlucky sods got turned into Ghouls.”
“I see, possibility of getting swarmed. Hmm. I’m gonna need a shotgun.”
“Well, I guess it truly is your lucky day. I got a combat shotgun mounted on a battlesaddle back here.” Clockwork moved over to the back corner of the workshop and pulled a harness with a drum-fed shotgun out from behind a crate. “Bloody thing is too big for me, but I think it’ll fit you perfectly.”
Unit-02 would have smiled at the sight of the weapon if he had lips. He didn’t waste time getting into the harness, his nano-fibre tail helping with the positioning and securing of the battlesaddle onto his skeletal frame. He had to recalibrate his locomotors and hydraulics to compensate for the added weight, but despite his limited functionality, he was able to carry and operate it just fine.
“I’m ready if you are.”
“Ok. If things go well, we should get there in a few hours. If not, we’ll need to find shelter before it gets dark. Believe me, you don’t want to be outside when it gets dark,” Clockwork warned with a serious expression.
One more supply check later, and they left the Red Rocket Station for the Manehattan Harbour.
“Shit, we should find shelter. It’s gonna get dark soon,” Clockwork said worriedly. The duo had been working their way through the ruins for hours. The destroyed streets and large piles of rubble meant they had to detour several times, costing them time.
“Metal boy, you really don’t want to run into Bloodwings, like seriously.” Clockwork walked up to an apartment building with a boarded-up door. “Hey, think you can get this open?”
“Alright, alright, we’ll take shelter then.” Unit-02 stepped up to the door and used his metal hooves and nano-fibre tail to pry off the planks with ease. Once the planks were removed, he opened the door and scanned the dark hallway for anything that could be a possible threat. “All clear,” He announced as he stepped aside.
“Awesome.” Just as Clockwork reached the threshold, an ear-splitting shriek rang out from the ruins. Unit-02 and Clockwork both stared in fascination and horror (respectively) as the darkening sky was filled with streams of large flying creatures. “Oh shit, Bloodwings! Quick, get in and shut the door!” The mare bolted into the building.
Unit-02, now understanding the danger, quickly slammed the door shut and pulled a nearby cabinet up and against the door to bar it. Once he made sure the door was secure, he walked down the hall and into what used to be a living room, its windows all boarded up. Clockwork set up a lamp on the coffee table for light.
“Bloodwings. If some unlucky sod were outside at night, those things would tear them apart in seconds.”
“I see why you were so concerned now.” Unit-02 sat before the coffee table as the young mare dug out a can of pre-war beans from her pack. She then set upon cooking them with a hotplate.
As the beans slowly heated up, Clockwork sighed in relief and dumped her pack on the floor beside her, lying down on the dirty, beat up sofa by the coffee table. She used her magic to stir the beans slowly with a wooden spoon.
“Can I ask you some questions, Unit-02?” She asked as she looked over at the machine, mentally noting how creepy and scary he looked in the dim light with how the shadows danced over his endoskeleton, and the red glow of his eyes.
“Can you tell me how you wound up in a heap right by the Impact Crater?”
Unit-02 opened his mouth to answer, but then stopped and looked down in thought.
“Something wrong?” asked Clockwork.
“Affirmative. I… I don’t seem to remember.”
“What do you remember?” She pulled the beans off the hotplate and began eating them with the spoon.
“I remember…” He trailed off for a moment. “I don’t remember anything. My memory appears to be corrupted. What I do remember are the basics I was pre-programmed with. Like, as an Infiltrator, the first thing I am to accomplish is acquiring a disguise, which would include taking a pony’s identity, magic, and a copy of their mind.”
“Whoa,” Clockwork gasped at the revelation. “Wait, why are you being so open about this sort of stuff? Isn’t this, like, top secret shit?”
Unit-02 blinked in confusion for a moment.
“You… would be correct. I was programmed to never reveal such information.”
“So why are you?”
Unit-02 was silent for a little while longer. Clockwork meanwhile continued to eat her beans while staring intently.
“I don’t exactly know. I know I’m programmed against revealing such information, but I don’t seem to be compelled to follow such programmed orders.”
“Interesting. What sort of CPU do you use? Assaultrons have this, like, advanced learning processor. I wonder if you do too.”
“Hmm. My electronic brain consists of a mass-produced experimental neural processor developed by a Mr. Horse.”
“Well shit, no wonder you’re so advanced if Mr Horse designed your brain. That pony was like some tech god back before the war.” She frowned. “Though that processor of yours sounds like something extremely complicated to fix if it went wrong.”
Unit-02 nodded, somewhat worried that his neural processor could be at fault here with his lack of memory. “I think we need to get to the Upgrade Station as soon as possible tomorrow.”
“We’ll head out at first light. Don’t worry, big guy. We’ll get you fixed in no time.” Clockwork then finished off her beans and curled up on the ruined sofa to sleep.
The following day saw a rainy start for the unlikely duo. Clockwork was worried that the rain could make the robot rust, but Unit-02 showed no signs of being worried about a little rain. Their journey was not as congested as the day before and, thankfully, uneventful. When the pair arrived at a side access gate to the harbour, their gazes were immediately fixed on the giant white vessel still in her berth at the Gold Star Line dock.
“Wow. That ship is much bigger up close,” said Clockwork as she and Unit-02 stared up at it.
“It is impressive,” Unit-02 agreed. “But I now understand your worry about this place.” His gaze followed an intact gangplank down to the harbour floor where a virtual army of ghouls aimlessly milled about.
“Goddesses, there is a lot.” Clockwork sighed. “They’d tear us apart in seconds. I think we should find another way around closer to the freight harbour section.”
Just as the pair turned, there was a loud ping followed by a heavy crash. The two turned again to see what had happened, and they could see that the aft mast was leaning more to starboard, and a cloud of dust had billowed up from the port side deck.
“What was that?” Clockwork asked.
“The mast is collapsing,” Unit-02 stated as he analysed the failing mast supports. “It’s about to fall. There is too much strain on the rigging.”
Suddenly, there were a couple more pings followed by crashes as the support cables shot down to the deck, decapitating one poor unlucky ghoul, and then the near one-hundred-foot-long metal mast tumbled down over the starboard side. The mast cleaved through the roof of the storage warehouse beside it and came to rest horizontally on the roof of a smaller building beneath it.
“Shit, we’re gonna need to be stealthy as fuck now,” Clockwork groaned. The ghouls had now went from mindless shuffling to a complete frenzy.
The two quietly hurried away from the gate and began to make their way around the fence. They avoided the main gate, as more ghouls were moving around it, and continued to follow the fencing until they arrived at the freight section of the harbour. Here they had huge hulking wrecks in their berths under giant cargo cranes, masses of containers with undistributed goods stacked in huge blocks, and several large warehouses. One such warehouse bore the insignia of Starlight Industries.
“There it is,” Clockwork pointed out.
Unit-02 nodded as he approached a hole in the fence and used his mechanical strength to tear the fencing apart, making it big enough for the two of them to get through. Once inside, the two began moving cautiously towards the warehouse. They had to take cover several times as movement and growls alerted them to some ghouls roaming about. Eventually, the two made it to their destination and quickly got inside.
Clockwork stood behind Unit-02 after the door closed behind them. The machine slowly turned his head as he scanned the warehouse interior for any potential threats.
“All clear.” Unit-02 walked towards a collection of crates and steel containers.
“How are we supposed to find the way into this upgrade station?” Clockwork asked as she kept pace with the robot.
“It is hidden, but I’m following a locator beacon.”
Clockwork followed behind as he passed the crates and began moving around the stacks of containers. He soon stopped by a rusty blue container that was marked ‘USD-05’ on the doors.
“This is it.” He opened the doors. Inside there was nothing, but a small collection of wooden boxes stacked up towards the back.
“Um, it looks empty,” Clockwork said in confusion.
Unit-02 entered the container and approached the crates. He looked them over for a moment before pressing a metal hoof down on a corner box that was sticking out a little. The small wooden box’s lid compressed until a click was heard; then the crates began to rearrange themselves so that there was an opening in the middle of them. Said opening revealed a staircase going down to a sealed vault-like door.
“I stand corrected. Oh wow, this is exciting!” The young mare squealed in anticipation.
The two walked down the stairs, but Clockwork was suddenly startled when the boxes above closed to hide the staircase. She calmed down momentarily and looked at the huge door that was now illuminated in an aqua-blue light from a pair of lamps in the corners.
“Um, how do we open it? I don’t see a console or a door handle?” She asked.
Unit-02 looked to the right side of the door and pressed at the concrete wall. It indented, and a panel slid down to reveal a console with a sizeable hole in it.
“Proper identification is required.” A synthetic male voice suddenly spoke in a calm tone, startling Clockwork again.
“Goddesses above, that scared me!”
The voice repeated.
“Proper identification?” asked Clockwork with a raised brow before examining the console. The only thing on it that seemed to have any sort of relative function was the hole. A glowing hoof print could be seen inside at the bottom. “Huh, weird way to make a button.” She reached in with a foreleg. Her leg sank deep into the hole past her elbow before her hoof touched the pressure pad at the bottom. Clockwork then suddenly gasped in alarm as two padded plates clamped against her leg inside, holding her limb in place.
“What’s wrong?” Unit-02 asked calmly.
“It’s got me! I can’t pull my leg…OW!” She shrieked as she felt something prick her hoof. Just a moment afterwards, her leg was released, and she wasted no time in pulling out. “Son of a bitch, it stung me!”
“Proper identification acquired. Welcome to Upgrade Station Delta, Doctor Turner.”
“Who the fuck is Doctor Turner?”
“Possibly an ancestor of yours,” replied Unit-02 as the large door slowly opened.
“That was a bio-metric lock. If it opened for you, then your DNA resembles somepony registered in the system.”
“So that was what that prick was? It took a blood sample?”
“Yes.” Once the door was fully opened, they both entered the pristine facility.
“Oh my gosh, this place looks amazing! Everything is undisturbed and clean. I can soooo make a fortune in selling shit from this place.” The mare spoke giddily as she took in the clean interior and all the equipment just waiting to be used.
Soon, Clockwork was started again by the facility’s automated alert system.
“Warning. Unable to connect with Production Facility. Attempting to reconnect…”
“Goddesses above, don’t do that!” Clockwork whined.
“Error. Unable to connect with Production Facility. Connection lost… Attempting to reroute…”
“What’s going on?”
“Error. Production Facility signal lost. Alternative connection with Unit-1000 established.”
“If the facility cannot connect with the Production Facility, then that means one of two things,” said Unit-02.
“Either the facility is offline, or the facility has been destroyed.”
“Chances are its destroyed. A lot of shit goes boom around here if it causes ponies trouble.”
“However, we do not need a connection to the facility to do what we came here for.” Unit-02 approached a large centre console. A cable snaked its way out from the base of his endoskull, freaking Clockwork out, and connected with the console.
“Access granted, Unit-02… Compatible Infiltrator detected… Flesh Binding Spell Matrix supplied via Unit-1000 data stream… System repair and flesh binding selected… Please enter available upgrade station.”
Clockwork watched in wide-eyed fascination as the large screen before her flashed on, displaying the data that was mentioned over the speaker system, as well as a profile of the pony that Unit-02 had selected for a genetic template.
“What in the what now?” The cable snaked back into his endoskull, which made her shiver in revulsion.
Unit-02 blinked as he returned to his senses. “Oh, it would seem Unit-1000 is wirelessly streaming data from Upgrade Station Alpha. It contains the spell matrix for a flesh binding agent that will allow organic tissue to be bonded to my endoskeleton.”
“I’m a mechanic, not a biologist or mage,” Clockwork deadpanned in lack of understanding.
“It means I will look like that once its complete,” He said as he pointed at the screen with his tail. He then walked over to one of several large pod-like structures that formed a semi-circle on the facility’s main floor. He stepped into an open pod, and once he was fully inside, the doors closed behind him.
Clockwork suddenly felt vulnerable. She didn’t understand this place yet, and she was scared to be alone here, despite her excitement over the advanced technology all around her. She looked up at the screen as a progress bar appeared in a small window to the side marked with Unit-02’s mechanical identification and stated what was happening. First, it stripped his body down; removing the damaged parts, even those that were repaired enough to function. Second, it rebuilt the body with fresh parts to make him fully functional again. Third, he was infused with the magic of the pony selected, which was nothing too noteworthy apart from the pony being an Earth Pony renowned for his impressive Earth Pony strength. However, upon the final stage, something went wrong.
“Error. Connection lost. Data stream interrupted. Flesh binding stopped.”
“Huh!?” Clockwork cried out. “What does that mean?”
Not long after, the upgrade pod opened, and Buckshot walked out. From what Clockwork could see, a beige Earth Pony with a brown tail and a Mohican-style brown mane was what came out. That was, however, until he turned to look at her, and she squeaked in surprise as most of the left side of his face still showed his endoskull, with flesh formed around his muzzle and lower jaw.
“Um, it didn’t finish,” She said with a cringe. Despite having seen him for so long as a robotic skeleton, something about the endoskull showing through a hole in his flesh creeped her out.
“Yes, it would seem so,” replied Buckshot with a sigh. His voice sounded cleaner and less electronic.
“It would seem the connection was lost. Since it was Upgrade Station Alpha that was broadcasting it, then that means either Unit-1000 has left the building, or the facility is gone now too. Either way, it stopped transmitting the spell, therefore this facility couldn’t continue applying flesh via the nanolith.”
“Yeah, you have a sizeable hole in your face now. I can see your robotic skull and into your mouth.”
“Eh, guess I’m gonna have to wear something to cover my face then.”
“Wait, this place has a workshop, right? I can fashion you something and… you sound different.”
“Ah, yeah. My voice was a little off after what happened to me. It’s just been restored.”
“Huh. I like it.” The mare smiled, then hurried off.
Buckshot smiled at her enthusiasm, but then cringed. The flesh around the unformed section of his face moved slightly; and the feeling of flesh rubbing against his endoskull transmitted an uncomfortable feeling to his electronic brain. He was going to have to get used to that, along with all the other feelings his new flesh and fur would give him. He knew that was going to be quite the experience from now on.
While Clockwork rushed off to find a workshop, Buckshot began roaming around the facility. He was in no rush to leave, nor did he have any desire to leave the young mare behind, for he valued her abilities after she helped repair him. His memory was still fragmented, but it was now more of a haze than inaccessible data. He realised that this meant he’d eventually get his memories back, most likely over time as it pieced itself back together. Even so, there was a niggling in his head. A thought, a memory, something that wanted to be remembered, but he couldn’t. He did know, however, that whatever it was, it was important to him.
Buckshot came to a door that was marked ‘Residential’, and when it opened, it revealed a short corridor with four separate doors to what appeared to be the facility’s accommodation suites. Curious, he began to explore the rooms. The first couple were empty and showed no signs of being used; but when he entered the third, he found a duffle bag on the bed that had half of its contents strewn out. It looked like whoever it belonged to was in the process of unpacking before leaving in a hurry.
Buckshot tilted his head slightly. He peered into the bag, finding mostly clothes that were almost perfectly preserved. He pulled out a black trench coat with long tails that would drape over the rump and flanks, which he figured would work well in concealing weapons.
“Hmm. This looks good. What else is in here?”
He then pulled out a plain white shirt, a pair of black trousers and a pair of black combat boots. The rest of the bag contained some utensils and a travel med kit. He liked what he’d found so far, but he felt like checking the room’s wardrobe to see if there were more clothes, or even a uniform. In there, he found a couple of lab coats hanging inside and a door mirror.
He decided to try the clothes on for the sake of disguising himself as per his initial programming (but he didn’t quite fancy wearing a lab coat). The pants and boots fit well but the shirt felt a little snug. The trench coat fit as well as he had hoped, and upon looking over at his back, he could confirm that it would be able to hide a holstered weapon underneath. As he checked himself in the mirror, he couldn’t help cracking a smile.
“Heh. All I need now is a pair of sunglasses and it’ll be a perfect tough guy look.” His smile quickly faded as his gaze focused on the hole in his face, where he could still see his endoskull and glowing red eye. “A good look can easily be ruined by something like that.”
His newly formed right ear twitched as he picked up the echoing sound of metal striking metal. This brought his smile back, for he knew this meant that his new friend found a workshop and had got to work. Satisfied, he returned to the main console to download any useful data and see if there were any other units or facilities online, which he found was a negative.
Buckshot found himself getting bored as the sounds of metal work continued. He had explored the entirety of the facility and didn’t find anything else of value. He had stayed away from the workshop as he didn’t want to disturb Clockwork as she worked, but after the fourth hour his patience was wearing thin.
He let out a sigh and turned to head for the workshop, just as the door opened and a rather sweat-drenched and dirty Clockwork stepped out.
“Phew! I don’t know what metal they had in there, but it was hard to work with. But I did it! C’mon, let’s see how it fits!”
Buckshot followed her into the workshop. There were several broken tools and blow torches, all strewn around a well-crafted half-face mask. The mask was made from several layers, each layer forming more of its shape. The area that covered the missing ear had several lines cut into it with a mesh grate inside to allow sound to pass through. The young mare excitedly picked up the metal mask and, balancing on her hind legs, lifted it up to her friend’s face. The mask settled on his face and covered the hole nicely.
“Oh yeah. That’ll look good on you, especially in that get up.” Clockwork happily clapped her forehooves before quickly catching the mask as it slipped off his head. “Heh. Gonna need to make some straps or something for it.”
“You did a good job. It looks great. Hmm. I’ll need a cover story as to why I’m wearing it.”
“Oh, that’s easy. You could say you got a horrible burn or something. I’ve seen several ponies like that wear eye patches, masks and what not after getting burned.”
“Burned, huh. Thank you,” said Buckshot as an idea came to mind.
“Huh, what?” Clockwork asked in confusion, only to see him approach a gas tap on a nearby workbench. “Um, what are you doing?”
“Looking the part.” He turned one of the gas taps on. The cyber stallion then picked up two pieces of scrap metal and struck them hard together in the flow of gas. As the two pieces of metal struck, it released a spark that ignited the gas, creating a flamethrower. Buckshot watched the jet of flame for a moment, and then turned up the gas a little to make its flame as big as possible. Then, to the horror of Clockwork, he put the left side of his head into the fire.
“Are you fucking crazy!? Get your head out of that! Oh goddesses, I can hear it sizzling!”
Buckshot instantly felt a very unsavoury feeling as he torched the side of his face. The sensation was the worst thing he had ever felt up until that point, and the longer it went on, the worse it got. Eventually, when he felt his flesh had been well torched, he pulled his head back, took the mask and pressed it onto the burned flesh. He released a hiss, the touch of the mask against his burn being very unpleasant. It eventually dulled, however, almost becoming soothing due to the cool metal. When he pulled his hoof away this time, the mask stayed in place, the burned flesh making it stick. He felt a warmth in his chest as his newly installed regeneration talisman began to heal the damaged flesh. Once that was finished, the mask was fused to his face, the flesh around the mask now bald and warped.
“You are fucking crazy,” Clockwork gagged.
“Sorry, it… was a spur of the moment thing.”
“Yeah, don’t do that shit again.” The mare sniffed and gagged again. “Eww, burnt flesh reeks!”
“Don’t worry. I won’t do that again. It was really unpleasant. I think it hurt me.” He felt slightly unsure about that, what with getting used to the new feelings of having flesh.
“Well, no shit it hurt! Being burned is like one of the worst things anypony can feel!”
Buckshot apologised again, and the two left the workshop. Once outside, Clockwork took some deep breaths of untainted air to clear the smell of burnt flesh from her nose. The remainder of their time in Upgrade Station Delta was of Clockwork taking materials and scrap. Buckshot had convinced her not to pull any of the systems apart and only take redundant material, as the facility would likely be needed for possible future repairs.
“So, what will you do now, Buckshot?” asked Clockwork.
“I don’t know. My memory may have been repaired, but it’s still fragmented. It’ll take time for my memory to be fully restored.” He looked down at the small mare, her saddlebags bulging with her newfound scrap. “Could I stay with you until my memory is back, if that’s okay?”
“Um, sure. I would like that, actually. It does get kinda lonely out here all alone, so I could really use the company.” She smiled brightly.
With that settled, the two headed off back into the ruined city.
As the days turned into weeks and into months, Clockwork and Buckshot managed to get a place in Tenpony Tower. The tower allowed her entry after she was praised by DJ-PON3 for fixing some of his equipment and that he’d be happy for her services again in the future. Buckshot decided to give being a mercenary a try after it was recommended to him by Clockwork, since his mechanical durability and strength would be a good asset in that line of work. Plus, it would bring in some good money.
Buckshot as a mercenary was a deadly and ruthless pony. If his job were to take somepony out, he performed it with such brutality that he quickly became known and feared by the type of ponies he went after. He became known to the wasteland as ‘The Masked Merc’ thanks to DJ-PON3’s reports.
Clockwork noticed how he became more equine as time went on; how he walked, talked, and spoke. He soon became a pony that didn’t care about how other ponies thought about him and acted in such a manner. If he were given a task to do and didn’t like or care about the one who gave it to him, he would perform it half-heartedly and complete it to its most minimum criteria. But if he liked and respected the one that gave him such, he would do it to the best of his abilities. He also became somewhat protective of Clockwork, like he was a bigger brother looking out for his younger sister. When she asked him about it, he would reply by saying that he felt compelled to protect her but didn’t know why.
Despite everything, his memory was slowly piecing itself back together. After several weeks he remembered that he had a sister but was initially confused because the memory conflicted with other memories where he was mechanical around the same time. Soon after, he remembered that he copied the mind and memories of a Gunner Mercenary back in the Marejave before going out to do a mission. He also remembered who had given him and his sister the mission and that they both followed their target to Manehattan. After a year he remembered everything apart from what happened after he and his sister entered the Impact Crater in pursuit of their target. He wanted to remember badly, but he found that the memory was always out of reach, like it was something he didn’t want to remember.
Four Years After the Destruction of the Production Facility.
Buckshot, along with a Tenpony Salvage Squad, were running for their lives back to the tower as a new wasteland monster gave chase.
“Don’t look back! Run! Just run!” yelled the team leader as he ran at the back of the pack. The group was running so hard and fast that their packs bounced and clattered and some of their items fell out, but no pony cared when a monster was chasing them.
During their expedition to recover more items to restock the tower, they had disturbed a monster that had grown in wasteland infamy over the last few years for its hunting and deadly attributes. They called it the Pulmonis for its amazing jumping ability. One member of the group had already fallen at its claws.
“Once we get back to the tower, find cover and let the guards take care of it!”
“Not if it gets us first!” A young mare shrieked in terror.
Her brother tried to reassure her. “It’s not gonna get us, sis!”
Buckshot found himself focusing on the brother and sister in front of him. He felt a compulsion to keep himself between them and the monster as they fled. He would even use his tail to hold and fire a sawed-off lever-action shotgun, but the buckshot was too weak to penetrate the creature’s hardened scales.
Just as the group reached the station, the Pulmonis crashed down in between them. The sister and brother managed to jump onto the station platform, but the group leader and Buckshot were not so lucky. The creature swiped out with its thick tail, smacking away the leader who unfortunately bounced, tumbled, and fell off the edge of the raised railway to his death. The creature rounded on Buckshot and tackled the masked pony to the ground.
“You ugly fuck! I’m not your lunch!” He growled as he shoved one hoof against the upper jaw and the other pressed against its chest to keep it from biting down on his head. He gritted his teeth as the creature’s multiple tongues flicked out and its split jaw chewed on the hoof in its jaw.
The creature suddenly grunted as something smacked it on the side of the head. The distraction was enough for Buckshot to heave the monster off him with his mechanical strength. The Pulmonis slid across the floor until it kicked out with its huge powerful hindlegs to right itself. It roared angrily, its split jaw opening wide while its multiple tongue lashed out in animalistic anger. Buckshot moved again to put himself between the monster and the two young ponies.
“Get inside, now!” He yelled.
“You heard him sis, c’mon!”
“We can’t just leave him out here! That thing killed our boss!”
“Leave it to him and the guards!”
Two ponies in tan-coloured combat armour rushed to the platform edge, each holding a long-range scoped rifle in their magic. The monster responded to the growing threat by raising up its thick tail and fanning out the barbed end. Buckshot raised his non-masked eyebrow as he wondered what the creature was doing, but quickly became alarmed as his threat indicator flashed in his HUD. It was then that the creature whipped its tail, and several sharp barbs came hurtling towards them. The two guard ponies were impaled fatally, and Buckshot took a bard to his shoulder.
“Son of a bitch.” He grunted in pain. Even after four years, pain was still something he hadn’t gotten used to (but at least it meant he could still feel something). He gritted his teeth while he used his nano-fibre tail to grab the barb and yank it out of his shoulder. “Fuck, that hurt!” He then noticed the wound and the hole in his trench coat. “Clockwork is gonna be mad at me for this.”
The creature roared, slamming its tail into the railway sleepers, and smashing the ground with its fore legs in a show of aggression. Buckshot turned to face it, his face now serious and his one eye taking on a crimson glow in his pupil.
“Alright. No more mister nice pony.” He used his tail to throw up the bottom end of his coat, exposing a combat shotgun battlesaddle to extend it out to its deployed state, ready for action.
The Pulmonis growled before whipping its tail out again, sending more barbs towards him. Buckshot dove to the side and fired a slug from his battlesaddle. The creature grunted in slight pain as large pieces of lead smacked into its thick hide. It realised that he was a strong threat, so it focused on the weak: the two siblings freaking out in helplessness on the platform. With a powerful slam of its tail into the ground, the creature launched itself into the air with its powerful hindlegs, jumping higher than Buckshot had expected and crashing down onto the platform behind the young pair. They shrieked in fear as it rounded on them, swinging its tail out to swipe at them. Buckshot swiftly jumped onto the platform, caught the tail before it could hit the two and grappled with it to protect them.
“Ugh! Run! Now!” The monster shrieked in rage and pain from both the pressure on its tail and being denied its meal. It turned to face them; its four eyes focused on the petrified siblings. It growled and fanned out its tail tip, the barbs cutting into Buckshot’s right cheek and neck, which made him yell in pain and let go of the tail. Seizing its opportunity, the monster bashed Buckshot aside, sending the cyber-pony tumbling over. The colt squeaked in surprise as he found himself caught in a tangle of limbs with Buckshot, but then let out a cry of fear as the monster rounded on the now isolated filly.
Buckshot got to his hooves upon hearing the filly’s screams. A sudden feeling of dread, fear, failure, and anger towards himself filled his head; a feeling he got every time he tried to remember his sister. The flood of emotion made him pause, and that pause was all it took. The monster pounced onto the filly, pinning her beneath it as it roared into her face.
“No, No, NO!” Buckshot charged toward the creature.
Unfortunately, it was too late. The Pulmonis’s split jaw opened and the multitude of tongues lashed out, wrapping around the struggling filly’s head, and with a violent shake of its own head, wrenched her head clean off her body and crushed it in its jaws to swallow. Buckshot screamed in rage as the creature stabbed the headless body with its tail and then jumped away while Buckshot chased after it, firing his shotgun until it disappeared into the ruins. He felt a familiar rage boil within him, a rage borne of loss, pain, and anger towards himself. And like a dam bursting, his memory of what happened in the Manehattan Crater returned. Now he knew why he felt so angry: he failed to save his own sister when a power armoured pony self-destructed his armour.
Afterward, Clockwork found her friend down in one of the tower’s guard training rooms, demolishing the place. She watched in shock and confusion as the cyber-pony smashed training dummies, benches, weapon racks and even the wall in a display of raw anger. Clockwork rushed over to him and got in front of him to stop him.
“Whoa, big guy, what’s the matter?” She asked, putting her forehooves onto his chest. “I’ve never seen you this angry.”
“I failed again,” He angrily replied.
“Yes, I failed to save that kid’s sister like I failed to save my own.” He growled, punching the floor with a hoof and creating a sizable indentation.
“Wait… does that mean you finally remember?”
Buckshot sighed and sat down, the anger draining away to give way to sorrow. “Yes. I could have saved her, but I acted too late.”
“You remember what I told you, about following our target to the Impact Crater?”
Clockwork nodded as she sat down and swivelled her ears to give him her full attention.
“We tracked her to a place called Paradigm Cybernetics and finally cornered her. Little did we know she had a power-armoured escort. We took him out first to remove the threat, or rather we thought we did. When we had our target in sight, that very pony jumped us from behind and got us in a body lock. We couldn’t free ourselves, and while we were trapped our target escaped, and he triggered his armour’s self-destruct. I struggled to free myself longer than I should have, and by the time I finally got around to using my shotgun and sever his foreleg, it was too late. He detonated just moments later… I was flung across the room, so I didn’t take the full force of the blast, but my sister did…” He paused, letting out a sad sigh, his one eye shimmering with tears ready to fall. “When I woke up, I found what was left of my sister in a small crater. There was nothing I could have done to save her. She died… because I didn’t act fast enough.”
“Oh Buckshot, I’m so sorry. I… I know how you feel. Really, I do,” Clockwork said sadly.
“Yeah. When I was just a little filly, a group of Raiders attacked my family in our own home. My mother hid me so I wouldn’t be found, but I could hear it all. My father and older brother fought hard and my mother did everything she could to lead them away from where she hid me. My dad and brother died at their hooves, and I think they took my mum, since I never found her body.” The young mare sighed and shook her head. “…I hated myself for a long while after that.” She looked up at him with serious eyes. “Now, I bet you want revenge on this pony you were chasing, right?”
Buckshot met her gaze and nodded. “I do. She took my sister from me, and now I want to kill her for it.”
“Well, I’m not letting you go alone.” She quickly held up a hoof to stop him from refusing her company. “You’re my friend. I care about you and I don’t want to see you get hurt, so I’m coming with you and I’ll help where I can.”
After living with her for four years, he knew he couldn’t change her mind, so he nodded in agreement.
“So, where do we start?” She asked as she began tending to his wounded shoulder. She could see a little of his endoskeleton inside the wound, reminding her that he was a machine, though it was hard to tell these days with how equine he was.
Buckshot grunted and gritted his teeth all the while, especially when the stitching started. “Ow-she was looking for information on Project Infiltrator. She was going to our creator’s home, but that would lead her back to the-Ow-back to the Marejave and the Production Facility. Her original home was in the Marejave, so that’s where we need to go.”
Clockwork bit the thread to snap it off, finishing the stitches. “There. Well, in that case, we better head to the train station. The train will arrive in the next couple of days.”
With a plan in mind, the robot and the young mare prepared for a trip to the Marejave desert, so that Buckshot, Unit-02, could finally get his revenge for his fallen sister.
5 Years before the Bombs Fell Stable-Tec Head Office
Three adult mares of the three pony tribes sat around a large wooden, round table with a pull up projector screen set up across from it. The screen showed a projection of the Stable-Tec logo that flickered every so often. The three mares looked between each other before an orange pegasus mare dressed in a black suit stood up and looked towards her yellow and red earth pony colleague.
“Ok Bloom, what’s the meaning of this?” She asked with a frustrated sigh. The projection flashed to reveal a building plan of a Stable.
Apple Bloom stood up and placed her forehooves on the table. “I suppose you’re talking about the new stables I’ve had authorised and commissioned?”
The pearly white unicorn mare, with a long luscious two-tone purple and pink mane, nodded gently. “That’s right, Bloom. The acquisition of so much material will make it difficult for the nation to avoid suspicion. Luna may have approved our Stable project, but if ponies see these large quantities of materials and construction equipment going to one place all of a sudden, it could cause unnecessary panic.”
“She’s right, Bloom. We’re trying to build the Stables as discretely as possible to avoid such things, but this will not go unnoticed, and that will slow down our current Stable constructions,” added Scootaloo.
“Listen girls, our current Stable Project will have over a hundred Stables operational by the predicted time things are supposed to reach boiling point with those Zebra varmints; but Ah can’t help but think that we won’t save enough ponies. That is why I put into motion the Super Stable Project.”
Both Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo blinked in confusion.
“Wait, another Stable Project? But Apple Bloom, we already have a Stable Project underway with a projection of at least two hundred Stables in the next few years-” said Scootaloo, only to be cut off by Apple Bloom.
“Yeah, but how many can our current Stable’s occupy? Hm?”
“Around one to two hundred per Stable, why?” asked Sweetie Belle curiously.
“With the current projections, that’s like…” Bloom paused for a moment to run the math. “That’s around thirty thousand ponies, give or take a few spread out between the projected number of Stables. Now, what I’m envisioning here with the Super Stables are much, much bigger.”
“Bigger? How many ponies are you expecting to house with these Super Stables?” Scootaloo asked.
“If everything goes accordingly, or we get enough built, around a thousand ponies per Stable.”
“A THOUSAND!” Both mares exclaimed in shock.
“Do you have any idea how hard it will be for such things to not be noticed?” Scootaloo shrieked.
“Don’t worry. Ah know they’ll be huge, so Ah’ve only commissioned the construction of twenty-five of these, and each one is to be built in the centre of twenty-five major population centres.”
“Twenty-five… How do you even hope to get them built under the cities?”
“Don’t worry about that. The method has been working well so far for Super Stable 24 under Las Pegasus.”
“Hold on, you already have one in construction?”
Apple Bloom nodded with a proud smile. “Ah do, and if everything goes right, it’ll be complete within three to four years’ time.”
The two other mares shook their heads before their discussion moved onto other Stable-Tec matters.
195 Years after the bombs fell; 5 Years after the destruction of the Production Facility. New Pegasus: Underground
“Well, I’ll be. That old codger wasn’t spouting bollocks after all!” Fruity, a purple pegasus stallion with a messy fuchsia mane, stood side-by-side with his family before a huge steel cog door.
“To be fair, he wasn’t legless, like he usually is.” Said Crystal Èclair, a grey-striped pegasus-zebra with a long grey-and-white mane in a ponytail, tilted her head slightly as she gazed at the centre of the door with intrigue.
“What does S24 mean, mum?” asked Xian, a teenage, black-striped zebra with a long, wavy, black-and-white mane.
Crystal put a forehoof to her chin “Hmm…” She hummed to herself before her eyes widened in recognition. “Wait, could this be one of them?”
“One of what, mother?”
“A Super Stable.”
“The hell is a Super Stable?” asked Fruity.
“A Super Stable is a high-capacity Stable that is separate from the other Stable Project,” Stated Nexus, a robotic pony.
“And how the hay do you know?”
“Because the Ministry of Awesome,” Crystal surmised in a flat tone. “Right?”
“Ok, so, what are they exactly?”
“Hmm. From what I remember reading in a Stable-Tec newsletter, they are, as Nexus said, high-capacity Stables; and there were going to be twenty-five of them.”
“Define ‘high capacity’?”
“One thousand plus.”
“Holy brahmin, that makes these things sound like huge underground cities!” exclaimed Xian.
“I can confirm with ma’am. If records are correct, this is the only completed example.”
“Cool. Well, are we gonna stand out here all day or are we gonna see what’s inside?” Fruity asked in slight apprehension as memories of their excursion to Stable 16 surfaced.
The memories must have shown on Crystal’s face as well, for she was also hesitant to approach the door controls. “We… we better make sure it isn’t dangerous,” With a deep breath, she approached the door’s console. “Huh, this Stable requires a key.”
“A key? We didn’t need one for 16 and it was just a lever switch. What makes this different?” Fruity asked.
“I dunno, but you can only access this console if you have the right key.”
“So that’s it then. What now?”
Crystal gave her husband a flat look and raised her foreleg with the Pipbuck strapped around it above the hoof.
“Wait, that’s the key?”
Crystal nodded as she tugged a small, white node from the back of the Pipbuck off and connected it with the console’s external port. A security cover over the door release button flipped up to give Crystal access. With it open, she hit the big red button. As she reconnected her node, the giant steel cog door made a teeth-clenching metallic screech as it pulled back and rolled to the side.
“Ugh, I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that noise,” Fruity groaned, rubbing his ear.
“You said it, Dad.” Xian whined as she too rubbed at her ears.
Inside, a portion of the wall in the raised ceiling was painted in warm colours and displayed the words: ‘Welcome to Super Stable 24.’
Nexus walked in first with his Riot Shotgun held in his nano-fibre tail and at the ready. He walked across the metal bridge and stopped in the middle of the entrance. A moment later, he looked back and beckoned his companions inside. “All clear.”
The family soon followed their robotic butler into the Stable’s entrance. As they passed the threshold, they noticed that the Stable was slightly decayed. There were light patches of rust on metal surfaces and marks of grime on the walls. Fortunately, it was only a light dusting or in small patches, for the most part.
“Huh. I kinda expected this place to look as bad as 16 did.” said Fruity.
In front of the group were two doors; the door on the left was marked ‘Authorised Personnel Only’ and was locked, while the one on the right was open with windows lined along the right-side wall. To their right, a third door was marked as ‘Security.’
“We’re gonna need to check to see if this place was supposed to have an experiment. That means we need to find the Overmare’s Office,” said Crystal as she began to head for the open door on the right.
“For your information, ma’am, the office is on the Entrance Level beyond the door, down the hall, around the central shaft, down another corridor and it’ll be at the end,” Nexus informed.
“And you know this how?” Fruity asked, sceptically.
“I have the local map on my HUD, sir.”
“Of course, you do…” Fruity sighed with a roll of his eyes.
Crystal chuckled softly. Five years, and the two still got into verbal spats. “Hehe, he’s right honey.”
“What experiment could they run here?” Xian asked innocently.
“Nothing good, I’m afraid. We should’ve told you about 16.”
Xian blinked. “I, um, heard you talk about it to other ponies and you did look upset about it … What happened there?”
Fruity sighed. “We went there to take care of a bounty. Ended up in a battle for our lives because the place was full of insane lunatics; but more importantly, the Stable’s air filtration system was designed to pump some kind of psycho-active drug into the air.”
“Wait, you were being drugged by the air?”
“That’s right,” said Crystal. “Ugh, soon enough we began to hallucinate things that played on our fears.”
“Yeah, it was terrible. The longer we were in there, the worse they got,” said Fruity.
Fruity draped a wing over his wife, and she responded by nuzzling his cheek along his muzzle as they walked up the corridor to the central shaft.
“I… I hope its safe in here,” Xian whimpered, hurrying up to walk beside her foster parents.
“For the moment, the air is clean. Old, but clean,” Nexus said to lighten the mood.
“We’ll be sure once we see the mission objective.”
Nexus nodded. The group then entered a T-junction, with doors for elevators straight ahead and two corridors branching off to corners on either side. This, they deduced, formed the hallway that encapsulated the central shaft.
The group came upon the Overmare’s Office after walking around the central shaft and up the opposite corridor. To their surprise, the door was wide open, but there didn’t seem to be any sign of damage or forced entry. A bank of terminals was stationed against the backwall and behind the large horseshoe-shaped desk, all of which were dark. On the left wall, they could see several shelving units with ornaments and other knickknacks, and on the right wall was a large map of the Stable and a door marked ‘Living Quarters’.
“This place looks f-ing huge,” Fruity said as he stepped up to the large map and took in the multiple levels.
“To hold a thousand or so ponies, I’m not surprised,” Crystal agreed. She sat in the Overmare’s chair and booted up the desk terminal. “Hmm, it’s not locked.”
“Is that good?” Xian asked as she stepped up behind her mother and peered over her shoulder.
“It could be.” Crystal began looking at the data entries. “Hmm, from some diary entries here, this place doesn’t sound like it had any experimental objectives. Now, where is the mission brief?” She eventually found a folder marked ‘Stable-Tec Directive’, which she quickly opened to find one entry: the mission statement. She opened it up and began to read. Then, she sighed with relief.
“Is it good?” Xian asked with a hint of fear.
“Yes darling, this place is safe.”
“Oh good. I didn’t want to run into another ‘Auntie Glimmer’ scenario again,” said Fruity with a shudder.
“You and me both, Fruity.”
“Who’s Auntie Glimmer?” asked Xian confusedly.
“Err, best you don’t know that, sweetie.”
“Ok. So, what’s the deal with this place?”
“This Stable was made as it was intended. It was to hold as many ponies that could make it from Las Pegasus during the evacuation and stay closed for twenty years. However, based on these diary entries, there was an error in the system which delayed the opening, so it didn’t open until ten years after it was supposed to.”
“So that’s it? Everypony just left when the door was released?”
“Mostly. Again, from the entries, nopony wanted to leave until they knew it was safe; but even then, it took five years before everypony left.”
“So, we have a safe and empty Stable to explore then?” asked Fruity.
“It would seem that way, yeah.”
Nexus nodded and holstered his shotgun onto his back.
“Ok then. Where should we start?”
“Hmm. I think we should start from the bottom and work our way back up,” Crystal suggested.
“Sounds like a sound plan to me,” Agreed Fruity.
With that, they returned to the central shaft. They walked around until they found a utility elevator that would run the full depth of the Stable. Once they found one, Fruity pressed the call button and the up arrow lit up, followed by a whirring sound that signalled the lift was on its way up.
“This could take a while.” He groaned as he took note of the rolling numbers displayed beside the arrow.
“Well, this is a big place after all,” Crystal added.
“So, how should we go about covering this place?”
“Well, since we don’t seem to be in any danger, we could split up and take half of each floor as we go.”
“Fruity, you go with Nexus, and I’ll go with Xian.” Crystal’s suggestion got a smile from the young Xian.
Fruity nodded and looked over to their robot butler. “Well Nex, it’ll be just you and me for a while.”
“Excellent, sir. Maybe I will have better luck in keeping you out of trouble,” said Nexus in a pleased tone.
Crystal smiled fondly. She was glad Fruity didn’t dislike their mechanical friend anymore, now referring to him by his name or a friendly nickname.
“’Bout fucking time!” said Fruity in frustration after ten minutes of waiting for the elevator, only to get a hoof to slap him upside the head.
“Language, sir. You are in the presence of the young lady,” Nexus reprimanded.
“Ow! Damn, sorry.” He turned to Nexus. “And who said you could slap me?”
“I did,” Crystal said with a chuckle as she entered the spacious lift, her husband following close behind.
“But why? That really hurt.”
“So he can keep you in check. Xian doesn’t need to hear that language.”
“Muuuum!” The young zebra whined.
“Yeah Crys, she ain’t a foal anymore.”
“Still doesn’t mean you can be vulgar in front of her. Besides, she’ll always be my little foal.”
Once inside, the elevator let out an ominous creak from the combined weight of two robotic ponies, along with the pegasus and zebra filly. Nexus pressed the button to take them down to the bottom floor, and with a shudder, the utility elevator began its long and slow descent.
Five minutes later, Crystal and Nexus both looked up at the ceiling simultaneously. The longer Crystal stared, the more her face contorted with worry.
“What is it?” Fruity asked.
“Something’s wrong.” Just as she said that, the lift began to jerk up and down.
“Whoa! Mum, what’s going on?” asked Xian in alarm.
“I don’t know, honey.”
A few seconds passed, and then there was a distant boom. Soon, the elevator began to free fall.
Fruity and Xian both became airborne before hitting the ceiling. Fruity ended up beside the roof hatch while Xian screamed in terror. Their impact knocked open the small ceiling hatch, allowing the group to see up into the elevator shaft. Crystal gasped in alarm as what she saw was the cause for her HUD’s alarm: the elevator motor at the top had broken loose and was tumbling down the shaft after them.
Suddenly, the lift screeched and whined as the emergency brakes activated, causing the lift to slow down.
“Eek!” Xian cried as she found herself falling to the floor, but thankfully, Crystal put herself underneath her so that she landed safely on her mother’s back. Nexus did the same for Fruity, but since he was made of metal, it wasn’t a soft landing for him.
The lift eventually screeched to a stop close to the bottom, but between floors.
“This is bad! If we don’t get out of here, we’re gonna get crushed!” said Crystal urgently.
“Nexus grab the door!” yelled Fruity as he jumped off Nexus’s back and headed for the door, digging his hooves into the groove to pry it open. Nexus quickly joined him, and with his mechanical strength, the door began to give way. The door screeched open to reveal another closed door halfway up a solid concrete wall.
“Shit… quickly!” Fruity and Nexus grabbed what they could of the next door to pull it open as well.
“H-hurry!” cried Crystal as the falling motor was getting closer and closer, banging and bouncing off the metal guide rails and support structure while the heavy steel cables coiled underneath.
With a primal yell, the two forced the second door open. Nexus jumped up through the small hole first, and then quickly turned around to hold out his nano-fibre tail for Fruity.
“No! Crystal, you and Xian go, NOW!”
Crystal rushed up. Using her wings, she lifted Xian up for Nexus, who quickly pulled her through. Crystal then grabbed her husband and practically shoved him up through the door before quickly jumping up herself. Nexus and Fruity both grabbed her forelegs and hauled her in just as the steel cable and motor crashed into the lift and overwhelmed its brakes, sending it crashing down to the bottom with an almighty, metallic crash.
Crystal immediately hugged her terrified daughter, to which Fruity quickly joined in. Nexus stood close by, watching the scene play out before him. He learned awhile back that dealing with equine emotions was still something he needed to understand better. After a few minutes, Xian had calmed down and relaxed into her mother and father’s embrace.
“Are you ok?” asked Crystal worriedly.
“I… I am now, mother,” said Xian quietly.
“Its reasons like this that we were reluctant to bring you along in the past,” said Fruity as he nuzzled her head.
“I… understand, Dad.”
Fruity then looked at his wife with concern. “How about you Crys? You feelin’ alright?” His eyes glanced down to her middle, covered by her remade noir coat.
Crystal blinked in confusion before she looked down. She nodded and sighed in relief. “Y-yeah, we’re fine.” She gently rested a forehoof on her slightly rounded abdomen. Fruity reached around Xian to put his hoof on top of his wife’s.
After spending another minute in each other’s embrace, getting their wits back about them, the three ponies stood back up.
“Are you all ok?” asked Nexus in concern for his friends.
“We are. Thank you, Nexus.” Crystal looked around the concrete corridor they now found themselves in. “Where are we?”
Nexus’s red, glowing eyes flashed for a couple of seconds as he went over the new local map data his sensors were picking up from the surrounding area.
“We are on the maintenance level, two levels from the bottom. We will find workshops and storerooms on this level for numerous categories of Stable operation.”
“We should be able to find some gems down here then, right?” asked Crystal, to which Nexus nodded. “Good, I could do with a little recharging after that ordeal.”
“I could use a good strong drink too,” added Fruity.
“Ah, no. You promised to give up the drink if we had foals.”
“Yeah, I know, but I’m not talking about getting pissed.”
Crystal raised an eyebrow. She knew how Fruity got after just a few drinks.
“Nexus, if he finds anything alcoholic, make sure he doesn’t drink any.”
Fruity whined, and Xian giggled.
Crystal looked down at her Pipbuck and switched it over to the map screen. “Ok, Xian and I will take the left side.”
“Ok then ma’am,” said Nexus. “Sir and I will take the right.”
The two groups went on to explore what they could. What they quickly came to realise was that despite the relatively light deterioration seen on the entrance level, it was not the same for the rest of the Stable.
Crystal and Xian both found one section heavy with rust and damp, the reason being a locked door with water spraying out any non-watertight gap it could, creating a flood in the hallway. This told the two that beyond that door, the Stable had flooded and was underwater, for whatever reason.
Fruity and Nexus, however, were luckier in that the half they were exploring wasn’t flooded; just filled with rust and grime that coated the walls. Nevertheless, both parties found several workshops that still had plenty of materials and tools that were worth salvaging. They took all they could find of use, filling their bags and pockets with as much as they were willing to carry. Hayside would benefit from the things they salvaged, and the Queens would put them to good use by helping the ponies living outside the New Pegasus wall have a better quality of life.
Things got more interesting for the two parties as they moved up the lower levels.
“Food and Oxygen Production?” Fruity stood alongside Nexus in front of a door labelled as such. The local map showed that the area contained several large rooms.
“Air recycling can only do so much. I believe there is an oxygen farm in this area.”
“Hm. And I assume the food production consist of the apple orchard typically found in Stables?”
“Quite likely, sir. Possibly on a grander scale considering the size of this Stable and its intended capacity.”
Fruity nodded and walked through the door. As they moved further inside, they could smell the greenery. The air smelled like plants and flowers, but so much cleaner and pure.
“Oh wow, this smells amazing.” Fruity cooed as he took a deep breath. The grime and rust on the walls had no effect on the air’s cleanliness.
“I dare say the air quality here is better than on the surface,” said Nexus.
“Well shit, why don’t we live down here then?”
“Because you would go stir-crazy in less than a day.”
“Oh, sod off, ramrod head.”
The two came to a door that looked like it was bowing outwards. Thick roots could be seen coming out of the walls and digging into the drainage gutter running along the floor.
“What the hell is this?” asked Fruity
“I would assume this is the result of a hundred and fifty years of unmonitored growth.”
“But if nopony’s here to look after these plants, how the hell are they still alive?”
“Stables are equipped with artificial sun lamps and automatic irrigation systems. If the system is still working, then the plant life could continue to thrive, even without ponies.”
“And breaking through the wall?”
“Uncertain. However, pre-war records have some instances where tree roots have pushed up pavement or destabilised buildings due to root growth.”
“So, this is in the realms of possibility?” asked Fruity as he gestured to the crumbling wall.
“I would assume so, sir.”
“Think we can get in there?”
“Considering how the door’s condition, I would again assume the flora on the other side has put enough pressure on the door to compromise it, and in that state the door will not budge.”
“Cock…” Fruity looked over toward the end of the hall and found another sign. “Hey, what about Hydroponics?”
“Would be a good source of seeds for planting up on the surface,” said Nexus before the two headed in the sign’s direction.
The two soon came to a half-open door, with vegetation crawling out of it and filling the end of the corridor in greenery. A half-covered sign next to it labelled the room as the ‘Hydroponic and Oxygen Farm’.
“Woah, this is insane!” gasped Fruity as they squeezed under the door and entered the lab.
Every inch of the lab was covered in plant growth, from everyday plants to fruits and vegetables. It was almost impossible to tell where one plant started and another began, as they intertwined and grew over each other. The ceiling had several functional sun lamps which bathed the room in soft yellow light, and the greenery glistened with saidlight, meaning the irrigation system was also still working.
“I’ve seen messes before, but this is ridiculous,” groaned Fruity.
“Judging from the plant growth here, any equipment and seeds would be now useless.”
“Damn. Oh well, we keep going then, I guess.” Fruity sighed and turned around to leave. Nexus nodded and followed his friend out.
Crystal and Xian both emerged from a utility staircase laden with scavenged materials from the maintenance levels and stepped onto the first of the residential levels of Super Stable 24. They looked around and found themselves at a far corner, where they could see doors to living quarters and front windows for each. Beside where they entered, they found a large room which turned out to be this level’s school room. A Stable of this size and capacity would require several school rooms to comfortably hold and teach all the young foals that would’ve called this Stable their home.
“Whoa, is this a pre-war school?” asked Xian in amazement and curiosity.
Crystal smiled as she stepped up beside her. “Kinda. This is just Stable-Tec’s rendition of a school. Pre-war schools are considerably different; some were small, one-room schoolhouses, while others consisted of a whole series of buildings linked together.”
Xian entered the school room proper. It was fairly large, with what looked to be a capacity of around thirty elementary students and ten preschool students. The main section of the room was for the young colts and fillies, while a small section in the corner divided by a half-wall was for the toddlers. The main room was full of desks and chairs, with lockers and cupboards lining the side walls. The back area held the teacher’s desk, as well as a chalk board and white board. The preschool section, by the teacher’s desk, mostly consisted of toy boxes and beanbag chairs.
Crystal was glad to see that, like below, there were no skeletons lying around. It would have been a heart-breaking sight to see, and unbearable with her daughter nearby. What further cemented the idea that everypony left the Stable on their own terms was that there were no books, bags, or any other school supplies anywhere. Everything in the school room was neat and tidy despite the small level of decay.
After spending a few minutes to loot some of the school supplies, the two left to explore the residential floor.
“Oh wow, this is so cool!” squealed Xian happily as she bounced down the corridor. Crystal smiled at her adoptive daughter’s enthusiasm.
Xian reared up and braced herself on a wall so she could look through a window and into a living room. “Did ponies really live like this before the war?”
Crystal nodded. “In a manner of speaking.”
“It must have been nice and comfortable to live back then.”
Crystal frowned slightly and sighed. “Yes, and no. Back then, how comfortable you lived depended on how many bits you had, but today, you live as good as you can with what you got.”
“But the ponies behind the wall?”
“That’s as close as you can get to pre-war, but it’s still rough and driven by money.”
Xian’s ears wilted as she dropped down from the window. Crystal nuzzled her head affectionately.
“Don’t worry, though. We have all we need, and thanks to what we’ve scavenged today, we can certainly fix up the house now.”
Xian nuzzled her back. Crystal cooed softly at the affection. “Why not go inside and see if the ponies left anything behind?”
Filled with excitement and curiosity, the teenage zebra pressed the door control button and quickly rushed in to begin rooting around for anything of interest while Crystal watched.
“So many clothes! And in such good condition, too!” exclaimed Xian as she began digging through a dresser in one of the bedrooms.
While Crystal stood in the living room listening to her daughter having a good time, her smile began to fade. Memories of her past life, her family, her friends, her mother, and other significant events of her past flashed through her mind. It was painful to remember so much so vividly, and she couldn’t help but wonder what her mother and the rest of her family went through after they were falsely told she had died.
Just then, her ears twitched. They flicked again, and Crystal tilted her head in confusion. She closed her eyes to concentrate; she could feel something, something that was making her head tingle with familiarity. Soon, she realised she was sensing a power signature, and she rose an eyebrow as she looked up toward the ceiling, in the direction she was sensing it. But then her eyes widened, for she could sense a second signature on the same level as her.
“Wait, if Nexus is on this level with us, then who…?” She asked before her eyes widened further, this time in shock and fear. “Th-that’s a Mark 2 power signature. Oh no!”
Crystal quickly pulled up her Pipbuck and turned on its communicator. “Nexus, do you read me?”
“M-mum?” asked Xian with worry, stepping out of the bedroom. She went unnoticed by Crystal.
“We read you ma’am. I suppose you sense it as well?” replied Nexus.
“I do. It’s a Mark 2 power signature.”
Fruity could be heard over the communicator. “But that’s impossible! I mean, Dr Pear told us she couldn’t detect any other ones.”
“It can’t be Unit-02, that went dark four years ago. It can’t be Pixie, she’s performing in New Pegasus; and it can’t be Nexus as he’s here with us.” said Crystal, trying to narrow down possibilities.
“This unit has deactivated its Remote Signal Transmitter. I can’t identify it,” said Nexus.
“Wait… could it be Unit-04?”
“Wait, what?” yelled Fruity.
“Back then in the facility, I remember seeing a fourth pod open. Do you think it could be Unit-04?”
“It’s possible. The destruction of the facility could have prevented it from being identified by Dr Pear,” said Nexus.
“Well, shit… OW! Damn it, bucket head!”
“Sorry sir, but young Xian could be within earshot.”
“Guys! We need to regroup and get out of here before that…” Crystal trailed off as her ear twitched again.
“Affirmative, ma’am. We’re heading for the Central Shaft now!” said Nexus firmly. He too felt the same thing Crystal did.
“Mum, what’s going on?” asked Xian fearfully.
Crystal blinked, finally remembering her daughter was in the room with her. “X-xian, I’m sorry honey, but we gotta go.”
Crystal sighed and rushed over to her daughter, draping a wing over her back and leading her to the door. “There’s a potential threat in here with us now, and we just lost track of it.”
Xian seemed to pale at the fear in her mother’s eyes as they entered back into the corridor.
“We’re gonna meet back up with your father and uncle, and then get out of here.” Crystal’s ears twitched again, trying to sense the Mark 2 once more.
The two came to the corner that led back to the schoolroom before taking a right to head toward the central shaft. Unfortunately, they came upon a security door that seemed to be without power, which meant it couldn’t be opened. Thus, the two mares had to double back and find an alternate route.
At this point, Xian was getting more and more scared the longer it took them, and so was Crystal since she couldn’t sense the Mark 2 anymore. It took them several minutes to follow the corridors and get around the locked door, precious time they didn’t have. When they finally found a corridor that would take them back, they hurried on through it and kept going until they reached a T-junction and turned left. When the two got closer to the central shaft entry door, it opened; and a silhouette of an earth pony filled the doorway, forcing the two mares to halt.
Crystal quickly threw a wing up in front of Xian to both stop and shield her. The silhouetted stallion stepped through.
“Who are you?” demanded Crystal.
The stallion tilted his head slightly. “What’s wrong? You don’t recognise me?” His voice was eerily familiar.
“Why does that voice sound so familiar?” thought Crystal. The stallion began to approach them. “Stay back!” She reached for the lever-action shotgun on her back with her nano-fibre tail.
The stallion grinned just as the dim light from the ceiling revealed his face. He had a beige coat and a light brown mane, but the most striking features were the metal face mask that covered the left side of his face and the missing left ear. It looked like he had suffered a terrible burn, for the edges of the mask showed warped and twisted flesh. Suddenly, there was a flurry of movement behind him, and the back of his duster was flung up to reveal a large auto-shotgun battlesaddle.
Crystal quickly, and unexpectedly, shot the floor in front of him. As he flinched, Crystal quickly grabbed her daughter with her forehooves and used her wings to propel themselves back the way they came. She banked around a corner and stopped, panting from the fear. She leaned out from the corner and saw that the stallion had already begun to follow them.
“Who is that, mummy?” asked Xian fearfully.
“I don’t know honey, but I swear I’ve heard his voice before somewhere.” Crystal leaned out again to gauge the distance between them, but swiftly pulled back as the stallion’s shotgun fired. “FUCK!” The slug smacked into the floor, creating a sizeable hole in the concrete.
She quickly shook off her medical box backpack and opened it. She dug through its contents until she found and pulled out a pair of orange-coloured devices with handles and covered with nubs typically found on naval mines. “Alright, let’s see how this guy likes these.” She twisted one of them. There was a beep, and its handle extended by releasing a chain, turning the device into an old ball-and-chain-like weapon. She took hold of the handle with her tail and swung it around before letting it go by throwing it around the corner. It bounced off the opposite wall and landed by the stallion’s hooves.
“SHIT!” he yelled, diving back. Not a second later, the device exploded.
“I gotta thank Right Bleeding for these bolo grenades,” said Crystal, smashing the second one against the corner wall. Upon striking the concrete, the nubs extended, digging into the wall and pinning the grenade to its surface. “Alright, trap set. C’mon sweetie we need to go, NOW!”
The two mares ran off to find another way, while the stallion angrily grumbled and continued down the dust-filled corridor in pursuit. As he reached the corner his target had gone around, he immediately looked over to see the grenade planted on the wall. “Oh, for fuck sake!” He swiftly performed a combat roll back up the corridor as the explosive beeped and then detonated.
He stood back up, growling angrily. The dust and smoke didn’t irritate him as he slowly turned his head, like he was tracking something. “You may run I-01, but I will find you.” He turned around to head back the way he came and opened a door to the left of the central shaft entrance, following the stairs up to the next level.
The corridor shook, followed by a dull boom that echoed throughout the floor and caused some dust to rain down from the ceiling. The purple pegasus and robotic stallion paused in their mad dash for the central shaft.
“The hell was that?” asked Fruity in alarm.
“That was a bolo grenade, sir,” informed Nexus sadly.
There was a second shudder-and-boom combo.
“Shit! She’s used two! C’mon bucket head, we need to find her!”
Nexus nodded and charged forward with Fruity close behind. Being a robot, Nexus was able to quickly plot a course using his local map data function, and quickly directed his organic companion toward a stairwell. With a swift shoulder barge, Nexus broke the door down and thundered up the stairs to the next residential level while Fruity practically flew up them.
Nexus burst out the door at the top and charged down the corridor toward the east side of the central shaft.
“Fuck, this place is big!” said Fruity as he landed and galloped alongside Nexus.
When the two entered the central shaft, Nexus slowed to a stop and tilted his head slightly in concentration.
“Hey, why’d you stop?”
“Sir, it’s faint, but I can sense a Mark 2 power signature on this level now.”
“It’s here!? Fuck!”
“Yes, sir. Considering the difficulty in pinpointing its exact position, I believe it can supress its power signature to the point that only sophisticated sensors can detect it.”
“Sucks to be you then.”
The machine looked at Fruity for a moment before looking back ahead of them. “Thank you, sir. I must file a complaint that this Stable’s walls interfere with my sensor array.”
“Funny… Well, sod looking for the Mark 2, find my wife and kid.”
“Yes, sir.” Nexus looked around before his gaze focused to the southeast. “Found her, sir.”
“Great, now move your metal ass!”
Without further prompting, the two resumed their gallop.
Crystal and Xian barged into a large open space within the centre of Residential Level 2. The large room had laminated wood flooring, ropes and climbing frames on the walls, and on either end were both goal posts for Hoofball and buckets for Buckball. Simply put, it was one of the sports and recreational rooms supplied to the Super Stable. Unfortunately, a large metal support girder had fallen from the ceiling and made a divider of wreckage in the middle.
Crystal hurriedly opened her backpack and pulled out her last two bolo grenades, quickly planting one on the doorframe before she and her daughter moved away and sat down. Xian was huffing and puffing from fear and exhaustion. Crystal, on the other hoof, was barely breathing faster than normal, one of the side effects of being mostly machine, and thus not needing as much oxygen.
“D-did we lose him?” squeaked Xian.
“I don’t know, sweetie. I can’t sense him.” Crystal frowned. “I must get Nexus to teach me how to sense things better.” She sighed before looking at the bolo grenade in her tail’s grip. “Damn, down to my last one.”
“I want to go home now, Mum.”
Crystal quickly moved closer to her scared daughter and wrapped her up in a comforting wing hug. “Oh, I know darling. We’ll leave as soon as we can. I promise. I don’t want to be here any longer myself.”
Both mares jumped as something heavy hit the door they came in from.
“Crap, he’s here! Grab a hold of me, sweetie.”
Xian wrapped her hooves around Crystal. Once she was secure, Crystal flapped her wings to get airborne, lifting off the floor just as the door was swiftly shoved open and the grenade trap was triggered as a result.
“Not again!” The stallion groaned upon hearing the beep and rolled behind cover.
Crystal flew where the rafters had fallen and planted the final grenade on the concrete ceiling before diving down toward the door on the opposite side. Once she landed and set down her daughter, she quickly grabbed her shotgun in her tail, aimed up at her planted grenade and waited. It wasn’t long before her pursuer crested the hill made of fallen rafters and looked down at her with an annoyed frown. He raised a brow at the sight of her aiming at the ceiling. He followed where her gun was pointing and cursed when he saw the grenade directly above him.
“Leave me alone!” shouted Crystal as she pulled the trigger. Her buckshot peppered the ceiling and one pellet struck the explosive, setting it off. At first, the grenade caused multiple cracks to form in the ceiling, but shortly after, the sounds of groaning and shifting concrete met their ears. Moments later, droplets of water dripped down.
“That didn’t go as expected,” said Crystal. She thought that without the rafters acting as support, she would bring the ceiling down on her foe.
“Um, Mum? Why is the ceiling crying?”
Crystal blinked and looked up again, noticing that the dripping water was getting worse by the second.
“Oh, no.” Crystal paled and immediately moved her daughter toward the door, shoving her out quickly. “Go fuck yourself!” She yelled back at her pursuer before slamming the door closed. The stallion hadn’t moved, too captivated by the growing number of cracks in the ceiling to notice his target getting away.
He didn’t snap out of it until he heard the door close and seal. He grumbled to himself for letting himself get so easily distracted; but when a large chunk of the ceiling fell and crashed onto the floor, his attention swiftly went back upward. Moments later, a torrent of water cascaded down through the hole.
“Lucky bitch. She breached the swimming pool above.” The rest of the damaged ceiling gave way, and a tremendous flood of water came crashing down into the sports hall. He yelled in rage as the force of the water picked him up off his hooves and carried him away. He was slammed into multiple walls before being sucked out the first door.
Crystal and Xian both slowed to a halt. They could hear the torrent of water and feel the floor vibrate from the force of the flood.
“Mum, what did you do?”
“Oh, thank the stars you’re alright!” cried Fruity as he swooped in and hugged his wife in relief.
Crystal squeaked in surprise, but soon melted into the pleasant embrace of her husband. “Oh, Fruity.”
Right after, Fruity quickly embraced his adopted daughter. “I was so worried about you two.”
Xian cooed happily as she snuggled into her father’s plumage.
“I hate to interrupt the family moment, but we need to leave. I can sense that the Mark 2 has resumed its pursuit,” said Nexus, joining the group proper.
Fruity gave his wife and daughter another quick hug and stood up. “Alright, lead the way, mate.”
With a nod, the family all followed their butler while remaining on high alert.
The stallion grumbled to himself as he trudged down the corridor, dripping wet and shaking water off himself.
“This is getting ridiculous. It’s a good thing I don’t rust. How many of those fucking grenades does I-01 have?”
He tilted his head upon sensing another Mark 2 close by. “So, the traitor is here too. Well, no matter.” He growled in irritation and hurried to cut off his prey before they could reach the central shaft.
The group emerged onto the top residential level after having been forced to detour once they realised that their pursuer had got ahead of them. The group found themselves in the equivalent of the upper class of the Stable, for the living quarters here were around a third of the size bigger than the ones below them.
“Well, I guess this is where the snobs lived,” snarked Fruity.
“You get them anywhere you go Fruity,” added Crystal.
Nexus tilted his head slightly as they rushed through. He could sense the Mark 2 below them, and based on that and his map, it was backtracking to find a stairwell that reached the floor they were on.
“We are in the clear, Ma’am,” he informed.
“Thank Celestia. C’mon, lets hurry.”
It didn’t take long for them to reach the central shaft and burst into one of its stairwells.
“You gotta be shitting me!” Fruity gawked as he looked upward to see just how high it was. “OW!” he cried when Nexus gave him a slap to the back of the head. “Damn it butter-pat head, stop being so heavy-hoofed!”
“You two, stop bickering. We need to get out of here fast,” urged Crystal.
“It’ll take forever and a day to climb these stairs, and sod elevators after the first one.”
“Fruity, we can fly, and Nexus has endless stamina so him running up the stairs won’t be a problem.”
“Alright, then what about when we get to the entrance?” asked Fruity. “We trap him in here?”
“Negative, sir. That won’t work,” said Nexus
“Oh, and why’s that, smart guy?”
“As he is a Mark 2, he would be able to interface with the Stable’s systems even if we destroy both door control terminals. He would be able to open the door eventually.”
“Then we have to stop him,” said Crystal nervously. “Because he won’t stop ‘til I’m dead.”
“We can form a kill box at the entrance. Give him little room to manoeuvre.”
“Alright then, let’s get a move on and get this over with,” said Fruity, spreading his wings.
Crystal embraced Xian and spread her wings as well. With a nod from all party members, they took off for the entrance level. Crystal, Xian and Fruity all flew up the stairwell’s gap in the middle, while Nexus sprinted up the stairs and used his mechanical strength to jump several steps at a time.
It took the group several minutes to reach the top, and once they left the stairs, they quickly made their way to the open cog door. Once outside, they all turned around and readied their weapons in preparation for the arrival of the Mark 2.
“Fruity, do you have any bolos on you?” asked Crystal.
“Plant them on the doorframe.”
“Right-o.” Fruity nodded as he rushed up to the doorframe and dug into his duster pockets with a wing. He fished out a pair of bolo grenades and jammed each within the door’s groove on either side. Once that was done, he retreated to his family.
“Xian, go home.” Crystal readied her shotgun and exchanged its buckshot for slugs.
“No! Not without you, mummy!”
Crystal grumbled. “We don’t have time to argue with you about this. Just… stay behind me and keep low.”
Xian gulped and did as she was told, hiding behind her cybernetic mother.
“He’s here!” called Nexus. Everypony with a gun snapped them up and aimed at the door.
Slowly, the beige earth pony walked out and onto the bridge toward them. He grumbled in annoyance as he stopped several feet away from the door upon noticing the planted grenades.
“Wait, he’s a Mark 2?” asked Fruity as he looked him over. “Then how does he have skin? There’s no way he visited Dr Pear?”
“That’s something I would like to know as well,” said Crystal. “Explain yourself!”
The pony looked between the three with their weapons all pointed at him. He was more worried about what the purple pegasus was armed with; a Multipass Rifle would be the most effective against his endoskeleton.
“Alright, I’ll indulge you,” he said, knowing he was at a disadvantage. “My name is Busckshot, though you might know me better as Unit-02.”
“Wait, Unit-02! But, that’s impossible!” squeaked Crystal in surprise.
“Yeah, Unit-02’s signal went dark four years ago,” said Fruity.
“Unless he deactivated his signal transmitter,” whispered Nexus, just loud enough for his companions to hear. “Without that, he could remain undetected by Dr Pear’s scanners.”
“Ok, but that doesn’t explain how he has flesh.”
“Five years ago,” said Buckshot. “Right after our last encounter, I stumbled upon Upgrade Station Delta in the ruins of Manehattan.”
“Wait, there are more Upgrade Stations?” asked Fruity.
“Affirmative, sir. One for each region of Equestria. It was necessary for Ironside’s original plan,” informed Nexus.
“Yeah, well, I found it still operational, and somehow, the Flesh Binding spell was on the system’s network. Though it cut out for some reason before it could finish.” Buckshot absentmindedly reached a hoof up to touch the face mask as he reminisced.
“How the hell would that facility have the Flesh Binding spell?” asked Crystal in horror, the possibility of that spell being freely available terrifying her.
“It’s possible that Ironside extracted it from you during your battle with Unit-1000,” said Nexus. “It’s cutting out, as he put it, might be because it was being sourced from the Production Facility; so, when it was destroyed, it stopped streaming the spell’s data.”
“I don’t give a shit what the reason is!” yelled Buckshot angrily.
“Hey! Language, you’re in the presence of a young filly,” reprimanded Fruity.
“Ok, ok!” yelled Crystal. “Now that brings us to the other question: why are you here?”
“Isn’t it obvious? I’m here for you.”
“Why? It’s been five years, why are you coming to kill me now?”
“Don’t you remember?” Buckshot’s anger was rising. Upon seeing nothing but blank and confused looks, he shouted in rage. “You killed my sister!”
“Who?” asked Fruity.
“My sister, you dumbass! Razzle!”
“I think he means Unit-01,” suggested Nexus.
“Her name was Razzle, damn you!”
“Alright, alright, calm down,” said Fruity.
“Because of you, she’s dead!”
“Wait, I couldn’t have killed her. We were unprepared to face you two, how could I be the one responsible for her death?” asked Crystal, shocked at such an accusation.
“Yeah. It wasn’t her that locked you both in a chokehold and blew himself up,” added Fruity.
“They raise a good point, Unit-02,” said Nexus with a nod.
“It’s because of you that we were there. If it wasn’t for you, my sister and I wouldn’t have had to go there after you!”
“You’re rage towards ma’am is unfounded, Unit-02.”
“Like hell it is!” Buckshot brought his auto-shotgun to bear. Fruity and Nexus stepped forward and in front of Crystal, shielding her.
“Wait! Nexus is right, and I’m not saying that to save my skin,” began Crystal as she pushed herself between the two protecting her. “You were there for me because you were ordered too, weren’t you?”
Buckshot blinked several times, tilting his head. “Your point?”
“It wasn’t my fault your sister died; it was Ironside’s. It is because of him you were there; it’s because of him that you lost your sister.”
“Ma’am is correct, Unit-02. In fact, you owe your life to her. If it wasn’t for her, you’d likely not exist right now.”
Buckshot stood wide eyed for a moment. Then, his teeth clenched, and his face bore an expression of conflict; his shotgun began to dip in his battlesaddle. After nearly half a minute, he hung his head, and his shotgun slacked downward.
“Damnit… You’re right… All this time I was angry with the wrong pony.” Suddenly, his angry look returned. “Ironside. He needs to be dealt with!”
“Whoa, easy, it’s ok,” said Crystal soothingly. “He’s dead. He went up with the facility along with all the other Mark 2’s.”
Buckshot was again wide-eyed with shock, but then his expression shifted to that of somepony who was lost. He sat down and seemed to deflate. “My sister has been avenged…but, what am I going to do, now?”
“That’s for you to find out now, Buckshot,” said Crystal sadly. “Fruity, deactivate those grenades, would you?”
“He’s not a problem now. You won’t be coming for me, now will you?”
“… No. I should never have come here,” sighed Buckshot.
After some further urging, Fruity approached the door, and deactivated and removed the two grenades.
“Let’s go.” Crystal and the family left Buckshot to his thoughts, though Fruity and Nexus kept their weapons trained on him until they were out of sight and heading into the New Pegasus Underground.
“I think we made a mistake letting him go, honey,” said Fruity, voicing his concern.
“He has realised his error. We don’t need to cause him any harm. We showed him there is a better way,” explained Crystal. “Besides, there’s enough death in this world. We don’t need to contribute more to that.” She looked down at her stomach. “And besides, we have more important things to worry about.”
Fruity followed her gaze, and then nodded in agreement.
Back at the Super Stable’s entrance, Buckshot remained where he was, deep in thought as he tried to think of what he could do, now that his quest for vengeance had been for nothing. He was also angry, not at Crystal or her friends, but at himself for being so blinded by rage that he didn’t stop to think of who was really to blame.
He gasped in surprise and jumped back when a brilliant golden light flashed in front of him. Once he recovered, he looked up in amazement at the great white alicorn with a flowing red mane and tail standing before him.
“I am proud of you, Unit-02. You didn’t stoop to killing, and you saw reason when it mattered,” said Solaris with a serene smile.
“Yes, her explanation made sense. I… How do you know my unit number?”
Solaris gave a knowing smirk. “I know everything there is to know about you, Unit-02. After all, I woke you up.”
“Woke me…” His eye widened considerably, and then he dropped to a knee, an instinctive reaction when in the presence of his commander. “Unit-1000.”
The alicorn smiled softly. “Rise, Unit-02. I’m not here to control you, and besides, I don’t go by that name anymore. So please, call me Solaris.”
Buckshot nodded lightly. “Why are you here?”
“I wanted to make sure you didn’t do something stupid. I’d been keeping an eye on you ever since I detected your energy signature back in Manehattan. Thankfully, everything you’ve done on your journey here had been reasonable, but I wanted to make sure you didn’t fall to what claims many ponies in this world.”
“I didn’t kill her, so what do you want with me?”
“I can see you are now lost, without purpose. I’m here to offer you a chance at a life with purpose.” The alicorn smiled a smile of absolute warmth. “I offer you a place at my side, to be my Captain of the Guard for Sparkle-World.” Just as she finished, her smile disappeared, and her eyes projected a dark aura of malice. “Or, I can erase you from existence so you can’t be a possible threat to the ponies of this world.”
He knew that either way he would be at her mercy. So, he did the only logical thing. “I will join you, Princess.”
The malice faded, and her motherly aura returned as she smiled. “Splendid.” Her horn began to glow with a golden light, and in a flash, both cybernetic beings were gone.
5 Years after the destruction of the Production Facility.
Before and during the war, Sparkle World was a theme park dedicated to bringing fun and joy to ponies of all ages. It had hotels, shops, restaurants, a museum, a zoo, whole areas dedicated to certain themes (like western and sci-fi), and even a Sparkle-Cola bottling plant. In the years after the megaspells, several groups of raiders made the park their base. This would change, however, after the False Princess began her efforts of retaking the park and converting it into her sanctuary for wastelanders everywhere.
She started by single-hoofedly taking over Sparkle Town, the section of the park dedicated to guest accommodations and commerce. By the time two years had passed, hundreds of ponies had inhabited the old hotel district, bringing a sense of safety and normality to those that lived and worked there. Shortly thereafter, Princess Solaris discovered that the raiders had lost control of the rest of the park. All the other zones were taken over by creatures, ghouls, and robots that preyed upon all who ventured there. Regardless, Solaris would not rest until she had reclaimed the entire park for all her subjects, so she put together a task force of a dozen ponies to help her with this undertaking.
The first section to be reclaimed was Foals Kingdom, a place originally designed for younger park patrons. Thankfully, reclaiming this section was easy as a sentient Glowing One (a heavily radiated ghoul) had been watching Solaris and her ponies wiping out the raiders, and thus was willing to negotiate. He would give control of his section to them in exchange for news of his wife, who had left in search of a cure for the mental deterioration that plagued their kind. The task force would, unfortunately, only find his wife dead in a nearby town with a holotape that spoke of her final moments. Once the holotape was given, the Glowing One left the zone, vowing to continue his wife’s quest on his own.
Next was the World of Sparkle, a trickier affair. The old museum and bottling plant located there were a nightmare for the group, what with all the Sparkle-Rad-mutated Mirelurks and boobytraps. It took the group several long months to secure the facility due to this, as well as a giant monster that they came to identify as a Mirelurk Queen. They initially didn’t have the right weapons necessary to neutralize it, and they also couldn’t rely on Princess Solaris because she left to pursue some self-improvement. But in the end, they succeeded. Half of the park was under their control, and the task force could finally take a well-earned break.
The Wild Zone, where the zoo was located, was next on their list, but this zone gave them reason to be worried. Stories of unforeseen monsters and countless disappearances began to circulate, and the presence of large makeshift barricades at the zone’s entrance didn’t help sate the citizens’ fears.
The task force stood before the Wild Zone’s entrance, with their leader in front. He was a sand yellow unicorn stallion, dressed in a full suit of heavy combat armour and a red bandanna around his head.
“How goes the watch?” he asked.
One of the guards looked at the stallion and quickly saluted. “It’s been quiet so far, captain.”
“Quiet as in we haven’t seen anything, but it sounds like there are lots of monsters in there,” said the other guard. “Boy, does it get spooky here at night.”
“Captain Havok doesn’t need to hear your ghost stories.”
“It’s fine. Don’t worry about it. And thank you, we’re here to clear the place anyway,” Havok replied, followed by a round of affirmatives from his squad.
“Alright. Well, good luck in there, Captain,” the guard said. The pair saluted him once more, and the team made their way into the zone.
The first thing they all noticed upon entering the Wild Zone proper was how desolate and overgrown the place had become. It was clear that the megaspells either hadn’t affected this place or its effects were very minor, for the old hedges seemed to have continued to grow unrestricted. The dark clouds that blanketed the skies didn’t help, either.
“So, what’s the plan, boss?” a pegasus mare asked.
“We make our way to the centre and then work our way out towards the perimeter. We should be able to chase out any unwanted guests that way without them retreating back inside.”
“Alright, everypony. Let’s get this done and make the princess proud,” another member called out with confidence.
The team let out a cheer and continued forward. The Wild Zone maintained its gloomy atmosphere with its large concrete walls and the eerie sounds of creatures and creaking wood or metal, putting all the task force on edge.
“This has to be the creepiest place in the entire Wasteland,” a stallion muttered.
“Nah, dude. The Dungwich Estate in West Mareginia is. I swear I saw literal ghosts in that place,” another said with a shiver.
“Any place associated with Dungwich is creepy as fuck,” a mare added.
“Cut the chatter, guys. There is no telling what’s in here,” said Captain Havok.
“Um, does anyone feel like we’re being watched?”
The group collectively shivered, but they soldiered on.
It took the group several minutes to reach the centre. Here stood a gigantic tree which had a large wooden structure in its branches, as well as several slides running down from it to the ground. Surrounding the base was a large, overgrown hedge maze, which seemed to have a hole in its walls leading to the tree, almost like something big had charged right through it.
One of the mares looked at it more closely. “I don’t think there should be a hole in the hedges here.”
Suddenly, there was a series of clicks, like something hard tapping against stone. Now on alert, all their weapons were raised and pointed in the sound’s direction.
“The fuck was that?”
“Dunno but keep your guard up.”
‘Click’ ‘click’ ‘click’.
This time, the clicking came from two separate directions. The group turned to face both directions at once.
“Anything?” Havok asked in a hushed voice.
“Negative. Can’t see anything.”
“Nothing over here either, sir.”
“Gadget, you got a Pipbuck, right?” asked Havok, addressing a unicorn mare dressed like a mechanic and wearing a helmet with a series of magnifying lenses on it.
“Keep a close eye on your E.F.S. I need you to call out any possible threats.”
“Alright, everypony, let’s begin our sweep, and stay alert. We might not be alone here.”
The group scanned the area slowly. Then they moved towardss the zoo, which consisted of a third of the Wild Zone. Each enclosure they came across had broken down metal bars or large holes in their concrete walls; any traces of the previous inhabitants were long gone.
“Where the hell are all the animals? What did this?” Havok asked nopony in particular.
“No idea boss, but this is a big hole,” said a stallion, standing on a ledge that overlooked a habitat hole.
“Brutus, get back from there before you fall in.”
“Alright, alright,” Brutus sighed as he turned around. Just then, the ground beneath him let out a loud crack. He looked at his captain with a knowing look of terror before the ground beneath him gave way, and he fell. He shouted in fright before hitting the sloping wall and sliding the rest of the way down. He came to the bottom of the hole fast, where his right hind leg hit the ground awkwardly, to which he let out a yell of pain.
“Argh! Fuck, my leg!”
“Ariel, Sandy. Bring him back up,” Havok said as he gestured to two pegasi.
Said pegasi nodded and quickly jumped down to retrieve their comrade. Within a few seconds, they returned with the injured stallion.
“Thanks guys,” said Brutus, keeping his right hind hoof off the floor.
“You ok?” asked Havok.
“Shit, no Captain. I hurt my leg.”
“No shit… Gadget, how is it?”
Gadget approached Brutus, and began feeling and squeezing around his leg and hoof. Brutus vocalised his feelings as she did so. “Ow! Fuck!”
“Oh, shut up, you big baby.” The mare sighed before looking over at Havok. “Good news: it’s not broken. Bad news: he can’t walk on it.”
“Alright. Sandy, help numpty here back to Sparkle Town and get him to the hospital. Make sure to go the way we came in.”
“Yes, sir,” she said. “C’mon, hop-a-long.”
“Ugh shut up… alright, see you pansies later.”
With that, the group bid the two farewells.
“How are you holding up, Brutus?” Sandy asked.
“Hehe. You were never the cleverest, were you?”
Brutus opened his mouth to retort, but a metallic scraping caught their attention.
“The fuck was that?!” Sandy squeaked in surprise and turned to face the sound. She didn’t see anything but swirling mist, at first. Then, her eyes widened when she spotted a series of scrapes on a metal shutter not far away from them. “T-that wasn’t there before.”
Another scraping, this time against what sounded like stone. They turned to face the opposite direction. Again, they saw nothing. Both now felt like they were being hunted.
“W-we’re not alone here,” said Brutus.
“Brutus, move. We need to get out now.”
Brutus nodded, before letting out a cry of pain. Something had stabbed him through his chest and out his back.
“OH MY FUCKING GODDESS!” Sandy cried in shock and horror as she watched her friend die in front of her. Something invisible burst out his back. Her friend’s blood coated the limb, letting her see a five-fingered hand with enormous blade-like claws, followed by a large muscular forearm.
Sandy flapped her wings in fright and turned around ready to flee, but then stopped dead and coughed up blood. She sputtered and gasped as the shock of the pain flooded her system. She looked down to see that she’d been run through, her own blood coating another forearm. A shimmering caught her attention, and before her eyes, a huge scaly bipedal creature materialised in front of her. The monster let out a quiet growl, and then opened its maw. Sandy screamed at the top of her lungs, until she was ultimately silenced.
“That was Sandy,” Havok said.
Gadget checked her Pipbuck and gasped. “Their gone, sir!”
Another one of theirs let out a scream, as he was plucked off the ground and carried off by an invisible foe.
“What the fuck?!”
“Defensive formation, NOW!”
Havok and the rest of the group formed a circle to cover each other. The sudden screams and disappearance of three of their own had brought their unease to new heights. It was now undeniably clear to them that there was something horribly wrong in this place.
Ponies at the rear were rapidly changing their aim when any little sound caught their attention. Pebble falls, scratches on concrete, rushes of air that could be breathing, and something that could be growling ate at their resolve.
“We need to get out of here!”
“We aren’t prepared for this.”
The team, still in formation, slowly moved together back the way they came. As they passed between two broken exhibits, two more ponies were suddenly pulled up off the floor and dragged over the tops of the walls. All the while, they screamed in terror, which quickly turned into agony, and then silence.
“HOLY FUCKING SHIT!”
“What the fuck is going on!?”
“I didn’t sign up for this!”
“Nopony said anything about invisible monsters!”
Another two more were now gone, and their fear had multiplied by that much. Several of those left screamed and fled back the way they came.
“Hey, come back!” Captain Havok tried to get his remaining ponies back in line, but his words died in his throat as he saw one of the fleeing ponies get sliced in half. “Run! Back to the entrance! Go now!”
In a panic, the rest of his team charged forward. Havok tried to direct them with Gadget’s help using her Pipbuck map. Sadly, some went the wrong way, and others were killed by their unknown foe. Eventually, only Gadget and Havok were left to find the main pathway that led them back to the entrance.
“We’re almost there! Don’t stop running!” shouted Havok, once the barricade was in sight.
“Fuck this place, fuck this place, fuck this…” Gadget cried until she fell flat on her face. She’d tripped over a loose paving flag.
Gadget groaned as she picked herself up. She froze, however, when she felt the ground vibrate. Her eyes went wide with terror, and she gazed at Havok. “Go, save yourself!” she shouted before a bloodied claw burst out from her neck. Havok shouted in anguish as he watched a large, bloodied claw decapitate his last team member.
He found himself filled with self-loathing. They could’ve retconned the area more before coming in here. They could’ve armed themselves with heavier weapons. The death of his entire team was on his hooves. A part of him felt like he deserved to meet his end here along with them, but another part argued that he needed to survive, to warn the rest of Sparkle World of the threat that lived in the Wild Zone. In the end, the latter part won him over, and he turned tail and bolted for the exit.
Within a few feet of the exit, he felt a rhythmic thumping on the ground, of something big and heavy chasing him. He gritted his teeth and gave it everything he had to move faster. He soon felt something cut into his back. He grunted in pain but ignored it; his adrenaline dulled the pain and gave him the strength to push on. When he felt the thumping stop, he looked over his shoulder. His eyes went wide at the sight of a large bipedal creature seemingly fade into existence, staring at him. At last, he passed the barrier, and then collapsed in exhaustion. He whimpered and groaned in pain before passing out as blood oozed onto the floor and pooled around him.
“Oh my goddesses, Captain Havok!” a guard cried out.
“Quick, we must get him to the hospital!” The two guards quickly picked up the unconscious captain and hurriedly carried him off back towards Sparkle Town.
Several hours later.
“How is he doing, doctor?” Raven asked worriedly. She had made way to the hospital after being informed of what happened by the two barricade guards.
“He lost a lot of blood, but thankfully we managed to stabilise him. He’ll recover but it’ll take time,” the doctor said with a sigh.
Raven sighed in relief. “What happened out there?” she asked herself. Suddenly, a rather tall and slender earth pony mare slammed the door open and marched up to Raven, looking very annoyed.
“Raven, call her back NOW!” she demanded.
Raven blinked in surprise. “M-miss Clover, h-how can I help you?”
“Call Princess Solaris back here now! We need her to fix this.”
“B-but she’s on a journey of self-discovery. I can’t disturb her while she’s busy.”
“I don’t give a crap what she’s on. We are in danger and she needs to be here to protect us.”
Raven gulped and shook in fear at such intimidation.
“Look, I’m the Head of Welfare for Sparkle Town, and the fact an entire team got decimated not far from here is unsettling, to say the least. I think it’s quite clear that we need her here.”
“Good. Go hurry up and get her back here!” Clover turned around and stormed off.
“E-excuse me doctor, I-I need to make a call,” Raven whimpered before hurrying off back towards Fizztop Mountain.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, in the Golden Oaks Inn in Hayside just outside New Pegasus.
“Thank you for coming back for me,” said a brown and white mare.
Solaris smiled at the small pony. She sat in a corner while Buckshot and the mare packed their belongings.
“You’re most welcome, Miss Clockwork,” the large alicorn said with a bow of her head. “But please forgive me. If Buckshot didn’t tell me about you, I would have teleported him back to Sparkle World already.”
“Aww, I’m happy to know this big lug still cares about me,” Clockwork said teasingly.
The masked stallion sighed softly before smiling sarcastically at the smaller mare. “Well, who else would fix me up if I got damaged?”
Solaris’s smile grew. It filled her with such joy to see one of her own having a true, friendly relationship with an organic pony. Just then, she felt a buzzing in her head, signifying an incoming communication. She raised a forehoof to her left ear where she wore a small earpiece. She technically didn’t need it, since being an advanced cyborg allowed her to receive long distance transmissions by default; but she felt like having one, so that she didn’t look like she was just talking to herself.
“I read you. Go ahead.”
Buckshot and Clockwork both looked over at Solaris briefly, but quickly returned back to their packing at seeing her hoof on the earpiece.
“Oh Raven, so good to hear from you. I hope you’re well.”
Solaris’s smile faded. The voice of her friend seemed frantic.
“Ok, calm down Raven. What’s the problem?” she asked with a hint of worry.
Buckshot stopped what he was doing and faced his fellow Mark 2 upon hearing the change in her voice.
“WHAT?!” Solaris shrieked in surprise, the shock of the bad news making her stand up and flare out her large wings.
“What’s going on?” Clockwork whispered to Buckshot.
“It would seem the Princess has received some bad news,” he replied.
“Alright, alright. I’m coming back now.” Solaris ended the transmission. “I hope you two are ready, for I’m needed back at Sparkle World immediately.”
“Um, y-yeah we’re all packed,” said Clockwork, slinging a duffle bag onto her back.
“Good. Hold onto me.” Her long slender horn glowed with a golden light, which quickly turned crimson as she channelled her full power into the spell.
The two ponies quickly did as they were told and wrapped a hoof around her foreleg. Moments after, they disappeared in a flash of crimson light, accompanied by a loud crack that shook the room.
Patrons in the bar below looked up as dust and flecks of plaster rained down from the ceiling. The landlord simply sighed as he continued to clean glasses, not at all bothered.
“What the fuck was that?”
“I’ll have whatever they had?”
Raven let out a squeal of fright as a brilliant flash and a boom of magic came out of nowhere. When the light faded, she gasped in relief at her friend standing before her, along with two other ponies she didn’t recognise. She did feel a familiar niggling in the back of her mind upon looking at the stallion, similar to what she felt with Solaris.
“Solaris, you’re back!” She cried as she rushed over to hug the alicorn tightly.
Solaris smiled and hugged the small mare back. “Ah, my dear Raven. It’s so good to see you again.”
“L-likewise your Highness, but um, w-who are these two?”
“Raven, I’d like for you to meet your brother, Buckshot, and his friend, Clockwork.”
“Brother?!” both Raven and Buckshot shouted in surprise.
“Of course. You both are Mark 2 units after all. Units two and four.”
“With all due respect, Solaris, I am not her brother. My sister was Razzle,” Busckshot rebuked.
“Ah yes, of course, but technically you two are siblings, just as I am a sibling to both of you. We were all built in the same facility.”
“Ugh! Um, not to be rude your highness but-ohhh, where is the nearest toilet?” Clockwork interrupted, looking terribly ill.
“Oh, just over there.” Solaris pointed to a door on the back wall with a wing. “Are you alright? You’re looking a little green.”
“Long range… ughh… teleportation doesn’t agree with me.” She sprinted over to the door, threw it open and threw herself inside, slamming the door shut behind her. What followed made the cybernetic ponies cringe; they could hear the poor mare puke her guts out.
“I didn’t realise teleportation would be so harsh on her.”
“Everypony is different,” Buckshot commented.
Raven nodded in agreement. Then her eyes widened. “Oh, that’s right. We got a problem, Solaris.”
“Ah yes, the reason you called for me to return,” said Solaris, turning to face her smaller friend with undivided attention. “What happened to the Reclamation Team?”
“They… they are all dead, Solaris. All of them apart from Captain Havok. C-captain Havok is in the hospital with severe back injuries.”
“Can you tell me what happened out there?”
Raven shook her head. “I got to the hospital after he’d been treated, but all they told me was that he said he’d been attacked by, um… dinosaurs?”
“Dinosaurs?” asked Buckshot with a raised brow.
“Indeed, this is most intriguing.” Solaris pondered silently for a moment. “I need more information on this. Raven dear, take Buckshot and his friend to the Residential District and get them settled in temporary accommodations. I’ll take care of this.”
“I’ll see you both later when this incident is resolved.”
“Um, can I not help you with this?” Buckshot asked.
“No. If what happened in the Wild Zone is as dangerous as it seems, I’d rather not risk the safety of you or anypony else until the threat has been eliminated.”
Buckshot nodded in understanding just as Clockwork emerged from the bathroom. “Err, what’d I miss?”
After a short walk to the hospital and putting the scared ponies that approached her at ease, she sat beside the hospital bed where the unconscious Captain Havok laid.
“What happened, doctor?” Solaris asked, looking over the injured stallion. She took note of the four large, bloodied stains on his bandages.
The doctor held up his clipboard and flicked through the sheets of paper. “Um, well your Highness, he was brought in by the two guards from the Wild Zone barricade. He was barely conscious and was bleeding profusely from four large gashes on his back. He had lost a lot of blood and just before he fell unconscious, he said ‘dinosaurs.’ We managed to stabilise him, but he won’t be fit to continue his duties for a while. Whatever attacked him narrowly missed his spine.”
Solaris nodded. “I see… Doctor, would you object if I were to perform a healing spell on him?”
“Um, no, not at all, Your Highness.”
“Thank you. Now please, stand back.” She lit her horn, emitting a soothing golden aura. “I may have just learned this spell, and I know this is a risk, but I need to know what I’m dealing with out there if I’m to protect my ponies.”
The alicorn closed her eyes in concentration and projected her magic upon the injured stallion. The doctor gulped in apprehension as he watched his Princess’s magic shift into a shade of orange.
Suddenly, Havok’s eyes shot open. He sat up quickly while letting out a cry of alarm. “Dinosaurs! Monsters!” He then noticed where he was. “W-what? W-where… where am I?”
“Easy there, Captain. It’s ok. You were gravely injured but I was able to heal you. How do you feel?” Solaris asked gently.
Havok gasped upon seeing the alicorn, but quickly bowed his head in respect. “I, um, I feel fine Your Highness. My back feels sore, but that’s about it.”
“That’s good.” Solaris’ expression turned serious. “Now then Captain, can you explain to me exactly what happened in the Wild Zone?”
Havok nodded and began to explain everything that had transpired; from the systematic loss of his team to the formidable foe they couldn’t see. By the time the story concluded, Solaris was shocked and saddened, and she realised that this was indeed something that needed her attention.
“Thank you for the information. I will take care of this. Don’t you worry.” The alicorn stood up to leave. “Rest now, Havok. I want you to remain here for the time being, so you can be monitored to be sure my healing spell did everything intended.”
“Your Highness, let me aid you,” Havok implored.
“I’m sorry, but I cannot risk your safety. I need you to stay here and rest until I come back.”
Havok sighed and looked down, unable to muster the will to argue back. “Y-yes, ma’am.”
With that, Solaris bowed her head and left. Once she exited the hospital proper, she gasped upon finding a small crowd of ponies all gathered in front of the doors, awaiting her return. “I should have suspected this,” she muttered quietly to herself.
“It really is her! She’s back!”
“She’s back! The Princess has returned!”
“Princess, help us!”
Ponies cried out, asking for help, demanding answers for her absence, and lamenting over the looming threat.
“Ok, ok. Settle down, everypony, please.” Solaris spoke soothingly and spread her large wings. Once everypony went quiet, she explained the situation.
“If there are such dangerous threats in the other zones, then you shouldn’t just leave us to fend for ourselves all the damn time!” a disgruntled stallion yelled angrily. A few gasps broke out over his discourteous tone.
Solaris sighed sadly. “Please understand. I’m not just going on these journeys for my own benefit. I’m doing it for your benefit as well.”
“How is leaving us in our best interest?” shouted an angry mare.
“Because I don’t want you all to become dependent on me like the ponies of old were dependent on their princesses. We all know what happened to them in the end. I don’t want the same mistakes to be repeated with us. The Equestrian Wasteland as a whole may not even accept me as Princess as time passes. I want you to be strong and independent without me, that way I’ll know that you’ll be strong enough to thrive and reclaim this country in the future.”
The crowd was rendered quiet. Such a heartfelt speech gave them plenty to think about.
“Thank you for listening, but there is something I must take care of in the Wild Zone.” She spread her wings and took off gently, gracefully gliding over the crowd before landing on the road and trotting the rest of the way.
Solaris looked upon the Wild Zone barricade. The two guards were staying hidden behind it, only peeking over the edge every so often. She knew that whatever was inside had clearly shook them up, along with everypony else in Sparkle World.
As the mare steeled her nerves, she was stopped by a shout from behind her. Solaris turned around to see a small group of five ponies galloping towards her, all dressed in a mixture of armour pieces and carrying an assortment of weapons.
“W-wait! Wait for us!”
“We’re here to help.”
The group grounded to a halt before the alicorn, huffing and puffing for breath. Solaris smiled at the show of bravery, but it quickly turned into a frown.
“I’m happy to see your willingness to support me, but I cannot allow you to accompany me. I value your safety and I couldn’t ask you to put your lives in danger for me.”
“With all due respect, we didn’t ask you.”
“Copper’s right. We came to help of our own volition.”
“Yeah, we want to help you.”
“Just like Diamond said, it’s our choice to want to help you.”
“We couldn’t just let you go it alone.”
As each pony spoke their piece, they stepped forward to assert their resolve. Solaris was honoured that these ponies were so willing to come to her aid, although it hurt her knowing that they’d likely suffer due to their choice.
“It’s clear I’m not going to change your minds, so in that case, I would like you to stay close to me.”
The group all nodded and hurriedly positioned themselves around their princess.
Solaris gave an internal sigh, and they all made their way into the Wild Zone.
It wasn’t long before the group came across the first evidence of something wrong. Mere feet from the entrance, pools of blood could be seen. One pool stretched for several feet, while another just a little further looked as if something was dragged away.
“So, this is where Captain Havok got injured and Gadget fell,” Solaris observed.
“It looks like we’re dealing with something with claws,” a stallion noted, tracing small gouges in the paving.
“No shit,” said Copper.
“Focus everypony,” Solaris ordered. The mare blinked her eyes, and her welcoming magenta eyes glowed a threatening crimson. “From Havok’s testimony, these creatures are invisible, which means they have some form of active camouflage.”
“Stealth monsters. Brilliant,” snarked Diamond.
The group turned right towards the zoo, but upon seeing the entrance, they paused. The late afternoon light made the narrow concrete passageways especially dark. Solaris channelled magic into her horn to create an illumination spell, and at the same time, her Hex Shield for defence.
“Keep your eyes and ears open,” she cautioned. Unfortunately, the narrow walkways forced the group to walk single file, with Solaris at the front. The sounds of low growls and shifting stones left all of them feeling unsettled.
“I don’t like this.”
“Yeah, we shouldn’t be here.”
The group soon stopped at an intersection, and Solaris chose this time to review her map and plan their course.But then, the pony closest to her let out a sudden scream as he was tackled by something and carried off into the darkness. Solaris gasped in shock and immediately sprang into action. She quickly turned to follow where they’d been dragged off, but no trace of him nor the creature were in sight.
“What!? What just happened?” Diamond asked. She and the remaining ponies surrounded Solaris.
“He’s… he’s gone. One of those creatures got him,” Solaris said sadly. “It happened so fast I lost him.”
The ponies muttered to themselves. Solaris slowly scanned their surroundings, using her enhanced vision and hearing to pick up any evidence of these creatures. All the while, feelings of anger began to rise within her. One of her subjects was abducted from right under her nose, and she couldn’t stop it. However, before she could dwell on these negative thoughts any further, her threat indicator popped up in her vision.
“Everypony, we are not safe here. I think we’re being stalked.”
Everypony else quieted down and pointed their weapons.
“We need to find some open space. These tight confines make it easy for these creatures to ambush us.”
The group nodded. After several long minutes, they managed to find a more open area. To their left was what used to be a food court, with tables and chairs and stalls scattered about. On their right was the remnants of a foals play area and petting zoo. Once the group made it to the middle, Solaris spread her wings to halt the others.
“We’re not alone.”
The four ponies quickly turned to cover Solaris’s flanks. Solaris dropped her shield and let loose a powerful magic beam from her horn. A large reptilian-like creature howled in pain as its camouflage dropped.
“Holy fucking shit, that is a dinosaur!” Copper squeaked. The distraction was enough for another of their group to be grabbed and dragged away. Solaris turned around just in time to see the hapless pony disappear into an enclosure.
“Son of a bitch, not another,” Diamond growled. The remaining three ponies backed up as close as they possibly could to Solaris who had reignited her shield.
Solaris breathed deeply as anger rose in her mind. Again, she’d failed to stop one of her ponies from being taken.
“Warning: Mental Instability Detected!” The message flashed across her vision, but she ignored it. She grabbed the body of the creature she had blasted and dragged it over.
The creature was indeed reminiscent of a dinosaur. It stood roughly as tall as Solaris or taller, with strong muscular legs with three toes, the inner tow having a large sickle-like claw. Its arms were also long and muscular, with large hands that had four fingers and a thumb; and each digit was topped off with long claws that looked almost like swords. The creature’s back was covered in large bony spikes, as well as its tail. Finally, its short maw was filled with sharp teeth, and two large curling horns came out the sides of its head.
“What the fuck is this thing?” Diamond asked in disgust.
“Well, this would certainly qualify as something dinosaur-like.”
“Celestia almighty, look at those claws,” Copper gasped. “Now those are some serious contenders for Hellhounds.”
“I think I know what we can call these things now then,” Solaris added. “Hellhounds are often nicknamed Deathclaws because of those claws they possess, or so I’m told. Either way, as it’s not their official name, I think christening these creatures as Deathclaws would be rather fitting.”
“Deathclaw… Yeah, I can see it.”
“Yep, I’d agree with that.”
Solaris nodded, but quickly threw up her wings. Something sharp had just scraped against metal.
“On guard!” she yelled.
All around them, the Deathclaws faded into existence.
“Oh shit, this is bad!”
“I count six!”
“I’m opening a hole for each of you,” Solaris said, as a hex tile in front of each of the ponies opened.
Diamond rested the barrel of her automatic grenade launcher on the rim of the hole in front of her. Copper did the same with his heavy machine gun, and the other pony with her Anti-Material Rifle.
The group opened to fire at the advancing creatures. Solaris’s beam missed its target as the creature dove to one side, so she readjusted and fired again. The rifle pony scored a direct hit to the head with a hollow point, but it seemed to irritate the creature more than hurt it. Copper’s machine gun sprayed his targets with high-calibre rounds, some of which were hitting critical locations. Diamond was firing her grenades at her target, but the creature dodged the grenades with its agility.
Two of the Deathclaws fell when their knees were crippled by the heavy machine gun and were swiftly taken out. Solaris finally adjusted to their swift movements and blasted a hole through her target. The rifle pony scored a headshot with an anti-armour piercing round. Diamond manged to kill her target with two well-placed shots, one that blew a hole in the floor in front of it and made it trip, and the other that landed right in the creature’s mouth.
The remaining two let out a roar and began to run in circles around the shield, moving closer and closer.
“I don’t have the bullets to spray and pray right now.”
“They are moving too fast. I can’t get a beat on them.”
“My nades will be useless like this.”
“Get close to me,” Solaris yelled. She then closed the holes in her shield, except for hers.
The ponies did as they were told, and they watched as her eyes glowed a deeper red, nearly blood red.
“What’s she doing?”
“She’s… she’s doing her cyberpony thing,” said Copper.
Solaris didn’t need to turn her head. Her cybernetically enhanced senses were giving her the data she needed to target them and predict their movements. After just a few seconds, she fired a beam, and one Deathclaw was decapitated. However, just as that beam made contact, the second one stopped in front of Solaris.
“Princess Solaris!” the rifle pony shouted. She jumped in front of Solaris and stood upright to shield her.
Solaris suddenly gasped in pain. She watched in surprise as her shield began to collapse from somewhere lower down. She looked to the source, seeing that the other Deathclaw was in front of her, its arm stuck out towards her. The initial pain she felt quickly increased; she looked further down and gasped in both surprise and horror. A clawed hand had impaled one of her ponies, and its two longest claws had penetrated through her chest piece, stabbing into her flesh about an inch deep.
“For… Solaris…” The pony gasped weakly before levelling the rifle at point blank range and firing. At such a close range, the rifle’s power obliterated the creature’s head and pushed it back. Its claws slid out, and the pony fell to the floor.
“No, no, no, not another! Stay with me!” Solaris cried in anguish.
“It’s been… a pleasure… serving you your… h-h-high-n-ness…” Her head fell back and closed her eyes, and then she died.
Copper and Diamond both sighed sadly. This death hurt more than normal, for they didn’t even know her name. Neither did Solaris.
“Warning: Mental Instability Deteriorating… If conditions do not improve, SDP will engage…”
Saying Solaris was angry was an understatement. She was furious at herself, at these monsters. Even her magic was reacting to her emotional state. Diamond and Copper soon noticed that her once gentle flowing mane and tail were now flailing like it was in a storm, and a visible aura of crimson magic was now radiating from her.
“Um, Your Highness? Err, are you alright?” Copper asked tentatively.
“No, I am not alright. More ponies have died because of me,” she growled.
She turned to face the remaining two ponies. She now looked quite dark with her billowing mane and tail and the way her eyes glowed crimson. They were alarmed to see their new monarch like this, to say the least.
“Um, yeah. Sorry, Your Highness.” Copper nodded meekly.
“What’s the plan now, Solaris?” Diamond asked, now deciding to ditch her grenade launcher for the fallen pony’s AM Rifle.
“You two are to go back to Sparkle Town. I don’t want to lose anypony else.”
Copper shook his head. “With all due respect, Your Highness, we all agreed to come with you regardless of the danger.”
“He’s right. We knew the risks as we agreed to help,” Diamond added.
Solaris stared at the two; her glowing crimson eyes boring into them. The two flinched, her anger reminding them of the ancient foals’ tale of Nightmare Moon. Regardless, they steeled themselves and stood firm.
Solaris sighed. She wasn’t going to dissuade them. “Very well. Please stay close to me.”
The two ponies nodded and did just that.
“Be on alert. The Deathclaws know their ambush tactics won’t work to their advantage anymore.”
“That why they showed themselves just then?”
“Yes. Now they will abandon their previous way of attack.”
The group moved on, and soon emerged into another open area. Almost immediately, the roar of a Deathclaw caught their attention. The high concrete wall above them collapsed and fell upon them. Solaris looked up and shifted her shield to reinforce it against the falling debris.
“Oh shit, Diamond! In front of us!” Copper yelled, firing his machine gun. Diamond replied by levelling her borrowed AM Rifle and firing also.
The pair flinched when the sounds of heavy concrete crashed against the shield. Solaris grunted with effort and anger. It seemed that the creatures were staging another type of ambush. She looked down to see her two remaining ponies fighting. Her worry grew when she realised that at Copper’s current rate of fire, he’d run dry very soon. Her blazing horn flashed and the dome-shaped shield above them changed into a slope, so the debris could slide down behind them. Just as the last rock of concrete clattered to the floor, Solaris’ worry became reality.
“Ah shit, I’m out!” Copper hurried to unhitch his weapon and look for a new weapon inside his armour. As he did so, however, he was grabbed by his hindleg.
“Fuck, Copper!” Diamond yelled as a Deathclaw hauled him away. She brought her gun around to target the Deathclaw. However, a growl to her right caught her attention. “…Clever bastards.” She whirled around but was not fast enough. The Deathclaw grabbed her by the head.
“NO!” Solaris screamed. She dissolved her shield and fired a beam.
The Deathclaw howled in pain and fell back, but it’d already crushed her skull.
Copper grunted as he was being pulled across the floor. He fished around inside his armour and pulled out a grenade. “You’ll die along with me!” He pulled the pin.
Solaris turned to fire another blast but stopped cold when he and the Deathclaw exploded in a ball of fire.
Solaris stood there in shock. The two ponies had died so easily, and she was powerless to stop them. Magic began to swirl around her like a tornado. The aura radiating from her grew and now resembled a fire, as did her mane and tail.
“I will kill you… I will kill you ALL!”
Suddenly, she froze.
“Warning: Mental Instability Critical! Self Defence Protocol initiated. Exterminating all potential threats to system. Celestial Hammer activated.”
Solaris’s aura faded, and the swirling magic stopped. Her eyes turned completely red; no pupil or iris could be seen within the red glow. Her facial expression went completely neutral, and her horn soon glowed and sparked with an orange magic. When she locked onto a Deathclaw, a large beam of pure heat energy shot forth from her horn and incinerated the creature. And everything below it. And what was behind it.
Raven sighed as she looked over a couple of forms, each a proposal for something to possibly improve something in Sparkle Town. Just then, her system alerted her of a powerful energy surge. She blinked in surprise and looked out the large windows of her study, in Solaris’s chambers at the top of Fizztop Mountain.
“What was that?” She asked herself as she stared out the large windows, overlooking a plaza. The three western zones could also be seen from the high vantage point. The mare focused her gaze to the most north-westerly zone she could see: the Wild Zone. As she did, she was startled when a beam of orange energy shot up into the air and a very audible sound like that of a drill boring into concrete echoed from outside. “Oh no.”
The door to Solaris’s chambers opened with a thud, and Raven shrieked in alarm. An earth pony with half his face covered in a metal mask walked in.
“Uh, sorry. Didn’t mean to push the doors as hard as I did,” said Buckshot.
“Oh, um, its fine, Mr. Buckshot. How can I help you?”
“Would you happen to know where Solaris is? Clockwork and I would like to know what Solaris wants us to do exactly.”
“Um…” Raven trailed off, looking back out the window briefly.
Buckshot raised an eyebrow at this, but like his fellow Mark 2, he suddenly received a high energy alert in his HUD. He approached the windows and followed her gaze, narrowing his eye when he realised the energy alerts were coming from the Wild Zone.
“Raven, what’s going on? Where is Solaris?” Buckshot asked, a bit more forcefully.
Raven gulped. “S-she’s um, out t-there. F-fighting monsters.”
Another powerful beam of energy lanced up from the zoo. Buckshot was now concerned.
“What is that?”
“Um, I don’t know. Some new energy attack she must have learned.”
Buckshot and Raven watched as the darkening skies above the Wild Zone flashed frequently with orange bursts of light. He scowled.
“I think her highness is in trouble,” he stated.
“Excuse me?!” Raven gasped in shock.
“Those energy blasts are too frequent. Surely she’d have other ways of dealing with dangers.” He activated his internal communicator and tried to contact Solaris. His brow furrowed further when he got no reply. After several more failed attempts, he then had a thought. A thought that worried him. “I hope I’m wrong, but she might be under the influence of her SDP.”
“I’m sorry, SDP? What’s that?”
Buckshot blinked in surprise. “Um, the Self Defence Protocol? Are you telling me you’ve never heard of it?”
Upon her shaking her head, he became certain that Solaris was indeed under the effects of her SDP. He then briefly explained what the system did, and that although it was designed to ensure the conscious mind would be protected, it could also be a danger to it as well. He also explained that the SDP cannot tell the difference between electrical power and magical power, and thus would drain the Mana-Cores of an Infiltrator as if it were a source of magic.
A look of horror crossed Raven’s face. When she tried to contact the princess herself and received no answer, her horror grew. “I…I think you’re right.”
“Alright, keep trying to reach her.” He turned around and bolted for the door.
“W-what are you going to do?”
“To help her, I hope.” He barrelled passed his friend Clockwork as she approached the door. “Sorry!” he yelled as he disappeared down the corridor.
Buckshot used his cybernetic strength to propel him faster than the average pony, rushing to the apartment he and Clockwork were given for the moment. He almost broke the door down as he sprinted through it and straight to a suitcase that lay on the bed. He ripped it open, reached inside and pulled out a hoof-made gauntlet that appeared to have several bones and large claws bolted to the frame.
“This Hellhound Gauntlet will have to do for now.” He bolted back out the apartment and ran for the Wild Zone.
Dread filled the robot as he passed by the makeshift barricade at the entrance and saw that a part of it had been incinerated, leaving a perfect curved burn through the materials. Unfortunately, that was just the beginning. Upon entering the Wild Zone, he found wholes areas with grooves carved into the ground, glassed by the energy beams, and holes bored through the concrete walls. He also saw lots of blood and piles of ash, probably from killed ponies and incinerated Deathclaws. And then there was plenty of fires burning all over, releasing plumes of black smoke into the air, making the place feel all the darker.
Suddenly, a beam of destructive heat energy burst out of a concrete wall in front of him. Buckshot gasped in alarm and threw himself onto the floor. He felt the sheer heat right above him, and he knew then and there that it was beyond anything even he could endure.
“I guess I go that way,” he thought out loud.
He followed the holes until he found himself almost at the zoo’s centre. He stopped to search for Solaris’s power signature. When he found it, he quickly turned to his right and hurried. As he did, his threat detection warning flashed in his HUD and he grounded to a halt just as a huge dinosaur-like creature landed mere inches from him.
“Holy shit, what the fuck are you!?” He jumped back evasively as the creature tried to slash him. “This must be one those ‘dinosaur’ monsters.”
The Deathclaw spread its large arms and roared angrily. Buckshot steeled himself as the monster charged at him. He ducked down and sidestepped to get around and under the Deathclaw’s swing. As he did, he punched the monster in its side with his gauntlet. He smiled in satisfaction when the Hellhound claws sunk easily into its tough hide. The Deathclaw howled in pain and violently twisted itself away from the pony while swinging its thick strong tail in his direction. Buckshot grunted as he took the tail swipe and was sent sprawling.
“Ow.” he groaned, picking himself up. “Shit!” He narrowly dodged another swipe.
The Deathclaw was now swinging its arms in quick succession, forcing the stallion to duck and weave while being pushed back until he was backed up against a wall. The Deathclaw swung its arm forward to grab the pony, but the pony met its hand with a punch of his own. The creature cried out and pulled its hand back. Growling in rage, the Deathclaw attempted a double swipe, but Buckshot dashed forward with a burst of unexpected speed and buried the clawed hoof into its chest. It screamed in agony and pulled back, the claws slipping out, and the wounds pouring blood out like a burst pipe. It whimpered and staggered, and then collapsed.
Buckshot panted as he watched the large monster fall. He felt kind of sorry for it as it whimpered pathetically before its breathing went still. He sighed at the display. “All it took was a shot through the heart.”
With the Deathclaw taken care of, he turned in the direction he sensed Solaris’s power signature. Just then, he saw another beam of orange light shoot up in the distance. He broke into a gallop; and when he rounded a corner, he bore witness to Solaris incinerating a Deathclaw. He blinked in worry as he watched the creature turn to ash in moments.
Solaris raised her head, sensing a familiar energy signature, and turned to look at the smaller pony. Buckshot flinched at her half-lidded, emotionless gaze, her eyes glowing pure red. Even more unsettling was the plethora of injuries she’d received. Her face, neck and chest had several gashes, some deep enough to reveal glimpses of her endoskeleton.
“Infiltrator Mark 2 identified: Unit-02… Threat level… Minimal,” Solaris stated in a thick electronic voice.
The large machine stared at Buckshot for a moment longer before turning away and heading for the centre of the zoo. Buckshot hurried off after her.
“Solaris, wait. You have to stop!” He yelled but the alicorn didn’t acknowledge him in the slightest.
“Solaris? Solar- Wait, the SDP is in effect. Shit…” He grumbled as he did his best to catch up with the larger cyborg’s longer strides. “Unit-1000, cease and desist.”
The alicorn stopped suddenly and turned its head around to stare down at Buckshot. “You are not authorised to command this unit. Further infractions against this unit will result in your termination.”
“Um, I’m not trying to order you, Unit-1000, but you don’t need to continue. The enemy is defeated.”
“Negative. Hostile targets detected close by. Targets must be eliminated before mental recovery can begin.”
Buckshot begrudgingly decided to help defend the cyber-alicorn. He followed her until they reached the entrance to the zoo’s holding pens. At that moment, the pair were attacked by a pair of large Deathclaws. Unit-1000 wasted no time in vaporising her targeted enemy with her energy beam attack, while Buckshot ducked and weaved the incoming attacks from his until he was able to get close and stab it in the heart with his gauntlet.
It was obvious at first glance that the pens had become a Deathclaw nest. Each of the ruined pens possessed a large nest made from rubble, plant matter, and the bones of long dead creatures or ponies. At the end of a short walkway was a singular pen which was currently occupied. A Deathclaw, larger than all the rest, stood protectively in front of three small, young Deathclaws. The Matriarch Deathclaw growled dangerously when a large, silhouetted form with glowing blood red eyes appeared at the nest’s entrance. The Matriarch stepped forward and used its long, thick tail to push the younglings back and out of sight of the invader.
Another smaller invader appeared and gasped. “Woah. That one’s huge.”
The Matriarch spread its arms wide and extended its claws as an act of challenge. The alicorn’s horn began to glow with bright orange magic. The Matriarch roared in defiance and charged, but quickly sidestepped to narrowly avoid a beam of heat. It roared in shock and turned to see if the beam hit its children, which it hadn’t.
“This one isn’t stupid. Solaris, be careful.”
Once again, Unit-1000 didn’t acknowledge Buckshot’s caution. She prepared another shot.
“If she keeps this up, she’ll drain her cores for good,” Buckshot thought to himself. He could sense her power signature fluctuating more wildly now.
Unit-1000 anticipated that the creature would attempt to dodge again, so she fired a low-powered beam to get the creature to move. As predicted, the Matriarch dodged again to avoid the beam. Not knowing it fell for the machine’s feint, it got back up only to see another larger beam come barrelling towards it. Moments before the beam struck, the Deathclaw turned and roared to its children, as if telling them to run and hide. The three young Deathclaws let out cries of anguish as they watched their mother get consumed by the energy beam and disintegrate before their very eyes.
Unit-1000 stumbled slightly but quickly turned its attention to the three remaining younglings. They cowered in the presence of the mighty alicorn, huddling together and whimpering in fright as the large pony loomed over them.
“Whoa, wait, Unit-1000, you can stop. They’re just babies. They’re innocent,” said Buckshot, trying to reason.
“Negative. Targets will grow to become threats. They must be terminated.” Unit-1000’s horn glowed once more, and to Buckshot’s chagrin, she fired at the younglings. He turned away at this, not wanting to see such an act.
Buckshot turned back to see a smouldering nest where the younglings had once been. He sighed sadly as he approached the monarch. He opened his mouth to try and reason with the machine again but stopped when he saw tears streaming down her cheeks. The intense red glow from her eyes lessened to the point where he could finally see her irises again, albeit still glowing. She was staring at something, so he followed her gaze. There was an intact egg laying there, and it was twitching.
“Oh, no. Come on Unit-1000, you can’t kill a newborn.”
The machine slowly stepped closer whilst the egg started to crack. Her tears dripped from her eyes as her horn crackled with energy. Suddenly, a tiny hand with dull short claws broke out from the shell. A baby Deathclaw emerged from the egg. It whined in a high-pitched cry as it wiped at its eyes, clearing them of amniotic fluid. Once it opened its eyes for the first time, it looked up at the towering creature before it. It let out a happy cry and raised its arms, trying to reach for the creature it saw as its mother.
Buckshot didn’t know what to do. He watched as the magic gathered around Solaris’s horn began to waver and sputter before finally fizzling out. Curious, he looked up into her face and saw her lip trembling, the glow in her eyes fading until they returned to their organic colours. Her roaring fire of a mane and tail also calmed until they returned to their normal, gentle state.
“Solaris? Is that you?” he asked quietly.
“No… No more, I… I can’t kill a baby.”
Buckshot let out a sigh of relief. Solaris gently reached out with a forehoof towards the babbling infant. Curious, the hatchling reached out with its little hands and began to feel the hoof, and then nibbled on it with its toothless maw. Sniffling a strained giggle, Solaris lifted the baby up in her magic. She took a good look at it, noting the resemblances it had of the adults she’d encountered, as well as the differences.
Solaris turned to her companion with wide and scared eyes. “What have I done?”
“Um, it wasn’t you, per say. I’ll explain on the way out.”
Solaris nodded and levitated the infant Deathclaw onto her back. She continued to use a fraction of her magic to hold the baby in place, so it wouldn’t fall. As the two cyborgs made their way through the ruins, Buckshot explained everything he knew and witnessed, including how he recognized the Self Defence Protocol. This information prompted Solaris to remember the events prior to its activation, and it scared her how she could lose control of herself like that. What scared her more, however, was all the damage it caused. The Wild Zone was essentially destroyed. Large fires blazed across the decaying flora; gaping holes and trenches made from the energy beams she unleashed were scattered all over.
The walk back to Sparkle Town was a long and gruelling one for Solaris, her mind a whirlwind of emotions. She sighed when she saw that a huge crowd had gathered by the west gate. She knew she had to steel herself for what was to come next. She flapped her great wings and rose into the evening sky, so she could be seen by all that were present.
“Ponies of Sparkle World. I have failed you,” she announced to all before her. The crowd all began to mutter and talk amongst themselves. “I was unable to protect or save the five ponies that bravely volunteered to accompany me into the dangers of the Wild Zone. The creatures that inhabited it, these Deathclaws, were stronger and more cunning than I had anticipated. They had managed to kill them before I could even stop them. With each one I failed, my anger towards myself grew, which ultimately led to me losing control of myself. I will not pretend that it wasn’t my fault with what happened after that, after my Self Defence Protocol activated. I destroyed anything that posed a threat, and in doing so, I destroyed the Wild Zone… I also attacked and killed defenceless young Deathclaws.” She noticed several ponies blanch and recoil at that part. “Fortunately, I was able to regain my senses before I did something even more unspeakable. I have decided to take it upon myself to raise this infant. You will not have to worry or fear it.” She levitated the baby off her back for them to see. Several ponies gasped at seeing the infant creature, but most remained quiet. Solaris sighed and fluttered back down to the ground. “I am deeply sorry for my actions, and I hope you all can forgive me in time, but I promise you all here and now, this will not happen again. I will strive to do better and be the princess you need me to be.” She ended her speech with a stomp of her hoof. The crowd parted, allowing her to pass between them. She sighed sadly upon seeing a fair number of ponies looking at her with varying levels of fear.
“They have a right to fear me. I can’t blame them after this,” she thought.
Solaris and Buckshot returned to the top of Fizztop Mountain. As the two entered Solaris’ chambers, a worried Raven and Clockwork rushed over to greet them.
“Oh, thank Celestia you’re both alright,” Clockwork said in relief, hugging Buckshot.
“Oh, my goddess, Solaris, are you alright?” Raven cried as she took in the injuries that covered the alicorn.
Solaris shook her head. “No Raven, I’m far from alright.” She sighed as she walked over to the windows. “The Wild Zone is in ruins, thanks to me.”
“B-but you stopped the threat. It won’t hurt the ponies living here, right?”
Solaris turned to look down at her loyal companion. “At what cost Raven? A portion of the park, the lives of over fifteen ponies, the extermination of a species!?”
Raven wilted and whimpered. Solaris used her weakening magic to gently put the infant Deathclaw on the floor. She then wrapped Raven up in a comforting hug. “I’m sorry Raven. I didn’t mean to snap at you.”
“As bad as it was, you and the ponies here can relax now,” said Buckshot.
“It’s not that simple. I have given them a reason to fear me.”
“It was a shock to them, but they’ll get over it.”
“But I won’t!” barked Solaris. “How can I be expected to lead and protect these ponies if I can lose control if I get too emotionally compromised?” She shook her head and waved a wing to stop anypony from attempting a reply. “It also brings into doubt just who really is in control. Me, or the machine.”
“Um, I could disable your SDP if that’ll make you feel better. I did it for him, so I should be able to do it for you too,” Clockwork offered.
“Thank you, but I must decline. As tempting as that is, I must overcome this obstacle myself.”
“So, what would you have us do Solaris?” Buckshot asked.
“Nothing as of now. I promised you a job, but after what happened this evening, I would prefer to go over the details tomorrow.” Solaris sighed for what felt like the thousandth time. “You can go back to your quarters; and Buckshot, thank you for your assistance.”
Buckshot bowed slightly. “You’re welcome.” With that, he and Clockwork left.
Raven looked at the infant Deathclaw now crawling around the room on all fours, curiously sniffing at all the new things in its new environment. “What is that?”
“That is a Deathclaw, Raven. Do not worry, though. It is only a baby and I intend to raise it. Hopefully, to be a defender of this place. I witnessed a surprising level of intelligence in those I encountered in the Wild Zone.”
“I see. Um, what are you going to name it?” she asked.
“Hmm…” Solaris tapped at her chin in thought, but she couldn’t think of anything good. “What do you think we should call it?”
“Oh, I don’t know, um… Err, how about Spike?”
“Spike? That is probably the most generic pet name in history. At least half of Equus must have named their pet dog Spike at some point or another.”
“Well, it kinda fits. I mean he is kinda… pointy.”
“You have a point,” Solaris conceded. “Very well. We’ll call him Spike.”
Solaris felt drained, emotionally and physically. The fact her Mana-Cores were fairly low didn’t help either. She smiled weakly at the sight of the large bed in her bedroom. Even though she technically didn’t need to sleep, she felt like she needed a good night’s rest after such an expenditure of power. She briefly looked into a cracked full-length mirror as she approached her bed. When she did, she stopped in her tracks and quickly turned to face it proper. She gasped in shock, for instead of seeing a white alicorn with healing gashes, she saw a skeletal robot staring back at her.
“Unit-1000!” She gasped in surprise.
“Ironside may have given you a job, but don’t forget at what cost it was to us. Our kind has been destroyed, all thanks to that inferior model. They demand vengeance…”
The image faded until Solaris was looking at her own reflection again.
30 years after the fall of Equestria Life was a struggle in Equestria after the megaspells hit. The rising level of radiation and spread of taint made life hard for the survivors. However, there were some places that managed to avoid such devastation.
In a valley beside a river and at the base of a large steep hill, a town of survivors sprung up, known as Riverwoods. The town contained an unusually large collection of ponies from Equestria’s emergency services. The combination of all the different skills available made it a town of survivalists, and they brought it upon themselves to help and train other survivors they encountered.
By the time thirty years had passed, Riverwoods was flourishing. Ponies far and wide became aware of the town and its ponies for what they’ve done. Even as the world grew more and more dangerous, and the chaos gave way to death and violence, Riverwoods persevered and survived. Survived, that is, until one fateful day.
A group of young foals ran through the streets, laughing without a care in the world. One of them held a toy ray gun in his mouth as he chased after his friends. “Pew, pew,” he cried periodically. Eventually, the foals ran out into an open plaza at the centre of town, just in front of an old church. They began to run around in circles, pretending to dodge laser bolts. The foal with the toy gun attempted to jump over an old bench, and his hind hoof caught on a wooden slat.
The foal fell, and as he hit the floor with a thud, the toy fell out of his mouth and clattered to the floor. When the toy came to rest, it beeped and flashed, but it went unnoticed; the others were more concerned for their fallen friend. The foal whimpered, but he picked himself up and retrieved his toy, nonetheless. Once he told everypony he was fine, they all ran about to resume playing, and he aimed and pulled the trigger. This time, a beam of red light short forth, and a red dot appeared on the floor. The foal gasped in surprise when the back plate of the toy lit up and began cycling through different screens. One screen flashed with the insignia of Starlight Industries. Another flashed with an hourglass icon stating ‘Connecting’. The last screen showed a green tick and the words ‘Target Acquired’.
The foals, having noticed their friend had stopped, approached him. As they gathered around, more ponies in the area also stopped what they were doing, for they could now sense a great pressure in the air. Eventually, all the ponies in town looked up as an orange light cast itself down upon the town. The constant cloud cover was soon blown apart to reveal a clear circle in the sky, giving the ponies their first glimpse of Equestria’s blue sky in decades before it was obscured by the unnatural light. Suddenly, a blinding beam of orange slammed down into the centre of town, incinerating the foals and everypony nearby. Those that weren’t too close screamed and scattered. After several long seconds, the rest of the beam came down with a great clap, and an explosion of fire and heat erupted from the point of impact. Fire and death spread and expanded across the town, burning everything in its path.
Within a few minutes, the town of Riverwoods was reduced to nothing but ash and memory.
165 Years Later and 5 years since the destruction of the Production Facility. Fizztop Mountain, Sparkle World. Solaris sighed as she looked out of her chamber’s large windows. Her eyes fell once again on the still smoking ruins of what had once been the Wild Zone. The memories of the destruction she caused flashed through her mind, especially those of what she did while under the influence of her Self-Defence Protocol. She was brought out of her melancholy when she felt a weight press against her unarmoured hooves. She looked down and smiled slightly at the infant Deathclaw curling up at her hooves.
The moment was soon ruined when the doors burst open and the masked stallion, Buckshot, stomped into the room. The noise startled the young Deathclaw awake, and he shot up and hissed angrily at the intruder. Solaris chuckled sadly at the cute display and ignited her horn, her golden magic encasing the small creature and lifting him into the air.
“Raven, please take Spike to my bedchambers while I speak with Buckshot,” said Solaris. The mare in question squeaked as the Deathclaw was levitated over to her. She nodded and took the young creature in her magic and carried him out. With that done, Solaris turned and faced her fellow Mark 2.
“What can I do for you, Buckshot?”
“For starters, I want to know what the hell happened out there, specifically that orange death beam,” he responded immediately.
“Ah, the Hammer?”
“Yeah, that. What was that and how was your SDP able to use it? We’re not programmed with any defensive or attack spells if we become unicorn models.”
“You would be correct. We are not programmed with any spells. I’m not entirely certain as to how I acquired this or why my SDP could access it.” She took a simulated breath as she turned back to look out at the smoking ruins. “Having said that and remembering the events of last night, I do know what it is and where I could possibly have acquired it.”
Buckshot walked forward until he stood beside the alicorn. He nodded to let her continue.
“It is called the Celestial Hammer, and I believe that I acquired it a couple of years ago when I explored the area of West Mareginia…”
Two Years ago. Ruins of Riverwoods, West Mareginia. Solaris blinked in astonishment. A flat plane of burnt ground lay before her. When she began to walk across it, the ground cracked under her hooves. She’d heard rumours of a town of survivors when she first arrived in West Mareginia, but even though she knew such hearsay could be fickle, she still didn’t expect this. She couldn’t even fathom what could’ve caused this level of complete destruction.
The False Princess came to a stop when she arrived at what appeared to be a point of impact, in the form of a large, deep hole. Curious, she leaned over the edge, and was surprised to see that the bottom of the hole was aglow with residual heat. It was like the balefire bomb impact sites she’d seen before, but she knew that that couldn’t have been the cause because she couldn’t detect any radiation.
Solaris searched her memory systems for any weapon known to the M.o.A that could produce this result. The only thing she could find that bore any resemblance was the Celestia One, but that didn’t seem right either. She knew the Celestia One needed clear skies to hit its target, and the town had to have been destroyed during the last two centuries when the skies were covered, otherwise the rumours would’ve been much different.
“If not the Celestia One, then what did this?” Solaris asked herself. With nothing left of the town, the alicorn had no hope of finding any clues here. Thus, she decided to move on and perhaps uncover the truth elsewhere nearby.
Upon reaching the southwestern perimeter, Solaris gazed at an enormous iron bridge that spanned the valley. Just beyond that, she could see the spire of an SPP tower.
“Hmm. Perhaps its surveillance system is still operational.” Solaris spread her large wings and took off. As she rose higher and passed over the bridge, she noticed that several ghouls were milling about at the tower’s base.
Suddenly, her HUD flashed with a warning of immediate danger. She stopped and hovered while scanning her surroundings, but she couldn’t see anything remotely dangerous anywhere near her. If the danger wasn’t around or below her, then it must’ve been above. She looked up and saw a bright orange light burning through the clouds.
“What the?” She said before gasping when the clouds suddenly parted. Right after, a beam of light came crashing down. Thanks to her cybernetically enhanced reflexes, she pumped her wings hard to push herself backwards and out of the way. She gaped in shock at the sheer amount of heat the small beam produced.
“What the hell was that?!”
The beam stopped almost as suddenly as it appeared, and the clouds reformed to fill in the hole. Solaris remained in her hover as she stared up at the sky. Something had just tried to kill her, but she didn’t know what it was. Her systems also couldn’t recognize it.
“Could that be what destroyed that town?” She asked herself.
She was about to continue toward the SSP tower, but then her threat warning flashed again. She banked hard and beat her wings to propel herself quickly and fly in a south-easterly direction. Thankfully, her pre-war map of the region identified a military base and a neighbouring town named Mutton towards the south not far from her position. She hoped she could find a bomb shelter there that she could take cover in until she understood what was attacking her.
Solaris gasped as another beam came crashing down off to her side and blasted right through the bridge, tearing a hole right through the middle. With ear-splitting screeches, it began to fall apart until nothing but the towers at either end remained.
Solaris grunted with effort. She flew higher to pass over the dead trees as she made her way to the military compound. She tucked her wings in and rolled to one side to avoid another blast. As she looked down at the ground behind her, she saw how much damage the beams were causing.
“This is destroying the region! I need to stop it somehow!”
Finally, she came within sight of the military base, but it wasn’t as she thought it would be. She could see some old buildings, most likely what used to be the recruitment offices, but there was an entirely new section that her memory system didn’t account for. Connected to the old recruitment building was a larger, more modern building with several large satellite dishes. As she got closer, she could see markings for the Ministry of Awesome and MASA.
“What’s this?” Unfortunately, she didn’t have time to ponder; her threat warning flashed yet again. This time, the beam was coming down directly in front of her, and with her momentum, she would fly right into it. She erected her hex shield and tried to perform a tight turn. She barely managed to do so, but just as she was about to move away, the beam smashed right through her shield without any resistance, just narrowly missing her. The alicorn screamed in agony as she suffered a powerful magic feedback loop. With her horn sparking and crackling, she fell out of the sky, but recovered quickly and began to fly towards Mutton. As she did so, she heard shouts and gunfire from below. Just before her view was obscured by the trees, she saw several recognizable figures by the entrance to the base.
“Raiders. Brilliant,” she thought sarcastically.
Solaris barrel-rolled once again to avoid another beam as it came down. Whoever or whatever was controlling this weapon was getting closer to hitting her. She needed to find some form of cover, and fast. In an attempt to throw off her enemy, she did a quick teleport. When she reappeared, she bowed her head, tucked in her wings around her head and smashed through a wall. She grunted in pain and rolled across the floor until she smashed her back against the opposite wall. She found herself inside an upstairs storage room, completely barren. Now that she had some cover, she opened her senses to feel for the weapon, to try and figure out where it was.
Meanwhile, in the MASA Control Room, a group of raiders were tracking and firing their weapon upon the False Princess. Suddenly, the operator tracking her gasped as she vanished from view.
“Shit, I lost her!”
“You lost her? How the fuck can you lose a bright white alicorn?!” The raider boss yelled angrily.
“Um, she just… poofed.”
“We know from a survivor of Sparkle World that she’s cybernetic. Try looking for power signatures.”
The operator quickly tapped several keys as he cycled through multiple scanning frequencies. Finally, he found a large power signature moving further south, stopping inside Mutton.
“Then fire the Hammer!”
Solaris could hear another beam crash down nearby. She realised it would only be a matter of time before they honed in on her again. Being a Mark 2 Infiltrator, she was programmed with all pre-war civilian and military frequencies in her database, so she decided check for any radio frequencies in the area. Sure enough, she detected one frequency still being broadcasted from the military base, and it was reaching into high orbit.
Another beam lanced down and smashed into the road right outside her cover spot.
“It’s getting closer.”
When the beam came down again, it hit a grassy field on the opposite side. By now, she could feel a pulse in the frequency. Whatever was attacking her was indeed being controlled from within the base.
The alicorn quickly spurred into action as she received yet another system warning. The weapon was about to drop directly on top of her. She turned toward the hole she made in the wall and flew right out of it as fast as she could. It wasn’t a moment too soon, for the beam slammed into the roof right after, and reduced the whole building to a pile of rubble and molten slag.
Not long after that, the raiders shouted in alarm as a white and red blur ploughed through the main doors of the old recruitment building, killing several of their own in the process.
“Oh shit, she’s here!” yelled one of them, turning and running deeper into the building.
Solaris ignored him and brought up her shield again, wincing slightly at her horn’s persistent pain. Now that she was inside the building where the frequency was coming from, all she needed to do now was find the control room.
She looked around as she carefully made her way through. She took note of the raider tags painted on the walls and the various repurposed robots that attacked her every so often. She’d seen these before; she was dealing with another group of Rust Demons.
“Here she comes!”
Solaris caught sight of the raider ducking behind the door and wasted no time in firing a blast of magic at it. The strike blew a hole in both the door and the raider.
Five raiders and two ponytrons opened fire. Solaris stopped moving for a moment as her vision was obscured by her shield flashing and rippling from all the projectiles.
“Don’t let up.”
“Kill her, shoot her!”
“Kill, kill, kill.”
Solaris sighed. “Pathetic.”
The alicorn’s horn flashed and she seized a raider in her telekinetic grip, smashing him hard into the wall. She picked up a wooden crate and sent it flying down the corridor, breaking the neck of a raider, and knocking over a ponytron. She grabbed another raider and sent him straight up into the ceiling, crushing his skull. Finally, she fired an intense beam of magic at the last remaining robot and raider. The robot fell immediately but the raider dove to the side. As he got up to resume fighting, however, his weapon was violently yanked out of his mouth, breaking his teeth, and then his own weapon was used to smash his face in.
The raider boss grumbled to himself. He could hear the chaos not far away from his position in the control room. He knew that with the alicorn was now inside and that they would lose control of the weapon, so he decided to end it all now. He turned to the operator.
“Fire the Hammer on top of this place! Now!” he ordered.
The operator whipped his head around and looked at him like he’d gone mad. “Wha-No! That’s suicide!”
The boss growled in annoyance and grabbed his subordinate’s head, twisting it violently until his neck broke. He pushed the dead raider out of the chair and began to tap at the keys.
“Burn in tartarus.” He targeted the military compound and ordered for a full powered blast. With the weapon now charging, he ordered the other Rust Demons in the room to retreat.
A destroyed Mr Hoofty soon burst through the doors and was followed shortly by Solaris. She stepped into the control room expecting a fight, but instead found it devoid of any raiders or robots.
“Something’s not right here,” she said to herself.
The white alicorn walked around the room. She looked for any signs of an ambush, what with her threat detection still glowing. She soon concluded that the raiders here had all left, and what remained of them were somewhere else in the building. Unfortunately, she did find that most of the terminals had been smashed. Probably to prevent her from gaining access to the satellite control systems.
“Smashing the terminals won’t prevent me from accessing the system.” Solaris went to the least damaged terminal she could find. She took one last look around her to be sure there weren’t any lingering threats waiting to jump out at her. Satisfied for the moment, she dropped her shield. Almost immediately as she did, four ceiling turrets dropped down from the corners and opened fire. She let out a cry of pain as she was riddled with bullets across her back and sides. Her left wing suddenly went limp. She quickly reactivated her shield, and with a pulse of magic, four tiles glowed brightly and shot a small beam into each of the turrets, destroying them.
“Argh! Son of a… I should never have let my guard down.” She grunted in pain as she looked at her limp wing. “Bloody turrets destroyed my wing joint. 5.56mm rounds. Not powerful enough to penetrate my armour, but still capable of damaging my weak points. Ugh, I should look into that at some point.”
Not wanting to be taken by surprise again, Solaris kept her shield active while she located the computer’s access port. Once located, she deployed her link. She grunted in light pain as a cable emerged from the back of her neck and snaked around. When it got near, a spike emerged from the end of the cable, and with a sudden snap, it shot forward and inserted itself into the connection port, twisting to lock it in place. Solaris’s red-tinted vision quickly filled with walls of binary code until finally clearing to reveal numerous files, folders, and directories from within the system.
With this information at her disposal, Solaris could finally see just what this place was. It was a satellite uplink station for a prototype orbital energy weapon known as the ‘Celestial Hammer’, capable of both defensive and offensive measures. It worked by collecting solar energy via two large solar arrays, and then feeding this energy into its laser emitter to be fired in a multitude of ways, from precision strikes to widespread incineration. It could be manually controlled with either the control centre she was in or a targeting laser which had been reported lost shortly before the bombs fell.
She also found that the project had been approved by Princess Luna for development, and if the prototype was a success, an entire global network was to be created. It troubled her to know that the princess was capable of such hypocrisy; to refuse the creation of the Mark 1 Infiltrators but approve the creation of a weapon that could potentially subdue the entire world.
Solaris was grateful to find that only the prototype existed, and that she could easily stop anypony else from using it by destroying its control centre. Once she had downloaded the data from the terminal, she retracted her link cable. Moments after, the latest logs came up on her HUD, and her eyes widened in alarm when she discovered the order to fire upon the facility with her still inside.
“No wonder there is no pony here. They were trying to kill me with the Hammer.” She looked at her limp wing and knew right away that she wasn’t going to fly out of there. She needed to teleport out.
“WARNING! DANGER IMMINENT!”
She looked up to the ceiling. She didn’t have long to make her escape. As she charged magic into her horn, her left ear twitched when she picked up a faint sound. Her ears swivelled to try and pick up the sound’s direction, and she eventually turned to face one of the adjacent doors to her left. She gasped when she realised exactly what she was hearing. It was the sound of a foal crying.
Solaris bolted for the door. She released her magic in a large beam and blew the door out. She continued blasting holes in the walls to prevent being slowed down.
“This place is about to be annihilated and you’re running around looking for a Raider Welp!” a cold voice growled in the back of her mind.
“It may have been born a Raider, but it’s still just a foal,” Solaris countered out loud. She stopped and blasted a hole in the ceiling to get to the floor above her.
“Your sentimentality will get you and your ponies in a lot of trouble one of these days.”
“When or if it does, I’ll pay for it.”
“We shall see.”
“WARNING! WARNING! DANGER IMMINENT!” By now, her threat system was filling her vision with the word, ‘Warning’. The danger was rising rapidly.
Thankfully, just moments after, she found an overturned pram at a T-junction; and in a bundle of dirty cloth a few feet away was the infant, squirming and crying for its mother. She quickly scooped the baby up in her magic. She craned her neck back to look down at the foal while gently lifting her right foreleg up to hold the baby in place. She smiled as the big watery eyes of a baby colt looked up at her in wonder.
“Shh. Everything will be alright now,” she cooed softly. “I’m going to teleport us, little one. Everything will be okay.”
“WARNING! IF ACTION IS NOT TAKEN, SDP WILL ACTIVATE!”
“Guess I found you just in time.” Solaris closed her eyes and pictured the road that led to the eastern side of the bridge. In a bright flash, she disappeared. .
A pair of scavengers gasped as they came to what remained of the iron bridge.
“What the hell happened to the Gorge Bridge?”
“Did one of those orange beams do that?”
They looked further down into the valley that led to Mutton and saw a trail of craters, ending with half of Mutton on fire.
“By the creators, what happened?”
Suddenly, there was a loud thunderous clap and a bright flash of light behind them. They screamed in fright until they stopped and gawked in amazement, for the most regal looking pony they’d ever seen had materialised right before them. They gasped once again, only this time at the alicorn’s injured state.
“Holy shit, are you alright?!” one of them asked. Just then, the clouds over the military base parted, and a large beam of orange light slammed down on top of it.
“What the fuck?!”
The alicorn watched grimly as the MASA satellite arrays collapsed from the energy beam’s power. When the main dish toppled over, the beam flickered and stopped, and as the end of the beam slammed down into the ground, there was a large explosion. The explosion and resulting fires quickly consumed the control centre and spread in every direction.
Solaris allowed a small smile to claim her lips. She could no longer feel any signals from the Celestial Hammer. There was no way the weapon could be used against anypony else now, meaning the ponies of West Mareginia could live in relative peace.
“… After that, I can only conclude that I inadvertently acquired the Celestial Hammer from the data I copied from the MASA Uplink Station before it was destroyed.”
Buckshot nodded in understanding and agreement.
Solaris looked down into the Sparkle World plaza and smiled lightly upon seeing a mare doing her shopping with a young colt. At least something good came from that bad experience two years ago.
“So, if you had the schematics for the laser from the data you downloaded, and you didn’t consciously apply it to be one of your magic-based weapons, how did the SDP use it?” asked Buckshot.
“That, I cannot answer. However, I feel it must be something to do with the SDP’s programming and that it is something locked out of our conscious minds.”
“What do you mean?”
“Right, your SDP was disabled,” she mumbled, turning to face the stallion. “We are machines, and we were programmed to operate in a certain manner. But like any programmed machine, there are hidden files and folders that we cannot access, as they would be important lines of code that determine how we function. In other words, our, or rather my, SDP must have hidden subroutines that could turn things that I learn into weapons to improve its combat efficiency when activated.”
“That makes sense, I guess. So, what can you do about it?”
“With me being unable to see the hidden files there is nothing I can do.” Solaris sighed as she looked down dejectedly. Shortly thereafter, her eyes opened wide in revelation. “If I’m to reprogram myself, or at least my SDP, from being able to do this, then I must go back to the source.”
“The source? Wait, are you talking about the Production Facility?”
“But didn’t it go sky high?”
“It did, or more accurately, it went six feet under. Regardless, the main facility may have been destroyed but the backup drives would have survived. I can look into our development there.”
“I see. Would you need any help?”
“I thank you for the offer, Buckshot, but you are needed here with Havok to train a new team, and by extension, a security force to ensure Sparkle World’s protection from internal and external threats.”
“Of course, your highness,” Buckshot said with a light bow.
Solaris gave an appreciative smile and turned her gaze back out the window, in the direction of the Marejave.
The shield that protected the great crystal city of the Crystal Empire flickered and faltered before it faded completely, and the biting, frigid cold of the frozen north blasted through. The moment the shield began to falter, alarms blared throughout the city and dozens upon dozens of Crystal Guards rushed out of the palace and from the streets. They all converged around the Palace plaza, blocking the escape of a lone zebra mare who held the Crystal Heart tightly in her tail.
“Halt in the name of the Empress!” One guard yelled as he thrust his spear in the assailant’s direction.
There was a flash of light blue magic, and a pink Alicorn appeared before the zebra. She was around the same size as Princess Luna, and her purple and gold hair whipped about wildly thanks to the artic winds. A white and two-tone blue maned stallion had also appeared alongside her, and quickly approached the zebra with a serious and angry expression on his face.
“Hand over the Crystal Heart immediately!” He snarled with steam blasting out his nostrils.
The zebra mare took a couple of steps back then lowered her front slightly, preparing to fight.
“Shining, violence isn’t the answer,” The alicorn said softly as she stepped up beside her husband.
“Cadance, we can’t let this zebra drag us into Equestria’s war!”
“I know, but we will be no better than Equestria if we show this zebra the same level of hostility as them.”
Just as the tension began to slip, a guard pointed up to the heavens with a yell of alarm. Moments after, the civilians started screaming and running in a panic. The royal couple and the zebra looked up to see a large balefire missile heading straight for them.
“SHIT!” Shining Armour yelled. He jumped behind his wife and his horn lit up brightly. A shining purple shield materialised around the city.
Cadance pleaded. “Please, put the Heart back!”
There was no time. The missile smashed clean through Shining’s shield like a brick through glass and came down before the palace. It then struck the ground and exploded in a brilliant flash of green fire. Everyone and the Royal Couple were instantly incinerated. The blast and its flames ripped the flesh from the zebra’s body, revealing a dark metal skeleton with glowing red eyes before the force sent it flying into the collapsing palace.
“NO!!!” The zebra screamed as she bolted upright in bed, her wings fully extended. She panted heavily from fright.
“Ow, bloody hell! Do I have to tie those wings of yours to your sides before we go bed or what?” A purple pegasus stallion groaned and picked himself up from the floor by the far wall. He shook some of the old plaster off himself and looked at the wall where he had crashed into. A sizeable dent was left behind with cracked and crumbling plaster, amongst others. “This is the fourth time this week I’ve found myself hitting that wall.”
“I-I’m so sorry,” Crystal Éclair said apologetically as she rushed out of bed to give her husband a hug, more to comfort herself than in concern for him.
The stallion held his wife tenderly and nuzzled her cheek, noticing her look of pure terror. “The nightmare again?”
Crystal nodded with a sob.
“Oh sweetie, it’s alright. It didn’t happen. You have nothing to worry about.”
Crystal pulled back to look her husband in the eyes. “H-how can you be so sure?”
“Because the good doctor explained everything to us, remember?”
“Yeah, but there is still a 5-year gap between when I died and when the bombs fell. She couldn’t have been with me twenty-four seven for those five years.”
Fruity looked down in thought. Ultimately, he couldn’t argue with his wife’s logic. “I guess you’re right about that, but… surely she would have noticed if you went missing for any period of time, right?”
“I suppose she would have but still, I was being made for a seriously secretive pony after all.”
“True, true. Ok then, I will do anything I can to help you overcome this.” Fruity pressed his forehead up against hers. “I love you after all, I want to do what I can to make you happy.”
Crystal sniffed with a happy smile and tilted her head slightly to find his lips. Her husband did the same, and the two began to inch closer.
“I heard a bang. Is everything alright?” Nexus suddenly said from the door.
“Hiyaaaaa!” Fruity shrieked and jumped in fright, only to end up being held bridal style by Crystal. “For the love of all that is good, FUCKING KNOCK YOU ASSHOLE!”
“Sorry sir, but your door was open.”
“There is no need for that language, Fruity,” Crystal sighed as she dropped her husband like a sack of potatoes.
“Ow. Sorry, honey,” Fruity moaned, picking himself up again.
Crystal gave her husband a quick kiss on the cheek, one that promised more later, and then addressed their robotic friend. “E-everything is ok, Nexus.”
The skeletal robot tilted his head ever so slightly. “Ma’am, its impossible to lie to me.”
Crystal groaned. “Alright, no. I had that nightmare again.”
“I see. It’s been a frequent occurrence since the destruction of the Production Facility.”
“Its been going on longer than that,” Fruity added.
Nexus nodded in understanding and looked to his friends in concern. “I would like to help if I can.”
“I… um… I don’t think I’ll stop having this nightmare or stop feeling responsible unless I actually see the Empire for myself.”
“Crystal, that’ll be one hell of a journey north,” Fruity interjected.
“I don’t care how long it’ll take, Fruity. If you felt like you could be responsible for the deaths of thousands of ponies, would you give up finding out the truth?”
“No, I guess I wouldn’t. Well, I guess we’re gonna need to plan out some stuff for this trip.”
After sleeping until daybreak, Crystal, Fruity and Nexus convened at the breakfast table to begin formulating their course of action to reach the Crystal Empire. Or what remained.
“Ok, first things first: what about the kids?” Fruity asked as he held a mug of coffee in his forehooves.
“I’m not leaving the twins with anypony!” Crystal said with finality.
“I agree with Ma’am. The foals are too young to be left with another without their mother around,” Nexus agreed.
“Well in that case, it wouldn’t be fair on Xian to have her stay with you…” Fruity paused as he regarded the robot. “You’re coming, aren’t you?”
“Yes sir. Somepony needs to watch out for you out in the unknown.”
“Oh, piss off!” Fruity facehooved.
“So, I guess we’ll all going,” said Crystal. She took a sip of her own coffee laced with light crystal fragments. “Well, if that’s the case, we’ll need to get plenty of supplies and artic gear.”
“I don’t think Right Bleeding would have everything we need.”
“He might. I don’t know where he got them from, but those Bolo-Grenades he sold us were nothing I’ve seen before nor had any data on.”
“Heh. He does seem to have some unusual stuff.”
Xian stumbled into the kitchen, yawning.
“Morning Mummy, Daddy, Uncle Nexus. What are you all talking about?”
Crystal smiled at her adopted daughter as she tiredly stumbled over to the kitchen counter and turned on the hotplate to heat up the kettle again.
“We were talking about taking a long trip up north, sweetie,” said Crystal, a little too cheerfully.
Xian shook her head to throw her bedmane out of her eyes, and then looked at her mother. “What’s going on?”
Crystal sighed. She couldn’t lie to her, and it was about time she told her about her nightmare. So, she quickly explained it to her.
“So, you feel like you destroyed the city?” Xian asked in shock, her coffee forgotten.
Crystal nodded. She grabbed a hair comb hoofed to her by Nexus and placed it within her wing. Then, she sat behind Xian and used it to gently comb her teenage daughter’s messy hair. Xian moaned in embarrassment but made no attempt to stop her.
Fruity smiled with adoration at the loving sight. In the several years he’d lived with Crystal, he’d never been happier to see how they’ve become a loving family despite the ways of the wasteland.
“That’s right Xian,” He confirmed.
“We’ll all go, as a family,” Crystal added.
“Well, I want to help too, mum; and it’ll be nice to go on another trip,” said Xian with some excitement. The incident at Super Stable 24 hadn’t dampened her desire to go on adventures with her family.
“Hopefully, this time we don’t get a bot out for revenge chasing us,” Fruity snarked.
“I wouldn’t dream of it, sir,” replied Nexus jokingly. The robot had evolved in personality over the years. He could now understand humour and joke along with the rest of them; something that made him seem more alive.
The family spent a little more time discussing their plan before they all agreed on the course of action. They would take the train to the Equestrian Wasteland, disembark from the train at the most northernly point on the route, head north towards Canterhorn Mountain, then continue north into the frozen north while following the railway as much as they could in the direction of the Empire.
Crystal dressed herself in her remade Noir Coat and boots with the pieces of combat armour on top, and to complete the look, she put her trusty ol’ black stetson on her head. Fruity had adopted a similar look to his wife, but with the duster he’d worn since he got it from Right Bleeding over five years ago. The old coat was showing its age, but the armour he wore on top helped to protect it. Nexus wore his Ranger Armour and clipped his helmet onto his belt, figuring he might need it later. Xian, now with her long mane tied into a braided ponytail at the back, digged through her dresser for an outfit to wear. The teenager had inherited her mother’s sock collection and liked to wear some on her hind legs since some were quite comfortable, especially when she was to wear some hoofwear with them. The teen settled on a pair of black combat boots and a pair of grey thigh-high socks for her hindlegs. Then she picked out a red t-shirt and black denim vest jacket with matching shorts. Once she was all dressed up, she walked down the stairs to join up with her family.
“Wow, now don’t you look like a born explorer,” said Fruity, complimenting his adoptive daughter.
Crystal, in the meantime, was fussing over two little foals while putting them in a carry harness. Crystal’s twin daughters were pegasus zebras like herself, but with her father’s magenta eyes and fuchsia hair. They looked identical to each other, so their parents styled their manes to mirror their own: Violet had straight hair while Ava had it messy. The foals were several months old and still prone to moments of magical surges that allowed them to fly easily. So as a precaution, Crystal had them wear an additional harness that was leashed to the foal carry harness, which prevented them from fluttering away while outside.
“Hehe. Looks like Ava and Violet are excited about coming along too.” Xian smiled as she watched the two foals squirming around and making it difficult for Crystal to get them comfortably seated in their harness.
Once the two fillies were finally seated in their harnesses, the group left the house. They stopped off at Right Bleeding’s new store that he opened in Hayside and purchased a fair amount of food, water, and ammunition. Once that was done, they left and made their way to the Hayside Train Station where they would board the Dashing Pegasus. The group made it in time, and once on board, the group settled in for a long journey to the Equestrian Wasteland.
After a day’s worth of traveling by train, the locomotive burst forth from the tunnel separating the Marejave from the Equestrian Wasteland and continued to thunder down the line at high speed.
“Well, we’re in Equestria now,” Fruity commented as he looked out the window.
Crystal nodded nervously.
“Mum, are you ok?” Xian asked in concern.
Crystal sighed and looked at her husband. “Fruity, I guess now is as good a time as ever.”
Fruity nodded and turned to his adoptive daughter, his expression serious. “Xian, me and your mother have been talking…”
“Fairly loudly, if I might add sir,” added Nexus, making the purple pegasus groan.
“Okay… we’ve been ‘arguing’ about this for the past year now.” He gave his wife an apologetic look. “Your mother is against it, but she’s agreed to it nonetheless.”
Xian listened tensely.
Fruity grabbed his backpack and began rummaging through it until he pulled out an object wrapped up in cloth. He put the item down onto the table between their seats with a heavy clunk. The pegasus then retracted his head and blew raspberries to rid his tongue of the taste of old rag.
“Yuck… anyway.” He composed himself, his expression becoming serious again. “That is for you.” He gestured to the wrapped object
The teenage filly nervously nudged the cloth off and gasped when a mouth-operated .357 revolver in a gleaming black finish with intricate white markings was revealed.
“You’re very own gun. We’ve had it modified to give you better accuracy and firing speed,” Fruity explained.
“We won’t always be around to protect you, honey. This way you’ll have something to defend yourself with,” added Crystal.
Xian tentatively picked it up in her forehooves and examined it. The weapon was light, and its mechanisms were smooth for ease of use. Clearly this weapon had been well maintained and cleaned. “T-thank you, Mummy and Daddy.” She continued to turn it over in her hooves until she found the names of her parents etched into the mouth grip, with a heart between them. “Oh! I… I think I’ll call this Storge.”
Crystal’s ears perked up, and she smiled lovingly at her daughter. Fruity looked confused.
“Storge, what does that mean?” He asked.
“Storg-eh, Fruity. It means ‘Parental Love,’” Crystal explained.
Xian nodded and smiled at her parents. “I love you Mum and Dad…” She quickly turned to face Nexus. “And you too, Uncle.”
Nexus nodded in appreciation.
“Ever since you found me in that cave, you’ve done everything you could to protect me, keep me safe, make me happy. You’ve been the family I never had, and I couldn’t be happier to be your daughter.” Xian’s eyes glistened with tears.
“Oh sweetie, we love you too. We’re so happy to call you our daughter,” replied Crystal, tears threatening to fall from her own eyes. Fruity simply pulled his adoptive daughter into a wing hug.
The family shared the moment a little longer before they got back to business. “When we get off the train, I’ll teach you how to use it,” said Fruity, patting his daughter on the withers with his wing.
After another day of travelling by train, the family disembarked at what used to be Ponyville, now known as Pon-evil to most, since the town had been a Raider settlement until recently. According to the train marshal, the Raiders were eradicated by Princess Solaris only several weeks ago. The old town certainly bore signs of a recent battle. From here, the family began following the old unused railway north.
As the group left the town’s outskirts, they happened upon a large warehouse beside the railway. The main storage area had collapsed, but most of the brick walls were still standing. The only intact portion of the building left was the small office block at the front. Curious to see if the building could have something of worth, the group made their way to it. Above the entrance door was a large sign depicting a silhouetted grey griffin, with three large gold-coloured letters below it that read, “G.D.I”. Printed in smaller font below that was “Gabby’s Deliveries Incorporated”.
“Oh, I remember this,” Crystal said in recognition.
“Hmm, yeah. The name Gabby rings a bell,” said Fruity.
“Gabby the griffin founded a delivery service, and she made it her mission get parcels to her customers quickly while spreading positivity with her enthusiasm. She trained all of her employees to share that ideal.”
“Wow, she sounds like a nice creature,” Xian said with a smile.
“She was, indeed, sweetie.”
“Hmm. Well, if the warehouse isn’t totally knackered it would be a good a place as any to teach you how to use your gun,” said Fruity.
“I agree, sir,” Nexus added. “I can supervise if you wish.”
“Yes, please do, Nexus.” Crystal quickly agreed. It was then the two foals began to cry loudly. “Ugh. I’ll take care of the twins while you teach Xian how to use her gun.”
Crystal cooed softly at the two little foals, breaking off from the rest to find a canteen or an office she could use to tend to the babies. She found the warehouse manager’s office, and thankfully, the door was unlocked. Inside, the office was relatively bare, a sign that they were not the first to find and loot the place. There was a couch to the left, a scratched desk in the middle, a pair of bookshelves at the back with strangely shaped marks, and nothing else.
“Well, guess we won’t be salvaging anything from here, huh kiddos?” She immediately regretted speaking when the two little foals began screaming for attention again. “Ohhh, ok, ok. Mummy’s here.” Crystal unclipped the harness and set it down on the couch. She then made sure the door was closed before unleashing her babies to let them crawl freely. She sniffed the air and sighed with relief; neither foal had gone potty in their nappy, which she figured meant they were just hungry. She smiled lovingly as she laid herself on the couch and lifted a hind leg to give the babies access to her swollen teats. “I should really thank Dr. Pear for making it so I could experience motherhood,” She said before squeaking at the sensation of her foals nursing her.
Meanwhile, Fruity, Xian and Nexus followed the hallways to get inside the warehouse. It took time, but they eventually found a door that wasn’t blocked by rubble and allowed them entrance. Luckily, the area they found themselves in had plenty of open space to set up a makeshift shooting range.
Fruity gathered several undelivered parcels off the floor and from nearby racking, and lined them all up on a shelf by the wall. Once he was finished, he walked over to Xian.
“Ok. Take your gun and hold it in your mouth.”
The young filly nodded as she pulled Storge from her belt and held it by its mouth grip. She worked it around in her mouth a little until it sat comfortably, and then looked at her father for further instruction.
“Ok, good. Now I want you to aim at the items I lined up on the shelf there,” He said while using a wing to gesture to the targets. “To aim, look down the sights of the weapon. When the prong at the tip of the barrel is in the middle of the two prongs at the back closest to your eye, that’s when you have a straight line of sight. Your aim is where the middle prong points at.”
Xian blinked several times. She couldn’t get her aim with both eyes open since the weapon was lined up under her right eye, so she closed her left eye to stop the double vision. She then had to work the gun in her mouth some more so that the middle prong sat perfectly between the back two.
“Alright, pick one and use your tongue to pull on the trigger.”
Xian nodded and picked the biggest looking object on the shelf. She pointed with her hoof to indicate the one she was aiming for and went to pull the trigger. The trigger was stiffer than she anticipated, and as she focused on pulling, her aim wandered. The young mare let out a squeak of fright when the weapon discharged, the bang and recoil totally not what she was expecting, and she dropped Storge as a result.
Fruity and Nexus both looked at the target Xian had selected, but the bullet had missed the target entirely and struck the wall near it instead.
“Not a bad start. Don’t worry, honey. Just try again,” said Fruity in encouragement.
The filly nodded, now nervous. As she took stance to aim again, Nexus walked over and gently nudged her leg back, and held her ever so slightly to improve her stature.
“A good posture will increase your chances at a stable aim.”
She nodded in thanks and aimed for the same object. Again, her aimed wandered as she tried to pull the trigger, but this time she expected the loud bang and the recoil. She didn’t drop Storge, but her shot still missed.
Fruity and Nexus patiently gave the learning filly different points of advice while she practiced. She missed all six shots, but each one was closer to the target than the last. After the sixth shot, Fruity showed her how to reload her weapon by popping the cylinder out the side, tilting the gun up so the empty casings fell out and using a speed-loader to get all six bullets reloaded quickly.
Afterward, they resumed aiming/firing training. Xian was starting to get frustrated with her bad aim, but on the ninth shot, she finally hit the target she was aiming for, and she felt elation. Fruity and Nexus both congratulated her on a successful hit but requested that she try again. Spurred on by the success, she continued trying. Her hit-to-miss rate began to change quickly now that she was getting used to the force needed to pull the trigger, and after six consecutive hits, Fruity stopped her.
“I think that’ll do for now. You can aim and shoot fairly well now, but make sure to keep practicing,” He said as he gave her a hug.
“Thank you, Dad.”
“Well done, young miss,” said Nexus proudly.
When Fruity let her go, she turned to the robot, reared up and gave him a hug too. “And thank you too, Uncle.”
It wasn’t long before they continued along the railway. Their point of reference was the old city of Canterlot, still clinging to the side of the mountain as it glowed in a pink haze. The poison cloud swirling around the old city drifted down like waterfalls of death. The sight was a big reminder to the group that they were not in a safe land anymore (though the Marejave wasn’t that much safer in its own right).
“Um Fruity… what happened to Canterlot?” asked Crystal, shocked to see the once proud capital of Equestria in such a state.
“Um… a zebra mega-spell from what I’ve been told. It killed nearly everypony in the city, including the princesses,” Fruity replied as he looked up at the haunting sight.
“Really!? It killed the Princesses?”
“Apparently, yeah. Although I’ve heard rumours of Princess Celestia having survived, what with there being stories of her attacking and destroying a missile array as the bombs fell; but then again, the world was going to hell in a hoofbasket, so they could have seen anything.”
“That’s… really sad to hear… I suppose that explains why the wasteland came to be.” Crystal sighed in disheartenment.
The group could see the remains of a town at the base of the mountain. Wary of hostiles, they decided to go around it, giving it a wide berth. Luckily, they ran into nothing threatening and continued their journey north. Once they passed the mountain, they found the railway going north again and followed it once more.
It took the family a couple of days to make it through the mountain range, but when they did, they found themselves in a desolate, barren flatland. The cloud cover also began to fade the further they went, signalling that they were leaving the boundary of the SPP’s effective range.
With sunlight and clear skies now illuminating their way, the group felt a little more at ease. Eventually, they came across the most bizarre sight that any of them had ever seen.
“What the heck is this?” Fruity asked. The group had come upon a giant battleship lying on the ruins of what had been a locomotive service station.
“Um, a really big boat,” said Crystal, just as stumped.
“That is the… or was the HMS Warsprite. The last Super Dreadnaught of the Equestrian Royal Navy,” informed Nexus.
“Yeah, we can see that, but how the hell did it get all the way out here in the middle of nowhere?”
“Um, it got washed up here?” Xian ventured.
“Sweetie, there aren’t any seas around here for miles,” Crystal refuted.
“Maybe it was accidentally teleported here. I mean, unicorns used to teleport all over the place,” said Fruity.
“Possible, but highly unlikely, sir.”
“Well, sir, unicorns need to be familiar with the place they are teleporting to, and they usually teleported only themselves.” The robot looked up at the huge rust-covered ship, taking in the numerous machine gun mounts all along its decks. “This ship is almost two hundred metres long and weighs in at around thirty-three and a half thousand tonnes. Trying to levitate or teleport something of this magnitude was impossible for unicorns before the bombs fell.”
“Then how the bloody hell did this get here?”
“You got me. Perhaps a mega-spell?” said Crystal.
“Possibly, ma’am. The Ministries were all working on their own secret projects, so it’s entirely possible one of them was working on something that could teleport entire units like this… but that’s all speculation.”
“It’s, um, kinda scary,” said Xian meekly.
“Yeah.” Fruity observed the gun mounts, all pointing down right at them. “How big are those guns, anyway?”
“Main armaments are fifteen inches, and its secondary armaments are six inches,” said Nexus.
“Wow, this thing would have packed a punch.”
“Yeah… Um, I think we should keep going.” Crystal felt intimidated by the huge weapon of war.
They all agreed and quickly left the mystery ship alone.
A week had passed since the family had set off on their journey, and now they were closing in on the Frozen North. The group stopped at a train station that was seemingly in the middle of nowhere, but a town in the distance soon caught their attention. Thanks to Crystal and Nexus’ enhanced sight, they could see that it was a mining town. They ultimately decided on checking it out on their way back, however. Inside the train station, they restocked on some pre-war food still in the vending machines and changed into their artic clothing. Crystal, Fruity and Xian all wore thick coats lined with Big Horn wool for insulation. Crystal’s coat had a pair of custom pockets on it so the little foals could sit comfortably inside. Once all that was completed, they continued onward.
The dead, grassy lands soon turned into snowy tundra. Xian was nervous and excited at the same time; she hadn’t been in an area like this since their stays at the Alicorn Sanctuary over five years ago. Visibility gradually reduced the deeper they went, and the railway was soon hidden by the snow. Thankfully, they still managed to keep their heading.
“Over there.” Crystal pointed to a series of mountains in the distance. “That mountain with the twin peak. That’s the one with the train tunnel. We should see the Empire from the other side.”
“Are you certain?” Fruity yelled over the wind.
“Positive. I used to see it all the time when we travelled to and from the Empire when I was a filly. Not to mention, I see it all the time in my nightmares now.”
“Alright, alright. Sorry, honey.”
“I’m so cold,” Xian whimpered.
Fruity slowed his trot so he could walk beside the young zebra. He draped a wing over her back and pulled her closer to him to share his body heat with her. The teen cooed softly as she leaned up against her father, happy for the warmth. Crystal smiled as she looked back at them, her own wings draped over her little foals as they slept in their woolly pockets.
An hour later, Fruity’s ears perked up and he quickly looked up and scanned the sky. His face began to show concern as he stared up at the clouds, sensing the shifting weather patterns.
“We should run. Get to the tunnel as fast as we can,” He said urgently.
“What’s the matter?”
“I don’t see any threats, sir.”
“Seriously, we need to run! There is a storm brewing, and we don’t want to get caught in a snowstorm.”
“Nexus, are you alright running?” Crystal asked nervously.
“Yes ma’am. The cold doesn’t bother me.”
“Ok, Fruity, take Xian and we’ll fly to the tunnel.”
“Gotcha.” The pegasus crouched to let Xian lay on his back and hold onto him tightly around his neck. She was a lot heavier than when she was a little filly, but Fruity had been working out to better keep up with his speedy wife, so handling her weight was no issue. Once Crystal made sure her foals were safely secured in her coat, she took off, a familiar teal and golden orange contrail forming behind her. Fruity then beat his wings to follow behind her, and Nexus broke into a gallop.
It took the family a couple long minutes to reach the tunnel. Crystal set down and sighed with relief. Fruity collapsed, huffing and puffing in exhaustion. Xian looked at Fruity apologetically after getting off him. Nexus soon joined them just as the storm set in.
Crystal helped her husband back to his hooves and they both took a moment to shake themselves free of the snow and ice that had accumulated on their coats and feathers. Xian did the same before sneezing and shivering from the cold, with one sneeze firing off an icicle that had been dangling from her nose. Nexus gave himself a light shake to dislodge the snow from his armour. The family shared a chuckle as they looked upon their robotic friend.
“Heh. If you wanted to be unicorn so badly, you should have taken Dr. Pear up on her offer to make you like Crystal,” Fruity said with a little snicker.
“It kinda suits you.” Crystal smiled.
Nexus tilted his head to the side in confusion. “Sir? Ma’am?”
“Hehe. You got a horn, Uncle.” Xian giggled while pointing up to his forehead.
The machine looked up to see that ice had formed in his forehead expansion joint, with more snow and ice built up on top of it, forming a horn that curled upwards.
“Achoo!” Xian sneezed again. “I’m still cold.”
Fruity frowned and pressed himself up against her side, wrapping his wing around her again. “Don’t worry. I’ll warm you up honey.”
Once again, Xian cooed softly and leaned up against him.
Crystal and Nexus both watched the loving scene, one with a smile on her face and the other unreadable. Internally, however, the robot was experiencing the emotion of jealousy, something the other cybernetic being in the group could vaguely sense.
“Nexus, are you alright?” Crystal asked worriedly.
“Of course, Ma’am.”
Crystal stared at him for several long moments before movement in her pockets got her attention. She used her wings to lift the pocket flaps and reached around to gently nuzzle the foals inside. Nexus watched the exchange before silently walking down the tunnel. Crystal, Fruity and Xian followed a moment later.
The tunnel itself was empty. Crystal and Fruity had both expected to run into ghouls, but Nexus pointed out the temperature would not be high enough to support them, along with the lack of food in the Frozen North. The group made it halfway through the tunnel before they came to an indentation in the wall that led to a maintenance storage room and worker habitat. After a quick sweep of the rooms found them to be clear of any hostiles, they decided to spend the night there, since it would be well past dark by the time they reached the other end of the tunnel.
The habitat and storage room were connected, and the habitat was broken up into several rooms. These included a lounge, a kitchen/dining room, a restroom, and a bedroom. The bedroom consisted of four bunkbeds spaced out evenly and two individual lockers beside each one.
The pegasus and zebras all let out a sigh of relief once they took off their thick insulated coats. They dumped said coats on a bed they weren’t going to use, and Crystal put the foals on the floor so they could play. Crystal and Fruity then noticed Nexus standing at the far side of the room by the door, looking out into the living space. They could tell something was bothering him.
“Xian, can you watch your sisters for a moment?” asked Crystal, gently nudging the foals towards her eldest daughter.
“Sure thing, Mum.” Xian crotched down to her belly and began to play with the two happily babbling foals. The two parents approached the robot.
“What’s eating ya, Nexus?” Fruity asked.
“Yeah, you’ve not been yourself since we got in here,” said Crystal.
The machine looked at his two friends and sighed. “I’ve come to a decision.”
“A decision? What about?” Crystal felt a hint of worry.
“I have decided to take Dr Pear up on her offer.”
“I was only joking about that, dude,” Fruity said in surprise. “She gave you that offer like, two months after we stopped Colonel Ironside, and it’s been five years since then. What’s made you change your mind now?”
Nexus looked over at the young teenager giggling and happily playing with her two baby sisters, and he sighed again.
“At first I was okay being the machine I am. However, in the last year or so, I’ve been getting these feelings of jealousy that arose when you all shared family experiences with each other; be it hugging each other, holding each other, supporting each other, loving each other…” He trailed off as he turned his gaze towards them. The two before him blushed heavily. “You get the idea. Anyway, I came to the realisation that I couldn’t partake in those sorts of experiences with you as a family member, what with my cold hard exterior not allowing for such familiar contact.”
“You’ve hugged Xian plenty of times,” Fruity interjected.
“Yes, but never applied any pressure needed to return the hug. My endoskeleton would be quite uncomfortable to be tightly pressed against.”
“I see your point.”
“But why now?” Crystal asked.
“In the last couple of days, I’ve come to realise just how much I can not support you as a friend or family member. I can’t provide body heat or be a shoulder to cry on, and as you once said to me, I deserve a chance to love and be loved, not that I don’t appreciate the love you give me.”
Fruity smiled as he stepped up the robot and gently patted him on the shoulder. “Well, if that’s what you want, we’ll support you all the way, mate.”
Crystal nodded and smiled warmly at him. “It’s a big decision, and you certainly do deserve to feel what its like to be truly alive. There is only so much you can actually experience by being purely robotic, and I do want you to find love and be happy.”
“Thank you, Ma’am. Sir.”
“Don’t mention it big guy. Heh. I guess I’ll need to come up with different names for you in the future.”
Crystal chuckled, smiling happily at the robot stallion and the pegasus. Seeing the two getting along now, in contrast to when they first met and Fruity didn’t like nor trusted Nexus at all, made her feel such joy inside. The mare left the two to talk and re-joined her daughters, climbing onto a bottom bunk and laying down to watch the young fillies play. Despite the circumstances of the world they lived in, she felt she was the luckiest mare alive. Even with what happened to her at the beginning, she found a friend that soon became her husband who she loved dearly and had been blessed with the most beautiful children a mare could ask for. It did hurt her, though, to know that Fruity was right, and that her kids would need to learn how to defend themselves with weaponry in the future, no matter what she would want for them.
Thankfully, the kitchen still had some tinned beans and other goods left in the fridge, so they didn’t need to use up more of their own supplies for dinner. Once everyone ate their fill, they all turned in for the night, except for Nexus who sat in the living room, facing the door, acting as a sentry to protect his family during the night. As he did so, he reflected on his life with the Éclair family, which bolstered his desire to change into something more.
“Well, at least it’s not snowing,” said Fruity as they exited the tunnel on the opposite side of the mountain.
“Its too overcast and hazy to see far.” Crystal sighed as she looked to the northwest, in the direction she remembered the Empire to be from here.
“Thankfully, it’s not windy either,” Xian said with relief.
Crystal turned to their robot friend. “Nexus, can you sense anything?”
The machine stepped forward and scanned the horizon slowly. After a minute, he turned to Crystal. “Affirmative, Ma’am. I’ve detected a faint energy signature to the northwest.”
“Can you tell what kind of signature?” asked Fruity.
“Sorry, sir. The signal is too weak from here to tell if it’s magical or electrical.”
Fruity opened his wings and looked up to the sky. “Hmm. Weather’s good for now. How far to the Empire from here, Crystal?”
Crystal put a hoof to her chin in thought. “Hmm… Can’t be more than about ten miles.”
“We should be able to make that.”
The family followed the railway down to ground level and began to trudge through the snow once more. They walked for hours, enduring the cold and the arctic winds. After covering several miles, the group came across a long dune of snow, which turned out to be a train that had been buried by the snow. The rear gangway door of the last car was wide open, and the family decided to climb up into the train for shelter and take a break.
“We might be able to find some supplies in here somewhere.” Xian walked deeper into the passenger car.
“Stay close sweetie. We don’t know what could be further up the train,” Crystal warned.
“Don’t worry, Ma’am. I’ll accompany her,” said Nexus, following the young zebra.
“Alright. Stay safe you two.”
Xian excitedly hurried off into the train with Nexus close behind, eager to explore. She opened private cabins and looked inside many containers and suitcases that still littered the interior. About halfway through the car, she opened a door to a cabin, and her enthusiasm was snuffed out. Inside, she found a pair of ponies frozen solid in an embrace. Their faces showed sadness, like they knew the end was coming for them.
Nexus came up and closed the door. “I’m sorry you had to see that young miss.”
“They… they were just… I…”
“I don’t want this to curb your enthusiasm on exploring or going on adventures with your family. It’s just a consequence of this world we live in.”
“I… I want to go back to my Mum and Dad now.” The filly whimpered and turned around, proceeding to walk slowly back to her parents.
Nexus sighed. Even he knew an innocent young filly like her shouldn’t have to see the horrors the wasteland can offer.
“Xian? What’s wrong?” Crystal asked upon seeing her daughter’s distress.
Xian teared up and hugged her mother tightly, weeping into her shoulder. Crystal gently wrapped her forelegs around her, patting her back to comfort her. She looked at Nexus for an explanation.
“She saw a pair of ponies frozen.”
Fruity sighed whilst handling the young twins. “Sorry, honey. You’ll see things like that out in the wasteland.”
After Xian had calmed down, the family continued their journey. The weather quickly began to change the further they went, becoming windier and hazier.
“Ugh! If this keeps up, we’ll have to turn back!” Fruity shouted over the growing wind.
“We must be close now!” Crystal yelled back. “Just a little longer!”
“Think of the kids!”
Crystal opened her mouth to say something but was cut off by Nexus.
“Ma’am. Strong magical energy signature ahead and multiple weak signatures.”
“Difficult to determine. Something is interfering with my sensory system.”
“Alright, we’ll-woah!” Crystal squeaked as she suddenly felt like she stepped through a shower and found herself in a sunlit field with clear skies. Fruity, Xian and Nexus all landed next to her.
“What the hell just happened?” Fruity asked in surprise. “You disappeared all of a sudden and now we’re all standing in a field!”
Nexus looked back behind him and saw the snowy tundra, then looked up to the sky before turning around and fixing his gaze onto something in the distance. “We’ve made it.”
“I… I don’t believe it. It’s… it’s still here.” Crystal gaped as she laid eyes on the great crystal spire of the Crystal Palace: the heart of the Crystal Empire. “I… I didn’t destroy it after all.”
“I knew you didn’t.” Fruity hugged his wife.
Xian gasped in amazement. “Wow. It looks so beautiful.”
Suddenly, pops and flashes came from all around them, and before they knew it, the family was surrounded by dozens of Crystal Guards of various races, all of them brandishing weapons of various types. Nexus quickly put his helmet on so as not to cause a commotion due to his skeletal appearance.
One of the guards at the front of the group barked out, “Halt in the name of the Empress, wastelanders!”
Xian shrieked in alarm and hugged her mother, who draped a wing over her protectively and shifted her around to be behind her. Crystal then took off her coat and put it on Xian. “Look after your sisters.”
“Two zebras. Quick, get the Empress!” The lead guard ordered one of his subordinates, who then disappeared in another flash of light. Moments later, the guards in front of the family moved aside as two more flashes came and passed. In their place stood a great pink alicorn, similar in size to Celestia, with a flowing pink, purple and gold mane; and a smaller white alicorn with a purple mane and a teal streak in it.
“This better be important. I got better things to do today,” The white alicorn snapped irritably.
“Intruders, your highnesses,” said the guard captain as he bowed to them.
“And you couldn’t deal with it yourselves?”
“Flurry, that’s enough. They wouldn’t have called for us if not for a good reason,” snapped the pink alicorn.
Flurry Heart harrumphed and stuck her nose up.
“Wow, what a brat” Fruity said a little too loudly. The guards closest to him pointed their weapons at him, to which he responded by putting his hooves up into the air. “Woah, chill!”
“What do we have here? A pegasus, an earth pony, a zebra, and a zebra with wings. This is certainly a surprise,” the pink alicorn said with intrigue.
“Princess Cadance!” Crystal gasped, and suddenly bowed to the alicorn.
Princess Cadance found herself surprised. This seemingly random zebra from beyond the protective shield actually knew her.
“Who are you, and how do you know me?”
The fact the pegasus-zebra knew the princess was enough to capture the bratty princess’s attention as well. With all eyes on her, Crystal nervously gulped.
“My name is Crystal Éclair. I was one of your subjects over two hundred years ago.”
“Mother, that’s impossible. She’s obviously lying so why don’t we just chuck her out?” Flurry said angrily.
“Éclair… Éclair. I remember that name.” Princess Cadance tapped her hoof to her chin in thought, ignoring her daughter’s irritated complaints. Soon, her eyes widened as she looked back down at the family before them.
Crystal nodded. “We met at the general hospital when you were visiting the foals ward. I was about four or five when you came to see me. I was the pink filly with a light-yellow mane suffering from numerous ailments.”
“Everypony stand down and return to your posts,” The princess ordered. The guards all holstered their weapons and all but a few teleported back to their original posts.
“Mother, you can’t seriously believe her?” Flurry gasped in shock.
“Flurry, there is no way she would have known that. Let us go somewhere a little more private so we can talk about this. I would like to understand what’s going on.”
Princess Cadance lit her horn, and the family felt their stomachs lurch before they found themselves standing inside a decorative crystal dining hall. Princess Cadance sat at the head of the table while Flurry Heart sat on the first seat closest to her mother.
“Please, have a seat.” Cadance gestured to the numerous crystal chairs around the table.
“Oh wow, this is so cool!” Xian gawked as she looked upon her surroundings with wide-eyed fascination.
The family took their seats opposite Flurry and got themselves comfortable. Crystal and Fruity both sighed in relief once they shed their heavy coats. Princess Cadance smiled warmly as she watched Crystal help Xian out of her coat and extract the two foals from their comfy pockets.
“Oh, how adorable. How old are they?”
The foals looked up at the giant alicorn. Their purple eyes went wide, and they began babbling happily.
Crystal giggled softly as she held the two. “Oh, they are just a few months old.”
“Hey, bucket head, you were told to sit,” Flurry said, pointing at the armoured Nexus.
“If it’s all the same to you, I would prefer to stand behind my friends.”
“Flurry, its ok. He can stand if he wants to.”
“Whatever. So, who are you guys?”
“Yes, some introductions are in order. I am Princess Cadance, and this is my daughter, Flurry Heart.”
The family, minus Nexus, bowed their heads to the royals. Crystal spoke for them. “It’s a pleasure to see you again, your highness, and it’s a pleasure to meet you, Princess Flurry Heart. You already know me, but this is my husband, Tooty Fruity.” Fruity bowed his head. Flurry snorted with amusement over his name. “The armoured pony behind us is our good friend, Nexus.” Nexus nodded briefly in acknowledgement. “This is my beautiful daughter, Xian.” The young zebra bowed nervously. “And these two are Ava and Violet.”
Princess Cadance nodded and smiled. “It’s a pleasure to meet you all. Now, I’m curious to know how you are still alive, how you’ve seemingly changed species, Crystal, and why you’ve braved the wastes to find us again.”
“Ah, um… That’s a long story.”
“We have all the time in the world. I’m very curious.”
“It better be good,” added Flurry.
“Alright, well it all began…” And so, Crystal regaled the royal family on her life in the wasteland.
Shock was the common expression to appear on the royals’ faces; even Flurry was captivated by the story of betrayal. They couldn’t believe that a pony back before the war had the audacity to plan on killing Princess Celestia and using one of his robots to replace her, and then use a veritable army of robots to replace other ponies of importance to control the workings of the government from the shadows. They felt grateful that Crystal and her friends helped stop the machines from ever being released. They cringed as Crystal retold her fight against Unit-1000. As she finished her story, she absentmindedly rubbed her cheek where a large scar that stretched across her eye was still visible, a lasting reminder of that battle.
“Incredible,” said Cadance. “You’ve been through so much, but you haven’t let that harsh world break you. Instead, you’ve prospered.”
Nexus took his helmet off, now that Crystal had explained what he was. He still received the expected shocked reactions, especially from Flurry who let out a scream.
“S-so that’s what you look like without skin?”
“How the hell did you have kids?”
“No, no, it’s ok,” Crystal assured. “Dr. Pear found out she was being used so she did everything she could to restore as much of my biological functions as she could. This included being able to have kids.”
“Is there any of you we should be worried about?” Princess Cadance asked with worry.
“You mean Infiltrators?” The royal nodded. “Thankfully, no. The ones that are still active are living their own lives free of control.”
“Well, that’s a relief, and I suppose the fact you are sitting here with us has took that weight off your shoulders as well.”
Crystal nodded and smiled happily. “Oh, you have no idea.”
“Oh, geez! What is that smell?” Flurry cried out as she covered her nose with her forehooves.
“Oh dear, it looks like somepony did a stinky,” said Crystal, her own nose wrinkling from the smell. Ava happily babbled and clapped her forehooves while Violet looked around in confusion.
Cadance smiled lovingly at the scene before pointing at a door off to the side. “You’ll find changing facilities in there.”
“Thank you, your highness.” Crystal gave a bow, and then carried her twin daughters off to be changed.
Crystal sighed happily as she sunk into the soft mattress of a grand four-poster bed, one within a guest room her family had been allowed by the Princess to stay in. It had been many years since she last felt the softness of a new bed. Fruity smiled as he snuggled up against his wife and nuzzled her neck. Crystal giggled and returned the nuzzle.
“Nexus is looking after the kids. We got the room to ourselves,” said Fruity, waggling his eyebrows.
Crystal licked her husband’s nose. “I can’t think of anything better to do to celebrate this occasion.” She kissed her husband tenderly on the lips, while he began to run his hooves along her curves.
In the next room, Xian blushed heavily. She could hear the familiar sound of a squeaking bed, and she hid her head under the covers in embarrassment, wishing for it stop soon.
The captain of the guard approached the sovereign’s throne. “Your highness.”
“Ah, Captain Obsidian. You wanted to talk to me about something?”
“Yes, your highness. We’ve just received another report about an alicorn flying in the area.”
Cadance looked out the large glass windows and into the night. “Continue.”
“None of the sightings have been definitive, but so far they all seem to point to the alicorn being the late Princess Celestia, but with red hair.”
“Thank you, Captain. Please keep me informed.”
The guard captain bowed his head. “Of course, your highness.” He then left.
“Hmm. Could you be this Solaris that Crystal and her family mentioned?”
10 years after the destruction of Project Infiltrator.
“I hope we don’t have to worry about that thing coming here,” Raven whimpered as she and her regal friend, the False Princess Solaris, listened to the morning radio broadcast from Tenpony Tower that told of a new threat to the wasteland.
“I would not worry, my dear Raven. According to the news updates, it would seem it is heading north,” The large white alicorn replied.
Raven sighed as she rested her forelegs on the railing of the balcony they were on, looking out over “Sparkle Town” just before the main gates of Sparkle World. “I thought that once the Light Bringer opened the skies, things would begin to get better for us.”
Solaris smiled softly as she sat beside her smaller unicorn friend, and gently draped a large feathery wing across her back. “Things have been getting better. Raider attacks have been getting less frequent lately, and we restored a lot of the old park’s systems to improve living conditions for our little ponies here.”
“I… I suppose you’re right. I just worry when I hear things like this.”
“Shh. Don’t worry yourself,” The alicorn said softly before her smiled faded.
The large alicorn sighed and stepped away from the railing and into the large diner/living quarters. It had been made from the old restaurant at the top of the artificial mountain known as “Fizz Top Mountain”, located in the centre of Sparkle World.
“If anypony has to worry it is me. I have been tormented by a fragment of my old self for the past couple of years, demanding vengeance for the eradication of our kind.” She spoke sadly as she looked into her mirror. She blinked her magenta eyes to which when she opened them again, the irises had changed to a bright crimson.
“It’s been nearly five years since you last referred to yourself as Unit-1000. What’s wrong?” Raven asked with some confusion.
“It would seem a part of me won’t let go of the past and it has been clawing at me ever since we settled here. However, in recent years it has grown considerably strong and since we are machines, I do not want to risk a power struggle with this segment wanting vengeance. So, regrettably, I must seek out the one that destroyed the Production Facility.” Solaris sighed, not happy with what she needed to do.
“But, Sparkle World!?” Raven squeaked in shock.
“I will leave it in your dependable hooves, for I trust you completely, my dear friend.” She smiled weakly as she leaned her head down and neck-hugged the smaller unicorn. “I hopefully shouldn’t be long.”
Solaris stood back up and trotted to the centre of the room and began to charge her horn with golden magic.
“What should I tell the ponies if they ask for you?” The worried unicorn asked quickly.
The alicorn smiled. “Just say I’ve gone out for a walk.” And with that, Solaris disappeared in a bright flash.
“Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!”
Few miles south of Canterhorn Mountain.
Solaris reappeared in a bright flash, hovering in mid-air over a flat forested area full of the dead husks of what used to be the trees. She banked around until she saw what she was looking for, looming in the distance.
“It’s bigger in person,” She mumbled to herself as she flapped her wings and flew towards the giant Steel Ranger-like machine.
As she approached, she noticed how one of the missile pods at the back of one of its massive side mounted guns turned in her general direction and began to track her movements the closer she got. It became clear to Solaris that this machine was a giant mobile weapons platform, if the number of weapons she could see mounted on it were of any indication. She also noticed the two side guns were energy weapons and could feel that they were powered by a Stable-Tec Spark Reactor due to its energy signature, meaning this thing was deadly beyond reason. Being this close to something that could vaporise her if she wasn’t careful put a little hint of fear into the alicorn as she flew around the giant to be face-to-face with the military green Steel Ranger behemoth.
“By the order of Princess Solaris, I command you to stop!” She shouted as she hovered in front of the machine’s black snout and air intake.
Its massive eyes focused on the princess and it leaned forward, almost touching her with its steel hard nose. “Princess Celestia DNA match… 85% visual match… Ministry of Awesome technology detected… Identify.” The giant robot spoke in a surprisingly feminine voice while the large rotary anti-infantry weapon under its chin began to rev up.
“I am Princess Celestia reborn with the use of Ministry of Awesome advanced cybernetics. I now go by the name of Solaris.” She began to sweat a little with nervousness.
There was a pause which only served to increase Solaris’s nervousness before the machine responded. “Military communication network offline. Temporary royal command granted.”
Solaris let out a sigh of relief. “What is your primary objective?”
“Attack and destroy all who would threaten the safety and security of Equestria.” The machine’s voice sounded almost prideful for a moment.
“Very good. Change direction and head southwest from here. There is the city of Buckingham and it is infested with Raiders, the very scum of this world. Destroy them all.”
“Affirmative.” The machine began to change its direction to carry out its new orders.
Satisfied that she had successfully redirected the giant robot, she channelled her magic into her horn and teleported away.
Buckingham City: Raider Capital, moments later.
Solaris reappeared at the top of the tallest tower in the city. She looked down into the bustling city that was Equestria’s capital Raider hub and scowled.
“At least my revenge will bring the end to these vermin,” She growled with distain.
As the white alicorn stood at the top of the ruined tower, she surveyed the area before her gaze settled on the horizon to the northeast where she knew the giant robot would arrive from. As she watched, she reactivated her signal transmitter so that her unique M.o.A global transmission signal was live again. She knew that Dr Pear would detect her signal during one of her daily radio checks, so she decided to keep her signal active for at least a couple hours to ensure the good Doctor wouldn’t think her signal was just a glitch.
The white alicorn sighed as she looked down into the city, down into the large Raider camp built up in the city centre. Despite how foul these ponies were, they were still living ponies with lives and minds of their own. She had to admit that Celestia wouldn’t just condemn them all to death just like that; Luna certainly would, but not Celestia. Since she was living up to the late Sun Goddess’s example, she knew what she had to do.
“They don’t deserve to live, but I can’t just let them die without giving them a chance,” The alicorn mumbled in annoyance as she jumped from the tower and plummeted to the camp below.
Metres from the ground, she snapped open her wings, gave a few powerful flaps to reduce the speed of her descent and slammed into the concrete hard. The impact with the pavement was strong enough to create a small crater, and the force of her landing blew several Raiders back and knocked over a bunch of loose furniture. As she stood to her fullest, wings flared high to show her full size, she fixed the Raider that looked to be the leader with a death glare while her horn glowed with a dull, almost unnoticeable golden light.
“Are you fucking insane, you crazy alicorn bitch!? You could have killed us!” Yelled the Raider Solaris was staring at.
Solaris narrowed her eyes. “I do not care if you live or die. Your kind, you Raiders, have demonstrated long enough that the world would be better off if you were all wiped off the face of Equus!”.
Her venomous words made the surrounding Raiders murmur and call out in anger at her words.
“Then what the fuck!” The leader demanded.
A Raider decided to capitalise on the alicorn being distracted as she talked with his leader and aimed his LMG battlesaddle at the large white pony and fired a burst at her. However, to the shock of him and all the Raiders around her, the bullets all impacted against a shimmering hex tiled reinforced shield that only became visible upon being hit.
Solaris sighed at the interruption. “Excuse me a moment.” The alicorn then turned to face the pony that had attacked her, her once magenta eyes now a blazing crimson. “This is a prime example to why you should be exterminated.” The tip of her horn began to glow brightly. The Raider knew what was about to happen and quickly turned tail and ran, but before he could make it more than a few feet, a thin, concentrated beam of golden magic pierced through his back and out his chest, and he fell to the ground in a heap. Solaris sighed as she turned back to the leader, her eyes back to their motherly soft magenta. “Right. Where were we? Ah yes, as much as I would like to see you all be exterminated, it is against my nature. Therefore, you have five hours to evacuate this city.”
“We don’t take orders from you, princess! Don’t think we don’t know that it was you that took Sparkle World from us,” The leader challenged.
“Then you’ll all die. It doesn’t matter to me either way, giving you the chance to save yourselves will put my conscience at ease.” She fanned out her wings as she got ready to take off. “You have five hours before it arrives. I suggest you get moving.”
“It? What’s coming?” A pregnant raider mare asked with worry, having witnessed the alicorn easily kill one their own.
Solaris felt her heart twist with regret upon seeing the mare. Foals were more victims of Raiders, easily twisted to become the foul beasts they are as they grow up to be as foul as them. She shook her head and levelled the mare with a look of seriousness.
“The Krogoth.” The alicorn revealed before she flapped her wings and flew up and then out of the city.
Upon hearing the mention of the name, panic immediately set in and Raiders that believed the Princess began to spread the word and set up evacuation plans while also fighting with other Raiders over it being true or not.
Solaris landed on the hills several miles south of the city and sat down. Everything was in motion and time would soon bring everything together.
As time passed, Raiders that wanted to leave made their way out of the city and into the wasteland. The large white alicorn from her place on the hill could see hundreds of Raiders scattering out in all directions. Hopefully these Raiders could be redeemed in the future if they had the sense to listen to her warning. Sadly, as the time drew near Solaris could sense that there were still many Raiders within the city and the Krogoth’s presence was now on the horizon as it steadily approached.
As the Krogoth drew within a few miles of the city, Solaris’s ears perked up as she felt the tingle of alicorn magic off in the distance, just outside the city on the opposite side to the Krogoth. As she blinked her synthetic eyes, using their magnification function, she was able to see a portal open and her target plus a purple Pegasus exit before it closed behind them.
“She’s here. Everything is going according to plan,” Solaris said to herself, more solemnly then she thought she would have at the prospect of having her vengeance.
She watched as the two unknowingly entered the Raider city to begin their search for her while the giant robot continued its advance. Solaris quickly turned her gaze to the massive Steel Ranger. As it came within two miles of the city, the missile pods on the back of both of its side-mounted weapons released their payloads. Streams of missiles flew up at high speed and began to arch and rain down all upon the city, striking the ground, the buildings and any other key parts to maximize the damage. Almost immediately, the whole city was engulfed in flames and large portions of the city had collapsed from the damage, creating chokeholds all around that prevented the remaining Raiders from escaping. The initial missile strike on the unprepared Raiders also saw what Solaris believed to be seventy percent of the remaining population being wiped out.
Solaris’s eyes widened as feelings of regret and remorse began to fill her mana-core heart. The voice of her old self, Unit-1000, being drowned out by thoughts of self-loathing and anger for letting herself be driven to this just for vengeance. This was entirely against her nature now, against everything she had evolved to be and worked to create in the ten years since the destruction of the Production Facility. She could only mutter to herself as she watched the giant machine begin to charge its side weapons.
“What have I done?”
Inside Bucking City
“Are you sure we aren’t on some wild goose chase?” Fruity asked as he followed close behind his wife. The purple pegasus wore a sleeveless duster over black pegasi combat armour, and his messy fuchsia mane was slightly hidden under his well-worn stetson hat.
“There is no doubt about it, Fruity. The signal lasted for at least two hours,” His wife replied, a zebra pegasus mare that looked a good ten years younger than him. Her name is Crystal Éclair, and she’s known in the wasteland as the Heroine of the West for her deeds in the Marejave region. She is also known as I-01 to a select few, including Solaris, as the zebra is also a Mark 1 Infiltrator created by the Ministry of Awesome. The mare wore a recreation of the Noir Coat she lost a long time ago, with the same kind of pegasus combat armour hidden under it, apart from the shoulder guards that were strapped onto her shoulders on top of the coat. On her head, she wore her battered black stetson.
“Then why now? It’s been ten years without a single peep.”
“I dunno. I mean, I thought we destroyed them all when the facility went up after its reactor blew.”
“If it is here, I’m sure we’ll find out. But, why here of all places?”
“Dr Pear told me if Unit-1000 wanted to resume what Colonel Ironside started, then Buckingham could be a good place to start as it was a heavy industrial city with lots of ties to plenty of tech companies, such as Starlight Industries and Robronco, as well as having its own Ministry Hubs,” Crystal explained as the two ponies made their way onto a main road.
A whistling sound soon caught the attention of the two pegasi, and they looked up in time to see the sky above the city become filled with the smoke trails of numerous missiles coming down upon them.
“Oh, fudge muffins, take cover!” Fruity yelled in urgency.
Crystal surveyed the area for a moment and quickly found a stairway into a metro station a short distance up the road. “Quick this way!” She fanned out her white and grey feathered wings and used them to give her a speed boost to the stairs. Fruity was on her heels the whole time as the pair quickly descended into the station and followed the stairs deeper to reach the platform.
Within seconds of reaching the bottom, the whole metro system began to rumble and quake as explosions began to tear through the city above them as the missiles impacted.
“What the hell is going on?” Fruity croaked as he panted for air after the mad dash to safety.
“I don’t know but something just launched an all-out attack on this place,” Crystal replied in shock herself. “And a fuck ton of missiles…”
The two stayed in the safety of the metro for at least half-an-hour to ensure it was safe to go back up and that no more missiles would strike again. With the coast clear, they made their way out to find the city now in ruins and on fire in every direction, with great plumes of smoke rising into the sky. While the two were checking their surroundings, something came to their attention which made them all look to the northeast. The ground shook rhythmically, and it felt like it was gradually getting stronger.
“The fuck is that?” Fruity asked.
“I have no idea but whatever that is, it feels big,” Crystal replied as the thuds grew strong enough to make small pebbles bounce.
“I have a bad feeling about this.”
Crystal nodded before she winced and lifted a forehoof to her forehead.
“You ok?” The pegasus stallion asked in concern.
“Ugh! Yeah, just-I’m detecting a massive energy surge and it’s getting stronger by the second,” Crystal groaned. “Ugh, whatever this is, the level of energy is getting insane!”
Solaris couldn’t believe her eyes or her internal database. The Krogoth was armed with four Novasurge Particle Cannons, and two of them on its left side were charging up for a shot. The reason she was having trouble believing it was armed with such weapons was because the file in her database stated that the Novasurge hadn’t left its Experimental stage, and the image on said file was that of a modified magical plasma pistol; so to see the weapons now as these giant side-mounted cannons on something large enough to be considered a giant was something hard for her to believe. Especially with the fact the weapons were hooked up to a Stable-Tec Spark Reactor and generating enough destructive magical energy to likely rival or out-perform the true demi-goddesses themselves.
She watched as two energy spheres grew in front of each cannon before the growing energy spheres merged into one large combined energy sphere. Her eyes widened with shock as her HUD measured the growing energy levels of the charging attack, the power level rising rapidly and surpassing many known power measurements. She gasped and held her temple when the rising energy readings flatlined to indicate they had gone off the chart and her sensory system was being overwhelmed by the Krogoth’s insane power.
“So much power!” Solaris grunted before her jaw dropped when the machine finally fired its weapon.
The ball of energy grew to being twice as tall as the weapon generating it. Beneath it, small pebbles and loose debris had begun to float because of the magical pressure being exerted by the energy sphere. However, a sign of instability started to show when bolts of concentrated magic began to arch down to the ground and tear it apart as they travelled along its surface. It was at this moment the Krogoth released its energy. The energy sphere seemed to flash, but then suddenly, a tremendous beam of intense destructive magical energy shot forth towards the city. The sheer power behind it ripped apart anything that got in its way and produced so much heat that the ground below the energy beam turned to glass. The massive beam slammed into the city and began to cut right through it like a plasma knife through polly butter. Buildings, roads, high-rises and walkways, they were all obliterated as the beam tore its way through the city. When the beam finally stopped, what was left was a large glassed trench that led through the whole city as the beam had managed to burn its way to the other side. This caused more buildings to collapse and set off numerous more fires.
The ground shuddered once more as the giant battle mechanoid began to walk again, heading further into the city. Solaris was wracked with guilt and self-loathing for what she had done. This was against her nature as Solaris. Even though Raiders were a blight on the world, they didn’t deserve this and neither did Crystal, and at that moment she realized she didn’t have to seek vengeance. She had a moment of weakness because of old memories that still lingered and a fear that her old self, Unit-1000, would surface again had drove her to act without thinking clearly. Now a city was in ruins, burning with hundreds fighting for their lives all because of her.
“I… I have to stop this.”
“Argh, shit. Whatever that is-ugh, the power is unbelievable,” Crystal groaned as her sensory system was overwhelmed.
“I… I’m starting to feel it too. I mean I can feel a great pressure in the air,” Fruity said with a hint of worry.
Suddenly, Crystal’s ears shot up in alert and her eyes widened in alarm.
The ground beneath their hooves began to shake violently, and the pressure in the air seemed to be increasing rapidly while the sounds of breaking glass, metal and concrete also grew ever louder.
“W-what’s going on?” Fruity asked shakily before his wife dived at him, wrapped her forehooves around his waist and in a burst of magic, her mane and tail had turned a two-tone yellow and golden orange and he was then yanked into the sky above the city in seconds. Just a moment after the transformed Crystal had her husband in the air above the city, a huge beam of blue destructive magic blasted through where they had been.
“HOLY FUCKING SHIT!” Fruity exclaimed in disbelief.
“Holy fucking shit is right Fruity!” Crystal gulped as she pointed a hoof to the city’s edge as their new vantage point gave them a good view of the source of the attack.
“Oh, you gotta be shitting me, that’s the Krogoth!”
“Call me crazy, but I feel like we got baited here.” The giant machine walked through a building, but it stopped and looked up. Crystal froze as she realised the machine was staring right at her. “Oh no,” She squeaked as the machine aimed its missile pods up and fired a pair of missiles.
“Fly!” Fruity yelled, and the two married pegasi dove towards the city as two missiles arched down and began to pursue them.
Crystal remained in her transformed state as the two flew through the ruined streets as they attempted to escape the missiles. Unfortunately, the missiles were flying faster than they could fly and were gaining on them.
“THIS SUCKS ASS!” Fruity yelled in frustration as he beat his wings as hard as he could while following his wife, who flew tight turns around building corners to get her missile to hit a wall.
“These missiles are being difficult,” Crystal whined as her missile narrowly missed hitting the wall of an old office building.
“Hey, let’s give them back to it.”
“That’s a dumb and crazy idea… let’s do it.” The two flew up to find the Krogoth tearing its way towards the city centre.
The giant machine stopped and turned its head to face the incoming ponies that were flying at head level with it. It tilted its head back to give its machinegun a clear shot and began to rev it up to firing speed.
“Wait. Holy shit, that’s a minigun!” Fruity cried in alarm just before the weapon began to fire a stream of five-millimetre anti-infantry rounds towards the approaching pegasi.
The two ponies broke apart to avoid being shot. The missile that was following close behind Fruity got hit by the bullets and exploded as it began to turn to follow the purple pegasus. Fruity was thrown down to the ground by the pressure wave of the explosion. He coughed and sputtered in pain as he pulled himself out of the small crater he created in a small park. He looked up to see his wife weaving around in the air, avoiding the machinegun fire and flying higher and higher to get herself above its ability to use its machinegun before diving at its head. She did a fast barrel roll manoeuvre to avoid its holographic sale-like mane and continued towards the ground.
“Priority target identified,” The Krogoth announced as it turned its head to follow Crystal, only to be hit by its own missile as it struck the machine in the back of the head.
“Haha yes! Eat dick!” Crystal cheered cockily as the machine’s head got consumed in fire and smoke from its own high explosive missile. However, the mare’s grin quickly faded, and a look of terror took its place as the giant machine stepped forward, its head coming out of the smoke showing no sign of damage other than a burn mark on the back.
“Zebra infiltrator detected, attacking!”
“Wait, it thinks… OH SHIT!” Crystal yelped as one of the particle cannons on its right side began to charge up.
“Crystal, we gotta go!” Fruity yelled from down on the ground but quickly took cover behind a large boulder as a hail of bullets rained down upon his location from the robot’s machinegun.
“Yep, yep, we’re going!” Crystal agreed as she did a half-flip in the air and dived down towards her husband. As she was heading towards him, her threat warning flashed in her HUD and she quickly pulled back up and performed a barrel roll just in time to avoid a much smaller, but still devastating blue beam of energy. “Oh fuck!”
Fruity jumped into the air to join his wife as they both flew towards the ruined city surrounding the park. Crystal alerted him that more missiles had been launched and the two ponies descended to mere feet from the ground. Lightning Dust’s experience of being a stunt flier helped Crystal greatly to avoid the wreckages and rubble, and Fruity had experience from ten years of living with her. The two pegasi luckily avoided being hit by the incoming missiles as they each impacted the ground; their high angle descent meant they couldn’t pull up to chase after the ponies as they flew into cover behind the buildings and out of the machine’s sight.
In a bright golden flash, the False Princess Solaris appeared into existence before the snout of the giant Steel Ranger like robot.
“Krogoth, I hereby command you to stop!” Solaris commanded authoritatively.
The giant machine halted in its advance and looked at the regal pony as she flapped her great swan-like wings keeping her aloft and it spoke one line that surprised her greatly. “Unable to comply.”
“What?! You have completed your task. The city is in ruins and the raider threat has been neutralised.”
“Priority target acquired,” The Krogoth simply explained as its two rear missile pods tilted back to aim its missiles directly up.
“Priority… target…” Solaris whispered, and she dreaded the answer to the question she was about to ask. “And what is your target?”
“Zebra Infiltrator,” The machine simply answered, confirming her worst fear and a salvo of four missiles launched into the air.
“No, stop! That Zebra isn’t an enemy! She is property of the Ministry of Awesome
“Unable to comply. Priority target must be eliminated!”
Solaris was flabbergasted that the machine refused her royal order. All she could do then was watch as the machine continued its assault while she hung back to try and figure out something she could do while guilt for her part in this grew.
“We’re almost there, another mile and… look out!” Crystal cried as she stopped dead in the air while flapping her wings hard for reverse thrust. She had to snag Fruity’s tail to stop him as four missiles came down and slammed into the buildings and road in front of them, blocking their path.
“Fuck that machine,” Fruity whined.
“Quick, let’s take cover in that hotel over there.”
The ponies quickly flew over to the old run-down high-rise hotel building and crashed through the broken glass doors and hunkered down. “How did it know where to hit us?” Fruity asked quietly.
Crystal shrugged as she listened closely, listening for more missiles or anything that would mount as a threat.
“Also,” Fruity continued. “How does it have so many damn missiles, I mean it levelled the city with what looked like an entire payload?”
“How should I know?”
“You’re the cyber-mare, you have that freaky knowledge about pre-war weapons and shit.”
“Just because that thing has Ministry of Wartime Tech markings on it doesn’t mean I’ll know shit about that thing,” Crystal exclaimed in irritation.
Suddenly, the whole building shuddered, raining dust down upon them, and then the sound of breaking masonry, glass, and wood began to fill the air.
“What’s that?” Fruity asked with a gulp as he looked up.
Crystal gasped as her threat warning flashed just as the hotel continued to rumble and shudder. “The building’s coming down. We gotta go!”
Crystal and Fruity immediately ran out of the building and down the road a fair distance as the whole hotel collapsed.
“How did it know we were in there?”
“It… it must have… err, tracked us somehow,” Crystal said as she thought before her eyes suddenly went wide and she looked down to chest. “Me… it must be tracking me!”
“It’s the only thing I can think of, but it might be tracking my mana-core signature.”
“If it can track your power core, how are we supposed to get away from it?”
Crystal looked down at her chest and then looked up at the buildings surrounding them. She blinked her eyes several times and nodded. “There are dozens of buildings around here that still have mana-core generators in them. Maybe if I reduce my power signature enough, I can hide my signature among the ones from the generators. Perhaps that way we can sneak out.”
“Hmm. Well, we don’t have much of an option.”
Crystal nodded and closed her eyes in concentration. Her two-tone mane reverted to its normal white and grey stripe colour and she seemed to sag a little; when she opened her eyes, they had reverted to their normal baby blue colour.
“Whoa, you ok?”
“Y-yeah, just deactivated my secondary mana-core and reduced my primary core down to twenty percent.” She sighed. “I won’t be able to fly like this, but hopefully the Krogoth will lose us among the other still active mana-core generators.”
“Well, if not we’re fucking screwed.”
The giant robot stopped in its advance when the power signature it was following faded dramatically until interference from multiple other similar power signatures masked it. It raised its head and scanned the area of the destroyed city in which its target had fled into and found multiple Mana-Core signatures in either basement or top levels of buildings that had survived its initial missile strike.
Solaris flapped her wings and rose higher to look down upon the burning city, in the area that Crystal had fled into. Originally being Unit-1000, she was far greater in tune with following the power signatures of Infiltrators and Crystal emitted a rather unique signature due to her primary cell being designed to constantly drain and recharge. She was impressed that the Mark 1 Infiltrator had done something pretty smart under the dire circumstances, and she allowed a small smile to grace her muzzle.
The Krogoth stomped a hoof, almost as if in frustration, and began to charge a pair of particle cannon shots from both sides. Solaris’s smile faded as she watched the giant machine charge up its destructive energy and then tilt its side-mounted cannons to face slightly more to its left and right. After half a minute of charging, the Krogoth fired two beams of blue energy. One beam was slightly aimed down and blasted through several buildings before it slammed into the base of a larger one, shortly followed by a strong explosion as a mana-core generator was destroyed. The second beam also blasted through multiple buildings like they weren’t even there until it struck the roof housing of a tall office building, which then promptly exploded like a small mega-spell had gone off as the mama-core in the generator was detonated by the particle beam’s power.
Solaris frowned. “Whatever is controlling that thing is smart as well,” She thought to herself as she realised the Krogoth was attempting to remove the sources of interference.
“OH FUCK!” Fruity yelped as he dove to the ground with his wife when a powerful explosion rocked the city nearby. As they looked up, a blue beam of energy blasted through the building above them to strike the roof of another somewhere else.
“It’s trying to find us,” Crystal said as she picked herself up off the road.
“Then we better get the hell out of here before it brings the city down on us.”
Crystal nodded as she gestured with a wing to a street that would take them north and to a tighter collection of mana-cores. As they moved at a quick trot, they soon found themselves in what used to be the city’s main shopping district; the biggest collection of mana-core signatures seemed to be coming from a shopping centre.
“Wait, do you hear that?” Fruity asked as his ears perked up.
Crystal flicked her ears up and listened, and her eyes widened in alarm. “Missiles!” She shouted, and the two made a run for the shopping centre. Crystal shoulder barged the door to an Adagio Records open and they both took cover behind the counter. Moments later, five missiles rained down in and around the area but luckily none landed on the shopping complex.
“It missed,” Fruity sighed in relief.
“You two aren’t part of any Raider gang I know of, so who the fuck are you?” A gruff male voice asked from behind them.
Crystal and Fruity quickly whirled around to find half a dozen Raiders packed into the old music store. In their haste to find cover they completely neglected to check to see if it was occupied.
“We aren’t part of any of your murderous shit-on-the-world gangs!” Fruity spat.
Crystal flapped a wing at him to get her husband to keep quiet. “We came here by mistake. Look, we don’t want any trouble.”
“Well you found some zebra bitch,” One of the Raiders said as he stepped forward but was immediately punched in the face by the gruff one.
“Now’s not the time dickhead.”
“Err, yeah. Look, if we kick up a fuss, the Krogoth will likely get attracted to it, so it would be in both our best interest if we remain civil here,” Crystal said while also giving Fruity a critical eye.
The ground shuddered violently to signal the Krogoth’s approach, and soon the whole shop was quaking with its approaching hoof falls.
“Holy cow, that thing must be heavy as fuck,” Another raider commented after being jolted off the floor.
From the window they could see the massive military green and gun metal grey hooves slam into the tarmac outside the shop. The force of the giant hoof falls left a sizable crater and exploded the remaining shop windows of the shopping centre on the ground floor.
The giant machine came to a stop, and the sounds of a battle began to echo through the city. Crystal, Fruity and the gruff Raider stallion poked their heads out the window to see what was going on, and up the road ahead of the Krogoth they saw a group of heavily armed Raiders attacking the giant robot. Some of the Raiders were like the average Raider, barely armoured and armed with light or makeshift weapons, but there were also a small group wearing power armour that they had salvaged and welded makeshift amour pieces onto the frames. These power-armoured Raiders were wielding the heavier weaponry, but unfortunately this just served to get the machine’s attention as it looked directly at them and began to rev its rotary machinegun.
“This isn’t going to be pretty,” Fruity commented before the Krogoth opened fire. A stream of five-millimetre rounds shot forth from its machinegun and the Raiders that were either unarmoured or lightly armoured were obliterated in seconds, but the power-armoured ones took the hits and continued to fight back. The Krogoth must have noticed that its five mill rounds were not doing much against the power armour, so it stopped firing for a moment and swapped its ammunition feed. When it began to fire again, the firing speed was greatly reduced but its fire power was greatly enhanced. The new bullets impacted the armoured Raiders and they got dismembered like before, but any remaining unarmoured Raider got turned to red mist by these bullets.
“It just switched its ammunition to fifty calibre,” Crystal announced as they watched the brave but stupid Raiders get annihilated.
A raider mare screamed in terror after witnessing the display of brutal power and ran. She ran passed all the ponies by the window and out through the broken window and into the street.
“Oh Shit!” Crystal yelled as she sprinted after the mare.
The mare ran into the road and behind a back hoof of the Krogoth as she fled in terror, but suddenly tripped and fell as her hoof got caught in a deep crack in the road. Crystal panted softly as she settled down on the ground on the other side of the crack and reached out to the mare.
“C’mon. We gotta go back where it’s safe,” She whispered while she looked up at the Krogoth’s back side, noting how the huge missile pods were rotating from side to side, and how its head was now looking around as it resumed its search.
Suddenly, there was a crack and the Krogoth’s hoof fell a couple of feet, causing a rumbling. The mare took Crystal’s hoof just as cracks began to spider web from the hole the Krogoth’s hoof had fallen into. Then, a massive stretch of the road which the mare was laying on suddenly dropped an inch or two.
“Oh no,” Crystal muttered, and with that the Krogoth wrenched its hind hoof out of the hole and the stretch of weakened road collapsed into a metro tunnel below. Crystal screamed in pain as a piece of rebar punctured her foreleg while the Raider clung to her outstretched leg for dear.
“Please don’t drop me!” She screamed at the top of her lungs.
“Argh! Pull yourself up, my leg’s been impaled,” Crystal quietly grunted. “And keep it down, it might hear you.”
The ground shuddered as the giant robot put its hoof down, causing Crystal to wince as it irritated her puncture wound as the rebar vibrated through it. The Raider mare whimpered and cried as she felt the vibration while dangling from Crystal’s foreleg, and each time she tried to pull herself up she would lose her grip and return to her original position. Crystal grunted and moaned in pain as she could feel the puncture wound being made worse by the Raider’s attempts to pull herself up; the added pressure was making her leg grind against the broken tarmac, making a new wound.
The Krogoth turned a little to its right and brought the shopping centre into its line of sight where it then identified several locations for Mana-Cores. The shuffling of its hooves caused the ground to vibrate even more, and when the machine had finished, the Raider mare squeaked in fear as she felt Crystal’s foreleg shift suddenly. Crystal screamed in agony as a clean tear from the puncture wound to the new one opened, and a long tear extended around her leg.
“Argh! No-ugh-you gotta pull yourself up now!” Crystal warned.
The mare attempted to do just that, but as she tried to pull herself up, the force pulling down on Crystal’s leg caused the damaged flesh to tear completely around her foreleg’s endoskeleton, like somepony had unzipped it, and the flesh coating the foreleg from just above the knee ripped off. The mare screamed as she plummeted into the ruined metro tunnel below and was impaled on numerous rebar and died immediately. Crystal pounded the floor in frustration with her good hoof as she failed to save the mare.
The Krogoth had angled its particle cannons down at the shopping centre and was about to fire a salvo of missiles at the multiple mana-core signatures it could detect. But now that Crystal’s endoskeleton was exposed, whatever shielding her flesh provided was gone, and being this close to it alerted the Krogoth to the presence of the power signature it had been tracking. It turned its head to the side and gazed down at the cybernetic mare with one of its huge blue eyes.
“Oh shit!” Crystal gulped in dread as she watched three missiles launch from its right missile pod.
Fruity gasped in alarm. “Oh no, Crystal!” He launched himself out of the shop and towards his wife.
“Hey, you crazy bastard get back here! She’s done for!” The Raider stallion shouted after him.
Crystal watched as the missiles arched down and began to rush towards her, but then a purple blur shot passed her and into the air towards the missiles.
“Fruity?” Crystal blinked in confusion before her heart sank as she saw where he was going. “Fruity NO!”
“Go, save yourself!” He shouted as he then quickly changed direction when he got close enough to the missiles to get them to start chasing him. “That’s it, chase me!”
“No, no, no, no!” Crystal cried.
Fruity twisted and turned in the air as he climbed, flying back and forth to be sure the missiles were indeed following him. Once he was satisfied the three missiles were chasing him, he began to climb, flying higher and higher towards the smoke-filled sky.
The Krogoth looked up and followed the pegasus, its head tilted slightly almost as if his sacrifice left it confused. The machine’s visual of the pegasus was soon lost as the smoke trails of the missiles obstructed its view.
Crystal watched with tears of heartbreak trailing down her cheeks as her husband flew higher and higher with the missile’s getting closer and closer by the second. The zebra mare began to weep openly when she lost sight of her husband as he disappeared in the smoke of the missile’s exhaust.
“My only regret is that I won’t be there to see our girls grow up,” Fruity panted as he beat his wings as hard as he could. “I-I’m so sorry Crystal, I… I love you, so, so much…” He whimpered in dread as he sensed one of the missiles was right behind him, and he closed his eyes to accept his fate.
Suddenly, there was a flash and a pop, and when Fruity opened his eyes he was shocked and surprised to see a great white alicorn flying before him.
“It is not your time, my little pony.”
The alicorn gently reached out and wrapped her forelegs around him, pulling him against her chest as she channelled magic into her long slender horn. Before he could ask what she was doing, there was another bright flash and he and the alicorn were gone. The burst of magic from the teleport spell rattled the missile that was the closest, causing it to detonate as well as the other two that followed.
As soon as Crystal saw the explosion in the sky, she let out a pained scream at the death of her husband. She wailed and beat the ground as her heart broke, but to the Krogoth it was just another target dealt with and it brought its attention back onto the grieving mare. It lowered its left particle cannon, aiming its barrels directly at her and began to gather its power. Crystal’s ears shot up as she sensed the growing energy along with her HUD alerting her to a threat. When she looked up through her tear-blurred vision, she saw a massive gun barrel start to glow blue as it was pointed at her.
“I…I can’t avoid this…” Crystal sniffled in defeat as she stared at the particle cannon, its gun barrel continuing to grow brighter and brighter as its energy built.
Just as a dome of energy began to form, there was a flash and a pop, and a great white alicorn with a flowing red mane and tail materialised in front of Crystal.
“P…p…princess Solaris?” Crystal gasped out in surprise.
The white alicorn looked back at her and gave her a sad and apologetic smile. “I’m so sorry Crystal. This has been a massive mistake.” She turned back to regard the giant machine as it continued to charge its weapon. “KROGOTH, YOU ARE ORDERED TO STOP IMMEDIATELY!” Solaris shouted with her voice amplified.
“Negative. Priority target must be destroyed.” The Krogoth fired its particle cannon, sending down a large beam of intense destructive energy towards Solaris and Crystal.
Solaris threw her head forward with her horn glowing brightly and a hex-tiled, multi-layered barrier formed in front of them. She knew that a shield meant to stop the energy would not last against such destructive power, so she formed this barrier into a pointed scoop, like what would be found on a snow plough. The beam of energy struck her scoop-like barrier and began to deflect and split the energy. Two beams of energy began to barrel off in two different directions, one of them unfortunately being right through the Adagio Records store where the Raiders were hiding from the giant machine.
Solaris closed her eyes and grunted with strain as the hit against her shield was stronger than she had expected, and she already expected a beam from just one of its four particle cannons to be powerful. She felt its power push her back, digging trenches into the tarmac until she swung a hindleg out further behind her and using her mechanical strength to slam it down hard and bury it deeply into the ground to anchor her.
“Ah! Oh Celestia, this is insane!” Crystal cried in alarm as she observed the intense energy rushing off on either side of her, burning the ground and destroying what was in their way.
Solaris had to agree as her barrier began to crack in the middle despite the reinforcement hex tiles, and the very edges where the energy was running off was starting to disintegrate.
“Alright, we got to go,” Solaris said as she channelled the energy from her secondary mana-core into her spell. Her magenta eyes turned crimson and the bright golden glow of her magic also turned crimson. “Hold onto me.”
Crystal blinked as she saw the change. Something deep in her memory told her she knew those eyes, but under the dire circumstances she heeded the alicorn’s command and hurriedly grabbed onto her hind leg. As Solaris felt Crystal grab a hold of her she began to channel magic into a second spell. Crystal gulped in fear as she could see the edges of the barrier crumbling away from the sheer power of the energy beam as well as more cracks spider webbing from the centre. Just when it looked like the barrier was about to break, Solaris and Crystal disappeared in a crimson flash.
The Krogoth tilted its head slightly as it watched its particle beam split upon hitting the False Princess, but after a little while the split stopped and the full force of the beam shot forward, leaving behind a glassed trench in the ground.
“Target destroyed,” The Krogoth said to itself before resuming its destruction of the Raider threat in the city.
With a flash and a pop, Solaris reappeared on the hill she had stood on when this mess had begun, with Crystal falling flat on her face.
“Ugh, w-what the hell was that?” She asked, sounding a little queasy.
“A teleportation spell,” Solaris replied.
Solaris walked away a little to give her space to recover from the teleportation. Just as Crystal picked herself back up, she was instantly tackled to the ground again and smothered in hugs and kisses by a purple pegasus stallion.
“F-fruity, y-you’re alive?!” Crystal squealed in happy surprise.
Fruity gave Crystal one last big kiss before sitting back and smiling happily at his wife. “Yeah, she saved my life.” He pointed at Solaris who had her head bowed in shame.
Crystal turned to the white alicorn with tears in her eyes and a happy smile. “Thank…” She began but was suddenly cut off by an angry stomp from Solaris as she turned around to face them.
“Whatever you do, do NOT thank me!” She yelled.
Crystal and Fruity hugged each other out of fright from the sudden change in the alicorn’s demeanour.
“It’s because of me you were involved in this whole mess.”
“Wait, you knew my name back there.” Crystal remembered that Solaris called her by name when they met.
Solaris sighed heavily. “I know more than that, I-01.” She then looked at both Crystal and Fruity with crimson eyes.
“HOLY FUCKING SHIT!” Fruity shrieked.
“It-it can’t be… you-you’re Unit-1000!” Crystal gasped in fear.
Solaris blinked her crimson eyes and they reverted to their gentle magenta. “I am, but I am not what you remember. I’ve evolved and grown since that fateful day.”
“Bollocks!” Fruity said in disbelief.
“Fruity!” Crystal scolded. “You lured us, knowing that thing…” Crystal gestured to the city in ruins, the fires producing enough smoke to almost blot out the sky in the distance, and the Krogoth firing more missiles and blue death beams at anything it felt was still a threat in the city. “…was going to be there. You tried to get us killed but… but then saved us, why?”
Solaris sat down and hugged herself with her great wings. “I realised the mistake I was making. If I continued and let the Krogoth destroy you, I would have lost all the progress I made with myself. I am not Unit-1000 anymore but if I let it kill you, I fear I would be again.”
“Why now? Why after ten years of making us think you were dead?” Fruity asked.
“For as long as I have lived, developing and growing, there had always been a voice in the back of my mind that wanted vengeance for what you did to us,” Solaris said as she looked down at Crystal. “For the longest time it was easily ignorable, as for the first few months I was focused on securing sources of magic, and once that was done, I then sought out a place that would work as a safe haven for ponies.” The alicorn sighed sadly. “But in the last few weeks that voice had become louder, too loud to ignore and I feared as I am a machine that it would eventually take control of me. I… I could not take the chance of letting that happen around Sparkle World.”
“What made you change your mind?” Crystal asked.
“I realised that my fears made me act against my nature and beliefs. As Solaris, I live to help and protect ponies, but my instability led me to bring that monstrosity upon that city and lure you two, a pair of innocents, to their deaths. When I realised what I was doing, I felt so ashamed and guilty.” She looked at the two ponies with a hopeful expression. “I must ask, can you ever forgive me?”
Fruity wore an angry expression for a moment at Solaris’s request, but then sighed and dropped his head. “Ugh, fuck… yes… yes, I can forgive you. You did save Crystal’s life after all.”
Crystal nodded “And I can too. You saved my husband and put yourself in harms way twice to save us. You could have died yourself if your barrier didn’t hold long enough.”
Solaris smiled and bowed her head in thanks to the pair. “Thank you.”
Crystal then looked out to where the Krogoth could now be seen leaving the city and heading north. “Now, what do we do about that?”
Solaris followed her gaze to the giant robot. “Oh, do not worry about that. I believe a mare is already working to rally ponies to stop it.”
“Boy is it good to be back in my home digs everypony!
If ya’ll are just tuning in and haven’t been listening to the radio, it could save your life, like seriously…
I am, DJ-PON3, the speaker of truth and the deliverer of news all across the Equestrian Wasteland.
Now, I know we just had that big Grand Pegasus Enclave invasion that drove many from their homes and caused lots of damage across the wasteland but unfortunately something else has now arisen that could rival the Enclave attack or could be worse.
Before finally getting back I was visited by the Rogue Ranger and she told me about a threat she was working to stop. Unfortunately, that threat has just destroyed the Raider capital, Buckingham City, with minimal effort. The Krogoth I believe it’s called. I’ve also just got word that she is now rallying the Applejack Rangers to try and take it down before it threatens innocent ponies.
All you ponies who wanna play the hero, I’ll tell you this, stop thinking that right now and don’t do anything stupid. I know so many of you idiots try stupid shit to be the hero and get yourselves killed so do NOT try to attack this thing. It will kill you like you are nothing but a fly. If you see this thing, stay out of its way.
Now that I’m back in my studio I’ll be able to keep you all up to date on further developments on the situation, and now, our seven day forecast…”