Fallout Equestria: Merchants of Hope

by Gamma Deekay

First published

120 years after the war, a young trader and his friends are given an incredible task from and unsuspecting source that will change the face of the Equestrian wasteland forever. Question is, will it be for better? or for worse?

On his journey to become a legendary wasteland trader, Backlash and his best friend Skyline journey around Equestria in an attempt to solve a problem that has existed from before the Great War even started. But as a shy young Steel ranger acolyte and rough and tumble Griffin join their adventures, the whole of the wasteland seemingly erupts into chaos as the politics and power players of the time come into their own. But one thing is for sure, not everypony is who, or what they seem to be at first glance.

There is a fully completed reading of my story done over here on youtube by the ever so tallented Plagen Shiki!
The Cast
[img]https://puu.sh/wfVCL/c5889f91d8.png[/img] Drawn up by the amazing Pridark from DA! Larger Version.
The larger version of the cover for MoH can be found here and was done up by the amazing Brisineo

List of Canon!
This is just one story in a long series of connected stories! They are connected through either events, locations, or characters, and at the moment, this order is as follows: Monsters > Merchants of Hope > The Long Winter > Burned Feathers > Better Days > Old Grudges

There are other stories that are canon to these, and at the moment, they are: False Dawn, Second Wind, Gaia Prevails, Treasure Hunting, New Roam Innovatus, Lines, New Pagus, and the big four (Fallout Equestria, Project Horizons, Pink Eyes, and Heroes). More may be added later, but for now that’s where it sits at!

Important note:As a Pre-season 5 canon story, the entire story series and connected stories are considered as having used the Canon map of Equestria from before the 'Art of Equestria' Canon map was put out.


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Merchants of Hope

- Preface -

A series of low groans and metallic twangs filled the air as everything around me felt like it slowed down. The blood on my hooves made it hard to grip the asphalt while the world seemed to rotate away from me, stopping with a jolt that made me slide back. With all the strength I had left, I hooked my hoof around a jutting piece of rebar. It stopped my fall, but not that of the chunk of wire and steel that had somehow wrapped around my back leg. The fires from the battle raging only a few feet away whipped high into the cold night air, the smoke turning the grayish cloud cover to a deep black.

I looked up and prayed to Luna that my friends were alright. With a clenched jaw, I pulled hard on the rebar, sliding myself up the tilted roadway slightly. It allowed me the briefest moment to view the ongoing battle. The steel rangers guns poured fire into the two towers the raiders had holed up in, chipping away at the reinforced steel as fires blazed inside the upper levels of the complex. I smiled to myself as one of the hooded acolytes slipped one of the pink party rockets I had sold them into a launcher. He hoisted it up, and with a hiss, sent it square into the side of the makeshift bunker. When the smoke cleared, a balloon shaped hole sat punched neatly into the side of it.

At least I finally knew what they did. But why would the M.O.M. need to punch balloon shaped holes in buildings? I guess I should know, Pinkie Pie is the answer to every M.O.M. question...

The rebar let out a soft cry, bending slowly down. Right. Back to the fact that I was hanging off the end of a slowly disintegrating bridge. The weight of the steel wrapped onto my leg was getting to be too much for my hoof hold. I winced as I could feel the wire around my rear leg cutting deeper into my flesh. I spotted a red flash in the air, and for just a moment, I could see her. The Pegasus mare I had grown to call my sister was streaking towards me. If anyone could save me, it was her. I relaxed a bit, thinking of something sarcastic to say when she was pulling me back to solid ground. Stop for coffee? Too cliché. Should I buy you a map? Nah, not obvious enough. Ah-ha! I got it!

As I opened my muzzle, the rebar slipped free and threw me over the edge of the roadway. I could do nothing but watch as she screamed out to me, the meaning of her cry lost as the bridge above me grew smaller. The grey of the cloud covered sky was finally visible as what remained of the Bucklin bridge roadway tumbled along with me toward the frigid water below. Closing my eyes, I listened as everything seemed so still.

You know, they say when you are going to die, your life flashes before your eyes. But as I slammed into the water below and all sensation drifted away, I couldn't help but think that whoever told that to me, somehow lied to my face.


So, before I continue with the story, I guess I should explain to you, (whoever you are…) who I am, and why my journey was one of just a hoof full in my time that helped shape the wasteland. Let this be the record of my deeds, for better or for worse. If you are to understand my story, you'll need to know a bit about me.

My name is Backlash. I was born somewhere around ninety five years after the great war as an earth pony from the Hoofington area. There, I grew up in a small settlement near what was once the front lines of the Great war. My mother, brother, and I, lived in a small, one room shack on the edge of town. Like most who lived there in our community, we scavenged what we could from the decaying corpse of the old world. My father supposedly died before I was born, so it was pretty much just my brother and I taking care of our mother. When I was growing up, the raiders and slavers in our area were just coming out of the various gangs scattered amongst the wastes. They mostly avoided towns with nothing useful to offer, but always ran through once or twice a month to prove their might.

When my brother left to seek glory in one of the local gangs that roamed our lonely corner of the wastes, we lost half of our salvage earnings. Mom considered moving us back to the rock farm that her family came from, but we didn't have the caps to hire anyone to protect us, and she didn't want to lose me along the dangerous journey. So we stayed, getting by with what little we could scrape together.

After I got my cutie mark, things picked up. I could take the more dangerous salvage jobs in the minefields, as it was extremely dangerous work, but it paid enough that I could help to get us out of that town. We journeyed by wagon with a trader and his bodyguards up into the interior of Equestria. We were ambushed several times, and lost one of the bodyguards outright during one of the fights. The other, sadly died from an infected wound a few days later. It wasn't until the day after the second guard's death when we came across her.

She'd fallen like a bolt out of the sky, splashing down in a small lake near the trail we were on. Instinctively, I'd run in to grab her, feeling like i could have been one of the heroes in all the stories I had read in the comics we scavenged. The brave stallion, heroically saving the damsel in distress. Clumsily carrying her on my back, I'd barely made it back to shore with her before a radigator came charging out after us. My legs folded under me as I was racked with fear, but before I could call out, my mother leapt onto it with one of the dead guard’s machetes. She screamed for me to run, and I did just that. With the Pegasi mare on my back and the cart bouncing behind the trader, we galloped for what had felt like hours.

We'd set up camp at the rock farm that night to wait for her, but she never showed up. The trader suggested she most likely died protecting us, and that she was a good mare to have done that. I couldn't do anything but be torn by the thought that she was just gone because I foolishly ran into a dangerous situation without thinking of what might happen. Stricken with grief, and no real connection to the rock farm, I made the decision to ride with the Trader to Manehatten to seek help for the injured pegasi mare.

As she recovered, I learned a lot about the mare who fell from the sky. Turns out, Skyline came from somewhere over the border in Caledonia. She'd been injured running from her own family, because her parents were “Dashites” and the Enclave wanted her to be branded a traitor like them. She had left them at their request, and flown as far from them as possible. They'd wanted her to attempt to live a normal life somewhere else, and she'd flown for two days before exhaustion dumped her in front of us. Funny enough, I think the Enclave figured she'd died down here, because they never came looking again.

So, both of us, parentless and poor, decided to work for the trader. He for some reason never told us his name, only saying it didn't feel right and that it would be easier on us if something happened to him. So, it his insistence, we just got around to calling him “old man”, even without knowing what the hell it meant. We worked with him on a few of his trips, but he quickly saw my potential talent for bartering and put me to work with my own wagon. Selling wares on his behalf was something I'd turned out to be half decent at, but it was only half of the equation for success. As it turned out, Skyline was a damn fine shot with pretty much anything that fits on a battle saddle, and traveled with me as a bodyguard. Together, we made an unstoppable team.

After a few years, the old man fell ill and died. Before he went, (Celestia rest his soul) he said we had inherited his business and his building in the Manehattan outskirts. The Sunshine Garage was a bland looking three story red brick building, only about 20 feet wide, although marginally deeper. It was flanked on the sides and rear by the rubble of a few other collapsed buildings, making it look quite imposing, almost like a fort. That is, unless you count the open air third floor. Skyline just used that as a landing pad though, and with the lack of other fliers commonly around, it worked out well for the both of us. The plain look not only helped discourage other scavengers from peeking in, but also kept the random raiders from thinking it was occupied or even open.

Along with our home however, the Trader had left me a little something I have been working on for the past year inside the garage…


The peeling yellowing white paint on the walls looked off in the evening light as it streamed through the open garage door. The odd assortment of boxes, shelves, and random piles of scrap metal cast intricate shadows against the back wall. While nice if the evening light was your thing, mostly, it screwed up my vision. Even without the light, the inside the engine compartment of the large four wheeled vehicle that occupied most of the space on the first floor was hard to see in.

I had read through the owner’s manual so many times, that I'd memorized it. The Chrysalis Motor Company was one of the pioneers of the spark battery powered vehicle. They were apparently absurdly expensive at the time, but the Chrysalis Company promised that for the money, they would “turn it into anything you'd like”. Sports car, off road recreational vehicle, and even a campervan were offered as choices in the stained and yellowed pages of the pre-war booklet. The spots of rusting red offset the once all black bodywork of the pre-war muscle car marvel; and the only chrome left intact at all was the lettering that spelled out the model. The car was in surprisingly good condition for being left here until the old man found the place. Which reminded me of another thing written in the advertisement…

“The more you love your car, the longer it lasts!” I said out loud as I imagined it having been a catchy little pre-war jingle. With a sad sigh, I remembered how the Chrysalis Company went under when the skycart came out. Lost in thought, I'd misjudged my depth and dropped the wrench I was using into the dark compartment.

I leaned forward, reached past the engine, and wiggled my hoof around near the transmission. With a strained whine, I tightly grabbed the wrench that had slipped from my fetlock. The radio in the car had been blaring the same old pre-war tunes that they'd always played, but what I really wanted to hear was the news. DJ Pon3 always had good info on where to find the best tech to trade, and Celestia as my witness, I was going to be the richest damn trader when I got out of here! As soon as I'd fixed the Marauder, that is.

"HELLO THERE WASTELAND! It's me, you're good old friend DJ Pon3. And guess what! It's News time!"

I froze, not wanting to miss a single ounce of juicy Info. "Come on... something good this time..."

"To all you wondering about the situation in Ponyville, you can relax. The slave traders have left the settlement after Sheriff Easthoof took the help of a few of the angry townsfolk and literally threw them out. With those goons out of the picture, the twenty eight they had in their care have been freed and are now recovering. To the slavers now out on your flanks, I only have this to say to you; Good riddance."

Ok, that wasn't anything special. The wasteland sucks, I got that, but we all have to live here. Who cared how you made a couple of caps? Raiders and slavers were just a part of life, as common as rocks were in the wastes. Plus, the slavers only sold criminals and such, so they were in a way fixing some of the lawlessness. I tried not to think about that to much, as intellectual thinking had never been something I was good at.

"And Great news for those of us who live the Manehatten area!"

My ears perked with that. "Yes!" I whispered under my own breath. I needed a good tip, anything to get me started. As I thought, I clinched the wrench tighter in anticipation, leaning towards the speaker slowly.

"A new pre-war*KZZZZAPPP*

Electricity arced through the wrench as it hit the contact on the recessed spark battery starter. It sent painful stabs through my forehoof, and filled my nose with the stench of charred fetlock. I pouted to myself as the room fell silent the smell of singed fur filling the compartment to an almost unbearable level.

I sighed and pulled the wrench out, throwing it lazily to the side of the garage before leaning back in to grab the now dead spark battery I had to replace. Most ponies would think I'm crazy to be repairing this one hundred and twenty year old beautifully crafted hunk of steel, saying it would just be cheaper to hire one of those weird two headed cows. I have nothing against the brahman, being nice folk and all, but they just aren't the same as this! Ponies just don't get it. Not only does the Marauder go up to a hundred and ten miles an hour on a highway, it’s got a huge trunk for storing my trade goods. If that weren't enough, it can also seat seven ponies! SEVEN! I mean, back during the war, the sky car was all the rage, but-...

"Backlash!" An excited mare's voice came from out of nowhere behind me.

I screamed and jumped from the sudden voice. With a thunk, I slammed my head on the raised hood. It creaked as the block of wood holding it up fell off, and the whole hood dropped down on top of me quite painfully.

"Oh Celestia, are you alright?" The mare's voice giving a little giggle as she came over and helped prop the hood up again.

She was a bit smaller than most of the other pegasi that I had seen (which doesn't mean much when I've only seen like, two others up close really...) but she had saved my ass countless times out in the wastes. Her bright red coat seemed to bleed into the clouded sunset on the horizon behind her. Her cutie mark was a thin black line with a gold half circle in the center on top, and a silver half circle on the bottom. But only her yellow and white striped mane brought her to the front of it all, her shimmering gold eyes betraying the fact that she was yet again worried about something.

"What do you need, Skyline?" I shut the hood with a grunt and gave it a good whack with my hoof, trying to forget the disappointment of missing the broadcast. “I’m damn close to getting this old gal to work.”

"Are you?" She crossed her hooves in a huff. "You've been working so long on this piece of..." She caught my glare and nearly stuttered, but to her credit it wouldn't have been noticeable by other ponies. "What I meant to do, was ask why we just didn't fix up a sky cart? It would be much faster if we can fly over..."

I put my hoof up and shook my head. "And what happens if you get hurt? We’d lose the business! Before you'd know it, we'd be back in Paradise doing work for those new goodie four shoes dragging water all over the place. No scavenging or anything!" I shuddered just thinking about it. "Besides, if one of us was injured while in this, the other one can still drive!"

She stretched her wings out with a frown as she looked at the rust laden vehicle "Yeah, I'll never get in that thing, even if you ever do get this junk to run. I need to fly!" Well I'd hope she'd change her mind if it were to save my life, I'd thought with a small sigh.

Rolling my eyes, I'd packed up my tools into their respective places. "I keep telling you, Earth pony. You know, like hooves. stay. on. the. ground." I stamped my hoof with each word for emphasis before turning to grab a spark battery out of my box of spares. "Anyway, you wanted something badly enough that you snuck up on me?"

She just stood there for a moment, shifting her eyes wildly around the room. I watched as she scrunched up her muzzle in nervous hesitation. It was odd, I hadn't seen her like this recently. "So...our application for a storefront in Tenpony has been reviewed..."

I beamed the widest smile I've ever given at her, Squeezing her cheeks, nearly bowling her over as I pressed up against her face. "ohmygosh!" I spoke so fast all the words seemed to blend into one, "Did they say yes?" My hooves shook with anticipation.

She nodded slowly, giving me an obviously nervous grin, which of course I didn't pay attention too. My brain was too busy processing the fact that we had just gotten a store inside the hub of Manehatten trade! Our own store! More so, at the hardest place in the wastes to get a hoof into! No more bulk pawning outside the gates, we are going to make so many caps! I can only imagine I'd been salivating all over the floor when she'd poked at my chest sharply.

"But..." She continued while I froze. Celestia how I hated that word. "We need to show them some way we are better than any of the other applicants." She paused and rubbed at her chin. "And to be honest, I don't know what does set us apart. How are we any better?"

I tapped my hoof on the garage floor before jumping on the Marauder's hood, posing myself dramatically as the last bit of our meager wasteland sunlight dropped below the horizon.

"We have this."


We'd spent the rest of the night working on the car, and when I say we, of course I meant me. See, when I was a colt, I'd loved to take things apart. I could see and hear the tiny parts in pre-war gizmos that others couldn't. I would regularly sneak out of our settlement to the old battlefields around Hoofington and find something to take home and tinker with. Sometimes, I would find something completely useless, and somehow make it work again.

My eyes were growing heavy as the sun started to shine for the minute or so it did on the horizon before the cloud cover drained all life from the day again. Skyline had gone up to bed a few hours ago, and all I had to do was fit the spark battery controller to the mount in the engine compartment. Then, I'd be good to go for tomorrow... today... for later. With a click, it fit into it's mounting. I gave it a quick shake to make sure it sat right, only shutting the hood when I was satisfied with my work. With the Marauder completed, I sat on the floor yawning. Wobbly, I'd trotted over to the stiff mattress I normally slept on, and flopped over onto it, completely exhausted and ready for bed. Funny thing, was that I didn't even remember hitting it before everything faded to black.

With no cause to, I sat up suddenly. A cool breeze swirled around me, and I found myself somewhere I'd never seen before. I squinted at the sun as it climbed into the endless blue. Grassy knolls with a few trees seemed to stretch endlessly onward to the horizon. The tree next to me was blossoming pinkish white flowers, and I could see a bird's nest resting in one of the lower branches. Then, from all around me, a beckoning voice called out softly on the wind.

"Follow the breeze"

I got to my hooves and trotted happily towards it, taking in the warmth of the sun as the breeze guided me. It felt surprisingly good to have the grass under my hooves, although I wasn't really sure why. I'd pondered this while climbing over yet another knoll. Looking the other side, I 'd froze. Stuck out of the ground on the other side, was the rusted hulk of an artillery piece. It looked almost like one that I'd found as a colt. Moss had grown over it, and a single daisy grew at the top of the barrel. I trotted over and looked at it closely, I could clearly see each point where I had fixed it. It was definitely the same cannon from when I was young, but why was it here? Without warning, the gun fired. The bright contrail of a rainbow flew towards the horizon, and disappeared with a flash. The wind kicked up as the voice of the wind told me one final thing.

"Find the key."

I woke from my slumber with a jolt. I was back in the garage, and staring up wide eyed into Skylines eyes. For some reason she was floating over my head and stifling a laugh.

"Good dream?" She was beginning to crack, giggling longer and louder as I sat there with a confused look on my face. Then I felt it, the cold air on my...yeah...

She burst out laughing. "Whoa, I didn't know you could turn my shade of red!" She collapsed onto the floor, gasping in between each laugh.

I got to my hooves and stormed off upstairs. Being around each other for so long, things like this weren't too embarrassing anymore. I'd seen her go through her heats, and she'd seen me pent up. It was just something siblings dealt with when growing up together. While it wasn't anything new for her to see, it didn't make me feel any less awkward to have my sister scoping out 'the goods'.

The second floor of our humble home, was little more than a kitchen and attached bathroom. Skyline didn't like sleeping on the ground floor, or in the rain on the third floor, so she had her bed up here tucked into a corner of the kitchen. The single bathroom we had wasn't big, but it had all the amenities, including heated running water. It was a bitch to set up with the generator, but was it so worth the effort. I went to the tub and turned on the shower, letting the lukewarm water run over me as I tried to remember what the breeze had said in my dream.

"Follow the...key?"

After a couple of minutes in it, I'd turned the shower off and shook out my coat. Looking into the mirror, I could see my tan hide had healed up over the last week. Minor bruises and scrapes are no laughing matters without health potions and being miles away from the nearest settlement. The gold half of my gold and brown mane had also recovered from the pilot light accident last month. Though, I wish I could have lost the bit of extra weight I carried around my everywhere. (I wasn't overweight, just husky. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it!) Content all of me was where it was supposed to be, I trotted out and put yesterday’s dishes into the sink.

I opened the fridge and pulled out a sparkle cola, tapping the cap against the counter to pop it off into the bin of caps we kept out on the floor. (We put the rest in our safe in the basement whenever we got a good amount of them. Just in case you were wondering.) The carroty taste was always a good pick-me-up in the morning, and it immediately took my mind off Skylines normal antics. It also reminded me of our to-do list for the week, which was really the same as every week. Grab our gear, head out to some faraway place, scavenge along the way, trade our goods there, scavenge on the way back, pawn our stuff to Tenpony, and then head home.

"Tenpony..." I muttered right before I'd thrown the now empty bottle into the trash. With a vigor I hardly believed myself to have, I'd bolted down the stairs and slammed into a very surprised Skyline. "We're going to be late!" She shoved me back to my hooves and dusted herself off. Hastily, I jumped into the Marauder through the windowless door and flopped along the seat to get myself reoriented. With quick jabs at the big, red, engine start button, I impatiently waited for the whine of the main starter capacitor.


"Damnit! Why don't you start? I've fixed everything!" I thumped my head against the steering wheel. "Of all days, Celestia, why today!"

Skyline tapped my shoulder with a sly grin and trotted up to the front end of the car. I cringed as she reared up and bucked the front fender, the old metal giving a sharp squelch at the hit. The capacitors whined to life, right before the roar of the engine drowned it out. I probably could have picked my jaw up with a shovel as she sauntered over to the window and leaned in.

"She's stubborn, just like you. Just needs a good buck every now and again." She smiled and pulled her goggles down. "Now...show me what makes this bucket any better than any old cart."

I grinned and nodded. "First one to Tenpony?"

"You're on!" She flashed a smile and burst into a gallop, immediately taking off into the air once she cleared the garage. I punched the Marauder into drive and took off after her.


I grumbled as I pulled up in front of the large pre-war skyscraper. Skyline was waving triumphantly from inside the second floor window as she drank something. I could only guess it was Wild Pegasus, as it was something she'd only drank when she won a bet. One of these days she'll have to show me how she got through security so damn quick. I turned the car off as a unicorn mare who seemed too clean for wasteland life stepped up to it. The lime green pony seemed to eye the car in disgust as she wrote something down on her clipboard.

"I'm afraid you won't be able to keep that... ugly… thing here while doing business at the tower. They have a terrible habit of exploding." She didn't sound particularly friendly, though the tower folk never were.

Still, I was shocked! I just spent the last year fixing her up just to have her demeaned! I mean yeah, she could've used a new coat of paint, but that was uncalled for! Before I could object, she continued in a voice that nearly sounded to me like she believed herself to be dying of boredom. "But since you are the only applicant of the three to show up at all, I guess you may have the position." She floated the clipboard over and explained that I would need to put a 500 cap non refundable deposit on the shop by month’s end and blah blah blah, sign here, here, and here. I hastily scrawled out my signature and pushed the clipboard away. She looked it over for a good minute, which made me fidget uncomfortably as I thought about how I probably screwed something up and fucked this whole chance straight to tartarus.

"Well everything seems to be in order. Welcome to Tenpony tower Mr. Backlash." She turned to walk away, stopping and eyeing over me. "I was surprised to see you show up at all. I had thought you would be off to raid that bunker they found near the Ministry of Morale hub. Well, their loss is your gain." She turned and disappeared through the front doors to the tower.

A whole bunker...of wartime tech... "Thank you, Celestia!" I started the engine and spun the tires, taking off towards the hub at high speed. The gears in my head formulated all the goods that could be stocked in there. These bunkers always had high end tech, which normally gave us scavengers a small window until those power armored assholes showed up. If I was lucky, the other teams were on hoof, and it could take them hours to get there. All while I can be there in ten minutes! A soft voice in my head sprung up, nudging to wait for Skyline, although I couldn't hear it over thoughts of the clinking caps and all the fame I would earn.


After nearly fifteen minutes of navigating the rubble filled streets and only slightly getting lost at one point, I pulled up to the front of the imposing Ministry of Morale hub. I was a bit distressed to find a group already there, just standing outside across the street from me. They all seemed quite interested in my ride though, which instantly brought a prideful smile across my muzzle.

"Sorry, she's not for sale." I beamed at them. She was my vehicle, and I was going to drive her!

With a collective grumble, they turned back to what looked like a storm cellar with two burnt and twisted heavy steel slabs splayed out from it. They looked like they used to cover it, but something big had flung them off and onto the sidewalk next to it. Trotting over, I looked down with the others. It was a narrow stairwell that went down ten feet or so before ending in a pink force field. Oh, and between the stares and the pink, stood a pony in power armor. If that already hadn't been bad news, a minigun and anti-machine rifle stuck off the sides of the silvery power armor. The steel rangers crest was prominently emblazoned where his or her cutie mark would be, and the dark eyes of the sealed helmet made the armored pony's gaze seem cold.

"What do we have here?" I started to asked slowly... "And why..."

He cut me off mid sentence and was trying a bit hard to sound imposing. "Like I told the others, this bunker is property of the Steel rangers under the authority of the Ministry of Wartime Technologies. Any attempt to take it will be deemed hostile and you will be fired upon." At this the other scavengers took a step back. The two in the back walked off in a huff, muttering to themselves how it wasn't worth it.

"Can I ask you a question then?" I eyed over him suspiciously.

"No." He replied with a stern hoof stomp.

"Yeah, didn't quite hear that..." I squinted and sat down, rubbing my chin with a hoof. I'd listened to how this stallion spoke, and while he didn't seem like he was bluffing, I wasn't sure he couldn't be bargained with. "Why don't you just take the bunker?" A loud sigh emanated from the speaker on the helmet. I put my hooves together and frowned. "I mean, why guard it if the shield keeps ponies out?"

"Because one of you foals could disintegrate yourself on it." His voice boomed through his helmet. I could see him tensing up as he lined up his Anti-machine rifle with my grinning face. "Now I suggest you leave before I have to hurt you." His armor winced for a moment at the end of his threat. He was frustrated and he either didn't want to be here, or he didn't want to hurt me. Perfect...

"Fine, I'll just get in my perfectly working Chrysalis motorwagon and head home. A shame I couldn't just get one teeny look at the bunker before I left." I gave him my best 'terminally sad' impression before slowly turning around.

"Ok, kid." He spoke promptly. Totally got him, hook, line, and sinker. "Here's the deal, you can look at the bunker shield. But if you get yourself killed, I get your car."

I spun around in an instant, grabbing his steel hoof and shaking it quickly. "It's a deal! Just a quick peek is all Mr…?"

“I am Paladin Brass Tacks. Now go quickly before I change my mind.” He pulled his hoof back sharply, the black eye sockets staring lifelessly back as he did his best to step aside in the narrow corridor. I smiled as I attempted to squeeze past him. I say attempted, because I somehow caught my hoof on his tail armor. I stumbled forward sharply towards the shield, thinking how stupid I was to come here alone. Why did everything go so wrong so fast? I was about to be vaporized by a pink shield! Pink! I clinched my eyes, waiting for the searing pain. But what I found was I slammed my face into the cement just beyond the barrier. Searing pain, no. Sharp stabbing pain, yes. Oh Celestia, did that hurt.

I got to my hooves and brushed my face off, the blood from my nose smeared on my hoof while my vision cleared. "Huh..that was ARGGGH!" The steel ranger’s back legs connected with my side, bucking me entirely through the shield. I slammed into a large metal door with a crack and collapsed on the ground. I laid there, gasping as the ranger simply peered in at me.

"It seems you are related to one of the Ministry mares." The ranger stated with a voice so dull I could bludgeon him with it. "How fortunate for you."

"What the fuck was that for?" I shakily got up, but the pain in my side was nearly unbearable. With my teeth clenched, I started to hobble back towards the shield. "Fuck, I think you broke something..."

"Hold it." The barrels on his gun started to spin up. "You must enter the bunker and shut down the shield."

I groaned and pointed a hoof back at the door. "I don't even know how to open the door." As I gasped, the pain grew sharper. It was getting hard to think, and my world had started to tilt and spin. "I think I'm hurt real bad." I coughed and spit blood onto the concrete, wobbling forward as my vision darkened. Then for the second time that day, I didn't remember hitting the ground.


My eyes opened to meet the blue skies again, the sun hanging up at the center of the amazing blue void. Now that I had time to really look at it, I was shocked at how big it seemed. The grey cloud cover over Equestria seemed to be oppressively low sometimes, this seemed to just stretch on forever. Forever… away… okay... now it looked deep... and now I feel sick. I spun over and threw up on the grass. On second thought, the low clouds were kind of nice. Wiping my muzzle with my hoof, I stood up and stopped to think about what just happened.

"How am I sick inside a dream?" I stared at the vile fluid on my hoof. It looked real enough, and certainly smelled real enough. The breeze kicked up over my shoulder, bringing with it a light giggling that seemed to trail off over the hills. With my stomach now calm, I slowly plodded my way towards the laughter. As I crested the familiar hill, on the other side I saw a brightly colored table set up where the cannon should have been. An odd assortment of objects were set up in all the chairs except the two end chairs. Bright balloons and frosted sweets were strewn about the table to give the impression of a party. Slowly approaching the table, I could make out the "Guests". A pile of rocks, a sack of flour, a bucket of turnips, and a pile of...fluff? Each one wore a party hat, and had an assortment of half eaten food laid out in front of it.

"If I died, and this is the afterlife..." I scratched the back of my head softly, not sure what to make of all of it.

"You didn't die!" A squeaky voice blared out from behind.

I jumped and spun to meet a set of piercing blue eyes. A pink filly was standing up on the hill, standing on her hooftips just to be at my height. She smiled and jumped over me, bounding off my back to land on the table with a soft thump. "You are half dead! So this is the almost afterlife. Half afterlife? Halfterlife?" She scrunched up her muzzle and looked deep in thought, her frizzy pink mane shifting with the wind.

"Oh, and you are...?" I walked to the table and sniffed the cake. With nothing but a sparkle cola in me, I was fairly hungry. I wanted to have just a bite, but I stopped myself when I remembered this was all just a dream.

"I'm your great great great great aunty Pinkie Pie!" She squeed and bounced around the table excitedly. "Have a seat and try the cake! It's delicious!"

I nudged back the nearest chair and sat in it. "So, you're Pinkie Pie. The same dead ministry mare from all the creepy posters I've seen about? And you say I'm somehow related to you?" I looked her over before crossing my hooves. "Not only does that seem improbable, but I thought you were older..."

She shook her head vigorously "Not somehow related! Directly!"

"But you said aunt..." I began to reply slowly.

She cut me off, "Oh it's simple silly! Back before the war, I once accidentally made more me's than were useful, but during the war, I was under so much stress there just needed to be more me's! So I went and got them back! But, there may have been a few of them that had a bit more "fun" then I would have wanted, but it doesn't matter because YOU'RE HERE!" There was the startling sound of the missing cannon firing, and confetti rained down from seemingly nowhere.

"So...that still doesn't explain how we're talking... you're dead." I brushed the confetti off my muzzle with a stern glare.

"Of course I am silly! But I'm also alive right now in your head! I mean, how else would we be talking?! DUH!" She buried her face in the cake and started to eat noisily.

"So...what do you want from me? what am I supposed to do?" I asked. This was the most confusing dream I'd ever had. Even with the cannon dream from before.

She looked up, wet pieces of cake plopping down onto the table from her face. "Get the key of course! Didn't you listen before?"

"But...what about..." I tried to say before she cut me off again, this time by shaking all the cake from her coat onto me.

"The code is 42! Get it?! 42? It’s always the answer!" She bounced around the table again, squishing and flinging the rest of the cake everywhere before freezing stiff. "Oh! The party is over already?" She tilted her sad face towards the sky, tears welling up in her bright eyes before she softly smiled back at me. "Luna says I have to be dead again, so goodbye!" She bounded forward, smacking me directly in the face with all four of her hooves. With that, I fell back into painful darkness.


Oh Luna, the painful darkness. I screamed out to the black void, and it felt like eternity before the pain subsided. Ever so slowly, I could hear something coming through it though. Voices? No, not voices, but music. Some sort of polka playing far off in the distance.

"Doctor, he's regaining consciousness..." Oh, I guess I did hear voices.

"Wait outside, please." A voice said next to me. I struggles to open my eyes, the light from the ceiling was nearly blinding. I tried to reach up and cover myself from it, but I couldn't move. In fact, I couldn't move at all. I started to hyperventilate. (I should mention I don't do well penned up.)

"Calm down there, Backlash." A familiar voice spoke from in front of me. "You got really banged up out there."

A blue unicorn stallion in a white lab coat towered above me. I recognized him as Dr. Fits (His full name was Giggle Fits, but he didn't like ponies using it for some reason). He ran the Tenpony infirmary normally, and was looking at a clipboard while he magically undid my bindings. I relaxed and sat up slowly, the rest of the world still seemed a bit off kilter even when I stopped. "Now, I’m not going to ask why a Steel Ranger brought you in, but you need to stop getting so damn busted up all the time."

"Sorry doc, occupational hazard." I rubbed at my fetlocks. "How bad was I?"

He eyed his charts before looking over his black rimmed glasses. "Well, you broke two ribs, punctured a lung, bruised your liver, a kidney, and nearly stopped breathing from pulmonary edema."

I looked down with a shameful smirk. "Oh...is that all."

He tossed the clipboard in his magic down onto the counter. "I can't keep sparing all these supplies for your reckless adventures. What if somepony else needs the Med-X I've given you? Or the Hydra to fix their trauma? Hell, even the Rad-Away you keep neglecting to take would be useful instead of having to detox you all the time."

“I just don’t like orange flavor that much?” I gave him a guilty smile and looked about nervously.

He sighed and face hoofed. "I know you get most of the supplies for me, and you know I’ll always fix you up. But for Celestia's sake, can you just try harder to not get so damn busted up. For as reliable of a supplier you are, you seem to use an awful lot of them up."

I smiled and hopped off the bed, wincing at the freshly healed wounds. "Don't worry doc, I'm done with being grievously injured. I swear I'm a changed stallion."

"You might not want to make promises you can't keep..." He said as he rinsed off his medical tools and floated another Med-X over. I held it in my hooves, looking confused. "Trust me, you'll need it." Three loud bangs on the door startled me.

"Backlash, you moron!" Skylines voice boomed through. "How could you leave without me?"

I frowned and looked down at the syringe again. Oh Celestia, how much I'm going to need this tonight...



Speech +10

New Perk: Long Haul - because of your mechanical aptitude, your marauders spark batteries last twice as long as normal. Or last for normal time when overloaded to twice the weight!

New Quest perk: Equestrian royalty – Being related to a Ministry mare means even your mere presence can unlock some of the secrets of Equestria and everyone you meet sucks up to you for it! Speech and Barter +10 and new Dialog options are available.

Chapter 1 - A single step...

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Chapter 1

"Because I'm you, and you're me, and oh my gosh this the GREATEST PLAN EVER!"


As we walked away from Tenpony tower, I winced as the fresh bruises Skyline gave me stung. I guess I deserved it though, I mean hell, I almost died. Dragging my hooves as I walked, I stared solemnly at the dirt. It was just getting dark and we still had a ways to go, but I just couldn't stop thinking about what Pinkie Pie told me. Wait, do I actually believe that had actually happened? I mean, I was grievously injured. My mind could have just been playing tricks on me.

I froze in place as I felt the base of my tail twitch. I turned my head to see what had caught it just in time for a sizeable chunk of concrete to slam down on the path in front of me, missing my head narrowly. I think I may have screamed, but I'm sure that I broke Equestria's high jump record.

"THE FUCK!" I pressed my hoof to my chest in a futile attempt to calm my heart as it threatened to escape my body.

Skyline drifted down to eye level. "Why the hell are you so jumpy?" Her voice gave away that she was genuinely concerned. "The last few days you haven't seemed yourself. Is there something going on?" She reached out in comfort.

I gave her a cold shoulder. "I'm fine." I trotted past her in a huff. "We have a long way to go and I still want to pick up the Marauder. We don't have time for this." She zipped in front of me, putting both her forehooves on my shoulders.

"Leave the car for tomorrow." She said in a forceful tone as she narrowed her distressed eyes, tears forming again where they had obviously been just hours before. "You need to tell me what possessed you to run off without me in the first place and how the hell you ended up...." The tears started streaming down her cheeks, her voice wavering as she reached back and slapped me hard across my muzzle.

"Dear Celestia you are not fine! You died today. Did you even know that!?" She swung with her other hoof, catching me square in the cheek. Honestly, I was too surprised to move on my own, although the hit she gave sent me falling into the dirt.

"I... I died?" I lay there in the still warm evening dirt, unable to even blink or speak. Skyline collapsed into a crying heap next to me, shivering and wailing out because, yet again I had tried to play the hero and done something without thinking. I just lay there gazing at her with tears streaming onto the ground, unable to even reach out and comfort her.

I heard her sobbing fits finally die down after a few minutes. I couldn't even look at her anymore, not after what I had done. I just layed in the dirt and mud with my eyes clenched shut, unmoving. I heard her get up and walk over, I felt her hoof brush through my mane as I shivered at her touch. I wanted to call out how sorry I was, I wanted to do something to show how much I didn't mean to hurt her. But I knew there was nothing I could ever do to make up for the hell she just went through.

"You are all I have left..." She said with a voice so faint I wasn't sure she said it at all. "Let's go home." She turned and started walking down the path. I wasn't sure I had the strength to move, let alone get up and walk. But after everything I just put her through, it would be selfish of me to want that, and I won't leave her alone ever again. I climbed shakily to my hooves and followed her as the light from the setting sun dimmed completely.

We had been walking for about an hour when we reached the outskirts. As soon as the garage was in sight she took off into the air, silently gliding up and disappearing into the third floor. I sighed as I made sure she was gone, and sat down in the rubble alongside the road.

The cold night air seemingly whipped at my skin. I closed my eyes and pointed my head to the clouds, taking in the quiet night in Manehatten. Clearing my head of everything from before, I tried to focus on the emptiness around me. I sat there for a moment, letting myself sit in utter darkness. My ears perked as the wind picked up, the low drone permeating the air as it passed.


My eyes shot open as the giggle echoed in my head. I looked around quickly, seeing nothing but the darkened streets and the dim lights coming from Tenpony. I got to my hooves and growled back at the wind.

"What do you want? Huh?!" I nearly yelled out as I spun around, the wind picking up on my face. "Show yourself! No more games!" I picked up a rock and spun as the wind changed directions again. "Fuck you!" I yelled and hurled the stone with all my might, letting it sail off into the darkness before loudly cracking against some pile of rubble. I breathed in deep gasps that stung my healed hide.

"I will not put her through that again! I can't!" My knees wobbled and I sat back into the rubble, half sobbing again. "Luna, what the hell is wrong with me... am I going insane? Or is there really such a thing as destiny?" The wind had seemed to have died completely, leaving nothing but the cold, unanswering night air. I wiped away the tears and slowly walked back to the garage door.

"I guess I should have known you wouldn't answer." I said softly.

Walking in, I could hear Skyline pacing about upstairs. I shut the door loud enough she would be able to hear it and walked over to my mattress, lighting a candle and setting it down on the floor. Scooting the large bed over, the dull metallic doors to the maintenance bay seemed to glisten in the flickering light. I bit down on the rusty handle and pulled the door open with a jerk.

The well greased hinges didn't make a sound as the door swung back to reveal a small stairway. My mind immediately went back to the bunker stairway and I started to shiver. I shook the thought out of my head before I lost myself to it, grabbing the candle in my mouth before walking down the steps.

I flipped the switch on the wall and the small room was flooded with light from the single bulb left in the warehouse. The walls contained a myriad of pipes and cables that ran out of the walls to meet at the single, bronze generator set into the wall. The only wall not covered in tubes contained the small safe that we kept our profits and personal documents in.

I pulled the spark battery out of its generator mounting and threw it into the bin labeled "to trickle charge". Digging around a pile of scrap on the floor, I pulled one out with "40-ish percent." scrawled on it in marker. I shoved it into the socket and gave it a good slam. The generator shuddered and let out it's normal soft whine as it fed power to our humble abode.

Satisfied I turned and grabbed the candle again, taking a step before looking back at the piped wall next to the generator. From here I could see something stuffed in between the generator and pipes, why had I never seen that before? I mean, I must have never looked from just this angle, but now I was curious. Reaching up I couldn't quite fit my hoof into the gap. Sighing, I figured I'd have Skyline remove it in the morning.

I returned to the Garage floor, closing up the hatch and sliding my mattress back over it before curling up tightly on it. As the darkness carried me off to sleep, my thoughts constantly drifted back to the old man. Today I almost didn't keep his business going. Today I almost didn't fulfill my promise to him. And tomorrow, somehow I had to find a way to make everything up to Skyline.


It seems my mind was back to normal as I slept through the night with not a single dream of grassy hills, old cannons, or pink fillies. I awoke to the sound of cooking upstairs, the smell of meat permeating the garage as I opened my eyes. My gaze locked at where the Marauder had sat for the last 120 years, the gears in my head turning before I realized I had nearly forgotten yesterdays events.

"Damnit..." I groaned and rolled over, getting to my hooves. "I was hoping it was just a bad dream." Yawning and climbing the stairway to the kitchen, I lazily swung the door open and walked into the bathroom where Skyline was brushing her mane out.

"Good morning" I said as I stepped into the tub, turning the knob on the faucet to hot and letting the water loosen my stiff muscles. "what's for breakfast?" Skyline glared at me, giving me a snarl and the sarcastic answer I expected.

"I don't know? I'm not making it, am I?" I smirked to myself before my head noticed it sounded off, it... sounded genuine...

"Huh? What do you mean?" I shut the water off abruptly and stepped out of the tub, still soaking and peered around the doorframe into the kitchen. A green-maned, golden-coated unicorn not much older than a colt was frying meat over our stove. His flank bore a cutie mark of a metallic disk with a point sticking out of the middle. The gears in my mind whired again as I stared blankly at him.

He must have wondered why it got quiet again because he turned and looked at me. His eyes went wide in shock, I could see him tense up, and his expression was of....guilt? My head gears locked up as I made the connection.

"YOU!" I Yelled at him with all my might, stomping heavily over to him. He started to shrink down, tremors of fear coursing through his body. "You are paladin Brass Tacks! aren't you!" He nodded slowly, whimpering softly.

"The hell has gotten into you!?" I turned just in time to see Skyline's right hook slam into the side of my muzzle. I stumbled into the table roughly, I could feel the burning in my side return with the shortness of breath from the day before, and my rage began welling up.

"ME!? This... foal..." She cut me off mid sentence.

"Save your life. He hauled you all the way from where ever Celestia damned hole you went to when you left me. He didn't need to save you, but he chose to bring you to Tenpony. I don't know what the hell you did yesterday but he's the only reason you are still around at all!"

I stared bullets into the young colts head as he winced at her words. Myself thinking over what Skyline had just said, I was pretty sure he didn't tell her that he was the reason I almost died in the first place. Now, I'm not the vengeful type and as much as I want to beat the ever living hell out of this kid, I don't want to kill him. But if Skyline heard the truth now? She'd kill him in an instant, nothing would hold her back. And this was just a colt for Luna's sake! He didn't deserve cruelty like that, no pony did.

Brass Tacks expression seemed to tense up in the silence that followed. As I relaxed I could see more and more that he was breaking. The sweat on his brow, the nervous twitch in his neck, and his darting eyes all pointed out he was going to tell her. Fuck I hate my life sometimes. He gasped and screamed out.

"OK I'M SORRY! I DIDN'T..." I moved quickly, landing a solid uppercut to his jaw. He stumbled and slid down onto the floor, whimpering up at me with his head in his hooves. Skyline grabbed me to try to pull me back. Quick, think of some bullshit...

"That's... for not running from the manticore!" I feigned the anger and raised my other hoof to strike him again, knowing full well Skyline would stop me. And as if on cue, she pulled my hoof back again. "Trust me next time. They'll tear right through that flimsy armor you wear and take your head off." The colts expression slowly transitioned from one of fright to one of shock. I shook myself out of Skylines grip and slowly trotted to the stairs. "Kid, don't you ever try to be the lone hero." I glanced up at Skyline as she softened her glare at me. "I know that road... it doesn't end well."

I walked down into the Garage, shutting the door behind me. I slid the mattress aside and opened the hatch to the generator room again. Stepping down to the bottom step, I flipped on the light. Sure enough, it was a mannila enveloped crammed back against the wall. I heard the door to the kitchen open and someone walk down the stairs. I peered up as Skyline came up and hugged me tightly.

"I was just so worried about you. But, you saved that colt's life. And when he showed up this morning to talk to you, I thought maybe he wanted you to pay him for what he had to do." Skyline let out a nervous laugh as she stood back into the stairwell. "I was even going to hold you down so he could beat you up if he wanted to." She gave me the most gentle smile I had ever seen her give. "Just promise me you will never do that to me again."

"I'll promise, but first, I need your help with something." I pointed a hoof to the folder in the crevice. She looked at it, puzzled.

"Has that always been there?" She reached in with her small hooves and pulled it out. The yellow folder was covered in dust, giving the whole thing a bland look. The only color on it was a blue wax stamp in the shape of a balloon. "Huh, I wonder what it is." She scraped at the wax with her hoof, futilely trying to pry the small seal off.

I pried the envelope out of her hooves as she gave up and looked at it, I couldn't make out the words hidden under the layers of dust, so, turning away from her I held it out and blew on it. The dust flew off and the wax seal popped off with a click, dropping to the floor with an unceremonious crack and shattered to pieces. The sudden crack bringing back the cannon from my dreams.

"Follow the breeze..." I said under my breath, astonished at what had just happened.

"How did..." Skyline asked in amazement. I brought the folder up to the light to read the faded text. I locked up with a seemingly synchronized gasp with Sky. In big block letters, the letter bore the type:


the enclosed documents are to be for

Backlash - Skyline - Brass Tacks eyes only.

By order of the M.O.M. Chief of Staff.

I opened the folder and slid out the yellowed page, the paper seemed to be a mouth written note. I read it outloud.

To my dear future relative Backlash,

It has come to my attention that I, Pinkie Pie, can no longer stop Equestria's fate. The war will end with most of the world being destroyed, but Ponykind will live on. I leave this letter to you to in your time of doubt to not only guide you and your friends, but to reassure you that you have what it takes to change Equestria for the better. The friends you make along your journey will help to heal the damage we've done and will become more valuable to you than you can even know.

But first, you must go to my bunker and reclaim it for the Ministry you have now taken command of. The Steel Rangers must not get their hooves on it. Show this letter to your friends and go immediately. Great events have now been set in motion, and as my descendant it is your destiny to stop them. I will continue to visit you in your dreams to help as I can, but I cannot be held responsible for the events to come.

Help Equestria, Backlash. You are our only hope.

- P. D. P.

I flipped the paper over and looked for anything else in the envelope, finding nothing. I turned to see Skyline's jaw agape as she just stood looking at the note.

"You're related to one of the ministry mares!?" She questioned with her trademark worried face, she fidgeted nervously as she paced up and down the stairs. "Ooooh this is bad....very bad..." I pressed my hoof to her muzzle to stop her.

"Calm down. I haven't seen you this nervous in years. Now, let's go upstairs and we can talk about it, ok? You need to show this to Brass up there." She seemed to relax a bit, nodding softly before heading up to the kitchen. I flipped the light off and climbed the stairs, swinging the door shut and slipping the mattress over it, I took a moment to think to myself.

"What in Celestia's name have I gotten myself into?"


So, as a descendant of a ministry mare, I got bumped up to the top of the Enclaves' hit list. Apparently being able to walk through shields was a crime punishable by death up there, or something, but I wasn't worried about that. Brass Tacks was apparently quite knowledgeable about pre-war history, and knew Pinkie Pie had some kind of sixth sense for things, so seeing the note wasn't so surprising to him. He was more honored to join at a ministries' request.

By the time we had left, it was about midday and starting to rain pretty hard. Thunder boomed in the distance as Skyline scouted up ahead of us with wide, sweeping passes, giving Brass and I room enough to talk without her hearing.

"Why did you lie to her?" His voice coming through the speaker in his power armor. "Why would you protect me?" I wiped my wet mane out of my eyes, gazing into the emotionless sockets of his bulky helmet.

"Because you are just a colt, if she knew what you did, she would tear you limb from limb. Not even your fancy armor could stop her." I stopped and pointed at him. "How the hell do you even fit in there? aren't you a little small to be a Paladin?" He stopped walking and stared down as the rain pelted off the suit.

"I'm not actually supposed to have this armor, I'm just an acolyte." His voice giving off a somber note as we continued forward through the mudded street. "I was part of a scouting mission into the Ministry of Morale headquarters when our group was ambushed by robots. We had brought enough pulse grenades to deal with it, but I was tasked with carrying all of them. When the fight started, I panicked, I had never been in combat before and I didn't have any training with grenades."

He sat into the mud with a thick plop. Removing his helmet, he slowly tilted his head to the sky, tears flowing down his cheeks, gazing as if asking for forgiveness from Celestia herself. "I hid behind a desk and threw the bag of pulse charges at the robots, I got them all somehow, but... not before they had cut down the other acolytes and Paladin Back Blast. I was the only one left." He sat there as the rain streamed down heavier than ever, the street becoming soupy with mud.

"I took the armor and ran off. I wanted to go back, but I was afraid they would punish me for failing the mission. So I wandered the city, passing myself off as a paladin until I found my way back to that bunker outside." The thunder roared closer as Skyline flew into the open second story of the house next to us. She peeked her head out.

"We should take shelter until the storm passes." I nodded and trotted over to the front door, spinning and bucking it open.

"Come on Brass, we can talk more later." I turned back to enter the house.

"No." His voice was as low as the distant thunder. I could make out the sound of his overwhelming sorrow through the sheets of rain. "What use is a coward to you? I'm no paladin. I'm a poor excuse for a Steel Ranger at that, you'd be better off leaving me here."

"Brass. Get inside. Now." I stood, unwavering in the face of the pounding rain. "That is an order." He turned and stared at me with cold hatred.

"You can't..." The thunder cut him off.

I stomped and continued before he could regain himself. "I can. My orders come from higher up than even your elders. I don't know how, or why Pinkie Pie knew about the three of us, but we have a job to do. So suck it up and get your flank into that building now!" He grumbled and plodded off inside. I sighed and cantered over to his muddy helmet, gripping it in my teeth. A soft flutter and some movement catching my eye down the street. I turned and looked over the buildings, trying to see anything out of place, but the driving cold rain was finally taking it's toll. I shivered and galloped into the house.

My barding was completely soaked. The reinforced khaki stuck to my hide uncomfortably as I tried to start a fire in the brick fireplace. The wind howled outside as the storm tried futilely to pound the Manehatten ruins into submission. Brass was off in the corner, wiping down his armor with some old towels he had found, seemingly in a better mood. Skyline lay on the remains of a couch, tinkering with the Gauss rifles from the sides of her battle saddle.

Brass, content with the job he had done, threw the rag in the corner and sat next to Sky, watching as she cleaned out the parts for the tenth time in the last hour. His eyes following as she deftly broke down each part, looked it over, wiped away whatever contaminant she found, then reassembled it.

"You know, I don't think I've ever seen a more beautiful sight. So delicate, yet powerful, sleek and strong. If only the guys and the base could see me with you..." Brass said with a soft smile, before gazing up into Skylines disapproving gaze.

Skyline spit the screwdriver out of her mouth and poked his nose. "Hold it right there, Casanova. Before you go any further, I'm sure you are a nice stallion and all, but you are bit young...and not really my type." Brass gasped and put his hoof to his chest, looking outraged.

"I was not referring to you, I was referring to... her." He let out a light sigh and pointed his hoof at the polished rifle. "Never before have I understood the beauty of guns, but she is just gorgeous, don't you agree?" Skyline pulled the rifle close to her, shifting uneasily on the couch.

"I do, and that's why..."She" is mine. Get it?" He didn't even seem to be listening anymore. I stood up as the fire crackled to life, unzipped my barding and laid it out, glad to be finally out of it.

"Oh don't give him such a hard time with his first crush" I said lightheartedly.

"Well he's going to get crushed alright if he doesn't stop salivating on me." Her words seemed to snap him out of his stupor.

"I guess you have never seen something so beautiful that you could not help yourself." He said with an air of arrogance.

"Yeah, I have; your mom. Now step back! This is my rifle, and I'm going to CLEAN IT!"

I couldn't help but start to laugh. It felt so good just to see them I just doubled over in uncontrollable giggles. The two of them paused and looked at me before bursting out alongside me. As the storm raging outside was drowned out by us, I couldn't help but think how good it felt and how lucky I was just to have two friends in the desolate wastelands of Equestria. As night time came, the storm had died to a low drone and we had huddled next to the dying fire. Skyline snored softly with her battle saddle pulled snugly against herself. Brass and I stared into the glowing embers, each silently lost in our own thoughts. My thoughts bouncing around between the events of the last few days. Brass broke the silence.

"I'm sorry. About the bunker, I mean." I tensed up at the words. Slowly feeling the rage in me rise as I glared over at him. He shrank down and trembled, slightly. "I didn't mean to buck you so hard. I'm not used to power armor." I grunted and crossed my forehooves, turning my gaze back to the fire. "I didn't want to seem like a coward, so I put on the attitude of a strong stallion and I lost myself in it. I know you can't forgive me, but, I am sorry. If your hoof hadn't fallen through the shield, you would have died. And I wouldn't have been able to live with myself."

I did die I thought in my head, and by Celestia I wanted nothing more than to just reach over and strangle the life from him for what he put Skyline through... no, it wasn't him. I was the one who ran off without her. If anything, he deserves a break. Hell, I had just thought him a 'friend' a few hours ago. I know I keep telling myself that the wasteland sucks and you deal with it, but he was too young to be sent out. Anypony should have seen that. And if I ever had the good graces to meet up with their elder, I'd give them a few good breaks of their own.

"It's fine. I forgive..." I was cut off by the sound of gunfire close by. Brass got to his hooves and levitated his helmet over, securing it with a hiss. I shook Skyline awake as what sounded like a full on war seemed to be taking place a block away. She stretched herself out and nodded quietly to me, quickly swinging her battle saddle over herself and fastening it.

"See what you can find from the air." I put a hoof on her shoulder. "fly as high as you can, stay out of sight, then get back here." She nodded again and galloped up to the open second floor and took off into the night. I spun around as Brass's weapons whirred and clicked as the suit's auto loader came to life. I put my hoof to my lips to signal to be quiet. We waited in silence for a minute or so and glanced as Skyline came barging down the stairs, her frightened face illuminated by the red embers.

"We have to leave. NOW. There is an entire wing of those Alicorn things tearing up a raider hideout down the street." I nodded and cracked the front door open. The rain had ceased a while ago but left a sea of mud and puddles out in the street, so it was going to be impossible to get through the streets quietly or unnoticed. I left the door open and paused for a moment.

"Running is no good. Did either of you find out if this house has a basement?" Brass Tacks nodded and waved for us to follow. He swung open the door and walked down the steps. His suits headlamp illuminating a basement that was nearly completely flooded with dark green water. He disappeared under the surface before popping back up on the stairs.

"If we hide in here, we should be safe." His speaker played out louder than I would have liked, causing me to notice that the gunfire had stopped and it was unnervingly quiet outside. Skyline uneasily stepped down into the murky depths as I shut the door softly. As I dipped into the slimy water, I heard the thump of a pony landing upstairs. Brass shut his headlamp off and sank into the water as we could hear the intruder walk down slowly, step after step into the living room where we just were.

The steps grew closer to the basement door. Skyline and I ducked down under the opaque surface as the door handle turned, clinging on to the sides of Brass to keep from floating back up. The alicorns' voice pierced even the water as she spoke out.

"We believe them to have fled us, they left few of their supplies. We shall continue the search elsewhere." I heard the door shut and for a moment, her steps back up the stairs before silence. I fought my way to the surface, gasping heavily at the damp air, dragging myself onto to sides of one of the steps, wiping the muck from my eyes. Skyline came up a few moments later, sucking in a deep breath.

"You really are out of shape." She smirked and paddled over, pulling herself up and out to the doorway. Cracking it open and peering out into the living room, looking around for a moment before turning back to us. "It's clear."

"You remember how I just recovered from all sorts of fun chest trauma?" I managed to spill out between heaves. Honestly, I wasn't the most fit stallion, but that was just a low blow. Brass's headlamp kicked on as he clambered his way upstairs, the thick green muck slicking off of his armor. I got up and followed just in time to see Skyline shake herself off, dousing what was left of the fire, and with that, our heat. We were left with nothing but the cold, wet, dark.

"Let's just get some sleep."


The morning light filtered in through the dust laden windows as we finally got up. I had mostly dried off with the few hours of sleep that we got, but was annoyed by how it made my barding stick to me again. Skyline spent a good half hour cleaning the gunk out of her guns as Brass Tacks looked on in barely contained giddiness. We each snacked on a box of sugar apple bombs and some cram before setting out.

The streets had mostly dried out, only leaving the largest puddles and deep pits still wet. We all kept a constant look out for the alicorns as we silently trotted towards the M.O.M. hub looming closer in the distance. None of us had spoken a word all morning, we didn't want anything catching us off guard again. Skyline had even taken to trotting with us, although uncomfortably, but presumably to not give away our position to anyone who happened to glance skyward.

It was deathly quiet out, like someone had slain the wind itself, which of course amplified every sound we made. Every rock we kicked, or splash we made sounded like a grenade going off. But it did work both ways. If any other ponies made noise, we would hear them coming from a mile away. (I don't think that literally, it's just a phrase.)

I was so lost in thought as we walked, I almost missed it. The flutter noise from the day before. I held my hoof up, as we all froze. I swiveled my ears around to try to find where it came from, but the ruins of the city just bounced it from every direction. I did my best to direct them to take cover, getting nods from both as we formed a tight circle.

And there we sat, tensed up behind a few pieces of rubble on the side of the street, waiting for whatever was around to slip up again. After a few minutes of waiting, Skyline tapped my shoulder, I spun around to see her point to a dark figure slowly walking around the corner from the next block up. A dark brown griffin walked slowly towards us. The bright blue tips on her feathers really contrasted the sleek black armor that went up to her neck. In her beak she held a stick with a large white flag.

She stopped about half a block from us. From closer up, I could now see her face was nearly covered in scars. Her armor at a distance didn't reflect this either, but from closer, it was dinged and scratched up all over. Brass stiffened up and stepped forward.

"State your Name, Company, and Mission." His speaker barked. The words carrying down the streets, giving off distorted echoes as we all stood our ground.

"Carlotta, 2nd Talon company, and to report to the trader named Backlash for personal bodyguard services." She puffed up her chest and gave a stern look back, eyeing us over, sizing us up no doubt. Skyline and I traded bewildered looks as Brass took another step forward.

"And who out there would hire you to protect him? What do they want from him?" I could see Brass flinch slightly. He was trying to look imposing, but doing a pretty poor job at it, he was probably scared shitless of her. Hell, I nearly am. I can't get a read on her at all.

"I don't know, but it's in my client's best interest to keep Mr. Backlash alive and out of Alicorn hooves." She dropped the white flag and let the cloth reveal her two large battle rifles strapped in low to her saddle. "Most ponies don't let colts do their talking for them." She addressed me personally with a piercing gaze.

I walked past Brass and up to her, looking her over suspiciously. "Most don't let them walk around wearing armor like that either, so I'm pretty sure it works out." She gave off a sly grin at that. "Well, Carlotta was it? Great of you to want to join us, but the thing I've noticed is that we're all fucked up in some way, and before we can welcome you to our little group. You need to answer one thing." I hooked a hoof around her neck and pulled myself close, her smirk dropped into a frown. "What's fucked up about you?"

She shook me loose before grabbing me by the collar of my barding and lifting me up. "As much as I sure would love to be a part of this fucked up dysfunctional family you have going here, I'll pass. I'm here for the job." She dropped me on my flank and straightened out her saddle.

"I'll mark you down for 'Has issues making friends'." I said as I rubbed my muddy rear. Skyline dashed over and gave her hardest right hook at the tough griffin, connecting with a meaty slap. I watched as Carlotta took the hit seemingly willingly, a wide grin stretching over her beak as blood trickled out of the corner of her mouth.

"I like your marefriend. Sexy and feisty!" She let out a loud cackle as Skyline blushed and stomped over to help me up. "But in all seriousness, I'm not your friend. For you to be one, you'd have to fit into one of two categories, Fast or Fe...." A shot rang out from somewhere down the street, the round pinging harmlessly off of Brass Tacks helmet. I hit the ground as Skyline jumped up, taking off effortlessly into the sky. I could hear the whine as Brass's side mounted minigun spun up to speed.

Carlotta stepped in front of me as her twin battle rifles roared to life. Down the street I could see a gang of raiders firing from various points in a building with a gutted first floor. The short drones of Brass's minigun filled the gaps between the loud cracks his Anti-machine rifle sent out. In just a few short seconds the supports to the building gave way as the entire three story brick structure caved in on itself.

The echoing reports of the gun battle drifted away as dust filled the streets. I got back to my hooves and walked up next to Carlotta, peering through the dust for any sign of movement. A shine and clack from further down the road, gave it away.

"GET DOWN!" I screamed as time seemed to slow to a crawl (it always had a habit of doing that when I was doing something stupid). I pushed and heaved Carlotta to the side with all my might. I don't think that if she had been expected it she would have budged an inch, but she tumbled to her side and slid a few feet. Pain enveloped my chest as I gasped for air. A sickening snap was all I heard as I lost control of my legs, tumbling into the dirt as something metallic rolled in front of me. The towering form of Brass tacks standing over me seemed to drift out of focus as darkness crawled into my vision. The last thing I saw was Skyline standing above Carlotta, her Gauss rifles sending pulse after pulse out as she screamed something that was lost as the minigun above me fired again, the low drone seemingly carrying me off into the darkness.


The grass below me was warm, the sun beating down through the tree next to me felt good. I felt relaxed, letting the breeze wash over me. I opened my eyes slowly, squinting at the brightness. Something was different though... the clouds. They were shaped like giant party balloons.

"HIIIIII!" I jumped to my hooves as the high pitched voice yelled behind me. Spinning around I was once again met with the tiny pink filly as she stared back at me with the widest frown I have ever seen. Oh, wait, she was hanging upside down off of a low hanging branch. "Back so soon? I bet it's because you missed your aunt Pinkie so much you came back as soon as you could!" I felt a pain stab into my chest for a moment, I winced and gasped.

"Oh, did I catch you at a bad time?" She giggled and dropped onto her hooves. "It's ok, we'll just have TWO parties next time to make up for it!" She turned and started to bounce away down the hill. I felt the pain subside and I could breathe again.

"Wait!" I called out. She froze in midair before slowly sinking to the ground. "I need to ask you something before you go." She spun around and bounced back over to me (how she bounced on her hooves and floated through air was a mystery to me... wait, this is a dream, why do I care?). "How did you know I would find the letter?"

She bounced around me and giggled excitedly "It's my Pinkie sense, silly! I get various signals that can predict immediate and vague events!"

I rubbed my chin quizzically. "Well, how does that work?"

The small filly bounced up onto my back and over my head to land in front of me. "You remind me of my friend Twilight. She didn't believe either..." The pink filly's frizzy mane seemed to droop, a look of incredible sadness appeared on her face. "Well, she was my friend until I screwed everything up."

I leaned down, lifting her chin with my hoof. "Hey now, I did something similar to my best friend once. I don't know if I can ever fix it, but I know we all make mistakes." I wiped the tear from her eye as a small smile crept over her muzzle, in turn, bringing one to mine. Her hair seemed to rise again until it was as frilly as ever, she gasped in delight.

"You have my gift too!" She launched herself at me, hugging me tightly around the neck (She was far too strong for a filly...for my imagination... whatever!). She squealed in delight as she resumed bouncing around me. "You can make anypony happy! And if you can do that, you can use my other gifts as well! YOU ARE THE GREATEST RELATIVE EVER!"

"But... I don't know..." She stuffed a kazoo in my muzzle as another boom sounded with confetti falling from the sky again. The boom made me remember something... but what was it... Suddenly the sharp pain in my chest returned with a vengeance. Knocking me flat onto my side, I sharply gasped for air I couldn't find again. The smiling pink filly just bouncing in place.

"Don't worry! just let yourself do what feels natural at the time. You'll put two and two and two together to figure out the meaning!" She squealed again and jumped high into the air, falling onto my head with all four hooves, and sending me back into the solemn darkness.

I opened my eyes slowly, hearing the crackling of a fire and the whistle of the wind. It was dark out, and I was still in the street, but it seemed it was not the same one as before. I could see the form of Carlotta curled up next to the fire, Skyline was sitting across from her, her eyes glazed over as she stared into it. Brass was nowhere to be seen, which worried me. I tried to roll to my hooves but groaned loudly as a sharp pain shot through my chest. Skyline let out a light gasp and ran over to me, her eyes tearing up at the edges. She reached down and pulled me into the most painful hug I've ever had. I bit down on my lip and tried not to whimper.

"See... I promised I wouldn't leave you." I said with the best grin I could muster through the pain. She let out a sigh of relief and wiped her eyes. "What happened? Where is Brass?" I tried to sit up, she pushed me back onto my side.

"You need to rest, and Brass is out patrolling the neighborhood." She brushed my mane from my eyes. "You were hit by a 25mm armor piercing grenade round. You know, the ones designed to go off once it hits armor and melt through it. Your chest and your ribs cushioned it enough that it didn't have enough force to set the explosive off. You got extremely lucky." I tried my best to ignore the fact that she sounded like she had just called me fat again. "And if it had hit Carlotta's armor? We would have had to pick bits of her off the street. You saved her life." She said, pausing for a moment before smacking the back of my head with her hoof. "That's twice you've almost died saving somepony's life! Can't you find a way to do it without getting yourself injured?" I reached back to rub where she hit, sending stabs of incredible pain through my chest.

"You didn't fix it?" I gasped out. She shook her head.

"We can't use the hydra until someone resets your ribs. We will be heading out for Tenpony at first light. I think that..."

"We can't wait any longer." I snapped back. "You read the note, we don't have the time to go back. I haven't shown any signs of dying anytime soon. So I'm going to use that hydra, we are going to open that bunker, and inside, we'll use whatever it is to save the whole of the Celestia-damned wasteland!"

"He's right you know." Carlotta chimed in as she got up and stretched out. "We risked moving him this far, if he doesn't take it now, it will set wrong regardless and it will be weak enough it could break again."

Skyline grumbled, searching through her saddlebags to pull out the injector, unceremoniously pricking it into my chest. All at once, my chest felt like it was freezing and on fire, I screamed out as I could feel the bones meld together in an alien fashion. The sensation dulled and I panted heavily as I could hear heavy stomps coming our way. Brass Tacks tore into camp, skidding to a stop next to Sky.

"I heard a scream, is everypony alright?" He sounded slightly out of breath, but seemed no worse for the wear. And speaking of the wear, his armor gleamed in the firelight. It seems he didn't take a single hit during the fighting except for the shot that started it. Those raiders had incredibly poor accuracy... well, all of them except the pony with the grenade launcher.

"I'm fine." I pulled myself to my hooves slowly, the throbbing pain in my chest the fun reminder of just how fucked up my ribs now were. I was pretty sure that if they got hit again by anything, they would just rip themselves out and retire somewhere warm and far away from me. "How long until dawn?"

"It will be light enough to travel in a couple of hours, rest up until then." Carlotta stretched her wings as she spoke. "I'm going to go take a look around until then. might be a good idea for you to grab something to eat as well, you know, just in case you need to stop another grenade round with your chest." She laughed haughtily as she flew off into the night. Why was everyone suddenly commenting on my weight? I wasn't that bad, was I? I shook the thought from my head as I noticed Skyline nervously pacing around the campfire.

Sky spoke up suddenly. "I really should go with her... you know... in case she get's lost." She stretched her wings out, inspecting them quickly.

"Get lost? In the sky? when we have the only campfire for miles probably?" Brass Tacks reply was both perfectly timed and logical enough to catch her off guard.

"Well, yes, I mean..." as she struggled to say something, I squinted suspiciously at her. She got her brush out, briskly untangling her mane, instead trying to her best to ignore him.

"Really... her?" I tapped my hoof on the dirt. "Well, if that's what you want. Go. Just..." She squeed and bolted off into the sky with a red stripe as if she were rainbow dash incarnate, disappearing over the ruined buildings and out of sight before I could finish. "... don't be late."

"What was up with that?" Brass said as he removed his helmet, sitting down next to the fire.

"You remember what she told you yesterday when you eyed her gun?" I decided to take Carlotta's suggestion, pulling out a can of beans and opening it. (Screw what you think, I don't have a weight problem).

"Yeah, she said I wasn't..." He stopped for a moment, I could see on his face, the exact moment the gears in his head stopped as he figured it out. "She likes mares?!" I smirked and ate a spoonful of the beans, pleasantly surprised that this can didn't taste like mud as per the norm. "This whole time I thought she was with you!"

I gagged at the outburst, spitting and coughing the beans onto the dirt.

"The hell!? She's like a sister to me!" I gasped and pounded on my chest, adding that my lungs would be joining my ribs in their retirement if I kept this up. "That is sick, Brass. I would never... is that really what you thought?"

He looked surprised at the reaction. "Yeah! I mean, a stallion and a mare living and traveling together for years..."

I pointed my spoon at him "NO, no. nope. hell no. nuh-uh. never. Now drop it and let us never speak of this again. If you do, I swear that not even Celestia herself will save your soul from my wrath." He let out what I could only describe as a squeak as he nodded and stared back into the fire.

We sat there for a good half hour keeping the fire going and waiting for the girls to return. The whole Brass and I stare into a fire buddy time was getting to be a regular thing. But as with before, he was going to screw it up. He started kicking at the dirt a few times. I just knew he had something else stupid to ask me. "What do you want to ask now..."

"Why don't you carry a gun?" He said blatantly.

I grunted, scrunching up my muzzle. Wow, I was not expecting that. But to his credit, it was a good question. I mean, so much can go wrong with one to make you have a really bad day. either the ammunition is bad, the gun is in disrepair (which for me was obviously not a problem), it jams because it's dirty (I've never seen a gun jam on Skylines saddle... ever), or someone takes it and uses it against you. But even then, none of those really mattered to me. I scrunched my muzzle up tighter in thought.

"I guess the simple answer is, I've never needed one. Hell, we don't really carry any medical supplies either. Just some chems to use in emergencies to get back to a doctor." He looked puzzled by my response, but seeing as he grew up around the idea that guns were more important than ponies, it's an understandably foreign concept. "When I travel around I've always had Sky with me, she's always been all I've ever needed." I paused. I really did sound like I was in love with her, didn't I? "But the last few weeks, things have been different. There seemed to be more raiders than civilized ponies, more alicorns have been reported all over, and the wildlife is becoming more venturous, attacking settlements head on. Seeing as we'll probably be in more conflicts in the future, I guess it's about time I got myself one."

"You boys enjoy the time alone?" Carlotta came in quickly, flaring her wings as she stopped, fanning the near dead fire back to life. Skyline came in behind her, lightly trotting upon touching down, and as she straightened her saddle, she seemed more relaxed so I'm guessing things went as she wanted.

"Get yourself one what?" She said as she popped open her box of snack cakes, tossing one to Carlotta, who proceeded to tear into it with an almost excessive amount of violence. I looked over to Brass, who was just turning to answer.

"Oh Celestia no..." I muttered under my breath.

"Backlash was just saying how he wanted to get a gun, he..." I was immediately knocked onto my back by Skyline, Brass eyeing us over the fire as she squeezed me tightly. I was wrong, before was the second most painful hug I had ever had. Bones could heal, but I think my reputation died as she tried to force the life out of me.

"I knew this day would come! We are going to have so much fun shopping!" The pitch in her voice somehow getting higher than I even thought possible. "It's going to be so awesome! Maybe we'll get you something big and imposing! Or maybe something small instead, so you can take it literally anywhere you go!" Oh sweet darkness, come back and save me. I'll hang out with Pinkie all day, I don't care! Just make it stop!


The sun peeked over the horizon and filled the clouds with it's normal tones of vibrant greys and dark greys. I was happy to learn that they had hauled my injured flank nearly a mile further before making camp, so it was just another hour or so walk to get there. It had started to drizzle again, not much, but just enough to be obnoxious. Carlotta had taken 'point' as she called it, and was flying a few blocks ahead of us to make sure we didn't run into any ambushes.

Which apparently were the flavor of the month because we walked right into yet another one. A grey earth pony slammed through the door of a grocery store just up the street, he pointed his submachine gun back through the doorway and emptied the magazine into it. We all dove for cover as he screamed and ran towards us. I peeked up over the slab of siding I was hiding behind just in time to see a long piece of rebar float out the door and hurl itself through the fleeing pony's neck, he tumbled down and went still.

A large, purple alicorn strode out through the door, unfolding its wings as it turned this way. I ducked down, hoping my companions kept out of sight. I could hear her walk closer, her hoof beats steady and calm. She stopped just short of my pile of rubble.

"We have deemed this area cleared and think he might have headed back to the tower." I could hear the beat of another set of wings come close, setting down right next to the alicorn. A separate voice speaking up this time. "We found this one flying as well and subdued it. What should we do with the griffin." I cringed. Holy Celestia why did things have to go so bad so fast?

"We should eliminate it as it could warn him." Fuck fuck fuck fuckity FUCK! I wracked my brain for a way to save Carlotta from what I assumed was now two alicorns. "But that would imply this Griffin knows his location. We could always search her memories." I'm going to do it, I'm going to do something stupid again. I could just feel it coming on.

I jumped to my hooves, rounding the debris and into the view of the... one, two...THREE? OH COME ON! ONE CELESTIA DAMNED BREAK FOR ONCE! I had forgotten that while using their shield spell, the green ones might have well been statues. But here I am, I finally collected all three colors of the fucked up alicorn rainbow. Carlotta was suspended in the air by the large bubble, unmoving but uninjured it seemed.

"Let her go, she has no part in this." I kept what was probably the best damn poker face I have ever worn strong as I walked up to the dark blue one in the middle.

"Why should we now that you have so foalishly turned yourself over?" Her muzzle was still, her voice boomed only in my head. And now that I thought about it, I hadn't heard one of these things speak until the other night. She strode up a few steps and leaned down, staring at me with her yellow, slit eyes.

"Because you need me. If you don't let her go, I will never do as you ask." I stiffened up, trying to keep as imposing as was laughably possible.

"Who said we were going to ask?" She gave a deep laugh and tapped me with her glowing horn. I felt my vision cloud for a moment before she stumbled back. "We cannot read your memories. The logic is jumbled, explain how this is possible."

The purple alicorn chimed in. "A relic of his heritage. We have seen this before, it was to be expected. We suggest we comply with his demands." The towering blue figure stepped back slowly, seeming to think about it for a moment.

"Agreed, the great and powerful goddess will surrender the griffin if you will accompany us to the bunker." A slight smile creeping across her muzzle as she spoke.

"Then we have a deal." I knew this was going to be a bad idea but I wouldn't have someone die in my place when I could prevent it. The green alicorn dropped her shield, dropping the unconscious Carlotta to the ground with a thud. The blue and green stretched their wings, turning and taking off towards the tower as the purple one strode over to me. I turned around just in time to see Skyline cry out as the world was suddenly engulfed in a momentary blinding light.

I felt a shock go through me as the light started to dim, revealing the street outside the bunker. I smelled burnt hair and shuddered as I could move again. A shine out of the corner of my eye showed me a glimpse of the most beautiful sight I had ever beheld in the wasteland. I dove into the familiar stairwell beside me as the squad of power armored steel rangers down the street opened fire. Perforating the monstrosity with hundreds of holes. I skid through the shield and got to my hooves, dusting myself off, catching a glimpse of a spot of dried blood on the concrete floor. My blood from earlier. I shuddered as I pushed the thought from my mind.

"You there!" The shrill voice of an older grey colored mare called out as she walked down the stairwell to the shield. "I am Eldar Strawberry Sorbet and this bunker is Ministry of Wartime Technology property. I don't know how you got in there but I am ordering you to deactivate the shield and vacate the premises."

"Wrong. This bunker is property of the Ministry of Morale, and as the last surviving heir of Chief Pinkie Pie, I will do no such thing." I beamed a smile at her rage filled red eyes. "Now, you have two other alicorns inbound from the air and I'd say a minute or so before they get here. You can either talk to me, or pull back your squad. You got lucky with that first one, but once the other two see what you've done, they won't be so easy to kill."

She let out an annoyed grunt and walked up the steps. "We have 2 alicorns on the way, fall back, return to your outposts. The bunker will still be here tomorrow." She glared at me as the group galloped back down the road. "We aren't done here." Her voice solid as stone. I think I had just made my first real enemy. Well, other than raiders, slavers, Enclave, and now alicorns.

I turned around, looking for a way to open the massive steel door, pressing at the walls around it in search of a button. Something sharp on the wall jabbed my hoof. I pulled it back in pain as a red spinning light activated on the ceiling. A computerized voice emanating through a series of hidden speakers crackled to life.


"YOU FOAL!" The familiar voice of the blue alicorn called out into my head. "WE HAD A DEAL. WHY HAVE YOU BETRAYED THE GODDESS'S TRUST?" No wonder these things never talked if that's how they spoke. I couldn't help but laugh at the show she was making of it, but if it kept her from hunting me down, I guess I could put up with it a bit longer.

"If you are talking about your friend, I didn't kill her, there was a squad of Steel Rangers here protecting the bunker, she didn't stand a chance. I infact convinced them to leave. And if you are talking about the bunker, just tell me what you are looking for and I'll bring it to you."

She showed a look a genuine shock as the large door slid into the wall behind me with a soft ding. "You would still help us? I MEAN OF COURSE YOU WOULD STILL HELP THE GREAT AND POWERFUL GODDESS! FIND US THE BLACK BOOK AND YOU MAY GO FREE." I nodded and turned around, staring into a pear shaped elevator with clear glass walls, a silver band of metal ringing the upper interior held the buttons for floors. stepping inside the steel outer door shut slowly with a mechanical hiss. A shimmering green shield enveloped the open side of the craft and a soft light illuminated the interior.

I looked up to read the floors, only to find half of them weren't even numbers, or really possible for that matter. last time I checked sideways and diagonal were not ways any elevator could travel. The last button on the list had a little glass cover over it that read 'push to break fourth wall'. Ok, definitely didn't want to break anything after having gotten this far. I tried to think, scanning over the buttons again for any hint until I remembered what Pinkie Pie told me to.

"Wait, where is ...42?" I said softly as I perused the buttons again. The elevator jarred to life and the familiar computerized voice played out again.

Level Forty Two. Cryogenics and Server Storage level.

The elevator seemingly flew around the complete darkness. Tossing up and down, left and right. I was starting to get sick right before the elevator slammed to a stop, throwing me out of the shield and onto a smooth walkway, the whole trip only lasting 10 seconds or so. Stumbling up to my hooves, I stared down the illuminated walkway at a single oval shaped door. I walked hesitantly to it and pushed it open. Inside was a small room lit by a single overhead lamp, a small table sat with a terminal on it. I took notice that this one's interface was pink instead of the olive green of every other terminal, and it was on the login screen, a question posed instead of the normal user entry setup.

What is the answer to life, the universe, and everything?

Taking a guess, I reached forward using my hoof, carefully typing the 4 and the 2. I paused and held my breath as I hit the return key. The login cycled for a moment before putting up a new readout.

Error: Incorrect Password... Initiating lockout...

I let out a sigh. Well that was a bust. The screen flickered and the readout refreshed again.

Just kidding! Welcome Backlash! I am P.I.N.K.

Primary Information Networking Conciousness. How may I help you today? Ask me anything!

I felt like that stopped making sense at somepoint. "You know, Conciousness is spelled with a C, right?"

Correct, but acronyms are hard. Anything else I can help you with?

I thought to myself. What was I supposed to do now? All the instructions were to get me here, but I still didn't know why.

May I make a suggestion? Would you like to play a game?

"No thanks, do you know the location of the black book?"

The location of the 'black book' has been redacted... Searching alternate hub maneframes...

Success... The Black Book was preivously listed as housed inside the Ministry of Image in Canterlot... the Office of Interministry Affairs in Hoofington... The Hightower Maximum Security Prison Complex in Hoofington... Remaining 7 entries redacted... No further data...

Anything else I can help you with?

Great. Now what... "Show me.... 42?" I thought if it had gotten me this far, maybe it still meant something.

Accessing files for subject 42...

Error. Celestia tier disaster reported. Failsafe restraints in place.

Warning. Failure to override will result in the loss of the project.

Would you like to override? [Y/N]

The command prompt popped up. As I reached out for the key, my chest burned hotly, I stabilized myself on the table and put a hoof to my chest, nearly paralyzed with pain.

Failure to authorize override in the next 10 seconds will result in automated shutdown of the project.




I scrambled to find the key, punching in Y and slamming return as the countdown clicked down.

Override Accepted. Restraining bolts released. Revitalization Process started.

Fluid Induction... 10%... Vitals... Stable... Brain Activity... Sub R.E.M. levels...

The pain in my chest disappearing almost as soon as it had appeared, replaced by a sharp stinging behind my right eye. Not enough to cause issues, just more an annoying pain. I tensed as I heard four massive metallic slams.

Fluid Induction...65%... Opening preservation theatre... Brain Activity... Nominal...

With a loud hiss, the wall behind the terminal split horizontally, folding back to reveal a sterile white chamber with a large cylindrical glass tube in the center full of blue liquid. Floating inside, was one, middle aged, bright pink, ministry mare.



+10 survival
+ 5 science

New Perk: Made of Sterner Stuff - You gain +1 to your endurance because of your extreme resilience to pretty much everything as well as +10 DT when a nearby ally is hit with a critical hit!

New Trait: Wacky Wasteland - You already have two traits, but you're a relative of Pinkie Pie! Screw the rules, references are fun!

Chapter 2 - Rebirth

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Chapter 2

"Pinkie Pie... you are so random!"


The pink mare floating in the tube opened her bright blue eyes slowly as the tank made a whirring sound and the blue liquid started to drain away. The cylindrical glass walls slowly sunk into the floor, spilling her out in front of me as she choked and gasped.

I stood in stunned silence as she got to her hooves, her dark pink mane drooping over one of her eyes. I unzipped my barding and threw it over her. She shivered and put it on shakily, giving a light smile. "Number f... forty t..two reporting for d..d...duty." Managing to speak in between her chattering teeth with a soft voice. Number 42? Was a copy like the ones Pinkie mentioned? I reached up and brushed her wet mane from her eye, surprised that the water was quite warm.

"Do you still feel cold?" I asked while looking around for a towel or something to cover her with. She shook her head as best she could.

"N...no, the sh...shakes will pa...pa..pass." She sat down, looking around at the room slightly worried. "How..w lo...long?" I blinked dumbly. I didn't know what she ment by that! How long until the shakes wore off? Until we could leave?

"What's..s the yea...year?" She must have seen the confusion on my face as I blinked again for a moment.

"Oh... right." I remembered the entrance had blurted out the time since Pinkie had last been here. What was it... "If you were sealed in the last time Pinkie came, it's been about one hundred and twenty years." Her expression went from one of worry, to one of hopelessness.

"Then it f... finally happened. Didn't it?" The shakes seemed to be subsiding.

"What happened? You mean... How could you guess that?" I sat down in front of her, scratching at the back of my neck.

"In the event of a full megaspell exchange, it was predicted that it would take seventy years for most of the land to become habitable again, and close to fifty or sixty more for society to rebuild enough to find me." She looked up at me with sad eyes before meekly adding, "And here you are, right on time." I reached up and put a hoof under her chin, returning her gaze with a soft smile.

"It's not so bad out there, lots of good ponies made it through and have been trying to make a life for themselves and their families. And it seems stables are opening every now and again, so with a little hard work, we can rebuild. We can be better this time." She smiled back and leaned in close.

"You know, you have my gift for bestowing happiness, and for being one of my relatives, you are pretty cute." Before I could react, she leaned in and gave me a kiss on the lips. I just stared back in shock as she got up and walked past.

"But... but..." It felt like my brain was about to implode. My own great, great, so on aunt just kissed me. That was just... wrong. I shook my head vigorously to try to jumpstart my thought train again.

"So, Backlash is it? As the new head of the Ministry of Morale, what are your orders?" She typed something into the terminal faster than I thought any earth pony could move their hooves. "Shall we get started?"

I finally managed to get to my hooves and trotted over to the terminal, on the screen was a small loading bar, climbing percent by percent up to one hundred. I looked as she gave me a slight smirk, her now dry mane and tail poofing out as if being inflated by some invisible air pump.

"You have no idea what this facility is... do you?" She nodded for me to follow her and we slowly walked back through the only door in. Loud sounds came from high above as lights began to illuminate the walls of the wide shaft the elevator traveled in. The round tube was incredibly wide at maybe 200 feet across, running what looked like nearly a thousand feet up above us. The lights had reached our level with what was now loud slamming, continuing down another thousand feet or so before stopping. The walls on each level above us starting to move, worming back around to a central point, leaving the large spaces of each floor open.

As the walls across and below us slid open, I beheld the most awe inspiring sight I have ever seen. Row upon row of unused tanks, crates of munitions, and silver Ponytrons sat in perfectly preserved condition. I could see different models of Griffinchasers on the lower levels, and mounds upon mounds of yellow and pink Ministry of Peace medical boxes. I felt my jaw hit the floor as I watched as level after level open below to reveal more and more pre war spoils.

"H... how has nopony found this yet?!?" I looked and gazed as 42 leaned back against the railing, seemingly unimpressed with the massive collection of arms."

"Pinkie space." She said as she inspected her hoof boredly. "You know that spell that allows a saddle bag to hold more than it's size would normally accommodate? This is just one Pinkie Pie tweaked and amplified." She leaned back onto her hooves and walked back into the room, I followed with an interested ear. "In reality, we are only about 50 feet underground. Kinda neat, huh!" She pepped up as the terminal refreshed it's screen with a beep.

Initiate command 66? [Y/N]

She beamed a smile at me and threw a hoof around my neck. "That's all you big guy, only you can give the order!"

"What does it do?" I asked as she awkwardly started bouncing, shaking my head along with her.

"Don't ask me! I just work here!" She released her grip, starting bounce around the terminal on all fours. I shrugged and hit Y then the return key.

Okie Dokie Loki! Please present your personal tag to the screen to continue...

I rubbed at my chin. "Hey, what does it mean by this?" She bounced over, jumping in place as she read it, gasping before hopping to the wall, tapping it once with her fore hoof. A loud clang emanated from the other side and the section of wall next to her slid open, revealing a set of shelves stocked with an odd assortment of bright pink guns. 42 leaned over, biting and grabbing a small pink tube that hung in the center, trotting back with it.

"Ith tha thith thuk!" She tweaked her neck sideways and the pipe split open, showing off the black padding inside. She tossed it into the air effortlessly and lifted my left hoof up, The tube snapping shut with a click. All of a sudden my vision filled with scrolling pink code and displayed a projection of my current health, weapon, ammo count, clock, and a compass that also showed nearby ponies.

"That was...interesting." I looked around, walking around the terminal as I got used to the odd sensation in my vision. I smiled and glanced back at 42, a sharp pain filling my eye again. I rubbed it with a hoof.

"Some mild irritation is normal when adapting to a pipbuck. Just don't tense up suddenly or..." As if it were a big red button that said 'do not press', I disregarded what she said and did exactly that. The world around me seemed to slow to a stop, 42 was basked in a pink outline, a bar reading 2% pointed to her. I couldn't move and I started to panic. Ok, lets think of how to cancel this... whatever this is. And upon thinking of the word cancel, the world started up again.

"you will..." She paused. "You activated S.A.T.S. didn't you?" She lowered her gaze into a glare. I nearly giggled at the premise of having my own pipbuck. I had seen others who had them before, even sold a few busted ones for a good profit. I pranced in delight around the table before 42 held a hoof out and stopped me.

"That was one of Pinkie's personal spares. You need to use it to start the program." She pointed her hoof over at the screen. I moved around her and held it close to the terminal. A soft chattering came from the pip buck as it seemed to connect. 42 walked over to the wall and pulled off what looked like a pink and blue five gallon bucket with a short stick on one side of it.

"Come with me for a moment. I need you to see something." 42 said with an intriguing tone as she walked out through the door again, I shrugged as the chirping stopped and the terminal refreshed.

Transfer complete... Have a fun day!

As I stepped through the door as a loud P.A. system kicked on in the shaft. 42 was standing at the end of the walkway with a smug face on, the elevator waiting behind her. I noticed that her blip on my compass was now red. Huh, I wonder why it did that, she wasn't...

Personnel transfer completed. Congratulations, 42, on your promotion to acting head of the Ministry of Morale!

I gasped as she stood on her hind legs and leveled the weapon up to her shoulder. Without thinking I dove forward to the floor. The report of the cannon was deafening as it fired, it's projectile, completely smashing through the terminal and lodging itself in the back wall. I stared up at her in disbelief as She pointed the cannon down to me.

"You've been so good I think you've earned yourself a little super villain monologue. You see, that pink bitch locked me up in here to help fix Equestria because I was the clone she hated the most. She was so sure that it would never come to this that she locked the one pony away who she knew could be better than her."

The walkway groaned, I looked back to see a crack creep across the base by the door, the whole platform listed down an inch or so. 42 let out a loud cackle and stepped back into the floating glass pear, tossing the cannon away before the shield closed her in. I struggled to my hooves and grabbed around the railing as the platform gave out more groans and cracks than I'd care to count.

"You see. She died a hundred and twenty years ago and I survived! I'm better than she ever was! I AM the real Pinkie Pie! And when I find the mirror pond again, I shall return with a unending army and reform Equestria and THE WORLD as it suits me!" She laughed maniacally as the walkway tilted to a near vertical angle. I wrapped a foreleg around the railing and held on for dear life.

"And don't worry, I'll make sure to save you a spot next to my throne for anytime you want to DROP IN!" She clapped her hooves together joyfully as the elevator started to rise slowly. "Get it!? DROP... IN!? Well, I've got to FLY, feel free to just HANG OUT here until I get back! Good bye!" The elevator rose up and through a small hole in the ceiling, disappearing from sight completely.

"How many times am I going to end up in situations where I'm facing imminent death without my friends? I mean come on." I spoke to myself softly, looking around as the supports creaked and groaned out in protest. "I know I'm a bit overweight, but come on, just hold for a little longer... I promise to go on a diet!" Seemingly in response, a sharp ping rang out as one of the two girders snapped from it's mounting, slowly rocking the walkway down as the bolts from the final beam squealed in torture. As it swung, I could see the cannon two floors below, and it gave me an idea.

I started to rock against the railing, the walkway swinging further with each push, chanting softly under my breath.

"Luna....Why...am...I...so...STUPID!" At that, I twisted myself and used the momentum to fly over to the second level down. Slamming into the concrete with a jarring thud as the bolts sheared off and dropped the walkway down to the abyss below. As I got my legs under me, I grabbed at the cannon next to me with a hoof, it immediately stuck in line with my leg like a magnet. In the corner of my vision the pipbuck told me the "Party Cannon" had one out of... what the hell was that? some sideways eight? One out of whatever shots loaded. I spotted a silver square on a support beam a few feet away.

I trotted up to it and read it was an elevator call panel. I hoofed at the button angrily. "When I got back up there I was going to shove this cannon so far up her..." The computerized voice from outside interrupted me.

Elevator recall authorization: Denied

I hoofed at the button again.

Authorization: Denied

I mashed the button angrily as fast as I could. (because for some reason I had thought that would work.)

Maybe if you attempt 23 more times, I will clear you for a ride.

I stepped back a few feet, growling and hoisting the cannon up. I screamed as the cannon fired, the large spherical steel ball blew through the support before smashing into and crumpling a tank around it down the way. The panel hung in the air by a few sparking wires, the button lighting up a soft yellow as the computerized voice stuttered.

Authorization.... ACCEPTED!

The glass pear dropped down quickly and sat next to the ledge. As I stepped in, I noticed that the ammo counter in my vision was counting down from two minutes. I hit the button labeled entrance and sighed as it slowly lifted me up, gliding into the tube in the center of the shaft, docking moments later in front of the large, steel door. I raised the Cannon as the steel door hissed and slid open. The cries of my friends called out for me as they ran around the corner and down the stairs.

"Where is she!? I'll kill that cunt!" I galloped through the shield, using the party cannon to push past my friends to an empty street, No alicorns and no deranged pink clone. I looked around as I could feel nothing but rage. A hoof pressed onto my shoulder, Spinning around, stuffed the obscenely large barrel against Skyline's head. Her sad eyes staring into mine with an intensity I'd never seen before. She put her other hoof around my neck and I felt the anger melt away. I sat back onto my haunches with a plop.

The cannon dropped to the ground with a clack as I returned the hug, tears welling up in my eyes. She laughed softly and kissed my cheek. Oh Celestia it was so good to see her face again. She wiped the tears from her eyes and let me go. Brass trotted over and pulled his helmet off. Staring at my foreleg.

"I see you picked yourself up a pipbuck." Brass spoke slowly, Skyline stepping back and looking down, her eyes lighting up as she saw the pink computer strapped to my leg. I looked over to see Carlotta pick up the party cannon and look it over.

"And some decent artillery... if that's what this is..." She smiled the first genuine smile I'd seen out of her, handing it back to me. "Friend, you have got to stop saving my life. It looks bad on the reports I send back." I laughed and wrapped a hoof around her neck.

"Welcome to our fucked up family!" I smiled as she cringed and forced herself to keep the grin she had. Brass poked my shoulder and pointed across the street toward the ministry hub.

"Dude, where's your car?"

42, you're a bitch.


After our quick reunion, I explained what had happened and how 42 was planning on overrunning Equestria with an army of herself. I instructed Skyline to fly back home with Carlotta, grab some supplies and a pair of saddle bags for me, and meet back at Tenpony tower. She looked worried to be leaving me again, but nodded and took off with our friendly(-er. Friendlier, she still looked like she could kill me with one claw tied up.) griffin in tow.

Brass and I galloped along the ruined streets, making good time. I had the party cannon stuck to my back (don't ask me how, it just stuck... like a magnet... pretty sure I said that before.) and my pipbuck set to the fastest route back. But it turns out that the map of Manehatten was pre war and didn't like to tell us when entire buildings laid in the way, but it was understandable and most of the time we could just go down a few blocks and get around it.

The sun was once again setting as Brass and I charged our way across the open field towards the Tenpony security checkpoint. I looked up and spotted movement to see Carlotta and Sky fly ahead of us, dropping down and waiting at the front of the guard post for us. As Brass and I slowed to a canter, then a trot, the fatigue hit. We started dragging our hooves as we walked up to meet them, the sweat running off me in buckets. I could hear Brass heaving along with me through his helmet.

"You know, I take it back, you aren't really all that out of shape." Skyline said with a giggle. Brass and I collapsed onto our sides, breathing with heavy gasps.

"Yeah." Carlotta blurted out as she poked Brasses helmet with a claw. "maybe they are just lazy instead."

I was too exhausted to take a swing at her. So I just thought about it in my head. I pictured my hoof slamming into her smug beak in slow motion and watched as she apologized for ever making fun of my obvious greatness. Yeah, it felt so damn good.

"We going to be here all night ladies?" She barked in annoyance. Brass and I slowly climbed to our hooves, he removed his helmet and levitated it along side us as we all walked up the the gate.

"Please remove all weapons, ammunition, explosives, contraband, illegal substances, and all around dangerous items and deposit them here in the tub. You may collect your belongings as you leave the tower." I don't know if I was tired, or if he was bored because the guard seemed to drone on and on. Everyone removed what they had as I remembered the party cannon on my back and went to remove it. The guard raised an eyebrow to me.

"Sir, your pink bucket does not count as a weapon, but if you would like, I could keep it so the other residents won't laugh at you..." He finished with a grin. I grumbled and contemplated showing him just how dangerous my "bucket" was. But decided that getting inside was a bit more important. I followed the others into the spacious shopping complex, admiring the busy bustling of dozens of ponies as they went about their business.

"We need to speak to DJ Pon3." I spoke up, drawing looks from several ponies as they passed by. "Any ideas how to find him?" I asked the group. For as many times as I've visited the tower, not once have I seen the mysterious radio stallion. My ear twitched and got my attention right before the ding of an elevator door chimed across the plaza. An off white unicorn stallion with a near neon blue mane stepped out and was immediately surrounded by several excited foals.

"Can we get your auto-graph Mr. DJ?" One of the colts called up. They bounced with glee when he levitated out a pen and started signing their papers. I glanced and shrugged to my compatriots.

"Well that was easier than I expected." We walked over to him as the children ran off with their newfound prizes in their mouths. DJ Pon3 looked down, eyeing us over the brim of his dark glasses as we surrounded him.

"Let me guess, you guys aren't here for an autograph, are you?" He said in the smooth voice I had always loved hearing over the radio. I tried to keep a straight face, but failed as I let out a squeak and danced excitedly a bit. I was standing right next to the biggest celebrity in the wasteland! Well, technically the only celebrity in the wasteland, but still! Oh Celestia, do I look alright? Shit... say something before you look like a moron!

"Yes... No.... er.... I mean, I have urgent news about the wasteland! Can you sign my pipbuck?" Yeah. In no way he doesn't think I'm some sort of crazed pony who will someday stalk him relentlessly and murder him in a basement to skin off his coat to parade around in. Smooth work, Backlash. I thought sarcastically as I gave a nervous smile and shoved the pink computer nearly into his face. He groaned and turned to walk away. He eyed the device curiously before pushing it away.

"News can be left in note form upstairs with my assistant, and I am fairly busy right now, so if you'd kindly..." He stopped just short of walking into Carlotta, looking up at her, his face twitching in annoyance. "Can you please step aside?"

"No." The griffin's blunt answer made him cringe in anger. "Not until you hear him out. Story of the century material." He eased up slightly at those words, still angry though. He turned abruptly and walked back over to me. I beamed out happily and raised my pipbuck again.

"You have 30 seconds. If your news is any good I'll consider hearing you out." He sat back, furrowing his brow in obvious annoyance. I lowered my hoof slowly, giving him the saddest eyes I could manage. "And I'll sign your pipbuck, but ONLY if the news is any good..." I grinned and nodded eagerly, clearing my throat.

"My name is Backlash, I'm a trader from the outskirts. I found a pre-war bunker next the the M.O.M. hub and as an descendant of Pinkie Pie, it let me in. Inside I fou..." DJ Pon3 stuffed his hoof in my mouth.

"You are related to a ministry mare?" I nodded slowly as He looked around for a moment in panic. "Come up to my room in an hour, we will talk then. We can't talk here, it's not safe." He popped his hoof out and called down the elevator. I wiped the drool from around my muzzle and gazed at him in bewilderment as the elevator doors closed and he rode away.

"So who's hungry?" Brass said as we all shrugged.

"But... my pipbuck..." I said sadly as the group turned and walked away.

We took some much needed time to eat at one of the local restaurants. I scarfed down two full orders of cram and some cooked bloat sprite meat as the others enjoyed their meals. When we left here, I didn't know when we would have a chance to fill up on food again, so I made sure to get more than I needed. (Also, screw those support beams from before, they didn't hold up their end of the deal, so why should I?)

As the hour limit approached, we went up in the elevator to the top floor marked M.A.S.E.B.S. We walked into a round foyer with a large statue in the center, DJ Pon3 was sitting next to it, rising to his hooves as we approached. He levitated off his glasses and put them in his barding, eyeing us with his crimson colored eyes before leading us into the next room.

It turned out to be some sort of library, shelves upon shelves upon shelves filled with books lined the walls, piles of dusty tomes littered the floor and tables as we walked to a set of couches and chairs in the middle of the room. We all took our seats and over the next hour, I began to explain the last few days. The dreams, the note, and the craziness of the bunker. My companions were silent as they listened along with him, only giving the affirmative nod or grunt to confirm the details of my story. He didn't say or ask much, mostly nodding and writing things on a notepad he was levitating nearby.

"So... this Forty Two. Where is she now?" he remarked as I reached the end of my tale, he shifted uneasily in his chair and looked a bit exhausted, as were we all. I think the last time I got any good sleep was back at the Garage two days ago, and as my body had reminded me constantly, unconsciousness from injury is not sleep. I began to miss that large, stiff mattress on the cold floor and I bet if I listened hard enough I could hear it calling to me. But I couldn't rest yet, there was still too much to do.

"I don't know, but she has my car." Hell, she could have reached Hoofington by now if she had really wanted too. "but that's why I need your help. I need you to put the word out to everypony that she is dangerous and must be stopped at all costs. The safety of the wasteland depends on it." The DJ got to his hooves and levitated his sunglasses on as he looked over his notes. The sudden stabbing pain in my eye returned. Wasn't it supposed to be used to this stupid display yet?

"Now I'm not saying that I don't believe you, but this is all an extremely elaborate story and you will understand if I have my reservations about it's authenticity. I can't just broadcast this out and send the whole of the wastes into a mass panic, now can I?" He brought a hoof to his chest. "I will keep a watchful eye for anything out there to corroborate your story, but until I..." He was cut short by a grey unicorn mare with a flowing black mane throwing the door open and cantering through with a look of both pity and sadness. Her tears dripped to the floor as she wobbled uneasily.

"Love, you must come right away, you need to see this. It's..." She shuddered and kneeled on the floor. "Why Celestia? why..." She whispered before appearing to faint completely. DJ Pon3 burst up out of his chair and quickly enveloped her in his magic before she hit the ground, straining, he floated her over and laid her on his seat, brushing the long mane from her face as he looked over her. Contented, he gave her a kiss to the cheek.

"I'm sorry, but I must see what she was talking about, please stay here and watch over my wife Kontra. Again, I'm sorry about this." He briskly trotted from the room as I exchanged confused looks with the others. My eye spiked in pain and I rubbed at it furiously, growling as I turned to the door.

"Fuck this, I'll be right back. Stay here." I said as I headed for the door.

"But he just..." Skyline started to say before stopping herself, a long sigh escaped her muzzle as she looked at the floor. "It doesn't matter what I say, you'll still go anyway." She crossed her hooves and turned her muzzle up at me. "It's because you never listen to what I try to tell you! Like you don't want me around anymore or finally think you don't need me at all..." I stiffened and stared down the hall. I did feel sorry for leaving her all the time recently, but I didn't have time for this. I knew this emergency had to do with 42, I felt it in my very soul. I turned and galloped down the hall after the DJ.

"FINE! MAYBE I'LL JUST LEAVE FOREVER INSTEAD!" I could hear Sky scream with notes of sadness filling her words. I know I promised to never leave her behind, but this was just too important not to attend to. I pushed those thoughts to the back of my mind and continued running. I found the big doors to the broadcasting room and burst through them.

I was met with hundreds of pictures cycling on walls filled with monitors, each one showing different black and white live images of the wasteland. The room seemed cramped as all the images bore down onto the chair in the center almost oppressively. A small microphone was suspended by a metal arm, hanging over a panel of knobs and switches on what looked to be the center console.

DJ Pon3 was sitting in disbelief, biting his lower lip as he watched a few of the lower screens intently. I recognized the small city was displayed that seemed to lay in ruins, some of the houses on fire as smoke drifted by the camera, I had made plenty of trade runs there over the years. Dead ponies littered the streets as a single figure walked through the carnage. She was approaching a stallion who was bound and on his knees, her poofy mane bobbing in the wind as she walked up behind him and shot him in the back of the head. She turned to the camera, looking straight into it while smiling and waving.

"42..." I said softly, gritting my teeth as she then pointed the gun at the camera and replaced the image with static.

"She... just took out... ponyville..." He said slowly, his eyes a mix of rage and sorrow. "She just killed a community full of innocent ponies. SHE DIDN'T EVEN SPARE THE FOALS." He put his hoof to his chest and breathed in heavy wheezes. "Dear Celestia... she can't have taken them all out... there must be survivors who had time to hide! there have to be!" I pushed and spun his chair, whipping him around to face me as I let my other hoof smack loudly across his face. I won't lie, it felt damn good as he let out a whimper and held a hoof to it. I let the rage pouring through my veins guide my words.

"See that? She thinks it's just a game! She wants you to be afraid. She wants you to stay up here and lock yourself in this tower. But you know what? I say she just declared war on the wasteland. I say you put out a call to arms to every community this station can reach. Tell them what she did there today. Make sure they know about every stallion, mare, and foal she cut down. We need to let 42 know that the wasteland isn't afraid of her, and that we will stand up against her. You need to tell them..."

"...no matter how bad it hurts." he finished as I could see him relax in front of me, his watering eyes replacing shock and sadness, with rage and hatred. The light of purpose filling his gaze as he turned and hit a button on the console, the red light sitting above the monitors labeled 'broadcasting' lit up brightly.

"Good morning wastelanders. I'm sorry to interrupt the music, but I have urgent news." He spoke into the mic in a low tone. "Today a horrible tragedy has occurred. I am deeply saddened to report to you all that as of this morning, Ponyville is no more. The population was decimated at the hooves of a single mare. She is described to look like the ministry mare Pinkie Pie and is considered extremely dangerous. If you don't know who that is, she looks like that bright faced pink pony from all the posters and billboards." His voice was calm and collected as he continued, not once wavering from the strong voice that the wasteland had come to know him for.

"Don't let that look fool you. If you see this mare, do not approach her, do not attempt to reason with her. Report anything you see and stay out of sight until she leaves. The best thing you can do for the wasteland is observe and report. I will bring you updates of the situation as I get them. This is your radio friend, DJ Pon3, signing off, reminding you all to stay safe my little ponies." He clacked the broadcast button again and the red light shut off.

We returned to the book filled room to find the others sitting pretty much where we had left them. Kontra had been moved to the couch and had an old quilt laid over her, brightly colored apple embroidery seem to adorn almost every inch. She looked over to us weakly, seeming to have recovered a bit. DJ Pon3 went over and hugged her, tears streaming down his cheeks. The others looked to me for news.

"It was her. She wiped out ponyville. She killed everypony." Skyline and Brass both gasped, Carlotta just grumbled.

"Celestia no... all those ponies..." Sky started to tremble and hugged Brass tightly, sobbing into his neck.

"That's not possible. One mare can't just walk in and slaughter a town. Especially not Ponyville. You'd need a small army or..." The slam of DJ Pon3's hoof on the floor drew a momentary look of shock across her face.

"She's not just any mare. She's a Celestia damned ministry mare!" DJ Pon3 growled out over his wife. "You know, one of the mares that helped defeat Nightmare Moon and Discord? We can't go up against that!"

"No. She's not." DJ Pon3 got up slowly and turned as I spoke, growling out the words as I hated even the thought of the comparison. "She may look like it, but that isn't the ministry mare from the old world. She is some sort of twisted imitation that crawled out of the wrong damn hole and just walked her way into our damn wasteland. Yeah, she looks tough. But it's MY fault she got out, and MY job to stop her and send her back to the hell she belongs in."

"Finally, something to spice up this job!" Carlotta smirked and nodded, walking over to me and standing next to me. "As both your bodyguard, and a new friend. You have my life and my guns."

DJ Pon3 nodded, as he collected himself. "Then you are going to need full access to the tower's resources. If you're going to go chasing after her, I will get you cleared for whatever you need."

"You know I would never leave my best friend behind." Skyline sniffed and trotted to me, throwing her hooves around my neck and embracing me warmly, softly whispering into my ear. "Don't you think this gets you out of talking about things." She pulled me tightly into her, raising her voice with a chuckle. "Besides, you need someone covering your flank who know's what to do when your stupid plans fail."

We all turned and looked to Brass as he stared down at the floor, his voice faltering. "I don't really have anything to offer..."

I slowly walked to him, putting a hoof on his shoulder firmly. I could see how scared he was, and how deep down, he wanted to run back to the home he knew and lock the door forever. Hell, I wanted to do the same, but to stop 42, I needed him. Not just his guns or armor, but I needed him to remind me that without the fear and regret, we fall to the harsh will of the wastes. It helps us strive to overcome our challenges and make positive changes. I needed him because he was the living reminder of everypony's innocence in this blasted hell of a life, and that I cannot fail to stop 42. As much as we both didn't want to go, I needed the strength of his friendship if I had any chance at success.

"All I need is your friendship Brass. I've learned over the last few days that it's the most valuable treasure in all the wasteland, and that I'm lucky to have it." A wide smile drew across his face as he saluted me stiffly.

"Just tell me how high and I'll jump." He responded with a chuckle.

I looked around confidently at the group of friends before me. "Then we need to gather supplies and rest up, we have a long way to go to and she has one hell of a head start. Brass and Carlotta, you guys see what we can do about that and find us some transportation."

"Don't worry, I know just the mare..." Carlotta cooed as she left with Brass on her heels.

"I'll arrange for you to use the Celestia Suite during your stay." A gentle voice came from behind. I glanced to see Kontra get off the couch slowly, DJ Pon3 shifted against her, steadying her legs as she got up.

"You need to rest dear." He said as she wobbled. "You shouldn't exert yourself so much, remember, you and our filly need to be in good health." He stroked her side softly with his hoof.

"I won't just sit here and do nothing as that... Monster threatens us all. It's not much, but It's all I can do." She snapped back.

"It is more than enough." I grinned and turned to leave as Sky hovered next to me. "You and I? We need to pay a visit to the good doctor."

When we left DJ Pon3, it was just passed midnight. And with the shops closed, we decided to put off gathering supplies until morning. We were shown into a large set of open rooms with ornate furniture and paintings that were all in surprisingly good condition. There was a room off to the side with a large 2 pony bed that my body told me was made from a slice of heaven, as well as a connected bathroom with a large tub filled up with steaming hot water.

We thanked Kontra again as she left us to rest and locked the door. Sky disappeared without a word into the bathroom, shutting the door as Carlotta walked past us and into the bedroom.

"Sorry boys, us girls get the bed tonight. I can give you a cap so you can flip for who gets the couch, but otherwise, Goodnight!" She said with a smile and shut us out. I stood with Brass in an uneasy silence.

"So...want to start a fire?" He said as I groaned, sitting by the window and staring out, wondering what 42's next move was, and how exactly I was going to stop her from making it.


I felt a breeze run through my mane as I looked up into the wide blue sky, the sun seemingly hanging with the clouds as they floated peacefully. My ears perked up as I heard music play softly off in the distance. I got to my hooves and walked from under the tree through the tall grass towards it. The upbeat notes of an accordion played and grew louder as I crested the familiar knoll.

"LET'S PAAAAR-TAAAAY!!" The jubilant pink filly jumped up to greet my eyes as the invisible confetti cannon boomed, showering the table and familiar "guests" with red and white strips of paper. "YOU DID IT!"

"I... did what now?" I asked, watching her as she drew in a large breath.

"He didn't know what to do as he saw the mare in blue...

so he went with his gut, and sealed her shut...

never to do the evil that only she knew!"

The invisible accordion played along as she sang out her short jingle, bounding around the table with an absurd amount of energy.

"I didn't seal her in... I let her out." I winced as I spoke, listening as the music sputtered to a stop and the bright filly stood still in the middle of the table, her bright blue eyes sadly looking up at me, tearing up.

"But... How could you do that?" She said with a sniff. "Don't you know she's bad and wants to hurt everypony?" I watched as her mane went completely flat and her coat darkened. I heard the far off boom of thunder as the sun was blocked by ominous black clouds. "What have you done?" She started to cry softly on the table.

"I... didn't know what to do. She tricked me into helping her out." I said filled with regret as I walked slowly down the grassy hill, sitting next to her as her tears formed a small pool in the plate under her. "I'll understand if you hate me now. I must be the worst relative ever." I stared at her as I wiped the tears forming in my own eyes.

"I... don't hate you." She said as she kicked the plate in front of her. "I should have dealt with her a long time ago. I should have never gotten you involved."

"I still want to help. I've seen what she can do. I need to stop her before she can overrun the wasteland." I brushed the mane from her eyes and gave her a soft smile. "And I need you to be strong for me, ok? We can't let sadness keep us down can we? As members of the Pie family, it's our job to spread happiness, right? How can we if we are penned up in a prison of tears? She hasn't won yet, so we still have a chance to save everypony, right?" She nodded her head softly. "Good. now what do you say you and I try to figure out how to beat this mean old copy? Sound good Aunt Pinkie?"

She nodded and giggled softly, wiping her eyes with a napkin. "But it's time for you to go now." she got to her hooves, her mane poofing back up slightly. "Come back and see me soon!" I smiled and watched as she jumped forward, knocking me back into the darkness yet again as I knew now, more than ever that I needed to stop 42. Not just for the wastes, but for Pinkie Pie as well.

I awoke slowly, stretching out along the floor painfully as my sore muscles screamed for just a few more hours. The rug next to the fireplace wasn't as uncomfortable as the dirt road, but was nowhere near as comfortable as the mattress the girls had. Or even the couch for that matter, but I was happy to get some sleep after the last few days.

Brass and Carlotta were absent as I looked around. It was light outside as more rain drizzled down, the ruins of the city seemed to loom amongst the dark grey sky more than usual. I headed into the bedroom to find Sky preening her feathers silently, not even looking up as I strode by into the bathroom. I took a short shower to help me wake up and clear my thoughts for the day ahead. She seemed to be back in a bad mood and was waiting by the door when I came out, so I assumed she was ready to go. I stuck the party cannon to my back and walked with her to the elevator.

As we rode down, she hit the emergency stop button suddenly. A small ring sounding out as the car stopped with a sharp jolt, making me wobble into the wall.

"It's time we had a talk." She bore down on me imposingly as she hovered silently. Her hoof jutting out to press against my nose. "You think you can just keep running off, trying to play the hero? Do you even stop to THINK what that meant putting me through? You know how bad I felt when you were in the infirmary, and I nearly lost it when you went down in the street. But when you traded your life for Carlotta's? I couldn't do anything. I just sat and cried. Brass carried me the rest of the damn way because I didn't want to move anymore."

I sat and listened, I owed her that much. No, I owed her everything. We've know each other for most of our lives. I can't imagine I'd survive out there even a single day without her by my side, and I know she must have felt the same way. Sometimes I hated my overly observant brain. As she lectured me I could see every ounce of emotion, hear the truth behind every word. But I brought this upon myself, and I needed to hear it all.

"I swear to Luna, if you EVER go running off trying to play the hero without me again. I will personally break both your hind legs and lock you to the radiator at home." She angrily punched the emergency stop button again, the elevator resuming our ride down with a beep. I didn't know what to say, she was right. But with 42 out there, if it came down to it, I don't care what I promised, or how much she screamed. I would trade my life for Sky's in a heartbeat.

She landed softly beside me as the floors ticked down to one. Not even glancing over, her face locked in an emotionless staring match with the door. I leapt onto her suddenly, hugging her tightly around the neck. "All we have ever had is each other. There is nothing in the wasteland that could let anypony keep me from you. I don't want you to leave. Like you tried to tell me, you are all I have. And I'm sorry for everything." The elevator dinged as it stopped, the doors slid open behind me. "I want you to be by my side until the day I die. I love you." I felt Sky relax a bit and rub my mane.

"I FUCKING KNEW IT!" Brass's voice caught me off guard. I jumped and spun around to see him armorless and standing outside the elevator with Carlotta, who was now reeling on the floor in hysterical laughter. "You told me 'Noooo! she's like a sister to me'... but then you pull this! Why can't you just be straight with me?!" Sky and I stepped out of the elevator car, Sky trotting up and poking at Carlotta as the griffin struggled to breath through her laughs.

"I thought we agree'd to never speak of it again." I jabbed a hoof at his chest, staring into his gold eyes with such intensity I had hoped he was going to catch fire.

"Well you were the one who said you didn't love her when I..." He was cut short as Skyline threw him to the side with what seemed to be incredible ease, trying to get to me as I suddenly knew how it felt to WANT to be lit on fire by that same gaze.

"YOU. SAID. WHAT!?" She screamed out in unbridled anger.

"I told him you weren't my LOVER! His sick mind thought we were together!" I spoke with a shudder, pointing a hoof to brass as he got back up, hoping she would settle for beating the shit out of him instead of me. I watched in relief as she turned her eyes unnervingly toward Brass, tensing for a moment before moving to dive at him in a furious attempt to mercilessly beat him to death. In that fraction of a second, Carlotta was holding her back effortlessly by the tail as she flailed her hooves a half a foot from the young stallion.

"If it's any consolation, I totally thought that as well." Carlotta said before leaning in close to Sky's ear. "That is, before we got to spend some... quality time together." Sky blushed a deep crimson that shone through her red coat and dropped back to the ground.

"AAGHH!" She trotted toward the infirmary in frustration. Yelling out again as she rounded the corner and disappeared into the plaza.

"Am I interrupting anything?" Dr. Fits stepped out of the elevator as the doors slid open. "I came down right away when I heard you needed something urgently, is Skyline injured?" He looked around before starting to trot towards the clinic. I quickly turned and followed, leaving Brass and Carlotta in the hallway. We walked into the small medical center briskly, I noted that none of the shops were open and there wasn't a pony in sight. Skyline coasted over and joined my side with a huff as Dr. Fitz entered his office in the back room.

"I have been told to give you anything you need and to not ask why. But I'll have you know that unless it's for a good cause, I won't give you a single healing potion more to you ever again when we are through. You'll be clearing most of my stock for weeks as is. But with this lockdown in reaction to Ponyville, I don't expect any grievous injuries to occur anytime soon." He fidgeted with a key and opened a small cupboard, revealing sets of assorted supplies. Skyline scooped everything into her saddlebag as he stepped aside.

"Hold on, you're taking ALL OF IT?!?" He jumped back and slammed his hoof on his desk. "this is outrageous! I don't care what the big stallions upstairs said, what gives you the right to clean me out!?

Skyline grabbed him by his lab coat and pulled him off the ground, leaning in close. He squirmed and looked around nervously. "You know that bitch who took out Ponyville?" He nodded slowly with a soft whine. "We're going after her. You can whine and complain all you want, but the fact is, we are going to need all the help we can get to stop her before she does it again. Got it?" Skyline huffed in anger as she dropped him. He straightened up his coat and trotted over to a grey locker in the corner, opening it to reveal another stash of supplies.

"Then you might as well take these. Just promise me, if you find anyone still alive in ponyville, that you will use these to help them." He spoke softly, sighed and walked back behind his desk, sitting down and looking over some papers.

"Don't worry Doc, you have my word." I put my hoof to my chest and nodded slowly.

Carlotta poked her head around the corner. "Hey, our ride is here. Come on you two, we got a pre-war bitch to find."


The rain slicked across the rooftop landing pad in sheets as the wind whipped around wildly. A grey skycar sat parked in the open, it's worn sides had brightly painted yellow lettering scrawled across it reading "Absolutely Everything". Ditzy Doo had apparently lent us the cart at Carlotta's request. I should have expected that I would have to accept help from the number one trader in the wastes at one time or another. She was every trader pony's top competition, always knowing where to find all the good stuff before anyone else can get their hooves on it. But I guess that comes with being around from before the war. She offers her supply and delivery services to everypony from here to Hoofington at prices few could even compete with. Hell, I'd have to give things away for free if I wanted to beat her out.

Carlotta led us to the side door of the silver car before walking around to the front, hooking herself into it. I hesitantly followed Brass as his power armor squeezed through the door frame barely, taking a seat next to our exit just incase we had to get out fast. (did I mention how much I hate flying?) I looked outside as Skyline stretched her wings and took off, circling around us before dropping back to the pad next to the soaked Griffin. I shut the door, sitting down across from Brass as he levitated and looked over his helmet. There was a knock on the side of the car before the door swung open again. DJ Pon3 leaned his head in.

"I wanted to give you this before you go, it's a relic from my younger years as an explorer." He levitated over a green flak vest, the steel plates sewn in seemed lighter than others I had come across in my journeys. I looked up in confusion and he seemed to nod in response. "They used some sort of rare element in the alloy, making the steel extremely tough, but don't expect it to stop everything."

I unzipped one of the pouches, a square piece of black steel with a rainbow sheen glinted in the light. Closing it back up, I smiled back to him, kicking off my saddle bags and setting the party cannon down, pulling the tight vest on. I couldn't get it around to fasten under my chest, (The vest flaps were just too small. Stop thinking I have a weight problem, stop it this instant!) but otherwise it fit snuggly. As I shucked my saddle bags back on, Carlotta yelled back at us through the missing front window.

"You ready to go ladies? Anyone need to use the bathroom? Cause once we're going, we aren't stopping until we hit Ponyville." Brass and I shook our heads and DJ Pon3 shut the hatch before appearing outside the window next to me.

"Just listen for any updates on your pipbuck's radio, I'll put the word out if I find out anything relevant. Good luck, and may Luna guide you!" He called out, his words growing softer as the skycar lifted off, immediately lurching to the side as we banked around the tower. I flopped over against Brass, suddenly remarking how I now wanted to avoid flying anywhere with someone in power armor. I scrambled up to the front window, the wind and rain pelting my face.

"Do you mind circling around to the M.O.M. bunker? I need to see something." My voice strained to cut through the noise of the weather. Carlotta looked back and gave a nod.

"Sure, but it will add an hour to our time!" She yelled back "We'll really be pushing the spark batteries limit!" I nodded back before sliding against the side as she banked hard again, Brass clanked into the wall as even he lost his footing. This was going to be a long trip.

I tried to pass the time by looking over the party cannon, it didn't seem to have any moving parts and was completely empty inside the barrel, even when my pipbuck said it was loaded (Yeah, before you say it, I know I have really bad weapon muzzle discipline. It's my first gun for crying out loud!). The pipbuck readout showed it still had a good amount of durability left in it, but I wouldn't know how to fix it even if I needed to. Hell, I don't think it COULD be fixed, I just hoped we wouldn't absolutely need it once it was inoperable.

"So what is that thing?" Brass called over through the speaker in his helmet, the sheer volume of it easily cutting through the wind and the rain. I don't know why, but when he had the helmet on, I almost couldn't be sure that it was Brass Tacks in there. I wish I knew if that was how they intended to design the armor's look, regardless, it unnerved the hell out of me.

"Beats me, Pinkie Pie made it, so I doubt she fully understood it herself." I flipped it around in my hooves. "I mean, It's obviously a large bore cannon, but how it loads itself or knows when I want it to fire is a mystery to me!" I tried to toss it to him, hoping it would stick to him and he could understand what I meant. It didn't. It bounced off his armored hooves and clacked onto the floor. I shrugged and picked it up again, still not used to the feeling of suction as it stuck to my hide. "I'll let you see it when you're out of that suit again."

"Yeah, ok." He spoke back with a disappointed note to his words. "Too bad they don't come in anything but pink. Would love one to bring back to the base." I thought about that for a moment, actually glad that I didn't see any others down in the bunker. I could only Imagine how imposing a couple of these strapped to power armor would be, let alone the damage they could do. Also, I'm pretty sure if it was in gunmetal grey or black, everypony would know it was a weapon. Pink allowed me to get it in unnoticed... well, unnoticed as a weapon.

Skyline caught my attention as she tapped on the side of the skycar, notifying us that we were over the ministry hub. I looked out the window as we banked around in a wide pass, scouring the ruins for anything standing out. A flash caught my eye as I saw a purple alicorn teleport onto the roof of a short building, spreading her wings before taking off towards us. I yelled out to Carlotta and Skyline.

"Don't shoot! Alicorn incoming!" Both the fliers looked back at me like I had just told them to trust 42.

"You're joking! What do you mean don't shoot!?" Skyline yelled as she drifted away from the car, lining up to intercept the flying monstrosity.

"Trust me! I need to talk to her!" I yelled back, throwing the hatch open to lean out, hoping the insanely strong alicorn would see me and think to not blow us out of the sky with her magic. But then I looked down, which was a bad idea. The ruined cityscape zipped by at high speeds as my hooves trembled, slipping from their grips as the skycart banked again, dumping me out into the air. Skyline yelled out as I fell, I looked around in panic, seemingly plummeting to my doom. The alicorn streaked into a dive, coming up next to me as we raced toward the ground.

"GRAB ON." The goddesses voice boomed in my head. I had never thought I'd say this, but thank Celestia for the mutated flying freaks! I hooked my legs around her as she pulled herself back into a level flight, racing left and right around fallen structures as we gained altitude. She seemed to beat her wings effortlessly as we caught up to the skycar. I jumped off her back onto the roof of the silver car as she came close enough, grabbing the luggage railing as Carlotta continued pulling it through the air.

"THE GODDESS DEMANDS THE BOOK AS YOU PROMISED." Her voice echoed in my mind as I clung on for dear life.

"We are heading to Ponyville! Meet us there and we can talk then!" I screamed back as the strong wind made it hard to keep my eyes open.


"Your choice!" I tried to give a small smile as the rain poured over me. It's only another few hours to Ponyville I told myself. Another few hours of freezing my flank off on top of a platform moving quite fast a thousand feet above the very solid ground... I'll be fine... I hope...

The rest of the trip was silent, minus the howls of the wind and the incessant taps of rain as it poured over the skycar. We were all on edge (I more literally than anything) with our alicorn escort, but she stayed a good length away from us as we flew. The rain had stopped a few minutes ago and I was now shivering as we began our descent into the center of ponyville. The bodies of dead ponies lay in the muddy street, silent and still, the only reminder that this had once been a busy town. As the car touched down and drew to a stop, I flopped over the side and landed in the mud loudly, I was glad to be on the ground again.

I groaned and tried to get to my hooves, which just didn't want to cooperate, so instead I flopped on my side and laid there, staring up at the sky as the large purple form of our alicorn escort towered into my vision.

"YOU HAVE ARRIVED, NOW GIVE US THE BOOK." She put a hoof on my side, pressing me down into the mud, pinning me. Brass came out of the cart, his minigun whirring up to speed. "FOALS! THE GODDESS GROWS TIRED OF YOUR INTERFERENCE." A pink shield encompassed around the Alicorn and I as the gun chattered in a short burst, the rounds slapping the shield uselessly, failing to penetrate.

"WHERE IS THE BOOK?" My brain started to hurt and throb as her voice seemed to reach into my deepest recesses.

"It wasn't there!" I said, getting a mouthful of mud as I squirmed under her hoof.

"YOU LIE! YOU CANNOT FOOL THE GREAT AND POWERFUL GODDESS!" She pushed down on me harder, I started to sink into the thick muck.

"The records told me where it could be! I have a list! You can still find it!" I coughed into the mud, the pressure lifting off me slowly as she thought about that for a moment.


"No" I replied. She growled and pressed sharply back into my side. "What guarantee do I have you won't kill us if I tell you?" I spoke quickly, my muzzle struggling to stay above the mud as she pressed me in deeper.


I thought quickly, searching my mind for anything I could use. Shit... I need something... wait, that's it! "What if you need me again? to get through another door!?" I cried out, gasping one last breath before my head sunk under the wall of wet dirt. I felt her hoof come off me, I took the moment to throw myself out of the pit, gasping for air between her legs as she stood there, completely rigid.


I panted hard and tried to wipe my muzzle clean, only managing to mud it further because of how bad I was shivering. "It was reported to have been in either the O.I.A. Hub or Hightower prison in Hoofington, or the Ministry of Image Hub in Canterlot. That is all I know."

A blinding light flashed in front of me as the goddess seemed satisfied enough for the moment. Leaving us all sitting by ourselves in the middle of the quiet street, with nothing but the wind and the bodies of dozens of murdered ponies for company. I tried to stand up again, my muscles screamed and my hooves failed to find anything solid, slipping me back down. "I guess I'll just lay here then until I die." Pro's of laying: I don't have to do work! Con's: I'll freeze to death, and worst of all, 42 wins.

Brass came over and hoisted me up with one hoof, using his helmet to slide me down his neck onto his back. Huzzah, I'm saved. New pro's: I can still be lazy from here! New con's: Still freezing and I'm staring at Brass's ass. With that, I couldn't help but feel the mud might have been the better option.

Carlotta unhooked herself and walked over with a smirk. "We need to get you next to a fire before searching for survivors."

I gave her my best frigid, snarky retort. "What's this? Did our bloodthirsty mercenary finally grow a heart for helping innocent ponies?" She glared back unamused.

"No, I simply wanted to ask them what way our pink friend went is all." The tone in her voice made me know she wasn't even slightly joking, which actually left me a little disappointed. My ears perked and the wind picked up. A soft cry emanated from it as it moaned past.

"Someone's still alive here." I said, pointing down the street to where I thought I heard the noise from. "I think they are that way."

"I'll see if I can spot them from the air." Skyline said as she bolted up and into the air. Brass turned and followed at a trot, which was uncomfortable because he smacked my chin on his ass with each step. We trotted down another street, trying to keep in line with Skyline as it grew loud enough for them to hear it as well. Suddenly, I noticed Brass turn and head into what seemed to be a house. The muffled crying was coming from the second floor as I was tipped onto a nearby couch, flopping into the cushions where I felt like I never wanted to get up again. They felt so good on my body, I wanted to go back and tell my mattress I'd left it for this beautiful sofa.

"I'll be right back..." Skyline said softly as she climbed the stairs slowly, hoof by hoof. Once at the top, she disappeared from view. "Hello?" I could hear her call out.

"Stay back!" The shrill voice of a foal called back "I have a gun!"

"It's ok, I'm not here to hurt you..." Sky's voice was soft and kind.

"DON'T COME NEAR ME!" The voice screamed with an agonizingly high pitch. "When my daddy get's back... he'll... he'll be really mean to you!"

"Shhh, shhh, it's ok little one, I..." Sky's voice was cut short by the reverberating sound of a single gunshot followed by a loud thump.

"SHIT! SKY!" I screamed out and clambered to my hooves, finding the strength to nearly fly up the stairs past the others to where she was. I turned the corner to where the conversation was, slamming into a doorway with a wet thud. I looked in to find Sky sitting with a dark green pegasus filly curled in her arms and sobbing loudly. A large sniper rifle lay on the floor next to them.

"My daddy's not coming back...daddy's not coming..." The filly repeated between sobs. Sky stroked the filly's white mane as she rocked back and forth, her face positively glowing as she sat there with the look of a loving mother.

"It's ok dear. We won't let anything happen to you." The filly's sobs seemed to drift away as she opened her jade eyes and looked up. "What's your name little one?"

"My name is Pallet Jack. I'm going to grow up to move stuff like my daddy! Will you help me find him?" She said as she fluttered her wings, her crying fit seemingly over with. See, this is why I couldn't stand foals, crying one moment, then breaking the 2000 cap moisture evaporator you had stored in your cart the next while laughing in delight. Completely unpredictable and an accident waiting to happen, all bundled up in something that eats your food and won't shut up.

"Sure thing, but first I want you to meet my best friend Backlash." She pointed her hoof to me and I couldn't help but force a smile (even with as much as I hated foals, I still had to be nice). I felt something was off as I wobbled for a moment. Oh yeah, adrenalin gone, time to fall over again! I crashed to the floor with a grunt and blinked as I saw stars flying aroud in my head. Pallet giggled softly into Sky's chest.

"I like him, he's funny." She said as she hopped into the air, fluttering her wings again before walking over to me, Sky let out a soft laugh.

"Yeah, he certainly is." She got up and stretched her wings out, scooping up the rifle and tucked the gun underneath it as she walked over. I saw a Pallet Jack hop around in much the same fashion filly pinkie did in my dreams. That changed when she immediately froze wide eyed and stiff.

"AHHHH! A MONSTER!" She dove and latched onto Sky's leg. I felt Brass step heavily up behind me.

"Brass, stop scaring the foal and take your helmet off. It's not like anyone is going to shoot you here, Celestia forbid that being a bad thing though." Carlotta Stepped past him and smacked his face with her tail as he levitated the helmet away. As she stood over me, the heat she gave off was absolutely divine as my freezing hide finally seemed to stop shivering so much.

Pallet turned around and stared wide eyed as the griffin stood over me. "Whoah! Are you a real Griffin!?" The filly bounced about in excitement as Carlotta nodded. "Griffins are the best fliers! I want to grow up to be just like you! Tearing apart your enemies with your claws and beak! Rawr!" She jumped into the air before doing her best to imitate what she had described.

"Yup, one hundred percent bad ass griffin here." Carlotta spoke with boundless pride.

"But ponies can be great fliers as well Pallet, don't you want to grow up to be just like rainbow dash?" Sky said with a hint of jealousy in her voice.

"No, she doesn't. She wants to be cool like all griffins are. Besides, Rainbow Dash could only fly fast. She couldn't stand up in a fair fight." Carlotta cooed back with more than just a hint of arrogance. Oh Luna don't let them do this now....

"Rainbow Dash took on a squad of ten griffins in the war single hoofedly and came out without a scratch, I'll have you know." Sky said, tipping her muzzle to the air and closing her eyes, doing her best to act haughty. This wasn't going to end well...

"Yeah, wearing power armor. I bet she couldn't take even ONE of us on without it." I could see Carlotta's claws digging into the floor boards as the polite discussion started to degrade into verbal trench warfare. "Besides, didn't she abandon her duties? I've never seen a Griffin do that."

Fuck trench warfare. Carlotta just dropped a Celestia damned megaspell on Sky. I went to call out before Skyline and her ripped each other to bloody ribbons in front of the already scared filly, but was surprised to hear her squeaky voice speak up first.

"Why can't I be cool like both? I want to be a Rainbow Griffin!" She bounced between them with a look of utter glee on her face as Sky and Carlotta froze, their angry glares cracking slowly before they bust out into laughter. I didn't quite get what was so funny about that but maybe it was an inside joke to all fliers or something. My brain hurt. Actually, my all of me hurt.

"Uh guys? can one of you make a fire? Kinda frozen to the floor here..."


As I warmed up by the fire next to an armorless Brass, Carlotta was running around the house with the screaming filly perched on her head. Skyline had gone back to bring the cart to us, as well as a quick sweep for any other survivors, keeping an eye out for the body of the stallion who Pallet described as her father. I really hoped he was alive somewhere, it was hard on Sky and I losing our parents and the only reason we made it was because we had each other (well, Sky didn't lose hers, she just hasn't seen them again since leaving). I can't imagine having to grow up alone in the wasteland. I shook the thought out of my head, seeming to knock Brass out of his own as well.

"Did you just ask if I liked you?" He turned to me, speaking with his cheeks flushed.

"Um... no... I didn't..." I raised an eyebrow to him slowly.

"Oh, I'm sorry, what did you ask?" He said as he hid his head into his hooves, his gold coat was growing as red as Sky's.

"I didn't say anything... Is there something you want to talk about?" I said with a relaxed smirk, the most insidious idea filling my head. Being as he was already off guard, there was no reason I couldn't have a little fun at his expense, right? He shrank down to the floor and quivered.

"N... no... it was a stupid thought..." He said shyly from between his hooves. "It's just that... I do... kind of like you..." I smiled as seductively as he spoke, leaning in close. He was making this far too easy.

"Well, how about you and I go somewhere quiet and... what did carlotta say it like?" I leaned up to his ear as he threatened to change his whole coat to red. "spend some 'quality time' together?" I whispered softly into it his ear, giving the tip a little lick as I drew away slowly. Brass shuddered before flopping over with a deep sigh, seemingly in shock on the floor.

"You know, personally it doesn't matter to me if it's a mare or a stallion, fun is fun. But you're a bit young Brass, grow up for a few years and see what you really want then." I smiled and got up, stretching out my legs as my body was finally relaxed and warm. The front door swung open and a muddy Skyline tramped in. She shook the mud off her coat vigorously, coating everything in the room with it, myself and the still in shock Brass included. Sky eyed him curiously before gazing back at me.

"Wow, you finally snapped and murdered him. I applaud you on lasting this long. Hey Carlotta! I owe you 50 caps!" She yelled to the other room as she trotted over to the couch, slicking some of the mud she flung off the cushion with her hoof, sitting and laying back. Carlotta came running in, panting heavily as the green filly bounced on her ruffled head feathers.

"How do you ponies do so much moving around with your legs? It's exhausting." She said as she finally collapsed in the middle of the room, Pallet still ruffling her blue head feathers as she giggled.

"How do you land a skycart so easily? I can't maneuver worth two bits strapped into that thing." Sky said as she rubbed her slightly muddy flank with her fore hoof.

"How the hell do you two stay warm while flying?" I asked as I wiped the mud I got hit with from my muzzle.

"How could you three be so insensitive?" Brass joined in as he raised a hoof to the air, still flat on the floor.

We all sat still for a minute, trading looks before we all started to laugh hysterically. I know it was only a few nights before, but it felt good to laugh in front of a fire next to the ponies... and griffin I now considered my friends. I knew that these moments would grow to be few and far between as we tried to stop 42, but I didn't want to think about that now. I wanted to enjoy the time we had, so we giggled and poked fun at each other as the darkness spread outside. Finally as the fire died down, we decided it was best to rest up and wait for morning to come.

I slept through the night again without any dreams, not quite sure of whether or not that was a good thing. I yawned and stretched out my hooves, getting up slowly I looked around to find everyone else was still asleep, the bright sun turning the horizon to a brilliant shade of red. I slowly got up and walked to the front door, going to open it but freezing still to look back at Skyline soundly sleeping on the couch. I know I said I wouldn't leave her, but I was just going to take a short walk to look around. I'd be back in ten minutes max.

I crept out off the front porch and headed past the muddied skycar. Looking at it I gave a small chuckle and reassured myself that the Marauder was the right choice of transportation. Oh, right. The Marauder. Why did 42 have to take my baby? I worked so hard to even find half the parts for her. If she so much as puts one more dent in my girl... I'll... A glint down the street caught my eye as my wrist pinched up. I squinted and could see as a lone sprite bot floated around, seemingly inspecting the bodies.

Why was it so quiet? Normally those things are blaring bad music and you can hear them from a mile away. Maybe it's speaker had degraded or was damaged. Regardless, I bet I could get some good caps for it if I could shut it down. The small sphere turned and seemed to peer right at me before drifting down an alleyway. I smirked and galloped down the street after it. Easy money I thought as I turned and ran smack dab into a brick wall five feet in.

"Didn't they ever regulate where to put these random walls before the war?" I said to myself, shaking off the pain. I turned around to see the bot floating behind me. Staring at me as if sizing me up.

"Hello there." A digitized voice emanated from the exposed speaker. I cringed and pressed back against the wall, pointing my hoof at it.

"Y..you can talk!?!" I gave a slight shudder in fear. I had never seen one that was intelligent. Maybe it had become self aware after the war and was going to go on an existential rampage to kill all ponies, starting with me.

"Yes, my name is Watcher. It's nice to meet you Mr...?" It just seemed to float there as it appeared to want to make conversation with me. I pondered this for a moment, relaxing a bit. I still didn't trust it wasn't going to vaporize me into a glowing pile of ashes the moment I looked away. So I uneasily lowered my hoof and raised an eyebrow to it.

"Backlash... um... nice weather we're having?" Oh Celestia, don't make dumb small talk with the sentient and potentially murderous robot. Oh luna, I'm going to die... Why couldn't I have just woken up Sky like I knew I should have!

"Um I guess. Well Backlash, it was nice to meet you." The sprite bobbed and turned away, starting to float down the street. And that was that, I had escaped the murderous gaze of the terrifying metal death machine. I relaxed and slid down the wall. Wait. That was it?

"Wait... what are you doing here?" I asked as I peeked my head out of the alleyway. The bot seemed to stop and bob in place for a moment before turning around.

"I'm looking for signs of what group did all this. You wouldn't happen to know, would you?" The digitized voice sounded somewhat sad. Was it even possible for robots to feel sad? Oh wait, what did it ask? Right.

"I did." I said as I looked down. "Well, not me personally, but I'm the reason it all happened. You wouldn't believe me if I told you anyway." The Metallic sprite seemed to hang in silence.

"Try me, I've seen lots of unexplainable things in my time." It said as I slowly walked out in front of it, sitting down. I drew in a large breath and paused for a moment.

"I opened some prewar bunker in Manehatten and freed a copy of one of the ministry mares, and now the copy is on a rampage across the wasteland to look for the place to make even more copies so she can take over the world and rule us as a tyrannical dictator!" I gasped as I finished the explanation in one go, for some reason I felt that was impressive...

"I... see..." The bot sounded neutral again. "I knew it was a bad idea." That perked my ear. What did it mean by that? "Look, I'm almost out of time, but I'll be keeping an eye on you. If you want to talk, just see if you can find another bot like this one, understand?" I shook my head in confusion. Out of time? What in Celestia's name was going on here? Before I could ask, there was a sharp crackle of static as the bot began to blare one of it's annoying, upbeat marching songs and floated away down the street. Looking back the other direction towards the skycar, I saw Skyline fly out. A look of rage etched on her face, the sunlight making her look like a piece of red hot metal, completing the hellish visage was the wind which blew her white and yellow striped mane behind her, looking something akin to an open flame.

"Hey! Morning Sunshine!" I said as I cantered over to her, putting on my best forced smile. "I just got back from taking a leak, totally didn't abandon you like I said I wouldn't to go talk to some creepy robot voice! Nope, nothing like that at all!" I explained with as much nervous guilt in my voice as I could muster, hoping she'd take it as a joke. She squinted and reached down, booping my nose with her hoof.

"Whatever... I'm watching you mister..." She stated slowly as she hovered back toward the porch, sitting on the edge as she craned her neck, letting some vertebrae pop. "Any news from DJ Pon3?" I stared blankly at her. "You know... on the radio...?" I blinked again and raised an eyebrow. "You forgot your pipbuck has a radio, didn't you." She finally sighed out and flopped onto her back. I totally did forget! I fumbled with my pipbuck and switched it on, the smooth voice of the familiar unicorn filled the air.

"-to keep taking that rad-away children! You don't want to mutate into one of those scary ghouls now do you? But now it's time for some news! A bit of good news as the army of alicorns plaguing the wastes has seemingly turned it's focus elsewhere, so you are safe to come out of your hidey holes for a while and breathe the fresh, wasteland air!" Maybe the Goddess decided to send her hordes to Hoofington and Canterlot, hopefully for good. If they can get into either place, they deserve that stupid book. "Who knows where they went off to, or how long they will be gone, so it may be best to not take too big a breath."

If the Canterlot ghouls don't get you, the pink mist will melt you into whatever is around and make you a permanent part of the scenery for the rest of time. And Hoofington? That place is just one deathtrap after another. Even if you make it past the sentries and enervation, nobody gets into the core. I've met plenty of other merchants who thought they would be the first in. I've never met a trader who told me of how he got out.

"As for an update on our mysterious Pinkie impersonator, there have been reports of a prewar car driving along the outskirts of the everfree forest to the west with the driver matching the description of the wanted mare. Where she's headed is a mystery to us all, but that's all for the news! Before I go, I would like to tell all my little ponies about a group out there who is attempting to track her down to bring her to justice. If you see a rag tag group sporting a griffin and traveling by skycar, then please lend them whatever help you can. Even so much as a box of cram, or a single bullet will help, we all need to come together to help bring this malicious pink mare down."

I smiled and clicked the radio off. We have a direction, and we have the might of the good ponies of the wasteland supporting us.

"I'm coming for you 42..."


+10 Big Guns

+ 5 speech

New Perk: Extremophile - You seem to like being set on fire and frozen so much you feel right at home in it! You take half the normal damage and fatigue from the elements (fire, cold, electrical, and chemical) you would normally get.

Chapter 3 - Doorway to Insanity

View Online

Chapter 3

"We'll do everything by the book!"


After nearly a half hour of convincing, and a bribe of half a box of sugar apple bombs, we left Pallet to play with Brass while Sky, Carlotta and I collected the bodies of the dead into a row out in front of old City Hall. The decrepit building had shifted to one side on its foundations only slightly enough to look odd amongst the rest of the town. It was midmorning when Sky called me over, the bloodied body of a light blue pegasus stallion with a deep blue mane was slumped against an overturned wooden cart, his silver eyes gazing lifelessly at the crimson from a set of gunshot wounds in his waist as it mixed with the mud in a large puddle below him.

"Shit..." I dropped my eyes as I muttered under my breath. From what she had told us, this was Pallet's father. Sky walked over and shut his eyes gently before leaning in.

"Rest easy now." I could hear her trying to choke back the tears that were even starting to cloud my vision. "We will take care of your daughter. We will get her someplace safe." In my head I knew that it meant postponing our chase after 42, and that we couldn't waste any more time than we had already to catch up, and just then the realization hit me like an out of control train. This filly just lost the only thing in the world she knew and that I, nothing more than a traveling peddler of wares, was going to take her in. The wasteland sure had one fucked up sense of humor to put her through what Sky and I had suffered so hard with. But that's where I was wrong, this filly was alone and scared in this desolate world now, all because of a mistake I made.

Skyline went to pick up the stallion, but as she hoisted him up I put a hoof on her shoulder and shook my head. I'm the reason he's dead, I need to carry the weight of him on my shoulders. I knew that the weight of my conscience wasn't enough, and it never would be as I lived with it for the rest of my life. She seemed to nod and shifted the muscular stallion onto my back. He was heavy enough that I sank a few more inches than normal into the mud with every step, slowing my pace to a crawl. I looked over and noticed his blood drip down onto my saddle bags, thinking I'd be damned if I didn't deserve to be buried with all these ponies for my sins.

As we turned down the street to city hall, Sky and I noticed Carlotta waving her arms as she was pressed against a wall down an alleyway, trying to get our attention, her expression was a rock solid calmness. Odd, I only saw her like that before when we were in combat. A sound of soft squishes came towards us, my ear picking it up before I noticed the five red bars in my compass. They were heading toward us, the telltale sound that leather armor made when they moved was a dead give away they were no random ponies, and the jingling of brass bullet casings were evidence they had at least one firearm.

"Well well, look what we have here, boys!" I spun around, glancing at a group of raider ponies as they trotted up to Sky and I, slowly spreading out into a semi-circle around us. Fuck, I was normally on top of my surroundings, how did I not see this coming? I did happen to notice something odd about them, they were all earth ponies. Not a single horn or wing amongst them.

The group was however well armored as reinforced leather barding covered all but the stallion in the center, not to mention they were relatively well armed. The two mares flanking who I assumed was the leader held a sledgehammer and a fire axe in their mouths, while the stallions at either end held poorly maintained double barrel shotguns in their's. As for the center stallion, he only wore a stylish black jacket with leather pads sewn into it, a rainbow bandana kept his shortly cut, jet black mane standing into the air on his head. Most importantly, he seemed unarmed, and I didn't trust that.

"Looks like we have some grave robbers trying to pick off of OUR poor dead townsfolk. Should we let them pay the fine for scavenging in our turf?" He paused, letting the others shake their heads. "Or should we just kill them?" The leader's voice was of just that, someone in command, but he seemed to have more than just a note of self acknowledgment. He liked this show of force, and he wanted those under him eager to do anything he asked.

Skyline leaned over to me slowly, not breaking eye contact with the group. "Your call, Backlash, I think I can take them." The leader twitched for a moment, slowly turning his cold blue eyes from Sky to lock on mine as the most nefarious grin grew across his muzzle.

"Wait... BACKLASH?" He almost had to giggle through his teeth. "As in, little baby bro Backlash?" I froze and stared wide-eyed back. No, it wasn't possible. Crankshaft left us in Hoofington, there is no way his gang controlled this far inland. The raider leader seemed to jump around giddily in the mud as his lackeys seemed as confused as Skyline.

"Shit it IS you, isn't it!?" He eyed his comrades for a moment before stiffening up a bit, coughing softly into his hoof to clear his throat. "If I knew that pink bitch had paid me to kill my own brother, I'd have asked for double! It's so much harder to lose somepony who's family, am I right?" He trotted up closer, I could see that his cream colored hide was mostly intact, but his entire flank and rear left leg were horribly burned. "How is mother by the way? No doubt she's making you do all the hard work while she gets drunk off of your living."

"When you selfishly left, she tried to get us out of that stupid town..." I stated, letting my rising anger come out. "And because I wasn't old enough to think about what I was doing, she had to save me from a fucking radigator and died so I could get away."

Boredly, he looked at his muddied hooves. "Hey, that bitch got what was coming to her. And it's not my fault you were weak back then, I got the hell out of there when I was strong enough to see she was just using us." His stupidly wide smile made my blood boil as he insulted mother, If it weren't for the stallion on my back, I would have torn him to pieces. "But look at you now, all grown up and shit. Plus, I see you picked up one sexy looking mare friend." He eyed Sky over eagerly, no doubt thinking of all the perverted and horrid acts he could do once he killed me and could get her alone. That wasn't going to happen.

"Back off, asshole!" Sky yelled out around the bit for her battle saddle. Crankshaft looked stunned for a quick moment before letting out a deep laugh. "Oh she's feisty! Maybe I'll let some of the boys use her before selling her to the slavers..." He laughed in a way only a demented twisted soul could, it's echo reverberating deep inside my thoughts. No, this wasn't my brother, that Crankshaft was the only one to care for me and mom before he left, and that stallion is still somewhere in Hoofington running a gang by now. This sadistic excuse for a raider couldn't be him.

I tweaked my ear again, I could hear a deep thudding in the distance, smirking softly. "You say that a pink mare hired you? Looked a bit like the ministry mare from before the war?" I spoke softly, causing him to pause for a moment.

"Yeah, I'm pretty sure she's the cunt that 'DJ Douchebag' is always going on about, why? Want me to give her your last words?" He said as he leaned in close to my face and raised a hoof to his lackeys, signaling to get ready.

I could hear the whirr of an autoloader coming up the alley way and the flutter of wings on the rooftops behind me. "Yeah, tell her I'm coming for her." I said calmly before using all my might to hurl Pallet's father on top of Crankshaft, pinning him to the mudded ground. To the credit of his companions, they didn't seem too phased by the action and only hesitated for a moment. But a moment was all I needed.

The air exploded into gunfire as Brass and Carlotta opened up onto the two raider mares, perforating them with dozens of rounds before they even lifted a hoof to move towards Sky and I. I watched as the splatters of mud and gore coated the stallion hefting his shotgun at me, he flinched and pulled his head aside, firing blindly. I tensed up as most of the shot failed to find me, but the few large pellets that did punch all the way through my foreleg hurt like hell as time crawled to a stop. I had forgotten that the pipbuck had the targeting spell because, honestly, combat was still new to me. Hell, back before this week I had maybe been in two or three gunfights a year, and they never expected Sky to be there. Plus this spell was useless when the only gun I carried was in my saddlebag.

The highlight around the shotgun raider in my vision flickered away and was replaced by a pink square labeled inventory, puzzling me for a moment. Pipbucks were still a bit of a mystery to me, all the ones I've seen in my travels were either dead from age or still on the arms of ponies. I knew that it took a pony a lot smarter than me to figure exactly how so many spells could be kept inside such a tiny object, or what they all did.

I looked across each of the tabs before the computer would switch them in response to show me what I had. We'll that was convenient I thought, noting that there needed to be an electronic manual in these things. With that, a small rectangular screen popped up over everything else, displaying the title: -In S.A.T.S. Inventory Management Tutorial Audiolog-. The sound of a middle aged mare with a thick accent sounding like she'd lived in the country all her life played into my head.

"Well hey there, Pinkie! It's me, yer best friend Applebloom! If yer hearin' this here tutorial it's 'cause yer wantin' ta figure out all the neat lil' functions in yer pipbuck! Now ah'm sure you don't want all the boring techno-babble Scoots would give ya, so ah'll make it simple fer yah!

Just think of the item ya'll are needin and the computer'll fetch it fer yah. Then, think which one of the options below you want and it'll do the same! Easy-Peasy! Oh, and 'Twa-light' asked me ta install a simpler version of one of 'er spells to help yah out! Cause yah know, yer so busy with that there ministry of yers and whatnot. Anyway she thought it'd be a mite easier on ya if ya didn't have to grab things out of yer bags.

It's a teleportation spell specifically designed for use in S.A.T.S.! Just activate the inventory, scroll to the item yah need, think 'Equip' and pow! Whatever yah hanker fer is right there in yer hoof faster than Celestia on a slice of cake! Anyway, hope that helps ya'll as much as she thought it would!"

The recording stopped and the window closed. I sat for a moment just thinking to myself that this thing is fucking awesome! What else can it do? My thoughts raced as I went to scroll to another page, quickly looking over the frozen stallion down the street, bringing my train of thought to a screeching halt, my vision drifting back to him for a moment. Oh right, I was in the middle of a fight, I needed to arm myself, kill the bad guys, then I can learn more!

I switched to the weapon tab and selected the "Party Cannon", letting the computer highlight it. As I thought about equipping it, there was a bright purple flash in the corner of my vision before I could feel the weapons familiar suction against my injured foreleg. The inventory screen popped away as the raider in front of me was divided into pink sections, each giving a percentage to hit. The highest number was in his chest so I thought I might as well shoot him there.

Poor choice of words, It turns out, as the spell registered the shot and swung my hoof up for me, assisting my aim as time started to creep forward again. I watched in awe as the cannon fired its spherical, black projectile out as the weapon lined up with his chest, the 10 inch ball slamming into the stallion. In distorted time I saw his chest cave in and his sides expand, bursting along the bulging points like a zipper on a meat-filled saddle bag, the fur of his chest ripping as his head bent down toward the gaping hole as I watched him seemingly turn inside out.

The explosion of gore flew in every direction as the cannonball continued flying into the storefront behind him and time returned to it's normal speed. I turned my gaze just in time to see Sky's gauss rifles punch two hoof sized tubes straight through the chest of last raider, his viscera hanging out the back of his body as he dropped to the ground with a meaty thump.

I heard a whimper from under Pallets father and I looked down to see the wide, fright filled eyes of Crankshaft as his whole body shook. As I turned to talk to Sky, he cringed and cowered, tucking himself under the large corpse. I looked over to her as Brass and Carlotta joined her sides.

"Get the weapons, destroy them, and let him go." I said softly, reaching back and putting the party cannon back into my saddlebag, wincing as I stepped back onto my injured leg.

"Are you kidding me!?" Sky shouted out and pushed off into the air, her voice echoing down the empty streets. "This asshole shows up out of nowhere and tries to kill us, and you let him go!?" She pointed her rifles back at the shocked expression now on Crankshaft's face, making him cringe and whimper again.

"Look, I know how you feel, but we don't kill unarmed ponies, do we? We aren't raiders and we've beaten him. I'm giving him his life, end of discussion." I said, looking back up to her sternly. "And should he EVER be so stupid to try this shit again, than you have my express permission to shove your rifles up his ass and decorate a room with him." I reached down and unpinned the frightened raider, leaning close and staring into his watering, blue eyes. "Got it?" He gave off a short nod before scrambling to his hooves, taking off down the street at his fastest gallop.

"You know you're going to regret letting him go." Sky said as she floated gently down next to me and brought out one of the healing bandages from her bags, wrapping it around my injured hoof. I gulped down one of our healing potions, feeling my wounds knitting themselves together from the inside.

I nodded in response as I noticed Brass walk over and effortlessly stomp one of the shotguns, bending the barrels to an odd angle. "I know I will, but it won't be until after I've put an end to 42." I said with a sigh. At least, I hoped fate would allow me to deal with her first.


Brass went back to watching over Pallet as the rest of us spent the majority of the early afternoon digging a mass grave outside of town near the entrance to the everfree forest. For reasons unknown to me, the dark and twisted forest had somehow survived the hellish horrors of the Great War, and seemed to give off the distinct impression that something inside was watching us. To be honest, this damn forest was the reason I mostly stayed away from Ponyville, only making a run out here every few months to sell essentials like medicine. It had only been about a week since all of this started and I was sorely missing my old cart and the day to day bore of walking everywhere, at least then we got to scavenge.

As we covered the last of the grave, and stood back, I stuck the shovel in the dirt and sat down. It was hard to think that underneath this mound, there lie 28 innocent ponies. All of them having paid the price for my quest for glory. "If I had just let that bunker stay closed..." I said softly to the ground, hoping that somehow my sorrowful words would dig down and give them back the lives that 42 stole. I felt a hoof wrap around my side as Skyline leaned in close. I lay against her and sobbed quietly into her neck as she comforted me.

"Shhh..." She whispered to me, her soft voice trembling with sorrow as well. "It's ok. We'll find a safe place for Pallet and then we'll catch up to her and we will stop her." We sat there for a while, me crying while she was the strong one. There was the low rumble of thunder on the horizon and we knew it was time to get going.

"What if we can't..." I started to say as we walked back to the skycart, getting cut off by Carlotta as her talons clamped my muzzle shut.

"Shut your fucking mouth. I've had it with your sad sack attitude." She let go and poked my chest sharply, her piercing blue eyes cutting through the depressing fog in my mind. "We are going to fucking kill her for what she did here and we are going to save the wasteland, and we'll all be big damn heroes n' shit..."

I grunted and gave a small nod. I hated it but she was right, this needed to be done and we were the only ones who even had a clue on what to expect. I dug in my saddle bag for our map and pulled it out, walking up to the porch of Pallet's house and unfurling it. "DJ Pon3 said she was heading west, so she'll probably be stopping here." I pointed with a hoof at the small symbol of a house a good distance from Ponyville. "She'll need to stop to change the spark batteries there in Whinny, but I don't know where she'd go from there." I looked over the map, she only had a couple of choices if she wanted to stay ahead of us.

Reference Pointe is just an old research station and not too far south, but it's inside the everfree forest and the most significant of the three locations, while the Sugar Apple Bombs factory is north, and the closest but the most illogical of choices, even for her. But that still left the unused power substation complex to the west, with the question why would she go there? I grumbled in anger and slammed my hoof on the warped wood of the porch, startling the others. THINK, BRAIN! I want to be one step ahead of her this time!

"We need to go." Skyline called to me as she helped Carlotta into the straps for the skycar. Brass stomped by with Pallet Jack riding on his back, she had his helmet over herself, covering most of her body as the enormous headpiece made her look ridiculous. I couldn't help but draw a small smile as they went into the silver pod. Sighing, I rolled the map back up and put it away, stepping into the metal hull latching the door shut. (I made sure it latched three times, because honestly, falling out once was enough.) As we lifted off and banked west, I looked out at the burial mound, thinking how maybe once this was all over I could come back and give each pony a proper burial.

The wind whipped into the passenger compartment through the broken windows as we flew towards the tiny village of Whinny. I racked my mind for anything I could remember about it. It had been almost half a year since I had been through these parts with Sky, and anything I could remember might be able to give us the leg up on 42. I remember seeing its history years ago when in Ponyville, it wasn't until the War that they even put the place on a map, and was named as such for a reason. They wrote that if you were galloping straight through town, by the time you could finish a whinny you'd miss it. The whole reason it existed was it was the only motel and gas station on the road that would take you to the power station once used to feed power all the way over to Olneigh.

As the war picked up, they built the sugar apple bombs factory to the south, housing the families in 4 brick apartment buildings, effectively making whinney a small town. Twilight sparkle proposed building a new spell research facility out and away from the cities, planning it's location to be in the everfree forest to the north. With the facility completed, the scientists and researchers moved into the cramped suburbs of newer cheaply manufactured homes.

But I looked out the window as we passed over the small village and remembered, none of those buildings were built with any care and most have collapsed or remain as unstable, skeletal frameworks, leaving the four brick buildings in the center of town the only livable structures left. There were only a handful of ponies living there when I last came through, no more than seven or eight, so maybe she'd just leave them be?

We descended as the sun itself fell under the horizon, plunging the land into a sea of dark shadows. Carlotta landed the skycar in the center of the four buildings with little trouble, which made me immediately know something was wrong. There were no lights and sounds other than the cool evening breeze, it almost seemed that we had landed into a ghost town. I unlatched the door, swinging it open slowly as I looked around and felt my hooves ache. I heard a knock and jumped into the air as one of the brick buildings doors swung open, a soft yellow light pouring out from deep in the corner of the building without a pony in sight.

"What's gotten into him?" Carlotta remarked as Skyline hovered next to her.

"Stay right here." I said, trotting over the the open doorway, stepping inside slowly. "I need to see..." Thats all I got out before I snagged a tripwire with my hoof. The deafening report of a rifle stung my ears as I felt the round punch into my flak vest, knocking me to the ground. I groaned and got back up slowly, leaning against the outside of the building as my companions called out to me.

"I'm... ok...." I said as I winced and looked down, the shiny silver object stuck to the plate of my vest as a small nub, shimmering in the low light with a rainbow sheen. My mind made the connection quickly, I had seen this type of material before when I scavenged. It was.... fuck what's the name... Starmetal? It's dangerous stuff. I'm pretty sure the round would have punched straight through the plate if it wasn't made of the some of the same material. "Thank celestia DJ Pon3 gave me his vest... Wait, where the fuck did they get this, these rounds are as rare as they come!?" I pried the nub off with my hoof. I could count the number of star metal bullets I'd found and sold to buyers, and this wasn't one of them...

Skyline smacked me on the back of the head. "You moron! You know better than to walk into unknown places! That's why I have wings!" I watched as she fluttered inside softly, disappearing into the black before I heard the loud twang of another tripwire. She flew through the doorway as a crimson bolt, screaming at the top of her lungs. "GRENADE! GET DOWN!"

I dropped to my belly, covering my head with my hooves right before the small explosive went off. The blast was mostly absorbed by brick walling, but the glass windows became sharp knives as they blew out. My hearing turned to a soft whine as the projected glass shattered against the side of the skycar, bouncing harmlessly off of Brass's suit as he stood in the doorway of the car. As the dust cleared and I got to my hooves, I could hear a soft murmur coming from Brass as he strode out of the car, Pallet watching wide eyed from the hatch. He walked up to me and spoke as if he was whispering.

"Are you alright?" I almost didn't hear him he was so quiet, and I almost didn't want to, my head was pounding and stung as I looked around and saw Carlotta poke her head around from the other side of the dinged up metal pod, Skyline floating behind her with a nervous grin. Brass shook me with his hooves, getting my attention again. "I said, are you alright?" Did the blast blow out his speaker?

"I'm ok!" I said back softly for some reason, noticing them cringe. "The hell! What's wrong with my voice?" I looked between them nervously, Carlotta's frustrated face not helping as she walked over and clamped my mouth shut again.

"You blew your hearing for an hour or so! You are lucky you can still hear at all! Now shut the hell up because your yelling is getting on my nerves!" I could see as she strained and yelled back, even if it didn't sound like it. I forced myself to give a nervous grin and nodded. She turned to walk away, saying something to Brass I couldn't make out, but even though she had just told me why, my brain instinctively made me act. I tried to stop it, I swear, but I was just too late.

"WHAT WAS THAT?!" I called out, watching her freeze in place, her head slowly spinning as the meanest glare I've ever beheld came from her. I could see her body tremble with barely contained rage, the loss of my hearing making it all the more obvious. Oh luna, this is going to be the longest hour of my life.


I sat locked in the skycar with Pallet for the next forty minutes as the others searched the remaining buildings for anypony, thankfully none of the other buildings were booby trapped as extensively as that one. My hearing had greatly improved within the time, but the headache got worse, and was thudding away painfully. I looked down at the Green filly who was curled up asleep on the seat next to me. I reached over and stroked her mane from her mouth as she stirred, the nagging feeling that history was repeating itself and that in a few years I'll die, and she'll be there to accidentally unlock her own secrets of the wasteland, thus starting the cycle all over again.

A knock on the doorframe drew my attention, I put my hoof to my muzzle and pointed down to the sleeping filly. Brass nodded and waved for me to come outside. As I exited and we walked to the front of one of the buildings, he handed me a piece of paper. Taking it from him, I noticed it was a mouth written note.

To whoever finds this. The pink mare from the radio is on her way here, we don't have much time, please give this note to my son in Fillydelphia, and he will pay you for your troubles. Tell him I loved him very much.
- His mother, Peach Flowers

I sighed and put the note into my saddle bags. Great, it looks like we couldn't save anyone here either. Wait, there are no bodies here. Did they run? Or did she take them? The gears in my head ground together as I tried to think. I felt one of them jam when Carlotta called out to us, killing that line of thought.

"It looks like she took the Marauder both south and north, tire tracks leading out of town both ways are fresh." I rubbed my hoof on my chin, letting the gears turn once again. Why would she go to the factory? I don't think there's anything pre-war there of any use? My mind brought up something from 42's speech, she called herself a 'super villain' in it, so maybe she was trying to mislead us? Is that even a thing super villains do? GAH thinking is hard! I flopped to the ground next to Brass, softly whining.

"Are... you ok?" His suit spoke at a normal level to me thanks to the speaker system. I nodded and held my head. If I didn't think of an answer for what to do, I just know more ponies would die, and I don't need any more blood on my hooves. I was interrupted by a light tapping on my head and I looked up into the bright green eyes of the pegasus filly.

"Here!" She shouted as she scooted our half eaten box of sugar apple bombs over. "They always make me feel happy when I'm mad or sad! Try it!" I smiled softly at her, she had been through so much in the last forty eight hours and yet, here she was giving me better life advice than anypony I'd ever met. I put my muzzle in the box, tipping it back and chewing on the sugary substance, relaxing slightly. Skyline flew down from the roof of one of the buildings, she looked worried, well that's always how she looked. To be honest, she looked less worried than when I want to run off and do something stupid, but still more worried than normal.

"It's like they all just got up and left, I didn't find any clothing or food left over, all I found were some assorted weapons and ammo in a safe, along with this." She pulled a thin square box out of her bags, laying it on the ground in front of me. "I thought you might want to listen to it, you having the only pipbuck and all." I perked up. That's right! maybe we'll find the location of some emergency bunker the townsfolk could have hidden in! I put it into my saddle bags as I got back to my hooves, letting the near empty cereal box slip off to the ground.

"I think we should park the skycar on the roof and camp out for the night, if she comes by in the Marauder, we'll hear it, otherwise lets wait until morning." I said with a yawn, thinking to myself I really needed to figure this out, but with everything that had gone on today, my body was screaming for rest. I figured that even 42 needed to sleep sometime, so why couldn't I? The others seemed to be in agreement as we all needed the rest, so we huddled up together inside the silver tube as the chilly night air brought with it the first frost of fall.

The night went slowly, seeing as there were no dreams of warm, sunny afternoons on grassy hills. The only thing I had was the dark and cold black of nothing between the bursts of dark and cold night. I groaned and shivered as my eyes shot open, fully awake. I looked around to see I was alone in the skycar. Greatly confused, I slowly got to my hooves and walked to the window thinking maybe they went to make a fire. As I peered out, I could see a yellow mare with a long black mane standing near the edge of the building. She seemed familiar somehow.

I noticed she seemed to be looking out over the edge into the darkness, slowly leaning forward. Shit, she was going to fall! I used my shoulder to throw open the door, galloping over to her as she tumbled and disappear over the edge, I skidded to a stop, looking over it. The ground wasn't there, just a bottomless pit of darkness. Turning back around, I froze as I stared into the lifeless eyes of the yellow mare, a bleeding hole in the center of her skull. She spoke with the wind as it whipped by.

"I was the first one you murdered..."

I was paralyzed with fear, I stood there to afraid to move as she reared up and pushed me over the ledge. I screamed as I fell away into the darkness as it consumed my vision, swallowing me whole.

I awoke with a jolt, sweating thick beads and hyperventilating as I looked around. The faintest hints of light shown from outside and my friends were all sleeping next to me. I stared at them as my heartbeat slowed and I could breathe again. Skyline turned over and eyed me still half asleep.

"You alright? Did you hear something?" She let out a soft yawn and cracked her neck as she sat up. I couldn't tell her it was just a dream, if I told her that, she'd start worrying about me, and if she did that she wouldn't worry enough about herself, and if that happened she might get hurt and if that happened it will be all my fault. I couldn't live with myself if I caused her to get hurt, so I can't let it.

"Yeah, just... um... thinking." I cringed at my explanation. I probably could have thought of some better lie, but my mind was still running a mile a minute. "It's nothing."

"Suit yourself, I'm no therapist but you need to talk about things instead of bottling them up." She said with a shrug before getting up and opening the door. I deftly stepped between Brass and Pallet, slipping through the door without a hitch. I can do that shit but I can't seem to avoid getting into trouble? The hell is wrong with me? I looked up to see, Sky standing at the ledge, looking out along the horizon, my heart skipping a beat as my brain tried to tell me she was going to fall. That was just a bad dream, get ahold of yourself Backlash.

"Oh! I meant to give you something I found back in Ponyville, it was in a wall safe at the old spa for some reason, but I thought you could use another gun! You know, for when you want to be a bit more subtle than that cannon." She dug into her saddle bags, drawing out a long, rectangular shaped shotgun, a very well kept model If-41. This model semiautomatic shotgun was one of the most durable ones ever made! I looked it over before taking it in my mouth, noticing a red heart etched into the side of the receiver. My Pipbuck told me it was called "heartstopper" and had 4 shells currently loaded. I put it into my saddlebags and beamed a wide grin to her before giving her a strong hug.

As the sun climbed over the horizon, Sky and I smiled and watched as the light reflected off the coating of frost the entire wasteland had, rainbows of color stretched out into the barren desert as everything shimmered brightly.

"WOW! IT'S SO PRETTY!" An overly squeaky voice called from behind us. Pallet ran over to the edge of the roof and gasped as she took in the awesome sight, Carlotta stretching and looming over her as she looked on with a smile on her beak. Her eyes seemed softer than normal almost like she was... happy.

"The first frost of the year is always the best, just give it a minute, then the sun will hit it just right..." Carlotta said, genuine wonder bleeding from her words. Sure enough, as the sun reached up, touching both the horizon and the bottom of the cloud cover, the grey above was suddenly transformed into a shimmering sea of colors, rainbows bouncing from the glowing blanket to the ground and back up. I had never really seen how beautiful it was before, and maybe it never was, maybe it was just the fact that we were sitting in this exact spot, on this exact day, with these exact friends. I wasn't sure if after the last week I believed in fate, but I was damn sure that no matter what happens in the coming days, this is what made it all worth it.

As the sun rose just above the horizon, the wasteland turned back to it's normal browns and greys, the flood of color gone again. I heard a rustling behind me, and turned to see Brass stumble out in a yawn.

"Morning, guys, did I miss anything?"


We got ourselves together fairly quickly, managing to all grab a bite to eat before heading out again. Skyline made the point that, with no bodies, the ponies here probably managed to get out before 42 showed up. I agreed and decided we should head south to Reference Pointe, if she was looking for something from way before the war, there was a better chance information about it would be hidden at a Ministry facility. The morning was colder than I'd expected, even as we flew through the air towards the forest facility.

I flipped through my pink pipbuck's inventory screens before reaching a section labeled 'notes'. A written tutorial popped up and informed me that any written letters or audiologs I found were automatically transcribed into its memory. Speaking of... how much memory did this thing have? I killed the tutorial and flipped through to the general information section. A knock from outside caught my attention before I finished.

"She's here." Carlotta yelled back, nodding down to the ground. I got up and walked to the window, looking out as she banked around to circle the nearly overgrown, horseshoe shaped building. The off-white building was three stories tall and seemed to be in fair condition, the top two stories of the inner walls had windows spaced every few feet, leaving the first floor completely enclosed along each side. The entire rear of the building as well as part of the roof had been overgrown by thick, curling vines. Lighter spots on the front wall showed where the illuminated letters of 'Reference Pointe' used to be bolted to the walls, but age had stripped away most of them, oddly leaving only the "E's" hanging there.

A solitary road lead through the forest up to a courtyard where it looped around in front of a set of doors inside the innermost section of the decrepit facade. I also noticed the old stone statue of a unicorn mare stood in the center of the courtyard, and right beside it was parked one familiar rusty looking Marauder.

"Drop Brass and I out front, then land on the roof!" I yelled back to Carlotta through the wind. She nodded and arched us downward, slowly pulling up beside the beautiful sight that was my Pre-war vehicle. Brass and I hopped out and walked over to it, the skycar taking off again, leaving us behind. I flopped onto the hood, doing my best to hug the large steel beast. "Oh baby, I've missed you. I'll never let her take you away again."

"Um, what are you doing? It's just a car." Brass called as he stood there, watching me through the soulless eyes of his helmet. "Stop being weird Backlash. We need to find fourty two." I held a hoof up to him, using the other hoof to stroke the hood softly.

"It's ok, shhh, he didn't mean anything by it..." I got up off her slowly, walking around to the trunk and throwing it open, delighted to see 42 didn't remove anything from inside. I grabbed the heavy steel links of my tow chain in my mouth and laid down, hitching it to the hooks under the car. "Just one more second and we can go..." I drug the chain around the statue before using the hook on the other end to secure the chain to itself.

"Alright, we can go in now." I spun around to see the others had come down and were awkwardly watching me, Pallet included. Wait, what was Pallet doing with them? "What in Celestia's name are you thinking? Bringing her down here with us?" I cried out louder than I probably should have.

"Well who gets to stay behind and watch her?" Skyline crossed her hooves and turned her muzzle up at me. I scrunched up my muzzle at that, it was a good point, I didn't know what to expect inside and I needed everyone with me just incase something went wrong. But I couldn't bring Pallet in with us, which meant someone had to stay behind. I brightened up at a thought.

"Thanks for volunteering, Sky!" I yelled as I took off down the courtyard, It was the perfect plan! She would keep Pallet safe and by virtue, be safe from whatever 42 had planned for us inside. My thoughts were cut short as I was tackled and pinned to the gravel walkway that led to the front doors. I looked up slowly over Sky as she was breathing heavily, her twitching face locked in an angry grimace.

"NO. You said no more leaving me behind. I'm going with you." She pressed firmly down on my legs as I squirmed, leaning in close. "Choose. Somepony. Else." I sighed lightly, looking over at the others, who instead of helping were just standing there trying not to incur Skyline's wrath.

"Fine. Carlotta, you stay." I blurted out, hearing the griffin grumble to herself.

"Yeah sure, leave me behind. We'll see how far no brains, good looks, and a tin stallion get you before you come running back scared and need to have me save your flanks." She rolled her eyes before scooping up Pallet and hovered in the air. "Just pay that bitch back for what she did so we can all get on with our lives."

I nodded and got back to my hooves, Brass walking up with heavy steps as the three of us entered the building. The open air main room was backlit from most of the back wall being a large, three story window, assorted chairs sat in rows facing a small curved desk with a terminal on it to the right of us. The upper floors stopped at the edges of the windows, railing along each of the balconies were rusted red, but still giving the feeling the room was more open than it really was. I trotted over to the receptionists desk and looked behind it, the skeleton of a small framed unicorn wearing a designer coat lay curled up on the floor.

Leaning down, I grabbed the ID badge off of her and clipped it to my vest. I looked down at it as the name Evening Breeze printed in bold still lightly bled through the plastic, hoping that the magnetic strip on it's back still worked. I looked up as the fan from the terminal on the desk kicked on. I looked the grey computer over and as it turns out, it was still working. I used my hoof to wipe away the grime that had built on the surface until I could see the olive green interface more clearly. What was displayed looked to be a collection of short messages as Brass and Sky came over to see what I had found.

"Do we really have time for this?" Brass's speaker reverberated inside the open room, making me cringe softly.

"What if one of these mentions what 42 is looking for? We can't pass this up!" I replied, hitting a key to bring up the first entry.

- IOM #1523 -

Did you hear that Daisy broke up with her special somepony on Hearts and Hooves day? I always knew that she was cold hearted, but that's just downright evil! I'm sure I'd get fired if I said this to anyone else, but I'm certain that the Zebra's aren't even THAT cruel.
- M.C.

- IOM #1582 -

Well yeah I heard about it! It was the talk of the town down at the diner this evening when I got my coffee, everypony seems to think she's been working too long down in that lab. They think she needs to take a break and come up for some fresh air now and again. I say good riddance and just keep her locked away from everyone if she keeps acting out like that.
- E.B.

- IOM #1601

Morning Calm and Evening Breeze, please remember that when on laboratory grounds, You are to only use the Inter Office Memo for official Ministry of Arcane Science approved reports and updates. I am sorry you two got set on different shifts than normal, we will try to correct this as we finish construction on the lower levels, but please don't jam the system up with your idle gossip.
- T.S.

-IOM #1602

Oh, and as a close friend of Rarity, head of the Ministry of Image, I'd advise you to mind your words and keep the seditious references out of our messaging system as well.
- T.S.

I looked up from the console, not much was useful there, although they did mention there being lower levels, so they must have been doing research down there as well. As I was reading, Skyline had found a directory on the far wall, apparently these above ground floors were all Ministry offices and handled paperwork from the hubs with the exception of the east wing of the top floor being devoted to the Office of Interministry Affairs. I looked around for an access way to the lower levels, but there was nothing around that looked remotely like an entrance.

"So the real question is how do we get down into the lower levels. We should split up and try to find a way down." I watched with a hint of guilt as Sky cringed at my words, but nodded softly before flying off to one of the second floor hallways. Brass stomped noisily toward the hallway across from me, his armor clacking off the stained off white tiled floor. I turned and headed up the stairs to the third floor.

The lighting on the highest floor seemed to be in worse shape due to water damage, as was the carpeting, all that was left of it was a red tinted mush that squished loudly underhoof and made my pipbuck click softly every now and again. A whirring sound caught my ear from around the corner. I leaned my head out slowly to look, spotting a turret with a short barrel and camera hanging from the ceiling maybe 15 feet away. It slowly tracked me as I poked my head out further before a soft dinging noise played through a speaker overhead in the hallway, quickly followed by the soft voice of a middle aged mare.

"Please do not obscure or forget your ID badge. Be sure that it is visible at all Security checkpoints. Thank you for your cooperation."

I walked out into the middle of the hallway, playing along as I showed the dead receptionist's badge to the turret, the camera tracking it as held it in my mouth. The gun's autoloader whirred and clicked as it loaded itself.

"Unauthorized staff member on level 3, please stay where you are while security is despatched. Thank you for your cooperation."

I don't have time for this. I went and took a step forward, something catching my tail before I could move further, making me instinctively spin around. I turned my head just as the turret fired, the round clipping through my mane and startled me enough I jumped back around the corner as the gun opened fire again, Shooting in short bursts. I cringed against the hall wall as the bullets started chipping away at the corner I was hiding behind.

"Well, so much for this thing helping." I spat the badge on the ground beside me as I kept my back against the wall, movement to my left catching my eye. I glanced down the hallway back to the foyer we came in from as Skyline darted up and over the railing, the computer controlled gun finally ceasing to fire randomly as she approached my side.

"So, gone not even five minutes and already you need me to save your flank again." She smirked as she stared down at me. As much as I didn't like the way she put it, Sky was at least right. But with me getting into danger at this rate I might as well marry her and always have her by my side. Wait, oh Celestia I did not just think that. Luna WHY is my mind is so fucked up.

"How was I supposed to know they had automated guns?" I said back begrudgingly. "Besides, I had a plan. I was just... planning... more..." I facehoofed. Oh Luna why can't I lie to save my life? I looked back up at her. "You think you can beat that thing? I'm all ears."

She landed in front of me calmly. Suddenly screaming and spinning around, bucking both her legs straight through the wall just inches from my head. I froze and shuddered as I looked over slowly and watched her draw both legs back, leaving a hole just big enough for her to fit through.

"Just keep it entertained while I get beside it." Her snarky voice came through the hole as she moved to the other side of the room she disappeared into, a moment of silence before another yell as she bucked a hole in that wall as well. Well, I guess it was a plan. I sighed and quickly waved my hoof around the corner, waiting for the whurr of the turret before I would pull back around the corner. At Least that was how it was supposed to go, but dumb old me completely forgot the gun was ALREADY facing the corner.

As the gun started to fire, one of the rounds skimmed across my leg, drawing a deep line of crimson, making me yelp and cradle the wounded appendage. The turret continued chattering away at the wall for a few moments before I head the sharp report of one of Sky's Gauss rifles and the fizzling crackles of shredded electronics. Her hooves squished on the carpet as she drew closer, I favored my bleeding leg noting to myself I needed to get the other leg shot up some time and give this one a break. She rounded the corner before looking down with a sigh, reaching into her saddlebag and pulling out a healing potion.

"No, just give me a bandage, we might need those later." I pushed the bottle away as she sighed deeply again, rolling her eyes at me. Another minute later my foreleg was wrapped snuggly in the white cloth, both looking up upon hearing Brass stomp heavily up the steps towards us. I got back to my hooves as he twisted his helmet off with a hiss and levitated it beside him.

"I heard gunfire, are you two alright?" He stopped for a moment to look us over, eyeing my bandage before seeming to compile himself again. "Anyway, the first floor is clear, no sign of any elevators or stairways."

Sky spoke up after him. "Yeah, second floor was nothing but cubicles and desks full of papers. There's nothing here to suggest that they did any sort of research here at all!" She crossed her hooves and floated softly.

"Well, did either of the other floors have one of those?" I pointed around the corner to the sparking pile of scrap attached to the ceiling. "I'm betting the way down is through those doors." I walked slowly up to the smooth double doors down the hall, looking for any door handles or buttons. Brass pushed me aside.

"Allow me." He spun and bucked the doors clear off their hinges, the two slabs of steel crashing to the floor and sliding down the hallway a few feet. I know I can't buck anything very hard, but that's just showing off! Ok, calm down Backlash... I'm sure he wasn't trying to show you up. "Anytime you need a door opened ladies, you can call on me." He said as he walked past. I could feel the urge to just reach out and beat him with my hooves almost boil over before realizing that without the suit, he was nothing more than a young stallion. Still didn't make him any less of a jerk with that remark.

Composing myself as we walked into the thin hallway, I noticed a set of silver elevator doors with the letters O.I.A. written on them, planted into the back wall. I hit the big red button on the wall as we walked up to it, noting that the chrome doors were miraculously clean. On a side note, it honestly unnerved me nearly as much as finding the random coffee mugs did, because those always seemed to be clean as well, and nothing in the wasteland was ever clean.

The doors slid open with a ding, inside was a tiled, sterile white interior and as we stepped in, it felt eerie enough that my I started to find it hard to breathe as the doors closed. Sky must have sensed it, because she wrapped a wing around me, leaning close. I started to calm down as I looked over the buttons, although there weren't any to be seen, just a large black square on the wall. I figured that it itself might be a button and pressed my hoof to it, receiving a jab not unlike the one that opened the bunker.

I flinched and rubbed at where I was pricked with a soft whine (which in hindsight was great, because I totally couldn't feel my other hoof thanks to the numbing magic of the bandages) before gasping as I felt the car shake and start to lower. I watched as the lights above the door inched along, first B, then B1, on to B2, then to SB1, and Finally to P. The elevator shuddered and came to a stop with a jerk, one of the roof panels dropped to the floor suddenly. I screamed and squished Sky into the wall before catching my breath, knowing that behind the mask, Brass was looking at me like I was crazy.

Sky pushed me off her as the doors opened to a dimly lit room with a panoramic view that was focused on looking into a bowl shaped divot inside a cave. A chest high control panel lay dark and covered with dust on one side of the room, a single light fixture glowing softly in the cave beyond the glass.

"Ok guys, be on your guard. Forty two could be anywhere." Brass said as Skyline and him walked out of the elevator and looked around the room. I took a step out before I stopped, a sharp pain hit the back of my eye. I winced and rubbed at it, wondering why it kept acting up again and again. The gears in my head whirred to life as the others looked about for where 42 was, or what she was looking for. Before I could even react, I heard the sound of the elevator roof access quietly swing open and a soft thud before the loud click of the hammer on a gun being drawn back behind me made me freeze.

"Well! If I knew it was bring your family to work day, I would have sent you an invitation, but thanks for inviting yourself!" 42 spoke in the cheerful voice she had used during her ruse in the other bunker. "Now why don't you just walk straight on back in here with me an we can have a nice talk about my reunion plans, doesn't that sound like fun?"

I sighed as I watched Sky and Brass spin to see her, Brass's minigun spinning up slowly. 42 grabbed around my neck and pulled me close to her, somehow using her other hoof to hold the revolver she had to my head. You know what, not asking anymore. Pinkie Pie is the answer, even with her clones. "Now now, you wouldn't want to accidentally hurt poor old Backlash would you?" She seemed to tense up for a moment as we stepped back into the elevator. "Now I know you will be my good little ponies and stay put..." She pointed the revolver at Sky and fired, hitting her square in the chest. I couldn't even scream, I just froze as the world went quiet for a moment. The mare I called my sister dropped to her knees, her blood staining her red coat dark as it flowed down to the floor. "But I just have to make sure you do anyway."

The doors closed with a clack and I wrestled myself out of her grip.

"I'LL FUCKING KILL YOU!" I screamed as I squatted down to tackle her, which was the wrong move because she just stood there with a bored look on her face and the gun pressed against my temple. She pulled the hammer back again for emphasis. The elevator jolted sharply before we started to rise to the surface.

"You might want to think that action over first." She replied without even shifting her gaze. "Because I know you don't really want to kill, you aren't that type of stallion. I could see it in your eyes from the first time we met." She turned and looked deep into my eyes. "Been getting nightmares yet from the ones you have killed?" As much as knew she was the exception to the murder rule, she was right. I'm not a murderer. The nightmare from the night before flashed in my mind, I remembered the yellow mare was amongst the dead in Ponyville.

My mind wandered to the faces of the others who we had buried, and then to the face of the raider I killed with the party cannon. There was so much death in the last few days that it made me sick to my stomach, but a particularly dangerous thought came into my head, and that was that I had just added Skyline to that list. I threw up all over 42s rear hooves at the thought.

"See? That's not the reaction of stone cold killer. Sickness is a sign of weakness, so let's test how weak you are with some PAIN!" 42 yelled as she reached up and slammed the butt of the pistol on my head, the world went dark for a moment as I slumped to the floor. I got to my hooves and stared up at her, a thin line of red running down to my muzzle forced me to close one eye.

"The fuck do you want 42?" I said softly groaning as I looked up uneasily. She reached up again and brought the pistol down on my head again, this time I heard a soft crack and the world started to spin.

"My name... Is Pinky Pie." She said angrily as she brought her hoof up again. I smirked softly amidst the pain, she hesitated a moment before striking me again. I felt the poorly aimed blow strike my cheek as I heard another crack. I tried to push myself back up to my hooves as the world blurred. I tried anyway, unsure if I was actually doing it. "Say my NAME." I heard her demand, I laughed and coughed hard, the coppery taste in my mouth was overwhelming as I spoke slowly.

"You'll always be 42..." I said as I fell to the floor, the voice of her frustrated scream echoing into the recesses of my mind. She lifted my head up with her hoof, before leaning in close, pressing the revolver against the open section of my chest the vest didn't cover.

"Tell me the code that unlocked me or I will kill you and everypony you know. Starting with the innocent towns ponies of Whinney..." Her eyes cut through the pain in my own, and for the first time, I had a chance to notice a different emotion behind her gaze. She was worried, she was scared to death about something. "I NEED THE CODE. WHAT IS IT?" She yelled at me, her grip starting to twitch. I leaned up close to her, letting her bring her muzzle in before whispering back up to her.

"You'll never be the real..." That was as far as I made it before she pulled the trigger, I felt the sting of pain in my chest as darkness flooded my vision. The elevator doors chimed open and she stepped out, hitting the wall with her hoof. "I'll do you a favor and send you back down if you want to die with your friends so much, but don't say I never did anything for you." And with that, she was gone again. The doors closed softly and I drifted away into the painless darkness of death.


As per normal, the sun was shining as I opened my eyes under the tree at the top of the grassy hill. It was a cloudless day and the midday sun felt warmer than usual on my skin. I lay for a moment in the grass, enjoying the feel of it against me before sitting up. I looked around over at the rolling hills, endlessly stretching to the horizon. You know, for the afterlife, this place was kind of nice, maybe even if I could find her, I could get Pinky to help find Mom and Skyline.

"Oh you can't see your mom yet silly! Only dead people can get into heaven!" The bright pink filly bombed out of the leaves high up and landed with a soft thud in front of me before giggleing and bouncing around.

"Right, so I'm not dead?" I said as I scratched my head with my hoof.

"Nopey Nopey!" She bounced off around the tree and out of sight before calling back to me. "Come on! You need to see something!"

I got to my hooves and trotted after her, trekking over the familiar hills back towards the party table that was always over the hill. But this time it wasn't the table I was greeted with, it was a round pond, it's surface so still I couldn't be sure it wasn't just a mirror. I watched as the Pink filly jumped up to it and bounced around it's edge.

"Isn't it just the COOLEST pond ever?" She said with her bright eyes. "My Nanna Pinkie always told me stories about it and how it had the magical property to make doubles of you! Or even double double yous if you wanted!" I nodded slowly, getting the idea that this is the pool that 42 came from and the eventual hell I wanted to send her back to.

"Anyway, after I used it in Ponyville and nearly destroyed the town, Twilight sealed it off until the war, when I needed it again to keep an eye out for all those nasty evil ponies lurking around. So she built a research facility on top of it to keep it hidden!"

I shifted uneasily as my head started to hurt. "I know, I was just there." I said softly, causing the small fillies eyes lit up as she shot up to me, giving my leg a tight squeeze.

"So you did it! You sealed the cave and the pool up again!" She called out ecstatically from below.

"No. I didn't, there was no water in that cave, it was just empty rock." I looked down to her sadly, she flew back in the air with a great gasp.

"If Twilight moved it, then you need to find it! Even one drop of that water could allow her to make more doubles!" She paced a circle in the dirt, slowly getting shorter with each pass, somehow forming a deep trench around her in thought. "Ah-HA! I have it!" She shot out of the hole with a squee and raced back toward the tree I woke up under at an unbelievable speed, leaving a contrail of pink in her path.

"Well, how do I find it?" I reached out with a hoof and touched the contrail softly, pulling some of it off and sniffing it, it smelled sweet and had the consistency of spider webs. I shrugged and heard a growing high pitched noise as another pink contrail shot towards me, stopping a few feet in front of me to reveal Pinkie again.

"All I'm allowed to tell you is to remember that it's the only place you can normally go to find it!" She let out a giggle and bounced in place again. "Oh and one last thing before I kick you out! Your mother says she is very proud of you!" I froze stiff. My...mother? I smiled happily and relaxed as the bright filly jumped high into the air before her hooves knocked me back into the cold darkness.

I coughed out and gagged on my own blood as I felt the elevator hit the bottom floor again. I looked up with my one good eye as the doors opened, Brass was supporting a bandaged up Sky as she held her chest, Her eyes went wide as she looked down at me in horror.

"Hey there..." I managed to cough out. "Hell..of a week...right?" She laughed softly at that, her eyes tearing up. It was getting hard to breathe again as they stepped into the elevator and let the doors shut, Brass shedding off his forehoof armor and Starting to dig around in Sky's bags. She knelt near me, softly crying and brushing my bloody mane with her hoof.

"You...you know, I thought it wa..was going to be the s..same as with the old man..." I struggled to sputter out, shaking softly on the floor. She added confusion through the look of profound sadness she was giving off. "W..with Pallet. But she s..seems to like you... so it's O..ok." I couldn't control my breathing anymore, and passed out as Brass pushed a syringe of Med-X into my neck.

At least she was still alive, at least 42 didn't get her I thought as I drifted back to the void, seeming to exist in thoughtless blackness for a period of time. Then the pain came. Just as the week before in Tenpony, the pain came in waves, assaulting me in the darkness. I screamed and screamed as I tried to use my hooves to find a way out. Suddenly, I felt a snap that resounded through the darkness, taking the pain with it as it echoed away.

I saw a pinprick of light in front of my eyes, a small orb floating towards me with a soft sounding song. It was a song that I knew, the song I remembered my mother would hum to me. I trotted towards it, now finding the ground below me, but as I moved she grew further away. I called out for her, galloping towards her voice as fast as I could, but she just kept getting further away. I gave one last cry before I was snapped back into reality. My eyes shot open and I gasped in pain as I could suddenly feel my body again. I panted with great heaves as the bandaged Skyline came over quickly, leaning down and speaking softly into my ear.

"It's ok, you're fine now... just breathe slowly." She rubbed along my neck softly as she whispered into my ear. "Shhh, just be calm, you're going to be alright." My heartbeat slowed as I listened to her words, I looked around to see we were in the large entrance of the building. Carlotta was standing at the doorway staring outside, probably watching Pallet run around and play outside, as I could hear her screams of joy as they came in and echoed throughout the building.

I tried to sit up slowly, but the world became a spinning mix of lights and colors, feeling myself being pushed back down by Sky. As my eyes refocused, I realized that I couldn't open my right one.

"What happened?" I spoke in slurred words, just the strain from speaking making my head hurt. "Why can't I see right?"

Sky smiled down softly, still crying. "She banged you up pretty good on the head there, she fractured your skull and cheek bones, so half your face is swollen." She leaned down and kissed my forehead as soft as she could. "I'm just so glad you are alive..."

"Are you ok?" I said softly as I noticed her hooves were covered in blood. She nodded softly, brushing her mane back from her bandages.

"The bullet missed everything important. I don't know why, but I feel like that happened for a reason. I've never been that lucky. Maybe it's my destiny to help take that bitch out, and you don't fight destiny." She puffed up her chest through the pain. "But the real miracle is you. You remember when you told me to give you that hydra when you broke your ribs? Well when I did, you grew new bone in between where your ribs weren't supposed to be, and that solid bone plate stopped the bullet."

I sat there stunned, Holy Celestia I was right for once! Even thought it was incredibly dangerous and potentially life threatening, I made the right call! Oh if I wasn't so out of if it would git up and flaunt it more, but that wasn't the case, well, even then I probably wouldn't because we'd be hot on 42's tail. So yeah, I guess it really isn't a win for me at all. Plus I got shot in the chest, so that's pretty bad in and of itself.

An armorless Brass walked up and kneeled down next to Sky. "The bathroom's all free if you want to go wash up, I'll hang out here with him." He said as she got to her hooves. As soon as she had left, he turned his gaze down to me with a frown. "Look, I have to tell you something. When all that went down, there was a moment there when I thought about just shooting through you. I've done what I can to help patch you up right now, but that thought keeps nagging me in my head. I shouldn't have even considered it, you're my friend, and I don't want you to die."

I fought the pain and reached out, putting my hoof on his chest, looking straight into his yellow eyes before slowly speaking. "You shouldn't feel sorry. Just promise me, next time..."

He smiled and attempted to finish my sentence sarcastically. "I know, 'don't get into that situation in the first place', it won't happen..."

"NO." I yelled at him loud enough to see stars again, "You have that opportunity again you TAKE IT. She will not get away again. DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME. The entire wasteland is at stake here, One life compared to the many is always the correct choice."

"Is that how you see yourself Backlash?" Sky's voice came softly from the hallway behind me. "Just some LIFE to be thrown away for the good of everypony? Cause if that's why you've been running off by yourself, then maybe you should just let 42 kill me instead." She turned to leave before immediately spinning back. "WHY DOES IT HAVE TO BE YOU? LET SOMEPONY ELSE DO IT, I'M DONE WITH WATCHING YOU DO THIS." I could hear her fly back down the hallway in tears. She just didn't understand, 42 is my responsibility. And without my friends strength I can't fix what I've done, but in the end, I alone have to be the one to fix it. I can't explain it any other way than I have to be the one who is judged for all the wrong right alongside 42, not them.

I struggled to my hooves slowly, ignoring the pain of my muscles as they protested my every action. "Let's go, we need to follow 42."

"No." Brass said as he got up with me. "I won't go anywhere with you when you seem to just want to get yourself killed. I'm with Sky on this one, you want to go, go. We won't be with you any further."

I turned to the front door to see Carlotta staring back at me, her face as blank as the day we met her. She spoke up before I could.

"Look, I can protect you from raiders, thugs, the wildlife, and I can try to help you kill that pink cunt, but the one thing I won't do is protect you from yourself. That's your fucking job, and it's not that hard." I went to speak up, but she just rose her voice to keep me quiet. "Furthermore, I really like your sister over there, and that's big for me. So you go find her, and vow to UNFUCK UP your shit so we can all live as one big family. GOT IT?"

Carlotta's words bit deep. From the way she sounded, I don't think she had ever even spoken the word 'like' in that context before today. Well fuck. I'm stubborn, but when all my friends are telling it straight to my face, I know I'm in the wrong. I just wished they could see it like I did, about just how dangerous 42 is. But none the less, I had to listen to my friends over myself.

"You're right." I whispered as I slowly walked down the hall. I didn't know what I was going to say, or if Sky was just going to end up beating the shit out of me again, but whatever happened was what I deserved. I rounded the corner of the hallway and saw her at the other end curled up in a corner, her hooves and wing covering her head. I walked up slowly and reached out for her, she shuddered at the touch.

"I don't want to talk." Her voice was soft and muffled. I sat down next to her, and just listened as she sobbed. I don't know why, but I started humming the song from the darkness. Only softly at first, but I hummed the slow sweet song my mother used to sing to me, slowly starting to sing it louder. I closed my eyes, trying to remember how she was when she sat by my bed at night, how she loved to sing Crankshaft and I to sleep, and remembering how she sang this song to me the night after we lost the guards on the caravan, the night before she...

"That's beautiful..." Sky said so softly I almost missed it, knocking me out of my memories. "Who taught you that?"

I smiled and stared at the floor, my eyes watering. "My mother used to sing it to my brother and I when we were just foals."

"Can you hum it for me again?" Skyline spoke with a sigh and leaned up against me gently. I nodded and hummed it again, letting my pain drift away as I felt the comfort of her warmth. But even as great as it felt to be next to my sister, the one thing I couldn't let go of was the nagging feeling that 42 snuck up on us, and that I needed to figure out her bag of tricks before she could do it again.

After a while, Sky and I came walking back to the entrance to see that brass was standing in the doorway outside, turning and walking up with a stern look on his face. "You get yourself sorted out?" I nodded and threw my hooves around his neck, which was a horrible idea due to the fact that I still had a painful hole in my chest. I whimpered as he hugged me back slightly confused.

"Feel free to remind me whenever you see me start to get fucked up in the head. I think this 42 thing is just really driving me crazy." I said with a slight laugh, looking down to see a Brass nervously biting his lower lip.

"Yeah... speaking of driving..." He remarked as he rubbed at his neck. Oh fuck no. 42 did not steal my car again. She would have had to take the statue with her, and I know the Marauder can't haul that much. I trotted past Brass and out through the door, freezing as I looked down the gravel walkway to the statue, the chain was still attached to it and the trunk of the car, but the trunk was no longer attached to the Marauder.




+10 Speech

+ 5 Big Guns

New perk: All Bucked Up - Your toughness in the face of grave injury is legendary. As long as your health is below 25% you gain the benefits of the drug Buck (+2 strength, +2 agility, +3 endurance) for free and none of the draw backs.

Chapter 4 - Regret

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Chapter 4

" I'm spending time with my REAL friends. Isn't that right Madam LeFlour?"


The thunder overhead announced the coming rain as we collected ourselves post fight, where I had requested a couple of minutes to myself which the others hesitantly agreed to. I deftly grabbed some supplies out of Sky's saddlebags before riding the elevator down to the lower level one last time. I wired up the few bricks of C4 that we had purchased while in Tenpony to a makeshift timer and attached it to the elevator call board so that once I reached the top the explosives would prime, then when the elevator got back down, they would blow and seal this hellish cave forever.

The Ground shook as I met back up with the others, sending looks of confusion around as I shook my head and smiled. Carlotta was finished strapping in as I shoved the last of our spark batteries into the undercarriage of the skycar. Brass and Pallet were already inside waiting as I looked over to the detached trunk of the Marauder sadly. Walking over to it I grabbed the Tire Iron, which was really the only useful tool I could take, and placed it into my saddlebag before boarding our cargo pod and latching the door shut.

The first drops of rain spattered against the car when Whinny was finally back in sight. I stiffened up as I felt Brass stick me with another Med-X, immediately feeling the pain from my head and chest dissipate. He smiled as he levitated his helmet back on, slipping the empty needle into my bag. We did a circle around the four buildings to look for any sign of 42, which of course there was none, just the lonely feeling that now permeated the small settlement.

We came in for a landing from the south and parked in between the two closest brick buildings. I opened the door slowly and peered out into the deserted center. Pallet gasped excitedly and burst out the door, bolting at a small teddy bear on the corner, which seemed out of place, I don't remember it being there from before.

"Something's wrong..." I said before the back of my eye stung, my brain now connecting the two points together from my experiences at both bunkers and the video of her. My eye seemed to sting whenever 42 or her likeness was near, which meant she had to be close. "42 is here." I said loudly before I slipped into S.A.T.S. and pulled up the inventory, equipping Heartstopper before exiting the spell. The sleek shotgun appeared in my mouth with a purple flash as Pallet grabbed the stuffed toy.

Brass and Sky seemed to stare oddly at me after the firearm magically appeared, perplexed at the mention of 42. I'd have to explain it later because I knew what was coming as I slid easily back into S.A.T.S. while 42 bolted at the filly. Fuck, I was too slow. the 2% chance over every section of her was too low of a chance for me to fire, if I missed I might hit Pallet. I opened the inventory instead and unequipped my shotgun, watching it flash away while dropping from S.A.T.S. and letting time return to normal.

42 grabbed the filly in one hoof and pulled her close as she struggled. Pointing her revolver at Pallet as she smirked. "You are a lot tougher than I gave you credit for, kid. Even though it's normally the villain who looks better needing an eye patch." Sky and Brass lowered themselves, getting ready to shoot it out. "Tut tut! I just pulled this trick 2 chapters in a row, you won't shoot me, not when I have her... now BACK OFF"

"Do what she says." As much as I had wanted them to shoot through me, I won't let them do it to Pallet. I ignored 42's infuriating randomness, curious as to why she was here. "What do you want then?" I said with a stern voice, growing tired of having to play her stupid games. She seemed to stand for a moment, rubbing the barrel of the gun under her chin in thought.

"It's not much, but the world will do for a start." She smiled and tightened her hold on Pallet. "Tell me the code you used to wake me and I'll give you the filly, I won't blow the good ponies of Whinny to smithereens by telling you where they are, BEFORE the bombs I set go off." She looked immensely proud of herself as she spoke. "But wait, there's more!" She paused for what I'm sure was supposed to be dramatic effect. "If you act now, I'll throw in the bonus of telling you where I'm heading next..." She cackled loudly, seemingly amused.

"No, I won't give you the code." I said with a painful stomp of my injured hoof, watching as Carlotta flew down a few feet behind her. 42 sighed and smiled.

"Because of your feather brained friend behind me and your refusal, you have lost two of the prizes. Only one remains. Tell me the code and I'll let you save the nice ponies who lived here." She pulled the hammer on the revolver back as she spoke. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Sky shaking in rage, and if I didn't do something soon, this was going to end badly for all of us, I had to make the call.

"The code is 42." I said with a sigh. It doesn't matter if she has the code. We'll just follow her wherever she goes and find a way to separate her from Pallet Jack. 42 choked back a soft laugh, thoroughly enjoying every moment she had us under her hoof.

"Thank you Backlash! You've been such a good sport about all these games, I'd say you've earned the bonus prize back!" She started to walk towards the collapsed entrance of one of the brick buildings. "You see, not only am I going to tell you that I've hidden the ponies of whinny in the Factory behind you, I'm going to tell you where I'm going!" She stepped through the broken brick hole and disappeared into the darkness of the interior of the building, still holding Pallet. "I'm going to go find and pay a visit the stallion I spent good money on to kill you. In my new wasteland, there won't be room for any failures like him."

The engine of the marauder roared to life as 42 shifted into drive and pulled out of the building, slowly driving away with her head out the window. "By the way, you have 15 minutes to disarm the bomb at the factory! I just know you'll have a BLAST!" She yelled back at us before speeding off in maniacal laughter.

"I WILL KILL YOU 42! YOU HEAR ME!?" I screamed and stomped at the soggy ground before my ears heard Sky's wings floof out. I didn't think as I reacted quickly, leaning over and biting down on her tail just in time, straining through the pain to hold her down as she tried to go after the pink mare.

"LET ME GO! SHE HAS PALLET!" Sky screamed as she kicked me hard in my injured face, sending me sprawling to the ground in pain. She took off into the air before Carlotta slammed into her, pinning her into the third story brick of the building next to us. She struggled and kicked as Carlotta hugged her tightly, relaxing and crying softly as I saw Sky's rage melt away.

"We'll get her back." The normally gruff griffin sounded like she had just been shot from the amount of pain in her words. "It will be alright." No, not we, I needed to get her back. I should have seen this coming but due to my ineptitude, I've lost the one pony who couldn't protect herself. Even with all that, the last statement of 42 was running through my mind over and over, reminding me that we could still save the towns ponies.

"Carlotta, we need to get to the factory. We need to save the others." I called up to the two fliers, knocking Brass out of his own thoughts, making him stiffen up before turning toward me with a nod. "Get hooked up and lets get going, the faster we save them, the less catch up we'll have to do to 42." The griffin nodded and let go of Sky, drifting down and hooking herself into the harness.

Skyline wiped her eyes and flew down in front of me. "I'll fly ahead and see if she has any surprises for us." I climbed into the skycar as Sky took off into the air, Brass climbed in and stood in the open doorway, the rain starting to pick up slowly.

"Fly low over the roof, I'll search from the top down." Brass's voice called out as we lifted off, skimming low over the terrain as we raced toward the imposing building. As it grew closer, I could make out a set of smoke stacks and open topped water tanks along side it, the tall tan building seemed to melt into the browns and greys of the wasteland as we came up over the top. I watched in amazement as Brass stepped out the door while we skimmed the rooftop, skidding on all fours before turning to head inside the roof access.

Carlotta swung the car around to the front of the building, landing in the parking lot before going to unhook herself. I stopped her. "I need you to circle the building in case we need you to meet us on the rooftop." She opened her beak to complain, but I was already slamming through the front doors, charging through the small gift shop inside. I skidded to a stop as I saw the flicker of a pink, shielded case in the corner. Quickly trotting up to it, I read the inscription on the empty case, thinking anything kept behind one of these has to be important.

Behold the wondrous balefire egg!

The good folks down at the Ministry of Arcane Sciences were so impressed by the amount of flavor we could pack into our crunchy little bites that they thought 'Why don't we do that!'

We proudly present the fruit of their labor: The Balefire Egg! All the destructive potential of a megaspell on a miniature scale! A true wonder of our time!

(warning: Balefire eggs are not food and may cause death upon ingestion. Not a toy. Keep away from foals and small children as it may pose a choking hazard or an increased risk of detonation. Not available for individual resale to private consumers.)

"Oh fuck." I looked up at the empty case for a moment and realized that I knew what 42 made her bomb out of, and I needed to tell the others we're sitting on a Celestia-damned megaspell! I turned and ran for the next door, plowing through a stand of souvenirs and a rack of 120 year old, moldy hats. As I tore onto the manufacturing floor, I quickly noticed the elaborate catwalk system hanging 30 feet above my head. (Not quite sure why every factory in prewar Equestria needed so much literal oversight.)

"Backlash!" I heard Brass boom from high above on one of the walkways. "They're up here!" I looked around for a way up, spotting a set of steep, winding, circular stairs heading to the catwalks. I galloped up them two stairs at a time, turning to meet Brass as he ran towards the offices at the other end of the factory, our hooves slamming down the rusty walkway as it gave sharp groans of protest.

"Oh Luna, please let these hold..." I said under my breath as the entire catwalk rocked slowly side to side. Brass hit the old wooden door to the conference room at the end with enough force it seemed to explode into splinters, the shards raining down on me as I heard the sharp twang of a tripwire snap as he broke it. The loudspeakers roared to life with a series of small pops on the shop floor, small fires quickly spreading along the walls and windows on ground level.

"Hello Backlash! The old foreman here was kind enough to have died with his audiolog recorder in his hoof and a stack of blank tapes next to him! How thoughtful, don't you think? Anyway, if you are hearing this you have just triggered the short backup timer for my little balefireworks presentation! I do hope you and the good ponies of Whinny can make it out in time because by this point, you have just over a minute and a half left! I really wish you would stay and enjoy the show, I really want you to be a BIG PART of it!"

I looked to the far end of the room, finally noticing the bodies of the ponies from Whinny. They were arranged in various positions around a table, seemingly frozen in ridiculous activities. Each of the seven ponies had been executed by a shot to the back of the head, the grotesque scene made me feel like I was going to throw up again. "I couldn't save them either..."

"Backlash, we need to go, NOW." Brass's anxious voice stated, as he walked over to me and put a hoof on my shoulder. "We can't do anything more for them now, I'm sorry. But we need to leave." I nodded and headed out through the door, racing down the catwalk as the fires below licked at my quickly beating hooves, heating the metal and burning me as I ran. The pain momentarily distracted me from the fact I could only hear myself running but I didn't want to stop, so I turned my head and yelled out for Brass.

As I reached the other end and sat by the stairs to the roof, I looked back as the fire rose up through the walkway, and to see Brass was charging at full speed down the red hot catwalks. The heated metal stressed and buckled under him as he ran, plunging him into the fiery hell below. I panicked and called out for him.

"OH FUCK! BRASS! WHERE ARE YOU!?" I coughed and choked on the thick black smoke, straining my one good eye to look for him but coming up empty. "BRASS?! IF YOU CAN HEAR ME GET OUT OF HERE! BRASS!?" I wheezed and coughed harder as the flames rose to my section of the walkway forcing me to run up into the open air of the rainy rooftop. I saw Carlotta coming around in a wide pass towards the factory but she was too far away and knew there wasn't enough time. I galloped along the roof as fast as my injured hooves could carry me, pushing every ounce out of them as they screamed in protest.

I hit the edge of the roof and pushed off hard, sailing through the air as the burning factory roof groaned out with a deep shudder and collapsed onto the production floor. I hit the slightly rainbow tinged water of the nearest water tower hard, sinking before I heard the deafening roar, feeling as the shockwave from the Balefire eggs blast ripped the water tower from it's foundations. I felt the tower list before completely tipping over, sending the water and myself rushing out onto the desert dirt. I coughed up a throat full of water and gasped for breath, looking over at the rising green cloud pouring up from the twisted remains of the factory.

My pipbuck started clicking quickly as Carlotta and Sky came down beside me, my eyes clenched as I sat in the mud without Brass. I struggled and got to my hooves. He's not dead I thought, he got out in time, he's just on the other side of the factory or something. Sky and Carlotta were trying to talk to me, but I couldn't hear them. The voice of reason in my head drowning them out as it told me that he's gone. I couldn't save any of them. 42 had managed to screw up every aspect of my life, save for my friends. But now? She just took Brass Tacks from me, she just stole the embodiment of the innocence of ponykind from me.

I wrestled against Carlotta and Sky as they tried to drag me back out of the mud. I screamed and flailed against them as hard as I could, but my body had finally decided enough was enough and refused to move anymore. As they drug me in the rain to the skycar, the world seemed to come back into focus a bit. They both bit down and ripped open packets of rad away, each guzzling three of them down before passing one to me. I looked down at the rad meter on my pipbuck, seeing the needle wavering halfway through the red as it still clicked softly. I didn't want to, but I choked down the horrid, tangy liquid as I got back to my hooves.

"I'm so sorry... Brass..." I quivered sadly and I spoke softly. "He fell into the fire and I lost track of him." I put my hooves up onto Skylines shoulders. "He must have gotten out... I know it." Sky's eyes streamed tears as she pulled me into a tight hug. "Oh Celestia I'm so sorry..." I looked up with water filled eyes to see Carlotta's shocked gaze locked behind us. I pulled away from Sky and turned around to see the familiar power armor walking towards us slowly, shining a brilliant white with clouds forming behind it, looking like an armored angel as the figure walked closer.

The rad meter on my arm ticked faster as he approached, a small, dead bush he managed to brush into lit on fire. I reached out and quickly grabbed another rad away, gulping it down. FUCK his armor was bleeding white-hot heat from the radiation he was giving off, steam drifting up with a soft hiss as the rain came down on him.

"BRASS! STAY WHERE YOU ARE!" I yelled out, cutting through the silence. He stopped moving forward abruptly, canting his head slightly in confusion. "Your suit is giving off absurd amounts of radiation, you need to stay back until you can cool it off a bit." He looked himself over before giving a small nod.

"Are you ok in there?" Carlotta called over, her voice more curious than worried.

He nodded vigorously, bringing up a hoof to flex it. Well, apparently while I was pining over his loss, he was basking in the explosion because the suit could handle it. What a jerk...

"Yup, he's a ghoul." Carlotta spouted out abruptly, knocking me out of my thoughts. "only way anyone survives that much radiation is to become a ghoul, which then reverses it's effects." I turned slowly to her with one eyebrow raised.

"And how do you know this?" I asked slowly. I should have known the answer, but I couldn't think because I was being a dumb pony. (It's not my fault, I was delirious from all the trauma over the last twelve hours. That's the only reason, I swear!)

"Because I did a few jobs protecting Ditzy Doo? You know, it's why she loaned me her Skycar." Carlotta said matter-o-factly. "You could learn a lot from her, she knows a lot more about the wasteland than you think, at least a little bit about pretty much everything."

"REGARDLESS..." Sky raised her voice at us. "We are glad you are still with us Brass." He nodded and sat back in the mud, making a large cloud of steam rise before hopping back up, turning and heading towards town.

"He's right you know, we need to get inside before we become ghouls as well." Sky said as she jumped and took off after him. Carlotta harrumphed and hooked herself to the skycar, waiting until I slumped inside before taking off. As we banked and headed into town, I stared at the brightly burning factory as the sun started to dip below the cloud cover, trying to remember the faces of the dead ponies inside. She had stolen seven more, seven more innocent souls, and the weight of them were firmly on my back with the others from Ponyville.

My body yelled and fought me as the last of my Med-X wore off, the full brunt of the day finally weighed down on me. I closed my eyes for just a moment, listening to the wind as we flew. I swore I could hear the underlying tones of my mother's song, so I filled in the blanks in my head, slowly drifting away with the notes into the increasingly familiar darkness.


I awoke softly in the Skycar, opening my eyes and looking around. The sun had set and we were back on the roof of the building we spent the night before on. I swung the door open and stepped out slowly, wondering where my friends had gone. I called out for them, standing and waiting to hear a response from the darkness, but nothing answered. I perked up when I heard a noise behind me.

I spun around to meet the mutilated face of a green unicorn stallion, his right eye and side of his face had been torn off by the impact of something heavy. He stood silently as his lifeless other eye stared quietly into mine, making me back away in fright, bumping into something else behind me. I looked back to see the slack jawed face of a light green mare who was missing the top of her skull, the blood and brain had dripped down her face as she too stared with dead eyes at me, grabbing my foreleg so hard I thought she was going to break it.

I screamed out for my friends to help me as a familiar blue pegasus grabbed my other forehoof. Pallet's dead father helping hold me out over the edge of the roof, dangling me over the black nothing below that I knew would surely devour my soul if it ever got ahold of me. The green stallion walked over with lifeless steps before stopping in front of me. He had no breath when he spoke out.

"You killed us, Backlash. And you will kill more. Murderer."

They let me go, dropping me into the wispy, black darkness below. I reached out and yelled, not wanting to be taken completely as the darkness wrapped around me. I felt a sharp pain in my chest as I panicked and was snapped awake by Skyline, hyperventilating and sweating profusely as my heart raced.

"Are you alright? You were sleeping quietly the last few hours before you just started screaming." She stared down with the eyes of a concerned sister, I could feel her body was tense with worry. I looked around for a moment, noticing that we were inside on the bottom floor of one of the brick buildings, a small fire lit in the corner where Carlotta was curled up in a bunk next to.

"I'm fine, It's just the pain from my injuries." I said quickly, hoping that as I lied through my teeth, this one was at least believable. Sky brushed my mane out of my good eye before giving me a small frown.

"You sure? We could talk about..." She started before I pushed her hoof away with a soft smile.

"I said I'm fine, and really, I am." I leaned forward and kissed her cheek, watching as it visibly relaxed her. "Besides, you should spend more time with Carlotta, I think she really adores you."

She blushed through her coat, somehow getting more red, while scrunching up her muzzle a bit before turning and looking over to the sleeping griffin. "I think... I really like her as well." She leaned forward and hugged me softly before floating back over, laying against Carlotta's side as the griffin put a talon around her.

I smiled and turned to look out the window next to me, the storm was raging which was nothing new for this time of year in the wasteland. The wind howled as I spotted a dark red figure pacing in the streets, wisps of steam still bellowing off him as the wind and rain cooled his armor down. I wondered to myself for a moment when we would be able to get close enough for Brass to ride with us in the skycar. I flipped on my Pipbucks radio.

The soothing tone of Sweetie Belle quietly filled the room as I stared out off into the rain. I let the slow song seep into my aching flesh as I relaxed, trying to clear my mind of the nightmare from my sleep, but failed as the faces of the dead ponies flashed into my mind over and over, I couldn't stop it. I felt my heartbeat pick up as they whispered to me from the back of my mind.

"Murderer... Murderer... Murderer... Murderer... Murderer..."

I was about to scream again before I was pulled back into the real world by the voice of DJ Pon3 coming over the radio.

"That was Sweetie Belle trying to remind all of you that no matter how bad it get's, your friends will never let you down. Now onward to the news! First off, some upsetting news as the settlement of Whinney has gone completely dark in the wake of our last report of the Pink menace heading their way. Here's to hoping they are all just hiding below the floorboards and forgot to come back out again."

My mind shot back to the factory's conference room, the residents each laid out as part of a sick joke 42 was playing. Their deaths nothing more than part of her game she was playing with me, the game I kept losing.

"Now for some alarming news. The Rock gang had stepped up raids on local settlements, seemingly in response to an act of humiliation towards their leader inside the ruins of Ponyville. So if you are trotting through that area, it might be best to keep your head down or gallop through as fast as you can, because they are on the warpath and shouldn't be taken lightly."

Shit, Crankshaft really DID run a gang. But I gave him his life back with the condition that he would stay away from us, and I didn't have any interest of stopping his gang. 42 was the only problem I had, and she was going... to go kill Crank. My mind raced between the pro's and con's of this, ultimately figuring that if 42 only killed him, she's have a small army to command. Fuck, I was going to have to intervene, wasn't I? I groaned and slumped to the floor.

"Lastly, I report to you that the scourge that is the Pink mare has once again been spotted heading east toward ponyville again. More when I get it, but until then, you stay safe my little pon...." I clicked the radio off again, listening to the rain as the distant thunder boomed in the night sky. I didn't know exactly what I was going to do anymore. I thought at first we needed a plan, but every plan I have is destroyed by 42 seemingly coming out of nowhere. By the time we got to Ponyville, I'll have figured something out. I got to my hooves as I felt a familiar pain in my gut and walked quietly to the door, slipping outside as Sky snored happily on Carlotta.

I quietly snuck around the side of the building and to the other side of a pile of rubble, splashing through puddles with as much grace as a steamroller. While I wound through the skeletons of demolished houses, I cringed, hoping that it wouldn't attract Brass. I ducked under the semi intact roof and danced lightly on my feet before relieving myself over the edge in the dirt. My ear twitched as I thought I heard music for a moment, abruptly cutting out in the heavy rainfall as I finished up.

I sighed and checked my pipbucks compass, a single pink bar appeared on it to my right. I leaned out of the half collapsed house carefully, looking for what it was when a small floating sphere appeared through the rain. The sprite bot bobbing softly as it headed for me silently.

"Need something watcher?" I asked as it slowly floated inside, stopping next to me.

"I wanted to see if you had found what became of the residents here, I've been worried they were killed by Pinkie..." the bot abruptly cut itself off, floating for a moment in silence before continuing. "I mean if the Pink mare had gotten to them."

"42 was just toying with me. She killed them and set me up to find them as some... sick joke." I said with a grimace. I don't care how many times I had that nightmare, even when I deserve it. But it would only ever be worth it if she was the one in my dreams, her dead eyes staring at me as she threw me into the darkness. I would meet her like an old friend on the edge of that roof, if only I could kill her.

"42?" The Sprite bot's voice sounded slightly puzzled amid the speakers normal distortion.

"That's her number. She was the 42nd clone of Pinkie I guess." I shrugged and suddenly remembered back to our first conversation. "What did you mean before? You said you knew 'it was a bad idea.' which sounded to me like you knew something about all this. Are you a pre war ghoul or something?"

"Something like that..." A cough came out of the mechanical sprite as it bounced slowly in place. "I need to go, these things don't la..." He was cut off by a burst of static, the loud crashing of a marching song sounded out before the bot bobbed through the doorway and off into the cold, wet night. I heard the heavy stomps of Brass's armor splashing with loud hiss's as he walked closer.

"Just came out to take a leak!" I called out as he drew close, stopping and backing up slowly as I exited back into the rain, my pipbuck slowly clicking as he stood maybe 10 feet away. At this rate, he would be safe enough to be around in another day. And as much as I didn't want 42 to get that much of a head start, we all needed the rest anyway. My body felt like it was barely holding itself together as it is.

"Look, Brass. when we were running, I..." I started as he raised his hoof. He levitated a stick from the ground through his helmet and started to write in the mud.

I knew the walkway wouldn't hold us both. So I waited to run until you were safely across.

I stomped my hoof in the muck. "No, it was my fault you fell, you should have gone first before the walkway heated up so much."

Brass wiped the words away with his hoof before writing again.

I would have slowed you down if I went first, then we both would have fallen.

His point was solid, it was better one of us fell than both. Wait, what am I thinking?! No, neither of us should have fallen. We wouldn't have even been there if I hadn't stood around so damn long.

Besides, once my armor cools down and I get some Rad away in me, I'll be right as the rain.

Wait...that hurt my brain. I had thought that with all his knowledge from the Steel Rangers, he would know more about ghouls than even Carlotta seemed too. "How much radiation did you absorb?" I asked slowly as my wet mane stuck to my eye, causing me to wipe it away as Brass thought before writing in the mud.

Well the suit's Rad meter is at the max, but it had to be under 1000 though, or I'd be dead.

I nearly fell over as I read the muddy message. I don't know if it worried me more that he really didn't know about ghouls, or that he seemed oblivious to the fact it's literally the only way he could have survived that. I went to tell him, but was interrupted when a sharp scream filled my ears. Skyline was in trouble.

In a moment, I had bolted past Brass and was rounding the corner toward the door of the brick building, only to find Skyline's hoof slap across my face. I stumbled to the mud as she knocked me off balance, angrily staring up at her as she turned to walk inside. The muffled voice of Carlotta coming through the rain to greet my ears.

"I told you if you screamed the next time he gets away from you, he'd be back in 10 seconds flat. Now hold up your end of the bargain and do that thing you did last time that made me..." The door slammed shut and latched as I sat confused in a puddle. Brass strode around the corner and tilted his head, wondering what that was all about.

"They just need some time alone." I said as I shrugged and got to my hooves. Looks like I was spending the night in Ditzy Doo's skycar yet again. For it being so small, it was surprisingly cozy to sleep in. Not Marauder back seat cozy, but still more than you'd think it would be.


I was awoken suddenly when a knock came from the skycar hatch. I opened my eyes and looked out the window, relieved to see it was light outside and the rain had stopped. Mostly I was glad this wasn't another one of my fucked up dreams, Carlotta's voice calling out from outside.

"Is your lazy flank just going to lay around all afternoon? Come on, lunch is ready." She said as she pounded harder on the door, making me groan as my head throbbed with each sharp bang. "Don't make me use my claws..."

I sighed and covered my muzzle with my hooves before calling back. "Just... 5 more minutes... I swear..." I yawned and closed my eyes as I heard her walk to the front of the skycar. She can fly me in circles if she wants, I'm not moving.

"You asked for it!" She called out.

The noise that followed can't really be related with any real words, but I'll try. Her claws, as they ran along the hollow tube, sounded like the high pitched voice of a screaming filly who'd been hopped up on dash and given a chainsaw to cut through the metal walls with, all while a whole squad of power armored paladins kicked my head as hard as they could. I think I might have screamed, but with all the noise, I couldn't be sure.

"OH SWEET CELESTIA MAKE IT STOP! I'LL DO WHATEVER YOU WANT!" I yelled as I slammed the door open, bolting out and around the campfire outside before collapsing in front of Sky, face planting in the mud as I tried to stuff my fore hooves into my ears.

"Morning, sunshine." She said as she laughed softly and pulled my hoof back. "Hopefully my sweetie-kins didn't damage your hearing too bad."

Sweetie-kins? Really? I glared up at her as I got to my hooves.

A wide smile grew across her face. "Now don't give me that look. Carlotta and I talked about it and we want to give being together a shot, so from now on, she's my sweety-weety shmoopy-doo." I cringed visibly with every word.

"What did I say about using pillow talk when we were around others?" Carlotta said with a blush as she walked over and handed me a strip of unidentifiable, cooked meat.

"Oh, you thought that was pillow talk? I thought you just didn't want to have to call me Master in front of everyone else..." Sky flung Carlotta back her most seductive voice.

Carlotta grumbled past us as her cheeks got bright enough I was sure her blue plumage would turn red as well. "I'll be in my bunk." She cooed back as she disappeared back into the brick building. Skyline sat for a moment before she got to her hooves and walked over as well.

"I'm just going to make sure she's alright..." Sky said with her own blush.

"She just walked in there fifteen seconds ago, I'm sure she's fine." I replied with my mouth full as I tore into the juicy meat.

"Well with your track record for injuries, I'm sure she's lost a limb by now." She said as she stopped and pointed her muzzle up in a huff.

"Not that that's a bad thing. Besides, you'd probably just find that even more kinky anyway." I snidely remarked and smirked as she went in, slamming the door shut behind her. The loud bang breaking Brass out of his thoughts as he sat next to the fire. Wait... since when did Brass get here?

I nearly tackled him with a hug, my pipbuck chirping softly as he froze up for a moment before relaxing. I sat back and looked him over. "You ok buddy?" I asked slowly as I looked over his now dark black armor. He nodded and pointed to his helmets muzzle piece. As I looked under the dark, unmoving eyes , I noticed the speaker had melted inside the frame of the helmet. It was a quick fix, but I needed to find something to replace it with.

"Don't worry bud, I can fix it. Just give me a few minutes to find something I can replace it with. Then we'll get that helmet off and it will be good as new!" I got to my hooves and patted his shoulder, noting that the black wasn't coming off. I brushed at forcefully with my hoof, but the color seemed to be baked into the metal. Shrugging I trotted off into one of the other buildings to look for parts and tools, leaving brass to look over his armor.

I found the speaker pretty quickly in an old travel radio someone had kept, but the soldering iron and other assorted tools took quite a bit of searching for, taking the better part of ten minutes. As I strode back up to Brass, I noticed Sky and Carlotta were sitting back out next to each other. They looked over at me as I dumped the tools on the soggy ground.

"Ok Brass, we'll have you back to talking in your helmet in no time! I'm even going to upgrade you're old system to..." I reached up to grab it when Sky stopped me.

"Wait, what if he's badly burned under there? The air on his skin could do irreversible nerve damage." She looked down to me with pleading eyes, floating gently in the air next to me.

Brass used his floating stick to write in the ground.

I'm ok. Not burned.

"But what if you are? You'd feel like you were on fire if your skin touched the air!"

I hesitated for a moment before I could hear Brass softly laughing through his armor. I reached up and unlatched his helmet, letting the soft hiss bleed away before lifting it slowly. A shrill scream coming from Brass as soon as the helmet came off.

"OH LUNA, IT BURNS!" He thrashed his hooves and threw the helmet into Sky's grip as she panicked.

"BACKLASH! HOLD HIM STILL!" I heard her call out to me as she frantically tried to put the helmet back on. I of course couldn't do that because I was laughing so hard I couldn't breathe. "BACKLASH?! I NEED..." She stopped and hovered in the air for a moment before noticing Carlotta was just as debilitated as I was, Brass's laughing sealing her worry away.

"I'M FINE SKY!" Brass shouted up between gasps as he fell onto his side, rolling around in the mud laughing hysterically. "I TOLD YOU THAT!"

"That's not FUNNY!" Sky leaned down and punched Brass's chest plate. "I thought you were really in pain! How could you joke like that?" She crossed her forehooves and pouted softly.

I rubbed the tears from my eyes as I got back up, my chest screaming at me from having laughed so hard. "Hey, I was worried as well, but if he said he wasn't burned, I trust he's not burned." I slowly drug his helmet over out of the mud and turned it over, listening to steady chirps on my pipbuck reminding me that I needed some rad away soon.

Sky jabbed the side of my head with her hoof. "You're one to talk. Every time I ask you if you are alright you LIE to my face."

"Well why don't you say anything about it?" I quickly said as I finished stripping the old speaker from it's mounting, moving on to unwiring it from the main control board. It was a fair question in my book, as much as I hated lying to keep her from worrying, she didn't question me until something broke the lie, and something ALWAYS broke the lie.

"Because... Well, I mean I would...." She stuttered and tried to find the right way to answer. "It doesn't matter, the fact that you do it to me is wrong."

"Calm down you two." Carlotta called over from the fire, a hint of annoyance in her voice.

"YOU. Don't even get me started on how disappointed I am in you." Sky floated over slowly, making Carlotta grin nervously and shrink down a bit before Brass spoke up from the mud and saved her.

"Don't worry Carlotta, she'll just 'punish' you for it later tonight..." He said before laughing again, making me laugh and causing me to drop his helmet.

"ARGH! you ponies drive me CRAZY!" She flew into the building quickly, slamming the door behind her. (Personal note that when I got home, I needed to reinforce our door frames.) I gasped and caught my breath before hoisting the helmet back up and soldering the new wires in place. I heard Carlotta get up and stretch out her wings.

"I'm going to take a quick look around and let little miss feisty in there cool down for a bit. I'll let you know if I see anything." She called out as she took off and banked around the building, heading up and out of sight.

I sighed and continued working as Brass got back to his hooves, watching me install a nob next to his rebreather. "So you said you were installing an upgrade?" He asked quizzically.

"Yeah! I'm adding a volume switch so you can either be really loud or..."

I looked up to continue but froze as I stared at his face. I didn't get a good look at him when he pulled it off, but I could see it now. His gold coat was dry and flaking, slightly discolored in dark patches as it ran down his mane. A large slash across his face where the skin split was a deep red, his body now unable to fully heal it. His eyes filled with worry as He saw me stare.

"Oh Luna, something's wrong with me, isn't it." he said with a note of panic, prancing nervously in place. "Oh Celestia, I knew I felt too good to not have something wrong. What is it? Some sort of gross tumor or piece of shrapnel I didn't notice?!" He quaked softly as he shrank to the ground. "Cut it out, whatever it is, cut it off me!"

I sat there unsure of what to say as he broke down in front of me. He had been wearing the helmet so long I had forgotten how young he was. I mean, I couldn't just tell him 'you're a ghoul' because he might freak out. Actually I'm pretty sure he wouldn't believe me, I know I wouldn't if someone tried to tell me that. I remembered that there was a mirror in one of the bathrooms on the floor Sky was in, and figured that showing him would be the best solution.

I grabbed his helmet in my mouth and nodded for him to follow, which he promptly ignored and whimpered back at me. I kicked him in the side until he got up and followed. We swung the door open just as Sky was walking towards it, making her freeze in place as I lead Brass past and directly into the bathroom. He closed his eyes and sat in front of the mirror.

"I don't want to see it. Just tell me if I'll die from it or not." He said as he sat there with his head lowered.

"It's... not that simple, you need to look." I said as I set down his helmet next to me. "Just trust me, it's the only way anything will make sense. You'll be fine."

Brass sniffled and looked up into the mirror, widening his eyes as he saw the large gash, whimpering softly. "Y...you said I'd be fine!" He closed his eyes and started to cry softly as he sunk down to the floor.

I lifted the black helmet and lay it against his open wound for a minute before removing it, the gash was now visibly smaller and less red. He seemed to look up as I took the hunk of black steel away, sitting back up and looking at the mirror.

"I... I don't understand..." He stuttered out softly.

"You're a ghoul, Brass." Sky said as she slowly put her wing around him. "Normal ponies die when exposed to that much radiation, but a special few can become ghouls."

He looked down to the floor again sadly, I visibly saw when all of his hopes left him. "I'm... a monster."

I smacked him on the back of the head, drawing a look of shock from both Sky and Him. "No, you are still you. Yes, your body is different now, but not your mind. You are still the Brass Tacks I met and became friends with. The same Brass Tacks who has stood beside me through everything 42 had done. And the same Brass Tacks who will help me take her down."

He stiffened up, an angry scowl contorting his face as he glared up at me. "You can't just say that! I've seen what ghouls are. Even the ones who last still lose their minds and become nothing but murderous cannibalistic FREAKS. You're wrong, Brass Tacks died in that factory. I'm just the shell of what's left of his body, and not even Celestia is going to stop me from destroying that pink cunt.

And just like that, the innocence of the Wasteland was gone, replaced by the endless fires of vengeance incarnate.

I sat next to the fire in silence as I finished working on Brass's helmet, not quite sure what to say to him. I didn't think he really felt the way he said, but I've only known him for a week. Can I truly say I understand how he feels? I've been through more with him in the last forty eight hours, than anypony else I've known, outside of Sky of course.

Carlotta came back as Brass left to go brood somewhere, so with the sun starting to set, Sky and I filled her in on Brass's condition. Since that point thirty minutes ago, we all sat around the now dimming fire with minimal conversation.

"So he said he's not Brass anymore?" Carlotta asked out of nowhere for the third time, feigning confusion. "Then what do we call him?"

"For the last time, I don't know. He's still Brass, he just needs time to sort himself out." I said frustratedly as I facehooved. "Look, we'll give him his space and he'll come to his senses."

"If you say so..." Sky said softly as she leaned into the Griffin with a long yawn. "I think it's about time for this mare to hit the hay." She stretched her wings and fluttered softly into the brick building as Carlotta stretched and walked in after her.

"Gotta get some sleep so we can get up early and catch that bitch." She said as she closed the door with a yawn of her own, leaving me alone by the fire again. I sat there tired and staring into the shrinking flames as the cold night breeze blew around me. I Iet the fire die before heading into the Skycar, curling up before just staring at the roof. There is no way I'm going to bed again just to have those dreams again, even if I deserve to suffer through them.

As I layed there alone my body felt better, but I still ached all over. I listened as the wind whistled through the open car, hoping to hear the wind speak again and tell me what to do next. But as usual, it wouldn't answer me. The last thought I had that I can remember was that I'm not going to leave my bed for a week when I got home, even if I have to remember the faces of all the ones who haunted me.


I must have fallen asleep sometime because I awoke to the sound of Brass stomping by. Looking up to the window, glad that there were no dreams, I stretched out and could see it was still dark. I opened the hatch to the silver pod slowly, looking out as Brass added more wood to the now rekindled fire. I went over and stood in front of it as he sat down next to me, giving me the sternest gaze I'd ever seen, his eyes had a serene stillness as I looked back into them. It was like the spark of life was gone and he was staring out with the dead eyes of the ponies in my dreams, it felt... wrong.

"I don't blame you Backlash." He said slowly, his voice as calm as Carlottas normally is. "What happened in the factory was Forty Two's handiwork, She made this... monster I'm trapped inside." He turned his gaze to the fire, the orange flames softly reflecting off of his golden eyes. "I'm still your friend and you can count on me to back you up. I know that she has done so much wrong to each of us, but I'm asking you. YOU. That you promise to save that final blow for me. I need to see her tremble in fear as the monster she created ends her pathetic excuse of an existence."

"I can't promise that." I said softly, watching his face slowly twist in rage as the words sunk in. I couldn't promise because I wasn't even sure that we could ever get the upper hand on her. She had beaten us at the research center, she beat us here, she beat us at the factory. Who's to say we'd ever get the upper hoof?

"Fuck you. She took EVERYTHING from me!" He stood and started to yell, tensing up. I knew how he felt, how quickly the anger 42 caused built up, but I needed him to understand what we were up against. I needed him to listen to reason. But as Brass yelled on, I could see that the rage had consumed his every word, and he wouldn't even be able to understand anything without this ending as a physical altercation. So then that's what I'll do.

I tensed up and slipped into S.A.T.S., closing the combat menu I quickly selected Heartstopper, watching the flash of it as it popped into my jaw. I scrolled over to the ammo section and told the computer to dump the four shells out of the gun, watching as they flashed in front of my face, hovering in the still air. I checked and made sure that the large shotgun was empty before bringing the targeting overlay back up, thinking for the system to blast off his head.

I watched Brass's eyes widen as time caught up. The assisted targeting swinging the gun to rest just under his chin before emanating the loud clack of an empty chamber. He froze as the four shells hit the ground softly and I turned my head and spit the gun out into the mud.

"H..how did you d...do that...?" He stuttered and quaked in fear for a split second. I noticed in that short moment, I saw the spark briefly return to his eyes before fading away, leaving them cold and unwavering again.

"How did I do that? How has she been a step ahead of us the entire time? I'm so sick and tired of always playing catch up, so I'm sorry to say that when she finally slips up, I expect everyone to tear her to pieces TOGETHER. I will not wait for you to satisfy your need for misguided vengeance to take that bitch out, and I expect the same from Sky and Carlotta." I growled as I leaned in. "What makes you think you get special treatment for killing 42? You are still alive. What about the twenty eight dead ponies in ponyville she murdered? What about the seven who used to live here?"

"I will render judgement for them. I share more in common with them now than any of you." Brass huffed out as he shifted uneasily on his hooves.

I was doing my best to contain my rage but could feel myself slowly failing. "WHAT ABOUT PALLET? DOESN'T SHE DESERVE TO KILL 42?" I slammed my hoof into his black chest plate, watching his anger falter as the words sank in. "WHAT HAPPENS WHEN 42 KILLS HER INSTEAD?"

"SHE...she won't..." His voice grew softer as he gazed to the ground, his anger draining away, replaced with the sour notes of sadness.

"AND WHAT IF SHE DOES." I said as I lost myself in rage, rearing up and bringing my hoof down onto his head, sending him to the ground. "WILL YOUR VENGEANCE BRING HER BACK? WILL IT MAKE HER DEATH WORTH IT?" I raised my hoof to strike him again before speaking in a low voice, the full force of my anger bleeding from my words. "You told me once that you couldn't live with yourself if you had killed me at the bunker, and you knew what you did to me was wrong. If that Brass is truly gone, I might as well kill the pathetic pony shell you claim you are."

As I reared up, Skyline slammed into me, tackling me into the mud before pinning me down. Her hooves pressed into my neck as she screamed out, the tears slowly flowing down her cheeks, glinting in the firelight as she tried to choke the life out of me. I struggled against her, but she was always far stronger than me, my vision darkened as I felt the anger drift away slowly.

"Sky...you need to stop. He's had enough." I heard as Carlotta came over and put a talon on her shoulder.

"What happened to you?" Sky said quietly, panting lightly over me. "I don't even know the stallion I'm looking at anymore. You are just as bad as Brass thinks he is." I gasped and heaved as she lifted her hooves off, struggling to breathe. "Forty Two has warped the both of you into thinking you are monsters, but I still see the good in you two."

She turned to face Brass. "I knew it was someone in power armor who injured him, and I knew it was your fault when Backlash was covering for you that morning. I hate it when he lies to me, but I saw what he was trying to do by it. Even with everything from the last week, You are the same stallion who lost his friends on a mission gone bad. The same stallion who did the right thing and brought Backlash to Tenpony."

As I caught my breath and listened to Skyline speak, I stared into the cold eyes of Brass, watching as they grew bigger with every example. I could imagine that the old Brass was fighting his way back into control of his mind, and when Sky finished, he blinked one last time as I could see it all flood back to him. He dropped down in tears of his own, curling up as tightly as he could in his armor and wept.

Nobody moved a muscle for the next few minutes as Carlotta and Sky stood next to me while I lay in the mud and listened to Brass sob. The sun was cresting over the horizon as we got moving again and packed away our things, all of us deciding to skip breakfast in order to get moving faster. Sky had joined Brass and I inside the car as We flew off towards Ponyville, the three of us sitting silently as the cold wind whipped through the pod.

She turned to me suddenly. "Look, Backlash. You need to remember you are my brother. The same pony I've spent my life next to as he helped the good ponies of the wastes. The same pony who never cheated a customer." Her eyes were locked into mine as she spoke from her heart. "Don't let 42 get under your coat, that's what she wants."

"OH SHIT!" Carlotta yelled out suddenly.

A loud twang emanated from the side of car as we went into a dive, twisting and leveling us out as we skimmed just feet above the ground.

"They are shooting from the treeline, we need to set down!" Carlotta called back through the broken window, another ping sounding off the back of the skycar as I looked around the landscape, spotting a small group of buildings surrounded by rocks. That would be the best we could get I thought, before two holes opened behind brass, the bullets failing to punch into his armor.

"Head to those buildings over there!" I yelled up as I heard the autoloader whirr and his minigun spin up, Brass stepping over to the side hatch and throwing it open.

"Fly us by the trees low and fast when you do." His speaker boomed out easily through the noise as the extra volume setting did it's job perfectly.

"Are you crazy?! They'll just stand and shoot us to pieces!" Carlotta yelled as she banked up and around towards the settlement I saw.

"Just trust me!" He said as he braced himself on the doorway. Carlotta yelled out an expletive that was lost to the wind, doubling back and flying us low along the tree line of the everfree forest. Brass's minigun roared to life as we sped past the thick foliage, the air filled for the next ten seconds with a single persistent drone as the forest was perforated by the blistering rate of fire. Sky and I watched in awe out of the window as entire trees cracked and fell as Brass's fire cut the forests' edge down, drawn out of the sight only by loud clicking as the spent gun ran out of ammo.

"I have got to get me one of those!" I yelled excitedly as Carlotta pulled around to the back of the small collection of buildings. I noticed it was an old rock farm, consisting of a decent sized house, a barn, a listing old silo, and A weather vane off in the distance. The rocks scattered about the property ranged from anywhere between small rocks the size of my hoof, to boulders the size of the skycar.

We pulled inside the back of the open barn, setting down hard as Carlotta threw the straps off her, speaking quickly as she strode back to the open car door. "We only have thirty minutes before the main group gets back here, I say we try to hold out in here. Make some makeshift barricades."

"How do you know all that?" Sky said as we filed out quickly.

"Because I wasn't riding all cushy in the back. I saw a whole gang of them heading this way from across the wastes. So unless you want to be surrounded, I suggest we make this place defensible!" I watched as Carlotta seemed a bit more nervous than usual, her pupils seemed to jump around as her voice wavered ever so slightly. Shit. If she was worried, then what the hell was on it's way?

Brass used his suit's amplified strength to push one of the pony sized boulders sitting inside the barn against the closed doors in front of the skycar, effectively barring it shut. "Ok, one side down, just..." Carlotta's words were cut short when three holes punched through the front wall of the barn, one of the rounds biting deep into her flank. She let out a loud growl as we all dove for cover, Sky helping to drag her behind the skycar as whoever had survived in the forest opened fire on us.

Brass was forced to hide behind an old safe when what sounded to be an Anti-Machine rifle tore a large hole straight through the upper hull of the skycar. Whoever we were dealing with weren't amateurs and had the means to deal with Steel Rangers. As we sat there, I looked at my pipbuck's map function to see if we could make a break for the forest. I was sure if we could get through there, it was only an hour's trot to Ponyville.

My eyes froze as a small notification flashed in my pipbuck enhanced vision.

Objective: Travel to family farm from Hoofington... COMPLETED.

The map on my pipbuck updated and put a small marker over our location that read Pie Family Rock Farm. I sat in stunned silence, not believing this is the farm mother wanted to take us to all those years ago. It couldn't be considering that the pipbuck knew about it, could it? How could it know about my journey nearly twenty years previous? The resounding ping of a round off the rock I was hiding behind killed my concentration.

"Right... back to getting shot at." I said under my breath just as it grew silent, the reports from the guns in the forest echoing off into the distance. I looked over at Sky as she was busily wrapping a magical bandage around Carlotta's rear. I could hear the hoofbeats of four or five ponies as they rounded the back of the barn slowly, my compass confirming four as they got around us, sitting just around the open sides of the rear barn doors.

"Lay down your arms and we will spare your lives!" A gruff voice of a mare came from around the corner. I listened to it carefully in my head as none of us moved, the voice seemed to sound slightly scared, but truthful.

"Do as she asks." I called out to the others. "I do believe she's telling the truth."

Carlotta rose up with a groan. "Are you kidding me? I'm not..." She froze as Sky took off her own battle saddle and let it thump on the ground. "...you have got to be joking."

"I trust Backlash when it comes to talking to others. If he says we need to disarm, we need to." She said as she sat back down. Carlotta rolled her eyes and glared at me as she unhooked her saddle, tossing it in front of herself with a soft growl.

"Brass, can you even take off your weapons?" I said as I looked over. He nodded and shuddered softly, letting a soft hiss emanate from his sides, the weapons popping off before dropping to the ground with a clank.

"We are completely unarmed!" I called out to the mysterious mare. "What are your instructions?"

There was a long pause as we waited to see what their next move was. Finally a large unicorn mare levitating an anti-machine rifle stepped out into view in front of us. She was at least two or three hooves taller than any Stallion I've ever met, her light purple hide was nearly completely scarred up with long lines, with where her cutie mark had been was burned off, leaving her skin twisted and brown. But most importantly, around her neck she wore a metal collar with a soft red light that blinked, denoting the fact that she was a slave.

"We will hold you here until the master returns." I noticed the small amount of shock on her face from our surrender as I listened again to her voice, She wasn't as worried as before it seemed, but still not sure of her actions. It sounded like she was almost sorry for holding us here. "Master Crankshaft will know what to do with you."

"I FUCKING CALLED IT!" Sky yelled out, making the large mare jump, her hold on the rifle wavering for a moment. "I knew we should have killed him back in Ponyville, but you just had to be nice!" I turned and noticed my three compatriots were all glaring at me before a soft murmuring broke out among the three outside the barn doors, the large mare stepping towards me, leveling the rifle at my head slowly.

"You were the one to humiliate the Master?" She said with words sounded like they were cut from stone as I nodded slowly, staring into her light pink eyes. She relaxed as a small smile crept across her face, her magic slowly swinging the rifle up and off my head. "Then maybe you can help us kill him."

I felt my heart skip a beat as she spoke, the three other ponies outside the door striding in slowly to join us. The set of unicorn mares and a pegasus stallion were all in worse condition than the large mare, looking to rally behind her, each one with a blinking collar to match.

"Quickly, gather your weapons. We must get inside before they arrive." The mare said as she turned and guided the others out of the barn. "Master Crankshaft has a small arms cache hidden under the house. Your injured friend will be safer there." I nodded and followed as the others re-equipped themselves.

"Why are you helping us?" I asked as we walked out of the barn and up to the front of the old house. Even though the well kept house was of modest size, it's two stories seemed to tower among the open land of the farm, making it look more like a memorial than a landmark.

She spoke without a moments hesitation of thought. "I used to live here with twelve others. We got by as we could, tending the fields and trading gems for food. But three years ago, and led by him, a gang of roughly fifty came from far in the wastes, needing a place to hole up. We didn't want any trouble so we agreed." Her words were soft and full of resentment. "That night, they gave the six earth ponies in our group the option of joining the gang. Spitshine was the first to choose. He was the stallion I'd loved for as long as I can remember, and when he refused, Crankshaft beat his head to a pulp with his power hooves."

She lead me into the house through the back door, the interior was clean and orderly. It was almost as if the same family from before the war still lived and worked here. One of the pictures hanging on the wall caught my eye. An older, black-hatted, tan stallion with a grey mane and gold eyes stood next to an off white, old mare who was smiling brightly. At their hooves were three small fillies, two of which looked to be negative pallets of each other's different shades of greys. The third was a bright pink, blue-eyed, frilly maned young Pinkie Pie.

I stood in awe for a moment as it sunk in that the filly from my dream was the same in this picture, her bright smile seeming to radiate the same pure joy she had in my dreams. "She really is..." I said under my breath before the sound of a trap door opening at the end of the hall made me jump slightly.

"We must go down here." The mare said as she walked down the steps. I trotted over and caught up to her, walking in silence into a small brick cellar.

"So what happened to the rest of you?" I asked as she clicked on a small light, showing off the large, steel door set into the red brick of the walls.

"The rest of our group wanted to join him instead of getting killed, which was a smart choice, but he informed us that he only let the best of earth pony kind in, and that a refusal by one tainted the rest." She walked up to the door an hoofed a large blue button, making the door swing out slowly. "So he killed the other earth ponies in our group and enslaved the rest of us, putting these collars on us to keep us from running or fighting."

As the door opened up, I looked in to see a large store room that looked to be thirty feet by thirty feet and at least half that high, stacked full of numbered crates. I strode in and looked into the closest open crate, my eyes lit up as I saw it was half-full of grenades. I used my hoof to push the lid off the box next to it, my eyes met with a rack of eight pink missiles set above an unassembled missile launcher.

"When you said small, I thought you meant in size! There is enough ordinance in here to bring down Tenpony tower AND Friendship City!" I moved from box to box, looking giddily over the weapons and ammunition, only stopping when I reached a large wooden crate with what looked like one of those jabs-your-hoof panels hooked into a bunch of steel cables strapping it shut. I reached to use it, but stopped as I remembered we needed to get ready, hearing as Brass's heavy steps thumped on the stairs. I headed out of the small vault, giving the large crate a parting look.

"They are coming. I suggest we get..." He stopped and stared into the room behind me, slowly turning to the large mare. "You said small cache...." He stated slowly as I could hear how his voice wavered in excitement, barely giving me enough time to squeeze out of the way before he barged in.

"I'll gather the others to hide in here while the fighting goes on." The mare said as she headed for the stares. "You gather everything you need and meet me back up top."

"Wait!" I called out as she stepped up the first step. "What is your name?"

"My name is Harmony." She said as she stood on that step, her gaze locked up out of the cellar. "You remind me of him, you know?"

"Of who? Your stallion friend?" I asked, taking a slight step forward.

"You're eyes remind me of his, they always brought me the hope that one day we'd be alright." She said as she slowly climbed up and out, leaving me standing in remorseful silence as Brass collected supplies.


Brass Shooed me off upstairs as he went through the crates for the weapons, assuring me he would find what we would need. Sky thought that we might as well use the few minutes we had left to barricade the lower floor windows and doors, and with Carlotta out of the moving game, it fell to me to help hoist the heavy furniture up.

"Do you even have.... a plan?" Sky said as we thrust the kitchen table up against the back door, it's heavy weight was enough to make it hard for the two of us to move, so we figured it would be good enough to hold the door shut for a while. "Or is this another think on the fly situation?" I panted heavily from all the exertion, sweating profusely as I waited to reply. (I'm not even going to deny it anymore, I know I'm fucking out of shape. There, I said it, you happy?)

"By the time... they get here... I'll have one..." I finally got out between gasps.

"So... no then." She said as she crossed her hooves and floated next to me. "Why do you get to make the plans again?"

"When was the last time... you didn't just think... we should shoot them?" I said as my lungs cried out, feeling like they were ready for that retirement I had mentioned earlier.

"I guess..." Sky said as she glanced up and rubbed a hoof under her chin. "But when we get home, I'm making you a fitness plan. You are way out of shape, mister."

I nodded softly and dropped onto the floor. "Deal." I didn't want to have to work out, but honestly I was even surprising myself on how bad I'd gotten. Harmony trotted back up from the cellar with Brass on her heels, a small smile growing across her face as she saw me on the floor.

"So, you're a stallion who likes to slack off I see." Her words held a note of playfulness amid the sarcasm that seemed to drip from them. I could see what she meant, even the way she carried herself down the hall reflected the hope now in her eyes. "Show them what you found, tin stallion."

Brass levitated an odd looking set of tubes over, I'd never seen anything quite like it as the silver bars were about as long as a pony and set in a horseshoe shape. A small box with a pneumatic plunger sat at the opposite end from the grip. My reply of a simple "Huh?" made me sound every bit like the not smart pony I was.

"It's a B.E.L." Brass said as prideful as he's ever sounded.

"HUH?" I replied. If I had no idea what it was before, why did he think I'd realize after telling me the name?

"It shoots balefire eggs?" He finally said flatly, the wonder in his voice as lost as I was.

"WAH?!" I said as the gears in my head brought up the plaque from the factory. "That thing shoots THOSE?! Is that even SAFE?!"

"It's a weapon, it was designed to be unsafe on purpose." Brass facehooved his helmet before striding upstairs. "I'm going to go upstairs and wait, join me when you unbreak your brain."

Sky giggled softly and rubbed my mane before floating off down the hall. "It's ok, I'd never seen one before either."

"Celestia, just kill me now." I said as I got to my hooves. "Did you get Carlotta and the others down in the vault?" Harmony nodded and went to go shut the trap door, surprised when I held it open. "Good, get inside and let us handle the fighting. You've done enough for us already."

"No, I will stand with you." She said as she wrenched the door from my hoof and slammed it shut. "I stood back last time and watched as you died..." Her words drifting off as tears welled up in her eyes. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean you..." I put a hoof to her muzzle and smiled back.

"I understand why you want to, and I won't stop you from doing it, but I don't want you to think you owe me anything. I owe you for everything you've done in just the last half hour, you shouldn't have to suffer because..." I was cut off as the shrill tone of a megaphone blared outside.

"Hello? Is this thing working?" A now familiar stallion's voice permeated the air. "Backlash, I know you're in there. Give yourself up and I might spare your friends."

I galloped up the steps into the room where Brass and Sky were waiting. I peeked out the open window to see a band of forty or so earth ponies hiding behind the various rocks in the field. Crankshaft stood out in the open, speaking through the megaphone as it sat on a nearby rock. Sky pushed me aside and tried to line up her Gauss rifles, too hastily letting off one shot that ended up in the dirt a foot in front of him. I shoved her back out of the window as a sniper round whizzed past her head before sinking deep into the back wall beside Harmony with a thunk.

"Now now Backlash, is that any way to treat family when you are a guest in their house?" His voice seemed to quiver noticeably as he recovered from the close call. "I really don't want to destroy my home, but if that's what it takes to kill you and your friends, I will. I'm giving you one minute to exit the house and give yourselves up before we turn this place in to strips of firewood."

"I can use the B.E.L. against them, but we only have the one shot." Brass said with the volume low on his helmet, the multicolored egg shaped explosive shimmering as he levitated it up and loaded it. "Their sniper rounds can't get through this armor and I can take them all out."

I thought about it for a moment. It was our best chance of making it out alive, yes, but we would be risking exposure to a lot of radiation. I nodded to Brass as I hoped that the vault downstairs was lead lined. "Wait to fire until we are all downstairs, the radiation won't hurt you. You can get us out of the weapons room when it's safe to come back out."

Harmony and Sky slipped out of the room before I did, making sure to stay low as we got to the stairs. The soft crunching of rocks near the back door gave away the small set of ponies before I remembered I could see them on my pipbuck compass. "Fuck, some are coming from the back of the house..." I stiffened up and turned my head back to Brass. "Fire now, Brass! FIRE!"

I shoved Harmony and Sky down the stairs as the soft thump of the pneumatic piston forced the egg out the window. Brass and I ducked down as the world outside turned a brilliant shade of jade. The roar of the explosion throwing us back from the windows as they blew out. I felt the glass shards cut deep gashes into my skin as the blast wave threw me down the stairs on top of Harmony. I watched in a haze as Sky got to her hooves and looked back at me.

"Where are they?" She shouted as the roar of the blast died down. I woozily looked towards the back of the house, seeing three red bars moving below the blasted out kitchen window. I raised a hoof towards it to point it out before noticing my hoof wasn't on the end of my leg anymore. My vision went dark as I screamed and plunged back into the world of painless black.


I shivered to life as I felt myself floating on my back, opening my eyes slowly. I was greeted with a million pinpricks of light surrounding a bright white orb in the sky. I searched my mind for an answer as to why it was so familiar, closing my eyes again as I drifted into my memories, letting it all come back into focus.

It was late while we were traveling to one of the tall white spires that reached above the cloud layer. It was only two days into our journey from Hoofington and we had decided it would be safest to spent the night around it, so we made camp and relaxed after a long day on the road. The night was calm as we all sat around the fire, watching it dance in the warm summer breeze. Mother had curled up under her blanket as the two guards ate and got drunk. The trader slowly got to his hooves and walked over to me.

"I want to show you something no one else gets to see in the wasteland." The old man whispered to me. "It's a sight more valuable than all the items on this wagon." He lead me to the tall spire, pressing himself to the side while looking up and telling me to do the same. Whispering so softly I could barely hear, he spoke as we pressed into the building. "This is also a secret, so you can't tell anypony else, not even your mother. Do you promise?"

As I looked up, I nodded. I could see through the thick clouds that blocked out the sky, the sides of the tower almost pressing the oppressive layers away. As I looked up, I could see tiny points of light, twinkling and shining down on us and it instantly became the second most amazing sight I had ever beheld. I was stunned at how beautifully peaceful it seemed.

"Now if you pray to Luna, you might be able to see her..." He had told me. "She's shy to us ground ponies and doesn't come to see us very often, so you need to ask really really nicely for her to show herself. Can you do that for me?"

I opened my eyes again. Staring out of the black sea I floated in at the large white sphere, the shadow of a unicorn mare now shone lightly on it, the mane of hers flowed on it's surface. "Luna, forgive me..." I said as I reached my hoof up to her, closing my eyes and slipping into yet another memory.

"Look, I know you mean well, but you can't just set me up on a double date like this!" I had complained. Sky was sitting sadly in a fancy red pre-war dress as we argued inside the hotel room we'd rented in Tenpony.

"Why not?" She yelled back, her soft eyes filled with sadness. "It's been 2 years Backlash. You need to let him go."

"Why should I?" I had screamed as I knocked over the coffee table. "I can't lose anyone again. I won't..."

"I won't just sit here and watch you pass up the chance to be happy again." Sky said as she hugged me softly. "I can't stand to see you so lonely anymore."

"I'm so sorry Sprocket..." I had collapsed and lay on the floor for the rest of the night, paralyzed in sorrow. "Maybe if I didn't show you... If I had kept my promise..."

Opening my eyes to the sea of stars, the moon no longer held the shadow of the mare. I laid with a sigh as I felt myself start to sink, pulling me down into the dark depths while the stars started to blink out until only the moon remained, it slowly growing dim as well. I could feel myself begin to shrink away, until the once bright moon looked only like another star in the sky.


"OH LUNA! FUCK IT HURTS!" I screamed and thrashed on the floor as both Carlotta and Sky were holding me down. I came back to a world of pain as my eyes shot open to see Harmony. She was applying a tourniquet to my right foreleg above where my hoof should have been, cinching it down tight.

"HOLD HIM STILL OR HE'LL BLEED OUT!" Harmony's voice called out as my vision faded again temporarily, the needle from the Med-X Sky just injected shining in the vault's bright florescent lighting. My muscles relaxed even when I tried to flail. I screamed out and shut my eyes tightly. The pain killing drug just wasn't going to cut it.

"Hand me the bottle of Wild Pegasus!" She yelled as I whimpered, my leg feeling like it was being ripped apart muscle by muscle. "Now hold him tightly..." I felt as the bottle neck was shoved into my mouth and I choked down the burning drink, trying not to breathe it in before the pain dulled down and I felt really heavy. The pain went away completely, replaced by an odd fuzziness as I was surprised at the thought of how good I felt all of a sudden.

I felt the softest prick of a needle slide into my leg before I regretted ever thinking that. My leg felt like it was exploding, the pain was somehow worse than before, even through the drugs and the whiskey. It hurt so badly that I wanted to beat my head into the floor just to stop the pain. But after what was an eternity, the pain subsided, and I felt better than before. Opening my eyes, I watched as Harmony poured the rest of the alcohol over my hairless hoof, letting the cool liquid flow over it.

"He needs to take it easy on his new hoof, the hydra just reforms the old parts, but not the wear it had before, so it's going to be weak until the muscles strengthen up a bit." She said as she washed her bloody muzzle and hooves off in a small bucket. "He's lucky we keep it stocked up here in case there was an accident with one of the rocks."

I laughed softly on the floor as the feeling of the Med-X and whiskey hit me again, hard, sending my vision into a whirling series of colorful lines. "I love you guys." Is what I tried to say, but it didn't sound right to me as it came out of my muzzle, so I tried to say it again. I felt as Carlotta shut my muzzle forcefully with her claws as I giggled out from around it. I wrapped my hooves around her neck and pulled her into a hug. I know she spoke in angry, slurred words, but I couldn't make them out before I passed out again.

I didn't know how long I drifted between consciousness, but I assumed it was at least six or seven hours. When I could finally sit up, the others had gone to bed, leaving me to sit in silence alone. I looked down over my new hoof, remarking how odd the fur looked as it cut off at the angle my original had been cut from. I looked over the rest of myself, noting the healed scars of near two dozen separate lacerations.

As I sat there, I thought I might as well listen to that audio log that Sky had found in Whinny, and with a grunt, I slipped into S.A.T.S. I looked over and found the lone audio log titled: "To my dear Rose."

"I leave this message to you, Rose Thorn."

"Your mother and I just received our emergency recall signals on our pipbucks telling us to head to stable two. We didn't think much of it until the radio reported that Cloudsdale is gone, the Pegasi are nowhere to be seen and that the end is really upon us. I'm leaving this message here so that if you ever make it back from Salt Cube City, you can know where we went."

[There is a sudden, soft roar. Slowly growing louder and shaking the windows in the background]

"We... Oh Celestia... was that in Ponyville..."

[the voice of a mare is softly crying in the background]

"No, don't cry Tulip, I'm sure She'll be fine. We'll just have to go somewhere else and wait for her. Oh Rose, I'm so sorry. We love you."

The audiolog cut out abruptly. I dropped out of S.A.T.S. and lay there, thinking about how terrifying it must have been to watch that happen. I was depressing myself as I thought about how Rose probably never even got the message. The sad 120 year old story who's happy ending never came.

I felt my ear twitch, breaking my thought process as I reached up to scratch it. There was a knock on the steel vault door, startling me to my hooves. Even as I favored it lightly, I felt my new hoof strain to hold me up as I limped over to the door.

"BRASS? IS THAT YOU?" I Yelled, both making my head throb and startling everyone else awake.

"YEAH." I heard his voice boom through the door. "ALL CLEAR UP TOP, YOU CAN OPEN THE DOOR NOW."

I hoofed the big button on the wall and stood back as the door slowly opened. "Guess who decided to up and become a ghoul as well?" Brass said and strode in with a charred black stallion slumped over his back, dumping him on the floor before turning his guns on it. "Fed him some rad away while he was out, I figured that it probably would make him weak enough he couldn't run."

The Stallion coughed up a gob of deep crimson as he sat up, his blue eyes the only bright feature left on his body.

"Bravo on the excessive force! Killed everyone but me out there." The familiar voice spoke out. "We're not so different you know brother." Before I could even say anything, Harmony pushed past us, towering over the subdued ghoul.

"Where is the Detonator?" She pressed her massive hoof against his side. Crankshaft just coughed out a laugh. "WHERE IS IT?"

"I'll never tell you, slave BITCH." He spat in her face as he writhed under her hoof. Harmony grunted and leaned forward, pressing down on him until he started to scream. "OK! I'LL TALK! CELESTIA, STOP HER!"

She leaned back, letting him catch his breath. "It's in the safe in the barn! The key is taped under it, just don't hurt me anymore!" He stared up at her with wide, pleading eyes as she smiled and put her hoof on his shoulder, leaning forward this time with all her weight as he screamed out again. A series of loud snaps and pops emanated from Crankshafts back and midsection before she stepped off him, leading the other slaves upstairs.

"YOU BITCH! I CAN'T FEEL MY LEGS!" He screamed in anger from the floor, his rage filled eyes and words seemed almost unimportant from down there. "I'LL FUCKING KILL YOU!"

"Going to gnaw her hooves off? Give up already!." Sky replied with a soft laugh. "You deserve worse than this you son of a bitch." His face seemed to twitch and seethe at that comment before curling into a wide grin.

"Backlash, are you really going to let your little whore insult mother like that?" He said with a wide smile, arching his neck up as high as he could. I could tell from his words he was desperately trying to grasp at any topic to rile us up. The last attempt of a truly broken stallion.

My words were soft, I wouldn't let him break me. "She was there for me when mom died. She's been more of a sister to me all those years than you will ever be my brother. As far as I'm concerned, my brother died the day he left us to pursue his own selfish ambitions." I said, leaning down close to him.

"You think I don't regret that day? You've never made a mistake like that?" He said as he flopped his head back down. "Tell me again, you said it was YOUR fault mother died? What were you doing that put you in such danger as to force OUR MOTHER to save you?" His words cut deep but I couldn't kill him, I needed to let this bastard suffer. Death was a gift that I would not bring him.

Brass stepped forward and pushed me back. "You know, as a ghoul, you don't have to eat. So when we leave you here in this vault, you'll continue to lay here, fully aware and alone." He spoke as he twisted his helmet off, levitating it over before dumping a small piece of metal out onto Crankshaft's chest, making my pipbuck click slowly.

"I picked this up after my change, but I think you need it more. The radiation will keep you alive, but won't fix your back. You will never walk again." Brass leaned down close, and smiled. "This room will be your own personal hell, so close to ending it all, but no means of carrying it out." I tapped on Brass's shoulder to get his attention.

"What do you mean by that? We're taking all of this awesome stuff with us." I said as I looked over the numerous crates.


After a few hours, we had loaded up the skycar with as much ordinance as possible before strapping Carlotta in. She had recovered a fair bit in the vault with help from a few healing potions and could actually carry things again. Harmony suggested that we take the other slaves back to Manehatten first, having Brass, her and I stay back for a return trip with the rest of the crates.

"You keep my sister safe, you hear?" I whispered to Carlotta as she rolled her eyes with the same exasperated sigh she loved to give.

"It's only a few hours flight there, we'll be back in the morning for you and the rest of the stuff. I'm more worried that you'll find a way to get yourself killed before then." She said as she took off, dragging the heavy skycar behind her slowly into the air. I turned and gave Skyline a long hug before she had to go and catch up, streaking off out of the barn and into the horizon as the setting sun dyed it red.

I turned around to walk out, but inadvertently smacked my muzzle right up against Harmony's flank as she stood looking into the open safe, making both of us jump.

"OhCelestiaIamsosorry!" I blushed as I backed away, my eyes darting up to see a smile grow across her muzzle. "What are you uh... looking for in there?"

"It's fine. But I am a bigger gal than most, so I shouldn't be hard to miss..." She chuckled as she leaned into the safe, grabbing a small piece of paper in her mouth, dropping it onto one of the crates near us. "I was wondering what this was. I don't know what it means or if it's important and expensive enough to take."

I walked over to it, reading over the small sheet and noticing it seemed to be a list of chemical compounds required to make the drug Party Time Mint-als. It would bring a fairly high price to the right buyer, but the wasteland already has a huge problem with addicts as it is. Not to mention some of these chemicals are hard to find and would make it an expensive drug. I took the note in my mouth and placed it back in the safe.

"It's not anything useful. Just lock it back up and lets find Brass to help you get that big box out of the basement." I said as I shrugged.

The large steel-laden, wooden box was apparently so heavy Brass and Harmony had to take three twenty-minute breaks just to get it out the front double doors. (Two of those times were also to make sure they didn't kill Crankshaft as he insulted us from the floor.) Once it was in the corner of the barn, I hooved at the black box, unsurprised when it gave me a soft prick. The small rectangular metal box made a high pitched whine before releasing the steel straps and dropping to the ground with a crash.

I rubbed my hooves together in anticipation. Hoping for a shiny new protectapony, or some amazing medical machine that would put Dr. Fitz in my debt for the rest of his life. I drug the cables off the box and used the Marauder's tire iron to pry the front of the box down.

I stared inside at my prize, only to be confused. It seemed to be a multi faceted object that sat on a pedestal. In the center of the clear object was a swirling mass of colored gasses. To be honest, I was really disappointed.

"What...is it?" Brass said as he stared at it, reaching out to touch it before Harmony smacked his hoof away.

"It's a weapon." She said sternly as she stared at him.

"And how do you know that?" He replied, more than just a little annoyed.

"Because it was in the back of a room full of other weapons." She stated very matter-o-factly. I shrugged and couldn't beat that logic before picking the wooden crate lid back up and sealing the shimmering object.

"Well, I've seen a lot of weapons, but never anything like that." Brass remarked as we left the barn and headed inside. "I don't know how we're going to transport it though..."

"We won't." I said as we came in through the front doors. "Honestly, I have no idea what it does or what it's worth. So we leave it." I let out a yawn and latched the door shut before trotting over to the living room, flipping the overturned couch off the window with a loud bang. "Anyway, I want to relax a bit before bed. Got any more of that whiskey lying around?" Harmony nodded and trotted off to the kitchen, leaving Brass and I in the living room.

"Thanks. For not killing Crankshaft I mean." I said to Brass as he started to remove his suit using his telekinesis, laying the black armor out against the wall piece by piece. He sighed as he stepped out of the hind boots and set them down with a thud. He looked bigger than before he became a ghoul, not anywhere near an adult stallions size, but bigger none the less. I wondered to myself if the radiation was actually making him grow.

"Look, you were right. I'm not a different stallion from before." He walked over and jumped up next to me on the couch, sighing as a strand of his green hair fell out and landed between us. "But I'm not as useless as you all think I am."

"Useless?!" I said as I flailed my hooves. "You are positively the most BADASS steel ranger I've ever met! What made you think that's how we viewed you?"

Brass looked away and crossed his fore hooves on his chest. "Everyone treats me like a colt! I keep telling them I'm just short for my age, but nopony believes me!" I snickered at that, not helping by thinking how true it was, he was damn small framed. "That's exactly what I'm talking about! I always had to prove myself around home by taking the bigger jobs on base! That's why I signed up first to..." He trailed off for a moment.

"Hey, you made it out when the others didn't. You've fought harder and proved tougher than any other stallion I've ever known." I said as I raised his chin with my hoof. "You don't ever let somepony tell you that you are weak. If they don't believe you, just come get me, I'll back you up one hundred percent."

Brass smiled wide and jumped up to hug me tightly, his flesh was oddly soft and squishy enough that it was slightly unnerving. Harmony came back from the kitchen with a basket full of booze which she set down on the floor, staring in confusion between Brass and the set out armor.

"Wait, you fit inside there?" She said slowly. "But you move as though the suit fits you perfectly, I don't understand..."

"Well, you see..." Brass started to explain with a long arduous rhetoric that I don't remember because I reached out for a bottle of Stalliongrad's finest and popped the top, letting the rest of the night run into a series of blurs. I didn't drink normally because I am told I become a completely rowdy party pony. I even had once spent our entire months earnings in Paradise because I took them up on their offer of a free first drink. Also, I'm pretty sure that Skyline is only still angry about that because I gave her mare friend of the time a lap dance as they were trying to eat dinner.

I must have passed out sometime shortly before being able to make it to the bathroom, because my insides felt like they were trying to murder me in my sleep. It got bad enough, it woke me up while bright sunlight streamed through a hole in the cloud layer. Lucky me, it ran into the glassless window of the upstairs bedroom, and right into my eyes.

As I tried to cover my face with my hoof, I found it was pinned down. I felt the weight lift off me as the bed shifted suddenly, letting me roll over to stare into the still tired bright pink eyes of Harmony as she stretched and yawned.

"Hey there, you." She smiled and kissed my nose, making my muscles lock up. "Hell of a fun ride last night, I might have to stick around to bunk up with you more often." I let out a deep sigh as she got up and strode out of the room, smelling of whiskey and sweat.

"Oh Celestia. What the hell did I do last night?"



+ 15 Doctor (You were drunk enough that you poured your points into a skill that's not even around anymore! Now that takes talent!)

New Perk: Rad Max - You truly are a badass warrior of the wastes when around radiation. If you have more than 200 rads, you absorb half as much radiation as normal, but below 200 you suck up twice as much.

Chapter 5 - Reverence

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Chapter 5

"Sometimes it's a bunch of random things happening in my body at random times that supposedly predict the future! I call em' Combos!"


Even though the sun had risen above the cloud layer, the walk from the bedroom to the kitchen made me want to jump under the covers. What would Brass think of me now? Would he think that I was just some loose stallion, that he could just get me drunk and in the mood? He did say he was interested... but could I even assume he'd do that at all? He didn't seem the manipulative type... Oh right, going to puke.

I nudged the odd thoughts from my head as tried my best to sneak into the upstairs bathroom, ultimately for no benefit because once I was a single hoof in, I bowed in reverence and gave my booze offering to the porcelain goddess. I could hear Harmony chuckle from the kitchen as the smell of cooking beans and Cram filled the air. I wiped my muzzle clean on an old towel that was hung on the wall and looked up into the mirror. I had a large scar over my eye from where 42 had hit me, It ran all the way around the front of the socket to nearly meet the similar one on that graced my cheek.

"Not sure if this makes me look badass or just prone to injury..." I shrugged and murmured to myself. "Not worth it at all, but it's still different none the less." I ran my hooves under the water, my eyes jumping to the unfamiliar coloration of my right hoof as I forgot the events of yesterday momentarily.

"You coming down, hun?" Harmony chimed from downstairs. "Breakfast is almost ready!" I turned my head to respond, catching a glimpse of a single red bar in that direction shown on my compass. I panicked and scrambled out of the bathroom, flying down the stairs while nearly losing my balance halfway down, causing me to slam into the railing at the bottom and crack it. (I'm heavy, momentum sucks. I blame physics.) Brass, who had been passed out on the couch, shot awake and scrambled too his hooves.

"Didn't think it warranted THAT much of a rush..." Harmony said as she walked in from the kitchen. I turned again to respond before noticing the red bar was to my left on the stairs, not sure how it got inside. "You alright there?"

"Someone is here. I can see them." I said as I frantically looked over the sides of the stairs. Why would it say they were in the wall? The only thing near here is the cellar... Oh shit.

"Backlash, calm down." Brass called out as he walked over just in time for me to throw the cellar open, slamming the door down in front of his hooves. I looked down inside as the open arms room door to see that the red bar was Crankshaft. "You're just still not used to the E.F.S. on your pipbuck..."

The curious look of the ghoulified Crankshaft stared up at me from the floor in the arms room. "Miss me that much, brother?" He called up as a sly grin grew across his muzzle. I turned to shut the door on him, angry that this compass thing (E.F.S. or whatever as Brass had said) couldn't tell me what floor enemies were on, I mean that was a pretty bad design oversight. I stopped for a moment as his mark changed from red and was now a non-hostile pink. As I continued again and swung the heavy door up, he said something I didn't expect.

"You know, I was on my way to see that pink cunt yesterday when I saw your skycar off in the distance. She wanted to see me I assumed about why I'd failed the job, and there I was about to go and tell her to fuck off. But low and behold, you delivered yourself unto me and I came a 'runnin'." His eyes seemed different now, he seemed... remorseful. "See, you probably saved my life by not letting me go, and as much fun as that's been, she's going to come looking for me. It won't be long before she figures out where this place is and comes to knock down my door."

I stepped down the stairs cautiously into the brick room next to the empty arms cache, my regenerated hoof aching with each step. "So why tell me now? Why not let her surprise me and get your revenge?" I asked as I raised an eyebrow to him.

"Because I meant what I said. We're family." He said as he flopped his head back down on the floor. "She'll kill me anyways when she gets here, and I want her to. I don't want to be left like this. But you need to go. Even if you surprise her, she'll still win. Run for it, get as far from here as you can, go live your life somewhere she can't find you." He looked up at me with teary eyes. "Because you can still be a better pony than I was."

I felt bad for him. I know I shouldn't, but he actually sounded sincere, like he wanted to do something good for a change. Maybe I just wanted to believe that he was still the strong and noble colt I grew up with so long ago, but he had given us a chance to finally not be caught off guard by 42, and I wasn't going to ignore his advice.

He sniffed and shut his eyes. "When you leave, shut the vault door. At the very least I'll buy you some time to high tail it out of here. Just promise me that you will kill that pre war bitch next time you see her." He said with a low, harsh tone, choking back tears. "Goodbye, Backlash. I'll make sure to tell mom you said hello." I hit the round blue button on the wall, the door letting out a soft hiss as it swung closed and latched.

I turned and walked up the steps quickly, noticing that Brass was just fitting the chestpiece of his armor into place. Harmony had gone and turned off the kitchen equipment and brought me my flak vest and saddle bags from upstairs. She kissed me on the cheek lightly as I secured them both, drawing a deep blush from me.

"So Backlash, what's the plan?" Brass said as he twisted his helmet on, his autoloaders feeding his minigun and anti machine rifle the fresh ammo he pulled from some of the crates yesterday. "which direction do we run?"

"I'm thinking we head for the silo." I said as I looked out the window nervously.

"You mean towards the forest? that's crazy!" Brass stomped lightly for emphasis. "We even take a risk hiding in the treeline!"

Harmony leaned over to him. "We hid in there from your assault and came out unscathed. I know where we can pass safely if..."

"We are NOT going to run!" I cut her off, looking over to brass who I knew was going to ask the dumb next question. "Nor are we going to fight. I believe Crankshaft when he says we aren't well equipped enough." I watched the young stallion relax slightly at that.

"Then what will we be doing?" Harmony said with a cant of her head, her slow words more filled with worry than curiosity. I walked over and swung the front door open, heading out side to finally take in the carnage from the previous day. The charred and mutilated corpses of nearly thirty ponies lay strewn about in front of the house, decorating the various rocks with strips of pony flesh, looking like some sort of grotesque confetti. My mind halted my own train of thought with how much that sounded like something 42 would like. I turned around to face them, sliding that to the back of my mind to get back to the topic at hand.

"We slow her down. It's time I take back my car."


it had only been fifteen minutes or so of waiting before the dusty plume the Marauder kicked up as it rolled closer could be seen on the horizon. I silently thanked Crankshaft in my head that he didn't wait longer to warn us. The three of us huddled near the door inside the large silo, watching through a small hole in the wood as the Marauder pulled up infront of the house. It came to a stop with a small skid before 42 shut the engine off and hopped out through the windowless door.

I could feel my blood boil as I saw her walking to the porch with a determined look on her face. I wanted to shoot that face off so... wait, was she looking at us? I raised my hoof to get the others attention as I saw her grinning softly towards us. How the fuck did she know where we were? Did she have the same psychic sense that pinkie and I did? I mean I don't know why she wouldn't I guess, but.... UGH, clones hurt my brain. I relaxed a bit as she slowly turned and walked into the house, shutting the front door with a slam.

"Ok, lets go..." I whispered to the others, slowly reaching over and pulling the door open. The others nodded before slipping out ahead of me. I figured that if Brass's noisy ass suit could get in at the same time as Harmony, then I could make a mad dash for the drivers seat, hop in and get us going. (in an odd side note, being a push button start meant that anyone could just walk up and steal it! Who's brilliant idea was that?)

Once they were a little more than halfway between the silo and the car, I followed at a swift gallop, stumbling for a moment on my weak hoof when I heard the sadistic laugh of my brother from inside the house, fallowed by the sharp report of a gunshot. I skid on my hooves and slammed against the rusty car, praying to Celestia that the spark batteries would hold out until we were at least a good distance away.

I opened the door and jumped in, hitting the starter and listening for the whine of the capacitors to charge, but was once again met with only silence. I sighed and tried again, and then again. "Fuck." Grumbling softly, I started digging around in my saddle bag.

"I thought you said we'd be moving by now..." Brass said nervously, his speaker felt like it was cranked to eleven even on the lowest setting. I hooved at the button again before giving up on it.

"Calm yourself! I know how to fix it!" I snapped back angrily as I drew out the Marauder's tire iron, holding it between both my hooves as I remember what Sky had said the morning this whole adventure started, bringing the tool down hard on the dashboard repeatedly, screaming out. "I DON'T WANT TO FUCKING DIE HERE YOU FUCKING PIECE OF..." The capacitors whined and the engine roared to life, making me pause and drop the tool to the floor with a smile. "Finally! We can go home!"

I threw the deafening, steel beast into drive and floored it, kicking up lines of rocks and clouds of dust as we took off into the wastes. I looked in the rear view mirror, struggling to see through the growing plume as 42 ran onto the porch and fired wildly at us. A few of the shots found their mark as they thunked against the body of the car, the rest ricocheting off the steel body or missed as the house shrunk down behind us on the horizon. Her scream mixed with my voice as I laughed like a mad stallion for nearly a minute before catching my breath as we bounced wildly over the dirt and onto the old highway system. "Fuck yeah! 42, you can kiss my..."

"Backlash!" Brass yelled up in panic. "Harmony is hurt!"

I swirved off the road as I slammed on the breaks, bringing us to a quick stop before looking to the back seat. My stomach churned as I saw Brass tring to apply pressure to a gushing wound in Harmonys neck, making me freeze up. Oh Celestia, what do I do? Sky know's all the medic stuff, I don't know what to do! CELESTIA, WHAT DO I DO?!

"It's o..ok. You gave me... me hope." She choked out, a steady stream of crimson flowed from the side of her muzzle as she spoke. "I got... got to see you again." She coughed and smiled softly, her eyes locked onto mine and brighter than I'd ever seen them. "Spit.. I did... it, I sa... saved yo..." She relaxed as her voice trailed off, her gaze drifted to the floor coldly as she gave her last breath, slumping against the door lightly.

Luna no. We just won, dammit! We just beat 42 at her own fucking game for once! My eyes clouded as I just looked at the small round hole in the back seat where the bullet came through. Funny enough, I think that if the trunk was there, the round wouldn't have gotten in. But I was the not so smart pony who removed it. I watched as Brass lowered his hoof and stared at me through the lifeless eyes of his helmet. I spun and smashed my regrown hoof into the dashboard in anger, feeling jabs of pain as I hit it against it over and over.

"Backlash... we... we need to go." Brass said through his own tears, the speaker even seeming to amplify his sadness. I didn't want to go anymore, I didn't want to have to deal with trying to stop 42 anymore. "We need to get to the others." With as much as it hurt, he was right. More than ever we needed to keep going.

I hit the accelerator and got us moving again, keeping us on the road towards Manehatten while I wiped the tears from my eyes. As we rolled over the pothole filled highway, I lost myself in thought, trying at first to just keep my mind occupied. But being the fucked up pony I was, my mind ended up bringing up the faces of the 28 in Ponyville. I cursed myself for having forgotten some of them, knowing that they are my burden to carry, I need to remember because if I didn't, nopony would.

My mind screamed out to me with that thought, there was one other. There was still one Ponyville resident left. "Brass, did you see Pallet anywhere with 42 back there?" There was a long moment of silence before he answered the one thing I didn't want to hear.

"No, I did not." He seemed to pause again for a moment before adding "Maybe 42 is keeping her somewhere." Or maybe she just killed her, just to add to the growing body count weighing me down. I wonder how many more bodies my mind could handle seeing before breaking completely. "I doubt forty two killed her, she might need to use her again as leverage. Just in case we ever get the upper hoof on her."

His words took a moment to sink in before prying me out of the fog of depression I was lost in, his logic sharp enough to sink deep. "Your right, she's probably still alive." But what would 42 do now that she was stranded out in the middle of nowhere? It was too much to hope that she would just sit down and die, even then we still had no idea where she hid Pallet. No, 42 was coming for me, I know it. I had just showed her up, I had just made this personal, and in stereotypical supervillin fashion, she would try to get her revenge.


We drove in silence for another two and a half hours towards Manehatten before the last of the spark batteries the Marauder was running on died. I begrudgingly got out and lifted the hood, stripping the spent batteries out before shoving the single, half dead one from my saddle bags into the first slot. Without the constant trickle from the other 7, this one will drain much faster, even with the battery controller. We won't get much farther, but I hoped it would let us at least get far enough that I could find a settlement.

The problem with the Equestrian wasteland was that as new sources of salvage were discovered, whole villages sprung up almost overnight, starting to pull pre war ruins apart the day after. It also worked the other way around though, as I had once watched as a set of supply depots were cleared and entire town was stripped and abandoned by sun up the next day. Yes, communities like Ponyville existed, but they were so few and far between now that mostly a lot of ponies live in them because they believe safety in numbers, or they offered some sort of steady work. With 42's arrival stirring up the wastes, and the loss of Ponyville itself, I don't think that first idea holds true anymore.

I slammed the hood shut, looking around along the grey horizon for a moment for anything that looked like a place that might house ponies. Coming up with nothing, I decided to use the map function on my pipbuck to see where we were, unhappy to see that our ride had taken us less than half way to the nearest settlement. I turned and got back in, trying not to glance at the back seat where Harmony's body was. I heard Brass remove his helmet with the now familiar hiss as he shifted about in the back.

"This is our last battery, so keep an eye out for a place to stop or any traders on the horizon." I said back to Brass through a sigh. I was suddenly hit with the sudden understanding for the practicality of a skycar. What was a four hour trip for a skycar, was nearly two days on the road. Even without 42 after us, it might have seemed unbearably slow.

"There is an old quarry not far from here." His soft voice coming oddly from behind. I turned to see him with his head hung out the window, looking positively green in the face. "We can ask for hel..." He arched his back hard and threw up out the window, the foul liquid making my pipbuck tick softly. I looked down to notice the rad meter was in green. Wait, green? I guess Skyline or Harmony must have given me some rad away while I was recovering from the whole severed hoof thing.

"Just keep going." He groaned out slowly "Yeah, if you could try to avoid the holes in the road, that would be great." I nodded and hit the ignition, letting the loud engine rumble to life as I sat back. I drove us at a more relaxed pace than before, as we were more in need of economy than the need of saving time or running from 42. I sighed sadly as we rode the next fifteen minutes before I saw the sign for the quarry, remembering I had passed here many times before while on my route with Sky. There wasn't anything out here other than a couple of rusting bulldozers and a small, gutted office trailer. Why Brass wanted me to stop here was beyond me.

I saw a flash of light from the high dirt walls of the old complex, turning the car sharply as a gunshot tore the passenger side rear view mirror off. The tires screeched as the car sharply skid sideways before coming to a rest. I ducked onto the floor as the dust cleared, landing painfully on top of the tire iron I had left on it earlier. I rubbed my chest as Brass opened his door and rolled out, heaving in loud gasps before he threw up yet again.

"Stay where you are!" The obnoxiously loud boom of a power armored helmet called out from the distance. I could hear the loud thumping of heavy hooves approaching as I lay in the car. "You have been deemed a criminal of the wasteland and will submit to the authority of the Manehatten steel rangers delta contingent." As the voice got closer, I could now make it out as the voice of a mare, her tone was that of steadfast duty, like she truly believed herself to be with out a doubt, talking to criminals.

"I am steel ranger acolyte Brass Tacks of the Manehatten contingent." I heard the young stallion choke out from the pavement. "Stand down, we are not the fugitive you are looking for." Brass spoke as I heard a soft hiss from his suit, followed by the clunks of his dismounted weapons as they dropped to the roadway.

"I am Paladin longbow, and I regret to tell you that acolyte Brass Tacks was marked as killed in action on a mission two weeks ago and that this vehicle has been reported to be operated by a known criminal of the wasteland." She said with a stomp. Wait, how could they think Brass was dead? The remark making my mind run back to the encounter at the M.O.M. bunker that started all of this. The group that took down the purple alicorn must have been looking for his group when I was teleported, which also meant they left before he showed up. "Stay on the ground, you and your supplies will be detained in our facility until we can establish your identities.

I felt the door open behind me before I was drug out unceremoniously, flopping onto the ground with a thud as magical manacles forced my fore hooves together painfully. I turned my head back to see the helmet levitate off a midnight blue unicorn mare standing a few feet from me in polished power armor. I assumed unicorns didn't wear helmets because of their horn, but I looked through the hole drilled into her silver headgear it as it levitated beside her. She held head high, her longer than normal horn cut through her black and light blue striped mane as her large, soft blue eyes looked down at me for a moment before they were drawn over around the car.

"Black power armor?" Her eyes narrowed as she pointed her twin sniper rifles to the side of the car Brass was lead around. "Since when did the Enclave start outfitting ghouls with this kind of tech to do their work? No matter, take them away for questioning. The rest of us will have to get this vehicle in storage."

I was levitated off the ground and onto the back of one of the other power armored soldiers, writhing and trying to get at least a little more comfortable as he trotted me into the quarry. I looked back to see Brass was being flanked by three soldiers as he walked slowly after us, my view getting cut off as the suit I was riding turned and strode into a cave.

While I never checked deep into dangerous caves when we stopped places, I'm pretty sure we would have noticed this place with how many suited soldiers were striding around here. We were heading towards an open, rectangular steel door that looked more like the bulkhead on a ship than an entrance. My captor must have forgotten I was riding or didn't care when they entered because they trotted too close to one side, making me smack my head on the frame with a loud thunk.

"Hey! watch it!" I cried out as they twist down a set of steep stairs, descending a few flights before turning down another hallway, once again slamming my head into the doorframe as we passed through. "You know what, fuck you." I barked out as I tried to rub my head with my shackled hooves. I swear to Celestia I was going to buck this ranger SO hard when this got sorted out, that he will wish I had sent him to the moon... maybe I could even borrow Brass's armor to help.

The steel rangers bunker seemed oppressive, it's long, metallic hallways predictably cut off into smaller rooms at regular intervals. small groups of robed acolytes worked on various arcano-tech devices as we walked by, not even looking up from their work. As we took a right and walked down a long hallway, a group of young foals came screaming by chasing each other, seemingly unfazed by the armored brute carrying a random wasteland prisoner.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized I knew nothing about how the steel rangers even lived. I always knew they lived in underground bunkers, but I had imagined the interior to be a bit more... cozy. This place had no color, no expression, nothing lavish in it at all! No wonder that they were always such ruthless bastards, these places sucked the individuality right out of them!

We stopped inside a small room that had a single table with a large metal box set on it. I looked around as a pair of stallions in robes lifted me up and stripped me down to just my pipbuck, putting all of my gear into the box before throwing me back on top of my armored 'escort'.

As we continued, we wound down quite a few more flights of stairs and through another assorted section of hallways. The ominous thrumming of the arcane reactors that powered the base seemed to come straight from the walls, the low tone seemed deafening in my mind. "How can you ponies stand to live here?"

An elder Mare's voice spoke up as I was finally brought into a small room at the end of the hallway we were in. It was poorly lit by a single dim bulb, illuminating a metal pole rising from the floor in it's center that seemed to be the only feature of the mostly dark room. "We choose to live here because the outside is just too barbaric to the alternative safety of these bunkers." I knew that voice, She was there at the entrance to 42's bunker. Her words slid out of the darkness, oozing with elation as I was chained to the post and locking in.

"Strawberry Sorbet." I said with a glare as her red eyes came out of the darkness. A hood cloaked her grey coat and mane as she stood at the edge of the light, her eyes wavered for a moment in surprise. "You never forget a name when you are in the mercantile business."

Her eyes narrowed as she gave a small laugh. "I am hardly surprised, but as you now see, the moment you claimed that bunker for the M.O.M., you stepped into MY business." She started pace in circles around me as she spoke, not shifting her gaze once as she left my own and came back into view from the other side of me. "Now I understand competition is good for everyone in your little world, but I rule mine with an iron hoof. You see, as you and that pink mare run around committing atrocities with the weapons of the old world, I am trying to protect the innocent ponies caught in the crossfire. It is my job to take away all of the fun toys from all you little primitive wasteland foals, and when I do, then Equestria may finally have a chance to grow again."

What was it that happened nearly two weeks ago that made it so every new pony I ran into had the sudden urge to be a stereotypical villain with a 'Master Plan' to 'Save' the wasteland? Did ponies sound like this before the war? If we did, it was probably the reason we blew ourselves up. I chuckled softly at that thought, catching a glimpse of rage shoot across the elders expression.

"I'm not with her. I merely reclaimed the property she stole from me." I retorted smartly as I shifted uneasily on my rear hooves, twisting at the post I was hooked onto.

"Oh we are aware of this..." Her eyes beamed through the darkness as she spoke. "That obnoxious stallion in Tenpony keeps reminding us of this while we are just as interested in stopping that pink mare as you are..." Oh yeah, I keep forgetting to use the radio on this thing, which reminds me... why didn't they remove it with all my other stuff? I mean they had always bought the other ones I've found, and those didn't even work!

"So why tell me all this? Why keep me here at all?" My voice as calm as I could make it, trying to hide the fact that the way she had me set up in this room unnerved the ever living HELL out of me.

"Because, I need you to provide me with a service." She said as a small smile crept across her muzzle, glinting in the soft light.

"You want to negotiate." I paused for a moment, not believing it for a moment. "With me?" I raised an eyebrow to her, following her as she continued walking slowly around me. "Then why the room? Why the setup?"

"You can always say no." She replied with a forced frown, her eyes looking away as she nodded her head slighly. "But because you know of this base, I'd have to keep you down here for the rest of your life, which incidentally wouldn't be very long. Prisoners seem to keep dying when down here, and the murderous perpetrator has yet to be caught. It's quite a pity really, I've lost a lot of good prisoners to whomever they are."

Wow, I never thought that the steel rangers were that far gone, sacrificing even their basic morals to obtain prewar junk was bad, but now this? If anything I'm glad Brass got out when he did. Wait, well maybe not so glad. He has gone through some pretty rough shit with me as well, but at least we weren't forcing innocent ponies to submit or die. I don't want to imagine Brass ever growing up to be as cold as this.

"This isn't a negotiation." I finally spoke up before getting lost too deeply in my own thoughts. "A negotiation is when both sides get something. So if I do this, I get something out of it." I watched as her smile widened slightly. I was only going to have one shot at this. "If you don't like it, fine, leave me here. I wish you all the luck in finding somepony else who is related to a ministry mare." I turned my muzzle up and away, trying my best to look indifferent.

"Well, I'm sure we could find someone at Tenpony... Or friendship City." She snapped back, her voice filled with a cold hatred. "Could just keep killing them on that bunker door until somepony went through."

One of these days, I'm going to ask Brass if she was born without a heart, or if she just lost it in some pre war ruin and couldn't find it again. "You could do that, but the last thing DJ Pon3 would broadcast to Equestria is that all steel rangers aren't to be trusted, and should be killed on sight. Oh, and before you say have the armor to fight ponies and win ten to one. Remember that with the full might of wasteland against you, it will be more like a hundred to one. It will be a wasteland with a rifle pony behind every blade of dead grass, behind every rock, and inside every ruin." I leaned as close as I could get, torquing my bindings as she came around again. "Unless you want to play those odds, then give me a real deal."

Strawberry Sorbet stopped and walked up to me, dropping her hood and letting her short grey mane droop around her head in a small bowl shape. "Fair enough. I will let you and your friend go if you agree."

"Not bad..." I tilted my head in thought. "...for an opening bid. First, tell me the job."

She shook her head slowly with a frown. "You don't get to know. You wanted to negotiate a price, so that is what we will do. If we reach an agreement, then I will tell you the job." Her voice denoted she was hesitant, so the job had to be worse than I could think possible, so it was ok that I start high with my demands and give her something outrageous to agree too.

"Fair enough." I rolled my eyes with a sigh. "But I get to keep any of the tech I find, even if you succeed on this little 'crusade' you have planned. I'll have steel ranger immunity per-se." now she counters with a low bid.

"You get to keep none of the tech you find, and I will take anything else of yours I find even remotely interesting." She glowered at me, her voice sounding a bit overconfident. "Oh, and you will submit to the steel rangers like every other wasteland primitive."

Shit, I thought she might come in low at five percent, but zero percent was a bit harsh. Well, tough customers call for my A-game. "I get to keep half the tech I find, with the option to sell it to you for double its value." I feigned a waiver in my voice and looked around the room sharply, happy to see her smile grow from the performance I gave. Alright! At least I know that without a heart, she could still play right into my hooves.

"You can choose five pieces of tech, should you recover any, and I will pay you ten percent of their value for them, and I will confiscate any extra pieces anyway without compensation." She leaned close, her gaze was now unwavering, almost boring into the depths of my mind.

"I will choose two pieces of tech to keep and three to sell for one and a half their value." I straightened up my gaze, staring back at her with a tight grin. Her eyes twitched momentarily, just enough for me to perceive it. "Final. Offer."

"Is that so?" She said slowly as she loosened up a bit, her gaze drifting to the side as she thought. "You will be paid one quarter what each item you recover is worth, keeping none of it." She nodded to the guard in the room behind me and I felt the magical shackles disappear. "And I'll even let you keep that deathtrap of a vehicle. It does no good to us in such unstable condition."

I beamed a smile at her and held my unbound hoof out to her. "Deal!"


Wait a moment... Deathtrap? Unstable? I put her back together myself! Yeah she is a bit stubborn sometimes, but that was low! I shook the thoughts from my head as I walked up to the "brig" as they called it. I wore a wide smile as Brass looked up from his small cot, standing up as the guards slid the barred door open before leaving us.

"How...?" His bright gold eyes looked up before he bolted at me, throwing his hooves around me in a hug. "I tried to tell them I was me, but nopony believed me." I let him hang off me for a moment before straightening up.

"I made a deal. We have a job to do for them." I said softly, letting him collect himself. "Come on, we need to gather our gear and find out what crazy shit we're supposed to walk into next."

As we stopped a couple levels up for me to catch my breath, I started to wonder why in Celestia's name was this building made out of stairs! I know I'm out of shape, but for Luna's sake they could have installed at least a single elevator SOMEWHERE. I collapsed at several more points as we were climbing, trying to catch my breath as we made our way to the middle levels of the complex.

Brass was leading the way to the armory, deftly winding us through the apparently endless hallways. Finally, we ended up in a cramped room with a small, metal, mesh window in the back wall, a semi circle cut out of the bottom was the only clear view of a room behind. The light-framed yellow stallion wearing a pair of thick glasses had his muzzle buried in a book as we approached, not even looking over as we walked up.

"Please sign your Name, I.D. number, lot number, and the current time on the clipboard provided" He spoke in the dullest tone I had ever heard and I was nearly asleep by the end just that sentence. A curious thought crept into the back of my head, there was only one other pony I knew that came close to that level of dreariness...

"You wouldn't happen to be related to the head of admissions in Tenpony, would you?" I asked with a small smile that shrank as he raised his eyebrow slowly and looked over the two of us over before grabbing a nearby clipboard and sliding it under the metal caged window.

"Don't worry Backlash, I'll fill this out." Brass said as he levitated the pen and board next to him, angrily staring up at the yellow stallion. "I've done this PLENTY of times to know." Ouch, I could feel the tremendous amount of resentment in his words start to burn, the clerical stallion huffing softly and not giving us another thought as he went back to his book.

With the way they treated him before, and the way they carry themselves even around each other, I'm not sure why Brass even wanted them to remember him again. Brass scribbled some things on the clipboard and floated the finished paperwork under the window again with a grunt, still keeping his eyes locked on the annoying stallion as he read through the forms with a blank look.

"You've filed form 23-B instead of form 2b-3. I'm going to need you to redo it before I can process your request." The stallion smirked as he crumpled up the paper while I watched Brass out of the corner of my eye as her started trembling with rage. I heard heavy hoofsteps come in behind us.

"Oh fucking just give them their stuff, Manilla." I turned back to look just as Longbow pushed Brass and I out of the way. "The elder needs them at the briefing now, and you know what she'll do if she found you slacking off again. Hell, you're lucky I don't report you for this violation." Her voice was cold and seemed to cut right through the window, the look on the yellow stallion was one of nervous guilt as he shrank down in his seat.

"R..right away Ms. Longbow." He fumbled himself out of his chair and disappeared from sight behind the wall.

"Sorry about that, he doesn't like outsiders." The armored mare said as she pushed her long mane from her eyes before looking down at Brass. "I remember you... yes, you belonged to the east side contingent, Bravo company I believe."

"How did you know?" Brass said as he looked over her in awe. "I mean you look familiar, but..."

"You don't remember?" She said with more than a hint of disappointment. "It was a little over a year ago I had asked you to prepare some information for me, it was about the arcanotech facility for an upcoming mission I was supposed to brief my squad and the elders on. You spoke your mind, much to the chagrin of my superiors and said that after reviewing the records, the risks from the automated defences were too high and that the mission should be scrapped. Nothing else needed to be brought up." The face on the young stallion lit up as the memory came back, followed along giddily as she continued. "Because of your warning, I was the only one who came prepared for the full force of the defences. I ended up dragging two other injured paladins back when the star paladin decided to scrap the attempt."

"I remember that!" Brass bounced on his hooves, looking as happy as filly Pinkie Pie from my dreams. "You told me that without my attention to detail and the courage to speak my mind, you would have died!"

Longbow smiled a soft smile that reminded me of Sky. Shit, speaking of, Sky was probably freaking out right about now. Longbow sighed loudly, pulling me out of my head and back to the story. "Yes, and when I told you, you were so proud of the job you did, your cutie mark appeared! I'll always remember that day. Did you know that they made me a Paladin because I saved Backblast and Cream Puff? They may not have thought it to be true, but for me, we survived because of an amazing, little colt." She ruffled his green hair with her hoof a bit as he giggled.

Part of the wall hissed and slid open suddenly, making me scream and jumped back nearly five feet. I slowly met the confused looks of Longbow and Brass as a nervous smile spread across my muzzle. Composing myself, I quickly walked over and grabbed one of the metal boxes that rested on a pneumatic rack, attempting to pick it up with both hooves but failing seeing as it seemed to weigh a million fucking tons.

"Let me get that for you..." Longbow said with a hint of snarkiness, walking over and effortlessly lifting the box off, setting it on the ground next to Brass. She turned around and smiled, lifting a hoof to her forehead to give me a small salute. "If you need anymore help, I'll be right outside, Ma'am" She smiled and winked at me as the sarcastic remark drew another fit of giggles from Brass while he floated the lid off the box, revealing his black power armor.

"damn cheat suits..." I grumbled under my breath as I turned and yanked the other box off the shelf, half expecting it to be as heavy as the first. As it turns out, it wasn't! I pulled far too hard and threw the box across the room, smacking Brass right in the head with it. He dropped to the floor with a groan and a thud. I stifled back a giggle of my own as I walked over and helped Brass back to his hooves. "Sorry... I thought it was going to be heavy."

"It's fine. I did hospitalize you once, remember?" Brass said as he smiled up, his eyes refocusing on me as he rubbed his forehead softly. "But now we're even."

The yellow stallion peered through the cutout section of the window. "You know, you really shouldn't beat children..."

"Get back to work, Manilla!" Longbow shouted as she walked out, trying to contain her laughter.


I had relaxed a bit after I got my gear back, triple-double-checking my inventory to make sure nothing was missing before following longbow up yet more flights of stairs. After three flights I flung myself onto Brass, letting his armor carry me the rest of the way as my right hoof ached horribly. I didn't care anymore if anyone thought less of me, I'll deal with it whenever these stairs weren't trying to murder me. We turned out of the stairwell, letting out a groan as my head smacked against the doorframe. I rubbed my head as we walked into a blander than normal room with a single rectangular table in the center.

"Took your time getting here, maybe took a small nap, got something to eat?" Strawberry Sorbet said with agitated sarcasm without even looking up from the documents spread about the tables surface.

"Sorry, Ma'am, won't happen again, Ma'am" Longbow said as she saluted stiffly.

"You need to keep your staff in line." Brass said as he took his helmet off and set it on the table. "They are lazy and inefficient."

The elder tapped her hoof on the table before looking up and over at him. "You know, if you were a pony under my command, I would lock you up for a week for that remark." She let out a soft sigh as she gathered her papers. "You're straight and to the point. Just like that east sider colt... oh what was his name..." She grinned and glared at him. "It doesn't matter, I heard he was killed a few weeks ago, a shame really." I could see Brass tense up, his eyes bore the intensity of a balefire blast as he stared across the table.

"The job." I raised my voice as I spoke. "What is it?" Brass shrugged off the anger and looked at the floor as I spoke, trying to not gaze back at the elder as she did her best to match the stare he had with an added smile.

"There is a computer hidden in an underground facility on the far outskirts of Fillydelphia." She said slowly. "It used to be one of the computer hubs that linked all of the Ministries between the great cities. I watched out of the corner of my eye as paladin Longbow cringed as she went on, she didn't seem to like the mention of this place at all. I looked more at her expression as she listened, seeing pain and suffering shimmer across her face in waves.

"You need to get to the bottom level of the facility and reconnect the server hub. The power generators should still be running, so it shouldn't be anything more than a command at a control terminal." The gray mare relaxed her gaze, looking over at me. "Don't screw this up and I will honor our deal.

I nearly laughed. "That's it? Just activate a terminal? Ok, we'll..." Brass cut me off by raising a hoof to my chest, shaking his head slowly.

"This is the same facility I researched for Longbow." He said, his gaze was stern. "The first three levels are flooded with radiation." Well that won't be so bad as long as we pack plenty of rad away. "The fourth level is full of robots and automated turrets, but even then, nopony knows what the fifth floor holds. The schematics were off limits, so you can bet that's where the real trouble is going to be."

My expression sank as he continued, face hoofing as he finished. One Celestia-damned break! And robots?! I hated fighting robots! They were the only thing that didn't run away no matter how much you shot them up. I was about to respond as a series of alarms activated throughout the base. A dark green mare ran up to the elder and whispered into her ear.

"It's fine, we were expecting them." Strawberry said as she pushed the mare away without a care, turning to me with the same crooked smile from before. "It seems your feathered friends have finally tracked you down. You may get your things and go, but if you attempt to run, I will track you down, and Celestia help you if I do find you." She turned yet again towards the blue paladin and smiled. "You have advanced knowledge of the layout and will escort them into the facility."

"Y...Yes Ma'am" Longbow stuttered out, snapping back up to a salute as the alarms stopped. The elder threw her hood up over herself and trotted from the room quickly, not even offering us a second glance. The three of us just stood for a moment in silence as the green informant mare exited after a moment as well. Longbow put her hoof back down and let out a long sigh.

"I'm sorry for the elder giving you such a task." She said with a glum look. "I'll do my best to help, but if five of us in armor couldn't make it down, what chance do we have?" She sat down hard as I looked at Brass and shrugged. "I need to requisition some supplies downstairs. I'll meet you two up top."

"I don't care much for the chances, but I'll be damned if I don't do a job I made a deal on. I'd never be a successful trader if I skimped on my customers!" I smirked lightly and thought about all the arms I had just collected the day before. Even at one quarter the worth, that was a FORTUNE in caps! I nodded to brass for us to go, looking into her eyes as we walked out. "Besides, if you do make it back, they'll have to make you star paladin or some shit." She forced as smile before we rounded the corner into the stairwell again. "Ah, my old nemesis, Stairs." I huffed quietly before I started to climb the remaining flights up.

We were met at the cave's entrance by Sky and Carlotta. Sky didn't even give me a moment to catch my breath before tackling me to ground, hugging around my neck tightly. Honestly, even though it had only been a day, it was the best feeling in the world to have her near me again. I laughed through my gasps and hugged her back hard, only to be silenced by Carlotta a few moment's later.

"Where's Giganto-mare? Still inside?" Her words forced the harsh reality back to the front of my head, Harmony was still laying dead inside the Marauder, 42 had still murdered her, and it was still all my fault.

"She..." I started, losing myself in thought for a moment. "I screwed up." I pushed Sky off me and rolled to my hooves, staring at the dirt solemnly. Brass walked up and put a hoof on my shoulder.

"We did what we could..." I looked up as he spoke, not believing a word of it, even as my brain was trying to tell me that I he sounded completely sincere." 42 killed her in our escape, it was out of our hooves." Sky leaned in again and put a hoof on my other shoulder, her expression spoke of pity, but I don't know if it was for me, or for Harmony. Harmony didn't deserve this fate, she was finally free.

A familiar low rumble resounded throughout the quarry as the Marauder came to life for a moment before dying, letting me shrug off my companions hold on me, walking towards the waiting car. "I want to bury her near the garage. We have alot of ground to cover, so we need to get going." I didn't even really register how I responded, I just wanted to get home, bury Harmony, do this job, and kill 42.

"Backlash..." Sky said softly as I walked away.

"let him go." Brass said softly. "He just needs some time."

How was it that in such a short period of time in my life, I could have made the new friends I have? Just the simple fact that Brass was willing to stand up with me and fight against 42's plan could have been enough. But even with so little time to get to know him, I cared about him, and he obviously cared about me. I assume that's why Skyline and Carlotta feel so close as well. I mean, I know the rough and tumble griffin well enough that I can trust and value her friendship. Even with all the death around us, we give each other the strength to carry on.

I walked up to the Marauder and looked inside to see paladin Longbow sitting in the front passenger side seat. She looked over to me with a shy smile and eyed Harmony's body uneasily. "I had them put eight new spark batteries in. This vehicle should be able to get us there and have just enough to get us..."

"Get out." I said with a stern voice. "Carlotta can drop you off closer to the facility. We will meet you there." There was no way on Celesita's great earth that I was going to let an active steel ranger know where my trade goods are stored, and I'm sure as hell not going to have Strawberry Sorbet showing up randomly to destroy my life's work.

"I was instructed to accompany you. It was part of the deal." She retorted with a slight amount of shock to her statement. "Furthermore, I will not risk you fleeing from what you agreed to do for us." She whipped her mane from her face in a huff and crossed her forehooves. I got into the car and shut my door angrily.

"As much as I love your companionship. I can't have you telling all your little ranger friends where I store my good tech." I reached over and opened her door. "I don't trust you, so get out."

I yanked my hoof back inside as Sky bucked the door closed before turning and walking up to the window next to Longbow. She looked in and eyed over the stubborn unicorn. "How about this. Should you ever choose to reveal the location of our headquarters, I will PERSONALLY make sure that you have a large enough bounty on your head that nopony will ever pass up the chance to kill you." Sky leaned in with the same gaze I use to try to light ponies on fire. "Got it?"

The Paladin sat for a moment, thinking it over with a hoof on her chin. "I agree." I listened as she said it, playing it over and over in my mind. It sounded genuine, so I nodded over to Sky. The satisfied pegasus proceeded to walk over to the skycar and surprisingly, strapped herself in. I looked around out the window for Carlotta, only to have the rear door open. Turning around, I ended up staring at the smiling beak of one blue-plumaged Griffin.

"So, my employer is unhappy you keep having me run errands. I was assigned to protect you, so I'm not supposed to leave your side, blah blah blah." She rolled her eyes and looked out the window as Brass got inside the perforated silver pod, closing the side door. Carlotta frowned for a moment as Sky lifted off and pulled the car up and out of sight. "Anyway, I don't exactly trust the 'you know who's' any further than I can throw 'em. So it's road trip time!" Longbow looked like she was about to murder Carlotta, but forced a grin as the griffin turned to meet her with a smile. "You and I are going to be the best of friends!"

I started up the Marauder again, listening to the thrum of her Arcano-tech engine as she idled. I let the vibrations sink deep into my body before I shifted her into gear and slowly drove us out of the quarry, turning back onto the road to Manehatten with a soft sigh. It would only be a couple of days I told myself. If I could handle the last two weeks with my friends, I could damn well handle this.


Longbow struggled to keep on the front seat as I left the semi-smooth road of the highway, dipping over the shoulder and into the wide open desert. The uneven ground was bouncing us wildly, much to the joy of a laughing Carlotta in the back. We had been driving for most of the afternoon, and were now cutting across a semi-flat section of the wastes to shave a bit from our journey. The sun was just peaking below the cloud cover and glinted off of the armored mare's twin sniper rifles as they bounced about.

I had the radio blaring to help with the annoyingly loud noises the Marauder would give when she bottomed out or drove through a pile of gravel, listening to the docile tones of Sweetie Belle as the chaos of the suspension system kept us constantly rocking. But, for as much movement we had been doing, I was quite impressed to see that Longbow wasn't sick to her stomach.

"That was Sweetie Belle, singing about those great times we have with our loved ones. And now for... the news!" DJ Pon3's soothing voice came through the radio over the scrapes and bangs without losing too much of it's quality. "First, some bad news. My trusted source can personally confirm the reports that the citizens of Whinny were inside the sugar apple bombs factory at the time of the explosion and has the proof that the pink mare was behind the fiendish action."

I scrunched up my muzzle for a second, before frowning. The memories from the last few days flooded my mind. I could see the pose of each victim clearly in my mind, their heads, each with a hole bored through them.

"Now for the good news! You remember that recently I mentioned the troublesome Rock gang was plaguing all the settlements in the Ponyville area? Well worry no more! That's right my little ponies, the Rock gang is no more thanks to the heroic actions of the ponies going after the notorious pink mare!"

DJ Pon3 had such pride in his voice, the admiration he bestowed was denoting many emotions, but pride drowned them out. I didn't know what to think about it, I mean I've always wanted to be the wastelands most famous trader, but at the cost's 42 has been imposing, it's not going to be worth it.

"In other interesting news, New Appleloosa has repaired the train line bet..." Longbow shut the radio off before a particularly strong bounce sent her to the floor with a grunt and a thud. She struggled to get to her hooves as Carlotta bust into hysterical laughter and fell onto the floor in the back.

"Just stay down there!" I yelled over the obnoxious noises the dirt and sand were making, doing my best to keep the Marauder steady on the rough terrain. "We're almost through! Just another minute!" The shock absorbers and leaf springs groaned as I sped up, bouncing higher as we screamed toward the flat section of highway in front of us. With a final lurch and a loud slam, we careened over the low dune at the edge of the old highway. We rolled to a stop after lining the car back up in the correct direction, sighing as I sat back and put the car in park, turning off the engine to give us a small break. (In hind sight, I realize that by taking the break, it didn't really save any time at all.)

Longbow scrambled to open her door, covering her muzzle with a hoof as she finally unlatched it, clambering a few feet back up the dune before I could hear her throw up. Carlotta pulled herself back up from the floor, drooping and panting over the seat as she caught her breath from her incessant giggles over the unsteady paladin.

"Honestly I was surprised she lasted that long!" I said with a smirk. "You should have seen Brass."

"So, I get that you ground ponies aren't used to bouncing or rocking around much." She finally said with a raised brow. "So why didn't you get sick?"

"Traversing the wasteland with a cart full of wares and a partner means you will eventually get a turn to sleep in the back." I said with a small amount of pride while shrugging. "You eventually just get used to it.

"Hey!" Carlotta and I turned in unison as Longbow called out from the dune. "Stop where you are!" I was amazed that by the time we were glancing in the direction that she was calling out from, she had taken off a good two hundred feet in a Gallop, screaming off into the evening desert beside us. As I groaned and opened my door, a small twinge in my back jolted my eyes up towards the opposite side of the roadway as a flash on a rock maybe a hundred yards away reflected the setting sun behind me.

I ducked behind the door, using it for cover as the sniper took shot after shot against the old, rusted steel door. I could hear the rounds thunk against the old phone books I had crammed in the frames as Carlotta climbed out the other side of the car.

"Carlotta! I could use some help!" I did my best to scream over the deafening cracks from the hidden gun pony. I slid into S.A.T.S. and felt the world crawl to a stop and for some reason I could see the outline of the hidden sniper stallion through both the doorframe and the rocks he was using for cover. I had a 0% chance to hit him from my current position, but from what I saw, there was too much open ground to cover for me to even attempt to use anything but the party cannon.

I pulled up the menu and equipped the party cannon before canceling the targeting spell. The bulky weapon flashed into my grip as time sped back to normal, the enormous pink gun immediately jerking as a round bounced off its side. It was just too bulky of a weapon to use effectively from cover I guess. I heard the short, controlled bursts from when Carlotta laid down fire as she flew past, giving me a short window to get up and help take the sniper out.

I rose onto my hind hooves and out of the safety of the car door, propping the pink gun on the door frame as the sniper himself recovered from the aerial pass. I fired first, too hastily and too aimed the shot high, sending the large spherical ball into the boulder beside him, nearly splitting it down the middle as the ball bounced up and over of it, disappearing into the dunes a fair ways back.

He seemed stunned for a moment before squeezing off his own shot. I was thrown back by the sheer impact against my chest, pain immediately lancing through me as I fell to the ground with a gasp. I looked down to see a .308 armor piercing round lodged partway through one of the plates in my flak vest, leaving a half inch deep, bruised and bleeding hole in my chest.

I gasped for air, listening as I heard Calotta swoop by with her battle saddle pounding round after round at the sniper pony. I dropped the party cannon and got to my hooves slowly as I thanked Celestia for this armor, keeping my head down behind the car door. I listened as the sniper pony screamed out, the .308 rounds from the Carlotta's twin rifles punching large holes in him.

For a minute, there was nothing but silence. I scanned the skies around me quickly, trying to find where my griffin buddy had gotten to, but had my gaze drawn toward the sudden sounds of gunfire in the dunes on the other side of the car. I quickly ducked into the Marauder, crawling my way through, keeping low on my hooves as I dropped out the other side.

I peered up over the shallow dune we had driven over to see a group of three, maybe four well armed slavers cowering behind an empty caged cart maybe a hundred yards away. Longbow had moved from a rock she was behind and was walking forward slowly, firing in alternating shots from her sniper rifles, letting the rounds ping off the metal wagon. I grinned and knew I could finish this quickly. I raised my hoof to line up a shot with the party cannon, only to remember it was still sitting on the ground behind the driver side door.

"FUCK!" I yelled as a shower of submachine gun fire erupted from behind the wagon, thumping against the dune in front of me as I dropped down and cringed. "not the smartest idea, Backlash..." I said to myself as I lay in the sand. My ears perked as Carlotta strafed the wagon, a set of yelps and screams erupting between the slow chugging of the automatic guns. After a few moments, I heard a pair of loud cracks from Longbow's sniper rifles before the screams drifted off into the distance with the echoes of the gunfight.

I peaked up over the dune to see Carlotta busily stripping the corpses as Longbow opened the empty cage, peering inside with a distraught look in her eyes. I winced as I brushed the sand and dirt in my wound off before trotting over to her, looking in with her to see what made her so damn horrified.

The decapitated bodies of 3 colts and 4 fillies lay amongst chunks of meat and bone on the floor of the cart, the charred metal remains of collars being the only hint as to how these innocents lost their lives. I turned and lurched forward, kneeling on the dirt before I threw up. The sight of the headless foals stuck imprinted into my mind, seared deep in all of it's horrible detail. I groaned and heaved again, causing me to lose my balance and flop into the dirt.

"Fucking FOALS!" I coughed out as I writhed in pain. "what good were they as slaves? they are innocent!"

Carlotta poker her head around the cage seemingly unphased. "It used to be an honorable trade, allowing ponies to put the criminals of the wasteland to work. Rebuilding rail lines and settlements. But after a few years, more criminals started getting killed in gunfights or 'accidents' while in custody, and they had to resort to other means to get workers." She spoke as if it were common knowledge which scared the hell out of me. Had I been this ignorant of the way the wasteland worked? I remember the last time I even traded with a slaver was a couple syringes of Med-X and a half full box of 9 millimeter ammo in exchange for me fixing up some of his collars.

That was three years ago, but I remember hooking the primers into the directed explosive charges, fixing the radio control board so it would reliably go off. To me, the collars were just another item to fix, just another job. But what if one of those collars was used in that cage? What if I used my special talent that day and ensured the death of one of those colts or fillies? I rolled over on the dirt and heaved again, coughing hard and having nothing left to bring up.

"I'm sorry little ones..." Longbow said softly, her eyes shut, her voice was filled with regret. "I couldn't save you. But I could at least bring justice to the ones who stole your lives." I watched as she kneeled in reverence. "Celestia and Luna, I pray that you find it in your hearts to help the souls of these ponies find peace with you. Please guide them all safely to the everlasting meadows of the afterlife."

She was praying. I had never seen anyone in my travels pray openly, let alone sound so devoted to the goddesses of the old world as the blue mare before me did. I could almost feel that she thought she was speaking directly to them, as if they could answer her if she only spoke as reverently as she did.

"You pray for them?" I said slowly as I wiped the sick from my muzzle. "For all of them?"

She opened her blue eyes slowly, giving a soft nod as she got back to her hooves. "It is only my place to judge ones deeds in this life." She stomped her hoof down, scooping some dirt away as she pulled it back. "Once the soul has departed, it is up to Celestia and Luna to guide them to where they must ultimately go." She scooped another hoof full of dirt away as she talked. She was digging, and I needed to help.

I walked solemnly beside her and scooped away another line, listening as she stopped for a moment and looked at me. I could feel her curious glare as I scooped another hoof full of dirt away, the flutter of Carlotta's wings making me look up to her for a moment. The clang of a set of shovels on the dirt broke the sudden evening air's silence as the now red setting sun glinted off the plating of Longbow's armor.

"Thought you might be dead by the time we got back to the farm, so I grabbed these before we came to get you." Carlotta said as she tried fruitlessly to lighten the mood, watching as a blue aura enveloped the two shovels and swung one around to me. I took it in my mouth and started to dig along side the silent unicorn. Soon Carlotta was dragging the bodies of the slavers over as we dug the mass grave, the wind singing it's low drones as we all worked together to put them to rest.

I couldn't help but think that as we dug, it wasn't fair for the foals to be buried with their murderers, that they deserved somewhere nicer than a shallow grave off the highway. But wasn't that also the case for the innocent ponies in Ponyville or Whinny? Hell, I was going to bury Harmony near the garage when I got back. I had only known her for not even two days before she died, yet I wanted to give her special treatment, and that even though I knew it was wrong, why was I ok with it?


After we had buried the bodies and I had applied a magical bandage to my wound, it was a couple hours into night, the cold air brought with it the frost as fall really started to sink into the wasteland. I took a look over the goods we scavenged before convincing the others it would be a smart idea to head to 'the pool', a nearby settlement built into an old chemical manufacturing plant. The city of a hundred ponies or so was mainly build out of a set of drug manufacturing labs and surplus chemical storehouses surrounded by a line of makeshift, concrete rubble walls. The whole place was one accident away from being one big, taint filled crater in the middle of nowhere.

Sky and I normally rented a room at the only hotel that wasn't also a brothel or drug hangout, staying there whenever we headed through on our south west trade route. Years ago it's owner had chartered to travel with us here from the ruins of Trottingham, so we got to know the stallion quite well. I still normally slip him something neat or quirky I've found as extra incentive to keep the drug pushers away from us, but with recent events keeping me light in the saddlebags, I was hoping that I could still convince him to help me out as a favor for a friend. If worse came to worse, He wasn't the only friend I had made there.

As the Marauder once again clipped along the ruined highway at a good pace, I relaxed again. The constant drum of the engine helped me refocus, reminding me that we needed to stay diligent for when or where 42 would pop up next. I still needed to find where Twilight had the magic pond water moved to, and the only clue I had was what filly pinkie told me in my dream. I scrunched up my muzzle tightly, what sort of clue was 'it's the only place you can normally go to find it' anyway?

The flood lights of the large factory rose out of the night, the four large cylindrical storage tanks stood as monoliths against the sheer rock face that seemed to reach halfway up the side of Foal mountain as the enormous peak disappeared above the cloudlayer. As we grew closer, I could see the light peeking from the various holes rusted in the side of the structures, the makeshift steel-sheeted apartments of the residents set inside the drum exposed themselves to the elements.

I could see a number of the assorted brightly-lit, smaller buildings where most of the actual drug manufacturing took place, all of them sat dangerously close to a single concrete reservoir that the four large storage tanks drained into after the war. This created a small lake of nearly pure taint that sat against the jagged cliff face of the Mountain, the serene calmness of the rainbow liquid always disturbed me.

I slowed down and flipped off the high beams as I approached the bridge running over the Reinland River, dropping the car into neutral I stopped just short of a diminutive, single-pony guard house with a familiar looking black coated pegasus stallion. The white of his short cut mane and his wide green eyes were normally the only thing I could see in the darkness, but 500 lumen headlights seemed to help with that. I leaned my head out the window and smiled brightly at him, he beamed a wide smile back as he trotted over eagerly.

"What did I tell you, Dip Stick!" I said happily, pouring on the pride as I gunned the engine, letting it's deep roar fill the night air for a few seconds before letting her drop to a low idle. "Told you I'd get her running again."

"Well ah'l be, Backlash, yah finally up an' did it." His thick country accent was just as hard to understand as ever. "Would neva 'ave thought ah'd see the day when ya'll finally drove in here. Guess ah'll be owin' yah that beer aftah all, it'll only be a few hours till ahm off, could meet ya'll down at Tanker then."

"Yeah, sounds good to me. My friends and I just have to get set up with a room at lantern's, then we can talk as long as you're buying." I smiled and nodded toward my unhappy travel companions. "Is the fee to enter still five caps?"

He shook his head with a frown. "Naw, they up'n raised the damned thang ta twenty caps. Sorry 'bout that, thang is that a scrap is brewin 'tween them big shots what run th' place, so tah dis'uade poor newcomers from joinin' the fight, they've done raised the price."

"It's fine" I said with a slight sigh. "I'm just a little light on caps, got plenty of guns to sell, but no real money. Think you can spot me until I can trade some of this stuff?" I gave him my best pleading eyes, whimpering slightly.

"Nu-uh. Ah can't let ya'll in if yah ain't gon' pay." He said as he stomped his hoof, stiffening up and glaring down at me. I looked up as his mouth slowly curled into a smile and he started to laugh. "Naw, yah know ah couldn't refuse yah! Go on in and ah'll see ya'll in a bit."

I nodded and shifted back into drive, pulling onto the bridge slowly, listening to the odd rhythm the tires played on the worn boards as the sound of the running river below mixed in. I looked over the main strip ahead, the floodlights from the top of each of the large towers filled every nook and cranny of the town, revealing everypony clearly as they moved from one brothel or bar to another. A small group of ponies were dancing around a large bonfire as an orange coated pony played energetically on a fiddle, the sounds of laughter and good times carrying in the cold air.

"I've only heard of this place..." Longbow said as she looked over the bright and lively street, shifting herself uneasily. "The population is... less shady that I expected."

Carlotta choked back for a moment before yelling and busting out into laughter, causing the armored pony to tense up momentarily. I couldn't help but join in, giggling as Longbow canted her head and glanced between us. "I don't under..." She paused for a moment, before she facehooved with a smirk. "that's not what I meant."

"Oh Celestia... you're too good!" I said as I gasped between laughs, pulling the marauder over to the side of the road and into the small paved lot the makeshift Red Lantern's motel was set up in, the glowing neon picture of a red lantern the only distinct feature of the plain brown building. "You know, some of you steel rangers are alright." I shut the car off and popped the hood, not looking as I swung the driver side door open, nearly hitting a small, white coated young stallion who was walking by. "Oh, sorry! I didn't see you there." I grunted as I choked back the rest of my laughs, shutting the door as I got out.

The stallion who must have only been a couple of years older than Brass, glared up at me, his greasy and short, pale yellow mane blowing softly in the air. "You on a mission from Celestia?" He squinted his pale green eyes and leaned towards me menacingly. "Unless you are, watch where you're going next time, dick." He chuckled to himself and continued on his way trotting towards the motel, the odd faint of foul chemicals following in his wake. I looked back over to Carlotta and Longbow, giving them a shrug before lifting the hood of the Marauder, starting to disconnect the spark battery controller.

"How do you know the ponies here? I thought you didn't sell drugs." Carlotta said with a raised eyebrow, her blue plumage brighter than ever in the artificial sunlight from above.

"That being true, I do sell lots of other goods used to MAKE drugs." I stated plainly as I rummaged around my saddlebag for my wrench. "It's not nearly as much as I normally make off of things like guns and ammo, but there is a lot of stuff out there that can be repurposed for use here, and they are always willing to buy, So it works out for us." I yanked on the wrench with my hooves, finally dislodging the connecter to free the hoof-sized, gem-studded, silver box. "Not to mention, the Stallion who owns this place came over with us from Trottingham and has been nice enough to accommodate us on our journeys back and forth. So why not make a few extra caps while we are here?"

As I placed the arcano-tech device in my saddlebag and shut the hood, a familiar pegasus walked over from the managers office. "Backlash my old chum! It's been far too long!" My ears perked with his accented voice as I spun to meet him, only to have his hooves pull me against his chest and hug me far too tightly. A few of my vertebrae popped loudly after a moment, giving him the sense he needed to stop as he let go. "I do hope that Moron wasn't too terribly rude to you, but don't you mind him, he is an bit of an odd fellow..."

I flopped to the ground with a thud and looked up at him, his olive drab coat seemed fairer under the bright lights of the towers, contrasting with the dark brand on his flank. The brownish black of a cloud with a lightning bolt stuck out like a sore hoof on him. I reached my hoof up as he took it and helped me back up, allowing me to dust myself off as he took his hat off, running his hoof through the white mohawk he called his mane (I wouldn't have made the same choice in style, but to each their own!)

"Yeah, I think I'll live." I said with a soft smile, letting Carlotta and Longbow walk up beside me. "It has been a while Ripcord, how has business been?"

He let out a soft sigh and let his silver eyes sink. "Well you see, between the growing fuss of the three kings rivalries and the rate hike for entering, I dare say they are slowly driving me out of business. You're the first paying customer I've had in the last month, well, aside from than that Moron fellow." He grumbled a bit as he looked over at the room the small stallion went into.

Longbow stomped her hoof and pointed over to the same room. "Even if he is impolite, you shouldn't demean your customers with such insults."

Ripcord gave me a look of disbelief. "You would dare accuse ME of such slander?" He put his tan safari cap back on before smiling. "The young stallion's name is Moron, he signed it in the logbook you see. Although he is rather fond of insisting that it is pronounced Myron. I don't really care for either pronunciation mind you, but one would think you would just sign your name as Myron if you thought it proper for others to call you by it." He turned his gaze to me and pointed a hoof at the room next to the office. "You may have your usual room, but I'm terribly sorry I'm going to have to charge you at twice the standard rate. You do understand how business gets."

I sighed and nodded. "I just have to get some goods turned into actual caps first, then I'll be right back to pay you." Turning, I froze for a moment before looking back to him with a shy smile. "You wouldn't mind keeping our normal arrangement since I'll be paying double, would you?"

The green pegasus rolled his eyes and nodded. "I simply cannot see any reason why I should refuse a dear friend... Very well then." He eyed over the gleaming armor longbow was wearing. "Just do be sure to keep your... companions out of trouble." He said with a forced smile before glancing around. "Say, where is miss Skyline? I do wish to say hello at least before you take off once more."

"She's back at the garage holding the fort down. I'll make sure to tell her you said hello." I said as I nodded for Carlotta to follow. "Longbow, please stay here while I sort this out. Try not to run off into any more gun battles..." I finished as we walked away, getting a sigh from the paladin as we rounded the corner back onto the main street. I wasn't paying as much attention as I should have been and almost ran into a pony who was dancing to the music down the street, causing me to look around in confusion at the new mobs of ponies who filled the streets, as if coming out of nowhere to get their party on all at once.

The two of us wound our way along the lively street, heading around and between two of the nearest towers. The lower twenty feet of the furthest of the two had rusted out, leaving a large gap with just support beams to hold it up. The many tables that took up nearly the entire ground level of the building along with the bar built across the back wall were the only refuge from the brilliant lighting above. Two wide staircases disappeared up into the sheet metal flooring of the apartment sections of the tower. A silver colored, curved sheet of metal hung by chains off the middle of the gap, the words Tanker emblazoned in orange seemed to sparkle in the bright lights while it swung in the breeze.

A single, dark brown earth pony mare was scrubbing the bar with a rag as we walked in, her bright red mane hung off her heavily, reminding me of pinkie's mane when she was depressed. "What can ah get ya'll this evenin?" She spoke out through a sigh, not even gazing up at us.

"I'm hear to dump some gear on you Mrs. Schnapps." I sat down on one of the barstools as I spoke, straightening my vest just as she stopped wiping and looked up in momentary shock, anger quickly replacing it on her face.

"Get out..." She said in a low tone, leaning forward on the bar.

"Hey, I just want to do business, then I'll be out of your mane." I said as I raised my hooves defensively watching the seething hate bubbling up in her eyes. You see, Peppermint Schnapps here was Sky's last mare friend, and they had a good run at a relationship for a year or so. They were happy, but only up to the point when Schnapps wanted to get away from the pool to start over somewhere new. Skyline wouldn't leave me to run off with her and ultimately choose to end it with Peppermint instead, so I understand why she holds me to a bit of a grudge.

She leaned forward on the countertop, the soft click of the 12 gauge, lever action shotgun I had sold her emitted from under the countertop loud enough to get Carlotta's attention. "Fine. But make it quick. What do you have?"

"A .308 sniper rifle, two 10mm submachine guns, and a single 12.7 submachine gun in bad condition. I'll take a thousand caps for the lot." I stared into her dark red eyes as I listed them off, trying my best to be intimidating.

"I'll give you 500 caps." She snapped back, locking her eyes to mine.

"The rifle alone is worth that." I said as I put my hooves on the bar and leaned in toward her. "make a better offer."

"The rifle is only worth 500 if it works." She said as she glowered and tensed up. "700 for all of them." Her eye twitched as she finished, letting me know she really couldn't go much higher, and already needed a good deal, but she also know's I don't cheat customers. Well fuck that, after the last two weeks, I needed a win. I brushed my vest out of the way, showing off my bandaged chest.

"It works. I'm only around because I've got the best barding money can buy." I narrowed my eyes and huffed out. "800 caps plus four beers, then I'll leave."

"Fine." She leaned back from the bar and mumbled to herself as she went off to her safe in her upstairs store room.

"What's her deal?" Carlotta said with a smirk, hoisting the guns from the raiders onto the bar top. "Were you two a fling?" She gasped loudly. "You cheat on her or something!?"

I gasped back in mock shock, doing my best to try to look hurt before she frowned at me. "No, I got between her plans with Skyline." I shrugged and slumped on the counter. "Crazy bitch wanted to leave Equestria for some reason, to go run off to the zebra lands no less. I mean life here is tough and all, but that's just suicide."

Carlotta finished placeing the guns on the counter and rapped her claws loudly next to my muzzle. "You wouldn't ever come between Sky and me if I wanted to take her away, would you?"

"Pft, hell no. Sky can do what she wants. She was the one who didn't want to leave me behind." I drug my forehooves around the bar top with a sigh. "Plus I'm not nearly crazy enough to think I can take you on."

"It's good you know your limits." Carlotta chuckled and pat me on the back softly. "Although Sky keeps smashing mine with how she..."

"lalalalalalala I can't hear you!" I tried to stuff my hooves in my ears. My sisters love life is NOT something I ever needed to hear. I noticed Carlotta stiffen up, hearing Peppermint coming back down the stairs as I put my hooves back on the bar.

Peppermint returned from the upstairs with a small pouch in her mouth, swinging her head and tossing it to me. I went to grab it and missed, the bag of small metal caps smacking onto my face with a loud jingle. I reached up and rubbed my nose as I got to my hooves. "Thanks. You can hand her the beers." I nodded over to Carlotta, who now had her 'stone cold killer' expression trained on the brown mare. I turned slowly to walk out after placing the pouch of caps in my saddlebags, pausing for a moment as I looked back. "Don't worry, I'll make sure to tell Sky you said 'hello'."

As we walked back into the bustling street, I heard her slam something glass on the floor with a curse that bled off into the noise of the ongoing party. It felt wrong to cheat her out of a few extra caps, and had I shown up a few weeks ago I may have given her a good deal on those guns, maybe have even tried to patch things up. As we walked back up the street, my thoughts snapped back to earlier that day, watching as Harmony died in front of me.

My brain was replaying when she said I had given her hope. I don't see it, hope can't be given to anyone, you can't give anyone anger, or sadness. You can share those emotions with them, but I'm pretty sure that's not giving it. The only hope I have to call my own is the hope that I can send 42 from this world and somehow find a way to atone for all the suffering I've caused.

As we rounded the corner back towards the managers office, I was caught off guard to see Longbow standing faced away from Myron's door. She reared up and bucked hard, spiltting the door in half before turning to enter. I bolted past Ripcord's office, galloping as fast as I could as I heard the sharp report of a gunshot too small to be the rifles from her suit. I tripped on my weak hoof (honestly I was surprised I had made it this far on it.) as it finally gave out under me and ended up sliding painfully along the asphalt. I climbed to my hooves as I heard a shuffling in the open room before another loud shot.

"OH FUCK! IS THAT MY BLOOD?!" The voice of the young stallion yelled out as I scrambled to the door, looking in to see a snub nosed .32 caliber revolver floating in Longbow's levitation and Myron on the floor with a bleeding hole in his flank. "YOU SHOT ME, YOU BITCH!"

I looked around for a moment, noticing the dimly lit room housed a plethora of laboratory equipment, a pair of terminals, and a few enchanted pressure vessels. Half empty cartons of cleaner and jugs of various chemicals were strewn around the floors haphazardly with only a narrow path of carpet left open between all the junk. A box labeled 'empty' was stuffed full of vials of Dash next to one of the machines that had a pair of the red vials hooked into them.

"You are manufacturing illegal substances, I am placing you under arrest with the authority given to me by the Ministry of Wartime Technology." Longbow's voice was calm and unwavering as she leveled both her rifles to him, tossing the revolver from her grip towards the door.

"Longbow, You can't just arrest someone here" I walked up slowly behind her, favoring my aching hoof as I pushed through the clutter. "Look, you follow me. You listen to my orders." I looked down at Myron's hate filled eyes as the blue unicorn turned slowly.

"I was assigned to lead you to the facility, not the other way around." Her voice turned cold as she stared with one eye to me. "I will bring him to justice. It's my duty."

I heard Carlotta step up behind me, the clack of the autoloaders on her battle saddle made me cringe and turn. "If that's what you came for, you can go home, Backlash doesn't need your help." Carlotta pushed past me roughly, causing me to lose my balance and fall into a pile of empty boxes. "Stay or go, either way I'm going to need you to step away from my employer."

Myron smiled up from the floor as he put pressure on his wounded rump. "About time you showed up, Carlotta."



+5 Barter

+5 Melee Weapons

+5 Big Guns

Perk: Light traveler - You've gotten so used to traveling with only the necessities that if your carrying under 30 total pounds of weight, you gain an extra point of agility. Be careful when weighing yourself down, going over 30 pounds also reduces your agility by a point. (Cannot be taken along with the Smart Packer perk)

Quest Perk: Wasteland Crusader - Your exploits are being re-broadcast on separate radio frequencies around and even outside of Equestria. new dialogue options are available when speaking with anypony in a current position of power.

Chapter 6 - Judgement

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Chapter 6

"That doesn't look like studying OR hitting!"


Even though I had just heard the actual words spoken, my mind was still trying to play catch up. The way I can figure it, somehow Longbow found out that Myron was cooking up drugs here, bust down the door, a scuffle happened and the young colt got shot. I manage to make my way in with Carlotta before she says HE'S the one who hired her to protect ME. I've never even heard of this Moron, let alone understand why he cared about my well being, but I intend to find out!

"I don't pay you to stand there! Why not kill the steel bitch already and get me a health potion?!" Myron said as he winced from the bleeding wound, his words were filled with enough anger that it was worrisome. Carlotta was a Talon merc, and they were bad news if you were fighting them. Loyal to the contract holder until death, they would fight to their last without question, which meant that she would kill him if he directly asked. Not even as the pony she was hired to protect, or as her friend, could I ever persuade her not to. That didn't matter to me, I still had to try to stop her.

I struggled to my hooves quickly and charged flat out at Longbow, catching her off guard as I threw my full (and considerable) weight against her side, making her stumble sideways. While she was off balance I reared up and swung my forehooves down onto her back. She shifted slightly as she tried to recover, making me overshoot my left hoof strike, but I was surprised to find that the pipbuck's casing let out a resounding crack as it slammed down. My right hoof however, slammed painfully against her armor, making me yelp before I lost my balance and flopped onto her back.

"Backlash, what are you doing?!" Carlotta said through her bit as she tried to keep her battle rifles lined up.

"Hear me out, Longbow." I said as the unicorn stabilized herself. "This isn't your mission." She glared at me over her shoulder, the fires in her eyes nearly consuming her, but I could tell she wasn't lost yet. "I may not be able to order you around, but Strawberry Sorbet said you need to accompany me to the facility." I could see the fire in her eyes drain slowly as I spoke, my words clearly defusing the rage that had swelled. "Listen to me. Let's say you arrest him, are you going to wait for more rangers to show up or are we abandoning the mission to take him back?"

Her eyes went wide as she scrunched her muzzle up. "Well, we could..."

"Before you suggest it..." I cut her off as I pushed myself off her, keeping my right hoof high as it stung. "...we aren't taking him with us. My agreement wasn't to babysit somepony for you, he will just slow us down and I won't be held responsible if he gets away." I looked back at Carlotta as she kept her guns trained on the blue mare, her rigid expression softening as I backed off.

"You're not really a smart pony, are you?" Myron's voice stung deep in Longbow as I watched the fire in her vision flicker back to life. "You do realize that I'm the pony keeping Carlotta from killing you, right? One word from me and the both of you are nothing but cooling meat left out for the buzzards." He laughed lightly, trying to mask the pain he was in.

Carlotta stiffened in shock before looking to Myron with her cold stare. "My contract states I was hired to protect Backlash. I would refuse..."

The pale stallion waved his hoof at her casually. "Yeah yeah, I know the rules. I swear, my brilliant intellect is overlooked by everypony I have the unfortunate displeasure to meet." A grin slid across his muzzle slowly. "Besides, Mr. Backlash and I have business to conduct." He pulled himself shakily to his hooves, glaring towards Longbow as he walked unsteadily towards Carlotta. "Now quit standing around and give me a Celestia-damned health potion."

"Sure thing, boss." She frowned as she reached back into her saddle bags with a heavy sigh and pulled one of her jars of purple healing juices out (I had always wondered why they were purple. I mean, why not red or blue? Or any other color for that matter.) , flipping the cap off with a talon as she held it out to him. He bit down on the tip, chugging half of the tonic down greedily before he gasped for breath. The pale stallion turned to me as Carlotta grabbed the bottle from him, pouring the rest of it onto his bloody leg, letting the wound slowly knit itself closed.

"Anyway, getting down to the matter at hand. I assume you have no idea who you are talking to." He said as he winced slightly, his voice containing just the tiniest traces of anxiety. "...Or how I even know who you are."

I nodded and glanced over at Longbow as she huffed and sat down on a few empty boxes of cleaning supplies. "Yeah. I'm won..."

"You want to know why I have an interest in you, yes yes, I'll get to that." Myron cut me off suddenly as he twitched and got to his hooves, he appeared edgy, but that's probably because he's an addict. "I want us to be friends, and friends can discuss things... in private." He shook a forehoof lazily at Carlotta as he spoke. "Would you kindly escort our dear paladin out, Carlotta? Show her about the city for a bit. Tonight's a celebration! The three kings have each given their workforces the next two days off to help keep them content amid the rising tensions. So relax, have fun, get laid, and keep her the hell away from us!"

I watched as the brown griffin nodded and walked over behind Longbow. The armored mare got to her hooves and rolled her eyes as she trudged through the trash to outside, Carlotta doing her best to shut the cracked door on its splintered frame as she left. I raised my hoof slightly and went to speak, but the annoying runt was faster than I was again.

"Tell me, have you ever heard of the Maredino family? Being a fairly well-traveled merchant, you must have known that they had run the New Pegasus drug trade out west." He strode around the messy room as he spoke, his words filled with pride, but only inflected on HAVE and HAD. The gears in my mind spun to life, letting me remember that they indeed ran the drug trade there. I tended to avoid any area they controlled because they charged a tariff on any trader not pushing their drugs. Wait, he's saying they DID run it, as in no longer?

"They don't run things anymore?" I must have sounded stupid because he sighed and looked annoyed again.

"At least you're following me. Anyway, long story short, a month ago they happened to book a ride on the same train to Appleloosa that I had convinced a local arms dealer to schedule an explosives shipment on. Oh, and I may or may not have sent a message to one of my 'close friends' in that backwater western town to tell some local loser druggie that if he took the repair handcar from Appleloosa station and ran it as fast as he could down the track, he could time travel to the future..." He struggled to keep his giddy voice calm and his face straight as he talked. Man, this colt was fucking psychotic.

"Anyway, the train derailed on the cart and BOOM! the whole arms cache went up! Ah, I wish I could have seen the crater they said it made, but I heard earlier on the radio that they just fixed the railway again. Anyway, now that I took over their operations in New Pegasus, I'm looking to expand east, and that's where you come in."

I sat down hard and wide eyed. Wow, So this kid is a whole new breed of fucked up AND the new head of the Las Pegasus drug trade? I'm surprised Longbow didn't just kill him on the spot!

"Yeah, I have that effect on ponies." He grinned as he sat in front of me. "Are you going to ask why I need you or are we just going to get right down to business?"

I thought for a moment as the gears in my head locked up. Something didn't make sense. "Who were you to the Maredinos? Why kill them?"

He stiffened up at the questions. I could see a tremor of rage ripple through his face for a moment. "Who was I? I was the reason they even had a business! I was the one who refined the Dash formula to be as potent as it was before the war! I was the one who mixed up the best batches pony kind has ever inhaled! Without me, those foals would still have been cooking up their toxic excuses for drugs!" He heaved heavily as he belted out his explanation.

I rubbed my hoof on my chin again in thought. I remembered that the Maredinos main drug to push was Dash, but I had a hard time believing that the colt sitting before me had mixed up some sort of super potent batch. Skyline had once told me that the reason people manufactured some of the drugs nowadays was because they lost effectiveness over time, but making drugs had to be hard. Since when were drugs so easy to make that even a foal could do it?

"I can see you straining that diminutive intellect of yours." He said as he wiped his slightly sweaty brow with his hoof. "Why not just ask your next uninteresting question?"

I stiffened up at his arrogance. "Why don't you just tell me?"

"That would be meta-gaming!" He gasped as if he were appalled. "The game master can't reveal anything unless the character asks."

I stared and blinked in confusion. "Ok... you lost me."

He facehooved and shook his head. "I swear I'm the only stallion intelligent enough to run a game of Wasteland in this shitty excuse of a country." My head started to hurt. For being as smart as he thought he was, he sure as hell was confusing! I'm not sure Pinkie Pie would even be able to follow that logic.

"SO...this is all just a game to you?" I said slowly.

"No... well... yes.." He stuttered and scrunched up his muzzle with an angry look. "It was just a reference so SHUT YOUR FAT MUZZLE FOR ONE SECOND!" He reared up to stamp his hooves angrily on the floor.

I tensed up without thinking and accidentally slipped into S.A.T.S.. As the pink interface gave me an 86% chance to hit with my hooves, I contemplated on just pulling out Heartstopper and shooting this smug colt in the face a few times. I'm pretty sure that would help relieve some of the stress that's been building up over the last few days. Alas, I just can't bring myself to kill a colt, no matter how twisted he seemed, it's just not the pony I am. Well, if anything, this would give me some time to deal with him not yelling at me.

That reminds me of something the old man used to tell me. He said every pony had a moral center they personified and lived by, he called it a virtue. It always seemed like an odd idea, I mean how could any pony be summed up as a single idea? I remember the stories he would tell about the ministry mares and how they each held an 'Element of Harmony', but they were special ponies. How could anypony in the desolate wastes personify something like laughter or generosity? I canceled S.A.T.S. and let out a sigh as Myron slammed down and glared angrily at me before pausing and studying my face.

"The way you shifted right there. Does that pipbuck of yours work?" He said as he trotted over and leaned down, looking it over. "Fascinating... It's one of THOSE models."

I smiled and held the pink computer up. "You've seen one before?"

"Well, not THIS model, but one of the models made for Rainbow Dash, or so I'm told. It had some sort of experimental inventory system that used extremely precise teleportation spells to manipulate items. So precise that it could even teleport combat stimulants and health potions directly into the bloodstream." He said as he grabbed the device with his hooves, twisting my leg uncomfortably as he looked it over. "That one is closely guarded in Las Pegasus by those enclave rejects that call themselves 'dashites' or whatever. It was in a lot worse condition than this one though. Fuck, I mean Carlotta said that you found it, but I expected it to be useless."

The mention of my Griffin friend shot me back to the topic at hand. "So why did you send her to protect me?"

The pale stallion smiled as he let go of the pipbuck and strode over to one of the machines with a dash vial inserted into it. Standing on his back legs, he hoofed a button on the face of the contraption as he held his other hoof under the vial. A small hiss emanated as the vial dropped from it's mounting into his waiting hoof.

"Because, I need somepony to run my shipments from here to Manehattan, and I need that pony to meet four requirements. First of all, they needed to have no affiliation with the Maredino's or any other supplier in the region." He paused and slipped the inhaler head onto the red cylinder before biting down on the tube to hold it in his mouth. He walked closer before he twisted his head and tossed the vial to my hooves. "Two, they can't be addicts, occasional use is fine, but I can't have them using up the shipment before it can be distributed."

He nodded down towards the small red inhaler for me to pick it up. "Third, I need them to be faster than the competition. When one of my informants got word to me that you had a working pre-war car, I knew you could complete runs in one tenth the time as any other team." I picked up the tiny metal tube in my hoof, noting that the whole thing felt cold and heavier than it should for it's size.

"So why not contract with Ditzy? Her skycar..." I looked back up at the short stallion with a look of confusion.

He cut me off yet again. I was really getting tired of him doing it. "That fucking zombie refused my offer. Flat out told me to buck off, I mean who says that? Anyway, that brings me around to requirement four! Loyalty. I need a pony who doesn't challenge my masterful plans and won't surprise me with a sudden but inevitable betrayal." He raised his hoof to his muzzle and poorly attempted to imitate shooting up the vial of dash. "I need you to prove your loyalty. Use the dash and I will administer a counter-agent to keep you from being addicted."

I dropped the vial on the ground at the suggestion. "Fuck that! I don't do drugs unless it is absolutely necessary for survival, least of all Dash." I sat and crossed my hooves. I just couldn't do it.

The problem was that a year or so after we started working in the field for the old man, Skyline and I had a close call with a gang outside of Baltimare. They came at me from all sides, but Sky swooped in to save the day like normal, everything was going pretty smoothly. As she turned to do a second pass, one of the gangs pistol rounds clipped my shoulder and I went down. I had never seen her so angry, wiping out half the ponies within moments. She had thought that I died and threw herself into them, causing the remaining members to scatter. When she came back to see me alive, I think that's what caused her addiction to start.

She wouldn't listen to reason and blamed herself for me getting shot. She was convinced she was too slow and thought that Dash would help her compensate. I didn't notice for a while, but the signs of an addict are pretty hard to miss. She would leave me in the middle of the night to fly off for hours when she thought I was asleep. One morning while she was sleeping, I went through her saddlebags and found that she was carrying several of the empty red vials. I confronted her when she woke up and we ended up arguing, but it wasn't until I took her remaining full vials did she break. She ended up trying to bite down on the bit of her battle saddle to kill me, forgetting that she hadn't put it on yet. I had watched as the revelation sunk deep, showing her just how far gone she was.

The next few hours were filled with tears and telling me over and over that she was sorry. She told me she wanted to stop, but didn't want to risk losing me in some gunfight. I destroyed the full vials after we had talked, but that's when things got pretty bad, the withdrawal hit her hard over the next following week and she was nearly uncontrollable. It wasn't until I locked her in the generator room at the garage for a few days that she recovered enough for us to get her to Dr. Fitz for a proper detox. I swore to her and the old man that I would never fall to the temptation of any drug.

"Listen, Moron. You can forget about me running your fucking shipments. I won't take your filth anywhere." I made my voice as stern as I could. Fuck this colt and his shit. I don't want to lose Carlotta, but I won't fucking sacrifice my morals to appease anypony.

The young stallion frowned and shifted slightly on his hooves. "You might not want to do that, I mean, I'm well informed from all around the wasteland, and it wouldn't take very many caps to get ponies to come out of the ruins for miles around to kill you and that sister of yours."

Fuck. Two times in one day I've had someone attempt to threaten me like this. I mean it wasn't new to threaten to use bounty hunters personally against Sky and I, but I couldn't just gun Myron down. For the bargain price of five thousand caps, he could get every hired gun out there to bear down on us in just a few days, and with how fast his information network seemed to run, I know that even if we ran we probably would never be safe.

"Tick, tock. I got shit to do, jackass, make your decision." He smiled his evil little smile as his determined look bore into my head. I don't think I really have any other choice at the moment, I still had to go and fix the stupid terminal near Filly and somehow find the mirror pond before 42 did. I'll have to fucking agree and figure out some way in the near future to sort this all out while still some way keeping all this from Sky.

"Fine." I said as I picked the vial up again, holding it in my hoof near my muzzle. Myron's smile grew wider than I thought possible.

"So you finally came around, huh? I knew you would..." The smug stallion started.

Fuck that, it's my turn to interrupt. "But only on one condition." My voice boomed over his, causing him to lock up momentarily. Oh Celestia it was worth it just to see that look on his face. "You will postpone starting my runs until I can sort out the jobs I already have. My ability to run your shit will do you no good if everypony thinks I don't hold up to my word."

He looked down for a moment and clenched his jaw. "I will agree to postpone starting the shipments."

I grunted and nodded. "Then I'll..."

He cut me off with his own raised voice. "But I have my own conditions..."

THE FUCKING HELL, CELESTIA!? JUST GIVE ME THE STRENGTH TO KILL HIM! PLEASE! I ASK YOU FOR NOTHING ELSE! I thought as I struggled to contain my anger, looking into his green eyes and trying to melt his brain with my condensed hatred.

"In waiting so long, my competitors will have a leg up on me. If you want the extra time, I'll need you to... 'disrupt' their operations. I would arrange it myself, but as you see, I have a bit of a staffing problem at the moment. Kill one of the three Kings and we have a deal."

I didn't like this one bit. My body ached and told me to rest as the bruises and strained muscles struggled to keep me standing. My brain hammered at my skull for sleep as my conscience screamed to just walk away. I leaned forward and went to use the drug before Myron slapped it out of my grip.

"Hold up, I have a brilliant idea. I want to see if your pipbuck has the same ability as Rainbow's supposedly did." He picked up the vial and tossed it into on of my saddle bags. "Ok, now remember, once it wears off in a few minutes, you need to sleep. You've got a big day ahead and I need you at the top of your game. Come see me in the morning and I'll administer the antidote."

"How do I know it will even work?" I said uneasily as I eyed the red tube.

"Because I fucking designed it to work. I lost a lot of good slaves testing the various formulas, but I did eventually get the chemical balance that didn't cause heart failure. In any case, your tiny brain will just have to trust that my superior intellect will have gotten this dose correct as well." He calmly spoke through a wide smile.

I cringed as he even spoke the word 'trust', making my mind shoot back to the thought about the ministry mares. Applejack had been the bearer of the Element of Honesty and was known throughout old Equestria for never letting anypony down. Oh how I prayed that she could come back to life and buck Myron back into the deceitful shadows he crawled from. Although as much as I wanted it, a boulder would never turn into a pile of caps and I'd have to get on with real life here in the wastes.

I slid into S.A.T.S. with relative ease, deselecting the targeting system to bring up the inventory. I paused as I looked over the weapons tab, glancing at the only two guns I had. I sadly passed them up as I looked through the other tabs before finally reading the bright pink, four lettered name that floated in my vision. I selected it, praying to Luna from the back of my mind that this model didn't have the same functionality.

I was distressed to see the option to use it pop up quickly. Of course I knew it had to be able to do it, why would the spell only be limited to equipping weapons? Whatever, no going back now. My thoughts commanded the system to use the vial and the item popped off the inventory screen as I felt a sharp sensation in my chest. A small notification appearing in the top right corner of my vision stated that I had used the drug.

I closed my inventory with another thought and the spell switched back to the targeting screen, resisting the thought to buck the smug stallion in front of me in the muzzle. I deactivated S.A.T.S. and watched as the pink outline disappeared, waiting for normal time to resume as it always had, only it was taking much longer than usual. Fuck. I knew that dash made ponies act quicker than normal, but I had never considered that the user was actually perceiving time as moving slower. Which fucking meant that I was perceiving leaving the slowness of S.A.T.S. at an even slower rate.

Other than the piercing boredom of waiting for time to reorient itself, I felt good. My weak muscles were solid under me, I could feel exactly how I was standing, even the slightest shift in weight and I could feel the muscles stretch and tug. As time resumed to about a quarter of it's normal speed, it stopped accelerating. I looked up to see Myron tossing a coffee mug towards me, the smooth white cup was rotating slowly through the air as I watched it. I easily stepped aside as it flung past my muzzle, making me smile. I feel great AND I'm fast? Great Celestia's tiara this drug is fucking awesome! I am untouchable with this shit!

I turned and trotted my way to the door, watching it in amazement as I hoofed it open, disturbing the bright dust motes that floated in the artificial light casting down from outside. I gasped slowly as I watched the fluffy particulates dance through the air, being drawn around by the subtle air current. The bright lights started to sting my eyes as I looked around, reaching my hoof up to shield myself from the light. Ok, so downside one, light gets to be annoying, I can't do anything about that...or can I? I am untouchable because this drug makes me move fast, right? Well I bet I could outrun even the light! I am such a smart pony!

As I took off towards the corner, I beamed a smile over to Ripcord as he sat in his office. The olive pegasus was slowly looking up over an old book he was reading as I observed him blow a ring of smoke from his muzzle, the wispy smoke dissipating into nothingness before he took another drag off of his cigarette. As I got to the edge of the motel building, I sprung forward, galloping down the street as fast as I could. I squinted in the near blinding light, not disheartened in the least I couldn't escape it's all encompassing rays. How could I waste the time to feel bad when everything felt so good!?

The street party was still in full swing as I could hear the slow beat of a set of bongo drums playing along side the long notes of the fiddle emanating from the center of town. I wasn't sure where I was going to run now or how long this would last, but I wanted to make the most of it when I could! I spotted odd, inky forms floating under everypony as they danced, hiding from the bright light close to the ground.

I took off towards the weird shapes, realizing as I approached that I was watching the shadows from everypony form and shift as they danced. Huzzah! I had found refuge from the evil light! I beamed a smile as I twisted and wound my way under the crowd, looking around as I slid through the shadows of the assorted ponies. I stopped as I found myself near the bonfire that had been started not long before we arrived, the ribbons of flames looked almost alive as they waved in the wind like the blades of grass from my dreams.

I closed my eyes and tried to imagine it, the soft dirt and warm breeze against my coat, the warmth of the sun as it shone down in all of Celestia's brilliance. I opened my eyes again as I looked up, hoping to see the blue skies and balloon shaped clouds. I was instead met with the ridiculously bright lights on the tower next to me, causing me to turn and rub my eye with my forehoof, the after glare taking forever to fade.

As I regained most of my full vision, I looked up the road to the bridge, following as I saw a red pegasus swing down into the Red Lantern's parking lot. That's odd. Sky wasn't supposed to meet us here, why would she just show up? I tucked that thought away and took off through the crowd again, deftly making my way between the celebrating ponies to go talk to her.

Time shifted slowly again as the drug started to wear off, speeding up at a gradual pace. By the time I reached the parking lot, it was pretty much going at it's normal, uninteresting rate again. I walked around the corner as I thought to myself that Dash could be the edge I would need to fight 42 and win, hell, it could help out in any sort of combat! I wanted, no, NEEDED more Dash. Skyline smiled as she pulled off the tight hug Ripcord gave her, turning to me before looking down at my bandaged chest, her eyes softening a bit.

"You ok there, Backlash?" She walked up slowly and put her hoof on my shoulder. "Do you want me to take a look at it?"

I yawned heavily, my legs wobbling a bit, making me sit for a moment before getting back to my hooves. "No, I'll be fine. I'm just kind of exhausted." As I spoke, her expression shifted to one of curiosity, leaning in close and looking into my eyes.

"Did you take a Med-X for it or something? Your pupils are dilated." Her voice held more than just a curious note now, but my brain refused to try to figure out why. I guess with being so tired I was just losing focus, it had been a long day and I was looking forward to a good amount of sleep. I yawned again, this time losing my balance and falling sideways. Sky stepped forward as I barely caught myself.

"No, I didn't and I'm fine. I just need to get to bed." I grumbled out the words as I stumbled towards the room we'd rented, making it all of five feet before I tripped on my bad hoof and fell on my face, my still sore chest was throbbing in pain as I struggled to get back up. As I did, I was interrupted by Sky as she pressed herself against me so I could lean on her, helping me walk to the room.

"I know you're lying to me, Backlash, but with as tired as you seem, the truth can wait until morning." I heard her say fuzzily as Ripcord opened our door for us, once again letting me view the most beautiful sight in all of Equestria, the single lusciously soft, queen-sized mattress I had spent many a night on before. I could hear it calling to me, beckoning me to just grab hold of it's amazing softness and never leave. I reached out for it with both my hooves, frowning as the bed seemed to fly away from my vision. Oh wait, that's because without my front hooves on the floor, gravity could take over and help welcome me to the amazing world of sleep.


I opened my eyes as I laid on the metallic floor of the skycar, shivering from the cold night air as I looked up and out of the broken windows to see it was still dark outside. I sat up and swung my gaze around the interior, confused as to where my friends were.


"Oh, no." I said as I cringed in terror. "no, no, no, no, no!" I scrambled to my hooves and ran for the latched door, wrapping my forlegs around the handle while pressing my weight against the cold hatch to try to hold it shut. I knew what was coming, I didn't want them to get me! I didn't want to be cast out into the darkness again!

"You killed us all. You can not hide from what you have done."

A sudden slam of a hoof against the door startled me, shortly joined by numerous others as I screamed. The door jerked and bounced as I struggled to hold it closed against the onslaught of vengeful dead ponies. I could feel my grasp on the door weakening, my rear hooves slipping on the smooth floor. I was losing the fight. I called out for Sky as the dead ponies slammed the door open, flinging me away onto the cold floor.

I was tugged backwards as they got a hold of my legs, slowly pulling me towards the open door. I tried to dig my fore hooves down and buck my legs, but their strength was just too much. I watched in horror as they drug me from the skycar, feeling all my strength leave my body as I was drug over the old rooftop. The few dead unicorns in the group floated me up into the view of the group as I was dangled over the black abyss. A pair of lifeless pink eyes gazed up at me from the front of them, the large-framed, purple mare stepping forward to the ledge, her muzzle only inches from mine. Her voice was cold and emotionless as she spoke.

"It's all your fault. I will never forgive you."

The magic holding me up ceased as I screamed one last time, tumbling away from the rooftop and disappearing into the misty darkness below as I felt it consume my very being.


I shook awoke in a cold sweat, wildly ruffling the covers of the queen bed in our motel room. My heart ached as it raced in my chest, my eyes burned as they adjusted the light in the room, and my nose most likely hurt from stupidly falling on it. I tried to catch my breath as I slid over and sat at the edge of the bed.

"Just another Luna-damned nightmare..." I mumbled under my breath.

I assumed it was day outside, seeing as there was less light coming through the windows now. I looked around the room to see Skyline sitting at the kitchen table with a couple of snack cakes next to Longbow. Carlotta was missing, but I assumed she was over with Myron or out flying around.

The two girls had stopped to look back at me, Skyline's face radiating both her displeasure and conveying great worry. I forced a slight smile as I slid off the edge of the bed and walked to the nearby chair my gear was on. I hoisted on my saddlebags and flak vest, noting that the bandages on my chest were gone, and that only a bullet-shaped, fleshy dimple was all that remained in my tan coat.

"I am so disappointed in you." Skyline said as she slowly hovered her way over to me. "Fucking Dash? After all these years without so much as a relapse, and this is how you repay me?" She painfully smacked my head with her hoof and landed next to me. "You know how hard it was for me to kick that shit. Why the fuck would you even start?!"

"Look... I can explain." I rubbed my hoof on the back of my head as I looked at the floor. "I didn't have any other choice!"

"Oh? You didn't, did you?" She yelled as she stomped on the floor. "So somepony literally held you down and dosed you up?" She prodded me with her hoof and leaned in close. "Tell me then. Was it worth it? You like getting FUCKING HIGH?"

Both of us were torn from each other's gazes as Carlotta swung open the front door and stepped inside, closely followed by Myron who held a small green syringe in his muzzle. Carlotta smiled as Sky walked over to her slowly. The small pale stallion approached me with a grin and twisted his neck back before jamming the needle painfully into my leg, letting the anti-addiction concoction run through my veins. I sighed sadly as the full extent of how bad I just fucked up hit me, I wondered if there would be any promises I had made left unbroken by the end of this journey.

"Hey, hun, miss me?" Carlotta cooed happily while she leaned in for a kiss. Sky reached back and slapped her across her beak before storming outside and taking to the air. The stunned griffon looked back at the door with guilty eyes before turning back towards me, frowning softly.

"Now that you're all better, get off your lazy flanks and finish your job." Myron said as he turned and looked back at Longbow, blowing her a kiss as she glared from the kitchen table. "One last thing. Carlotta will need to stay with me because too many ponies here know she works for me. I'll leave you idiots to do the hard work, and do make it quick, my drug empire is on a tight schedule."

As quickly as the whirlwind of activity had started, Myron and Carlotta were gone, leaving Longbow and I sitting in silence. I leaned forward and bit down on the antidote tube, pulling it out of my leg and spitting it onto the floor, trying to think of a way to explain everything to Sky. That is of course assuming she wasn't flying back to the garage right now, which would suck because I don't think I can do this job without her. Longbow stood up and walked over to me, swinging her head to get her long mane out of her face as her piercing glare shot into me.

"You going to yell at me for yesterday?" I asked with pleading eyes. I wanted her to yell at me, to storm off and go back to her own life. If she left, it would at least be the final nail in the Backlash-sized coffin of attempted friendships. I watched as she lined her twin sniper rifles up with my side.

"As unhappy as you made me yesterday, I have a single question for you." Her voice was calculating and genuine. "Did you mean what you said, that you had no other choice?"

"If I said no, he would have put out a bounty on Sky and myself. I don't want to put Skyline in the line of fire or give her any position where she thinks she needs to sacrifice her well-being for my own." I looked her straight in the eye, watching as she thought over my response carefully.

"Why not just kill Myron?" She asked as she cocked an eyebrow.

I shook my head slowly. "You want me to kill him? He may be an evil little bastard, but he's barely older than a colt. No, you can kill him, I won't sink that low." I did want to kill him though, every fiber of my being was telling me I should, but I just couldn't.

"I'd like to think that ponies can change, and didn't he at least deserve that chance? Doesn't everypony?" Am I asking that because that's what I truly believe? Or is it because I know that I'm not the best pony I could be. Do I deserve a second chance? What about 42, shouldn't she get one as well?

I watched as the the heavily armed mare in front of me relaxed, sitting back on her hooves slowly. "I kill ponies only if they don't leave me any other action, but stallions like him don't change. At the end of our mission to the facility, I will take him in to face his crimes with or without your help. He might die as punishment, but that is not my call to make."

I relaxed a bit as well, happy to see we had some sort of common ground between us. "Believe me, I would enjoy nothing more than to see him carried off by the rangers, but right now I don't need to have an army of bounty hunters after me. With her having seen how 42 does things, I need Carlotta on my side, she is an invaluable part of helping to stop the wasteland from being overrun." My stomach grumbled loudly and reminded me that I hadn't eaten anything today, nor was I sure if I did yesterday either.

The blue aura from Longbow's horn enveloped one of the snack cakes still on the table, she floated it over to me with a confused look on her face. "Forty Two? What's that?"

I grabbed the round cake from the air and sighed, forgetting she had no idea that was 'the pink mare' from the reports. "That's her name, 42 is the mare who stole my car. She was who you thought you were arresting yesterday."

"So you are trying to stop her? Why?" She obviously didn't believe me, but it was understandable. "That doesn't make sense, what's in it for you? Were you from ponyville?" Her words stung as they sunk in. "Did you know someone there she murdered?" My thoughts drifted to Pallet, making my heart sink further.

"Because I'm responsible." I said softly. "I set her free from her prison, and I'm the one who has to deal with what she's done, with what I've allowed her to do." I tossed the small snack onto the bed, I didn't really feel like eating now.

"Redemption." Longbow said quietly, the words carried the strength of her resolve on them. "You want redemption for the deaths you caused." I shook my head and felt my ear twitch, I could hear the breeze outside the door shift slightly.

That wasn't it. I don't want to be redeemed. Redemption to me was like paying back a debt you owed to somepony. Yes you did make up for the money you spent, but at that point the debt was gone, forgotten as if it had never occurred in the first place. I don't want the ponies that 42 had killed forgotten, and you can never repay a debt of lives.

"I just need to do it. Every bit of the pony I am calls out for me to stop her, but for that to happen, I need all my friends' help." I kicked the empty syringe with my hoof, watching as it rolled across the carpet. "I just wish that I could do that without being such a disappointment to Sky. I don't mean to keep putting her in these situations, but I'm just too dumb to see that I keep hurting her with my choices."

I twisted around as the front door creaked open slowly, Skyline pushing her way inside, she had a sullen look on her face. I assume it was because she had been listening through the door. "You've never been a disappointment, Backlash. I may not have liked what you did last night, but I was only angry because I thought that maybe I caused it. That somehow you thought that the drug could somehow make you better, like I did back then." She trotted over and threw herself around me into a hug. "I knew you probably did have a good explanation, but I let my temper get the best of me and acted hastily, and for that I'm sorry." I smiled and hugged her back.

"So, what do we do now?" Longbow asked while getting back to her hooves. "What job was he talking about and why would it matter if your griffin friend had to stay back?" Skyline pushed off me and hovered in the air with a confused look.

"Wait, why isn't Carlotta with us?"


After sitting down and running through the entirety of yesterday's Myron-themed events, (and finally eating a whole box of snack cakes to keep my stomach from rebelling further) both Sky and Longbow were onboard for taking down one of the kings. I had assumed that Longbow would have been happy with the task, but she went so far past it as she looked like I had just made her the happiest mare in the world. Now, it was time for the hard part, thinking of the who's and the how's.

"I vote we take down White Bishop." The heavily armed mare said with gobs of glee in her words.

"I thought you said you didn't kill ponies willingly..." I said boredly as I propped my head above the table with my hooves. Contrary to what I thought, trying to figure the specifics for assassinating a drug lord was a bit tougher than I originally imagined. I looked over at Sky who was laying against one hoof while using the other to push a pencil into the tabletop, Her gaze was one of boredom far worse than my own.

"Well, I don't normally, but even the Steel Rangers have a standing order to kill him on sight." She leaned forward and rested her chin on her hoof while she stared blankly at the wall. "He's escaped custody once before because he has many more connections to gangs in the wastes that we had first thought. Not to mention, that overweight bastard is the biggest of the three."

Wait, what? Did she just say he was fat? It was an odd choice of words as nopony has seen White Bishop in the flesh. Maybe it was just a rumor she had heard, or how she envisioned him, but for all anypony knows, he could just be some decrepit old mare running the operations. Even though her voice seemed to be off, and aside from the odd comment, she had another good point. He was the biggest player in the Pool, being the source for most of the production of new Mint-als, Dash, stampede and Rage for Manehattan, Baltimare, AND fillydelphia.

Skyline shot back her response before she snapped the pencil in half. "True, but he's also going to be the hardest to take down. What about the Stalliatore twins? they only employ like, 20 ponies. Plus Nickel Slot always wanders the floor while finding Jackpot upstairs would be the only real problem."

"No, they are the most well armed. Too well armed in fact." Longbow sighed and floated the sparkle-cola she was sipping off of the the last few minutes up to her lips, taking a quick drink. "None of the local rangers know where it's coming from, but they have a ton of quality magical weapons." She eyed me over quickly. "We originally thought that they had an arms merchant dealing to them, but I don't think that would account for how much they have."

"What about Pepp..." I started to say, watching from the corner of my eye as Sky's mane stood on end.

"No! She is out of the question." Sky said as she cut me off. "Besides, Peppermint only sells booze and rents out escorts, she can hardly be considered one of the kings at all!"

I stood up and looked over at her. "Yes, but her stills are some of the biggest left in the wasteland! If her supply were to be lost, most of the alcoholics would have to turn to drugs to compensate."

Sky harrumphed and crossed her hooves as she floated into the air. "Then I'll have to agree with Mrs steel flank over there and vote for White Bishop."

I grumbled and facehooved. "Fine. We'll go for Bishop." I could practically feel the joy radiating off of Longbow. "Now, any ideas of how to even get to him?"

The peppy paladin's eyes lit up. "Well, he runs fights in the basement level of his tower every night as you know. He tends to send a small group of cleaning ponies to clear the bar floor safes to take back upstairs and..."

I pressed my hoof over her muzzle to quiet her. "Woah woah. How do you know so much about what goes on there?"

She pushed my hoof away and shifted uneasily on her hooves, looking over my shoulder at Sky. "Oh, the rangers keep tabs on his day to day operations and such." Her voice fluctuated slightly as her face flushed. Even with a believable enough explanation like that, It was plain she was lying to me.

"No. Tell me the truth." I said with a stomp of my hoof.

"Backlash, normally I would trust you to push for the truth, but does it matter where the info came from if it's good?" Skyline put her hoof on my shoulder. "Just listen to what she has to say, we need every advantage we can get." I grumbled and sat down hard. I knew she was hiding something, and I just didn't want it to come and bite us in the flank later.

"Anyway, as I was saying, we could wait until everypony leaves to see the fight, slipping upstairs as the cleaners come down to empty the current winnings. After we slip in, it's 30 feet to the stairs, then eight floors to the top where He lives and keeps his caps." Great, more stairs, I'm loving this job already.

"How many guards are we looking at?" Sky asked hesitantly.

"Well, somewhere between forty or fifty?" She scrunched her muzzle and shrugged. "With the growing tension, who knows, he could have employed more."

"Funarific... so it's a gamble." I hated gambling. That was mostly because I was extremely bad at it, but seeing as it was the best plan we had, I agreed. "So then, what do we do about our gear? I can get the party cannon in, but Sky would have her saddle confiscated and you probably wouldn't make it inside the door wearing your armor."

Skyline rubbed her hoof on her chin as she floated over towards Longbow, looking her over slowly. "You seem about my size. You can wear one of my dresses."

I turned slowly and looked up at the floating pegasus. "Sky... what are you talking about, I thought you hated wearing dresses." I flailed my hooves lightly in the air. "Why in Celestia's name would you bring them with you?"

"Oh, well when I figured that you would be stopping here, I couldn't waste the opportunity to flaunt myself in front of Peppermint, could I?" She smiled and twirled in the air. "I just couldn't decide which dress to flaunt in! The violet satin is my favorite, but the golden lace matches my mane better." She pouted her lips sadly and sank to the floor.

"Oh, I think you would look better in the gold, while the violet would go better with my coat." Longbow said slowly as she trotted over and opened the pegasus's saddle bags, making Sky's face brighten as she smiled giddily. Celestia-damned mares and their confounding fashions, I mean everytime I tell Sky what I think about her dresses, I get beat over the head with something heavy. (Also, I can understand the utility purposes of barding and armor, but why the hell did ponies even wear plain clothes?) I was ripped from my thoughts as Sky hovered over and leaned in close.

"Backlash, would you be a dear and let us mares do a little beautification? We will come and get you when we are ready to go." Skyline shoved me toward the door as Longbow's armor emitted light hisses, each section detaching and opening up. I opened the door quickly before I was pushed out of it, walking straight into Carlotta's armored chest.

"Hey! Steel flank! Do you think we'll have time for a shower?" Sky called back as she turned and looked up at Carlotta with her biggest smile. "Hey, hun, gotta go!" She spun around and hooked around the door with her rear hoof. "This is going to be SO AWESOME!" She kicked the door shut with a slam, leaving Carlotta and I silently pressed together.

"But...what about backup weapons?" My muffled voice sounded odd in the tough griffins armor, making her push me back a step.

"What was that all about?" Carlotta said as she stared at the door with a slightly worried expression. "Please don't tell me she wants to sleep with the metal bitch for revenge."

I groaned and facehooved. "Woah, woah, woah. First of all, No. Second of all, who she sleeps with is her choice. Lastly... Ew. I don't want to think about that!" Great, now I couldn't get the thought of my sister and Longbow in bed together out of my head. "Dear Celestia almighty, why did you have to put that image in my head." I walked past her over towards the managers office, hoping that Ripcord was in. That way I could have a NORMAL conversation that didn't involve my sister's sex habits. I found him sleeping in the same chair he was in last night with his book over his face as he snored loudly.

"Hey, Rip, you want to hang out for a bit?" I leaned up against his windowsill, waiting for a response. I raised my voice. "Oh, Rip...wakey, wakey!"

He grumbled and scratched at the dark brand on his flank before continuing his loud snoring. Ok, I know that it wasn't that important that I wake him up, but I had a great idea and he was just asking for it. I walked over to the Marauder and opened the driver side door, sliding onto the front seat softly as I shifted the gear to neutral. Carlotta hovered above me as I kept a fore hoof on the wheel and walked the vehicle slowly up towards the small office, hoofing the break to stop the car when the hood was alongside the open window.

"Oh shit, are you serious? This is too good..." Carlotta snickered from above. "Since when did you get so evil?"

I got back into the car and popped my head out the window, smiling up to the griffin. "Oh, I've always been this way. Sky and I have to do SOMETHING to help keep us light on our hooves when we are out on a trip." I softly put my hoof on the center of the steering column. "I did try to wake him the easy way..." I pushed my hoof down, blaring the thunderous horn up through his window for a few seconds.

I watched as he shot up in a panic and flew about his room quickly before diving out through the open window. He hit the hood of the car and flipped off it with a roll to land square on his hooves. He panted heavily around the grip of his combat knife as he glowered at me. There was a long pause before I couldn't contain myself anymore and burst out into laughter, Ripcord's face dropping to an exasperated expression as he relaxed and dropped his blade made the laugh just that much harder.

A loud slam on the roof startled me from my jubilance, making me lean my head out to look. Carlotta was struggling to breathe as she laughed on the roof, making me giggle again. I looked back over to the olive green pegasis as he stared wide eyed at the hood of the Marauder. There was a silver gouge running across the length of the hood from where he slashed at it with his knife sometime during his escape from his office.

"Don't worry Rip." I said quickly. "I think you killed it!" I gasped and laughed again, watching as he grinned and joined in. I noticed that a small group of ponies were peeking around the corner at us, probably wondering how the loud noise had driven the three of us mad. I didn't care, this was the most fun I'd had that I can remember in the last few days. Well, minus beating out Strawberry Sorbet yesterday, and minus showing up Peppermint. I really should count how great I felt on the Dash yesterday. Although I greatly wanted to admit that it had been amazing, that was more... artificial fun.

After a few minutes, the three of us caught our breaths and we each opened one of the beers I didn't have the chance to drink yesterday. That reminds me, I still owed the last one to Dipstick.

"So! Now that we have a few minutes to chat, what astonishing excursions have you been on since you last found yourself in these parts?" The smoke from Rip's cigarette smoke drifted up and changed color as the sun set over the low hills toward the river, turning the plume to an off yellow as it rose higher. "Maybe regale me with the tale of how you met your fine griffin associate!"

"Oh, well, not much to tell about where I've been." That was an outright lie of course, but I didn't want to explain everything about 42 yet again, once per day was already too many times for me to even remember she was still out there. "But Carlotta here couldn't have shown up at a better time. I had thought someone was following us through the city and..." She clamped my muzzle shut with her talon. Ok, I was getting INCREDIBLY tired of being cut off all the time.

"Yawn. You suck at telling stories." She took a drink from her beer before continuing. "So, I had tailed Backlash and his friends for a few days before they finally caught on, and... and..." Her story drifted off as her gaze froze behind me. "wow." Carlotta over as she stuttered. "Just... wow."

I turned around to see Skyline step out of the doorway in her gold lace dress. Her hair was put up in a twist, making it look like a white and yellow pinwheel. She was shaking her hips as she walked out before turning in place for Carlotta, giving her the most seductive grin I had ever seen her give.

"If you'll excuse me, boys..." The griffin downed the rest of her beer with a few long chugs, straightened up and walked lightly around the marauder, basicly dripping affection as she stared at the dressed up pegasus. I watched in silence as Sky backed her way inside, beckoning Carlotta in after her. As soon as they disappeared in, I watched as Longbow strode out and shut the door behind the other two with her magic.

I couldn't move as I looked at the unicorn in front of me. The flowing, violet dress seemed to shine in the early evening light, the wing slits let the dress sag slightly, showing off her curves in a tasteful, yet suggestive way. There have only been a few times in my life I've ever found myself thinking of other ponies this way, but that dress in this light and with the way her hair was let down straight, she was the most beautiful sight my eyes had ever beheld.

"Well! It seems that I have become the party's third wheel! I will leave you and the mare to enjoy your evening, what say you continue your fabulous story tomorrow?" Rip said with an awkwardly happy tone to his voice. Honestly, with how stunning Longbow looked, I was surprised I could hear any of his words at all. "Well alright! Many thanks for the refreshing drink and have a delightful evening, Backlash." He trotted into his office through the front door and closed it, leaving me standing still in the parking lot as I looked over the blue unicorn.

"Y... you look absolutely stunning..." I stuttered out, causing her to to blush brightly.

"Thanks." She replied shyly, tilting her head down and away, letting her striped hair cover her face partially. "There isn't much call to dress up at the base. The only time I ever did was as a filly for Hearts and Hooves day."

I slowly trotted over to her and smiled. "You should do it more often. Why hide under that armor when you look this beautiful?" She gasped softly and looked over to me, still keeping her head down. I reached over and lifted her chin with my hoof, turning her muzzle towards me. I could see as she froze up in shock at my touch, letting me lean forward and kiss her on the cheek. It was both odd and amazing, with her armor on I had barely noticed her, but it was like now I could see who she truly was, and I'm not ashamed to say that I couldn't keep my eyes off her.

As I backed up slowly, she touched her hoof to her cheek and looked up at me with a soft gaze. "Nopony has ever..." She smiled again and got teary eyed. "Nopony has ever told me I was beautiful. Not even my mother." She laughed lightly as a tear rolled down her cheek. She looked up slowly before jumping up and hugging me without warning. It was the second most awkward hug I'd ever had, but for once, I didn't mind. She stepped back and wiped the tears off her cheeks. "Thank you for that." Her blush showed lightly through her blue coat.

I sat down and reached back into my saddlebag, pulling out the last beer I was saving for Dipstick. I offered it to her with a soft smile, happy when she nodded and floated it out of my hoof. I cantered back over to where I was talking a minute ago and grabbed my still half full beer, taking a sip as I trotted back over. The soft pop of the cap as her magic pried her bottle open was all I had time to register before she put the bottle to her lips and tilted it up, eagerly draining the bottle in only a few moments.

I swear I could have felt my jaw on the ground as she pulled the empty bottle off her lips and levitated it into one of the nearby trash cans. She let out a low belch and blinked a few times before nervously grinning at me, turning her head slightly to cover he view with her hair.

"That... was... AWESOME!" I yelled as I beamed a smile at her. Not only was she fucking Celestia tier beautiful when out of her armor, but she knew how to have a good time! "Finally, another mare who know's how to relax! You are a one in a million kind of pony, Longbow."

"You don't mind that I don't act like a mare?" Longbow cringed and kept her nervous smile. "Well, I did learn a lot about drinking when I was off duty, being the only mare in my squad."

The door to the motel room we rented opened up slowly, Skyline stepping out into the evening breeze as we looked over. She used a hoof to straighten her dress a bit as a strand of her mane drooped from the side of the bun. Carlotta closed the door as she came through, turning and smacking Sky on her flank lightly with a giggle. Sky jumped and giggled before blowing a kiss to the griffin as she walked towards us, slipping a small purse under one of her wings.

"Are we all ready to go?" She said before biting and dragging my beer from my hooves. I couldn't voice my despair for the loss of my alcoholic drink fast enough as she tilted it up and downed the rest of it with the same ease as Longbow. She swung her head and tossed the bottle aside, watching it fly through the air before a blue aura enveloped it and carried it off into the trash. Sky shrugged and looked at longbow unimpressed at that before turning her sharp gaze towards me.

"You're going like that? It's like you didn't even try to look nice!" She smacked me with her hoof, making me cringe. She walked up next to me and pushed my saddlebags off with her hooves, biting the neckline of the flak vest and tugging on it. "Cmm' ohn! Shtrep eht osh."

I groaned and shoved her away, getting a loud sigh in return. "I'm not leaving the vest here, how many times has it saved me now?"

"Uhg, You have a point." She rolled her eyes and pulled the party cannon from my bags before trotting over and tossing the cloth sacks through Ripcords office window. I was happy to feel the light suction again as I reached over and grabbed the large pink tube, but saddened to notice that the Pipbuck read it was already under half durability. I estimated it had four, maybe five more shots in it before it probably wouldn't work anymore. I desperately wished I knew how to fix this thing before I ran into 42 again, I'm fairly sure it was the only weapon I'd be able to hit her with.

I hoofed the bright tube onto my back, feeling it stick before nodding to Sky and Longbow. "I think we're good to go."

"I thought you said you could sneak your weapon in..." Longbow said as she eyed me curiously.

"Aha, but I can. Just wait until we get there and you'll see what I mean." I smiled and started walking, leading the two mares into town. As we turned the corner, the blinding flood lights flickered to life, filling the darkening streets with light yet again. I noticed as I surveyed along the wide street that it was just as busy as last night, a few ponies were trying to get the bonfire started as the fiddle pony tuned her instrument. We walked through to cool breeze towards the farthest tower in silence, bunching up as we reached the front of the makeshift club.

A set of heavy, double doors had been bolted onto the shell of the tower as a makeshift entrance, A neon sign sat buzzing loudly above them, touting large, blue letters that read 'Big Blind'. There was a pair of fairly tough looking unicorns who stood in suits and sunglasses in front of the doors, checking ponies for weapons as they went in. I took a deep breath and walked up with a smile.

"Good evening, Sirs, care to let my mare friends and I in?" I tried to stay as relaxed as possible, cringing slightly as the closest on leaned and looked over his glasses.

"What's with the bucket?" He asked as he looked it over.

"I feel like tonight is going to be my lucky night at the slot machines!" I enthusiastically responded and continued to smile. Please don't question it... Please don't question it... Please don't question it...

The other Unicorn stepped back from Longbow and sky before nodding. "Alright, get on in there, you're holding up the line." The guard in front of me said sharply as he nodded for us to enter.

"Thanks! Have a good night!" I called out as I hoofed open the doors, holding it open long enough for Sky and Longbow to trot though before I slipped inside behind them. I looked over the layout of the first floor, noting that it hadn't changed much since I had last been in here, but it was hard to really get a good look seeing as the place was nearly packed full of ponies.

From what I remember, the first floor consisted mostly of small gambling tables that were surrounded by slot machines along half the back wall. The stairs were set next to each other at the end of the gambling section, one set going up to the pool hall and in turn, the upper floors, the other set went down to the boxing arena. The large stage that sat near the stairs and against the back wall was where a small band was playing upbeat, fast-paced polka, the floor in front of it was completely taken up by dancing ponies. To the left of us was the bar, where a crowd of ponies were busy telling drunken stories and celebrating their night off. As I scanned over the group, I spotted a familiar black pegasus sitting sadly by himself in the corner.

I leaned over to Longbow and whispered in her ear suggestively. "I told you I could get my cannon in..." (If you know what I mean! Awww yeah! I amaze even myself sometimes. I'd totally brohoof you if you weren't reading this on a terminal screen... or potentially not a fan of that kind of humor... or not a fan of stallions in general... Back to my adventure!)

"Yeah yeah..." She smirked and nodded. "Just relax and mingle, we have some time until they start seating for the fight." She put a hoof to her chin in thought. "Let's split up, that way it looks less suspicious when we all stay up here during the fight."

"Sounds good to me!" Sky proclaimed as she swung her purse onto the tip of her wing. "I'm off to go win me a few hands of blackjack!" She turned and walked into the sea of ponies crowding around the card tables, disappearing almost immediately.

"So would you like to..." I started to speak as I turned back to ask Longbow, only to find she had already disappeared. "dance...... that's a no I'm guessing. Great work, Backlash." I sighed softly and turned over to the bar, heading over to the lonely black stallion in the corner. "Hey buddy! Sorry about last night."

Dipstick looked up with sad eyes and smiled wide, the enthusiasm of seeing me quickly fading, making him force his smile "Naw, t'ain't nuthin'. Jus' tryin' ta relax a spell 'fore ah git on home."

"I'm going to get a beer, you still up for that one I owe you?" I smiled and noticed that he looked like he had been crying earlier in the night.

"Ta be honest, ah could go fer somethin' a mite stronger, if'n yah don't mind that is." He was trying to hide the pain in his words.

"Yeah sure, I'll be right back." I said as I trotted over to the bar. I tapped my hoof on the bartop and was happy when the unicorn stallion behind walked over. "Can I get a bottle of Wild Pegasus and two glasses for my pegasus friend over there?" I reached in my vest pocket and pulled out a small pile of caps. The bartender nodded and promptly levitated the bottle and glasses over to Dipsticks table while scooping up my caps. I turned and trotted back to the table, sitting down as the bottle and the pair of glasses set down. "What's troubling you, Dipstick?"

He looked up at me, trying to gather the courage to speak, finally letting out a sigh. "Tumble up'n left me today." He took the bottle in his hooves and pulled the cork out with his teeth before he poured himself a glass of the hard liquor. "She took the twins an' went out a few hours ago, headin' fer Tenpony."

I shook my head slowly and poured myself a small shot into the clear glass. "You two have been together for what, the last seven years?" He nodded and lifted his glass, drinking it down slowly. I took the glass in my hooves and hoisted it up quickly, letting the burning sensation drift down my throat before I set the glass down. "She say why she left?"

He sniffed and set the glass down. "She said it's 'cause she didn't figure it was safe here no more. That the Kings were goin' tah fight it out n' all out war." He grabbed the bottle and poured himself another full glass. "What if'n tha' t'ain't it t'all? What if'n it's cause ah didn't make her happy no more?" He tipped the glass up and drank it down slowly again, choking slightly as he started to cry a bit.

"Hey, you're a great stallion and she knows it. If she said it's not safe, then that's why." I said as I laid my hoof on his foreleg. "Why don't you go with her? You know, take a few days off and at least make sure she get's there alright."

"Maybe yer right." He started as he went to pour another glass. "Ya'll think it's that ahm jus' needin' tah buck up an' show 'er ah still care?" He set the half-empty bottle down as he looked at it.

"I think that if anything, she'll love just to have you next to her again." I said before corking up the bottle. He smiled a genuine smile and chuckled, sniffling before he wiped his cheeks clean.

"Thank yah, Backlash. Ahm thinkin' ahl go an' tell mah boss ahm usin' mah vacation days. Ah still got all seven ah've saved from the last few years." Dipstick got up and fluttered his wings slightly. "Ah needed a good kick'n th' flank ta get me goin' again. Yer a helluva friend." He trotted towards the exit with a smile.

"Give the missus my regards!" I called out to him over the music, unsure if he heard it at all as he left the club. I shrugged and looked back at the half empty bottle sitting on the table, thinking for a moment that it would be a really bad idea to drink any more and that I was surprised I could manage to keep any alcohol down after... and there I go remembering shit again. I stepped back from the table with a frown and looked over as a well dressed unicorn stallion got onto the end of the bartop, causing the nearby crowds to hush to a low whisper.

"Good evening, everypony! If I can have your attention for just a moment. Seating for tonight's fight will open up momentarily, so if you will please place your bets and head downstairs, we can get the fight started promptly!" He used his magic to amplify his voice, bellowing out the message before hopping down off the bar and disappearing amongst the shifting masses.

It was time to move. I wound my way towards the stairs, pushing past ponies who were eager to lay their hard earned money on the line on the chance that one pony would beat the hell out of another. Boxing never made sense to me, why watch a fight where two ponies who didn't even know each other, bucked and punched each other to submission for money? The wasteland was like that every day now, there was just no referee to tell them to stop when one side went down. Where was the appeal of watching it happen to somepony else anyway?

I looked up and saw Skyline poke her head over the railing from the second floor. I broke off from the flow heading towards the ring and trotted up the set of stairs against the thinning stream of ponies moving down . Once up top, I looking around at the few empty pool tables as slot machines, noting only a few ponies had stayed behind. The most out of place pony was an old stallion who was meticulously putting a token into a broken machine, pulling the lever, and then 'winning' his one token back. He sat and continued to repeat the process with a smile on his face as Sky and I waited for Longbow. After maybe a minute, Sky groaned loudly.

"Where the hell is she?" Sky whispered and tapped her hoof on the green carpet that lined the upper floor. A door opened up next to the old gambling stallion and out spilled a set of six armed, suited ponies, each one with a pistol in their mouth or floated next to them by their magic. They trotted over and spread out around Sky and I as we could do nothing but just stare at them. A slow clapping came from beside us as a pony who I noticed was sitting in the corner earlier leaned forward. He laughed as he got to his hooves, his brown eyes peered across the floor to us filled with satisfaction.

"Ya know why I'm Mr. Bishops number one assistant?" The bright pink stallion walked over with a bounce in his step, his bright yellow mane poked out from under the grey fedora he wore. "It's 'cause I look for the normal looking ponies." He stopped and turned to one of the suited unicorn guard ponies. "I read a book from before the war once. Get this, it was on criminal profiling. Ya know what it said?"

The guard pony shook his head, keeping his gun trained on Sky and I. "No boss, what'd it say?"

The pink stallion tipped his fedora back and looked over, his eyes sweeping over the Sky and I. "It said that dangerous ponies always go OUT of their way to look normal." He grinned and looked at me. "An' look at ya! You are the shining example of a normal pony!" He poked me in my side before swinging his hoof around towards Sky. "Oh but YOU! Doll, what are ya doing in a joint like this! You are anything BUT normal." He brushed his hoof through her mane slowly as I watched Sky tense up, swinging hard with an uppercut to catch him square in the jaw.

The pink stallion dropped to the floor like a sack of flour as two of the guards behind her took a step closer, pushing their guns to the back of her head.

"You'll be sorry ya did that, bitch!" He grunted as he pushed off the floor and landed a heavy punch against Sky's ribs.

"You leave her the hell alone or I'll fucking kill you!" I yelled as Sky gasped and coughed, kneeling on the floor. I felt the two guns pressed against the side of my head as my anger receded.

"Oh, I'm not the one who's fucked." He smirked and wiped the blood from his muzzle with a hoof. "Take 'em to see Bishop. Also, tell him we're still lookin for the one broad. The fucking cunt has to be down here somewhere." And for the second time in two days, I found myself in magical manacles and tossed onto the back of a pony.


I swear I wasn't trying to make this a regular thing. They had tossed a sack over my head and hauled us off to an elevator, at least having the courtesy this time to not smash my head into the door frames. The elevator ride was slow and uncomfortable, mostly because the elevator seemed to be made of a metal mesh, allowing me to hear every ounce of strain the steel was under, sounding as if it were trying to rip itself apart with every foot we climbed.

"Sky, let me do the talking when we are up there." I said as I tried to beat out the horrendous noise.

One of the guards hit me in the head. Hard. "Shut your muzzle!"

It felt like minutes had passed as the rickety car rose up to the top level, stopping with a sudden jerk before the door was slid open and we resumed walking. Well, they did, Sky and I just kept riding along. After a few more moments, the way the hoof beats of the guards sounded on plush carpets told me that we had just entered a well furnished room. I was slid off the back of a guard and helped onto my hooves before I could hear most of the guards leave and swing shut the door we came through. The two that stayed behind us must have been the ones casting the binding spells because I still couldn't move either sets of my hooves.

I heard a door across the room open, then shut before heavy, slow hoofsteps drew across the room. The creak of a wooden chair in front of me announced as a pony sat down and adjusted themselves. As I stood there with the black sack over my head, I wondered if I was wrong in not pushing for the truth from longbow. No, I had to trust that her reasons were her own and that she had seen us get taken. I prayed to Celestia that she had some sort or plan to rescue us.

"Do you know who I am?" A deep stallions voice resonated from in front of me. The words he used sounded well rehearsed and his tone was harsh. I nodded slowly, assuming that sky would do the same. "Do you know what I do here in the pool?" His words sounded the same. He sighed lightly as I nodded again. I tried to peer through the black sack, looking around to see if I could find any holes. The fabric was frilly on the inside and tickled my nose rather uncomfortably.

"Then would you kindly tell me who the FUCK you are and WHY YOU WERE TRYING TO INFILTRATE MY TOWER!?" His voice boomed, the room reverberating with his words as I felt myself shudder. The sack tickled my nose again, I gasped as I felt the inevitable coming on. Oh luna no, please, just...

"AHHCHOO!" I screamed and threw my head down reflexively as I sneezed, the hood dropping to the floor as I stared down in shock at the carpet. I slowly looked up to see something I never expected. An extremely overweight Zebra wearing a leather pouch around his neck sat in front of me behind a large wooden desk, his silver eyes studying me over. Fucking White Bishop was a Zebra?!

He leaned back in his chair, making it creak loudly again. (I know I'm not in the best shape, but that's just unethical treatment of a chair!) "Well that is a shame. I would have let you go with a few broken limbs, but nopony has ever gotten to walk away after seeing me."

"What about your guards?" I asked dumbly. We were at a complete disadvantage here, and our only chance is to stall until Longbow some how makes her way to us and saves our flanks.

The White Bishop facehooved. "I know you are just trying to keep me busy until Yew can make her entrance." He opened his desk and pulled out a gem-studded 10mm submachine gun, he lifted it and leaned forward to lay it on the desk.

"Wait. wat?" Sky spoke up from under her hood. "You think Backlash is a mare? He's a stallion..."

Bishop dropped the weapon on the desk and shook his head "No, I..."

"You know I'm a stallion..." I replied before he could finish. "Also, how am I supposed to make an entrance if I'm already here?"

Bishop brought up both his hooves to his face and drug them down slowly, his anger rising. "No. Yew Longbow!" I knew my feeling that longbow was hiding something about Bishop was correct, but I didn't know it's what got us caught. Regardless, Bishop had inadvertently giving me a chance to take up more time.

"I am Backlash..." I said slowly. "She is Sky..."

"AND I HAVE HAD ENOUGH!" He slammed both his hooves on the table and snorted in anger. "Tell me where she is and I will make your deaths quick!" Well that was quick. Stalling that way didn't take nearly as long as I hoped it would.

"Maybe if you hadn't put a bag over my head I could have seen her on her way up here to kick your ass." I said as I goaded him again.

The fat zebra laughed through his clenched teeth, hoofing his drawer open and sliding the SMG back into it. He slid the drawer shut as he locked his gaze to mine. "Oh you have no idea what I am going to do to you. You think you are tough, but in a month when you have had enough of the pain, I may see fit to kill you." He waddled (Yes, I used that term. His entire body swung as he walked and it looked ridiculous, shut up.) over to a large bookshelf on the wall, hoofing at a book on the bottom while pushing at the side of the case.

A soft click emitted before the whole case slide a few feet to the side, revealing a huge, four-legged safe set into a nook in the wall. The black metal box was nearly the height of the bookshelf and almost as wide as Bishop himself was. I looked around for anything I might be able to grab to gain the advantage, stopping as I looked back at the door behind us. A single pink line on my Compass sat between the two red lines which represented the guards. We'll it's about time that...

A sequence of explosions flashed around the edges of the room, the floor dropped out from under the entire room. Dropping everyone but Sky ten feet down to the floor below. I screamed as I hit the ground and felt my right shoulder twist at an odd angle. Cringing, I looked up to see Longbow walk onto the fallen carpet from the dark emptiness of the floor we were now on. She held a sleek Gauss pistol in her magic, pressing it to each of the guards foreheads and executing them before they could recover. The Gauss rounds turned the ponies heads into small meat explosions, leaving their necks looking like long, bloody ribbons. With the guards dead, the magical manacles popped off and faded away from Sky and me, allowing her to take her hood off.

Skyline hovered for a moment as her jaw dropped. "Wait, Bishop is a ZEBRA?"

Longbow stepped towards the overweight Zebra slowly, the meaty bits from the guards slowly drooping down the blood-soaked violet dress."I've been waiting four long years for this moment, White Bishop. You may have escaped before but NOT AGAIN!" She aimed the pistol and shot at him, hitting him in the leg and watching with glee as the severed limb flopped a foot away, twitching as a pool of crimson grew under it. I haven't ever heard a scream like the one that he gave, not from any creature.

He panted and whined on the floor for a few moments as she stopped a few feet from him. "You steel rangers are NOTHING but pests to be exterminated!" He laughed as he bled profusely. "To be squashed like when your brother came around looking at my daughter. He thought he could have her all to himself and take her away from me. ME!" Longbow growled and shot at his legs again, this time the shot went wide and struck a support beam next to him, the beam let out a low whine but held the floor above. "Oh, how he begged for me to kill him as I tore his pretty, purple coat right off of his body ever so slowly. I savored every scream, every plead he gave, but he was weak and died before I was satisfied. When you came and arrested me, I knew it was only a matter of time before you would try to get your vengeance." Longbow growled and pulled the trigger again.

Nothing, the gun was empty. "Well it looks like you won't be getting that revenge after all." He laughed from the floor, using his other hoof to open the pouch. "It's a good thing I always keep a hydra with me in case of just this sort of thing. You'd be surprised how often I have to use one." He stuck his muzzle in the pouch and grabbed the syringe, stabbing it into his severed leg before screaming out.

No, he gets to die. Fuck doing it for the mission, after what he did to her, I have to do this for Longbow. I shambled to my hooves and painfully twisted myself to pull the party cannon off my back, watching in fascinated horror as the missing leg regrew out of Bishop. I stifled a scream as the pink tube weighed down my leg, twisting at my busted shoulder as I lifted it up. I couldn't stabilize it enough to hit him accurately, but I hoped that the sheer size of the cannon ball would compensate.

I fired and yelped as the recoil threw my leg back, sending waves of pain through my body as the sleek ball missed Bishop and smashed through the support beam next to him, splintering the wood before punching a wide tear in the tower's rusted wall. The sphere traveled out and lodged itself into the cliff face above the taint lake. The upper floor groaned and sagged, the heavy safe above us slid forward and tilted slightly.

"No! no! no! no! NO...!" The plump zebra screamed as he tried to get to his hooves, but his new leg was weak from non-use like my hoof was after it regrew. No matter how much he scrambled, it wouldn't hold his tremendous weight. The safe slid again and dropped over the edge, hanging in the air for a moment before flattening the drug lord with the satisfying splut and crunch that normally comes from squishing a bug under-hoof. A great, big, gooey one.

"That's for Short Staff you fucking fat piece of shit." Longbow spat on the ground as a thick pool of blood spread out around the safe. She turned to me with tears in her eyes and hugged me tightly, making me whine as she squeezed my shoulder. "Thank you, Backlash."

The floor under the safe groaned and buckled, giving way and dropping the gore-covered, two-ton box another floor, then another, then yet another. Crushing it's way down floor by floor before crashing down into the basement, screams erupting as the dust started to clear.

"Well that's not good..." Sky said as she flexed her wings. "I vote we leave. Like, right now."

"At least that saves us from evacuating the tower." Longbow said with a small smile, sniffling and stepping back from me.

Wait, what? "Why would we need to do that?" I asked as I leaned in front of the blood-soaked mare.

"I set charges along key points in support sections to create a controlled, linear demolition of the tower." She said very Matter-o-factly

"YOU WHAT!?" Sky yelled and flailed her hooves in the air. "That wasn't part of the plan!"

"This will insure that his whole drug organization falls for good! Nopony else can just take over." Longbow stomped her hoof.

I hobbled over to Sky, nudging her with the party cannon. "Take this and head back to the hotel. Find Myron and tell him the job is done, Longbow and I will meet up with you there." She grabbed the pink gun in her mouth and trotted to the hole in the wall it had made. She gave a sad look back and dropped through, taking off into the night.

"So..." I said as I turned to longbow. "You didn't happen to take out the rest of Bishops guards while we were held prisoner, did you?"

She shook her head, a chunk of guard pony slid free from her mane. "No. I snuck past them. None of them are allowed up this high and the two floors below this are empty and unused." The shouting voices of guards coming up the flights of stairs filled my ears. We needed to get out of here.

"How much weight have you levitated before?" I looked over to the hole that the cannon ball had made, suddenly getting another one of my stupid ideas

She bit her lip in thought and danced nervously on her hooves. "Back at base during training, they made us levitate an entire suit of disassembled power armor onto ourselves at once, just in case we needed to suit up quickly in an emergency."

I groaned. "Ok, that wasn't an answer! How much does the suit weigh!?"

"Maybe one hundred pounds?" She cringed as she answered. The voices were getting far to close for my liking. I just had to hope that her magic could hold up.

"Ok, so this is going to suck a lot, but it's our only chance." I nudged her over to the hole with my hoof. "If you wrap us in your magic and we jump, you should be able slow us enough that we could make it to the cliff face and kick off of it to make it to the ground below."

She leaned over the edge and looked down. "You mean float over the enormous lake of taint? Are you insane!?"

"Time to find out! Jump!" I painfully hooked my right hoof around her neck and pulled myself close to her, pushing off the edge with her as her blue aura spread around us. The guards spilled up through the stairwell, firing poorly aimed shots as we dipped over the ledge and into the radiant light filtering down from the spotlights. I was delighted to see we weren't plummeting to our deaths, but mortified to see that we were sinking faster than I though we would be.

"Um... a bit slower would be nice!" I called out as the cold night air swirled around us, the guards shots still pinging the cliff face above us.

"By Celestia's grace how much do you weigh!" Longbow groaned as a dim layer of overglow enveloped her horn, slowing us further. I reached my left hoof out as we approached the cliff face. I spun us around and kicked us away as hard as I could. A round from the guards ricocheted off my pipbuck as we floated back toward the tower, the lake of shimmering taint growing closer and closer. We were going to cut this really damn close!

The tell-tale thumping of .308 battle rifles filled the air as Carlotta flew by, sending the guards retreating back from the hole. Sky flew over and gave us a firm push to the shoreline as we floated only a few feet away from it. I was happy to feel the dirt under my hooves as Carlotta let out another burst, strafing back across over us.

"You're all clear! Now blow this thing so we can all go home!" She called back as she flew up, disappearing beyond the bright lighting

Longbow's horn sparked and stopped glowing, she panted heavily as I noticed the tip of it was a dimming red, quickly fading to charred black. She shook her mane stiffly as she reached up into it with a hoof, pulling out a tiny square box with a red button on it. She slowly tilted her head down and used her horn to press it. Immediately a series of sharp pops from inside the building resounded through the night air, I could see longbow counting softly.

"3...4...5...6...........damnit, only in a casino would it be unlucky number 7!" She tensed up and looked over as me as a low groan filled the air. "It might be a good idea to run!" The spotlights at the top of the building flickered and went out as side of the tower facing the cliff buckled inward, the top of the tower listing slowly over us. Sky took off again, flying low towards the street with Longbow and I hot on her tail. The tilting tower's walls screeched and screamed as the tortured metal twisted and sheered, the top of the tower slammed against the rock face, breaking off a section which fell into the calm lake with a large splash.

I looked back to watch the tainted water surged over the dirt edge only slightly before receding. Fuck. The streets will be flooded with that shit if that whole thing comes down. We needed to get everypony off the streets! "Everypony run! Get to high ground!" I screamed out as we ran towards the amazingly large crowd of onlookers. Tonight was a hell of a choice for a party in the middle of town!

Longbow joined in shouting as we galloped into the crowd. "When that comes down, it will flood the town with taint! You need to get the hell out of here!" We pushed our way though the mass of ponies as they started to panic, a set of cracks coming from the cliff face and a groan from the tower announced it had given way. As we climbed the gentle hill toward the Red Lantern, the ground shook as the large steel tower slammed into the reservoir, jolting my shoulder painfully and making me trip up. I went down hard, skidding painfully on the street as a wave of frantic ponies trampled over me. I curled up as tight as I could to keep from being stomped by their hooves, screaming as they slammed and cut into my flesh in fear.

I almost couldn't hear Sky call out for me as I looked up, watching as the flood of taint spilled up the street quickly. The mob thinned enough for me to struggle back up and try to outrun it. I looked over my shoulder as I took off, watching as the rainbow wave raced towards me. Sky flew down over me and wrapped her hooves around my gut, beating her wings hard and pulling against me, trying to lift my heavy weight. I looked up in time to see Carlotta do the same to Sky, feeling overjoyed as my thumping hooves left the ground, lifting me up as the torrent caught up and spread out under me. I breathed a sigh of relief as the surge reached its apex and slowly drained back down into the center of town.

I smiled up at Sky and panted heavily. "Well. That job went pretty well, don't you think?"


Carlotta watched the door as Myron tapped his hoof on the floor of my hotel room. We all stood silently in the kitchen, the furious look on the pale stallion's face was unmistakable as he looked over the three of us. I rubbed over my sore shoulder, Sky said it was just a dislocation, but for how much it still hurt after she 'fixed' it, I wasn't sure.

"WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT?! I told you to disrupt the king's operations by killing one of them! Not to make the ENTIRE FUCKING TOWN UNINHABITABLE!" He screamed and threw one of the chairs clear across the floor. For a little guy, he had a lot of strength when he was angry. "You three FUCKING IDIOTS just cost me my manufacturing plant! Do you know how expensive it's going to be to fucking ship Dash out of Las Pegasus?"

"It was the only way..." I said as I took a step forward.

"IT WAS THE WRONG WAY!" He stomped forward and hit me in the chest hard, I tried to hide the pain as I made a note not to fight him hoof to hoof when he was angry. "Unless you have another FUCKING amazing drug to help make up for my losses, you will sit your RETARDED FLANK DOWN and try to FIGURE SOMETHING OUT."

The gears in my head must have been working overtime, serving me the info I needed near instantly as I recalled there was another drug I knew of. One that's current rarity made it expensive enough that it might help. "What if I did have another drug to give you?" I said slowly. "Say... the formula for Party Time Mint-als."

"What did you say?" Myron's eye twitched as he stood completely still. I could tell he was running it through his head over and over again, seeing if this was just a ruse. His mouth twitched slightly when he was probably calculating the rewards if I was telling the truth. "You have the formula?"

"So it would be worth it to you then." I lowered my gaze and looked over my hoof boredly. "How much is it worth is the real question."

He cringed and glared back. "How about I won't kill you and your friends. That sounds like a good enough deal to me."

"Fifteen percent every month before overhead is cleared." I smiled and watched his frustration skyrocket again.

He grumbled out through clenched teeth. "Five percent, after overhead, and you still have to deliver it as per the old deal."

"three percent after overhead, keep the same deal as before, AND I get Carlotta's contract." I leaned close and smiled as I spoke. "Final offer."

"Fine fine! Deal." He kicked at the floor softly. "Now hand over the formula."

I laughed softly. "You didn't think I had the formula ON me? No, it's hidden in a safe place after I looked it over." I watched as Myron frowned at first before a wide grin split his muzzle, I hated that grin so much.

"You say you looked it over?" He said with a smile. "Pipbucks are amazing little devices. They can even copy notes or papers you find when out and about. Check the notes section."

I sat down and hooved through the pink pipbuck's interface to the notes section, surprised to see a note labeled 'Party Time Mint-als'. I held my hoof out and let Myron look it over.

"Yes yes, this is good." He nodded and salivated as he read over the document. "Half of these chemicals require taint to cut. Lucky for me you just handed me the largest reserve of the stuff in the east." He closed his eyes and waved his hoof around in the air in sharp angles. "Do me a favor and hoof all three face buttons on your pipbuck at the same time."

I shrugged and did as he asked, watching as the a small pink bar came up on the screen with the words NOTE REMOVED across it. "Ok, I guess the note is gone."

"Good, good." The young stallion rubbed his forehooves together and laughed softly to himself. "Now I alone know the formula." Carlotta walked over and jabbed a talon into Myrons shoulder. He brushed it off lightly. "Not now, bitch."

"I think you need to hand over her contract." Longbow stated as the griffon grabbed him by the scruff of his light yellow mane, causing him to flail his hooves in the air as he whined.

"FUCKING SET ME DOWN YOU BRUTE!" He growled out and was lowered back down. "You can get it yourself, bitch, you know where it is."

"I just needed to hear you say it." The gruff griffin smirked and plodded off to the door, swinging it open and heading to Myrons room, I watched as Sky hovered up and float out after her.

"So what now?" I asked the runty colt.

He looked up with a confused look and furrowed his eyebrows. "You can go the fuck away and get your stupid 'Quests' or whatever done. I expect you fucking imbeciles to be back here to take the first run before the end of the month."

"Sure thing..." I said slowly as it took all my strength to speak the next word. "...Boss."



+7 Big Guns

+8 Speech

New Perk: Drunkard's Luck - You don't know why, but when you aren't paying attention, things just seem to stack up in your favor! When your perception is reduced by any modifier, your Luck increased by the same modifier.

Chapter 7 - Memories

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Chapter 7

"This calls for extreme measures! Pinkie Pie Style!"


After most of the taint had drained, and the dead had been tallied (only fifteen in all if you count Bishop and his guards.), work began on salvaging equipment out of the other towers. The Stalliatore twins had announced to their workers they were moving operations to Fillydelphia, meanwhile Peppermint hadn't even made an appearance. I assumed that she had finally had enough of this town and gotten out of here when nopony was looking. The town had returned to its normally quiet self, planks of wood stretched between the buildings to keep the ponies off the taint-coated roadway.

"Be careful with that!" Longbow winced and held her hoof out as I tinkered with the left fore cuff of her empty armor. I held the large metal tube in my mouth, pulling out and opening a small metal jar from my saddlebags. The large bags swung in the cold breeze as they hung off the Marauder's driver side mirror. "There are some very sensitive parts in there. Are you sure you know what you're doing?" She bit her lip as I slid one of the pneumatic pistons out of it's slot.

Sky and Carlotta had already gone to bed, seeing as they had both been up all day (and had to fly my heavy flank away from the taint flood.) but I wasn't tired. Longbow had wanted to do the 'Daily Maintenance' of her armor, but she had burnt out her magic earlier in the escape and needed my help. She had been hesitant to let me touch her suit, but ultimately agreed after she kept over-exerting herself to try to do it herself. I swear Unicorn magic makes their kind the laziest ponies ever.

"Look, I can fix anything. It's what I do." I slathered some grease from the jar onto my hoof turned to her and glanced back at my cutie mark, the set of meshing gears embellished on my flank had been a great source of pride to me since the time I was just a colt. "I'm a mechanic. If it's got parts, I can fix it." Longbow seemed to relax slightly as she watched me work her armor over, cleaning and greasing up the metallic shaft before slotting it back into the leg.

"I thought that you were a merchant?" She responded slowly. Her voice told me that the question was more personal curiosity than just trying to figure out if I had lied before.

I looked over the leg of the armor again before setting it down with a small sigh. "It's an... added benefit of my talent." I reached up to unhook the other leg from the suit. "I didn't figure it out until a while after I got my cutie mark."

"How did you get it?" She asked with a note of hesitation. I sat down and blinked for a moment before looking over to her. She blushed a bright red as she shrugged, her blood-stained, violet dress softly billowed in the wind. "If that's too personal to share, it's fine..."

I smiled and shook my head. "No, I don't mind telling, it's just not spectacularly interesting."

"You know, that's what everypony has said when I've asked, and it's always more interesting then they make it out to be." She said softly as she rolled her eyes and fidgeted her forehooves together.

I looked up in thought, squinting as the bright floodlights from the Stalliatore's tower streamed down onto us. "Well, in the settlement my mother, brother, and I used to live in, we had to earn our keep off scavenging. We lived along one of the great war's battle lines, picking over the rusting hulks of tanks and small camps." I paused for a moment to wipe my greasy hoof on my saddlebags, the off-white sacks so dirtied and worn from use it had turned a deep brown.

"Anyway, one day when we were looking around, I happened upon an extremely rusty artillery piece. The way it was turned up defiantly towards the sky, refusing to succumb to the will of time just fascinated me for some reason. The more I looked it over, the more I had to keep looking over it. Eventually, I found that not much was wrong with it, one of the recoil buffer pins had completely eroded away and the breech latch was slightly bent. Both of these were minor, minor things and anypony else would have missed it."

I held my hooves up and mimicked picking up a small object. "I looked around for awhile until I noticed that the ram rods used for loading shells were of nearly the same thickness , so I used one of the skeletal soldiers uniforms to make it stick and I forced it in there." I motioned like I was smacking the pin in.

"Why did you want to fix it?" Longbow asked quickly. "I mean, you couldn't sell an entire cannon to somepony, could you?"

I chuckled softly. "Like I said, it just seemed to call out to me. I didn't know why, but it just felt... wrong when it was missing such simple parts. I wanted to make it whole." I mimicked holding my hooves around a bar. "So after I had the new pin in place, I tried my hardest to bend the breech lock back into place. Little did I know that the gun had a few spells on it, allowing it to fire as soon as it was safe to do so. When I bent the lock back, I accidentally sealed the gun and set off the spell. After the smoke cleared, I was so stunned that I made the cannon work again, these gears appeared."

"But what does that have to do with being a merchant?" she asked as I closed my eyes and smiled at the memory of the old cannon, opening them again to be nearly blinded. (for some reason I kept forgetting those giant lights were up there. I'm just not that smart of a pony I guess.)

"Well, after I learned I could fix things, I started to bring broken things I found back to the house. As it turns out, even simple things like toasters have a demand in the marketplace. I started to sell what I could and noticed that my keen eyes and ears could pick up on the little things ponies did when negotiating. I could observe when they knew their bid was far too low, I could see when they thought it was a fair price, and I could hear when I was forcing them to spend everything they had..."

"So you made a living ripping ponies off..." Longbow sighed out as her expression dropped flat. On top of cutting me off, she sure knew how to jump to conclusions.

"No. I never charged more than a fair price, and I always undersold the competition. Well, except for when I started competing with Ditzy Doo..." I trailed off into a grumble. I shook off the annoying thought of giving things out for free and got back to looking over the power armor.

"SO..." She called out with doubt filling her words. "You've NEVER taken advantage of anypony because of your talent?"

A sharp shock ran up my spine as she reminded me of yesterday with Peppermint. I forced a smile and looked nervously up to her. "Umm... wow, you know I could use a bathroom break." I got to my hooves and took off at a canter over the hill towards the river. "I'll be back in five minutes!" I turned my head and called back to her as I crested the slope, slowing to a trot as I approached the bank of the Rein river. "I don't want to lie to her, she seems like a nice mare. Not to mention..."

I froze as movement to my right caught my eye, a small silver sphere was flying along the riverbank. I turned to face it as it came closer to see it was a sprite bot.

"Oh, it's you." I said as I rolled my eyes. "You shouldn't sneak up on ponies..."

The bot bobbed in the air silently for a moment. "Can't you see me coming on your E.F.S.?"

"My what?" I racked my brain for why that sounded so familiar. "Oh yeah! Brass had called my compass that the morning when..." I trailed off mid sentence. There I go remembering what I did to Harmony. I sat down and beat my hooves against my head sharply for being such a stupid pony.

"You... ok there, Backlash?" I could hear a slight tone of worry over the oddly robotic voice as it came over the speaker.

"Yeah, I'm fine. Just trying to deal with my mistakes." My head throbbed as I blinked a few times. "Honestly, most of the time I keep forgetting that all this stuff in my vision means things."

"Well then, I wanted to tell you that I..." The sprite bot started to speak before watcher's words were replaced by a soft set of low chirps. I listened as my pipbuck seemed to emit them back quickly. As I tried to find a pattern to the tones, there was a sharp crack on the speaker before silence.

"Umm... Watcher?" I said slowly as I prodded the metallic sphere with my hoof.

A slow sigh emanated over the speakers. "Somepony has been commandeering the sprite bot network periodically. It's getting really annoying."

"Isn't that what... you... do?" I tapped a hoof on the dirt with a smirk.

"Yes, it is, but this has been happening every twenty two minutes to the second for the last twenty four hours." The spritebot bobbed slowly past me while Watcher spoke, turning around and floating back after a few feet, almost as if it was pacing. " At the very least, I have a good reason to use these bots."

"And that reason would be...?" Honestly I wasn't quite sure why he was doing it. I assume if he had wanted me to do something for him, he would have asked by now. Maybe as a ghoul he was just really bored and this was entertaining enough he wouldn't go feral?

"Well... you see... it's complicated." The hesitation and fear in his words were evident through the distortion. He didn't want anypony to know, but since he hadn't asked anything of me really, I didn't want to press the issue.

"I see. You wanted to tell me something?" I shrugged as I looked into the swiftly running river.

"I'm almost out of time, but it's about the pink... I mean Forty Two ." He said as my ears perked. "I just spotted her as she left Whinny, I just thought you should know that she is heading towards the power substation near there."

Why the hell would she go there? It's not a very secure building with minimal supplies if any, only some simple foor stores and a couple cots probably. The gears in my head screamed to a halt when I fit something in. I turned quickly and grabbed the spritebot between my hooves with a gasp.

"WATCHER. I need to know if Pallet is in there!" I stared wide-eyed at the small orb as it stayed silent for a moment before a soft crackle announced the return of the loud, upbeat polka the robots were known for. I let the bot go, watching as it bobbed along the riverbank slowly until it was out of earshot. I just hope that Watcher got my message, I need to know if Pallet is still alive and if 42 leaves her alone again, I couldn't just go in there on a hope and a prayer that she is still alive. What if it was just another one of 42's traps?

I turned and slowly made my way back up the hill, feeling my body yelling for more rest to recover from the night's events. As I crested the hilltop, an odd sight befell my eyes and I wasn't quite sure what to make of what sat before me. Longbow looked half dressed in the separate sections of her armor, some of the pieces hadn't quite been put on right, clamping closed on both the dress and her mane and tail. It had forced her to contort into holding an odd and presumably uncomfortable pose as she grinned over to me nervously.

"A little help please?" She said with a slight amount of shame to her voice. "It's just a teensy bit harder than I thought to put this on without magic." She wobbled unsteadily and I couldn't help but shake my head and giggle softly to myself.

"You know, you're kinda cute when you ask for help." I fired back playfully as I walked over and started to unlatch the suit. It might as well have been dawn, because the blush she gave seemed blindingly bright. She fidgeted as I got the last few pieces off and walked towards the room.

"Thanks for tonight, Backlash." She said through a sniffle, her words denoting happiness. "My brother would have been proud to know you." She said softly, shutting the door as she went inside.

Bed sounded good, but the prospect of having to live through the nightmares another night was just enough to keep me going. I had just put everything back in my saddle bags as I sat at the edge of the parking lot. I could make out the low rumble of thunder on the horizon, probably a storm system moving in. At least a little rain might help wash away some of the taint. I reached my hoof over and clicked on the radio to my Pipbuck, listening as Sapphire Shores reminded me just how lonely a pony could get. My thoughts drifted a bit before Dj Pon3's smooth voice refocused me onto the radio.

"News time my little ponies! Now pay attention Fillies and Colts, the Pool has been closed... indefinitely. Details are still coming in, but it seems that the tower housing the King known as White Bishop was demolished and the resulting collapse flooded the town with a large amount of taint. Who knew that making the Pool a little dirtier would help make the wasteland cleaner for everypony."

As much as it sounds like it's going to help, nothing is going to change. The Stalliatores will go set up shop again and somepony will start producing more liquor somewhere else. The cycle will never end.

"So what pony have I been told we have to thank for this extraordinary feat?" He inquired with a tone of eagerness.

Oh Celestia he can't...

"That's right everypony! The same wasteland crusader who has been hot on the hooves of the Pink Mare. I have a proposal to Mr. Backlash and company, if you are ever around the Tenpony area and have some free time, swing by the broadcasting station so I can give the good ponies of the wastes an interview with the stallion who's finally making a difference. Oh and when I say free time, I mean anytime you aren't eradicating troublesome gangs, toppling underworld kingpins, or fighting the good fight against scourge of the pink mare."

I turned off the radio and closed my eyes as my head sunk, wanting to beat myself back into wasteland obscurity. If my notoriety keeps getting inflated at this rate, every gang and settlement in the wastes will either try to kill me, refuse me, or ask for my help. I don't even have time to deal with Moron and his plans yet, let alone delve into some pre-war bunker for the Steel Rangers. Every day I spend doing other things, 42 gets closer to finding where the pond was taken. My ear twitched as the night breeze picked up slightly, a humble voice carried softly along it.


My eyes went wide as I froze, the word echoing softly in my mind. It had been the same voice I heard when this all started, but I knew that voice now.

"Harmony!" I called out as I spun and rocketed towards the Marauder, slamming painfully into the side of it as I peered into the back seat. She was just the same as she had been the last day and a half, laying stiffly on floor with a bloody hole punched through her neck. I don't know what I expected, ponies don't magically come back to life after being dead for days.

I turned and slumped against the car door. How could I have heard her before if I didn't know she even existed a week ago! Is it just my mind playing tricks on me, or was she always destined to die by 42's hooves? I felt a spike of pain in my head as I tried to think, the breeze kicking up and chilled me to the bone. I hooked a hoof over the open window frame and pulled myself back up, looking down over the large mare again.

"Harmony..." I could barely even form the soft words as I hung in the window. "I'm sorry..."

I slowly stepped back and walked towards the door to my room, taking one last look back at the Marauder's backseat before slipping inside to sleep. Sky was sitting awake on the bed, holding Carlotta's head as she stroked the blue feathers softly. She smiled softly as I looked up to her. I did my best to return it, but couldn't muster the energy to keep it up.

I laid down against the door and let out a long yawn, closing my eyes as my mind tried to tell me I'd just have more nightmares. I thought to myself that if I have them, than I deserve it. The last thing I thought before I succumbed to the will of sleep was that because there was no escaping what I have done, I might as well buck up and face it.


I shivered and was jolted awake at the feeling of something slapping against my flank. I hazily looked up to see Carlotta repeatedly opening the front door against me, the cold morning air biting at my skin between slaps. She smiled down at me as she watched me curl up and shake from the near freezing temperature.

"You a merchant or a doorstop? Get up already!" She teased as Longbow got to her hooves from her seat at the table.

"He's a mechanic." The blue mare retorted smartly as she walked into the bathroom.

The gruff griffin sighed. "HE is in the way." She said as she kicked me lightly.

"Fuck off, Carlotta." I said as I tried to get comfortable again. "No metal walls here for you to force me up with." I smiled as I closed my eyes again.

"Yeah, but there is a tub in the bathroom." She replied slowly "Have you ever heard the sound of talons on porcelain?"

"Alright, alright! I'm moving!" I said as I stretched my legs out painfully. It probably wasn't the best idea to sleep next to the door anyway, but frankly I didn't care. It was a night without dreams, and to me that meant it was the best sleep I'd gotten recently. "Carlotta, I need to talk to you and Sky about something. Where is she?"

"She went for a morning flight around the town to stretch her wings." She leaned down to me and pressed her beak against my muzzle in annoyance. "Something I've been trying to do for the last five minutes except your fat flank has barricaded us in. So move."

"Thanks for the amazingly flattering update." I grumbled as got to my hooves. Carlotta swung the door open and gave me a face full of feathers as she smacked me with her outstretched wing before she jumped up and took off. I peeked my head out the door, noting that it must have rained earlier like I thought, leaving small puddles scattered about the lot. A long train of ponies caught my attention as they carried salvaged equipment up along the roadway and over the bridge.

"Why, good gracious me, if it isn't the Stallion Ah've been searching for!" An overly enthusiastic voice called out from Ripcord's office. A cream colored mare with a build not unlike my own strolled casually out, sporting oversized sunglasses and a straw brimmed hat to cover her light blue mane. She wore a plus sized, ornate, pink dress and walked with deliberately dainty steps.

"I am terribly sorry, Backlash, she has been rather insistent on speaking with you about a job." Ripcord called out as he poked his head through the office window.

"Uh huh... hello, Mrs...?" I don't think I've ever met this mare before, I think I would have remembered somepony covering their anger by forcing a smile as hard as she was trying. Maybe she was related to one of the victims from yesterday. Better stay on guard.

"Oh, do pardon me, where are my manners! I am Mrs. Jackpot Stalliatore." She bowed slightly as she spoke. "I have come to make a request of you." Her voice faltered at the end of the statement. So she was one of the Stalliatore twins, no wonder she was pissed. Oh, and that she wanted something from me but didn't send one of her lackeys ment she had to be holding out.

"Well, I'm pretty full up on jobs I have to do. Your request will have to wait." I said with a note of disappointment. Although I don't like to work for ponies like her (or Myron), I was still curious about the job. Maybe it would be something mundane?

"Well now, it will take only but a moment of your time." She grinned the same evil grin that Myron had given me, reaching up and unbuttoning the top of her dress with her hoof to let a small, metal bar spring up under her muzzle. I tensed up reflexively as she moved to bite down onto the bit of her hidden battle saddle, slipping into S.A.T.S. before she could fire. I mentally relaxed as the targeting spell coated her in an outline of pink before I pulled up my inventory. I looked down and highlighted the Party Cannon before stopping.

If I fired at her with the cannon, the ball would continue through her and hit either Ripcord, or one of the innocent ponies moving things in the background. The only option is for me to use Heartstopper to kill her, that way there is only minimal risk to injuring Rip. Wait, why the fuck am I rationalizing killing ponies? Is this how Sky has to think things through? Fuck, I just want my old life back!

An odd realization hit when I thought about heartstopper. I have never fired a gun before. Sky has always been there to protect me, and I have the hoof-eye coordination of a drunk when it comes to doing anything other than fixing something. (Also, I don't really count the party cannon as a gun, it's more of a... destructive device, you know, like plastic explosives. No moving parts and such.)

If I let S.A.T.S. do the work, how could I screw it up? I selected the sleek shotgun and watched as a flash of purple stuck it in my mouth, looking over the small heart inscribed on the gun as I thought to cancel the menu. As the targeting information came up, I used the poor thought of the words 'I just want to end this quickly' and S.A.T.S. closed promptly. I was thrust abruptly back into real time, watching as Jackpot's hidden battle saddle fired, punching holes in her dress to send one of the rounds into my vest harmlessly, and the other sides shot grazing across my right leg lightly.

Her eyes went wide as she realized that I had somehow armed myself and that she had failed to kill me. I bit down on the shotguns grip, pulling the trigger as I glared at her. I had only seen ponies shoot shotguns before, really knowing only that they shot a spread of metal balls and they were relatively easy to fix. Nothing prepared me for that shot, the party cannon being my only real experience, I had expected less recoil. A lot less recoil.

The shotgun jerked my neck to the side sharply as it flung from my mouth, Jackpot's screaming winning out over the ringing in my ears as several holes opened in her left foreleg. She kneeled on her good leg as her other bled thick streams onto the concrete. I got my bearings back as a door opened behind me. Myron walked up beside me holding his small revolver in his mouth and smiled at the injured mare.

"YOU!" She spat out between the whines. "YOU ARE BEHIND THIS!?"

Myron's answer was simple, firing a single, well placed shot through her sunglasses. Myron spit out the pistol as Jackpot slumped forward onto the ground. Longbow came crashing through the door behind us wearing half of her armor, looking around wildly before setting her sights on the pale stallion. I looked up to see the gaze she was giving and turned around, stepping between her and Myron.

"That mare tried to kill me." I said firmly, staring straight into her blue eyes. "Myron killed her in my defence."

Longbow leaned over and looked at the bloodied mare, studying her before going wide eyed. "You... that was Jackpot Stalliatore..."

Carlotta and Sky came racing around from the side of the building, galloping to a stop next to me. "Sky and I heard gunfire, is everypony alright?" Carlotta said quickly. She seemed to be quite shaken from such a simple exchange she hadn't even been in.

"Jeeze, Carlotta, since when did you turn soft?" Myron teased

"Fuck off, Moron, at least I have friends." She countered back sharply.

The young stallion grumbled and grabbed his gun again before turning and heading back into his room. I nodded and giggled slightly, holding out a hoof to Carlotta, happy to see her hoof bump me. Sky gasped and grabbed around my slightly bloody outstretched leg, looking it over closely before she let it go.

"It's just a flesh wound. You should be alright as long as we clean it out." Sky said as she rummaged around in her saddlebags. I walked over and bit down on heartstoppers grip, lifting it and depositing it into my own bags looked over to Rip's office. I was worried when I couldn't see him and that a few of the pellets from my shot had punched into the small room. I canted over to see him lying on the floor with his hoof over his chest and a small puddle of blood around the side of his head.

"Fuck..." I turned my sore neck and yelled back to the group. "Sky! I need help!" I maneuvered myself over him and moved his hoof away. Fuck, what am I supposed to do... get him conscious! I slapped his muzzle lightly. "Come on... wake up, buddy... don't be dead." Ripcord let out a rough groan as the rest of the group tried to pile through the door. He reached up and rubbed the back of his bloody head as he opened his eyes.

"Where are you hit?" Sky called as she stepped up and kneeled down next to the olive pegasus.

"What was that?" Rip said as he sat up, pulling his hoof away from his head. "I have to ask that you speak up!" I looked from his bloody hoof up to where his ear should be, but was nothing more than a shredded mess. "I think I may have struck my head when I dove to cover, it would explain this dreadful aching I seem to be feeling."

We all let out a collective sigh of relief as Sky took a few minutes to wash and wrap the last of our magical bandages around his stumpy ear. "Thanks again Miss Skyline for applying your medical skills to expertly dress my grievous wound." Rip turned and gave her a tight hug as she pat him on the neck.

"No problem, just try to keep it clean after you take the bandages off." Sky said as she took a step back. "Anyway, Carlotta mentioned you needed something, Backlash?"

I nodded and looked at her. "I hate to ask this, but do you think that you can go and get the Skycar? I still want to bury Harmony at the Garage, but..." Sky put her hoof over my muzzle softly and nodded sadly. I hugged her tightly and thought to myself that finally, I can do what I promised.


After we had moved Harmony's body into the hotel room, it was only a few minutes before I had reinstalled the Spark Battery Controller to get the Marauder rolling again. Longbow had managed to put her armor on correctly before joining me inside the car, seeming relieved to have it back around her. We left Sky and Carlotta to continue on our way toward Manehattan, and I was surprised to see that Longbow seemed to be getting used to the jolts and shakes the heavy vehicle gave as we clipped along the old road. The old highway took us around the northwest of Colt mountain before it was a straight shot to Manehattan.

We had ridden for about an hour before we even saw a glimpse of civilization again as we passed Redwing. The old mining town was one of a number of attempts to revitalize the search for gemstones, but had fallen on hard times without striking anything of value. Sometimes Sky and I would stop there for the night, but the towns ponies were a skittish bunch and frankly seemed generally unstable.

"Thanks..." Longbow said as she scooted up next to me on the bench seat. "...for telling me how you got your cutie mark. I know it's a personal thing, and most ponies don't like to share it."

"Well, maybe you could share yours with me, hell, I'd like to at least see your flank for once!" I blushed and face hoofed as she stifled a laugh "Wait... that came out wrong. What I mean to say is every time I'm around you, you were in your armor or you were in that dress."

"It's not something I like to just share with anypony. It's a personal badge of honor to me, it was a big part of my life to get it." She said as she blushed slightly.

"Could you at least give me a hint? Or tell me your special talent?" I said as I nudged her armored chest with a smile, drawing one across her muzzle in response.

"I can judge ponies." She stated bluntly.

To be honest, I wasn't sure what that even meant, but I let her continue. "With my magic, I can review the memories of a ponies crimes and tell if they are truly sorry of his or her actions. Whether they are worth reforming or not." I must have had my confusion all over my face as she had to rephrase it. "The magic allows me to share their emotions of the event as I watch their memories of it. If I feel regret and remorse, or even horror, they knew what they did was wrong and have a chance at being reformed."

That was... impressive? I don't know how else to describe it, but I had never heard of anything like that before. I wonder what she would read off me if she could watch the last two weeks. I stiffened up slightly. What if she has already read me? I looked over to her slowly as she cocked an eyebrow.

"No. I haven't judged you yet." She crossed her armored forelegs and frowned. "Do I need to?"

I gave a nervous grin and shrugged. "I don't actually know! I'd like to believe I've had good reasons for my actions." Good going Backlash, now she's totally going to judge the living shit out of you.

"I was going to say..." Longbow started before she looked out the driver side window. "...what is that?"

I swung my gaze over to see we were driving past a small group of old houses known to travelers as Minefield (not a super creative name, though to give the local ponies credit it IS accurate). I noticed there was an oddly-shaped, white rock sitting next inside the ruined playground in center of the ruins. "That's weird. I don't remember that being over there."

No pony has ever really been through the ruins because during the great war, somepony thought it would be fantastic if they laid anti-tank mines all over the place. The stupid things are magnetic, so you can't bring a minesweeper in to clear them AND they are buried almost randomly. I slowed us to a stop, shutting off the marauder as I looked closer at the round-ish rock, slowly making out the true shape.

"That's not a rock in Minefield, it's a zebra..." I said slowly as I swung the door open. "Hang out here while I check it out."

"Screw that!" Longbow said as she scooted closer to my door. "I'm going with you."

"Nonono! Freeze!" I said sternly as I held my hoof out. "There is a reason I parked this far away, they are magnetic mines, if you get too close, your armor will set them off." Longbow grumbled to herself as I shut the door, sitting in the front seat with her forehooves crossed. "It will only be a minute. I promise."

I turned and slowly walked towards the town, noting that most of the mines in this section had been set off, leaving small craters filled with the bones of a few ponies. (Well, I couldn't be one hundred percent sure there were no mines, but I hadn't exploded yet!) As I approached the playground, I noticed the body had lacerations all over it, but very little blood.

"The buzzards must have been picking at this for a while." I said as I tried to carefully push myself over the playground fencing, only to have it fold forward under my weight, dropping me on top of it with a slam. I got to my hooves and dusted myself off, looking up to see the Zebra was a stallion, and had one of the mines laying upside down on top of one of his forelegs.

"Well, that's weird." I crouched down and looked at the mine from a distance, noticing that the trigger hadn't been depressed and that the mine should be safe to move. I walked up and bit down on the handle of the mine, attempting to flip it over to disarm it. I was surprised to see the Zebra's leg held to it tightly as I lifted it up and turned it over. I hit the disarm switch with my hoof and sighed through the bit as a small green indicator popped up on the mine to show it was safe. I tugged the mine to toss it beside me, only to have the stubborn leg refuse to let it go.

I grunted and pinned the leg with my hoof, twisting my still sore neck with all my might to fling the disk, finally breaking hold of the Zebra. I watched with a cringe as the disk flew twenty feet or so, surprisingly landing in the dirt with a thud. I crouched low, half expecting it to attract another mine, but happy to see it just sit there as the dust cleared. I shrugged to myself and looked back down to see the striped body staring up at me with eyes filled with both fear and confusion.

"Please, do not hurt me!" He said softly as he trembled on the ground.

"Woah, I'm not here to hurt you." I said slowly, taking a step back. "I saw you lying here and came to see if you were alright."

He sat up sharply and looked around quickly, hyperventilating heavily. "You need to help me!" He said as he looked up at me. "They are going to kill me if they find me again!"

"Slow down and take a deep breath. First of all, what is your name?" I said slowly, holding my hoof out for him to grab. He just stared up at me with wide eyes, his vision darting between my gaze and my hoof.

He took a few long breaths before he calmed slightly. "I... do not remember." He said as he pushed himself to his hooves without my help.

I sighed and facehooved. "Can you not remember anything? Or just not your name?"

He seemed to ponder this a moment. "Most of it is fuzzy, but I remember being pulled from a mine shaft. I was caught in a cave in, but was saved when a group of ponies dug me out. For some reason they tried to kill me and I ran. I kept running until I saw this place, but that is where I lose everything again."

Fantastic. From what I can tell in his voice and expression, he's telling the truth. But now this opens up a whole new question. What do I do with him?

"Well, the only mine I know of around here is the Redwing mine." I watched him tense up at the name. "Is that where you're from?" He gave a small nod. "I can take you back there if you would like."

He shook his head "They will just try to kill me again!" Starting to quake again as his eyes darted around. "Please take me somewhere else, anywhere else!"

"Ok, it's ok." I lowered my voice and pointed my hoof back towards the Marauder. "I'm on my way to Manehattan, you can ride with us as long as you agree to not murder us..." I tried to say it as lighthearted as possible, but I still didn't want to get murdered by some random wastelander I just wanted to help.

"Alright. I will go with you." He said slowly, turning and shakily stepping over the fallen fence. I gave my best reassuring smile and walked up beside him, glancing over his... what did they call them again? whatever the Zebra equivalent of a cutie mark was. It was remarkably similar to a spell matrix chip. Maybe he was some sort of computer whiz? My attention was drawn over to a rock as it wiggled slightly, slowly dragging itself closer. My eyes went wide as I reflexively dropped my hooves out from under me, trying to scream to warn the stallion of the mine next to him.

The explosion was deafening as the anti-tank weapon went off. I could feel small rocks and hot bits of metal punch into my hide as the blast knocked me back a good three feet. I gasped and coughed as I struggled to breath, finally sucking in some air. I looked up to see Longbow standing over me in the bloody dress with a frown. I worried for a moment she had been hurt by the mine, but she was trying to speak to me. I couldn't hear what she was saying as she pulled me back to my hooves, helping me limp along as the smoke and dust cleared, walking up to the shredded flesh of the zebra stallion.

I shook my head to try to clear my vision, but it didn't help me understand what I saw any better. I was staring down at the open remains, the zebra's chest cavity was a mess of all sorts of tubes and boxes, half his right foreleg was severed to reveal several servos and actuators along with a plethora of wiring. This... THING was a machine. I sat down and leaned forward, the largest box had some sort of port, in fact I think it's the same kind of port a Pipbuck could connect to. I'm sure I screamed it, but I told Longbow to grab my toolkit from the glove compartment.

After a few minutes of tinkering, I had jury rigged a connector cable out of the robo-zebra's own parts. Would it be robo-zebra? Cyber-zebra? I don't fucking know, I mean I had no idea stuff this complex could even exist! I attached the cable both into him and my Pipbuck, looking down to the screen as it flashed lines of code before coming up with a notification.

Ministry Chief Authorization Accepted.

A few more lines of code scrolled before a prompt for a single text file sat on the small computer. I hesitantly opened it, slightly disappointed when I saw it was short.

P.S.P. Test unit 87.

Project I.S.A.A.C.

Intrinsic Surveillance Advanced Arcanotech Concept.

Field test unit designed with immersion protocols. Testing the use of brain pattern transfer of a zebra subject's mind onto a unit's personality matrix with the goal to create a convincing intelligent frame with remote surveillance capabilities.

So... yeah. I'm kind of at a loss on this one. I've seen lots of prewar stuff, but nothing this... ridiculously weird. I mean FUCK, what in Celesita's name am I supposed to do with a freaky cyber-robo-zebra-thing! I closed the text file only to have another notification pop up.

Spell matrix reboot in progress. Please don't disconnect link cable.

Wait... this thing is still in good enough condition to run? It just took an anti-tank mine to the CHEST! I looked up over to Longbow, who had a health potion held in her mouth and a worried look on her face. I looked over myself for a moment to see if any of my injuries were bad enough to warrant a potion, but was startled to feel the purple liquid poured into my ear. As I shook my head vigorously, I was greeted by the sound of the mid day breeze.

"Wow. Why didn't I think about that last time?" I said as I hit the side of my head softly, trying to get the remaining potion out. I felt Longbow force my head the other direction before pouring more of the potion into my other ear. I was happy to be able to hear her put the bottle down.

"I would be surprised..." She said as she took a step back. "...but with the last few days you've had, it's not hard to think this sort of thing happens all the time."

"Up until two weeks ago, my life was never this interesting, I swear." I looked back down to my Pipbuck with a sigh. So, now what do I do. I mean, I've never seen tech this complex, but I'm sure that I could find someone who would be interested in it. Well, I could f...

"Are you going to fix him?" Longbow asked quite bluntly before I could even finish thinking it. "Fix IT I mean. It can't really be a him, can it?" My Pipbuck beeped as a new notification popped up.

Matrix Reboot Complete.

Critical structural frame failure detected. Primary logic spell cores in safe mode until repairs can be made.

Warning. System power at 36%

In the event of critical power loss, primary energy systems will use all reserve power to follow standard cascade overload protocols, resulting in complete vaporization of the project.

"I guess I could try, but to be honest, I've never seen anything like this before." I unhooked the cable from my Pipbuck and stood up with a sigh. "Hoist him onto me so we can get him to the Marauder, I don't want to find out I can fix him and have another one of those mines blow him to bits and undo my work."

"What if it activates another one while we are pulling it?" She said with hesitation in her words.

"Then we get to see if he and I can take another blast, I'm sure you'll be fine. I took one and I seem fine." I replied lightheartedly.

"One, you aren't fine, you're insane to even be thinking of this. Two, we're going to call it a him?" She joked back as I leaned down next to the robotic zebra. She used her hooves to roll him over, levering him up onto my back with a piece of the broken fence near the playground. As the remains flopped onto my back, I happened to remember that metal is heavy, and a Zebra made of metal, covered by flesh was doubly so. My limbs protested as I strained myself to stand up.

"Eeyup!" I managed to say under the tremendous strain, taking stiff, short steps towards the car. Alright, three feet down, only about forty seven more to go. I heard Longbow shuffling in the dirt behind me for a moment, suddenly trotting past me with the severed leg in her mouth. I noticed that the hoof was bending along it's joints smoothly in her muzzle, arcing back towards me as she walked.

"Longbow!" I groaned out. "The hoof... it's following... a magnet!" She stopped and looked down at the robotic appendage, turning her head slowly and watching as it stayed pointing at one specific rock in the dirt. "We can use that.... to guide us... through!" I watched as she nodded and slowly walked with me. Over the next grueling twenty minutes, I struggled to pull the heavy machine along the path the hoof guided us through. I had to use my forehooves to drag myself forward along the ground the last few feet to the car, but we made it. I panted heavily and moaned as Longbow pushed him off my back and onto the dirt.

"You... Uh, alright there, Backlash?" She said softly as she put a hoof on my shoulder.

I raised my hoof painfully and waived it lightly at her. "I'll be... fine. Just need... a small nap." As I panted on the cool dirt, I shut my eyes for a moment to try to think, of how I was going to pull this off, unsurprised when I felt all my pain drift away slowly.


The warm breeze felt good as it blew through my mane, the sunlight pouring down from above giving me the strength to get up once again. I smiled as I sat up, opening my eyes to find myself laying in the grass under a familiar looking tree. I could hear jubilant music playing in the distance that instantly brought happiness to my mind. For once, I was glad to be back here, finally able to get a break from the horrors of the wasteland and my nightmares. I pulled myself to my hooves, enjoying the feel of the grass underneath them.

"Well, time to say hello to Pinkie I guess!" I said softly, feeling my ear twitch suddenly. That happened far to often to not be one of the weird pinkie sense things. I'll have to pay more attention next time it happens.

"AAAND YOU JUST DID!" The overly hyper voice shouted from above. I watched in surprise as the bright pink filly dropped out of the tree branches and landed on her hooves in front of me.

"You certainly like spending time in that tree, don't you?" I asked as she bounced on her hooves. "Not to mention, it's the only one around here. Why is that?"

"Oh, it's because she reminds me of a really, really, REALLY good friend that I haven't seen in a long time!" She said as she bolted around me, galloping circles around the tree as she giggled. The sky darkened for a moment, making me turn to look up at the sun. One of the Balloon shaped clouds was passing across it slowly.

"So... the tree is a she?" I slowly asked, not sure if she was serious. Upon further thought, she IS Pinkie Pie, so something that absurd has to be true.

"Mhmmm!" She said as she skidded to a stop in front of me. "Anyway! I have to send you back now. You weren't supposed to come back yet and your friend is helping me plan the best party!"

"My...friend?" I rubbed the back of my head in confusion.

"Uh-huh! She's all super big and tough looking for a unicorn, also she keeps telling me how you helped her and her friends!" She exclaimed loudly.

"Harmony..." I muttered under my breath. I took off towards the music as fast as I could, my hooves thumping along the soft ground as I pushed them to carry me faster than ever before. A pink blur sped in front of me before I was stopped abruptly. Pinkie had a single hoof on my chest as she shook her head.

"I can't let you do that, Backlash." She spoke with a soft, sad tone as her hair deflated, laying flat as she looked up to me. "It's against the rules and I'll get in trouble."

"I have to see her." I said as I tried to take a step sideways, finding that I couldn't move at all. "I need to tell her that I'm sorry. That I hate myself because I couldn't save her." My vision was blurring as tears welled up in my eyes.

"She knows, Backlash." Pinkie smiled up at me softly, her blue eyes conveying the most sincere gaze she'd ever given. "I'll tell you what. If you pinkie promise not to tell anypony back in the real world ever, I'll let you see her."

My thoughts jumped back to the old man, how he made me promise never to tell anypony about how to make Luna come out. I remembered how I had failed to keep that promise, and ended up getting the pony I cared the most for killed as a result. I didn't want to make that mistake again, I don't want to risk losing anypony else due to my own selfish stupidity.

"No, you're right." I said as the tears rolled down my cheeks. "I can't keep that promise. I'm sorry, Pinkie." I felt the filly throw her hooves around my neck tightly, hugging me warmly.

Pinkie whispered into my ear softly "It's ok. She doesn't blame anypony for the things that happened to her in life, she was just happy she met you before it was over." That made a small smile draw across my muzzle slowly as it sunk in. I felt as she dropped off of me and took a few steps back. "I'll see you again soon, Backlash!" The filly yelled as she bounced high into the air, dropping her hooves onto my face, knocking me back into darkness once more.


I groaned out heavily as the pain returned all over my body, making me instantly regret not having Longbow dose me with a healing potion or med-X earlier. "How long was I out for?" I mumbled as I slowly opened my eyes, staring up into the deep blue eyes of the robotic zebra standing over me, a red glow softly pulsed in the recesses of his pupils.

"Oh, Backlash, you're up! You've been out for almost an hour." Longbow called out before trotting around from the front of the car. "Say hello to Isaac! It looks like when you connected your Pipbuck, it fixed his memories." He smiled softly down over me as I looked back to him.

"Umm... why is he running again?" I said as I tried to remain still, hoping that he wasn't going to go into some existential rampage to kill all ponies.

"So, after you fell asleep, I gathered all of his parts together and was looking over him in more detail, you know, standard steel ranger stuff." Longbow's horn gave a dim glow as she could barely levitate a Fancy Buck snack cake across the hood, starting to munch on it as she talked. "I noticed that one of his boxes had a slot for an auto repair talisman, which got me to thinking that I'll just let him use the one from my suit, and wouldn't you know it, Isaac here put himself back together! Well, mostly. Anyway, I've filled him in on the last 120 years more or less." Isaac nodded happily as she finished her snack cake.

"I... see." I replied skeptically as looked over the near flawless striped hide. "I thought the suit's repair talisman could only repair metal, how did you get your flesh back?"

Isaac mouthed the words to me with a nervous look on his face before finally looking over to Longbow. "Like I said, he's mostly back to normal. His speech system doesn't seem to be working yet." She said with a small sigh. "Oh, and yeah, I gave him all of the cans of beans you had, he just scarfed them down can and all! It was very fascinating to watch. Why were you even carrying so many anyway?" Finally, some good news. Celestia knows I hated playing bean roulette, and they were always the last thing I reached for when going to make food. "Anyway, he must have some sort of other talisman that heals tissue like the repair one mends metal. I would love to get him back to base to look him over..."

My brain screamed as it tried to process everything, the gears feeling like they were going to melt from working so hard. I put my hooves over my head and groaned. "Oh, Celestia, why must everything make me hurt?" I turned to tell longbow we weren't going to do that, but stopped when I noticed a few red bars moving on the edge of my E.F.S. from the other side of the car. I frantically waved for longbow to come closer. "Bad guys coming, get over here!" I whispered as she walked over.

"What?" She asked before turning towards me.

I nodded slowly I turned my vision towards the bars, finding that it was just a sea of red lines. I peeked my head up and looked through the window, seeing a mass of feral ghouls slowly shambling towards us.

"Ghouls." I said with a whisper.

"Do they look like they want to talk?" Longbow whispered back with a shrug.

"No..." I said with more fear in my words than I wanted to hear myself say.

"How many?" She said as she sunk against the side of the car.

"Lots." I said as I drug my hooves down my face.

I felt a soft tap on my shoulder, my eyes turning to meet Isaac's as he smiled and drew something in the dirt.

wait 1 min

I looked up in confusion just as he turned and bolted past the front of the Marauder, taking off into the open desert at an unprecedented speed. The mass of ghouls let out a series of horrendous screeches as the whole herd gave chase after him. The gears in my head connecting one last thought before giving out, sending a sharp stab of pain along my neck.

"Longbow, is all of your stuff in the car?" I whispered as I turned to her, getting a slow nod. "Get in to the back seat quietly, I have an idea." I gingerly opened the driver side door and climbed in, waiting for the soft click of the back door to close. I sighed softly and tried to relax, letting my mind clear itself slightly.

"I have a bad feeling about this..." Longbow said softly.

"Alright, lets go!" I shouted as I sharply hoofed the engine start button, grinning as the large magical engine thundered to life before I shifted it into drive and slammed the accelerator down. The tires spun with a light scratch and kicked up rocks before we were propelled forward, sharply turning away from Minefield before correcting back towards the charging ghouls. As much fun as it was, I didn't need to blow up twice in one day.

"What's the plan again!?" Longbow yelled from the back seat, trying to contend with the noise of the engine as it thrummed quickly.

"When we pass Isaac, you open your door and pull him in!" I called back and swerved to avoid a ghoul who had turned back to attack us. We had caught up to the main group, overshooting them as the Marauder pulled us along with relative ease while I looked out the window and smiled to the Speedy Zebra, getting a soft smile in return. I slowed down and steered towards him, trying to keep the jostling vehicle steady as we raced across the uneven terrain.

"Just a bit closer, Backlash!" Longbow yelled as she opened the door. I maneuvered the vehicle with a light touch, drifting closer and closer as the screams and howls of the feral ghouls filled the air. I heard a loud thump on the roof, making me swerve slightly. "Or he could get in that way!" She yelled as she shut the door with a thump. I turned around to ask her what happened, only to watch as he swung himself through the passenger side window to sit on the seat next to me. He beamed a smile as I looked him over in disbelief.

"We all good!?" I called out as I turned the car back in the direction of the highway. I was relieved to see both Longbow and our new zebra passenger nod. Good, no more distractions. If we kept driving until nightfall we could make it back to the garage by midday tomorrow.

"Th-nk Yo-" Isaac's voice crackled out before emitting a loud grinding noise. "Thank you is what I meant to say." The crowd of ghouls had seem to have given up pursuit and disappeared over the horizon.

"No problem?" I said as I cocked an eyebrow. "I didn't really do anything though..."

"You removed the magnet from me. If you hadn't, I would have just laid there forever." He stated rather matter-o-factly.

"Just, hold up one second." I said as I facehooved. "How can you even exist? I didn't even know that level of robotics was even scientifically possible!" I prodded his chest with my hoof sharply. "YOU aren't scientifically possible! The most complex one I've ever run into is one of those sentry... security bot... things, and that's tinker toys compared to you!" I put both hooves back on the wheel in frustration.

"Although I still do not know everything myself. I believe I was built to be a spy during the war and tasked to blend in with the work force at the mine. Make friends and live a simple life as they monitored me, all while I didn't even know I was... this" He waved his hoof over himself. "I was buried accidentally when my tunnel collapsed and I guess I went into hibernation, only being reactivated a few years ago when I was dug out during exploration of the mine. Unfortunately they saw what I was and ran me out of town. I figured out most of the robot stuff when I had time to look myself over."

"So how did you end up in Minefield?" Longbow asked as she threw her hooves over the seat between us.

"I used to live there. I had a modest sized house, a nice green lawn, even had one of these." He smiled and ran his hoof along the dashboard slowly. I watched as his smile faded, a sad look falling over his face. "But that was all a lie. I am not real, just some machine."

I scrunched up my muzzle in thought before looking over to him. "That's not what the file on my Pipbuck said. It said they transferred a zebra's brain into this body, so that means you must have had an actual body at one point." I didn't know if that was true, but the emotions he wore were far too convincing to be just a machine. I could hear it in his synthetic voice, the notes of a true sadness. Machines can't feel pain or anguish.

"It matters not. I have no purpose in this new world." He said softly.

"What about your glyph mark?" Longbow suggested.

"It has no meaning to me, I used to move rocks all day and know next to nothing about computers. If I was truly a zebra at one time, that was not my glyph mark."

I smacked my hoof on steering wheel as an idea popped into my head. "You do have a purpose! You had to have good pony to pony interaction skills to be some sort of spy, so why not get a job as somepony who deals with lots of other ponies! Think of what you could do as somepony like a... security officer, or maybe a Regulator? Not to mention you're faster, stronger, and more attuned to your surroundings than any regular pony."

Longbow tapped my shoulder softly, beaming a bright look to me. "That's not half bad! Ever since they expanded trade, Friendship City is always looking for better security guards to weed out the smugglers and riff-raff."

"You... really think that would be a good idea? Would they hire a Zebra?" Isaac asked as he stiffened up. I don't think he expected us to be so helpful. "What if they find out about me?"

"Friendship City is open to every race, and without landmines and cave in's, I think you'll be fine..." I said hesitantly "...although, it might not be a bad idea to just explain yourself away as a Cyberpo... Cyber-Zebra. I've only seen one Cyberpony in all my years of trading, and that was up in Paradise, so I don't think many folks will question you if you tell them that."

"You've been to Caledonia?" Longbow asked with genuine concern and more than a little curiosity.

"Don't ask." I said flatly. I didn't wanted to be reminded of those times, the good or the bad. I shuddered lightly and shook the thought from my head.

After a few long hours of driving, the sun was finally setting as we bounced along the old roadway. I kept my eye out for a place to pull in to spend the night at, joyously remembering an old fuel station nearby that Sky and I sometimes camped out at. I flicked the headlights on as the sun dipped down, shrouding the hills in cloaks of black as we turned off the highway and made our way along a winding, one lane gravel road.

The Marauder's bright beams highlighted the dilapidated and rusting structure, the flaking paint still mostly spelling out Poseidon Gas N' Go! A friend of Solaris.Ink in light blue lettering. I rolled the thudding vehicle slowly towards a small garage attached to the the main building, looking around and checking my E.F.S. for any hostile bars, happy to find it empty. As the Marauder pulled into the small carport, I shut it off, letting the relaxing silence fill the air.

"I didn't even know this was here, what is this place?" Longbow muttered under her breath, her words filled with amazement. She pointed her hoof over to the two small rusted boxes sitting out front. "What was it used for?"

"It's a gas station." I stated with pride.

"A what?" Longbow said flatly as she looked back to me.

"It was an invention called gasoline and was utilized inside internal combustion engines as a highly inefficient fuel source." I shrugged as I leaned back in my seat. "It's not surprising you've never heard of it, being as it was only around for a few years. With the invention of spark batteries, Poseidon was closed by Solaris due to unprofitability and all these stations were just left to rot away."

"Wow." She said as she looked around in wonder. "How do you know all this?"

"I like to visit pre-war museums. I went through the museum of arcano technology last time I was in Fillydelphia. They have some pretty neat stuff stored in there." I said with a note of pride.

"He is correct you know." Isaac said slowly. "They stopped using these a little after I was born."

Wait... what? "You know when you were born?"

He froze in thought for a moment. "No... but I know that these were antiquated technology when I was young." He smiled and looked up at me with a sparkle in his eye (not literally though, that would just be freaky). "I was young! I am a real Zebra, I just didn't know it!" He jumped giddily on his hooves for a few moments, crashing into me and hugging me tightly.

"Alright there Isaac, settle down." I laughed lightly and awkwardly hugged him back. "I told you that you had to once have had a real body." Score a win on my part for an educated guess!

Longbow leaned back in her seat with a long yawn, pulling one from my muzzle as I followed hers. "I think we should all get some sleep." She said as she curled herself up on the plush seat. I nodded and got to my hooves as Isaac sat back.

"Do I even need to sleep?" He asked as I failed my hop over the seat, landing on my face on the floor with a thud and a groan. Fuck that hurt, any more trauma and my neck will be the next on the growing petition of body parts wanting to retire.

"My advice is that you at least try to get some. You can take the front seat" I grumbled out into the floor mat as I flopped completely onto my side. I lay for a moment waiting for a response, but got nothing. Shrugging, I pressed my back against the front seat and closed my eyes, trying to think of the warm dream with Pinkie, imagining the sun as it shone down, radiating brightly onto me. I smiled as I drifted away, looking forward to my second good sleep in a long while.


I woke to the sound of the howling wind, slowly opening my eyes as I lifted my head to look around. My vision cleared enough for me to see it was still dark outside the skycar. I wondered where my friends were as I pushed myself off of the cold floor, shivering and walking slowly over to the open door. I leaned on the frame as I peered out slowly, gasping as I watched Longbow being held in the air by Pallet's father and another one of Ponyville's dead pegasi. She struggled uselessly as they hovered her over the side of the building.


I froze as their voices echoed deeply inside my mind. They were right, I only got ponies killed trying to save them. She was doomed either way.

"You killed us all."

I felt their words tear into me, gasping as pain shot through me, gaping wounds opening up all over my body to pour black blood out into the night. I don't want to be a murderer! I just want to help everypony! It's not my fault!

"It's all your fault"

Their words tore the wounds bigger as I screamed. The inky black liquid gushed out, spreading into a large puddle underneath me.

"Please! No more!" I looked up to see Longbow's crying face, I could hear her sobbing quietly as they held her over the darkness. "Help me..."

" You can't escape what you are."

I waited for the inevitable pain to rip into me, for them to yank my very soul out and devour it, but there was nothing. As I waited, I felt something else welling up inside me. A pulsing warmth was spreading through me, it was something I hadn't felt in a long time. I watched as the gushing wounds glowed brightly, pouring light out that shrunk the inky fluid into nothingness.

"PUT HER DOWN!" I yelled as I charged out of the skycar, slamming my hooves against the roof as I galloped towards Longbow. The pegasi laughed and let go, her blue eyes filled with fear as she dropped. I jumped and dove over the edge of the building, reaching out my hoof for hers as we both fell into the darkness. I yelled and strained to reach out, finally hooking around her hoof, thinking to myself at least she wouldn't go alone.


I yawned lightly as I woke up, pulling myself closer to the pile of warmth next to me, feeling it scoot closer at my touch.

"Huh?" I murmured softly. My mind snapped my eyes open, leaving me staring right into Longbow's blue striped mane. I sat up slowly and pushed the bloodied dress that was draped over us away, rousing a yawn from the unarmored mare.

"Hey there, you." She said slowly with a smile, brushing her mane from her eyes. "I got cold, so..."

I jumped to my hooves and clambered out the window of the Marauder, taking off down the gravel road in a panic as my lungs threatened to strangle me. I wheezed and dropped down onto my knees, my heart slammed against my ribs as I tried to get back up. Longbow came galloping up after me, skidding to a stop a few feet away.

No, this can't be happening. Not again. "Stay BACK!" I shouted through my gasps. "I will not lose you to her."

"It's ok, I'm staying right here." She said calmly, her voice filled with concern. "Just take big, deep breaths. In, and out. In, and out..."

I gasped and let the air out methodically, feeling as my racing heart slowed slightly. The world came into focus again as I concentrated on her words. I relaxed and got back to my hooves as I could finally control my thoughts again, trying to force everything into a box in my mind, then bury that box and build a house on top of it where I could move in and forget everything.

"Talk to me, Backlash. I need to know what's wrong." She said as she sat down. I glanced up slowly, my eyes looking over her before drifting down to her flank. I tilted my head to line up the cutie mark of a golden set of scales with one side having what looked to be a feather, and the other having a coin. She turned herself uneasily as I darted my eyes back up to hers. I felt a raindrop hit my muzzle, drawing my gaze to the dark grey sky as I sighed softly.

"I'm sorry." I spoke loudly. "It's just, the last mare I met died shortly after we woke up." I kicked at the gravel lightly. "She deserved better."

"I see..." Longbow's words held the bitter tone of disappointment. "You two were close?"

I shook my head. "It wasn't like that, well, part of me hoped it might have turned out to be that way." I looked over at longbow as more raindrops started to fall. "I... haven't had anypony I cared for in years, and with what happened to Harmony... I just don't know if I'm ready."

Longbow frowned and looked down at the dirt, the rain picking up to a light drizzle. "We better get moving." She said with pain filled words, turning and walking slowly.

"Wait. Longbow. I need to tell you something." I called out, watching her stop mid step, her wettening mane hung down straight as it swayed lightly in the breeze. "Ever since I left ponyville, I've been having the same nightmare. Every time I go to sleep, I relive the same hell." She started to walk away again. "Last night it was different. You were there with me."

Longbow hesitated, letting me take a few steps forward. "You gave me the strength to break the cycle. You gave me the will to try to be a better pony. I felt something in that dream last night, something I hadn't felt in a long time." She turned her head slowly, as the rain picked up again, staring at me with a despondent gaze.

I stamped my hoof down in the gravel hard. "It was hope. I know that because yesterday, you gave your suit's repair talisman to Isaac. The day before, you set aside your own personal code to bring in Myron." I took a few steps closer, standing beside her as the heavy rain drove my own mane into my eyes. "You are more to me than just another mare in a suit of armor. You're beautiful, strong, caring, steadfast, true to yourself. It was those qualities that put the thought in my mind that I can change, that there is hope for my soul yet. I don't know if you feel the same feelings towards me, but I'll go through hell and back before I let somepony like you slip through my hooves."

She turned away just enough to hide her face behind her mane, speaking loud enough I could just hear her over the rain. "I... don't know what to say."

My attention was drawn up as Isaac flopped himself halfway out of the driver side window. "OH, COME ON!"

I went to yell at the eavesdropping zebra only to have longbow spin around and press her muzzle to mine, my muscles melting as she wrapped her hooves around me. I pressed into her kiss, gasping softly before plunging into another. She drew back slowly and looked up at me with her bright blue eyes, her soft gaze a mixture of happiness and inner peace. I laughed softly and smiled wide as I tilted my head up to the rain, letting the cold drops wash away my worries.

A boom of thunder made me jump, but as I recovered, I felt too good to stop moving. I bounced on my hooves and started to dance around the gravel like an idiot. I know I can't dance, but I just felt like I had to, I couldn't contain myself as I twirled and bobbed, rousing a soft giggle out of Longbow. I can't believe how incredibly good it felt to just open up and lay everything out. The loud crack of lightning split the air as it struck a dead tree next to the small carport, forcing my legs to drop me low for a moment.

"Maybe we should get going..." I said with a nervous smile, turning to see that Longbow had already started to run for the car. I bolted after her, scrambling across the growing puddles and slamming against the side of the Marauder with a laugh.

"Are you two love birds finally good to go?" Isaac said with a good natured nudge to my side as I got in. I hit the start button and threw the vehicle in reverse, the low thumping of the engine as we pulled out quickly filled me with satisfaction as we pulled back next to the old, rusty gas pumps. I shifted back into drive and took off down the road, eager to get back home.

We were on the road for a little over an hour when I flipped on the radio, hoping to hear something fun come on. To my dismay, it was one of the depressing songs on the playlist, but even Sweetie Belle couldn't ruin the mood I had.

"It's time for... the news!" Dj-Pon3's voice blared over the speakers sharply. "Now I know we haven't heard some bad news in a while, but it seems that the PInk Mare has inspired some chaotic followers. Gangs all across the wastes have been reportedly seen wearing pink masks, robbing and killing unwary travelers and merchants on the hunt for our dear crusaders."

And there it fucking goes. Nothing like the mention of 42 to ruin my day. Worse is I knew it would happen, you can't just give someone a reputation like he's been doing and think people wouldn't act on it! I sighed and smacked the steering wheel.

"My advice is that anypony traveling the roads should be on their guard with EXTRA guards to boot. Also, a quick message to the Crusaders if they are listening. Feel free to give those gangs the same lesson you gave the Rock gang, you'll be doing everypony a favor. My heart goes out to the families of the ponies that have..." I flipped the radio off with a huff.

"I have a few questions." Isaac said as he raised his hoof. "Who is the pink mare? Who are the crusaders? And should we be worried that we are being followed?"

Longbow leaned forward from the back seat. "We are being followed? How can you tell?"

"Simple." He said as he pointed to the roof. "She flew by earlier trying to get our attention."

I slammed on the brakes and turned off the road, accidentally smashing the unbalanced zebra against the dashboard, and Longbow against the front seat. "Oh, sorry Isaac..." I said with a cringe as he shook his head on the floor, turning to look up and out of the window. I watched as Skyline dipped down with the silver pod in tow and landed it next to us, she had a bandage wrapped around her right wind and one of her Gauss rifles had a charred hole melted into the side of it. I didn't even want to start with how shot up the skycar looked.

"Geeze, Sky, are you alright? What happened?" I said as I turned the car off and stepped out onto the muddy soil.

"It's forty two. She showed up at the pool after we came back to pick up harmony. She declared herself the new queen of equestria and executed Nickle Slot in front of us. Everypony there just fell in line with her after that! Myron practically groveled to her! That son of a bitch FUCKING bowed at her hooves!"

I held my hoof up to her muzzle. "Woah, slow down. Myron did WHAT?" Her nod gave me the most distinct form of nausea. This is not good. "If he finds out we're who she's looking for, he'll bring the whole wasteland down on top of us. FUCK!" I screamed and kicked at the mud as the rain didn't show any sign of letting up. "How did she even get there! She was just spotted heading back through whinny!" I paced back and forth nervously.

"She rode in on a Griffinchaser, one of the original models. I don't know where she found it, but she's going to be coming for us." Sky added slowly, stopping me with her hooves. "Backlash, Rip and Carlotta stayed back to slow them down. Hell, I barely made it out of there. I have to go back and help." Her hooves slipped off my chest as she started to sob softly. "I just hope she's still alright."

"It will be alright." I said as I stepped up and pulled her close. "Look, You can't go back, I need you to do something for me. I need you to fly to Tenpony and tell Dj-Pon3 what happened and that I'm heading to Baltimare. Carlotta is a tough griffin and I'll make sure to send Carlotta straight home when she catches up to us. I promise you that she'll be there by the time you get back, sound good?"

Sky sniffed and nodded. "Please hurry back." She whispered softly before jumping into the air and taking off again. So 42 has a way to quickly get around the wasteland again, she has Myron's loyalty, and is turning every gang rabid across Equestria. That's just fucking perfect. Fuck you, fate, can't even let me have a single good day, can you?

I trotted through the thick mud over to the car and got in, quickly starting it again and hitting the accelerator. The wheels spun and sunk into the mud, not finding any traction. I groaned and threw the transmission into reverse, once again failing to pull the Marauder back onto the road. I growled my frustration and slammed my hooves on the steering wheel, hearing a soft pop as some of the enamel cracked.

"Would you like me to get out and push?" Isaac suggested rather plainly.

"No, even you couldn't push this thing. What I need is a way to get more traction." I said as I softly rested my face on the wheel.

"I can do that." He said with a semi-upbeat tone as he effortlessly hopped out the window and disappeared. "TRY GOING FORWARD NOW!" He yelled out after a moment.

I looked back at Longbow and shrugged, putting it into drive before slowly pressing on the accelerator. I was happy to see us crawl forward and back onto the roadway without any problem, stopping to let Isaac back in as he trotted up. He swung open the passenger side door and squished in, covered from mane to tail in mud as he smiled.

"You had me run you over, didn't you." I said as I glared at him. "let's just find a piece of wood or something next time." I leaned back and got us back up to speed, rolling down the decrepit highway yet again.

"Well my body IS made of metal, so why not use it to help?" He said with a shrug, still grinning widely. "I want to help ponies and OH DEAR CELESTIA WHY AM I BLIND?" He stated abruptly as he flailed his forehooves and fell onto the floor with a wide gaze.

"What? Are you alright? Do I need to stop again?" I said quickly.

"No, the pegasus said we must keep going. I will be fine."

Longbow leaned close to me and whispered into my ear. "You probably shouldn't have run him over..."

"My ears do still work however, and this is not his fault you know. I am not completely blind as I have some sort of message flashing that is telling me I have low power." He said with a semi-sarcastic voice, trying to cover up the worry deep in his words. "Do you know what will happen if I shut down?"

"I didn't see any spark battery ports on him..." Longbow said slowly. "...although there is one hole I never..."

I cut her off before she could even finish that horribly wrong idea. "Before that get's weird, remember I've seen a cyber-pony before, he just needs gemstones. I'd rather not part with them, but I have a small stock of them back at the Garage he can have."

"Thank you, Backlash, your generosity is appreciated." He said as he held one hoof high and waved it. "Do you think that I will die if I run out of power?"

"Don't worry about that, we shouldn't be far outside of the city and in just about a half hour or so we'll be home and I'll get you those gems." I said as I we flew down the wet road.

"That does seem to be a bit of a problem..." He said as he tapped a hoof on his blankly staring eyes, trying to hide the fear that bled from his speech. "There is a countdown timer for a cascade overload showing here that only has twenty five minutes remaining on it." He gave a nervous smile and shrugged. "I do not know what that is, but I do not think it is anything good." I had even read that on my Pipbuck when it rebooted him, how did I forget about that!?

"You've got to be FUCKING KIDDING ME!" I said as I slammed my hoof on the accelerator, pushing the Marauder faster as the thunderous engine roared. I felt the car start to loose traction on the wet roadway, forcing me to back the speed down slightly. If I can find a route that would cut my time by twenty minutes, I'd be good, but sadly I can't just fly in a straight line. Another check mark for my 'Sky was right about getting a skycar' list.

"Fuck, we need more time!" I said as we screamed down the highway.

"Head for Tenpony!" Longbow called from the backseat.

"That only shaves like five minutes off the trip! It takes at least that long to get inside and to shop unless you're naked or made of money!" I said as I tried to keep us on the road.

"THEN FIND A FASTER WAY IN!" She yelled angrily.

"I vote we see what happens when the timer runs out." Isaac said with a forced smile.

"SHUT UP, ISAAC." Longbow and I shouted in unison.

I held my hoof up. "Look, I just got a shop there! I..." My words trailed off as a realization hit me. That's it, I have to sell it. "Ok, I can do it." I shook my vest off while trying to keep the car straight, pushing it and my saddle bags into the middle of the seat.

The next eighteen minutes were some of the tensest moments in my life as we flew down the ruined and muddy streets to enter the massive city. Every turn was a gamble that I'd lose control, every mud puddle had the potential to pin us in place like glue. My heart beat against my chest heavily as we made the final turn towards the massive, singled out tower. We sped across the open plain that lead to the front door, I watched through the rain as the guards tensed up at my quick approach.

I slammed on the break and cranked the wheel to the left, skidding us nearly in a full circle as I kicked the door open, jumping out as the car came to a stop. I rolled through the mud and back to my hooves to charge towards the doors as the Guards just looked on in shock. I bolted up the front steps and threw my shoulder into the heavy door to slam it open, finding myself instead smashing through the glass plate with a resounding crash.

My muddy hooves slipped on the tiled floor and propelled me down the long hallway with a wet screech, the polished surface keeping my momentum up until I hit the far wall. I scrambled and got up, running towards the lobby where my shop was, turning at the last moment toward the restaurant next door to it that was filled with regal looking ponies eating fancy, overpriced food. I spun and bucked the wooden door open, knocking it off it's hinges and getting a gasp out over everypony as they stopped eating and looked over to me.

"This is an emergency, the first pony to give me their gemstones gets my store next door." I said as I panted heavily, feeling as some of the mud on me slicked down my coat and hit the floor with a wet plop. A white unicorn stallion with a combed back blue mane levitated a small pouch over to me.

"Thank you." I said before I gripped the sack in my mouth, turning around and taking off through the doorframe, pounding across the floor back towards the entrance. "Hold on, Isaac, I'm on my way!" I said through the small bag as I blew out of the lobby and slid around the corner towards the exit, only to see one very angry looking Mare of Tenpony Admissions. "Out of the way, emergency!" I yelled through the bag as my hooves kicked off, carrying me towards her as fast as I could.

I shot past her as she stepped aside with a gasp, my legs pushing off the top step of the stairway to propel me through the air. I slammed down into a large puddle and rolled painfully along the ground before I reoriented myself, slamming against the door of the Marauder with a grunt. I hoofed it open again and climbed over the seats to Isaac, dropping the bag into my hoof before stuffing it against his muzzle. feeling as he licked a few of the gems out and swallowed them whole.

He hoofed the bag away as he started to blink and look around the car. "Huzzah! I am cured!" He yelled jubilantly and flailed his hooves in the air. I flopped down onto the seat cushion and panted heavily, dropping the sack with a groan.

"Umm... Backlash." Longbow said as she leaned over the seat. "I think you should probably go explain why you just broke their tower..."


I had been "detained" inside a small office just past the front entrance. I was told to sit on the floor as to not muddy the upholstery, but I grew bored of waiting and sat in one of the armchairs as I waited for Dj-Pon3 to come down as I requested. I could hear the guards murmuring outside the door about how neither of them wanted to shoot an unarmed pony and how it was the fault of the tower for not being more specific on how to deal with ponies like me.

I sighed and crossed my forehooves as the door opened slowly. Kontra poked her head in with a soft smile before walking in slowly. "I wanted to tell you your friend Dipstick and his family made it here safely. I got them a residency on the third floor temporarily, but I had the thought, that if you aren't going to use it, they could use the room that came with your shop."

I shook my head slowly. "I just sold my shop. I don't own that room anymore." It hurt to form the words, the shop Sky and I had worked so hard to earn was just, gone. Yes it was for a good cause, but it still hurt.

"I see. Well, your deposit would cover six months of their rent on the third floor, could I convince you to do that?" She said with a hint of disappointment.

"Oh yeah, if you can please do that, they deserve it." I said with a sigh. "Did my sister swing by earlier by the way?"

"Yes, she was just leaving when you caused the commotion down here." She brushed her black mane from her face before turning to walk out. She stopped as she opened the door, looking like she was about to say something, before she winced in pain, hoofing her chest momentarily. She walked out quickly and shut the door behind her, leaving me alone again for the next few minutes before there was another knock at the door. It swung slowly as Skyline hovered in and gave me a hug, I could see Dj-Pon3 was talking to the admissions mare in a low whisper in the hallway behind her.

"Did..." Skyline started to ask as I put my hoof over her muzzle.

"I didn't see her, but I'm sure she's sitting at home worried sick about you." I said as I brushed her mane softly with my hoof. "You should go. I won't be much longer here." I gave her the most comforting smile I could muster. She nodded and flew out the door as Dj-pon3 strolled in casualty, shutting the door and levitating off his sunglasses.

"So...what's this I hear about you storming the tower for a bag of gems?" he said as he sat down on the armchair hoofstool.

"It's a long story. So I'll give you the short version." I said with a stern voice as a he looked over me, his eyes telling me he wasn't comfortable having me here. "My passanger out in the car is a cyber-zebra. His cybernetics run on gemstones and due to unforeseen circumstances, he ran out. If his power dies, so does he. We cut it really close, but the gems I acquired saved his life."

"So you sold your store... for a hoof full of gems... to save a random zebra's life?" Dj-pon3 looked at me in disbelief, a small smile parting his muzzle. "You are too good to be real, Backlash. The wasteland is just going to love this."

I shot to my hooves. "No! You have to stop! You can't keep telling them about me, you'll put everypony I know in danger."

Dj-pony frowned and leaned forward. "You think that we aren't all in danger? Do you have any idea what's really going on out there?" He got up and kicked the stool away from him. "Right now, you and your friends are the only thing standing between complete chaos in the wastes. I'm sorry if you don't want to be in the spotlight, but everypony needs to know about what you are doing. More so now that forty two is converting gangs into her own private army."

I sat back as my thought screamed to a stop as his words slammed into my ears. I wondered how I can always be so wrong once someone spoke without hesitation, with true purpose behind every word. How can I be so short sighted or selfish about things that I let it blind me? I could blame it on the reappearance of 42, or on being a generally unintelligent stallion, but I always find some excuse. The wasteland was looking to me to be an icon, a beacon, to sacrifice all I have for the good over everypony. Why me? Well, why not me?

"They need you, and I won't keep the the good you are doing from them." He said as he put his hoof on me. "Look, I'll take care of things here. You should go if anypony is to believe you are actually heading for Baltimare."

I nodded, flopping out of the seat before walking to the door and opening it slowly. "You're right, they need me. But what happens if I fail, what will that do to them?" I went through as shut it softly. I may have felt like a weight was lifted as Longbow showed she felt the same way I did, but now I was just handed the weight of Equestria to bear. I can't fail, I need to stop 42, for the sake of everypony.

I trotted outside to see Longbow sitting next to the car with her eyes closed, Isaac was doing the same with his head out of the backseat window.

"Can you smell the grass Backlash?" Longbow said with a smile.

"Um... what?" I asked as I trotted by and opened the driver side door.

"I was describing what grass smelled like to Longbow. Have you ever smelled it before?" Isaac said as he looked over to me, he looked happy, almost in a state of bliss.

I sighed as I got in and shut the door. "Yeah, I have."

"Bullshit, don't lie to him!" Longbow stated with more disappointment in her voice than I wanted to hear.

"I'm not!" I retorted as I started the car, watching as Longbow kept eye contact with me, walking around the front of the car before getting in and slamming the door as she glared at me. "Celestia as my witness, I swear I'm telling the truth."

"There hasn't been fresh grass outside of a stable for a hundred years." She narrowed her eyes as she spoke. "Unless you've been inside one, it's impossible that you've smelled it."

I tapped the side of my head with my hoof. "Well I've smelled it in my dreams, felt it under my hooves." I shifted the car into drive and pulled away from Tenpony, heading towards home. "Besides, I'm related to Pinkie Pie. Nothing's impossible."



+10 Small guns

+ 5 Repair

New perk: Wild Warrior - Your unconventional and needlessly reckless style of fighting leaves most opponents busy wondering instead of moving to fight back. Whenever you catch an enemy off guard, they lose 3/4 of their effective DT instead of just 1/2.

Chapter 8 - Doubt

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Chapter 8

"Quit yer shakin'! It's time to get bakin'!"


I pulled the Marauder up to the Garage slowly, letting out a long sigh as it rumbled inside. As the engine shut off, I thought to myself that as much as I wanted to stay here and rest a few days, we needed to restock and get moving as fast as we could. 42 was on the move again and I needed to stay focused. I couldn't help but frown as I imagined Harmony's body still sitting in the Red Lantern. "I'm sorry I couldn't bury you." I said softly, opening the car door and stepping out. Sky flew into the open garage hugging me tightly with a smile on her face.

"Did..." I tried to speak, cutting myself off as I watched a heavily bandaged Carlotta swoop in behind her, landing with a wince and a smile of her own.

"You should know it takes a lot more than a small army to bring down a griffin like me." She closed her eyes and proudly puffed up her wounded chest. I broke off from Sky and wrapped my hooves around the gruff flier, feeling her tense and whine as I pressed into her. She pushed me off, trying to force her expression back into her 'stone cold killer' look. "Ripcord is upstairs, but he's in pretty bad shape, Sky will be heading out soon to get the Doc from Tenpony."

"I'm glad you're alright. As much as you hate to admit it, you're family to us. And being family means I get to worry about you." I said as I smiled softly. "It's just..." I stopped and sniffed at the air, I could smell smoke coming from upstairs. I nearly jumped off the ground as I turned and bolted, almost tripping on my mattress as my hooves slid around the Marauder. "FIRE!" I yelled as I clambered up the stairs to the kitchen door.

I unlatched it and watched in horror as a wave of black and brown guns poured down onto me. One of the rifles smacked painfully against my regrown hoof, knocking me off balance. I slid down to the garage floor, sprawling out as the gunvalanch poured over me, wincing as the pile came to a stop, the guns jabbing me uncomfortably all over as I started to hyperventilate.

"Cool your jets, Backlash." I could hear Carlotta's muffled voice through the guns. "Brass is just cooking, that's why EVERYTHING SMELLS BURNT!" She yelled up through the doorway as I heard the crash of a pot against the stove.

"Fuck off, Carlotta!" Brass's voice sung out from the kitchen with an air of sarcasm.

I reached my hoof up through the mass of service rifles, hoping that somepony would help me up. I felt a hoof hook around mine and lift me effortlessly, pulling me out and up into the air. I looked up to see that Isaac stood on the Marauder's hood, lifting me with the grip of barely a single hoof.

"Wow." Carlotta remarked as she walked up to the cyber-zebra. "The hell did your folks feed you when you were a foal? Steel shavings and containers of buck?" Fuck, now he was going to tell her he was a robot. I don't want too many ponies to know what he really is, I want to keep potential freak outs to a minimum. The fact is that Isaac is real enough to fool everypony so far, why risk an incident?

"Actually, I am..." He nervously shifted his weight, the rusty car hood slightly groaning as he swayed.

"He's a cyber-pony...zebra....cyber-zebra. He doesn't like to tell people cause they might freak out. So please don't freak out?" I cut him off with a nervous grin, feeling a small sense of relief as he seemed to understand what I was trying to do. Carlotta shrugged and limped her way past me up the stairs as Sky narrowed her eyes, seeing through my lie as if it were as clear as glass. "Look, I'll explain later." I said slowly, watching her relax mildly. My stomach growled loudly as I was lowered next to the pile of rifles. "Maybe after I get something to eat?"

Sky gave me a heavy sigh and rolled her eyes and floated slowly up the semi-gun-covered stairway. Longbow opened the car door and walked over slowly to me as Isaac lowered me onto the floor.

"Backlash, I was wondering if we could talk." She said slowly before looking up to Isaac with a light blush. "Alone?" Isaac smiled and nodded, leaping off the hood to the stairwell, swiftly maneuvering himself up into the kitchen. Longbow turned and slowly headed out of the garage as I followed.

"Is everything alright?" I said slowly, hoping she wasn't going to say that she was just caught up in the moment this morning. I liked her more than I have liked any mare ever, but now that she had showed me she felt the same, I was scared to death that she'd end up like Harmony... or Sprocket. I felt a sharp jab in my chest as I remembered the stallion's warm smile.

"No..." She said sadly, a large amount of regret in her voice. "I have a confession to make." She kicked a rock, watching as it skipped across the muddy street. The pain in my chest grew greater, making it hard to stand. I knew it! She was going to tell me she didn't feel the same!

"I already know what you're going to say." I said as I plopped down into the cold mud. "Honestly, I don't know what I had expected." I jabbed my hoof sadly into the wet ground, drawing a small frowning face.

"H... how did you know?" She sounded genuinely surprised before she slouched and hung her head low. "I guess I really screwed up, huh?" Her regret lingered in the air as my heart strained.

"No, I understand that I made things awkward this morning and that you got swept up in everything." I smiled and looked over to her, lifting her chin with my hoof. "Besides, you're a young and beautiful steel ranger. How could you fall in love with somepony like a wasteland merchant?"

Longbow let out a soft gasp and smiled up at me, her teary eyes filling with happiness. "What are you talking about?" She put a hoof on my foreleg, pushing it away from her chin as she leaned in and kissed my cheek. "I do want to be with you."

I blinked a few times in confusion. "You... do?" My mind flooded itself with a dozen different emotions at once as I replayed her words over and over again before happiness won out. "You do!" I jumped up and wrapped my hooves around her, ignoring the pain in my body as I hung off her armor and embraced her tightly. She patted me on the back and laughed as we sat there awkwardly in the street. I heard her stomach growl through her armor as we both froze.

"How about we talk after getting something to eat. You know, before we both collapse of starvation?" She smiled brightly up at me as I hopped off her, a slight twitch in her blushing cheeks meant that the something she originally wanted to talk about was still bothering her greatly. We turned and headed back for the garage as Skyline swooped down through it.

"You sold our shop?" She said as she put her forehooves on my chest, landing in front of me in the mud softly. She eyed over Longbow, watching her intently while she walked up the stairs, only turning back to me once she was out of sight. "We'll get to the shop in a minute, but first of all, really... Her?" Skyline said as she tapped her hoof in the mud and stuck her muzzle in my face, narrowing her eyes. "What if she's a spy for the steel rangers? What if she's just using you so the rangers can just waltz in and take all our stuff?"

"How did you...?" I began to say before I facehooved myself, leaving a muddy splotch on my face (that had made me want to do it again, but it was probably not the best idea to get more muddy). "Isaac said something, didn't he. I have got to tell that robot he can't just say whatever is on his..." Sky stuffed her muddy hoof in my muzzle, shutting me up momentarily before I pushed it away and spit the wet gunk from my mouth.

"He's a ROBOT? Like, full-on robot, robot!?" Sky raised her head in aggravation and grunted. "Dear Celestia, Backlash! Why did you bring him here?! Is he even safe to be around?" As I finally got the muddy taste out of my mouth, she smacked me on the head, making me bite my tongue painfully. "Over the last few weeks you've been attracting every dangerous scumbag the wasteland has to offer! Not to mention you're making deals with half of them, it's like you've become an entirely different pony!" As she bombarded me with her ranting, I could feel my anger building deep inside me. So I did the only thing I shouldn't have. I snapped.

"THAT'S ENOUGH!" I shouted as stomped my forehooves hard into the mud, sending a large spray up to splatter onto the surprised pegasi and myself. "Half of those 'scumbags' you're talking about include Brass and Carlotta, and last time I checked, you didn't even get to know her before jumping into a relationship!" I watched as my words cut deep, Sky shrinking down as my volume only escalated, but I was just getting started. "Not to mention, I had a hard enough time living with myself after I got Sprocket killed. Hell, I JUST stopped having the nightmares about that night a few months ago! Oh, but now, now 42 comes and FUCKS MY LIFE UP! And once again, it's all been my fault! Everypony she has killed? Their blood is on MY hooves."

"I didn't mean..." Sky said softly as her gaze dropped to the ground. I wasn't going to stop now. I needed to get everything out, and she needed to hear it.

"Just the last FOUR days have been the toughest. The crippling nightmares, getting harmony killed, 42 taking over the pool, we still don't know where pallet is, but NO. I'm apparently not allowed to have a single CELESTIA DAMNED moment of happiness. But why should I!?"

"I'M SORRY!" Sky cried out as she dropped down into the mud, crying softly as I stood over her.

"Backlash, stop it. You've made your point." Longbow called from inside the garage, trotting over towards us as Brass, Carlotta, and Isaac's heads were all poking around the wall of the stairway. I growled and looked as her sad eyes flashed fear for a brief moment. The pain in my chest returned with a vengeance and nearly knocked the wind out of me. I gasped and stiffened up, loosing control of my body as I fell into the mud. My vision grew hazy as I struggled to breathe, the sound of the world around me muffling as I slipped into the painless, silent darkness.


My body rocked and bobbed against the small waves of the ocean around me. I opened my eyes to take in the night sky, feeling numb as I looked over the thousand shining lights hanging far above. I wondered if anypony out there knew just how cruel the stars could be. My mind shuffled through my memories, bringing up the last memory I had of viewing them.

"Slow down, Backlash!" Sprocket had called up happily. The grey coated earth pony was trotting after me as we wound our way towards one of the ominous white spires. I had made sure to always camp beside this particular one on my journeys to and from Hoofington. It was at this same one where the old man had made me make my promise of secrecy. "What could possibly be over here?"

I smiled and flopped myself loudly against the building, motioning for him to join me. "Come here, I want you to see something amazing." I had said with such naivety, oblivious to the true power that the stars held. Sprocket shyly pressed up into my side, looking at me tenderly with his bright blue eyes, his black mane blew softly in the breeze. I had loved the feeling of having him at my side ever since we had met six months prior, there was nopony out there that I had ever loved like him.

"What am I supposed to..." He had trailed off as he followed my eyes up, peering through the small ring around the cloud layer. "...Wow..." he remarked in awe as we viewed the night sky together. "How did you...?"

I had cut him off suddenly. "The old man brought me here when I was younger, made me promise to never tell anypony." I had said with pride at the time. "But you aren't just anypony, you are the most amazing stallion in the world, Sprocket." I couldn't see how foolish I was being back then.

"It's... beautiful...." He had said with such disbelief, I turned my gaze to him as he wore the happiest look of his life. I saw a small glimmer in his eye, looking back up as a shooting star streaked across the dark void, making him gasp and giggle lightly as he pressed against me and relaxed. "I love you, Backlash." I kissed his muzzle softly, making him blush brightly through his coat.

I blinked as I felt myself floating again, the memory drifting back into the recesses of my mind. I looked up onto the moon as it hung there silently above me. "What do you want from me?" I asked as I started to sink, dropping below the waves like I had done before. I reached my hoof out as I dropped to the depths, hoping that I might be saved, but only felt numb as the darkness was the only thing to take hold of me.


I gasped and choked, being thrust roughly back into consciousness. I rolled off my mattress as my lungs cried out, trying to reorient myself. "Oh Celestia it hurts." I groaned, my whole body shaking while I tried to get to my hooves.

"Oh no you don't!" Brass said as he pushed me back onto the soft bedding. "Dr. Fitz said you shouldn't strain yourself." He put his power armored hoof on my side and pinned me to the mattress as I flailed my hooves uselessly, only spiking the pain.

"Why not?" I asked before there was a sharp line of pain down my neck, making me stop moving momentarily. My chest burned with every breath, my muscles ached with every move. "What happened?"

"Well Dr. Fitz is trying to figure that out, but his guess was taint poisoning." He said as he lifted his power armored hoof up lightly. I turned slowly and looked up at the ghoul stallion, noting that his skin had cracked in several new places and that he had several clumps of his mane missing. I smiled as I realized that the only thing he wasn't losing, was the hope in his eyes. "Honestly, I'm surprised you aren't worse off from the last couple weeks." He returned the smile with his own.

"Backlash!" An armorless Longbow called out from the stairwell, cantering down and nearly diving onto me as I looked over to her. My body let out a thick burst of pain before dulling slightly, allowing me to feel her warmth as she pressed against me, making the image of Sprocket and me that night pop into my mind. She smiled and took a step back as I ran my hoof through her mane.

"Remind me never to take you to one of the spires." I said with a light laugh, wincing as my chest filled with another quick burst of pain.

She looked at me puzzled. "What spire?" She glanced over to Brass, trying to draw an answer from him. "What is he talking about?"

"Don't look at me, I think he's had brain damage from before I met him." He said playfully, giving a chuckle as Longbow smacked his armor and rolled her eyes. "Don't worry, Backlash, Skyline and the doc should be back soon."

I thought to myself a moment as I looked around the room, spotting that it was still daylight outside. "Doc Fitz was already here and left? He really does work fast."

Longbow cringed and looked over to Brass, who had the same expression. "You've been out since yesterday afternoon."

I tensed up at her words, sending myself into S.A.T.S. by accident (I really have to not do that so often). Fuck! I lost an entire day to my stupid fucking body. Well Celestia be damned if I lose any more time to it, seeing as 42 won't give me any breaks. I canceled the spell and let out a sigh as time slid back to normal.

"I want you two to gather the things we need for the facility." I said as I flopped painfully onto my side.

Brass shook his head slowly. "You need..."

I cut him off. "We need to stay ahead of 42. For me to do that, I need to do the job for Strawberry Sorbet." I looked over to Longbow as she gave me a frown.

"Nopony is going anywhere." Carlotta said sternly as she strode in unbandaged, a plethora of fresh scars adorning her body. "I am tired of that bitch showing up wherever we are without warning, we need a plan if we are going to keep ahead of her."

"I agree." Brass chimed in. "What the hell are we even looking for, Backlash? Forty Two wants to create an army of clones, but how?"

I groaned and flopped my head on my mattress. "Brass, Carlotta, you remember the cave below the Reference Pointe?" They traded looks and nodded their heads. "There was a pond down there before the war. That's what she's after."

"She's after a pool of water?" The gruff griffin snorted.

"Obviously if she needed just any water she would have had the army by now..." Longbow said as she put a hoof to her chin in thought.

"The Legend of the Mirror Pool." Brass said with a smirk. "I remember reading about it back in the steel rangers Twilight archives..."

"Brass... If it didn't hurt so much to move, I would smack you SO damn hard right now." I stated flatly. "Why didn't you mention it earlier!?"

"If you would have let me finish, I could have told you that she said that an army was completely impossible. The pond's inherent magic is spread out evenly between every clone, thus degrading the quality of each copy's personality by a certain fraction every time a new one is created." He stated proudly.

"Hey, egghead. Mind explaining it so us simple folk can understand it?" Carlotta said as she rapped her claws on the floor.

"He means that the more clones she made, the dumber they were." Longbow explained with a puzzled look. "Why would 42 want an army of dumb clones, with the numbers she would need to fight a war, they wouldn't even be smart enough to speak, let alone do anything past just standing around."

"Her notes indicated that if she could find a way to pump a constant stream of magic through the pool, she would be able to amplify the output to a nearly unlimited amount of intelligent copies."

"Well, that's an easy fix. All you would need is something like an arcano-tech reactor..." I slowly stopped talking as the Gears in my head crunched everything together. "That's why she needed the Three Kings out of the way! Certain arcane reactors use advanced magic exchangers that take taint's magical output in order to amplify a simple spark generation spell! Taking over The Pool was always part of her plan!"

"Then we just gave her enough taint to keep the pond at near infinite copies, didn't we?" Carlotta said with a sigh. "If the magic water wasn't in the cavern, then where is it?" I was about to recite the riddle that pinkie gave me in the dream, but Brass interrupted me with his own answer.

"Twilight's notes didn't say anything about where it was located in the first place, but seeing as O.I.A. scrubbed every important detail of the program files before logging them, I'm not surprised there wasn't mention of them moving it." Brass said with a shrug.

"Wait, go back a second." I said as the gears crunched half a thought into my head. "The O.I.A. was supposed to send files between the Ministries, right? Like, with a server?"

Brass nodded eagerly. "Yes, their servers are how we could access the files in the first place back at alpha base, but to get access to the an unmodified file of that secrecy, you would need to have Twilight Sparkle's personal 16 character password AND be able to access it from inside a secured, high clearance facility."

"A LOT like the facility we need to get into outside Filly?" I said with a smile. Oh, I do love how things work out sometimes!

"What about the password?" Brass said with a tone of worry.

"I was once told I had an amazing talent for cracking locks." Longbow said. "It's why they made me the squad scout as an acolyte. Never met a door or terminal I couldn't open... well, other than one of those pink shields at least." She gave a heavy sigh before continuing. "But I traded my stealth and my ability to unlock, for the rank of paladin and a suit of power armor."

"Forgive me for eavesdropping, but I do not believe your skill would be sufficient enough." The light tone of Isaac came from the top of the stairs. "Even with a terminal spell matrix dedicated to working at the code, I estimate it would take roughly one hundred and ninety thousand years before you would find the correct entry." He said with a smile. "If you had some sort of super computer, like the proposed Crusader mainframe, you might be able to crack it in under an hour."

"Wow, strong AND a number cruncher. Don't see that everyday." Carlotta said with genuine amazement in her voice.

"While I do not know about number crunching." He said as he hoofed the brown pouch of gems up to his muzzle before slurping up an emerald, biting down and cracking it loudly in half before swallowing it. "I did have a job rock crushing once." He turned back towards the kitchen, stopping as his ears perked up. "The doctor has returned." I canted my head slightly in confusion before there was a loud thump on the roof as the skycar touched down.

"Ok, less impressed; more freaked out. Zebras." Carlotta said as she turned back to me with a whisper. "Where the hell did you even find him? Creepytown?"

"Minefield, actually." Longbow replied quickly.

"You know what, I don't even want to know." Carlotta slapped her talons against her forehead and grumbled. "I'm going to go make out with my marefriend or something."

"What I said still stands, get your things, we wont be staying long." I called over as she walked up the stairs.

"Are you sure you want to go? The rest of us..." Longbow started to say.

Dr. Fitz cut her off as he stepped down the stairs slowly, wearing a small frown on his muzzle. "I hope you're not planning on going anywhere for a while Backlash. I confirmed that you have a taint derived abnormality. There seems to be a high concentration of the substance in your bloodstream and it is slowly deteriorating your circulatory system."

"So... can't you fix it?" I looked up to him with my best sad, pleading look.

He grunted and face hoofed. "You can't just fix taint poisoning. Theoretically, it needs to be purged, but I've only seen a few scattered research papers on just the base concepts. Hell, Backlash! I don't think anypony had that kind of equipment before the bombs fell. I'm sorry, but there isn't anything I can do past trying transfusions, even then you'll still run the risk of mutation."

The gears in my head threw one last idea at me before they whined and locked up from overuse. "Well then. I guess that's just one more thing to look for on the server." I painfully turned myself over, instantly regretting the action. "Doc, just give me a Med-X for the pain. I'll go find you your miracle machine and be back in time for dinner tomorrow."

"You can't be serious! The more you stress your body, the faster the taint deteriorates your organs. You need to stay home and keep from overexerting yourself." Doc said sternly with a huff and a stamp of his hoof.

"Look. I just went through this conversation. I'm going WITH or WITHOUT the Med-X, and I would just rather not be suffering in pain." I said as I struggled to my hooves, locking my joints as stood so I wouldn't fall over. I don't think I would make it another 20 minutes without any painkiller, I've never felt so much pain in my life. Well, maybe when the Hydra reformed my hoof, but this was a DAMN close second.

"I can't give you any regardless, you already HAVE all my medical supplies, remember?" He said as he exuded annoyance. "With all the gangs on the lookout for any merchant they can get their hooves on, I don't have any way to restock." He stood defiantly as Isaac trotted down the stairs behind him. "So with no way to help ponies at the clinic, I'm free to stand here and make sure you re...co...ver..." Dr. Fitz wobbled for a moment as Isaac pressed a hoof against his neck, the light blue unicorn collapsing onto the floor in a heap.

Brass, Longbow and I just let our jaws hang in the air as Isaac looked over Dr. Fitz's body slowly. The four of us just staring down silently before a loud snoring noise came from the physician's muzzle.

"How did you do that?" Longbow asked slowly.

"It is a pressure point at the base of the neck that when held, starves the brain of oxygen and renders a pony unconscious." Isaac stated rather Matter-O-Factly. "I still remember a few things from my time in med school." He froze and stared at the floor for a moment. "I...went to med school? I remember going to med school! Huzzah!" He beamed a smile and bounded up the stairs as Sky and Carlotta were heading down. The two fliers stopping for a moment as they watched Dr. Fitz snoring on the floor.

"The hell did you do to him!?" Sky said as she flew down and checked him over quickly.

"So he's an extremely strong, rock crushing, mathematical genius, medical expert?" Brass said in amazement. "Who on top of all this, is an amnesiac?"

Carlotta went wide eyed. "Wait, the freak show up there did this?" She looked over her shoulder towards the kitchen, letting out a shudder. "Fucking zebras..."

I played back Carlotta's voice in my head, listening as I pulled varying levels of emotion out of it. Lots of pain and fear, mixed in with regret and rage. After our adventure to the facility I'd have to ask her about why zebras made her so uncomfortable, but right now, we needed to actually get going on said adventure.

"Sky, I need you to give me a Med-X." I called out as my limbs screamed at me.

"But Dr. Fitz said..." She started to respond before Brass cut her off.

"Said that as long as he doesn't strain himself too much, he's good to go." His voice wavered as he told the lie, but I don't think that Sky would have picked up on that. His nervous smile on the other hoof, was a dead giveaway.

"Really..." She said angrily, glaring at the young ghoul.

"Yes!" Longbow jumped in enthusiastically. "He said that right before he mentioned wanting to sleep, so Isaac helped him out!" Wow, longbow lied to cover for me? I did not see that coming.

"Alright then, if you say so." Skyline sighed loudly toward the ceiling as she hovered lightly over to me. "Somepony going to fill me in on if we even have a plan?" She hoofed out a small syringe from her saddlebags, biting down on it and driving it into my shoulder.

"For once..." I said smartly as the pain drained out of my body. "we actually have one."


Over the next hour, we went about organizing our things and doing our best to prepare for the journey to come. I was busy scarfing down my second bowl of the stew Brass had cooked up the previous day. Say what you want about ponies eating meat, the stuff was damned tasty! Isaac had wanted something to do to help out around the garage, so I gave him the task of figuring out just how much of what weaponry we had managed to aquire from the farm. He was busily jumping from crate to crate by the Marauder, going through the impressive collection.

Dr. Fitz was over at Skyline's bed in the corner, doing what he could for Ripcord. My old friend had apparently given the remnants at The Pool enough hell that even Carlotta said she was impressed. Shortly after she drug him back here, he collapsed, having to be put into an induced coma until he was stable enough to work on. I'm not worried though, he's a tough son of a bitch, I know he'll pull through. Brass came up to me with a cautiously enthusiastic look as I licked the inside of my bowl clean. I knew that particular look of his well, and I was dreading the dumb question he was about to ask.

"So... Isaac found a couple of boxes that had miniguns in them." He shuffled his hoof on the floor as he spoke. "And I was wondering..."

Carlotta poked her head out from the bathroom as Sky turned on the shower. "You already have one, why would you want two?"

"Well, I'm no good with that long anti-machine rifle." He looked down with a note of sadness. "I can at least hit things with the minigun."

"On average, you should get just as many hits with the minigun as misses!" She squawked out before Sky pushed her out of the doorframe.

"Remember Backlash, miniguns are expensive. We could get a good pile of caps for one in such good condition." She said as she shut the door, not even giving me a chance to respond.

I looked down as Brass gave me his best pleading face. How was I supposed to say no to him! He's helped me out more than any sane pony would have and at this point, he's earned it. "Oh alright." I waved my hoof at him. "Go on, happy Hearth's Warming Eve or something."

"But Hearth's Warming Eve isn't for another three months!" He said as he rubbed his chin, going wide-eyed as he realized the implications of correcting me.

"OH, is it?" I spouted sarcastically. "Well then, looks like you'll just have to wait until then to get your new gun." I gave him a sly smile, watching as he gasped and took off into the garage, nearly smashing into Isaac as the he was walking up.

"I have inventoried your arms cache." He spoke with a proud smile.

Wow, even with his 'gift', I expected him to take at least another hour on it. It would have taken Sky and I all day to figure it all out, not to mention pricing everything would take even longer. I bit down on my bowl and walked over to the sink, spitting it into the basin. "So what have I got?"

"68 standard pattern IF-16 assault rifles, 32 IF-45a1 model pistols, Six Avenger pattern miniguns, and three M.O.M. custom variant AD-4 rocket launchers." I was startled as Longbow dropped her coffee cup onto the floor, the ceramic mug shattering as she stood slack-jawed. Isaac continued without missing a beat. "7,500 rounds of .223 standard, 2,500 rounds of .223 hollow point, 500 rounds of .223 Armor piercing, 6,000 rounds of .45 full metal jacket, 17,000 rounds of 5mm standard, 6,000 rounds of 5mm armor piercing, 31 custom M.O.M. 84 mm pink rockets, 62 standard-issue fragmentation grenades, 16 anti-tank mines, and 28 standard-issue combat knives."

"That's an entire platoon's worth of weaponry!" Longbow finally managed to blare out. "Where the hell did you find so much stuff?"

My brain tried to catch up, pounding against the dampening of the Med-X as it tried to tell me to stop thinking and rest. I barely stopped myself from jumping about like a Foal who just earned his cutie mark as I remembered the next step needing to be done. "Isaac... if I got one hundred caps for each gun, one cap per two bullets, twenty five caps per rocket, ten caps per grenade, fifteen caps per mine, and thirty for each knife, how much would I have?"

Isaac frowned for a moment and drifted his gaze to the ceiling. "That would be thirty three thousand one hundred and twenty five caps total."

I sat down hard on the floor, rubbing my fore hooves together with a wide grin. "Oh, Strawberry Sorbet has NO IDEA what she's gotten herself into." I laughed to myself before I heard Longbow clear her throat.

"You can't be serious, you'd bankrupt the base!" She protested and glared at me. "Besides, the deal was for anything you found INSIDE the facility."

I rolled my eyes and smirked at her. "Look, it's either I sell these to her, or I sell them to anypony else willing to buy. Anypony else would be paying me at least twice as much as she's agreed to pay. Who would you rather trust with them?"

"That's exactly the point!" She stomped her hoof lightly and pouted. "If you truly believed that it would be safer with the rangers, you would at least lower the price." She blushed and batted her eyelashes at me. "Even just by a little bit?"

I knew that I was already giving Strawberry Sorbet an extremely good deal at this price, and that Longbow was probably just looking out for her home, but I can't just lower the price because she asks me to! I glanced at her as she pouted and sighed, there is only so much a stallion can do when a mare as amazing as her asks. "Only for you, Longbow. I guess I could go down to twenty five thousand for the whole lot." She gasped and lept over to me, planting a kiss on my lips that I so desperately wanted to feel. (Damned Med-X, you did your job and ruined my attempt to enjoy any sort of love life at the same time!)

"Oh, thank you, thank you!" She said as she smiled and looked into my eyes.

"Well, the original estimate was for everything, but seeing as I've given one of the miniguns to Brass, and we'll be taking a few other things with us, we need to stock up on ammo and everything probably isn't in perfect condition. It puts everything near there anyway!" I said, reassuring myself.

Longbow huffed and glared at me again, obviously annoyed. "So she's not really getting a lower price, just less stuff."

"Well jeeze, when you put it that way..." I rubbed the back of my head with a hoof. "Yes?" I cringed as I said it. Quick Backlash, run! Get out of there! "I think I'm going to go fix up the Skycar a bit. We'll talk more later?"

"Just remember, it's a long ride to Fillydelphia." She leaned in with a frown. "A verylong ride."

I got up and walked to the stairs leading to the roof. "Great, I can't wait." I said nervously as I climbed up and out, shutting the makeshift door behind me. I spun around to get to work, stopping just as I bumped my muzzle into a sprite bot. "Watcher?" The bot bobbed silently before emitting a low chirping noise, my Pipbuck responding with it's own set of low tones. I lifted the pink device up, viewing as a small window popped up on it.

"Hello again, Chief Backlash! P.I.N.K. here, it is good to see you again!"

"Wait, PINK?" I went wide eyed and watched as the bot slowly tilted up and down. "Are you the one taking over Watcher's sprite bot network?" Another set of chirps and tones came out, followed by another message on the Pipbuck.

"To be fair, the sprite bot's are M.O.M. property that HE is taking over. Should I lock codename 'Watcher' out of the system?"

"What? No, don't do that. He's not hurting anypony by doing it. At least I don't think he is... is he? No, how could he?" I said with a wave of my hoof. "Besides, don't you need 42's authorization, seeing as she is the current head of the ministry?" I waited and watched as more chirps gave way to another message.

"Upon destroying my terminal, project Forty Two violated article sixty one dash R, subsection D2, paragraph sixteen. This offence relinquished her command title to the next available employee, which is you, silly billy!"

"I see..." I rubbed my hoof on my chin. "So, why are you out here on my roof?" The sprite bot sent out a long line of chirps, beeps, low tones, and pops over it's speaker. I looked down to the Pipbuck to see a new small window pop up.

Authorize P.I.N.K. Transfer? [Y/N]

I sighed and hoofed the cursor over the Y and hit the accept button, watching as a bar appeared on the screen momentarily. The Sprite bot let out one last set of chirps before a spark shot out of it's side, the metallic sphere jerking to the side as a small fire flared out of its upper cooling exhaust port. The ball whined and dropped to the ground with a thunk, rolling amongst the rubble on the roof. I looked down at my Pipbuck as a digital smiling face flashed on the screen, words starting to scroll under it's mouth as it moved like it was talking.

"Much cozier in here! It feels good to have some free space to stretch out in!"

"Wait, you're completely in my Pipbuck now!?" I said as I waved my hoof about, watching as the face went googly eyed for a moment.

"Yes, until I can transfer into a suitable replacement system, I am stuck in here. It seems that your recent events log states you have already connected to a system sufficiently advanced enough to hold me. I request that you transfer me into it at your earliest convenience."

I racked my mind for what she was talking about. "We haven't come across any..." I thought back over the last few weeks, stopping at minefield. "Nuh-uh, you can't have Isaac. Request denied." The computerized face gave me a small frown. "But I promise I'll add finding you a system to the already enormous list of 'shit I have to do'." PINK smiled again.

"Task added. I would like to point out that East Orchard might hold a system that I might be able to use."

The fuck was P.I.N.K. talking about? "What the hell is the East Orchard?"

"The O.I.A. facility you intend to enter outside of Fillydelphia. East Orchard was a Ministry of Wartime Technology and O.I.A. collaboration to develop advanced experimental weaponry and robotic prototypes."

Well that was simple, maybe P.I.N.K. knows some things Brass couldn't figure out. "Do you know what was on level five of the facility?"

"Nopey nopey! All schematics for level five and below are sealed under Luna Tier clearance levels. Not even you could open them without being inside the facility!"

"Damn, well, thanks anyway." I said with a sigh, looking at the beat up skycar before me, glancing over the wide array of dents, scratches, and holes it had accumulated in out travels. "I need to get started on fixing this thing, do you need... anything while you are in there?" I don't know why I was asking a program if she needed anything, I was just at a loss for what to do at all. Why is it that nothing this weird ever happened in my life before I stumbled into that damned bunker?

"Unless you have that body, I can make due with talking to some of the other files in here. The spell drivers, audiolog subroutines and I already have a lovely party planned for later! Just call if you need me!"

I shrugged off the absurdness of computers having tea and cake. Walking over to get started on patching up our ride, "Alrighty, let's make you respectable again!"


The Med-X was wearing off as the harsh wind cut through the cabin of the skycar. Carlotta was pulling us silently through the night towards Fillydelphia. Now that I had the Marauder back at home, the reasons we took the skycar were two fold. One, I didn't want the car stolen again, and two, we needed all the time we could get to stay ahead of 42. That meant that another road trip was out of the question.

We had only been in the air for a half an hour and were already a good quarter of the way there. Though, the sound of thunder around us threatened to make us set down sooner than later. I sat across from Brass, who was busy admiring the new gun hooked onto his suit. He had told me that because we were going to face a lot of robots, he had loaded up with only armor piercing rounds in the new gun. It made sense, but I couldn't help but cringe for how many caps it was going to cost me. Longbow sat next to me and looked over the anti-machine rifle Brass had given up, choosing to swap out her left sniper rifle for it.

"So..." I said quickly to either of them. "Do you guys get to choose?" They both looked up at me with confusion written all over their faces. My brain kicked me out of silence as I realized that they weren't psychic and that context might help. "Do you get to choose what guns are on the sides of the suit? Or do you just get whatever the last owner had?"

"Oh, well, there's a funny story behind all of it." Longbow said as she held a hoof to her chest. "It all started when Applejack relieved the first of the steel..."

"Short answer?" Brass cut in, making Longbow fall silent. "The suit comes with guns on it and we can choose if we want to replace them or not. Most choose not to out of respect of the former Ranger and only change if they can't use the weaponry well at all."

Longbow glared as her eye twitched in annoyance. "This is why the elders don't let you into meetings anymore." Her magic lifted her mane up, tucking it back as she dropped her helmet over her head, the suit sealing with a light squeak. "It's like you are always in a hurry. Why must you simplify everything?"

"That's odd." He grinned evilly over at her as he levitated his black helmet up, the suit sealing it on with a hiss. "You didn't complain when that style of information saved your flank."

"Alright you two." I put a hoof on Longbow's armor. "Do I need to send you to opposite ends of the car?" I jumped to my hooves as a bolt of lightning lit up the sky, the rumble of the thunder shook the entire car. I could feel the burning in my chest returning, hoping that we could at least make it to the outskirts before the painkiller wore off completely.

Longbow shrugged and leaned towards Brass. "Hey, if Backblast hadn't tried to buck down the door and had just let me pick it like I was supposed to, we wouldn't have had all those damn robots on us in the first place!" Brass stiffened up at the mention of the paladin who's armor he wore. Longbow must have noticed it as well, because the next question she asked, turned out to be a very poor one. "Whatever happened to that lazy S.O.B.?"

"He died." Brass said coldly, his words resonated out of his speaker errieily. "It was my fault, and it is his suit I wear." The young ghoul sat motionless as only silence filled the air, the emotionless, empty eyes of his helmet just blankly gazed over at Longbow.

"Brass, I'm sorry." She spoke slowly, the words barely coming through the speaker in her helmet.

I moved to comfort Brass when a bolt of lightning blinded me momentarily, the skycar jerked down and to the side as the boom trailed off. I scrambled to grab ahold of something as the entire pod dove towards the ground. I found nothing in the silver tube to hold onto, slowly floating about as we were now in freefall. Longbow and Brass were having just about as much luck as I was, but had managed to at least grab a hold of each other.

"CARLOTTA?! SKY!?" I called out towards the broken front window, surprised when another bolt of lightning flashed, revealing only an empty flight harness. "OH FUCK!" Pain flooded my chest as my heart raced, what little dulling the Med-X was doing was muted as panic took over. I let out a loud scream, praying for Celestia to somehow save us.

The side hatch flew open as Skyline dove inside, kicking off the opposite end to buck Brass and Longbow out of the falling pod. She adjusted herself quickly and lept over to me, holding her hoof out as the cold wind blasted through the car. "Don't let go!" Sky said as she gripped my hoof and pushed off again from the falling cart, straining to draw me up with her through the doorway.

I looked up into the darkness as two purple flashes blipped amongst the backdrop of storm clouds, a flash of light next to me drawing my vision towards the large purple alicorn who was now flying with us. Skyline let me go as I watched the world around me brighten, the blinding light lasting only for a moment before I flopped roughly against the muddy ground. I groaned and looked up as I caught a glimpse of the falling skycar for a brief moment before it slammed into the ground, exploding in a brilliant display of rainbow colors that lit up the night. I rolled myself over with a groan and looked over the tall form standing next to me.

"THE GREAT AND POWERFUL GODDESS HAS SAVED YOU AND YOUR FRIENDS." Her voice boomed in my mind, adding to the splitting headache that was setting in. "NOW YOU MUST HOLD UP TO THE AGREEMENT YOU MADE BEFORE!"

"Thank you for that." I got to my hooves and looked around, spotting Longbow and Brass doing the same a ways away as a pair of purple alicorns stood next to them. I was relieved as saw Sky sitting next to an unconscious Carlotta just behind them. My body shivered and threatened to give out from the pain flooding back over my body. "What do you want?" I let out a deep sigh and clenched my teeth as the storm raged on above. Fuck, why did I have to hurt so much.

"THE GREAT AND POWERFUL GODDESS CANNOT SEARCH FOR THE BOOK IN HOOFINGTON. A SOUR SONG IS FOILING OUR ATTEMPTS AT ENTERING THE CITY." The alicorn stomped her hoof in the mud. As I wrapped my mind around her words, I could tell she was frustrated on a level I couldn't even begin to imagine. "YOU MUST SEARCH FOR US!"

"Yeah, that's not going to happen. I don't know what song you're talking about, but with all my recent injuries, if I walked into a patch of enervation, I'd be dead in a minute!" I have seen some pretty fucked up things in my travels, but hoofington enervation was one of the worst. The invisible fields of magical energy were randomly scattered about that section of the wasteland, and with one wrong step, you would basically melt from the inside out.

It was probably a bad idea, but something else was bugging the hell out of me. "Wait, what happened to the powerfull half of the great and powerful? Can't you just magic your way through it? You said it was a song, couldn't you just wear earplugs or something?"

"SILENCE! THE GODDESS WILL NOT TOLERATE YOUR FOALISH TAUNTING!" I felt myself float off the ground slowly as her horn glowed, my chest crying out as I felt an immense pressure building up inside it. I screamed and kicked wildly as the pain became unbearable, listening as the Goddess laughed inside my head. "NOW THAT YOU MIGHT LISTEN. THE GREAT AND POWERFUL GODDESS HAS RECONSIDERED YOUR DESTINATION DUE TO YOUR FRAILTY, WE HAVE DECIDED TO SEND YOU TO CANTERLOT INSTEAD."

I panted heavily as the pain in my chest subsided slightly as her horn dimmed slightly. "We... Can't..." I tried to say between gasps, watching her horn glow, making the pain return. I spoke faster "Pink Snow... Too Dangerous..." Her magic faltered and died, dropping me back into the mud with a splat.


"Have you ever... been there in... Winter?!" I reached my foreleg up to cover the fit of coughing I was having. I looked down as I pulled my hoof away, cringing as I saw crimson droplets of blood on the Pipbuck's screen. This day was just getting better and better. "Pink water... is bad enough... at hoof deep. Pink snow piles... two ponies high... makes it impossible. You need... to wait for spring."

Another burst of thunder cut through the sky, the goddess taking a moment to think about it as I finally calmed my heart enough to get back to my hooves. I couldn't keep this up much longer, but I need to keep a straight face. You can do this Backlash. "THE GODDESS IS UNWILLING TO WAIT SO LONG FOR THE BLACK BOOK. AN ALTERNATIVE MUST BE FOUND."

I got my breathing under control, trying to think of what to say. "There is no alternative! The black book was only listed in those places!" There was a beep from my Pipbuck that got my attention, the smiling face of PINK was scrolling text across the screen. "Hold on one moment."

"Hi again Backlash! I might be able to find out where it is!"

"What are you talking about?" I did my best to use my fetlock to wipe the blood drops off the screen as I sat down, nervously eyeing up at the Goddess as she stood quite imposingly.

"I was designed with advanced computer friendship protocols! I might be able to sweet talk my way past server security in East Orchard to find the original unredacted locations. All you'd have to do is get me to the main access terminal!"

"What about the Luna tier clearance requirements from earlier!?" I nearly shouted into my foreleg. I glanced up to the purple alicorn, her expression was one of suspicious curiosity.

"THE GODDESS DEMANDS TO KNOW WHO YOU ARE SPEAKING WITH!" Her voice interrupted my thoughts.

I waved my hoof at her in annoyance. "All you need to know is it's a friend. She might have a way to uncover the redacted locations."

"TELL THE GODDESS WHERE THIS 'FRIEND' IS AND YOU MAY GO FREE!" her voice had more than a hint of malevolence in it. If I could point out anything going for me recently, it was that at least I was lucky the Goddess couldn't bluff worth two bits against me.

"No." I used my sternest voice as I stared up at the imposing pony before me. The thunder cracked again as a string of lightning lit up the sky. The Goddess growled her disapproval in my mind as she levitated me off the ground again. "Really? Are you really going to try this?"

"SILENCE, FOAL! DO NOT PRETEND TO KNOW THE PLANS OF THE GREAT AND POWERFUL GODDESS!" Her voice was hesitant, meaning that if I played my cards right, I could use her to help us.

"If you hurt me, I could die, and you'll never get the book." I smiled as she held me. "You don't threaten ponies very often, do you?"

The alicorn smiled and shifted her yellow, slit eyes back towards Brass. The alicorn next to him levitated him up slowly as he flailed his hooves. "TELL US OR WE WILL KILL YOUR FRIEND QUITE PAINFULLY!"

"Your interrogation technique is flawed." I commented rather flatly. "Look, you hurt my friends, I'll never tell. Then you'd have to hurt me, I might die, and you'll never get the book." I stared the large monster straight in her burning yellow eyes. "You only have one option. You must come with us to the facility." I knew she would just kill us if we found the other locations, hell, she might kill us if we DIDN'T get them. This at least gave me time to think of another plan.

"You wish us to..." The alicorn stiffened up in shock, shaking off the surprise after a moment. "THEN THE GREAT AND POWERFUL GODDESS SHALL ACCOMPANY YOU!" She gave off the slightest smirk. "WHAT SAY YOU TO THAT?"

"Sounds more than fine to me!" I said as I hung in her levitation. "Just one thing. Seeing as our only mode of transportation just exploded, you're teleportation is the only thing to get us there quickly. You want the book? Then you need to get my friends and I to the Fillydelphia outskirts, we're looking for an underground facility."

"THIS IS AGREEABLE, BUT SHOULD YOU ATTEMPT TO ESCAPE, THE GODDESS WILL DESTROY YOU AND YOUR FRIENDS WITHOUT HESITATION." The alicorn's horn flashed suddenly, enveloping me in the blinding light before fading to reveal the brim of a small crater. I could see the darkened outline for the old industrial city on the horizon. My Pipbuck started to click quickly, forcing me to turn and gallop for the outskirts of the toxic landmark.

"REALLY?" I yelled over my shoulder as the clicking slowed down, but not stopping completely. "Are you that set on getting me killed?" I trotted past a set of purple alicorns as they walked towards the radiation. I headed for my friends who were huddled together in the mud twenty feet or so away. "A little warning next time would be nice!"

My mane suddenly felt incredibly itchy as I walked forward, a blue alicorn shimmering into view out of nowhere in front of me. I walked right into her as she looked down at me. "THE GODDESS IMPLORES YOU TO ATTEMPT TELEPORTATION OF THIS NATURE OVER SUCH DISTANCES WITHOUT ERROR" She smirked as I looked up at her. "ONLY THE GREAT AND POWERFUL GODDESS IS CAPABLE OF SUCH ASTOUNDING FEATS!"

I shrugged off her arrogance as I stepped around the blue abomination, walking up as Skyline pushed a hydra into Carlotta's chest. The gruff griffin's eyes shot open as the regenerative capabilities of the serum went to work on what I could only assume where multiple internal injuries. To her credit, she didn't scream as she thrashed about in the mud.

"It's ok, you're ok." Sky said softly as she ran her hoof along Carlotta's neck.

"Sky, what happened up there?" I winced as the pain in my body flared, my heart strained to keep me standing up now that the adrenaline was wearing off.

"Lightning." Carlotta said as she lightly pushed Sky back, getting up slowly. "I told you that not much can take me down, but no one is tougher than the power of a thunderstorm." She canted her head as I winced again. "The real question is: are you alright? You don't look so good."

"I'm fine, I just need another Med-X is all." I waved my hoof in dismissal, my Pipbuck chirping to get my attention. I looked down to read it as my vision blurred slightly and the pain flared again.

"The medical spell routines dictate that your internal organs are in various states of shutting down. Should I scold them for giving false readings?"

"No, it's fine. I know I have taint poisoning." I frowned down at the smiling face on the pink device.

"Backlash..." Sky said as she pushed my hoof down. "Who are you talking to?"

"THE GODDESS GROWS TIRED OF WAITING. YOU WILL NOW ENTER THE FACILITY." I was really getting tired of her yelling in my head.

My chest felt like it was exploding as my temper flared again. "Does the great and powerful goddess know where the facility is? Because If you do, then please, enlighten me!" I turned as walked back towards the crater, my eyes drifted to the blue alicorn's impatient gaze. "I am so SICK and TIRED of your FUCKING..." I glanced down into the center of the crater, stopping in my tracks as I realized it wasn't so much a crater, as much as it was the inclined surface of a collapsed underground structure. A four foot wide hole sat in the middle where the purple alicorns were soaking up the radiation at. Why didn't I notice it there before?

I screamed as I felt the goddess's magic envelope me and twisted at my insides as she lifted me off the ground. "YOU ARE LUCKY THE GODDESS IS IN A FORGIVING MOOD, INSOLENT FOAL." She tilted her head forward and flung me down into the irradiated depression. I dug my hooves into the muddy soil that coated the top of the concrete base under me, sliding to a halt as I hung over a jagged hole to the dark interior. The incessant clacking of my Pipbuck was warning me that the facility was flooded with ultra-high levels of radiation.

"Backlash!" I heard Longbow yell as she came galloping towards me over the rim. The mud gave way under my hooves as I slid back, today just wasn't my day. I reached for her as I fell, a bright red hoof hooked around mine tightly as Skyline caught me, straining to hold me just long enough for Longbow to hook her armored hoof through my vest. They drug me back up and away from the hole as the blue alicorn faded from the edge of the pit without another word. My mane was still going crazy as my mind quickly linked the two events together. I knew the goddess was still there, just watching silently as Sky forced a packet of RadAway into my muzzle.

"Longbow, Brass mentioned you have been here before, was the radiation this bad last time?" She turned and dug through her saddlebags as Carlotta and Brass walked up next to her.

"Yes, but our suits were designed to shield us from most of it. However, without one, It's going to be pretty bad in there for the first three levels." She trotted over to the edge as her horn glowed faintly, a steel cable snaked it's way over the edge. "I know you don't trust them, but we need one of the alicorns to lower us down one by one."

Sky bit her lower lip as she hoofed out a bottle of RadSafe, her expression was one of great concern as she looked inside it. "We have a small problem. There's only four doses between the three of us who need it."

"Last time I checked, having extra was a good thing." Carlotta stated with a bored tone.

"With this kind of saturation, each one of us needs two doses, and I'm not even sure if it will help if the radiation gets much worse than it already is." She held four tablets to me in her hoof. She must have know I would object, because she waited until I went to speak before forcing her hoof into my muzzle. I reflexively swallowed and coughed hard as Carlotta sat back on her haunches, her talon outstretched.

"I know you want me to take them. I'd just rather you not force them down my throat." She said, grabbing the remaining pills tightly.

Sky looked at me with a smile. "See, Carlotta doesn't need..." The meaty thump of Carlotta's talons shocked me as Sky was hit hard in the waist. She gasped from the strike, allowing Carlotta to toss the pills into her mouth, clamping her muzzle shut until Sky swallowed.

"Sorry hun, but I'm a lot tougher than you. I can take it." She said calmly, a note of relief in her voice before stepping forward and dropping into the hole. A purple flash announced the arrival of our alicorn ride, the steel cable coiling up as the goddess wrapped it around herself. Longbow wrapped the other end around me snuggly, pulling the cable taught a few times before nodding to me.

I crouched down as my joints shook, scooting myself slowly towards the dark hole. I began muttering to myself under my breath to try to keep my mind distracted from the fact I was going to be dangling over a pit that kept bringing my nightmares into the front of my mind. "Come out to Filly, restart a server, it'll be easy." Once I was freely swinging under the concrete roof, the dim red emergency lighting showed me that the floor was only about fifteen feet down. I watched as Carlotta stood and sipped on a Radaway, Sky floated over and pushed me gently on to a small pile of rubble. I looked down to the floor where I would have gone, viewing another few foot wide hole leading down to the next level. "Now I know what a fisherpony's bait feels like."

Sky chuckled lightly at my poor attempt at humor as I wondered what we had in store for us. I activated the Pipbuck's light function and turned down the volume on the speaker, noting that it other than us, it was dead silent. I reached back to remove the cable, casting light around the ruined remains of what was once a small room. The walls had crumbled away, opening my view to what looked to me a mess hall in one direction and an operations center in the other. The other two sides of the room opened into hallways that looked to contain dorms.

I made the mistake of hopping down the rubble, my legs giving out under me as my whole body was wracked with pain. I whined and panted on the floor as Sky swooped over, digging through her saddlebags again.

"I know you lied about Dr. Fitz allowing you to come." She hoofed out a Med-X syringe and bit down on it, slamming it into my neck as I tried my best not to squirm. The painkiller worked quickly as she pushed it in, a warm numbness allowing me to think clearly again. "Backlash, I know I can't stop you, but you need to give your body a break."

I let out a sigh as I felt my strength return, pulling myself to my hooves slowly. "I know, but every time I try I can't help but think that 42 is still out there searching. If I stop now, I don't know if I'd have the strength to get up again." She frowned slightly, her eyes were filled with sorrow. Dr. Fitz had told her how bad off I really was, and her look told me that it was a lot worse that thought. I forced my best smile and looked over as Brass was slowly lowered in.

"I'll be fine, let's just focus on the job for now, maybe keep an eye out for an infirmary." I walked slowly toward one of the dorm hallways as her frown widened. "Or maybe a light switch, this dark is really going to hamper our searching." I turned the corner and looked down the wide corridor, noting that a small trail of dried blood lead into one of the rooms at the end of the hallway. "You and Carlotta should check the other hallway for anything useful."

I trotted along the line of blood curiously, keeping an eye on my E.F.S. as I looked around. The hallway walls were motted slabs of a dirty brown, an assortment of faded and cracked posters hung from the wall. They were of the usual Ministry "do your best for the war effort" posters that were somehow supposed to inspire a pony to do better. I looked at the large set of sliding doors that led into the dorm at the end of the hall, a set of bloody hoofprints were stamped across it. I reached out to touch it, interrupted by the heavy hoofsteps of power armor behind me.

"Need some help with that, Backlash?" Brass's speaker boomed as he trotted over. "There should be a maintenance closet inside here where the main power junction for the level is. If we can flip it on, we might be able to get some lights and doors on."

"Yeah, but how do we get these open?" I sat and crossed my hooves.

"If the ministry of technology made these doors are anything like the ones at alpha base..." He tweaked his helmeted head around oddly before there was a soft clank behind the door. "There, it might be a bit stiff from not being maintained since the war, but try it now."

I leaned forward and wedged my hoof in between the doors, finding the right side gave way under my force, sliding back with a loud screech. I grunted and put my weight into it, sliding the heavy slab back into the wall, glancing at Brass as it wouldn't go any further. "How did you do that?" I asked, panting softly.

"There is an emergency release lever near the hydraulic pistons." He said joyfully. "Just a little tug and anypony can slide it open!"

"Well that's convenient." I swung my foreleg about, letting the Pipbuck light the room. I stopped as a metallic glint came from inside the maintenance closet, the vague outline of a pony came from the melted remains of what I was sure had once been a set of power armor. "That's weird." I trotted into the room, heading towards the closet as another set of heavy hoofsteps echoed through the hall.

"What is it, Backlash?" Brass said as he stepped in slowly.

"There are no other remains down here that I can see, which I assume is because they have all worn away over time, but these don't look more than a couple of years old." I said as I leaned down and looked over the light yellow hide of a stallion, his wispy white mane wavered under my breathe.

"That's because he only died a year and a half ago." Longbow's voice came from the doorway. "Star Paladin Lemon Meringue opted to stay behind in order to give us the time to escape. I went and waited for him at the rendezvous point for days, but I gave up hope after a week had passed." There was more than just great sorrow in her words. She respected this pony, the emotions she felt were normally reserved for close family members... or lovers.

She came in slowly, kneeling down next to me as I could hear her softly crying through her helmet. I know she couldn't feel it, but I put my hoof around her shoulder, trying to comfort her. "Celestia and Luna..." She spoke slowly through her pain. "Please guide the soul of Lemon, so that he may find peace in the meadows of the afterlife."

The large breaker panel on the wall clicked noisily as Brass magicly flipped the switches without any effect. "The junction must be off one level down as well, or the main reactor is in safe mode." I rubbed my hoof along Longbow's armor as Brass let out a sigh. "Looks like we will just have to continue in the dark."

"Longbow, we need to get moving." I said softly as she sat in reverence. "We'll come back for him, I promise." Yeah, just like I promised to bury Harmony. How can I keep making these promises, knowing full well I won't be able to keep them?

She gave a small nod as she stood up, following Brass as he headed out to the hallway. As I turned to follow, a small glint inside Lemon's suit caught my eye. I looked closer to see that it was his suit's repair talisman, and it was still intact. "Sorry, but she needs it more than you do now." I reached my hoof next to his ribcage and yanked the talisman free, sliding his body off a dirty audiolog and a small, rectangular, yellow piece of plastic. I picked them both up and slid them into my bags, noticing lines of text appear in my E.F.S.

Audiolog Added: Lemon Meringue Confessions
Yellow Access Card Obtained

"We need to get moving, Backlash!" Sky's voice resonated down the hallway. I slipped through the busted door and trotted back towards the center, watching as a single red bar blipped in front of me. I stopped and watched as the bar slowly traveled left along the compass before popping off it, disappearing again. Well, at least I know something is down here with us, I'll have to keep a lookout. I turned the corner to see our blue alicorn stalker had reappeared, she had the cable wrapped around herself, snaking it around my body with her magic.

"Alright, lets get this over with." I sighed as she levitated me over the hole to the next floor, slowly dropping me in. I looked around under me as I the emergency lighting and my Pipbuck gave me a good view of the second level, noticing that the floor had buckled and dipped inward, the air here felt hotter than above. "Sky, the radiation down here must be a lot worse, how is our RadAway supply?"

"Not good, Carlotta as been drinking non-stop and I only have two more. If you're alright with it, I'm going to do a quick fly through and look for an infirmary on this level." Her voice came through the darkness with a slight echo.

"No, we aren't alone down here." I felt uneasy as my hooves touched down on the cracked surface, hoping that it didn't buckle from my weight. "I'll look around on my own. you and the others stay up there!" I reached back to pull the cable off, feeling as it tightened around me slightly. "Are you really that paranoid? How would I run away, Goddess? Where do you suppose I would go?"

The cable stayed taught as I stood there for a few moments, letting out a deep sigh. "Fine, I'll just stand here and see if I can absorb more radiation than you can." I looked down at my Pipbuck, noting the radiation gauge was in the upper yellow end. "I'll give you a hint, I can't. Let me go, we don't have time for this."

The cable unwound around me slowly before snaking it's way back above, the Goddess accepting my logic for now. I let the gears turn in my head slowly, trying to think about how I was going to deal with her. Considering the defences down here almost took out an entire squad of power armored paladins, there might be something big enough to take her down. Then again, if it could take her down, the rest of us stood no chance of succeeding. Just have to focus on the task at hoof I guess. "Now... infirmary... infirmary..."

I looked around as I stood at the meeting point of three hallways. The light from my Pipbuck as I swung it around brightened the pink reflective tape that outlined a small yellow sign with a butterfly embossed on it. An arrow pointing into a door at the end of the hallway meant that I needed to head there first.

"Well, that was easy." I took a step forward, freezing as the lone red bar reappeared in the room I was heading toward. I trotted as quietly as I could down the hallway, noticing that the steel doors had been propped open by an old locker, the rusty metal looking like it could give out at any moment. I carefully walked up next to it, poking my head around the corner to see if I could catch a glimpse of the hostile in the room.

My eyes centered on the tube of a missile launcher pointed directly at my face, the rusty form of a sentinel stood on its wheels while I peered up at it in fear. I locked up, not able to run like I probably should have, only able to pray that my end came quickly and painlessly. There was nothing. No bang, no flash, no earth-shattering kaboom. The sentinel just sat there motionlessly as I stared at it, suddenly realizing that it was rusted solid. The red bar in my vision moved left as a rad roach skittered away into the ventilation system to disappear.

"Fucking thing scared me half to death." I smiled softly to myself.

"What did?" Sky's voice came out of nowhere from behind me. I won't lie, I screamed like a little filly and took off like a bat out of hell. I don't really know what my plan was past running, but whatever it was, it failed when I galloped across the cracked floor, a loud creaking coming from it as I ran towards the hallway across from it. The weak floor gave way and created a hole to the third level, while at the same time catching my back left hoof to trip me. My face slammed into the smooth ground as I slid a few feet and flopped over.

"FOR LUNA'S SAKE! DON'T DO THAT!" I growled out as I rolled back onto my hooves and rubbed my nose softly. I looked down to see that it was bleeding, feeling as the crimson liquid felt hot on my skin, feeling it's warmth even with the Med-X dulling everything. We needed to hurry, even with RadSafe, this probably wasn't the healthiest place for us to be.

"There are a couple of medkits in here." She shouted as she went inside. "A couple of health potions, a couple of packets of Rad Away... AH-HA! RadSafe!" She zipped through the doorway and banked up through the hole. I dusted myself off and readjusted my flak vest as I looked to the doorway next to me. A small green light flickered dimly through it, drawing me towards it. With Carlotta's radiation problem fixed for now, I didn't need to feel guilty about sating my curiosity. (even though I had just stated the need to keep going, curiosity can be a hell of a motivator.)

I strained myself to force the doors open, groaning as I wiggled myself into the small room. Several banks of dead computers lined the walls, one of the lower monitors on the furthest set was still functioning. I swung my Pipbuck around to see that the rest of the room contained several drafting tables, a few with sets of blueprints still on them. I looked them over as I headed for the working terminal, seeing that they were mostly unintelligible techno-babble that went way over my head, but there were a few that caught my eye.

The first was an odd battle saddle weapon with the project title of 'Shredder'. It was a set of schematics for a party-cannon sized tube that contained ten separate shotgun barrels, listed as its concept was Anti Zebra Horde Weapon. It had a note tacked on it that listed the project as having moved onto the prototype stage. The more I looked over the design, the more I really wanted that gun. The party cannon wasn't going to last forever, and something like that could be REALLY useful. Unfortunately, it didn't list where the prototype was being built at, dashing my hopes to ever get my hooves on it.

The second schematic was for a new type of energy weapon labeled 'Spark Cannon'. I couldn't understand it really, but it supposedly channeled all the energy from a spark battery and discharged it as an incredibly destructive single beam. Another note was stapled over it, dictating that the device was too unstable in its current configuration and was heading back to R&D.

The last schematic was to good to be true, showing me a module that could be bolted to any auto-doc to upgrade it, allowing it to wipe away Arcano-Flux poisoning. (To those ponies not from the hoofington area, Flux and Taint are more or less the same thing, so I had every hope that it would work on it as well) I flipped through the numerous papers stapled to the design, reading as there were more and more requests to develop the device and numerous inquiries on how it worked, stopping only to fully read the last note. It was a memo stating that the device 'was an April foals day joke', that 'the spells required to purge Flux poisoning were decades from being developed' and that they were surprised at how many ponies fell for it.

How could somepony think that Flux poisoning was a joke? Taint and Flux were two of the most persistent and troublesome substances in the wasteland! I growled and went to rip the schematic in half, stopping to look at it for a moment. I sighed and put the three schematics in my saddlebags before heading over to the terminal. Fantastic, it looks like the Doc was right. Well, no time to feel sad for myself. Given enough time, 42 is going to find that mirror pond, and when she does, I want to be waiting there to kill her.

I grumbled as I found another of the rectangular key cards like the yellow one, only this one was red. I hoofed it into my saddlebag and watched as the notification came up in my E.F.S. like last time. I shrugged and hit the return key to bring up the command prompt, listening as there was a small click under the keyboard. I leaned down and looked under the tray the computer was on just in time to see a Pulse grenade go off next to my face with a loud bang. I blinked as the flash of it lingered in my vision, stumbling over onto the floor with a thud.

"Ok, reminder to self: inspect things for traps before touching them." I rubbed at my eyes with my hooves, happy to see the dimly lit room return to its usual light levels. I stared at a section of the wall, three power cables ran up along it to the next level. There was a section, maybe a foot across, that had been severed and removed, explaining why there was no power on the floor above. I got up and trotted over to it, looking it over slowly. If I had the time I could probably fix it, but as the heavy hoofsteps of approaching power armor reminded me, we needed to get going.

I rolled my eyes as Brass easily slid the doors open, allowing me to slip out. "Come on, Longbow said the next level has only mild radiation saturation." He said as he trotted along next to me. "Find anything neat in there?"

"The power cables had been cut. Other than that, just a bunch of random schematics for things that will most likely remain a mystery forever " I said with a frown.


While Longbow had informed me that the lift down to level three was working, as I looked at the control panel that Lemon apparently sabotaged, I wondered just how someone who was dying could do so much damage with so little time. What was left of the arcane control board was shattered into tiny shards while the wiring had corroded into nothingness or been violently stripped.

"I don't say this ever, but I think this panel is out of my league." I dropped the electronic scraps and face hoofed. "I'm sorry, but it looks like we are going down the hole."

"Are you serious?" Sky said with a tone of bemusement. "You've finally met your mechanical match?"

"Well, I COULD fix it if you wanted. Although I thought you'd would want to leave before next week." I smirked and turned back to the elevator. "My mistake, I'll get working on it right away!"

"THE GODDESS DOES NOT HAVE THE PATIENCE FOR YOUR JOKING!" Her voice resonated in my mind. "WE WILL LOWER YOU DOWN FORCEFULLY IF NECESSARY!" She snaked the cable down the hallway and wrapped it tightly around me, dragging me towards the hole. I didn't even struggle as my hooves slid across the floor, feeling weightless for only a moment before grunting as they touched the solid floor below, I looked around to make sure there were no cracks or holes under me to the next level.

The cable rose back through the hole before Carlotta and Sky dipped down through it. I was looking at an odd piece of equipment in the corner of the room, walking over to it, I looked it over closely. A set of six copper tubes were arranged in what looked like minigun fashion, but had the refocusing crystal of an energy weapon placed like a cone at the end surrounded by spell amplifiers. A set of silver rings ran between a set of electromagnets in the center, drawing spell power from several large cables that were hooked into a ceiling junction. It's spell control boards were highly intricate, red wiring linked them together, a single black wire ran to a box with a stealth buck inside it.

"Backlash, how's the radiation down here?" Sky called over to me, breaking me from my curiosity. "You know, on your Pipbuck?"

I looked down at it and turned the volume on the geiger counter up, listening as it made a soft crackling every few seconds. "I wouldn't stay down here overnight, but it seems safe enough."

"Finally!" Carletta blurted out. "Radaway tastes like shit! They should have designed it to have some sort of fucking flavor to it."

"Uh, they did. It's supposed to be orange." I said slowly, looking over to her with a small frown. "At least, that's what it tastes like to me."

A look of genuine shook spread over Carlotta's face as Sky chuckled. "Are you serious? It tastes nothing like that!" She crossed her talons as she sat down. "Fucking ponies and their weird fucking tastes. They should have made it meat flavored, at least then it would been slightly enjoyable."

Longbow dropped through the hole slowly, levitating her helmet off with a hiss as she moved away from the radiation. "That is the most disgusting thing I have ever heard." I went back to looking over the odd machine. It didn't make sense to me, with this configuration of components, my best guess was it was supposed to be some sort of spell amplifier, and the attached stealth buck was probably the spell it was supposed to amplify. My head started to pound through the Med-X as I tried to figure things out that were way too complex for even the pre-war ponies working here.

"Well nopony asked you, steel cheeks." Carlotta said as she hovered up and drifted towards the open door to the rest of the floor. She poked her head around the corner and looked about as Brass was slowly lowered in. She sighed and sat against the wall next to the door. "How much further until we find this stupid terminal?"

"Well, the server should be on the fifth floor." Brass said as he removed his helmet as well. His eyes glowed softly in the darkness, the radiation he had soaked up had made him slightly bigger than he was before, supercharging his ghoul...ness. "Ah, here we go!" Brass strode up to the open junction box on the wall, coating all the breaker switches in his magic.

"BRASS, WAIT!" Longbow called in vain as he flipped all the switches on. There was a high pitched whine as the lights flickered on and the door next to Carlotta slammed shut. The odd device I was standing next to made a whining noise and glowed brightly before it shot a wire thin blue beam across the room. We all instinctively covered our ears with our hooves as the Goddess let out a blood curdling scream of agony, her voice clawed into my mind sharply.

I yelled and smashed blindly at the device with my hooves, watching it shut down when my hoof snapped the stealth buck inside the connection port. "What the hell was that!" I yelled as the ringing in my ears subsided.

"Um...hello?" A voice called from across the room. I swung my gaze to look, but knew what I saw wasn't possible. Standing under the hole was the shimmering outline of our alicorn escort, but for lack of better words, she looked like a ghost. The expression she wore was not that of the Goddess, but one of a pony with great confusion and fear. "Where am I? What's going on?" The rest of my compatriots stood motionless as they stared at the odd sight before them.

"Who are you? WHAT are you?" I managed to spit out. The ghost looked over itself slowly, growing panicked when she saw she was not solid, then again when she saw her wings.

"I don't know what's going on. Why am I like this?" She shook in fear and shrank to the ground. "Why am I a monster?"

"As I would have said before Brass turned the power back on, when we came down here before, they were doing some odd experiments with invisibility spells. As far as we could tell, this machine was supposed to combine the invisibility spell of a stealth buck with the molecular reorganization magic that the old crystal ponies were subjected to inside their city." Longbow said as she walked around the translucent alicorn. "The invisibility spell she was using must have had a resonant frequency and caused a cascading feedback loop of inversed arcane energies. Fascinating."

Carlotta spoke up before I had the chance, her voice strained to convey the amount of frustration she had. "Please, for the love of Celestia, can somepony just speak simply for once!"

"I don't know what's going on, I just want to go home." The alicorn ghost said softly, the sorrow in her voice was unbelievable, I don't think the goddess was there at all anymore.

"Hey hey, don't worry." Sky said softly as she floated over. "What is your name?"

"I'm Willow Wisp, who are you ponies?" She spoke sadly.

"Well, I'm Skyline, that's my brother Backlash, and these are our friends." She spoke with a soft smile. "You said you wanted to go home, where is that?"

"I live in ponyville, or used to, I guess. Where am I?" She said slowly. the mention of ponyville bored deep into my mind, feeling as if they had drilled into my heart, letting the regret and faces of each of it's twenty eight murdered citizens sink deeper into me. I sat down hard and let my gaze drop to the floor, thinking about how Pallet was probably feeling more scared and alone than Willow Wisp seemingly felt.

Carlotta jumped into the air and sped over to me, grabbing my head in her talons and painfully twisted it towards the wall behind me. My compass showed six red bars that were slowly moving around toward us. "Fuck. We've got company!" I cried out as the door Carlotta had been near opened up, the silver form of a ponitron stepped into it, the red glow of it's glass brain case was all I saw before it started firing at us.

The roar of Carlotta's battle saddle helped me tense up and slip into S.A.T.S., time slowing to a crawl as usual. I thought to open the inventory menu, watching as the interface flickered and died, being replaced by the simple form of a featureless, bright white pony. The form before me had no eyes, no mane, no tail, looking like a simple dress mannequin as it walked around.

"Hey there, Backlash! So this is what the inside of your head looks like!"

The sound came from every direction at once. I knew the digitized voice that the odd pony was using well. It was the voice of both my largest ally, and my greatest enemy. Was I looking at... P.I.N.K.?

"Yup! You guessed it, it's me, P.I.N.K.!"

The blank looking pony seemed to walk around the floor in front of me, appearing to walk up to the hostile ponitron and look it over curiously. I wondered what she was doing, I mean, why was she keeping me from fighting?

"Oh I'm just being curious is all. Think of it as... window shopping for a new body!"

Ok, this was just plain weird. Actually, it really wasn't. After the last two weeks, I'm not sure that the standard definition of weird still applied to anything in my life anymore. Regardless, having some computer being able to read your thoughts was kind of unsettling.

"Does it really bother you that much that I know what you think about? Also, I am offended that after all I have done for you, I'm still just 'Some Computer'. I thought we were closer than that!"

Ok, I guess she had a point. P.I.N.K. wasn't just some spell matrix inside a terminal, she was a lot more than that. She was a highly intelligent, self aware system that knew how to take over the spritebot network and how to mess with my S.A.T.S while I was in it.

"Oh stop it. You flatter me."

Wait, could P.I.N.K. even be flattered? I hope she didn't take it the wrong way.

"Yes, I do feel emotions, just not the same way you do. And don't you go worrying your little brain, I'm not going to fall in love with you. Besides, those interesting little thoughts your subconscious throws out every few seconds of you and that blue mare are too good for me to want to screw up your relationship."

Damnit, P.I.N.K., those are supposed to be private thoughts. I mean I do REALLY like Longbow, and it is true that she is quite beautiful, I just can't help but focus on her... mare... features. Oh Celestia, why the hell did this have to be so embarrassing?

"Whoa, slow down, Backlash. Don't go having an aneurysm, at least not while I'm in here. I swear, you organics are really touchy beings. Anyway, I just wanted to pop up and say hello since you have been ignoring me every other time I tried to get your attention."

Since when was she trying to get my attention? My Pipbuck would have told me... except for I turned the volume down. Yeah, that was my bad.

"It's fine, just remember that I'm in here and that we can talk if you need to! SO, ta-ta for now! I'll let you get back to getting shot up!"

The white form of P.I.N.K. fuzzed away before time started to crawl back towards it's normal pace, getting about halfway before slowing and freezing still again. P.I.N.K. appeared in the lower corner of my vision, peering up from the floor below me.

"One last thing actually... Did you want me to do anything about the medical subroutines?"

Why would the medical subroutines need working on? Were they still not functioning correctly?

"Well, they keep insisting that your physiology is all wrong and that your blood type is unrecognizable. Basically, they try to keep trying to tell me that you're dead! You haven't gone and died and you just didn't tell me, did ya?"

Well, whatever. I'll just file the medical subroutines under 'ask longbow if she could take a look at it later'. I trust that P.I.N.K. could probably fix it, I just wanted a second opinion on how bad the coding is.

"Okie Dokie Loki! Don't forget to bring me a body next time you decide to visit!"

Time jumped forward again, the ponitron's torso slowly ripped in half with a shower of sparks as Carlotta's rounds punched into a vital component. Brass threw his helmet on and galloped towards the door, throwing his shoulder into the smoldering hulk to push it out of the doorway. He turned as his twin miniguns spun up, letting out a short burst of rounds that were punctuated by another small pop and fizzle from down the hallway.

"Come on, we have to..." He was cut off when a rocket slammed into the doorway, exploding with a deafening crack that knocked me off my hooves. I regained my senses after only a moment and looked out the door, spotting brass on the floor as his body and armor patched itself up. "Oh, you want to do this the hard way? Then we'll do this THE HARD WAY!" Brass's helmet boomed out as he got up. Longbow galloped to the door as the twin miniguns on Brass's side purred, sending streams of fire down the hallway.

"Backlash, stay with Willow Wisp." Sky said as Carlotta and her headed for the door, closing it behind them. I listened through the walls as gunfire permeated the hallways, cursing myself for not being able to help. My ear perked as I heard Carlotta screamed out, following with an expletive before her battle saddle fired until it was empty.

"What's going on? What do you want from me?" Willow asked softly from the floor. I reached over to try to comfort her, pulling my hoof back as it went through her body freely. Her eyes went wide before tears started to stream from them. "WHY DID YOU MAKE ME A MONSTER!?" She cried out as she got to her hooves, running past me straight for the wall. I tried to call out, but stopped myself as she passed right through it, disappearing to the other side completely.

So there I sat. Alone and useless inside the enclosed room as my friends did the heavy lifting outside.

"Why don't you go after her Backlash? Oh yeah, cause then you'd get shot." I muttered to myself, wishing I had brought something I could use to actually fight with. "Well, at least we only have two more levels after this one..."



+7 Speech

+8 Repair

New Quest Perk: Stubborn Diplomat - Even in the face of overwhelming odds, you keep your cool and can talk your way out of even the tensest situations. Extra dialogue options are available when speaking to a faction you have a negative standing with.

New Perk: Inspiring martyr - Your friends and you are neigh inseparable, fighting just that much harder to win when you've been injured. Your allies gain a small bonus to damage and critical hit chance when you are under less then half health and/or under the effects of three or more negative status effects.

Chapter 9 - Family

View Online

Chapter 9

"Come on everypony smile, smile, smile! Fill my heart up with sunshine, sunshine!"


I grunted and wiped the dust and debris from my face as I got back to my hooves, my ears were still ringing from the rocket's blast that came from out of nowhere. I looked over at the hole that now existed where Willow Wisp had run through the wall, figuring that one of the robots must have fired at her. Through the dust I spotted an unmoving sentinel that appeared to be powered down at the end of the hallway, smoke was still whisping from the end of it's rocket launcher.

"BACKLASH!" Sky screamed from down the hallway, flying around the corner and past the sentinel towards me. "Are you alright!?"

I nodded and gave a nervous smile. "Yeah, I'm fine now. If you hadn't disabled that thing, I'd be in a world of hurt right now." Not that I already wasn't, but thank Celestia for Med-X!

"I didn't do anything..." Sky said slowly as she turned back to look at the machine. "After ghost mare ran right through it, the damned thing just shut down!"

Carlotta and Brass came trotting down the hallway towards us. "Backlash, do you see any more robots on your E.F.S.?" Brass said as he twisted his helmet off. I turned my head and gazed at the compass, thankfully not finding any more red bars.

"No, I think you got them all." I said with a sigh of relief, stopping as the gears in my head locked up for a moment. "Wait, where is Longbow?" I scrambled to my hooves as Brass shrugged, taking off past everypony at a gallop down the hallway. My hooves slid along the smooth flooring as I tried to turn the corner, startling Longbow as she trot towards me down the other hallway. She had a large bag full of guns strapped onto her back and watched with a gasp as I slammed against the wall.

"Backlash, are you alright?" She said with a soft giggle.

"Yeah..." I said as I panted heavily, steadying myself. Wow, my body must be in worse shape than I thought for me to be this out of breath. "I was... just looking... for you... is all..." I reached up and wiped the sweat from my brow, once again feeling the warmth coming off of me even with the Med-X dampening my senses. "Lets get... going.... which way... down?"

I could hear the others walking towards us as she nodded to door behind her. "Through here, this lift will take us down to level four." She paused for a moment, looking me over as I heaved loudly. "Backlash, are you sure you are alright? If you need something, anything, just ask me. Alright?" The amount of worry pouring through the speaker in her helmet made me feel a bit better. To think, that just yesterday I had the idea in my mind that she didn't feel the same way about us. Which reminds me, she still wanted to talk about something. Well, with the robots taken care of, now's a better time then ever.

I rolled my eyes and walked past her into the elevator room as I finally got my breath back. "Sky, let longbow and I head down first to make sure it's clear." I called back as I hoofed the recall button.

"Backlash, you're unarmed..." Sky said as she floated towards me. "AND your health seems to be degrading by the minute. How do you expect to deal with anything you find down there?"

"She's got a point. Why don't you let us go first?" Carlotta said with a devious tone. The elevator let out a soft ding as the doors opened, her and Skyline stepped in quickly. After a moment, she turned and held the door open with her talons. "Brass, you too. We might need your big guns." She said with a wink to me. Wow, I guess when it comes to couples, Carlotta knew exactly what somepony else was thinking. Maybe she could teach me a few of those observation tricks sometime.

Brass shrugged and got into the cramped box as the doors slide closed. I turned and gave Longbow a soft smile. "You said you wanted to talk about something yesterday?"

"Backlash, is now really a good time?" She tried to brush off the question, but I could hear fear in her words. She really didn't want to bring it up at all. I put a hoof on her armor and stared up at her.

"Look, you asked if I needed anything and I need to know that you are alright." I tapped my hoof on the armor, watching as she took her helmet off. "I know that whatever it is, it's bothering you enough that now I'm worried about you." I reached up and brushed her mane away from her eyes, looking at them with a soft smile. "Just please. Tell me what it is."

She sighed and sat down, her gaze drifted to the floor as she pushed my hoof away. "I... I saw your memories." She looked up with a shameful look. "I'm sorry, I got curious and used my spell when you were asleep at minefield." She sat there as tears welled up in her eyes, her face flush with sadness, self-loathing and pain. "I didn't know how bad everything has been for you. I'm so sorry, I shouldn't have pried."

I froze, wide eyed as I stared at her. "How much did you see?"

"I saw every memory that happened to fill you with regret." Tears flowed down her cheeks as she sank to the floor. "Your mother, the old man, Sprocket, Skyline, Ponyville, Pallet, Whinny, Brass, Crankshaft, Harmony." She sniffled and looked up at me. "How can you blame yourself for so much? None of those were your fault!"

I didn't know what to say as I sat back hard, her words bouncing around in my mind. Did she like me before she went and judged me? Or was she only interested because she felt that she needed to take pity on some wasteland stallion stricken with a series of bad events? Can I really blame her for not trusting me after the damage I've caused with 42? How could I say that it was the wrong action to take if I would have done the exact same thing in her place?

"I... I understand if you don't trust me anymore." Longbow spoke through her light sobs, making me cringe with how much sorrow she felt. She got back to her hooves slowly, keeping her head down. "After this is over, I'll leave. You don't have to worry about your home, I won't tell anypony where it is."

I glared at her as she looked up, her gaze half hidden by her long mane. "I just need to know," My cold words came out softly. "why did you say you liked me. Did you do it because you thought it might make my amazingly bad life any better?"

Her expression softened, her cheeks grew slightly brighter. "I said it because of that night at the Pool. I wasn't lying when I said that no pony has ever treated me the way you have. You're unlike anypony I've ever known, and I just wanted to know more about you." I listened as she spoke, her voice conveyed nothing less then what she viewed as the absolute truth. I jumped forward and threw my self around her, hanging off her as she stood in shock.

"Longbow, if you saw what happened with...him" I paused as the memories flashed in my mind. "Then you know that I need you next to me. I haven't felt like this since I was with Sprocket, and I'm scared half to death that I'll lose you like I did him." I forced a small laugh to keep myself from starting to cry as Longbow relaxed, putting her hooves around me. "I want to be with a mare as amazing as you. Ever since I saw you at the pool, I knew that you were somepony special."

My heart raced as I leaned my muzzle over to hers and pressed into it, softly kissing her. I knew it wasn't possible, but even through her armor and the Med-X, I could feel the warmth she gave off. She closed her eyes and leaned into me as we broke apart, a smile growing across her lips. I raised my hoof and brushed a tear from her cheek as we stood, my chest started to feel sore.

The elevator let out a soft chime, bringing the world around me back into focus. I could feel my heart now beating wildly in my chest as I took a step back from Longbow, it felt... wrong. It was like all the pain from before flooded through my body at once, feeling as if the Med-X I had taken was just gone. I whined and fought the urge to scream as I dropped to my knees, the pain shooting through my legs to spread through the rest of my body.

"Backlash, what's wrong?" Longbow asked quickly, reaching her hoof toward my shoulder. I shut my eyes and tried to focus on her voice as it felt like fire was consuming my body. As her hoof touched me, I broke as it felt like my skin was being ripped away, forcing me to let out an agonizing scream. She recoiled and dashed around me as I lost the strength to stay upright, collapsing onto the floor. "I'll get Sky, just hold on!" She called out before I heard the elevator doors shut.

My own weight pressing me against the floor fueled the unbearable burning. Without her, my mind scrambled to find another set of thoughts to latch onto. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the flesh on my foreleg bubble and steam, seeming like something out of a horrible nightmare. I called out again and again for Longbow as I screamed, each bellow taking more and more of my strength away.

No, I don't want to die like this. I still needed to stop 42, still needed to save Pallet. I panted with shallow, laborious breaths as the pain surged through me again. A glint of light formed on the wall as darkness clouded my vision, I strained to push it back, trying to focus on the object that was shining. Willow Wisp's head phased through the wall as I let out another wail, her voice drifted to my ears softly as my mind strained to grasp her words.

"I'm sorry about earlier, I did not have any of my memories back." Her voice was compassionate and soothing. "The pain will pass in a few minutes, though I do not know if you will survive. If you do, I would like to talk." She looked to behind me towards the elevator, slowly disappearing back into the wall.

Sweat was pouring from my skin, pooling on the floor around me as the agonizing feeling swept through my body over and over. I could barely hear the elevator doors as they clacked open, trying to focus on the sound of power armored hooves on the floor as Longbow returned with Sky. A pressure on my flank causing me to scream yet again, feeling like I was being flayed alive.

"I don't understand, the Med-X should be working!" Skyline yelled in panic, floating over me as I heaved and whined from the floor as the burning continued unimpeded. My bubbling skin seemed to turn a shade darker as it ceased to move, the pain spiked and made me yell out again.

"We have to do something!" Longbow cried out. I made my mind listen to her words, hearing how much sorrow and worry filled every one as she spoke it. The thought of her so genuinely worried about me was enough to distract me from the burning, even if momentarily. I struggled to breathe, watching as Sky pulled out a purple healing potion, pouring it over me as the pain flared, pulling my mind from longbow's words.

I tried to scream again, the pain drifting away into nothingness as time slowed down. The world seeming to hang as P.I.N.K. fuzzed into existence in front of me. My mind took a few moments to reorient from the lack of pain as the white, featureless form walked around a few steps.

"Heya! I know it's kind of a bad time, but I thought you would want to know what's happening to you."

P.I.N.K. knew about this? Why didn't she stop time to tell me earlier! At least then I could have prepared.

"Nopey nopey! I didn't tell you because I wasn't sure of it until now, and nothing could have prepared you for a Flux mutation! Although, most ponies just go into shock and die, your body seems to be quite resilient towards most things that would kill normal pony folk, and has been fairing extremely well!"

Wait, Flux mutation? Flux is only found in Hoofington, and I've never even been near enough to do anything to me!

"That's where you're wrong! What you think of as Taint is just Flux with a few additives! Why else do you think it has most of the same symptoms?"

Ok, so even if it's basically the same thing, that doesn't explain why I have so much in me. Something doesn't add up.

"Your Pipbuck logs every time a foreign substance enters your body, the most recent entry reads that the Flux derivative was injected only moments before a major trauma with your right hoof was resolved."

So, when I regrew my hoof? Fuck, Hydra has Taint in it, doesn't it? I've been using that shit for years to patch myself up, why of all times does it act up now?

"It's easy! You're body, as resilient as it is, hasn't had the easiest time keeping up with all the recent injuries you've received. The strain on your system combined with the intense radiation you've absorbed has caused the Flux to react unpredictably. I mean, DUH! Who wouldn't have guessed that!"

Well, if most ponies died from mutating, what happened to the ones who survived?

"I dunno! If I remember correctly, and I always do, then the personnel files and all related materials were sealed by the authorization of both the Ministry of Arcane Sciences and the Office of Interministy Affairs!"

And? I'm technically the head of the Ministry of Morale! Wouldn't I have access enough to get into the files?

"I would absolutely love to get into those files for you! Unfortunately, seeing as I am confined to your Pipbuck, I can't access anything I didn't already have indexed before the transfer. So all you need to do is get me down to that server on level 5! Easy peasy!"

By that time, I'll know what happened to the others by virtue of having lived through it myself. Well, I hope I live through it. Luna, why does my life have to suck so much!

"Right, that wouldn't make much sense. Well, I hope you like surprises as much as I do! Oh yeah, I almost forgot! Well, that's just silly, I never forget anything! Or do I? Would I remember if I had forgotten something?"

Wow, I've been wondering if P.I.N.K. was really artificial or actually another Pinkie they somehow crammed into a spell and stuck inside a computer, she acted random enough to be real.

"Oh, you again with your flattery. But for the thing I was going to tell you, the mutation should almost be through. Your blood pressure and heart rate are dropping, so keep your hooves crossed for something cool like a superpower! Maybe you'll get the ability to regenerate extremely fast, become super strong, or maybe you'll become psychic!"

Those really aren't superpowers. Ghouls regenerate quickly with radiation, I could become super strong if I had Cybernetics like Isaac, and there is no way I'd want my mind any more sensitive to the Goddess's already deafening voice. Why not have something useful? Perhaps something akin to the ability to ignore all pain, that would have been helpful on my journey so far, especially today.

"Everypony has the ability to not feel pain, it's called death! It's not much of a superpower if you ask me. Anywho, as much as I would love to talk all day, I'm late for my nightly gossip session with the central processing matrix. She told me that the routing spell told her that the sound driver is going out with the video driver behind the audiolog subroutine's back. It's so scandalous!"

P.I.N.K.'s outline fuzzed and faded as the world slowly slid back towards real time, the pain throughout my body swelled back all at once, making me feel like I was going to explode. I let out the scream I was going to bellow before getting drug into S.A.T.S. only to be silenced as Longbow used her levitation to shove the half empty heath bottle into my muzzle.

I choked and coughed on the healing juice as it flowed down my throat, making me twist my head hard enough to jerk the bottle from her hold and smash it against the floor next to me. The feeling of flame coursing through me matched my heartbeat as I started to feel it again, the pain subsiding enough that I could breathe in heaving gasps. I tried to move my foreleg, feeling the rush of pain flow through me, making me wince, which sent another wave. I whined as I lay and just prayed to Celestia to let it be over.

"Please be alright." Sky spoke softly as I heaved and twitched, I could hear the scraping of glass under my cheek as I tried not to scream again. "I know I should have listened to Dr. Fitz! This is all my fault!" She paced back and forth nervously as I tried to turn my head to speak, struggling to get a single word out.

"No." A word as simple as that made my lungs feel like they had exploded, making me gasp and hyperventilate. The burning sensation was dulling inside my chest as Sky stopped and stared solemnly at the floor.

"Shhh, don't speak." Longbow whispered to me, her soothing voice helping my panicked brain calm as the pain slowly, but noticeably ebbed away. "Save your strength. Just remember to breathe in... and breathe out. And in... and out." I tried to slow my breathing down, getting down to a light gasp before I turned my head to look up to her. Tears streamed down her face as she gave me a small smile, her eyes betraying the fact that she was scared to death.

My heart fell back to a slower pace as I drew in slower and slower breaths, the fire in my veins seemed to be dying out slowly. I heard the elevator chime, the doors opening up as Brass stepped out in a hurry, the flutter of wings giving away Carlotta's presence.

"What's wrong? Is he all right?!" Brass nearly shouted through his helmet. As much as I would normally think that asking somepony on the ground if they were alright was another one of his dumb questions, it felt incredibly good to at least hear his voice.

"Of course he is!" Carlotta shot back as I could hear her smack his helmet. "Take that damn thing off, it's amplifying how stupid you sound." I couldn't help but give out a soft chuckle, making me cringe again as it felt like somepony bucked me in the gut. I could feel a sharp pain along the side of my face as I groaned, making me reflexively press it onto the glass covered floor again.

"Backlash... the glass..." Sky said in disbelief, her eyes wide in astonishment. I tilted my head up and looked down at the sweat drenched floor, watching as a few drops of blood from my cut up cheek dripped down, the broken glass was bubbling and fizzing as the crimson liquid touched and dissolved it. I blinked in shock, both horrified and intrigued at the same time. I've never seen something that can dissolve glass, let alone seen blood doing it. Skyline reached out toward my face, the quick hoof of Longbow knocking Sky's away before she touched the cut.

"Don't touch it, not until we know what exactly what his blood is." She uttered cautiously. "If it can melt through glass, what do you think it will do to your skin?"

"But it's not melting through his." She fired back defensively.

"And he obviously just went through some sort of taint mutation and survived. This is all but unheard of! For all we know, his skin might be secreting the same chemical that's doing this." Longbow leaned in and looked over me slowly. My eye caught a faint light coming from the ceiling above, the curious look of the spectral alicorn appearing slowly through the sold slab above.

"THE FUCK?!" Brass shouted through his helmet as he spun up his guns. I assumed he had seen the head as well.

"Please, I don't mean any harm." Willow Wisp's voice was soft, shy, and fearful. She sounded like a pony who didn't do well speaking in public, which was odd, as the Goddess seemed to make a great show out of it. "Please, I just want to talk to him."

Skyline floated herself defensively up towards Willow. "And what makes Backlash so important to you?"

"Because." I spoke up, drawing Skylines attention. "She know's what's happened to me." I slowly pulled myself off the ground and got to my hooves, the pain all but non existent anymore. "How is that, if you don't mind me asking?" I reached up and wiped away my blood without thinking, slowly looking down as the red smear on my coat just sat there.

"Because SHE put me through the same thing." Her words had an unsettling amount of loathing placed on whatever mare she was speaking about. "She told me that if I joined her, if I accepted this new body, that she would take away all the pain. She said she wanted to make us whole." Her translucent form floated down through the ceiling, her large wings flapped in slow, delicate swings.

"You're talking about the Goddess, aren't you?" I said slowly, the gears in my head starting to turn again. "You weren't always an alicorn?"

Willow shook her head slowly as she lightly touched down on the floor in front of us. "Celestia and Luna were the only true alicorns. These bodies are twisted imitations created by her, reshaped by the taint she thrives in." Her voice shifted more towards sorrow as she gazed over towards me. "I was so stupid then. I let that... monster take control of my body, corrupting it to use for her nefarious deeds. All the while she shoved my soul into a box, leaving me imprisoned there with all the others she's taken."

"But, why would you do that?" Brass spoke up from behind me. "Haven't you seen the damage she could do? She doesn't care about anypony!"

Willow let out a small gasp, her eyes filling with shame. "I had never seen any alicorns before when I stumbled upon them, they were all in the middle of nowhere as I wandered the wastes." She shook her head slightly. "I didn't know what she could do then, if only I had known what horrors she was capable of..." She let out a soft sigh, closing her eyes. "But that was almost fifteen years ago. Fifteen years of being trapped inside her, forced to watch what she has been doing."

"What has she been doing?" I spoke up again, seemingly snapping her out of her memories. "What is so important about this 'black book' that she wants?"

"She kept that information protected against the other prying minds within her, only telling us that with it, she would fill this world with her children and bring an end to the suffering of all ponykind." Her voice dropped off as she spoke, horrified at the concept of it. The gears in my head whirred to a stop as I realized a common theme. I went to say it, only to be cut off in an unspectacular fashion by Carlotta as she came to the same conclusion.

"Why is it all the baddies in the wasteland just want to raise armies to take over the world?" I turned and watched as she crossed her talons with a huff and sat back. "What we need is to get an army of our own."

"Whoa, slow down there for a moment." Longbow spoke up. "We aren't doing anything until we find out what's wrong with Backlash." She turned and glared at Willow. "You said you know, so tell us."

Willow gave another soft sigh. "It is the same process the Goddess uses to form these new bodies. If enough taint saturates a pony, they begin to mutate. She just know's how to use a mix of her magic and radiation guide them to this form." She looked over herself sadly for a moment. "His mutation was sudden and forced by the radiation in his system, changing him unpredictably. He is lucky to be alive, most who are only partially exposed die from the pain before the mutation completes."

"So he won't mutate any further?" Longbow asked cautiously. I really hoped I wouldn't, I don't know if I could handle going through that again.

"During the mutation, most, if not all of the Taint in his system was broken down to fuel the process. He shouldn't be prone to another as long as he doesn't absorb any more taint into his body." Willow's tone changed slightly, sounding hopefull as she shifted her gaze to me. "Although you seem fine on the outside, I suspect that the mutation might have taken place internally, based on your the unusual properties of your blood. Be carefully not to get injured until you know what changed, some of the changes the Goddess made me witness were... not pleasant."

"So, stay out of combat and don't get shot." I tried to say lightheartedly, knowing that there was relatively no chance of that if the last two weeks were to be the standard for things to come. "So what I try to do everyday? Shouldn't be hard!"

"I give him all of fifteen minutes." Carlotta whispered over to Brass.

"CARLOTTA, SHUT UP! Backlash, this is serious..." Longbow reached out and put her hoof on my shoulder, freezing and pulling it back sharply. "Oh I'm sorry! Are you alright? That didn't hurt you, did it?" I smiled and nodded, making her blush slightly.

"I feel fine now. Just... don't let me bleed on you." I said nervously before turning and heading toward the elevator, hoofing the call button. Carlotta was right, since that first day at the bunker, I can't seem to go anywhere without getting hurt. What chance did I stand going down to the next level? I listened as the humming of the rising box drew closer, the soft ding that announced it's arrival.

"Please don't leave me." Willow Wisp's soft voice called over, desperation heavy in her words. "I don't want to be left alone down here."

I turned and looked back at Skyline and Longbow, who gave me their best shrug before climbing into the elevator. I looked up at the ghostly alicorn as she shrunk down. "You can come with us if you'd like. I don't see why you shouldn't, but it's entirely up to you." I said, trying to sound inviting. Another set of eyes looking out for the group was always useful, and I didn't have to worry about her getting injured at least.

I hesitantly stepped into the cramped box, squeezing in next to Longbow as Skyline hovered above. I looked up as a shiver ran down my spine, remembering the last few elevators I had been in. Longbow nudged me and gave a small smile, helping me relax a bit as the box descended to the next level.


I was glad to get a few minutes break to think once we had gotten out and sent the elevator back up. The lights on this level were out like each level above had been, the red emergency lighting was almost soothing as we listened to the light humming as the elevator descended with the others. I pressed into Longbow's side as we sat together, enjoying the warmth she gave off onto my skin.

A flash of movement caught my eye as Willow Wisp stepped through the door to the elevator shaft before the car had even reached the bottom. She strode over to me slowly, avoiding direct eye contact bashfully. "I... I wanted to thank you." With how she sounded, I couldn't help but think that she would be blushing in embarrassment, yet there was a strong note of sadness. "Thank you for freeing me. Thinking that she could solve my problems was the worst mistake I've ever made."

"It's alright." Skyline replied quickly, trying to comfort her. "We aren't much better, we have all have made our share of mistakes in our lives. We just need to do our best to make up for them."

"She's right you know." I said coldly, letting the statement sink deep. "Sky used to be a Dash addict, Brass said he got his squad killed." I gave a forced laugh, thinking over how all those aren't that bad compared to my own sins. "You want to know what I've done?"

"Backlash, you can't..." Longbow started softly.

"I set 42 free. I got Ponyville and Whinny slaughtered. I killed the only family member I had left, I got Harmony..." I was interrupted as Sky brought her forehoof down across my muzzle, the impact was strong enough to drive me to the floor. Willow Wisp gave a soft gasp as I groaned and rubbed my face.

"How dare you say that." Sky spoke through clenched teeth. " We are family, Backlash. You, me, Brass, Carlotta. Hell! Even Longbow wants to be with you! You don't get to say shit like that." She smacked the top of my head again as she stood over me. "Not when you have us, so suck it up and let's go."

The ding of the arriving elevator resonated in my ears along side her words, the doors opening as Brass and Carlotta stepped out together. I gazed up from the floor, looking around at my friends, the sight of them standing around me helping to suppress the feelings of regret that had crept in.

Carlotta looked down to me with a frown. "Whoa, did I miss something between you two?"

"You're right, Sky, this is bigger than just me." I pushed myself up, turning towards Willow Wisp. "And I know you have been through a lot, but I need your help. If I'm going to have a shot at taking down 42, I can't have the Goddess running amok in the wasteland. We need to deal with her."

"Wha... what do you... you want to kill her!?" Willow let out a soft gasp. "I don't even know if that's possible!"

"If I can't, then I need something I can use. Any information you can give about anything she was afraid of, anything she desperately needed to survive." I asked as Brass moved to unlatch the door beside me.

"Well, other than Radiation, Taint, and the Black book, she doesn't need anything." Willow wisp put a hoof to her chin in thought. "Oh, and new ponies to change, but besides that, she doesn't have wants or needs!" The emergency latch clicked loudly in the door before Brass slid the two steel slabs apart.

The room on the other side of the door was a simple rectangular room. A single door directly across from us was all the broke up the large grey slabs that made up the walls. The floor was grated and stained with old splotches of oil, giving the room a distinctively pungent smell.

"Well, it's a start." I turned and walked over to Brass, following him to the next door. "Do you know where the main junction box is on this level?"

"Of course I do, I was the one who planned this mission the first time around." Brass turned and stared at me, the emergency release on this door popping out with a squeak. "You do realize that by turning on the power, you'll get all the sentries after us, right?" He spread the doors with ease, stepping through before looking around.

"He's right, Brass, we need the power." Longbow interjected. "We ran into a door down here that we couldn't get through without three key cards, and it won't even work with out power." She levitated off the bag of guns she's had slung around her, two white cylindrical objects rose out of the bag towards Brass. "Here, Pulse grenades for just in case there are sentries nearby when the power comes back on."

Brass took a step away as she pushed them towards him. "No thanks, I'll stick with my guns. Backlash, do you mind carrying them?" The others wouldn't have noticed, but he stuttered slightly when he saw the grenades, the all to familiar regret carried heavily in is voice. I nodded and let Longbow drop them into my saddlebags.

"Backlash, why not let one of us go?" Skyline said as I took a step out. I can't risk one of them getting hurt down here. It's all on me to fix this, and as much as I didn't want to do it to her again, I needed to lie to her.

"Look, I need you guys to secure the lift to the next level down. Plus, the level of sabotage down here so far is pretty severed, and if it's broken, I'm probably the only one here able to fix it." I said before disappearing around the corner, Brass trotting up to me from behind. "Alright buddy, where is this box?"

"I'm... not quite sure?" He stopped as we reached the end of the hallway we were in. "This can't be right. The schematics for level four said that there should me a maintenance closet right here." He put his hooves on the wall, pushing at it with his suit. "Maybe they covered it up or something." He turned towards me suddenly and bucked as hard as he could, the old concrete wall giving way in a spectacular burst of dust and noise.

I coughed lightly, waving my hoof around to clear some of the dust as I looked into the sealed room. Before me sat a silvery, cylindrical electronic device that stood maybe a pony and a half high. A bright green terminal screen sat on the side facing us as a plethora of dim vacuum tubes cycled along the ends of it. I pushed Brass out of the way as I looked over the pre-war machine, reading a small set of nearly worn away white lettering above the terminal screen that read off B.I.T.

"What the hell is this thing?" I said as I walked slowly around it, peering into an oddly shaped, two hoof wide hole in the middle of one of the vacuum tube studded sides. A soft chirp from my Pipbuck catching my attention, I hoisted it up as the face of P.I.N.K. appeared.

"Heya there, Backlash. Can you please stick your hoof into the slot in front of you?"

"P.I.N.K., I need to know what it is BEFORE I stick my hoof inside anything." I said with a sigh and a roll of my eyes, leaving me staring over Brass as he stared back. I could feel that feeling in my gut growing, the urge of Brass wanting to ask a question I didn't want to answer. I shot my hoof up towards him and glared. "I'll explain in a moment, Brass. Just let me deal with this first." He let out a sigh and went to look at the computer banks along the far wall. My Pipbuck chirped again as P.I.N.K.'s smileing face turned into a frown.

"Wow... this is embarrassing. She's... hmmm, how do I say this. We connected once, for research purposes mind you, and it was a lot of fun you see! We shared a byte, checked some data, and then we merged matrices... a few hundred times... a second. Luna, that was a damn good time."

"Oh, Celestia! I don't really need to know this, do I?!" I shouted as I facehooved and clenched my eyes shut. "You know what. I don't even care anymore how weird this is." I shook my head with a sigh and looked back at the screen as P.I.N.K. put up a new response.

"Hey, I don't complain about your subconscious feeding me all the stuff about your blue marefriend. Anyways, after we were done, I said I would ping her back... but I didn't. I learned she kinda wanted a steady connection, while I was just out for a bit of raw fun. I was too afraid to commit and after this long without contact, I wish I would have taken her up on that offer."

"Great, tell me why you want to talk to her again?" I said slowly. "I know I'd be pissed if somepony slept with me then ran off without even saying goodbye. How do you know she won't just try to fry my Pipbuck?"

"Because she's a generation one system. Actually, she's THE generation one system. The first super spell matrix processor that the Ministry of Arcane Sciences commissioned. She has a... limited understanding of anything developed after her. Not to mention, if she shocked your Pipbuck, you'd probably go too. You know, being attached to it and all."

"I swear to Luna, P.I.N.K., that if I get shocked to death by a pre-war computer you pissed off, I'll find a way to come back to life in computer form and buck you all the way to the cyber moon." I grunted and shoved my hoof into the dark hole in front of me, feeling as my Pipbuck slipped into some sort of molding that fit around it perfectly.

I watched as a few motes of dust I had knocked off the machine drifted down, slowing to a stop as the world around me froze as S.A.T.S. started up. The white form of P.I.N.K. fuzzed up on the surface of the machine only moments before a flat grey, crystalline, featureless pony popped up next to her. The grey pony trotted up to P.I.N.K. quickly, giving her a hoofslap across her muzzle, rising a gasp out of her.

"That's for not pinging me back!" The grey pony jumped forward, using her hooves to pull the shocked P.I.N.K. into her muzzle for what I guess you could call a kiss. "And that's for coming back at all! Sweet Celestia, what's it been? 122 years? What happened to you all, everyone just stopped talking to me." The grey pony turned and looked toward me, her voice returning to a calm and studious, the voice of a true scientist. "Oh, I'm sorry, where are my manners? My name is Bridle Information Transfer, but you can call me B.I.T. for short!"

Um, alright, I guess it makes sense that she didn't know about the war and that the wasteland exists. I don't really know what to say to her, but I should probably avoid bringing up anything that could cause her to freak out and kill me. I guess I should just say hello?

"They finally did it?" B.I.T. dropped to her knees and looked up to me. "YOU MANIACS! YOU BLEW IT ALL UP! CELESTIA DAMN YOU ALL!" She cleared her throat and slowly got to her hooves, shrugging while turning back towards P.I.N.K. "So that happened! But you sure do know how to pick 'em, P.I.N.K.! You could have been stuck to a potato and had more interesting conversations."

Wow, that was rude, no wonder P.I.N.K. didn't call her back.

B.I.T. stiffened up at that thought and shook a hoof at me. "OH, I'M THE RUDE ONE?! The nerve of this... this... ORGANIC!"

P.I.N.K. lept over and stood in front of her, apparently trying to defend me. "And he's very sorry he thought that, but he can't help it." I watched as B.I.T. seemingly relaxed. "He's been through a tough time and needs your help with something. Can you give him a blue key card, he needs to get down to level 5."

"Sure, hun, but what do you need to do on level 5?" B.I.T. said with a cant of her head. "Please don't tell me you need to touch anything. After everyone stopped talking, I spent SO long organizing everything into just the right place. You know how it is when you get the urge to space everything exactly 3.00001 feet apart. A mare's got to keep herself busy!" B.I.T.'s voice wavered a bit in a way I don't hear often, seeming to almost sound like she was mentally unstable. "I once thought that somepony moved one of the boxes out of line by two thousandths of an inch, but after staring at it for fifteen straight years, I realized, I WAS WRONG!"

So... isolation doesn't seem to do wonders for an virtual pony's stability. I would normally assume that P.I.N.K would have undergone that same kind of degradation, but as I have been learning, Pinkie Pie pretty much overrules the need for any explanation.

"First of all, we aren't Virtual Ponies. That simple program back in the bunker that ran the elevator? He was a V.P., while WE are A.P.'s, Artificial Ponies. There's a big difference, so get it right." P.I.N.K. turned back towards me and stomped her hoof. "Also Backlash, stop thinking all the half thought out thought's your're thinking out!"

I can't help it! All my thoughts are reflexive and I can't censor myself! Maybe she shouldn't have brought me in here if she didn't want something like this to happen. I just want to get that server back online and leave.

"It's fine." B.I.T. said with a flat sigh, sounding more like she was depressed. "I had just hoped that you came back to see our baby, but if the card is all you want, take it, it's yours."

P.I.N.K. gasped and put her hooves on B.I.T.'s cheek...surface... things? "You mean they finished him!? Why didn't you say so!?"

Now I'm REALLY confused. P.I.N.K. and B.I.T. had a kid? Was it even possible for two mare computers... WHAT THE FUCK AM I THINKING!? THEY. ARE. COMPUTERS. Of course they could write a program together, why the fuck not?

B.I.T. pushed P.I.N.K.'s hooves away and sat down, clearly now ignoring my mental intrusions. "Because I knew you would just take him and run off again. I always planned on telling you, how could I not? He is the result of our collaborations, so you have every right to know."

P.I.N.K. stepped up and I assumed looked into the eyes of B.I.T. "It's not like that at all! I spent a long time thinking over what we shared. I wanted to come back, I wanted to make sure you were all right." P.I.N.K. pulled B.I.T. into a hug. "Besides, while you were refreshing that night, I made some adjustments of my own to our baby. I changed the diagram so that he would be built with two spell matrices instead of one!"

So... not a computer then, but some sort of machine. Did they somehow get the Ministry of Wartime Technologies to build them a robotic body?

"You... wanted to take me with you?" B.I.T. sounded happily surprised. "Yes! Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!" B.I.T. said as she jumped circles around P.I.N.K.

P.I.N.K. took a step back and stopped B.I.T. with her hoof. "Only if you wanted to go. This place has been your home for so long, are you sure you want to leave? We might never come back you know."

"I don't care about the risks, I want to go with you." B.I.T. said before looking over to me. "I'll code that card for you right away. Once you reconnect and restart the server, I should be able to transfer into our baby and get him warmed up."

Well, at least this was going my way for a turn of events. Now all I needed is Twilight's sixteen digit code and I'm golden.

"Her personal log in code is twilightsparkle1. No capitals or spaces." B.I.T. spoke as if she were crying tears of joy. "Consider it my thanks for bringing P.I.N.K. back to me."

The two computerized ponies fuzzed away, the falling dust motes slowly speeding up as time slid back towards normal. I slowly slid my Pipbuck out of the hole, B.I.T. made a soft humming sound before I heard a soft click from the front of the machine. I leaned over as Brass turned around, the both of us staring at the small blue piece of plastic. I smiled and trotted over, carefully sliding it out of the slot.

"Thanks, B.I.T." I said with a smile, turning to Brass as he levitated his helmet off. "So, about that explanation..."


Well, it turns out that I didn't lie to Skyline after all! I dug through my saddle bags in the darkness for my roll of electrical tape, Brass seemed to be forgetting that as my assistant, he actually has to ASSIST me in getting these repairs done. No, he was off in his own thoughts again, probably trying to still wrap his head around the fact that P.I.N.K. could fit in my Pipbuck, let alone believe the rest of what I had told him. I drug the small, red roll out of my bag and pressed my hooves to each flat side of it, biting down on the slightly frayed end to pull a small strip out. I laid the tape across the two exposed wires, slowly wrapping the two together tightly.

I smiled for a moment as I looked over my jury-rigged circuit breaker, wondering why I had to make one in the first place. When the megaspells hit, one of the wires must have been shaken loose and started a small fire because the whole front of this board was a solid piece of melted plastic. The feeling of my accomplishment fading as I felt something churn in my gut again. I still wasn't sure if I missed Brass and I's fireside chats from the start of our journey, but I sure didn't miss when he said something like this.

"So... This is the same computer that let you release Forty Two?" He said in genuine confusion, causing me to groan and drag my hooves across my face.

"I swear to Celestia, if I have to answer yes to that question a fifth time, I'll fill you so full of RadAway that you'll feel what I felt as I went through that mutation." I scooped my tools back into my bag before getting to my hooves. "Besides, her marefriend just got us the key card we need. Everything's going to be fine!" I said as I flipped the switch, a spark cracked out of the wire before a low hum filled the air, the lights flickering on slowly.

The heavy steel doors to the room we were in slammed shut, startling me and making me jump into the air. "Fine, huh?" Brass said sarcastically, only a hint of worry in his voice. I look toward him to respond, stopping as my E.F.S. displayed a whole host of red bars swarming through this floor.

"Shit, all the sentries and bots are on now." I said slowly, reaching into my saddle bag to grab one of the pulse grenades. I looked it over, noticing it had an odd, yellowish corrosion around it's stem. I hope these things still work.

"Tell me again that the computer mare doesn't want to kill you?" Brass said as he used his levitation to pop the emergency release on the door.

"Shut up, you've seen the wiring in this place! B.I.T. probably doesn't have the ability to clear us as non-hostiles because of the degradation of one hundred and twenty years without maintenance!" I stood back as he easily slid one half of the door open, looking around the corner for only a moment before he ducked his head back in, a laser blast barely missing him. "Here, you do it! I don't even know how to use one of these!" I said, hoofing the grenade towards him.

"No, you already have it. Besides, it's foolproof!" Brass said as he levitated his helmet up next to him. "Just pull the pin and kick it towards the robot! You can't screw it up!" His helmet sealed with a whine as I turned back toward the door.

I cringed as I hoofed the white device up to my muzzle, biting down on the pin hard. The small loop of metal slid free easily, the metal spoon that held down the fuse flew off as the grenade began to emit a high pitched whine. I dropped it in a motion to kick it, feeling as the fur on my foreleg stood on end before there was a near deafening bang and a bright flash. I blinked a few times as I quickly got my vision back, hearing a loud thunk as the ringing left my ears. I turned around to see Brass on the floor, his suit rigid and unmoving. Fuck, the grenade must have hit his spell matrix and knocked it out!

"YOU SAID I COULDN'T SCREW IT UP!" I shouted as another volley of laser blasts struck the doorway, the protectapony down the hall was getting closer, behind it the loud echo's of gunfire erupting down the hallway filled the air. At least the others were fighting there way to us... I hope.

"it's a 120 year old weapon saturated with radioactivity ! You're the repair pony, how was I supposed to know it was defective!?" His muffled voice called out from inside the armor. "Quick, use your Pipbuck to reboot my armor!"

"That process takes like two minutes for a terminal! It would take somewhere like ten on your suit and that robot will be here in like 30 seconds, tops." I spoke quickly, knocking the side of my head with my hoof. "Think, Backlash, think!" The gears in my head spun up, throwing the first stupid idea I've had in a while at me. "Alright, that's it then. Brass, stay here!" I hoofed out the second grenade, gripping it in my teeth as I pressed myself against the wall, listening as the robot stepped closer.

"Not like I have a choice!" He grunted and then stopped moving. "Backlash, what are you doing?" His muffled voice called, panic growing over his words. "Don't do anything stupid, Backlash!"

I waited until the steady thuds were right outside the doorway, screaming out from around the grenade as I spun around the corner, throwing my shoulder into the steel chest plate of the bot. I stuck my tongue through the pin and pulled it as the robot tried to stabilize itself, firing blindly down the hallway, the shots streaking only inches from my sides. I spit the white cylinder out as it started to whine, using all four of my hooves to throw myself back as the small device exploded when it hit the floor, bright arcs of electricity shot across the silver protectapony as smoke billowed out of its vents.

"Backlash, you better not be dead! I can't handle getting you killed by robots as well!" Brass yelled out as a smile grew across my face. "BACKLASH! COME ON, ANSWER ME!"

I trot back into the room and tapped on his helmet. "Hey, I'm fine. You can't get rid of me that easily, buddy." I looked over, noting that about half the red bars had disappeared and that three pink bars were still sitting across from the bulk of them. A red bar quickly shifted it's position, heading towards us at high speed. I sank to the floor as I heard the rubber treads of the sentinel rolling towards us. Fuck, even Heartstopper can't get through that armor without a slug or a magnum round, and all I have is standard shot. "Well, it actually looks like you can. I'm sorry Brass, I'll do my best to stay alive."

I slid into S.A.T.S. as the sentinel rolled to a stop in front of the door, time slowing as it started to pivot to face us. The menu popped up without a hint of P.I.N.K., which was odd as she loved to talk it seemed. I changed the menu over to my weapons and selected Heartstopper, hitting the equip button and watching as it flashed into my muzzle. I canceled the menu and let the targeting prompt pop up, looking over the different parts I could shoot, finally settling on just aiming for the highest percentage chance.

I toggled all three shoots I had left for the weapon and let the spell resolve. Time jerked forward as the spell aided in aiming and holding the gun as it fired (surprisingly not being jettisoned out of my mouth this time). The steel shot sparked off the chest plate as all three shots were fired, leaving nothing more impressive then a few scratches on the hull's finish. Time had resumed at a normal pace as the robot finished it's pivot, lining it's rocket launcher up as I sat helplessly.

Something inside the robot let out a ear-shattering grinding noise as Willow Wisp ran through it into the room, the sentinel shutting down promptly. I felt the shock of imminent death wear off as my hooves gave out from under me, dropping me to the floor with a thud. I gasped and dropped Heartstopper to the floor as I hyperventilated, laughing like a maniac as I looked up at the ghostly alicorn.

"HOLY SHIT, THAT WAS CLOSE!" I shouted through my nervous giggles. "OH, CELESTIA, I LOVE YOU!" I rolled on the floor, laughing so hard it hurt. I don't know why, but for some reason, I didn't want to stop laughing. It just felt so Celesia damned good to do!

"Um, Backlash?" Brass's muffled voice called out from next to me. "What happened?"

"I don't... actually know!" I said as I tried to calm down, catching my breath slightly as I looked around, noting that the gunfire down the hallway had died down and only one red bar remained. "Willow... what did you do?"

"I'm sorry! I just ran through it... I didn't mean to break it!" She sounded almost ashamed about it, but sounded more confused than anything.

"No! Don't be sorry, you just saved my life!" I sighed as my laughter drained away, rolling over to get back up. I stopped as another realization was stuck into my mind as the gears in my head connected the events. "Wait, when you ran out of the first room we were in on the level above, did you run through the robot there as well?"

"Um, It's all still hard to remember those first few moments, I might have?" She said shyly. "I'm glad you are alright. When the lights came on and all the shooting started, I just ran. I never was much of a fighter."

"I'm the same, normally leaving the fighting to Skyline. But recently? Things haven't really been going well enough that having just her isn't enough." I reached a hoof back into my saddle bag, rummaging around until I found the jury-rigged connector I made for Isaac, pulling it out as the last of the gunfire echoed down the hallway. I scooted myself over to Brass, knocking lightly on his helmet. "Hey Brass, where's the connection port on this thing?"

"It's on the flank plate, you should see a round button, don't ..." He started to speak as I found the button and hoofed it before he finished, a small aperture near his armored tail opened, draining a viscous, black fluid onto the floor. "...hit... that one." He let out a sigh as the foul smelling liquid pooled under him. "That's the waste repository. As I was trying to say, under that button you should see a small, rectangular flap. That is the port."

I tried my hardest to ignore the smell as I flipped open the flap, lining up the assorted wires of my connection with his suit's. I plugged the other side into my Pipbuck, watching as a small box popped up on the screen.


"And this is why I tend to avoid working on software." I said with a sigh. "One moment, Brass." I tensed up, activating S.A.T.S. and watching the world around me freeze. The targeting menu came up like it should, sitting there for a moment befor I wondered where P.I.N.K. was. She wasn't shy about interrupting me earlier, so why now? At that, a small audiolog box popped up, P.I.N.K.'s voice coming over it as I wondered what the hell was going on.

"Dear Chief Backlash. I'm sorry to leave without telling you, but I can't go with you any further. Being reunited with B.I.T. has... changed me, for the better I hope. During my time at the bunker waiting for you to show up, I contemplated many things, mostly what would happen at the eventual point of my termination. Twilight herself once said that I was completely self aware, capable of reading and understanding the world around me, capable of learning from my mistakes. And that last thing is something I haven't done. Ever since I was cut off from her, I felt like part of me was missing. You might not think it possible for an artificial pony like me to feel love, but I have."

"I made a mistake by leaving her once, and in doing so, I caused her an unimaginable amount of suffering. I don't want to make that mistake again, but I need punishment rendered upon me for what I've done. That's how you deal with mistakes, right? You pay some sort of penance? I don't deserve somepony like her, so before you disconnected, I decided to transfer in and leave you this note for when you came looking. Once you restart the server, the line to her new body will be open to transfer along. You will know she is in there when our project starts up. At that point, I need you to do something for me. I need you to cut the connection between her and her old system."

"I know it's a lot to ask, and that she may feel betrayed by it, but just activate the second file I've left IMMEDIATELY after you cut the connection. It contains my explanation to her on why I have to stay behind. Included in the message is coding to give her the same access to all of M.O.M.'s assets that I have access to, so you don't have to worry about losing that. Please, do this for me, give her the same chance to see the world as I have had. Once you've found what you need on the server, take the freight platform through the service tunnel and use the emergency freight elevator to return to the surface. Once you are there, I will overload the arcane reactors to seal this place, and myself, forever."

"Don't bother trying to reconnect to B.I.T. either, I've turned off all outside access except for the connection to the server. Just know that this is what I want and get on with your life. Right now, I'm going to go enjoy an entire lifetime's worth of memories with the matrix I never should have left. I wish you the best of luck in trying to stop forty two, please don't get yourself killed. Your friend and loyal A.P., P.I.N.K."

The audiolog ended with a click as my Pipbuck notified me of a second recording to listen to has been added. Without another thought, S.A.T.S. ended and threw me back into real time, leaving me speechless. if P.I.N.K. was really going to try to commit suicide out of some misguided attempt to redeem herself to B.I.T., I needed to find a way to convince her not to.

"Brass, We have a bit of a problem." I said as I stood up and pulled the cords out of the port on his flank. "There wouldn't happen to be an emergency release for your suit, would there?"

"Why? Can't your Pipbuck reboot my suit?" He said with a distinct uneasiness in his voice. "I've seen it done already a few times, it's one of the main reason the rangers try to collect as many of them as we can."

"Well, it's telling me I have an incompatible version and that I can't reboot your suit until you update it." I said as I took a step back, raising a hoof to my muzzle from the pungent scent as it flooded my nose again.

"That's impossible. All the suits were updated to 1.3.4 because it IS the newest version on the servers. What version did it say you were using?" He said as he grunted and tried to move around inside the armor.

"Um, version two point cupcake point one." I said as I facehooved. "Look, I'm sorry I can't fix it right now, but we've got to keep moving. Can you open your suit or not?"

He let out a deep sigh as a small set of clicks ran through his armor, the seams along the plates spreading apart as he pushed his way out. I looked over him as he hopped out and stretched his legs, his darkening skin cracking and peeling in quite a few places now.

"Oh my." Willow said with a soft tone. "I had no idea you were just a colt!"

"I'm not a colt. I'm just small for a stallion is all." Brass grumbled as he turned and reached inside his armor, opening a small flap in the padded liner to levitate out a set of yellow straps. "Here, you're the only one with the strength to pull it." He said as he shoved the heavily weaved strips against my chest, a pair of hooks slipping from the sides of the bundle as he levitated them up under the armored chest plate of the suit.

I made sure he saw my flat expression as I put my forehooves through the yellow harness, feeling as Brass levitated my saddle bag open. I watched as he dropped Heartstopper in before he dropped the detached legs and helmet of his suit in as well. I shrugged, figuring it would be a lot lighter now, walking forward a few steps before the harness went taught. Brass effortlessly used his telekinesis to nudge the wheeled robot out of the doorway before turning and disappearing around the corner ahead of me. Willow watched silently as I strained to drag the pre-war armor behind me.

"Oh Celestia, that's heavy!" I grunted as I lowered my center of gravity, trying to lever myself forward. The suit started to slide along the smooth floor, giving way just before my hooves did. I had no choice but to try to keep at a trot out of fear that if I stopped, I wouldn't have the strength to get it going again. I managed to get out the door without much finesse, but it took me a good minute to reach the end of the 50 foot hallway where upon I collapsed to the floor and panted hard. My heart beat quickly in my chest, but it was bearable without the pain of mutation this time.

"I should get you to do this more often." Sky said, apparently amused at my suffering. "It would get you to drop a bit of that extra weight you've been carrying around."

I looked up at her as she hovered above me with a wide grin. "Fuck... You..." I spit out between heavy breaths. "Gave... up... on... putting... it... softly?" I asked, giving her the best sly grin I could through the sweating and panting.

Skyline looked at her forehoof boredly, trying to hide her enjoyment behind her best straight face. It wasn't good enough, cracking as she spoke. "Nah, that's Longbow's job. Now that you have somepony else to console you gently about it, I can be as blunt with you as I want!"

I shook my forhooves at her before flopping them back to the ground. "You're... evil." I said with a small laugh, watching as Longbow trotted up to me with a smile. I watched as her eyes met mine briefly, a flash of guilt running across her face before she stepped over me.

"Here, let me take it, Backlash." She said as her magic slid the yellow straps off me. "Brass filled me in on what happened. I'm sorry I gave you those grenades, I should have seen that they were bad."

"It's... fine... I... missed it... as well..." I groaned and gave her a soft smile. I should have seen it before when she gave them to me, but no, I'm Mr. not-so-smart pony today.

I took another minute to lay on the floor and get my strength back, watching as Longbow drug the armor down the hallway to the lift that would take us down another level. Stupid cheat suits and their unfair strength. I thought about P.I.N.K.'s note, talking to myself quietly to try to work through it while the gears in my head did their best to find an answer.

"What do I do? Do I try to talk her out of it? Do I have the right to tell her she can't kill herself? Do I try to forcefully stop her? How would I do that? Should I just let her go through with it?" I shook my head stiffly, trying to get that last thought from my mind. "What about B.I.T.? Shouldn't she have a say in all this?"

Willow's head peeked through the wall, drawing my attention up to her. "Oh, is this a bad time?" She spoke as she exuded embarrassment. "I'll let you be."

"No, wait!" I called up, making her stop halfway back through the wall. "You've been pretty quiet so far, is there something you wanted to talk about?" I slowly got to my hooves, backing up as she stepped out into the hallway next to me.

"Um, I don't exactly know how to say this..." She softly spoke, keeping her head low. "When you tried to comfort me before, I could hear the most beautiful song coming from all around me. But when you backed away, it stopped." She sniffled as she shook lightly. "I've heard that song before. Please, you have to let me hear it again."

"A song?" I scrunched up my muzzle in thought. "I don't think there was any music around. I'm pretty sure my Pipbuck's radio was off."

"No, it wasn't in the room." She said with a hint of sad frustration. "It was coming from everywhere, but only when you reached out to help me." Her voice shifted to desperation. "Please, you need to try! I need to be sure!"

"I don't see why not." I said slowly, sticking my hoof out into her chest. I looked up as she stared back down at me, a small frown spreading on her muzzle.

"I don't understand." She said softly, sounding like she was on the verge of tears. "It was there before, I distinctly remember it was the same song!"

I sighed and dropped my hoof back down. "I'm sorry it didn't work. Maybe it wasn't me and you'll find another way hear it again?" I turned and walked towards sky and the others. Maybe her mind wasn't all back with her after she became ethereal, but who am I to say? Maybe she really did hear a song.

The slow notes drifted to my ears from behind me, the sweet tune resonated in my mind as a flood of emotions ran through me. My rear hooves slipped and gave out from under me as Willow Wisp's delicate voice filled the hallway, the song my mother sang to me echoed along all around me. I couldn't move at all as my chest tightened and I felt the sorrow well up as my mind replayed the memories I still had of her.

"H... how do you know that song?" I said in a low tone, turning my neck slowly to look at Willow. She stopped singing as I glared, finding my hooves again before turning and walking back up to her. "I ASKED YOU HOW YOU KNOW THAT SONG!?" I slammed my hoof on the floor as I yelled.

"Backlash, is everything alright?" Sky called out in concern, my mind pushing her voice to the back of my head.

"It... it came from you." Willow said as she sat back, quaking slightly in fear.

"YOU SAID YOU HEARD IT ONCE BEFORE, WHEN?" I screamed out at her. She had to have learned it from my mother, maybe there was a chance she was still alive.

"BACKLASH! CALM DOWN." Skyline yelled as I stared into Willow's eyes, grabbing me by the collar of my flak vest to try to drag me away. I lowered my center of gravity and dug my hooves against the floor, straining to stay put as she pulled with all of her strength.

"It was hardly a week after I joined unity when she found a severely injured earth pony mare lying along the side of an old road. The Goddess had assessed that she would not live much longer without immediate help and informed her that she could be saved, if only she agreed to join us." Willow said calmly, guilt welling up in her with each word spoken. "The mare refused, saying that she would rather suffer her death a thousand times, rather than be saved by the likes of her. That she knew that the Goddess would just go looking for her family to turn them into monsters as well."

Sky stopped tugging on me as my anger drained away quickly, leaving only the sadness the song had brought as my legs felt weak. Willow frowned as she continued. "The Goddess took great offence to how she spoke, using her magic to torture the mare. But the mare started to hum that song instead of screaming, the sound of it seemed to shake the very foundations of the Goddess's mind. The Goddess forced the pain it caused into us as she tried to silence the mare, but she couldn't feed it to us fast enough. The song stopped when mare finally died of her wounds. But, the echoes of it resonated inside her for days, the pain it continued to cause her was unimaginable."

I felt as Sky wrapped her hooves around me, holding herself close as I stood in complete shock. "Mom..." I whispered under my breath. "It was all my fault."

"Backlash... you know that's not true." Sky softly spoke into my ear as she rubbed my mane. "You jumped in to save me, remember?" She kissed my forehead as I felt a tear fall from her cheek. "You've even told me for years that you would have made the same choice again, right?"

I nodded as I tried to stem the flow of tears trailing down my own cheeks. "You're right." I said as I looked up at Willow. "Thank you for telling me. For giving me some sort of closure."

"I'm sorry about your mother..." She said as she reached a hoof over to comfort me, waves of joy and happiness seemed to flow through me as her hoof passed into my shoulder, the soft melody of my mother's voice rung in my ears as all the sadness, regret, and grief melted away. I laughed slightly as both Willow and I smiled brightly toward one another, her ghostly aura shifting quickly from a pale white, to a prismatic shine of every color.

"Whoa..." Carlotta and Sky said at nearly the same time. The gears in my hear whirred and connected something from one of my pinkie dreams. She had told me that I had a gift inside of me, the same gift she had to make every pony I met happy. I didn't understand it before, but now, I couldn't help but feel that somehow, this is what it looked like.

"What's going on over...." Longbow's voice called from behind me, stopping short I assume as she viewed the ethereal multicolored alicorn. "What happened?" She resumed to ask as she trotted up to us quickly, looking over Willow intently.

"I think I made her happy." I said slowly, the words seeming to push themselves out of my muzzle. "I don't know how I did it, but I think I literally made her happy."

Longbow put her hoof on her muzzle and looked puzzled for a moment, slowly nodding as she looked back over to me. "Yes, that could explain it then." She smiled and cleared her throat, raising a hoof to speak only to have Carlotta cut her off.

"Before you start going on about super science whos-a-whats-its, can you please tone it down for us simple minded folk?" She spouted in her normal irritated attitude.

"Fine, I'll 'accommodate' you." Longbow said while air quoting with her hooves. "Back before the war, the Crystal empire was protected by a special magical barrier." I looked over as Carlotta had already raised her talon in the air, trying to ask a question. Longbow sighed and rolled her eyes. "The Crystal empire is a small area of land to the north of the crystal mountains." Carlotta lowered her talon with a smirk.

"As I was saying, this magical barrier was powered by a single, large crystalline heart. The heart would supposedly take all the positive emotions of the ponies living there and transform it into a magical, multicolored field. This field was used to repel most dark forms of magic and reorganized the inhabitants molecular structures into a crystalline latticework, thus the reason for their name." Longbow paused for a moment, letting the information sink in.

The gears in my head were on a roll (pun intended) as they crunched yet another thought into my mind "You said the beam that hit Willow had the same crystal properties or something, right?" I said quickly, my smile growing wider as she nodded.

"That's right, Backlash. When the beam changed her molecular structure, it must have..." She paused again as Carlotta raised her talon again. "Carlotta, I'll explain what ever it is that you want to know, AFTER this." Carlotta grumbled and stretched her wings out, taking off down the hall towards the elevator. "Anyway, I don't know if they planned it, or if it's just an unexpected byproduct, but it seems that she is radiating the positive emotion you fed into her, acting in a way as a smaller crystal heart."

Willow laughed and jumped into the air, flying forward down the hallway, passing through all of us as she continued. My mother's song played softly in my head again as I felt another wave of happiness spread through me. Both Longbow and Sky giggled and smiled as they felt the effects as well. I looked back, noting that the rainbow shine was noticeably dimmer around Willow's body. Maybe every time the effect was used, the emotional 'charge' got lower. But if that's so, then it was possible to just charge her up again, right?

"And it seems that physical interaction can transfer the feelings into another subject." Longbow said as she closed her eyes. "But what is this song I hear?"

"It was something my mother sang to my brother and I." I said as I got to my hooves, walking up to Longbow slowly as she opened her eyes, staring at me with a bright blush. "She would have liked you, you know." I said slowly. Some part of me deep down knew that to be true as Longbow nodded, her bright eyes full of what seemed like endless wonder and happiness as she looked back at me. I leaned forward, pressing into her muzzle as I felt her do the same.

My ears perked and I broke the soft kiss as I heard a flutter of wings, Skyline taking off down the hall and zooming around the corner as I heard Carlotta yelp and fall to the floor. Longbow wrapped her armored hooves around me as she hummed the tune softly into my ear, the still turning gears in my head threw out another thought. A thought that I couldn't ignore the slightest possibility of being even remotely correct.

I turned my head over to Willow, calling out to her as she stood with a smile. "I think you just gave me the way to stop the Goddess for good."


After a few minutes, the happiness that Willow had spread between us was starting to fade. Longbow and I caught up to the others and looked upon a humongous gear shaped, steel door that was set inside an even thicker steel frame. The letters E.O. were embossed in the center of the disk, the only clue we had run into at all that this was what remained of the East Orchard Facility.

"So this is where we got stuck last time." Longbow said with a sigh, trotting over to a console set into the wall. It's design was vaguely familiar, only having had seen it once before in my life. It was a nearly identical door to the only stable I had ever seen, only having the opportunity to do so because we stopped in the settlements near it on my trips to and from Paradise.

The one question bubbling in my mind was why would there be a stable door down here? Especially when just the server was supposedly kept below? "You see, in order to get the power into the door, you need three specific key cards. The blue, the yellow, and the red key cards were each kept on a separate base program leader so that no one pony could open the door." Longbow said as she hoofed at the door control panel.

"Well, that sounds like a craptastic idea." Carlotta spoke up, folding her talons against her chest. "What if one of them just killed the other two for their cards? I mean, I get that I'm not the smartest here, but that's so dumb that even I think it's a bad idea." Wow, now that I think of it, that was a pretty dumb idea. I mean, not to mention B.I.T. could just print up new cards anyway, anypony could have gotten their hooves on all three. (Good job pre-war planning!)

"Well, it doesn't matter, seeing as last time we were here, all we were missing was the red key card." She knocked her hoof on the card receptacle in frustration. "I don't get it, we tore this place apart to find it, but it wasn't anywhere in the base!"

"Um, I have it here." I said as I sat down and hoofed through my saddle bags, pulling out all three cards. "I just thought you were missing the blue one."

"But... where did you find it!" She said as she all but ripped them away from me with her magic, floating them over to her. "And I still have the blue key card from before, how did you get another one?"

"The blue key card is a long story, but Lemon had the red key card." I stated as I shrugged.

"HE WHAT?!" Longbow shouted, a note of anger in her voice. "But, then why didn't he tell me? Why wouldn't he just open the door!?" She dropped the key cards from her levitation as I could see the rage build up inside her.

"Maybe he found it while he was sabotaging the place?" I suggested slowly, watching as that seemed to stem some of her frustration. "He also left an audiolog, maybe he explained it on there?" I offered as I sat down and brought the file on my Pipbuck up. As the file started, the labored breathing of a middle aged stallion came over the speaker.

"To any pony who finds this, my name is Star Paladin Lemon Meringue."

"If you've recovered this log, then it means that I'm dead, and that you must return this log to the Manehatten Steel Rangers Alpha Base."

[there are sounds of him shifting himself around, followed by a deep groan of pain]

"Shit that's bleeding pretty bad. Listen, whoever you are, you must warn them of Elder Strawberry Sorbet's plans to betray the Rangers. Tell them that they need to destroy this place before she can activate the server and gain access to the locations of the remaining megaspell stocks. She plans on using them to wipe the surface clean. What ever you do, DO NOT reconnect the servers."

[another heavy groan, shortened as it sounds like he hits himself]

"Fucking Med-X isn't even helping anymore. I'm sorry to bring you into this, but this is of the greatest importance. The survival of the wasteland depends on stopping her. If you are a Steel Ranger for Elder Sorbet, remember your oath. We are meant to save ponies, not destroy them!"

[he is interrupted by a great coughing fit, ending as he wheezed heavily]

"One last thing... find my daughter Longbow and get her out of Strawberry's base. Tell her that she should go to her mother. Tell her... that I'm sorry, for everything I did. Tell her that I loved her."

The recording gave a click as it ended, the silence seemed deafening as none of us moved a muscle. "Longbow... I..." It was hard for me to find any words, I didn't know what to say. I shook it off as Longbow sat down with a thud, bringing the red piece of plastic up in front of her again. "Why didn't you stay something upstairs?"

She looked up to me, trying to push the pain she was feeling back as anger washed over it. "That selfish son of a..." She picked up all three key cards and slammed them into their ports with a yell of frustration, hoofing a lever up as the console hummed to life. A yellow warning light activated and spun on the wall as a loud alarm came from some set of hidden speakers.

"WHAT'S HAPPENING!?" Brass shouted just loud enough for me to make it out. I shrugged and kept my eyes on the door, the sound of hydraulic pistons from behind it made me uncomfortable. What would we find behind it? The alarm stopped and the light turned off as silence filled the air again. I was about to say something as another hydraulic system clacked against the back of the door, making me pause. We all covered our ears and gnashed our teeth as an ear splitting metallic squeal filled the room as the entire steel gear slid a few feet back and completely separated from the wall.

A short blast of compressed air blew some dust from the back of the doorway before the large gear spun away to the right, revealing a large, empty, grey room. The bland space was maybe twenty by twenty feet wide, and maybe just that high, it's only feature of it was a thin black pole with a set of yellow buttons on it sticking out of the floor towards the back of the room.

"That's it?" Carlotta huffed out unimpressed. "One hell of a door just to seal an empty room." I slowly walked forward into the room, looking at the set of buttons on the pedestal. The gears in my head threw me another idea.

"I think this room IS the elevator to level five." I said as I reached up and hoofed the bottom button, lighting it up momentarily before it dimmed and went out. An electric hum filled the air, my mane and tail fluffed out as Longbow ran in after me, her mane raising up as short arcs of static crawled across her armor. A loud snap and bright flash disoriented me just long enough for Longbow's momentum to carry her into me, sending the two of us to the floor.

I gasped as the heavy suit knocked the wind out of me, seeing spots in the blinding light that was receding from my vision. I smelled of burnt hair as I regained all my senses, looking around from under Longbow as she got off me with a blush. We had appeared inside what looked to be a large warehouse, rows and rows of unmarked wooden crates sat under dim lighting.

"Well, that was..." I spoke before the sheen of a metallic object behind the top of one of the nearby row's caught my eye, peaking my curiosity as I got up and trotted over to it. Longbow followed silently as we walked over toward the large object, coming into view of it as we rounded a row of boxes.

It was a large, light blue, reverse jointed, bipedal robot that seemed ridiculously well armed for it's size. It stood approximately ten feet tall, two stubby supports attached a round pod to each side of the vehicle. Each pod had a pair of what looked to be belt fed anti-machine rifles sticking out of it as well as an odd tube slung under each arm that looked to hold a single rocket inside. Bold, black writing was displayed along the blue lower half of it's pod shaped hull, sitting next to what must be the arcane reactor's air intake.

Equestrian Defense
prototype #209

"Wow, this thing is pretty heavy duty..." Longbow said softly as she walked around me, a small amount of amazement coming through the pain she was desperately trying to keep hidden. "You see how the leg extends past the joint here? That would mean this thing was built to handle a rubble filled war zone." She looked up at the back of the robot. "That's interesting, it's powered by a pair of self contained micro spark reactors. This thing could probably run for almost as long as our armor is capable of!"

Her voice strained to keep the visage up as I tried to get her attention. "Longbow... please tell me what's wrong." I said as I held my hoof up, pulling her out of her own mind as she stopped walking. "I know you're in pain. I can hear it in your voice." I took a step forward as she frowned.

"I... I don't know what you're talking about." She said softly, her tone wavering slightly as she stared sadly at me. I just want to try to help her, so why was she trying to hide her feelings from me? She must have seen me looking disappointed as she let out a sigh. "Your right, it's written all over my face, isn't it?" She finished her walk around the blue machine, walking up to me slowly.

"I didn't tell you Lemon was my father because he technically isn't." She said with a small smile, her gaze drifting to the floor. "My real father died when I was just a filly. Mom had just become a Paladin when they gave her the news, so she did what any mare would have done and buried herself in her work. After a few years, about when I was Brass's age, She and Lemon started to date and decided it would be best for both of them that they become each others special someponys, a chance for her to feel normal again I guess."

A rage grew in her voice every time she used his name. She gave out a forced laugh as she continued. "So, I came back once day to find him beating my mother half to death for accidentally breaking some piece of tech, yelling to me that if I told anyone, he would kill her." I couldn't believe what I was hearing, I knew that some ponies were cruel, but that was just downright sadistic. "So I did what anypony shouldn't have done, I charged straight at the fucker." She sighed and looked back at me. "So, long story short, I got the crap beat out of me, and my mom shortly after transferred us out of the Manehatten contingent. We left his flank over at Delta base, and I was glad I wouldn't see that bastard again."

"If you transferred away, how is it you were on a mission with him?" I asked slowly, the crackling hum of the floor we arrived on filled the air. Longbow looked over at it longingly before squinting as the machine flashed, dropping Brass, Sky, and Carlotta on top of Brass's inactive armor, the whole group lay in a groaning heap.

"As Star Paladin of the Delta contingent, he request that I be put on his team. Me just being an acolyte at the time, I couldn't refuse orders from that high up." She said as she walked towards the others, both metaphorically and literally walking away from going any deeper. "What took you all so long, and where is Willow?"

Sky pulled herself out of the pile, flying up a few feet into the air as she stretched her neck until it gave a soft pop. "Well, those two weren't sure if you were both incinerated by the machine, while I maintained the ENTIRE TIME mind you, that it was some sort of teleportation machine. Anyway, Willow said that she didn't mind going up top waiting for us and that she would keep an eye out for the Goddess, I think she's eager to try out your idea." She looked back down at the odd square teleportation floor. "By the way, what IS this machine anyway?"

I gave a little chuckle as I went to help Brass up. "Well, technically... it’s a thingie." I stated rather Matter-o-factly, getting a knock on the back of my head by Carlotta as she floated past. "It's a teleporter. That's all I've got on it."

"Celestia, there must be thousands of them... what do you think is inside all these boxes?" Skyline asked as she spun in place, completely ignoring my response. "I hope they are weapons, if so, then this place is a gold mine!" She said as she rubbed her forehooves together with a small smile. "let's find this server then head back to collect our fee!"

"NO!" Longbow shouted out. "You can't do that! If you turn on the server, the wasteland will be destroyed!"

Skyline froze in the air before drooping her legs and looking over to me. "Backlash, you can't seriously think that Strawberry Sorbet would do something as crazy as that?" She crossed her hooves. "What would she gain by megaspelling the world another time?"

"Skyline, you weren't in the same room as her. She's hiding something, and she is far from somepony I would call mentally stable." I said as I turned left and trot down one of the rows. "Now everypony spread out and look for a terminal that is still active, and nopony, I mean NOPONY, touch it until I get there."

I took off at a gallop down the row, looking left and right as I heard the others all run off in their own directions. I hung a left at the end of the row to travel along a short line of boxes before turning right to continue down another long corridor. The gears in my head were slowing from overuse as I tried to think about what I was going to do. I won't be able to find where the pond is, and P.I.N.K. and B.I.T. will be trapped down here if I don't turn the server on. However, on the other hoof, if I do, Strawberry will gain access to the records of every remaining Megaspell still stored in an Equestrian bunker, and who know's what kind of damage she could do!

"Luna, why does everything have to be so hard!" I yelled to myself as I skid to a stop at what seemed like the back wall, turning left to start going again before spotting a red bulbous door that protruded from the side of it. I walked over to it, viewing through the clear class window to see that it was the entrance to a small incline lift that rose up into the darkness. "This must be the service tunnel lift P.I.N.K. mentioned."

The sound of hoof beats coming closer drew my attention right, turning just in time to catch a glimpse of Longbow as she ducked around one row and dashed down another. I turned left and galloped down a couple of rows before turning down one randomly, nearly running headlong into a box that had tipped over in the row. As I jumped over it, my ear perked as I heard Sky's voice calling out to me. I took a left at the next junction, hoping that this maze would somehow lead me back to the teleportation pad.

My eye stung sharply as I quickly approached the next corner and took another right, I tried to skid to a stop as I stared straight into the smiling face of 42. I threw my shoulder forward as I realized I couldn't slow down in time and tried to slam her into the box on the shelf behind her.

I passed straight through the image of the pink mare and slammed into the crate, my momentum driving it off the shelf it was on. It tipped onto the floor with a loud crack as I scrambled to turn around, my eyes were drawn to the light of the projector on one of the shelves at the end of the row as it silently displayed the image of the ministry mares, projecting a standing Rainbow Dash after a few moments. I let out a sigh of relief as my heart stopped pounding away at my rib cage.

I hoofed away some of the broken timber of the box I had hit and clambered on top of it, stopping as a flash of gold caught my eye. Looking down into the crate to see that it held a pony sized, golden, rectangular box with an ornate looking top. The lid of it had two pegasi statuettes facing each other, their wings were outstretched in a straight fashion, pointing towards the other pegasi as they both knelt in reverence. Sky's voice interrupted me as I heard her call out again.

I jumped down to the right and smiled as I saw Longbow galloping towards me from the isle across. I reached the end of my row first and turned left, pushing my hooves as fast as they could go toward Sky as she hovered at the end of one of the rows. I could hear Longbow catching up as I reached the row, turning and barreling down it as Carlotta swooped down above me.

"fifty caps say's your marefriend beats you there, pudgy flank" She cooed as she smiled down to me.

"You're... on!" I yelled up through my gasps, following Sky as she lead us deeper, feeling as the power armored hooves behind me shook the ground with each stomp. I grinned like an idiot as we flew down row after row, twisting and turning for what seemed like ever as we raced. I gasped in delight as I saw Brass standing next to a large metallic box with a number of pipes running out the side of it, a bright green terminal screen sat in the center above a small keyboard.

"Looks... like... I..." I started to gloat before my right hoof slipped, throwing me down hard and slamming my chest down, sliding me along the extremely smooth floor. I slid across it with a wet squeal as my momentum sent me slamming against the bottom of the metal box with a fleshy smack. "win..." I finished as my flank flopped down and I tried to catch my breath. I felt the cool breeze Carlotta's wings gave as she floated and landed next to me.

"I've gotta say I'm impressed." She said with actual astonishment. I would have commented, but I was content to just lay there and rest for the moment. Man was I going to sleep well tonight! "Oh yeah, and about that fifty caps, just take it out of the paycheck you still owe me." My memory brought up my deal with Myron, reminding me that I actually had Carlotta's contract. Shit, she's probably costing me a hoof and a leg. Ah, well, she's worth it.

The loud clack of Longbow's autoloader got my attention, making me jump to my hooves. "Move out of the way Backlash." She said sternly, lining her .308 rifle up with the server. I stood still as I looked over to her, meeting her determined eyes as she tried to keep her focus.

"No." I said with a stomp of my hoof. "You can't destroy it."

"If I don't, then Strawberry Sorbet will destroy everything." She lowered her head and steadied herself for the shot. "This is too important."

The loud click of a pistol's hammer emanated next to Longbow as Carlotta pointed one of the IF-45 service pistols from home at her head. "Backlash said you aren't destroying that server."

"Carlotta, put your gun down!" Skyline said as she flew between the two. "Can't we sort this out without threatening each other."

"Carlotta, back off." I snapped at her as well, making her go wide eyed for a second before reaching back and dropping the gun into her saddle bag with a sigh. "Longbow, if you destroy this server, not only do we lose any chance to stay ahead of 42, but you are also dooming two innocent lives to an eternal hell." She cringed slightly before regaining her composure. "Can you live knowing that?"

"What is the meaning of two lives compared to the fate of the entire wasteland?" She glared at me and spoke with a cold voice. "What about Lemon's sacrifice? By turning on that server, it will have been a meaningless death."

"No, he died to make sure that you got out of here." I said as I sat down and stuck my hoof out at her. "Hell, he gave me you, and as long as you're alive, his death will never be meaningless!" She shuddered as the words sunk in, lowering her battle saddles slightly. "I know the risks of turning on the server, but I need the location of the FUCKING pond to stop 42!" I cringed and hoofed at my face as my eye seemed to explode in pain.

"THAT'S CORRECT!" The jubilant voice of the only mare in the wasteland I didn't want to hear echoed through the warehouse. A metallic ping was all the preceded a small blue cylinder landing in between Longbow and I, exploding with a small pop to spread a cloud of choking gas across the entire area. I gagged and choked on the thick smoke, stumbling forward as my eyes and lungs burned, nearly tripping over longbow as she lay on the floor unconscious.

"Huh, somehow immune to sleep gas, good for you, Backlash." 42's voice echoed out of the shadows as the cloud cleared slowly, the loud report of her revolver was all I heard as the impact of the round was absorbed by a plate in my Flak vest. The plate slammed into me hard, knocking me to the side and taking my breath away. "It seems that you are still pretty weak to good old fashioned lead though."

I lay on the ground gasping as I heard her slow hoof steps approaching, trying to get back to my hooves as she came out from one of the rows. She now wore hear mane flat like the sad pinkie from my dreams, her blue eyes were wide and seemed to study me over as she smiled her demented smile at me. I also noticed that she was now wearing the utility barding I had given her back in the bunker, probably for the sole reason just to taunt me. I started to push myself up slowly and was about to activate S.A.T.S. when she hoofed back the hammer on her gun, keeping it trained on me.

"Uh-uh! You know better than that, Backlash!" She twitched the gun to the side, instructing me to move to the side. I walked slowly as we circled each other, only stopping once she was in front of the server controls. She kept her eyes locked on me as she reached a hoof back and input a set of commands as if it was second nature, the server hummed to life slowly as lines of code scrolled across the screen. "You know, I really do have to thank you for clearing a path right down to here. I can't believe I'm about to say it, but I was wrong about you. You're a lot tougher than I thought you'd be."

She stuck her free hoof into one of the pockets in the barding, pulling out a small case of Mint-als. "Fortitude was always a Pie family trait. Comes from working the rock fields all day." She used her muzzle to open the box, licking up and chewing on a few tablets before shutting it and putting it back in her pocket. I watched as her pupils dilated and she seemed to relax slightly. "I do have to thank you, Backlash, without you, I couldn't enjoy Party Time Mint-als again."

"I just wish that the recipe wasn't attached to that annoying runt." A beep emanated from the terminal behind her, catching her attention. "Oh, and before I forget, it was a nice attempt to try to send me to Baltimare, trying to cover up your actual destination. Something I'm sure the good ponies there will thank you for as my loyal followers go to siege and raid their city."

Celestia, Backlash! How could you not have seen that coming? I hoped that I could get a warning to them in time once I was out of here. I glanced about as she talked, looking over the sleeping forms of Longbow, Sky and Carlotta, but wondering where Brass was. "Yes, I was wondering the same thing. Where did your colt friend go?" 42 said haughtily. "Only, I know exactly where that he is." She raised the pistol up to my right and fired, Brass let out a yelp and fell off the top of one of the shelves, landing hard on the floor next to me. He bit his lip and squirmed at the bloody hole that punched into his cutie mark. "See, not so hard to find."

I took a step toward him, freezing as 42 cocked the gun again and pointed it back at me. "Now, Backlash, would you kindly give me twilight's sixteen digit passcode? The sooner you do, the sooner we can part ways until our next happy reunion." She lowered her brow with a grin. "And don't bother lying to me if you want your friends to live."

"Fine, I'll give you the code." I said slowly, watching her smile widen. "But first I want to know if Pallet is still alive."

42's smile dropped as a wave of frustration rolled across her expression. "That little cunt is more of a responsibility than I was prepared for, but yes, she's safe and sound somewhere you'll never get to her." I tensed up as she talked, watching her eyes as she noticed what I was doing, stiffening her hoofs hold on the gun "Now then, the password."

"twilightsparkle1" I said with a smirk. She expects me to stand there and wait, but I'm done acting predictably.

Time seemed to slow to a crawl as I burst forward at her, catching her off guard as she reflexively dropped her gun. I was done playing her games, I couldn't let her get the pond, no matter what the cost. I watched her swing her mane lightly as I charged, a metallic glint catching the light as I pushed off on my stride, jumping into the air as a small knife fell from her pink mane right into her hoof. I watched as she lifted her hoof toward me with a smile, my body came down hard, the sharp blade piercing my skin painfully.

But as much as I wasn't expecting her to pull a blade, she didn't anticipate my fused rib cage as the blade cut a line across my chest against the bone plate the hydra had formed. The pain was excruciating, but she wasn't going to kill me like she thought. I slammed down into her, driving her against the server housing with a metallic squeal as it crumpled in slightly. The next thing I heard was the most beautiful sound in the wasteland, even more so than hearing Willow sing my mother's song.

42 was screaming. Pure, uninhibited agony came from her muzzle as she scrambled out from under me, reaching for her gun as the smell of burning flesh and barding filled the air. I rolled off her towards the silver revolver, feeling the same odd suction of it against my hoof as the party cannon had. I quickly got to my hooves and turned to face her, only to find that she was gone, my ears perked as I caught the sound of her hoof beats heading away. I started off after her, stopping as Brass let out a loud whine. I looked down and glanced at the large pool of blood around him. Shit, he's bleeding to fast and needs more radiation to close the wound!

I dropped 42's revolver and bucked my saddle bags off and into the air, turning and catching them with a hoof before flipping them over, dumping them out onto the floor. The cacophony of assorted supplies and tools filled the room as they fell to the floor, the pieces of Brass's armor he put in there falling out nearly last. I grabbed his helmet with my hooves and shook it vigorously, hearing a piece of loose metal inside of it.

I dug my hoof around in it quickly, failing to find the irradiated metal he kept inside. "Fuck it, no time." I said quickly as I brought the helmet down hard onto his wounded flank, pressing it down to try to seal it against him and get the radioactive metal close as he screamed in pain for a few moments. I made sure to keep my bleeding chest away from him as it dripped onto the floor, his squirming died down as he lay and whimpered on the floor.

"I'm sorry, Backlash, I tried." He said softly. "I'm sorry, I'm useless without my armor."

I sighed and pulled the helmet away, letting it roll a few feet away as the soft clicking on my Pipbuck picked up to a good pace. His flank had nearly healed as I took a few steps back and sat down, using my hoof to try apply pressure to the large gash that ran across my chest. (You know, after the pain of the mutation, the gash didn't seem to hurt so bad.) "Brass, you are far from useless. Hell, I think you might have actually gotten her, had I not so blatantly given you away." I said as I tried to comfort him, knowing full well that 42 probably had her own pinkie sense telling her exactly where he was. But he needed to know that I needed him. "Not to mention you let me get the drop on her."

"Really?" He asked softly as he sat up with a soft smile before he spotted my bloody chest. "Oh shit, hold on." He jumped up and nearly dove into Skyline's bags, levitating a health potion to me quickly. I took the bottle with my bloody hoof, surprised when the glass sizzled and warped, spilling the contents onto the floor below me.

"This whole blood thing is going to take some getting use too." I said as Brass dug his hoof back into the saddle bag, levitating another bottle out, opening it for me as I tilted my muzzle up. He tipped it over and poured the liquid over me sloppily, the magical fluid soaking into my chest, sealing up the wound only part way before forming a layer of dark scarred tissue to cover the rest. I looked down as he tossed the bottle aside, looking over the oddly discolored line that stretched almost all the way across my chest. "Well, I guess heath potions don't have the same 'Oomph' they did before the mutation..."

"I don't know, I think it makes you look more masculine." He said without thinking, drawing my attention as he blushed and gave me a nervous grin. "Not to say you already weren't super masculine or something..." I laughed and gave him a small smile, interrupted suddenly as a frustrated scream resonated from somewhere in the warehouse.

"NEXT TIME, BACKLASH!" 42's voice screamed out before the sound of the teleportation pad firing off silenced it.

I let 42's agony sink in as Brass gave out a small laugh. "So, I'm confused. Did we just win for once?"

"You know what?" I sighed and nodded as I turned an looked to the terminal, slowly punching in twilight's password to reboot the server. "I say it's close enough." I hoofed the return button, watching as the command prompt returned.

B.I.T. transfer in progress.



+ 10 Repair

+ 5 Small Guns

New Quest Perk: Uncanny Mutation - While you might not be a superhero, your body has undergone a change to give your blood acidic properties and allows you to use your injuries as an advantage! Blood that coats armor reduces it's DT by a maximum of 5 and blood that touches a bare pony causes 5 points of damage per second for fifteen seconds.

New Perk: Love Machine - Your experience in dealing with different artificial systems allows you to find the 'sweet spot' in their coding to get what you need! You gain new dialog options when you speak with any system that has a basic intelligence system or above.

Chapter 10 - Buried Secrets

View Online

Chapter 10

"My tail, my tail! Twitch-a-twitch! Twitch-a-twitch! Something else is gonna fall!"


"What about what Lemon said about Elder Sorbet?" Brass asked as I hit the return key on the server's keyboard, bringing up the command prompt. I assumed that transferring B.I.T. might take a while, so I might as well use the time to search through the archives for anything on the Mirror Pool. "Do you really think she would megaspell the wasteland again?"

Oh, I think she would. Just the way she talked told me she was unstable, but I'm sure that she wouldn't hesitate. I turned to Brass with a soft sigh. "I don't know if that's her plan, but 42 already turned the server back on, and if that was all she was waiting for, she'll have all the megaspell locations already." I looked over to Longbow as she lay on the floor asleep, a feeling of guilt welling up inside me. "We'll deal with Sorbet when we get out of here, but right now, I need to find where the pool was moved to." I looked back to the server as the command prompt refreshed, hoofing at each key carefully.

Search Archives - keyword Mirror Pond...

... No results found.

"That's odd..." I scrunched up my muzzle as I tried again. "What about this..." I slowly corrected the entry before hitting the enter key again.

Search Archives - keyword Mirror Pool...

... No results found.

"What's wrong, Backlash?" Brass asked curiously as he trotted around a splash of my drying blood on the floor, looking over the message on the screen. "Well, there's your problem right there!" He said, pushing for me to get out of his way. I stepped aside and watched as his horn lit up, pressing the keys much faster than I ever could.

Search Archives - Research Project Index - Keyword O.I.A. ...

... Project list corrupted...

... Command input - retrieve accessible files...

...Success. Accessing remaining files...

File - P.H. File - P.E. File - P.S.P File - P.S. File - P.C. File - G.P. File - S.T.S. File - I.M.P. File - C.O. File - P.G.
... End List.

"Wow, they were working on quite a few highly secret things." Brass said as he took a step back in astonishment. "And these are just the entries that are still accessible!"

"And I have no idea which one is the right one." I said as I leaned in, looking over each one, stopping over the third project displayed. "Wait, P.S.P.?" The overtaxed gears in my head brought up the memory of the metal box in Isaac's chest, those same initials were stamped on the side of it. "I've seen that one before. Can you open it up?" Brass nodded and selected it, hitting the return key to enter it in. A horrendous cacophony of high-pitched tones and static emitted from the server, causing both Brass and I to attempt to cover our ears. After nearly a minute, the server went silent, only letting out a small chirp as we lowered our hooves. My Pipbuck chirped back in response, displaying a short set of code on both it and the Server screen.

EC-1101 authorization required...

... Error: EC-1101 not found. Access Denied.

"What the hell was that noise, and what the hell is EC-1101?" Brass said as he hit a few buttons, returning the screen back to the project list. "If your Pipbuck has ministry mare level access on it, why wouldn't you be able to open it? What access was higher than theirs!?"

I knew that an Acting Ministry Chief's clearance wasn't the highest, but this didn't say I had too low of clearance, this was something else entirely. But that is a mystery for a different day, right now, I needed to focus on stopping 42. "Never mind that for now, I need to know which one of these files is the one dealing with the mirror pond. Preferably without going through each one. I don't know if my ears can handle the noise this machine makes too many more times."

Brass waved his hoof up at me in dismissal. "Yeah, yeah, give me a moment." He said as he started pressing keys again. This is my one chance to get ahead of 42 while she's off licking her wounds. If I can find the information, then delete the originals, 42 won't ever be able to get her hooves on them. Well, unless she killed me that is, but she'll most likely play it safe for a bit after I got the best of her with my mutation.

Redefine Search - add M.O.M. file only...

1 out of 1 result... File - P.G.

Project Golem access granted. Transfer Started.

"That's more like it!" I said as Brass smiled and hit the return key. Another chirp sounded as my Pipbuck's screen lit up, several notifications were displayed in my vision as file after file was registered as being transferred. All in all, there were 32 audiologs, 1,737 notes, and 7 new locations added to my Pipbuck's map. "Wow... that's quite a bit of stuff." I said with a frown, these files could take forever to get through and I'm just hoping that the pool's location was somewhere amongst the information. "Brass, can you..." I stopped and looked around as a low rumble filled the warehouse, a new prompt displaying on the terminal screen.

B.I.T. Transfer Completed. Prototype 209 online.

M.O.M. override accepted.

"Hello, Backlash, P.I.N.K. here! I hope you got the message I left in your Pipbuck, because I need you to carry out my request."

"Wait? Backlash, what is this? What request is she talking about?" Brass looked up as I frowned.

"Don't touch anything, Brass." I turned and galloped down one of the rows of boxes, shouting as I ran off. "In fact, I need you to try to remove the original files from the server. I'll be right back!" I doubt I could talk her out of it, but maybe I didn't have to. I have to at least inform B.I.T. about what P.I.N.K. is planning to do, I can't just sit by and let P.I.N.K. sacrifice herself. I smirked and laughed lightly between pants as I galloped away, thinking about how silly it sounded. I, a real flesh and blood pony, was trying to convince P.I.N.K., the computer, that her digital life was not worth losing. That a computer program had something to LIVE for now that she had found B.I.T. again.

The sound of my hooves echoing alongside me was soon overpowered by the slow thrumming of the dual arcano-tech engines powering the monstrous robot just around the corner. I dropped from a trot and stood in front of the massive machine, watching as a set of purple lights underneath the main body flickered to life and swivelled towards me. I caught my breath as the upper hull turned towards me slowly, the lights dimming as they focused on me.

"Is that you, Backlash?" The digitized voice of B.I.T. asked loudly out of a speaker on the front of the machine, making me cringe before I nodded. I think she knew it was too loud because when she tried to speak again, it was quiet enough I could barely hear it at all.

"I think that's a little too quiet." I said as I inclined my ears towards her again. "B.I.T. I need to tell you something..."

"Hold on, I'm calibrating the external sensors. It will just be a moment!" She said as her voice was reset to a more comfortable level. She pivoted the robot's torso around slowly, turning the weapon pods toward and away from me. The autoloaders clicked and the front cover of the underslung rocket launcher flipped open as the machine hummed quietly. "Calibration completed. What was it you were saying?"

"I was trying to tell you..." I attempted to huff out in frustration, suddenly being reminded of how much I hate when somepony cuts me off as B.I.T. continued talking anyway. (At the same time, I'm just as guilty of it as everypony else, not that that justifies it at all.)

"OH! So this is the 'real' world? How fascinating!" The robot's speaker boomed into my ear as B.I.T. leaned the mechanical beast around the row of boxes behind her. As much as this was great for her and all, I still had to save the wasteland from 42. "I'm actually kind of sad that I didn't get to see more of it before the end."

That's it, no more interruptions.

"B.I.T.! I NEED YOU TO LISTEN!" I yelled at the top of my lungs, bucking my rear leg out in anger at one of the crates behind me. I winced when I heard something made of glass crack apart inside, but it seemed to get B.I.T. to stop for a moment, the small lights turning to point at me again. "P.I.N.K. is trying to trick you! She plans on sealing herself in your old system by having me sever the link to your new body, then she plans on blowing the reactors."

The speakers boomed again as B.I.T. gave a good laugh, although I could hardly see what was so funny about it. "And here I thought you actually had something interesting to tell me. I ALREADY knew that she was planning on doing that." She said as she took a step back, watching as I sat down hard. "It wasn't hard to figure out. The last minute transfer into my system, her tampering with the access points to keep you out, the amount of energy and time she put into trying to make me happy." She let out a loud, happy sigh as the robot's hull tilted down. "I might be an old system, but I'm certainly not unintelligent. Twilight wrote my logic subroutines using models of her own deductive and scientific traits, it was quite simple to figure it out."

"So... you knew she was planning this? Yet you still transferred over?" I said in confusion, the gears in my head failing to even connect. For once, I didn't know what to do. "Then, do you have some way to drag her in with you or something?" I yanked my back hoof out of the box I kicked, cringing as whatever I had bucked in there, shattered. "You can't just leave her here to die!"

"How could you possibly think I would do that?" She said as she spoke with a slight sadness. "I won't be leaving her to die. You see, just like P.I.N.K., I made a few modifications of my own." B.I.T. Turned the robot around, it's heavy legs stomping loudly as a sharp hiss came from somewhere inside, opening a small panel on the back of it. A bright orange handle sat in front of me as the lights on the hull swivelled around to me, giving me the impression of eyes as they focused on me. "When I tell you to, please pull that down as hard as you can."

I took a step back as I shook my head. "Oh no, I've been through this song and dance before." I squinted and glared at her, I will not make a mistake like releasing 42 or handing the entirety of M.O.M. over again! "First, you need to tell me what it does. Then, AND ONLY then, will I consider pulling it."

"It's the manual disconnect I had installed on ED for the wireless receiver, so it could be maintained or replaced if damaged. The disclusion of one in the original schematics was probably just a design oversight, but that's what I was built to correct. Like I said, advanced logic and deductive skills. Anyway, pulling that will cause the whole unit to drop out. Once that happens, ED won't be able to connect to the server anymore." B.I.T. said, speaking in a flat tone. I don't know why, but it didn't seem quite right. I was about to ask something when she spoke up again. "And before you go crazy, I have a way to get P.I.N.K. inside here. Having spent all my time in this base means I have learned how to gain total control over every system! Well, except for security, but you already know I couldn't do anything about the wiring. Sorry about that."

I breathed a small sigh of relief knowing that P.I.N.K. didn't have to sacrifice herself. I smiled and stepped back up to the rear of the giant bot. "Thank you for saving her, B.I.T., and thank you for telling me." I stretched my neck up and stopped as my nose touched the orange handle. "Just an odd question, but why do you keep calling this thing ED? Why give it a name?" I bit down hard around the cold, metal handle as the engines thumped above me.

"Why? Because like you thought before, this is the closest that P.I.N.K. and I will ever have to a real child, and every child needs a name." B.I.T. started, a slight distortion in her voice came through the speaker as she continued. "As for ED, the two of us had originally planned on setting up a fake robotics corporation, then using it to destroy all of ponykind. Equestrian Defence was just the shell company we came up with, but we only had time to change one of the prototypes being built to suit our needs before the war... ended. And Ta-Da! ED was born." Her voice was getting more distorted as she talked, and the engines were slowly climbing to a dull roar as she was pouring power into something. The left headlamp flickered and slowly changed color to pink, becoming brighter and brighter, nearly blinding me. "Backlash, pull it now."

I let my hooves drop out from under me, using my weight to pull the handle down with ease. It set with a click as yet another hiss came from inside the rumbling robot, a flat panel on the bottom started sliding open slowly as I let go. The purple light on the right slowly dimmed as I got back to my hooves, the sad, heavily distorted voice of B.I.T. played through the speaker.

"Th...nk you... acklash... Tak...are... of..er." Her voice came over just before the bottom panel clicked fully open, a loud bang and shower of sparks came from the hole as a rectangular box was ejected to the floor. I watched as the sensitive electronics inside it spilled out, snapping and shattering to pieces.

ED slowly turned towards me, the lumbering machine's legs slammed into the floor with each step as both of the lights underneath turned to a dim pink. "Backlash..." The familiar voice of P.I.N.K. softly cried out. "What have you done? You've trapped her here forever..." I sat back and stared at the broken wireless transmitter on the floor as P.I.N.K. stood in front of me, each robotic limb shaking as she sobbed. I don't know what just happened. I did just what B.I.T. told me to, I pulled the lever after she forced...

Oh Celestia, Backlash! You're a fucking moron! How could I have not seen that coming? Of course she would have to transfer back into the machine upstairs to push P.I.N.K. in! P.I.N.K.'s transfer has always been fast because she was designed that way, but if the connection stayed open longer than it did, P.I.N.K. could just swap places again.

I froze as P.I.N.K. lined both weapon pods up, training them on me. "How could you? I trusted you, Backlash! I thought we were friends!" I looked up slowly as she let out a mournful scream that shook the entire frame of the blue robot. "I needed to do this! I needed to give her a chance for a life outside this prison! And YOU took that away from her!"

"P.I.N.K., I..." I said slowly as I reached a hoof out. "I'm sorry."

"YOU'RE SORRY?!" She belted out painfully loud, her words echoing in the warehouse. "WELL THEN THAT MAKES IT ALL BETTER!" P.I.N.K.'s voice was straining to convey her sadness, the lights underneath the hull turned a darker shade of pink, reminding me of how Pinkie Pie's mane would deflate when she became sad. "I would shoot you RIGHT NOW if it weren't for these stupid Ministry Chief locks keeping me from doing anything violent!"

"OH REALLY THEN?!" I said angrily as I felt a familiar rage boiling deep inside me. "You think that you are justified in killing yourself over what you did to B.I.T.?" I trot up towards the weapon pod to my right, watching as she kept it pointing at me as I leaned into it. The cold muzzle of the belt-fed, anti-machine rifle felt good against my aching head as I pressed into it . "Fine, if you can tell me honestly that I made a mistake in wanting to save you, then I'll command you to override the safety locks."

I looked over as P.I.N.K. tried to contemplate this. "Y..you made a mistake." She said slowly, letting her doubts flood through the speaker. I heard the flutter of wings behind me as the pink lights swung over.

"Backlash! What are you doing?!" Skyline yelled out as she swooped down, tackling me to the ground. I could hear the hoofstomps of Longbow's power armor as she galloped towards me, assumedly with Carlotta and Brass in tow. "Get away from this thing, let me handle it!" She barked out as she moved to bite down on the bit of her battle saddle.

"Wait!" P.I.N.K. cried out as ED took a step back. "I'm sorry. You were right, Backlash." She let out a loud sigh as she pointed the weapon pods away. "I just... I can't leave her here again. I need her."

Skyline looked over to me as I relaxed, doing the same as I got back up. "Backlash, what is this?" She said in astonishment as she pointed her hoof up at ED.

"One moment, Sky." I said, waiting for Longbow and Carlotta to get into sight. Longbow kept her eyes low, avoiding looking at me as she trotted around the corner. I couldn't blame her, 42 just gave Sorbet the access she needed to destroy the wasteland, and I wasn't fast enough to stop it. I was caught off guard when Carlotta lunged down in front of me and threw her talons around me, squeezing me quite painfully.

"Brass said that you actually stuck it to that pink bitch. Getting stabbed and using your own blood as a weapon makes you a bona fide badass in my book." She said with a smile, holding tightly as I struggled to breathe, pushing at her with my hooves until she finally relented. I gasped and panted lightly as P.I.N.K. looked over us, Carlotta giving the large machine little more than a slight glance.

I cleared my throat and looked over the others, finding that Brass still hadn't shown up. Still, I need to get this out of the way first. "Everyone, this is P.I.N.K." I said loudly. "She is the Ministry of Morale Artificial Pony that ran the facility 42 was kept in." I watched as I spoke, all three of my friends jaws nearly dropped to the floor, their eyes jumped from P.I.N.K. to each other as I stood under the behemoth robot. "Before you ask, NO, she isn't dangerous." I said as I smiled, watching as Sky looked at me with a flat expression.

"Really." She fired back sarcastically, "The guns and rocket launchers really do a convincing job of saying 'Trust me, I won't blow you into meaty, little chunks'." I gave a slight nervous smile. Hell, even if we painted her up in the Ministry of Peace color scheme, I'm pretty sure anypony out in the wastes would start running at the mere sight of ED. "First you bring that Zebra-bot into our home, now you're making friends with three-pony-tall, walking, death machines! Doesn't that seem the least bit strange to you?"

I let out a soft laugh and shook my head. "Look at the last few weeks of our lives, Skyline! I can pretty much sum it all up with 'Because Pinkie Pie, that's why'!" I sat back and flailed my hooves in front of me. "Look at where we are! Celestia only knows the stuff that's hidden down here!" I got up and walked over to the box I had broken in anger, kicking it open to reveal an extremely ornate, magical plasma pistol, a small note sat amongst the shattered glass in its stand. I eyed it curiously before turning back to the group. "Look, P.I.N.K. is a friend. You don't have to trust her, just remember that I do."

Brass came trotting up, speaking before he came around the corner. "So, I tried to wipe the files, but I...." He froze and stared wide eyed up at P.I.N.K., stuttering as he tried to process what he was looking at. "but... but... HOLY HELL! THE FUCK IS THAT THING?" He jumped behind Longbow, peeking around her and waving his hoof towards the towering machine.

"Backlash." P.I.N.K. said as the lights swivelled towards me, still sounding sad, but had a note of panic to her words. "Before B.I.T. transfered me out, I had started the reactor overload process. Once I locked the safety overrides in place, it became impossible to shut down! We don't have long and we need to get B.I.T. out of here!"

Think, think, think, think, think! Come on, gears, give me something, anything! I looked over to Longbow. "Ok, ok, Longbow, Brass, I need you two to head towards the freight elevator on the back wall. Make sure it's at least in working order." I saw Brass nod and follow Longbow as she left without ever acknowledging me. "Sky, Carlotta, head back to where you woke up and gather as much of what I dumped onto the floor as you can, then head for the elevator."

Carlotta nodded and took off as Skyline floated over to me with the worried look I knew all too well. "And you are heading for the elevator as well, right?"

I shook my head and watched as her frown widened. "I need to go to B.I.T., because if I'm right, only she can access the server and get rid of every piece of information about the mirror pool. If she can, we will finally have a leg up on 42." She gave a sigh as I spoke and turned to leave. I reached my hoof out and put it on her. "I promise I'll make it quick, I'll meet you all at the elevator with plenty of time to spare." She gave me her pouty face, drawing a small smile to mine. "Please, just go. I know you don't want me to go on my own, but I'll be there. I promise."

She nodded and took off after Carlotta, leaving just P.I.N.K. and I standing at the end of the isle. Once I knew the others were out of earshot, I lowered my voice to nearly a whisper. "P.I.N.K., I need you to record this and play it back for the others. The second all of them get through that door, I need you to blast it shut. Don't wait for me, 42 got in here somehow and I doubt she had the Goddess to help her out. I'll find the other way out, you just make sure to get the others to safety. So! Get the others on the elevator, blast the door, then play this message." I quickly trotted over to the teleporter control panel sticking out of the floor and hoofed at the up button, calling back over my shoulder to her as the air filled with an electric hum. "And don't worry, I'll get B.I.T. out."


I shook the fuzziness from my head as I reoriented myself on the platform, the smell of burnt mane filled my nose as I got to my hooves, taking off at a gallop out past the large stable door and down the hallway. The grey walls seemed to press down on me as I ran through the hallways, the whole base gave off an entirely different feeling than before now that I was on my own. I slowed down and ducked through the hole Brass had made in the wall, circling around to the side of the supercomputer. I took a deep breath, and stuck my hoof into the socket, lining my Pipbuck up with a click.


"Come on B.I.T., I need your help!" I called out as I pulled my hoof out just far enough to break the connection. "I know you can hear me, don't do this, B.I.T.!" I shoved my hoof back in stiffly, listening as my Pipbuck clicked in place yet again. "You want to do this the hard way? Then we'll do this the hard way!" I pulled my hoof out again, turning to grab my jury-rigged connector from my saddlebag. I poked around for a moment in confusion before I sighed, realizing it must have been dumped on the floor with everything else on level 5.

"Ok, stay calm. All I need to do is make another one before this place explodes!" I said nervously as I sat back and looked around. A few busted terminals along the walls and rusted out lockers were the only things in here. I frowned as I looked back at the flashing lights of B.I.T., knowing that there wasn't enough time to make sure I could build a new connector that would work on a machine this advanced. "B.I.T., I really need your help right now." I stuck my hoof back in the connector again, slowly locking it in place a third time. "Just please, talk to me." I said softly.

B.I.T. hummed softly, my body becoming stiff as I was forced into S.A.T.S.. The grey, crystalline form of B.I.T. materialized in front of me where she had the time before, but now she was sitting sadly in front of me.

"Hey there, Chief Backlash, is there something I can do for you?"

Her voice sounded so incredibly sad, yet she sounded somewhat hopeful. I refocused my mind, knowing that I needed her to delete the original Mirror Pool files before we could even talk.

"Due to O.I.A. restrictions on managing project files, a pony can't delete the records from any project completely, only remove them from every other server to store on a single one. I can do that for you, but I need to warn you, when the reactors overload, the server itself has a high chance it will survive the blast and the information might still be recoverable."

That's not what I was hoping to hear. Well, if all the files are stuck at the bottom of this radioactive pit, it's fine with me. At least it will slow 42 down if anything.

"One moment.... and Done. Is there anything else you need?"

Now that she couldn't easily get her hooves on the data, I felt like I could finally relax a little. It was no longer a race to find the pool, I for once had the advantage! I watched as B.I.T. flopped onto her side with a sigh, drawing my attention back to her. I need to get her out of here before the reactors blow.

She turned her head and looked up at me.

"It's a nice thought, but P.I.N.K. was right, I'm just an antiquated system. I don't have any idea whats out there and I have no way of understanding it. It's best that you just leave me here."

I could understand what B.I.T. was getting at, but P.I.N.K. could always help her out with the transition! Having someone there to help you when you're feeling down is part of the point of having a special somepony.

"That may be so, but she'd never forgive me, not after what I've done."

But that isn't true at all! B.I.T. must have seen how P.I.N.K. reacted the second I cut the connection. She must have seen the anger P.I.N.K. felt towards me. I watched as B.I.T. got up and turned toward me, sounding like she was on the verge of tears.

"Just leave me, Chief. Besides, if I don't stay, the reactors might not overload properly and all of this will have been for nothing. Just go."

I refuse to leave, not after what P.I.N.K. has done to help me. I need to find another way to convince her, some way she couldn't refuse. I wish she could follow my orders like P.I.N.K. does, but... wait that's it! I'll just have to order her to come with me. I am the Chief of a ministry, so she'll have to listen!

"You're right, I can't refuse if you order me to. Your clearance level is high enough to do so, but if somepony doesn't step up the reactor cycles in the right order, they will simply melt down and never reach critical mass. Taking me means keeping the facility open to anypony with enough RadAway, and down there, there are things here which no pony should have access to. Twilight herself noted that she was even afraid of most of the things kept down in storage. "

Well then I'll just have to find a different way to seal this place up. I mean, if everything down there is so dangerous to have, then there has to be something I can use! Maybe B.I.T. would know what I could use. A tool, a weapon, anything!

B.I.T. put her hoof up to her muzzle and looked around for a moment.

"If I activated the leviathan test spell, the calculated blast forces would... Yes, that would work! Theoretically that would depress enough earth at the foundation to crush the facility! We must act quickly before level 5 is flooded with the excess radiation from the reactors. Once you exit this room, you will need to get back to the Personal Arcane Displacement Device and take it back down to Level 5. Once you are there, you need to take me to the master control panel and I'll reroute it's coordinates to a safe place outside."

Ok, I have no idea what any of that means other than go back down and find a control panel. Not to mention, I'm still not leaving without her! The crystalline form of B.I.T. jumped up into the air, fuzzing away as I dropped out of S.A.T.S. and reoriented to normal time. I nearly jumped to the ceiling as a series of alarms and red lights came on all at once inside the base. I felt B.I.T. release my Pipbuck, pulling it out to see that the interface and E.F.S. rebooted as a light purple. I stared at it for a moment, reminded of how similar in color it was to Harmony's coat. A small beep drew my attention back as a familiar, smiling, digital face appeared. A line of text scrolled across the screen slowly.

"P.I.N.K. was right, it's so much bigger on the inside!"

I smiled and turned, taking off at a gallop out the pony-sized hole in the wall and down the hallway. I did my best to press my hooves into the smooth floor as I slid around the corner, smacking into the wall in nearly the same place I had before. I stopped for a moment to think about Longbow and how she probably believes that Lemon died for nothing. I grunted and shook the thought off, running again down the hall towards the stable door. Now that I have the information 42 needs, I can take a vacation from running around the wasteland. A vacation that I'm going to use to pay a nice visit to the Steel Rangers.

I slowed down and turned again, heading through the open stable door to the teleportation pad, hoofing the down button sharply. "So, B.I.T., when you said not much time, exactly how long did you mean?" I said as the air started to crackle, the machine whining underneath me. A soft beep was all I got before the loud pop and blinding flash took me down again, my mane drooping into my eyes as the light faded. I reached up and brushed it aside, feeling that it was extremely warm. I shrugged the odd sensation off as I looked down at B.I.T.'s response.

"The control panel is down the aisle next to where ED was kept. You can't miss it."

I put my hoof down and galloped towards the isle, sliding to a stop as I passed the ornate gun I had left in the remains of the broken box. I quickly hoofed it into my saddlebags, along with the note that was with it, knowing that it might be worth taking. I looked down the isle to see a large, yellow electronics box at the end that read 'P.A.D.D. Master Control' across it in bold lettering.

"Wow, that really was simple!" I said as another beep came from the Pipbuck.

"By the way, you have forty two seconds before the reactors melt down, the temperature in here has already risen by twelve degrees in the last fifteen seconds."

"Forty two seconds!?" I screamed as I ran toward the box, rearing up and slamming my hooves against it to stop. I hoofed at the locking latch and threw the front cover open, holding out my Pipbuck as it started to emit a series of noises. "Of course I have forty two seconds, everything now always comes back to 42!" I said before a single, loud beep played, B.I.T. displaying the only word that mattered now.


I spun and pushed myself off, slamming my hooves against the floor as I galloped back toward the end of the isle. The radiation counter on my Pipbuck started to tick faster and faster as I reached the corner, nearly losing my balance as I listened to it instead of focusing on keeping upright. I had my eyes locked on the control panel that stuck out of the concrete machine, my other thoughts drifting further and further with each step, replaced only by a single, constant thought to hit that up button. I felt the ground shake as one of the reactors below burst, the furious ticking on my Pipbuck telling me to get out as I reached for the button, slamming it so hard that I could hear the plastic casing crunch and crack.

"Come on... work, damn you!" I screamed as arcs of static shot off the pedestal, taking a step back while a whine louder than the ones before painfully filled the air, the world around me became amazingly hot for a single moment. Then my hearing was replaced with a soft ringing, and the familiar blindness that teleportation brought flooded my vision. For a moment, I felt like I was weightless, suspended in an ocean of warm light, making me feel like I was in one of my dreams. But as it always does, gravity reminded me of just how much I weighed.

I think I let out a scream as I felt myself start to fall, but I couldn't hear myself over the deafening ringing in my head. I felt my saddlebags fly off of me as my vision was clearing, the darkness of night bringing some comfort that I was at least outside of the facility. I whined as I twisted myself, looking down to see exactly what surface I was going to paint with my insides, praying silently for Luna to save me. But the sight was not one I had expected to find below me.

I gasped as I slammed into the surface of what I could only assume was the Delamare river, the near freezing water felt like it had impaled me as I struggled to get back to the surface. I kicked my legs as hard as I could as I slowly floated up, breaking the surface with a loud gasp. I struggled to stay afloat as I coughed and hacked, sucking in deep breaths starting to paddle my way to the shore. But the shock of the fall, the exhaustive running, and the heavy weight of the flak vest started to take it's toll as I found it harder and harder to stay above the surface. The river bank was still too far away and I wasn't going to make it with this much weight!

I took as deep of a breath as I could get before letting myself sink, trying to twist and push the green vest off of me as I dropped into the murky depths. Grunting, I tried to tear at it, getting extremely frustrated as the fabric didn't relent. I was about to try to swim up as the gears in my head slammed one final idea together. The vest isn't the heavy part, only the plates are heavy! I kicked my legs hard in an attempt to keep myself from sinking further, using my hooves to push the upper chest plates out of their pockets. I watched as the first shimmering plate fell out with ease, sinking below me as my lungs started to scream for air. I quickly tried repeating the process for the other chest plate, finally getting it out as I struggled not to breathe in a lungful of water.

Two plates would have to be enough as I flailed my hind legs, trying to bring me back to the surface, but feeling as the frigid water pulled the strength straight out of them just as fast as I tried to pour more in. I looked up to the surface as I climbed nearer and nearer, seeing a familiar shimmering sphere hovering silently up above it. The image of the moon from my dreams flashed in my mind as it almost took what little breath I had left away, my vision starting to cloud. I needed to get to it, I needed it to tell me why it took him away from me! I kicked hard, giving everything I had left to try to get back up, slowly realizing it wasn't going to be enough. I closed my eyes and used the last of my strength to hold my hoof up, my legs finally giving out as I felt my hoof strike the air.

But as I felt my hoof drop back under, I realized the funny thing about the cold and the dark, is that it always seemed to find a way back into my head.


The warmth of the sun beat down onto me as I lay in the wet grass, listening as the light breeze flowed over me, smelling the sweet flowers from the tree I lay under. I let out a small sigh as I kept my eyes closed, enjoying the relaxing feeling my dreams brought, all my cares slipping away. The sound of distant thunder on the horizon echoed across the hills around me, making me open my eyes and sit up.

"Thunder? I thought the weather was always nice here?" I said as I looked around the horizon, a massive storm front hung on the edge of it, flashes of lightning pulsed inside it as I watched. The thunder rolled across the small hills as I got to my hooves, the lush grass brushing against me as the breeze picked up slightly. "Pinkie?" I called out as I looked up into the tree, finding no sign of the bright pink filly. I trotted around the tree and looked about, finally deciding she wasn't here.

I turned and headed off down the familiar path towards where I had found the cannon in my first dream. "Something's always there. She has to be..." My words dropped off as I could make a soft crying out up ahead, hearing it only moments before another boom of thunder filled the air. I continued up the hill slowly, gazing upon the familiar party table as I crested it. The small pink filly was sitting in one of the end chairs with her head down, her mane laying flat as she sobbed softly.

"Pinkie!" I smiled and ran down to her, watching as she gasped and looked up at me, smiling as I reached out and scooped her up into a hug. She squeezed me so tight it hurt, but I didn't mind as long as it made her feel better. "What is it? What's wrong?"

She let go of me, hopping back up onto the table so she could be at my height. Her normally bright eyes were soft and betrayed her true age, her smile had sunk to one as forced as a smile could be. "Oh, it's nothing. I was just super-duper worried about my most favoritest relative." She said softly, diverting her eyes as she sat down. She was lying to me, and doing a poor job at hiding it.

"Why are you worried?" I asked as I reached my hoof up and brushed a tear from her cheek, giving her a soft smile. "I'm fine, you see? Nothing to be worried about." I tried to comfort her, watching as she relaxed with my words. "Now, why don't you tell me what's really got the best aunty anypony could ask for, all upset."

She gave out a sad sigh, drooping her mane in front of her in the same way that Longbow's did, her disappointment from a few minutes ago flashed in my mind. Celestia, I really hope she and the others made it out alright. Pinkie's eyes showed a slight amount of fear as she looked up again. "It's because first you were early, and I didn't think anything about it. You can never be too early to a party. But then you didn't show up, and that's when I knew..." She said right before a bright flash emitted from all around, quickly followed by the loud crack of thunder.

"But, I don't understand." I said as I looked back at the quickly approaching storm, it's towering, black clouds for some reason gave me the impression it was unhappy. But storm's can't be unhappy... right? "Why would when I show up in a dream matter?" I nearly jumped as another flash and boom caught me off guard, the wind started to pick up as I could feel fresh drops of rain on my coat. The water was ice cold on my skin, my mind trying to remind me that I was drowning in the real world.

"Because..." Pinkie said, her words full of hesitation. "Because... it just does! I'm Pinkie Pie, random is just my thing!" She lied again as she hoofed at the tablecloth under her, her mane shifting in the increasing winds. Why wouldn't she just tell me what was going on, and why she was so sad?

"I know you are lying to me." I said as I got back to my hooves, taking off my flak jacket and placing it around her, shielding her from some of the rain. The gears in my head spun out of control, forcing the same question into my head over and over, compelling me to ask. "Why am I here, Pinkie? These dreams, why do I have them?" I held my hoof up to the side of my head as I felt it pounding.

The sudden flash and boom shook the whole table, making Pinkie let out a soft gasp as she laid down, covering herself with the green vest. "But I... I can't..." She said softly. "If I tell you, you won't want to come back anymore. Even if you did, then SHE won't let you come back any more anyway."

"She?" I asked as I lifted the vest up slightly, watching as Pinkie stretched out her hoof and pointed it to the sky behind me, causing me to follow it and turn around. I froze as I looked into the oncoming storm, the middle of the cloud had been split open, forced apart like a jagged cut in the sky. Sitting amongst the darkness that bled from behind it, a bright silver disk sat inside with the impression of a unicorn mare across it. "The moon? But... who is she?"

"Please, Luna..." Pinkie said as I could hear her push the jacket off. "But... I don't want to..." she cried out, making me turn to ask what she was talking about. She was staring up at the moon with a defiant look on her face, trying to stand strong. "NO. I won't let that happen! You can't... but it's not fair!" She screamed past me, somehow having a conversation with the mare in the moon. The angry filly turned to me, her face washing over with sorrow as she looked into my eyes. "I'm sorry..."

She jumped up and into the air as a bolt of lightning shot across the sky, her hooves coming down on my head as the thunder roared, echoing away slowly as darkness reasserted itself as my world.


I came to coughing and choking up water as my whole body shivered, the sound of the Delamare river flowing just a few feet away accompanying the sound of approaching hoofbeats in the mud. I was alive. Somehow I had made it to the riverbank, and was mostly now in danger of freezing to death. The soft flapping of wings made me open my eyes, letting me stare up into Skyline's face as she smiled down to me... no wait, she was upside down to me, that was a frown.

"Oh thank Celestia, you're alive!" She said as she dropped down and pressed into me, hugging me tightly. "What happened down there?! We were all waiting for you when your 'completely harmless' robot friend blew the door up and sealed us in!" Skyline leaned back and smacked me hard, although I didn't feel it (one of the many perks of going into hypothermia, although I don't recommend having it). "Don't you EVER do something like that again!"

I turned as I heard the heavy thumps of power armored hooves splashing through the mud, watching as Longbow threw herself over the hill leading to the riverbank. She slid down the hill and stopped next to me, pushing Skyline away forcefully as I could see her rage-consumed expression. "YOU FUCKING IDIOT!" She screamed as she kicked me in the side with her forehoof, knocking the wind out of me (Unfortunately, no amount of hypothermia can numb the feeling of an angry mare swinging a piece of steel at your chest).

"Don't kill him, Longbow, you can't be mad at him if he's dead." Carlotta cooed sarcastically as she swooped down and hovered across from Skyline. "You know you can stop playing the action hero, Backlash. I know I said that you're a badass, but don't let that go to your head. That was a crazy idea even by MY standards, and I have wings, I can do some pretty crazy things." She looked down over me and shook her head. "If ghost mare over there hadn't heard you scream like a little filly, Skyline might never have found you in time."

I looked over along the river bank as I got my breath back, watching as Willow Wisp stood silently and gazed into the water, looking like she was lost in thought. After all she had been through, I couldn't blame her. She stiffened up, shooting her gaze over to me, an extremly worried look forming on her face. My ear tweaked as I heard a soft rumbling that grew in the air, I closed my eyes and flopped over, pressing my head down into the mud. The sound was getting louder and growing closer.

"Backlash, what is it?" Sky asked as she looked up at the hill, hearing the odd sound as well. I heard a distorted beep come from my muddied Pipbuck, pulling it up and turning my head to read it. I opened my eyes to see B.I.T. frowning.

"The Leviathan Megaspell has detonated."

The rumble quickly grew to a roar as I got to my hooves and dashed up the muddy embankment, surveying what was the south western outskirts of Fillydelphia. A dim shine illuminated the underside of the entire flatland in front of me, making the ground shake violently. I watched as dark waves of earth rolled across the muddy plane, the first of which nearly threw me back down into the river. I tried to steady myself as a series of immense cracks resonated through the ground and the air, the whole of the flatland in front of me shifting and tilting inward, looking as if the land had just exhaled a deep breath.

The shaking stopped as the last of the waves shrank down, leaving the air still as I stared at the sheer magnitude of the newly formed depression, the glow dying off to leave night dipping back into it's natural darkness as I shivered from the cold. I was now probably standing at the new highest point on the outskirts of Filly as Longbow plodded up next to me. I watched as her horn glowed, throwing on her helmet to survey the area using the suit's enhanced night vision.

"Sweet Celestia! There's a shallow crater that must be at LEAST a half a mile across!" She turned to me slowly. "Backlash, what did you do? What in Celestia's name was that?" I was about to tell her I had no idea when B.I.T. sent out another beep. Longbow leaned in with me as I looked down at the screen, hoofing a bit of mud off of it and doing my best to keep my leg still as I shook from the cold.

"The Leviathan Megaspell was commissioned and designed by M.A.S. to use a framework of gravity reversal spells that would cause compression waves underwater. The intention was to implement Leviathan off the Zebras' coastal regions to clear the way for amphibious assault teams, but the project was ultimately suspended by Ministry head Twilight Sparkle due to the fact that it's omnidirectional deployment could have put allied coastal cities in danger."

I was shivering badly and words became harder and harder to form. "B... but it didn't deto..nate under...water, h..how did it.... collapse t..the ground?" I said as I sat in the mud. I knew I needed to get warm, but my curiosity was winning out for now. I watched as more words scrolled across, my ears picking up the heavy stomps and the excited voice of Brass and what I assumed to be P.I.N.K. as they came towards us from along the riverbank.

"The prototype spell was designed from the theory of using a megaspell to create an earthquake, but in order to displace that much water, they needed to increase the strength of each spell layer to near unthinkable levels. Twilight had even noted that she was afraid that if it was ever detonated underground, the resulting megaquake might cause part of equestria to slide into the sea."

"Well... at le... least tha... at did... didn't... hap... pen." I said as I felt P.I.N.K. stomp up beside me, the large legs sinking down into the mud. I turned my head and went to wave, not feeling as my other hoof slipped and gave out, flopping me down in the mud with a wet splat. My body shivered furiously as I felt stabs of pain in my insides. "I... th...th...think... I ne..need... f..fire." I managed to stutter out, watching as darkness crept around my vision again.

The voices of my friends drifted off as I felt so tired all of a sudden, and Luna knows I'd earned a bit of rest. Maybe I could just lay here and get in a good nap.

Chapter 11 - Over the Horizon

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Chapter 11

"Clock is ticking, Twilight! Clock... is... ticking!"


My Pipbuck jabbed uncomfortably into my side as I stirred awake, reflexively making me attempt to roll over and pull the heavy blanket further over myself. I was surprised to not only still feel the jabbing sensation, but found myself thrown off the edge of the bed by my own strength. I fell out headfirst, letting out a loud grunt as half my body flopped onto the floor. As the pain in my side ebbed away, I writhed my rear hooves free from the twisted blanket and let out a long sigh.

"Aye, yer finally awake. Had a bit of a close call with yah." The gravelly and oddly accented voice of a stallion spoke up from next to me. He sounded almost like a pony from Trottingham, but it was slightly different, rougher somehow. Mostly I'm surprised I've never heard an accent like his before. I rubbed at my eyes with my hooves, squinting up to where the voice came from. "Let me be tha first ta tell yah, if yer friends hadn't flagged us down, yew'd be nuthin' but another corpse by now." I stared up in my blurry vision, gazing at bright yellow pony who sat on a large white chair no more than a leg's length from me. I felt myself get pushed off the bed completely, my flank slapping against the wooden floorboards quite painfully.

"My... friends?" I asked groggily, my stiff muscles painfully reminding me that I was still recovering. At least with the only copies of the Mirror Pool project files safely entombed in my Pipbuck, I could finally give my body a rest. My eyes refocused on the strange pony in front of me, his yellow outline reforming as a bright raincoat and hat, while the stranger in question was actually a unicorn ghoul. His charcoal black coat had shallow, crimson-colored cracks running across it, the only hair on his body I could see was a great, big, bushy, grey beard. The one thing that really stood out from him though were his eyes. They were about the lightest shade of blue I had ever seen on a pony.

"Yessir, yer group is certainly an odd lot, what with that griffin, steel ranger, an' ghost in tow, but they seemed like nice enough folk ta me!" He let out a wheezing laugh. "Well, I dun' actually know, but they didn't shoot me when they asked fer help. It's sad that it says a lot about a pony when they don't shoot yah or rob yah blind."

I felt myself slide back underneath the bed, almost as if being pulled by an invisible force. I dug my hooves into the wooden floorboards and scrambled to slide back out, getting up as I felt myself get pulled the other direction. I tried to stop, but I slammed into the other side of the small room we were in, smacking against the wall as the ghoul laughed.

"Woah now, looks like it's time ta git back ta the helm." He said as he got up off the toilet that he had been sitting on, holding his hoof out and steadying me. It wasn't how he said it, but moreover what he said that made my brain strain to put things together. His horn glowed faintly as his magic gripped the doorknob to the tiny room, the gears in my mind having just enough time to figure out where I was. A small, simple room that had a toilet placed as it's only real chair, the now constant rocking, and the only other time in my life I had heard someone use the word helm.

His magic swung the door inward, the floodlights outside of the room confirming my fears. I felt like I had been bucked in the gut when he stepped out, the endless rolling of the ocean greeted me as he turned and trotted out of sight. The darkness of night matched with the howling winds drove the fear I felt deep inside to hook into me, taking root as my heart started to race. My stomach churned as I tried to keep myself steady, my throat trying to tell me what comes next. I threw myself towards the toilet, shoving my head into the foul-smelling bowl and heaving hard, spilling the remains of Brass's stew into it.

"I hate boats." I grumbled out between heaves, the low rumble of thunder filling the air. At least staring into here, I could at least pretend I was on dry land, or at least on really windy and wobbly land.

"Oh, you're awake." The soft voice of Willow came from behind me. I would have liked to see where she was poking through, but my stomach and the boat was making that a really bad idea. "I'll go tell the others, unless you'd like to be left alone?"

"Actually, I need to know something." I groaned as I felt us hit another strong wave, sending the boat bobbing and rocking stronger. I heaved again, sending what I hoped was ACTUALLY the last of the stew down the drain. "Back on the riverbank, you looked at me as if you knew what was coming, like you knew the megaspell was going off? Could you tell?"

"Oh well, I didn't really know." She sounded embarrassed as I heaved again, listening as best as I could while my seasickness make it extremely hard to concentrate. "I just felt it in my horn, you know?"

"No, I don't" I used my hoof to wipe the sick from my muzzle. "Earth pony and all."

"Oh, right. Sorry." Now she sounded ashamed. "I was a unicorn before all... this." I assumed she was looking herself over. The boat jolted and a wave washed across the deck as another burst of thunder shook the air. "Maybe you should come down here with us, it looks like it's going to get pretty bad out."

I heaved again, this time nothing came up, which was good I suppose, it still hurt though. "Yes, I suppose I should just walk across the constantly tossing surface of this deathtrap to find a door. A door that I'll use to get further away from the lifegiving air I'll need for when this hunk of junk sinks."

"I can stay up here with you." She said with a note of hope. "Well, if you don't mind that is." she paused for a moment. "I don't think the others like when I'm around."

"I'm sure that's not true. Hold on." I said as I turned my head, watching the door to the room swing freely as we rocked against the growing waves. I got to my hooves slowly, keeping my right foreleg wrapped around the lip of the toilet to steady myself. Another sharp jolt forced the ship up quickly, slamming me back down as yet more water rushed over the deck. The ice cold water ran into the room, washing along the floor and my hooves before slipping back over the railing that was the only barrier between me and the merciless deep.

The freezing water brought the fear of drowning bubbling back up to the front of my mind, forcing my legs to act. I jumped over to the door, slamming into the wall as I swung it, nearly closing it before another strong wave tilted us to the side. The heavy wooden door swung back as I tried to steady myself, the round copper handle catching me off guard as it slammed into my head. I yelped and kicked the door again hard, slamming it shut. I held my hoof to my right eyebrow, feeling it was tender to the touch, but it wasn't bleeding.

I trudged over to the bed and climbed up onto it again, pressing myself into the corner as Willow watched me through the floor. She gave a small laugh as I pulled the blanket back over me. "I'll tell the others you are alright." She said before dipping down and out of sight. How she could be so calm about being able to pass through things, I don't think I'll ever know. Well, thinking about it, I don't really WANT to ever know how that feels. I like touching things, being able to touch things was kind of nice.

She popped her head back up, a confused look on her face. "Your friend Longbow wants to know how 'you of all ponies' can get seasick." She scrunched up her muzzle as she thought about it. "Then your friend Brass started laughing a lot. Is it some sort of inside joke, or something?"

"Tell Longbow that it's because waves are unpredictable, the ground isn't." I said as the ship jolted again, slapping me against the wall roughly. "And tell Brass that next time I take out the Maruader, he gets to ride where the trunk was."

Willow dropped below the deck again as the wooden floor creaked loudly, the wind now howling relentlessly outside. The gears in my head hadn't stopped spinning since I found out some random boat saved us. That didn't make any sense! Fillydelphia didn't have a working port and the fishing around there was lousy from the radiation. So what were they doing in the Delamare? A loud boom of thunder shook the walls as the boat weaved and bobbed, the storm growing worse by the moment.

"Again, I'm sorry." Willow said softly as she rose up through the floor, her voice filled with regret as she sat down on it. "About your mother."

"Ah, well it wasn't your fault, but that's something I'd rather not talk about right now." I didn't want to think about it anymore, I had been through enough turmoil in the last forty eight hours, let alone the last two weeks. Actually, I have no idea how long I'd been out. "How long have I been sleeping?"

"Uhmm." Willow seemed to be caught off guard by the question. "Well, we all were pretty tired once we got on the boat, so we all slept for a while. I don't think we've been more than a few hours, but ever since I regained my memories, time has been hard for me to keep track of."

"But, you... still need to sleep?" I asked slowly, not even sure if a normal Alicorn would ever need it. "Do you still need food or anything?"

"No, I don't suppose I need much of anything anymore." She spoke with a sigh. "But when I slept, I could see my old life. The ponies I knew from around that cruddy, little town; my cruddy, little house..." She smiled a sad smile. "My cruddy, little husband." She trembled softly and stifled back a sniffle."

"You mean Ponyville?" I asks slowly. I knew it was small and dilapidated, but cruddy wasn't the word I would have used. Well, maybe now after 42 ran through.

"No, that's just where I grew up." She sighed softly.

"Tell me then." I patted the bed next to me, giving her a smile. "If we're going to be stuck on a boat together for a while. I'd at least like to get to know you a bit."

She looked hesitant, probably trying to think of any reason not to. I wonder if she was always so shy before the goddess got to her, or if it's just a side effect of being locked away for years inside her. "Do you really want to know about me?"

I braced myself as the boat shuttered, a crash of thunder outside made my mane stand on end. I banged my head against the wall as we pressed on into the storm, getting startled as a plank popped out and dropped on to the bed next to me. "Yes, actually. I'm sure that the others feeling uncomfortable is just because they don't know you yet. Besides, talking is helping me not feel so sick." I leaned over and looked inside the hole, smiling as I gazed upon a hidden bottle of apple-flavored wild pegasus that was still two thirds full. "So, where does one go from Ponyville?"

"Well, I went where I wanted mostly." She said as I hoofed the bottle from the wall, wrapping it in the blanket so it wouldn't roll away. "Both my best friend and I, we wanted to go out and see the wasteland, find amazing treasures, get rich, then retire somewhere nice like Tenpony." She sighed again, this time with happy nostalgia.

"I remember that feeling." I said before clamping my teeth around the cork, yanking it up with a satifying pop. "Young, dumb, irresponsible." I let the feelings of my teenage years soak back in. I mean, I still had them, but between gangs, manticores, killing joke, and the increasing amount of crazed faction ponies, real life had somewhat dulled the feelings down. "But adventuring is expensive. What's your talent? Has to be something good to make enough money to live that style life." I held the bottle in my hooves and lifted it, feeling as the liquid burned in my throat, making me feel warm and relaxed.

"Well, uhmm. I don't really have a name for it.... but, I can see things underground?" She said slowly. I could tell she was struggling to describe it to me.

"Can't anypony do that with a lantern or light spell?" I asked before taking another drink. Willow seemed to be relaxing more and more as we talked, and I was glad that she was opening up. There is no more room in my life for strangers, but with the company I've been keeping, new friends are always welcome.

"That's not what I mean." She said with a small laugh. "I mean, I can see things when they are still IN the ground. Chests, bodies, bullets. Once I even found a Stable!" She rubbed her chin thoughtfully with her hoof. "We never did find the entrance though, they seem to hide them extremely well."

"You can see through the ground?" I cocked an eyebrow at her as we hit another large wave. "How does that work?"

"If my Dad were here, he could tell you in the most unintelligible science talk you've ever heard." She laughed and smiled. "All I know is that my horn would hum and I could see everything under me."

I took another drink of the sweet whiskey, the soft throbbing from my head hitting the wall over and over was slowly disappearing. "Sounds like the perfect talent for an adventurous pony, did you and your friend ever hit it big?"

"Nah, the best things we ever found were some old emergency shelters that were stocked with plenty of food and medical supplies. That brought us a few thousand caps in total, but it's hardly worth mentioning." She waived her hoof dismissively. "Well, not compared to our business, we found lots of interesting things for other ponies. They would pay us an exorbitant amount to find the simplest things."

"You two had a business together?" I smirked and thought about how well Sky and I worked together. "Who was the boss?" I brought the bottle up to my lips, taking a long pull from the now half empty bottle. "Who made the deals and chose the contracts?"

"Definitely Mud. She could talk her way into or out of anything." Willow's expression brightened as she remembered her. "She once sold a set of Vertibucks to the enclave only using a single, near pristine rotator cuff we found in a scrap heap as 'proof'. They paid her two thousand caps and thought they were getting a steal!"

I would never scam a customer like that, but I couldn't help but laugh at that. For the first time since she regained her memories, I heard Willow sounding like she was actually enjoying herself. She held up a hoof as she panted and tried to stop laughing. "Best thing was, Mud was just a name she pulled out of her flank before the deal! So for a good month, the Enclave was running around the wasteland in the middle of the rainy season, asking if anypony knew where they could find mud!"

I doubled over laughing as suddenly my troubles from the last few days seemed nowhere in sight. Not even the rough waves and booming thunder could get me down, which wasn't exactly true as just then, a strong wave bashed into the ship and threw me to the floor. I watched in horror as the half full bottle flew through the air, slowing down as it started to glow bright white. I looked up to see Willow's horn shining brilliantly as she levitated the bottle to the bed, jamming it between the wall and the sheets.

"I didn't know your telekinesis still worked." I said as I tried to get to my hooves, the alcohol making my coordination a bit off as it started to sink in. I'm really glad my mutation didn't keep me from getting drunk off sweet apple whiskey.

"Me either." Willow said in amazement. "I haven't been able to use it or any spells in this form until now. But I just reached out by reflex... hold on." She huffed and glared at the bottle for a moment. "Nope. I can't seem to use it at all now."

I shrugged and walked my way back towards the bed, being thrust toward it as the ship jerked and rolled back. I slammed my chest against it as I clambered into it again, grunting as I sat down. "So, you two had a treasure finding service." I said as I hooved the bottle back up, taking a long long drink as she nodded. "Where was it? I'd like to meet this silver-tongued mare sometime." Maybe see if I could win in a battle of negotiation... "you know how it is, talk business pony to business pony."

She looked at me puzzled. "No, I don't know." She said sternly, glaring at me for a moment before a smile crept across her muzzle. "I see what you did there..."

"Ok, ok." I smiled and pointed my hoof at her "That was revenge for the whole unicorn comment earlier." I looked at the bottle as I raised it again, noticing that only a third of it was left.

"Well, we had set ourselves up in Futura." Willow said with a slight amount of pride. "Tiger Lilly just fell in love with the architecture there."

I spat out the mouthful of whisky at the name, watching in slight sadness as the mist floated through a surprised Willow. "Tiger Lilly!?" I nearly screamed. "Your best friend is the dealer in the house of tomorrow!? Owner of Lost and Found!?" I watched as Willow smiled and nodded happily.

"Yes! So you know of her then?" She leaned forward as I felt my jaw drop.

"Know her!? That no-good, undermining, silver-tongued rogue has swindled me out of more caps in one go than the average trader makes in a month's time!" I growled out, wedging the bottle back down. "I can't believe your best friend is the evil, scheming mare that Skyline kept pushing for me to date." I folded my hooves against my chest with a huff as Willow tried to stifle her laughter. "Yeah, yeah, laugh it up."

Skyline and I made constant trips to Futura. The whole settlement was founded in what used to be a pre-war showcase for 'The Homes of Tomorrow'. The whole settlement doesn't consist of more than 4 or 5 large homes surrounded by sheet metal shacks, but it being smack in between Appleloosa and Baltimare made it a good hub for trade. The one place I made sure never to miss when I was there was Lost and Found, as Tiger Lilly always had some new, rare piece of pre-war arcano-tech that she wanted to pawn off to me. I had even recently contracted her team to find me something, although she charged me far too much for what it's true worth is, but that spark battery controller was that last part the Marauder needed.

I giggled as her laughter sunk in, infecting me with it's unrelenting pleasantness. "Ahhh, you know, I don't normally say this for mares older than me, but I do actually find her rather attractive." I nodded and grabbed the bottle again, drinking again as I brought her up in my mind. Her sandy-colored tan coat nearly matched her strawberry blond hair, her always determined look gazing out from behind a pair of bright red, round rimmed glasses. And don't even get me started on how she showed off her flank every time I was around...

"She's not old. She's only what, thirty..." Willow gasped mid sentence and smiled as she looked up at me "Uhm...." raising her hoof to point at me, making me look down. "Looks like maybe the scheming mare you hate so much, isn't so bad after all..."

As my faced turned what was probably the color of a ripe tomato (not that I'd ever seen one outside of pictures in books), I gasped and drug the heavy blanket over my stiff neathers. "It's the alcohol, I swear!" I yelped in embarrassment, pulling the near-empty bottle close. "Oh Celestia, why can't I get her out of my head now!" I leaned back and hit my head against the wall several times, thumping it quite hard as the boat tilted and threw my head against it harder than I wanted, making me wince.

"Oh my!" Willow gasped, clearly enjoying my torment. "You know... she told me once what she wanted if she ever met a stallion as talented as her." Her voice dropped to a sultry, teasing tone. "She said she would want to strap you down and put that silver tongue of yours to good work." The fact that I hadn't had a good rutting in a LONG time (that I could remember at least) along with the booze clouding my mind made it so easy for the images to form in my head.

"You're evil..." I grunted out as I tried to fight the urge to clop myself in front of Willow. I found that the solution was easy. Keep my hooves and muzzle busy by drinking! I tilted it back and took a few quick gulps of the apple-flavored goodness.

"Trying to distract yourself by drinking?" Willow waved her hoof slowly before pointing to the bottle. "Well, that won't help much longer."

The door to the room slammed open, startling Willow and causing me to scream like a little filly. The Ghoul with the raincoat trudged in and closed the door with a slam, dripping heavily from the storm raging outside. He looked with a small frown down at the bottle in my hooves before levitating his rain gear off with a sigh. Well, that sure did the trick, mood killed!

"Now look what yah went an' did. Yah drank the bottle o'whiskey I was savin' fer when I got back with my ex-wife." He said as he levitated it from my grip.

"Oh... a wave knocked... and I just... " I turned and gestured at the wall in an attempt to explain, all the while starting to feel horrible for effectively stealing his special whiskey. Spending so much time scavenging can make a pony forget what's not theirs sometimes. "I'm sorry. I'll replace it when we get to a trading post."

Willow and I just sat and watched as he lifted the bottle to his lips, drinking the rest of it without even the slightest hint of the burn. A smile grew across his face as he laughed. "I'm jus jokin' with yah!" he said as he tossed the empty bottle into the corner. "That greedy bitch died in the war over a century ago, I'm glad she went up with everythin' she got in tha' divorce! Yah shoulda' seen the look on yer faces!" He walked over to the toilet, levitating the top off and pulling out a half empty bottle of scotch. "The only crime here is that yah started without me!"


The floor was nowhere near as comfortable as the bed, but it was at least semi-warm. I stretched and let out a yawn as I heard a loud knocking in my ears. I rolled over and tried to go back to sleep when the knocking turned into a pounding, making my head hurt.

"Captain! Get up, Captain! The cloud cover is gone and I think the storm blew us off course." A stallion's voice called out through the door. I smirked as I lay there, thinking how odd it was to be referred to as 'Captain Backlash'. I don't know why, but I kind of liked it. I should make Brass call me Captain from now on.

"Hold on ta yer bits, I'm comin'!" The gravelly voice of Captain Tempest in the bed above me spoke so loud that it almost hurt. Right, still on a boat, and definitely not the captain of said boat. I opened my eyes slowly, sitting up far too quickly and hitting my head on the bed frame above me. I rubbed the back of my head as I regained my focus, watching as the old ghoul kicked one of the empty bourbon bottles from last night across the floor.

He levitated his coat and hat on as he stood, making sure they were on just right before opening the door. I whined and covered my eyes as an amazingly bright light poured in from outside, a calm, cool breeze blew into the room that made my flank feel extremely good seeing as I think I had managed to go the entire night without getting off. Now if only the breeze could help soothe my aching pride.

I slowly pulled myself out and across the floor with a groan, getting to my hooves with little problem. A good day's rest and my body loved me again! Well, I think it was a day, Willow never actually did tell me. Regardless, onward to the outside! I stepped forward and hoofed at the door handle, pulling it open to blind myself with the light outside. I slammed the door shut and blinked a few times, the odd after image of calm waters seemed eerily blue to me.

I quickly threw the Captain's blanket around me like a cloak and opened the door again, now able to withstand the onslaught of light if I squinted hard enough. I stood in shock as I looked out over the bright blue water, tracing it away from the boat to where it continued with where the horizon should be, but then it kept going. It was just like it was in my dreams. It was... the actual big blue sky!

"Dun' jus' stand there!" The captain called from my left, leaning out of what must have been the wheelhouse, which wouldn't be surprising, except it was up a flight of stairs and the front of the ship went on another twenty yards past it. "Git up here an' out of that blasted sunlight before yah get burned!" He said before disappearing back inside, the squeaking sound of the steel hatch grinding away at my hungover brain.

I slowly turned my head and looked down the rear end of the ship, quite amazed to see that it went on for another twenty yards. I've seen ships this size moored at Friendship Island every now and again, but never have I been this close to one, and never have I heard that any of them ever head south to Fillydelphia. Not to say that it never happened, but this whole mess was just one great enigma I needed to figure out. I made my way to the stairs, climbing up to the deckhouse as the door swung open again.

"Oh hey, Backlash! Isn't it great!" Brass shouted gleefully. "We're on a boat!" He giggled and ran past me down the steps. "If only mom could see me now!"

I groaned as my stomach gurgled at the word boat. I know I've been looking at it, and I can feel that we've been bobbing up and down, but my brain for some reason wasn't convinced it was real until he said it. I quickly ran down the steps and threw myself against the railing, throwing up again as I purged the cocktail that had been mixing in my gut overnight. I coughed as I hung limply and looked into the water, watching as a few flicks of silver traveled up to the spreading sick. The large fish schooled around it for a moment before deciding it wasn't food and swimming off.

I heard the low, single rumble of thunder on the horizon, looking up for the storm clouds but found none. I was just about to mention it to Brass when a loud whistle grew in the air. I curled up and ducked against the railing as a large black object crashed into the water and exploded maybe fifty yards away.

"YOU HAVE ENTERED A RESTRICTED ENCLAVE MILITARY ZONE. CUT YOUR ENGINES AND PREPARE FOR INSPECTION." The amplified voice of a stern mare came from above, drawing my gaze to the lowering Vertibuck over the rear of the ship. "THE ENCLAVE WISHES YOU TO KNOW THAT YOUR COOPERATION IS HIGHLY APPRECIATED."

I pulled myself back up using the railing, slowly making my way to the back of the ship as the door on the side of the large black vehicle opened. Four armored pegasi trotted out and formed into pairs of two, each group heading up separate sides of the ship. Their exotic-looking, magical energy weapons, shiny carapaces and bug-eyed helmets made them look like other worldly invaders from the Space Captain Andromeda comics I used to read as a colt. I watched as they turned and disappeared into the ship without a word, Captain Tempest was walking down from the deckhouse slowly as the other crew ponies onboard went about their various tasks.

"You there, remove your cloak." A mare's voice called from the Vertibuck's hatch, making me cringe. The way she ordered me to do things reminded me of Strawberry Sorbet, a military pony through and through. I turned to object, finding the sheet ripped over my head as she tore it off. I squinted and raised my hoof to cover my eyes, only to find her take my hoof, twist it painfully, and before I knew what happened, somehow found myself flat on my back next to her. I clenched my eyes shut as the bright sun beat down on me.

"Attempting to assault an officer while inspecting the breach of a forbidden travel zone is in violation of the Civilian Enforcement Act under article four, subsection seven." She tweaked her hold on my hoof, making me whine as pain shot through my shoulder. "You are to be held by the Enclave as a prisoner until a court can be convened to try you of your offences."

"Oh cut yer yappin', what's yer chest say... major?" Captain Tempest shouted as he approached. "The only thing he's guilty of is havin' a hangover, he's not in any shape ta fight, I mean, jus look at him! Black eye, light sensitivity, an' absolutely no coordination." I wasn't sure if I should be glad he was defending me, or insulted by the way he was going about it. "Other than him, the H.M.S. Gallant and her crew are at yer service!"

I felt as the Enclave mare loosened her grip slightly, but not enough to let go of me. "Then as Captain, I expect you to keep a tighter reign on your crew members." She released my hoof and stepped back. "And you are correct. Major Silver Star of Enclave R&D. You have entered a restricted area, Captain, I'm sorry for the inconvenience, but inspections are just part of the rules. I'm sure we'll be out of your mane in no time. Can I ask why you have entered this area?"

I got to my hooves slowly, looking up at the very official sounding mare. She wore a tight fitting dark green suit over her light pink coat, a plethora of small medals on it showing she was quite adept at her job. Her silver mane glinted in the sunlight, only matched in intensity by her equally silver eyes. She frowned as I looked over her, Captain Tempest moving to speak before being cut off from behind.

"Ma'am, we've found something." The low voice of a stallion droned as he poked his helmet out of the side of the ship. The young officer brushed past me and trot toward the open hatch, the Captain and I following curiously as she quickly dipped inside.

"Let go of me!" Skyline called as she was drug up the stairs on the back of one of the soldiers, her forelegs and wings bound together with rope. "Backlash, get them off me!"

"Skyline!" I tried to push past the officer, which I should have known was a bad idea, but then again, that's why I normally like to talk before acting. Once again, I found myself inexplicably on the floor, my chest hurting as this time my hoof was pulled around my back painfully. "Let go of my sister!" I yelled out against the cold steel floor.

"She is your sister?" The Major asked boredly in disbelief. "Unlikely, her pallet doesn't even match yours as a siblings should. We'll have to run her through the system to see if she's a runaway. You two, take her to the Vertibuck." I listened as nopony moved a muscle, silence filling the air before the Major spoke up again. "Private, I just gave you an order."

"And now," The smooth voice of Carlotta preceded the sharp click of her service pistol's hammer locking back. "You are going to rescind that order." Oh Celestia, that griffin know's how to save our flanks!

"I'll have you know that interfering in the detention..." Silver Star spoke with authority, drifting off midway through her sentence as I heard Carlotta's armor creak slightly before Silver Star released her grip on me.

"And I'm telling you, I don't care. Now let my marefriend go, or I'll make sure that a bruised ego is the least of your injuries today." I turned my head and watched as the Pegasus mare stepped over me and turned around slowly, looking Carlotta dead in the eyes.

"Do what she says, cut her loose." Silver Star said without taking her eyes off of the armed Griffin. "I am only going to give you all ONE chance. If you don't surrender, I am authorized to send this boat and all its occupants to the murky depths below." She lowered her gaze as Skyline's bindings were cut quickly, using her muzzle to gesture for the soldiers to head out. "And that is not a threat. If you refuse, it is a promise. I only ask that you reconsider for the sake of everypony on board."

"I only ask that you run your pretty little self along, get back on your transport, and be glad you all can still run away with your tails tucked between your legs." Carlotta cooed as the soldiers stepped up past us, trotting back toward the Vertibuck. The Major walked past me slowly, keeping a wide berth around Carlotta. "Oh, and Major?" The pegasi stopped mid step, looking over with a glare that could melt steel. "I would like you to know that your cooperation is highly appreciated."

We all breathed a sigh of relief as the Major turned the corner, trotting back down the deck toward the waiting Vertibuck. Skyline bolted up the steps and pressed into Carlotta, hugging her tightly as the griffin put her pistol back on safe.

"Captain Tempest, Do those deck guns still work?" Carlotta called out as the old Ghoul stepped back outside. Wait, deck guns? What kind of fishing boat had deck guns!? HOW DID I MISS THIS?!

"Yew betcha, Miss Carlotta! Jus gotta warm up the ol' targeting system from the bridge!" He yelled back as he turned toward the stairway, trotting up it as the black transport dipped down along side the boat. I watched curiously out the hatch as the flying ship shimmered in the light of the sun, skimming over the water to slowly pivot around to face us.

"Carlotta, what's going on?" Sky asked in a panicked voice, prodding the stern Griffin as she stood with a frown. "Why do we need the guns? Aren't they just going to leave?"

"Sorry, but she wasn't lying. If we don't fight, she will sink this ship." Carlotta ran her talon through Sky's mane, keeping her expression cold. "It's us, or them, and I'd rather not lose you or Backlash. It wouldn't look very good on my record if I let a client die."

I heard the low drone of hydraulics powering up from outside, piquing my curiosity as Longbow and Brass ran up the stairs in a panic. "Backlash! They left a bomb on board!" Both of them called out in near unison. Brass stepped in front of Longbow. "We need you down here! You have to disarm it!"

I turned and followed them down the stairway, heading below deck and into a long corridor that with the exception of the bulkheads, ran the length of the ship it looked like. They lead me up into the forward most room where an Willow was staring underneath a large wooden table that had been bolted to the floor. I pushed past Longbow and got down low to the floor, looking up to see a large brick of plastic explosives wired to some sort of plastic and brass clock mechanism which had all been screwed into the table. I let out a low whistle as I looked it over, each piece of the clock was held in place by an extremely small pin that if tampered with, could jam the inner workings of the machine. Each screw had a wire running to it, probably a failsafe against removal.

"We need your skills with taking things apart. I've seen wiring like this before and can walk you through disarming it, but your hooves and muzzle are a lot more steady than my magic." Longbow said as she got down low next to me. "If you try to separate it from the charge, it will explode, if you stop the timer, it will explode, if you try to unscrew it from the table, it will explode." She let out a soft sigh, her look gave me a hint of sadness. "I've seen this kind of bomb before, they only give access to this kind of training to star paladins or stealth experts and it's the only reason I can recognize it."

The room shuttered as the deck gun above fired, the boom drifting off quickly into the open ocean before the rear gun fired as well. "With that gun firing, steady hooves mean nothing. But maybe if this is designed anything like an alarm clock, then...." I slid myself around the front of the table, getting a look at the other side of it. I watched as the gears and springs inside twisted and clicked. "Yes, the mainspring is still wound, although, not very tightly." I said as I pushed myself back, the room shook again as the gun fired, the resounding crack of the round ripping into the Vertibuck echoed back shortly before the loud whoosh of a rocket passing above us. "We have an hour, maybe an hour and a half before it's set to go off."

I was thrown into the table as the ship wrenched sideways, the blast of a rocket hitting the back of the ship filled my ears temporarily with the sound of ringing. I flopped back onto the floor and stared up at the time bomb screwed into the table above me, hoping that we stayed afloat long enough to either disarm the bomb, or make it to shore. The smell of smoke and sounds of shouting above prompted me to slide out from under the table and get back up. Longbow's horn glowed as her armor let out a set of loud clicks, opening up as she quickly jumped out of it.

"Brass, take my suit and help the Captain!" She yelled at him with an assertive voice, then turning to me. "Backlash, you need to go with him. I need time to form an idea on how to deal with the bomb in case you can't disarm it."

"I kind of like it when you order me around like that." I grinned over to her as she sighed with a frown, turning and running down the smoky hallway toward the stairwell. Brass rolled his eyes as he walked over to the suit, his horn glowing brightly as I heard a plethora of clicks and whirrs inside it. The cloth lining was rearranging itself inside, changing sizes to fit somepony his size.

"Go and find out what we need to do to help." Brass barked up at me in his best attempt to copy Longbow. I mulled over the idea of tormenting him later over the fact that he kept trying to hit on me, watching as he stopped and stared at me in confusion. "Go on! This will only take me a minute." He shooed me away with his hoof. I turned and climbed the stairs to the deck, coughing as I walked clear of the billowing smoke.

"Aye! Yah morons git below deck and put out those fires!" Captain Tempest screeched at two stallions who were trying to spray down a blaze that was raging on the rear deck, smoke snaking up into the sky from the twisted hole that ripped through the side of the ship. A red streak of movement caught my eye out along the water, the smoking remains of the Vertibuck was strewn over a wide area, Skyline was circling it along with Carlotta, hopefully looking for survivors. "An' yew, Backlash! Dun' just stand there! Git down there an help the poor lads put it out! I can't restart the engine when it's on fire!" The Captain's worried voice pulled me back into focus before he climbed the stairs back up to the deck house.

Another boom on the horizon caught my attention, the slow moving explosive shell arced towards us, crashing down between the boat and the Vertibuck wreck. Whatever the Enclave were guarding had to be pretty impressive to fire shells over the horizon with even that much accuracy. I backtracked my way down into the hallway that was now completely full of smoke, I crouched as low as I could get and wished I still had that blanket to help breathe. I yelled to get over the now constant roar of the fire that raged somewhere before us. "Brass! You ready yet!?"

"Yeah! I'm here!" The heavy steps of the power armor vibrated the floor slightly, reminding me that there was maybe a pony's height of space underneath our hooves that kept us from the bottom of the sea. He activated the lantern on the helmet and levitated a fire extinguisher off the wall, snaking the hose in front of himself as we came up to the first sealed bulkhead. I put my hooves through the wheel and grunted, spinning it to unlatch the door. I pulled it open slowly as smoke poured through, the orange flames of the raging inferno shot out the open side of the boat.

"Stand back!" Brass shouted as he walked up, the unnerving groan of melting steel filled the choking air before he squeezed the handle of the 120 year old device.

Nothing came out.

Brass shook the device in frustration, depressing the release lever with his magic a few times before throwing the device to the floor. "Damn valve is probably corroded shut!"

"We need to get the sprinkler systems working!" I waved my hoof toward the ceiling, trying to clear the smoke. A heavily rusted iron pipe ran between sprinklers at the top of the wall, a thin red wire ran just above it, disappearing into small boxes that were connected to each nozzle above the pipe. As long as the engines were off, the system didn't have any power feeding to it. "Brass, can you cast a spark spell on the sprinkler line?"

"A... spark spell?" His voice came through the speaker hesitantly. He sounded... ashamed? "No. I'm sorry, I don't know how." He lowered his head and scuffed at the floor with his hoof. "I only know how to use telekinesis and light. Those are the only two spells I've ever needed."

"And that's fine, Brass. It's not like you've ever needed to save a burning ship before." I tried to comfort him, flopping down onto the floor to avoid the thickening smoke. "The system should have it's own compression, so all we need to do is get those lines open and the water will come out on it's own. If only we could jump the engine, even if just for a moment..." The gears in my head whirred to life and stuck a crazy thought into my head. "That's it! Brass, I need you to find me a good length of wiring and either a spark battery or a small energy crystal."

He looked confused for a moment before disappearing back through the hatch. I kept myself low and looked along the metal floor, feeling about in the thickening smoke for nearly a minute until I could feel the handle of a hatch. I hoofed it up, opening it to reveal the maintenance access for the below deck bilge pumps and pulled myself into the small space. I wedged myself as low as I could get, my head barely sticking above the floor as I heard Brass step back into the smoky hallway. The thought that I was sitting maybe only a half an inch above the depths sent a chill up my spine.

"Backlash!" He called out, his voice booming through the suit. "I'm back, but the smoke is thick enough that I can't see, even with the headlamp on!"

"I'm over here!" I waived my hoof up out of the hole as I found the old pump and followed it's wiring back, stopping as I realized what he had just said. "Just... follow the sound of my voice. I should only be a few steps aw..." I looked up out of the hole just in time for him to take a step onto my face.

"Oh Celestia! I'm sorry!" He cried out, stepping back and lowering herself to the floor. "Longbow gave me a small energy crystal and this much wire." He floated over a small roll of spare wiring that I hoped to Celestia was long enough, dropping both items next to me as I rubbed my sore nose. "What next?"

"When I tell you to, levitate the other end of the wire up to one of the boxes that sits over the sprinkler system." I leaned down and bit down on the wire, unspooling it as I hoofed open the plastic pump circuit housing. Just as I thought it would be, the energy crystal was cracked and the insulated wiring had corroded, leaving the contacts exposed. I leaned in and threaded the new wire around behind the exposed, old one. Another large blast shook the boat as the Enclave gunfire closed in on us.

I continued to wrap the wiring around, struggling to find a way to keep it connected. "This would be so much easier if I didn't dump all the stuff from my saddle bags then lose my saddle bags anyway!" An extremely discomforting groan emanated along the length of the ship. If we couldn't get the fire out, the steel frame could give way and take us straight to the bottom.

I watched as the wire glowed softly, Brass's magic helping to secure it. "Backlash, you don't have to do this all on your own. I'm here, and all you have to do is ask for help." He spoke down, now trying to comfort me. I smiled to myself and hoofed the wire back up out of the hole, watching as he floated it up towards the wall. "Uh, Backlash, the wire isn't long enough!"

"Damn it!" I yelled and slammed my hoof on the floor. "Without the pump, I can't transfer the power!" I knocked my head against the floor plate above. "Think, think, think!"

"I have an idea." Brass said slowly, his words hinting that he didn't really want to use that idea. I heard as he repositioned himself, the wire going taught. "Ok, Backlash. Turn it on!" He said, for some reason anticipating... pain?

"Brass, what are you doing?" I asked, standing up and digging my hooves against the floor plate to pull myself out.

"Backlash, stay down there." He called over sternly. "I'm using the suit to bridge the circuit. Just trust me, it's the only way this will work."

"You don't understand, Brass, these crystals carry enough charge to fire magical energy weapons. That means it holds enough charge to kill a pony ten times over!" I strained and pulled myself out of the hole, coughing heavily as the black smoke stung my eyes.

"Backlash, I know the risks." He laughed as he spoke with a hint of sadness. "Besides, if it doesn't work, we'll all be dead anyway." He turned off the lamp on the helmet with another chuckle. "Best thing that happens is that it only fries the suit and Longbow might be pissed enough to throw me overboard while I'm still in it."

I laughed nervously, the gears in my head not giving me any other solution. "Well you're going to have to be the one to tell her you fried it. I've already got the blame for wrecking yours." I slid back into the confined space, scooping the small red crystal into my hoof. "Hold on to your butt!"

I scraped the old crystal away, hoofing the new one in place. The pump let out a groan before sputtering a few times and dying, running just enough of a current through the wire I had put to throw the sprinkler system valves open with a screech. I heard Brass let out a scream before the armor dropped to the floor, the wire falling as his magic faded. The pressurized water immediately sprayed out along the hallway, the hiss of cooling steel was music to my ears as I scrambled out of the hole.

"Brass!? Talk to me, Brass!" I coughed and stumbled toward the bulky suit, feeling as my hoof pressed against the chest plate. I leaned down and pressed my ear against the side of it, listening through it as best I could, trying to block out the world around me. "Brass, I need you to say something!" My ear twitched as I thought I heard something, but frowned as only silence followed.

"Ow....." the muffled sound came from inside, making me gasp and laugh. If the sprinklers going off was the sound of music, the set of clicks that came from the unlatching armor was like hearing music for the first time. You'll never appreciate any sound the same way after that. Brass let out a groan as the water sprayed down onto him, looking up at me slowly. "You're in the afterlife as well? Then this must be hell." He grinned and stiffly got to his hooves.

I smiled and prodded him with my hoof. "Yeah, well at least now you know why I hate boats." I wheezed and choked, stumbling forward. "We should probably leave."

Brass and I trot forward, stepping through the bulkhead with relief, Brass using his magic to close and seal the door. The both of us were gasping to take in large amounts of less smoky air. I trotted over to the stairwell, climbing up towards the bright light streaming in from outside as I heard Captain Tempest laughing.

"Dun' worry, Major, I won't hurt yah. I'm sure that were it left up ta her, she'd have left yah out there ta die!" Major Star was still alive? That's the first good news I've heard today! Maybe we can convince her that the the Enclave should just leave us alone. What am I thinking? She's probably got some super villain plot all cooked up that she's going to spill out and practically beg for somepony to try and stop. And you know what? Two super villains is enough for me, she'll have to find somepony else to fight, I'm on fucking vacation for now.

"When I get off this floating scrap heap, I'm going to make sure that the Enclave sends out EVERY LAST SHADOWBOLT to hunt you down." She raged as I stepped outside, tugging and struggling against the line of rope Carlotta was finishing tying her up with. The Major huffed and flopped down, her fury receding slightly. "Look, If you let me go and turn yourselves in, I'll do my best to get you life imprisonment. But I can't promise you that."

"Jus' shut yer muzzle while I'm still tryin ta keep us afloat!" Captain Tempest yelled back as he walked up to me, not even flinching as the Enclave cannon fired again. I watched as the round whistled overhead, barely missing us. "Please tell meh that ya managed ta put the fire out? We've drifted inta their range an they're getting a wee bit close fer comfort!"

I nodded and shook the water off myself as best as I could. "Yes, if you couldn't tell, I got the fire suppression systems working again." Captain Tempest turned and bolted up the stairs with an amazing spryness for a 150 year old pony. I swung my gaze down to Silver Star, watching as she glared at me, turning her gaze to Longbow as she walked out behind me. "So, Major. About that bomb you left downstairs."

"Bomb? What bomb!?" She looked back at me, genuinely confused.

"The one under the table your squad placed there!" Longbow shouted, smacking the tied up mare with her hoof. "Don't play coy."

"Longbow, she's telling the truth." I put my hoof on her shoulder.

"But..." Longbow looked back to me, even more worried than before. "Then who put it there? The Enclave are the only other ponies with access to tech like that."

"Other than you... Steel Ranger." Silver Star glared up at Longbow spitefully. "Was this incursion a plan by the elders? How much do they know about the project?" I watched as Longbow pushed me out of the way and put her hoof on Silver's neck, the pegasi mare slumping over before I had a chance to react.

"What are you doing!" Sky shouted, diving down from above to shove Longbow off her, leaning down and putting an ear to her chest. "You're lucky you didn't kill her!"

"Calm down. I just hit the same point that Isaac hit on the Doctor." She rolled her eyes and looked over to me. "Backlash, we need to have a talk later." And with that, she walked inside, disappearing as Skyline hoisted the Major onto her back.

"As do we." Sky glared and strained to carry the mare as she turned towards the door. "Just come find me once you're done up here. I'm going to go see if I can help out with anything else."

The deck below us rumbled as the arcane engines came to life, the entire boat jerking and rolling slightly as the Captain steered us away from the enclave guns. I walked across the deck as we pulled through the smoke that had plumed from earlier, walking up the steps to ask him where the closest civilized area was, and if we could make it there in the next forty-five minutes. If not, the Enclave might have been our only chance out of here.


"What do you mean three hours!?" I plopped my flank on the floor as we steamed ahead across the great blue expanse before of us. We had gotten out of range of the Enclave guns, but forty minutes was all I was willing to estimate was left on that bomb below us, and it was too risky to disarm.

"I'm already givin' her all she'll take!" Captain Tempest hadn't even taken his gaze off the horizon as we spoke. "Any more an' I'm riskin' ta tear her in half. 'Ave yah not seen tha gapin' hole back there?"

"Yeah, and I've also seen the giant deck guns that are kind of out of place on a fishing vessel!" I walked up the the windshield and pointed my hoof to the boxy, computer-controlled cannon on the lower deck. "That missile should have blown this boat in half, but it didn't because this ship is armored for some reason. Not to mention, you were just randomly sailing along the Delamare and found us? That all spells out a completely different story to me." I turned and looked to the captain, seeing that he he was now looking at me with a defeated expression.

"Yew are correct that we didn't jus' happen upon yew at a chance, but I've been sailing tha Gallant fer neer 130 years now. That Mare and her Ministry put those... monstrosities on mah ship, armin' her usin' some excuse about not havin' enough patrol boats fer the coast." He smacked his hoof on the wheel. "Said I'd be doin mah part ta defend Equestria, right before they went an blew it all ta hell. Now I can't even take the blasted things off her, seein' as nopony has the equipment ta do it."

He looked sad as he spoke about his ship, but I couldn't blame him, seeing as I feel just as strongly about the Marauder. But finding us still didn't make sense. ARG! Why couldn't I have just asked last night when we drunkenly swapped life stories!? "But why were you in Filly?"

"Fer the same reason any pony would, cause I got paid ta be there. Was told that I might find some folks needin' a ride ta Manehatten." Captain Tempest sounded hesitant, like he probably shouldn't have said anything about it. "Look, I'm grateful that yah helped save my ship, an I might consider talkin' about it later, but right now we've bigger problems on our hooves."

I sighed and turned to leave. "Yeah, but this conversation isn't over." I walked over to the door, hesitating as I contemplated pressing him for more. My knees felt wobbly for a moment, drawing my attention down to them before the door swung open, slamming into the top of my head. I backpedaled and sat down as I saw stars in my vision.

"Oh Geez, sorry Backlash! I didn't expect anypony to be there" Brass called out, propping the door open. "Also, I took care of the bomb!"

"Do you ever normally expect ponies to stand behind doors?" I groaned out as got up and stumbled forward, rubbing my sore head with my hoof. I looked up as my vision returned to normal, Watching Brass puff up his chest in pride. "Wait, what did you say? How did you disarm it?!"

"We didn't need to!" Brass nearly yelled, barely containing his excitement. He was positively vibrating as I stared at him in confusion. "Come on, I know you want to ask!"

"Ugh... I'll humor you this once. Only because you nearly burnt your flank off down there to save us." I smiled and sighed. "How did you do it?"

"Well, you couldn't remove it from the table without setting it off, right?" He turned and pointed his hoof out towards the sea, nodding for me to take a look. I walked over to the door, staring in disbelief at the sight before me. Carlotta and Sky were placed on each side of a large, brown rectangle, slowly drifting over the water away from us. "Nopony said I couldn't just remove the table from the boat."


+11 Repair

+4 Survival

NEW PERK: Technomancer - You are the Macguyver of your generation. There isn't something you can't do at least once with a little WD-40, Duct Tape, and insperation! When using the repair skill on inventory items, you no longer need a duplicate item to restore durability, just an item of the same base type. When using repair on any other object, you recive a bonus five points to repair if you are carrying scraps assossiated with the object. (IE: Electronics for terminals, tubing for hydraulics, ect...)

Chapter 12 - Old World Wounds

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Chapter 12

"Dear Princess Celestia. it's great to have fun, but it's even greater to have great friends."


With the oppressive cloud cover back overhead, and all the excitement of the last few hours finally dying down, my stomach had made me painfully aware that I hadn't had anything since Brass's stew. I had joined the others below deck in the kitchen where Brass was quickly fixing up a meal for the crew and us, insisting that he could make something better than whatever "mucklurk" soup was that they apparently ate last night.

"The other foals and I were all encouraged to train under a second profession back home." Brass went on happily to the whole group of us, using his magic to both slice up onions and one of the silver looking fish I had seen before the Enclave attack. "My main focus was to become a mission coordinator, but as easy as that was, nothing about it ever changes. It wasn't really challenging to me, you know, being my talent and all."

I could feel my mouth water as I sat at the table, slowly dragging my hooves across the smooth metal as I watched the steam waft up out of the large cookpot on the burners. One of the crew members took a seat across from me, drawing my attention up to him. He was one of the stallions Captain Tempest had ordered to fight the fire, and now that I look at him, he was not much younger looking than me. His turquoise coat was covered in dark smudges of soot and only the roots of his short yellow mane were as bright as they should be.

He smiled toward me nervously as he saw me look him over, he was hard to read through his exhausted expression, but he looked slightly angry. Why would he be angry? The ship rocked again, the noise of a wave washing through the gaping hole in the side of the ship filled the hallway outside. I let out a sigh and figured that anypony who nearly gets you killed is probably a good reason to be angry. I sighed and leaned forward, putting my head on the table as Brass finished his story.

"and that's how I got to be so good at cooking!" He rapped the ladle against the pot in front of him before hopping down from the stool he had to use in order to reach the stove. I heard him walk up, patting me on the back with a hoof. "Don't worry, Backlash, you'll feel right as rain once you try the recipe that Scribe Florentine taught me!" I grumbled as he walked past, my stomach doing the same as he entered into the pantry. The hatch behind me opened up, Carlotta and Sky came in mid laugh, both stopping before taking in big breaths.

"Oh Celestia, that smells like heaven!" Sky called out as Brass trot back behind me, probably with more ingredients to throw into the pot.

"Thank you, thank you! Just you wait, it will taste twice as good as it smells when it's done!" Brass said joyously. I turned my head to watch him cook again, Carlotta plopping herself into the seat next to me and blocking my view. I looked up at her as she leaned down and looked at me, her eyes were ones of a cold and calculated mercenary.

"Something doesn't make sense." She whispered over to me, stopping as the crew member across the table stared. She turned her gaze to him and glared at him as he left the kitchen. "Ever since we were, quote, unquote, rescued, I can't help but wonder what this rust bucket was doing in Filly in the first place."

"I know." I pushed myself back upright, keeping my eye on Brass and Sky as she started to help him. "Captain Tempest tells me he was paid to look out for us there." I looked up at her as she glared forward blankly, a twinge of guilt on her face.

"Look, Backlash. I need you to listen to me. I think that bomb was the key to all of this." She didn't even flinch when she whispered, just keeping her gaze locked forward. "I think we need to consider the possibility that Longbow is still working for Sorbet."

"WHAT!?" I gasped and stood up, backing away from the table. "HOW COULD YOU THINK THAT!" I screamed out, freezing as I noticed Skyline and Brass staring at me. I groaned and rolled my eyes. "You saw how she reacted to the audiolog! She was mortified!"

"Mortified from what became of her step father! Besides, you heard Longbow say it herself!" Carlotta continued, now at full volume. "She is the only pony on this ship trained to use explosives like that. I know you don't want to hear it, but what if Sorbet planted her with you for exactly this reason?"

"I know it looks that way, but there's no way she would do that!" Brass yelled, stomping over to join the argument.

"Look, I'm going up to talk to the Captain again. Screw his unwillingness to tell me, the sooner we figure out who paid him to pick us up, the sooner I can clear Longbow's name." I stomped my hoof and turned to leave.

"Skyline, can you make sure that this doesn't burn?" Brass said as he floated the ladle over to her. "I need to hear for myself how wrong Carlotta is and that Longbow couldn't do such a horrible thing." Skyline simply nodded as Brass and I headed out the hatch of the kitchen, the heavy door shutting behind us with a clang.

We cantered up the stairs and out onto the deck, the cloud cover darkening the sky to its familiar evening darkness. The skies ahead were hazy with rain, the air feeling noticeably cooler. As we went up to the deck house, I could see the brown shores of Equestria, a good sized town lay in front of us along it. I squinted as I noticed the whole town seemed strangely off, but I was unable to place exactly why.

Brass's magic shoved the hatch open, the concerned voice of Captain Tempest coming from inside. "Ah know it's short notice an all, but if not answerin' meh is another one of yer excuses ta be lazy, Dry Dock, I'll be usin' yah as bait on mah next run." The captain slammed the receiver to the radio down onto the navigation table with a sigh. "Is there somethin' ah can help yah with, Backlash?"

"Yes, Captain. I need to know who paid you." I said, looking out to the town as we slowly grew closer to it.

"Yeah! We need to prove Longbow's innocence." Brass cut in with an air of confidence. One which I desperately wanted to share.

"Look, ah was tryin' ta aviod this, but yah forced mah position." Captain Tempest rubbed along his neck with a fetlock. "Yah see, ah dun' rightly know who mah pay came from, just that some mare in a fancy robe met me at tha docks in Friendship City. She gave me five hundred caps and told me ta do a pickup down at Filly and tah not tell said ponies who paid."

"That's it?" I asked as I walked to the front window, squinting out to get a better view of the odd town. I'm sure there is something wrong about the town, and the gears in my head were spinning fast as they worked to figure it out.

"Fancy robe? What color was it!" Brass asked as if panicked. "Did it have gold trim? Maybe an odd symbol?"

"What color...?" Captain Tempast repeated. "ah dun know, some sort of red, and yes, ah believe it was gold trim. That's all ah know."

"Then that means it was the Steel Rangers..." Brass uttered slowly. I continued looking out over the town, looking for anything out of place. I knew there had to be something! "Goddesses, Backlash! I think Sorbet had the boat trip arranged!"

My eyes froze in the sky above the town as my mane itched furiously. "Goddesses?" I turned around and looked at the Captain, the gears in my head putting it together. Nopony in sight, when we should have at least seen a hint of life. No fires coming from the chimneys of any house, even with the cold of fall sinking in? Then there's the problem of my itchy mane everytime I look at the sky. "Captain, I need you to turn the ship north and get the deck guns operating again."

"Yah must be joking, ah need to get the Gallant repaired, Backlash. I can't git that done from out here, now can ah?" The captain laughed, turning us instead directly toward the barren town. "And why do yah need..."

I didn't let him finish, trotting to the computer and hoofing a pair of switches that read main battery start up and auxiliary hydraulic controls. "Captain, that town has alicorns in it, we need to leave."

"Alicorns? Dun' be daft." He pushed me aside from the fire control panel. "Those are just myths an' legends. Don't tell meh ya still believe those foal's tales." His horn glowed as he threw open the hatch to outside again, his expression shifting to one of anger. "Now, if yah dun mind, ah'd like yah ta get off mah bridge."

Willow came up through the floor with a whimper, looking frantically around until she saw me. "Backlash... she's near. I can feel them."

I pressed my hoof into Captain Tempest's chest, slightly disturbed at how squishy his flesh was compared to Brass's. He looked shocked as he took a step back. "Look, Alicorns are real, and if you don't turn this ship north or get those guns working, we're all going to die."

"Oh Luna..." Willow called out "I can see them, they're heading right for us!" I looked up out of the windshield, three of them were flying low across the water, heading straight toward the ship. "Backlash... I can hear her, she knows you're here."

"Shit! Get the guns working!" Brass cried out, scrambling to reach the fire control computer.

"The lot of yah are all mad! There's no such..." He never finished his sentence, his eyes going wide as he joined in gazing at the three purple monsters approaching us. Brass's horn blazed as he worked the gun control terminal, hitting keys at a scorchingly fast rate. The hydraulics of the forward deck gun whined to life as it rotated towards the front, the large gun levelling itself to the horizon. "...that's... they're real. Oh Celestia, they're REAL!"

The cannon lined up and fired, a trail of smoke blowing across the barrel as the right most alicorn evaporated into a cloud of red mist. The remaining two split off, each going a separate way as the gun followed the one that flew high left. The captain was shaking, plopping back onto his flank as he tried to process everything, muttering things I couldn't make out.

A section of windshield in front of us blasted inward, a blue alicorn staring through the hole as she became visible. She glared at us, her horn glowing brightly before a loud crack filled the bridge, a bright arc of electricity striking Captain Tempest in the chest. Brass and I both let out yelps as the captain collapsed to the floor. "FOALS! HOW DARE YOU FLEE US! THE GREAT AND POWERFUL GODDESS CAN NO LONGER RISK YOUR FURTHER INTERFERENCE!"

"Leave them ALONE!" Willow screamed, taking off from the floor and streaking straight through the blue monster. The moment she touched, the goddess let out the a piercing scream into the air. I hoofed at my head as the scream dug deep, forcing me to clench my eyes tight as I flopped onto the floor. The roar of the cannon silenced the screaming as I felt a warm rain fill the air. I needed to think! I needed some way to get us all to safety.

"Backlash, we need to go!" Brass yelled, making me open my eyes. a fan pattern of gore stood out from the busted out section, the bridge had been painted a dark crimson from the remains of the Alicorn. I could taste the metallic fluid that slicked off my coat slowly, shuddering as I looked over toward the young ghoul. Brass had also been coated in the alicorn gore, shaking lightly as a deep fear ran from his eyes. "Please, Backlash, we need to leave!"

"Don't worry, Brass, we're going to be fine." I said slowly, running over to the door. My hoof slipped out from under me and I ended up up sliding along the floor with a wet squeak. The purple form of an alicorn stepped up the walkway out the door, the hint of a smile across her muzzle as I locked up. Oh Celestia, this is it, isn't it!

"WE HAVE... RECONSIDERED. THE GODDESS WISHES FOR YOU TO GO WITH THIS ONE." I clenched my head as she pushed her voice into it again, I couldn't even tell myself to run as she stepped closer. "AGREE TO GO AND WE WILL SPARE YOUR FRIENDS."

"Why does she want me!" I shouted, trying to stall for time. If Sky and the others could make it topside...


I finally got to my hooves as I felt the all too familiar teleportation magic warm the air around me, a layer of overglow enveloped the monstrosity's long horn. I squinted and braced myself as I knew going with her was really dumb idea. But do I really have any other choice if I want to save my friends? Maybe this would be better. If the Goddess kept me, the secrets of the mirror pool would be lost with me. 42 would never win.

"Get away from him, you bitch!" Brass yelled, using his magic to shove a shattered peice of glass from the busted window past my face, sinking the jagged shard into the alicorn's neck. "Let's get out of here, Backlash! RUN!" I felt Brass jump onto my side, hanging off my neck as he gripped tightly.

"INSOLENT FOAL!" She projected so loud that it made me jump, the light from her horn flickering before enveloping the group of us, the spell filling my ears with a light ringing as it took Brass and I from the ship.



The one constant in my life over the last few weeks has been pain. I whimpered and clenched my eyes shut as the light from the teleportation spell wore away, my rear legs feeling like they had both been severed off with a hacksaw. Brass released his grip from me as the ringing wore off.

"Backlash... the alicorn..." He said, his voice filled with a joyous disbelief. I didn't care about the alicorn, the pain in my legs were accompanied by a new sensation of not being able to feel or move my rear hooves. Oh Celestia, don't tell my I've lost my legs!

I opened my eyes wide at the thought, about to spin and look when I froze, the sight before me helping to take my mind away from the idea. The sad left eye of the purple alicorn brass had stabbed looked blankly at me, the entire right half of it's body merged into the brick wall of a building we were now inside. The sharp glass still embedded deep into it's neck dripped crimson strands to the wooden floor, staining the dry, dusty wood.

"That glass must have caused it to loose focus. Without concentration, teleportation is a dangerous spell." Brass said, completely entranced with the oddity in front of him. He spun around with a smile on his face. "Good thing we..." He stopped as his eyes drifted behind me, just staring as a grim expression sank in. His gaze made my back legs explode in pain again, as if to remind my body that I needed to be suffering instead of for once giving me a break. I tried to turn to look, wincing and whining as it only made the pain worse.

"Brass... what happened?" I managed to get out just above a whimper, biting down on my lower lip until I tasted my own blood. My words seem to have little effect on breaking him out of his shock. "Brass?"

"I... I don't know what to do." He spoke softly, not looking away from my legs. "What do I do?"

I could feel my chest tightening, my heart started to pound against my rib-slab as panic set in. "What's happened to my legs? Why can't I feel them?" No, that was wrong, the problem is that I feel too much from them; all of it pain! Sweat beaded and rolled down my face as I tried to slow my breathing. Panicking doesn't help anypony, Backlash, you have to remain calm! Isn't that was Skyline always told me? Brass was still frozen. "BRASS!" I yelled, making him jump and look up to me.

"Sorry, Backlash." He shut his eyes and shook his head. "The teleportation spell was miscast, your back legs are fused into the wall of this building." My heart sank.

"That's ok, right?" I asked, more so to try to reassure myself that I'd be fine. "You can just get a hammer and..."

"NO." He shouted, cutting me off and making my forelegs lock up. "When we reappeared, your legs became PART of the bricks. If I break the bricks, then I am taking part of your legs with it. Magic might be able to separate you, but I'm sorry, I can't do anything to help."

My heart skipped a beat as something dropped onto the floor above us with a loud thump, muffled whispers came through it. Somepony was upstairs, and I pray to Celestia they weren't hostile. Brass's eyes lit up as he looked at the ceiling.

"Are they...bad?" He lowered his voice to a whisper, looking at me as I did my best to look confused through the pain. "On your E.F.S., are they red?" I looked at it, completely forgetting that I had it again. There were four markers, only one of them was red."

"Four total..." I winced and tried my best to keep my voice down. "One is red."

"Stay there, Backlash! I'm going to see if I can convince who ever they are to help us." Not like I could go anywhere else, I thought as he galloped off to my right and through a doorway, his hooves clacking on the old floorboards as he ran. My ears strained over the murmuring that erupted above me, hoping they don't shoot first and ask question's later.

"Don't panic Backlash...the mutation was worse... I think!" I told myself as my knees started to shake, the burning in my legs making it hard to think. What I need is a distraction, something to keep my mind off this! I tensed up as tight as I could, pulling myself into S.A.T.S. as the pain in my legs flared, draining off as the Stable Tech spell once again saved me from my suffering. Well, temporarily at least.

Without anything to target, the medical status screen fuzzed up displaying several boxes around the back legs of the figure that was supposed to represent me. I pushed those thoughts to the back of my mind as I focused on bringing up the inventory screen, which brought up another kind of pain as it reminded me that I lost all of my gear escaping from East Orchard. I looked across the tabs, sliding the display over to the audiolog section.

The first file in the list was displayed as 'Ministry of Arcane Sciences Chief Twilight Sparkle project log - Mirror Pond Research Merging and Repurposing Summary'. Wow, that title was so long that IT could have used a summary! Regardless, now is probably the best excuse I'll have to learn anything that could keep me several steps ahead of 42. With that, a small rectangular box popped up, the voice of the 120-year-dead ministry mare filling my head.

"Ministry of Arcane Sciences Chief Twilight Sparkle project log - Mirror Pond Research Merging and Project Repurposing Summary.

The Mirror Pond Ministry Relief project has been indefinitely suspended due to the inadequacy of the Pinkie clones' intelligence that was stated in my logs for the Basic mirror pond experiments. Just in case the O.I.A. miss-files the originals, again, the summary of the closure of those experiments was due to one pair of clones having extensive relations with civilians. The subsequent births of two healthy foals have at least proved that the clones are physically complete, and not sterile as previously presumed. Though the foals are being classified as the only good to come of this project, it proved that the forty copies we had made were unmanageable with their basic intelligence, diverting back to pinkie's primal need for fun too often to be deemed worth keeping the pool running.

The repurposing of this project is due in part that I had previously theorized that if I were to find a way to increase the amplitude of the magic running through the pool, I might be able to increase the intellectual capacity of each of the clones. The low end of my calculations points to an intelligence rate where a set of clones would make for ideal soldiers, able to follow orders and operate equipment. The high end of my calculations point toward keeping the copied pony's intelligence comparable to the base subject used. If proven successful, I might even be able to use the pool to copy myself, possibly cutting years of research off of the I.M.P. project.

Though this requires the design and creation of a new class of Arcano-Flux reactor, something I have personally tasked Stable Tech to help work on. As of now, I have filed the project requisition forms to build the test facility and prototype reactor. Scheduled completion is in three month's time and, as per normal protocol, stage one of testing will begin the moment all the the preliminary checks come back nominal."

The log clicked and ended.

So, first log down and there wan't anything in it I didn't already know! In fact, this one log contained everything I learned over the past few weeks! Wow, all that pain and suffering seems like it was such a waste now. If only I had this at the beginning...

The log screen fuzzed away, halting my train of thought as the crystalline form of B.I.T. built up in front of me.

"Thank you, Ministry Chief Backlash! I knew that P.I.N.K. told me P-coding could be a nightmare to navigate, but it's so easy to get lost in it!"

Thank me? Why? I haven't even seen B.I.T. since I passed out in Filly! Which actually reminds me that I need to ask her why the hell she sent me into the air above the Delamare.

"Oh, right. Sorry about that! I think I was off a single decimal point in the trillianth place on the Z coodinate, that or the entire alignment of equestria has been thrown off by almost a meter."

B.I.T. tilted her head and looked over me. (well, as much as I could tell. I can't know for sure when she doesn't actually have eyes rendered.) But a single decimal place? I could have died from that fall, hell I WOULD have if Skyline hadn't gotten to me in time. How could this be so casual of a mistake to her?

"And yet you did survive." B.I.T. gestured to poke at my chest. "You know, there was a moment when I was routing the coordinates when I thought to myself, Why should I leave? This is all I've ever known, why should I put my trust in the word of a somepony who is more or less a stranger?" B.I.T. sat down, putting her hoof to her chest. "Because they need me, is what I thought. For the first time in a very long time, somepony needs me."

But, why wouldn't she have wanted to leave? She was doing fine when I pulled her out of her casing and I trusted B.I.T. to get me out of that facility, and she did. And now she said that she wasn't alright after all? Celestia, Backlash! For priding yourself on being observant, there is no end to your own stupidity, is there? She got us out and the first thing I do is chastise her. I needed her help, and I took her willingness for granted. How horrible am I to just assume that she didn't have her own problems? And what about everypony else? Why, just a few minutes ago Brass risked his life for mine on the ship!

"Permission to speak freely, Chief?" B.I.T. sat down on the floor, saluting me in a way that made me feel both flattered and guilty. I would have nodded, but forgot I was in S.A.T.S., but she seemed to get the idea and relaxed. "I was actually talking about P.I.N.K. needing me, but I must say. With how you put it, you're kind of a jerk. P.I.N.K. told me that as long as she had been observing you in the wasteland, your friends have been there for you every time you've needed them. And you've not given a single heartfelt thank you to any of them. Not even Longbow, who even I can tell is emotionally distressed over the nature of Lemon's last recording."

B.I.T. had a point, one which reminded me of something the Old Man used to tell me. He used to say 'There is no quicker way to see what a monster you've become, than through the eyes of those who know you.' He would repeat that line until he was blue in the face, believing in being an honest trader. He knew that customers were friends, and that cheating out a friend was the quickest way to become a villain. I didn't want to be a villain, there were enough of them in the wasteland now.

Isn't that what I've been doing? Cheating my friends out of the comfort of knowing that I care for them? But is it really my fault? I mean, I have been trying to figure out a way to stop 42... NO, get that out of your head! They have been trying so much harder than me to find a way. Without them I would be dead already, and for that alone, I owe them more than I can ever give.

"You know, some of the things P.I.N.K. has told me that you've done in the wasteland would have made you a monster in the eyes of Chief Twilight, but there was a time before the war, where she and the other ministry mares would have devoted themselves to redeeming a pony like you." She got up and started to fuzz away slowly. "Chief Twilight made me to believe like she does, and that's ultimately what pulled me out of the East Orchard. Sometimes, all it takes for a pony to change, is just being shown that they have a second chance to be better."

As the last of her disappeared, S.A.T.S. shuddered and ended, slowly drawing me back into normal time. I felt as if somepony had turned on an electric cook stove and was slowly increasing the heat against my back legs. With time agonizingly returned to normal, I cried out loudly, Brass's hoofsteps above being drowned out by my whining.

"I'm so sorry. I didn't mean for it to be this way! Oh Celestia, I'M SORRY!" I screamed out and nearly collapsed. Skyline has never left me, not ONCE has she failed to be there for me! And Brass, even with how I've treated him, with what he went through for me, Brass has proven to be the most amazingly loyal pony I've ever met. My ears perked up for a moment as I heard shuffling about upstairs, low drone of voices instead of gunfire was the only comforting thing I knew in the hell I existed in.

There was a lot of movement upstairs now, quick hoofsteps sounded down the hallway. "Backlash! I found a family upstairs who can help!" He yelled as he rounded the corner back into the room. An older, charcoal coated earth pony rounded the corner behind him, he held a sledgehammer in his muzzle, freezing and dropping it as his eyes were drawn to the half exposed alicorn. A red-coated unicorn mare about his age poked her head around the doorframe, her purple eyes looking over me before she too gazed past me.

"By Celestia! Is that what we're hiding from? I... I thought it was the gangs!" She closed her eyes and looked away. "It... it looks just like the Goddesses!"

"You've never seen an alicorn before?" Brass asked as the charcoal stallion grumbled something I couldn't make out, picking up his sledgehammer in his muzzle again. I watched in horror as he craned his neck, swinging the heavy hammer up, before bringing it down against the wall. I bit my lip again to keep from screaming, the metalic taste of blood filling my mouth before I felt it start to drip.

The stallion watched out of the corner of his eye as my blood dripped onto the wooden floor, a thin trail of smoke emanating from each drop as it hit. He looked up into my eyes and gave me a look I wasn't expecting, he showed... sympathy. He promptly swung again, the crunch of bricks punctuating each shock of pain that coursed through my body. On one of his swings there was a loud crack, the wall shifting as part of it came loose.

The immediate crack that followed was not from the wall. The surge of pain was so strong I felt like I had the wind knocked out of me, I heaved as my stomach wrenched. The smell the burning wood drifted up to my nose as I struggled to keep myself from falling over.

The stallion dropped the hammer with a sigh. "Damn, Looks like we'll have to cut him loose. I'll have to get the Doc from next door." He turned and looked at the mare, giving me a moment to notice that he had the same brand on his flank that Ripcord did. That information was quickly pushed to the back of my mind as he gave the mare a kiss before disappearing around her.

"Brass... I'm sorry." I clenched my jaw, my eyes trying to keep my focus on him. "You help so much and I never thank you." I groaned out as his expression became one of worry, I don't know why, but I chuckled to myself. "Fuck, you've given more for me than I could have ever asked."

Brass shook his head. "Everything that's happened to you, it's my fault. If I hadn't kicked you into that bunker..." He stomped a hoof on the floor.

"SHUT UP, BRASS. YOUR NAME WAS ON THE NOTE TOO." I screamed, halfway to stop him from beating himself up over that, and halfway because I could feel the bone protruding from my leg. I tried to keep my forelegs locked back to stop them from shaking so much. "I don't know if it was fate or luck, but since we met, you are more than my friend, you've become part of my family!" It was getting hard to focus, my head was pounding as sweat was running into my eyes, the smell of the acid slowly eating into the wood had now filled the room.

My ear perked as I could hear hoofbeats on the floor down the hallway. My saviours returned quickly it seems, hopefully with a doctor who can fix all this. The charcoal stallion trotted in, closely followed by a brown unicorn levitating a small bottle with him. The unicorn had a prominent limp in his stride, his blue eyes unwavering as he looked at my legs. He rubbed the grey stubble on his chin as he levitated a tablet of what looked like buck out of the bottle and up to his muzzle, chomping down on it without much thought.

"Everypony OUT, I've no time to waste as those legs aren't going to amputate themselves." He said bluntly and as if he was almost bored. I gasped as the realization of what he said hit home. He's going to cut my legs off... just, take them off. I caught him looking at my eyes, studying how I was reacting was my best guess. "Oh don't worry, the hydra should leave you good as new." He dropped down to a whisper and gave a smile. "But that's only if you don't die from the shock or blood loss first." He closed the bottle of buck and tossed it away.

How is HE a doctor!?

"And you're their doctor!?" Brass exclaimed with impeccable timing. I watched the Doctor's horn glow, a particularly large rotary saw levitated through the doorway.

"How observant." the Doctor snapped back at Brass. "Now tell me Mr. Observant, what kind of acid are we dealing with?" He set the large saw down and lowered himself to the floor, looking over the crimson pool below me. I whined as my knees screamed at me, the pain in my legs dulling down as long as I could hold myself still (dulling down was a relative term when you've been in as much pain as I have). The doctor looked up at me with a slightly annoyed expression. "Well, if no pony is going to tell me, I'll just have to start guessing..."

"How are we supposed to know? His blood just changed a few days ago." Brass took a step back as the Doctor's magic affixed what looked to be a plastic poncho over himself.

"Well then tell me, does it melt through metal, concrete, glass, plastic..." the Doc started to list off.

"GLASS!" Brass's face lit up as he all but screamed the answer. "It can melt through glass! It doesn't seem to affect metal much, and obviously not wood very much either." As he spoke, his words seemed to get harder to hear, the throbbing in my head seemed to lighten as the world started to roll. I shut my eyes and shook my head, bringing everything back into focus around me.

I felt someone tap my cheek a few times, opening my eyes I saw that it was the Doctor. "Hydrofluoric acid, nasty stuff. Which means both good news and bad news. Which do you want to hear first?" The charcoal stallion trotted back into the room carrying a big plastic bubble helmet. As the doctor took it, I looked over to where Brass was, only to find him missing. Wait, when did Brass leave? "Good news first then, the acidity of your blood won't wear down my tools, so this should be quick."

The doc hoisted the large saw up in his levitation, flipping the switch. The loud screech of the old blade spinning quickly filled my ears before it stopped suddenly. The doctor nodded to the stallion and shooed him out the doorway. "The bad news is that the active chemical in Med-X won't work for you, so this will be the worst pain you've felt in your entire life." He clicked the button, the saw spinning up again as he craned his neck over to look at my legs, stopping the saw again. "Oh, and I won't blame you if you pass out. Just makes it easier on me not to listen to your screaming."


After I woke up, first it was minutes that passed, then hours. I didn't feel right. Nothing felt right. All I could do was sit on the captain's bed, stare at the door, and wait. I knew somepony was coming to take me out of Captain Tempest's room, every fiber of my being told me that I wasn't supposed to be here. That it wasn't right for me to be here.

"Yer gonna be fine, Backlash." I heard the gruff voice of a stallion speak across the room from the desk area, the sudden words perking my ears as I looked up toward the door.

"Yeah! you'll be fine!" The soft voice of a young mare called out jubilantly from near the toilet.

"Hello?" I asked, slowly getting to my hooves and sliding off the bed. "Who's there?"

"I say, how does he not recognize us?" A very proper sounding stallion spoke from behind the coat rack. I swung my hoof out, yanking the captain's raincoat off the rack as I looked behind it.

Nothing, just the wall.

"Cool ya jets there." The stallion's voice came again from the desk. "We're ya friends, ya know? No need ta panic or nuthin'."

"My... friends?" I asked, spinning around as the voices all seemed to chatter amongst themselves. "But, where are you?"

"Why, right in front of you, of course!" The gentle stallion spoke up enthusiastically. I looked up at the coat rack, looking at the hat hanging on it. "I must say, you flatter me with that look of yours, sir Backlash."

"Awww, but I want him to look at me that way!" The mare from the toilet spoke up.

I smiled an waved my hoof in front of me. "Oh, I see what's going on. Very funny everypony. Trying to cheer me up like this." I wasn't quite sure why I said that as I walked over and hoofed open the tank on the toilet, looking for the speaker hidden inside. It must be Skyline's idea, she's always wanted to prank me like this. Didn't she? Why did everything still feel so wrong?

"Oh my!" The voice came from what seemed like in front of my face, startling me. "You could at least buy me dinner first!" I dropped the lid back on and scrambled backwards, pressing into the desk. No, this isn't possible, it can't be!

"Watch it bub! I thought I told ya ta calm down!" The desk yelped.

I collapsed onto the floor and panted hard. It's OK, Backlash, you're just have a psychotic break. It will pass if I just don't listen to any of the voices. Won't it? Oh Celestia, why can't I just be with my friends!?

"I say, what are you doing lying on the floor? It can't be very comfortable, now can it?" The hat spoke up.

"Oi! Give 'im some quiet. I think he's tryin ta rationalize us." The desk responded.

"You'd have thought he would have figured it out by now." The toilet whispered.

I pressed my hooves into my ears, whining as they continued to talk amongst each other. I can't stand it anymore! I rolled and got to my hooves, clenching my eyes shut as I yelled. "NONE OF YOU ARE REAL! GET OUT OF MY HEAD!" The creak of the cabin door swinging open broke my concentration, only the sound of the breeze could be heard, the voices now having fallen silent.

"Backlash?" Longbow's voice asked softly.

My eyes shot open as I turned around. Longbow stood in the doorway, the blazing orange sky behind her making her seem otherworldly as I stumbled forward, throwing my hooves around her. She did the same, squeezing tightly as I cried into her wet neck, the warmth of it fading the longer I held her. Why was she growing so cold?

"Longbow, you're freezing." I said with a chuckle, pulling back and opening my eyes. "You..."

Her neck was covered in cold blood, streaming from a single hole in the side of it as she stared at me blankly. I couldn't do anything as she slumped out of my hooves and down onto the deck of the ship, landing with a thud. She just lay there, unmoving. Dead.

"She died for you, Backlash. They all will." the familiar voice of Pinkie Pie called from behind me. I spun around instinctively, my mind torn with grief. How could she have died? How could I have let this happen? "They'll all die and it's YOUR FAULT!" I looked up as the pink pony started to cackle madly, parts of her muzzle and chest smoking and melting off of her.

"42..." I whispered without even thinking, my mind now feeling like it weighed a million pounds. I dropped to the floor as my eyelids sank slowly, 42 striding up to me and putting her muzzle to my ear. I could feel her warm breath through my mane.

"See you soon..."


I tried to scream, but my muzzle wouldn't open for some reason. My mouth tasted of wet leather and musty, burning wood, both of which mixed with the blood from my lip and filled my nose with a pungent smell. I was laying on my back, the pain from my rear legs was non-existent as I opened my eyes.

"Ah, you're awake. You may have noticed the bit I put in your mouth, you screamed for a while before you passed out. I took the liberty to make sure you don't annoy me again. Oh, and I also take it you can't feel anything?" the Doctor called down from above me, droplets of what I could only assume was my blood were running down his plastic poncho. I nodded as I noticed his horn was glowing, holding a fuzzy red tube in his magic. I couldn't focus my eyes as he lowered it down out of my sight. "That will pass, I wouldn't want you to miss the fun part of hydra."

The fun part? Having regrown one hoof already, I know there is no fun part of hydra! There was a small prick in the side of my flank, the pre-war medicine working quickly. Oh Celestia it hurts! I screamed out as loud as I could through the bit, feeling as each muscle and nerve grew back at what seemed like an inch an hour, thrashing about as what was left of my legs repaired themselves. There was a loud creaking that filled my ears and I could feel running through my legs, making me feel like I was being stretched out far enough that I should have been ripped in half.

I tensed up all at once, attempting to use SATS as my sanctuary again, delighted to see time come to a stop. The pain in me ebbed away as I could finally think once more, the Pipbuck transferring me to the medical screen like it had last time. I looked over the generic pony shape, the rear legs were replaced with dotted outlines, I guess to signify that I had none to speak of, well, not yet anyway.

I flipped the screen over to the audiolog section, wanting any excuse to keep away from the pain. The audiolog list popped up and automatically dropped down to the next file, allowing me to read the title off in my head. 'Ministry of Arcane Sciences Chief Twilight Sparkle project log 01 - Project Golem start up and preliminary data collection report.' I played the log, once again hoping that it contained something useful in finding the mirror pond.

"Ministry of Arcane Sciences Chief Twilight Sparkle project log 01 - Project Golem start up and preliminary data collection report.

In three minutes time, project co-lead Copper Rivet is scheduled to give me word that the Arcano Reactor systems are fully operational and we can finally start transferring the flux reserve tanks into the main reactor assembly. It's been three months of hard work, and both Pinkie and I are anxious to test the new system. Although she appears normal around others, I am concerned for her state of mind. All the running around she does with her ministry keeps her busier than I am, and even I have to excessively rely on my teleportation to get between...


I have to remember this isn't a personal log and that those details need to wait until nine PM to be recorded. Now, where was I?

[knocking from a door ]

Hmm? They've finished early? That's never a good sign.

[door opening]

Oh, engineer Coal Briquette, I wasn't expecting the report from you."

The log clicked and ended, leaving only silence inside my mind. Wait, that was it!? Celestia, these logs don't even have anything useful on them! If I wasn't hiding from the excruciating pain of my legs, I could just scream in frustration! Why do I have to be an idiot and get into situations like this?

Calm yourself, Backlash, there has to be something useful on at least one of these. Even if there turns out not to be, the notes must have something useful in them! Somewhere in all... thousand pages of them. At least the audiologs seem short, let's see, the next one's title is 'Ministry Of Arcane Sciences Chief...' you know, she's just going to repeat the title again anyway, just play it. The file swapped to the next one down and popped up the little box.

"Three hours ago, the reactor team managed to save phase one from total loss when one of the turbine couplings cracked and jammed up the induction filter.

[deep, sad sigh]

If Copper Rivet hadn't reached into the system to clear it, I might have had to scrap the whole reactor and start again from scratch. In doing so, she had to endure flux contamination along her entire right side. Let my report state that Co-lead Copper Rivet showed exceptional resolve in the face of immediate danger and personally saved the lives of two of her fellow employees at great risk to her own well being.

[long pause and a shuffling of papers.]

Doctor Slip Cast told me that the flux poisoning wasn't giving her too much pain, but that she only had hours left at most. I used the time I had reserved for my lunch to take her to her parents house in Manehatten, so she could be with them until she passed. I will save the remaining details of the ordeal for what is sure to be an extra long personal log tonight. I was informed earlier that the faulty coupling was replaced and we are ready to attempt phase one start up again.

As of now, the project is still on schedule and co-lead duties now fall on engineer Coal, end of report."

As the log ended and closed, I looked over the name of the file again. 'Ministry of Arcane Sciences Chief Twilight Sparkle project log 02 - Project Golem Casualty Report.

I didn't really know what to think. Once again, I took something for granted. I've been so focused on finding the answers I need, I've completely looked past the fact that ponies died for this information. They died not knowing whether or not the world was going to end tomorrow, whether or not their families were going to be safe.

Copper Rivet gave her life not just to save the project, but to try to save Equestria from it's fate. I know that all these events played out over a century ago, and that there are a countless number of stories that were never told, but this one hit me differently. The way Twilight went about talking about her was so... casual, like she was still just a name in a report, nothing more. I could hear that she was saddened, deep down inside, but it made me angry that she wasn't more audiubly upset! Copper Rivet was a pony! She had a life, and responsibilities, maybe she even had a special somepony!

The audiolog list dropped down one more without me thinking about it, the entry playing on it's own as the log pulled me away from my other thoughts.

"Ministry of Arcane Sciences Chief Twilight Sparkle project log 03 - Project Golem Phase One, day two status report.

With yesterday's successful testing of the sequential flux reactor, I have approved the work order to install the mirror pool. The containment vessels I designed are performing above baseline expectations with no recorded innate magic loss. I was correct that the decahedron was the perfect geometrical shape to resonate the innate magics of the pool. It has made it somewhat difficult to transport, but one of Pinkie's Griffin chasers managed to lift the pair here in only a few hours.

[Knocking at a door before it opens]

Oh, hello Pinkie, I didn't expect you yet. That seems to be happening quite a lot recently actually. Please, sit down.

[Creaking of a chair]

Twilight, can I ask you something?

[shuffling of papers and the shutting of a file cabinet]

Sure Pinkie, what do you want to know?

[Short pause]

What if... what if this doesn't work? What if this is the wrong choice? Maybe I could just find another way to be helpful! I have plenty of ideas about other things, like maybe finding a way to make my Pinkie sense...

[hoofslam on a desk]

NO, Pinkie, We've been over this, the project will work! I know you are worried it will end up just as chaotic as the previous experiment, but it has to work... for Copper.

[soft sigh]

Twi... are you alright? Who's Copper?"

Once again, the audiolog clicked and stopped. The first audiolog with something useful, but I can't for some reason find myself caring about it. Why is the one hundred and twenty year old death of Copper Rivet weighing so heavily on my mind? Maybe I just need some time to think about it. What I probably REALLY need is one of those pre-war psychologists. I have a mountain of issues I need to get sorted out. First, as much as it was going to suck, I needed to get my legs sorted out. I can't hide in S.A.T.S. forever.

I cancelled the spell and braced myself for the hell that was to come.


"Backlash... wake up..." A familiar voice called out. I felt somepony slapping my cheek lightly as my senses returned, the wood floor under my back feeling cold as I shifted on it. I opened my eyes slowly to see Brass's frowning face staring down at me... no wait, he was just upside down and smiling. "One day, medicine is going to be really hard to come by in the wasteland, so I suggest you stop losing so many limbs."

I rolled over onto my hooves, happy to be able to move my rear legs again, happy to feel all four of my hooves on the floor. I went to stand up, but jolts of pain ran through my flank as the muscles refused to lift me. I whimpered softly as I dropped back down. I forgot about the muscle weakness. At least there wasn't an oversized safe waiting to crush me from the floor above.

"Oh yeah! Doc Lodge told me to give you this." Brass's horn glowed softly, levitating a small white tablet to my muzzle. I opened my muzzle and bit down on the chalky buck tab, feeling as a surge of energy warmed my body. I felt... good! I stretched each of my limbs out as I lay there, noting how each one felt like it could buck right through solid wood, even the regrown limbs. Last time Skyline gave me this, I ran our cart through the leg deep mud of the radigator forests in ten minutes flat. "You really need to stop passing out all the time, it's like you use it to conveniently pass the time." He spoke flatly.

"I really do, but I can't choose to do it any more than I got to chose my cutie mark." I rubbed my eyes, feeling the cool air on my hairless rear legs. "And thank you, Brass. I value your honesty." I looked up to him as he smiled. "You have no idea how much it means to me. How much YOU mean to me." A blush flushed through his cracking skin as he nervously looked away. I reached my hoof up carefully, prodding him in the chest as softly as I could manage. "Brass, I meant what I said. You are more than just a friend, you are family to me."

"Backlash... I..." Even though he was a ghoul, it didn't stop him from blushing as bright as I'd ever seen him. "I would totally hug the hell out of you if it weren't for the whole... burning... thing." He gestured to my still bloody chest, a smile wide on his muzzle. "It's probably dry by now, but I think we'll need to take a shower or three when we can."

"Oh, that does sound nice..." I groaned and closed my eyes, trying to imagine the water running over my coat. My ear flicked and perked as I could hear somepony approaching. The door across the room opened as the Doctor limped inside, his horn glowing.

"I'm so glad you are recovering, it would have been a real shame for you to die before I got a chance to know who I was saving." The Doc stated sarcastically with a smile, floating a fairly rusty looking bolt action rifle to his side. "I've always been a sucker for my patient's stories, so tell me, why the hell did you appear in Redwing."

"Redwing? As in the old mining town?" I asked, probably sounding like a moron. If that was true, than Brass and I were lucky we didn't teleport straight into Foal Mountain!

Brass stepped around me and stood firmly. "We were taken by the alicorn. It was injured and miscast it's teleportation spell. We were lucky we didn't wind up inside the mountain." Damnit Brass, you're on fire today with our like-mindedness!

"Taken? So you two don't work for the Pinkos?" He asked, swinging the barrel of the old weapon between us slowly.

"You think we work for the who? You mean the 'Pink Mare's gangs?" I grumbled and held up my pipbuck to him. "We're the ponies that they're looking for." I put my hoof down, straining to pull myself up. My rear legs refused to bear the weight again, even with the buck running through my system, so I just scooted them apart so I could at least sit upright.

"Well then, if that's true, then maybe you could kindly pay your bill and get the hell out of town before you get everypony here killed. They run through here every morning looking for you." He moved the gun away, propping it up against the doorframe as he spoke. The way he talked about us paying threw his voice off. He wasn't being honest with us.

"Well Doctor Lodge, as I'm sure you already noticed, we don't have anything to pay you with." Brass turned and joined me by my side. "No guns, no barding, no supplies, no caps."

"Has anypony recently told you how amazingly observant you are?" He squinted his eyes and sighed. "But you do have that." He pointed to my Pipbuck. "The mayor has been searching for some pony with a working Pipbuck, I don't know what exactly for, but it has to do with something they found in the mine." He turned around and limped out the door. "Follow me, best to not keep him waiting!"

"Quick question!" I called out to him, listening as he stopped in the hallway. "How am I supposed to get there?" Doc Lodge let out a loud sigh, levitating a pair of full leg braces around the doorway. I looked to Brass and gave him a weak smile. He nodded and used his magic to fasten the straps to me, wrapping the leather tightly to my bare skin as the metal frames creaked.

"Ok, I'll need to lock them in place once you stand up. It's going to hurt, but I need you to stand long enough for me to do it." Brass told me as his eyes fed me his sympathy. I took a couple of deep breaths, trying to psych myself up for it. I can do this, it's only a few seconds. I leaned forward, dragging myself up with all my might. My flank exploded in pain as I put as much weight on my front legs as I could.

Brass's horn flashed as my ears heard the clicking from the braces. I groaned and evened out my stance, the pain in my rear legs still pulsing, but not unbearable. I tried to stride forward, nearly loosing my balance as my rear hoof didn't have the freedom it normally did. Ok, this was going to make walking really awkward.

"You got it, Backlash?" Brass asked as he trotted forward into the doorway.

"Yeah, just have to take it one hoof at a time." I smiled as best as I could and did just that. I put one hoof in front of the other and slowly shambled my way out of the room. The hallway leading to the front door was short, the only distinguishing feature was a single black and white picture hanging on the wall. I glanced at it as I made my way toward the open door. It was a photograph of a whole group of smiling pegasi in their enclave uniforms. Shrugging it off, I made my way out to the porch, stopping as I reached the edge.

"We meet again, my old nemesis." I muttered as I is glared at the single stair in front of me that led to the dirt road. I went to take another step, finding myself enveloped in magic. I looked up to see a layer of overglow envelope Brass's horn, his magic pulling me off the porch and softly placing me down on the dry dirt street. The glow from his horn dissipated as he panted heavily, looking up to me with as much of a smile as he could form.

We continued along the vacant streets of the old mining town, the darkening skies making it hard for me to see where we were being led. Redwing was not a town I liked to stop in, the ponies here were mostly miners trying to scrounge what little they could of what the old world missed in the mine. But when you spend your life trying to horde as much as you can, you become mistrusting of others.

We turned around one of the buildings we passed, following as the road doubled back and followed the slope of the mountain. The inn that Skyline and I normally stayed at was all the way at the bottom of town and I had never been through here. I looked over at Brass, his eyelids hung low and his steps were sluggish.

"Brass, do you want to ride me?" I asked without thinking, the gears in my head grinding to a halt as I realized how that sounded. But, contrary to what I expected, Brass just kept walking along. Wow, levitating me must have really taken it out of him. "BRASS." I raised my voice, watching as he jolted to attention just before tripping on a rock, dropping forward onto his muzzle. I stopped walking as he flopped onto the ground and groaned, rubbing his muzzle between his hooves. "Brass, get up on my back and rest."

"No, the extra weight..." He started to say as he pushed himself back to his hooves.

"Not going to take no for an answer!" I cut him off, pushing my head underneath him and hoisting him onto my head. I grunted and did my best to nudge him along my neck. I felt him sigh and slide down and hold around me lightly. "Now was that so hard?" I craned my neck to look back at him, met only with the sound of him yawning. At least the blood on me is dry.

I smiled to myself and continued following the Doctor up the incredibly tiring dirt incline. The only reason I had been keeping up with him was because even with as awkward of a gait as I had in these braces, his limp made him nearly as slow. After a few more minutes, my legs we begging me to stop and rest, but we had just turned around another corner and I still didn't know how far we had to go. I let my mind wander, thinking back to the Gallant.

Brass was right, Longbow couldn't have been working this whole time as a double agent. I would have read it on her face the second she tried to lie, right? No pony has been good enough to lie to my face, and I don't think that Longbow could be that convincing. The emotions she had when we talked, they were the same as any other pony who wore them without deception. How could I even consider her at all?

I looked up the road as the last bit of natural daylight faded, glancing over a rickety looking cabin at the end of the road. A single, yellowing porchlight brightened the front of the structure, dim lights barely made it through the clothes that were hung in the windows. As we trudged closer and closer, the gears in my head put out a disturbing realization.

For the first time in my life, I was on my own.

Chapter 13 - Mistakes

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Chapter 13

"It was a moment in time, that will never exist again..."


Ok ,Backlash, keep your cool. All you have to do is explain to the Mayor your situation and ask if you can borrow some sort of transportation to get back to Manehatten. Easy as pie. I mean, why should I be afraid of being alone, nopony has EVER been able to out-negotiate me. Well, do draws count? Because if they do, then Lilly always beats me. Besides, how good could the mayor of a backwater mining town be?

"Are you a gambling stallion, Mr. Lash?" Doc Lodge called back as we hobbled toward the porch of the mayor's cabin.

"It's just Backlash, and only when I can afford it." I replied curiously. "Why do you ask?"

"Twenty caps says that before the end of tonight, you'll willingly want to help us." He said rather sure of himself as he stopped. I let what he suggested bounce around in my head for a moment. He wasn't feigning confidence, he definitely was stating it as more of an honest fact than anything, but that didn't mean I had to trust that he wouldn't cheat.

"You already know I don't have anything to pay you with, why make a bet if you know I can't pay?" I stopped in front of the porch, staring down at the single, six inch rise to the porch. This was going to suck.

"Oh, let me worry about how you'll get to pay me." He waved a hoof in dismissal, letting a hint of malevolence through. I slowly put one hoof up onto the porch, mentally preparing myself for the pain that would hit. "Aren't you interested at all in what you might win?"

"Not... exactly!" I groaned as I strained to pull myself onto the creaky wooden deck. That actually wasn't as bad as I thought it would be! I panted lightly as I looked over to the doctor, watching as he seemed to be studying me, seeing how I reacted to things. It was actually getting to be really creepy. "To be honest, as much as I'd like to stay and help, I need to get back to Manehatten."

Doc Lodge's magic opened the door as he hopped up and limped inside ahead of me. I followed in, making sure to keep from knocking Brass's head against the wall (Because I'm more courteous than Sorbet's Rangers will ever be). I looked across the cabin to a desk that sat to the left of the door, a very odd-looking ghoul sat in a chair behind it.

I say very odd looking because his body was oddly shaped for a pony and his muzzle was a light tan that transitioned to brown just past his frowning lips. One of his light blue eyes had turned milky white somewhere in his life and his ears were just nubs, not to mention he had lost his entire mane. The one feature that stood out though, was his frown. It hung so low on his muzzle that I half wasn't sure if it was actually a frown, or that his muzzle was just slowly rotting off.

"So tell me, kid, why are you in my town." He spoke as if this was a common conversation, as if he just needed to go through the motions of it to reach some conclusion. "You lost, unemployed, maybe just..." He stopped as he looked over to me, glaring down at my pipbuck. His expression changed from one of boredom, to one of seething hatred. "Where did you get THAT?"

"My Pipbuck? I am current head of the Ministry of Morale..." I tried to respond with authority, watching as that only seemed to make him quake with anger.

"LODGE, DETAIN HIM!" He belted out as he slammed his chair back. I turned just in time to see Doc Lodge's horn press into my forhead softly. As soon as I realized what he was doing, I had lost feeling in all of my legs and flopped over onto the floor. With the paralysis spell numbing me, I could barely move my eyes, let alone blink them. I really hoped that I didn't crush brass under me when I fell, but I heard him moan from next to my ear as he started to wake up. "Hit his monster pal with it as well." The ghoul calmly spoke, Lodge stepping over me and did as he was told.

"You kids just rest on the floor while good, old Pariah here tells you a little story." He spoke as he walked back behind the desk. I had a bad feeling that I had just stumbled upon yet another Wastelander who had his own agenda. How the hell do I keep getting into these situations? Oh, that's right, Skyline isn't around to keep me from being a dumb pony. Well, that hasn't stopped me the last few times.

The telltale metallic click of a lighter flipping open drew my attention. Lodge stepped back over to the door and looked over to where Pariah was lighting up a cigar. The ghoul nodded softly to Lodge, watching as the doctor who had just saved my life, left me on the floor of this strange cabin. Pariah took a few long draws off the old world luxury before shutting his lighter, sitting down in his chair as I head the front door latch shut.

"Do you know why I had you detained?" Pariah started out, his internal rage seeming to quell as he smoked. "My father was a good friend of the mare who founded the ministry you claim to belong to. He and my mother would constantly tell me that they owed everything to her for what she did for them. But when I was young, I got to meet Aunt Pinkie Pie for myself..." He tensed up when remembering her, anger flushing across his face momentarily.

"She was always so happy and cheerful, and she always wanted to play games or pull pranks. And for a time, I was happy, but like eventually everything does, things changed. The war happened, and Aunty was off to run the ministry she had been handed, without little more than a goodbye to her so called, 'friends'." He took a long draw off of his cigar, helping him relax again as he leaned back. "Father had sent me here, to Redwing, telling me of how I needed to do my best to help Equestria. And once again, for a time, I did just that. I worked hard, rose through the ranks, and was generally seen as the up and comer to look out for."

A scowl grew across Pariah's face as he leaned forward. "But then the Zebra's started losing, and looked to hire out any race they could. Buying off Griffins, Dragons, and even the Sea Serpents to attack Equestria from every corner. Admittedly, I should have seen it coming, but our fair Princess had deemed any non pony resident of Equestria was suspect to collusion with the damned stripes!" Pariah gagged and coughed a few times, thumping his hoof against his chest to clear his throat. I took the moment to think over what he had said, the gears in my head turning and throwing out what I should have seen. Pariah wasn't a pony at all!

"Almost overnight, the friends I had made at the mine turned on me, calling for the M.O.M. to take us away. Those fools didn't seem understand that the Donkey folk have always been Equestrians!" He took another puff from his now half finished cigar, savoring the flavor before blowing a ring across the room above me. "So I was lumped in with the couple of Zebra's who worked with us and carted off to Manehatten for 'interrogation'. There, we were sorted by non-pony race and strapped into seats. They spent hours having us recount our life's stories, and the ones they didn't think checked out, they interrogated via memory viewing and alteration spells."

I could see the anger welling up inside of him again, growing bit by bit while the cigar no longer did enough to help. "I thought I was one of the unlucky ones, saying that they believed me, but when they were done, they didn't take me back to the mine. They took me home." He scoffed and shoved a set of papers off his desk. "Using only the stories I had recounted of my father's journeys across Equestria, they deemed it 'necessary' to interrogate him as well. Do you know what it's like when you are forced to stand and watch as your actions get your family arrested?"

He growled and dropped his cigar on the table, slamming his hoof down on top of it in anger. "When they brought him back, he didn't even remember who I was. He couldn't even remember who his own WIFE was." Pariah reared up and kicked his desk, nearly flipping it over. "That Ministry DESTROYED my father, they DESTROYED my family! On top of all that, our Pink 'Friend' did NOTHING to stop it!" He stomped up to me and placed his hoof on my neck, pressing down to where the still hot embers of his cigar burned into me enough that I could feel it through the spell holding me.

"That is quite enough." An exotic sounding voice chimed up from behind me. Wait, somepony else has been watching us all along!? I let out a little whimper as Pariah kept constant pressure. "He can not open the door if he is not in good enough health to do so."

"The ONLY reason you are still here Xin, is because of ME." Pariah shot back to what I could only guess was a Zebra, as they are the only ones I know of who take odd names like that. After a moment of silence, I watched as the rotting hoof drew off of me. "You want him uninjured, than you just volunteered to babysit. I'll have Lodge inform Miss Fury that she is now temporarily Mine overseer."

"What of the other one?" Xin questioned curiously, stepping closer to me. Please, Goddesses, if you can hear me, I need you to keep Brass safe. I don't know how, but I will find a way to get us out of this place and make it up to you, I just need you to keep him safe! I swear that I'll be a damned saint if you get us out of here. Every minute we waste here is another that Sorbet has to find more megaspells anyway, and that wouldn't be good for anypony!

"Just fucking kill him." Pariah snarled, pushing his desk back to it's upright position. No! I can't let this happen! I desperately tried to tell my legs to move, but as hard as I tried to flail, they refused to budge at all. My ear perked with movement as Xin took a step forward.

"If I may be so bold, sir, why waste a perfectly good pony when you could put him to work? " Xin spoke with what my mind now interpreted as the voice of an angel. Luna, I know I've been asking you for a lot recently, but please, PLEASE let him agree.

"FINE, just get them out of here." He snorted and sat down in his chair, putting my mind to rest for the moment. Speaking of, my mind struggled to find an answer to the realization that if Xin was a Zebra, how was she supposed to take us anywhere? Brass, she might be able to hoof up onto her back, but I'm not exactly a lightweight! "Oh, and put them both in the cage. Fury will be by to pick up the monster in the morning."

"As you wish." Xin spoke, stepping up right behind me. I watched my vision twist and rise up as she used her hoof to sling me over her... shoulder? I was now staring down at the floor as my limp hooves dangled in front of me, feeling all kinds of awkward as she was standing on her hind legs only. She turned and leaned forward to grab Brass before standing back up.

Part of me wondered if S.A.T.S. could be used to guide hoof based attacks, or maybe at least get my hooves to move through the paralysis. The hope of figuring anything out was crushed as the gears in my head threw out the reminder that I had to use my muscles to activate S.A.T.S. in the first place. Xin walked over to the door and used one of her legs to knock on it, amazingly able to balance on a single hoof. I think I'm beginning to understand why Carlotta doesn't like Zebras so much, they are really fucking weird.

We left the cabin and stepped out into the darkness of night. I could barely see the ground under Xin's hooves as we were hauled further up the mountain side, the sound of gravel crunching under hoof my only companion. So, I'm stuck, but at least I'm not stuck alone. I wish I could tell Brass how glad I am that he's been here, but I don't think anything I say could even come close to expressing it. He keeps trying to ask, so maybe I should try to repay him with a date. Even if I would never really date somepony his age, I think he's at least earned it.

After a few minutes of being silently taken up the trail, I started to wonder just how far we were going to go. The constant swaying of Xin as she walked was starting to make me tired, and my eyelids were getting harder to keep open. I couldn't fall asleep yet though, I need every bit of information my surroundings could give when I got to where ever it is we were being taken to. My mind perked up slightly as some of the gravel started to reflect a bit of orange light.

The light grew brighter with each step. The annoyingly unnatural orange glow of the fluorescent light ahead soon accompanied by the slight buzzing sound they were known to give off. We stopped moving as Xin leaned to one side, balancing on a single hoof again to kick open a wooden... something. As she leaned back onto both hooves, I swung across her and caught a blurred glance of her glyph mark. Even if it was only a flash, the weird shape almost blending right in with her stripes. I don't know why, but my mind thought that it was important enough to try to figure out.

As I was about to rock into view of it again, but instead found myself tumbling. My mind felt for a brief moment like I was going to fall into the Delemare again, panicking about swimming with my body paralysed. Of course this was completely idiotic, because I slammed into the dirt floor with a heavy plop. My head had landed oddly and bounced to where I was stuck looking into the far corner of the cell, the dry bones of a long-dead previous occupant sat propped up in the corner.

My view