Fallout: Equestria Side Story: Gardener

Everyday, dozens of ponies fall in the wasteland. For one pony, each death is the start of a new life. This is the tale of Gardener and his efforts to rebuild the wasteland, one tree at a time.

Art courtesy of Jetwave



2. Chapter 1: To all things a reason

It had been years since I had found my purpose. My cutie mark had always been a sledgehammer, and thus I had known my lot in life was that of toil. But toil in pursuit of a greater good is the most one pony can ever ask to do with themselves. I found comfort in my work, even if the population of the wasteland disagreed. What I did was simple.

I buried the dead.

From a carriage lot in the center of Manehatten, I hauled my cart. Clad in a cloak and the remnants of armor, I scavenged the wasteland not in search of treasures, but in search of the dead. I never had to look long, for the dead always found me. But for nearly a half mile around that expanse of carriage lot, there were no bodies. No bones. No skeletons. No desecrated corpses flayed open by raiders. Each and every pony, whether they had died today or two hundred years ago, found a home in my cart, and eventually in the soil.

Some considered me a ghoul, and questioned my motives. Some took to arms as I collected the dead, fearful that I was one of the growing number of cannibals sucking the marrow from ponydom. All who understood my cause knew that wasn’t the case. Most were happy to see the bodies of loved ones given respect. Others were happy to see the dead of the past swept away to make room for new life. And every day, I swept further into the city seeking not new life, but instead the remnants of a life gone by. And every day, I found more ponies.

My cart grew full this day. I had stumbled upon a homemade shelter that had been sealed two hundred years ago, opened now only by the crumbling of the wasteland. Skeletons of families huddled together in prayer were my reward for diligence. Their skeletons filled my cart to near overflowing, as did the supplies they had hoped would keep them safe. While I had a divine mission, I was but a mortal earth pony. There was no theft from the dead. Their payment was an unspoken promise that I would give their remains the respect they deserved. In this task they paid me what they had, even if it was nothing.

Flush with goods and a full cart, I started back toward my home where new holes would be opened, and the families joined forever as new life in the wasteland. Seeing the remains of ponies gathered in prayer gave me hope that even if the mortal goddess were gone, their prayers, though cut short two centuries ago, were heard by someone who cared to listen.

There was a movement from the rubble, as there had been a hundred times before. I knew at once that raiders had made their way into the already cleared areas of my territory. They couldn’t begin to comprehend the importance of my task; they knew only destruction. One had a knife. He threatened me with unspeakable acts if I didn’t hand over my cart. Another tried to circle around the cart, ready to jump from the shadows and slit my throat. I heard the click of a pistol being cocked. One would think that a pony with a cart full of the remains of the dead would be the one pony you would stay away from. I stood still only a moment.

For the raider with the pistol, a hatchet sprung from beneath my cloak, catching him between the eyes, and splitting his head. In the same motion, I rolled away from the cart, grabbing my sledge. I danced to my feet, arcing the steel head through the ribcage of the knife pony. Years of breaking concrete had made my neck muscles like steel cables. Being on the receiving end of such a blow was a death sentence to ponies clad in anything short of power armor. This pony had only scraps of tires and leather. The sledge punched through is ribcage in a spray of crimson. He too fell, gurgling blood as he dropped to the concrete. The pony who had tried to sneak behind me was met with hooves to the muzzle. He flipped mane over hoof, dropping his crude weapon on the street below. The kick had shattered his jaw, filling the streets with blood. He scrambled backward as I approached, sledgehammer in mouth.

Now one of two things would happen. He would beg for life, then attack as soon as I granted mercy, or he would run away from my fearsome hammer, and die later in the ruins from infection. Either way, this pony would become part of Equestria again. It was up to him to decide when that was. He decided to flee; I would return to collect him within the week.

The raiders were added to my already overflowing cart. No need for ceremony, or prayers for the dead. These ponies, if you could call them that, had chosen the path of destruction, and had paid the price for their ways. That price was reclamation by the wastes, and it was I who was forced to collect the balance. I continued my way through Manehatten, the concrete roads rising to meet me every step of the way.

I had long found solace in my quiet walks home. Most who frequented this road knew both myself and my business, and nodded politely as they passed. Many had given me their own to bury, accepting my gospel as practical wisdom of the wastes. For those who donated their time or supplies, their families were given individual trees and gardens. The effort to bury a single pony was often worth more than their gifts would ever be, but it gave them peace to know that the ponies they had loved in life would live anew. Peace was all I had to offer some days, but I enjoyed giving it wherever I could.

The wagon wheel fence of the lot guided me along the only safe path into my domain. I passed through the gates, and unhitched the cart at the nearest patch of unopened concrete. I gazed out into what was once a used carriage lot. Sloped roofs made from pieces of broken glass, stitched together with buttons of metal or wood, glimmered in the sunlight. The roofs stood atop solid walls of sheet steel or plastic, windowed with fragments of discarded glass. Row upon row of these buildings sat on the lot, each one forming a long greenhouse, each one filled with trees of remembrance. Some pony had once questioned the logic of my greenhouses. I showed him inside one, and he understood.

I loved the rain, the way it felt in my cornflower coat, and how it ran through my black mane, but it’s quality had always been questionable. Perhaps not in the days before the great war, when pegasi cleared the sky, but as long as I had known. The rain was as frequently a detriment as it was a blessing. The greenhouses, aside from keeping the trees warm year round, also shielded the saplings from the harsh rains, and preserved the precious clean soil beneath the concrete. When the water was determined to be safe, it was released into the soil to hydrate the trees. The greenhouses kept the clean water from dispersing back into the wastes, and the trees alive for another harvest.

I had hoped my method of horticulture would take root in the waste land, no pun intended. Indeed some places took the wisdom to heart, and found that a greenhouse bore fruit more often than not. Yet ponies found that without the dead, life often did not grow anew.

I drank deeply from my still, a refuge of clean water in the wastes. My trusted workman Gaucho had brought it with him across the wastes, and made use of our fruits to produce intoxicating liquors. His wife sold the spirits to ponies wishing to escape the pain of the world for a few hours. Gaucho had always spoken in a foreign tongue, the likes of which I had found difficult to comprehend. Other understood none of it, and assumed he was some simpleton whom I kept around for cheap labor.

Truthfully, Gaucho was a skilled to the point of magic with machines. He would have made an excellent traveling companion if he weren’t confined to a cart. Somewhere in the waste, he had lost both of his rear legs. Ever ready to turn a disadvantage around, he constructed a crystal powered chariot that could easily out pace near anything in the wastes. Sadly, the energy crystals he needed were expensive, and rarely did he get the opportunity to “run.”

Gaucho waved at me from the garage, beckoning me to marvel his latest invention. I happily trotted over, always eager to see what his fevered mind could come up with. His wife stood with him. Casa was a heart breakingly beautiful cinnamon mare with the cutie mark of a home. With her good looks and exact speech, she ached of refinement and class. How she and her incomprehensible husband met, let alone fell in love, was so far beyond me I hadn’t even bothered to ask. But love they did, constantly showering each other with affection. Their unquestioning love for each other lifted my spirits every time I thought of them. If those two had found such love in this hellscape, then perhaps the ponies of the world would also find love for each other. Their unbridled passion also made for some fantastically awkward moments around the lot. I had walked in on them in the throws of passion more times then I could count, and had learned some time ago that when the garage door was closed, it was better to simply stay outside.

Gaucho gestured to a box hanging from a brand new hole in the wall of my garage. When I questioned him about it, he said something about the hole being there for an excellent reason. Or possibly chicken tomato soup. In his excited state, he was particularly difficult to understand and eager to show me what miracles he had performed this time. The garage door slammed shut behind me. I asked if this was going to be like the time we nearly died. He asked for a clarification of which time. I sighed wearily as he switched on the device.

For a moment, nothing happened. Then, a gentle breeze floated through the room, carrying with it the chill of winter. The room slowly became cooler, a pleasant contrast to the heat of the wastelands. A drop of water formed on the device, dripping into a pail just below it. I hailed his creation as the greatest thing that had happened to the carriage lot since the first tree. He simply questioned whether it would collect enough water to be worth running. For not the first time, the side benefits of Gaucho's projects far outweighed his original intent.

I left the garage as Casa showered her husband with kisses, closing the door behind me as I walked back into the carriage lot. They would be out when they were done with each other. I returned to my cart, and separated the skeletons from the more recent bodies. The remains of the raiders and a few other unfortunate ponies were laid on the concrete, marking their final resting place. The skeletons, of which there were several dozen, were hauled to the grinder.

I had found some time ago that the bones of ponies, especially those from before the war, never provided as much life as the bodies of the more recently deceased. One of the wasteland’s doctors had told me that composition of bone didn’t support plants the way that flesh did, but that by mixing bone meal with the earth, I could replenish the soil. I had taken his advice to heart. I had later found out he was a cannibal, but his wisdom stuck with me. Bones were crushed, keeping families together, and from their pieces grew new life. The process was grim, to be sure, but like many things in this wasteland, it came as a fusion of belief and practicality. The bones would grow new life, just as every pony who came to this lot to rest.

The machine churned miserably, as it always did. Gaucho had once said that it had an angry spirit. The machine was originally designed for mulching branches, and to use it for the purpose that I had enraged the soul of the machine. I had good reason to believe him about the angered spirit; the damned thing sounded as if it were possessed. I placed the first family on the platform, and offering my prayers of respect and gratitude. I christened them with oil as I prayed. When the prayers were finished, they tumbled into the whirling blades, crunching and grinding with sickening snaps and pops. Long ago, the sounds of the grinder would have caused me to lose whatever meal I had just eaten. Now, it simply blocked it out with an endless mantra: May Celestia judge me for my actions, I do this to give to others. There was solitude in that mantra. So long as I remained focused on giving back to what remained of Equestria, therein lie peace. And peace was the greatest gift of all in these harsh times.

I found myself back at the bodies I had laid out, having collected the canvas bags of bone fragments. Each had a name that had been found near them. These sacks contained the final mortal remains of the Carmels, the Clovers, and Sugars. These ponies, had their lives not been cut cruelly short by the war, would have gone on to live happily ever after in the suns of Equestria. Perhaps they would be doctors, or bakers, or states-ponies. The endless spiderweb of decisions that made up their lives had been cauterized in the flames of Balefire. And now only a single option stood before their previously endless potential. They would keep Equestria crawling along in the aftermath.

I picked up my sledge hammer, enjoying the familiar heft. Some time ago, Gaucho had hollowed the head, and filled it with a flowing metal that he had scavenged from somewhere in the wastes. It weighed the same as it always had, but now struck with the force of a tidal wave, shattering through concrete faster than I could have ever managed on my own. I was always on the look out for more of that silver liquid; Celestia help me if this hammer ever broke. I brought the weight of the sledge down into the concrete carriage lot, shattering through it and into the dirt in a single blow. A few more swings gave me the manageable pieces I needed, and a few more would have reduced the rocks to powder.

A recent attack had left one of the compound walls thin. They would be repaired with the pieces I had broken from the pavement. Much like everything else in these wastes, the old was destroyed in order to build new. In the same way Gaucho broke down old machine to remake his wonders, I broke through the crust of civilization to rebuild life. Our lives meshed perfectly. He needed a place free to work, I needed an engineer to protect the new life that grew in the wastes. I picked up my shovel, and began tossing the chunks of concrete into my cart.

I worked quietly in the afternoon sun, pausing frequently to sip from the still. I could feel the strain of Equestria’s clean dirt splintering through the handle of my shovel, and I knew that soon it would snap under the strain, leaving me without a tool. Gaucho was supposed to fix my tools, but he had recently been distracted by both his new contraption, and his amorous wife. Not that I could blame him. Still, before the day was out, I was going to be left without a shovel, and that would mean a trip into city to acquire a new one.

Most of the ponies would be happy to see my cart roll into town. They knew me there not as a ghoul, but as an undertaker. Some may have feared my purpose, but many of them understood what I was trying to accomplish. Those who had lost found solace in the fresh life I brought back to them, often a branch from the first harvest of their kin’s tree. Word of my mission had spread, and I had found acceptance among the wastes as a Gardener of life.

The sun had toiled away it’s hours in the sky, hanging low over the wastes, and filling the greenhouses with light. A few of the trees were ready for harvest. I would get to them this evening, and bring the freshest stock to town. My eyes caught the sight of one tree at the far end of the lot, ready for its first harvest. A family named Pick had paid me in glass to bury their newborn foal. The child, a unicorn, had survived only a few days. The tree had been alive longer than their child ever had, and now bore fruit. I would bring them a branch from its boughs to commemorate the new life their son had helped to create, and hoped it would bring them peace.

A hole had formed around me, large enough for the bodies of the two raiders that had tried to kill me earlier in the day. I dragged the lifeless forms into the hole, and began raining dirt on them. I felt no more remorse in this burial than I did for the dozens of other raiders whom were buried on this lot. The choices they made were poor, and because of their dedication to destruction, they now lay beneath Gardener’s Lot. I made ready an apple tree sapling, and planted it with the raiders. The Sugar family found their way into the that tree as well. I made a note to order new headstones for my latest charges.

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