Fallout Equestria: The Daily Unlife

"Live a little, they say. Easier said than done."

These are the voyages of the Canterlot ghoul Lemon Frisk. His mission: to find the Meaning of Unlife. His continuing perils: crazed raiders, feral ghouls, overzealous rangers, deranged robots, and a mare who won't stop poking him.



5. Day Four - Living the Dream

Living the Dream
finding only nightmares

Day dreams are the closest a ghoul can get to sleeping. It wasn't day yet, but that didn't stop Lemon Frisk. Lost in thoughts, staring out in front of him, he let his mind slip.

Inevitably, it slipped right into the abyss.



Lemon Frisk looked at the ponies around him, rushing into the Stable door.

"Calm down!" he shouted, determined to keep the whole thing orderly, but still glad his family was already inside. "We still got enough time."

He was a crisis manager, and by the Princesses, this was just another crisis. It didn't involve parties, or deployment of sprite bots, or preventing terrorist attacks by Zebra sympathizers, but it was a crisis like any other. And he'd be damned if it would be the first one that he'd allow to slip into chaos.

"Lemon Frisk!" someone shouted behind him. "Get inside! They're closing the door!"

Lemon Frisk looked at the pony standing in the Stable door. "What? We've only just begun alerting the civilian population!"

"That pink stuff isn't waiting," the stallion replied. "They're all dead."

"The hell they are!" Lemon Frisk shouted back. "I can see them coming!"

"They're closing this thing, Lemon Frisk. Get your ass in here!"

Lemon Frisk looked at the ponies outside the huge windows of the Ministry building. One by one, they dropped as the pink cloud billowed through them. Wisps of pink smoke seeped through the cracks around the glass door. He watched in horror, then quickly turned and ran into the Stable.


Lemon Frisk gasped as the wastelands around him dropped into focus once again. He squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head, trying to banish the memory, but it didn't help. It didn't stop him from remembering the rest... the Stable door shutting, and Scootaloo's message suddenly playing through all of the Stable.

"Hello. And goodbye. My name is Scootaloo. You probably know me as the vice-president of Stable-Tec, the company who designed and built the Stable you have taken refuge in. But right now, I'm talking to you as one of the very, very many ponies you fuckers have murdered."

With every word in the recording, Scootaloo had dashed more and more of the Stable's hopes. On top of the crazy war, after all the effort he had personally put into cheering up the population and keeping some unity in the country, there she was, personal friend of the Ministry Mares no less, condemning them all. Lemon Frisk had never really expected to personally see the outside world again, but here was this mare, telling them all that not even their children or grandchildren would ever see it again. That all their descendants were doomed to stay inside until the Stable inevitably broke down, even generations after the ponies she held responsible for the war.

"I hope your souls rot for eternity," the message had ended.

"You're a monster, Scootaloo," Lemon Frisk said to the wastelands.

It didn't matter how it had turned out in the end. It didn't matter that the princesses weren't in there. Or that the door had opened after the Pink Cloud had done its work. It didn't matter that even though there was no living, breathing pony left in the Stable, quite a number had retained their wits. Scootaloo had intended to punish future generations for the misdeeds of their ancestors, and as punishment for the princesses watching over them.

"A monster."

Lemon Frisk was startled by a voice behind him. "Who's Scootaloo?"

He turned to see Misty Cloud walking up behind him. "Shouldn't you still be sleeping?"

"The sun is coming up soon," Misty Cloud said. "I didn't want to miss the sunrise, so I set my pipbuck alarm."

"You really like watching the sun, don't you?" Lemon Frisk said with a smile. Misty just nodded, and sat down beside him.

* * *

"Do you have any idea where we should go, after we get to the factory?" Misty Cloud asked. "I mean... we could just stay in Hayden, but..." She sighed.

"You think Spray Paint needs some time alone," Lemon said. "Get over you, meet some other pretty mares." He cocked his head. "Of course, Hayden may not be the right place for that."

She smiled. "You think I'm pretty?"

Lemon laughed. "You're asking somepony who hasn't seen much besides ghouls for the past two hundred years. I don't think I could tell any smoothcoat they're not pretty."

Misty raised an eyebrow. "You're just weaseling your way out of giving a straight answer."

"Probably. But you asked a ghoul's opinion on physical beauty, so you were asking for it."

"I'm asking the one ghoul who took decent care of his looks, though," Misty shot back.

Lemon Frisk smiled. "Still. I'll have to get back to you on this after we meet some more pretty mares."

"Fair enough," Misty replied. "So then, it's decided? We're heading for someplace with pretty mares?"

"Indeed. What's close?" Lemon asked, nodding towards her pipbuck. She opened the map view, zoomed it out, and immediately wished she hadn't.

The only marked location besides the factory, Scorch Mark and Hayden, was "Stable 69".

"Oh hey, what do we have there?" Lemon Frisk said, grinning.

She shot him a dirty look. "You tricked me into that."

"Does it have pretty mares?" he asked.

"I'm not going back there!" she hissed at him, remembering to keep her voice down for the people that were still asleep.

"I bet it has pretty mares."

"I don't have any reason to go back to that place," Misty protested.

"You mean like, letting Big Apple's family know what happened to him?"

Misty slumped her head down onto her forehooves. "That's not fair."

"Life's not fair, Misty," Lemon Frisk said. "But if your Stable's only dysfunctionality is the breeding program, I'm going to go out on a limb here and say they care about their children as much as any pony community should."

"I don't want to go back," Misty said. "They'd only blame me. I'm the reason he ran off."

"Was it your idea then?" Lemon Frisk asked.

Misty shook her head. "Not really. It just sort of, well, popped up. We both wanted out of the Program, and the Stable had opened. It seemed logical."

"Except for the radigators," Lemon Frisk said. "Hey, we could go and give them the Guide! It'd help them out a lot."

"Another layer of emotional blackmail?" She sighed. "You're too good at this."

Lemon nodded. "And you're supposed to be the psychologist here."

Misty Cloud's head shot up. "How did you find that out?"

"You dropped a few hints," Lemon said calmly. "But the final one was Spray Paint calling you 'couch potato', and you calling that a cheap shot. So I couldn't help but wonder if it referred to some characteristic of yours that you can't change. Like, say, a cutie mark. And if you do indeed have a couch as a cutie mark, and it doesn't mean you're a couch potato for life, then what could it refer to?"

Misty slumped down again. "Curse you for being such a clever pony, and the only buck in the wastelands that could make that link."

"Well if it's any consolation, that's my special talent." He smiled.

"Your special talent is being clever?" she said, staring at the red ball slowly rising over the horizon. "How convenient."

"No, my special talent is basically making the best of what little I get. That includes figuring things out from just a few clues."

Misty lazily rolled her head to the side to look at the pony lying beside her. "So, you're a detective?"

Lemon Frisk shook his head. "I could've been, maybe, if I had been interested in that. No, I was basically a crisis manager. The Ministry of Morale put me in situations that needed to be resolved quickly, and I did that."

"Ministry of Morale, huh? What kind of situations?"

"Um, mostly party related things. Short notice surprise parties and such," he said evadingly. "I was a bit of a loose cannon, but Pinkie had a way of knowing exactly where to aim those."

Misty gasped. "You knew Pinkie Pie? Personally?"

"Pinkie Pie made it her duty to know absolutely everyone who worked for her. I have no idea how she did that, but yeah, we've talked a few times."

Misty chuckled. "It's odd to realize you're actually from that time."

She looked at the picture on Lemon Frisk's flank. "How does your talent translate to a lemon cutie mark, though?"

"Well, you know the old saying," Lemon Frisk said. "When life gives you lemons..."

"You make life take 'em back? You make life rue the day it thought it could give Colt Johnson lemons?"

Lemon Frisk shot her a nasty look. "Of all the crappy comedy routines on Trotway, THAT one survived the apocalypse? Seriously?"

Misty frowned. "Relax, I was just joking."

"I'm about as sick of that joke as you are of being called 'Rusty'."


She looked at the sun, which was still rising steadily towards the pegasus cloud cover.

"You did take that 'making lemonade' part pretty literal though, didn't you?" she said.

Lemon Frisk couldn't help but smile. "In my defense, the name was Blossom Tree's idea. And yeah, I've gotten my share of jokes about that too." He turned to Misty and frowned. "How do you do that? I would've bucked anyone in the face for making that joke now."

Misty shook her head. "I'm not trying to be your psychologist, Lemon, if that's what you're asking," she said calmly, and leaned her head against his shoulder. "But I'm glad I can help you get over these things."

"Alas, here I am, stuck with the only head-shrinker in the Equestrian Wastelands," Lemon Frisk said, smiling down at the pretty mare leaning against him.

* * *

"Well, love birds, y'all ready to go?" Capsworth asked.

Misty Cloud jumped upright, a fierce blush on her face. Lemon Frisk chuckled, and calmly got up. "I think we are."

"We're not!" Misty Cloud blurted out. "Uh, love birds, I mean."

Capsworth just raised an eyebrow, shook his head and walked away.

Misty turned to Lemon. "Well, we aren't! We were just..."

Lemon Frisk laughed. "If you say so, Misty." He gave her a teasing look. "Maybe going to your parents is a bad idea after all. They may think I'm too old for you."

"Shut up," Misty said, hanging down her head.

"Then again, as you pointed out when we first met, I wasn't much older than you when I got this way," Lemon Frisk continued.

"Shut. Up," Misty said, nearly growling.

"And hey, in a few years, you'll catch up with me!"

"I swear, one more word..."

"Of course, I won't be bringing any more diversity into the breeding prog—"

Lemon's sentence was cut off with a surprised whinny as Misty poked him in the side. He looked at her for a moment, before deciding he wasn't quite done yet.

"You're not making this look any bet—" Poke. "Yahh!"

"This relationship is getting physi—" Poke. "Nhee!"

"Harassment!" Poke. "Yeeh!"

Spray Paint walked towards them, fully packed and ready to go. "Will you two cut that out already?"

Misty and Lemon looked at each other, and burst out laughing.

Spray Paint rolled his eyes. "Just make sure you catch up. We're leaving."

* * *

The rest of the trip was as boring as it had been the first time. No raiders, no manticores, no radigators, and no deranged secret project zombie cyborg ponies. Lemon Frisk was a bit disappointed.

Any of those would probably be better than walking beside Misty in uncomfortable silence. Spray Paint had glanced back at them a few times to see if they were still following, but hadn't interrupted. He'd just sighed and trotted on.

"So, uh..." Lemon Frisk finally tried.

Misty didn't reply.

"You, eh, really like me?" he tried again. "I mean, like that?"

Misty looked away from him, and nodded.

"I am a ghoul, you know," Lemon tried again. "Probably not all that good in the, eh, nighttime entertainment department."

Misty sighed. "Do you have to turn everything into a joke?"

"Isn't that what you like about me?" Lemon Frisk said, daring to give a small smile.

"Maybe it is," she said. "I don't know."

"Well, it's probably not my looks," Lemon mused. "Unless you have a thing for ghouls. Then it must be my looks."

Misty couldn't help but snicker.

"There we go!" Lemon Frisk said, smiling. "Talking helps, you know."

She glared at him. "Not fair, using that against me."

"So, what worries you the most?" Lemon Frisk said. "The fact you might love an undead abomination, or wondering how I feel about you?"

"That Spray Paint may be right," Misty said, glancing at the turquoise stallion walking farther ahead.

"What did he say?"

"That I'm replacing Big Apple."

"Are you?" Lemon Frisk asked, raising his eyebrow.

Misty smiled faintly. "Are we switching jobs now?"

"You started with helping me," he reminded her. "It's only fair I return the favour."

"You may be exactly the wrong pony to help me with this, though."

"Well, so is Spray Paint," Lemon said. "And Capsworth's fees are probably a bit too steep. Now answer the question."

She laughed softly. "All right... I don't think I am. I just feel safe around you. You're this crazy pony who can effortlessly stare down a feral ghoul, pull a huge pony like Capsworth to the ground, and squeeze an explosive collar. How do you do that?"

"Pink cloud melted my brain. Next question," Lemon Frisk answered immediately. "Oh wait. I'm asking the questions, ain't I?" He looked at her. "So, I'll ask the question, then," he said, sounding much more serious now. "How did Apple's death affect you?"

Misty frowned, trying to think about the issue objectively. "Apple's death... scarred me, undoubtedly," she said. "On some level, I'm scared to death of these wastelands."

"Everypony is, Misty. It's only logical to seek out safety," Lemon Frisk said, nodding. "Don't think that'd make you fall in love, though." He looked at her inquisitively. "You're not just in your heat cycle, are you? I mean, that could explain—"

Misty's cheeks turned crimson. "I'm not in my Luna-damned heat cycle!" she yelled at him. When she noticed the ponies farther ahead turning their heads, she lowered her head and grumbled. "Breeding program. We all know our own cycles."

Lemon Frisk stared at her. "Right. Sorry," was the only thing he managed to answer.

"What about you?" she asked. "How... do you feel about me?"

He sighed. "Look, I like you, a lot, but beyond that, I honestly have no idea." He shook his head, and gave her a sad smile. "I'm an emotional cripple, Misty. I've been stuck with my own losses for two centuries, and only now I find someone to help me with that. I'm a Canterlot ghoul, you know. We get rusted into the state we were in before we died. I'm not even sure I'm capable of changing."

"You left your Stable after two hundred years," Misty said. "That proves you can."

He gave her a weak smile. "There may be hope for both of us, then."

* * *

"So, this is the place?" Capsworth asked Misty and Lemon, as they walked into the factory.

Misty nodded. "This is the place. It doesn't look like much has changed."

Lemon Frisk frowned. "We blocked the door though. It's open."

The cellar door, which they had thoroughly blocked, was indeed wide open.

"Someone beat us to it?" Capsworth asked.

"If they did, I doubt it'll be empty anyway," Lemon Frisk said. "You don't just haul off that much Sparkle Cola."

"Ssh! I hear sounds inside," Misty whispered.

Lemon Frisk crept closer to the door. Apparently, whoever was in there had heard them too though. The only thing he heard was the sound of breathing... only, it sounded oddly muffled.

"Hello?" he shouted inside.

A shot fired, the bullet barely missing his ear. Misty grabbed him around the barrel and pulled him back. "Let me handle this," she said.

"I can survive a couple of bullets," Lemon Frisk said, getting up. "You can't."

Misty shook her head. "No offense, Lemon Frisk, but I remember being down there. You, shouting with your raspy voice, and rearing your slightly-decayed head in there? Trust me, it's not a comforting sight for anypony."

Lemon Frisk stepped back. "All right. Be careful though, they're pretty shooty."

"Hello?" Misty shouted. "We don't mean you any harm. We just want the bottles."

"Still full, preferably!" Lemon Frisk added.

Misty shot him an annoyed look. "Lemon, they're not going to drink a cellar full of Sparkle Cola bottles."

"You never know! They might be, uh, really thirsty?" He turned to the cellar. "So, yeah, we prefer not having to shoot back, since that'll only damage them."

"We were here first!" a muffled female voice called back. She had an odd accent, but somehow, it sounded familiar to Lemon Frisk.

"Well, technically, Misty here found it first, and got the door open," Lemon Frisk yelled back. "But tell you what, we'll split them. You take half of the bottles, we take the rest. Completely fair."

Behind him, Capsworth frowned. "Ya kinda sold 'em to me already, remember?"

Lemon turned his head towards him. "I only gave you a location with possible profit. Half of that cellar is still more than your cart can carry, and I doubt you'll be able to come here twice without some sort of agreement with these fellas." He lowered his voice to a whisper. "And I didn't mention the caps," he said with a wink. "They might not have found those yet."

"We put an explosive in the room," another muffled voice shouted back from the cellar. "Try anything, and no one will have the stock."

Lemon Frisk's face lit up. "They're holding the Cola ransom? Oh, I love these guys!"

Capsworth, Misty and Spray Paint shot him questioning looks. Misty was the first to voice their confusion. "What?"

Lemon Frisk just smiled. "Well, that's pretty much what I'd do, if I were down there!"

Capsworth facehoofed. "Great," he groaned. "We're dealin' with more crazy ponies."

"We are coming out now!" the muffled female voice yelled. "Any shooting, and—"

"—you'll blow yourselves up in a grand explosion of pointy shards and sticky cola," Lemon Frisk said. "We got the point."

"Uh, yes," the voice replied, suddenly sounding less sure about their bargaining technique.

The three ponies stepping out of the cellar looked peculiar, to say the least. They were wrapped in cloth, covering almost every inch of open coat. Each of them had some sort of visor over their face, obscuring their features. The mare in front was wearing a helmet, her face still quite visible through the darkened plastic. She winced visibly when coming out into what passed for sunlight under the eternal cloud cover. Lemon Frisk couldn't help but notice that between their wraps, all three of them had white coats.

He tilted his head and looked at them. "Sensitive to sunlight?"

The mare looked at him, frowning. "You are, uh... a ghoul?"

Lemon Frisk gave them a yellow-toothed smile. "Lemon Frisk, Canterlot ghoul, at your service!"

"At our service...?" the stallion behind him mumbled through the cloth over his mouth.

"Indeed. Meaning, at this moment, not here to shoot you," Lemon replied, still smiling. "So, who are you folks?"

"My name is Vinegar," The mare answered. "Leader of the Slags."

"Slags. Hm. You don't seem very comfortable on the sunny side, Vinegar," Lemon Frisk remarked.

"We do not normally go outside during the day," she said.

"Because you're sensitive to sunlight?"

Vinegar nodded. "Our tribe survived the war living underground, in caves," she said. "It changed us. The light hurts our eyes, and irritates our skin."

"I see," Lemon Frisk said. "What brings you out here, then?"

Vinegar looked at the other two ponies. The stallion nodded encouragingly. She sighed. "We do not have enough supplies for our growing population," she said. "So we were looking for villages to trade with. We found this, and thought it would make good trading material."

"I reckon it will," Lemon Frisk said. "This supply must be worth quite some caps."

"We realise though," Vinegar continued, "that in the Wastelands, anything found must be defended."

"Excuse me..." Capsworth interrupted. "Can ya kindly let the business pony in on the business part?"

"They still have the detonator," Lemon Frisk said to him, "making this the crazy ponies negotiation part. Are you sure you want to join in on that?"

Capsworth sighed, and slumped back. "All right. You handle it, then."

Lemon Frisk turned back to the three white ponies. "Well now, as you see, the wastelands are more than willing to pluck you like a griffin's breakfast!" He was rewarded with a nasty look from Capsworth, which he ignored completely. "We sort of sold our salvage rights to the kind stallion over here, but he's a trader, so if you're in it for the trade, he might help you out right away. I'm curious though. You've lived underground all this time? How does that work?"

"We have mushroom farms in the caves," Vinegar answered. "With the food shortage, we had tried to set up a farming operation above the ground, but the soil seems too irradiated."

Lemon Frisk raised his eyebrow. "The soil... do you have a clean water supply, though?"

Vinegar nodded. "We have an underground lake in the caves. Not a single rad in that water."

"Hey Capsworth, help me out here," Lemon Frisk said, motioning the white unicorn closer with a nod of his head. "If I remember correctly, Spring Singer said Hayden was the least irradiated area for miles around, and yet you guys don't have any crops. Why is that?"

Capsworth blinked. "Uh, if I remember correctly, it used ta have 'em, ages ago, but with so many ponies comin' to live there, the water talisman couldn't handle it, and the village gradually switched to trade."

Lemon Frisk nodded. "Thought so." He stepped back, to address both Vinegar and Capsworth together. "It seems you both have half of what it takes to set up a really nice farming operation. Now, about that cola down there... I don't see any carts around here, besides our own. It's just the three of you?"

"Yes. This was quite unplanned," Vinegar said. "That does not mean we are giving up on it, though."

Lemon Frisk nodded. "Of course, of course. Where is your settlement?"

"To the north-west," the mare replied. "About two hours away, at full gallop."

Lemon Frisk smiled. "Could you get more ponies here to guard this place?"

Vinegar gave him an odd look. "What are you planning?"

"An exchange of trust and security." He smiled. "You acknowledge that the only thing you'll take from that cellar is half of the bottles of Sparkle-Cola, and guard this place so no more scavengers try to claim a piece of it. We get to take the rest, and help you set up a nice water trade with Hayden. Everypony wins."

Vinegar gave him a flat look. "There is something else in that cellar, is there not?"

Lemon Frisk just smiled. "Maybe. But that's the deal. What do you say?"

Vinegar nodded. "If everything you say is true... deal. This was an unexpected extra anyway; whatever else is in there is your business."

Lemon gave both Capsworth and Vinegar a broad smile. "That's settled, then!"

Capsworth gave Lemon Frisk a thoughtful look. "Yer... good at this. What does that lemon cutie mark stand for, I wonder?"

"Taking life by the lemons, and squeezing," Lemon Frisk said with a grin.

Vinegar looked out at the horizon in the north-west, and then turned to her two wrapped-up companions. "Lake Keeper, Spore, you two stay here. Keep your heads cool, and go get that bomb out of the cellar. We got our agreement, and it is more than we could have hoped for."

She turned to the others. "Lemon Frisk, was it?" she asked the ghoul. He nodded. "Do you mind accompanying me?" she continued. "These lands are dangerous, and you seem trustworthy."

"Sure," Lemon Frisk responded. "I'm not going without Misty Cloud though. We're partners!"

Misty stabbed a hoof into his side, causing him to jump aside with a surprised yelp. "Don't mind him," she said to Vinegar, trying to keep herself from blushing. "But, sure. I'll come along."

She turned to Spray Paint, who had been watching the scene with slight amusement. "Spray Paint, I trust you keep Capsworth from doing anything stupid?"

"Hey," Capsworth interrupted, "the ghoul changed a hostile situation into a guarantee ta ship more than one cart full o'this cola home. I'm not messin' that up. Guarantees are hard to come by in the wastelands."

Spray Paint chuckled. "I think my time is better spent looking through that cellar instead."

After eating lunch, the three ponies left for Vinegar's settlement. To Misty's surprise, she saw the name "Dead Farm" appear on her pipbuck map when she checked the destination. Somehow, Vinegar wasn't surprised that that was how the Wastelands referred to it. All three wondered how the device knew that, though.

* * *

Two hours was quite the trip, and while Vinegar was in excellent condition, and Lemon Frisk's unnatural body had no problem keeping up, Misty was getting exhausted quite fast. After about an hour, they took a short break. Lemon Frisk put some of Misty's load into his own saddlebags.

"Well, looks like we'll be seeing some pretty mares sooner than expected," Lemon Frisk said to Misty.

Vinegar gave him a slightly disgusted look, clearly not comfortable with the idea of a ghoul visiting her people to ogle the mares. "Pretty mares?"

Misty looked uncomfortable. "It's a bit of an... insider's joke."

"We're still going to your stable though," Lemon Frisk added. "These mares are all covered up. Hardly a fair comparison."

Misty groaned. "I should never have asked you that."

Vinegar gave them a suspicious look. "What is this all about?"

Misty sighed, and looked away. Lemon Frisk smiled broadly. "She asked me, a ghoul who hasn't seen any decent coat in about two hundred years, if I considered her to be a 'pretty mare'. Being an honest pony though, I can't objectively confirm that without anyone to compare with."

Behind the visor, Vinegar blinked. "Oh. We are not covered up inside the caves."

"But it's all dark in there," Lemon Frisk said.

"The caves are lit, but our lamps might not be bright enough for your eyes."

"Why don't you have full lighting in there, then?" Misty asked.

"The blue lamps we use are the only ones we can produce ourselves," Vinegar said. "Our tribe survived with only them while we stayed locked inside, and now our bodies cannot tolerate the brighter light."

Lemon Frisk's ears perked up at that sentence. Something seemed eerily familiar about the way she spoke.

Vinegar looked at the horizon. "We must continue, if we want to return by nightfall."

* * *

Dead Farm. Looking at the huge fields full of decaying crops that never managed to grow to full size, Misty and Lemon had to agree the name was fitting. It was clear the ponies of Vinegar's tribe had put enormous amounts of effort into the project, and Lemon realized how desperate the complete failure must have made them.

The cave entrance was barely visible, but oddly indicated with sticks in the ground around it. Someone had tried very hard to hide the place, but its current occupants didn't seem to care too much about that secrecy.

They walked into a kind of entrance hall, where the light was more dimmed, but not quite gone. The room was lit with pale blue light bulbs, that would probably have given the place a ghostly atmosphere, were it not for the light falling in from outside.

Apparently, it was dark enough for Vinegar to start taking off her covers. To Misty's surprise, the mare had light gray stripes on her body.

"You're a zebra!" she said.

Lemon Frisk raised his eyebrow. "I thought I recognised that way of speaking. She's not a full zebra, though. Looks like a crossbreed to me."

Vinegar nodded. "Our community started from a secret interrogation camp hidden in these caves," she said. "After the bombs fell, and the entrance was sealed, the difference between guards and prisoners eventually became moot. They had to cooperate to survive, and thus, they did."

"Amazing," Lemon Frisk said. "You accomplished by pure chance what all of the Stable-Tec projects strived for."

As she looked at them, the dim light pouring in from outside accentuated Vinegar's bright red albino eyes. "We are the remains of the scorched earth, forever rejected by the surface. That is why we call ourselves the Slags."

She opened the heavy steel door at the opposite side of the room and stepped inside, motioning the two ponies to follow her. As their eyes adjusted to the darkness, Misty and Lemon began to make sense of the structure of the Slags' home. The cave was big enough to house a few hundred inhabitants, and the dim blue light illuminated pathways to other caves. One of those undoubtedly contained the underground lake Vinegar had mentioned, and others had to be leading to their mushroom farms. The main cave was divided into separate living spaces by simple wooden screens, each space giving enough room for a family to live in. In the center was a bar with a big kitchen. The orange glow of its oven was the brightest light in the cave.

Vinegar noticed that the glow attracted their attention. "Open fire wastes too much oxygen; the talisman cannot handle it," she said. "We use compressed dried mushrooms burnt in ovens at high temperatures."

Lemon nodded thoughtfully. "So mushrooms are your food, and your fuel. I can see how that can lead to a shortage."

A unicorn Slag mare trotted towards them, making a visible effort not to go into full gallop. The sight of the two ponies seemed to distress her.

"Vinegar!" she said. "Who are these two? Did something happen?"

"Do not worry, Mush," Vinegar assured her. "Spore and Lake Keeper are fine. We have met a group of ponies willing to trade water with us. In exchange, I agreed assistance in guarding a pre-war stash for the traders."

She stepped aside, motioning Lemon Frisk and Misty Cloud farther inside. "These two have accompanied me here. Lemon Frisk, Misty Cloud, meet Mushroom Stew." Oddly, she did not repeat the introduction the other way around. Lemon wondered if that was a remnant of zebra customs.

"Pleased to meet you," Mushroom Stew said, briefly bowing her head. "So, you are traders?" If she was surprised at Lemon Frisk's ghoul-ness, she didn't show it.

Misty frowned. "No, we're just... uh..." She looked at Lemon Frisk for assistance.

"Travellers?" Lemon suggested. "We don't have any real purpose or destination. We just travel around and try to survive."

Mushroom Stew raised an eyebrow. "I believe the term 'wanderers' seems appropriate, then. What is your relation to the traders?"

"One of the trader's employees is our friend," Lemon Frisk said, not bothering to explain the whole Sparkle Cola factory situation. That was Vinegar's job.

Vinegar seemed to think so too, and continued with the finer details. "These two apparently first found the stash we stumbled upon, and sold the location to the trader," she said to Mush. "The ghoul was kind enough to negotiate an agreement between us about the ownership of the goods. For our assistance, we are entitled to half of them."

"Half of the bottles," Lemon Frisk corrected her. He wanted to make absolutely sure there would be no misunderstandings about that part when they got back.

Vinegar frowned. "Yes, sorry. That was... thoughtless of me. Can I ask what else you were looking for, though?"

"Caps, of course," Lemon Frisk replied. "A soda factory inevitably has caps."

Vinegar laughed. "Well played, ghoul. Well played. But I agreed to the deal, and I shall honour it."

She turned to Mushroom Stew again. "Mush, can you find six volunteers for this mission? We will be guarding the factory for a few weeks, until all of its contents have been moved out. The site is two hours away."

Mush nodded, and moved towards the bar, peeking into the living spaces of potential volunteers on the way there.

"This place is beautiful," Misty Cloud said, smiling. "These people... look at them. They're so... close."

Lemon Frisk frowned. "Close?"

"As a community. They're on the brink of famine, but they still look happier than the people in my Stable," she said. "And I should know, I dealt with all their problems."

Vinegar seemed to misunderstand that part. "You led a Stable?" she asked.

"Oh, no!" Misty said. "I was their counselor. I helped ponies with personal problems."

Vinegar frowned. "Is that not the task of the leader?"

Misty smiled. "Not in a Stable. But I agree, it should be. You clearly know your people well."

A smile appeared on Vinegar's face. "Thank you. I try."

"Vinegar," Lemon Frisk interrupted the silence that followed, "exactly how irradiated are your fields?"

"That is an odd question," Vinegar replied.

"Not really. The areas we've traveled through the past few days have been remarkably free of radiation, but I'm a ghoul. I kinda need radiation to survive."

The zebra-pony nodded. "You wish to know the most irradiated spot, then. It is not in the dead fields; we knew very well nothing edible could ever grow near the Shard."

"Odd name," Misty said. "What is it?"

"The remains of a small aircraft, or a very large projectile. Or maybe even a large piece of debris blown here from a nearby city. We are not sure; it is too mangled to see, and too irradiated to investigate."

* * *

While the Slags prepared their supplies for the trip, Lemon Frisk was trotting over the roads laid between the dead fields. They had clearly tried, so very hard, to make the farms work. The clicking of his pipbuck was quite within acceptable ranges for surviving here, but the dead plants around him didn't seem to agree with that. Maybe it was simply enough to kill the plants, or maybe some other poison had seeped into the ground here. Either way, it hadn't worked. The Slags had covered vast areas with their fields, hoping at least some of them would work out. All of the crops had died.

A fair distance away from the fields, Lemon Frisk saw the object Vinegar had referred to as "the Shard". Even when trotting closer, Lemon couldn't solve the mystery of what it had been, though. It looked like a tube, about five meters long and two meters in diameter, blown open across its entire length. There was no trace of anything that may have been at the front or back of the tube, or of what may have been inside. Oddly, it glowed blue, instead of the usual green. Nevertheless, Lemon Frisk felt the warm glow healing his tired undead bones, and restoring the travel wear of his hooves.

Ignoring the continuous crackling of his pipbuck's rad meter, he sat down beside the Shard and looked over the Dead Farm. So much work, so much hope, all dead. It was the most depressing sight he'd seen after the Canterlot ruins.

Involuntarily, his thoughts drifted back towards those final days.



Lemon Frisk ripped the blue uniform off his body with his teeth, and threw it at the door.

"That's it?!" he yelled. "We all came in here, to die?"

The stallion who had yelled at him to come in was still staring at the speakers, horrified at Scootaloo's message.

"Damn you, Stable-Tec!" Lemon Frisk roared, banging on the door. "Damn you, Scootaloo, Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle..." He slumped down, tears in his eyes. "They killed us all."

Lying down, his head in an uncomfortable position against the door that had made this their eternal prison, he heard something.


Thump, thump, thump.

He realized it was coming from the other side.

He pulled his head away, unable to bear the sound. Still it continued, clearly audible. Frantic banging of more ponies, dying in the pink cloud, trying to get in. For a moment, Lemon Frisk envied them. Dying out there, as free ponies. As true victims of war. Not as prisoners, condemned with the knowledge that they had no place in the world. Betrayed by the ponies they had entrusted their lives to.

Somewhere farther in the Stable, he heard a gunshot. Some pony had chosen death over eternal imprisonment. Probably one of those that were responsible, unwilling to accept the sentence.

The young stallion who was standing next to him finally looked away from the speakers, and turned to him.

"What do we do now, Lemon Frisk?" he asked, his soft voice reflecting the numbness in his mind.

The seasoned crisis manager shook his head slowly. This was one crisis he couldn't solve. There was no solution. It didn't even matter whether they lived or died.


Lemon Frisk sighed. He hadn't thought about these things in ages. His conversations with Misty had opened the floodgates on his past, and now, nothing could stop the memories from flowing back.

He looked at the mysterious Shard beside him, and peeked into the wreckage. The inside of the tube was empty, besides some plates screwed into the interior. They could have held seats, they could have held a payload. Heck, the whole thing could've been nothing but a giant chimney or pipeline. After two centuries of rust and decay, there was no way to know. He shrugged, and walked back to the cave entrance.

* * *

When he got back, eight figures were awaiting him. Seven of them were Slags, including both Vinegar and Mush, all neatly wrapped up and wearing tinted helmets, visors and goggles. The eighth, of course, was Misty Cloud.

"Lemon!" Misty greeted him as she ran towards him. The sudden clicking of her pipbuck made her stop before reaching him. "Oh, right. Radiation," she said, carefully stepping back. "I guess I'll have to keep my distance for a while."

"Oh hey!" Lemon Frisk said, smiling. "Looks like I finally found a way to keep you from poking me."

Misty threw him a mischievous look. "Don't make me come over there just to prove you wrong."

Lemon Frisk grinned. "Heh, heh. It'll fade soon enough."

Vinegar approached the ghoul, making sure she didn't come closer than Misty had. "Have you learned anything more about the Shard?"

"Sorry," Lemon Frisk replied. "It's just a giant irradiated metal tube. I didn't see any markings or other recognizable things on it. And there's no specific irradiated stuff in there either."

Vinegar nodded. "Thank you for looking into it, anyway."

* * *

The day was coming to an end by the time they reached the factory. Dark rain clouds in the distance denied them even a glimpse of the setting sun. As they got closer, they heard sounds of gunfire. Misty grabbed a pair of binoculars she had bought in Hayden, and used the last light of the day to see what was going on.

She didn't have to double-check the Survival Guide to see what they were. Reading about them the first time was enough to carve them into her memory.

"Oh dear Celestia," she said. "Raiders."

Footnote: Level Up!
New Perk: Wasteland Detective: It was never your true calling, but you're quite adept at it anyway. You get a +2 bonus on both Perception and Intelligence whenever mysterious situations are involved. Some remnants of the past will always remain mysteries, though.

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