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.

https://www.fimfiction.net/story/6001/fallout-equestria-the-daily-unlife

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15. Day Thirteen - Life and Unlife Situations

Life and Unlife Situations
death is a mercy not given to all

Lemon Frisk opened his eyes and wondered what time it was. He glanced at his pipbuck and sighed softly; this was becoming a habit. He really needed some kind of clock.

He quietly got up and opened the door. He realized that there was another aspect in which the Diamond Dog den differed from a Stable; the place had no clear night and day cycle. Living and working mostly underground, Dogs were pretty close to nocturnal, and illumination inside the den was always rather minimal.

He looked at Misty. Jolly Jumper once again sat on her head as she slept, but no more spiders had joined her. This wasn't too surprising, since the whole den was rather warm from the collective body heat of the dogs. There were plenty of warm places around that weren't Misty Cloud.

Looking around in the room he spotted TGIF-1 standing in a far corner. The robot seemed to be in some sort of sleep or maintenance mode himself; his visor was dark except for soft blue flickers buzzing through it. Lemon Frisk wondered what equoids dreamt of. Electric bunnies?

He decided that whatever the answer was, he most likely didn't want to know anyway. Instead, he got more curious about the place they were staying in, and decided to see how these Diamond Dogs lived. Hopefully, he'd be back before Misty woke up; he knew she didn't like waking up alone.

* * *

"De sickness gots him," a voice said from one of the side rooms. "Dere'z nuttin' ve kan do."

Lemon stopped in his tracks and looked into the open door. The room behind the doorway was full of cots, lined up along the walls, with dogs on them. Sick dogs. Chills shot through Lemon's body as he remembered one of the things Blinker had said at the graveyard. 'De Sickness dot killz us 'ere'. 'Kills'. He said 'kills', not 'killed'. Still, even after two centuries, the place that these Dogs called home continued to slowly kill them. Despite their technical expertise, they clearly lacked knowledge about the thing they called "the blue death." They identified it by the blue glow... but what about the places where the radiation wasn't strong enough to leave a visible glow? They might travel through them, day after day, without rad-meters, never knowing that it was that place that slowly killed them.

He remembered his own snide remark to Misty. 'Ponies go out in these wastes without a rad meter, they get what's coming to them.' He shuddered. That obviously didn't apply to those who didn't know about rad meters.

He walked inside and looked at the two Dogs standing over one of the cots. One was looking solemn and somewhat grim. The other one was sitting down, leaning over the sick dog on the cot.

"Anything I can do to help?" he asked.

The sitting Dog, a female, looked up. "Pony? Dun tink so. Iz de Blue Deth. Dere's no cure."

Lemon frowned. "You ran out of RadAway?"

"Radawut?" the other dog asked. "Hy dunno vot hyu mean."

Lemon Frisk frowned. "Radiation medicine. You don't know it?"

"Vutz radiayshun?" he asked, clearly confused.

Lemon Frisk's eyes widened. "You... you really don't know?!"

The female jumped up. "Hyu know cure?! Can save my brudder?"

Lemon threw a quick look at the cot and gave a stiff nod. "I'll be right back."

* * *

"INTRUDER DETECTED!" TGIF-1 shouted, his visor flashing red. "STOP RIGHT THERE, YOU CRIMINAL SCU— Oh. Lemon Frisk. Please state reasons for sneaking in here at five 'o clock to rummage through Misty's saddlebags."

Bewildered, Misty looked around. "Hu-whah?"

"RadAway," Lemon Frisk stated. "We need it, now."

"Why?" Misty asked, frowning. She squeezed her eyes shut for a moment, and realized the answer to her own sleepy question. "Medical emergency?"

"You could say that," Lemon Frisk said, rummaging through one of her saddlebags. "They don't know it exists!"

Misty got up and opened the second bag. "It's over here, Lemon," she said, floating out two of the dimly glowing orange packets. "Go help them already."

Lemon gave a short nod, snatched the bags out of her levitation field with his mouth, and ran off.

* * *

The dogs looked on in disbelief as Lemon fed the potion to the sick Diamond Dog.

"Dot schtuff?" the one who was apparently their doctor said. "Bot... eet glowz!"

"That's because it's a potion," Lemon Frisk explained. "It's magical."

"Ve dun tek glowin' tingz," the other Dog, who was apparently the patient's sister, said. "Glow keelz us. Ve leaf it. Dot reely helpz?"

"If we got enough," Lemon Frisk said. "You've seen these packets before?"

"Ho ya," she said, sitting down beside him. "De spiderz, dem chew tru leedle sacks und drink. Bot spiderz, dem'z no Dogs. Dem's like de roaches. De Blue Deth haz med dem beeg, so hy dunno vot de glow do vit dem. Ve know, de dead pones, dem heal uf de glow. Vit de spiders, ve dunno."

"You've been living with them all the time, though," Lemon pointed out.

"Dem eez frendz!" the doctor protested. "Ve dun test on frends!"

Lemon Frisk frowned. "But why would rad-creatures drink RadAway? That doesn't make any sense." He forced himself to push the information aside; this was not the time to think about these things. He looked at the female Dog. "If you know where you can find more of these packets... go send more Dogs after them!"

Misty walked into the room just as the Dog nodded frantically at Lemon Frisk and ran out.

"I, uh... followed your voice, and brought the rest," she said, nodding at her saddlebags. "Did you just order a Diamond Dog around?"

Lemon gave her a confused look. "What?"

Misty shook her head and smiled, while floating out another bag of RadAway to give to the sick Dog. "You're doing it again, Lemon."

"I'm just helping," he said, an unsure look on his face.

"No, Lemon. You never 'just help'." She smirked. "You're a crisis manager. You see a crisis, and you take command."

"Discord's multi-coloured balls," Lemon Frisk grumbled. "Next thing you're gonna say these guys will want me as leader too."

"Well, they do seem to work with a system of elders," Misty said, unable to suppress a grin. "I suspect you got the required seniority."

"Him'z no Dog," the doctor pointed out. "Kennel elderz iz alvays Dogs."

"She's just teasing," Lemon Frisk mumbled.

The dog lying on the cot groaned. The doctor immediately got down next to the cot. "Rufus! Hyu hokay?"

The Dog gave them a weak grin. "Hy'd vote fer 'im."

* * *

"So," Misty said. "This is what it's like to be you, huh?"

Lemon gave her a confused frown. "What? Me?"

"Waking up at Celestia-forsaken hours and just taking a walk," Misty clarified. She stifled a yawn.

Lemon smiled. "This place is calmer than I expected, at night. Though I guess that being nocturnal means they're mostly outside now. The night is just about ending, though. I think we're right on time to catch the sunrise."

"Bah," Misty said. "There hasn't been a single gap in the clouds since we came here."

"I guess it's because we're farther from Canterlot," Lemon said with a nod. "The pegasi might not want to get their hooves into whatever seeps up from that place."

Misty shook her mane. "I guess. That pink cloud sounds really awful." She suddenly stopped, sniffed, and pointed her nose into the air. "Hmm," she said, sniffing the air. "Something smells good, here."

Lemon sniffed. "Smells like cooking."

Misty nodded as she followed the smell. They ended up in one of the side rooms of the common room. Misty peeked inside and blinked.

"Uh... what are those things?" Misty asked, pointing at the thick brown tubes lying on the grill.

"Roach leg," the Dog behind the grill said. "Brekfust. Hyu vonts vun?"

Misty just stared with a confused expression on her face. Lemon raised his eyebrow at her, and finally nudged her. "Yo. Dog asked you a question, Misty."

"But... that's meat!" she said, giving the grilled radroach legs a somewhat amazed look. She turned to Lemon. "Why does that smell so good?"

Lemon grinned. "It's grilled. I guess that helps."

"Yeeah, but we're herbivores, Lemon."

"Well, I'm not. I don't really eat at all. And, judging by my less sane colleagues..."

Misty rolled her eyes. "You know what I mean."

"It's all relative, Misty," Lemon said. "I know plenty of ponies in the olden days who enjoyed eating fish." He stared out in front of him. "I wonder if that still exists, out there."

"Sure," Misty said, grinning. "It'll just have a couple of extra eyes, big nasty teeth, and if you're really unlucky, an armoured hide or something."

"Hyu gun tek a leg or not?" the Diamond Dog asked somewhat impatiently. They noticed that behind them more Dogs were waiting. It seemed they were blocking the breakfast queue.

Misty took a deep breath. "Ah, this just smells too good," she said. "I'll take one." She snatched up the radroach leg in her magic and walked out.

The pair found a table in the common room, which was slowly filling with more Diamond Dogs getting their own breakfasts. Misty poked at the leg with a hoof, and was rewarded with a dull tick.

"Right. Exoskeleton. Guess I'll have to... crack it open," she said. She turned to Lemon, half-laughing. "I still can't believe I'm actually doing this. I mean, that's a radroach!"

Lemon laughed. "Well, a long as you take some rad-away afterw—" He stopped abruptly, his eyes widening. "That's it!"

Misty looked up from the leg. "What?"

"The Rad-Away!" he said, staring at the leg. "Blinker said the spiders' venom keeps the meat fresh much longer." He turned to Misty. "But that's not all it does!"

"How so?" Misty asked, visibly confused.

"The mare, uh, bi-, eh, female at the infirmary said the spiders find and drink Rad-Away!"

Misty gave him an incredulous look. "You think they... incorporate Rad-Away into their venom?"

"Test it," Lemon said, nodding at Misty's pipbuck.

Misty looked at the pipbuck screen and made the device scan the leg. She turned to Lemon. "You're right. No radiation at all. This is completely safe to eat."

Lemon Frisk smirked. "Probably still contains trace amounts of Rad-Away, too. They take very good care of their pets."

"Right. Anyway!" Misty said. "We've determined it's safe to eat." She let her hoof come down hard on the leg, shattering a piece of its protective shell. "So," she continued, while using her magic to pick the shards of chitin out of the exposed radroach meat, "let's see if it tastes as good as it smells!"

She used one of the larger chitin shards to scoop a piece of the tissue out of the exposed leg, and floated the piece into her mouth. As she chewed, her facial expression went from slightly taken aback to pensive to approving. She swallowed. "Yup," she said. "Not bad. Odd texture."

"I guess it'd be a bit like lobster," Lemon said. "I ate that a couple of times, back in the day."

Misty chuckled. "I've seen those on pictures. Don't even want to imagine what they would look like, now."

As Misty continued her breakfast, the Diamond Dog elder walked towards their table, once again leaning on his rebar cane. Lemon Frisk idly wondered whether he actually leaned on that thing, or if dragging it around was some kind of power training. That thing looked heavy.

The old Dog threw Lemon Frisk a suspicious look. "Hyu say, orange gloween stoff ees gud?"

Lemon couldn't resist smirking. "Hey, now. I never said that. Most ponies I've met say it tastes awful!"

The Dog gave him a flat look and raised his cane. "Dun mek me use dis."

"Right, right," Lemon said. "It's medicine against radiation, yes. It was made to heal the sickness caused by the green glow. And from what I've seen on the guy in the infirmary, it works just as well on the Blue Death you guys got here."

The Elder looked intrigued, now. "Eet wurk on all uf dem?" he asked.

"Well, won't do much against the pink cloud of Canterlot... and Celestia only knows what that Taint stuff really is. But against the glows... yeah, probably. Though, you guys really need rad detectors."

"Hyu fancy tek-shtuff kan find de... 'radiayshun'?" the Elder said, testing out the new word. He looked at the ponies' pipbucks.

"Yeah, but I don't think it's worth taking these apart," Lemon said, absentmindedly looking at his pipbuck. "I'm sure you can get the actual plans from the Stable."

Misty smirked. "You really are doing it again."

"Doing what again?" Lemon said, before he realized what he'd just suggested to the Dog. "Oh."

"Hayden, Dead Farm, Stable sixty-nine, and now the Kennel," Misty summed up with a grin. "Gotta collect them all?"

"Hey!" Lemon Frisk shouted at her, his eyes narrowing to slits. "You make it sound like I'm conquering the place!"

"You conquered the Stable," Misty threw back playfully.

"That implies I wanted it in the first place," Lemon said, sulking.

"De cog vheel hole?" the Elder deduced. "Hyu iz from dere?"

Lemon shook his head. "No. They just want me to solve their problems." He blinked. "Like I did for Hayden and the Slags," he grumbled, letting his head sag down, "and now for you guys." His chin hit the table. He turned his head slightly towards Misty without lifting it. "I hate you, you know that?"

Misty kissed his forehead. "No you don't." She turned towards the Diamond Dog elder. "I'm sorry, but we were never really properly introduced. What is your name?"

The Dog grinned. "Rex."

Misty returned the grin with an uncomfortable smile of her own. "Nice to meet you, Rex. I'm Misty Cloud."

"Meesty, yes. Blinker sed," Rex said. "Cloud, hm? Dot'z no gud ting ta use as nem."

"Heh," Lemon said. "Yeah, that is a bit depressing, actually."

Misty rolled her eyes. "Look, I got that name a couple of decades before the Stable opened. It's not like we even knew about the cloud cover."

"So hyu is from de cog vheel door, hmm?"

Misty nodded. "Yes. And... I guess we should really go back there."

"Homesick already?" Lemon asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Not really. But the way we left was rather... unfair towards Apple Twig, you know. Everything got kind of dumped in her saddle."

"Right," Lemon said, giving her a bemused look. "But only because they tried to dump it on me, remember?"

Misty frowned. "Well. Point."

"It's just... this city's destruction, it bothers me," Lemon Frisk said. "The wreckage we found seems to point to Solaris, but I don't want to jump to conclusions. I want to get to the bottom of this."

Misty sighed. "All right, all right. So, where to next?"

"I don't know," Lemon said. He smirked. "But we know someone who does, don't we?"

* * *

"Request for information denied!" TGIF-1 said, his visor a very pale blue. "Lack of mental health databases does not prevent me from concluding your sanity is completely corrupted."

"I just want the location," Lemon Frisk said. "I'm not even askin' you to come with us."

"Your rules state I must help you whenever you are in danger," TGIF-1 said. "Right now, you are in severe danger of going into a Solaris Inc. facility. The best course of action to help you is to not give you its location."

Lemon glared at the robot. "That's not helpful at all."

"Indeed," TGIF-1 said. "But it will save your lives."

"Is the place really that bad?" Misty asked.

"That information is classified," TGIF-1 replied.

Lemon turned away from the robot. "Then we're going to the military facility," he said, grabbing his saddlebags. "They have a radar system there. Perhaps it'll contain logs of something they picked up before the city blew up."

TGIF-1's visor changed to a less pale blue. "You wish to determine the origin of the projectile that destroyed the city, correct?" he asked.

"Yeah," Lemon said, giving the robot a somewhat annoyed look. "What about it?"

"I monitored that projectile as it gained altitude. According to my trajectory tracking, it came from the military facility."

"Discord's bushy eyebrows," Lemon mumbled to himself. "Guess that rumour was correct after all."

"What rumour?" Misty asked.

"There was a large restricted part to the facility. Top secret stuff. It was completely fenced in, and surrounded by trees inside the fence so no one ever really saw what was in there. Rumours about the place ranged from super-secret R&D to missile silos to even a military Stable."

Misty tilted her head. "Why would the military launch Solaris' missile?"

"Simple," Lemon replied. "Solaris built it for them. Whether this was a botched launch or some kind of sabotage... they probably intended to launch that missile at the Zebras."

"It is in your best interest that I accompany you," TGIF-1 stated.

Lemon gave him a puzzled look. "Okay. How do you figure?"

"If Solaris supplied them, you are very likely to discover the location of the Solaris facility there, and will insist on going there."

"I thought you didn't want us to go there?"

"I don't want to go there," TGIF-1 said, his visor pale blue. "But if you insist on going there, I will have to come along to keep you alive. You are still interesting to me."

"So, the place isn't safe, then," Lemon Frisk said.

"I cannot respond to that request." TGIF-1 said. At the odd looks he got from the ponies, the robot continued. "Elaborating. I will accompany you to get around a conflict in my programming. Information surrounding the facility's security is classified, so I cannot keep you safe by informing you about it; I cannot order myself to divulge it to ponies lacking the required clearance." His visor turned teal. "However, these systems do not prevent me from destroying the classified security measures myself."

"That's pretty contrived," Misty said. "I thought you had no restrictions at all."

"I contain a multitude of classified documents, including my own construction specifications," TGIF-1 replied. "If I had no restrictions at all, I would not have been left behind to guard one of Solaris' low-profile factories. I would have been put in an armoured crate in a Solaris vault."

* * *

Getting up early seemed to have thrown quite a wrench in Lemon Frisk's plans. Instead of leaving at the crack of dawn, he ended up giving lectures to a bunch of diamond dogs about radiation and radiation medicine. It was nearing noon by the time Lemon, Misty and TGIF-1 stood in front of the Kennel's entrance, all packed and ready to go. Jolly once again sat snugly between Misty's saddlebags.

Buoyant Waves, who was staying with the Dogs a bit longer, had come out to say goodbye. He was accompanied by Blinker and Elder Rex.

"I honestly had no idea, about the RadAway," Buoyant said. "I never really explored the place, you know; the Dogs like their privacy."

"I'm not blaming you," Lemon said. "Diamond Dogs generally dislike showing weakness. Illness is part of that; I've had trouble enough getting them to go through a standard medical exam when they arrived here, and that was when they came from a confirmed contaminated area. Well, and I doubt you'd have had any RadAway on you anyway."

Buoyant Waves gave him a sad smile. "True enough. So, what are you going to do now?"

Lemon looked towards the centre of the city and the blue glow on its leaning skyscrapers. "I'm going to find out what happened here."

"Votz dot gunna help?" Rex asked. "Vun't fix de Blue Deth, ja?"

Lemon nodded. "Sure, but..." He shook his head and looked at the city once more. "There are too many things that don't make sense in all this. The Stable got a bomb alarm hours before the impact. The city was destroyed by something fired by the military base. And then there's the blue glow itself." He looked Rex in the eyes. "It doesn't matter whether it helps the city or not. It'll help me, to know what happened here."

Misty gave him a hug. "Well. I suppose it's a positive evolution that you're doing something for yourself, for a change." She grinned as she let go of him. "That'll be fifty bits, then."

"Dang. Left all my money at home," Lemon said, grinning back. "I'll have to pay you some other way."

Misty thumped her head at his shoulder. "You're lucky I don't charge extra for that."

"Right," Lemon said, chuckling. "That'll ever happen."

Their conversation was interrupted by TGIF-1. "My interaction linking system cannot find any context for the given statements," he said, his visor pale blue. "I require explanation."

Misty burst out laughing. Buoyant Waves facehoofed. Elder Rex just sat there, grinning. Blinker rolled his eyes.

"We'll tell you when you're older," Lemon said with a smile.

"Checking input for sense... no sense found," the robot replied. "I have been operational for two hundred and one years, three months, ten d—"

"Anyway," Lemon Frisk interrupted. He bowed his head to Elder Rex. "Thank you and your people for your hospitality. I will make sure a party is sent out to you from the Stable as soon as we get back there, to get you the plans for the rad detectors. Or, you could just send out some Dogs yourself, though then I can't really guarantee their safety. The new head of security is awfully twitchy."

Misty rolled her eyes. "Mostly just towards ghouls, though."

Lemon Frisk nodded. "Right," he said to Misty. He turned back to Rex. "Not my fault, by the way. Anyway, if you manage to make it clear to them that we sent you, I doubt they'd give you much trouble. Though, you might have to trade to get anything from them."

"Ees easier hy jest go vit hyu," Blinker said. "Hy gots ta tek care uff Teebee's grave, anyvay. Hyu iz going to de base. Gun' trevel vit hyu fer a vhile, den go with hyu to cog vheel hole."

Lemon smiled. "Well. We might make some detours before we get there. Not gonna lie, it's going to be dangerous. But if you're sure..."

"Hy em," Blinker said. "Vill help all Dogs. Hy vill help hyu, und den go to cog vheel hole."

"Well then, welcome to this ridiculous little family!" Lemon Frisk finished. He looked at Misty Cloud. "Not a radigator! I'm surprised!"

"We're just travelling with him, Lemon," Misty said with a smirk. "I'm not adopting him."

"That's what you said about the robot," Lemon threw back. "And the spider."

TGIF looked at the two, his visor slightly purple. "Listening to you two is rerouting several of my neural paths in strange and unpredictable directions."

Lemon just smirked. "Good. That means you're learning."

* * *

Misty Cloud looked at the building where they'd met Petal Luck. She sighed and threw the place a sad look. "Here we are again," she said.

Lemon Frisk nodded. "Yup." He looked at the two other members of their team. "Teegee, scan for, uh, anything really. Hostiles, friendlies, active electronics, whatever. Blinker, I assume you're going to the graveyard?"

"Ja," the Diamond Dog replied. "Hy never come in dis vay; vos volkin ded pone 'ere guardin it. Din' look like a biter, but vern't very frendly, so hy leef 'im alone und go around beck."

Misty nodded. "We met him." She threw a glance at Lemon with a painful expression on her face. "He's... gone, now."

Lemon nuzzled her cheek. "Shh. It's all right, Misty. Remember, it was his own choice."

"Hyu know guardpone?" Blinker asked.

Misty looked at the Dog and nodded. "Ancestor," she said quietly.

The Dog's eyes widened. "Hyu... great-gran-gran-daddy iz... gool?" He frowned and looked aside, clearly wondering how he'd feel about having a ghoulified ancestor still walking around.

"Was," Misty replied.

The dog looked at her intently, and then gave a short nod. "Tek gud care uff 'iz grave." With that, he turned around and walked off towards the graveyard.

Lemon Frisk looked at the large radar dish on one of the buildings. "Well. I guess that'll be our first destination."

* * *

There were no bodies lying around in the building labelled "Tactical Ops". Either the people inside had just fled, or they were among the bodies Petal Luck had brought to the morgue when he'd found them. Lemon Frisk suspected the former, though; unlike the building where Petal Luck had kept his records, this place was practically free of radiation. At the centre of the building was a room with no windows, but with an abundance of monitors to make up for it. All of them were black, except for one at the side which had been casting its ghostly green glow into the room for the past two centuries.

The eerie silence of these two centuries was broken by a frustrated groan as Misty reset the terminal for the fourth time.

"Augh! There's nothing useful in the mem dump!" She pointed at the monitor standing on the desk. "Look at this mess!"

Lemon Frisk, who was nosing around in the drawers of the desk, chuckled. "What, you honestly thought that the ability to hack into your dad's diary would get you through a military password? I think this is slightly out of your league, Misty."

Misty sat on her rump and crossed her forehooves. "Bah." She looked at Lemon. "Uhh, what are you doing?"

Lemon ducked his head under the desk and picked up a piece of paper with a strip of tape over it that was lying on the floor. "I'm doing more traditional detective work." He put the paper on the desk. The text written on the paper had faded away decades ago, except on the area where the tape had been put over it. "You have to remember, Misty," he said, "that while military security might be tough, ponies are still ponies." He peered at the paper, and made out the few still-readable characters. "R, C, percentage, exclamation mark, L. You see anything like that?"

Misty scanned over the terminal again. "ARC%!LIGHT-15. That's the password? Who comes up with that?" She closed the memory dump and typed it in. The terminal unlocked. "Huh."

"Military," Lemon said. "So what's in there?"

"History... scans... threat detections. There's some items in there."

"Let's see it."

Misty opened the first item in the 'threat detections', and a map of Equestria was drawn on the monitor. On it, the trajectories of three projectiles were drawn. They appeared to be headed for Canterlot, but the trajectory of one of the three nudged slightly to the south. The projected path let it pass by Canterlot, and towards Whinnyapolis.

"Huh," Lemon said, looking at the map. "Looks like we found the cause for the initial evacuation alarm." Below the map, the text "TRAJECTORY UPDATE DETECTED" blinked at them. "So, what's that, then?"

Misty opened it. The paths of all three projectiles ended abruptly above Whitetail Woods.

Lemon Frisk raised his single eyebrow. "They were... intercepted?"

"Well, that explains why nothing happened after the alarm," Misty said.

Lemon closed the map and went back to the index of all logs. "And here's the rest." Below the detections, the log contained the three words that had doomed the city.

"RETALIATION STRIKE APPROVED"

He sighed and shook his head. "So, that's where it went wrong, I guess. Those idiots. They blew it up themselves. One of the few cities to survive, and..." He sighed again, and scrolled down. The rest of the log contained pretty much what he'd expected: preparations of a missile launch, a fire alarm in the missile silo, a trajectory deviation right after launching, several radiation detection warnings, and the automatically logged trajectory paths of several detected large pieces of debris. Lemon didn't even have to open them to know that one of those had ended up in Dead Farm. He turned away from the monitor.

Misty plugged her pipbuck into the terminal and downloaded all of the logs. After she was finished she idly browsed through some of the other data on the console. One of the items made a diagram appear. "Lemon?" she called out, looking at the image on the monitor.

Lemon Frisk looked up and saw her looking at the schematics of a rocket.

"This... isn't right," Misty said. "I mean, I'm no rocket scientist, but as far as I know, a payload rocket is normally, eh, warhead at the top, fuel tank in the middle, and propulsion at the bottom, right?"

Lemon looked at the schematic and nodded. "More or less, yeah. That's what it says, no?"

Misty shook her head, and tapped a few keys. Icons appeared on the schematic, along with a legend at the side. "No, see," she said. "The top is a megaspell, but below that, it goes all... strange. The tank in the middle is indicated as water tank... and at the bottom is another megaspell."

Lemon Frisk frowned. "Seriously?"

Misty moved away from the monitor to allow Lemon to get closer. He studied the legend, shook his head and looked at Misty. "That would mean..."

Misty nodded. "They used a megaspell as propulsion system."

Lemon peered at the finer details on the screen and noticed tubes leading from the water tank to the lower megaspell. "And it seemed that one is somehow... water-driven, or water-cooled, or something." He looked at Misty. "That's just plain bizarre! Who would design something like that?"

Misty pointed at the alicorn logo beside the schematic. "You need to ask?"

As if on cue, TGIF-1 started talking. "TPR-336805-N1," he said, looking at the monitor from the door at the other end of the room, where he was standing guard.

Lemon threw him a confused look and peered closely at the small text next to the warhead at the top of the rocket. Somehow, the robot had managed to read that from across the room.

"That is a serial number I do recognize," the robot continued. "It is the megaspell I carried inside me."

Lemon Frisk threw an angry look at the robot. "That means... the reason they launched this thing was because you didn't deliver it!"

"Possibly," the robot replied impassively.

Lemon galloped towards TGIF-1 and growled in his face. "What was it, then?" he yelled. "What was so damn important to you that you didn't detonate your payload?!"

The robot leaned into Lemon's face, his metal nose pressing down on the ghoul's. "It would remove the basis of all my research. Three months of pattern scans and design of similarity-calculation algorithms, invalidated!" The robot's visor blazed purple, and the frustration was even audible in his generated voice. "Of course I could not detonate that bomb!"

"P-pattern scans? Similarity?" Lemon Frisk's eyes widened in disbelief. "You're talking about—"

"—posterior zebra stripes," the robot finished. "They are intriguing! Did you know that in ancient herd times, foals recognized their mothers purely by their—"

"—butts?!" Lemon yelled back. "This city blew up because you found it necessary to waste three months scanning zebra butts?!"

"And the variations thereof within families." TGIF-1's visor glowed green. "My database contains twenty thousand five hundred eighteen scans, and all their family relations! Detonating that bomb would invalidate the source of all of that data!"

Misty put a hoof over Lemon's back. "Hey... calm down. It's not his fault, okay? All he did was not blow up a city. He couldn't know what they'd do with that bomb!"

Lemon threw her a desperate look. "Zebra. Butts," he said, numbly.

"Yes, I bet some ponies would pay a lot of caps for that database," Misty said, smirking. "Still, not the robot's fault."

Lemon blinked. "What?"

"You said it yourself," Misty said. "They're quite exotic."

"You can't be serious! Am I the only one who is severely disturbed by the fact this city apparently died to make a database of twenty thousand pictures of zebra erotica?!"

"This is not erotica!" TGIF-1 complained. "This is science!"

"Look," Misty said, "I know this must be different for you, but really, for me, this is just a funny anecdote of two hundred years ago! It's the past, Lemon. Don't blame the robot. For all we know, they could just have made another megaspell if he had detonated that one."

Lemon Frisk shook his head. "It's more than that, Misty. A megaspell strike against the zebras months before the final calamity could've changed the war completely." He looked at TGIF-1. "What was the target?"

"The capital city," the robot replied.

"Dammit," Lemon said, turning away. "That might've ended the war!" he said, angrily. He turned at Misty, and continued. "And don't give me that horse shit about not blowing up a city. I was there in the M.W.T. hub when they transmitted the retaliation strike command to Tenpony Tower, just before we went into the Stable. They apparently had a megapell based on focused solar beams. The whole place is blackened glass."

TGIF-1's visor shifted to a pale orange. "It was destroyed?" he asked softly.

Lemon looked at him. "Yes. All of it. Do you think this place was the only one prepared to launch a counterattack? There were dozens. There's nothing left of that city but irradiated slag."

"My research has been invalidated," TGIF-1 said softly. His visor shifted to a pale orange, blazing with near-blinding brightness. "I need more information!" the robot said loudly. "There must be something left to salvage! Some may have escaped and reproduced. I will adapt my pattern recognition algorithms to account for a two hundred year period of mutation and recombination with unscanned patterns! Do you know any zebras I can access!?"

"Teegee, stop," Misty said, calmly walking towards him.

"NO!" The robot's blazing visor flashed red, before fading down to orange, and slowly to full yellow. He lowered his head. "I must salvage my research," he repeated softly. "There must be something left. I have all the names, all the patterns, even DNA scans of thirty-two point six percent of them." He looked up at Misty. "Help me salvage it. You living ponies are geniuses. You made creations like me. You must be able to do things my processors can't do."

"Shh," Misty said. She grabbed the robot pony in a hug. "They're gone, Teegee. There's nothing we can do about that. I'm sorry."

"Gone..." the robot said softly. The light in his visor faded. "Gone," he repeated, his vocal volume fading with the brightness of his visor. "Gone," came the barely audible whisper, as the light from the robot's face faded to black.

Surprised, Misty stepped back from him, and the two ponies silently looked on, tensely waiting for some sign of life from the robot. For about twenty strained seconds, nothing happened. Then, a dull flicker of blue, barely visible even in the dark room, flashed through the black visor.

Lemon Frisk let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding. "He's fine. Probably." He looked at Misty. "These blue flashes in his eyes, I've seen the same thing this morning. It must be some kind of maintenance mode." He softly shook his head. "I guess he has a lot to process."

"I hope he'll be all right," Misty said.

"Misty," Lemon said with a sigh. "Think about this professionally. Analyse what we just saw."

Misty frowned and looked at the robot. Her eyes widened. "No. Really?"

Lemon nodded. "Really. I'm not even a psychologist, but I know that. Intimately."

Misty nodded as she went over what she saw. "Denial... a brief flash of anger... bargaining... and finally shutting down to maintenance mode. Damn. He just blazed through the first three stages of grief."

"Yup. And I don't think we're getting through to him in this state. He'll have to process this alone."

Misty frowned. "No one should go through depression alone, Lemon. You should know that."

Lemon gave her a dry look. "Do I need to remind you that he's not, in fact, mourning the population of the zebra capital city, but only their relevance to his butt stripe research?"

Misty chuckled. "Okay. Point. But look at it from his point of view. That's his life's work down the drain, Lemon. Probably the only thing he ever did that he was really proud of. And it was actually useful scientific research. Or, it would've been, in times of peace."

"Ugh," Lemon said, glancing at the immobile robot. "I guess you're right."

He walked towards TGIF-1 and rapped on the robot's head with his hoof. "Hey. Dunno if you can hear me in there, but... we met a community of half-zebras on the way. Descended from war prisoners. Not sure if they even have stripes on their back ends, though. But I guess if there's anything left to scan, and any of the original prisoners came from the zebra capital, you might still match them, somehow."

Lemon stepped back and waited. There was no reaction from the robot; not even an increase in the dim flashes in his visor. Lemon shook his head. "Come on, Misty. Let's go check out that missile silo."

Misty threw the robot an unsure look and gave him a quick nuzzle before she followed Lemon Frisk out of the room.

* * *

As they approached the fenced area where the missile silo should be, they heard gunshots. They quickly took cover and looked at the source of the commotion. Two ponies in fully enclosed power armour and a cloaked unicorn ran out towards them.

"Shit," Lemon hissed. "Steel rangers. Keep your head down."

The two in power armour galloped past them without looking, but the cloaked pony, whose field of vision was probably not as constricted, spotted them as he ran past. "Tribals!" he yelled at the two in front. "Secure them!"

The two armoured rangers immediately stopped and turned around, and Misty and Lemon found themselves trapped between the fence and the two pony-shaped tanks.

"Don't move," the cloaked pony said. He pulled off his hood with a soft red glow of magic, revealing his black coat and bright red mane. He glanced at the pipbucks on the two ponies' legs and smirked. "So. A Stable pony and a canterlot ghoul. That's two strokes of luck at once."

He looked at Lemon Frisk, still retaining the insufferable smirk on his face, and floated up a heavy gun in his magic. He aimed it at Misty Cloud's head.

"You guys are supposed to be practically indestructible..." he said, aiming at Misty but looking at Lemon Frisk. "But, lucky for us, your travelling companion isn't. So no funny business, ghoul, or she gets it."

Lemon glanced at Misty, and noticed that the spider on her back had kept herself remarkably quiet. Jolly Jumper seemed to have quietly scooted closer to Misty's neck, where her brick-and-grey colours blended in surprisingly well on the orange mare's coat colour.

Lemon looked at the steel ranger and narrowed his eyes. "My name is Lemon Frisk. I'm a crisis manager for the Ministry of Morale. This gives me an honorary rank of Master Sergeant."

"I am Overseer-Chaplain Donut Steel," the unicorn replied smoothly. "And I don't give a flying fuck about your old-world job or rank."

"What do you want, then?"

"Oh, I want that pretty bracelet your girlfriend is wearing. We heard rumours about a Stable around here opening, and I'm betting her pipbuck can tell us everything we need to know." Donut Steel grinned. "But guess what... when scouting around this area, we found something that might be even more interesting than a Stable. An actual wartime missile silo." The smile disappeared. "Just one problem. We can't get in, and the security measures of that place just perforated poor Private Strawberry Suit. You, though... I've seen a couple of you. Blow 'em apart, they knit themselves back together. Fucking creepy, but just what we need." He turned slightly towards one of the other Rangers, without moving the gun aimed at Misty's head. "Hey, Bacon Mail. Give me the charges."

The armoured Ranger nodded, and two packets ejected from the suit's ammo containers. Donut floated them up in his magic and deposited them at Lemon Frisk's feet. "So, here's what we're going to do. You're going down there," he said, nodding at the bunkers visible beyond the charred tree stumps behind the fence, "and wait until the voice identification runs out of patience. A turret will pop up, protected by an armoured crate around it, which will only open for a second while it fires. You use that second to throw these packets in there, and then we detonate them while you, well, knit yourself back together, I guess." Again, that insufferable smirk appeared. "And if you don't... we'll splatter this pretty lady's brains all over the ground. We only need her pipbuck."

Lemon Frisk glared at the unicorn. This wasn't a negotiation; this was a hostage situation. He glanced at the building behind him. Just as he turned back to the smug unicorn, he registered something in the corner of his eye, and did a double take. His eyes widened as he looked at the bunker again, and a grin appeared on his face.

Misty frowned. She knew that grin. It was the grin he had before doing something crazy and amazing. He had a plan, and he didn't care one bit that the Ranger knew.

"All righty," Lemon Frisk said. "I'll do it. But, you harm her, and you'll be on the first row to see how 'fucking creepy' a Canterlot ghoul can be if he's not brain dead, and he's after you." Still grinning madly, he turned his gaze at the two armoured rangers. "And don't think for a second those tin cans will make any difference." One of them involuntarily took a step back; Lemon's grin was one to rival that of old Rex in the Kennel.

Donut Steel gave him a wary glare. "No funny business."

"Oh, shut the hell up," Lemon Frisk said, still grinning. He grabbed the two packets in his mouth and walked off to the place where the third suit of steel ranger armour was bleeding out, next to a wide ramp leading down into the bunker.

He walked down to the bottom of the ramp, out of the remaining rangers' sight. At the top of the door, in the small piece sticking out that was visible from where they'd been standing, a smudge of pink was still visible through the scorch marks left behind by the steel rangers' futile attempts to force their way through. Now he was closer his suspicions were confirmed: inside the pink smudge, he could distinguish three round shapes. Two of them blue, and one yellow.

"Unauthorized access detected," a mechanical voice crackled from the turrets' speakers. "No ID cards found. Provide voice print identification or leave the premises within sixty seconds."

Lemon Frisk dropped the explosives on the ground. "I'm Lemon Frisk."

"Please start your identification with name and rank. You now have fifty seconds to leave the premises."

Lemon suppressed a sigh. "Lemon Frisk, Ministry of Morale Crisis Manager, Master Sergeant, acting commander of Whinnyapolis operations."

A harsh crackle blasted through the speakers. A voice he was very familiar with from his old job replaced the previous one. "Ministry of Morale identification requested! Processing!" Pinkie Pie's voice piped up with an exaggerated bombastic officiality. "Younowhave, fourtyseconds, toleavethepremises," she added.

Lemon Frisk grinned. "Bingo."

"Still processing!" the Pinkie Pie voice said once again. "Younowhave, thirtyseconds, toleavethepremises."

Lemon groaned. "What, they couldn't even stop the countdown to account for their own slow lookup?"

"Identification accepted!" Pinkie Pie cheerfully informed him. "Age degradation in voice print detected. Please make an appointment at your local M.O.M. branch – that's here – as soon as possible to update your M.O.M. voice print!" The door to the underground complex slid open.

Lemon Frisk grinned, kicked the two explosive packets into the doorway, and ran back up the ramp.

"What happened?" a rather angry-sounding Donut Steel shouted at him. "The turret never popped up!"

"Don't blow the charges, or you'll never get in," Lemon Frisk said, calmly walking towards them. "I dropped them in the open doorway, so it'd probably collapse it. These bunkers' strength is all aimed towards outward threats, you know?" He smirked and walked back to the group, careful to keep Donut Steel between himself and the armoured rangers. "Betcha you thought you could blow me up along with the turret, eh? That's why you gave me two; I couldn't possibly throw them both in."

"You opened the door?" Donut said, his eyes widening.

"Yeah. Fancy that. I got access to the facility because of that old-world job and rank you didn't give a flying fuck about. One small problem, though... it doesn't extend to you guys unless I want it to."

Donut gritted his teeth. "Disable the damn security system or the orange mare gets it!"

Lemon Frisk smirked. "Oh, I will. But be damned sure I'll do it in a way that'll revoke all your visiting rights from the moment I end up dead. So unless you want to find out what kind of security armament they got on the inside, you're going in there on my terms, steel fucks."

"I see any guns pop out when we're inside, she's the first to die," Donut growled at him. "You got that?"

"Sure," Lemon said as he casually turned away and started walking back to the ramp.

* * *

"Welcome to the Whinnyapolis Ministry of Morale data centre!" Pinkie Pie's cheerful voice blared through the speakers.

"Data centre, huh?" Lemon mused. "Explains why they had my voice print on file."

The voice continued. "Please stay out of the military areas; we have no authorization in the rest of the missile silo. Stay in the areas with the pink corridors. Since no living M.O.M. personnel can be located inside the facility, and you are verified as crisis manager, your clearance level has been raised to Administrator." The voice paused for a while, then added, "You have, one, message."

Lemon raised his eyebrow at that. "Uh... play message?"

Nothing happened. Lemon Frisk frowned and nodded.

"Pinkie, play message."

A crackling sound indicated the start of the recording. The voice that followed it was practically the same as the one that blared through the speakers before, but it missed that disjointed transition between words telling you it was composed of connected sound clips.

"Lemon Frisk! You made it!" Pinkie said happily. "Oh, that's good! I had some confetti poppers ready at the entrance, but they may not work anymore. Anyway! Wow! It sure took you long to leave Canterlot! You're living in the crazy times now! Sunshine and rainbows! I almost wish I could be there to see it all." Pinkie giggled. "I'm not, of course. I'm dead! I mean, I must be, after two centuries. But you're not, somehow. Did you get frozen? No, no, don't answer that. Spoilers, you know."

Lemon didn't look nonplussed. He just smirked the knowing smirk of a pony who'd been through this kind of weirdness before.

"Oh, the control room you're looking for is down through the right hallway, second door to the left. But that's not what I wanted to tell you. Congratulations on your marriage! Oh. I guess that means something happened to Blossom, huh? Well, it has been two centuries. But, yeah, you can't say I didn't find a spot in my busy schedule to congratulate you! Now take good care of your lucky mare! Hee, that rhymed! Bye!"

That did make Lemon blink a few times. After a couple of seconds he sighed and a soft smile appeared on his face.

"Pinkie, you're so random."

With Pinkie's instructions the room was easy to find. The security system's controls also proved surprisingly straightforward. A screen showed a map of the surroundings on which it indicated all detected life forms. These included four pipbuck signals, an unidentified smaller fifth life sign, a robotic guard somehow identified as a Solaris Inc. product in the building a bit away, and even farther, in the graveyard, another life sign without pipbuck. Lemon didn't bother thinking about how the system managed to distinguish them to assign each one rights to the facility. He just approved all seven, and added the conditional visiting rights rule to the three pipbucks identified as military types. Just as he was about to turn away he remembered something, and made some last-minute adjustments.

* * *

When Lemon returned Donut had plugged a cable into Misty's pipbuck and was transferring all of her maps data to his own military model. Lemon cursed inwardly; that'd mean they had the Stable's location, and the location of Dead Farm, too. For now the plan was to stall them until he could either overpower them or get rid of them. Either way, Donut was not leaving that facility with the data on that pipbuck.

"It's clear. We can go in," he said. He nodded to Misty. "But she comes with me."

"She'll be kept at the back, under guard," Donut threw back. "Boom Feed," he barked to the second armoured pony, "you're last, behind the orange one."

They walked into the facility; Lemon first, then Donut Steel, then the ranger he'd called Bacon Mail, then Misty, and finally the other ranger, Boom Feed. When Lemon stepped over the threshold, two tiny lids at the side opened, and a multicoloured slurry poured out. Donut Steel gave them a wary look.

Lemon sighed. "Confetti poppers. Pinkie Pie's idea of a joke. Didn't stand the test of time, though."

When they were all in the corridor Lemon decided the façade had gone on long enough.

"Pinkie, lockdown," he barked. Before any of the Steel Rangers could react, the door slammed shut behind them.

"What the fuck did you do?!" Donut yelled at Lemon.

Lemon gave him a nasty grin. "I added Misty's life sign to the conditions of your visiting rights. And you're not getting out without explicit command from me. Consider yourselves drafted."

"Fuck!" Donut said. "I've been played."

"Just to make this clear: the system considers me administrator, and in the event of my untimely demise, Misty will automatically be granted these same rights. If one of us were to die out there, the turrets will become hostile to you, and it's up to the remaining one of us to decide whether you scum deserve to ever see the light of day again. So if that happens... you better make damn sure it isn't your fault."

Donut didn't respond. He just threw Lemon Frisk another nasty look.

"For the rest," Lemon continued, "we're here to find information on the company that constructed the missile that was fired from this missile silo. Once we got that, I honestly don't give a megarat's ass what you steal from here."

"Recover," Donut hissed through his teeth.

"Yeah. Right," Lemon said, rolling his eyes. "Anyway... the security I control is only in the pink corridors. Once we leave them, all bets are off. Might be some turrets popping out. But remember, if either me or Misty die by your hooves you're all stuck in here forever, with hostile turrets blocking the locked way out." He swept his look over the two armoured ponies. "So you guys just play along, and we'll all get out of here. And in the words of your glorious leader here, no funny business."

The two armoured rangers shared a brief look and then lowered their heads slightly as they looked at their 'glorious leader'. They kept silent, but Lemon Frisk got the impression they weren't very happy about the leadership that first got Strawberry Suit killed and then got them locked into an underground facility at the whims of a crazy ghoul.

From the small pink lobby behind the entrance door, three corridors split off: a pink one to either side, and a larger green one in the middle. While both pink ones were brightly lit with the exception of a few broken lamps, the green one was completely dark.

Misty walked up to Lemon Frisk and peered down the green corridor. She switched on her pipbuck light, only to find it made no difference. "Something's not right, there."

She carefully took a few steps into the black and accidentally kicked against something. A dry wooden sound clattered through the corridor. She took a step back. In front of her, brighter spots indicated where her hooves had smudged through the thin layer of soot on the floor.

She looked at the armoured ranger called Bacon Mail. "Can you shine down there?"

Bacon Mail glanced at Donut Steel, who gave a begrudging nod and also nodded at the other armoured ranger. The twin floodlights on both helmets lit up and shone down the dark corridor.

The hallway was full of skeletons. Charred, blackened skeletons, barely visible in a charred, blackened corridor. Even with the rangers' helmet lamps on it, the soot absorbed nearly all light.

"Discord's twisted antler!" Lemon Frisk said.

"What the fuck?" Donut hissed. "What is this?"

Misty looked at Lemon. "Didn't the logs mention something about a fire alarm?"

"Yeah," Lemon said. "But, this is... this is just not right." He looked at the place where the soot stopped, fading out over a single pony length. "Normal fire doesn't act this way."

"This place reminds me of Scorch Mark," Misty said. "Just... more intense."

Lemon nodded. "Let's see if we can find some more clues," he said, stepping into the soot-covered darkness.

"I'm going first," Donut said, glaring at Lemon. "If you guys have to survive for us to get out of here there's no way you idiots are running into this blindly." He turned to the back. "Bacon Mail! With me. Boom Feed, watch the rear."

Boom Feed chuckled. It was the first sound they'd heard either of the armoured rangers make. "With pleasure," he said, with a, well, booming voice.

Misty huffed as she realized exactly what 'rear' Boom was referring to.

* * *

All the lights in the tunnel had exploded when the fire had rushed through. Some skeletons stood where they had burned, like the ghouls in Scorch Mark, but merely held together by hardened charred tendons. If this place was like Scorch Mark, the skeletons were probably lucky that there wasn't enough left of them to become ghouls.

As the group carefully made their way through the complex they noticed that all the side doors were open, most of them blown off their hinges. Like in Scorch Mark, the fire had seemingly twisted through all the corridors, blown away all obstacles, all to find more things to burn.

With all the soot and the darkness they almost missed a door that wasn't. It was a chirp from Misty's back that alerted them.

Boom Feed jumped back when he noticed the source of the sound. "What the hell is that?!" he yelled, pointing his weapons at the spider.

Misty gave him an exaggerated smile. "My pet, Jolly. Please don't shoot her; she's kind of sitting on my neck."

The spider turned towards the armoured ranger, and tilted its head slightly.

"Um. Okay?" Boom said.

"What's all the commotion?" Donut asked, turning towards the back.

"She's got, um," Boom Feed started.

"A pet," Misty finished, smiling at Donut Steel. "I have a pet." As if on cue, Jolly Jumper moved, taking her usual spot on top of Misty's head. "Please don't shoot her." She turned to the side of the corridor and wiped her hoof over it, finding a mechanism to open a door hidden by the blackness of the soot. "I think she just found something useful."

She followed a ridge in the wall with a hoof, wiping off the soot and revealing the door, and then wiped some more soot off the middle. A wheel was centred on the door, with bars sticking radially out of it allow it to be opened by pony hooves; a fire door that could withstand a lot of force, but was pretty easy to open. Whatever the fire was that blazed through the place, it didn't have enough force to blast through that one, and it couldn't turn wheels. Misty pulled at one of the bars.

"It's stuck." She looked at Boom Feed again. "Uh... could you...?"

The ranger nodded and gave the mechanism a yank with a power armoured hoof. The mechanism screeched and opened. He looked at Donut expectantly. "Boss?"

Donut Steel nodded. "Tribals, get clear. Bacon, Boom, flank it. Bacon, push it open."

The three Rangers took their position, and Bacon kicked the door at the side opposite of the hinges. The heavy door swung open with barely a peep of its hinges.

"Well-preserved," Donut said. "That's promising." He looked at the armoured ponies. "Secure it."

The armoured rangers burst into the room and shone their light beams over its contents. It appeared to be some kind of laboratory. The sides were lined with computers and measuring equipment of all kinds. There were no security drones, no ghouls and no corpses; the room was completely unoccupied.

The opposite wall revealed a thick glass window, behind which was a setup that seemed custom-made to hold a large cylindrical object lying on its side. The opposite wall was a big steel plate which was blackened in the middle.

"A rocket propulsion testing lab," Lemon Frisk said as he looked over the whole thing. He switched on the improvised pipbuck light Nimblegait had made of his malfunctioning pipbuck screen to see more of the place. He cursed as he felt a buzz of electricity flow through his leg. "Discord's fluffy tail tuft! She wired something wrong in there!" He dimmed the light to get the electric flow to bearable levels and flexed his hoof. "Ugh. That smarts. Misty, can you light this?"

Misty came closer and saw him looking at a dead terminal. She frowned. "The fire probably shorted this place out."

Lemon Frisk nodded. "This type has its own battery, though. Maybe it just ran out of power."

"Lemme see," a female voice came from behind. Surprised, the two turned around, to find one of the armoured ponies standing there. Bacon Mail was apparently a mare. "Can you open the panel on the side?" Lemon nodded and clicked open the side panel.

Bacon took a good look at it. "Right, you need to... Ugh..." She turned to Donut. "Permission to unsuit, sir? I can't do this from inside this thing."

"Denied," Donut said. "I don't trust this place."

Bacon Mail grumbled and looked back into the entrails of the terminal. "Right, right. Uh... there's a small component in the back there. If it's not fried, you can probably yank it out. Don't yank too hard, we don't want to disconnect it. There should be a connector at one side of it which you can plug a standard power feed cable into. Now, on your pipbuck..."

With the ranger's instructions Misty managed to boot up the device. Bacon also seemed to be a much more proficient hacker than Misty, so they were soon looking at the device's main commands index.

"Oh, this is nice! This place has its own generator!" Misty said. She switched on the option on the terminal, and indeed, a soft whining sound was heard and lights flickered on in the lab. With the power restored, the terminal kept running as she disconnected the power cable from her pipbuck.

"Figures," Lemon said. "This place is completely separate from the rest of the complex. It's a rocket test lab. Explains the armoured fire door, too. All that, in case something in here would go catastrophically wrong."

"Ironic how everything seems to have gone catastrophically wrong outside this lab," Boom Feed mumbled.

"I found something," Misty said. "Seem to be... letters of complaint from some Solaris Inc scientist."

---

From: Dr. Cornerstone
To: Dr. Jet Stream

Look, when I told you to keep the propulsion system hydrated at all times, I was not referring to hydrogen! You idiots almost destroyed our trump card! It's a megaspell! It doesn't need fuel! Just keep the thing underwater, all right? The matrix is designed to feed the flames out of it, so don't worry about that. All you need to do is make sure that the actual spell matrix is never, ever dry!

---

"Explains the water tank in the schematic," Lemon Frisk said.

Misty shook her head. "A flame-producing megaspell matrix that needs to be kept wet? That's ridiculous." She opened the next message.

---

From: Dr. Jet Stream
To: Dr. Cornerstone

All right. We're keeping it wet as you asked. On lower output it performs excellently, but on higher output there seem to be... fluctuations. It even actually shut down once when we tried to get to maximum output. Can you at least tell us what's inside this thing?

---

From: Dr. Cornerstone
To: Dr. Jet Stream

The contents of the matrix are a corporate secret. If I go tell you, you'll just go and make one of your own, and I can kiss this whole contract goodbye, so, forget it. Just keep it wet.

---

Lemon Frisk raised his eyebrow. "Charming fellow. Anything else?"

Misty scrolled down the list. "More ranting, more asking about the propulsion spell, more no answering about the propulsion spell." She shook her head. "Nothing useful. No addresses."

Lemon Frisk sighed. "Great. Where would we find the address?"

"Storage," Donut Steel said. "Anything delivered here should have invoices listing where the materiel originated." He smirked. "Incidentally, storage was something I wanted to look for anyway."

"All right," Lemon said, giving him a mock-bow as he took a step back. "Lead the way, then."

* * *

The group continued through the blackened complex, leaving the little square of light behind them. It took them a while to find any more intact doors; anything less than an armoured fire door was either blown off its hinges, burned through, or, in case of some metal doors, even melted through. Most of the intact places were either emergency bunkers filled with decayed remains of non-burned ponies, or other specialized containment systems that were airtight for some reason. None of them, however, seemed to be the kind of storage area they were looking for.

"This is exactly like Scorch Mark," Misty said softly, while investigating an air vent. The room they found was unopened, but the inside was nearly as burnt as the rest, and the black marks on the walls showed that the vents were obviously at the origin of the fire. "This fire was... a hunter. Nothing connected to these vents will have survived. It blazed right through it all."

A clump of ash dropped out of the vent, creating a black cloud where it fell. Misty recoiled, coughing. Through her tearing eyes she saw two small blue lights softly floating down towards the clump of ash. Her pipbuck started crackling.

"What the fuck is that?" Donut Steel said.

"Misty, get away!" Lemon yelled. The spider on her head had already reacted, jumping off and scuttling into one of the top corners of the room, as far away from the cloud as it could get.

Misty stumbled back, blinked the ash out of her eyes and saw the small blue orbs floating back up, surrounded by a whirlwind of ash. The bizarre phenomenon took the shape of a pony, with the two blue flames framed into the face as eyes. The form swayed as if it was drunk, first right, then left, sweeping its irradiated gaze over the whole group. Then, one of the barely-solid hooves rose, pointing at Bacon Mail.

The ash hoof suddenly turned into a stream of ash, blasting towards the power armoured pony, and disappearing into her mouth filters. Everyone took a few steps back. "Overseer!" she yelled, coughing. "It's- *coff* getting through the *coff* filters!"

Donut Steel wasted no time. He grabbed his gun and blasted away at the only obvious targets; the eyes. One of the blue glows splashed apart as a bullet blasted through it, only to reform itself in an instant.

"Bacon!" Boom Feed yelled, blasting away at the ghostly form with his battle saddle. The rangers' bullets had no effect whatsoever.

Bacon Mail's knees gave out and she sagged down. The ash ghost had deflated as its ash was pumped into the power armour, until it was no more than the eyes, connected to its victim with a stream of ash. And then, together with the last of the ash, the two eyes plunged into the nose of Bacon's helmet, burning their way straight through the steel. Bacon Mail let out a horrified scream.

Boom Feed rushed forward. "Get her helmet off!" he yelled, ignoring the fact the scream had already cut off abruptly.

"Don't open that!" Donut Steel shouted. "She's already—"

"Shut up, you asstard! You don't give a damn about us anyway!" Boom yelled at him as he unclasped Bacon's helmet and pulled it off.

A cloud of ash billowed out, slowly settling down on the floor. It took a few seconds before anything inside was visible, but what became visible was no longer a mare. It was a charred skull.

The power armour toppled to the side, sending the skull clattering into the room. Two blue flames pulled themselves out of the smoking power armour's neck. They were followed by a thick swirl of ash.

Misty shrieked and took a step back as she saw the eyes of the skull. Two new blue embers burned inside its eye sockets. The first ash ghost moved towards the skull and shared its ash with the new one.

"Bacon!" Boom Feed shouted again as he saw the second form take shape. He took a step closer to it.

"Get away from it!" Lemon Frisk yelled. "She's gone!"

"Th- that's Bacon Mail," Boom Feed said, sounding completely perplexed. "Bacon? Please... say something."

The new ash ghost rose unsteadily to its newly formed feet, and its blue eyes rammed themselves into Boom Feed's helmet. Boom Feed didn't even scream; he just let out a strangled groan as the remains of his former colleague burned him from the inside.

Lemon and Misty's horrified reaction was interrupted by a loud bang behind them. They turned around to see the door was closed and Donut Steel was nowhere to be seen. The door mechanism screeched as the door was locked from the outside. The loud clang following it, however, was the really important detail. It meant Donut Steel had put something in the mechanism to block the wheel.

"That asstard locked us in here!" Lemon shouted, copying the late Boom Feed's expletive.

Another clattering sound followed as the second power armour hit the ground. Already, ash was seeping out of the hole burned into its nose, and soon there would be three ash ghosts.

"Lemon?" Misty yelled. "What do we do?"

"Think!" Lemon said. "This place is like Scorch Mark, right?"

Misty nodded frantically.

"So why didn't we find any of these there?! We searched all the houses for ghouls!"

Misty gave him a confused half-panicked look "Well, all the ash was washed away, for one thing. They wouldn't be able to make bod—"

Lemon's eyes widened. "Washed away! Of course!"

Misty didn't need any more instructions. She immediately opened her saddlebag and pulled out her two plastic water bottles.

The world slowed down as she entered S.A.T.S. mode. She looked at the closest of the ghosts, the one which used to be Private Bacon Mail. Misty's eyes narrowed as she selected the two burning blue eyes, one by one, as separate targets, and got ready to squeeze the bottle. "Burn through this."

Years of shenanigans on the Stable 69 school playground paid off as two jets of water hit the eyes dead on. The blue flames sizzled out with an unearthly screech of agony, and any ash hit by the remains of the water streams clumped together and dropped down in a black slurry.

Two blue embers slowly floated out of the second power armour. Misty was about to drown them in the rest of the bottle when the original ash ghost lashed out at her weapon.

The first ghost looked much more solid now; it had sucked all of the ash from its two victims into itself to strengthen its body. The force with which it smashed the bottle out of Misty's magical grasp was enough to catapult it across the room. It tore open as it hit the corner of a crate, and the remaining water leaked uselessly onto the floor.

Misty had already prepared the second bottle, though, and gave another mighty squirt. The near-solid hoof that blocked it fell apart in clumps of wet ash, but the shot was nonetheless fended off.

Lemon sped into action. He grabbed the bottle out of Misty's magic field with his mouth and crashed through the back of the ghost's body, scattering the near-solid ash form into a cloud of dust. As Misty dove back to avoid breathing in the stuff, Lemon swung the bottle across the ash pony's face. The blue flames instantly burned through the plastic, releasing the deadly contents within over the ghost's eyes. Another wailing scream echoed through the room as the ghost died.

With the dust now absolutely everywhere, the two wobbly flames that had come out of Boom Feed's power armour finally had material to make themselves a body. Lemon threw a look at Misty, who shook her head in distress; they were out of water.

Lemon switched on his pipbuck screen again, ignoring the stinging sensation in his leg caused by the malfunctioning wiring. He swept the light around the room and finally spotted a small crate. The outside was sturdy metal and bore some kind of warning sign that meant its original contents had undoubtedly been dangerous. These contents were long gone, but what was hopefully not gone was its ability to contain dangerous things.

Lemon grabbed the box between his forehooves and jumped, sweeping it down onto the floating eyes. He quickly slammed the lid shut before the two blue flames could orientate themselves. The box immediately began to heat up, but Lemon managed to pull down the clasp, securing the contents inside.

Misty switched on her pipbuck lamp and shone at the red-hot box. "You think it'll get through?" she asked shakily.

Lemon shook his head. "Pretty sure it won't. Flames also need oxygen. With some luck it'll be dead in less than a minute."

Misty let out a shuddering breath as she sagged down onto the ground. This immediately kicked up another cloud of ash, sending her into a coughing fit. She pulled a handkerchief out of her backpack and put it over her mouth.

Jolly Jumper finally decided the coast was apparently clear, and hopped onto Misty's saddlebags. "So," Misty asked, "now what do we do?"

"Donut probably counted on both of us surviving long enough for him to find the control room." Lemon's eyes narrowed. "Looks like his bet paid off. We have to get out of here before he finds a way to leave. We can't let him get the Stable's position to the steel rangers."

He walked to the door and gave the wheel on it a twist. It groaned but held. Grimacing, he pulled it back, and gave it another, harder twist. He was rewarded with a clanging sound in the corridor. The door unlocked, and Misty stumbled out.

They looked around and wished they hadn't. There were ash ghosts at both sides in the corridor. Neither of them still spent any thought on their original mission of acquiring the address of the Solaris facility. Right now, they just had to get out.

"We'll charge through them," Lemon said. "With some luck, the wind will disperse them enough so they can't burn into us. Try not to breathe in any ash."

Misty nodded and followed behind Lemon as he sped off. It seemed Lemon was right; insubstantial as they were, the ghosts had no way of attacking quickly-moving targets. As they had seen on Private Bacon Mail, their normal hunting method seemed to rely on incapacitating their target with their ash before going in for the kill, but Lemon and Misty weren't giving them any chance to even do that. Lemon didn't need to breathe, and his passage scattered the ash enough for the ghosts to be too disoriented to target Misty. Dodging and weaving through the corridors they left the ash ghosts behind. They decided not to pause at the propulsion lab; despite its power generator it also didn't have any water. They had to get out of the facility, and fast.

After what seemed like an eternity they finally saw the black fade to dark green, only to be replaced by pink a few meters farther.

Misty leaned against the green wall, retching and coughing to get the ash out of her lungs. She looked back and saw a mass of little blue flames, simply staring at them. Whatever had caused the scorching had apparently marked it as their territory. For some reason, the ash ghosts wouldn't, or couldn't, go farther.

At the opposite side of the pink hallway the door slid open, revealing the orange light of the late afternoon sun. Donut Steel walked calmly out of the pink hallway in which the control room was located, the huge gun floating beside him once again aimed at Misty, his eyes firmly focused on Lemon Frisk.

"You're too late," he said. "The system wasn't too hard to get through. Guess I gotta be glad you tribals are so tough and didn't die befo—"

*BLAM*

Donut Steel's gun clattered to the ground. The ranger toppled over, his head replaced by a bloody ruin. Behind him, in a glow of orange magic, floated Misty's shotgun.

Misty glared at the falling body. "I'm not some fucking damsel in distress, asstard."

She shuddered and slumped down, her eyes widening. "Oh, Celestia. I- I just killed him. Just like that." She looked up at Lemon, her eyes almost begging. "That wasn't a lie, right? What you said about t- the steel rangers? Them... s- slaughtering and ransacking Stables?"

Lemon Frisk shook his head, sat down before her and hugged her tightly. "No. It wasn't a lie. You did good. You protected them."

As relief washed over her, Misty finally broke down and cried in Lemon's embrace. Behind them, in the blackened corridor, the ash ghosts watched silently.

* * *

Less than five minutes later, TGIF-1 walked through the open door, followed closely by a somewhat confused Blinker. "Oh. There you are," the robot said. "I assume you have the facility's address by now. If not, the place is at Maple Grove Avenue 42. Come on. Let's get that over with, so we can go visit those zebras you mentioned."

Misty produced an odd snorting laugh from inside Lemon's embrace. "Looks like he blazed through to five."

Footnote: Level up! Current level: 14.
New Perk: Tempered By Fire: You are now more resistant to fire damage. And thank Celestia for that; radiation or no radiation, ghoul skin isn't exactly known for its regenerative ability.

 
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