Chapter Four: Perspective
“I don’t know why it took an interest in you, but I’d be careful. It’s never helped anyone before.”
A blast of lightning fired past me, shattering an old clock at the back of the overview office I was cowering in. The Wasteland Survival Guide was full of all sorts of helpful tips. Scavenging guides. A whole chapter on mines. And more! And then there were the not-so-helpful ones. After having read the chapter on “Making Pre-War Earth Pony Technology Work For You”, my first thought when I came across the ruins of Ironshod Firearms was to take a peek inside and see if there was any technology I could make work for me.
Instead, I got myself trapped in a maze full of ponicidal robots and automated turrets, fleeing until I managed to back myself into a corner here in an office box high above the factory floor. Almost out of ammo. If I hadn’t found that medical box in the employee bathroom, I would have died trying to get across the second floor.
How could I possibly have been so very stupid?
Below, three of those robots were rolling about, looking for me. They were tracked things, built to somewhat resemble ponies, with clear domed heads that housed real brains. I refused to think that the ponies who built them might have used other ponies’ brains in the construction. The thought was just too horrible. Even doing that to an animal’s brain was awful. And clearly, two-hundred years of continuous operation had done nothing for their sanity.“Come on out. We only want to kill you for trespassing!”
Case in point.
The fact that the voice sounded like a young filly, despite being clearly artificial, just made them that much freakier. Fortunately, the railing on the catwalks leading up to this office were too narrow for the brain-bots to get up here.
A much deeper, authoritative voice boomed across the room. “Surrender in the name of the Ministry of Technology, zebra scum!”
I cringed behind a line of metal filing cabinets as the room filled with a rush of flame!
Unfortunately, the same could not be said for the other type of guard robot I’d crossed paths with in here. The multi-limbed things looked like giant metal spiders, many of its arms seemed to end in weapons, including a buzzsaw and a flamethrower. And worse, the damn things could fly!
I slipped both of my grenades out of my saddlebags and waited until the flames died away. The metal cabinets were beginning to get unpleasantly warm against my back, and the heat in the air seared my lungs. The second the flamethrower cut off, I turned my head around the corner and levitated them both right up to the metal monster, pulling out the stems on the way. The moment it saw me, the robot raised a pulsing green weapon that looked like a unicorn’s horn. Eldritch fire erupted from it, shooting past me close enough to singe my cheek. The blast struck an old fan sitting on the desk behind me; it glowed green for a moment, then melted! I ducked back as I dropped the grenades.
The explosion rocked the office. I heard a fearsome twang as part of the catwalk outside gave. Looking back, the robot was in a non-functional heap. The walkway outside was still mostly intact, but sagging badly. I wasn’t sure it could hold my weight.
Stripping what I could from the fallen spider-bot, I considered my options. I couldn’t stay up here forever. If I moved very fast, I could run the walkway without the brain-bots below getting me. Their weaponry did not seem very accurate. But the first few yards of the catwalk had partially torn free, and sagged alarmingly. The more I looked at it, the less I wanted to put a hoof on it.
I’d never tried levitating myself
before. In theory, it should work, but I’d never seen a pony do it. Focusing, I tried. I could feel the glow from my horn stretch out to envelop my entire body. Brighter it glowed as I tried to lift myself. I was shining like a dozen lanterns when I felt my body lift, just slightly, from the ground. I was sweating. This was as far as I could go, but I was doing it. Now one step forward… and another… and another…
I was halfway across when the brain-bots started firing lightning in my general direction. One of the bolts struck the catwalk, arcing along it. I felt very lucky I wasn’t actually touching it. But I was also almost spent. Ahead of me, the catwalk stopped right before the huge windows that let twice-filtered sunlight (once by the clouds and once by the dirty glass itself) onto the factory floor, supplementing the light from heavy fixtures hanging above. The catwalk shot off in both directions, running parallel to the wall. One was the direction I had come from. The other lead to a door which had been locked. Only that door didn’t have a lock to pick. Instead, it could only be opened by command from a terminal.
Another shot of lightning missed cleanly, shooting through one of the shattered windows of the observation office and frying the terminal I had just used, not five minutes ago, to unlock said door.
It was a lot of metal catwalk. And the damn bots beneath me shot lightning. I grunted with the effort that kept me aloft, feeling my vision darken at the edges. I had to stop, or I’d pass out. And that would be the end of me.
Releasing the magic, I dropped onto the catwalk. It wavered, but held. I let go of a breath I didn’t realize I was holding, and started to gallop. “Don’t run! We want to be your friend!”
More blasts. I tensed, expecting to feel paralyzing electricity rip up my body, starting at my hooves. Instead, I heard a crash a loud pop and a twang from somewhere above. Looking up as I ran, I saw that one of the bolts had hit the hanging lamp above, causing its softly buzzing light to explode. And that, freakishly, was the last straw: it snapped loose from the badly aged, cracked ceiling above and swung down, crashing into the catwalk behind me. The whole walkway shook. And then the section behind me tore away with a rending scream of abused metal.Oh fuck me with Celestia’s forehooves!
I’ll admit, my repertoire of colorful descriptions had grown more profane from my experience with the raiders; but as I galloped down the walkways at heart-tearing speed, trying to keep ahead as the sections of catwalk began to fall down onto the factory floor like a thunderous, lethal game of dominos, I felt the sentiment entirely appropriate.
I was almost to the door when the metal walkway dropped out from under me. I threw myself forward, carried only on momentum, and caught the final section with only my forelegs. I hung there, my hindhooves dangling several stories over an ancient rifle assembly line that had been crushed by the fallen catwalk. I struggled, trying to inch myself up. I used my magic to try to tug on my saddlebags and drag myself forward. My heart was pounding. I fought to keep visions of falling from dominating my imagination -- tried not to think of my back breaking as I landed on the conveyor belt below. At least the damned brain-bots weren’t shooting at me anymore, having scurried for cover.
It seemed to take forever, but inch-by-inch I pulled myself onto that final section of catwalk. It wobbled threateningly beneath me, sticking out from the wall like a diving board, held in place by bolts that wiggled in wear-widened holes. Cautiously, I got my hooves under me and stepped lightly towards the door.
A blast of lightning hit the catwalk, shooting up my legs and sending me into painful convulsions. I collapsed, shaking, on the walkway, my mane and tailhairs standing on end. The walkway responded with a metallic cry and tilted several inches, threatening to dump me into the gulf below.
I struggled shakily to my feet. Another blast shot up from almost directly beneath me, missing the walkway by less than a foot and striking the ceiling above. Bits of singed plaster rained down. I gave the door a push, and was vastly relieved when it swung open. Then the catwalk gave further. I lurched, wrapping my forelegs around the door frame to keep from sliding down the now quite steep metal platform. A third electrical blast ripped through the air, striking another strip of industrial lighting whose light also exploded, making it swing perilously.
Grunting, I pulled myself into the room. I turned and sat in the doorway, looking down at the brain-bot rolling in circles directly below, trying to figure out how to get me. Then, with a strong kick of my forehooves, I knocked the last of the catwalk loose. It fell, scraping down the wall, until it smashed through the robot’s brain-case, pulping the organ inside and continuing down, ripping the machine roughly in half. I must admit that I found the crunch immensely satisfying.