Fallout Equestria: Rangers North
Chapter 002: Enemy Unknown
"And if your dreams are in truth reality, be even more careful what you believe."
Airborne. We were airborne. I wasn't sure if it was just a quirk of all drivers, or if it was simply a lack of experience on his part, but the whole AutoSled was in the air for the third or fourth time in the past 15 minutes. I was beginning to rethink if I ever wanted to fly, even in my own dreams.
"Keep us steady!" Jack bellowed over the roar of the engine at the driver, a very young Scribe who was about as familiar with driving the craft as we were, except that he has supposedly read its manual at the last minute. "If one of my Rangers gets knocked cold, it's your flank I'm coming after!"
Rain and I fell out of our seats. Jack and Shear somehow managed not to be bothered by the sudden impact. I attributed Jack's reason being that he was so danged heavy anyways that he'd not come off the ground during the sudden mid-air drop. As for Shear... well he was always a bit mysterious anyways. No explanation needed.
"Geeze!" I complained, "I hope this thing can handle what he's dishing out!"
Jack snorted as Red Rain wobbled a little, settling back into his seat, "Back to business!" he commanded, "Are we clear on what needs to be done?" he asked us all, using an unusual appendage-like device that unfolded from his faceplate to pick through the pages of the files we had been going over.
"It seems pretty obvious." I confirmed, "Get the papers, activate the plant. Get back home once reinforcements come and relieve us. Easy."
Shear heaved a sigh, "I think we're going to have to be careful. Regardless of whether or not we find the files, our first priority should be getting through that deathtrap alive."
Red tilted his head at Shear, "You always this negative?" he asked, knowing the answer, "These are the first notes that anyone has gathered about the outside world since the fall of civilization!"
I noted Red's excitement. As soon as he got back, he'd be bragging to the other detachments about what we had been sent after, barring the Elder's possible insistence on secrecy. If she did put us under oath it would probably crush his spirits a little, but he would get over it.
Shear sighed, his breathing apparatus making his voice sound even more aggravated than usual, "I know. You've said it at least three times. Congratulations, you're not as big a conspiracy theorist as I had given you credit for in the past."
Red Rain puffed his chest out proudly, then suddenly stopped, "Wait, what's that supposed to mean?"
I could almost see Shear roll his eyes behind the visor of the stealth suit. I sighed, slightly annoyed by their banter. Normally, it would not have bothered me, but I had been on edge since we had set out from SR-15.
"We need to be careful." Shear said suddenly, ignoring Red's question. "These buildings will have been decaying for almost 100 years. It's almost a guarantee that they will be dangerous, even without the radiation that might still afflict the surrounding land."
Jack nodded, the strange-looking, spidery appendages protruding from his helmet's mouth area folding back up into the safety of his helmet, "Shear is right. This is our first combat operation. Our first real combat operation. We need to be on the tips of our hooves and ready for whatever may come our way."
A loud explosion rocked the floor beneath us, breaking the conversation.
"Uhm... guys?" the driver yelled, his voice cracking in fear over the com-system which linked into our squad's, "I... I think we've got a problem!"
Jack turned his head to face me directly.
"Get in the turret."
Unsteadily, I clambered up into an oversized hole in the top of the AutoSled, but then fell back out as an explosion rocked the sides of our AutoSled like an earthquake. Almost like clockwork Rain and Shear helped me back onto my feet and into the seat of the turret.
Success! I found myself sitting in the cockpit of a weapon that I had never used outside a simulation.
Rockets rained down from the mountaintops like deadly, volatile arrows. No time to think. If I thought, the pressure would crush me. Leaning back into the gun-chair, I slipped all four hooves into the control points for the weapon, drawing on information that had been drilled over and over again until I could do it in my sleep. Locks clamped down around my suit, effectively integrating my movements into the massive weapon. Uncertain of how the Autosled's Rotary-Guns handled outside a simulation, I moved my back legs up along the rails that they had been locked into. The turret's barrels moved up with them, with the horizontal lay of the weapon being controlled by my forehooves. Simple. Almost exactly like the simulator except that there was real weight behind this machine instead of just pedals connected to screens that showed me what I was doing.
Gaining mental momentum, I confidently slipped my hooves into the trigger wells, which were two large buttons that I had to press my forehooves into at the end of the control arms that locked me in place. A jump-inducing roar sounded-off as the rotary cannon fired a spray of searing metal out into the sky. I adjusted, gaining mastery over the additional weight that real guns had and learning to compensate for true recoil as I moved the reticule from target to target. Sprays of chipped rocks and pink-red mist began to appear every so often as I began hitting my targets with ever-increasing accuracy. More rockets fell from the ridgeline, cratering the ground around our convoy as it moved. The earth shook bad enough to make my teeth chatter. I swung the turret to a new target as the rotary-guns blared in my ears with their awful thunder. A bipod machine-gun ripped open the air from its previously hidden position in the snowy ridge, its bullets denting the metal plating that protected sides with one round shattering my left shoulder pauldron.
The machine gun position didn't last two more seconds.
The flash of four more bullet-spewing weapons caught my eye on the other side of the ravine. A single thought crossed my mind at a speed that barely registered: The other AutoSleds were engaging targets to our front and rear, meaning I would have to take on more than one enemy at once if I were going to survive.
A technique I had been told that few knew how to execute with this weapon returned to the forefront of my memory for the first time in years. Remembering how it worked could have meant the difference between survival and becoming a dead Steel Ranger..
So I decided to remember.
I spread my forelegs as far out and back as I could manage in my cumbersome armor. My memory served me well as the targeting computer integrated into my E.F.S. began compensating for dual targeting with a new reticle for both of the belt-fed weapons as they began to fold out in a manner that they would not impact each other no matter how the long barrels turned.
There was no time to celebrate as more rockets began dotting the sky once again. I focused. Time seemed to slow as belt-fed ammunition spilled forth in the direction of those incoming javelins of death. One down. Shift left, up. Two down. Shift down, right. Three...
And one more, as it stabilized in the wake of the last missile that had met it's demise. In my haste to find the next target I had redirected my guns elsewhere, too late realizing that one last rocket had been unintentionally hidden in the contrail of its brother. I clenched my eyes shut. It was over.
An concussive sound overloaded the hearing protection software of my armor suit's external microphones, washing my ears with a roll of static. There was no pain. No bleeding. For a moment, the certainty that I had died was almost as real as death itself.
I opened my eyes, expecting to see a white light. Instead, blue haze permeated my vision. A... shield?
"Well no shit." Jack laughed deeply into the coms. "It is your name, after all."
Had I said that out loud?
I could hear Red cheering in the background noise. We were back in the game. With newfound confidence I lowered the magically crafted barrier and began firing again. I was beginning to like this:The sheer power behind the weapon I wielded, the impenetrable strength of my shield. We could make it out alive, and take these...
… What WERE we fighting?
My suit was equipped with a zoom function so, swinging the turret around to face the other side of the ravine that our convoy had found itself in at the beginning of the attack, I rocked backwards in my chair and brought the whirling guns to bear on another mass of enemy troops. Zooming in, I watched at first with a smile. With the realization of what they were, my smile faded. Regardless, I did not let the Rotary-Guns cease unloading their punishing fire even as blood speckled the snow that we passed. I saw one of the enemy fighters get blown in half, his body-parts splattering onto his comrade nearby just before I shredded him into bloody ribbons as well. Bodies fell, cast down into the snow that our tracks pounded against in an effort to leave the kill-zone, and were crushed beneath our AutoSled line leaving a trail of broken forms in our wake.
Ponies. I was killing ponies. Ponies like myself, like Red... like Sunflower. I do not know what I had expected to find, but it certainly wasn't my own kind. The face of the last pony I had killed flashed before me, and I deactivated my zoom. I couldn't watch the carnage this close, not like this, but I had to keep fighting. It was either them, or us.
I continued to fire.
Sweat trickled down the inside of my suit as the moments of life-stealing destruction continued. Fear was beginning to rise in my throat. If they did not stop...
"No..." I hissed into the coms at myself, adjusting for the source of the next missile-attack.
I think someone replied, asking what I was talking about, but I did not hear them as I surged forward in my seat, tipping the guns directly in front of the 'Sled. A large mountain cliff leading up higher into the peaks caught my eye.
There. That's where they had to be.
A rocket skittered across the top of our AutoSled, ricocheting off the bullet-scarred surface and spiraling out of control into a rock-face behind us. Zooming in once more, my hooves smashed the controls with all their might, not letting up even as the barrels turned yellow, then red, then white with heat.
Tenacity paid off in the end.
A spray of molten lead peppered one of the caves from where the rockets were flying from, and a fiery burst of light filled my vision, flinging ragged bodies from atop the cliff, raining them down atop us as we rolled by. One landed on the metal plating next to my turret, eyes wide open in shock. Any armor it had been wearing had been shattered or ripped from its body in the sudden impact of what I assumed was an ammunition dump explosion. Blood pooled lazily from its open mouth, its ribcage collapsed inward like a fleshy tin-can. I could not tell if the pony was a stallion or a mare. I wondered if it mattered. The rockets, after all, had stopped and the enemy seemed to be retreating further into the mountains.
My heart started to race even faster than it had been moments before.
"Shield, you alright up there?" Jack's voice asked calmly over the coms.
I did not answer. I stared at the dead bodies of our nameless foes as we passed them, the Autosled crushing many under its treads as if it were nothing. I was not sure if the driver could see them. I hoped not, and that he was only running them over because there was no way to tell.
"I killed..." I whispered into the coms. "I just killed a lot of ponies, Jack."
Silence crept in after that, and it felt as if the world was trying to tear me apart.
"Come down from the turret, Shield."
I slid my hooves out of the control units to the turret and slipped below the control seat, eyeing the body as it slowly slipped over the side of our Sled. Settling into one of the passenger seats of our armored personnel carrier, I began to feel very, very sick. Suddenly, I was glad I had not been given time to eat breakfast.
"Look at me, Shield." Jack commanded.
My eyes were fixated on the floor, my ears ringing from the sudden "silence" that filled the air without the guns' roar. I had just killed so many...
"Knight Fallen Shield! I'm ordering you to look at me!"
His stance seemed to relax and soften a bit when I finally rose my head to stare at him.
"You did what you had to. We would be dead if you had not been sitting in that chair, alright?"
I swallowed hard, a dry, bitter taste in my mouth permeating my senses. I knew he was right. That I had done what was necessary. I knew we would be dead if somepony had not taken up the turret and attacked. I also knew that it was not making me feel any better, even with Crusader Jack-Hammer's... approval. That is when I came to the conclusion that so many warriors before me had come to.
I just had to ignore it. Nothing could change it. Those ponies were dead.
"I'll be fine, Sir." I whispered into the coms.
Rain scooted over and put a hoof on my shoulder just moments before another earth-shattering explosion ripped a hole in the bottom of our 'Sled.
The last thing that I heard over the coms was that we were under attack again.
The last thing that I saw was the interior of our 'Sled kissing me right on the face.
I awoke. Sort of. The world was silent, and it was as if the color had seeped out of everything, leaving it all black, white, and grey. I couldn't move. But I was aware that someone was moving around me, jostling me with their hooves. I blacked out again.
Once more, my eyes opened. My vision was greeted with the eyes of another pony. But the eyes were dead. They had no expression, except that of fear. They seemed glazed. I stared at them, wondering what was going to happen next. I stared at them...
Again, I awoke. I was not sure how long I had been asleep. I felt cold. Which was more than I was feeling... however long ago it was when I was last conscious. The dead pony was gone. I could feel something wrapped around my forehead. Soft hooves, softer than the last, were moving around my body. It was almost sensual. I could have died like that, being caressed. Maybe it would have been better that I had.
Once again, unconsciousness took my mind, this time thrusting me down into a dark abyss of pain and unintelligible dreams. I could hear a soft voice speaking, but could not make out the words.
"Wake up. Come on, wake up!" a soft, female voice hissed in desperation into my ear, "I worked way too hard keeping your ass alive to have you turn-in now!"
My head swam, ears ringing. I felt positively awful. Opening my eyes, my memories to make a slow return, allowing me to remember what had happened. The events felt as if they had occurred a lifetime ago, but in reality had only occurred half an hour prior. That's when I noticed the source of the voice that I had identified while slipping in and out of consciousness.
It was the second time I had ever seen a Pegasus outside of my dreams. Though in the state I had been in at the time, I was unsure if I was dreaming, dead, or if it was just my mind looking for a reason to make me get up. My gaze moved slowly upwards to look at her.
"At least you're awake now..." this new Pegasus began, when all of a sudden her ears pricked up and she started to back away, swiveling her head towards something to her left. Her wings opened. I looked in the direction she had glanced in.
I could hear gunshots. We were still in battle. I shook my head, making my stomach turn as I stared out and focused in on a massive, blurred form about 20 meters in front of where I was. I began to wonder why everything sounded so clear, when I realized I no longer had an E.F.S. or a helmet at all. I groaned and started to stand, glancing back to where the pegasus had been at only moments before.
She was gone. She had been standing in front of me only moments ago...
I remembered the caressing of... somepony. Was it her? I shook my head. No time to bother with thoughts like that, even if she were real. Was she?
Shaking off the sluggishness that came with being knocked out and ignoring my previous thoughts, I stumbled towards our destroyed AutoSled, which was spewing pink and purple clouds of MAgiK fuel from various holes in its engine compartment. The hull itself was half buried in the snow as if tossed there like a colt's playtoy. I felt like water was draining out of my ears as they began to register sounds clearer. I could make Jack out as he roared battle cries and orders almost simultaneously from his position. He was holding them off but, from the sound of it, without help eventually even he would fall.
The snow was thick, and coupled with the state I was in, it caused me to stumble. Blood trickled down from the saturated bandage on my head, getting in my eyes. I blinked hard, trying to clear them.
A rocket passed between my ears. All of a sudden it no longer mattered that I had a little blood in my eyes and that I had been unconscious a few moments ago. I needed a weapon. Moving faster than I would have ever thought possible in the condition I was in, I managed to make my through the powdered snow and into the wreckage of our nearby 'Sled. Bullets plinked off of my armor, ricocheting off into the distance. Inside, I glimpsed a pair of pristine carbines. They weren't my favorite, but it would have to do. Floating them out with a telekinesis spell, I attached them to my T51b's integrated battle saddle. Only when I connected them did I realize that, without a helmet, I was firing blind.
"Damn..." I cursed, and disconnected one of them, taking it up between my teeth. I'd have to do it the old fashioned way.
I cursed again and backed away from the 'Sled, moving towards Jack's barking war-cries. Jack had been holding them off with his mini-guns and rockets, but it was a losing fight without some assistance. I galloped forward, tripping through the snow more than once and fighting off a headache brought on by a concussion and blood loss. Jack let loose four rockets at the same time upon the enemy position, sending blood and rocks flying through the air. I dodged a torso, entrails sliding out as it soared past my right ear and landed with a bone-cracking thud in the snow, staining the once virgin powder with crimson death. Some of the pony's blood ended up on my face.
"Jack!" I hollered hoarsely, finding that it hurt my throat to yell. "Crusader Jack!"
My squad leader looked over in my direction and seemed to jump a little in surprise, before a bullet pinged off his helmet, ticking him off into what seemed to be a little bit of uncharacteristic rage. The deep-voiced squad leader rarely lost his head, but clearly he was in rare form as he injudiciously sprayed down yet another cliff face with mini-gun fire. More ponies dead. I pushed the thought back, feeling sick again.
"Shield!" Jack barked, "I'm glad you're alive. I saw you lying there, but there were no combat medics to spare after the last one had a bullet put through his head trying to bandage that wound on your head. Look, Star Paladin Spool has been hit! Our only remaining medic is tending to him right now!" he fired a few rounds at a position up high, suppressing a machine-gun nest. "Good job dressing that wound on your own, though!"
I took cover behind a large piece of what was the second of our disabled AutoSleds.
"What happened to your helmet?" he asked, heading to my position as fast as his trundling armor allowed after barking orders to two Steel Rangers in the prone position. They began laying down more suppressive fire where Jack had been doing so moments before. He joined me behind the AutoSled, "You lookin' to get a new vent installed in your skull?"
"It broke when we were hit. I have no idea where it went."
An explosion rattled the ground, as a new wave of enemies approached, firing off rockets and sending machine-gun fire down into our position. Jack seemed to become more determined as they displayed their strength.
"We need to get a defensive perimeter set up, NOW!" Jack insisted while shaking his head back and forth, "I know you don't have coms anymore, so I'll tell you where our squad is. Shear's off setting up a daisy-chain of C-4 to cover our path when we get one of the 'Sleds online. Red Rain is providing overwatch for the last medic we've got, sniping anyone who gets a bead on them and-"
Another thunderous sound ripped the air apart, making Jack and I flinch.
"Just set up a damned perimeter! Get some sandbags, fill them with snow! You know what to do! I need a triage center and some cover near the only 'Sled that hasn't been hit too badly to be repaired!"
One of the enemy ponies had broken out of his own line and ran at Jack with a shimmering energy blade of some kind. Reacting on instinct I flipped up the carbine, rolled out from behind cover, and shoved rounds of 7.62 rifle ammo down his throat. The kick to my teeth hurt like hell. The kick to the attacking pony's neck nearly shore his head from his shoulders.
Spitting the short-barreled rifle out onto the snow, I turned to Jack, "Gotcha, sir."
My headache had just gotten a whole lot worse.
"Good! I'm going to pull a flanking maneuver with two of our other stallions. Get it done!"
With that, my squad leader bolted from behind cover, barked orders to two suppressed ponies and headed up to a higher point on around our low-lying position. I turned to the 'Sled I had been taking cover behind. Sandbags. There were plenty inside the wrecked vehicle, so I grabbed up about thirty or so of them with a simple telekinesis spell and began filling them one by one with packed snow, hoping it could at least stop a rifle bullet. Thirty was a start, but I knew it wouldn't be enough. We needed a foxhole.
Of course, that's where everything started going to shit.
Thinking quickly I dropped the sandbags, using my telekinesis spell, a short distance away and began to assemble a small wall with them and then rolled into the open. Bullets immediately struck my armor, chewing away at what was left of the shattered plates. I stumbled and fell, crawling the rest of the way as more lead death whizzed past my ears. I attempted to project a shield, but it fizzled out as my magic drained. I wasn't used to the high-intensity scenario, and I had just used most of my will to make a small wall. I needed help.
"Hey!" I yelled over the rocket fire, battle-cries and bullets, "Hey! I need help building a foxhole here!"
One of the ponies looked up, only to have his head punched through by a lucky machine-gun round. He seemed to be okay for a moment, then crumpled to the ground, his life-blood draining from his helmet and into the snow. I looked up at the ridge. Even with the carbines, I wouldn't be able to suppress the enemy. They were tenacious and vicious, almost to the point of uncaring about their own well-being it seemed. Bullets began to rain down on my position again and ducked behind my wall, gritting my teeth against the sounds.
"Heads up!" a raspy, angry voice called out as a small canister landed next to me.
"Fuu-!" I screamed and jumped up, hop-running hastily back to the AutoSled where the empty sandbags had come from.
I didn't even hear the explosive go off as my legs propelled me through the air to come to a crashing stop into the wreckage. My ears rang like bells, and everything sounded like it was happening behind a pane of glass. I was not dead at least, but I was beginning to feel like I should have been. Running, Shear began to approach from around the back of the 'Sled.
"You almost killed me!" I roared at him, unsure if I was even saying anything at all because of all the ringing, "The heck is wrong with you?"
"There's no time, Shield!" he barked back, pointing at the massive crater that now occupied the space where I had been before, "You have a foxhole now!"
He was right. I didn't like it, but he was right.
"Fine! Fuckin' help me get the rest of it set up!" I demanded, partly in exchange for his nearly killing me, partly because I really did need help.
Shear nodded and began to use his own magic to start filling and floating bags into place around the crater. More than once, a bullet shattered a piece of my damaged armor, or nearly took off Shear's head, but we did not stop. Stopping meant death, or death for those that he and I were building the foxhole for in the first place.
Screaming and explosions erupted around one of the fighting positions on the ridgeline. The body of yet another unnamed pony ragdolled over our position, to splatter in a crumpled heap of shredded meat behind us.
"Looks like Jack's making progress." I stated with grim detachedness.
Shear just nodded. I still don't know how he heard me through all the noise.
"We need to get our last medic, wounded, and Star Paladin Spool into this bunker ASAP." Shear stated in his usual bluntness as the last sandbags were put into place, "Otherwise it's just a moon-damned hole in the ground."
I nodded in agreement. Without another word, we prepared ourselves mentally and galloped out into the firefight. Shear went left, hiding his small frame in an indention in the ground where a rocket had impacted at an angle where he began to fire up at the ridgelines, doing little with the grey-colored, standard issue 10mm Pistol that he held between his teeth. I moved a bit slower, canting slightly right to a different piece of debris, catching a bullet in the shattered armor-plate next to one of my ribs. I felt the broken, jagged bits dig into my flesh, but the damage felt superficial as I ducked behind the remains of a door assembly that had once been attached to the back of the second destroyed Autosled.
Our pinned medic and one of our remaining Knights spotted our attempts to move. With promptness born of practice, they began to shift their attention to the enemy, firing their rifle-equipped battle-saddles into the nearest position, causing the suppressive fire that had pinned us down to ease as enemies ducked from the sudden and unexpected assault. Other soldiers scattered about in defilade or behind rocks and wreckage also began to shift fire in an attempt give us a clear path at the Star Paladin. Jack must have been giving them orders because from what I saw, the lanes of outgoing fire shifted further across the ridge as explosions and streams of lead rippled across horizon from the direction where Jack had made his presence known only moments before.
It was time to move.
Running out from behind my cover, hooves slipping a bit at first but catching ground after a few moments of struggle, I dashed to the medic's position. Bullets sprayed across my path, cratering the snow where I would have been if I was only a few milliseconds faster.
"We need to move him!"
The medic shook his head, "No! There's too much fire We can't risk him getting hit again!"
The medic may have been right. A large, gaping wound was wrapped in gauze and a thick, black material that looked a lot like sludge. Our leader was down for the count, barely breathing by the look of it.
"There's a foxhole I've dug out! We need to move the wounded and dead there! There's no time to argue!"
The medic glanced my way with incredulity, "And then what?!" he screamed over the cacophony.
"Then we load up in the... DAMMIT!"
It hit me like a thermonuclear warhead.
I had made a fatal mistake. I was supposed to have put the foxhole near the 'Sled that was not in 3 different pieces, but I had totally forgotten about the 'Sled amidst the frenzy! I had to think of something new now. Something that would guarantee our success, because with the time I had just wasted, if Crusader Jack-Hammer didn't get through... we wouldn't be able to weather another assault.
The sled was 50 meters away from the medic. Across a field of fire and flame and death.
I needed to get to it. I was strained beyond my normal capacity for projecting shields, and even telekinesis had become hard to execute when Shear and I had been putting up the "snowbag" walls around his crater-foxhole. Regardless, I focused hard and then took off running using the last bit of mental strain I could muster to put up a barrier around my exposed head. The action gained the attention of some of our enemies, who apparently thought that "shoot the big blue glowy thing" was the best idea since balloons at a birthday party.
Searing hot bolts of pain spiked through my vision as one of the bullets struck true, penetrating the shield just enough to knock me on my hindquarters, splaying my body out upon the ground. Fortunately, the bullet had not killed me, but it had hit me hard enough to make my vision blur, and I was certain that I was bleeding again, since my bandage had fallen off at some point during the firefight. The hail of fire shifted to somewhere else, just as Shear ran past my near-unconscious form and dragged me the rest of the way to the AutoSled using a telekinesis spell. I was certain that It was the last one he could pull off, because by the time my vision cleared and his spell let go, he was breathing so quickly through his sneak-suit that I couldn't tell when he stopped breathing in and started breathing out.
"Shield..." he wheezed, "Here!"
He threw a manual at me. A bullet pinged off the ramp behind me and nearly took off my head for the umpteenth time that afternoon. I flinched, hating everything about everything at that moment, but the closeness to death that I had come to once again woke me up a little. Staring at the book like I had just been smacked on the back of the head and had forgotten my own name tipped Shear off that I had might have no idea what to do.
The truth was closer to that than I cared to admit at the time.
"You're the closest thing we have to a mechanic!" he pleaded.
I had never heard Shear panic. I knew things were bad, and his sudden loss of demeanor meant it wasn't getting better.
"The medic's dead! Shear, come on! I'd do it myself, but I have to start dragging the Star Paladin in here, or we are FUCKED. We can't call a retreat without securing him and the injured!"
I didn't reply, between the nausea from blood loss and the earlier concussion, I just sat and started hoofing through the pages. My thoughts were jumbled, but I could only think of one thing: Schematic. I needed one. Something to compare to the broken MAgiK engine that I had to repair.
Shear ran out into the firefight. I think I saw him get hit by a round in the front leg. It was bad. Everything about this was bad.
"Focus!" I hissed at myself, and continued looking through the manual. "It has to be here!"
Page after page of currently pointless pre-combat checks, maintenance guides to minor parts, and other miscellaneous information bombarded my addled brain until I finally reached the end of the book. Nothing. I was out of time, I knew it. I couldn't afford to waste any more time looking again. I looked up at the exposed engine components. Even if I knew what I was doing, there was no way I could manipulate the parts without the use of a telekinesis spell, which I was fairly certain would fade before I could plug whatever into whatever it needed to connect to. I came to a sudden conclusion, however. One that stemmed from countless desperate ponies all over the world at some point in time, and I seriously thought was passed down genetically as a last-ditch survival technique.
I stood, wobbling on all fours and bucked the living hell out of the engine. Bucked it so hard that I fell on my face and scraped some of the coagulating blood from my forehead. I winced as something fell out of one of the crooks in the machinery, where after it began to glow with an internal light.
Praying that it was an indication that I'd fixed it, and that my legs would hold me up for another few moments, I headed for the cockpit of the AutoSled.
Regrettably, an explosion against the hull rocked the machine before I could get there, and I stumbled, smashing my face into the interior of the 'Sled again just as Shear literally flew into the room. Maybe it was just my loss of mental faculty, but I could swear Shear hadn't touched the ground since the last time I'd seen him. He was covered in cuts, bullet grazings, and had more than one hole in his suit where blood pooled and seeped into the fabric on the outside.
"I hope you fixed that engine, Shield... otherwise... we're really, really fucked." I could sense his teeth gritting in pain and panic in his voice.
I looked over and out the door as the random roaring of voices that I had been hearing throughout the battle changed into a single cry of battle. The enemy was charging. Jack had...
The Crusader appeared out of thin air, slammed down in front of the entrance to our 'Sled and opened up his mini-guns on the charging line, blocking their path. I couldn't see the ponies dying, but their screams echoed painfully in my ears. A sharper pain suddenly stitched into my side. And then another.
Pain lanced without warning up throughout my body, making me convulse on the floor of the 'Sled.
"Med-X!" Shear barked behind me, "Med-X and Dash!"
A powerful surge of energy rippled through my body as the drugs that Shear had jammed into me from between the open spaces in my armor began to take effect. I suddenly felt a lot better.
Clearly the battle was not over with. Not just yet.