Nobody was allowed in Concat String's workshop without his permission. It was a straightforward rule, common too. After all, being mistaken for a thief or burglar was an extraordinarily easy way to get shot to death. Disrespect, such as the invasion of privacy, was also an easy way to get shot- not to death, usually not in any way a healing potion or autodoc couldn't fix, and certainly not more than once if one were recognized as a non-hostile resident. Regardless, being shot hurt a lot, and was seldom good for one's health.
Today was apparently an exception! The door to Concat's workshop stood open. The nearby terminal that controlled the lock wasn't doing anything particularly useful, so I scrambled in as quietly as I could.
I unrolled several papers from my bag, dumped them on the workbench, and rummaged through the array of unorganized supplies in search of an iron. There were a lot of brightly colored balls of string, some virgin, some partially used, packages of balloons, and confetti in piles and bags. I saw some helium tanks too, and began to suspect that Cancat might in fact be the mare assigned to prepare the decorations and events for my birthday bash. Sure, most everyone in Console loved to party, but even the most disorganized of residents tended to keep their special party fun-time supplies put away.
After I found the iron- it was tucked a bit high up in a closet, I brought it over to the worktable and pored over all of the designs I had been working on again. It was six pages, more than half of them concerned with the process for making inflatables rather than the designs themselves. I would have rather had the book, but Console wasn't going to have its own copy until after the OC took the scavenged copy back to the lab and made more copies. Those would come back to us in next month’s Exchange. A month was a lifetime away, and I had things to do today!
I searched through my bags again, and carefully stacked the shiny vinyl sheets from my share of the scavenging haul next to my bags. And then I set to work, measuring the plastic, marking edges, cutting them, and using the iron to weld edges together. Time went by in the blink of an eye. On the workshop were several plastic scraps, but in my hooves was a new inflatable bright pink griffin! Well... sort of. It was actually just a heap of welded and melty plastic. I needed a pump so I could fill it up and check it for holes. Fortunately, my earlier searching had found an air pump in the same place as the iron, so I went back to get it.
I stuck the nozzle of the air pump into the opening I had left near the fake griffin's tail and tapped the red power toggle switch on the device.
Hissssssss. The blow up griffin wasn't sealed as well as I expected, but I could find and fix the seam easily enough.
The pump’s air talisman glowed with a soft light, and the toy started to take shape. From a floppy lump to a... slightly less floppy puff. And soon into the form of soggy griffin that had bathed too much, if griffins were made out of shiny-ium.
And then I heard the sound of hoofsteps nearby. My heart nearly shot right out of my chest in alarm! I bounced back to the workbench, swept everything into my bags as quietly as I could, and turned to make for the door. It was only then that I realized that that door was the only way in or out of the workshop, and that was in the direction of the pony in the building with me! I pivoted on one hind hoof and tossed myself into the storage closet where I had found the iron and pump before, and slid the cover closed.
The blow up griffin which I hadn't yet settled on a name for was stretched out tall and proud and more than a little provocatively. The placement of the makeshift inner-thigh valve helped in that regard. The griffin was crude and fairly featureless aside from being pink and vaguely griffin-shaped, lacking any paint or specially colored materials. And the wings were limp plastic cutouts, left as they were more for my lack of interest in wings than for practical benefit. None of which would matter if Cat shot it up!
I smelled sweat on my muzzle. I felt my hair stand on end. I heard the sound of hoofsteps and of a firearm loading.
And then there was confetti everywhere. So much pink, yellow, and blue confetti. All of the pieces were shaped like tiny tiny feathers. Odd, as I was certain I had never even seen feather-shaped confetti before. A vinyl sliver landed on my nose, and I grinned at first, pleased by the spectacle and feel... then sneezed that sliver right into a mare's scowling face. Concat pointed her gun at my thigh, then then a little lower.
My eyes grew wide. Then her aim dropped a little lower, away from my sensitive bits and instead to my hindhooves.
I dropped to the floor with a yelp, tears welling in my eyes. My heart felt like it would burst, and I curled in trying to turn into a ball. I felt Concat's hoof pat me gently on the head.
"Bonus! You're a real big buck now, aren't you?" She emphaised the words "real big buck". I wanted to shout at her, and to kick and scream and run, but I knew if I did, she might shoot me again. Once was enough, and she was in the right. I curled up tighter, squeezing at the injured hoof. "Almos' thought I was being raided by shiny rabbits. Or somethin'."
Concat walked away for a moment. I didn't look. And then a cool dampness splashed against my hoof and I felt the odd prickling sensation of flesh and muscle mending. I released my leg, opened my eyes, and looked my hoof over. It was fine, if not better than it had ever been. For a moment I fancied that perhaps I had only imagined being shot out of fear, but the mess on my fur and on the floor was evidence to the contrary.
I turned my eyes to Concat, who met my astonished gaze with a wry smile. Her pistol was nowhere to be seen. She ruffled my mane and tapped at my flank with a hoof.
"How long you' had this, birthday boy? Izzat why you're in'ere?"
I followed her hoof. On my flanks was a vivid shiny yellow icon with a white star in the middle. It looked like a rubber ball, about to burst. At least, that's what made sense to me.
I wiped my tears away with a hoof, and tried standing up again, my eyes locked onto the booty-glyph. "I don't know." I breathed every word slowly, not entirely sure what was coming out of my maw until it was out.
"If you wan'ed t' use my stuff, you coulda just asked. It's been hours, though, 'n your frien's are lookin' for ya. Le's go. Clean up later."
I looked it over again. I could have sworn it was getting bigger. I recalled a time in class where we talked about cutie marks. They were supposedly the mark of a pony who had discovered their special talent and the attributes which made that pony unique. Yet I didn’t feel unique or special. Not any more than usual, anyway. I certainly didn’t know what a ball had to do with exploding griffons or getting shot, either. To top it all off, I didn’t get to keep what I made as it was now just a pile of pretty pastel pieces.
Not that it mattered much. Keeping in line with the policies from Stable Lab Forty-Five, my cutie mark meant I was officially a grown up regardless of my years. The night my birthday party ended, the after-party began. Get Some took me out on the best night of merry-making I had ever had and my friends were eager to induct me into the ranks of the bucks and stallions.
In the months that followed, I made more toys. Many more. Broke almost many as I made. I become better and faster at it each time However, while the supplies I had at home were plentiful thanks to The Exchange, to do any better than plain solid-colors, I needed rarer and more expensive materials. Merchants seldom had what I wanted, and it was incredibly dangerous to scavenge places likely to have what I wanted. Fabrication units and ministries almost always had robots in them, and those robots had magical death cannons that could turn a pony into a glowing pile of goo. Potions might fix bullet wounds, but they couldn’t fix goo.
Within a year, I was able to get around on my own if I needed to, using decoys and distractions to avoid hostiles. Companions were much better, but not a lot of strangers would be willing to risk their neck for pink plastic and ministry mare memorabilia. Neighbors, friends, and family were more accommodating, but most everyone I knew was more willing to throw Mirror Mares and Recolors at the wasteland than go out on their own for more than a day.
As I honed my craft, my need for materials grew. As I traveled more to get ever rarer supplies, I made new designs and tricks. As those tricks kept me safe, I’d start running low on supplies again. So I traveled.
Thanks to Wirepony for editing this chapter. As of this post I now officially owe Wirepony at least one (1) thing. Feel free to redeem it at nearest convenience.
Wanna spoil yourself or just look at my scrapbook of things that may or may not ever be actually used for anything? Descs, Outlines, Thanks, and whatever other old stuff can be found in this other doc.