Chapter Twelve - A Full Crew
I sighed as I stared at my reflection in the mirror across the room. Slouched over on my bed, I idly played with my new magic suppressor. I couldn’t figure out why, exactly, but when I put this one on, it didn’t give me the same sense of horror and desperation as the last one.
That wasn’t to say it wasn’t awful; I still felt a bit like I was dead inside when it was on. It just…wasn’t that scary anymore for some reason. Maybe it was because I had enough power now to lift it on and off gently with just my magic, but that explanation didn’t sound right. It lacked that ring of truth that it should have had.
On a side note, I’d discovered that I could, in fact, cast a warming enchantment with a suppressor on. I’d gotten a small laugh out of that.
In other news, I was happy to find that my story about dark magic held water. Almost my entire repertoire of dark magic was available for my use, with only the strongest spells I knew lying out of reach.
And this time I had decided to do the smart thing and not destroy the suppressor. What I hadn’t decided on was whether or not to leave it behind. Pupa would certainly find it useful, but as much as I hated to admit it, so would I. There was a room on the Nebulous specifically designed to contain my flares, but after the incident at Canterlot, I knew I couldn’t possibly take too many safety precautions.
A very forceful knock came at the front door downstairs, catching me completely by surprise; I’d had to take all of my spells on the house down permanently with Cadance and Shining formally moving here in a couple weeks. Regrettable, but at the same time, I probably wouldn’t be coming back on any long-term scale after my trip to Mona, anyway.
First taking a deep breath, I affixed my suppressor over my horn and buried myself under my covers.
Eventually, Mom called out, “Twilight, some friends of yours are here!”
Friends, eh? I didn’t think I was up for friendly friend time right now. I squeezed out a very short-range scry through my suppressor and moaned.
“Fluttershy just had to pick now to visit, didn’t she?”
Dash was with her, too, and she would undoubtedly be just oodles of fun.
Ugh, whatever. It would probably be fine to swap the suppressor for a fake, but I was a little too lethargic to do so right now. I rolled lazily out of bed. Not bothering to fix my mane or tail, I trudged out the door, down the hallway, and stopped at the stairs. One deep breath later and I had a faker smile on my face than Celestia.
As I approached the living room, I could hear some small talk.
“What kind do you have?” Dash said.
“Just chocolate right now,” Mom answered. She must have been talking about the cookies she’d made earlier today.
“Sweet! A whole plateful would be awesome. Or do you want two, Fluttershy?”
A short silence passed. Presumably it was filled with Fluttershy-grade mumbling.
I walked in just as Mom was leaving. “Hello, you two. It’s good to see you again.”
“Hey, Twi. Get this. I had to drag Fluttershy halfway here when she found out Ponyville is next to the Everfree.”
I turned my head slightly to look at Fluttershy, but she didn’t say anything. She just stared straight at the ground.
“Fluttershy, the Everfree isn’t dangerous on the edges; why would we live here if it were?” Aside from silly reasons that made volcano fortresses cool. Seeing that my reassurances had done nothing, I sighed and said, “Well, the job offer is literally as far away from the Everfree as it can be, so try not to worry.”
Fluttershy mumbled something I couldn’t quite hear.
“Sorry, I didn’t catch that.”
After another bout of ineffectively mumbling, I turned to Dash who shrugged.
“Maybe we should relocate. There’s actually two job offers for you. One moment.”
I left the living room to the sound of a very quiet gasp and set about gathering the few belongings I might need. Removing my suppressor for the moment, I teleported various objects from around the house to me, starting with my saddlebags.
Stepping into the kitchen, I asked, “Hey, Mom, can we get those cookies to go?”
I grunted as I shoved open a door in town hall with my hooves. I never thought I’d be doing that again, but here I was. Oh well. There was no telling how many of Celestia’s agents were in town now – if any yet – and I wasn’t going to take any dumb risks just to make my life more convenient for a few weeks.
Fluttershy and Dash walked in right behind me. Well, Dash flew in, but that was the same thing for her.
Approaching the mayor’s secretary’s desk, I said, “Hello again. I brought the mare I told you about last time.”
“The animal specialist?”
I nodded and gestured toward Fluttershy, who looked a bit like she wanted to run away crying.
After taking the time to frown slightly, the secretary said to Fluttershy, “Go right on in. Mayor Mare’s free right now.”
“Dash,” I said, stopping her before she could enter the mayor’s office.
“Hmm? What is it?”
“Interviews are generally conducted alone. It won’t look good if you hold her hoof through the entire thing.”
“What? Are you serious?” Dash looked behind me, presumably at the secretary, and touched down on the ground for once.
“Besides, I need to talk to you,” I said, closing the office door myself. “Follow me.”
I took off down a hallway, looking back with a scrying spell. Dash hesitated for a moment, turning between the door and me, but eventually she took to the air again and flew my way. I led her back outside and a short ways through town, somewhat envious that her own magic kept her warm without any effort on her part.
Eventually, I slowed from a trot to a gentle walk, and I asked, “Can you keep a secret, Dash?”
“Huh? Of course I can,” Dash replied, somewhat aggressively. “I’d never sell out a friend or anything like that. That’d be super uncool.”
Shaking my head, I said, “It’s not a personal secret, Dash. It’s a state secret.”
“Oh. My. Gosh. That is so awesome! Are you one of those secret agents trained from birth to be the best of the best? Is that why you know Princess Cadance?”
I stopped walking for a second to look up at Dash. “Um…as far as I know, there’s not an elite corps of foal soldiers. I guess I have no evidence to the contrary, but you need to present evidence for…”
Seeing that what I was going to say would go in one ear and out the other, I turned back and continued walking.
“No, there’s no such ponies, Dash. Although…I suppose I am about as close you’ll get.”
I heard a squeal I would have expected more from Fluttershy than from Dash. I had probably just scored an impressive number of ‘awesome points’.
“Anyway, this is top secret, even from Cadance, so you cannot discuss it with anypony.” After another squeal, I added, “Especially from Cadance, actually. She has too many troubles to deal with right now as it stands. Understood?”
“Yeah, yeah. Don’t tell anypony. I got it. So what’s the secret?”
“The job Fluttershy is interviewing for is a cover.” For certain definitions of interviewing. I certainly wasn’t going to let Fluttershy not get the job. Not that I thought she didn’t have the skills required; she just didn’t have the prerequisite social skills to leave a good impression. I had kept my interference to a minimum, though. “The real–”
“Whoa, whoa. Wait up,” Dash said, flying in front of me. “You want to make Fluttershy a secret agent? That’s a horrible idea. She’s scared of her own shadow half the time.”
I rolled my eyes. “And who would be a better choice? You?”
“Well,” Dash said, poorly pretending to be aloof, “now that you mention it.”
Well, here it was: the point of no return. Not actually, I could always erase memories, but it was the point of no return in spirit. I’d thought it over, weighed the pros and cons, talked to Luna, and now it was time to make a final decision.
Should I take Dash with or should I just have her be Fluttershy’s contact on Equus?
Taking her with would make it easier to recruit Fluttershy, no doubt. Peer pressure worked wonders. And I wouldn’t have to find a weather manager. And Dash was admittedly a very impressive specimen, like a bizarre pegasus version of myself. And she was more than capable of doing the job. And she would probably be a valuable ally in the future; she was obviously the kind of talent you didn’t let go when possible.
All it would cost me was putting up with her.
I sighed. The choice was obvious.
“We need Fluttershy’s knowledge and skills, so we can’t take you in place of her. However, if you’re interested–”
I walked around Dash. We were about halfway done with our lap of Ponyville, and I wanted to finish that lap sometime today.
“You really shouldn’t agree like that, Dash. You have no idea what you’re getting into.”
“Psh. I can manage whatever you’ve got for me.”
“It’s not that,” I said. I had no doubts about Dash’s ability to manage weather. “This is an entirely different career track than the Wonderbolts.”
“What, can I not quit once I’m old enough to join the Wonderbolt Academy?”
I bit my tongue to keep myself quiet. Dash could do whatever she wanted with her life. It wasn’t my business.
“Yes, you can. But not right away. There is a minimum length of service.”
Humming, Dash asked, “How long?”
“Until a little after the thousandth Summer Sun Celebration. After then, you’d be free to stay or go.”
“Is that all? And here you had me thinking it’d be a for life kinda thing. I’m sure having ‘former secret agent’ on my resume will more than suffice for applying a couple years late.”
Okay, that was worth a real giggle. Putting ‘secret’ agent on a resume was sort of a contradiction in terms.
“Just so you know, the work won’t actually be that exciting until the last year or so. Mostly it’ll consist of low-stress weather work and a lot of relaxation time.”
“So…pretty much what I planned to do anyway?”
“More or less, but in an exotic locale and with the opportunity to gain the favor of the crown.”
“Wait, do you mean like, favor, or favor.”
I turned to look at Dash flying sideways and raised an eyebrow.
“Do you not watch movies or something?”
I held my gaze as we walked. “No, not really.”
But now that you mentioned it, stocking up on movies and a projector or two seemed like a very good idea. Records were probably a good thing to collect as well. I owned a few myself, but I had a sneaking suspicion that nopony would share my taste in music.
“Wow, we need to get you a life, Twi. You could be the second awesomest pony in the world, and it wouldn’t mean anything if you don’t stop to enjoy life once in a while.”
And you understood the meaning of the word stop? Still, at least we found each other’s passions mutually uninteresting.
“So anyway,” Dash began, “what’s the job exactly?”
“We need to–” I shook my head. I could do much better than plain Equestrian here. “We’re leaving on a quest to recover a frighteningly powerful set of magical artifacts.”
“Nice! Are there going to be giant monsters, and dragons, and stuff to fight?”
“No. Not at all. I wouldn’t invite Fluttershy along if there were.”
Dash snorted. “Fair. I guess.”
“Like I said, it’s going to be low-stress. The hardest part of the trip will be keeping ourselves from driving each other mad.” Talking through Dash’s laughter, I continued, “I’m serious, actually. You’ve heard of cabin fever, right?”
“What, are we going to sail around the world for six years or something?”
“Or something. I’ll explain in more detail later. I need to go pick up a number of other ponies on the team tonight, and I’ll take you and Fluttershy with to meet them. If you want, that is.”
Dash flew a half-somersault in front of me and addressed me upside down. It irked me more than it should that I still hadn’t figured out how she did that with just pegasus magic. Even Luna was left scratching her head. “Like I’d ever miss a chance to meet real life secret agents.”
Sigh. Twinkleshine was already going sci-fi on me, and now I had Dash heading down the dark road of action novels.
“I’m afraid none of us really think of ourselves the way you are.” Interrupting Dash before she could say anything to the effect of ‘lame’, I said, “Except for Queen Chrysalis.”
“Queen? What’s up with that? Are we dealing with foreign royalty now or something? Or is she going with a ‘queen of espionage’ kind of thing?”
We walked in silence for a moment before Dash rolled over and landed. Walking beside me, she said, “Huh. I honestly wasn’t expecting that.”
“Yes, that’s just how she likes it. You probably won’t be able to meet her until we actually leave, though. She’s busy, and we had a bit of a…falling out recently.”
Dash was polite enough to give me a moment alone with my thoughts. Although, right now, in this particular instance, I wasn’t sure if I considered that a good thing.
“Anyway. Her daughter–”
Well, all the changelings were Queen Chrysalis’s foals. Or something. Luna was a bit unclear on that, and I’d never had a chance to ask for clarification. However changeling reproduction worked, Pupa was Queen Chrysalis’s heir, and the two had a very pony-like mother–daughter relationship.
“–is staying nearby. I’m sure you two would get along wonderfully.”
That was probably true. I hadn’t spent much time with her yet, but Pupa seemed a lot like how I used to imagine Celestia: kind, gentle, altruistic, and above all, patient.
Arriving back at town hall, we stopped just outside the door.
“Is she a spy, too?” Dash asked.
“More a princess of spies, but yes, she is also quite proficient in the field.”
“Sweet! So are we going in or what?”
“No, I have somepony else to meet today now that you two are here.”
I’d found another prospective crew member. Again, peer pressure worked wonders, and Dash would no doubt lay the peer pressure on with reckless abandon, a fact I intended to exploit for all it was worth. Although from what I’d heard and seen, I didn’t think it’d be necessary with the new prospect.
“I’ll meet you back at my house afterward,” I finished.
Dash turned to look toward the outskirts of Ponyville. “What about the Everfree? Flutters was practically scared to death.”
Oh, right. I’d forgotten about that. Summoning a piece of paper and some ink from my saddlebags, I drew a non-scale map of Ponyville along with directions and an address. Hoofing it over to Dash, I said, “Here is where Queen Chrysalis’s daughter is staying. Her name is Pupa. Just tell her I sent you. I’ll meet you there.”
I knocked on the Cherry family’s barn door before stepping inside. Well, Cherry Berry’s mother had referred to it as a barn, but Berry Punch had told me a lot about my potential recruit. Apparently despite her former…situation, Berry Punch was actually acquainted with most ponies in town.
That really shouldn’t have actually been surprising when one considered that Ponyville was a small, close-knit town, but it had been nonetheless.
Anyway, Berry Punch had said that the youngest of the Cherry family, Cherry Berry – it was going to be so confusing having three Berrys on the ship – knew what she was doing ‘well enough’ to help. She’d returned to town recently after being abroad for well over a season, so I now had my chance to approach her. More importantly, I allegedly only needed to mention a single word to get her to agree to hop on board.
I’d doubted that at first, but it’d only taken me about ten minutes of investigating before I’d called it quits. Berry Punch had been right, so ridiculously, outrageously right.
And here before me was a virtual sky dock stuck inside a barn that confirmed absolutely everything I’d heard about the mare.
“Hello?” I called out to the barn at large.
“Over here,” a voice, presumably Cherry Berry’s, called back. I looked in the vague direction of her voice. “No, no. Up here.”
I looked up and saw Cherry Berry’s head poking up out of the basket of a hot air balloon, aviator goggles and all. For some reason, she had a slew of black spots on her coat. If I had to guess, I’d say they were soot, but grease was a solid second choice.
Pushing up her goggles, Cherry Berry asked, “So what’s up, little filly? Are you here to hear stories of my epic journeys around the world?”
I smiled. There was an earth pony of real character in Ponyville; apparently, I just hadn’t looked hard enough.
“No, but I might take you up on your offer some other time. I have something important to–”
Cherry Berry hopped out of her basket, shrugged off the landing, and cantered up to me in all her pink-coated, yellow-maned glory. Eyes practically sparkling, she asked, “Did that jerk Daring Do finally own up that I was the pony who recovered the Sapphire Stone?”
I raised an eyebrow. Daring Do was real?
“Er… Heh, heh. Um, would you please forget what I just said?”
“I suppose so. But why did you ask?”
“Bah! Don’t even get me started? That mare can’t stand to talk to anypony that couldn’t be described as her nemesis. She usually finds some foal to deliver her messages for her. Trust issues or something. And then she goes and publishes a fiction book claiming all the credit! I didn’t even get a supporting role! So while she’s sitting all nice and cozy in her private train car on her next big adventure, I’m stuck operating out of Ponyville with my parents’ help. That was supposed to be my big break! That was supposed to make my name! Not some disgraced archeologist’s!”
I fought the urge to whistle. Berry Punch had said it would be easy to convince Cherry Berry to come with, but she really had vastly underestimated how easy this would be. Rather than Dash peer pressuring her, it might actually work out the other way around.
“And she even had the nerve to leave out Princess Celestia’s part in the story!” Cherry Berry continued. “I mean, I guess there could be some sort of – I don’t know – marketing problem otherwise, but still. Ugh! She just – just – sometimes I just want to scream!”
Her breathing ragged, I gave Cherry Berry a comforting pat on the shoulder. My situation with Trixie was nowhere near the same; she and I were friends after some fashion. But I could empathize just a little bit. If Trixie somehow found her way to Mona after I arrived and stole the elements from me, I’d be able to understand completely.
“Sorry for blowing off steam on you…”
“Twilight Sparkle, but just Twilight is fine.”
“Sorry, Twilight. I’m just really frustrated.” Rubbing one forehoof along her other foreleg, Cherry Berry blushed and said, “And I may have threatened to expose Daring Do in a heated argument recently. Kind of hoping she doesn’t take that seriously…”
After nervously shuffling around a bit, Cherry Berry said, “Seriously though, please keep the whole Daring Do is real thing a secret. She really doesn’t like publicity–” Muttering under her breath, Cherry Berry said, “ironically,” before continuing. “–and I try to be the bigger pony about the whole thing.”
Awkwardly shuffling on her hooves again, Cherry Berry added, “Well, usually I do.”
Giggling, I said, “Don’t worry. I know how to keep secrets. I promise I won’t say anything except under exceptional circumstances.”
Cherry Berry breathed a sigh of relief. “So what brings you here, Twilight? You mentioned something important?”
“Indeed!” I said, posing dramatically with my hoof raised. “I’m actually here to see if you want to join me in an adventure into the great unknown!”
“Oho! I see. Following in my hoofsteps and wanting to learn from the master, eh?”
I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. I hadn’t expected Cherry Berry to take me seriously, but that didn’t make her response any less annoying.
“Seriously, Cherry Berry,” I said, lowering my hoof, “this is the kind of adventure that doesn’t make your name, but puts it in history books.”
Sighing and then smiling again, Cherry Berry said, her voice terribly serious, “I’d like that very much. Lead on, Twilight, and let us face the unknown together!”
I nodded and headed back outside. I chuckled quietly enough that Cherry Berry wouldn’t be able to hear. I could just imagine her reaction when she saw for herself where we were heading. Hopefully Dash and Fluttershy would already be waiting at Pupa’s when we arrived.
“Oh,” Cherry Berry said, “just so you know, I’d like to get back before sunset. My parents managed to find some sunflowers, and they’re my favorite flower. Sweet, sweet roasted sunflowers. Mmm…”
I didn’t bother suppressing my laughter this time. “Yes, my fearless companion. I’ll make sure you get home in time for dinner.”
There was only one inn in Ponyville. It was all the town had ever needed; visitors usually stayed with family or friends. It was much to my surprise when Pupa had told me a few days ago that it was run by changelings. In fact, a distressingly large number of inns, motels, hotels, et cetera, were run by changelings. And not just in Equestria, but all around the world.
It made some sense, and it wasn’t like they were planning some sort of hostile takeover, but it was a bit frightening all the same. Apparently they had managed to keep this up for centuries without ever being exposed. Sure there was the odd memory spell here and there, but it was impressive nonetheless.
And it didn’t stop with hotels. They had their hooves in plenty of other businesses, too, including talent agencies. Pupa had said they didn’t dare take the spotlight in Los Pegasus themselves, and that was about as far as she had gotten before Queen Chrysalis had effectively told her to shut up.
I stopped just outside of Pupa’s room with Cherry Berry in tow, and I knocked on the door.
“Come in!” Pupa called back, the door swinging open with her voice.
I led the two of us into the hotel equivalent of a living room and immediately facehoofed.
Appearing beside the two of us, Dash said, “Heya, Twi. You’ve got some pretty neat friends. Anyway, you’re supposed to guess which one is the real Fluttershy.”
I sighed and removed my suppressor, tucking it away in my saddlebags.
Next to me, I heard Cherry Berry whisper, “They’re not twins? Did those two get involved with some cursed artifacts or something?”
“No,” I answered for Dash. Casting a detection spell on the left Fluttershy, who was awkwardly standing in front of me and trying to make herself look small, I said, “The one on the right is Pupa, who is very good at magic.”
With a burst of green fire, Pupa reverted to her regular pastel-green unicorn disguise.
“Detection spells go against the spirit of the game, Twilight.”
I rolled my eyes at Pupa as she crossed the distance to give me a hug. Of the unintentional consequences of my actions, this was perhaps the most…not awkward, but strange. Among the many emotional bonds Cadance had ‘restored’ to Pupa was her self-love, her love for Twilight Sparkle.
Fortunately, Pupa had said she’d recovered her own sense of self-worth quickly enough. Cadance hadn’t done anything worse than making Pupa feel ambivalent about herself for a short time.
“Pupa, in case you hadn’t noticed, I’m kind of in the middle of something.”
“Oh, yes, yes,” Pupa said, breaking the hug. “I’ll see to it that nopony misses any of you. Have fun.”
Once Pupa had left, Cherry Berry asked, “So…what just happened?”
“Pupa knows some crazy awesome magic that lets her change shape!” Dash shouted. “She can do anypony and anything! Even random things like giant bug ponies and chimeras.”
I mentally sighed. That was as good a way as any to introduce ponies to changelings, I supposed. Pupa had probably made my job easier, too. In certain circles, one incredibly powerful magician’s words and actions, such as my own, carried a lot of weight.
However, none of my potential recruits were really part of those circles. Cherry might be a little bit with her interest in adventure, but even she would no doubt look for more regular social proofs and appeals to authority. The more competent, grownup ponies like Pupa on my team I showed off, the better off I would be. Not that I expected to have much trouble with these three.
Cherry Berry hummed to herself, idly scratching her jaw. “That sounds sort of familiar, but I can’t put my hoof on why. Something I saw in some ruin somewhere maybe? Oh well. But who is…Pupa, was it? Who is she exactly? In my experience, powerful mages hanging around is always bad news. Back when Sunset Shimmer was around, she was pretty much a harbinger of doom.”
Answering before Dash could say anything, I said, “Pupa is one of my assoc – friends and is going to ‘hold down the fort’ for me while I’m gone, so to speak. But you can talk to her yourself later, if you want.” Turning mostly toward Fluttershy, I asked, “For the moment, does anypony get motion sickness?”
“Of course not,” Dash said.
“Nooooo…” Cherry Berry said, obviously not sure why I was asking.
Fluttershy gave a small shake of her head. That was a bit unexpected, but if she had trouble flying like I suspected, she probably had to use alternative travel most of the time.
“Excellent. We’re going to make a quick stop in Germaneigh to pick up a lot of furniture, but after that we’ll head out to the future starting line of our adventure. If anypony starts to feel queasy, let me know right away.”
I lit up my horn as Cherry Berry said, “When you say Germaneigh–”
It wasn’t very far to Germaneigh, only a few minutes by teleport. While we were mid-transit, I moved the air with us so we could talk.
And by talk, I meant Fluttershy could futilely squeeze her eyes closed in a panic, Dash could be quiet for once in her life, and Cherry Berry could flip out and be the only pony saying anything. Whether or not Cherry Berry actually said anything worth listening to, however, was an entirely different story.
My last teleport left the four of us in a warehouse where one of my many orders was waiting for me to pick it up. As requested, everything was stored in giant wooden crates to make transportation slightly simpler. But even boxed up as they were, it wouldn’t be difficult to find and remove a few select pieces.
“Would anypony like a chair?”
“So,” I began, “I know you have a lot of questions, but let’s try to keep them to one at a time on this attempt.”
A lot of questions was a massive understatement; it’d taken five minutes before Dash and Cherry Berry stopped trying to talk over one another, so I’d taken the opportunity to ignore them and get us on a stable route away from Equus.
I also had resuscitated Fluttershy from her fainting and had explained to her that there was no possible way she could fall out here. What had really sealed the deal was my description of space as ‘swimming in ground’. It wasn’t a perfect analogy, but it had worked for Fluttershy.
Dash and Cherry Berry looked to each other, and Dash won their little silent exchange.
“Let me first just say, so awesome! But after that” – Dash paused for effect – “Twi, what the buck!”
I raised an eyebrow. “I believe I made it very clear to you that we had a six year travel time. If we just needed to go pick something up on Equus, you could do it in a fortnight. What exactly were you expecting? Certainly not an archaeological dig based on our earlier conversation.”
“I – I guess?” Dash frowned and sat on her haunches, looking thoughtful.
I hated to admit it, but that expression simply didn’t work for her.
“Okay, okay,” Cherry Berry said, taking over. “I think I get it. We teleported a bunch – pretty sure – and there was that…that…Pupa mare before with her whole illusion thing. How old are you really?”
“Young enough that it’s both irritating to work around and embarrassing.”
I giggled at Cherry Berry’s confusion. There were probably but four mares in the world that actually enjoyed growing older – maybe only three if Cadance hadn’t been taken out of a normal pony’s mindset yet.”
“To answer your question directly, I’m twelve and a half.”
“You don’t honestly expect me to believe that, do you?”
I shrugged. “You can think of me as whatever age you want. It really doesn’t matter. I don’t behave much like a filly, after all.”
“Right, right. I totally get the whole prodigy thing–”
Well, at least Dash and I had that in common. Maybe we could bond over talking about how other ponies took ten times longer to do everything. Maybe.
“–but where on Equus are we going?”
“Not exactly the best choice of words,” I said, eliciting an eye roll from Dash. “Anyway, did you mean ‘where are you taking us?’ or ‘where would we be going if we left with you?’”
“Uh…both, I suppose.”
“The ultimate destination is the comet Mona, hopefully by way of the moon. Right now we’re just going to my spaceship, the Nebulous. We have about a half-hour of travel time before we arrive.”
It was Cherry Berry’s turn to look thoughtful. If I were to guess, I’d imagine she’d realized that this was her chance to reach for the honor and glory she wanted, and perhaps even more than she’d ever dreamed possible.
“Why that particular comet?” Cherry Berry asked.
Answering for me, Dash said, “Twi mentioned something about a doomsday device.”
“I believe I used the term ‘frighteningly powerful magical artifact,’” I said before Cherry Berry could interject, “not ‘doomsday device’. I’m also reasonably confident that what I’m after can’t be directly used for destruction at all.”
“And what are you after?” Cherry Berry’s voice was practically dripping with suspicion, but her eyes betrayed her. I may have been ‘bad news’ as a powerful mage, in her words, but she was already too invested in this trip, whatever the reason for it.
“The exact details surrounding the purpose of this trip are classified until after we leave.” As an afterthought, I added, “Sorry. State secrets and stuff.”
Frowning, Cherry Berry asked, “Alright, fine, I guess. So what do you need us for?”
“I need you three, and two others already on board, to provide food. And company so I don’t go crazy from the extended solitude” – in case Luna couldn’t reach my dreams at some point – “but I really only need one pony for that.
“Anyway, Fluttershy would be in charge of animals for eggs, milk, butter, pollinating, and stuff like that.” Turning to address Fluttershy directly, I said, “We have a couple pets coming along, too, so if you agree to come, I’d like you to look after them as well. And Spike is coming, too, of course.”
After a weak nod of understanding, definitely not of agreement, from Fluttershy, I continued, “Dash, you would be in charge of weather. Well, ‘weather’. The job should be pretty challenging in climate diversity and space constraints, so you might actually enjoy the work. Like I said to you before, it’ll be a low-stress job with plenty of downtime to do whatever.”
“Twi, you had me at secret agent. Then you added fame and glory and space. I think you can count me in.”
I smiled and nodded to Dash. It was obvious to me that her real answer would actually be the same as Fluttershy’s, but it was good to know she was strongly in favor of coming with.
Next, I turned to Cherry Berry. “I know you’re not primarily a farmer, but you came on recommendation for your ability and for your interest in adventure. You wouldn’t be responsible for growing everything yourself, but you’d have one of the more labor intensive jobs.”
Cherry Berry sighed. “You completely missed the point of my question.”
“I knew what you want me and…uh…”
“Dash. Rainbow Dash,” Dash said, introducing herself properly. “Middle name Danger.”
“Right…” Cherry Berry shook her head slightly. “Anyway, I got what you want us to do. And I get the whole animal thing now; that hadn’t occurred to me. What I don’t get is why. I know a bit about unicorn magic – comes with the field – but I don’t get why you don’t just leave for a week with some snacks and cool beverages.”
It took my brain a few seconds to restart, and I had to try hard not to stare vacantly at Cherry Berry while it was recovering. I hadn’t expected her to know anything about unicorn magic. Not that it wasn’t a pleasant surprise. Still, that was the kind of question I’d expect Twinkleshine to ask, and I was still waiting for her to actually do so.
Continuing, Cherry Berry said, “I mean, there’s no way I’m going to say no. My biggest fear is that I’ll fall in love, get knocked up – maybe not even in that order – and settle down on the farm, maybe going ballooning once in a while to pretend my life had played out otherwise. And that I’ll be happy with that.”
Cherry Berry sighed and continued, “Don’t get me wrong. I’m certainly grateful that you’re throwing perhaps the best opportunity ever at my hooves. I just don’t get why you need us at all. I don’t want fame that I didn’t really earn.”
“I…uh…wow. Okay, yeah. Do you want the long answer, or are you fine with me just saying that the issue is a problem of scaling and safety?”
“Please not the long answer,” Dash complained.
“No,” Cherry Berry began, “I’d like to know the details. Well, maybe not the fine details, but an overview would be great.” She left it unsaid, but the way she looked at me said, “And I’d like to know how smart and cautious you are because you’re a foal dragging me into space,” for her.
I cleared my throat and took a quick breath. “Alright, so in theory, if I reduced the mass I have to bring with to a few buckets of water and a pile of snacks – roughly a decrease by three orders of magnitude – I could get to the comet in less than a week. In theory.
“Practically, this is not possible. I take it you know that telekinesis scales linearly with force, correct?”
Cherry Berry nodded.
“And you know that it spreads that force over an area, not a volume, right?”
Again, Cherry Berry nodded.
“Dash, you should know what happens when you undergo a large acceleration. Would you care to enlighten her?”
“Huh? Oh. Fine,” Dash grunted. She’d barely been paying attention. “My pegasus magic mostly protects me, but it’s sorta like…like waiting for your insides to catch up to you. I only ever realized it was a problem when I cornered during a sonic rainboom. It can hurt, and badly.”
“Not just hurt,” I interrupted, “it can kill. I’m counteracting the effects of accelerating us right now so that you won’t have to constantly feel it, but unlike telekinesis, it is not a magic efficient spell; it increases linearly with volume and acceleration, not force, and has a large coefficient. I might be able to invent something less…less…” I waved my hoof in the air, searching for the right word.
“Primitive?” Cherry Berry offered.
“No, it’s more…hacked together, I guess. It’s a working solution, but it’s inelegant. I could probably come up with a specialized spell, but I have no idea how long it would take, and this mission has a non-negotiable deadline. Anyway, the point is, while it’s all well and good to make the mass smaller and the acceleration larger for telekinesis, I either wouldn’t have enough magic to make the trip in a week or I would kill myself.”
I held up a hoof, interrupting Cherry Berry before she could protest. “No, the volume is not made smaller in exchange. Not significantly, at least. I’m casting the spell very sloppily right now, but on the actual ship, I’ve been busy weaving a very complex spell matrix to only affect the volumes I absolutely need to.
“And yes, I have stress tested my ship, and yes I have checked that plants do, in fact, grow normally under constant horizontal accelerations. Oddly enough, I found a research paper on that topic. Some ponies find the weirdest things interesting in science.” Not that I was one to talk.
First pausing only briefly to let Cherry Berry process what I’d said, I continued, “Of course, that all doesn’t completely dismiss your objections. I would still be able to make the trip in a few seasons at lower accelerations. I have the magic for that. What I don’t have is stability.
“I will spare you the details, but I have too much magic for a unicorn. Sometimes I lose control. If I did that on a space voyage unprotected, I would die. There is no question about it. Nor is there any doubt that I will lose control at some point during the trip. To keep myself – and anypony else coming along – safe, I have to bring a specially designed room to contain me until I regain control.
“Now this room was heavy enough that it dramatically increased the length of the trip to the point that food, water, and solitude became serious concerns. Adding on requirement after requirement, it eventually reached the point where the longer, slower trip actually became the faster journey. So I built what amounts to a small space colony which can survive indefinitely with enough unicorn, pegasus, and earth pony magic.”
I stopped to take a deep breath, then asked, “Does that answer satisfy you?”
Getting a nod from Cherry Berry, I let myself relax. I seemed to have put more tension in my withers than I’d thought.
It took me a few seconds to realize that I had just heard somepony talk, and that the pony in question was Fluttershy. As I turned to look at her, she turned away.
“What did you say?” I said, asking as gently as I could. Knowing Fluttershy, she’d probably think I was offended by whatever she had said otherwise.
“I – uh,” Fluttershy began, barely speaking above a whisper, “you said you lose control. How badly?”
That wasn’t an unexpected question, nor was it one I didn’t intend to answer, but I had hoped I could at least wait until Twinkleshine and Berry Punch were around. When I’d first seen Twinkleshine after, she’d already deduced that Cadance had taken the blame for me and was asking if I were alright before I’d even opened my mouth.
Berry Punch, on the other hoof, had empathized with me on a very deep level. We’d spent hours talking while she had me replanting trees. It had been…nice. Yes, nice.
Sighing, I said, “I’m going to be completely honest with you three. When I lose control, I am beyond simply dangerous. Cadance took the blame for me, but everything that happened in Canterlot recently was entirely my fault.”
Fluttershy was quiet. She probably had already made the connection when she’d spoken. Dash and Cherry Berry, on the other hoof, were far more expressive.
“What the buck, Twi?”
“Are we safe right now?”
Drowning out Cherry Berry, Dash shouted, “How did that happen? You’re friends with the princesses! Shouldn’t they, like, have you on a shorter leash or something?”
Sighing, I addressed Cherry Berry’s concern first. “Yes, you’re safe with me. The probability of you dying or otherwise suffering injury right now is so small as to be considered zero.” I turned to Dash and continued, “They usually do. There’s a reason why I live in Ponyville with a giant backyard. The circumstances of what happened in Canterlot were, while entirely my fault, extremely unusual. I will not let them occur again.”
A moment of dramatic silence passed without Dash or Cherry Berry interrupting. My intentionally dramatic stance and expression may have had a large part in achieving that silence. Regardless, we were approaching our destination.
“I need to concentrate to slow us down properly, but I’ll try to form coherent answers to any questions you have.”
Spotting Twinkleshine easily enough, I teleported all four of us into the Nebulous’s library not too far from her. She didn’t even bother to look up right away; she’d gotten so used to me teleporting around that it no longer surprised her. The crates of furniture I dumped on the currently unoccupied bridge.
“Hello, Twinkleshine,” I said, walking over to her.
That finally got her to look up from whatever she was working on. She even got up to give me a hug.
“Is this the rest of the crew, then?”
“Hopefully.” Turning back to to the trio I’d brought with, I said, “Everypony, this is Twinkleshine, the navigator on this expedition.”
Dash gave her a grumpy greeting, Cherry Berry was polite enough, and Fluttershy squeaked as expected.
“Twinkleshine elected to move up here early with another crew member a little while ago, but we won’t be leaving until the first harvest is halfway ready in a season or two. Now Twinkleshine, on the left, we have Fluttershy, the animal expert. She’s shyer than you used to be–”
“I can tell,” Twinkleshine interjected as Fluttershy tried her best to stare a hole into the floor, which would, of course, kill everypony here if I weren’t around should she succeed.
“–so play nice. In the middle is Rainbow ‘Danger’ Dash.”
The mare in question nodded approvingly, satisfied with my use of her middle name. Not that I fully believed that her name actually had a ‘Danger’ in it.
“She’s…well, more a pegasus magic expert” – only in hooves-on magic, no theory – “but she knows more than enough about weather.”
“Darn right I do.”
“Right, well, anyway, on the right we have Cherry Berry. I’ve been told she grew up learning about farming, so she can help out. However she’s primarily a…professional adventurer?”
“Not quite yet,” Cherry Berry replied, her voice betraying her bitterness, “but I might as well be.”
“Right, so that covers introductions for now. Would you three like–”
Popping up out of nowhere, Pinkie Pie said, “Don’t forget about me, silly.”
“–a tour…” I sighed. “This is Pinkie Pie, our chef, and with some instruction and practice, perhaps somepony who will help out in the greenhouse on occasion. She’s the other pony already living up here.” As an afterthought, I added, “She also keeps an eye on Twinkleshine to make sure she eats.”
“And I’m sure she’ll be doing the same for me when I don’t have my parents around to act as a clock.”
“Better,” Twinkleshine muttered.
“Speaking of which,” Pinkie Pie began, pulling a platter out of her mane, “does anypony want a snack? I made muffins.”
Okay, disregarding how she managed to pull anything out of her mane and how she managed to bake without an oven – that was in today’s shipment – I quickly snatched up the blueberry muffin and one of the poppyseed muffins for myself. Whatever else Pinkie Pie was, she was a fantastic cook. She made the kind of food ponies would camp out overnight in lines to get.
Or join in on an adventure to get.
Through a mouth full of muffin, I said, “Thanks, Pinkie Pie. Great as always.”
Surprisingly, Fluttershy was the next pony to take a muffin. Well, Twinkleshine pulled one off with her magic at more or less the same time, but she didn’t count. As Fluttershy bit into the chocolatest muffin I’d ever seen – seriously, there might not have even been a muffin underneath all that chocolate – an actual tear came to her eye.
“Whoa!” Pinkie Pie said, sidling up next to Fluttershy. “Are you okay? You’re not allergic to almonds, are you?”
“N-no. I just – my granny used to make something like this when I was a filly.”
“Oooooh. Well if that’s the case, I could make the quadruple chocolate, almond surprise muffin for you all the time. I made sure we’ve got plenty of cocoa and sugar.”
As Dash and Cherry Berry sampled a muffin each – obviously to their delight, judging by their eyes – Fluttershy said, “I’d… I think I… Yes, I’d like that.”
I took an extra large bite of muffin to hide my smile. As soon as I brought everything we’d need up here, I could finally get back to full time studying with Luna. Recruitment was over.
Maybe Luna would finally explain what that ice cream spell really did instead of just telling me to figure it out.
Anyway, Pinkie Pie had dragged our three new recruits off for the guided tour, having left Twinkleshine and I to our own business. I kept an eye on the group with a scrying spell; I didn’t think it would happen, but there was a chance that Pinkie Pie’s energy would scare off Fluttershy if I didn’t intervene, and she would inevitably drag Dash away with her. I was sure she would tell Dash to come with even if she refused, but I was also sure Dash wouldn’t.
About five minutes later, both Twinkleshine and I could hear Cherry Berry shout, “Berry Punch?”
I made a note to myself to add soundproofing to the doors.