Chapter Five - Navigator


This time for sure. This time I was practically going to sweep her off her hooves. I was going to pull out all the stops, all the dirty tricks. I needed a navigator, and by Star Swirl’s beard, I was going to have a trustworthy one, even if I had to stoop to questionably moral acts to get her.

No more memory spells to erase mistakes. Everything was going to be perfect this time. And if she still refused, well, I’d have to find somepony else.

Finally, the door opened, and I made my move, only to abruptly abort when I realized Moondancer had been the one to open the door. A minor setback, but at least I’d stopped quickly enough that I didn’t have to contrive a reason to bring her and Twinkleshine outside the school’s wards so I could erase their memory of the event.

“If you’re looking for Twinkleshine,” Moondancer said, despite the redundancy of the prompt, “she went to the bathroom. Coming inside?”

I shook my head. No, this evening was not going to be spent within the stifling the confines of this school’s tiny campus.

Moondancer said, “Suit yourself,” and closed the door behind her.

I, on the other hoof, waited down the hallway, just around the corner. If everything went right, Twinkleshine would walk right past me without noticing, and then I could surprise her properly.

A few minutes later, Twinkleshine did just that. I put on the friendliest smile I had in me and called out, “Twinkleshine.”

The mare in question, for she was definitely a mare by now, spun around to face me. “Twilight!”

Before she could move in for a hug – I’d managed to get her to come completely out of her shell around me over the past year – I swooped in and gave her a kiss on the cheek. I had to suppress a laugh and keep my face locked on ‘warm and friendly’ as I watched Twinkleshine blush and struggle with feelings she didn’t really understand. It wouldn’t do to distract her from this evening’s main purpose too much.

In hindsight, a lot of things made so much more sense after Luna had given me the sex talk. Shining’s more awkward moments around Cadance, which had once been mysterious and idiotic, were obviously attempts at flirting now. Mom and Dad had some weird flirty quirks, too.

And then there was Twinkleshine. It was quite obvious she was attracted to me, although she was too young to really understand why, and I doubted anypony had explained it all to her yet at this school.

I did feel a wee bit guilty using her budding feelings against her, but it wasn’t like I wouldn’t be willing to reciprocate when we were older. She was a dear friend and fairly easy on the eyes. And if I had my way, we’d be spending the next several years together.

Anyway, it was time for action. “Twinkleshine, you haven’t eaten yet, have you?”

I got a nervous shake of her head and a deeper blush in answer.

“Good. In that case, let’s head over to my house.”

“I’m not sup–”

“I got Cadance’s permission for you to come home with me tonight.” And that came with a noticeable lack of stipulation on which home, not that I was limited by what Cadance let me do.

“How did you–”

I waved away Twinkleshine’s question as we walked. “Cadance was my foalsitter. Well, she still is, technically, but my parents are more okay with letting me stay home alone lately. They’re both in town this time, so you’ll finally get to meet my mom after we eat, and my dad will have time to be around, too.”

It took a few seconds, but I noticed Twinkleshine had stopped walking.

Princess Cadance was your foalsitter?”

I nodded and explained, “She’s dating my brother. That’s probably supposed to be a secret, so please don’t tell anypony.”

“I – that – you–”

Turning away from Twinkleshine, I resumed walking and called back, “Come along, Twinkleshine. We don’t want our food to get cold.”

Not that I couldn’t heat it back up with magic, but I wanted to keep Twinkleshine on the tips of her hooves. The stunned respect was all according to plan – it helped immensely that I knew how Twinkleshine would react to certain pieces of information ahead of time – but it ran the risk of making this about Cadance if I let Twinkleshine dwell on it too long.

“So how has your magic been coming along since I last visited?”

Stumbling over her words, Twinkleshine answered, “Great. I mean, you’re an excellent teacher, Twilight. And a genius.”

My smile grew just a little bit wider. One of the biggest things I had to convince Twinkleshine of, not necessarily today, but soon, was that I could finish her education for her. From the sound of it, that wouldn’t be very hard.

I spent the rest of the walk home keeping Twinkleshine from asking any untoward questions by asking my own questions about her spellwork and other little things.

When we reached my house, Twinkleshine had worked herself up into a little ball of energy about to burst. The whole surprise library thing had overshadowed my own excitement in investigating my Ponyville home, but I couldn’t say I didn’t understand the feeling somewhat.

We’d only taken a single step inside before Twinkleshine threatened to run off to every corner of the house.

“Hey, Twinkleshine,” I said, reining her in before she could dash off. “There’s another secret I need to tell you, but this one is a lot more important. I need you to promise me ahead of time that you won’t tell anypony.”

Twinkleshine’s attention shifted completely over to me remarkably quickly. “I promise.”

“No. Don’t make a snap decision like that,” I said, trying to make Twinkleshine understand the importance of this. She was young, and she’d never been trusted with anything of real importance, but I could at least try to impress how important this was upon her. “This is the kind of secret that could ruin my life if it got out, Twinkleshine. I need you to truly think about whether or not you can keep it and make a vow to yourself and to me to do so. I cannot stress how important this is.”

I looked nervous, but I certainly wasn’t. I knew how this conversation played out. Shy as she was, like most foals, Twinkleshine couldn’t resist when I phrased it like that. Every time I said this to her, I made it sound as mysterious and adventurous as possible without going too far and making it comedic. And every time, she said…

“I promise, Twilight. I, Twinkleshine, shall neither repeat nor record a single word you say here without your express permission.”

It was almost eerie that she said that exact sentence every time, even to slightly different prompts. I could only assume it was a quote she was particularly fond of with her name substituted in. Probably from some foals’ adventure novel, if I considered the sheer number of loopholes I could point out.

But Twinkleshine wasn’t the kind of pony to take advantage of them, so I let her promise pass unchallenged as I did every time.

With that done, it was time to reveal the first surprise. I floated off my fake suppressor ring and received a gasp from Twinkleshine.

Clearly nervous, Twinkleshine asked, “Twilight…you’re…you’re not going to blow up or anything, are you?”

I raised a single eyebrow, “Why would I do that?”

“Well, I did some reading in the school library about Flares. The last one suddenly went missing a decade ago…”

“Ah, I see. Well, I won’t comment on whatever you’ve read, but the likelihood of me flaring is quite low if I don’t strain myself magically or emotionally, and it’s essentially zero if I’m not using magic at all.” Remembering my exam and wishing for completeness, I added, “Unless a strong external source of magic sparks the process, which is also a rare event.

“And even if I did flare,” I continued, “I have enough control before my magic goes completely wild to ensure everypony around me is safe.” That was something I was rather proud of, in truth. I wasn’t supposed to be able to do that; prevention was supposed to be my temporary cure, not control. Even Luna was beyond impressed with my natural talent, and at her age, she’d seen it all.

“I see…” Twinkleshine said, her fear retreating from her face. “So this is your secret? You take off that ring when you’re alone?”

“Part of it. And it is just as important that you keep that secret as the other part. I have no idea how much trouble I would be in with Princess Celestia if she found out, but banishment comes to mind.”

“B-banishment!” Twinkleshine stuttered.

I nodded solemnly. “I hope you understand now how much I’m trusting you.”

“I-I-I do. I don’t know what to say, Twilight. I’m flattered.”

I made my best wistful smile. “As much as I hate to admit it, I’m mostly telling you for myself, not because you’re my friend. You see, I have an…opportunity and a request for you. A gargantuan, life-changing opportunity and request.”

“You need my help? Anything, Twilight.”

I nearly sighed. She said that every time, and the answer was always no. But this time, this time would be different. Everything was going right.

“You shouldn’t promise to help before you know what you’re promising,” I said reproachfully. I held up a hoof to silence Twinkleshine’s oncoming expression of undying loyalty, or at least the foal equivalent of it. Next, I floated over the blindfold from a nearby table that I’d prepared in advance.

“Teleportation” – Twinkleshine’s jaw dropped at the word – “can cause a bit of bodily discomfort for new teleporters. If you wear this, the effects should be diminished. You and I would both regret it if what I’m about to show you was ruined by your gag reflex.”

Her magic was shaky, but Twinkleshine took the blindfold without question and placed it over her eyes.

“Ready?” I asked. Twinkleshine nodded. As I cast the necessary protective spells, I explained, “We’re going to be making several thousand jumps in rapid succession.”

“Thousand!” squeaked Twinkleshine.

I placed a comforting leg across her withers. “Yes, thousands. If I try to span the distance in anything less, I run a very high risk of flaring.” Now petting Twinkleshine’s mane to calm her down the same way Luna did for me, I added, “But don’t worry about that. Even if I do flare, we can ride the surge to safety before I lose control. And yes, that does come from both theory and experience.”

What I didn’t tell Twinkleshine was that experience was very scary, terrifying experience. I had done the math first, and I did do several tests on the ground – which had caused a lot of environmental damage that I’d had to clean up – but the first time I had to jump from space to the ground while flaring was the most frightening experience of my life. If I’d made the slightest error, then I would’ve died of asphyxiation, from burning up in the atmosphere, from splatting on the ground, or any number of other problems.

It all had a way of making a pony nervous, but I hid it well. I had no intention of burdening Twinkleshine, too, with those worries.

“O-okay. I trust you, Twilight.”

“Thank you. The teleportation part of our trip will take about a half-hour. I have a picnic basket prepared for our dinner after that, during which time I’ll be carrying us the rest of the way with telekinesis for another half-hour or so. And before you ask, it’s going to be way different than being picked up by telekinesis, so it’s not going to interfere with dinner.”

Getting a nod, I finished, “If at any time you start feeling sick, let me know, and we’ll take a rest and go slower.”

I didn’t know how Twinkleshine would react to teleporting. Really, it was probably something I should’ve checked on a previous attempt, but oh well. I was sure it’d be fine.

“Then if you have no objections” – Twinkleshine shook her head – “I’ll make our first teleport in three” – I brought our picnic basket to me – “two” – I built up the steady stream of power – “one.”

I teleported us straight up, high above the airspace of Canterlot. My other spells, anchored to myself, were doing their job. We were at a constant temperature, we had plenty of oxygen, we were covered in a highly-reflective shield to keep the sun from blinding us, my gravity spell was ready to go, and Twinkleshine hadn’t vomited.

We were good to go.

After the first minute of nervously clinging to me, Twinkleshine eased up and said, “This isn’t so bad.”

“That’s good,” I said, finding it a little difficult to speak while teleporting. “Teleportation sickness is usually caused from rapid changes in imagery. Some ponies respond poorly anyway.”

Over the next few minutes, Twinkleshine and I shared some idle conversation, although much of it was apologies on my end for being unable to form a coherent response.

After approximately ten minutes of travel, Twinkleshine asked, “Am I supposed to be feeling…lighter, I guess?”

“Ah, sorry. I’ve gotten used to that.” I adjusted the gravity spell to be a little stronger. Apparently I’d fallen a bit short of Equus’s level. “Better?”

“Yeah. How are you doing that?”

I chuckled before answering, “It’s a surprise for later.”

A few minutes before we arrived at the halfway point of our journey, I watched the sun disappear and the moon take its place. The stars never left this part of the universe – whatever Luna had meant by that – so they slowly faded into view as the sun departed, starting with the brightest.

I also made my shield non-reflective to better see the stars. There was no sense in creating the same blinding effect as Equus’s atmosphere at night in space.

“Drat,” I whispered.

“Hmm?”

“Oh, nothing.”

It seemed I was running a few minutes late. Moonrise was far more magical in space than on Equus, and I’d really wanted to show it to Twinkleshine. Even the astronomy spells she’d been developing didn’t compare to having a proper panoramic view.

Shrugging off the disappointment, I finished the first stage of our journey and quickly set about preparing for the second.

First, I spread out the picnic blanket and pulled it tight from all four corners. Satisfied that the blanket was as flat as I was going to get it, I modified my shield from spherical to a hemisphere and re-anchored it to be centered just below the blanket’s centroid. Now all I had to do was move the blanket to move the shield.

For safety purposes, I didn’t re-anchor the spell providing us with oxygen or the spell maintaining the temperature away from me, but I did make the gravity spell relative to the blanket instead of to an arbitrary point below me. With that, our weight would feel natural now without interfering with our trip.

Twinkleshine let out a small eep when her hooves touched the ‘solid land’ of the blanket resting on my shield. Once she’d gotten over her initial surprise, she asked, “Can I take this blindfold off now?”

“In a minute,” I said, casting a tracking spell to find a signal I’d left for myself. “Just let me get us at a stable speed first.”

I grabbed the blanket with my magic and pushed. With the lack of any appreciable gravity fighting me and absent the drag from Equus’s atmosphere, I relaxed and enjoyed the easy task of accelerating us forward.

The only thing I had left to do was fine tune the fake gravitational acceleration I’d put on us to play nice with the telekinetic acceleration. It was just adding two vectors together, so it was a simple enough task that I finished in seconds.

When I was satisfied we wouldn’t be dragged back toward Equus if I accidentally stopped pushing us away, I shoved my ongoing telekinesis to the back of my mind and let it do its work without my constant attention.

A giggle escaped me; I couldn’t help it. Short astronomical distances were so easy to travel once you were actually in space. I could probably pick any grown unicorn off the street, and they’d have no problem powering the telekinesis for this.

Of course, longer distances were an entirely different matter. I couldn’t make us go faster than light like this, so traveling to other suns and planets would need a less brute force solution.

Well, I’d have to ask Twinkleshine to know for sure; Luna had probably left a few stars only a few dozen light years away from Equus, which wasn’t too far away.

“What’s so funny?” Twinkleshine asked. Her voice was a mix of excitement and caution. “You didn’t just set up some kind of prank, did you?”

“No, no. Just thinking about how foolishly I’d acted back in summer. It’s nothing. Anyway, you can take your blindfold off now.”

Twinkleshine happily complied. “So what…” Rubbing her eyes, Twinkleshine asked, “Is – is this an – an – an…”

“It’s real, Twinkleshine,” I said with the utmost seriousness. I sidled up next to her but slightly behind so as not to block her view. Placing a hoof on her shoulder, I added, “I did say this would be life-changing.”

“Life-changing…” The whisper came so quiet I wasn’t even sure if I’d heard Twinkleshine correctly. “This… This isn’t…”

I floated out a napkin from the picnic basket and held it up to her. She snatched it from my grasp and blew her nose.

Twinkleshine whispered, “It’s so beautiful.”

“Heh. I give a whole new meaning to dinner under the stars, don’t I?” I joked.

My jest only receive a few weak laughs. If I didn’t know better, I would’ve guessed them to be pity laughs.

“You’re spoiling the moment, Twilight,” Twinkleshine said between sniffs.

A warm smile grew on my face. “Take as long as you need. But your dinner will get cold if you just stand there all night. I brought spaghetti and garlic bread. I even managed to snag some leftover Apple family cider.”


“Hey, Twilight?”

“Hmm?”

Both of us had finished our meal now, but I’d finished in a bit of a rush. We were approaching our destination, and I had to slow us down just right or risk either overshooting or undershooting a few thousand kilometers. That would be terribly awkward. If only teleporting didn’t preserve momentum…

Still staring out into the stars, Twinkleshine asked, “Not that this hasn’t been the best day of my life, but where are we going?”

“We’re going to an arbitrary point in space that happens to lie on a radial line from Equus through Equestria.”

“Okaaaaay.” I didn’t look, but Twinkleshine was probably rolling her eyes. “So what’s at where were going?”

“Space junk.”

“Space junk?”

I nodded. “Space junk.”

“Um…”

“Yes?”

“What kind of ‘space junk’?”

“The kind that used to be terrestrial junk.”

“So stuff you’ve brought up here?”

“For the most part. I think I picked up a meteoroid at some point, but I can’t track the bugger” – Twinkleshine snickered – “down. What?”

“‘Bugger’. That’s just so…so not a word I’d expect you to use.”

I paid that comment no attention, just as it deserved. “Anyway, we’re almost there.”

Twinkleshine looked around in a frenzy of head movements. Before long, her mane was a giant pink mess. “I don’t see anything.” Her head moved back and forth between me and the direction we were headed, her face reminding me of an excited puppy.

“Of course you don’t. Of all ponies, you should know better than me how big space is. We’ve barely even left Equus behind.”

I glanced over my shoulder to see the planet behind me. I had to admit, it looked better during the day, but it wasn’t a sight to write off at night either. There were so many magical lights on Equus; it almost looked like a second night sky, one entirely separate from the one Luna had created.

“When I say, ‘we’re almost there’, I mean we’re traveling at a mostly sane speed again, and we’ll be there in a couple minutes.”

Twinkleshine sat back down in a huff and leaned against me. She kept silent until we finally arrived and reached approximately zero velocity. Approximately, because Equus was still close enough to slowly drag things back toward it. I gave everything I left here a little nudge radially outward every day, lest anything fall back to Equus.

“I can see…metal cubes and…is that dirt?”

“Silica sand, too,” I said. “I looked up how to make glass, and that was the primary ingredient. Other ones were aesthetically optional.”

“Glass?”

“Glass.” I was having way too much fun teasing Twinkleshine, especially when I was trying to recruit her as a navigator, but it was irresistible. “You wouldn’t believe how much work it was to get all this up here. Even I have limits.

“Although one time – which I couldn’t replicate – I was bringing up a huge pile of dirt. I flared, but I actually managed to output all of my magic into teleports. That was my quickest trip yet.” I did later scold myself for being so suicidally foolish, but no one needed to know that.

Twinkleshine looked to me. She was utterly lost at this point. Deciding I’d received more than my share of fun, I gestured upward with my head.

Looking up, Twinkleshine’s eyes went wide, and she leaned back to get a better look. Deciding that wasn’t good enough, she got up on two hooves to allow her head to lean back further. Within seconds, she toppled over herself for her trouble. Still, she kept staring.

“Impressive, isn’t it?”

My question added yet another weak nod to my growing collection of them today.

Following Twinkleshine’s eyes, she seemed to be looking at the bridge of my spaceship, which was the only part I’d finished so far, minus the interior design. It was a simple hemisphere with a thick glass dome and an appreciably thick metal base.

I could see my seven significantly improved – I’d made them much larger and had used a smaller needle to get heightened accuracy – compasses held in place in a septagon and appropriately tinted to its element, but I doubted Twinkleshine was paying them any attention as her eyes buzzed around.

I’d gone back to the Tree of Harmony for the other five elements when I got sufficiently bored transporting cargo. Each had been a huge, monumental pain to make a compass for, but I’d managed to do it for each and every one in the end. The seventh and last one was a compass for the elements as a group, just in case.

Besides the seven housed on the bridge, I was also probably going to make spares and secretly stash them in storage somewhere safe, again, just in case. I wasn’t going to let one little accident, or stars forbid, one case of sabotage ruin my entire journey. I was fairly sure I’d made them durable enough and placed enough wards on them that they wouldn’t break by accident, but it never hurt to take precautions.

But the real work I’d put into the bridge, the work I was proud of, was the spellwork. We were close enough to Equus that I just managed to power them with the planet’s ambient magic. But as soon as the ship departed, I’d have to power everything myself. I’d done the math, and I was sure I could do it, but I might have to gather up the crew for some downtime on occasion to depower everything nonessential.

“Shall we go inside?”

Twinkleshine wasted no time answering. “Yes, please.”

I obliged with a teleport, forgetting to momentarily blind Twinkleshine, but she seemed no worse for the dimensional disjunction, running eagerly toward the compass for the Element of Loyalty.

“What’s this?” she shouted, not knowing I’d teleported to her side. “Oh, sorry. What’s this?”

“It’s a compass.”

“Are all the others–”

“Yes, they’re all compasses, too. They probably all point to the same position – except the one that obviously doesn’t – but I’m not entirely sure of that.”

“So you’re trying to find something? In space?” Twinkleshine asked.

I liked the eagerness in Twinkleshine’s voice, and I had to take an awkward moment to calm myself. At this rate, I was probably going to be successful in getting her to be my navigator this time, but I couldn’t rush it. She was in a state of overwhelming passion, and I needed to make that stick in the right way.

“Yes, I am. I’m looking for–”

“Can I come, too!” Twinkleshine interrupted. “Please, please, oh please, can I?”

I didn’t snark at her request. It was entirely reasonable that I’d brought Twinkleshine up here for some other reason. And after some of the many embarrassing things I’d said to Luna over the past four years, I could completely understand where she was coming from; excitement could make it hard to see the obvious.

“Yes, you can, Twinkleshine.” Once her excitement and hugging died back down, I continued, “I brought you up here to ask to be my navigator. You know far more about astronomy than I do, and I’m looking for a very small set of objects in space. I have a compass that points straight to them, yes, but there are a lot of mechanical problems that I don’t know how to properly address. I don’t particularly fancy overshooting and undershooting my target for years, especially as I’m on a time limit.”

“A time limit?” Twinkleshine’s head cocked to the side. “How long?”

I gestured Twinkleshine to follow me and walked her over to the edge of the bridge. There we could get an unimpeded view of Equus. I wanted to put a hoof on her shoulder, or over her withers, or hug her, or something, but I would give away just how much I was sweating right now.

“Twinkleshine, how far do you think we are from Equus right now? A rough estimate?”

“Um…” Absorbed in thought, Twinkleshine adorably bit her lip as she crunched numbers. “Maybe…fifty-thousand kilometers. Oh Celestia! That’s so far! I didn’t even think about how far we are from home.”

“And yet,” I said, pausing for dramatic effect, “we have gone nowhere. It took us an hour to get nowhere, Twinkleshine. What I seek–”

I paused again for dramatic effect as I rotated the bridge about the axis parallel to one of Equus’s tangents. The planet slowly disappeared from sight as we turned, and the stars flooded our view.

“–is out there. That is the price you must pay for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. You won’t see home again for many years. This ship will become your home; its crew, your family; me, your teacher.”

Twinkleshine fell silent. I waited as long as I could bear before turning to her.

“I have a lot of work remaining before I can leave; you don’t have to decide right away. But remember, you promised to keep this to yourself, utterly and absolutely. If you must discuss your options with somepony else, ask me first, and I will go with you.”

I quickly recast my shield and oxygen spell and teleported back into space. I truly did have a lot of work to do, and Twinkleshine needed some alone time to sift through her thoughts. I was fairly sure that if I just left her alone for a while, she’d decide to come with.

For now, I turned my attention toward my greenhouse-in-progress, the second most important part of the ship after the bridge. Luna had suggested the shell of this part be made completely out of glass to avoid any mysterious rusting or maintenance issues, and I’d voiced no objections. Silica sand was a lot cheaper and a lot easier to buy in bulk than steel was.

What Luna and I did debate over was whether to use traditional farming methods or hydroponics, the latter being something Luna had never heard of, which wasn’t that surprising. Hydroponics wasn’t exactly a new idea, but it hadn’t really seen any use outside of a wingful of random scientists’ labs until recently.

In the end, Luna had made the better, far simpler argument: I wasn’t going to be the one growing anything. Rather than unnecessarily narrowing my pool of candidates to earth ponies with a specialized style of farming, I should just suck it up and make old fashioned fields of various soil depths and climates.

The biggest issue was deciding how to manage proper irrigation. We’d spent a whole week working out the kinks there. Our solution was…somewhat lacking, but we were trying to minimize the magical burden placed on myself. All we were going to do was have the water drain into a tub at the bottom and have the water pumped up into an artificial pond. We’d chalked the rest up as ‘a pegasus’s problem’.

We’d also decided on bees as our pollinators very reluctantly on my part. I liked honey, but…well…they were bees.

Anyway, I also needed to acquire a bunch of chickens and to find somepony that knew how to cook and bake from true scratch. There was no way I was going five to six years without eating a cookie.

And while I was at it, I needed to stuff the library with missing parts of my own collection: cook books, pegasus magic, earth pony magic, husbandry books, a wider selection of entertainment books, et cetera.

Picking up trees – particularly cacao trees – flower seeds, wheat seeds, grass seeds, whatever sugar was made from, and anything else that came to mind was also high priority on the list of things to do. I wanted to get the greenhouse up and running as soon as possible. That meant recruiting a farmer as soon as possible, though, and I was dragging my hooves on that.

Urgh. There was so much work that needed doing that I was beginning to worry I’d start making obsessive compulsive checklists again. Luna would kill me if I relapsed after all the work we did to weed that behavior out of me.

Well, she wouldn’t literally kill me, but it wouldn’t be a pleasant experience. I didn’t want to go back to that, nor did I want to fall back into a bundle of frayed nerves anytime I was around authority. Or let myself be pedantically tidy and organized again. Or…a lot of other mental issues I’d had. There’d really been something wrong with young me.

I let out a long sigh. Maybe I could teach Twinkleshine enough to do some of the construction for the ship and ease my burden. That would probably help.

Speaking of whom, I’d left Twinkleshine alone for quite a while now – about forty minutes – while working. I probably should take her home before it got too late in case Cadance came over looking for…us…

Horseapples! I left my fake suppressor back at home. But rushing back wasn’t an option, either; I was still in the midst of my recruitment scheme. I could always wipe Twinkleshine’s memories of today, but I always moped about for days after feeling guilty and got nothing done. And then there’d also be the delay of redoing my entire pitch.

What were the chances that Cadance would come over?

Knowing her, pretty high, actually. So what were the chances that Mom or Dad wasn’t home yet to keep her out of the house or to at least distract her?

Um… Where were they going tonight? A play? No, that was four weeks ago. An opera? No, that wasn’t right either. It wasn’t work, I remember that. Stars, I couldn’t remember. Well, I’d just assume they are at home with medium probability.

So I’m only in trouble if Cadance came over, barged in past my parents or found the house empty and barged in anyway – for some reason – and then had the good fortune to notice the ring which I’d left…somewhere in the living room. That was much less of a risk than I’d originally thought.

Still, it was best not to tempt fate. We needed to head home as soon as possible, if for no other reason than to keep good on my promise to introduce Twinkleshine to Mom.

I turned back toward the bridge to find Twinkleshine had been watching me work. It took her a few seconds, but eventually she noticed my gaze and waved a friendly hoof. I waved back and then teleported to her side, causing her to start.

“Wondering what I’m making?” I asked, successfully containing my sense of urgency.

“Just a little bit.” What an understatement. Absolutely nothing about Twinkleshine’s posture or her expression said ‘a little bit’.

“It’s going to be a greenhouse. Although the lighting will be artificial once we leave Equus behind, so I guess that’s not exactly the right word for it. Hmm… Well anyway, it’s going to be the biggest part of the ship.”

We fell into silence for a few moments before Twinkleshine asked, “You’re not going to have us do the gardening, are you?”

“No way. It’s better to get ponies suited to the task. I know a little bit about earth pony magic, enough to know the soil won’t undergo degradation, but that’s as far as I go on the whole nature thing. I’m going to recruit a pegasus or two and a few earth ponies to–”

Twinkleshine’s words finally clicked. I asked, “Does that mean you’re coming with?”

Turning to me, Twinkleshine nodded. “You were right. This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance, and even if I ended up miserable out there” – Twinkleshine gestured toward the stars – “for whatever reason – which I’m sure I won’t – I would be a wreck at home.”

Wow, way to unintentionally throw memory erasing guilt in my face, Twinkleshine. You wouldn’t be a wreck. You wouldn’t even remember.

“Please don’t make your decision for those reasons.”

“Oh, I’m not.” Twinkleshine beamed, looking happier than I’d ever seen her. “I just know you well enough. You won’t let me come unless you think I’ve thought about the worst possible scenario.”

I chuckled. “Very true.”

“But I do have one question.”

“Fire away, Navigator Twinkleshine.”

“Yes, Captain Twilight.” Giggling, Twinkleshine asked, “Or would that be Captain Sparkle?”

“I think I like Captain Sparkle better,” I mused, rubbing my jaw. “It has more of a…a ring to it.”

“Heh. Okay, Captain Sparkle. How are we going to keep this a secret if a bunch of ponies suddenly disappear?”

Well first of all, everypony wouldn’t move here all at the same time. It would be much better to leave one at a time at random intervals. But Twinkleshine was not a master schemer or an apprentice schemer, so I didn’t bother lecturing her on that point.

Besides, there was a much better option which Luna had agreed with when I’d suggested it.

“Oh, that’s easy. Nopony is going to disappear.”

I got another one of Twinkleshine’s adorable confused faces. Oh, what fun it was to be vague and confusing! I could easily see why old mentors had a reputation for being so.

Still, it wouldn’t do to not explain.

“Remember when we first met? There was…um…Lemon Hearts, I think was her name. The filly with empathy magic. Anyway, I had no idea what her costume was, and I have a feeling it was lost on everypony else, too.”

Twinkleshine nodded. “I forgot about that. I was way too shy back then to ask. I probably still am, too…”

Giving Twinkleshine an encouraging pat on the shoulder, I said, “You’re doing much better now, and I’m sure this trip will do wonders for you.”

“Thanks,” mumbled Twinkleshine.

“But back to the point. I asked a friend what her costume was. It turns out it was a changeling, which are apparently pony-like beings that are not myths. As the name implies, they can change their appearance at will, so I’m going to make a deal with a few to offer up our places while we’re gone.”

“You mean…I’ll be replaced?”

Twinkleshine’s will was wavering. It was obvious in the droop in her smile. It was time to be blunt.

“Yes. And it’s better that way. Imagine if you weren’t. Your friends and family would be worried sick and would eventually move on. You’d never be able to reclaim your life on Equus. At least not ever like it was.

“Even if you told them where you were going, that would still leave them the troubling task of explaining your absence. Knowing Celestia, they’d probably have to flee from justice for a crime they didn’t commit. If nothing else, there’d be the eternal presence of suspicion, and that can be even worse.

And I doubt you’d get permission to fly off into the stars with me, even if I turned myself into an adult and acted prim and proper. That would leave me with the troubling task of making sure your parents didn’t start talking.”

Wow, I had no idea how I did it, but I’d actually managed to make that not sound like a threat. Twinkleshine lacked her previous cheer, but she wasn’t hollering bloody murder either, so she probably didn’t take it as one, thankfully.

I let out a sigh. “On a more positive note, you’ll be able to pick up your life exactly where you left it when you get back, even though you’ll have missed some of it. There’s also the fact that you’ll have somepony approaching a long-lost twin sister to bond with on your return.”

“When you put it like that,” Twinkleshine said, a bit of a jesting tone creeping into her voice, “it almost sounds like you think everypony should take some time off from their life.”

Well, I’d certainly heard stories of ponies that really did need time off. And maybe Luna and I could create some sort of witness protection scheme later. Ooh! Espionage was a big, open option. And–

And I was getting off topic.

Going with an eye roll, I replied, “I can understand if you want to back out.”

“No,” Twinkleshine said, firmly and decisively. “It’s just…weird. It’s going to take a while before I really wrap my head around it and accept it.”

I nodded, though I didn’t think Twinkleshine noticed, and set about preparing for the journey home. I hadn’t planned to tell Twinkleshine about her replacement until after I’d actually found one, but it’d worked out better than I had ever dared to hope.

Sure, my parents had been accepting of my being replaced, but they knew the whole story. And we’d already argued for days just about my leaving before I’d even mentioned the idea. I didn’t know if they were just tired and sad or if they were happy to have a pale imitation of me to hold them over until my return at that point, but they had accepted the idea without further argument.

“Twinkleshine” – I regained her attention – “I’m going to teleport us outside now. We need to start heading home. The return trip is faster, but we don’t want you to be out too late. We can talk more on the way; it’s still a long trip.”


The Dragon obtained one Trusted Lieutenant!