Argent ran his long, sinuous, prehensile tongue up Hot Topic's midnight black belly, all the way up over his chest, and then straight up his neck until he reached the unicorn's strong jaw. Giggling, Topic tried, desperately, to remain still as Argent continued all the way along the underside of his jaw right to his lips. Just under his jaw was ticklish for Hot Topic, and Argent knew that, but it was all part of the lesson. Argent was teaching his new lover how to turn a tickle into intense pleasure. The secret was to let go all defense, all reservation, and to open oneself completely to the sensation, devoid of any hint of feeling threat. The secret was trust.
Topic shivered, almost frightened by how strong the sensation was. This time it had worked, and the ticklish feeling had transformed into something almost like the sort of feeling that Argent was so good at producing for him much lower on his body. Argent pressed his silvery muzzle to Topic's dark face in a soft, deep kiss. "Now... how was that?"
Hot Topic, as a reporter, had researched many things and uncovered many secrets and discovered many wonders both in his life as a human on earth, and in his last four years as an Equestrian. But he had never imagined that it would be possible to change something as fundamental as the squirmy feeling under his jaw into exquisite, mind shattering pleasure. "It was... a revelation. On many levels."
"Oh?" Argent lay back on the floor, resting his head in the crook of Topic's foreleg. "Quirying minds want to know." Topic felt a hoof gently trace circles on the soft hair of his belly, just above his sheath. It was very distracting. Hot Topic was a reporter for the Canterlot Querier, so he could not help but chuckle at the choice of words.
"Well, for one, that really... worked. Just like you said. Wow. Just... Wow." Topic kissed the pale, spiral horn beside his head.
"I... could tell. Go on, I want to hear the entire... report. Before it hits the newsstands. I'm doing fact-checking, you see." Argent grinned, and used his hoof to trace a line across Topic's barrel. The edge of his hoof wall left a visible trail in the ebony coat.
"There's no way I could have ever... been able... to experience that back, well, back before." Topic raised a shining midnight hoof above him and stared at it. For him, seeing his hoof, in place of a hand, grounded him in the reality of what he was, now and forever. It made it not a dream. "I was too uptight back when. Maybe some...body... could have let go like that, trusted... like that... but not me. Not then. But now..."
"Now?" Argent lay his foreleg over his special somepony, and closed his eyes, breathing in the rich, warm scent of stallion.
"Now, with this pony brain of mine... it can happen at all. And it's amazing. With you... I have no fear. None. I mean nothing at all... apparently!" Both laughed at this. Their weekend had been filled with revelations about each other's bodies, all of them exceedingly exciting, and all of them exceedingly happy. "It's kind of silly, you know."
"What is?" Argent shifted to look at his lover, careful as always to avoid giving him an eyeful of horn. Being a unicorn in love with another unicorn required a certain... delicacy.
"When I signed up as a RADWICKINS, I was unhappy. I was upset, and I felt very... wronged, really. When the government started doing the mass conversions... it felt like the stories of old fascist America during the Austerity War, or maybe Germany before it. Being rounded up, put in camps, sprayed down, all of that. Suddenly being dumped in Equestria, hauled in by the cartload, just as the last of the Earth was gobbled up. Pony, that was some time." Topic lowered his hoof and gently stroked Argent's foreleg.
"Why did you wait so long? I was doused by the PER a full year before zero point, but they didn't start the round-ups until the last months. Trying to get the Big Scoop on the end of the world? You must have been in South Africa. You must have seen the whole thing closing in." Argent studied the shape of the dark stallion's head, a shadow against the sunset through the window.
"Sterkstroom, just outside of Queenstown. It was the last place to run, the last part of the planet left. Zero Point was just off the coast, and I couldn't afford to be on one of the ships, not even a freighter. It was mighty crowded - not even the worst favela was like it. Standing room only, all waiting for the end, humans from every continent, every culture, all standing on the last patch of Earth." Topic smiled suddenly. "It was the bravest, stupidest, most amazing thing I've ever seen, or probably ever will see. It was like all the humans were just defying the Barrier to burn them. We were all quiet, somber. And then the scoops arrived."
"I have no words. Whoa." Argent tried to imagine it. "Still, though... why were you there? You were a reporter even as a human, you must have known - probably better than anypony. Why... why just..."
"Stand there, waiting to die? Why didn't I just go to the emergency Bureaus for immediate ponification?"
"Yeah... seriously. Wait - were you HLF? Human Liberation Front or something?" Argent felt a slight chill at the notion.
Topic chuckled, a deep, warm sound. "No, I wasn't one of those crazy muffins. It wasn't that. Not exactly."
"So... tell me! Unless it's... not something you..."
"No. No, it's alright. I'll tell you. Fact was, I was scared. Now I wouldn't have admitted that to you back then, if we'd been together - swirl, I couldn't admit it to myself. But I was seriously frightened. I was more terrified of becoming a pony, than of dying. I was afraid I wouldn't be me, I was afraid it would be a sort of living death. I was afraid I..." Topic closed his eyes. It was hard to say. "I was afraid I wouldn't be... a man anymore. Not hu-man, a man. Male. I couldn't equate being a pony with still being male."
Argent seemed puzzled "Wait, what? Stallion? Hung like one? Big, strong, horsepower in those engines, thundering herd, all of that? Horses are like... for humans horses have been symbolic penises for pretty much ever. Stallions, anyway. How? You have completely lost me here. Besides..." Argent placed his hoof over Topic's sizable sheath "...come on!"
"Yeah, yeah... I know all of that now. Twenty-twenty hindsight." Hot Topic looked down and grinned. "Fear doesn't always think straight, you know? All that registered for me were all the mares and those princesses on the screens everywhere. In my head it was a girly land of girly things. It was everything I wasn't. That's all I saw."
"So that was what was silly, that you thought that way?"
Topic gently shook his head. "No, though my fear was silly, I guess. Nearly got me killed. What's silly is being a RADWICKINS member now. I've finally figured out what my problem really was, and it had nothing to do with Celestia, or being converted or anything. The fact of it is that I was lonely. I wanted... you. I wanted what we are now. I did my job, I had success as a stallion in Canterlot, but... I was just plain lonely. That's all, that's everything. I was lonely. I went to the meetings thinking I was mad at being a pony, but I'm not. I just didn't know how to... how to be a pony WITH another pony. And then, I met you. At the meetings."
"I think we figured it out." Argent laughed.
Hot Topic joined in "Yeah, yeah, I think we did."
Bucket galloped backstage, careful not to trip on the jacks and stage braces supporting the flats. He'd done that a couple of times during rehearsals and had gotten glared at.
The Royal Canterlot Hall, often called the Starswirl Hall or just The Starswirl, after some famous unicorn scholar that had given lectures there hundreds of years ago, was a large and imposing space. It seated hundreds and the whole of it felt heavy with history. The unicorns, like Argent and Chair claimed that they could sense the layered echos of past performances and lectures emanating from the living rock that made up most of the carved hall. Starswirl Hall had been cut directly into the mountain, the dark gray stone interlaced with seams of jewel and crystal. It was not in the least inexpensive to rent.
Over the past eight months, the The Reasonably Adamant Down with Celestia Newfoal Society had grown and grown, the original six founders forming a company of sorts as the whole thing had taken on a life of its own. Royal had naturally assumed the role of star and host, his celebrity had grown to great proportions. Golden Showers had turned the management of his shower installation business over to a colt that had served as his office assistant, he had become the producer and manager of the RADWICKINS ENTERTAINMENT GROUP, keeping an eye on the franchising as the society had expanded. A large staff now took care of countless details under Golden's command.
Bucket had been placed into the position of stage manager early on, mostly because nopony else would take it at the time. It was better than pulling dung carts - barely, he had thought at the beginning - but Bucket found he had a genuine talent for keeping things under control. His saddlebags were filled with his prompt book, blocking sheets, and schedule, among other things, and the only real problem he had was that he wasn't that physically coordinated a pony. His efforts were not celebrated, because he did them so well nopony paid much attention, but he was aware nothing would get done without his efforts.
Bucket's life had changed dramatically. Where before he had reeked of dung and sweat, now he stank of perfumed soaps and even more sweat as he was forced almost every day to charge about making sure that the show could go on. His life was rehearsals, last minute disasters being averted narrowly, and meetings - endless, endless meetings. In many ways he was working far harder as a stage manager than he ever had pulling a dung cart, and even though the pay was exponentially larger, he was often too exhausted to spend the impressive sum he pulled in every week. Bucket ate at the best restaurants in Canterlot now - there was no time to cook his own food - and he lived in a splendid apartment in a beautiful tower overlooking the flat river valley below, though he had no time to actually enjoy the view. The doorpony of his tower, taking pity on him as he dragged his weary body through the doors after a particularly difficult day, asked him why he didn't find something less stressful to do. He could only sigh and repeat the most ancient of answers "What? And give up show biz?"
Bucket had wanted a more glamorous life than pulling a dung cart. Now that he had it, now that he was part of something that was the hit of Equestria, he found himself more than once thinking of those calm, slow, dung-cart days. He hadn't realized just how much free time he had enjoyed back then, and he felt sad that he had not taken more advantage of it all. He loved his new position, he appreciated his new pay and the importance of his responsibilities - and sometimes, he even commanded respect now - but... there were no more picnics out in green fields, eating the natural feast that grew everywhere, for free.
"O-kay... THUNDER ROAD! Where is that consarned feathery... Thunder!" Bucket whipped out one of his many logs and books "Is everything ready with the chariot?"
Thunder Road had been forced to give up half of her regular schedule to be available for shows. It paid better, but sometimes she missed doing the lightning tours. "We're still having problems with the door. It sticks!"
"WHERE'S THE CARPENTER?" Oddly, it wasn't Chair - Chair and Honeybutter were now strictly performers, their singing act splitting time between the RADWICKINS and various concerts and traditional musical theatre. Bucket paced nervously around, his hooves stomping in frustration. "CARPENTER!" it was going to be rough night, it seemed.
Starswirl Hall was packed, scrunching room only, with ponies on pillows and ponies on ponies and ponies in the balconies and half-price pegasai tickets hovering next to the chandeliers. The pegasai set their drinks and popcorn in the Chandelier cages, where it mostly didn't fall on the full-price audience below. The hovering ponies served the show indirectly - their constantly beating wings circulated the air very nicely. For that reason, in addition to half-price tickets, they also got their first popcorn free and three free servings of cider to keep them hydrated.
Now there was no question that the audience was almost entirely native born ponies. There simply weren't enough Newfoals in the Canterlot area to even begin to account for the crowd. If every Newfoal in the region had come, they still would not have filled but a quarter of the seats. Looking out at the filled hall, his nose poking out between folds of curtain, Royal chuckled at the absurdity of it all. Still, it was the most wonderful thing ever for him. He had found his calling - the star-shaped cutie mark that had appeared during their debut in the ancient hall seemed to indicate that.
All the wealthiest and most elite of Canterlot were here - attending the RADWICKINS had become quite the thing. 'Down With Celestia!', why it was scandalous, exciting, daring, and simply all the rage. These Newfoals were quite the entertainers, and the strange Earthling style of the whole thing was positively mesmerizing. It was new, trendy, and oh-so-hip.
Royal looked up at the leftmost Royal Balconies. There she was. Once again. A dark unicorn mare in an embroidered cloak. She, whoever she was, had followed them from early on, always in the background, mysterious. She had been quickly joined by two others, one possibly her maid, and another pink and white unicorn, also in an elaborate cloak. The dark mare had taken to shouting 'HUZZAH!' at sometimes inappropriate moments, only to be counseled by her compatriots. The cider concession was run ragged by them whenever they attended.
On the right side of the hall, in the other Royal Balconies sometimes sat a quiet and pale unicorn mare, tall and dignified. She too wore a splendid cloak, and never ordered anything but tea. Nopony saw her come or go, though the price of her ticket was always paid. Canterlot was a city of mysteries, intrigues and very strange ponies, thought Royal. He pulled his head back and prepared for his entrance.
"MARES AND STALLIONS, FILLIES AND GENTLECOLTS!" Bitsworth, with his rich and dulcet tones had been elevated from butler to announcer, though he still butled... it was in his blood. "THE TIME HAS COME TO RECOGNIZE THE BURDEN OF THE UNDERCLASS, THE UNAPPRECIATED, THOSE DESPERATE EXILES FROM A LOST WORLD, THE NEWFOALS!!!"
Massive cheers erupted as the ancient halls, once home to staid, traditional Equestrian productions reverberated with the shouts and thunder of an audience unlike that of any other age. The human-styled performance had encouraged human-styled responses, and the ponies screamed with excitement and stomped in expectation.
The great velvet curtains parted as the lights dimmed. In the orchestra pit, the fourteen musicians began with a perky drum gambit, rising into the theme song, a terrestrial swing version of the motto. More than half of the audience sang along, at the top of their lungs "To remind us all of the Earth's devastation, To unite all Newfoals within the Equestrian nation..." Saxophones and horns met the violins as the motto reached its conclusion. "...The RADWICKINS gallop toward what's right!"
Bitsworth smiled - it was his motto, after all - and spoke into the Bevelmeiter-powered sound system "THE REASONABLY ADAMANT DOWN WITH CELESTIA NEWFOAL SOCIETY, STARRING ROYAL PAINE WITH HIS GUESTS DJ PON-3, FASHION EXPERT HOITY TOITY, SEXY WONDERBOLT SPITFIRE, AND FEATURING A PERFORMANCE BY EVERYPONY'S FAVORITE MUSICAL GROUP LYRA AND THE FINGERS!!!"
As the music swelled, broke, and reduced to a thrumming drumbeat, a shining red carriage pulled by Thunder Road swooped in and spun slowly down to land on the vast stage. Waving a hoof from inside was Royal, who upon landing tried to open the door. It stuck. He banged on it while the audience roared. Backstage, Bucket threw a fit, but the sound of laughter and applause pulled him out of it - Royal had chosen to slide out of the carriage window ass-end first, landing in a completely undignified lump. It was hilarious! The audience loved it. Bucket threw up his forehooves and shrugged with his ears. Showbiz.
Behind his sleek desk - the old podium had burst into fragments months ago during a particularly hard pounding - Royal straightened his tie, a move that was now an audience favorite. The fashion had caught on, and it was considered the height of funny to tug at one's tie in awkward moments now. He looked uncomfortable, and adjusted his tie a second time. The audience howled. He began yanking at it with both hooves, finally ending up disheveled but content. The audience roared.
Assistants ran to comb his mane and tidy him as he stood up and walked to the front of the stage to begin his monolog.
"Welcome, welcome everyONE!" The prizes for catching him slipping had ended long ago, but the thrill had never stopped. The crowd still tried to see if they could get the hidden 'Everypony' he would carefully slip in. Royal fretted constantly about the proper moment for a good 'everypony' and only his writing team could calm him down. "Have you seen the news lately? Seriously, I mean, NOTHING - on Earth, it would have been 'radioactive contamination kills millions' but here? ICE CREAM TASTES GOOD! PONY SCIENTISTS DISCOVER THE SECRET BEHIND IT ALL - SUGAR AND CREAM!" The native ponies, unable to comprehend entirely, found this stuff hilarious.
"And how about that 'Fancy Pants' huh?" Up in the left Royal Balcony, there was a gasp followed by a HUZZAH! "I see you have heard of the stallion then?" Roaring laughter filled the hall "So, 'Fancy Pants' huh? WHERE DOES THAT COME FROM? I DON'T THINK THAT COLT'S EVER WORN PANTS IN HIS LIFE! Does he even know what pants ARE? SERIOUSLY!" A spotlight panned down to show the eponymous celebrity in the audience, laughing. He stood up briefly, and gave a wave. "And look! NO PANTS!"
The audience howled again, followed by the stomping of hooves in pony applause. Fancy, ever the good sport, sat down, and the spotlight returned to the stage.
Royal fiddled briefly with his collar "Alright, alright, settle down you former apes!" This always got a huge laugh. "What? Should I toss you a banana? Hmmmmm? Are you a.... baboon... who loves... bananas?" Almost nopony knew what a baboon was, primates other than Man had not survived the expansion of Equestria, but the word sounded funny. "Maybe you'd like a banana... ON THE MOOOOOONNNN!!!!" The crowd loved this bit, it had become a regular gag.
"And speaking of THE ALMIGHTY CELESTIA..." Oohs and shudders filled the crowd as the devilish delight of mocking the princess herself both frightened and thrilled them "...what other things has she put on the moon... hmmm... let's see... HER SISTER PERHAPS?" Nervous screams of laughter burst forth. Mixed with them was a surprisingly slurred HUZZAH!!! from the upper left Royal Balcony, along with a single hoof hammering like a judge.
"What a GREAT princess there, am I right? She can raise the very SUN, construct all of Equestria out of the chaos of Discord, but she forgets where she put her sister for ONE THOUSAND YEARS!" Amidst the laughs was the sound of some pony choking on cider from somewhere up in the Royal Balconies.
"DOWD WIF SSSELEFSFIA! HUZZAHHH!" screamed a well-cidered mare from above. The crowd howled at this naked sacrilege - it was what they had come to see.
"WHOA!!!! Look out! WE'RE IN TROUBLE NOWWW!" Royal pretended he was filled with terror, and fiddled with his collar and tie like a madpony. "But seriously folks, it's all in good fun, right? It's not like our sweet and beloved princess of the sun INVADED OUR MUFFIN PLANET!" a gasp of shock followed by nervous cackles washed around the hall like a wave. Royal waited a few beats before continuing.
"Well every...ONE, we have a great show for you tonight. Canterlot DJ TO THE STARS PON-3!"
Massive applause followed.
"We'll hear about the latest fashions from fashion expert HOITY TOITY!"
Polite applause rippled around the hall.
"A pegasus I'm sure everypony would like to get private flying lessons from, SPITFIRE!!!"
Thunderous stomping sounded forth.
"AND SPECIAL MUSICAL GUEST... wait for it... I said wait for it... LYRA AND THE FINGERS!!!"
Insane screams of ecstatic joy were drowned out by a stamping of hooves that threatened to bring Canterlot Castle and the entire mountain down on their collective polls. Lyra's new record, "New World New Foals" was at the top of the charts. All of her bandmates were Newfoals from earth, and getting her had been a fantastic decision on the part of Golden. It couldn't be more perfect. This was going to be a great show.
"You know, we've permanently changed Equestrian culture! Think about it!" Royal was sitting next to Chair as the makeup crew cleaned them up to go home. Because of the nature of the product needed for a species with a coat, it was a necessary task. "All the boffins were terrified that nothing of Earth would survive. All the electronics all the technology... but none of that matters. We have magic in Equestria - computers and motorcycles are worse than useless in a universe like this. Besides, if the best humanity had to show for itself was a pile of junk, what was the point even if Equestria hadn't shown up?"
Some of the blush on his cheek wouldn't come out of the hairs. The artists went to get the special cream. "Seriously, Chair, look at what DID survive! I say it's the best of humanity. Our music survived! Our band is playing jazz, swing, and thanks to Lyra, rock and roll! Those things survived because they were in US! We couldn't bring stuff into Equestria, but... what was good about humanity wasn't stuff!"
"Movies made it, at least old ones from the museums, on celluloid. And records, vinyl got through the Barrier." The artist working on Chair asked him to tilt his head back so she could get under his chin. He needed lightening there, or his jaw looked too large on stage.
"That's not stuff! Well, it IS stuff, in that film is stuff and vinyl is stuff, but... the stuff isn't the important part." Royal's makeup artist was back, busily applying cheek cream. "The important part of either of those is the music and the film itself, the movies themselves. The media doesn't matter, the substrate doesn't matter, what matters is the information, the pattern, the art!"
"The records don't sound quite the same, you know. And the movies look strange because of the way light works in Equestria. It's kind of the same, but it's not exactly the same." Chair had to shift on his pillow, his tail was trapped.
"So? So what? So 'Spike Jones and the City Slickers' or 'Huey Lewis and the News' sound more like ponies than humans somehow, or the colors in 'Ghostbusters' aren't exactly the way your human eyes saw them. Seriously, who gives a muffin? The essence is still there. The meaning is still there, even if some things are different. And the same is true of our shows here... we may be ponies, but we are keeping the spirit of the best of Man alive through music, and comedy and... and.. song." With the last, Royal nodded at his friend Chair. Chair could not have imagined, nine months ago, that he would end up not making furniture, but performing with his wife doing ballads and duets from old Earth.
"You know..." Chair stood up, his coat finally free of theater makeup "...it's like magic. Our success, I mean. I guess Equestria really is a land of magic - we could never have had this on Earth. Not a hope. But here... it's almost like magic!"
"It is magic, my little ponies."
Chair, Royal, and the makeup crew instinctively fell to the floor in clumsy bows. It was Celestia, ruler of all Equestria, goddess of the sun, princess of their universe, and she was backstage.