It had taken a whole day to construct the stage. The wagons had been flown in, pulled by teams of pegasai, all wearing blue roadie tack and billed caps with the bright yellow Happy Pony Show logo emblazoned upon them. The wagons were cleverly built so that they would unfold like puzzle boxes to form the stage and the scaffolding, with the various pieces of the finished construction lifted by the pegasai and locked into place by roadie unicorns. Roadie earthponies hauled set pieces and hammered whatever needed hammering, which from the sounds that filled the ears of the villagers was quite a lot.
Dumpy had occasionally stolen peeks at the stage construction as he went about his daily tour of Martingale, and when he dared, even a full on steamy gawk or two. Once he thought he caught a glimpse of none other than Thunder Road among the busy pegasai, but he couldn't be sure. He found himself both terrified and strangely happy at the appearance of the touring show - he was all but certain that it must have derived from the old Newfoal Society. The big question was whether or not the original cast was still involved. When he had fled, fifteen years ago, he had been terrified the lot would end up statues decorating parks across Equestria. But now... now he was no longer so sure.
In his decade and a half in Martingale On Hackamore, Dumpy had seen Equestria in a new way, with increasingly open eyes. He had listened to the lives of every pony in the village, and he had come to know these fine citizens. He had come to know their hearts, their souls, and through them the essence of the Equestrian spirit. These were not strange invaders, nor were they fanatical PER members out to force ponification on anypony. They were a kinder, nicer breed than Man, and very different than he had imagined after his sudden and unplanned transformation. Ponies cared about each other and all living creatures before things, knowledge about themselves and others before knowledge about the world, and sharing was a greater treasure to them than the accumulation of wealth.
They weren't saints - there were rascals and fools and grumpy sorts among them, snotty airheads and sniveling brown-nosers too. But when tickle came to spank, not once, not ever, would a pony truly abandon another, or gain at the expense of another, or fail to make up for a slight. Equestrians were ruled by their better angels at all times, whatever their apparent temperament.
One time, Dumpy had run a little psychological experiment to see just how far this virtue went. He carefully placed a neatly stacked pile of bits on a fence post right next to the main road through the village. Then he left it there for two weeks, as every pony he knew passed by it, and a few from other villages, passing through, that he did not know. Some stopped and looked at the pile, some remarked to each other about it. Once he saw a foal - tiny Vanilla, Sweetcream's little filly - stop her mother so she could count the coins in the stack out loud. Vanilla was learning her numbers, and was ever so eager to count everything she could, to make her mother proud. When she was done, Sweetcream praised her little filly, and off they trotted, the stack untouched.
At the end of two weeks, Dumpy went and collected his coins and took them home. He realized that he could store his coins anywhere, anywhere at all, and they would not be taken. It was likely, he reckoned, that a single coin laying in the dirt would be picked up - that was reasonable - but a neat stack was clearly an intentional thing. A purposeful thing, and even the poorest pony wouldn't steal it, because it just wouldn't be right. And not one of them needed the fear of some punishment, either natural or divine, to keep them honest. They were honest because they just plain cared. Somepony would miss those coins, wouldn't they?
If this was what Equestrians were, then the being that created them just couldn't be bad. It was only reasonable to judge a creator by their creation, and if these were the beings that Celestia had chosen to bring into existence, if this was the sort of universe she had needed to make, then she just plain couldn't be mean or arbitrary. If that was true, then it seemed less and less likely that she would turn any member of the Newfoal Society to stone. Dumpy remembered Soliloquy - even there, Celestia hadn't so much punished a threat to her rule as gifted a profoundly unhappy pony with a vastly better life.
Maybe that was the Equestrian equivalent of human execution - if a pony was so unhappy that they could never behave, then Celestia's answer was to give them a time out until the world was more what they needed, so they would have no reason to act out. Celestia was immortal. A time out for her could be a very, very long time to a normal pony.
If the Happy Pony Show was the Newfoal Society reborn, then it seemed reasonable that the old troupe was still around, somewhere, and not as statues. They'd all ended up happy as pie, they were no longer malcontents. The only malcontent left, had been Dumpy himself. That too had faded, with time. Dumpy was sad about only one thing any longer. He really wished he didn't have to hide away, and sit quiet in a back corner of the pub, and remain alone. If only he could just be a normal pony, and not carry around all the poisonous Earth stuff inside him - like knowing what an 'execution' even was.
Watercress and her parents Sundew and Clover sat forward and to the right of Dumpy. The little filly was beyond excited, and several times Sundew had to shush her and get her to settle down and the show hadn't even started yet. Dumpy's speculation that she was here for the bunnies had been verified, it was all the giggly little unicorn could talk about.
Off to Dumpy's left, and even closer to the front was Stonebridge and Sackbarrel, they seemed for once not to be up to anything and were behaving themselves. The exceptional novelty of anything at all happening in the tiny farming village of Martingale was perhaps so overwhelming that the two friends had no reason to fuss about or prank anypony. They seemed subdued, almost in awe, trying to soak in the fact that there was a stage, right there, in front of them, where just a day before there had been Old Roan Summersquash's fallow field facing the road that ran by the village. Dumpy had the distinct impression that if all that happened was just the stage being there, Stonebridge and Sackbarrel would consider it the best day of their lives even if nothing else went on. This was likely true for more than a few of the villagers, and the fact of that made Dumpy smile for some reason.
His village was such a simple, innocent place, and he realized that at some point in the last fifteen years he had completely fallen in love with it. Martingale On Hackamore wasn't just a place for him to hide in anymore. It was home. Warm, safe, utterly irreplaceable home. Dumpy shifted on his hay bale - that was the seating for this shindig - and looked around at the crowd. Nutbrown, Glade Blossom and Stormy, Old Saltlick, Two-Nails and his husband Ringlet, the Pumpkin twins and even that pushy rascal Cornhusk... They were a family to Dumpy, inside his heart. They didn't know it, he never expressed it, but they were the most dear ponies he had ever known, the most precious treasure in his life, the lot of them. He laughed when they felt joy, and felt sad when things didn't go their way. Living in the shadows, hiding in the back corner of the Refreshetorium and Sometimes Inn, there was no way they could even begin to understand how deeply he felt. His village, his ponies, his best friends who didn't even know him.
There was a tear in Dumpy's eye, but it wasn't exactly sadness, not exactly. It was more like wistfulness, with a big helping of simple joy - gladness that he at least got to live in the shadow of such a happy, beautiful place. It was a gift, just to sit in the back, it really was. Still, he wished... no. No, that was silly thinking.
Celestia's glorious sun was setting as the lights came on illuminating the stage, as well as the hayfields, for miles around. Dumpy could see the Bevelmeiter tubes whirring off to the side of the stage, thaumatic engines driving the arcane lighting system. The old Society had really come a long way, even from that last performance in Manehattan - they had some seriously fanciful equipment, and a lot of roadie ponies to make it all work.
The splendid twenty-four piece orchestra at the far back of the stage began tuning their instruments. The familiar sound made Dumpy's heart race - he recalled his own excitement, running around behind the flats, as stage manager, making sure everything was perfect before the curtain raised. That had been a bit of fun, he realized. Somewhat thankless at times, but very satisfying at the end of a successful show.
Dumpy's right ear twitched, rotating to focus intently on a location somewhere behind the backdrop at the rear of the stage. His left ear swiveled to join, locking on. For a moment, Dumpy had thought he had heard the voice of Royal! Quickly he scanned the scene for any sign of a deep purple coat. No, it was too much to hope for... and come to think of it, maybe it was for the best. He had almost not even come, for fear of being recognized and pointed out. But he just couldn't hide in his little cottage, whatever the risk. He wanted to see a show again so much, he wanted some evidence his old society mates had ended up alright and not stone, he wanted... he wasn't sure what he wanted, really, but he was awful sure that he wanted it. There was no way he could possibly not be here.
The arcane lights focused on a single mare who had stepped out to the front of the stage. She was very young, and strangely familiar, though Dumpy was sure he had never seen her before. She was a unicorn the color of heliotrope, deep, rich and intense. Her stage presence was astonishing, despite being obviously nervous. Still, her voice was impressively commanding when she finally spoke. "Let us all stand for the Pledge Of Equestria!"
The village stood as one. All gave a short traditional bow, in deference to the crown, and then began the familiar recitation.
To Compassion and Friendship for All
With Love and Reverence for All Living Things
No matter how Great or how Small
And To Each Other we pledge our Lives
Our herd, united as One
We are the Joy of Equestria
In Peace under Moon and Sun"
Dumpy found himself wiping his eyes after he sat down again. He couldn't help it. The pledge of allegiance for Equestria. There was nothing about any flag, it was not about pledging to the crown, or the state, or any deity - even though Equestria had two of them. The allegiance here was purely and only to each other, to mutual kindness, to compassion itself, with the land and its rulers being barely noted at all. It was utterly unearthly, truly alien - and Dumpy loved it dearly. It was the only pledge he had ever spoken that he truly, actually meant and believed in. He hadn't felt forced to say this pledge - he had wanted to say it.
The little heliotrope filly nervously giggled then, which made the audience laugh, and she scampered off the stage.
The orchestra played a bouncy little opening piece and then an earthpony stallion walked onto the stage. His coat was the deepest, richest purple, his mane golden and silken. Around his long neck was a shiny gold Lamé tie and collar that sparkled in the arcane lights. There was no doubt. It was Royal! Royal was not only alive and well, he was still in showbiz, and Dumpy quite forgot himself and pumped his hoof while shouting "YEAH! ROYAL! HOOO!" while around him the rest of the village simply clapped their hooves or stomped. Dumpy slumped down on his haybale when he noticed a curious look from Nutbrown at his antics.
"Welcome, everypony! Wow! What a lovely village you have here, I must say! We're all pretty excited to be here in... um..." Royal paused for the briefest of moments - "Martingale On Hackamore!"
The villagers cheered at this, some waved their forehooves in the air, while others stomped in proper pony applause. Many hooted loudly - all were excited that this fancy show pony even knew the name of their village. For the first time ever, they all felt truly special.
"How about some applause for my daughter there, who led the pledge?" The villagers, always happy to cheer on a youngster, thundered their approval. "Wow! Thank you for that! What a warm welcome here in Martingale! Her name is Eloquence, and maybe we can convince her to come back later in the show!" Another round of cheers followed.
"Alright, we have a really great evening for you tonight at the Happy Pony Show, we have dancing bunnies, pegasus ballet, a fantastic magic show by a really talented unicorn, music, comedy, and a lot more!" Royal was, as ever, in his element, and Dumpy felt so glad, so very happy, just to see him up there doing what he did best. 'Eloquence', Dumpy thought to himself... the name... suddenly it hit him why the little filly had looked familiar. She resembled them so much, Royal and Soliloquy both. Eloquence must be the foal of both Soliloquy and Royal. Dumpy grinned. That was sweet. That meant Soliloquy must be alright too. They must all be alright, all the old members of the Newfoal Society! Dumpy relaxed at that realization. He had been wrong, and he was so glad of the fact.
Maybe Golden and Bitsworth were here somewhere! Perhaps he would get to see Chair and Honeybutter - oh, sweet Luna, their foals must be really big now - and oh! Dumpy suddenly realized that the pegasus ballet could only be the work of Thunder Road. She must be here, as he had thought earlier! Oh this was wonderful! Maybe, just maybe, perhaps, he would work up the courage to go see them, backstage, after the show... oh, dare he? Would that even be a good idea? His head swum with the notion, and his heart beat fast in his chest. Oh my, the whole gang...
Dumpy suddenly startled and realized that he had missed, in his ruminations, quite a bit of what Royal had been saying. He decided he'd better put his concerns and thoughts on hold, or he'd miss the show, and he didn't want to do that. Royal was explaining the next act, it seemed, to an audience who could have no idea whatsoever of anything about it.
"...before the Collapse, humans went through a period of vast growth - both in technology and in population. At the time, it seemed like there were no limits to that growth, so the humans enjoyed shipping goods from everywhere to anywhere for the slightest of reasons. They did this in self-powered carriages called 'trucks', large boxy things that ran on wheels like a cart. They were completely closed, like barns on wheels, really, and the humans that controlled them rode in a little cabin at the front." Royal was doing a good job, but the villagers of Martingale were clearly a bit confused. "Now these trucks, these barns on wheels, ran on vast, incredibly long roads that were made of a kind of false stone that was made from something like tar, and poured out like paint. These highways ran for hundreds, even thousands of miles! Human cities would be dozens or hundreds of miles apart, and so the 'trucks' would take stuff from one city to another, perhaps even all the way to the end of one of those incredibly long highways!"
The villagers of Martingale On Hackamore tried to wrap their imaginations around all of this, as best they could. The scale of such a thing was almost beyond them.
"Now these 'truckers' as they called themselves, in that age of plenty, they had a new technology - a new magic, if you will - called 'Cee Bee Radios'. These were little boxes that every truck had, that allowed the truckers to talk with each other almost regardless of the distance. They could literally hear each others voices - though the sound was a little distorted, which we will be trying to mimic here for you. They had their own culture, their own slang words, their own way of doing things!" Royal paced across the stage as he explained it all.
"Now this was a big deal to the humans of that time and place, and they wrote songs about this little subculture of truck drivers. What we've done is taken one of the most famous songs that survived from that period, and re-written it to fit with the advent of the Conversion Bureaus and the Newfoals I told you about at the beginning." As Royal spoke, a number of other performers took the stage, and among them Dumpy clearly noted Bitsworth, with his deep voice, and Chair as well. Then came Honeybutter and what must her filly Daisy Dew, all grown up. And there was Thunder Road, apparently ready to sing, and Argent and Topic and many more ponies that Dumpy had never met.
"So," Royal nodded at the orchestra, who began to pound out a martial drum beat "I want to present to you a treasure of old Earth, re-written for the modern day, as performed by the Happy Pony Show company! Colt W. McFoal's immortal epic entitled 'Convoy: a CB (Conversion Bureau) Story'!!!"
The music swelled, as Bitsworth cupped his hooves around his muzzle to simulate the buzzing effect of an ancient terrestrial communications device...
[On the CB]
"Ah, breaker one-nine, this here's old Rainbow Dash. You gotta copy on me, Big Mac, c'mon?
Ah, yeah, 10-4, Big Mac, fer shure, fer shure. By golly, it's clean clear to Ponyville, c'mon.
Yeah, that's a big 10-4 there, Big Mac, yeah, we definitely got the barn door, good pony.
Luna's Silver Hoof, looks like we got us a convoy..."
Was the princesses' moon on the sixth of June
In a Kenworth pullin' flasks
Cab-over Pete with a potion tank
Jus'Doin'what Celestia asks
H-L-F on our tail, on I-one-oh
'Bout a mile outta Bureau Town
I says, "Big Mac, this here's Ol' Rainbow Dash.
"And I'm about to put my blue hoof down."
'Cause we got a little convoy
Trottin' through the night.
Yeah, we got a little convoy,
Ain't she a beautiful sight?
Come on and sip some potion
Get your ass converted today!
We gonna hoof this Newfoal convoy
[On the CB]
"Ah, breaker, Big Mac, this here's the Dash. And, you wanna buck off them foals? Yeah, 10-4,
'bout five mile or so. Ten, roger. Them Newfoals ain't been barn-trained yet."
By the time we got into Tulsa Town,
We had eighty-five trucks in all.
But they's a roadblock up on the cloverleaf,
H-L-F was wall-to-wall.
Yeah, them Fronters was thick as bugs on a bumper;
No, them humans don't like to play fair
I says, "Hey, Pegasai, this here's the Dash.
"Hitch up we need'ta catch some air."
We got tankers full of potion,
flyin' through the day
Yeah, we got a flying convoy,
Pegasai came out to play
Come on and sip some potion
Get your ass converted today!
We gonna soar this Newfoal convoy
[On the CB]
"Ah, you wanna give me a 10-9 on that, Big Mac? Negatory, Big Mac; you're still too close.
Yeah, them foals is startin' to close up my sinuses. Muffin sakes, you better back off another ten."
Well, we soared up Interstate 44
Doin' Rainbooms all the way
The last of the humans in the back
Traded up hands for hooves that day
By the time we hit Bureau-town,
H-L-F was gettin' smart:
They'd brought up some reinforcements
From the Illinois Humanist Guard.
There's corp'rate mechs, and hover-tanks,
And Blackmesh done gone fringe
Yeah, them H-L-F was full'a fight
Their blood-lust made us cringe
We stampeded their line and we went for broke
With a thousand flyin' trucks
An' eleven long-tailed Friends a' Luna
In a potion-stained micra-bus.
[On the CB]
"Ah, Rainbow Dash to Applejack, come over. Yeah, 10-4, Applejack? Lissen, you wanna put that micra-bus
in behind that truck full of Newfoals? Yeah, they just got converted, and not one a'them is potty trained."
Well, we laid a strip for the Barrier
And prepared to cross the shield
I couldn't see the dome for H-L-F
Our pegasai weren't about to yield
I says, "Big Mac, this here's the Rainbow Dash.
"We just ain't a-gonna play their game."
So we crashed the shield in our flyin' trucks
I says "Let them buckers wail, 10-4."
There's Newfoals in our cattle-cars,
flyin' to their home
Yeah, we got a flying convoy,
We just made it through the dome
I hope you sipped some potion
Or else you won't make it today
We gonna fly this Newfoal convoy
Convoy! "Ah, 10-4, Big Mac, what's our next run?"
Convoy! "OMAHA? Well, I just got me some silver sexy-pony mudflaps and a Bobble-Head Celestia onna dashboard"
Convoy! "Ten four good buddy, my co-pilot is taking a powder for the next half hour, he's getting his hooves on, copy?"
Convoy! "I like your 'Honk If You Love Celestia' bumper sticker. This here's the Rainbow Dash on the side."
Convoy! "We gone. 'Bye,'bye."
Not a single pony in the village understood any of it, but they enjoyed the bouncy tune and the general oddness of it all. None of them had ever seen a real fancy-like show before, and if nothing else, the spectacle itself was more than enough. They stomped their hooves excitedly, more for the fact of the show itself simply existing than for an actual appreciation of the piece at hoof. Dumpy, for his part, had been in stitches, but it was little Watercress who summed up the native Equestrian outlook best of all.
"Bring on the bunnies!"