This story is a gift to anyone who enjoyed Code Majeste
1. Roll For Initiative
The grey pegasus mare bounced out of the small blue shed, her cornsilk yellow mane and tail swirling behind her. As she galloped around the tall, dark-blue structure, she trained one golden eye on the grass below, and the other on the shed itself.
The pegasus giggled as she ran, because it was all so silly. From the outside, the little blue shed was so small, barely a pony wide on all sides, with little windows near the roof, and a funny little light on top. All four sides had a little sign that said:
Even the side with the double barn doors with the little horseshoe shaped hoofgrips on them. She giggled again, as she rounded the box back to where she had exited it. Inside were rooms and rooms, more than within the whole of Canterlot Castle, more than all the shops and stores of the city of Canterlot itself. It was possible to get lost inside the small box, and she had once, and her special friend had taken almost two days to finally find her.
His coat was light brown, his mane a messy tussle of dark brown spikes of hair. He bore the cutie mark of an hourglass, in gold, on his flank. He was an earth pony, but he was not a native of Earth. Neither was he a native of Equestria. He had been called many things, but after the accident, after he had become a Newfoal, he had taken the name 'Time Turner'.
Turner lipped the oddly shaped key, and locked his little blue shed. After many years, he had become adept at using hoof and lip and tail, and it was nothing to secret the key inside his ruffled mane with a twist of his long neck. The stallion checked his tail, briefly, to see that the object he had tucked within its flowing form was intact, then turned his gaze to his companion.
"Derpy Ditzy-Doo Hooves! I dare say you seem to be in an especially perky mood today! Perky! I like that word, perky. It's so.... darn.... well... perky. A perky little word, is 'perky'!"
The grey mare trotted up to her Very Special Friend and laughed at him, her eyes rolling in opposing directions as if they were playing tag inside her head. "Yourr very silly, tha's why! Silly pony! Time Turner is a silly, silly pony!" Her voice was ever so slightly slurred, but filled with merriment. Some thought that she was not very bright, but Turner knew very well that there was something special, and very clever about her. That was why of all ponies, the little pegasus was his Very Special Friend too.
"Now my good miss Hooves... why would you say I was silly? Charming, I could see. Dashing, perhaps, clever certainly, but silly? I just cannot grasp how you could... possibly.... ever..." as he spoke, Turner began walking sideways, using alternate pairs of legs as if he were a crab. Years ago, when he had first changed, he had great trouble adjusting to the life of a quadruped. Now, he practically danced as he sidled sideways.
"Hee hee hee hee!" The grey pegasus was forced to stop, because she was laughing so hard, and this made her trip. She fell down on the soft, flat plain of grass in a heap of hooves, feathers, and whipping golden mane. "Oof! I fell down!" This set off another round of giggles.
"Are you alright? I'm ever so sorry, Derpalina, please, take my hoof." Turner was such a charming stallion, Derpy thought. He was the nicest stallion she knew. And she always had such wonderful adventures with him.
"I'm OHHH KAYYY!!!" She shouted the words with a great smile on her muzzle. She fell down a lot, so she was used to it. But it was alright, especially around her Special Friend. He always helped her up, and he never laughed. Well, at least not at her. Just with her. "Wherr ARE we, 'Fessor Turner?" Derpy figured her friend must be some kind of professor or scientist or doctor or something because he was so very, very smart.
When Derpalina had first entered Time Turner's little blue shed, it had been sitting where it always appeared, when it appeared, just behind the barn of her farm. She could hear it coming, it's scratchy yet musical wheezing announcing that her Special Friend had come to see her. She would make arrangements for her beloved daughter, Dinky, to stay with her neighbor Carrot Top for an hour, and then the fun would begin. No matter how long she was away, somehow it was always exactly one hour later that she would return. There had been times she had been away for months.
This was not Ponyville. There were no mountains in the distance, and her barn and house were gone. Everything she knew was gone. This was typical, and Derpalina had easily gotten used to such changes of scene. That was one of her special charms, Turner had told her once - she was the accepting type, a pony that was never shocked or upset by anything, however strange or odd. And it was true. Everything always seemed new to Derpalina, and everything changed all the time anyway, and the only thing to do about it was giggle in any case.
The land was flat, flatter than anyplace Derpy had ever seen. It was like an endless room covered in a green carpet of grass and flowers. There was a forest in the distance, and another in a different direction, and a third even farther away, so far that the green of the trees looked pale blue from all the air inbetween.
Three other things sat on the endless, flat carpet of grass, three cities. They seemed to be fairly large cities, too, and each had a strikingly different architecture, not one of them like Ponyville, or Canterlot, or even Manehattan. Not even like Ancient Roan, or Medieval Unicornia, or the height of Tacksworn, when it was a vast trading city where dragons and ponies and all manner of beings mingled. The three cities were unique in Derpalina's experience... as best as her memory could tell, at least. Derpalina's memory was not the best. Turner often told her that this too, was a special charm, though she never completely understood what he meant by that.
It was true, though, that more than once her faulty memory had spared them both, when they had encountered Celestia or Luna in the past. Or the future. With Time Turner, things could get confusing quickly. But it was OK. It was always fun, if sometimes a little scary.
Turner had been studying the three strange cities. "Ah, Princesses... it seems your empire did indeed become too vast for even you. But then that's only reasonable, I suppose. Even goddesses can't be everywhere or know everything. Perhaps that is for the best, really."
Derpalina followed Turner across the endless green, and they trotted on for what seemed like a very long time before they approached the nearest of the three cities. One of the distant cities had been built with the oddest roofs, curving and pointed, with walls that looked like metal and wood. Things were painted in bright red and gold, with banded wooden columns. Another city featured brightly decorated spires and minarets, but not like the simple designs of Canterlot. Rather, everything was incredibly detailed, with countless artistic flourishes and strange combinations of colors.
The city they were headed for was the most fascinating of all. The buildings were incredibly tall, a dozen or more stories at least, and made of gleaming metal and shining glass. Many were blocky and geometric, others used mysterious sweeping curves, but all were smooth and unadorned, the perfection of them being the only art they seemed to need. Curiously, the odd city looked familiar to Derpalina. The feeling nagged at her. How could it seem familiar? It was the strangest city she had ever seen. Even her memory ought to recall such vast and unusual buildings.
"Are you alright? Is something amiss?" Turner was studying her carefully. It was only then that Derpalina grasped that she was sitting down.
"Uhhh... um... sorry, Time Turner. I don't know what went wrong. I was walking an..." The little pegasus blinked and stood up. "I guess I just forgot to walk!" She couldn't help but giggle at that. Forgot to walk! That was a new thing! She was being extra silly today!
Turner nodded and smiled. "Sometimes I have that happen too!"
"Really????" Derpy was incredulous. Her mouth hung open in surprise.
"Yes, indeed. Especially when I..." Time Turner looked at Derpalina with a strange expression for a moment. "...when I have something important on my mind. Hmmm." Derpalina felt Turner give her a friendly nuzzle, and then they continued unto the odd metal city.
2. Standard Action
"You really aren't from either New Chengdu or Neo-Volgograd? You certainly don't sound like you come from either city, but... you don't sound like you are from here, either..." Prime Minister William Banister brought his hoof to his muzzle in confusion and astonishment. "Jamie!" The Prime Minister looked to his assistant "Fetch me the grand map, the big one from the hall!"
Jamie, a copper colored unicorn stallion, dashed off down the shining, paneled hallway, nearly bumping the fine, inlaid table by the door in his haste.
"You truly won't find Ponyville on any map you possess, Prime Minister Banister. Hee! That rhymes! Minister Banister!" Time Turner grinned at his pegasus companion.
"Thaa doesn't rhyme at ALLL!" Derpalina was unconvinced. "Minister Baninister.... Misterer Bananaster Maninister... wait... tha isn't right. Mimister Biminer... no..."
The frown from the stately silver stallion with the fancy black coat and tails made Derpy suddenly fall silent. She looked at Turner and they both looked Very Serious Indeed. Then they looked at each other looking Very Serious Indeed, and suddenly burst out laughing.
"I fail to see what is so very..." The Prime Minister began, but he was interrupted by Jamie, who was back, a large and ancient map held within a glass-covered frame hovering in his telekinetic grasp.
"I have it sir!" Jamie panted, a bead of sweat running down his muzzle.
"Ah... very well then. Let's have a careful study, then." Banister gave Turner a heavy gaze and motioned him closer. "Do the best you can, sir, where would this 'Ponyville' be in relation to what we do have mapped!"
Turner began walking to the window. When he reached the vast glass rectangle, he looked back at the map which Jamie had carefully laid upon the Prime Minister's large and dutifully polished desk. Turner gazed back out across the tall silver spires and shining twenty-first century Earth buildings. It could have been any Northamerizone City, or any great city anywhere on the old earth for that matter, though the culture somehow seemed to be strongly influenced by either Canada, or perhaps Great Britain. It must have been quite a jumble, there, at the very, very end of everything.
"If you consider the map to be to scale, Prime Minister, as it sits there on your desk - really beautiful desk by the way, great wood, someone must really take care of that, it's a work of art is what it is - "
The Minister smiled slightly at that.
"Then you have your three cities, fair Lost Angeles... oh, that's a fun name, I must say. Lost Angeles, because when the Barrier closed in, your ancestors were dropped out in the middle of nowhere, literal light-years of land from Equestria proper - not that light years work here, of course. Not that light works the same way here, come to think of it. Goodness, what fun any scientists among your ancestors must have had, what with the opportunity to start the study of physics over entirely from scratch, only with completely modern sensibilities, why it just boggles the..."
"Mister TURNER!" The Prime Minister was tapping his hoof. Jamie stifled a chortle as best he could and shot Derpalina a conspiratorial glance. The ridiculous fuss that the two strange new ponies had made to finally get an audience with the Prime Minister had left him less than glad when they had finally met. It had, however, delighted several within his overworked staff.
"Oh, sorry. Got carried away there for a moment." Turner stood to attention. "Right, then. Lost Angeles, New Chengdu and Neo-Volgograd, all so very, very new, sitting bright and beautiful in the middle of..." Turner trotted back, briefly, to the map for a glance "... Greater Earthlandica. Earthlandica? Really?" Turner gave a silly expression, causing Derpalina to giggle. "Moving on... AH! So three brave cities, a Brave New World - a little reference there which... yes, you didn't get. Good. Fine. Three cities, a dozen forests, a rather large lake - good job there, by the way, you must have some excellent pegasus teams, the thing is almost an inland sea. Wow. And miles and miles of well kept grasslands. Practically a little continent, in it's own way."
The Prime Minister tapped his hoof more loudly.
"Well, if we are here, there really..." Turner pointed a hoof at the map on the table "... and everything is precisely to scale, then look over here, Prime Minister Banister!"
Turner waited until the silver stallion came to the large window.
"See that building waaaay over at the edge of your fine city?"
The Prime Minister looked carefully at the shining modern apartment complex near the monorail. "THAT far?" The look on his face was troubled.
"Oh, dear me no." Turner reassured the stallion. "Look beyond that, out to the grasslands, then out to the forest, there, the one that is nearly faded from view by atmospheric scattering? Now take the distance to the farthest tree you can possibly see, way, way out there, and then multiply it by the largest number you can think of, then double the result. That is how far away Ponyville is."
Derpalina couldn't stop giggling even as the guards were pushing them bruskly away down the long, wood paneled hall.
3. Free Action
"Where are you from? I've never heard an accent like that before. I mean... not ever." The waitress was a pale blue earthpony with a white mane, she wore a little hat to keep her locks from falling into things, and an apron-like saddle with pockets for her order book and pencil.
Derpalina was eagerly enjoying a stack of raisin-cranberry muffins and a glass of pineapple-guava juice. She had never tasted guava before, because it didn't exist back in proper Equestria. Somehow it had survived, intact, in this vastly distant, utterly forgotten part of the Exponential Lands. At the very end, the Barrier had swept up and through South Africa, finishing off the Earth. The last agents of the Worldgovernment had desperately worked to convert and save the millions of humans that had flocked to the last remaining bit of land.
By this point, the Exponential Lands were growing so quickly that even the princesses could not track what was being created anymore. One meter of absorbed Earth was likely generating hundreds of thousands of miles of new Equestrian spacetime, and anypony swept into that vastness would truly be on their own, almost certainly forever. There could be no pretense of the Newfoals adopting the culture of Equestria, of being known citizens subject to the rule of Celestia and Luna.
Here, the transformed former humans would have to create their own civilizations, their own governments, and their own cultures, because the scales involved were simply too vast. The princesses sadly returned to what was actually possible to manage. They had released a formal statement of regret over this issue, with an open ended wish that someday, somehow, the many distant newfoal civilizations might be rejoined to the herd. For several centuries, after the end of Earth, the princesses repeated their statement of regret during the centennial celebrations. But after six hundred years had passed, they stopped. There were no original Newfoals left, and no direct children of Newfoals that remained to care anymore. At the end of a thousand years since the end of the Earth, even the princesses no longer thought of the lost Newfoal civilizations that might potentially exist, somewhere, out in the truly incalculable distances beyond proper Equestria.
But Time Turner had no empire to run, and no troublesome draconic civilization to deal with, he had no burdens to keep his attentions confined. And he did have a very special machine that could go anywhere, and anywhen, a living machine, that was very, very good at finding things that were impossible to find. Some might say it was a goddess itself.
"Well, the last time we tried to explain..." Turner glanced at Derpalina and offered a half-smile - she giggled mouth full of muffin and juice "...we had some problems. Let's just say that we come from very, very, VERY far away. So tell me, um... OH! We haven't been properly introduced, have we? I'm Time Turner, and this beautiful mare here is Derpalina Ditzy-Doo Hooves. How do you do miss..."
"McCulloch, Lilly McCulloch, Mister Turner was it? Is your first name really pronounced 'Time'? Is it a variation of 'Timothy' perhaps? And your friend there, goodness, such a long strange name!" The waitress smiled at Derpalina, who smiled back with a mouth happily full of pastry.
"So, any terrible events or strange situations I should know about, Lilly McCulloch of shiny towered no longer lost Lost Angeles?" Time Turner asked
"It's Lillian, actually, Lilly for short of course..."
Derpy suddenly choked, violently, on her muffin, spewing crumbs and raisins across the polished stainless steel countertop.
4. Unarmed Attack
The hotel room could have existed in any large, western megacity of old Earth, save for the fact that the bed was lower to the ground, and the bath and shower and toilet were all created to accommodate pony bodies. Derpalina was enjoying the bed, which was vibrating furiously. Time Turner was half under the bed, marveling at the strange device that was powering the movement of it.
"It isn't a bloody Bevelmeiter tube. This isn't even close to his thaumatic engine. It must use magic, there's no electricity here, the physics are completely different! Oh, you clever, clever apes... oh, well, I guess they aren't really apes anymore. Former apes. Still right clever. You've thought of something no pony has ever thought of, haven't you? Humans... steal their planet, put it back, scatter them to the end of the universe, gobble their planet into another universe, turn them into ponies. Irrepressible! Just irrepressible and amazing the lot of you! Becoming ponies hasn't dimmed your light one bit, has it? Better watch out Celestia, you've got some double clever super-ponies out here.
Hmmm...It certainly isn't steam, or any kind of mechanical spring system... it's self contained. I haven't a clue! It's positively brilliant. I've never seen anything like it in proper Equestria, and that's saying something, because I've seen Equestria from when it was just insane chaos all the way until it... " Turner wiggled out from under the bed and found himself staring up into the golden eyes of his companion. "...are you sure you are alright? You stopped giggling."
Derpalina lowered her head, and set it between her gray hooves as she sat peeking over the edge of the bed. "I... kinda got sad again, only I don't know why. An' then I felt really happy, and I don't know why that, either. An' then I felt like I sorta 'membered something. I've been feeling tha' a LOT. An' then I felt all..."
Time Turner rolled and sat up, then put one hoof next to Derpalina's foreleg. He leaned over and gave her a soft nuzzle. "Tell me... tell me about what you think you remember, could you?" His muzzle displayed a concerned look, his eyes soft with affection.
Derpalina Ditzy-Doo Hooves gave a great sigh, and closed her shining, strabismic eyes. "Ever since we came to this weird ol' city, it felt... familiar, sort of. An' then it kind of dint. Nuh-uh, thas not right either. It's like I know but I don't know but I DO know but it's impertant and not at the same time. An' that muffin-lady who gave us the muffins?"
"That name! Lilli... Lil... There's somethin' about that name and I don't know what it is, but it makes me feel funny! Help me, please Time Turner!" Derpalina's eyes were filled with tears, a very rare sight since she had met her Very Special Friend with his funny blue box.
"Hearing it hit you pretty hard, didn't it, my sweet Princess Hooves?" Whenever Turner called her 'Princess Hooves' it always made Derpalina feel giddy inside. But somehow, this time, it just made her feel uneasy, like there was something bad, or scary, and Turner was trying to spare her or keep her safe, which meant it must be very scary indeed.
"Yeah. It... That feeling of 'membering stuff from the past, that got really strong then." Derpalina opened her eyes and tried to focus on Turner, who was still sitting quietly in front of her. "I wish... I feel like I wish tha... that I could know what it is?"
"What what is?"
"The thing that keeps flitting just ou' of sight. It's just there, and then it's gone, and it's like... it's like..." Derpalina looked genuinely frightened, so Turner brought his head in close, and lay it on the bed next to hers.
"It's like there's a pink Diamond Dog hiding in my head! Get it out!" Derpalina was upset now. "Get the scary Diamond Dog out of my head!"
Turner sat up again and stroked Derpalina's cornsilk mane with a hoof. "I can help you, I can. But it might be frightening, and you might not like everything you find out. So I need you to think about what you really want."
"I WANT THE PINK DOG OUT OF MY NOGGIN!" Derpy practically shouted the words.
5. Cast Spell
The slim cylinder hummed a soft tone as Time Turner held it in his mouth. He kept it always tucked into his flowing tail - nopony ever checks the tail - and adjusted the frequency with his tongue. It had been months before he had learned to use his mouth as well as a hand, but now it was just... normal. The tip of the device glowed a soft blue, as Derpalina's eyes began to widen, hypnotized by the precisely calibrated light and sound.
As the gray pegasus mare fell into an altered state, her wings shuddered and lay flat on the bed, her legs flopping to the sides, and her muzzle relaxing into an open-mouthed gape.
Then Turner noticed her eyes, her uncoordinated eyes, as they began to drift, rolling into alignment. Derpalina's golden eyes now looked together at the light fixture in the ceiling, Turner's device utterly forgotten.
Turner carefully lay the humming cylinder down on the pillow, so that the thrum could maintain the curious mental state that his companion had fallen into. He sat back and studied her for a moment, watching her close her mouth, as her gaze narrowed further, her expression gaining in both severity and focus. This was a face Turner had never seen on his Derpalina, a face utterly different than the giggly half-empty look she normally showed.
"Surrey. I've... I've got to get to Vancouver." The gray pegasus swallowed, then blinked, slowly, dreamily. "No, no, this isn't Surrey. This is Vancouver. I'm here. Tomorrow. Tomorrow, finally..."
"Tomorrow, what? What happens tomorrow?" Turner said his words softly, almost at the limit of hearing.
"The Bureau. Vancouver... Conversion Bureau... Finally. My birthday... nineteen. My present. It's my present." The mare's wings twitched, briefly, on the bed, then lay still.
"Who's the present for? Who is it for?"
"Me! Mom says no. Mom is such an ass. I want to be a pony. I'm an adult. I deserve to live in a better world. Nicer world. Flowers and trees. Smiles. Happy..." Her soft gray muzzle spread into a wide grin "...pretty princesses. Pretty."
"The princesses are pretty? Celestia and Luna?" Turner tried to keep his voice even as he shifted his weight to the other haunch. He was sitting on the floor, and it was not as soft as the bed.
The pegasus blinked again, slowly, and mouthed something that Turner couldn't make out.
"What was that? What about the princesses?" Turner was losing her, she was going too deep and would rapidly fall asleep. He raised his voice slightly. "Tell me about the princesses, Derpalina! What about the princesses?"
"Who...?" The look in her eyes was quizzical, confused. "Derba...who? I'm Lillian. My name is Lillian. Lillian....Fo.. Foga... something. Fogarty. That's my name. Lillian Fogarty of Surrey, plain old Lill....Lill...."
Time Turner adjusted the frequency of his little device once more, then sat back. "OK, Lillian. Tell me, Lillian, what about the princesses? You said they were pretty?"
The gray mare's eyes briefly began to drift apart, then suddenly locked again into focus. "Pretty. So... very pretty. Regal. Like when there was a queen back... back before... before the Collapse. I wish... I wish..."
"What do you wish, Lillian?"
Lillian's muzzle contorted, and her expression appeared upset. "No, it's arrogant. It's wrong. No. No. Just a simple life for me. That's all I want. Just a kind, simple, nice life. Just a regular pony. Just a..."
"Tell me your wish. It's alright. I won't tell anyone. I promise. Please tell me?" Turner hovered close to Lillian's head, whispering into her tall ears.
"I wish... wish that I could.... be... like them... no, silly, it's just silly OH!" Suddenly fear and shame swarmed across Lillian's pony features "My fault! My fault, what if it was my... fault! Oh, CELESTIA! I shouldn't have wished, I shouldn't have thought... I couldn't help it! So pretty! I just... I didn't really want... not really, honest, honest, please believe me! Please forgive me! Celestia! Celestia!" Tears were now running down the little pegasus' face, onto the bed. Her limbs were moving, weakly, as if she were running, as if she were trying to flee some nightmare only she could see.
"Shhh.... shhhh... it's alright. You are safe. You're safe now. All safe. All safe." Time Turner reached into himself and used a special energy he possessed, and briefly touched Derpalina's mind, calming her, reassuring her, and also briefly tasting her thoughts as well and -
The flash was as bright as Celestia's sun. No. It wasn't a flash. It wasn't light. It was all mental. Not real.
Turner picked himself up from the corner of the room where he found himself. It was as if he had been blasted back, away. He nursed a small bump on his poll with a hoof. "Ow!" Turner ruefully stared at his own limb. "Twenty-five bloody years as a pony so far, and I still forget HOOVES ARE HARD!"
6. Drop An Item
Turner's injury from last night still ached as he and Derpalina Hooves walked around the city of Lost Angeles. Turner was well aware of the security agents that followed them, the black coats and dark glasses instantly gave them away. Same old humanity, even a thousand years into the future past the end of their world and all turned into ponies. Turner gave a soft chuckle. The usual, then.
They were running down an alleyway, within the maze of tall buildings when they came to a locked gate. Behind the gate was some small compound or loading area, and from the lack of sound, currently devoid of activity. Time Turner began to fuss with his tail to get out his little 'toy' - it was particularly good against locks of all kinds - when he suddenly found himself high in the air, then just as promptly back down on the ground, inside the loading dock compound.
Derpalina was softly giggling at him. She spread her lovely gray wings, the sun dancing on the feathers. Ah. Yes. Pegasus. The look on Turner's face was more than enough to force Derpalina to press her hooves to her muzzle to silence what would have been loud laughter.
Suddenly her rolling eyes went wide. The sound of rapidly clomping hooves drew near outside. Derpalina and Time Turner huddled low, bodies pressed together, as the lock on the fence was tried. The sound of the hooves passed on, then and faded into the distance, and from the echo, around a corner in the maze of buildings. They had lost their watchers.
Turner remained where he was, and thought. Derpalina didn't seem to mind the interlude, she pressed harder into him, enjoying the closeness. Time Turner thought about what they had learned so far. It just didn't make sense.
They were a thousand years into the future of Equestria, a thousand years after the last of the planet Earth had been devoured by the cosmos of intelligent ponies. Lost Angeles was an entire civilization unto itself, started by forgotten Newfoals that had never been found. The same was true of New Chengdu and Neo-Volgograd. Each great city had its own culture, its own language, customs and government. They got along perfectly well, the very best of friends, delighting in each other's exotic joys. That was the pony part right there. But the human aspect was the differences. Such diverse takes on life. Such unique technologies.
The former humans had gone in directions native Equestrians would never think to. The strange engine under the vibrating bed was proof of that. Apparently the ponies of New Chengdu had developed a way to double the lifespan of the average pony, all three civilizations made use of that. And Neo-Volgograd was the source of an astonishing effective system of distributing some form of energy that Turner had never heard of, something not used in proper Equestria. It was what had made the lights work, and the automatic door in the hotel, and many other earthlike devices within the city. Clever, clever humans, now working their special gifts on magic itself.
Turner wondered if these distant, forgotten ponies could have discovered things that even Celestia and Luna did not know. That would be interesting, indeed.
Celestia had taken a bigger risk, perhaps, than she had ever imagined when she had saved the human race from its inevitable extinction. Oh, she had done as much as she could to make sure that her never ending problems with the dragons and the diamond dogs and the gryphons and all the other species she had let in as refugees... she had such a soft heart for the doomed. This time she had tried to not make the same mistake. No more carnivorous, unmutual, or aggressive species, no... she made sure that this time the price of salvation was becoming kind ponies.
And they were kind. Kind and gentle and loving to a fault, just like the native Equestrians. The Newfoals had been stripped of all of their negative traits, all the potential for evil, all the sickness, all the cruelty and the desperation of a species evolved to survive in a universe of scarcity. No more dragons, definitely not.
But she hadn't changed them beyond that. Their true humanity, the best of humanity had been kept entirely, wholly intact. The clever, searching, questioning, curious, never-satisfied mind of the primate remained, even in pony form. And these descendants of Newfoals had made their own Equestria, in their own image, after their own imagination.
Not a one of them knew a single word of the proper Equestrian language. Their holidays were terrestrial, not Equestrian. Few even knew the names 'Celestia' or 'Luna', they did not know that their sky was painted by goddesses, or that the sun that shone upon them was the personal hoofwork of a living being.
During their exploration of Lost Angeles, Derpalina had stumbled down a narrow pathway, and Time Turner had been forced to find her before she became desperately lost. He had found her inside an ancient building, at least five, maybe six hundred years old. It was not made of shiny metal and glass, but instead stone and wood. It had stained glass windows, and Turner instantly recognized it as a cathedral. Small by human standards, but impressive for ponies.
The images on the windows, and the carving on the altar were clear. Celestia and Luna, depicted in the one way they did not want to ever be shown: As the goddesses they were. Turner had once experienced a long talk with Celestia where she had made the matter very clear - the two pony sisters did not want to be deified by their little ponies, because it was already lonely enough being immortal, all powerful beings. They wanted, desperately, to just be accepted as a normal part of the life of Equestria, approachable and safe, and even this was difficult to maintain. Ponies constantly tried to make more of them than they wanted to be perceived as, and it was an ongoing effort for the both of them to decrease the elevation that others forced upon them.
This was the source of Celestia's prankish nature, and Luna's efforts to be accepted as just another pony. It was why they allowed themselves to be called princesses, but grew fierce about anypony calling them queen, or worse, empress. If anything in Equestria could be called blasphemy against the living goddesses of the pony cosmos, it was this very church that Derpalina had stumbled into. Celestia would have been furious... or heartbroken, Turner thought.
Derpalina was sitting with the high priest, an extremely elderly pony, in the empty cathedral to Celestia and Luna. That was her most special of special charms - whatever was the problem of a place, whatever was the most dangerous, or the most critical, whatever was the thing that was wrong, somehow she would stumble into it, as if guided by some impossible power. She was much like Time Turner's living machine, his blue shed - always it would take him where he was needed most, so that he could fix what needed to be mended. The universe - any universe, even a pony one - was a great clock, and Time Turner was very good at fixing clocks.
His beloved shed would only take him so far. Derpalina always took him the rest of the way, straight to the actual problem itself. She was invaluable, utterly, utterly invaluable, especially inside this new and strange pony universe.
But now Turner was confused.
There was no great plot ahoof to spread Celestism to the rest of Equestria. This church was the last one, anywhere, and the priest was the last of his kind. Nopony had worshiped here for over a hundred and sixty years. Celestism was no threat, and it would perish with its last priest. If any detail was off, Time Turner would expect that this was it, this was the big problem he was here to fix, the one that his shed had brought him here to take care of.
But no. Derpalina had found it, as she always did, and perhaps once it might have been a danger to the wishes of the princesses, but if that time had ever existed, it was long, long since gone.
Derpalina was giggling, the priest was balancing grass wafers on his hooves and being silly for her. There was no threat here. Just a moment of comfort and joy for an old stallion, in the last days of his faith.
7. Move Five Hooves
Time Turner was used to being frog-marched places, at least as used to it as he was to running about while being pursued, which is to say, very used to it.
Ponies did do the 'We Need You To Come With Us, Now' routine uniquely, however. In his past, Turner had often been roughly treated, threatened, marched at gunpoint, or cuffed and bound, this had to be the most unusual 'We've Been Captured' scenario he had ever experienced.
Derpalina was smilling happily, eyes rolled back into her head - though in opposing directions - as she slurped noisily at the Strawberry-N-Cream Triple Yum Ice Cream Soda that now occupied her entire attention. The ponies in the black suits and dark glasses had found them, and it had been made clear that the Prime Minister Wished To See Them Again.
That said, the path to his august halls was a winding one. Derpalina was still eager to see the delights of the city, and the tough, severe, and terribly taciturn Agents Of Lost Angeles had found themselves involved in a random tour of their city, with treats, all on the tab of Prime Minister Banister. There were several bakeries that would never quite be the same again, a toy store that would need extensive repairs, and this was the third soda shop that was discovering Just How Much A Pegasus Can Slurp.
Time Turner could not help but grin.
As humans, the pony agents would have brooked no such antics. But, thanks to the vastly hypertrophied social functions of the brain of Equus Sapiens Thaumatica, the capture of a questionable individual was no reason not to have fun and make friends. This was easily the most pleasant capture Time Turner had ever experienced. And the strangest.
As the delightful Miss Hooves exuded joy downing her fifth soda, Turner thought back to when he had not been a pony. Twenty-five years. Nothing, really, to his kind, but still of note - it was only the beginning. He would be a pony forever, there was no going back.
He had fallen through a metadimensional flexture, an unusual and rare form of charged vacuum emboitment, only without any charge, or means to detect it. Normally his people fixed these flaws in reality as humans might fix potholes in a road - but his people were gone, long gone. The strange curvatures of the hole in space had acted as an indeterminacy mirror, and Turner and his grand machine had been split into two identical versions of themselves. His experience was that of falling onto the earth of the Conversion Bureaus, where an alien cosmos was rapidly devouring the planet.
He wondered if his ontologically equivalent alternate self was even now, busily solving the ecological crisis that threatened the extinction of all humanity in the version of reality where there was no Equestria. Undoubtedly. Of course he would be doing that. That is what he did.
Turner had crashed, materialized, in what turned out to be called the Northamerizone in this bizarre version of reality, in a place called St. George, in Utah. He had gotten involved in the affairs of the Bureau there, and learned of the unique cosmic crisis that was the expansion of Equestria.
His people had a great tolerance and ability to resist radiation of all kinds, and this had convinced him that he could pass through the Great Barrier, the interface between the two universes, and easily survive the thaumatic energies within Equestria that were deadly to human beings.
But he had been wrong. Thaumatic radiation, as the humans called it, was not radiation in any normal sense of the term, and Turner had been forced to take the nanotechnomagical suspension that the Bureaus called 'potion' to survive. It had been a gamble - his kind were not human, and it was not a sure bet that the strange, thaumatically powered nanomedicine would even work. He had awakened as a pony, with a scrambled memory and little idea of what had happened to him. If it had not been for Derpalina Dittzy-Doo Hooves being so concerned for him, he might never have regained himself.
She always seemed to be where she was truly needed - that is, when she was not causing some disaster of her own entirely by accident. There was something strange and magical about the gray pegasus mare, something magical even within an entire cosmos of magic. He had suspected early on that she had been a Newfoal. But there was something more.
For this new cosmos, Derpalina was the perfect companion. She led him directly to what he needed to do, like some kind of Crisis Bloodhound. She forgot things and became confused at precisely the correct times to prevent the ever curious princesses from discovering his efforts to preserve and protect Equestria, behind the scenes. They had even searched her mind, once, and found nothing at all that would show that she traveled in time and space with him. No ordinary pony could block a living goddess, it was unthinkable... but Derpalina had done just that, even if she had no idea what she had accomplished.
A great burp followed by loud giggling roused Time Turner from his reverie. The two dark-suited agents laughed despite themselves - Derpalina had that effect on even the most ornery of Equestrian beings. She had made no less than Lord Sapphire laugh, back during the signing of the Pax Equestria. That dragon was a real piece of work, even for dragonkind.
The black suits paid the fairly steep bill, and in short order the frog march to Number 10 New Downing Street resumed, if trotting along slinging jokes and puns back and forth while giggling can be called such.
The wooden panels of the walls were, as before, impressive. The desk was just as polished, but the Prime Minister was much more reasonable.
"You seriously claim that this mythological entity, this... Celestia... really exists?" The Prime Minister was incredulous, but clearly willing to listen for some reason.
"Oh, yes, absolutely real. Celestia and Luna both. Celestia really does raise the sun, and Luna controls the moon and stars. I have stood in Canterlot and watched them do just that. I've dined with them - Derpalina! Remember our dinner with the princesses?" Time Turner gestured at the gray mare, who was busy trying to remove the vase that had somehow become stuck on her head.
"No?" Her voice sounded hollow and muffled by the porcelain. One of the black-suited agents rushed over, and began trying to help her. It wasn't going well.
"Derpalina... it was at the castle. In Canterlot! We sat with the princesses, the bloody princesses of the whole of Equestria!"
"Um... not really. I kind'a 'member the castle. It's BIG!" The other agent was now involved, both using their hooves to try to extricate the wriggling pegasus from the large, beautiful decorative jar.
Turner thought hard as the Prime Minister began to frown. "AH! Brilliant! The Zap Apple Jelly Muffin Surprise!"
Suddenly the vase and the agents and Derpalina crashed against what moments before had been an intact - and beautifully inlaid - end table, with the result being a mass of legs, manes and tails, splinters of wood and shards of former vase. "OH! THOSE princesses!" The agents looked sheepish as they tried, impossibly, to regain their dignity. "Are we going to go see Celestia and Luna again? 'Cause I want MORE JELLY SURPRISE!!!"
Turner repressed a smile as he faced Minister Banister once more. "There, see? Celestia and Luna put on a great spread, by the way. Top marks!" His grin was not, apparently, appreciated.
"It is true... that our astronomers and scientists have found... certain..." Banister seemed uncomfortable "...anomalies. With the world. We have kept this information a matter of the greatest security, mister Turner."
Time Turner raised a hoof and swept it across an imaginary sky. "Let me guess, Minister Banister. The days are an arbitrary length, as if each one were determined at whim. Nights too. The stars sometimes change, and occasionally form pictures or form new patterns, or even seem to be some kind of writing you've never seen before - well, outside of that little church down there, between the skyscrapers."
William Banister looked very disturbed at the last part of Turner's statement. "You won't succeed. We will never let that happen again! I knew you were one of them - now it all makes sense to..."
"One of who, Minister Banister? Just what happened with that little church down there?" Turner stared intently at the Minister.
"You still claim to be from... an impossible distance away, ignorant of everything that..."
"Yes indeedy, far far away Prime Minister Sir! Why don't you fill me in, why don't you inform my ignorance so I won't be ignorant any more?" The look on Turner's muzzle was devoid of guile.
"Hmph. Perhaps." Minister Banister ran his hoof over the polished marble tiles that made up the floor. "In return, perhaps you can inform me about what we can expect... if myths were somehow to come true."
The doors were closed to the room, and the agents were instructed to wait outside. There was a moment of tension regarding the presence of Derpalina, but Turner made it plain that he and his companion were a team. Finally, the Minister began.
The records of the three civilizations were incomplete, because their early days were a struggle for survival. Gradually, through hardship and trial and error, a large population concentrated, all composed of the last survivors from the last bit of land and sea of the human homeworld.
They divided into three groupings, based on common cultural affinities, and discovered how to make use of their pony abilities and talents to control the world around them. The first generations born from the original Newfoals from earth climbed from desperation to mastery, and the foundations of the three massive cities were begun.
But one thing divided the growing population - the issue of whether their existence as ponies, and the events that led to the destruction of the earth were a blessing, or a conquest. It became clear that they had been abandoned utterly by the princesses that had claimed to offer them salvation, and the struggle of their lives made them bitter and angry.
Without any contact or guidance, the forgotten ponies did their best to build a new earth, to continue what they knew and understood within the alien cosmos. The three great cities that became Lost Angeles, New Chengdu and Neo-Volgograd deliberately limited contact with each other, when they could afford to, in order to preserve and concentrate what was left of the earth cultures they felt aligned with. The princesses had betrayed them, so they would make a new earth of Equestria.
But there was another viewpoint within the three civilizations, that clashed with the feeling of betrayal. The princesses would come. There were just so many billions of former humans that it was impossible even for godlike beings to attend them all. In the end, it was the last holdout's fault that they were lost - they could have converted at any time but they had waited until the very end of the earth. They had ignored reality, like spoiled children, and these were the consequences.
Celestians - that was the name they gave themselves - believed that the lost ponies of the three cities had really abandoned Celestia, and her gifts. The princesses would come. But only if everypony rejected anything terrestrial, and worked to live and express proper, native Equestrian culture. And that is where it all broke down, because all they had of native Equestrian culture were stories and things the original Newfoals claimed to have learned inside the Bureaus long ago. Much of it conflicted with each other, and none of it was even faintly complete.
The Celestian Faith became a political and social problem for the governments of the three new civilizations, and so a concerted effort began to eradicate it. In the human world, this would have meant pogroms and 'ethnic cleansing' - murder and suppression. But there were no humans, and such concepts were now impossible for the ponies that had descended from the original Newfoals. So they used a far more terrible method. Shunning and social ostracization. Entire generations suffered isolation and sadness. For ponykind, it was horror.
"I cannot have such division, such misery return, Time Turner. If what you say is a lie, then you threaten our peace by risking the return of the Celestian Faith. If what you say is true - that would be even worse. If Celestia and Luna truly do exist, then it would mean the destruction of three entire cultures, perhaps the only remaining essence of the world we originally came from." The Minister called to his agents, standing just outside the door. The agents promptly returned. "Mister Turner and his friend will be leaving shortly." Doubtless this meant more being followed and observed.
"There was a botanical team from Neo-Volgograd who happened to be filming a documentary on the flowers that grow uniquely between our three cities. While you've been touring Lost Angeles, I was shown images of your arrival. That is what convinced me that you were more than you had first seemed." Banister went to his desk and sat down on a cushion behind it. He placed his perfectly manicured hooves on the polished surface. "Right now, teams from all three cities are arranging to entomb the odd blue box the Volgograd team discovered. It is regrettable to lose access to what surely must be some strange and powerful magic indeed, to bring you such a great distance as you claim. But we cannot take any chance that you might reveal our existence, and location, to any... potential deities. 'Hominis Convenit Constitus', mister 'Time Turner', if that is your name. The shared motto of all three of our civilizations. I don't expect you to know it, the words are native to earth."
Time Turner stood firm and locked eyes with the official. "Latin, mister Bannister. 'Human We Remain'. And you won't get away with any of this I assure you."
8. Delay Action
"I can't believe they got away with it!" Time Turner was acrimonious, pacing back and forth inside the very pleasant apartment that had been allotted to Derpalina and himself. They would be supported by the state for life, in comfortable fashion, but they would also be watched, and they were forbidden from speaking of anything they knew. It was better than many situations that Time Turner had found himself in, before he had become a pony, but it was not freedom, and Turner coveted freedom above all else.
The Minister also had no idea of just how long 'for life' meant, with regard to a Timepony. And, as Turner was beginning to suspect, a certain gray pegasus as well.
Turner and Derpalina had the run of Lost Angeles, though they were not permitted to leave the borders of the great city, and the site of the entombment of Turner's Pony Box was utterly off limits. Celestia's little ponies were constitutionally incapable of killing, but there were many other unpleasant things that could be done to punish transgression, and Turner did not want to risk his companion suffering because of any rashness on his part. Especially now.
Unable to leave, Time Turner's thoughts bent towards the unusual events that had happened within the motel, especially the strange burst that had tossed him like a rag doll when he had touched Derpalina's mind. There was one other moment when he had experienced something very much like that - in Canterlot, when in a moment of recklessness, he had foolishly tried to probe the mind of Celestia herself. The urge to see the thoughts of a purported goddess was just too great, and he had learned that such thoughts are too much even for one such as himself - something that quite shocked him to his core.
Turner had insisted on a return to the little cafe where Lilly McCulloch worked as a waitress. The cafe where Derpy had choked on her muffin and which had led to strange events in the evening. Derpalina was not eager to return, but promises of haycakes and more muffins swayed her chimeric whim.
"Muffins! Muffins! Ooh! An' juice! I wan the juice too, Turner!" The lovely miss Hooves was at her bounciest, and utterly unaware of the black coated followers who always remained just barely out of sight. "Can I have th' same juice? PLEEZZZ???"
Time Turner smiled and nodded, and this set his companion into paroxysms of glee. "Juice! Juice! Juice! And MUFFI.... oh."
The pale blue waitress with the white mane smiled and greeted them, but the pleasantness was not returned. Derpalina looked down, avoiding eye contact, and stared at her own gray hooves on the countertop.
"Derpalina, Derpy, tell me, what's the matter? Miss McCulloch just said hello. She seems happy to see us. Don't you want to say hello back?" Turner studied his companion carefully. She remained steadily fixated on her own hooves. She shook her head, then appeared to grimace.
Finally, Derpalina spoke in a strangely shy, moody voice. "Hullo."
Lilly McCulloch set about trying to take their orders. Turner was forced to order for Derpalina, and made sure to get every item he had promised her, including the juice she wanted. Gradually her mood improved, as she was tempted to begin gobbling the feast before her.
While Derpalina enjoyed her food, Turner shifted his attention to the waitress. "Miss McCulloch, Lilly, wasn't it? Could I ask you a few things?"
The blue earthpony stood by the counter and wiped a portion with a hoof. "I guess. What sort of things?"
"About your city, about your past - actually, I really want to ask you about your name." Turner had entirely ignored his order of haycakes and syrup.
"My name?" The little waitress stopped wiping the counter and began counting receipts.
"Well, you see, where I come from..." Turner tried to be careful, so that the handlers outside, who would doubtless question miss McCulloch later, would have no violations to report "...which is... somewhere else, where I come from, nopony has names like ponies here. They don't have names like 'John' or 'Julia' or 'William'. Many don't have last names, and when the do, it's nothing at all like 'McCulloch'."
Lilly leaned her head forward a bit. "What kind of names do they have then?"
"Oh, names like 'Butterscotch' and 'Apple Dumpling' and 'Cloudhammer' or 'Snowflower' or 'Honeydrizzle'. Like my own name, 'Time Turner'. It's because I fix clocks and timepieces, you see. See my cutie mark here?" Turner rotated on his low stool to show the golden hourglass on his flank. "Time is my specialty, you see, so my name is Time Turner."
The waitress laughed. "Don't tell me, 'Butterscotch' makes candies, right?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact she does. Very good ones, actually. They make you feel joy. It's her specialty, so it's also her name."
Lilly McCulloch adjusted her waitress-saddle and looked back at Time Turner with a disbelieving expression. "So... what does 'Snowflower' make?"
Turner smiled. "In that case, I think her name probably just refers to her beautiful white coat. Some names are merely descriptive, or even poetic."
"I assume 'Cloudhammer' bucks unruly clouds?" Lilly apparently thought proper Equestrian names were hilarious.
Time Turner grinned. "Sometimes. But he's more likely to save your life or protect your property. He's the head of the guard for... a very important... um... pony."
"Where did you say you came from?" Lilly the waitress half laughed her words, and her muzzle betrayed that she clearly figured she was being put on.
"Actually, I'm not at liberty to say. Literally." Time Turner glanced back at Derpalina, who was happily plowing through his unattended haycakes without a second thought. Or a first, he reckoned. That mare could eat. "Tell me then, Lilly McCulloch, cafe waitress of the shining city of Lost Angeles, how you got your name?"
Lilly winked at Turner, and chose to play along. "Well, way out here..." She stressed the word, as if her city were somehow exotic in any way "... we do things a little bit differently. See, our last names are 'family' names, they are handed down, and just sort of come with getting born. There are McCullochs in Lost Angeles all the way back, and I'm one of them. It doesn't have any meaning that I know of, it's just my last name."
"Alright, what about your first name then? What's the story behind that?" Turner snagged a bit of haycake before his companion could, she stuck out her tongue at him and giggled.
"Well...." The pony waitress closed her eyes briefly in recollection "... I was told that my mother chose my name because my great, great grandmare, on my father's side had that name. She wanted to get in good with his relatives, and apparently the original 'Lillian' was quite some important..."
Time Turner wasn't looking at Lilly McCulloch any longer. His gaze was locked on his companion, who had suddenly stopped eating. She sat eerily still, looking straight ahead at nothing, and both of her eyes were equally and perfectly focused in the same direction.
A bite of haycake dropped onto her plate from her open mouth.
"John, what on earth are you up to?" Derpy spoke in an odd voice, devoid of her usual slight slur, a strong voice, clear and sharp. "What are these for? They're kind of pretty."
Lilly the waitress stepped forward, in concern. "Your friend. Is she alright?"
Turner waved a hoof and motioned for Lilly to step back. "What is pretty? Tell me what you are looking at? What are you looking at Lillian?"
"I'm looking at your friend! I think she's having some kind of fit or something. Should I call a medical unicorn?"
Turner shook his head at the waitress. "No, no, please... she has the same name you do, only she doesn't know that it's her name."
"She doesn't know it's her...?" The waitress rolled her eyes. "I don't know what game you two are playing but..."
"Shh!" Turner gave the waitress a pleading look, then turned back to Derpalina. "Go on, what is so pretty, Lillian? Tell me."
Derpy was still staring with both eyes into infinity. She sat still as a Canterlot Maze Garden statue. "The balls. The little glass balls. I think they are glass. They look like glass. I've never seen anything like them before."
"Where are you, Lillian? Can you..." But Derpalina cut him off. She was no longer hearing him.
"My ring feels warm. On my forehead. Would you check it?" Derpalina squinted, as though she were in some discomfort.
"Ring? On her forehead?" Lilly the waitress leaned forward again. "Only unicorns wear rings on their foreheads. She's a pegasus! I think she really needs help."
"No, not now, Lilly! I think I'm really close to..." Time Turner put a hoof across the countertop to hold the waitress back. She was starting to try to get help.
Turner looked back at his companion, Derpalina. She was shaking now, and foam was coming out of her mouth and nose.
"OK, now! GO! GET HELP! HURRY!"
Lilly the waitress ran into the back of the cafe to make use of yet another of the unique devices the clever citizens of the three cities had independently developed. But she had been superseded already by the dark-coated handlers outside. The medical unicorns were already entering the building.
9. Drop prone
The heart monitor bleeped. It actually bleeped, and the sound was exactly, precisely the same sound used in a hundred different medical dramas that the humans once loved so much. Here, in the magical universe of Equestria, a thousand years after the total obliteration of the earth and the end of the human species, in a cosmos where there was no electricity, where the physics were thoroughly alien, a boxy little machine bleeped and displayed numbers, and the sound it made was a long forgotten noise.
Time Turner never failed to marvel at these little, improbable coincidences. It didn't matter what universe, or what time period or what planet. In the strangest of places, in the oddest of times, always there would be little things, familiar things, that defied any explanation. The real mysteries of the cosmos were tiny and easily overlooked.
Dwelling on this helped Turner as he delicately held Derpamina's limp hoof in his own. She lay on a hospital bed - it could only be a hospital bed, for it was the sort of bed convenient to everpony but the one laying upon it - still and staring. Occasionally her golden eyes would blink, slowly, but at the moment, there was nopony home.
They had scanned her. It was not like medical imaging in Ponyville and Equestria proper. They used a machine. The device had been attended and operated by a unicorn, but it was not the unicorn doing the scanning. In all of his quarter century of being a pony in Equestria, Time Turner had never experienced such a un-pony way of practicing medicine. Magic at a distance, perhaps. Or perhaps the ponies, clinging to their human origins, had discovered some strange energies or fields that would boggle the minds of even the Royal Corps Of Unicorns... on second thought, Turner grinned to himself, that was too easy, really.
"Um... mister Turner, was it?" The doctor was a bright orange unicorn wearing a white coat and a stethoscope. His name was Phillip Southall, and he was a specialist in matters of the head and neck.
Time Turner nodded.
"We have discovered... something extraordinary about miss Hooves, here. Something truly unexpected, I would dare say unbelievable. I am not certain how to explain this to you, but..." Dr. Southall faltered, clearly at pains to accept his own findings.
"Well then, let's take a proper look at the matter, show me the scans, and we can go over them doctor to doctor, alright?"
"You... you are a medical pony?"
"Among other things, yes." Turner smiled and followed Dr. Southall down a corridor of the hospital.
The images were not entirely unlike the results of magnetic resonance scanning, save that the entire basis of such technology would be impossible within Equestria's physics. Time Turner slowly rotated the melon-sized crystalline orb that held within it a three-dimensional image of the interior of Derpalina's head.
The lower two thirds of her brain appeared intact, but the upper third was missing, replaced by what appeared to be hollow spheres of some transparent material. It looked like glass. Specifically, the objects looked exactly like the glass fishing floats once used to provide buoyancy to large nets. Derpalina's words in the cafe came back to Turner - the pretty, little glass balls. Somehow, his companion had seen these, before they had been placed inside her skull.
"But here is the most interesting part of all of this..." Dr. Southall gestured with a pencil held in his hornfield "...absolutely no damage to the skull or soft tissues. The brain itself appears to have grown around the glass spheres, filling gaps between them fully. There is no way I can think of for this to happen, not even with the use of the most refined magics, at least as I understand such matters." Southall lowered the pencil and released his telekinetic grasp "I cannot understand it. In theory, teleportation might have been used to place the spheres there, but it is a rare talent among even the brightest of unicorns, and we still have no real understanding of such matters. There is certainly no unicorn in the world that can use teleportation at will, it only happens as a reflex in..."
Turner thought of how astonished these isolated 'Hominis Convenit Constitus' ponies would be, if they knew what the native Equestrian study of magic had achieved.
Dr. Southall went on at some length about how the glass spheres could not have been inserted in Derpalina's foalhood, which ruled out that particular means for her brain to have grown around them. These ponies did not have regenerative magic to the extent that native Equestrians possessed, so Southall was unable to consider anything that would cause an adult brain to be made to fill space without flaw. Derpalina's skull represented an impossibility to Dr. Southall, and it was clear that he felt shaken by the fact of what had been revealed.
"I do think I have discovered the reason for miss Hooves seizures, however." Dr. Southall grasped the pencil once more in his telekinetic hornfield, and used it to indicate the areas between the glassine bubbles inside of Derpalina's skull. "I think something, likely some kind of vibration, such as a focused sound wave, precisely matched the resonant frequency of one or more of the objects in the patient's skull. This caused the spheres to vibrate, likely hitting repeatedly against each other. It is my belief that this induced inflammation of the neural tissue, eventually resulting in seizure when the swelling reached some critical point."
Time Turner hung his head - the little toy he had used to induce the hypnotic state in the hotel operated on just those principles. He himself had unknowingly caused Derpalina's current crisis.
"Not to fear, though. We're using both telekinetic treatments and a powerful anti-inflammatory agent to treat miss Hooves condition. I have a reasonable confidence that she should enjoy a full recovery, well, at least to whatever normal is for such a truly unusual case." Dr. Southall shook his head, causing his stethoscope to swing back and forth across his forelegs.
It was evening now. Once or twice, when getting something to eat, Time Turner had seen his handlers standing in the hall. They were making no attempt to hide, now. One had even come up to him and paid respects and wished for Derpalina's swift recovery. They weren't bad sorts, Turner decided, they were just doing their job of keeping an eye on him.
Turner suddenly startled. He had drifted off, hunched over the low hospital bed where his companion lay. His tail had gone numb from having been sat upon too long - he hated when that happened, it tingled with little needles that just drove him insane.
"Before I landed on that building, I was shot by some humans." Derpalina was talking, softly, almost a whisper. Turner couldn't tell if she was asleep or in some kind of coma - Dr. Southall had been just as unable to define her cognitive state. She must be describing events before she came to Equestria... but after she became a pony, from the way she had phrased things. It almost certainly must have been before the glass floats had been put inside her skull. For what purpose? Why would glass fishing floats ever be put inside the skull of a pony? It was inconceivable!
Worse, it surely could not have been humans who did it, and they were the most likely suspects. Terran medical science was well developed by the time of the Bureaus, but there would have been some trace if surgery had been performed. Even if trained, native, Equestrian medical unicorns of the highest caliber had been used, there would have been some trace, some indication of where the skull had been opened and resealed, of where the brain tissue had been encouraged to grow. In his years in Equestria, Turner had learned enough to know what to look for, and the scan earlier had showed nothing.
Not knowing what else to do, and unwilling to try touching her mind directly again, Time Turner decided to try to coax more from her. It was a risk - the last time, in the cafe, she had a seizure from just such an effort, but... at least they were in a hospital right now, and he could think of nothing else to try.
"Lillian." He began "Lillian Fogarty..." that was the name she had given, back in the hotel room. "Lillian, you were saying... you had been shot?" Turner was leaning now, over the bed, watching Derpalina's muzzle intently for the first fleck of foam, or the first sign of twitching.
"But it healed. Actually, I made it heal in an instant." Derpalina was not shaking and there was no foam, yet. "They blew out my side. But it would have healed on its own. Actually, I made it heal in an instant. I could be blown to pieces, John, and the bits would crawl or teleport back and form me again. No, I cannot be killed. I cannot be killed. I will never die."
Turner felt himself shiver, a cold feeling ran up his spine. Derpalina - Derpy Ditzy Doo Hooves was a very special little pegasus. Clumsy. Accident prone. Cute as a button and twice as charming. A loving and doting mother. Astonishingly good at finding trouble, like no companion he had ever known, and he had known some brilliant, amazing ones. She was a little light upstairs, just a touch impaired, the only such pony he had ever met. In all of Equestria there were no birth defects, no congenital disease, no mental retardation. No pony was truly disabled, not permanently. Not one, except for Derpalina. She alone. Why?
Only now, in this moment, despite the impossible glass balls filling her skull, Derpalina was not the least impaired. Her voice was still unslurred, precise, and clear. It was her tones, but not her mannerisms. Time Turner struggled to put what he had learned together, but it only raised more questions.
Derpalina was really a Newfoal, named Lillian Fogarty. She had been shot by humans, apparently, before she emigrated to Equestria. The damage should have been fatal, but she had somehow healed herself, in an instant by her own words. She claimed she could not ever die. Her head was filled with terrestrial fishing floats, which she had seen before they had been installed. She apparently knew someone named 'John', who was involved in all of this. A thousand years ago, on a world forever lost. Even the 'Pony Box', as it had named itself, could not breach Zero Point, the moment where the last of the earth vanished forever. Going back in time to see what had happened was not an option, even if he could get to the old girl.
"Lillian. Lillian. Why..." Turner struggled to think of what to ask, what would give him any sort of clue or answer. He might never get such a chance again when Derpalina recovered. If she recovered. He very much wanted her to recover. "Lillian... why? Why are you here? Why can you heal yourself? Why can you never die?"
"Celestia... She is coming. Coming for me. Help me, John. I never wanted this. I just wanted... I wanted to be an ordinary pony. John..." Derpalina's voice was fading, the strange mental state that allowed this could not last indefinitely.
Time Turner looked about the room, at Derpalina, at his own hooves. What was the useful question? What was it that he really needed to know?
"Lillian Fogarty..." Turner began "Why are you not a normal pony?"
The voice of Lillian Fogarty spoke once more before Derpalina Ditzy Doo Hooves fell into a quiet sleep. Turner heard her clearly, but had trouble accepting the fact of it. Instantly, things made sense, horrible, terrible sense. Two words. Just two little words were all that she said, but it was enough. It was enough because Time Turner had worked at the St. George Conversion Bureau. He had returned through the Barrier, after he had been converted, and worked as a conversion doctor, and he had been given the special briefing that all Bureau doctors are given. The special briefing that carried the Official Seal of the Diarchy of Equestria itself.
Just two little words, impossible words, the likelihood being one part in several trillion. So unlikely as to be unthinkable, but of such a terrible threat that even the impossible needed to be addressed. Two words that could literally obliterate both the mundane universe, and the universe of Equestria from existence itself.
10. Draw a weapon
Derpalina Hooves was sleeping, Dr. Southall felt convinced that the inflammation inside her head was reducing satisfactorily, it would simply take time. Time Turner had learned that the two handlers who had the job of watching over he and his companion were named Simon and David, and that they were decent chaps who enjoyed the odd doughnut and were genuinely concerned about Derpalina's condition.
There was nothing to do but wait, so Turner decided to see if the Lost Angeles Mercy General Hospital had a gift shop. A decent hospital should always have a gift shop, and Turner felt guilty for causing his companion's illness, even if it was an accident. When she finally awakened fully - if she awakened fully - he dearly wished to see her smile and giggle again. Perhaps he could find some gift that would delight her.
As the ancient Timepony walked the corridors, the weight of what he had learned began to settle into him. If Derpy, if the former Lillian Fogarty of Surrey, Northamerizone had truly been a real life Code Majeste... how was it that either Mundis or Equestria had survived? The briefing had made it clear - a newborn proper alicorn would be capable of destroying worlds with the slightest of random thoughts. Oceans could boil at the slightest spark of anger, or entire universes collapse at the merest hint of depression. Lillian would have been a living bomb that the tiniest thing could set off, killing untold billions in an instant, and destroying every material and immaterial creation save the two deific princesses and herself.
She had been stopped then, somehow. The glass fishing floats in some manner had prevented a multiversal apocalypse.
The horn. Her horn. It was almost obvious. Derpalina Hooves was a pegasus, a silly, happy gray pegasus. But if she had ever been an alicorn, like the princesses, she would have possessed a horn. Derpy had no horn. Her beloved daughter, Dinky had a horn, the little foal was a unicorn, but Derpalina was...
Derpalina had said, once, that she had no idea who the father of her foal was. As far as Time Turner knew, Derpy wasn't sure what sex even was.
The implications filled him with both wonder and horror, as he walked the hospital hallways. Derpy doted on her daughter as if her foal were the most important thing in her world.
No, there was something else.
Twenty-five years. Time Turner had been in Equestria, as a pony, for twenty-five years now. And over all of that time, Derpy had always taken care of her little Dinky. Her little, baby, tiny foal. For twenty-five years.
It was easy for a Timepony to overlook things like that, he mused. He traveled in time, he saw the world in snapshots and glimpses, he did not move through the world as ordinary ponies did. There was no reason for it to occur to him.
No wonder the princesses were so interested in Derpalina. No wonder there was a special allowance granted her for 'service to the crown'. The standing rule was that no pony could refuse her employment, despite her many clumsy accidents and even catastrophes. It was the royal decree that Derpy must never be denied a job if she wanted it. She would hold jobs until she was let go, but always she would have another the same day.
How much did the princesses know? Turner had thought that they were interested in him, that they suspected his manipulations of the timeline of Equestria, but that was wrong. They were interested in Derpy, and even from a distance watched the company she kept, and made sure her needs were always met.
The pony trying to hold Time Turner back was getting annoyed. Turner finally noticed the little fellow, only then realizing just how far into his own thoughts he had drifted. He was nowhere near the gift shop. This was some section of the hospital he had never seen, and it did not look like the rest of the structure.
"How did you even get in here? I insist that you leave, now!" The medical attendant was trying to block Turner with his entire body. "Sir! Sir! You are in a restricted area! No visitors are allowed here for any reason!"
Before Turner was a curious room, round and covered in large, square white tiles. From the round central chamber opened numerous doors to small rooms, each with a heavy, soundproof door. The sweeping, circular, hanging sign that floated above the large, curving nurses station caught his attention.
"I said, I really must ask you to leave!" The attendant was adamant.
Turner stood tall on his legs, and raised his head, using his carefully practiced Important Person Gaze. "Oh, hello! I didn't notice you there, sorry. I'm doctor... Turner. I am a colleague of Dr. Southall's. He asked me to check in on..." Time Turner rummaged through his memory for the very most common proper English surname. Ah! "Smith. I believe you have the patient here, I apologize for not having my coat or credentials, but old Southall's tied up with a patient and called me in rather unexpectedly, really. Could you be so kind as to direct me to the correct room?"
That was the thing with the culture of the terrestrial English, everything was attitude, because social station ruled their world. If that part of humanity survived here, then...
"Oh, sorry, I am so very, very sorry - without the coat, I just... oh dear, Nurse! Nurse!' The little attendant rushed to the desk in the center of the oddly designed room. "Smith, we have a doctor here to check on a patient, name Smith..."
It resolved that there were several 'Smith's' in the Mercy Hospital End Of Life Isolation Centre, but with a little fuss and nonsense, Turner found himself at the bedside of an ancient looking stallion, shriveled and pale and very white of mane.
"You can go, now. I would like to be alone with the patient for a bit, if I may." It was not a question.
The attendant left, and Time Turner noted that the heavy, soundproof door was being pulled shut "Hen ooo 'ant ou, uss oohe ee utton on ee 'all" the attendant mouthed around the heavy handle he held in his mouth. As the door sealed, and was locked, Turner noticed the mentioned button on a panel by the door. Buttons and switches and beeping machines, in Equestria, he thought. Clever, clever former humans. Descendants of former humans, he corrected himself.
"Ohhh... 'ello there. Didn't 'spect no visitors. Not allowed, you know." The dessicated old stallion squinted through rheumy eyes at Time Turner. "You're no doctor. Not that I mind. I'm glad you ain't one 'a them."
"Why is that, mister Smith?" Turner placed a gentle hoof next to the dying pony's own, and gave a comforting tap with it.
"Cuz they don't give no respect to the dyin', you know. Spend a whole life workin' hard, doin' your best to keep your muzzle clean, and at the end, they seal you up. It's like bein' in a tomb before you're even dead." Mr. Smith seemed terribly lonely, and not a little bitter.
"Don't you have any friends or family, Mr. Smith?"
"Course I do! Lot's of 'em. Got grandfoals comin' out the whazoo, and more mares'n I can count who still... ah, what's the use. It's all over now, ain't it. Good run, though. I got an award, once, from the Prime Minister herself. Not the current one, 'e's an ass. The old one. Long time back." The aged Smith reared and coughed for a while, his rickety frame shaking with he effort. Finally he lay back again, utterly exhausted by the activity.
"They don't let anypony visit? Ever?" Turner was incredulous.
"Nope. Not ever. Tha's the point a' that door o'er there, ya silly pony. Shut out the sound. Shut out anythin' I might say, anythin' I might see. Anythin' that might happen." The wrinkled muzzle smiled, weakly. "A hell of a lot a' fuss for somthin' tha' don't exist, don't you think? Heh, heh, he..." another fit of coughing followed, and when it had passed, Mr. Smith was left gasping for air, unable to speak for a while.
When the old stallion seemed able, Turner spoke again. "What is it that doesn't exist, Mr. Smith?"
Smith stared at his unexpected visitor with unsure eyes. Eventually he decided it wasn't a trap, or a test. "Celestia, a' course. Or Luna. Sometimes they say it's Luna. They come, you know. At the end, an' you see 'em. An sometimes so does anypony around. Sometimes." The eyes were defiant now. A curious strength rose in the fading Mr. Smith.
"You've... you've seen something, in your past, haven't you mister Smith? Tell me about it." Time Turner leaned close, fascinated.
"Wha' the hell. Ain't like it matters no more." Smith sighed and closed his eyes. "Was when my great great granstallion went. We were out sailin' on the lake. No doctors, no way for any 'a them to mess it up. Just a foal, I was, but I saw her. I saw her come, and 'Ol Gray Smith spoke to her. Jus' before. An somethin' just came out'a him, peeled right out like a banana from it's skin. Somethin' young, an' faint, an' sparklin', and it went with her. Down a tunnel o' light."
Suddenly the rheumy eyes opened, fierce and determined. "I know wha' I saw!"
"I believe you, Mr. Smith." Time Turner gazed evenly at the fragile stallion on the bed. "What I don't believe is that they..." Turner motioned beyond the door with a jerk of his head "... don't."
"It's pride. Pride an' power. An' a big heap a' bitterness, too. Some ponies keep a grudge a long time. They know. 'Course they know. Jus' pride and power and grudge. Silly ponies the lot o'..." Mr. Smith had used up what reserves he had, and had fallen into what appeared a rattling sleep. Briefly, Turner considered simply waiting with the perishing stallion, to see what might come to visit him, then remembered how far in the future he was, and quickly made for the button on the wall.
Celestia and Luna did not know about his nature as far as he knew, and he was not sure that they would approve of his meddling in their universe. Celestia especially could be a little... grim... about such matters. A meeting here, now, might not go well.
The door, at last, was dragged open. Unfortunately, on the other side of the door, Time Turner was surprised to see the face of Dr. Southall. "I think..." Dr. Southall said to the nurse behind him "... that my colleague is immediately needed elsewhere at the moment."
11. Damage Resolution
Derpalina Ditzy-Doo Hooves was bouncing up and down on the somewhat worse-for-wear hospital bed, and the large tray of muffins and various juices flipped spinning up into the air just as Time Turner and Dr. Southall entered the room. Bits of three different flavors of muffiny goodness exploded about the room as the walls were painted in peach-mango, banana-strawberry and blueberry-fescue. Derpy, in her joy, had accidentally bounced right on the edge of the metal tray, making a catapult of it.
"Uh-ohhh." Derpalina's ears drooped as she became suddenly still on the bed, a sodden section of muffin oozing down from the top of her poll.
"Well, it's good to see things are back to normal!" Time Turner happily observed, casually digging peach and mango soaked raisin muffin from his ear with a practiced hoof. "How are you doing today, Derpalina?"
Dr. Southall looked around the dripping room with a mixture of shock and surprise. He shook his head in concern for the poor cleaning staff, then shook it harder to get the bits of pastry out of his mane.
"I'm feelin' BOUNCY!" Derpalina grinned. "Maybe a little tooooo bouncy. SORRY!" Her muzzle instantly became the very essence of regret.
"Well, messy is best, you know. Oscar Wilde once told me that. You would have liked old Oscar, Derpy, he was a lot of fun at parties. He tended to make a mess too, only it was more social than physical, STILL, it's terribly good to see you up and around!" Time Turner smiled and gave his companion a brief nuzzle.
"I have no way to explain her recovery, mister Turner, but I thought you should see. Normally inflammation of the brain is a very serious concern, which may take days or weeks to resolve. There are sometimes deficits, but... somehow, just a short time ago, miss Hooves suddenly sat up apparently completely well." Dr. Southall shook muffin from his stethoscope. "I would like to keep her here under observation for a few more days, perhaps run a few tests... also..." Southall tapped the floor with a hoof "I would very much like to bring in a specialist I know from Neo-Volgograd. I rather hope he might be able to shed some light on the issue of miss Hooves... unique... situation."
"We'd love to stay and play doctor, but... places to be, things to do. I really want to thank you, and all of your staff for all of your fine work, and sorry about the mess." Turner helped Derpalina off the hospital bed with his forelegs, his hooves tickled her ribs, which made her giggle.
"But mister Turner, I cannot in good conscience sign release papers for a patient with undiagnosed seizures and cranial abnormalities which defy..." Dr. Southall sputtered his words as he watched the long yellow tail of his patient trot off down the hall.
"I'll recommend you to the BMA! Great work, Southall!" Turner and Hooves were already halfway to the stairs.
"The what?" Dr. Southall suddenly noticed he had stepped in a squishy pile of soggy muffin.
"The... British... Medical... Associa...." the last was lost as the pair rapidly descended the staircase.
"The who?" Southall shook his head once more, then looked around the dripping room. "Never heard of them."
12. Assign Experience
The four ponies galloped, tiny specks lost in a vast field of green. The gleaming metal and glass towers of Lost Angeles was behind them now, as they made for the incomplete construction work ahead. Countless carts and wagons surrounded the structure in the distance, each filled with cut stones and mortar. Several crews of ponies from all three cities were busily cooperating to finish the pyramidal structure in time, and under budget.
"I... tried... to... explain... " Simon, the dark-suited pony agent left of Derpalina panted as he struggled to keep up "...that access ... to ...the site... is..."
"I know, I know." Time Turner galloped on, wishing he had wings like his companion. Derpalina smiled and winked at him and did a casual loop, giggling at the fun of it. She wasn't tired at all. "Blah blah, Prime Minister."
"Sir! we really... need... you... to turn... (pant)... back." David, the other agent, was falling slightly behind, but gamely trying to catch up.
"Can't do that!" Turner increased his speed a little "Got a capstone to beat!"
The pyramid in the distance was nearly finished. Ponies were remarkable beings, Turner thought. No fingers, just hooves, tail and mouth, but they worked together better than any species he had ever seen, and he had seen a lot of different species. Of course having unicorns with powerful telekinesis, and pegasai who could extend their power of flight to large masses... not to mention the almost terrifying power and raw strength of earth ponies... together, he couldn't imagine anything Equestrians could not do. The really impressive bit was how quickly they managed to actually do it.
If they could only get to the pyramid before the capstone was placed, it shouldn't be too difficult to just jump into the great tomb. Derpalina could catch him and lower him safely, she was accomplished at such things. She might be clumsy in other ways, but she had never failed to catch him in mid-air. Not even the time they made a break of it from the balcony in Canterlot Castle.
Turner smiled as he ran. Actually, they'd tried that little stunt twice. The first time was about, oh... fifteen hundred years in the past, more or less. The other wouldn't happen for another thousand years or so. So maybe it was more accurate to say they'd only done it once, at least from the perspective of the moment, though of course from their own, personal timeline it...
"DRAAAAGONNS!!!" Derpalina was still going on about the statue. Of course she was. She'd been terrified of them back when they had helped make sure the Pax Equestria had been signed, but by the end she had become quite taken by how cordial and proper some of the more civilized ones could be. When they had returned from that adventure, Turner remembered her and her little daughter Dinky drawing dragons in crayon together on their kitchen table. And the dragon-shaped cookies they had made later. Quite good cookies, really. Though the mess while making them was appalling.
Time Turner had always thought Celestia played chess. Neat sides arrayed on opposite parts of the board. Black and white and clear, sharp squares. Now he knew he was wrong. Celestia was a poker player. Just when he thought he had the princess figured out...
The statue had stood not far outside of the hospital, though on the opposite side from where they had originally entered. It depicted a team of ponies using a strange, imposing sort of machine to drive away a dragon, all done in what looked like bronze. The machine was shooting some kind of projectile, the trail of which supported the form of the dragon. The ponies wore helmets, not that unlike the helmets soldiers once wore on old, lost earth.
"That's our proudest moment, you know." Simon had given a very tiny little stomp with his forehooves, chuffed to be able to explain. "Dragons! Who'd have thought, you know?" It was clear that any information that had been given in the Bureaus a thousand years ago about the other species that lived in the universe of Equestria had not been remembered by the citizens of the three forgotten cities. Seeing dragons must have been a terrifying shock.
More importantly, what were dragons doing so far away from the small range they called their own? How had they traveled such a distance - it literally could not have been flight. Even the lifespan of a dragon was not so long. Turner had heard rumors that the dragons possessed unique and quite secret magics of their own, and relics from whatever cosmos they had originally derived from. No wonder princess Celestia was so very careful in dealing with them.
There were only three dragons. From the story Simon and David told, they must have been scouts - but this far away from Equestria?
Celestia had allowed humans to escape to Equestria out of compassion, and to fulfill a promise, true. But she had also taken in so many billion refugees to alter the balance of political power. The dragons would quickly understand this - they must have taken measures to verify just how much they had lost. The dragons had long held Celestia under the very real threat that they could, in a single day, render extinct the entire race of ponykind. Celestia was powerful enough to stop them, but the application of such awesome force would likely tear the land apart, and result in the same end. They had her over a barrel. But if there were more ponies, far too many for dragons to threaten, then they no longer had any leverage over her.
But how had mere ponies, utterly ignorant of the countless high-level magics of Canterlot, repulsed three mature dragons?
The answer was as clever as the human race that had become these outlier ponies.
The device represented in the statue was an incredibly advanced launcher, and the ordnance had been large sacks of orange juice. Lime juice, lemon and any citrus they had. Time Turner had noted what citric acid did to dragons once, far in the past, when he had dined with one at Celestia's table with Derpalina at his side. Derpy had spilled her juice - she so loved muffins and juice, and it had gotten on the young dragon ambassador.
Dragons were naturally lithovores, devouring stone and precious gems, but they could choose to eat almost anything. Historically, dragons had sometimes enjoyed eating ponies before the Pax Equestria. Dragons could survive the heat of magma, or the terrible chemistry inside volcanic vents. Most acids were a bath to them, or a delicious beverage. But not citric acid, not that one, single organic compound. They were, as a race, allergic.
The young ambassador had scratched at his scales in obvious torment, as shocked as anypony else at the table that he was feeling such pain. He seemed as if he had never truly felt pain before in his life. Only a mixture of soda cured him, and even then, he had been uncomfortable for days. He was a good dragon, but young and with temper barely controlled. A leap from Celestia's balcony had been a desperate but reasonable act at the time.
Human ingenuity in the pony world. How in Equestria had they discovered such a thing? Had they merely flung whatever they had, iteratively, until something worked? The battle with the dragons had happened thirty years in the past of Simon and David. They simply did not know all the details.
Ponies with highly developed anti-draconic technology. Non-lethal, of course, for they were ponies, after all. According to Simon, anti-dragon weapons platforms surrounded all three cities. The original design had been vastly enhanced.
Time Turner had felt the pieces fall into place, in that moment, by the large bronze statue. Celestia, he had thought, you have been keeping hidden cards inside your sleeves, haven't you?
Because she must know. If she and her sister acted as psychopomps for the dying and the dead, ferrying souls to whatever afterlife they had created for their little ponies - then they would already know about this city. They would absolutely already know of it, and all of its secrets.
Celestia had let these remnants of former human thought and culture alone. Her ace in the sleeve. Because without Equestrian culture to shape them and model them, here were ponies that could do countless things no culturally assimilated pony would ever think to even try.
"Clever Old Girl."
"Who? Me? I'm not very clever. I know it. But that's OK!" Derpalina had overheard him as the four ponies continued their long walk across the wide, flat green. "Not everypony needs to be clever, 'cause together, ponies can do anything!"
Turner roused from his thoughts. "You are absolutely correct, my dear Queen Of Muffins!" Derpalina giggled at that. "And, if I may say so, you are quite clever to mention that!"
"But I just said that I wasn't... I mean... because it... um..." Derpalina rolled her eyes, confused.
"Trust me, you are far more than you think you are, and I am very, very glad that you are my very, very best friend." Turner winked at his companion, which made Derpalina blush, and also made her feel even more confused than before.
13. Level Up
"I tried to tell him!" Simon was upset because David was upset - both had taken off their dark black glasses in acrimony - and David was upset because the head of security at the entombment site was very upset, and all of it was because not a one of them could stop Time Turner and Derpalina.
On the long walk from the city, Turner and Derpy had joked and laughed and heard the life stories of the two Lost Angeles agents, and they had all become quite chummy with each other. That was another special charm Derpalina possessed, Turner often noted, she made friends easily, if they could just get past her strange-looking strabismic eyes. If the old universe that earth had inhabited was still accessible, Turner could not help but recall, there was this one planet he could take her to visit where such eyes were the very definition of beauty, and synchronized gazes were considered repulsive. Ah, well, there was no path beyond Zero Point.
Thus it was that the two poor agents could not bring themselves to attempt to restrain either Time Turner or his companion, because, well, they had become friends. Celestia had been wise to make the Barrier impassable - ponies as a race were completely incapable of surviving against any species that had evolved within a universe of scarcity and competition. They could be conquered and enslaved by the simplest of ruses, indeed merely by the claim of affection. In their own universe, they were perfectly adapted for a system of physics based upon friendship generating magic. They would have perished entirely within a fortnight, had they been forced to survive in the cosmos Man came from.
By the time the forestallion and the head of security had agreed on what to do, Turner and Derpalina had made it almost to the top of the scaffolding that surrounded the nearly complete stone and concrete pyramid. A couple of workers made a weak attempt to buck at the galloping pair, but Turner was an old hoof at avoiding such things and Derpalina, well, she could fly when she remembered to.
The capstone was not in place, but it was being moved to cover the top. There was only one thing to do, and Time Turner did it. As he fell into the vast, empty, pitch dark chamber, he trusted that Derpalina would grab his tail in her teeth, just as she had long ago - or was it yet to be - during both of the plummets from Celestia's balcony.
On the ground, it looked and felt like night, save for the dim, square light of day shining above. The chamber was cool, and the ground was damp from condensation. Time Turner reached around and dug through the thick fibers of his tail. There it was. His little toy. It could do many things, but right now it was most useful producing light.
Turner and Derpalina trotted back and forth, scanning this way and that, until in the dark a glimpse of blue wood was seen. The little shed sat quietly in the artificial night.
Turner leaned and passed his device to Derpalina, mouth to mouth, and for a moment lingered, which made the gray pegasus blush visibly even in the dim light. Turner fetched his special key from his mane, and opened the door. Light spilled out from the vast room beyond the door. The ponies outside the pyramid were still arguing about what exactly to do when the blue shed began singing its musical, wheezing song. The blinking light on the top faded from view as the little blue shed vanished entirely, as if it had never been.
14. Character Advancement
The picture on Derpalina's mantle always caught Time Turner's eye. It had been... how many years? since the photograph had been taken. Derpalina looked just gorgeous, and Dinky was captured in mid leap, the little foal excited beyond capacity. But the face that truly stood out was that of Celestia, right there, looming over Turner's own shoulder, with her sister Luna opposite, next to Derpy and Dinky. Celestia, not looking at the camera at all, but instead caught studying Time Turner himself, and with such a curious expression.
As they sat down to eat, Dinky was bouncing on her cushion, and Derpalina, ever the attentive mother, nuzzled and settled her daughter down. "It's supper, honeymuffin! Honey Muffin! Oh, I love honey on muffins! I gobble 'em up! I gobble em'up!" She was nipping at her daughter then, and the two were gigging together completely lost in the moment, all thought of settling down vanished in the simple joy of play. They were like two halves of the same pony, which now, Time Turner realized, they literally were.
Turner grasped the wide-handled tongs in his hooves, and began to mix the mainsalad he had prepared for their meal. The dressing was one he had learned from Antoine Careme in eighteenth century Paris. The tongs were metal, and shone like silver. Turner found himself remembering the shiny buildings of Lost Angeles, and the strange non-adventure they had experienced there.
He had wondered for a long time why his beloved, living machine had taken him to such a place. Normally it always took him to where there was trouble, where something that was wrong, or unjust, or dangerous needed to be corrected. And Derpalina, since he had become a pony, Derpalina was double that, leading him straight to the exact issue itself.
But in Lost Angeles, Turner had found nothing that needed fixing. The potentially dangerous worship of Celestia was all but gone. The practice of isolating dying patients to prevent knowledge of the princesses guiding souls away was unpleasant, but not actually a threat to anypony. The three cities were at peace, and the only time dragons had somehow ventured near, they had been repulsed without a single pony eaten or harmed. There was simply no problem to solve, and nothing that needed his skills to fix. His machine had never led him on without purpose before.
But it gradually dawned on him what the problem was that needed fixing. It had somehow managed to get through even his hard head.
The problem was... himself.
Time Turner, before he became a pony, had lived centuries upon centuries in emotional isolation. He had enjoyed many companions, but not one of them could ever be more than that. Because other beings, other species, were mortal. They always grew old, and they always died. There was simply no point, and the pain was simply too great.
But his loneliness was also great, and it had become ever more of a sorrow as the centuries increased.
Lillian Fogarty of Surrey. This was what his living machine wanted him to know. The old girl hadn't lost a bit of her magic. Lillian Fogarty, the one and only one-in-several-trillions anomaly in the billions of Bureau conversions. The one impossible event, a Code Majeste, the creation of the single intolerable abomination - an uncontrolled new alicorn, a being like Celestia or Luna, capable of the power of a god, but without any means to control or understand that power.
Somehow, Lillian had been saved. Her horn and likely the upper part of her head had been removed. Old glass fishing floats had been installed within the cavity of her skull for some reason. Turner suspected it was to prevent her remarkable ability to heal from any wound from restoring that horn. In this manner, Lillian had been given the life of an ordinary pegasus. Well, perhaps not entirely ordinary, but close enough that she could be allowed to live at all.
A tissue test inside his blue box had confirmed his other suspicion - Dinky, despite being a lavender unicorn foal, was genetically identical to Derpalina, to the ponified Lillian. They were not just mother and daughter. They were the same flesh, the same body, the same original self. As Athena had budded from the head of Zeus, so must have little Dinky somehow leapt, fully formed, from the upper skull and horn of ex-alicorn Lillian Fogarty.
Now Lillian giggled as Derpalina, 'Derpy', with her beloved daughter. The princesses kept a distant but definite eye on her, and saw to her needs behind the scenes, because they knew she would be around a long time.
Derpy could never be hurt such that she could not heal, she would never grow old, and she could never die. There was still some faint trace of alicorn about her - her special charms, her uncanny fortune, both for good, and for catastrophe.
Since the journey, the name 'Lillian' had never bothered her again. She had healed even from that. That was why they had been taken to Lost Angeles too. The only place in the whole of Equestria, where the English language was still spoken, and where ponies had completely human names. Lost Angeles, the silvern city that had, Time Turner realized, healed them all.
"Who's a silly pony? Who's a silly pony?" It was hard to see which was giggling more, mother or daughter.
As Time Turner finished with the mainsalad, Dinky turned to him, with the same golden eyes as her mother, only focused and sure. "Daddy is!" And that set all three of them laughing.
Yes, thought Time Turner Hooves. Daddy truly is a silly pony. A very silly pony. But in the end, he had been smart, and since there was no end, for any of them, it was about time.
Turner leaned over and kissed his wife long and lovingly. She would never die, she would never age, just like him. And whatever happened, she would not mind, and wherever they traveled and whatever adventures they had, she would somehow always stumble in just the correct, exact way to make things right - or at least hilarious.
"Yes, little muffin?" Turner had joined Derpalina in using the little nickname for their daughter.
"Will... will we always be a family?" Like all little foals, Dinky had moments of insecurity.
"Yes, little Dinky Doo Hooves, we will always be a family." For a moment, he savored something perhaps no other father in the whole of the multiverse would be able to say without lying. "Forever."
And then it was all laughter and smiles, and the salad was delicious.
The Conversion Bureau Novels:
The Short Stories:
The Non-Conversion Bureau Fanfics: