Los Angeles has always been brown and gray, he thought. The desert hills, the endless plascrete, the thick blanket of smog so heavy that the sun is a pale red polka-dot you can just stare at with no harm done.
But not so Los Pegasus! Manny Delgado smiled, his brown skin shining in the bright sunlight. That's the deal with earthponies, they can't leave gray alone. Even before the name change, while the pegasai were just starting to try to clean the sky, earthponies were out making gardens. On rooftops, in abandoned parking lots, all the way through the favelas. One day, you could be walking down Figueroa, stepping over the garbage and the broken 'crete, and the sleeping homeless, and the next day, somehow, all the plascrete was arranged into little gardens, and the dirt under the city that hadn't seen daylight in a century was already covered in shoots.
When the Bureaus first opened, the Newfoals weren't wanted. They weren't right. They weren't normal. They were freaks, all those unicorns and pegasusesus - nobody knew what to call them, then. Manuel stopped, to sniff a large patch of flowers. They had been grown where there once had been a sidewalk. Everyone used the roads now, for walking. There wasn't much car traffic now. Sidewalks were useless. It wasn't even properly a city anymore. It was more like an endless series of little independent communities, little villages, all packed close.
Maybe Los Angeles hadn't changed that much after all, Manny chuckled.
It was definitely the earthponies that had made the difference. They had made ponies accepted in the city. You don't say no to good food. That was what Manny's Nana had told him. Abuela Juanita had been right. As always. Everyone loves good food, and that is what the earthponies do. Where they trot, there is green instead of gray, and tomatoes and peppers and beans and rice instead of parking meters and plascrete and blacktop.
The earthponies made the Newfoals respectable. They made them desirable to have around. The worldgovernment, it provided free food and water to every citizen of Earth. Out of the goodness of their hearts, and not at all to make up for killing the planet. But whatever the reason, for the first time in history, everyone was fed, just not well. Government ration was boring. It kept the body alive, but killed the soul.
The first time Manny had tasted real enchiladas was when Nana had made them from the things the earthponies had been growing. The corn came from Westlake, the onion and the tomatoes from Downtown. Little caravans traveled now between the sections of the city, carrying real food, not nanoconstruct, but real, living food to all the small markets that had filled the hole left by the end of the global Megamarts.
Nana had cried the whole time she had been cooking. She said the smell, the taste of the ingredients, they all made her so happy she thought she would die. It had scared Manny a little, actually, but she had waved him off, lovingly, with the big knife she used to chop vegetables. Nobody argues with Nana in the kitchen. That was probably true for everyone with a Nana. Apparently, real food was a very emotional thing.
When Manny had tasted what she had made, cheese enchiladas, full of flavor in the way that nanostruct food could never have, he had trouble at first. It was so intense. This had bothered his Nana, so he worked at it, gradually becoming accustomed to what 'flavor' actually meant. Nana said that the ingredients were better than in her childhood, when things still grew, and that the ponies were curandero, all of them, and that their magic made the food better. From that day forward, Nana wouldn't let anyone say anything bad about the ponies. It was that way with a lot of people.
Manny stopped next to the Rancho de Anguiano. That's what people called it. It wasn't a ranch, it was a farm, but because it always had ponies on it working the land, the name sort of fit. The Anguiano's were ponies now, of course, and they had performed a miracle. Where once had been a big parking lot and a burned out megamarket from the riots, now there was a beautiful barn and a huge working farm. They grew a little of everything and they had chickens too, brought from Equestria. Ponies liked eggs, humans liked eggs. Eggs were good.
The Anguiano boy, Gualterio, he was playing his six-string and, as usual, making it sound like several guitars, three maybe, all playing at the same time. He had become a unicorn, and he had once described how the magic from his horn went into the strings, so that he felt them as a part of himself. He could sense the way they moved and the merest thought would pluck them at any point or several, on each string. He could play now, as fast as he could think, and he was not a slow boy. The street was filled with music, bright and wild, straight from his mind and his soul to the strings with nothing in between.
Manuel stopped to listen, for a bit. Nana was expecting him, but she would understand. Music was special, and one stopped for music, especially such magnificent playing as this.
The community had really changed. Once it had been dangerous to walk the street. If you weren't robbed, a Banger might get you for crossing his turf. But now, it was like a proper village. Everyone worked together. They had feasts sometimes. Nana loved the feasts, and she always made something good to share. Everywhere Manny looked, the city was more and more lush. The earthponies could make things grow very fast.
There were orchards down the street, and more in Chinatown. The trees grew up while you watched, stretching and reaching for the sky. Sometimes visitors from Equestria would arrive. They said the closeness of the bubble made the magic strong, so all the earthponies could do things just like in Equestria itself. Los Angeles had turned from a concrete jungle to a pastoral garden. In some places, the buildings almost seemed like rocky cliffs and mountains draped with vines and flowers as the rooftops spilled over in waterfalls of growing things.
More and more people had gotten converted, once it became clear that conversion meant that real food could be grown again. Pretty soon, teams of pegasai were stripping the smog away so that the roof gardens could get more sunlight and better quality rain. The pegasai were able to bring rain clouds from far away, greening the city, and that in turn meant more really good food. Of course, with the smog gone, it was possible to see the big bubble clearly for the first time.
Manny looked up to where the big bubble filled the sky, as he made his way to his Nana's house. Half of the sky was a shining, shimmering dome. Right now, it was nighttime in there, and Manny could see the moon, the Equestrian moon, against a backdrop of stars. Outside the bubble, it was almost noon. Inside, behind that impossibly large curve, it was night. The bubble had touched land several months ago. It had first touched the continent somewhere near Lompoc, and soon the circular curve had taken San Luis Obispo and then began to cover Santa Barbara. It was at the edge of the city now. Ventura and Oxnard were slowly being absorbed.
Nana had a holoset with a big screen. She loved her soaps, her little dramas. All her friends would gather to watch together and share. Sometimes Manny would try to join, it made Nana happy, but he couldn't get into it. So much fuss going on and all of it could be fixed in an instant if someone, anyone, would just tell the truth. How could she still like such things? Apparently, becoming a pony didn't change liking things like that.
Almost everyone was a pony now. The Bubble was coming. Nana was a unicorn, silver and gold, and she used her levitation to cook with. Her magia she called it. She was a curandera now too. She could heal scrapes and bruises with the glow she made from her horn. Everyone loved Nana Juanita.
It was on her holoset that they had watched the images of Santa Barbara having its 'Inclusion Day'. That's what they called it now. They used to call it destruction, now it was inclusion. But then, for ponies, Equestria was home. That was something the converted said they could just feel in their bones. Even just pictures of Equestria made them smile. Home was coming to them. Soon the city, Los Pegasus they called it now, would be Included. And then they would all be home, in Equestria.
The princess had done something when the bubble had first reached land. Originally, the big bubble led to a desert on the other side, and boats would take Newfoals who wanted to go to Equestria out to a floating dock. The bubble was small on the Equestrian side, apparently, no matter how big it was on the Earth side. But when it finally touched land, the princess made a change.
There had been a big ceremony, one of the native pegasai had said. They had built up a big town called 'Welcome Town' on the other side of the bubble, and that had to be taken down. There were speeches and awards. And then the princess had done something, something súper mágico and changed things. The little bubble in the desert in Equestria went away. Now there was a wall, a big wall at the edge of the entire universe over there, in what was called the Exponential Lands. The wall was the other side of the bubble on earth. And it was done so that what was on Earth could be kept, after a fashion, in Equestria. As the big bubble expanded, the Otherside Wall in the Exponential Lands of Equestria receded, and as it did so, Equestria got larger and larger. Exponentially.
They had all gathered around Nana's big screen. The Quiñones' who were now all earthponies, except for little Maribel who turned out a pegasus. The Bautista's every one of them unicorns. Even the whole Quejano clan from the next street over, they had one of every. They all watched together the inclusion of Santa Barbara.
"Oh, look at that!" Nana had been so excited, this was just after she had gotten back from the Bureau, so she was excited about everything. She was a little strange, then, because she still acted like she was old, even though as a pony she was young. It took her several weeks to finally get used to not being old anymore. So she would sit and move carefully, as if her bones still ached, even though they didn't.
The image in the holo was of where West Carrillo met Highway 101. There was a big overpass there, a huge fairy-bridge of pre-Collapse concrete shored up with plascreet and blackfiber beams. Large warehouse-like buildings surrounded the overpass. Most had been empty for many decades, some were hardly there at all, the materials of their construction having been 'liberated' to be used in the favelas. A short way from the overpass was just such a community, a large, complex jumble of hand-made buildings stacked perilously atop one another, vine-like jungles of wires and cables, and countless rooftop gardens overflowing everywhere.
As the Infotainment Ministry aerostat hovered above, several pegasai flew up towards it from the favela below. Some bore gift baskets of fruit and baked goods. Apparently they had been expecting to be on the news.
"Oh, isn't that nice of them!" Nana always liked a good gift basket. All the time Manny had known his Nana, she had been ready at a moment's notice to take something nice over to a neighbor. 'Community is everything, Manuel! Remember that!' she had often said. And it was true - with all the jobs gone, with The Last Harvest having done away with wheat, and the government ration and the Austerity War, it was community that had allowed anyone to survive at all, to make it until the arrival of Equestria.
There were some shots of the bubble itself. 'The Great Barrier of Equestria' the news anchors called it. The Barrier was a shimmering soap-bubble 2800 miles across, almost three thousand. An image from a communications satellite showed the great bubble rising high above the curvature of the planet. Focusing now on the ground below the Infotainment airship, the scene zoomed in on where the edge of the Barrier was slowly moving across a building.
On the Earth side of the division, one of the warehouse-like structures sat amidst a stretch of rubble and abandoned vehicles. Broken concrete and newer plascreet covered the ground - this was not an area the local earthpony Newfoals had gotten to yet. Manny leaned closer to the holoscreen to watch. Mrs. Quiñone smiled up at him and wiggled an ear. Her little filly was fascinated by the scene on the screen.
The Barrier began to sweep across the building, very slowly but inexorably. In close up, the bubble no longer looked round, it was just a big rippling wall looking something like water. Beyond the shimmer lay green fields and rolling hills covered with multicolored flowers. Manny could see lakes there too, deep and pure and blue. The Barrier passed through an old wooden electric pole that had somehow survived the Collapse and the favela builders.
As the liquid wall swallowed the old creosote-stained pole, a tree began to emerge on the Equestrian side. For a moment, just a moment, one side was dead, gray, resin-impregnated shaft, and the other side was lush branches and leaves. The Barrier somehow recognized that the pole had once been a living thing, and when the electrics pole passed through, it was returned to life once more. Now, behind the shimmering curtain stood a healthy, tall tree, green and beautiful.
Everyone in the room cheered at that, some clopping their hooves on the floor, others clapping them together as they once would have their hands. Manny looked around. He was the only person in the room that wasn't a pony. He suddenly felt strange, alien. He was the outsider, now. These were his people, all around him, but he was the exception, the freak now. They'd never treat him as an outsider, of course. But he couldn't help feeling that way. He didn't look like them anymore, and he was almost useless in their new world.
He had one big thing he could do for them. He could fiddle with the electronics. Unicorns couldn't, because magic made electrical things fail and even break. Nana needed him to keep her bigscreen going. She couldn't even change the channel, unless it was set on voice activation. Manny had run a secret cable out to the Worldgovernment lines that fed the public kiosks, so she could reach the hypernet. But the fact was, other than for her dramas, and for things like this, he wasn't useful anymore.
Ponies didn't do things the way humans did things. Humans would use tools to break the concrete, and till the soil. Ponies used tools, sometimes, but they didn't need them the same way. A few hard earthpony bucks and stomps, and the concrete was dust. Unicorns could lift the rocks away by the hundreds in a moment. Pegasai were individual helicopters lifting and carrying supplies and seeds and cuttings where they were needed. An old bit of metal sheet, folded into a 'V' shape, could be levitated to sweep through the revealed soil making rows in minutes. Seeds could be planted in seconds by a unicorn, or dropped from above by pegasai, but it all came down to the earthponies in the end.
They would walk down the rows, singing, laughing, talking to the plants, and the plants responded. They would sprout and rise towards the sky in minutes, and the earthponies left greenery behind them as they walked. Back and forth they would amble, the plants growing higher with every step, fruiting with every song. By the end of the day another vast crop of corn, or beans, or rice, or celery or peppers was ready for harvest.
Manny looked at his hands. He couldn't pick the food fast enough. Hands were useless in a pony world. An entire field could be harvested in half an hour with a unicorn or three doing it. It was so easy, the ponies made games of it. They took their time because they didn't have to worry about time. Eventually, the unicorns were asked not to help as much, so the community could enjoy picking things with each other. It was just more fun. They could talk and play and the foals could run around. They made harvesting into picnics and socials. Magic made everything easier than hands.
Hands were for a world where things and stuff instead of people and fun mattered. Where every little object had to be individually manipulated. In a world where a single unicorn could pick all the fruit off of ten trees at once, hands were primitive. Now the unicorns did construction. They worked with the pegasai to lift beams and place walls and hover bricks into place. Already Manny's favela was looking more and more like the lovely cottages in Equestria - well, as best as could be done with earth materials.
Manny's hands were good for only one thing anymore. Changing the channels on Nana's holoscreen. He had become suspicious about how often the device 'somehow' ended up set on manual instead of voice activation. "It must be loco!" Nana would helpfully offer. Nana was probably finding ways for her favorite to feel useful. She loved him. She'd do such a thing, to make him feel better.
On the holoscreen, the building was vanishing through the Barrier. "Will you look at that!" Eugenio Quejano - no, now he was Hechicería Carmesí, Crimson Sorcery, fast and precise with his horn. "It's becoming barns! It's many barns, a whole farm!" It was true, the one building had been tasted by the magical wall and found to be a structure. Where a broken warehouse stood on the Earth side of the Barrier, on the Equestrian side land stretched out much faster than it was being taken in, and from the one warehouse was dribbling barns and cottages and fences and plowed fields.
"I guess a warehouse is a barn in Equestia, eh ¿mi amigo?" Crimson had turned to his best friend Alberto - now Cerul Azimuth, Pegasus Of Daring. Or at least insensatez considering the foolish stunts he liked to pull off. "Nopony will lack for housing or land I think."
It seemed that for every foot of land the Barrier swallowed up, hundreds rushed out on the other side. It was strange watching the Great Barrier move across the earth - on one side it moved so slowly, but on the other it looked like it was racing, fast as the wind, fast as Cerul playing at racing between the buildings, barely making dangerous turns.
The view on the screen was replaced by one of the anchors. There were two hosting the program, one was a stallion, the other a human woman. The woman was interviewing one of the pegasai who had flown up to the Infotainment Ministry aerostat with a basket of pies.
"We're here on deck with one of the citizens of Santa Barbara below!" The human woman had to sweep her blond hair out of her eyes. Manny wondered if all women on the news had to be blond. It certainly seemed that way sometimes. "Tell us your name, and what you are doing today!"
The pegasus from Santa Barbara was a stallion, dark brown in color, like velvet. His mane was black as could be. He must be especially handsome by pony standards Manny thought - he heard one of the Quiñone mares oohing over the fellow.
The woman anchor laughed at this "You sure are!" Many of the people in the room laughed too, because it was true - the pegasus had some serious flight-mane going on. Windswept finally got the joke himself, and his ears revealed his realization.
"Um, anyway, we wanted to fly up and say hello to everypony from the ponies of Santa Barbara! Hello everypony!" Windswept had a big, goofy grin on his muzzle and he waved a hoof.
Nana and many of the formerly older mares in the room waved back "Hello Windswept!" they said almost in unison. Manny shook his head. He wasn't sure if they didn't do that just to annoy him. They clearly all knew that the holo was only one-way. Manny noticed his Nana winking at him. ¡Demonio! it was just as he thought!
"You brought us some big baskets of goodies today!" The cheerful anchor was followed to where some of the airship crew was already tucking into pies. "It certainly all looks delicious!"
"We thought maybe you might like a treat." Windswept seemed slightly embarrassed. "We're all kind of excited... to be on the news."
The anchor laughed. "So, how do you feel about the Inclusion, Windswept?"
"We're all really thrilled about it down there. We're all going home, and we can really feel it. It's like the air is all tingly as Equestria gets closer. We were a little worried though, so we took precautions." Windswept smiled as the crew clearly enjoyed the pies.
"Worried? What kind of precautions, Windswept?" The news anchor was eager for something potentially exciting.
"Well, we'd heard stories of ponies being separated, sometimes by miles when the barrier passed over." Windswept looked into the lenses. "It gets really big, really fast on the Equestrian side, so you can't count on being in the same village even if you are right next door when the Barrier changes everything. So we all decided to tie ourselves together in one spot, so that when Equestria arrives, we'll all be together and won't have to go looking for each other."
"The whole town tied themselves together?" The anchor looked fairly astonished.
"No..." Laughed Windswept "Just our community. Other groups did the same thing. Our group has about a hundred and forty in it, but I know one neighborhood that tied almost three hundred together!"
"So what happens after the Barrier passes?" The wind had caught the anchor's blond curls again, and she was busy sweeping them from her eyes.
"Once things settle down, we'll try to figure out which village we want to claim and go pick out cottages and farms and stuff. I'm hoping I get to live in the top of a silo, if I can make it work. I guess I'll just have to see." Windswept thought for a moment "I think making a house in a silo would be awesome. Any pegasus can live in a cloud house. I'm going for a silo!"
"Well, I hope you get it. Thank you very much, Windswept, and all the rest of your friends, and thank you for the treats, too! Back to you, Newsflash!"
The scene changed to the control center of the aerostat where the other anchor, a gray stallion, began to describe the history of Santa Barbara. As he did so, additional scenes of the Barrier creating more Equestria played, gray plascrete ruins and small lots covered in rubble streaming out like a river on the other side to become newly manufactured miles of grass and rolling hills and shining, crystal lakes.
"Hey, Calaca, would you come here to your Nana for a moment?" Abuela Juanita hadn't called Manny that in years, not since he was a very skinny young boy. The tone in her voice was strange. Manny stood up and went over to her and crouched down.
"Manuel, it will be here soon. Maybe two weeks. When that happens, the holo will not work anymore. There will be no need to change the channel any longer." Nana's unicorn face was young and vital, her eyes bright and wide, but somehow, inside that youthful face was an entire human life, years and years of experience and wisdom.
Manny looked down at his hands on his knees, where he crouched beside the couch where Juanita lay. 'Deliciosoa' Delicious. Just Delicious. Like the food she made. Nana Delicious. She planned on opening a restaurant or an inn when Equestria arrived. She would keep the spirit of her food alive in the new world.
Useless hands. They had been useless for a long time now. He could not carry as much as a pony. He could not pick as fast as a pony. He could not push a cloud for rain, or shape molten metal in the air with his mind to make a tool. He could not make a tree grow in a day. He could not even plant seeds as well as a pony. He could change the channels on an electronic machine, because he had no magic and would not ruin it.
"I promise, Nana. Tonight, after everyone..." He thought for a moment. "...Everypony goes home."
Nana Delicious gave her favorite grandson a nuzzle. "You know what is not back east?" Manny had been claiming for a long time now that he might, one day, move to the Eastern Northamerizone, past the Great Lakes, to escape the Barrier. He had never made any serious effort to actually arrange for such a journey. He had never made any effort at all toward such a journey.
"What Nana?" She wore a different face, but she was still abuela. Still Nana, no matter what.
"Community." The word was heavy in the air, powerful, real. Manny nodded, his tongue silent. He had been stubborn. His family was here, and family was everything. His life was here, and life was the most precious thing. The world was coming to an end, but there was an answer. He would be more useful to everyone, even to himself, with hooves instead of hands.
When night came, the stars shone down, but they were hard to see because it was day inside the Barrier. It was noon in Equestria. The days and nights passed differently there, according to the whims of the princesses. The immense curve that filled the sky lit up the buildings and gleamed off the glassite of the skyscrapers. Perhaps this was how it had been when Los Pegasus was Los Angeles, before the Collapse, when electric lights ran all night long. The light from Equestria was bright and rich and strange and beautiful in the night.
The sky was like two great rooms, one dark, and the other light.
Manny went to his dresser and opened the bottom drawer. He carefully lifted out the spare pants and the shirts and the hat he never wore and those socks with the toes in them that he got from aunt Imelda. Under the socks and the pants was a box, an old cigar box from long ago.
He stood up with the box. It was taped shut. He sat down on his bed and dug around in his pocket for his knife. Manny opened the pocketknife and carefully applied the blade to the edge of the lid, cutting the tape. He folded the knife and put it back in his pocket. Sighing, he set the box on the bed.
With a finger, Manny opened the lid. The ancient, slightly rotted cardboard flopped back. Inside was cloth, wrapped around something. Carefully, delicately, Manny unrolled the object wrapped in the cloth. In the twilight of Equestrian day and Earthly night, the vial glowed soft purple. The light from it made his fingers look violet where it shone. The tips of his fingers felt hot and tingly, almost itchy as he held it. It would burn them, if he held it too long.
Manny placed the vial carefully back into the box, on top of the cloth, while he got up from the bed. He began to undress, first his shirt, then his socks and his pants. Lastly he took off his boxers. He stood naked in his room, his body bathed in the light of two worlds.
Once more, Manuel Delgado examined his hands. A man's power is in his hands. A man's strength, his fortune, these were in his hands. But that was only true in a world where there were men and no magic, where work meant hardship and every day was a struggle rather than an excuse to savor each moment.
He wouldn't be able to change the channel for his Nana anymore. Manuel laughed. His big job in the world, his reason to live each day while the others grew the most wonderful things and made the most delicious meals and built things by floating them in the air.
Manny crawled onto his bed, next to the box with the softly glowing vial inside. Nana said she would check on him in a bit, once he started changing. She would sit with him and be there when he awoke. She would be his Nana in Equestria, just as she had been on Earth. Nana was Nana, always.
The vial was warm in his fingers now. Manny unlatched the safety seal and opened the lid. A faint scent of artificial grape hit his nostrils, like some cheap soda pop or a very bad brand of candy. He held it for some time, even though his fingers began to ache, like he was holding something very hot.
These were his familia, his gente. La Raza. La Raza de la Poni.
Manny would be an outsider no longer.