Pudding Shenanigans loved her long name. She came up with it herself, and she was very proud of it. When daddy promised she could have any name she wanted when she became a pony, what had first seemed a victory soon became a burden. What name was the right name? It was such a big deal! Even though the nurse at the Bureau had told her that she could change it later, because Equestrians could just do that if they wanted, that hadn't helped one bit. She didn't want to change her name, she wanted the right name from the very start!
For the entire first week at the Bureau, she couldn't think about anything else. She couldn't pay attention in the classes because she was trying to think of the right name. She made lists of possible names on her Flatpad and missed learning all the parts of her body, even though they showed the cartoon twice. She kept bumping into ponies and humans because she was concentrating on possible names.
Then she spilled the pudding. She hadn't meant to, but the big vat tipped right over, and she slipped in it and her Flatpad went splot right into it and she had to find her Flatpad. It had all of her names in it.
She wasn't even supposed to be in the Bureau kitchen, it was off limits, but she had been concentrating so hard on searching the hypernet on her Flatpad that somehow she just ended up there. And then she was down in the pudding, it was lavender-dandelion pudding too which smelled nice but tasted awful except to the ponies and it was really sticky too, crawling around, trying to find her pad when the cook, Cheesebiscuit found her. Cheesebiscuit was not at all pleased and she had gotten a right yelling out for her shenanigans and that was that.
Her eyes got wide and she hugged the startled earthpony cook and danced around in glee, and that made her fall because the pudding really was very slippery. Of course her leg hit Cheesebiscuit's leg and then they were both down in the pudding and between the laughing and the being even more yelled at, everything had finally clicked for her. It was the best mess she had ever made, because it gave her the coolest possible name.
Names were important. You couldn't have cool adventures without the right name.
Pudding Shenanigans. It was like Pippi Longstocking or Podkayne of Mars, it had that cool sound to it that just bespoke adventure and Really Wild Things. With a name like Pudding Shenanigans, it didn't matter what kind of pony you were, you just couldn't help but be caught up in adventures. It was a rule of... well, she didn't know exactly what it was a rule of, but it definitely was, and that was all there was to it.
When she was finally converted, at the Los Angeles Disneyland Conversion Bureau, built on the ruins of the former park, she jumped up onto the table, stood there, and yelled to the heavens "Here begins the epic saga of PUDDING SHENANIGANS!" She then proceeded to choke on her hastily swallowed cup of potion. Next she keeled over and smashed onto the floor - the Physician's Assistant was certain she had literally broken her neck.
Pudding was lifted back onto the table and the attending physician physically repositioned her neck as it reformed, saving the teenagers life.
When she awoke, she only dimly remembered her Conversion Dream, which mostly consisted of demanding first Celestia, and then Luna, make her into an alicorn because "It would be so cool! We could be sisters and hang out for eternity together and you could put me in charge of a second moon, maybe shaped like a cube! It could be the cube moon, and I would be like 'Cubia', princess of the cube moon and we could have parties and invite only the coolest stallions and have them all to ourselves!"
She didn't, much to her disappointment, end up as an alicorn. She did end up a unicorn, which was still pretty cool, but not nearly as cool as being a pegasus. They had published most of the Daring Do books in human languages (with earthpony grainscript alternate text) and Pudding was ready to follow in the adventurous pony's hoofsteps. Still unicorns could do magic, and while they weren't as strong as earthponies, magic was awesome, so it worked for her in the end.
Shenanigans was dark emerald green with a golden-yellow mane and tail. Her eyes had changed from dark brown as a human to a bright almost pink color which she found mesmerizing in the mirror. Pudding decided at length that she found herself both regal and mysterious, perfect for a Unicorn Of Adventure.
Pudding lived with her father and his girlfriend - now a marefriend - in what had once been called the 'Capitol Records Building'. Pudding reasoned that it must have been some kind of storage place for pre-Worldgovernment legal and political documents. It was a tall, circular tower with windows all around on every floor. It had survived the Austerity War intact, and even had old artifacts still inside, somehow unlooted.
The elevators no longer worked, of course not, with only two hours of electricity available every day, but the stairs were fine, and Pudding liked to imagine that she was exploring some ancient temple, prowling like Daring Do through Ahuizotl's territory. She also really loved the way her hooves sounded on the steps inside the ancient stairwell. Each clippy-clop echoed against the walls up and down, completing her imaginary venture into uncharted lands and mysterious crypts.
Pudding's father, Pinstripe, had decided to stay in Los Pegasus because he had heard stories about how the first immigrants to Equestria had not perhaps gotten the best deals. Supposedly, according to the pegasai mail carriers who traveled back and forth across the sea to the dome before it touched land, the first Newfoals got stuck building their own villages from kits. There were even rumors of some problems with that beyond all the hard work. It was supposedly because of all of this that Celestia changed the way the Barrier worked when it finally hit land.
Pinstripe had become quite excited when the new iteration of the Barrier first touched the Northamerizone. He noted with great fascination how the Barrier seemed to work like a kind of artificial intelligence - that it could recognize a building from a rock, and a road from an empty lot. He went on for some time, in fact, prancing around the holoscreen exclaiming that magic had a mind or a will of some kind, that magic could be programmed to do things just like how a quantum set could be given commands in sequence. Pinstripe had once been a software producer for AppleSoft, before they had been absorbed into Intelligent Designs. The way the Barrier worked seemed like something he could understand.
That Pinstripe had ended up an earthpony never stopped annoying him. He felt it was utterly unjust. Although he had given up actual programming for management and 'cubicle farming' - as he used to call it - didn't seem to register with him. Pudding thought that being an earthpony suited her father exactly. He would refer to his job as 'herding cats' and 'milking geekbulls' and other barnyard terms. She had never seen him write so much as an app.
But Pinstripe felt cheated, because Equestrian magic seemed like otherworldly programming to him. It seemed like something he could understand and relate to. "They have libraries filled with the texts of spells! Think about it, a spell is just a recipe, a list, a program! Don't you see? I'll bet you credits to nanobars that Equestria is some big virtual world running on technology we can't even imagine, and the proof is in how magic works - just like a quantum supercalculator!"
When her father ran on like that, his marefriend Lollipop Sweetcheeks - despite the name, she was actually quite nice once she stopped trying to be sex-ayyyy and pouty - would get bored and find ways to distract Pinstripe and that was pretty much time to go play Daring Do in the stairwell.
It wouldn't even be a problem, except that Pudding's father seemed to be trying to live through her. He had gotten every translated book on magic that was available Earthside - all three of them - and demanded that Pudding spend at least two hours every day studying and practicing. He wanted eight full work hours out of her, but there was No Way In Tartarus that was going to happen. After a lot of stern words, they had finally agreed on two hours, which was about all Pudding could stand.
Now learning magic was cool, at least on the surface. Magic! What could be more adventurous than that? Except when one actually cracked open the books. The first hurdle was that not everything could be translated. There were concepts that no Earth language even had words for, and so the study guides that came with each book spent endless paragraphs trying to describe the indescribable. Probably, for a native Equestrian growing up surrounded by magic, all of it was completely easy to grasp. This was likely since the first book was entitled 'Happy Magic For Frisky Foals: A Unicorn Primer, grades 0 to 2'
The book had pretty illuminated scripts - unicorn glyphs - for the untranslatable stuff. Horseshoes and stars and swirls and other symbols that were completely indecipherable. In the study guide these sections would end up reading like:
Only then may (The Delta Of Ontology) be manifested within the (Place Of False Sorrows).
Somehow her father expected her to grasp this, to understand and apply this, without the benefit of a native-born unicorn instructor. Pudding would put up a game effort, after all... MAGIC! but... in the end, she most often just found herself shaking her head while watching the shadow of her horn wave across the pages in the firefly light.
Lightsprite Fireflies were perhaps the most amazing gift from Equestria. Everypony in Los Pegasus used them now. With electricity only being available for two hours a day, and with the difficulty of acquiring candles, or fuel for lamps, the Lightsprites were a Celestia-send. They were easy to keep, easy to feed and water, and they seemed content to hover about in an enclosed space. Best of all, they produced light at a prodigious rate. Frankly, unshielded by some kind of cover, they hurt the eyes to look at.
Pinstripe had waxed long on the little insects - how they produced far more light than could be accounted for by the minute amount of food they ate, how they seemed designed, created specifically for their purpose filling lamps, and how impossibly useful they were. This, he felt, was more evidence that Equestria was an intelligently designed cosmos, and not one that evolved through natural principles. For him, this meant that Equestria must be a virtual world. It was always computers for Pudding's father. He saw the world through Q-bit eyes. All worlds, apparently.
Pudding Shenanigans closed Happy Magic For Frisky Foals: A Unicorn Primer with an abrupt slap, watching her telekinetic field slowly dissipate from around the tome. Pudding liked releasing things very, very slowly sometimes, because it was neat seeing the shimmering glow of her magic waver and dim and fade. Just before it vanished, it wavered very quickly, like a rag in a strong wind if she went slowly enough. She also got a kind of sensual thrill as her field collapsed within the book.
When she held an object with her hornfield, she could sense its mass, how hard or soft it was, and how complex it was as her magic flowed through and around it. If she paid close attention, she could feel the curves and edges of something in her mind, and with a little more concentration, the inside. When she floated an apple, if she tried, she could feel the seeds inside, and the core under the stem as her energies swarmed and flowed through the apple as well as around the outside of it.
Once, Pudding had held her own foreleg in her mental grasp and concentrated the same way. First she sensed her own coat, the silky, emerald green hairs that covered her body. Then she felt inside her own skin, layers of tissue, strands of muscle and sinew, and the eerie webbing of nerves and blood vessels humming and pulsing. Finally she sensed the smoothness of her own legbone, and deep inside the hardness a soft center of marrow, all alive, all pushing strangely back with the magic that flowed inside her pony body.
Suddenly she realized that this must be how medical unicorns learn to heal ponies. A unicorn's hornfield was like a kind of x-ray, only with touch instead of sight. Or maybe there was a way to process all of that visually, somehow. Either way, although interesting, it was also sort of squicky to be able to feel inside her own body like that, so she never tried that again, not deep like that. Not with a living creature.
But objects were different. As she withdrew her hornfield from the magic studies book, she felt the layers of replofiber pages that made it up. She felt the binding, the way the pages all met in the back, overlapping. The staples deep inside, the hardness of the cover. As the last of her glowing energy rippled and winked out, it almost tickled, pleasantly, deep in her mind, sort of. It was hard to say exactly where she felt these things - it was far more than mere imagination, but not something she had a decent word for.
Just like the untranslatable parts of her book. If only she could match what she felt with the lessons in the book, she could probably be good at magic. She certainly liked how it felt.
Pudding stared at the cover, which depicted very young unicorns apparently playing with a rubber ball by tossing it with their glowing hornfields. Behind them an adult unicorn - somehow she just looked 'teacher-ish' maybe it was the way she stood, or the look on her muzzle. Probably it was the glasses - looked on, smiling at her students. Pudding imagined the teacher unicorn going "That's it, pass the ball around! Come on Daisy Meadows, pass the ball to Shimmering Pond! That's a good girl!" Pudding wondered if it was normal to make up names and stories about the ponies on the cover of a book.
Maybe she sort of envied those foals playing in that picture. It would be nice to have someone to play with.
Capitol Records had been untouched by the Austerity War, but nothing around it had. There once had been theaters, stores, restaurants, even what had once been a big radio station long ago. Now it was all rubble, for miles, a result of the riots when the food ran out. That was before the Worldgovernment and the Blackmesh and the Guaranteed Daily Ration For Mankind. It had taken some time to sort things out after the Great Collapse.
There were no other young ponies nearby. Her father wouldn't let her go off on her own - he was convinced that there were gangs out there, with territory staked and watchful eyes for any creature - pony or human - entering their 'turf'. Pudding hadn't heard of any gangs still existing, but her father was adamant, and determined to protect her. That said, getting to go shopping in the favela markets once a week was a boring way to live. There were only so many things a unicorn filly could do in an old tower in the middle of ruins.
The planet had nineteen billion inhabitants, where were they all? In the favelas, where the fun was. Pudding sighed. Some adventurer she had turned out to be. And there was no time left to properly adventure now. It would all be green fields and trees and butterflies soon. So soon. Well, maybe someday, in the scary parts of Equestria - the Everfree was vast, the dragon lands were enormous, and the mysterious griffon territories were forbidden. There were supposed to be ruins out there, in those lands, ruins hundreds of years old. Some claimed there were things from the time of Discord still left in those places. Maybe even things from before Discord. Someday. Someday. But not anytime soon!
Pudding put her forehooves on the low table and lay her head down on her magic studies book. She shifted her weight on the big pillow she liked to sit on when doing her required study time. She sighed, and turned her head sideways, looking out over her own dark green hoof to the sunset beyond the large curving glassite panel of the tower. Earth's sun was setting, Equestria's sun was rising. It was so large, the vast curve of the approaching Shield. The sky was more Shield than it was sky. The only reason she could even see the earth's sun was because the Capitol Tower had great huge windows all the way around.
Equestria was so close, she could feel it inside her bones. She could almost hear it, like music in her thoughts. They said the air pressure changed as it approached. Maybe that was it. The presence of the great wall sweeping towards them was always there, in the background now, like a nagging link call just out of sight, in another room.
It would be here in just two days. Two days - two days, six hours and fifteen minutes before the vast wall rippled over the Capitol Records Historic Monument Tower Building where she sat, according to the hypernet linkset to her left on the table. It was the last one she owned - she had ruined two, one not belonging to her - trying to use the compact device with her hornfield. Magic and electronics didn't mix. Pudding had learned to lip the active surface controls. It was fairly laborious, she needed to lift the link up, look at the display, bend down, touch the edge with her lower lip to find the right corner, guesstimate the correct distance, and then touch the right icon with her lip, lather rinse and repeat. That said, human toys were still useful and interesting, so it was worth bothering with. Two days, and all of this would be Equestria.
She hadn't really explored her part of the city. Daddy had brought them here, and that was that. Once a week they went to the favela about half a mile away and visited the markets. Then directly back, always the same route. It was an honor, her dad claimed, to get to live in a historic monument building. Not that anypony cared. The reason they even could was that historic buildings didn't matter anymore. Most people clustered in the favelas because, now that they were all ponies, they wanted to be close together. Ponies are social creatures. Except for her dad. She couldn't understand why they needed to live isolated out in an old tower in the middle of the ruins. They were ponies now. They should live close, as part of a community, a herd, not all alone!
Daddy was weird, even as a pony.
Two days until Inclusion. Six Hours. Fiftee....no, thirteen minutes now. The number on the display had just ticked over. Forty-eight hours to go, and she had never explored. She was sitting in a tower on the vast ruins of a dying planet, built by an alien race of ape-creatures, and she had never explored a speck of it. Daring Do would snort and look down at her.
Completely! When put that way - dying planet, alien race, vast ruins, weird tower - it all was just positively coated in romance. It could have been the blurb for a Daring Do novel, right there! Daring Do and the Alien Ruins! No, no, no... Pudding Shenanigans and the Alien Ruins! Oh yeah! That was totally awesome! She was practically sitting on the largest pile of adventure any pony had ever known, and she hadn't gone farther than the local favela market.
Pudding clopped her hoof down on the table like the gavel of a judge. There was no way she could live with herself, or be worth her incredibly awesome name, if she didn't explore the last of this dying city. It was right there! Right... there! Six flights down, out the door and... right... there!
Daddy was a scaredy-pony. Gangs. Gangbangers were a human thing. Every citizen in Los Pegasus had to be a pony now. It was forty-eight hours to Inclusion Day for the city. A human would have to be insane to hang around with only two days left until a fatal-to-primates wall of energy hit! That meant the entire city of Los Pegasus was all ponies, all the time, and there could be ZERO danger from anypony. Ponies were safe, all ponies were safe. That was part of Conversion, all the evil got taken out. No evil, no danger. There was no reason NOT to explore as much as she wanted.
Daddy was stupid. "Stay put, whatever you do, sweety, we have to stay together until Inclusion Day. It's very important. Promise me!" Stupid fuddy-duddy daddy. Pudding giggled at that. Fuddy-duddy. Fuddy-duddy.
Pudding raced to her room - up one flight, past the little rooms to what daddy had said was once a big boardroom for big human executives - and right to her treasure chest. Well, actually it was a big box, a small-goods transport container, but Pudding fancied it a treasure chest - and then a quick preparation for adventure!
Saddlebags - a must for exploring. Canteen - de rigueur. Second canteen - ponies need lots of fluids. Compass... hmm, it was a good one, but, it didn't really work. Earth compasses used electromagnetism, and magic messed that up. The barrier was so close, the compass only pointed at it, well, when it didn't just spin wildly for no reason. Still, a compass was the super best fashion accessory for an Adventurer. Into the Saddlebag. Netlink... she'd grab it from the study room on the way. Communication and maps were a basic equipment item. She wished she had a better hat, but her sun hat would have to do. Pith helmets were hard to come by in post-Collapse Los Pegasus. Food?
Oh that was important, rations. She'd raid the groceries on the way down. That was two things to remember... three, she needed to fill the canteens. Important point. Then again, with all the pegasai roaming around, and the greening the earthponies had done, and the favelas everwhere, it wasn't like she couldn't just go ask for some water or food. Still, it was the principle of the thing. Adventuring required adventuring equipment in working order. That was a law or something.
Alright, she had two days maximum to her, and everything would be alright as long as she made it back to the stupid tower before the stupid Inclusion Day for some stupid reason. She'd explore out for one day, and use the other to return. One day out, one day back, and plenty of time to get scolded for ducking out. Perfect!
Lastly, she packed Mr. Skinjob, her little human doll. Human dolls were currently the rage in the favela they went to, they were considered hilarious. Mr. Skinjob was an umber human doll. One thing Pudding always thought about humans, even before she was Converted, was that they were kind of boring. They came in very few colors, and they really did all kind of look the same. Pink, not so pink, kind of tan, slightly brown, darker brown, sorta umber, that was basically it. No blues, greens, yellows... humans were barely different from each other at all. Their manes were the same. Shades of brown, light or dark. Except for the roan humans. That was kind of cool.
Mr. Skinjob was umber with a roan mane on top. Apparently that wasn't very realistic for some reason, but it looked awesome, so that was all that mattered. Mr. Skinjob for luck. Time to head down the stairs.
Pudding walked very slowly, so her hooves wouldn't draw attention. They seemed so incredibly loud now, when she was trying to sneak out. Clippy-clop, clippy-clop. Quiet, hooves!
By the time Pudding reached the lobby floor, she was shaking on her hooves because of the strain of moving so carefully. It was a surprising amount of work to sneak about through six levels of tower. When Equestria arrived she vowed to spend time galloping across the expected wide plains so as to become stronger and to have more stamina. Adventurers needed strength and stamina. They were the base stats in all the online games.
It had been a long time since she had been able to play online games. Dad wouldn't let her have a mindset, so she was stuck with games she could lip. That was the one bad thing about being a pony. Human tech wasn't built with Equestrians in mind. Then again, who really needed hypernet games when there were real live magical lands to explore, filled with real monsters and creatures and mysteries? There was that. The fringes of Equestria were pretty wild, and who knew what might pop up accidentally in the Exponential Lands as they grew? Already there had been rumors of Everfree like anomalies popping up. It was unconfirmed but still...
She wrapped the door handle in her telekinetic field and opened it. The dark lobby was briefly lit up with the glow from her efforts. She did not wait to savor the collapse of her hornfield. She crept away, gradually picking up speed as she felt her hoofsteps would not be heard.
The sky was dark, but the ground was very well lit. Equestria covered more than half of the entire sky, or at least it sure seemed like it, and it was day there. Either early morning or early evening, Pudding wasn't sure. But it was bright, and it was half of the entire sky at least, and everything was lit in the most amazingly colored lemon yellow glow. Pinstripe had once told her that Los Pegasus, back when it was Los Angeles, and before the Collapse, had electricity all the hours of the day. Everything was lit up with electric lights so that even the dark seemed like noon in places. Pudding looked at the sharp shadows and bright gleaming edges of the rubble. It must have been just like this, she thought.
Pudding was galloping now, down what had once been a major thoroughfare. It had been called 'Hollywood Boulevard', according to her dad, although the remains of a damaged street sign only said 'Blvd' at the end, which she thought was pretty weird. "Blivud", she mouthed the sound. "Blivvv...uuud." Humans were weird. Pudding giggled when she thought things like that. She'd been a human only eight months ago. It seemed like some strange dream. She had taken to being a pony like it was her true birthright. Her years as a human were... they had been painful. Mom. The breakup. No. No thinking about that stuff. She was a unicorn, and adventure was calling!
She was moving in the opposite direction as the favela, which had been built around the big fancy buildings further along. She was heading for the remains of the big highway. Highway 101, the 'Kings Highway' the 'Royal Road'. How cool was that? She didn't know who the king was, but where there were kings there were probably castles, or ruins of castles, and that meant ADVENTURE!
The ruins were gradually turning into more and more building-like shapes. This direction hadn't been messed up as bad. The large spans of the highway onramps loomed like golden-yellow fairy bridges in the eerie light of approaching Equestria. Pudding stopped and looked at the scene around her. It appeared just like one of those old sci-fi book covers - the dome of Equestria could be the great curve of some vast yellow gas-giant, and the land around her the surface of some alien moon. The ruins ahead of the highway and the onramps might be some strange, otherworldly city, built by extinct aliens, filled with mystery. It was a thrill just to stand there, head full of fantasies.
As Pudding entered the shadows under the huge structure of the onramps she heard a voice calling out to her. She froze, still imagining weird worlds and bizarre creatures. "Hey, Chiquita, I said, you're on our turf!"
Pudding Shenanigans had barely begun her adventuring career when she had been savagely captured by a gang! The buff, well muscled gangbangers had escorted her to their foreboding hangout. Pudding had been unable to refuse their... invitation. Each wore their gang colors, bright blue, for the gang known as the 'Crips'.
The leader of this 'set' was an imposing character who called himself Woo Boo Sweet. Gangbangers had strange names, observed Pudding. Woo Boo had been explaining to her the history of the Crips and why they wore blue. "They was this dude, he was one of the founders. He went by the name 'Buddha', dig? And he wore all blue. Blue pants, blue top, blue neckerchief, blue shoes. He got shot. Yeah... shot. And so ever since, see, we all wear blue. Blue for da Buddha, blue for the crips, right on?"
Other members of the set replied with a hearty "Right on!" as Woo Boo continued.
"Now for a long time, we be having turf wars, all kinds of serious stuff goin' down. Crips versus the Bloods. Bloods is our opposite, the yin to our yang, the mortal opponent we must prevail over, dig?" Woo Boo stared intently at Pudding, and she shivered slightly at his gaze. She shook her head to indicate understanding.
"Now, everythin' went on like that, with the Crips and the Bloods takin' each other down and jostlin' for territory, dig? But then came Equestria. Right outta the sea, off da coast, the ponies came. An' everythin' changed. Right on!"
Roo Goo, Beary Bones, Doctor Professor and Slippery Noodle all stomped in agreement. "Right on to that, Cuzz!"
Woo grinned, his shining teeth glowing in the golden light of Equestria. "Now we still are in opposition, dig, we Crips and the Bloods, but our methodology is different now. We have our new... tools of the trade, ain't that right boyz?"
The 'boyz' all cackled in anticipation.
"Why don't you show our... little guest... what kind a' surprise we have for the Bloods today, my fine Doctor Profess-or?" Pudding couldn't imagine how Woo Boo could grin any bigger, but he somehow managed the task. His muscles were... they were just huge. All of the 'set' were massive. They were built like shick brit-houses to the last of them.
The Banger called Doctor Professor wheeled out a large metal cart, across the plascreet floor of the hideout. It had something on it, tall and imposing, covered with a sheet. "You wanna I shou'do the honors, Woo?"
Woo Boo Sweet considered. "Yeah, my main, show the little fill-ley what we gots under our sheets!" Woo cackled at that and his laughter was followed by the deep chuckles of the rest of the gang.
Pudding was led forward. There was no thought of fleeing. The covered cart stood silent in front of her, the sheet shining gold in the light of the universe nearly upon them all.
Doctor Professor grabbed a corner of the sheet and pulled it away in one smooth motion to reveal the Los Pegasus Crips secret 'tool' to get one up on the rival Bloods. Pudding gasped in astonishment. How could this gang, these 'Crips' be so... so... epicurean?
The cart was piled high with layers and layers of muffins and small cakes, pies and the most delicious cinnamon buns Pudding had ever seen. Her nose had already identified what must be there, pony senses were thousands of times more sensitive than her old human ones. It had been everything she had to remain sitting while Woo Boo went on endlessly about the history of his gang.
"Please, for Celestia's sake, please, let me just have one muffin. A cinnamon bun, come on, have a heart! Pleeeeeese!" Pudding had lost all reason now, her pony body had taken over completely and it wanted sweet-frosted, grain-based comestibles more than life itself.
"She done like what she sees, my pony!" Beary Bones shook his head in amazement. There was, without any doubt, a visible trail of drool coming from Pudding's muzzle.
"Whaddya's say, Crips, we want to spare some... ammunition... for the little filly?" Woo Boo's tall ears stood up as he cocked his head. His bright blue, freshly dyed mane fell across his withers.
In short order Pudding Shenanigans was scarfing down the most fabulous, most delicious cinnamon bun she had ever tasted. The sweet, perfect sticky delight had gotten all over her muzzle, but she didn't care. It was amazing, wondrous, the perfect blend of cinnamon, butter, and sweet flavors all melting inside her mouth like the living magma of some planet of savor. "MFF GOFFESSS FIFF IF GOOFFF!" she shouted, and despite a mouth full of bun, it was clear... she approved of the Crips secret weapon.
"When we all became ponies, that don't mean we stopped being bangers!" Woo Boo had arranged for some nice tea to be brought. Cinnamon buns needed something to cut the sticky. "Course now, ain't no use for guns and knives and all that human swirl. Pony don't play that, you hear what I'm sayin'?"
Pudding nodded, the tea mixing delightfully with the sweetbun in her mouth... oh, sweet Luna this was good... so... good.
"The rivalry continues - it just takes a new form. Turns out we be good at the bakin' and the makin' and the cookin' and the superior culinary prowess, ain't that right my brothers?" Woo got a thunderous pounding of agreeing hooves at that. "You have tasted of our justice, little filly, so what say you of our battle plan?"
Pudding managed to swallow enough tea to speak clearly again. "Oh, you are soooo going to knock the Bloods for a loop. They won't know what hit them if this bun is any example!"
"Well said, little filly, well said." Woo Boo leaned close, his stallion muscles rippling in the golden glow. "So, miss Pudding Shenanigans, adventuress of the wastelands, we offer you a choice. You can join our little fraternity, and assist us on our little rumble, or you can pay a terrible price for crossing our turf. What shall it be?" Woo grinned wide and big.
"What... what kind of price?" Pudding felt unsure and unsettled.
"You don't help out, you don't get no more buns. Nothin'. Cut you off like a too-long mane. Snip!"
Pudding licked her sticky muzzle, dotted with blobs of cinnamon sweet. "I'm in. Just keep me fueled with buns."
"My mare! Gimmee hoof!"
Pudding clacked her upraised hoof against Woo's.
"An' one on the down low!" Another brohoof, only lower.
"An a clip-clap-clop!" Pudding had some trouble with this one, at middle height, which involved knocking hooves top, bottom and then a proper brohoof, but in the end she managed.
"Right... onfff?" she squeeked, her mouth quickly filled with more cinnamon goodness.
The glowing curvature of the impossible dome loomed upon them. The air itself almost crackled with dweomer, curtains of thaumatic energy drifting by like slices of some land-bound aurora. It had been forty-six hours since Pudding Shenanigans had run away seeking adventure in the badlands of Los Pegasus. She had slept in a very nice 'crib' provided by her new gang affiliates, and been given the gang name Puddy Yum because of her insatiable lust for cinnamon buns. Seriously she couldn't stop eating the darn things. They had to take the cart away for her own good.
But then, that's what gang brothers are for. To watch your back. And your figure.
The wind had whipped up, the result of the onrushing cosmic bubble. But not even the mind crushing vastness of a colliding universe, mere hours from arrival, not even the immensity of Inclusion Day was enough to deter these two mortal rivals, the Crips and the Bloods, from this, their final turf war. This was it, the final battle, winner take all, for possession of not just Los Pegasus, but the entire planet Earth. All around the globe, Banger sets watched, thanks to some clever linkage to the hypernet and an air-tight agreement with the Ministry of Infotainment. The final battle of Crip versus Blood, live from Los Pegasus.
Actually, Pudding was fairly amazed that gang stuff was such a big deal. Apparently they had just grown and grown over the decades to become a serious economic powerhouse. They had stopped dealing in drugs a decade ago, in favor of specialty foods. In a world of government rations and nanobars, food items were where all the wealth was now. And even as humans, both the Crips and the Bloods had forsworn violence, simply because it wasn't good for profitability anymore. Even more especially so, now that the ponies were here.
That said, old rivalries were not simple to let go of and thus it had been decided to declare a winner through a pastry challenge. Ponies loved pastry, and they needed to merge the gangs in any case because of the law of the economy of scale. Being rivals just wasn't working anymore. But would the result be Cripco Savories or Bloodsweet Treats?
The Chairpony of the Pony Chef Competition had been flown in by aerostat to officiate at the open air event, at the insistence of the Ministry. They felt it added gravitas, and also brought in more viewers over the hypernet. An entire arena had been constructed on the surface of the raised highway, Highway Stadium, where the two gangs would battle it out to see who could create the tastiest dessert within the allotted time. Puddy Yum had been given the job of sous chef under Roo Goo and Doctor Professor, but it was Woo Boo Sweet himself that was the star chef for the competition.
The Bloods had brought their best pastry expert, the indomitable Vanilla Sky, a gang leader, a fierce mare, and known across the East Coast for a cheesecake that that was rated in megatonage. She had her homies with her, and they were a fearsome crew, every one of them Julliard in the prison-yard, yo. Downtown doin' it Alton Brown. They brought their Moolia Child, and intended everypony else to have... a cow.
The vast shining arch that was Equestria dominated everything. The light from the Equestrian dawn blazed like golden fire across every counter-top, each preparation area, and every last stove. Highway Stadium was an oasis of pastry brilliance in the middle of the gray and ruined former Empire State of Man, while the hover-cams whirred overhead, robot drones sending the live holofeed to every kiosk on the planet.
Ponies had come from the favelas miles away to watch the event. It was a huge thing, months in the making. Pudding - Puddy Yum for now - had no idea. Isolated in her tower with daddy and his marefriend Lollipop, Pudding hadn't heard one word about a cooking battle so close to her home, and at such a historic moment. The battle for Los Pegasus - could they finish before the Barrier arrived, a race against the very moment of Inclusion, when all the feeds would stop as the drone-cams melted into flowers and all traces of human technology were wiped clean from newly-created Equestria.
"Puddy! I need CLARIFIED butter - ain't no pleasure without full measure, pony!" Woo Boo Sweet was in his element, using the astonishingly perfect sense of balance and control that all earthponies natively possessed to juggle several bowls, pans and implements with a literally unhuman deftness. Eggs were cracked and tossed, several kinds of imported, Equestrian flour - it had to be, what with the Last Harvest and all - were unsacked and mixed, piles of lost sugar brought the illusion of an early winter to the parched road bed.
On the other side, Vanilla Sky was using her unicorn powers to swirl liquid candy into Watts Towers of exquisite confectionery architectural wonder. Only the power of unicorn telekinesis could spin molten sugar into a representation of thought itself, and her thoughts were clearly sweet and beyond the very Ideal of beauty. Her sous chefs scrambled to keep up with her stern, controlled demands - "cherry syrup now! Careful with the Dragée - caramelization comes from the soul, not the pan!" Vanilla was like a goddess of the kitchen, silhouetted against the onrushing curvature, her mane billowing in the rising pressure.
Two commentators, a pegasus and an earthpony, ran a running play-by-play of the events, while a floor reporter, a young unicorn with a mic in his hornfield and a rapid-fire patter, all kept the watching world informed of the events as the City of Los Pegasus began to be engulfed.
Far away, as the two gangs rumbled in the makeshift kitchen stadium, the rippling boundary of the cosmos of Equestria intersected the buildings of Man. Ponies gathered in the intersections, many roped together so that they would remain close as the Great Barrier swept past leaving endless miles of new land in its wake. The yellow light of Equestrian morning bathed everything in a honeyed glow as the liquid wall that reached beyond the sky into space moved inexorably on.
"It's a fever pitch, as the two historic rival gangs battle for supremacy here in Highway Stadium! The incredible determination of both gang leaders, the unstoppable Vanilla Sky, the irrepressible Woo Boo Sweet, each fighting for their color, their gang, and their own honor while in the background Equestria itself waits to make final judgement on us all. It is truly an incredible scene down here on the ground. Back to you, Flaxey-Dun!"
"Thank you, Oats! So, Hinny, who do you think will win this battle of confections?" Commentator Flaxey-Dun was beginning to need to shout over the rising wind. The Barrier was disturbing the atmosphere as it rushed onward.
"Well, Vanilla has definitely shown what a unicorn can do, her sugar sculptures are magnificent, but I fear the wind may prove a hazard to her candy dreams. On the other hoof, Woo Boo has a very sensible strategy, going for flavor and a low wind-loading profile with his choice to make what appears to be a most triumphant cake. I just don't know what kind of cake yet... Oats?" Hinny addressed the little floor reporter.
Oats scrambled over to Woo Boo, fighting the howling winds. "From what I can see, Hinny, it appears to be cinnamon. Yes, cinnamon, I think he is making a cinnamon cake... no, it's buns... no again, I believe Woo Boo is making some kind of cake that has the texture and impact of cinnamon buns - it's cinnamon bun cake!"
"Luna's left hoof! That's just..." but Hinny's response was never heard by the world, because at that very moment the Great Barrier of Equestria hit, rolling over, through and around them. It was a vast, shimmering wall moving impossibly fast, reaching beyond comprehension in every direction.
Pudding Shenanigans was grinding large kernels of nutmeg when the Barrier struck. She wasn't sure what had happened at first. One moment the wind was screaming in her pony ears and the next she felt like she was floating in honey, surrounded by golden light, everything distorted like being underwater. It felt like the entire world had somehow shifted into slow-motion as she tried to raise her head. She saw Woo Boo across from her, an intent look on his face as he used twin spoons, bound with rubber bands to his hooves, to stir a big bowl of what was almost certainly frosting. The quavering, liquid view seemed to last an eternity, everything embedded in an ocean of fluid gold.
Then as rapidly as it had hit, the Barrier passed on, racing at incredible speed away from her. Pudding watched as a wall the size of forever fell away into endless landscapes, leaving behind hills and grass and cottages and the occasional tree.
Pudding remained still for a long time, the shock of the event slowly being processed in her mind. She looked down to where her hooves stood in luscious, summer-green grass. There was a bright yellow dandelion to her left, and more beyond that. Her gaze followed them until she could comprehend her situation.
She was standing on a large, low hill, dotted with dramatic rock edifices. That must be what the Barrier made of the broken overpass and the onramps. Artificial stone had been transformed into natural stone, and grass and field had replaced empty lots and rubble. Hollywood Boulevard had become a lovely country lane, with flowers on the sides, which stretched into infinity in both directions. Pudding tried to establish landmarks of any kind. Far in the distance, so very, very far away, there seemed to be gigantic mountains topped with snow. The Hollywood hills? The mountains that surrounded the city? Los Pegasus had been big. In Equestria, the same land had become incomprehensibly vast. There was room enough for all the billions of the earth right here, and this was just a speck on the fringe of Equestria. Exponential Lands. They truly were.
Pudding became aware that she still had her saddlebags! That was unexpected. They had been under a prep station in the stadium, now they were under the shadow of a vast leaning rock. She trotted to them, and lifted them with her hornfield. The difference was instantly noticeable. For a moment, she had trouble controlling the floating saddlebags. Before, on Earth, it took effort to lift and move things. It took a certain concentration and force of will. But here, inside Equestria, it was almost too easy. Her levitation felt slippery and quicksilver, and she found herself overcompensating.
It was then that she noticed it, in the air, in her own flesh - magic. The stuff of magic was palpable, it was everywhere, in everything. Everything was alive in some strange sense, even the rocks, even the sweet breath she savored in her nose and mouth. It was like the world, no the universe, had been recently scrubbed. No, not even that was enough. Everything felt like beauty itself. Pudding took in a deep breath, her sensitive pony nose filled with the intoxicating scent of flowers, grasses and... cinnamon?
Following her nose, literally, Pudding rounded the rock outcroppings. The scent of cinnamon was getting stronger. Her saddlebags firmly on her back, she made it past the largest formation to find the saddle of the great hill. On the other side of the hill, next to even more rock outcroppings (the other onramp?) there was a pony. It was Woo Boo.
Woo Boo had only been a few hooves from her in the stadium. Now he was at least a hundred hooves away. Pudding began to gallop as she noticed a second pony by Woo Boo. It was Vanilla, the leader of the Bloods. They seemed to be discussing something, heads very close to each other. Were they whispering?
No, they were kissing.
Ah, so that is how the great battle ended between the two most terrifying gangs of earth, now that they were in Equestria. A tie. Perhaps even a permanent bond. Well then, thought Pudding as she approached, a victory for everypony! It was the best of all possible resolutions.
"Puddy Yum! My Mare!" Woo Boo gave the little filly a pony hug, head over her back. "Glad to see you found your bearings. There's a lotta here, here, if you get my meanin'"
Pudding did indeed get his meaning. One hoof of ground on Earth made hundreds of hooves of ground here. Now she finally understood why her daddy had been so adamant about staying together, about not leaving. He was out there, somewhere, but where? Her home could be hundreds, even thousands of miles away!
"Is somethin' troublin' you, little filly?" Vanilla Sky gave Pudding a nuzzle, a kind gesture.
"My... father, my home, I..." Pudding ran to a massive tilted stone and scrambled up the incline. At the top she scanned the horizon, following the country lane that Hollywood Boulevard had become. Wait... no... THERE! Pudding's heart sped up as her mind raced. Thoughts filled her, plans, ideas, notions. This was a new world to make a place within. She was with two of the best confectioners she could imagine, and they were a couple. Somewhere nearby must be all the other ponies, they just had to find them. And ponies loved pastry and confections. She was daddy's girl, she realized. Born to manage, she supposed.
"Come here, both of you! I have a proposition to make!"
In the distance, far, far in the distance, the true brilliance of her father, Pinstripe, became evident. The tower. It had been the Capitol Records building, a tall, round mass of metal and glass. Now it was a shining, decorated spire, reaching into the Equestrian sky, like some fugitive tower from Canterlot itself. It was so far away, but Pudding's powerful pony eyes could make out balconies and spiral staircases and beautiful flags on top. It gleamed in gold and white and bright decorations. It was a castle unto itself. It would become the center of a community, of that there could be no doubt.
It would be a long, arduous trek to that distant spire. And they would first have to find all the scattered members of the former gangs and the Ministry-sponsored infotainment crew. And there would be lost ponies that had just come to watch, wandering aimlessly from grass to pond. All would be useful. Every last one. For her new catering empire. Daddy would be very, very proud.
Oh, it was not going to be easy. Not even for Pudding Shenanigans, Mare of Mystery.
But it would be... an Adventure.