Chapter Two: Her Name Is Teacup
The violet-maned mare was a little slow to learn. Cornflower started with the basics, just as she would have with a foal of her own. It was a might strange teaching a mare like it was a foal, but, she remembered, only a short time ago this mare was some strange critter from a scary, dangerous world. Cornflower reckoned that it couldn't be easy to try to become a proper, normal pony after that, and she wouldn't have it said of her that Cornflower Provender lacked pity for them that were worse off.
She had the befuddled mare up and trotting around the kitchen by the middle of the first day. Cornflower, Missus Provender, reckoned that all foals are born with the knowledge of how to stand and walk, so this newfoal couldn't be all that different. It just took a little time and encouragement for any young'n to get their hooves on the ground.
The mare seemed happy to clop around the lower floor of the farmhouse, but there was no getting her up the stairs yet. Missus Provender resigned herself to having a makeshift bed in the kitchen for awhile, so she laid out another comforter and brought down a pillow from the guest room. When she got downstairs with the pillow, she was pleased to see the newfoal trying to straighten the impromptu bed as best she could. She was a bit clumsy, but there was no doubt she wanted to help. That was a good sign.
Missus Provender tried to get the mare to go outside before the Princess lowered the sun, but again her guest balked at the stairs out, as well as the ice and snow. It made sense, if indoor stairs were too difficult for the newfoal, then slippery outdoor stairs would be even more intimidating. Cornflower felt foolish then, it should have been obvious. Just gettin' old I guess, she thought to herself.
The newfoal was clearly interested in the world outside though, and stood at the door staring at the farm, and the hills behind, sniffing the cold air for all she was worth. It was as if she had never seen a farm before. This was getting the room cold, though, so Cornflower nudged her in the flank, moving her back into the kitchen, so she could close the door.
The mare followed her everywhere, staring intently at whatever she did as if it were the most amazing thing in the world. While she set about her chores for the day, Cornflower constantly talked to the mare, hoping some words might stick. Also, she had to admit, it was kinda nice to have someone about the place during the day, while Mister Provender was out tending to the livestock. It reminded her of the days when her daughters were still home, days filled with laughter and an endless series of fusses and messes, which in retrospect, she missed a lot more than she ever reckoned she would.
The newfoal mare tried to talk back to her, using whatever language they speak in strange critter land, but none of her new guest's words meant anything to her. Missus Provender went about her tasks, the two of them close and chattering to each other in different languages. It was a might silly, Cornflower felt.
In the early afternoon, Cornflower liked to have a cup of tea. She had Durum get her tea whenever he went into Withers, and she was cross if he should forget. She decided to see if newfoals liked tea, and so set out cups for them both.
The newfoal had some trouble at first, perching on a hay-bale seat by the table, but soon she was sitting nicely enough. She seemed both fascinated and troubled by the teacup Cornflower put down in front of her. When the newfoal put her hooves up on the table, clearly trying to pinch the cup between them, Cornflower stopped her, and motioned for her to put her hooves back down. This seemed to further confuse the poor creature, and for a moment it seemed as if she was going to cry. Cornflower couldn't make any sense of this. Maybe human critters ate with their hooves or something.
While the tea was steeping, the newfoal was going on in her peculiar language. She seemed excited by the teapot, by the cups, and by the situation. It seemed to Cornflower as if the newfoal was familiar with it all, somehow. She had heard that the world the newfoals came from was somehow linked to Equestria, perhaps they had tea there. If they had tea, then they couldn't be all bad, she decided.
The newfoal was trying to lift the cup by the handle. She had learned not to use her hooves on the table, and had seen Cornflower bring the tea things to the table in her teeth. The newfoal had grasped the handle of the teacup in her mouth with some effort and was lifting it. It was a good thing there was no tea in the cup, because if there had been, it would have been all over the table by now. Cornflower figured she had better show the mare how to properly use a cup.
Cornflower caught the mare's attention and said "That's a teacup. Teacup. Let me show ya how to use it." Cornflower lowered her head, and lifted her upper lip in an exaggerated way to show the newfoal how she used her teeth. She clamped the lip of the cup between her upper and lower jaw, then lifted it up. She held it a spell, and even shook her head a twitch to show that she had the cup held firmly. Next she tilted her head back a might, and made a slurping sound with her lips. Finally she lowered the cup to the table and set it down.
The newfoal mare looked at her own cup, then at Cornflower, and appeared to be considering. She duplicated the behavior Cornflower had demonstrated to her. Then she set her own cup down. It wobbled and fell over, so she nibbled at it until it stood upright again.
"Teacup. Tea-cup." Missus Provender intoned. "Go ahead, you try it. Say Teacup."
Suddenly the mare blurted out, in perfect Equestrian "TEACUP!".
"Yes!" It was her newfoal's first word, and Missus Provender could not be prouder "Yes! Teacup! That's right. Teacup! Very good!" It felt like she had a daughter at home again. Warm memories filled her mind.
The newfoal seemed very proud of herself. "Teacup!" she repeated, and put a hoof to her chest "Teacup!" Then she added a string of words from her own language that made no sense. Next she pointed at Cornflower and surprised her by saying "Cornflower!"
"I guess you've been payin' more attention than I gave ya credit for." Cornflower was happily surprised. She used a hoof to gesture at herself "Cornflower!" Then she pointed her hoof at the newfoal.
The mare responded "Teacup!"
"No, I wanted your name. Your name, honeycake." Cornflower gestured again "I'm Cornflower, and you're..."
"Teacup!" The mare pointed at Missus Provender "Cornflower!" Then she pointed at the tea cup in front of her and said a word in her own language. After that she rattled on a bit, nothing of which made any sense at all.
"Oh dear." Missus Provender poured tea into the two cups. "I guess we'll just call you 'Teacup' then. Here, have some tea, Teacup."
Teacup looked down at the tea and called it something in her own language. "Cornflower?" Teacup was now staring intently at Missus Provender with a glad expression on her muzzle "Teacup...." She paused a moment, and then hugged her front hooves to her chest "...Cornflower." The newfoal looked grateful, that was the only word for it.
"You're welcome, honeycake." Cornflower sipped her tea.
There was a bit of a mess, but in the end Teacup managed to get some tea down her, and likely had learned how to use cups in the process. As Missus Provender cleaned up afterwards, Teacup looked a might embarrassed. There had been various assorted spills, and one time the newfoal nearly broke her cup when it dropped as she was setting it down. Messes and fusses. "It's OK, Teacup. Shucks, ain't nothin' I haven't dealt with before!" Memories of her daughters flooded back.
Although she wasn't about to fully admit it, maybe having an untrained, refugee newfoal on her farm wasn't such a burden after all. Cornflower hadn't had such a fun day in many a year.
Snow fell outside the multi-paned windows of the kitchen. It was obviously a kitchen of some kind, food was prepared there. Tikvah had never seen one made entirely of wood before, and such wood as well! If she had to be a pony, well, this was not so bad. The comforter was warm and soft under her belly, and the nice lady had tucked her in, as she had the previous night, and given her a nuzzle before going upstairs.
Tikvah couldn't help but think of the light gray mare as a nice old lady. That's who she was in her mind. A world of talking ponies, and now she, Tikvah Feinstein, was one of them. She wondered if the human world was truly gone. Had the great 'Purification' already happened? All of human history, all of humanity itself, swept away like so much dust.
Then again, she thought, maybe it was for the best.
Tikvah had been living, when she was human, in Wilmington, Jersey. Just a ride from Newark, faster if you took the maglev. She had worked as a nanofabricator in the huge plant they had opened - she was one of the lucky 11% in the North American Alliance that had a job at all. After all, 89% unemployment was the norm, but she didn't feel special, just fortunate. She had known somebody that knew somebody. That's how it worked. That's how it always worked.
It was a pretty crappy job, really, but Tikvah was beyond grateful to have it. She took the maglev to work, even though the plant was only a few miles away, because it was safer. It cost a lot to ride the maglev, but that was better than being slashed open and harvested for organs. A lot of that had been happening on the regular routes, but so far the organ muggers hadn't dared the high security of the maglev.
It was nicer, too. The maglev cars were in disrepair, like everything else, but the seats still had covers on them, and that was much better than riding on bare springs.
Nanofabrication was a tedious task. Every day, at the start of her 16 hour shift, a list of morphological parameters would be uploaded to her workstation, and she would begin sorting them into topological groups. Then she performed transforms on the data so that the quantum system could digest it more efficiently. When that was done, she moved to the fabrication center and checked the bins and tanks, topping them up as needed. She was one of only five people in the entire, vast building, each isolated in their own section.
Outside, the streets had been packed with an ocean of the destitute and the dying, makeshift shelters and the endless favela that encrusted the world like cardboard and sheet-metal barnacles. Ninteen billion humans lived on the earth, all but one tenth of one percent of them impoverished slaves working for the most minimal of wages, or merely starving.
Tikvah was fortunate to be a slave now; her contract, like all employment contracts, was so arranged that no matter what her pay rate, she would always fall deeper in debt to the corporation. Having work meant that she was restricted to purchases from her employing corporation, so all of her food, shelter and power had to come from Eastern Corporate. Fortunately, Eastcorp owned everything that existed in her sector of North America, so all it really meant was that she couldn't buy anything off the hypernet.
Tikvah had to be careful with loading the nanohoppers, because everything she worked with was perilous. She spent much of her day inside a sealed environment suit, but her actual task was pouring something grey into something a different shade of gray. A tear or rip in her thin suit, and it could mean two weeks quarantine without pay, and possible mutilation or death. Naturally, she tried to be careful, but failure to complete her tasks adequately was a firing offense, and of course the debt she was already in for having a job at all would be with her for life. Then, if she was lucky, she could hope for industrial prison, or if unlucky, she could return to the world-spanning favela, and the usual life of the sickness and barely surviving.
Actually, her degrees in nanoscience weren't really elite enough to hope for industrial prison. So, it would be the slums if she was ever fired. She'd still have to pay back the corporation, even from there, or end up part of the mandatory organ donator selection pool. She wondered if she should have studied law, or finance, instead.
Her home was a living pod in the Union Park megacomplex. She was lucky to have it, it was just within her budget. Two meters long by a full meter and a half tall and wide, she had space to stretch out, plus just enough room for a microfridge and her threevee tablet. She slept bent around these items, and she liked to imagine they were friends she was cuddling with. She felt so fortunate!
But the best part was the hatch. Each pod had its own locked hatch. The lock was a quantum lock, and could not be broken by anything short of the might of a corporate entity. Inside her pod, she was safe. She would never be raped again, never lose her other ear, never be beaten, never be hurt while she slept. Her living pod was more than a place to sleep, it was a fortress, a castle, and for the first time in her 34 years, Tikvah knew what it was to feel safe.
When Equestria first rose from the sea, Tikvah didn't really pay it much attention. Her work was demanding, and she only allowed herself a half an hour to surf the hypernet, just enough for half of an old show, before dropping some Noeticin for two hours of concentrated REM sleep. It simply wasn't part of her personal world.
She first discovered her world had changed irrevocably when she lost her job. It was a very strange situation, because not only was she discharged, but everyone at Eastcorp, at every division, everywhere in North America had been fired simultaneously. All debts were cancelled. No severance, no debt, no hope of prison, no nothing. Eastcorp was simply gone. The single, monolithic, singular industry of the entire east coast had pulled out of North America entirely. No person was employed anywhere in the North East Zone.
There was a cryptic explanation: Due to current events, all employment has been terminated without penalty.
She hadn't heard anything. As far as she knew, nothing was going on, the company had never mentioned anything in their employee bulletins. There had been no mention in the net shows she watched, then again she only watched reruns of old favorites, so there was that. She never bothered with newsfeeds, there was no point - there was nothing she could do about anything, hell, it was all she could do just to stay employed.
Her life had been so insular - pod, food dispenser, maglev, work, maglev, food dispenser, pod - that she had basically missed the last five years. On that last day, she finally met one of her co-workers at the nanofabrication facility, the woman shrieking about something as she ran past her, clearly outside of her normal workspace. Tikvah was lost, her world, her life, everything suddenly destroyed.
In five years the world had changed. With her robotic schedule gone, Tikvah wandered, in shock, away from the secure tunnels that led from work to maglev. For the first time in five years, she found herself above ground, and in her stunned state had forgotten to put on her Resperex breather to deal with the smog and ash.
There wasn't any.
The perpetual smog and ashfall that blackened Wilmington was simply... gone. The vast skyscrapers that towered over the ramshackle favela huts and constructions were as grimy and dark as always, but something impossible glowed behind them. A vast field of blue, a color Tikvah had not seen outside of images on the hypernet, filled the sky. It was the sky. The original sky, which she had read about in her childhood. The sky was supposed to be blue, somehow.
She was breathing easily. As easily as in her living pod, as easily as in her envirosuit. Her lungs almost stung from the raw freshness of the air. She couldn't take it in. It was impossible, insane. The sky was ...blue.
And that is the exact moment she saw her first pegasus, turquoise with a crimson mane, gliding overhead. It was followed by others, many others, and as she felt her sanity failing her, she whipped her head down and crouched low to the ground, hands on the side of her head, staring intently at the crusted plascreet walkway, as if somehow that patch of normality could bring her mind stability.
"Excuse me, are you alright?" The voice was eerily kind, as though it were genuinely concerned. It was a soft voice, high of pitch, and it wasn't asking for money, or demanding her kidneys. Somehow she managed to look up, her curiosity overcoming her fear. She couldn't take much more.
"Do you need help? I'll help you!" It was a peach-colored unicorn, wearing saddlebags and a Jersey Nets baseball cap.