Chapter Three: The Unpromised Land
The mare was milk white, with a violet mane that swirled over her head and neck. Her name was Teacup, though it had not always been that, and she was learning how to feed the chickens.
"You should give'm a little corn now an' then, an' it don't hurt none to toss 'em the odd vegetable or two. They prefer bugs, o'course, but they likes their feed, and they need a treat now an' then. Every once'n a while we give'm yogurt. That's our secret here at Provender Farm. 'Bout once a week, roughly." Mister Provender was talking slowly, more slowly than usual, because Teacup still had trouble with words sometimes. "Ya got all that?"
Teacup thought hard about how to answer and composed an answer in Equestrian as best as she could. "Give chickens corn. Sometimes. Vegetables. Sometimes. Milk-jelly week once."
Mister Provender frowned at the mare, briefly. "Not 'milk-jelly, yogurt. YO-GURT. This stuff." The aged stallion gestured to a bowl sitting on the hay, all but empty of a creamy, white substance. He pronounced the Equestrian word for the foodstuff once more, carefully, so that Teacup might learn it.
The white newfoal mare mouthed the strange, unearthly Equestrian syllables that she had just heard. Mister Provender snorted and nodded.
Teacup felt frustrated, she never imagined learning a new language would take so long. Of course, she had never imagined ever having to learn a new language. She dipped her head low and sniffed at the bowl. Oh! She knew what that was. It had been available in sealed containers from the food dispenser, back when she had lived in Wilmington. She mentally mapped the Equestrian word for yogurt to Eastern Zone English.
Teacup had learned many things over the past six months. She had finally understood that she had somehow been named after tableware, but felt no inclination to correct the situation. 'Teacup' sounded fairly Equestrian to her, as names went in this strange new land. Missus Provender was named 'Sunflower', and Mister Provender was named 'Durum', which Teacup vaguely remembered was a type of wheat or some other grain. Equestrians seemed to often be named after things or motions or even foods. They didn't take names quite the same way that humans had.
So, considering that she was now an Equestrian herself, and would be for life, Tikvah Feinstein had come to the conclusion that being named after the Equestrian word for a container to drink tea from was fine with her. It sounded pretty to her new ears, and it seemed, for some reason, to make Missus Provender smile. Tikvah Feinstein was gone, and now she must learn to be a white mare named 'Teacup'.
This strange situation did not exactly bother Teacup. In the six months she had been in this new land, in her new body, it had seemed not unlike heaven to her. Everyone -everypony, she corrected herself- had been friendly to her, she always had good things to eat, she never felt afraid, and above all, everything was so incredibly bright and clean.
Gone were the filthy, garbage-piled streets of the megacity of Wilmington. Water was clear, and tasted fresh and pure. The air never burned, green living things grew everywhere, and the only smoke came from the stove in Missus Provender's kitchen, or in the fireplace in the farmhouse, during the three months of winter.
Teacup wanted to learn how to help out on the farm. The farm itself was an exotic, magical place to her. She had never imagined ever being allowed to set foot on one. On earth, all farms had been seized by the corporate government, and were shoot-to-kill security zones. It was illegal to try to grow your own food, even on rooftops. She doubted that would have worked in any case, what with the ash-fall covering everything. There was no ash-fall here, no smog, no clouds of nanodust.
She felt gratitude towards the Provenders. She desperately wanted to please them, for she had come to understand that they had chosen, somehow, to have her there. She felt as if she had been rescued from a nightmare.
Only by comparison could she fully appreciate how much she had hated her life, before. It was terribly strange to live inside such a different skin, and it had taken her some time to come to terms with the fact of it, the reality of no longer being human. But, if that was the price of living in a world filled with life and color and smiles, of chickens instead of organ thieves, well, maybe being human wasn't such an important thing.
Still, adjusting had been difficult, particularly so, for her. When Tikvah had been rushed to the mass Conversion Camps set up after the Bureaus had been closed, thoughts of the Holocaust had terrified her, and for a moment she wondered if she was to be exterminated. But, as it finally dawned on her that those around her were serious about the strange concept of saving the last, lost humans by converting them to Equestrians, and that it was not death that awaited but a strange new life, her fear turned to confusion.
This was not what she understood about the world. She had been taught that the human form was the image of god, and that the Torah was clear on matters of what the world was about, what the future of Man would be, and what, basically, was what. But no Book nor Scroll nor Song had ever predicted the arrival of an alien cosmos out of the Pacific, nor that the End Of Days would finish in alfalfa and hooves. The fact of Equestria not only destroyed her reality, and changed her body, it destroyed her religion, too.
It was impossible to cling to the distant, invisible god of her childhood when two living, talking, visible divine beings made the sun and moon rise and set each day. Suddenly her god had been replaced with goddesses, and they weren't just stories - she could go visit them someday, if she wanted to. The thought terrified her. It was one thing to sing prayers. It was another to sit down to tea with an actual deity.
Then again, if the goddess-princesses were anything like those she had met in the strange dream she had experienced during her transformation, maybe it wouldn't be such a difficult meeting after all.
But one thing was certain; nothing she had ever believed, thought, or held real was true anymore. As best as she could understand, there literally wasn't even an earth anymore. Equestria was the only reality now.
Everyday, Teacup tried her best to accept, with all of her heart, her new life. She worked to make her new body her own.
Wandering the farm, she tried out all of her parts. She had wiggled her ears and tried to walk backwards. She sniffed and nibbled and rolled on her back in the long, sweet-smelling grass by the farmhouse. When she had done that, she had heard laughter from the porch. "You really are just a lil' filly, ain't ya?" Missus Provender often seemed to delight in her efforts to understand her new body. "I used'a love rolling around in the grass like that when I was little. You just go on and enjoy yourself, Teacup. Ain't nobody here gonna worry about how old you are on this here farm."
Teacup had felt a little silly at being caught, but continued for a while anyway. If it made Missus Provender glad or happy in any way, then that was a mitzvah as far as she was concerned. Besides, the grass just felt so good... and it smelled so incredibly nice.
Every morning on the farm meant biscuits, and Teacup was trying hard to learn how to make them. She felt very clumsy, every time she tried, but Missus Provender was very kind, and very patient with her.
"I'm sorry! I'm sorry! Sorry Sorry Sorry!" she repeated over and over when she had dropped her stirring-spoon on the floor for the umpteenth time.
"Aw, shucks, honeycake... it's all right. Jus' settle down, now, an we'll try again, 'kay?"
Teacup felt bad that she seemed to have such trouble using her teeth and hooves the way natural Equestrians did. So, she started practicing in the night, after everypony had gone to bed. This was back during the days before she had finally braved the stairs and been given the guest room as her own.
Teacup, under the light of the moon, had taken out the long wooden spoon and practiced with it, night after night. She tried making stirring motions, practiced taking hold of it with her lips and teeth and setting it down again. She even tried flipping it into the air, and catching it, to see if she could.
One night she had noticed she was being watched from the shadows by the stairs. Missus Provender had come down, probably because she had made too much noise. Teacup dropped the spoon in surprise. Missus Provender stood there for a while with a strange look on her face, albeit a kindly one. "You jus' try so hard, don'cha honeycake?"
That had turned out to be a particularly happy night for Teacup. Missus Provender lit the oil lantern, and set about making them both something not entirely unlike Mexican Horchata, a sweet, warm oat-based drink that she served in mugs. It was delicious, and over that, she had told Teacup about the fillies she had raised, and about her life long ago. She talked about winning a ribbon for her biscuits, and how much fun the fair was, back when. She told about how she met Durum, and how he used to bring her candied daisies when they were first courting.
"Dear me, I've jawed a might long all about myself. I still don't know a thing about you, Teacup." Missus Provender poured them both a little more of the oat beverage "What was your life like back in that world you came from? I ain't never heard tales of life in another world before!"
Teacup started to formulate a response, but then stopped. What could she possibly say to the kindly elder mare? Teacup looked around the clean, pleasant, homey kitchen and thought of her childhood in the favela, weeks with no food, her first rape, her human ear being cut off for no reason at all. Her new, regenerated, intact pony ear twitched at the memory of her lost human ear.
Even if she could manage to somehow explain what life was like in the human world, about how humans treated each other to Missus Provender, how would that affect her? It wouldn't make her sleep well, that was for sure. And what would she think of a newfoal such as herself, a former human from such a world? How could she even speak of the world of Man, with all of its war, greed, violence and horror?
It would be some kind of sacrilege, some blasphemy somehow, to bring such concepts into a place like Equestria. Even to speak of them seemed poisonous, toxic. Teacup felt deep shame, and sadness, and suddenly she felt more alone than she had ever been in both of her two lives.
She was in a kind of paradise, compared to the world she had come from, and she could never talk about what she had been through to anypony, ever. Inside her was a pain that would never heal, and even to mention it would taint her new existence, and likely make those that accepted her now see her as a monster from a monstrous world. She had tried all her previous life to not be a monster like those around her, but that did not change the fact that she had seen, known, and been touched by a world run by, and for, true monsters.
"I... I no talk. I'm sorry. I'm sorry, Missus Provender. It hurting place. Sorry me." Teacup couldn't look her in the eye. It was too much to cope with, after how happy the night had been until then.
"It's OK, sweetie. You don't need to tell me anythin'." Missus Provender leaned over and gave Teacup a comforting nuzzle. "Let's finish our mugs, and head up to bed, whatcha say?"
Teacup nodded, relieved.
The next years passed easily for Teacup. She had learned Equestrian well enough to pass for a local, though not without a few mishaps along the way. She became competent and useful around the farm, and Missus Provender was clearly glad of her help. Teacup liked working on the farm. She liked planting season, and she enjoyed the harvest. Fresh corn and the best hay and alfalfa and flowers were a constant part of her diet. She discovered a love of baking, and finally managed to make biscuits as good as Cornflower's, an achievement that clearly made the elder mare proud.
Teacup found the world around her green and fascinating. The nearby town of South Withers held interesting shops and tasty treats she had not experienced on the farm. She came to know the names of dozens of local ponies, and became a part of the community. She was known and valued. But somehow, she never truly got close to anypony other than Missus Provender and Durum. And even with them, she only really talked about their days together, the farm, and their lives, never her own.
Missus Provender had taken note of that fact, and found it a might curious. Teacup was such a good mare, always helpful, kind to a fault, honest, friendly, but she was closed. Closed like a stuck door to a dark room. She liked things and had interests, but she never had any friends over, or went to spend time with anypony else. The farm was her life, and while it was wonderful to have such a dedicated farmhoof around, Missus Provender had come, inside her heart, to see Teacup as just a little more than a refugee worker. She had come to see Teacup a little like she was her own filly, somehow.
And it just weren't right for one of her fillies to be all lonely like that. All her own brood had left the farm and made lives for themselves, at the very least they had always had friends about the place, ponies they had crushes on, ponies they eventually got involved with.
Missus Provender could tell that, however happy a face she put on, there was some terrible sadness deep inside Teacup, and it had something to do with her past, which she wouldn't ever talk about.
So Cornflower put her mind to the problem, and started asking around.
Most all the newfoals from the other world had long since moved out to the Great Expansion, far away from the lands close to Canterlot, Hoofington, even Manehattan. As the other world had been devoured by her world, Equestria had somehow grown larger, and now there were endless lands Cornflower had never heard of. All were now properly part of Equestria. Those lands were so vast that there was more than enough room for all the newfoals -and apparently there were a whole lot of them too- to go found new towns and cities in, with space for generations untold beyond that.
That was all too big for Missus Provender to take in, but what did matter to her was that there just weren't many of the newfoals around anywhere nearby anymore. And this was a problem, because Cornflower figured that if her Teacup couldn't talk to her, or to any other natural-born pony, maybe it would help her to talk for a spell with a pony like herself. A pony from that other world. A pony that might have something more in common with whatever was bothering her.
It took Missus Provender three years to track down a likely candidate. In a town called Clydesdale, not all that far away, she finally heard tell that one of its citizens was a newfoal that had stayed behind when all the others had moved on out to the new frontier. The newfoals seemed a restless lot, most of them, and besides there was only so much room in any one place.
But in Clydesdale, there was a newfoal that lived there, and best of all for her plans, that newfoal had started having troubles of her own. As she learned more, Missus Provender found out that those troubles seemed not unlike the kind Teacup was having.
The Clydesdale newfoal was a mare. She had been quite popular up until a few years ago. Then she started seeming sad, and acting more and more withdrawn. While this mare had been very openly social, unlike Teacup, she too never seemed to have any truly close friends. Those that knew of her said she seemed happy on the outside, but that somehow there was a cloud hanging over her, like she was carrying a burden, inside.
By this time it had been ten years since Teacup had come to her farm, and joined the Provender family. And she had truly joined the family, as far as Missus Provender and Mister Provender were concerned. So Cornflower reckoned that it was only right to try to help her more-or-less semi-adopted daughter.
She figured that she would throw a little shindig to celebrate Teacup's tenth anniversary on the farm. And she figured that she might just invite a special guest from Clydesdale to stay a while on the farm and enjoy some hospitality as well as a change of scenery. It would also be part of the payment for her services - the Clydesdale mare specialized in doing parties for ponyfolks, and she figured that hiring a pony that knew how to make a shindig proper would be the perfect cover for getting the two newfoals together.
Missus Provender smiled at the thought. She felt mighty clever, what with all the planning and the searching and the sneaky way of getting the two to talk and all. Cornflower felt like a regular Agent Of The Crown, what with her fancy plan and all.
And maybe it just might help fix her lonely, broken little Teacup.