One: The Exponential Land
The ship once had been white, with a merry red stripe along it; but that was long ago, and now it was patches of rust and streaks of oil, and places where paint clung as if in defiance against time itself.
Though once a luxury liner, it served only as a ferry now, a new bark of Charon, carrying the formerly human to an unhuman land. But quite unlike Charon's boat across the Styx, the WGS Celestina ferried the newly reborn away from a dying world, and took them to a world of the living.
Those who rode the Celestina found her moniker a delightful coincidence - one of the rulers of the new world was named Celestia; it was as if fate itself had chosen this destiny for the ancient vessel.
Far above the Celestina, more than a thousand feet in the air, a lone gray pegasus flew; she was returning home carrying mail from the cities of Men to those who had once been of that tribe, but who were now something very different. Ahead of her the vast shimmering dome that was the great Barrier of Equestria gleamed in the sunlight; beyond that border lay the wondrous country she called home.
Far below the golden-maned flying pegasus, the old ship was but a speck, a tiny dot of white making its way across the vast, dead, gray Pacific. The mail pegasus would reach the Barrier long before the ship, so she could spare the time to make a few circles in the air to entertain those below; she had no doubt that she was being watched. With her acrobatics done, the pegasus speeded on to her green and lovely land.
Down on the deck of the thrumming, lumbering liner, hundreds of former human beings stood or sat. They were called 'Newfoals', and they had existed as sapient equinoids -'ponies'- for only a matter of weeks, days, or even hours.
Filling the sky ahead of them was their destination, their new and final home – the emerging cosmos of Equestria.
Only eleven months ago, a tiny sphere, no more than a few hundred feet in diameter, had been noticed by a passing satellite, far from any shore, out in the middle of the dead Pacific. By the time the first reconnaissance planes had flown over it, it was nearly half a mile in diameter. This was the emergence of Equestria, and it was expanding; a sphere that replaced space and time and the very Earth with itself.
By the time Equestria was over a mile in diameter, the world government had been contacted by its regent, and two small robot probes were permitted to cross Equestria's impenetrable shield. On the other side of the barrier they had found a green and pastoral realm, and the hungry eyes of the rulers of Mankind saw opportunity and riches to exploit.
When that had proved impossible, Man followed his primary strategy when frustrated in the attempt to acquire; war. For three days humankind poured every kind of weapon and force at the growing bubble, to no benefit; the ocean boiled for weeks, but the Barrier remained utterly unaffected.
As Equestria nibbled away at the Earth, at reality itself, it was found that the intrusion also brought a kind of poison with it; thaumatic radiation, the deadly energies that were called simply 'magic'. Fatal only to primate cells, 'magic' pooled and streamed invisibly, increasingly leaving the land still left to Man uninhabitable.
At last the World Corporate Government revealed to the people of the Earth the true message of the sovereign of the invading cosmos – that all humankind was invited to leave their dying world for the green and living paradise of Equestria. The offer was warm and welcoming and utterly free, save for one small price; to escape earthly doom, all must give up one tiny thing, one insignificant possession; the physiological state of being human.
The new Earthly industry of nanomachines that could reconstruct matter itself was combined with arcane Equestrian magics to create the process that could transform a human being into an Equestrian equinoid. This nanotechnomagical miracle could do even more; 'Conversion' cured all ailments, regrew lost limbs and organs, and gave fresh new life in the process of remaking ape into equine. It was the ultimate seduction; a perfect new body, and a perfect new world, and all that could oppose this tempting offer was the miserable wreck of an already dead planet.
Of course they came, by the hundreds, by the thousands, and eventually, by the billions.
And as they came, the humans -remade as newfoals - changed Equestria with their presence, expanding and enlarging the magical realm beyond the shimmering Barrier at an exponential rate.
Mountains grew farther apart, lush green landscapes pushing them from each other. Newborn hillsides arose from the expanding plains, bucking up into the Equestrian sky. Villages, once close to each other, found their roads longer with each passing day; eventually sister cities were not even on the same continent.
For every mile of the Earth that Equestria devoured, ten thousand miles within Equestria were gained; the rate itself increasing with time. No one could calculate how great the scale of Equestria would be when the day came that the invader finished off the very last of Earth altogether; but it was no exaggeration to say that there would be room enough within Equestria for the nineteen billion of Mankind many, many times over.
They called this new frontier the Exponential Lands.
Her name was Caprice, and she was without the horn of a unicorn, or the wings of a Pegasus; she was an earth pony, so named for a presumed connection to the land. Her exquisite coat shimmered in the light, a pale peach. Her mane and tail were a deeper, richer peach; she gazed at the floating dock below the rail of the ship with emerald green eyes.
She had been a human woman only four days ago; despite this she had adapted uncannily to her new Equestrian form. She was gentle in demeanor but almost ruthlessly determined in action; in her first four days as an Earth Pony, she had somehow assembled an entire family for herself.
“Alexi! Pumpkin! Stay close! Above all else, we do not want to be separated!” Caprice was keeping a close eye on her tiny foal, a two-week old, pale yellow unicorn named Buttermilk - only recently converted from a foundling human baby. Buttermilk had gained the ability to walk from Conversion; a natural trait of the newborn equinoid. That said, the foal was still very unsteady, and easily frightened.
“Come on, that's it, come on little sweetling, that's my little filly, come on!” Caprice knew that the tiny foal could understand nothing of what she said, but like all mothers, she instinctively knew the primal language of loving tone and comforting musicality. Buttermilk followed her gentle voice, and sought the comfort of her sweet-smelling peach-colored mother.
“Wow! Oh, Caprice, it's amazing to be this close to the wall. It's like a HUGE soap bubble!” 'Pumpkin Licorice' was now Caprice's little sister; she was gravid with foal but not yet showing. In her human life, the sixteen year old had been abandoned by her much older lover at the San Francisco Conversion Bureau. When her lover had learned of her pregnancy, he had fled, leaving her shattered. Caprice had adopted the teen after her Conversion. Pumpkin got her name from her orange coat; she was made striking by a shiny black mane and tail. Pumpkin's dark eyes eagerly scanned the artificial shore, and even more the Great Barrier of Equestria that the platform abutted.
Alexi Venäläinen had not yet had time to choose a proper Equestrian name. He had been Converted only the day before, under rather difficult and nearly fatal circumstances. He was more concerned with simply functioning within his new and different body, than in trying to find a new moniker. Alexi was a white pegasus stallion with a deep blue mane and tail, he had quickly found himself Caprice's chosen mate, it was a status he was very, very happy with. What Alexi was not as happy with was the difficulty he had suffered during the voyage; not only had he been seasick, but he had found walking on the occasionally unsteady deck difficult for his newly created legs.
"Caprice, I am sorry - are you alright?" Alexi had lost balance for a moment, and almost toppled sideways onto Caprice. She had borne his weight well, having been braced ahead of time. "I caught you! It's OK, Alexi - we'll be on dry land again in just moments. If you need to, you can lean against me." Caprice smiled at Alexi, the kind of smile that suggested that the leaning was not just for his benefit, but also for her own delight. Caprice liked having Alexi close to her.
Little Buttermilk bleated; the ramp down from the deck was steep to her, and the crowd of exiting newfoals was confusing to her. Caprice bent her neck down and took a mouthful of Buttermilk's mane, close to the withers, to steady her, and to pull - if necessary - the balking foal. Little by little, Caprice and her little unicorn made their way down the ramp. Finally they all stood on the artificial dock.
Alexi, seeing that Caprice needed to concentrate on Buttermilk, turned to Pumpkin for help. "Hey, little sister, perhaps you could help poor Alexi down the perilous ramp of certain death?" Alexi enjoyed a certain silly drama in his words at times; in the Bureau he had announced Conversions with great style, and some humor.
"I'll try!" Pumpkin stared up at Alexi, he was almost twice her size, but she was a very determined filly. "Just be careful, alright?" While Pumpkin's pregnancy was not far along, she had become perhaps overly protective of her body, and besides, Alexi was just... large. The thought of the muscular stallion dropping on top of her was not pleasant to think about.
"I do not want to fall, I give you my word little Pumpkin. I am just having a little trouble sometimes, my legs and the ocean are not happy friends it would seem." Alexi felt ashamed to be so unsteady, even though it was ridiculous; for having only a single day and night to adapt to his new body, he was actually doing quite well.
Though Alexi lost his balance slightly on the ramp, he did not tumble, and soon all four newfoals pressed close together on the floating dock. Three ramps led from the floating dock up to the great Barrier of Equestria. Beyond the shining surface of the shield lay desert sand, populated by a small city of tents as well as countless newfoals and natives. The city of tents was simply called 'Welcome Town', and it had been erected to help support and place new arrivals from Earth.
The ramps proved to be more of an obstacle than they had seemed as Caprice and her family drew nearer.
The floating dock was pressed as close as was deemed safe to the magical barrier. Material objects from Earth often suffered strange and bizarre changes when they passed the boundary, so engines constantly maintained a precise distance so that the floating dock would never pass beyond the enchanted wall. Several docks had already been lost in this manner; one had turned into an iceberg, another into what was apparently cotton candy. In the latter case, the newfoals had needed help to climb out of the sea and into Equestria.
The three ramps were suspended by cables from arches above them; computational systems worked to counteract the effects of wind, ocean, and the steady expansion of Equestria itself. The last few inches would require a small jump; not a problem for ordinary newfoals. But for little baby Buttermilk, perhaps the youngest human ever converted, those last few inches were a terrible danger. If the tiny, unsteady foal missed, she could tumble into the sea, perhaps to be crushed between the floating dock and the wall of sand that marked the edge of the vast, spherical Barrier.
"What are we to do, Alexi?" Caprice was uncertain, and afraid for her child. She was not willing to chance Buttermilk trying to jump the gap.
"Would... would it be safe if I were to hold Buttermilk up by her mane? I think I could bear her weight, carrying her like a mother cat would carry her kitten!" Alexi studied Buttermilk's pale yellow-white mane, and tried to size up whether it could sustain her mass during the carry.
"I... honestly don't know, Alexi. I worry that it would hurt her terribly, or even worse, that her hair could be pulled out and she might fall. There has to be somepony that can help us. I guess they never expected a newfoal as young as her."
"I have an idea!" Pumpkin touched Caprice lightly with her right hoof. "Maybe she could ride on one of our backs! She's really small, I bet I could do it!" Pumpkin gave the bleating foal a nuzzle, and licked her face to help her calm down.
"Alexi..." Caprice was thinking rapidly. "Can you spread and hold your wings out yet? You could provide a kind of... basket to help her stay on." It was probably a lot to ask the pegasus, considering, but his was a very broad back, and his wings would make a wide surface.
"I have tried my wings already, a little, sydänkäpynen, and I can but try again now." Alexi stood back a bit, then tried to find the place inside him that worked his new wings. The left wing extended, but the right one held even tighter to his side. Alexi's face grimaced as he fiddled about with his new nervous system. Now the right wing drooped, while the left wing contracted -somewhat painfully. "Ow! I think I almost gave myself a cramp!" Alexi's ears dropped down. "I do not think I am very coordinated yet. I am a failure daddy, I think."
"Oh, Alexi, I'm sorry. It's just all so new to you is all." Caprice extended her head and gave Alexi a comforting nuzzle. "You are my big, wonderful stallion. Always remember that! And you are 'total success daddy', always and forever, alright?"
Alexi smiled at that, and worked to get both wings even and in place once more.
Caprice looked beyond the barrier for any help. Beyond the ramps, on the desert sand, she saw a unicorn using her horn to levitate bales of hay, removing them from a cart, and stacking them neatly inside a large tent. "Alexi! I know what to do! Keep an eye on Pumpkin and Buttermilk!"
Caprice trotted quickly off, up the nearest ramp, and made a graceful leap onto the sand of Equestria.
As she had passed through the great Barrier, she had felt a strange, almost electric tingle run across her body. She turned to see behind her.
She was standing in the middle of a vast desert, surrounded by rocky cliffs. On this side of the interface between the universe that contained the Earth and the cosmos of Equestria, she faced a much smaller shimmering sphere. The dome that rose out of the Equestrian desert could not have been larger than two or three hundred feet in diameter.
On the Earth side, the sphere was over eight hundred miles in diameter and growing, the majority of the upper half hung out into space becoming a no-fly zone for orbiting satellites. On the Equestrian side, the same sphere was only three hundred feet in diameter, perhaps less. Through the Equestrian side of the sphere, everything of Earth looked strangely small and far away. Caprice could see the horizon inside, and Earth's late afternoon sun, which starkly contrasted with the Equestrian noonday sun on her side. The ship, Alexi, Buttermilk and Pumpkin seemed like tiny toys inside that smaller, Equestrian sphere.
Caprice had studied as much as she could about Equestria before she came to the San Francisco Conversion Bureau. She understood that the interface between the two worlds was called a 'Rucker Gate', that it was a hole in higher dimensions, and that every point on the Equestrian sphere corresponded with a point on the Earth side. In reality, it was just one hyperdimensional, spherical hole, which she was seeing from one side, and which her family was seeing from the other. But the weirdness of it boggled her mind.
With effort, Caprice turned away, and approached the unicorn. The ease with which the pony used her magic made Caprice sure that this was a native and not a newfoal.
"Excuse me!" Caprice ambled up, and smiled at the unicorn. "My name is Caprice, and I really need your help."
The unicorn, a pale yellow-green mare, carefully placed the bale she was floating, and turned to Caprice. "I'm sorry, I'm kind of busy here, really and..."
"It's my foal!" Caprice was not going to be dissuaded. "She's a newborn. She can't make the leap over the bridge. Would you please..." Caprice wore her most pleading look "...please lift her over for me? I'm so afraid she might fall, and as you can see, I'm just an earth pony!"
The unicorn sighed. "Sorry... you wouldn't believe some of the things we get asked to do by newfoals. I guess I've gotten a little... grouchy... over the past months. Of course I'll help you." The unicorn began to walk towards the ramps on the other side of the barrier. "My name's Summergrass. 'Caprice' was it?"
"Yes. I used to be quite a joker, before. Not so much now, but... I really like the name."
"It's a good name, Caprice. It could pass as Equestrian. We hear some really strange attempts at making up Equestrian sounding names. Last week we had a pony come through here who called himself 'Satellite Dish'. The unicorn chuckled as she walked.
"You are kidding me. Right?" Caprice was sure this couldn't be true.
"I seriously wish I was. Earth must be a pretty wacky place, I guess."
"No, not wacky." Caprice looked slightly sad. "Just kind of dumb."
The unicorn seemed surprised at the admission. "I assume the little yellow unicorn there is yours?" The only ponies left on the floating platform now were Alexi, Pumpkin and Buttermilk, so that made things simple, at least.
"Yes. She's Buttermilk, and she's my little darling." Caprice smiled, looking at her little foal.
"Now that's a really sweet name!" Summergrass seemed impressed. "She does look like buttermilk, too. Oh, she's a cutie, alright." Summergrass concentrated briefly, her horn glowing. A similar glow appeared around little Buttermilk, and the foal lifted into the air, bleating and kicking in fear.
"Oh! hang in there sweetheart!" Caprice felt worried for her poor foal; she wished she could somehow comfort her. Alexi and Pumpkin looked on in fascination as Buttermilk hovered over the ramp and through the Barrier. The little pony shivered and squealed as she passed through the wall, then hung quietly. Perhaps the shock of passing the Barrier had made her forget to make a fuss, or perhaps she was getting used to hovering in the air.
In moments, Buttermilk was on the ground, her tiny hooves touching Equestrian land for the first time. Caprice went to her and nuzzled and licked her repeatedly. Buttermilk began to press in close to Caprice's legs, hiding under her body. "Thank you so much, Summergrass. Thank you for rescuing my little Buttermilk!"
"You are welcome, Caprice. I'm glad to have been able to help." The unicorn started to trot back to her work. "Oh, and by the way - Welcome to Equestria!"
"Thank you!" Caprice felt happy to have met such a nice pony for her first contact with a native Equestrian.
"You came up with unusual solution. My Caprice is brilliant pony, of this, there can be no doubt!" Alexi drew up beside Caprice and pressed close to her. Caprice checked to make sure Pumpkin was right beside Alexi. "How'd you like crossing the Barrier?" she asked Pumpkin.
"It was kind of tingly." Pumpkin turned to look back. "Wait... what? I... don't get it! I expected... It's really small on this side!"
"It's a dimensional thing. I read all about it, if you want to know, I'll tell you later. Right now," Caprice looked around at the tent city ahead of them "I think we need to check in or something. Anypony see anyplace we should be...?"
Right in the middle of the semicircular tent city, straight out from the place on the Barrier where the ramps led to the floating dock, a large and very colorful tent stood out. In front of it was a huge banner, written in a script that Caprice couldn't read. This puzzled her, because she had studied what she thought was Equestrian script; a pictographic language that was made up of symbols such as star, horseshoe and spiral shapes.
The banner was covered in symbols that seemed almost like English - or perhaps Cyrillic - letters, or fragments of letters, mixed with chicken scratches. Did they have more than one writing system in Equestria? What exactly had she studied?
"That's got to be it." Caprice motioned with her head for her family to follow. "I'll bet you anything that the banner over there says something like 'Newfoals Register Here' or 'Humans Go Home!" Caprice chuckled at the last bit.
"No humans here. Just ponies." Alexi tried to walk proudly, as best he could on his new legs. "We are good family of good ponies, and we leave the human world behind. Is that not right, little Pumpkin?"
"Humans are yukky!" Pumpkin grinned. "I'm an Equestrian, through and through!"
"That is the correct spirit! We proudly stand on four hooves for Equestria!" Alexi thought for a moment. "Or no hooves, if Alexi should fall down."
Pumpkin giggled at that. "We proudly stand on NO hooves for Equestria too!"
Little Buttermilk was doing her best to cross the soft sand of the desert, Caprice stayed close, shepherding her, and brought a quick leg in to support the tiny foal if it looked like she would fall. In time, they made it to the colorful tent with the banner.
Inside the large tent were several wooden tables strung together to form a long counter. Sitting on hay bales, or standing in place behind the makeshift counter were a number of ponies; all had clipboards either floating in front of them, or on the counter itself. Behind the ponies, at the back of the tent were shelves filled with binders, as well as rolled up maps and other documents.
"Welcome to Equestria!" A bookish looking pegasus greeted Caprice and her family. "I'm Windfeather, and I can get you sorted out. First off, are you together or..." Windfeather looked up over small, round glasses.
"Together!" Caprice looked Windfeather in the eye. "This is my family. Alexi, my stallion, that is Pumpkin, my sister, and the little one here..." Caprice bent down and gave a little nuzzle "is Buttermilk, my little foal."
"Interesting. She is tiny. Newborn?" The pegasus behind the counter stretched his neck and brought a binder nearer with his teeth. He looked through the pages of chicken scratches and strange symbols.
"Yes, she's just two weeks old." Caprice reasoned that Windfeather really didn't need to know all the details about Buttermilk.
"Then, congratulations." Windfeather looked at little unicorn Buttermilk, then at pegasus Alexi, and then at earth pony Caprice. "Or... whatever is appropriate."
Caprice pursed her lips at that statement.
"So, will we be living in the places we have heard so much about?" Alexi seemed excited. "Ponyville, Fillydelphia, the grand castle of Canterlot, perhaps?"
"No. Certainly not." The bookish pegasus was still flipping through the binder he had brought over. "There are billions of you, apparently. It would be absurd to imagine you tail-to-nose, blocking up every available square foot of just a small mouthful of towns."
"Then where do we go to live?" Alexi seemed puzzled.
"As your world vanishes, Equestria expands." Windfeather went back briefly to the shelves, when he returned he flattened out a map with his front hooves. "There is more land all the time, growing out of the Equestria we know. These new lands are where newfoals get to go. You get to settle the new lands for the glory of our Princesses and Equestria." Windfeather pointed with his nose at a spot on the map; the land depicted seemed recently drawn. "You and a few hundred other newfoals are going here. You can name it what you want when you get there; it's your village. Or it will be, after you build it."
Windfeather gave a slightly nasty little smile. He was clearly not as friendly as the unicorn, Summergrass, had been.
"We call this new frontier the 'Exponential Lands'. Because that's how fast they are expanding into existence." The bespectacled pegasus gave his unpleasant little smile again. "I'd stay close together when you get there, if I were you."
Caprice decided she didn't like this particular pony one bit.