Twelve: Falls Mainly On The Plain
The cloud platform was about forty feet on a side, it was relatively flat but a bit lumpy; it felt like walking on a great sheet of marshmallow. Droplet had discovered a wonderful way to transform the loose mist into solid 'ground' - she found that she could lay down on her side and turn over, becoming a pony rolling pin. This process mashed the mist into surface very effectively, and from time to time members of the Flight Team would do a bit of rolling to expand their 'Sky Base' even more.
Cirrus Uncinus ran about like a yearling, excited at essentially everything; pushing and prodding the cloudstuff, exclaiming about how everything was so different from terrestrial physics, how mist could be compressed or shaped like some kind of semi-etherial clay. Cirrus had already formed a crude sculpture of a pony, two misshapen cubes, and rolled up a fairly large ball from the mist; now he seemed to be trying to make a formidable cloud fortress of some kind.
Alexi looked at how happy the former meteorologist was; scientists really are just big kids, he thought.
The other members of Flight Team were finishing dinner. The woven wreaths created by the unicorns below were entirely edible, which was their reason to be, and several pegasai had unburdened themselves so that all could eat from the braided rings of grass. An earlier attempt at a cloud-cube made by Cirrus had served as drink; the compressed cloudstuff could be gobbled for mouthfuls of water.
One grass wreath had been entirely lost; it was discovered that while the pegasai themselves could eaily walk on clouds and not fall through, grass wreaths had no such power... more or less. It was noted, before the wreath vanished below the misty platform, that it sank very slowly, rather as if it were sinking through pudding. Cirrus believed that whatever power the Pegasai possessed might somehow permanently affect the way water molecules act within Equestria; if so, then it might be possible to make a dense enough cloud material that actually could support physical objects indefinitely, or at least for a long enough time to be useful and practical.
Cirrus was quite giddy at this prospect, going on at some length with the notion of building actual cities in the air; perhaps even buildings capable of supporting any number of physical objects. All that would be needed would be floors made of the right cloud material, or so he reasoned. Alexi thought this sounded quite mad, but then, what was not mad in this new world? If he, Alexi, could be a flying pony, then maybe cloud cities were just the same kind of crazy that his own existence represented. Why not?
Alexi missed Caprice as night fell. He missed Pumpkin and Buttermilk. He even missed that silly colt Lightning who followed him around all the time. He was part of a constellation of twenty-five pegasai, all together on a nice safe floor of cloudstuff, but despite the bodies pressed around him, he greatly missed the rest of the herd below. It was strangely lonely, up close to the stars, in the cold, with only a flat, white horizon in every direction. He felt like he was on a raft, floating in an endless sea of milk.
Tomorrow, they would all get busy. Tomorrow, they would begin to make the clouds that would save the land below.
Cherryblossom had an idea how they could accomplish this task. "When I was... back in the Bureau, I remember a morning when everypony was up on the roof. Well, every... body... since that was before... anyway, we were all up on the roof because the sky was being cleared." Cherryblossom looked around, everypony was listening intently to her. She wasn't used to having everypony listen to what she had to say. "There were all these pegasai from Equestria, natives, who really knew how to fly. They were in this kind of formation - like planes in an air show - and they all flew together and pulled this huge cone of smog along with them."
"I remember that! I was there!" It was 'Gasket', a former corporate mechanic. He had fixed the pressure seals on the air filtering systems for the elite; it was what he knew, and he had chosen his pony name from that. "They just peeled the smog away like... like peeling the backing off of sticky tape!"
Cherryblossom grew exited at the memories. "They were amazing, weren't they? They just sort of pulled the huge cone along with them, and it bent and moved with them. They took it through the Barrier, where I guess... it stopped being smog anymore. They cleaned the sky! It was the first time I ever saw a blue sky in my life!"
Droplet couldn't help but join in. "Me too! I didn't even believe that the sky could look like that! When I was a kid, back in San Mateo, right? I used to always draw the sky gray, because, well, that's what it always was. Gray! I'd heard stories about the sky being blue, up behind the smog, but... I didn't really believe it. Then that day on the roof. Wow!"
"So you were there too?" Cherryblossom felt glad that Droplet had seen it. " Wow! We might have even been standing right near each other and we never knew it! That's so cool! I mean, here we all are together, now!"
Alexi wanted to hear about the formation; he hadn't seen the smog clearing, though he had seen the result, later in the day. "So, what was this formation, Cherry? Can you describe it? More to the point, do you think we can do what you describe?"
Cherryblossom thought for a moment. "It was kind of like a triangle... sort... of shape. Like an arrow. There was a pegasus in the front, then others behind, going off in a 'V' formation. Sort of." She was having trouble finding a way to describe the arrangement.
"Ooh! it was like a cone itself!" Droplet had recalled more. "There were pegasai under and above, too, and they were in a 'V' shape as well, only all around!"
"Yeah! That was it!" Cherryblossom recalled more clearly now. "And they were kind of staggered, so that it... I know! It was like a spiral pattern!"
"A spiral cone! A helix! The pegasai flew in a conical helix formation!" Gasket turned his head to Cirrus "What do you think? A conical helix, right?"
"I didn't see it, actually. I was the morning Conversion that day, so I missed it." Cirrus looked sad; seeing pegasai peel smog away was something he really had felt bad about missing back then.
"Well, how about you? Conical Helix, right?" Gasket looked square at Cherryblossom.
"Um... I'm not sure. I think I get the 'conical', but... what's a 'helix'?" Cherryblossom suddenly felt very small.
"A helix is a spiral, my dear Cherryblossom! It is a fancy word only used by big smartass blowhards like myself." Alexi grinned at Cherryblossom, and she felt a lot better.
"Then I guess Gasket is right. It was a spiral shaped cone, a helix cone." Cherryblossom gave Gasket a hard look. Gasket looked down, he hadn't meant to embarrass her, he had just felt excited to be helping to solve the problem.
"Then tomorrow, I say we should practice flying in this formation, and see what happens. If we can master it, we shall try diving through the haze and see if we can match what our native brothers and sisters did back on the Earth!" Alexi looked up at the rising brightness of Princess Luna's moon. "We should get our sleep now; tomorrow we become professional weather ponies!"
Spirits were high; they had achieved much, and now they had a plan. Not bad for a bunch of abandoned newfoals, thought Alexi.
"Alright!" Boeing had been directing his fellow unicorns in which nails to remove in what order from the crate; he wanted to make sure nopony was hurt should the heavy wooden side fall open. "This is the last nail, step back, try to do this from the sides, if it should fall, don't be near it!"
Ocean and Lightning joined Boeing in concentrating on the nail, located in the middle top of one side of a crate. The crates had been built as cubical frames of wood, or so it seemed, with six sides nailed to that frame. It was a curious way to build a crate, but perhaps there was some reason for it. In any case, any given side was identical to any other; and any could be removed the same way, by pulling out the nails.
By now, after more than two dozen nails, the trio had become quite expert at combining their power with control, and the nail popped free; it hung now in the air, suspended by the unicorn's mutual will.
The side of the crate did not fall.
"Save the nail!" Boeing reminded.
"Dude! Waste not want not, right?" Ocean took the nail in his magic and floated it to the space by the crates where they had made a little 'garden' of nails sticking out of the soil, towering over the flattened, brown grass.
"So... now what, Boeing?" Lightning stared doubtfully at the still sealed crate. All the nails were gone. Why was the side still there?
"Stand way back. I'm kind of pulling it out of my ass but... I have a hypothesis." Boeing lowered his head, angling his horn at the side of the huge crate.
"Like, dude, that sounds painful!" Ocean seemed concerned. "Maybe you should go spend some quality toilet time, we can handle it from here!"
"No, Ocean, he means he has an idea." Lightning tried not to roll his eyes.
"Oh, like, I get it." Ocean looked sheepish.
Boeing concentrated on the wooden, strut-braced side of the crate, his eyes narrowed with intensity of purpose. The crate side panel glowed in sync with his horn, gradually it moved, tilting away from the crate. "I... thought... so. Just... stuck... a.. little!" Boeing pulled with all of his might. The crate panel ripped away from the crate, then began to fall. It hit the grass with a creaking smack.
The first crate had been opened.
The newfoals crowded around; everypony wanted to see what was in the crate. It was packed solid, every space within it taken up with heavy materials and supplies; it was clear now why the crates had been so solidly constructed. There were stones for building foundations, pre-cut and pre shaped. A stack of lumber, all carefully worked, took up a third of the crate; Boeing instantly thought that it all must be components for prefabricated buildings. Carefully folded blocks of compressed fabric, something not entirely unlike canvas filled a large section. Several lacquered boxes, with lids and hinges were stuffed carefully in, as well as durable canvas bags filled with something were stuffed into every available remaining space.
Lightning recognized an image printed on one of the bags; it was a carrot. "Seeds! Those bags there... see? I think they're seeds!"
"The boxes there... I'll bet those are probably filled with tools." Boeing looked over the contents of the crate, trying to piece together what he saw. "I'm thinking that these crates represent a prefabricated village. Everything needed to start a new town. The fabric here suggests pavillion tent buildings, only possibly with rigid frameworks. It may not be the fanciest construction, but it will be shelter; homes, storage spaces, probably a barn in one of the crates."
"EVERYPONY! LOOK!" Trotsky, a gray and tan earth pony who once had worked as a corporate management instructor, was rearing up, wildly thrashing his hooves in the air. "LOOK UP AT THE SKY!"
Far above the crowd of newfoals, soaring through the haze was a formation of pegasai. As the colorful, flying ponies ripped through the layer of mist, they dragged behind them a crudely braided snake of cloud, which writhed and followed them.
It was Droplet's Flight Team, and they were weaving the snake of cloud through itself, then tightening it into a spiral, the spiral compressing until it formed a dark thunderhead. As the ponies on the ground watched in awe, the constellation of pegasai broke away from their formation and flapped over their new thundercloud, vanishing into the surrounding region of haze.
High on the hill overlooking the flattened grass, were Caprice, Pumpkin and Buttermilk.
Somewhere up there, thought Caprice as she stood upright, legs locked, feeding little Buttermilk, is my Alexi. He's up there right now, looking down on us, working so hard to bring us rain. Caprice smiled to herself, then lowered her head down and to her side, grooming her foal. She whispered to the tiny creature "Your daddy is up there. He's up in the sky, flying around. He's making rain like a proud pegasus should. Yes he is!"
Buttermilk paused from her nursing, licking her lips. She raised her head and licked her mother's nose. Caprice nuzzled her little foal. Buttermilk burped in her face, then went back to greedily enjoying her after-breakfast before-lunch meal. Caprice chuckled softly; the tiny yellow unicorn was such a cutie. She felt so glad to be able to care for her.
"Do you think we'll have rain today?" Pumpkin had climbed the hill to check on Caprice and Buttermilk; she had been watching the unicorns open the crate. "I could use some rain, it's so hot!"
It was hot, and very humid, as it had been for weeks now. The still, stifling air had become onerous to breath, and sweat never completely dried, leaving everypony vaguely damp and uncomfortable. All wanted the rain to come, the air to clear, and to see sunshine again. Everypony looked forward to the hope of dining on grass both sweet and green once more.
A second snake of cloud was being drawn from the mist; Caprice thought that the process was not unlike how cotton candy was formed. Her wealthy father had once paid to have a circus-themed birthday for her, it had featured a cotton candy machine. As the mist was woven into a second gigantic stormcloud, a large space in the haze was left; for the first time in almost two months, rays of sunshine poured like glowing honey over the ground.
The newfoals danced in the beams of light, cheering and yelling for their heroic pegasai. Caprice found herself cheering as well, until she realized that the noise was frightening Buttermilk; she stopped and folded her legs, laying close to the tiny foal, cooing and comforting her.
The sunshine grew in intensity as more clouds were spun into shape, compressed, and turned into dark, lumpen masses. Then, for an hour, the show stopped, presumably so that the Pegasai could rest. After the break, the formation flying resumed and a fourth and a fifth huge, looming storm cloud was created before evening came. The pegasai returned to wherever they were staying up in the sky, and Caprice could see that they flew wearily and no longer with precision. It had clearly been a very exhausting day for the tiny, colorful specks that soared above.
The newfoals had wanted to unpack the crate that had been opened, but Boeing put a stop to this; there would almost certainly be rain in the morning, and it would be terrible of any of the supplies were damaged in any way.
Reluctantly, the unicorns carefully replaced the side of the opened crate, and pinned it with two nails reset into holes in the wood. It took all of their strength of will to levitate the wooden panel back up and into place, and at the end all were panting and sweating from the effort.
Caprice was besieged with questions as she grazed her dinner; would there be rain in the morning, would there be another day of making clouds first, had Alexi given any special instructions - all things that she could not answer. She did her best to allay any worries and to deflect any difficult questions; she knew her role and how to play it. In the absence of the primary figurehead, it was her duty to act as the leader of the herd, to comfort the many, to provide the illusion of certainty in an uncertain world.
That night, though she did not want to, she forced herself to climb back up to the hilltop, away from the other newfoals. She wanted to be down among them, but she knew what they needed, and that superseded her own wishes. They needed to feel that they were being looked out for, and that was her role now, with Alexi absent and in the sky, unreachable.
It was not too difficult, though; she felt certain that Alexi was alright. Though she could not have hoped to pick him out from among the flying specks that had made the clouds that day, she refused to think anything other than that he was happy up there; sleeping on a cloud no doubt, perhaps missing her in return.
The sight of the sunlight had caused a strange feeling in her; the brightness had aroused her. She selfishly wanted Alexi back down on the ground, right now. This surprised her for a moment; but this was something she had once studied before entering Clinic 042 of the San Francisco Conversion Bureau two months ago.
The triggering factor for estrous in the Equestrian female was essentially the same as for terrestrial equines; increasing levels of light. She remembered how powerful this trigger was for Earthly horse breeders; mares could be kept in heat longer simply by keeping them under artificial illumination. She briefly wondered why it had not triggered in her when they had first arrived, and all was sunshine and blue skies; perhaps it was because she had just been transformed, and her new body needed time to settle in to the rhythm of simply being alive.
But there was no doubt, after the long period of dim light and perpetual haze, the shafts of golden sunshine had... stimulated Caprice. She wondered if this was true of the other newfoal mares as well.
"Pumpkin?" Her orange and black sister was playing with Buttermilk, trying to wear her out for sleep. Pumpkin had a daisy in her mouth, which Buttermilk was trying to take from her. Pumpkin swept her long neck so that the daisy was always out of reach of the foal, who by now was giggling at the simple game. Hearing her name, Pumpkin froze; Buttermilk did a clumsy leap and snatched the daisy from Pumpkin's mouth. Buttermilk began contentedly mouthing and sucking on the daisy, occasionally stomping her front hooves in pride at the accomplishment.
"I have a question, maybe you can answer it... did you get any impression that the mares today were... affected... by the sunlight at all?" Caprice had an odd look on her face, making Pumpkin wonder what this was about.
"Affected?" Pumpkin didn't have a clue, it was nice to see the sun again, certainly. Buttermilk tried to press the Daisy back into Pumpkin's mouth; she wanted to play some more. Pumpkin half-heartedly indulged her.
"Well, let me be more blunt. I think seeing the light after so much dimness may have... put me into the beginnings of being in heat. Light is a factor in pony reproduction. I want to know if any other mares were exhibiting such tendencies today. I thought that maybe you may have noticed something." Caprice called Buttermilk over to her, to give Pumpkin time to think.
"I didn't know that. About the light, I mean. I didn't... feel anything." Pumpkin thought for a moment "But then, I'm already preggers, so I guess that could be why, huh?" Pumpkin grinned.
"You think?" Caprice smiled back at her. "But what about the others?"
"Well..." Pumpkin half closed her eyes, deep in her memory of the day. "You know, towards the evening, Grassdancer was being a little more... friendly... with Goldrivet than I ever remember her being. It kind of stood out for me, now that I think about it."
"Interesting." Caprice nuzzled Buttermilk and tried to get her to settle down. "This was inevitable, of course, but it would have been much better for it all to have waited until we had everything ready; proper weather, decent housing, a sure supply of salt; irrigation! We don't even have a sure form of irrigation! I am very unsure about this new factor; there are bound to be many problems." Buttermilk was finally laying down, yawning. "Should Alexi and I use our position to temporarily outlaw mating until things are more settled? It could be difficult, and it would likely strain our position, but if we don't do something about this then we..."
Pumpkin put a hoof gently on Caprice's mouth, silencing her.
"Remember, back in the Clinic, when I was kind of freaked about how different everything was?" Pumpkin's wings unconsciously fluttered briefly; Caprice had long noticed that they acted as a barometer of the filly's emotions. "And you told me 'we are ponies, now' and how I should embrace it, because this is what I am forever? Ponies don't need houses. Ponies don't need everything to be perfect, I know that much. I read stories about ponies when I was little. Ponies just live." Pumpkin just looked back at Caprice as if she had finished reciting the Great Secret Of The Universe.
Caprice thought about that. She thought about her life as a human; all the planning, all the worry, all the study; her father angry at her for not wanting to become a proper corporate drone, for leaving, for refusing to be his plaything anymore... Ponies just live. That was part of the reason she had wanted to be ponified so very much; to be able to live in the now, in the moment, free from human overthinking and human overplanning.
In her human life, Caprice had tried to be as wild as she could be, as extreme as she could manage, always trying to escape from her overly controlled life. Finally she had run away entirely, but only after having been heavily augmented and modified. It hadn't helped; no matter how much Singularity she had implanted into her, it still didn't keep her father out of her room at night. Memories were pain, as much as thinking too much.
But now she was in Equestria. She was no longer human. She was a pony, and her old life was as dead and gone as if it had been some tale of reincarnation, as if it were a life from centuries ago. She was a pony in an entirely new world. There was only now. There would be only now.
Ponies just live.
"Little angel..." Pumpkin loved it when Caprice called her that; the orange filly flapped her wings hearing it again. "... sometimes I think you are the brighter of the two of us."
"No way, Caprice!" Pumpkin giggled at the notion. "But thank you. I know I'm not the brightest pony around, but occasionally I think I get things right. Right?"
"More than right, little sister. Now let's get some sleep. I think we might be in for some stormy weather!" The two sisters laughed happily at the thought; maybe tomorrow the rain would come and they would be yet another step closer to their goal of making a properly Equestrian go of things on the frontier.
The first drop tumbled, a shimmery blob of water, wobbling and turning end over end, falling through the Equestrian sky. The droplet began to elongate, slightly, as it picked up speed, heading to the brown world below. Waves crawled rapidly over its miniscule surface as a wave of sound impacted it; thunder echoed back from the ground.
The first drop fell down from the early morning sky, and landed on the nose of a lime green mare. Her name was Kiwi, her parents had originally come to San Francisco from the Corporate Megaplantation Of New Zealand to escape the overcrowding and the radiation. The droplet woke Kiwi from her sweet dreams about the stallion she had finally talked to the day before, when the sunlight suddenly came back.
Kiwi shook her head to get rid of the drop; it tickled.
Another droplet hit her in the ear. It went right in! Eww! Kiwi shook her head again. The drop had been cold. Suddenly it dawned on her. Water. From the sky.
Kiwi stood up, the drops increasing in number. Other ponies stood up as well, shouts and cheers waking the remaining sleepyheads. Rain! It was raining! It was actually raining!
Somewhere, high above the ponies on the ground, Alexi stood on the largest, stormiest cloud in the sky. He smiled, then grinned. Then he reared up as high as his hooves could reach and slammed them down upon the cloud like Ukko, like Zeus. Light flashed from beneath the cloud, bright as midday.