Thirteen: Mildly In Tents
After the rains came the bright light of day. Sunlight golden and warm spilled from the sky, making everything glow, bringing smiles to every muzzle. Drying coats gleamed in party colors as the newfoals clustered on the flattened brown grass of Base Camp. All were abuzz; the crates were finally being opened.
The contents of several had been levitated out and spread across the ground; piles of building materials gleamed in the bright day, boxes and cylinders of supplies, cases of tools, bags of seeds and foodstuffs too. Near the very first crate, spread out on the grass was a huge mass of fabric, sewn and cut in the form of a vast tent. The material was painted brilliant colors, and had clearly been designed to resist the weather.
"It's a dormered armoring pavilion." A pitch black unicorn with a bright red mane nudged the heavy, painted, canvas-like material with a shiny, black hoof. His name was Renaissance, and he had once been a member of the Society For Creative Anachronism.
On earth, he and many others had turned an entire section of the Market Street slums into a perpetual recreation of the early 1500's. Before the Collapse, such efforts were done as tourist festivals called Renaissance Faires; essentially places where historical recreation fandom could get tourists to pay for their hobby. By putting on shows and providing food and things to buy, the Faires were a win-win situation for everyone involved.
But in a world where money had ceased to have any useful meaning, where there were no jobs for the majority of human beings, and only a daily ration to look forward to, the Faires ceased having any financial support. Without jobs, the humans of the slums had time, and they had the ruins of their city to plunder, and they had a dream. Ren had lived in the Market Street Perpetual Faire, as it had been called, and spent his days living in a fantasy of knights and castles amidst the post-Singularity ruins of San Francisco.
When Equestria began to expand in the sea, the man who would one day become Renaissance The Unicorn felt a joy and a hope he had never known. Here was a world not unlike his most cherished dreams, with the only real difference being the number of legs required to enjoy it. By the time the San Francisco Conversion Bureau had been in business for six months with no problems, he felt confident enough to consider emigration.
On Earth, Renaissance had been a useless favela dweller, eccentric even by slum standards. Right now, in the Exponential Lands of Equestria, he had become the most valuable pony in the world, at least to the newfoals trying to understand the contents of the twenty Royal Equestrian Settlement crates.
"How do you even know that?" Droplet was incredulous; this unicorn had identified item after item as if he had lived in Equestria his entire life. "Are you a ringer? A native pony secretly sent to help us or something? Or are you just making all of this up?"
Ren laughed. "It's just that all of this is what I love! I've studied this kind of thing for years. I just... love it." The unicorn grinned, his golden eyes gleaming. Renaissance was a striking stallion, and Droplet found herself fascinated by his dramatic appearance, even as she was skeptical of his apparent knowledge.
"What did you call it again?" Droplet had already half forgotten, but she also wanted to test whether Ren was just making stuff up.
"It's called a 'dormered armoring pavilion' - see the little structures over there?" Ren pointed a hoof at a pile of prefabricated constructions that looked almost like gabled bird-houses. "Those are called dormers, and they provide ventilation as well as style to the finished building. Pavilion tents were a structure common to the battlefield or to tourneys; essentially they were a portable house."
Renaissance trotted over to where another part of the canvas had been laid out on the flattened grass. "See this? This is the roof, or it will be. Spiral pattern, it should be quite pretty, actually. It forms a kind of cone shape, and the dormers fit into these rectangular slots, here." Ren carefully stepped out onto the canvas to indicate the holes; he was very cautious that his hooves did no damage to the material.
Droplet was becoming impressed. "You really know all this stuff? But.. it's all from Equestria! It's not Earth stuff!"
"It could have been." Ren ambled back. "This structure, despite a few historical inaccuracies, would have blended right into the Earth of, say, 1530, 1540, or thereabouts. I mean, it's going to be a lot bigger, it will have more than one floor, that's not accurate, and the colors are right out, but the basic design might as well have come right from our own sad old world a long time ago."
"Why? How? How can something that looks like it came from our world be native to Equestria?" Droplet was puzzled, to say the least.
"I could argue for parallel development, but even I don't believe that." Ren used his horn to levitate one edge of the enormous tarpaulin, straightening it and smoothing it. "Ever wonder why we're called 'Ponies', and not something else?"
"N-No, not really. Not as such." Droplet seemed distracted. In truth she was; the bright sun shining off of Ren's muscular flanks fascinated her, and it bothered her that she couldn't figure out why. Droplet ran her eyes over the gleaming black coat, studying the way the light rippled over Ren's muscles. Ren was still talking but...
"The word comes from the name 'Epona', which is the name of an ancient horse goddess that... Are you ...alright?" Ren had noticed that Droplet's attention seemed strained.
"What? Yes! I'm fine! Sorry." Droplet looked away, feeling embarrassed, for some reason. Why? She couldn't figure it out. "Uh... pony, Epona, ancient goddesses, go on."
Ren, who had finally caught on to what was up with Droplet, smiled gently to himself before he continued. "To cut to the chase, almost every culture on earth has horse goddesses of one form or another, and pretty much, they all look like Celestia, one way or another. I think she's been here before."
This startled Droplet. "You think Princess Celestia has visited earth?"
"Why save us?" Ren waited.
"I don't understand."
"Why save us? Why bother at all?" Ren kicked a hoof at the ground, pushing aside the flattened blades of brown grass, underneath he spied a tiny green shoot; the grass was growing back.
"Well... I was told she needed the Earth." Droplet tried to remember "Something about Equestria needing the... life force of the planet or... some such. Or maybe it was the mass, or maybe something else. Anyway, I knew this guy who was sure this was all just a big invasion to steal the Earth." Droplet felt hot, even with the new breeze. The Pegasai had found that making holes in the haze changed the dynamics of the atmosphere, so now the newfoals enjoyed slight breezes.
"She could have waited until we were gone, you know. Humans are already on the way out; Earth is basically dead, or nearly dead, and the whole human species is just on life support, using technology to cling to survival. We're a nuisance and a lot of trouble, so why save us? She could have just waited a decade or two. Nothing to an immortal." Ren walked to the other side of Droplet, admiring the view. Her... terrain... had some pretty nice views.
"Equestrians are more compassionate than humans, they aren't capable of just watching us die off, they... well, I guess they kind of did just do nothing for millenia, eons, while we butchered ourselves... huh. I don't know! So why?" Droplet watched the unicorns over by the crates unloading materials with their magic; rolls of fabric, piles of construction materials, sacks of various things.
Three crates had been opened now, of the original twenty, and so far the contents had included the components necessary to make buildings of some kind. The newfoals were beginning to come to the conclusion that the crates represented a prefabricated village, and that the original job of the Royal Unicorn Corp was to have magicked the village into existence for them. Now they would have to do all the work themselves; first they had to understand what it was they were supposed to actually build.
"There are many legends of a white horse goddess, some of them even have her taking a human lover. Others portray her as a witch or a fairy." Renaissance walked close to Droplet, and noticed that she shivered slightly as he did so. "Maybe Celestia is repaying an old debt. Maybe, long ago, some human mattered to her, or maybe she saw something in humans that was worth saving. But I think she has been here before, long ago, because it makes no sense for her to bother with humans. Yet here we are, transformed, but alive, but saved from ourselves. Consider the scale of such an act of charity!"
"Charity...? I never really thought about it that way." Droplet began to realize what it was that was distracting her. She felt the most enormous desire to rub up against the shiny, black stallion. To experience what that would feel like, on her side, on her flanks, in this amazing new body of hers. She felt... attracted to him. To a stallion.
"Are you happy?" Ren bent his neck so that he could look Droplet in the eyes. She had yellow eyes too. Ren liked that.
"W-wha-huh?" Droplet didn't know how to respond. What was he asking her? Could he tell she'd been looking at him?
"Being a pony. Are you happy being an Equestrian, more happy than when you were human?" Ren's gold eyes seemed so intense.
Ah! OK, thought Droplet, I see. "Yes. Oh, absolutely yes. I am more than happy. I was never this happy before. I... I guess I really love being a pony. I feel... grateful, actually. Really... grateful."
"Maybe someday we'll get the chance to tell Celestia herself that. It's an incredible act of kindness, really, an incredible gift; 'Come join us, become us, and live a life of wonder and joy in a green and beautiful world'. The first time I heard her say that, I thought it was a joke, some kind of ad for a holoprogram or something. But then the Corporate News Network logo came up, and it turned out it was real. I spent the entire day torn between feeling giddy and being angry at myself for daring to believe anything so good could ever happen." Ren looked pensive, and his ears dropped slightly.
Ren's ears stood up again. "She didn't have to save us. She could have taken the Earth without any trouble, if she had just waited for a decade or two. Humans would be dead, all of us, by then. But she didn't." Renaissance brightened "She needed to wait until we developed nanotech of course, until ponification was even possible; but Celestia didn't let us die out. She's been watching us, over the eons. I really believe that."
"And that's why we have an armored dormitory parliament or whatever, you think?" Droplet smiled at Ren, his eyes were even more golden yellow than her own. They shone in the sunlight like golden coins.
"Dormered armoring pavilion. With a spiral design canopy. Yes." Ren sniffed the air; it was cool now, and sweet, and smelled, he noticed, slightly of... her. "That's what humans called such a structure, anyway. I don't know what the native Equestrians call it. But they have a lot of them, as you might have noticed in Welcome Town."
"I think I may have seen something like this in the first holofeeds of what Equestria looked like! I remember thatched-roof buildings - like something from the days of Shakespeare - and... tall tent-like structures. Those were what this is going to be, right?" Droplet looked down at the canvas, and over at the pile of wood struts that would form the internal skeleton that would support the building. "I can't wait to see it finished!"
Ren sniffed the air again. Sweet princess Luna, that cute little pegasus smelled good today.
Alexi and Caprice lay close together on the hill, enjoying the bright sunshine; below them a busy community was excitedly cataloging the contents of the crates as they were opened. Pegasai flew above the project, or stood on the crates; With the help of ropes discovered amidst the supplies they could act as living helicopters, cooperatively lifting and moving things for the other ponies.
Unicorns busied themselves by levitating and sorting items, removing objects from the huge crates, and pulling out nails so as to open even more crates. Earth ponies used their teeth and hooves to pull and move objects taken from the crates. Some earth ponies practiced with the many tools that had been found, others tended the rapidly expanding gardens near the full pond just beyond Base Camp.
"We're going to need a name for our metropolis after we build it." Caprice was grooming Alexi's mane, chewing and lipping the long hairs into order; while this was loving and comforting, the fact of it was that she just couldn't get enough of how Alexi smelled. It was a pleasant way to be intimate and it was surprisingly intoxicating for her. "Mmnn... your mane... really took a beating up in those stormy old clouds!" Caprice rested her head across Alexi's back, taking in deep nosefulls of his delicious scent.
Alexi, for his part, was trying to remain still; Caprice's attentions had left him embarrassed to even think of standing up; she had explained her theory of how sunlight related to the Equestrian estrous cycle, and he was in no doubt of her current condition. Equestrian physiology clearly had some powerful ways to indicate who was... interested. Alexi was having trouble because he could smell just how interested Caprice was. He was surprised at how strongly he could smell her, and the scent was so utterly compelling that Alexi was finding it hard to remain a proper gentlestallion. Very hard. Indeed.
"We could call the city 'Suokki', that is the Finnish name of a breed of horse from..." Alexi lost his train of thought; Caprice was doing something to his left ear and it... was... "what were we talking about?"
"I think you were asking me for some kind of favor..." Caprice continued to nibble Alexi's ear; she liked the way he twitched when she slipped her long tongue down inside his ear canal. "It sounded quite delightfully rude, actually."
"Caprice!" Alexi pulled his head away, The peach mare seemed terribly disappointed. "That is just how the word is pronounced; it is a type of horse. I would never say anything rude to my peach princess!"
"Pity." Caprice leered at Alexi, then changed to a soft smile. "Say the word again, twice in a row, so that I can hear it."
Alexi looked very puzzled but complied "Suokki Suokki." Suddenly he grimaced at her. "Caprice!"
Caprice giggled like an adolescent at this, and rolled over half on top of him, her belly almost entirely up, her hooves batting at his muzzle like a kitten. "Anything you say, dear." Caprice purred.
"I am thinking you need a dip in the lake, little peach." Alexi couldn't help it; he found himself nibbling her upraised front fetlocks and cannons.
"I'd rather have a roll in the hay, actually." Caprice looked up at him in a way that made Alexi need to catch his breath. Both stared at each other, then they started laughing. Alexi looked out over the busy community of newfoals, just down the hill, working so diligently to sort the contents of the crates. Somewhere out there Pumpkin was taking Buttermilk for a walk. Alexi looked down at Caprice, laying on her back. He bent his head down and kissed her, nibbling her lip.
"I would remind you that we already have one foal already. And it was you who was so worried about our herd having a population explosion, minun pikku ponini." Alexi had pulled his head up and away; Caprice had not been content to settle for just one kiss, and nibbling her lip had only made things harder.
"Oh, Poo." Caprice pouted. "Poo-poo. Kaka. Doo-doo. Fooey." Suddenly, she grinned. "Do me. Dooo Meee. Make me a pony. You know you want to."
"Caprice?" Alexi was a little shocked.
"That's what I said to Beth, the receptionist, back at the Bureau. I went right up to her desk and that's what I said to her."
"Really? You said that to poor Bethany?" Alexi chuckled at the thought.
"I rolled all over her desk going 'Dooo meeee! Just Dooo Meee! I am SOOO thirsty for pony juice!" Caprice wiggled next to him as she imitated her actions at the Bureau.
"You didn't say such a thing! Did you?"
Caprice crossed her hooves "I swear on Celestia's beard, that is exactly what I said to her." Caprice looked ever so serious.
"Celestia doesn't have a beard - at least that I know - and I think you are just being silly, telling poor Alexi such stories!" Alexi tried to look stern, but he had a feeling that his grin was failing him on that score.
"I still am, you know." Caprice had such an innocent face, Alexi thought. She is like an angel.
"Still am... what?" Trying to follow Caprice in conversation when she was in certain moods was difficult.
"Thirsty." The way she said the word would have made an entire fleet of sailors blush.
"CAPRICE!!!" This was just too much; a punishment in belly raspberries was long overdue for a certain naughty pony. Alexi set to the task with gusto; Caprice was soon giggling half out of her head, and desperately trying to keep her hooves from lashing out from the torment and accidentally clocking poor Alexi.
Halfway down the hill, Pumpkin was leading Buttermilk back home. Buttermilk was clearly hungry, and kept trying to suckle poor Pumpkin, who had to gently push the insistent little foal away, just so she could walk straight. "No, you silly little thing, If I had any I'd give it to you. Wait for mommy!" Pumpkin sighed; Buttermilk couldn't understand yet, there was nothing to be done but endure for now.
They had enjoyed a happy day together; Buttermilk had discovered some pretty little blue flowers growing up from the brown grass. They had both enjoyed a patch of newly grown daisies; Pumpkin loved the tasty, sweet treat, and Buttermilk enjoyed sucking and mouthing one of the flowers for the longest time. Buttermilk seemed to like flowers, even if she wasn't yet ready to eat them.
The biggest thrill of the day, though, was seeing the butterfly. It wasn't very fancy, just a simple, white creature, but it was there, it fluttered and flew, and it was alive. Pumpkin didn't know where it had come from, but she was delighted when it appeared. She and Buttermilk had followed it for a while, until they were worried they might become lost. The news that at least some insects existed, wherever they had been hiding, was surely something Caprice - and maybe everypony - would want to hear.
As Pumpkin rose above the curve of the hill overlooking Base Camp, she heard Alexi blowing noisily on Caprice's belly; Caprice was giggling like a filly. Pumpkin stopped, and sat down in the grass of the hill. Buttermilk looked in confusion between Pumpkin and Caprice, unsure of what to do or where to go.
Finally, Pumpkin got quietly up and started back down the hill. "Come on Buttermilk, come on," She whispered close to the little unicorn "Let's leave sis alone for a little longer. Let's go look at the crates, OK?"
Buttermilk didn't really want to go down the hill, but neither did she want to climb the rest of the way up alone. Reluctantly she followed Pumpkin. It was clear that she was very hungry; this time Pumpkin just stopped and let her do her worst; eventually Buttermilk gave up, the milk bar was closed, apparently. The poor foal's ears drooped, she was disappointed.
"Oh, you poor little dear." Pumpkin nuzzled and groomed the little unicorn. "I know you're hungry. Just a few minutes, really. Let's just give them a little longer, OK?" Buttermilk perked, slightly, at the pleading tone. She waggled her little tail almost like a puppy.
Pumpkin once again sat down in the grass, near the base of the hill. "You are such a sweety. I just know you and my little foal will become the very best of friends." Pumpkin began to lick Buttermilk behind the ears, this always seemed to settle her down. In a short while, Buttermilk's eyes were half closed, her tiny muzzle smiling in contentment.