Five: Pool Of Knowledge
Alexi had decided that another expedition would be useful, now that he knew what to look for. He felt a little foolish for the previous day's journey in that he had essentially taken half of the herd on a wild goose chase just to keep them from fussing. Today, he made sure that his scouting group understood that the previous journey was a "general reconnaissance mission", ever so standard for such situations; and if they just happened to imagine that he was following some established Bureau protocol, well, he certainly wasn't going to disabuse them of that.
Indeed, Alexi was beginning to suspect that the less he said the more he would be accepted as an authority; with effort he began to restrain his normally gregarious nature to serve that end. It was not easy for him; back in his days at the Bureau he had enjoyed saying silly things and imitating actors saying well known lines. Now it was necessary for him to imitate the 'strong and silent' type, a role he was very uncomfortable with.
Caprice had suggested that what he needed to discover was any kind of mineral deposit. She had explained that he should look for either outcroppings of rock, or areas where the grass could not grow, where the soil was relatively barren. In the initial foray the previous day, he had seen no sign of such things at all. However, there seemed to be one direction that had what just might be mountains. If they were mountains, they must be very very far away. Whatever they were, they were just barely visible, faded by what must be a great deal of intervening atmosphere. It was at least a definable direction, and one that hopefully might have some chance of finding rock outcroppings.
Alexi was also looking for any kind of plant other than grass; he intended to bring back samples of anything novel that they might find. To that end he had asked members of his group to act as carriers; collected specimens would be held in their mouths until the group returned. Once again, ponies stood on the hills around 'base camp', to act as a living beacon of color so that the scout group would not become lost out in the endless, repetitive landscape.
Caprice, for her part, had decided that the most important thing she should be doing is collecting information. While nopony in her family had experienced any of the training available at a Conversion Bureau, the other newfoals doubtless had. Despite Caprice's own efforts to learn as much as she could about Equestria and being a pony, there was surely much knowledge that could help them, if she could but bring it all together.
Before Alexi had started out, Caprice had asked him to address the population, and request that anypony that considered themselves an expert on anything about Equestria remain at camp and work with her. Only a few from his group remained; the majority of those newfoals that had scouted with him the previous day were restless individuals, eager for action, but having no concept of what action to take.
After Alexi's group had set out in the direction of the seeming mountain, Caprice set about organizing a discussion, in order to determine what anypony might know, and if any knowledge they might have would help.
"Alright! Thank you, and let's begin." Those newfoals not standing on the hills to use their colorful bodies as beacons had formed a loose circle, laying down on the flat land between the hills that was Base Camp, and it was here that Caprice addressed them.
"My name is Caprice, and I am Alexi's mare. I have been assigned to pool our knowledge in order to help Alexi make the best possible decisions in order to assist our survival." Caprice smiled to herself; using words like 'assigned' helped lend additional support to Alexi's position as leader - she was helping him even now! "I was involved in the study of Equestrian life and biology before my Conversion," She had really just spent a lot of time on the hypernet watching media and visiting online sites; but she actually had studied what she found really hard; that part at least was true. "but there is doubtless much that you can add that will be useful. I want to hear what you have to share, and I want us all to share in that knowledge. The more we know together, the better we can achieve our goals."
A young roan earth pony lifted her hoof and interrupted "What... what exactly are out goals? I'm still not sure what we are doing out here!" Another newfoal, a sea-green unicorn, seconded this "What exactly is going on here? I mean, I thought we would be placed in a nice village or something!" Many others also seemed confused. Perhaps not everypony had fully understood the events of yesterday.
"Very well, perhaps the first order of business would be to reiterate just where we are and why." Caprice sighed; she really thought this much had already been made clear. "Yesterday we were transported here by the Royal Unicorn Corps. As far as we can tell, they were probably supposed to build us a village to live in using the contents of those crates over there." Caprice pointed with a hoof towards the twenty large crates, still unopened.
"We were betrayed, however. A nasty little pegasus named Windfeather somehow ended up in charge. He doesn't like newfoals like us; he apparently felt that we would spoil Equestria somehow. So he arranged to have us lost out in the middle of nowhere. I saw him order the Unicorn Corps to abandon the crates and leave us behind; I do not think they had any part in this. They argued with him, but he pulled rank or somesuch." Caprice was having to shout, so that the entire crowd could hear her, this made her throat hurt a little.
"So this isn't their fault, and this isn't anything to do with Celestia or the crown. We have been stuck out here by the actions of one pony bigot acting alone. But that is not going to stop us. We were going to colonize some place, so we might as well colonize here; eventually we will be found, it is our plan to make sure that when that day arrives, we will have something great to show for our time here." Caprice felt anger rise in her.
"Let's show that damnable Windfeather that newfoals are true Equestrians! When we are finally found, let's show those who find us that we are just as good, just as loyal, just as real as any native of Equestria. That is what we are doing here. Alexi is out there now, looking for resources we can use. We here today are putting our heads together to figure out the most Equestrian way to do things. So, who knows what? Let's hear some areas of expertise!" Caprice needed to catch her breath, this also let the newfoals digest what she had said.
For a while there was relative silence, with some ponies talking among themselves. Finally, a young golden-yellow, green-maned earth pony stallion spoke up: "I know about farming!" The stallion looked down for a moment then corrected his statement. "Well, gardening, really, but the principle is the same."
Caprice needed to keep the ball rolling. "That's good, what kind of things do you know?"
"I used to grow things on the roof of the apartment mall I lived in. Fruit, some peppers, a few onions, some herbs, that sort of thing." The stallion looked a little embarrassed to be the center of attention now. "By the way, I'm Sweetpepper. You know... because of the colors?" A few in the crowd chuckled at the green mane and golden yellow coat. "That, and I really do like yellow bell peppers. Anyway, I am really glad I ended up as an earth pony, because of what they can do!"
This was interesting. Maybe this could be helpful. "Then hello, Sweetpepper! Tell us, what exactly can earth ponies do? Did you receive any special training, are there any special abilities you could share with the group?" Caprice was personally intrigued; she herself was an earth pony.
"Yes! I had a week of training all about earth pony powers. We've got all kinds of magic to us; it isn't just unicorns and pegasai that can do cool stuff." This was news; most humans generally figured that ending up as an earth pony was the worst type of the three Equestrian races to be.
"Please tell everyone what earth ponies can do, Sweetpepper. I think this could be useful to many in the group." Caprice was very eager to hear what he had to say, but she didn't dare show that eagerness, lest she lose control of the discussion.
The golden yellow stallion stood up and nervously looked around. "My instructor was from Equestria! Her name was Leafshine. She told me that being an earth pony was a wonderful thing." Sweetpepper scraped the grass with a hoof. "She said that where unicorns had really obvious magic, magic that you could see, that was all dramatic and stuff... that we earth ponies had subtle magic, but that our magic was just as real, and maybe even more powerful."
Caprice was very interested indeed, now, and she was not alone.
"Earth ponies give off magic, she said. Constantly, all around them. She called it an 'aura' of magic, like a field, like radiation, you know? We can't cast spells, not like unicorns, but we sort of are a magic spell all the time. Like... you know how, back on Earth, there was all that stuff about how, if you talked to plants, and sang to them, and felt love for them, they would grow faster and better? A lot of people thought that was silly, and maybe it was back there, but for Equestrian ponies, it actually works!" Sweetpepper was excited to be talking about something he was interested in, and his fear was fading away.
"We can make things grow, just by caring about them! Just by being near and tending whatever we want to grow. All that goofy stuff about singing to make things grow, or being nice to plants actually works for us." The stallion stepped further out into the circle of sitting newfoals. "Leafshine had this sunflower, in a pot, right? It was just a sprout. Every day, she'd water it and talk to it, and she'd even sing it a lullaby at night. That sucker was four feet tall in just three days. In THREE days. Seriously. Just like that. It was amazing! I swear that I could actually see the plant growing sometimes."
Caprice found this astonishing. "Is there some special thing that earth ponies have to do, to make this ability work?"
"Sort of." Sweetpepper looked suddenly shy. "You kinda have to really care. It's like love, she said. You have to really care about the plant you are tending to like it was a favorite person. You have to put the plant into your heart, she said. I know it sounds silly, but I'm telling you, that sunflower went from a seedling to four feet by the middle of the week! Occasionally she'd even pet it, like it was a cat or something." Sweetpepper backed up, nervous again to be the center of attention. "She said that an earth pony can make even the worst ground grow anything. And she said that just being nearby makes growing things grow better, whether we even try or not! I never got to experiment on my own garden, because I got shipped out, but... I really did see that flower do that." Sweetpepper sat down again and tried to make himself as small as possible.
"Thank you Sweetpepper, that was really useful!" Caprice looked around. "Now we know that we can grow food easily to enrich our diet. Now we know how to do this, and we know how earth pony magic works. Very good, Sweetpepper. In the future, I want you to try to train other earth ponies to use these abilities. Can you do that?"
Sweetpepper nodded. He was a little shy, but he also clearly felt proud now.
"Let's hear it for Sweetpepper!" Caprice, resting on her elbows, started clopping her front hooves together. The other ponies in the circle joined in; for the few standing ponies, they stomped their hooves. Sweetpepper grinned.
"Now, who knows anything about unicorn magic? Anypony?" Caprice felt happy, this actually seemed to be working out fairly well.
The scouting party had gone as far as they dared to travel by midday. That was the distance limit Alexi had set; at noon, they would turn around. The herd was hot and tired from trudging in the summer sun, and everypony was sweating profusely. Alexi thought of the salt issue again, all this walking in the heat was not without risks.
They had come to a small pond, no more than sixty feet across. The water was clear, pure, and clean. Alexi decided it might be a good idea to cool everypony down. "Hey! Let's get nice and cooled off! We have a long walk back. Everypony in the water! We've come a long ways, we deserve some fun now!"
He hadn't needed to say much; some ponies were already entering the water. It was hot and the water was very inviting. Soon the pond was full of happy, splashing ponies.
One of the scouting party, a violet unicorn colt who had named himself 'Lightning Flash' - he looked forward to the day he would get his magic to work, and dreamed of being some sort of pony wizard - had been following Alexi closely the whole journey. It seemed that Lightning needed some kind of father figure, and Alexi had been a natural target for that need.
In the water, Lightning was being playful and began using his front hooves to splash gouts of water at Alexi, dousing him. Alexi instinctively reared up in the water and held his front hooves up to protect his face, perhaps for the moment remembering having once had hands.
Suddenly Lightning froze in mid splash. "Coool...." Lightning turned his head to the side and shouted. "Hey, everybody! look at this!"
Alexi opened his eyes, still balanced on his hind legs. It was easier to stand on his back legs with the water supporting some of his weight. In front of him, the remains of the last splash hung in the air. It was bizarre, and Alexi had to blink several times to make sure what he was seeing was really there.
Around his upraised front hooves, tiny specks of water hung in the air. As he watched, one of the larger drops slowly fell, like a feather would fall, through the speckles of mist hanging motionless. The large droplet reached some sort of invisible boundary just inches from his hoof, and then fell normally into the pool.
By now, most of the nearby ponies were still and watching carefully. Alexi slowly moved his right hoof. The tiny, hovering specks of water moved with his hoof for a while, only reluctantly pulling away; the tiniest of them remained hovering in the air, while the larger ones began to fall slowly into the pool.
Alexi lowered his right hoof. Once again,tiny beads of water fell from the suspended clot of particles, dripping into the pond. But the very tiniest droplets, small as pinpricks, shone and gleamed, hanging in the air over the surface of the water.
"How... how did you do that?" Lightning's eyes were huge with wonder.
The tiny, shining specks of water were shrinking as they dried out, evaporating in the heat. As they shank to nothing, they winked out, like dying stars, first one by one, then more and more. Soon the small mass of hovering water spray was entirely gone, vanished into the summer air.
Alexi raised both of his front hooves again, close together this time. He struggled to balance on his hind legs, extending his wings to help him stay upright. "Splash some more, only try to make tiny drops! Splash carefully! Come on!"
Lightning began splashing water with one hoof, trying to do as Alexi asked. That only sent a jet of water to hit Alexi in the eye. "No! That isn't working. Try smacking the water to send splashes up!" Lightning followed Alexi's direction, eventually using both hooves when it seemed to be working. Though many useless large drops were made, a small glob of tiny, suspended particles began to accumulate around Alexi's front hooves. Eventually the suspended droplets filled an area about the size of a volleyball.
'Enough!" Alexi pulled his hooves apart. The hovering blob of water drops hung in the air, as before.
Alexi, still balancing - his hind legs were becoming tired - gave the blob a push with his left hoof. The rough hovering ball of shining droplets moved slowly away, towards Lightning Flash. The violet unicorn raised a front leg and poked at the orb of water specks. His hoof went through it, and when he pulled his leg back, it left a hole in the mass, which now looked like a sparkling doughnut.
"That's pretty awesome, dude. Seriously amazing." Lightning tried licking the floating water specks. "It tastes like water. It's just water, only in the air." By now, just about everypony had crowded around to see the curious spectacle.
"Maybe... maybe it has something to do with..." The voice came from a bright blue pegasus mare to Alexi's left.
"What, what do you know about this?" Alexi let himself down. It felt good to be on all fours again. He folded his wings to his side.
"I was told that we would get training in Equestria, that they didn't have classes yet on our side, but that there would be traveling instructors that would help us..." The mare trailed off, as she raised a hoof out of the water to bat the evaporating ball of tiny droplets before it vanished entirely. The ball moved away from her push.
"Please, tell me everything. I need to know." Alexi's tone was insistent, the mare looked back at him.
"They told all of us pegasai that we'd be taught how to actually be a pegasus after we got to Equestria. They didn't have a pegasus training program in place yet on the earth side. They said there would be Earthside training next year." The mare tried moving the water of the pool itself around, but nothing out of the ordinary happened; apparently whatever magic this was only affected very small particles in the air. "All I was told was that pegasai had the job of controlling the weather, and we'd learn how to do that in Equestria. Teachers would come to our towns and instruct us in groups." She put her hoof down, back into the pond. "That's all I know."
Alexi considered what the mare had said. That promised education wasn't going to happen; nopony in Equestria knew where they were, or probably, even that they had been lost at all. "Is there any pegasus here that has had any training in actually being a pegasus?"
The ponies looked around; the pegasai shook their heads, feeling lost.
Alexi took that in. "Alright, then. Some time in the distant past, ancient pegasai must have had to figure out everything they do now. We can do that too! Look at what we just learned today - we apparently have some kind of control over water! That is amazing!" Alexi grinned. "Before we head home, I want every pegasus to try to catch water on their hooves. All the non-pegasai, you get to splash our asses silly! Well? What are you waiting for? WATER FIGHT!"
The pool erupted as the entire mass of ponies began splashing each other as fiercely as they possibly could. It wasn't much, perhaps, but it was a victory - the herd had learned something about what it meant to be Equestrian, and after half a day of marching in the heat, worried and unsure of the future, a victory was a victory.