Celestia shook her head. “Twilight Sparkle, of all the requests you have made, this is surely the most absurd.”
Twilight stood before the throne, kneeling before her princess. The sun streamed through the stained-glass hall windows, tainting her purple body with a smorgasbord of hues. Celestia, as always, looked beautiful. Her mane flowed in the air as if caught in a breeze, though the air was still. “But Princess, please! I saw something through my telescope, I promise!”
“Impossible, Twilight Sparkle. Creatures from beyond our realm simply do not exist. What you saw was most likely a weather balloon.”
“But it was a holiday, none of the pegasi were working!” Twilight stood up and waved a forehoof around to solidify her point. “I'm not crazy, I know what I saw!”
“I think you've been spending too long listening to Pinkie Pie's antics, Twilight. Please, sleep on it, and if you still feel the same way in the morning then I shall consider relaying your request.”
Twilight Sparkle bowed and left. Celestia didn't believe her, she could tell. Well, she would prove her tutor wrong, even if that meant going behind her back to do so. “Come on, girls, we have a mission!”
The other five gathered ponies nodded and followed. They too had seen the sight, and they were enlightened. “Are y'all sure this is a good idea, girls?” Applejack asked, “Going against the princess just seems wrong. Y'know, a good conspiracy is a lot like an apple-”
“Oh for Celestia's sake, darling. Do you have any life lessons that don't revolve around apples in some way? Honestly, it was cute the first time, but now it's just sad.” Rarity shook her head in disappointment.
Dash began to laugh. She had become very practised at falling about laughing while still managing to fly. “Did you guys hear the one about racing?” Dash cleared her throat and put on her best Applejack impression. “Wha ah tells y'all what, y'hear, a race ain't much diff-rent from ah apple! Ya got the tough coverin', an that's trainin', but the real sweet feelin' comes from finishin' it!”
Applejack snorted. “I don't talk like that. Do I?”
“Ahem. Y'all certainly do, Applejack.” Rarity giggled.
“I'm going to be honest, Applejack, for the first week I was here I had no idea what you were saying. I just said things I thought were appropriate,” Twilight replied.
And none of you thought to tell me this?" Applejack frowned.
“Oh, I can understand you, Applejack,” Fluttershy chimed in.
“Yeah, Fluttershy's great with understanding animals!” Dash burst out laughing once again. A moment later, an apple smashed into her side, knocking her to the ground in a daze. “I- woah. Now there's two Applejacks! And… I think they want to make out with me?”
“Rainbow! For the last time, nobody wants to make out with you!”
The other four girls coughed and looked around nervously.
“You aren't all serious, are you?” Applejack asked, taking her attention away from the concussed pegasus. Dash used that to make her move, running up and pouncing at one of the Applejack's that stood before her. She crashed into a vase, shattering it and covering herself in a thin layer of soil and a very expensive potted plant.
“Well.” Twilight Sparkle magically scratched the back of her neck. “It'd been a long day, and I'd just finished a good book, and all of a sudden there she was flying through the sky. I took it as a sign and pulled her inside.”
“She comes in for her measurements every so often, and… well, it shames me to admit it, but I simply can't help myself. It's no different from a box of expensive chocolates, really, I know I shouldn't eat them—it'll go straight to my flanks—but… All the same, just one more bite can't hurt, right?”
Fluttershy hid behind an unbroken plantpot. Even so, she could feel Applejack's death-stare penetrating it. “Oh, um, I would never!”
Twilight Sparkle raised one eyebrow.
“She wouldn't want me talking about, I'm sorry.”
“Fine. What about you, Pinkie Pie?”
“Ooh, makeouts with Dashie? Gosh, all the time. There were cupcakes and whipped cream and flour and sugar and frosting and cake mix and so many sauces and gosh, does anybody have any chocolate chips? They'd go great with her.”
“For Celestia's sake, girls.”
“Done 'er, too,” Dash slurred, picking herself up and trying to shake the dirt from her coat. “Oh horseapples, now there's three Applejacks.”
“Girls, please, can we concentrate on the matter at hoof?” Twilight Sparkle snapped. “We're almost there.”
The six ponies trotted up to a set of imposing doors. Each towered over them, adorned with symbols of the night and inscribed with chants and ancient rites that nobody, save for two, knew how to read. Twilight Sparkle's horn began to glow as she built up the required power within herself. She released it, throwing a blast of magical force towards to doors that could have demolished any house Ponyville had to offer.
The knocker knocked. It echoed throughout the cold stone halls of Canterlot castle, signalling to all present that the beast within had been summoned. At her head level, Twilight Sparkle read the one phrase written in modern Equestrian. It had been quilled onto a thick parchment and affixed to the door with a wooden stake the size of her leg.
What is done can never be undone. Think hard before awakening the beast, for all bear the concequences.
The wooden doors creaked and the stone archway lining its rim began to crumble and turn to dust. A harrowing scream filled the hall, forcing all six ponies to cover their ears and take a step back. As the doors opened, a foul odour poured out, and the red light cast from an eternal flame began to flicker at their feet.
Twilight Sparkle held her nose and stepped forward. “Luna, what did Celestia say about cleaning your room?”
The moon goddess stumbled over to them. Her customary regalia lay scattered at the side of her bed. She wore nothing but a pink nightgown, rimmed with fluffy edges and decorated with tiny pink stars and streamers. Her slippers—also pink— softened her footsteps and allowed her to move as silently as the night. Her hair waved behind her, held in place with a pink hairclip. She yawned, producing the same harrowing scream they had heard before.
“WE ARE VERY SORRY, TWILIGHT SPARKLE. WE-” She coughed. “Ahem, I apologise. We- I am still getting used to speaking indoors. I miss my stable, t'was built to last a thousand years, yet Celestia deigned to use it as storage.”
“Yowie,” Pinkie exclaimed, holding her nose between her forehooves and hopping in place. “You should bake more! Everyone loves the smell of baking!”
“Come on, everypony, let's get some of this stuff put away,” Twilight Sparkle said, moving the wrought-metal fireguard into place to shield the room from the eternally burning fireplace. Beside it lay several sticks and half-eaten marshmallows, which had now began to grow mouldy through age.
“Oh, Rainbow Dash!” Luna exclaimed, spotting the pegasus lazily loop-the-looping into the room, still shaking her head to try and clear the concussion. “You remember how we like our coffee, correct?”
“Hey…” Dash quietly moaned, rubbing her temples. “Wasn't there only one of you last time? Yeah I remember, strong and hot. How many cups to you guys want?”
“Just the one, my darling.”
“To share? Okay,” Dash shakily flew towards Luna's on-suite kitchen. She crashed into a bookshelf, covering herself in ancient tomes and a thousand years of dust.
“Now, hang on, princess,” Applejack snapped, “Don't you go telling me you too?”
“Oh, it was a cold night, and a full moon. She was clearing the day's clouds away for ponies to better see my night, and… well, it had been a thousand years.”
Twilight Sparkle opened one of Luna's drawers to peek inside. Immediately the repugnant smell of month old socks stuck her. Thinking quickly, she incinerated the furniture, contents and all. “Look, princess, we didn't come here to clean your room.”
“Oh?” She yawned. “What time is it, anyway? Is the sun even down yet? Gosh, I'm tired.”
“It's evening. Even that knocker won't wake you in the middle of the day. Remember the Changelings?”
“The whatnows?” Luna asked, arching her back and stretching her wings to try and clear the stiffness in her body. “Is that something from a play?”
Pinkie Pie giggled. “They all attacked Canterlot and defeated Celestia with the power of love, and then we all fought copies of ourselves and there were so many Rainbow Dashes I think we all got a little excited, and then they all went away for some reason.”
“Well, that doesn't sound very realistic. Who wrote this, a foal?” Luna shook her head. “Literature was so much better back in my day.”
“I- Nobody wrote it, princess.”
“Anonymous? At least some ponies have the guts to own up to what they wrote.” Luna picked up a dress she'd casually abandoned on the floor… some time ago. She quickly dropped it after spotting something moving inside.
“Hey, I brought coffee!” Dash announced, trotting out of the kitchen with several cups of coffee balanced on her outstretched wings. “There's enough for everypony, I think. Except Applejack.”
“Ooh, coffee!” Pinkie Pie exclaimed, grabbing one of the mugs and downing the contents in one smooth motion. “Eww, bitter! You know I like sugar in mine, Dashie!”
Luna more casually grasped her mug, and began to slowly sip at the steamy solution, sighing softly as the caffeine began to wake her. “So,” she said, taking another swig, “What did you come here for?”
“Well, you see, princess, we think there's something wrong with the moon.”
Luna raised an eyebrow. “Something wrong with my moon?”
“Not yours, one of the other moons. The red one, to be precise. Me and Rainbow Dash were… stargazing last night, and I… just… happened to be staring up at it when I saw something strike it. We retrieved my telescope and spotted something strange and metallic—we were wondering if you could tell us what it was?”
“I'm afraid I don't know, young Sparkle. Ares is beyond my sphere of comprehension.”
“I thought you owned the night?”
“I get distracted.”
Pinkie Pie began to vibrate. Her mane started to glow softly and she commenced a quiet buzzing, not unlike a bee.
“Do you think we could go and have a look? It would be quite fascinating to meet extraequestrian life forms!” Twilight's ears wiggled in excitement as she imagined the possibilities, and all the new things she could learn and do.
“Have you asked Celestia? She usually deals with this sort of request, doesn't she? She has more experience putting ponies in space than I do,” Luna replied.
“Well, yes, but Celestia is very busy and-”
“Celestia wouldn't do it,” Rarity interjected, “But we were rather hoping you would. Why, I get excited when I see fashions from other parts of the world, I should simply die with regret should I miss a chance to meet whole new fashions! My, they may not even be quadrupeds, you realise?”
Twilight snorted. “Don't be ridiculous, Rarity. If they weren't quadrupeds how would they even stand up, never mind get into space? Leave the science to the scientists, please.”
“Well, I never! So rude, Twilight Sparkle, I should remember not to get between you and science.”
“What do y'all think these aliens eat, then?”
Twilight Sparkle laughed. “Alien is so cliché, Applejack. Call them Extraequestrians.”
“And just what do you suppose them extraquestrians eat, then?”
“Apples, obviously,” Dash said, stifling a laugh.
“Well then! Maybe we should take an offering or something, they've come a long way! It'd be a shame not to make 'em feel welcome in the neighbourhood.”
Twilight nodded, “Good thinking, Applejack. Go grab something nice from the royal storeroom.”
Pinkie Pie began to pulse. She looked at her hoof, watching it waver in front of her face with bulging eyes.
“Very well, I shall take you there. You are learned of the requisite protective spells, correct?” Luna opened the window and looked outside. It was still daytime, and she had yet to raise her night—including the planet in question. It was impossible to visit somewhere that did not currently exist. “We shall have to wait until my sister retires.”
“So, wait, I'm confused,” Dash piped up. “Which Luna are we riding on?”
Some hours later, the burning sun was torn down to be replaced by a chilled night sky. Celestia returned to bed, presumably unaware her subjects and sister had been planning without her. Applejack retrieved the best apple pie she could find, Fluttershy eventually emerged from behind the plantpot to join them, and Rainbow Dash grew progressively less sensible. Pinkie Pie continued to throb, reaching a stable level of vibration at 5KHz.
“You kept your window open to air that room out, right Luna?” Twilight said, casting the various spells the ponies would need to survive on the harsh planet's surface.
Luna beat her wings a little harder in irritation. “Yes, Twilight.”
“Good. You locked the door again, right?”
“Did you remember to turn off the stove?”
“YES, TWILIGHT, WE DID.”
“Okay, just checking!”
Rainbow Dash spread her legs and wings, allowing the total lack of atmosphere to flow over her. She was secured in Luna's forelegs, the other ponies having taken a vote to decide whether she was fit to fly alone. They had voted against it, unanimously.
“Hey, Luna,” Dash slurred. In a bout of what could only be justified as collision-induced insanity, Rainbow Dash had raided Luna's salt closet, and was now both concussed and highly dehydrated. “Did you know you look so beautiful in the moonlight?”
“Thank you, Rainbow Dash,” Luna smiled, looking down onto the pegasus.
“And did you know, right- did you know, what we did last time, y'know with the clouds and stuff- did you know, I wanna do it again right now.”
“Ew!” Twilight exclaimed, covering Fluttershy's ears to save her from the torrent of filth emerging from Dash's mouth. “Dash, we are up here, you know.”
“Whoops,” Dash said, before giggling and falling silent. A few moments later, she thankfully fell into a slumber.
Luna tore across the stars, each beat of her wings catching on the aether that permeated outer space as air did Equestria. Twilight's spells would protect them from the harsh surroundings, but not for long. Their trip could only last a matter of hours. Thankfully, the journey was short, and before long they found themselves setting foot on a dusty planet.
“To think, we're the first ponies in thousands of years to come here. Our hoofsteps will remain here long after we're gone. Be careful, girls, treat this place with respect,” Twilight Sparkle gingerly stepped through the dark red debris, taking care not to disturb it. Pinkie Pie had already made a dust-angel.
“Pinkie, what did I-”
“Oh gosh we're in space! Space! There's so much to see, so many places to explore-” Pinkie Pie gasped- “Maybe even new friends to make! Gosh I'm so excited, are you excited? I'm so excited—I haven't been this excited since… this morning! I woke up and Gummy was there and he was all like blink and I was all like ohmygosh it's gummy! and he was-”
“PINKIE PIE!” Luna shouted, putting on her full Royal Canterlot Voice. The force of it blew a conical layer of dust into the distance, clearing a large swathe of land.
“Celestia damnit, girls.” Twilight swore, and walked off in the opposite direction. “Come on, I think it's this way.”
They walked, leaving a trail of footsteps that seemed to stretch back for miles. They found nothing except loneliness and curiosity. “So, Twilight,” Rarity said, attempting to make small-talk, “you mentioned ponies had been here before? Why, if I may be so forward as to ask, did we not return?”
“Well, there's nothing here. At all. It's just dust, the whole planet.”
“Du- dust,” Dash said, in a shaking voice. She pointed over into the distance with an uneven hoof. “Dust, and an army of space aliens! You girls run, I'll hold 'em off!”
In the distance, the lone rover Curiosity trundled along at its top speed of three hundred feet an hour. Dash dropped into a fighting stance and bucked a nearby rock at the oncoming army. It sailed in almost, but not entirely, the exact opposite direction.
“That's- that's it! That's what we're looking for! Come on, I don't think it's seen us yet, let's look at it.”
“Oh my, I don't like it,” Fluttershy said, hiding behind Luna's leg. As the rover continued to travel, getting slightly closer every second, Fluttershy decided enough was enough and ran back from where they'd come.
They stared, taking in its form and trying to figure out what it was thinking. After a few moments, Rarity pulled a dress out of her bag and began making alterations. “Twilight, darling?”
“Can you count how many legs that has?”
“Well, there's uh… six.”
“And my dress, which I made specifically for this situation, has?”
“Because you told me?”
“I said it was probably a quadruped! I didn't have the experimental data to theorise on sexrupeds!”
Rainbow Dash giggled.
“Well, no matter, I suppose. I can alter this, just give me a few moments.”
“I'm not sure we should approach, Rarity,” Twilight Sparkle said, pointing to Curiosity's Alpha-particle X-ray spectrometer. “It looks like it has some sort of weapon, it may not be peaceful.”
“Ooh, a friend!” Pinkie Pie gasped, finally catching up with them. Behind them was a picture of a cupcake, drawn in dust, hundreds of thousands of feet across. It would be visible from Equestria. Celestia was going to be furious. Despite knowing, deep down, she'd already done enough damage, Pinkie darted forward to meet the rover.
“Boop!” she called, pushing her nose into its Hazard Avoidance Camera and inadvertently running untold thousands of lines of code. “Hi, my name's Pinkie Pie! What's your name?”
The rover was silent.
“Gosh, you're not very talkative, are you? That's okay, I can talk for both of us! Hello Pinkie, I'm Mr. Alien! Hello, Mr. Alien! How are you tod-”
“PINKIE PIE!” Twilight Sparkle yelled, shunting the overactive earth pony away with a jolt of magic. “Dreadfully sorry about that, we aren't all like that I promise. My name is Twilight Sparkle, and I'd like to welcome you to our solar system on behalf of Equestria.” Twilight Sparkle held her hoof out to one of the more mobile looking sections of riveted metal.
The rover was silent, continuing on its path, forcing Twilight to walk backwards.
“Here, Twilight, catch!” Applejack said, launching her freshly baked apple pie over to the unicorn. Unfortunately, the planet's gravity was different from what she was used to, and the pie splattered against Curiosity's Radiation Assessment Detector, which promptly detected it.
At the same time, Rarity moved into action. Her dress had two additional holes for the middle set of wheels, and she was honour-bound to give the ambassador to any race a free dress. Within seconds, and before anybody could shout at her to stop, she fitted the dress over the one-tonne automaton and took a few steps backward to appreciate her artistry. “Now, I do hope you don't mind, but it it quite customary to share fashion tips among our people.”
The rover was silent.
“Even a little?”
The rover was silent.
The rover was silent.
“Hmf, well, fine. I suppose different cultures react differently. And yours is just foul!” Rarity turned and stormed away, leaving an angry trail of hoofsteps off into the distance.
“Now, Rarity, that ain't polite! Hey, come back, Rarity. Oh, consarnit!” Applejack galloped after her, quickly following the trail.
“Ooh, that crater looks like a cherry! I should make a cupcake using it!” Pinkie Pie yelled, and immediately sped off.
Twilight Sparkle sighed. “Look, I'm very sorry about this. I'm sure if you just talk to our Princess, Luna you'll- oh. Luna?” Twilight called out for the princess, but she was nowhere to be found. Nor was Dash. Twilight looked more carefully and spotted two sets of hoofprints leading out into a nearby crater. Twilight Sparkle was alone. She grinned and looked back towards Curiosity.
She leapt, ripping off Rarity's dress with her magic, and landed atop the machine. “Oh Curiosity,” Twilight moaned, reading the name emblazoned on the automaton's side. “Your oil feels so good against my skin!”
The one tonne, three billion dollar science project beeped and whizzed its servos in appreciation. It had been lightyears since anybody had last lubricated its joints, and Twilight was an expert.
“I love science,” she said, whispering into the automaton's microphone. “So if you're searching for something alive and wet? Come and get it,” The librarian galloped away, quickly disappearing over the side of the nearest crater.
Fourteen minutes later, the images began to appear back on earth, at NASA's space centre. Fourteen minutes and thirty seconds after that, Curiosity followed in the hoofsteps of the curious alien creature.