By Pen Stroke
Assisted By Batty Gloom
A Taste of Freedom
A gentle breeze tickled at the branches of nearby trees, the leaves thick and green. The springtime sun shown above, the endless sky blocked by only a few lazy clouds. There were the sounds of a babbling brook working amongst the tree roots, of animals scurrying on the grounds and birds chirping in the trees. Even the sound of the dirt moving beneath hooves.
This wasn’t a test... this wasn’t a scam... this wasn’t a lie... she really was free.
Chell wanted to take it all in, remember every detail. Before that giant portal had opened and she was sucked into this strange world and turned into a pony, the realization of freedom hadn’t sunken into the deepest parts of the ex-test subject’s brain.
Now the realization and truth had soaked into every fiber of Chell’s being. She was free... she was free... she was a pony... but she was free!
“Now what are you smiling about?” Fluttershy asked, having glanced back at the orange pony and caught her grinning ear to ear while watch a humming bird. After asking Chell questions for about an hour Fluttershy had been content to fall silent for a time, this question the first in several minutes.
“Oh... I’m sorry... that wasn’t a yes or no question, was it?”
Chell shook her head, but was still smiling. For the first time it was actually going to be awkward not being able to talk, especially now that there were peopl... ponies who would actually want to hear what she had to say. Still, it was a welcome inconvenience. Why? Because it meant she had someone else to talk to. Real social interaction, with real living beings. A welcome change from GLaDOS and all of her fat jokes.
The dull orange pony was so lost in thought that she didn’t notice when Fluttershy stopped in front of her. The realization came too late as Chell founder herself with a face full of long, pink tail hair. The sudden mass of pink made Chell fall back.
Now, a normal pony would have fallen on her butt and that would have been that, but of course not when you’re wearing the Aperture Science long fall boots. As Chell fell back, without warning the boots engaged, using strange science and technology to flip Chell in the air. She landed perfectly on all four hooves, as if the flip had been completely intentional.
After recovering from being flipped like a pancake, Chell looked forward to see why they had stopped. Was there something wrong? Where they in danger? Had GLaDOS changed her mind and come to drag her back to the Enrichment Center?
Yet, instead of anything sensible like that, Chell saw Fluttershy had stopped for a family of ducks, the mother waddling across the road with her family following in line.
“Oh... so cute.” Fluttershy said to herself, smiling as she watched the ducks cross the road. Chell cocked one eyebrow. Had they seriously stopped for ducks? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to just keep walking? It wasn’t like they were in a car or something; the ducks would have gotten out of the way.
“It’s nice to see they’re doing so well.” Fluttershy mused as the ducks finished crossing the road, the yellow pony turning to look back at Chell. The dull orange pony had the most confused look on her face, one that Fluttershy couldn’t help but giggle at.
“Oh... sorry, I, um... help care for all the little creatures that live around Ponyville. I was there when the momma duck’s eggs hatched. You should have seen them when they were first born... they were even cuter than they are now.”
Chell stepped forward, her confusion only increasing. This was a situation that called for her scratching out a few words in the dirt.
“Is that a hobby?” Fluttershy read out loud before looking up from Chell’s dirt writing. “Oh, no... it’s my job, and I love doing it. Not only do I take care of the woodland creatures but also help ponies with their pets. I mean... caring for animals is my special talent after all. It’s why I have these butterflies for a cutie mark.”
Chell blinked, turning to look at the pink butterflies on Fluttershy’s flank. Cutie Mark? So, having pictures of something on your haunches was normal? She would have just assumed that was a tattoo... but then again how do you tattoo a pony’s coat?
So... a cutie mark was supposed to represent a pony’s special talent... then why did she have a pair of working portals on her flanks? Did that mean her special talent was working with portals, or just being a test subject for GLaDOS? Now that was a thought that actually managed to bring down Chell’s mood a bit. She didn’t like the idea of GLaDOS being right, that she was meant to be a test subject for the crazed personality construct and nothing more.
“Oh... looks like momma duck is across the road. Let’s keep going... we’ll have to hurry if we want to get something sweet from Sugarcube Corner before they close.”
Chell just nodded once, falling in line behind Fluttershy, though not directly behind the yellow pegasus in case she decided to stop for a bug that was crossing the road. Still, the little scene that had just played out had given Chell’s brain a lot of things to turn over.
Fluttershy’s job was to take care of animals, and not just pets but random forest animals. She actually made a living doing that. The place was beautiful, there were brightly colored ponies, and a pony could make a career out of taking care of random animals.
Chell had to turn her neck around and bite at her shoulder, wincing a bit from the pain. Okay, she wasn’t dreaming... maybe she was dead? No... if she was dead then GLaDOS wouldn’t be hold up inside a mountain nearby. That and the pain of hunger in her stomach wouldn’t be getting worse. Yet... this place, it was so warm and welcoming.... it was the kind of place you dreamed about.
This... was all too good to be true... but yet it was happening. Sure, it wasn’t all good. She was a pony after all and her muteness was going to become a greater obstacle the more ponies she met. Still, compared to Aperture Science... to the only life she had known as a test subject to a maniac personality construct... this was unbelievable.
If this was a dream, Chell honestly hoped she’d never wake up.
“So very interesting.” GLaDOS murmured to herself, still watching and analyzing the video feeds from the enrichment center’s exterior cameras. It was surprising to see a civilization so advanced could be built without opposable thumbs. Advanced architecture with a wide difference in design from each community. More interesting, the ones with horns seem capable of manipulating things by telekinesis. “Yes... very interesting.”
GLaDOS heard a clatter behind her, P-body and Atlas returning from their mission. They drug what was a skeleton from one of the previous testing chambers. Like the once human built androids, the human bones had been changed. They were now pony bones, giving GLaDOS some very important data.
“Oh... fascinating. Double joints on the carpus and fetlock joint; I was wondering how some of them were able to bend their front legs at such strange angles. No earth equine could ever hope to touch a hoof to their mouth without completely destroying the joints. Yes... the complex shoulder structure also seemed to allow for greater movement... oh yes, this will be very helpful in designing the test chambers.
“Hmmmm...” GLaDOS mused to herself, one of her robotic arms bringing a duel portal gun from storage. “The Aperture Science Quantum Tunneling device could be fitted to a pony hoof... with the right adjustments.
“Yes... just a few adjustments and it would work perfectly. After all... what would testing be without quantum tunneling?... Oh wait...I know. it would be very, very... uninformative.”
“Good, they haven’t closed yet. Oh, I hope they have some cinnamon rolls left.”
Chell was honestly not paying that much attention to what Fluttershy was saying, the dull orange pony too distracted with all the things going around her. It was the end of the work day, and Ponyville was alive as ponies went about their end of day business, running errands before heading home. All the different colors, all the different sizes, and the village itself was amazing. They had a library inside a tree... where else would you find a library INSIDE a tree?
And their destination was no less wondrous. Looking like a sugar induced death waiting to happen, the bakery/restaurant Fluttershy had called Sugarcube Corner only reminded Chell of the empty hole in her stomach. God, she was hungry... and it didn’t help she could already smell the sweets.
Oh, if they had cake she was going to die. Chell hadn’t understood why, but ever since GLaDOS had promised cake Chell had a craving for some... like her body wanted and demanded to have the moist, delicious dessert it had been promised and then denied.
Fluttershy nosed the door open to the shop, Chell following her inside.
“Welcome to Sugar Cube Corner!” A perky voice called from behind the counter. “How may I GHUUUUAAAAAHH!”
Chell winced when the very pink pony behind the counter made such a loud gasping noise, though it was short lived as the energetic pony suddenly moved in front of her, talking at about a million miles an hour.
“Ohmygosh, are you new in town? What’s your name? Are you a friend of Fluttershy’s? Are you moving into town? Are you visiting? When is your birthday? Where did you get those cool boots? Whoa, what’s going on with your cutie mark? Oh, I love your eyes. You look hungry. You want something to eat? Do you like chunky or creamy peanut butter?”
What did that pony run on: nuclear power or was she just in the middle of some epic sugar high? Chell wasn’t sure, but thankfully another pony stepped in. She was blue, like light blue cake frosting, and had swirling pink and magenta hair to match.
“Pinkie Pie, give her room to breathe!” The mare scolded. “I’m so sorry Dear. I’m Mrs. Cake, welcome to Sugarcube Corner..”
“Yea, not only here but also to Ponyville. After all, if I’ve never seen you around then you must be new since I know all the ponies here in town. And since she’s a new pony in town you know what that means. OHH! I’m going to need streamers.” With that the pink blur was off, darting out the door.
“That girl loves it when new ponies come to town. Still, Fluttershy, is this a friend of yours?”
“You could say that. I was out at Sky Mirror Lake when a mountain fell out of the sky. When I flew up on top, she was up there.”
“Oh... of course Sweetie.” Mrs. Cake replied, though she was obviously skeptical about the story. “Now, I bet you two are here for a late afternoon treat.”
“Yes please. I’d like a cinnamon roll if you still have any.”
“I think we’ve got one left from a batch we did earlier this afternoon, still nice and fresh. What about you Dear?”
Chell looked around the room a moment; everything looking so amazingly good. Still, her eyes quickly fell on it, a slice of deep chocolate cake with a heavy chocolate frosting and a single, big strawberry set on top with a cushion of whip cream. Chell raised a hoof, pointing at the piece, and Mrs. Cake smiled widely.
“Good choice. Now, that will be two bits for the cinnamon roll and then three bits for the cake.”
Chell’s eyes narrowed... bits, what in the world were bits? If that was like money, Chell could feel her heart sink. She was broke, not a single penny... or bit to her name. The cake, the perfect looking piece of cake, was now completely out of her reach.
“Okay, could you just put both on my tab?” Fluttershy offer, Chell’s heart returning to its excited state. She didn’t know why this yellow pegasus was being so nice, but she’d figure out a way to thank Fluttershy after she had eaten that piece of cake.
“For you Dear, always. About the only other pony that pays her tab as regularly as you do is Applejack... but it’s hard to compete with that reliable pony.”
“Yep, that sounds like Applejack.”
“Well, here are your sweets, Dears. I’m afraid I can’t let you eat them here though, we’re just about to close up for the night.”
“It’s okay, thank you.” Fluttershy replied, Mrs. Cake pushing a pair of carefully wrapped napkins across the shop counter. Fluttershy took her napkin wrapped dessert in her mouth, starting to head for the door. Chell did the same, though a little confused how a pony with no hands was able to wrap the desserts in napkins so quickly. Still, the delicious smell of the cake was seeping through, and Chell could feel her mouth watering. God it smelled good.
“So,” Fluttershy asked through the napkin in her mouth. “Where do you want to eat?”
Before either pony could react, a blue blur came plummeting out of the sky. Chell took the brunt of the hit, the blue blur hitting her in her side. The napkin with the piece of cake slipped out of her mouth, the dessert flying skyward. Thankfully her long fall boots went to work. Before she and the other pony could crash into the ground in a heap, they were flipped up right, Chell landing with a thud on her hooves and the other pony then flopping on Chell’s back.
“Whoa, nice recovery. I was sure I was going to bite the dirt on that one.”
Chell glared back, taking notice of the pony that had just crashed into her. Sky blue pegasus with a rainbow mane and a somewhat rough voice. Chell would have bucked the pegasus off if not that, at that moment, her slice of cake came falling down The chocolate dessert splattered across Chell’s forehead, making her glare that much harder at the rainbow maned pony.
“Rainbow Dash, look what you did!”
“Sorry, I was trying out a new trick and I kind of lost control. I didn’t mean to crash into... hey, who is this?”
“Her name is Chell, I found her on the mountain at Sky Mirror Lake.”
“There’s no mountain anywhere near Sky Mirror Lake.”
“It fell out of the sky this morning.”
“Sure Fluttershy. Ha, didn’t know you were such a kidder.”
“Go look for yourself.”
“Sure, I’ll go look at this ‘falling mountain’.” Dash replied sarcastically, taking off and going straight vertically, punching a hole through some clouds as she flew. Those holes caused a short burst of rain to fall out, which landed right on Chell. Now, not only was she wet but she had a wet piece of cake on her head. Raising a hoof, Chell did her best to knock most of the cake off, though it was a bit depressing to see what had once been such a delicious looking slice of dessert reduced to a black, soggy lump on the ground.
“Sorry about your cake. You want to split my cinnamon roll?” Fluttershy offered, picking up the napkin from the ground. Chell smiled and nodded, thankful for the yellow pegasus and her kindness. Still, just as Fluttershy was about to set the roll down and split it in half, Rainbow Dash came zipping back, landing beside them abruptly. This startled Fluttershy, and with an “yeep!” she bucked back. That sent her cinnamon roll flying, the dessert joining the first as it landed on Chell’s head.
“Whoa, Fluttershy, you weren’t fooling. There really is a mountain in the middle of Sky Mirror Lake. Did it really fall out of the sky?”
“I was there when it happened. Thankfully, no fish or animals were hurt.”
“Well that’s good. So, Fluttershy found you on that mountain. That’s cool, how did you... “
Rainbow Dash fell silent as she turned to look at Chell, the cinnamon roll sliding down the dull orange pony’s face and leaving a slimy trail of white frosting. The glare in Chell’s eyes was deadly. Whether this was usual or just a bad pair of coincidences, Chell was not liking the fact that two desserts had been dropped on her head because of this one pegasus.
“Oops... sorry.” Rainbow Dash said, lifting a hoof to take the cinnamon roll off of Chell’s face. It still left Chell with large smears of cake, chocolate frosting, and white icing on her face. At least it wasn’t going to get any worse.
Of course, even thinking that is an invitation for fate to smack you. On her way back down to the ground Rainbow Dash had burst through the same clouds again, knocking fresh holes in them. Those holes released more rain water, landing right on Chell. It was enough to wash most of the dessert frosting off her face, but now she was soaked to the bone.
“Forgot that the clouds today are leftover from the rainstorm we had. I guess we didn’t get all the water out of them.” Rainbow Dash replied, rubbing the back of her neck.
The look on Chell’s face was able to convey her “Ya Think?!” anger without verbal assistance. Still, at least the frosting was gone. Shaking a bit, Chell was able to get rid of some of the water, though she still felt damp and could feel water down in her long fall boots. Plopping down on the ground the dull orange pony used her teeth to remove one of her boots, dumping the water out from inside.
“So... uh, you were on top of that mountain. How did you get up there?” Rainbow Dash asked, obviously wanting to get the conversation going in another direction.
“Rainbow, Chell can’t answer you.”
“Don’t tell me she’s not talking to me because of a little cake; it was an accident!”
“No, she really can’t. She can’t talk.”
Chell grumbled, having removed a second long fall boot and dumping the water from it. How many times was she going to have this conversation? Maybe she needed to just wear a sign, a button, or have it painted on her forehead.
Yeah, just a nice big sign that read, “Hey, I’m mute, so don’t try to ask me questions, because I can’t answer.” That would save so much time.
Replacing the second boot, Chell began to work on dumping out the other two while Rainbow Dash learned what little information Fluttershy had on the dull orange pony. When Chell finished her last boot Rainbow Dash was basically up to speed, a small proof that Fluttershy had been able to learn very little about the dull orange pony she had found on a mountain.
With a suggestion from Rainbow Dash, Chell was led by the pair of pegasi to the library. It was hard to believe the tree could still be alive and healthy with so much of its guts carved out. Still, the insides smelled like fresh, clean wood and the walls were lined with at least several hundred books.
Standing at a reading table, a light violet unicorn smiled when she heard ponies coming through the door, turning away from her work. “Oh, hey Girls, what’s up?”
“Hey Twilight, you got any spells that can help a pony talk?”
“What, you think Fluttershy needs to be more vocal or is it for you?”
“It’s for Fluttershy’s new friend.” Dash replied, motioning towards Chell.
“Oh... hello. Nice to meet you, I’m Twilight Sparkle. What’s your name?”
“Uh, see, that’s kind of why we need the spell. She can’t talk.” Rainbow Dash offered.
“Can’t talk or doesn’t know how to?”
“Don’t know... probably a bit of both.”
Twilight pursed her lips together in thought, and then turned as her horn began to glow. The fact that the forehead appendage was glowing was strange enough for Chell. Yet, the level of oddity in the room increased as a number of books start to fly off the shelves, wrapped in the same glow.
The dull orange pony could only watch in amazement. How was she doing that, and did Rainbow Dash just say something about spells?
“Let me see...” Twilight muttered to herself, glancing at books before tossing them over her shoulders. “I thought I remember reading about... no, that’s not it... no, that’s not what we need... no... no... well, alfalfa, where is... oh, here it is.”
The book that the unicorn ended up selecting was a pale white, the titles spelled out in very clear, slightly curvy black text. “A Spoonful of Magic: 1001 Home Medical Spells that will fix what ails you.” Twilight had already cracked open the book, flipping through the pages before a smile spread across her lips.
“Okay, here it is. Section 57, Speech. If you find yourself unable to speak, follow this helpful guide and use the following tests to diagnosis the problem and determine if you need to seek further, professional medical help.”
Chell’s ears flattened at the word tests. Sure, they weren’t the same kind of tests she was used to, but that word had been tainted by GLaDOS. Chell doubted she’d ever think fondly of any test. Still, before the dull orange pony could try and resist, she had been lifted up in the air and sat down on a stool as the unicorn Twilight Sparkle levitating a number things from around the room into the air above her head.
“Okay, let’s get testing.”
Chell felt a shiver run down her spine. For a moment, Twilight sounded way too much like GLaDOS.
It was sunset by the time Twilight gave up, having run through all the tests she could in the medical book. The library was a wreck of books and a few tests that had backfired. Currently Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, and a baby dragon named Spike were working to clean while Twilight tried one last thing.
Horn glowing, Twilight moved over to Chell and touch her horn to her neck. Chell could feel the strange tingle of the magic, a sensation almost like when your foot falls asleep but different enough to discern which was which.
“Okay... that explains a lot.” Twilight said.
“What, you finally figure out what’s wrong?”
Twilight nodded. “The reason Chell can’t talk is because she has no vocal cords. That explains why none of the previous tests told us anything. They were checking if her vocal cords were working, not whether or not they were there.”
“How could she not have any vocal cords?”
“Don’t know, she just doesn’t.”
“But can you help?”
Twilight shook her head. “Sorry, I don’t know of any spells that can give a pony vocal cords.”
Despite the news, Chell smiled; just as long as the tests were done. The sun was already starting to set outside and she was starving... a fact soon communicated to all the other ponies as Chell’s stomach growled quite loudly.
“Whoa, sounds like somepony is hungry.” Spike joked from the top of the ladder, putting a few books away.
“Um... I’m pretty hungry too. I ate lunch just before the mountain fell into Sky Mirror Lake, but I don’t think Chell has eaten all day.”
“Hey, how about I take all of us out for dinner?” Rainbow Dash offered. “It’s the least I can do after the thing with the cake.”
“Thing with the cake?” Twilight echoed, looking at Fluttershy.
“Still, what do you say Chell?”
The dull orange pony eyed Rainbow Dash for a moment, but then smiled and nodded her head. She could appreciate what happened earlier was an accident and she wasn’t about to pass up a free meal.
“Cool. So, where should we go?”
“That depends; have you run into Pinkie Pie today?”
“Yes, she saw Chell at Sugar Cube Corner.” Fluttershy answered.
“Did she go ‘GHUUUUAAAAAHH!’?” Twilight asked, mimicking the pink ponies gasp quite well.
“Yes, she did.”
Rainbow Dash laughed. “Well, we all know what that means. I’ll fly ahead and try to figure out where it’s going down. I’ll come find you when I know.” With that Dash flew out a window, zipping off into the distance.
“Oh, these are always such fun. Pinkie Pie really likes it when she meets new ponies.”
“Though I hope doesn’t have any hot sauce out this time.” Twilight said, the pair giggling as they headed for the door. Chell just stared in confusion, wondering what those ponies were talking about. Still, before her brain could even properly form a theory, Spike lept on her back.
“Come on, Slowpoke, you’re going to miss all the fun.”
Chell turned her head around, glaring daggers at the baby dragon. He smiled weakly back, climbing down off the dull orange pony slowly before darting out of the room after Twilight. Satisfied that she had probably scared that dragon so badly he’d never jump on her back again, Chell trotted to catch up.
“SUPRISE!” Several dozen voices shouted in unison, making Chell jump nearly a foot in the air.
After Rainbow Dash had come back, the trio of ponies had lead Chell to a building that looked like a carousel... and in fact it had a sign out front that read “Carousel Boutique”. Upon entering, the room had been completely dark. Chell was still completely confused what was going on, until the lights snapped on, streamers came tumbling down, and the room full of ponies all shouted that one word in unison.
“Yes, you made it!” Pinkie Pie offered, zipping over beside Chell. “I’m so glad Rainbow Dash came and found out. I was worried we were going to have to sit here in the dark all night. But now you’re here! Oh, we should start playing pin the tail on the pony! You can go first if you want.”
Chell just backed up, looking about in a bit of a panic from sensory overload. What were all these ponies doing here, what was going on... and why were there streamers and balloons everywhere?
“Whoa, easy there... you look like you’ve never been to a party before.”
A party? Chell suddenly felt like such an idiot; of course this was a party! With that realization the dull orange pony began to relax a bit. The building itself looked like a dress maker’s shop, but it had been completely converted for the party. The dress making forms had been decorated to look like clowns, there were balloons everywhere, and the buffet table on one side of the room made Chell’s mouth water. She even saw some cake there... oh how she wanted a slice of that cake.
“Great work as usual, Pinkie Pie.”
“Thanks Spike; I always do my best when a new friend comes to town. So, Chell, what do you want to do first? It is your party after all.”
Those words broke Chell’s concentration on the cake, the mute pony looking back at the smiling pink face. This... this was a party for her. Chell just assumed it was party for one of the other ponies, that she had just walked in at the same time. Was this really... all for her? It was another moment where Chell had to fight the urge to pinch herself.
It was unreal... or maybe surreal was a better word. They had thrown a party for her... just because she had shown up in Ponyville. No human would do that. No, while Chell didn’t have many memories of her own she knew enough about the human world that this kind of thing just didn’t happen. You were thrown parties by co-workers, family, and friends... but no one threw parties like this for total strangers.
“Hey, you okay?” Rainbow Dash asked, noticing the very disbelieving look painted across Chell’s face. Those words snapped Chell back into the moment, and she looked into the faces of the ponies she had come to know since arriving. They were looking back at her with concern... honest concern.
Was this what this world was like? Was this all normal, to throw random parties and to be so concerned about other ponies you hardly even knew? It sure didn’t seem out of the ordinary, not considering how many ponies were mingling about the room. Chell’s memory tripped back when she first saw her reflection in the old chrome hub cap. That morning, she had been so freaked out about being changed into a pony.
But... if this was really what this world was like... Chell couldn’t deny that some part of her liked it here... wanted to be a part of this world. Yes, she was human, but she didn’t have very many memories of being human. The only memories that were clear were of her time spent in the Enrichment Center. The oldest was from the first moment she was woken up and first heard voice of GLaDOS. The few images she could remember from before that were globs of colors, unclear... like they had been purposefully smudged.
And she had been in a stasis sleep in the Enrichment Center for years, decades even. If she had known anyone before being imprisoned by GLaDOS they were probably dead or had forgotten about her. She would have to start a new life anyway... and starting over from scratch in the human world was a monumental challenge. But here... starting over seemed a less imposing obstacle.
Realizing she had been standing there for a long time without doing anything, Chell decided to push those thoughts off to the side. She could figure it out later... she had all the time in the world. She was free from GLaDOS, she was free to do what she wanted when she wanted. She looked up at the four ponies and one baby dragon she had met that day, and smiled... which in turn made them smile.
Soon, the party was in full swing. Chell ate three pieces of cake, got pranked with a hoof buzzer by Rainbow Dash, lost horribly at pin the tail on the pony, and was taught a very interesting dance by Pinkie Pie. A pony named Rarity started obsessing over the long fall boots and one named Applejack started shaking Chell’s hoof so hard she thought it might have fallen off. She met a number of other ponies, some of which became very fascinated by the fact her cutie mark was a pair of working portals.
It was a long night, but the whole time Chell was smiling... smiling so much that her jaw started to hurt. A smile she continued to wear despite the soreness in her cheeks. Chell just couldn’t stop herself; for the first time she had so much to smile about.
If this was what freedom was like, she’d rather die than go back to the Enrichment Center.
Questions, Comments, Concerns?
My Little Pony, Friendship is Magic © Hasbro
Portal & Portal 2 © Valve
I do not own the intellectual properties this fan-fiction is based on.